Has Youth Ministry Become All Emotion And No Technique?

There is a fascinating interview with music legend Quincy Jones on the website Vulture. Quincy is turning 85 soon and, as I’ve witnessed older people do, he just lets loose on a variety of subjects.

Apart from him fluently using the phrase MF, Quincy shares some interesting insights on today’s music that, I think, are closely related to youth ministry. Here’s is a question and answer from that interview that sparked this post.

You’re talking about business not music, but, and I mean this respectfully, don’t some of your thoughts about music fall under the category of “back in my day”?

Musical principles exist, man. Musicians today can’t go all the way with the music because they haven’t done their homework with the left brain. Music is emotion and science. You don’t have to practice emotion because that comes naturally. Technique is different. If you can’t get your finger between three and four and seven and eight on a piano, you can’t play. You can only get so far without technique. People limit themselves musically, man. Do these musicians know tango? Macumba? Yoruba music? Samba? Bossa nova? Salsa? Cha-cha? – Quincy Jones

Music and Ministry

These two things have a lot in common. They are both emotional and they both require skill. As I pose in the title, I think we have leaned way further to the emotional side of youth ministry and forgotten some of the skill.

Most of the youth ministry shots you see on Instagram are meant to evoke emotion or show the emotion of a youth ministry. Maybe it’s the worship service, the altar time, the game time, and it they show you fun, laughter, tears and joy. None of this is wrong, but you don’t see “skill” shots on Instagram.

I don’t see youth ministry posts of kids reading their bible, sharing their faith, and other than summer missions trips, kids serving.  I’m guilty of this as well, although I try to show the big picture though my Facebook Live streams of the big picture. I show students leading, students praying, students doing ministry.

I get it, fun shots sell the youth ministry. Look! We’re fun! And teenagers need fun, and need fun, right brain creative youth workers, but they also need left brain skill builder who can build long term follower of Jesus through a systematic approach. All fun and no skill isn’t youth ministry, it’s a club.

Quincy says it right, “You can only get so far without technique.” Emotions will only go so far in a youth ministry, that’s why youth worker have to develop the skills and, yes, even techniques of making disciples. Techniques sounds like a word that could suck all the emotion out of the room, but there is a technique to good youth meetings, good small groups, and good one on one discipleship.

Emotions or emotionalism will only lead a kid so far in their relationship with Christ (camp anyone?). That’s why the technique of training a kid to have a consistent devotion time is critical to that kids sustained faith in Christ.

Let’s look to one more question from the interview with Quincy Jones

What would account for the songs being less good than they used to be?The mentality of the people making the music. Producers now are ignoring all the musical principles of the previous generations. It’s a joke. That’s not the way it works: You’re supposed to use everything from the past. If you know where you come from, it’s easier to get where you’re going. You need to understand music to touch people and become the soundtrack to their lives.

Look To The Past

Wow! Read this again, but think youth ministry not music and you get the picture. Is youth ministry less good than it used to be? That;s pretty subject. The older you get the past doesn’t look so bad.

I was once young and thought we needed to throw out the hymn book or anything that reeked of the “old” but, as Quincy says, “that’s not how it works”.

I am not favoring teaching hymns to our kids, but, no matter what age youth worker you are, you should look to the past because the new and the now is passing before your very eyes.

There are cycles, fads, and trends. What you think is the model for youth ministry today is morphing right under your nose.

When I say look to the past, I’m not talking about past youth ministry ideas, although some may work (flannel graphs for days, am I right?), I’m talking about biblical principles that never change. The Bible shows us the pattern or the technique of following Jesus and the discipleship of others,; and while the youth ministry landscape continues to change, the truth of God’s word remains the same.

This is what the LORD says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’ Jeremiah 6:16

Emotional youth ministries may be exciting and even growing, but without good disciple making skills and  technique, those youth ministries are a mile wide and an inch deep.

On the other hand, a youth ministry with all technique and no emotion robs kids of the value of expression and robs God from showing Himself strong within the students to cry out, leap for joy and dance for before their King.

Balance is the key, and I think that’s what Quincy was getting at. Music like ministry can be canned, one note, sugar coated, cheap rip offs of the real thing. Let’s make sure both milk and meat are at the table when students arrive to our youth groups and at least let them lean into what they need that night, but to have one and not the other is a spiritual dietary crime.

If you’re lookin for some discipleship resources that are filled with emotion and technique, feel free to check out my store. 

Remember, even Sponge Bob understands that there’s value in technique when blowing a bubble

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6 Things That Will Get You Fired In Youth Ministry

I recently watched a video (below) by fellow youtubing youth pastor Delmar Peet, and he brought out some excellent points as to when a youth pastor should  be fired. I’d like to add my two cents with a list of my own.

Sexual Immorality/Abuse/ etc. is a no brainer and is the clearest of the offenses that require a youth pastor to be fired. My list offers more subtle reasons that, if they go unaddressed, can hurt a church in the long run.

I will also add, Pastors, this is warning to youth workers not a potential list of violations you should be looking for to fire your youth worker. I’m not talking about firing someone for an individual instance but for a willful lifestyle un-open to correction.

Youth workers, here’s my list of offenses you should avoid if you don’t want to get fired.


One of my problems is that I am loyal to a fault. I have stayed in churches when I should have left much sooner, but because I wanted to show loyalty, I stayed.

Let me clarify what disloyalty is and what is not.

Disloyalty is publicly criticizing your pastor, his vision, and the church.

Disloyalty is not disagreeing with your pastor. Hash it out behind closed doors.

Disloyalty is persuading others to support your ideas rather than the pastors vision and in some cases actually work against it.

Disloyalty is not gathering a few close, trustworthy people who understand both sides of a situation and sharing your struggle.

If you can’t support  the pastor and his vision, try your best to leave on amicable terms.


I have messed some stuff up because of a lack of organization and planning. Thankfully I survived most of my jobs by the grace of God.

Constant disorganization can cost the church money, time, and relationships. It can also create an unsafe environment where unnecessary risks are taken that could result in youth getting hurt physically, mentally, and emotionally.

A youth worker who is not not trying to improve his planning skills and listening to wisdom, become a detriment the organization and ultimately has to to.

Let me recommend a book I’ve written to help you from getting fired.


Dissension is cousin to disloyalty but far more evil Disloyalty is selfishness over programs, visions, etc. Disloyalty is about what we want versus what is best for the whole. Dissension is about dividing the body and causing trouble over doctrine, theological slants, sowing seeds of suspicion.

A youth worker who intentionally tries to divide the body isn’t just disloyal, it is ungodly and listed among the acts of the flesh.

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, and debauchery; idolatry and sorcery; hatred, discord, jealousy, and rage ;rivalries, divisions, factions, and envy; drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God

Divisions, discord, and factions are usually about issues of power and who has it. A youth worker who attempt to seize power (influence) through slights or tearing leadership down is not just immature but has some serious spiritual issues that must be corrected.

Lost Faith In Students

You could say I lost my faith in science and progress
You could say I lost my belief in the holy Church
You could say I lost my sense of direction
You could say all of this and worse, but
If I ever lose my faith in you
There’d be nothing left for me to do

These lyrics by musician Sting, says the worse thing you could say about him is   losing faith in someone else. If a youth worker loses faith in his students, there isn’t much they can do except renew that faith or resign.

A loss of faith in students may look like not raising up leadership, having a controlling spirit, not planning anything because you don’t believe anyone will show up, lack of relationship building, etc.

Losing faith in students is to believe God is done with them and that is simply not true.

Spiritual Malpractice

The the oath of a doctor includes the phrase “to do no harm”.  Students are at a fragile place in live and are vulnerable to the influence of leadership, especially leadership in the local church where everyone is supposed to be workin on their behalf to grow in Christ.

In my opinion, works of spiritual malpractice include

  • Having hype meetings without making disciples
  • Manipulating others through guilt and shame
  • Not developing leaders so you can stay in charge
  • Creating worship around you rather than around God
  • Making God look like a boring dad, the tooth fairy, or a legalistic megalomaniac
  • Creating an atmosphere or judgment and condemnation
  • Creating rules heavy relationship light environment.

Of course there are others, but I think these capture the spirit of things.

Lone Ranger Mentality

Lastly, if the youth worker will not build a team, they are hurting the youth ministry. Now, if the church is limited as to who can work with teens that is one things, purposely not creating a team so the youth worker can be the star is another.

The Lone Ranger mentality is harmful to the youth ministry because it does not allow the youth ministry to multiply, listen to various perspectives, and benefit from the life experiences and gifts of others.

If a youth worker can’t build a team and train them that’s one thing.  If a youth worker won’t build a team, that’s another story.

Don’t get caught in any of these traps. Stay humble, stay teachable, keep your eyes on Jesus and your job will be safe, well, at least safer.




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Loving Your Neighbor With Pizza

I love this photo from @larrykim

This is what #hustle looks like. This photo says everything about a man willing to reach his goals by smuggling his resume in a gift. It’s a Trojan Horse or rather a Trojan Pizza.

It makes me think of how we “sneak” the gospel to our students. We buy pizza, play games, organize service projects, all the while sharing/living the gospel.

As youth workers, and as Christians, this photo should inspire us to include the gospel in our simplest actions. What if we delivered pizza to all our neighbors with a message written inside that said,

We just wanted to let you know that God loves pizza and He loves you. If you have any prayer requests please feel free to e-mail me at ________________

Love, your neighbor

What a simple concept with potentially life changing results.

Just like the man who courted potential employers, we can send a message to our neighbors that will not soon be forgotten.

If you are looking for more outreach ideas, I recommend the book Conspiracy of Kindness by Steven Sjogren




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7 Elements Every Youth Ministry Curriculum Should Include

I recently purchased a series of lessons and I was less than thrilled with not only how the material was formatted but the content as well.

Now, before you think I’m too judgy, I write my own curriculum and sell it youth workers so I have a good idea of what youth workers are looking for.

As a youth worker, I’m looking for certain things when I buy a series of two weeks or more:

I’d like there to be slides

This is almost mandatory these days. Why would someone create a teaching or preaching series without slides? I create slides in two kinds of formats, Powerpoint and Keynote for each of the series I create.

Even if it’s a small group series, an announcement slide would be helpful.

I’d like there to be opener and closer ideas

These could be games, discussion openers, stunts, etc. anything to get the kids loosen up or to get kids to focus on the topic. I’d also like some clusters. How will I close this meeting? Give me an altar call, candle lighting, circle up, something to put a punctuation mark on the meeting.

I’d like the material written generically.

The most useless part of a series, to me, are the actual notes of the person who wrote it. I could care less about their illustrations because they usually do not fit my context.

It’s laziness to simply ship off your notes for someone else to buy. I know it takes care and time to re-write something so it can be used in various context but, to me, it’s worth the effort.

I’d like a “how to use this material” page.

I don’t want your notes, but I do want your background. Why did you do this series with your youth ministry? What’s the story behind it? I’m looking for some kind of connection so I can relate it to why I am doing the lesson with my group.

I’d like it to be formatted for easy reading

I offer pdf’s and docs for everything I write. I try to break down the parts with bold titles so youth leaders can follow along without having to search or strain as to how this thing is supposed to go.

I’d like social media graphics to promote the material

This should just be standard, but it’s not. I try to include everything and the kitchen sing because I know the youth worker I am writing for needs all the help he can get to get the word out.

I’d like a resource page that includes other material that would bolster the series 

One again, effort. Too many guys are taking their messages, as is, and are trying to make a quick buck. They’ll make that buck but they won’t make any fans.

I try to include as much as I can and more than I even used in my series because..why not? Why not over promise and over deliver. Why not shock, surprise, and delight those you’re writing for?

I include songs, links to video, etc. Even if it’s an idea I have after the fact, if I think it will benefit your youth ministry, I’ll throw it in there.

I want small group questions 

I don’t have this in all my series, but I do include small group questions because sometimes a youth group is a small group. Youth workers want to teach the material but may need the small group questions to have a break out, small group time.

To me, it’s all about giving people options. It cost me nothing as a writer to throw 10 questions together so you can have a small group time, which may be the best thing your kids like about your youth group.

I like a bonus 

I have not seen any other writers do this, but I include an audio curriculum coach feature with every series I’ve made for the past few years. I want youth workers to hear my heart behind the material as well as walk them through the process.

When I’m creating these kind of resources I’m thinking about  the volunteer or bi-vocational youth worker who needs all the help they can get. I want them to feel confident and prepared and that I created what they’re reading with them in mind.

Lastly, I’d like any site that sells downloadable material to up there standards to make some of these these things mandatory when a youth pastor submits their material. Is that too much to ask?

Tell me, is there something you’d like curriculum writers, like myself, to include in the lessons we create? Let me know.

Why don’t you grab my series Dear Bible. It’s a $15 value, but I want you to have it for free. Life’s too short for sloppy sermons.

Please feel free to check out my other sermon series/curriculum page HERE. Each series is packed with the stuff I talked about above and  has everything you need to challenge your kids to grow in Christ.



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My 17 Most Popular Posts of 2017

These posts received between 1,000 and 5,500 views each and are not arranged in any particular order. Enjoy.

The Wrong Kind of Busy

Growing Older In Youth Ministry Sucks

The Danger of Study – Preach – Repeat

Real Youth Pastor’s Don’t Starve

Losing Your Faith In Humanity? Good!

Three Reasons I Live Stream Our Youth Service On Facebook

The Anxious Ranting of A Burnt Out Youth Pastor

Three Tips For Apprenticeship While Looking For A Master

The Number 1 Reason I Am Not Ministering To More People

Halfway Is The Problem

Don’t Give Your Whole Life To Youth Ministry

3 Tips For Mentoring Teens

Turning Your To Do Lists Into Your To Be Lists

When I Learned This, I Was Crushed

Tips For Live Streaming Your Church Service

The Incredible Power of Encouraging Yourself

Did you have a favorite, something that really helped out?

Let me know. 

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All Roads Go Through Bethlehem

There’s was a road I hated driving in in my town. It’s a narrow double lane, no passing. I really like driving it because of the differing kinds of trees. I hated it because, if there was an accident, I couldn’t get to my house. There was no other road that I could take to get home.

It’s the advent season. Christmas is less about Jesus and even Christians are putting less faith in the the actual Christmas story.

The problem with that is that all roads run through Bethlehem.

Think about that road you hate driving on, but its the only one that get you where you want to go. There is something at the end of that road you want to get to. Your destination may be something like home, school, work, etc. or it could be success, joy or purpose.

We, as humans, are trying to make easy roads, short cuts to the places we want to go. We want to get there faster with the least amount problems. Think of that last short cut you took and thought it would be faster but it actually took you longer.

It’s the same with faith. For the follower of Jesus there are no easy roads, no shortcuts. Every road we try to take or create to get us off the road of faith in Christ runs right into or intersects with the road to Bethlehem.

God’s desire to bring the world back to Him, to restore peace in the human heart, was born in manger. His announcement was not to the powerful, but to poor Shepherds. The birth of Christ was the start of the road back to God.

The Shepherds heard the good news and immediately went to worship the Christ child,

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. Luke 2:16

Many hear the good news and spend the rest of their lives building new road, seeing short cuts, try to find their a to what they want out of life. All the foot dragging, stalling, and avoidance will do us no good because, even at the end of our lives, hoping to get into heaven (or to whatever you think lies beyond) you will finds yourself on a road with a manger with a small child in whom you tried to avoid.

Jesus said,

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Even in death, and our hope for something more, all roads go through Bethlehem. It’s the only way home.

You can watch my online devotion below for more context


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The Best Supporting Actor Award Should Go To… You

I was recently reading about a youth worker struggling with how much time they DO NOT spend with teenagers. Sounds odd right? I mean, youth workers spend time with teenagers to build relationships, impart spiritual truth etc, right?

This post was not written by some “old fart” youth worker complaining about having to spend time with teens. This was a fairly young youth worker contemplating how much time they should spend with students and should they feel bad if they did not. He and I are in similar boats.

After 28 years working with youth, I find that this generation needs me in smaller doses and bedsides, Google (right or wrong) answers most of their questions now. They don’t want a 49 year old guy trying to be their friend (that’s just weird) or creep around at events unless they are invited.

I went to one of our kids plays the other night even though she was only part of the crowd scenes. I left right after the play and texted her what a great job she did. I was there to support her and that is the role I now take, that of best supporting actor in the dram-edy that is a teenagers life. I  like being the supporting actor. In the past I thought I had to be the star, the leading man but now, like this young lady, a familiar face in the crowd sounds like the right role for me in this stage of my career.

The kids I serve are good kids, very little in the drama dept. I have good young adults who take up the slack and an Intern who does a great job at all the small things I’m not particularly interested in.

Essentially, I have worked myself out of a job, and I’m ok with that. Maybe it’s time for new challenges . So, do I think this guy was slacking? Nope. I think we should follow the lead of the students we serve as to how much we should be involved in their lives, regardless of what our church board says our involvement should be.

Parents, not youth workers, are the stars of the family. Youth workers are extra’s. We stand in the background adding value to the scenes being played out before us. Occasionally, we get a spoken line and maybe a credit in the end scroll that says “Guy on bike #1”.

I am not saying youth workers do not play an important part in the lives of some churches, some families, and some kids, what I am saying that we shouldn’t try so hard to be the stars when best supporting actor are being called for.

We should always be intentional, discerning and present at critical times in a students life so we can offer wisdom and direction.  You know, the stuff Google can’t do.

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What’s Your Passion Level?

This is part two in my series on the seven questions to re-evaltuate your youth ministry volunteers. In my last post, I shared the first question: Who has the leverage? My next question is, “What’s your passion level?”

Let me offer a caveat before I get rolling. I understand that many youth groups do not have a wealth of choices when it comes to volunteers. You may not be able to recruit because your congregation is smaller and/or older and the desire for people to work with the youth is limited. That being said, we still have to be willing to evaluate our volunteers even if that means we have to change the way we do youth ministry.

Here are some passion signs I am look for

Are they showing up?

If I have leaders who are simply not showing (no work or illness) then  their commitment is in question. By not showing up, this tells me they are not interested or invested in the youth ministry. Once again, choices may be limited, but no example is still better than a bad example.

Are they participating/engaging?

I have a couch in our youth room. It’s where the adults sit during worship while kids worship to the side. I want to burn that couch, but  I’ve had to shift my mind from “Why aren’t you with the kids? to “Are you and God engaged?”

I think we can make mountains out of mole hills. There is nothing spiritually significant about adults standing or sitting with kids in worship. Our kids are not becoming “better worshippers” because our adults are standing or sitting with them.

If there were disciplinary problems, I could see where adults sitting with kids would be of value; but our kids are good kids. It’s my job to say something interesting and keep students engaged, not my volunteer’s job to keep bored kids interested.

In the end I ask, “Are they worshipping or are they disengaged?” It’s important that I not judge them. These are grown people with jobs and lives, but I must always remind them that they are examples.

I’m also looking at the kinds of conversations they’re having with kids. Are they seeking to uplift kids or are their conversations about nothing? Are they having intentional relationships in order to lead kids further along in their relationship with Christ?

Engagement is, ultimately, in the details and visible in the fruit that is being produced. My eyes are drawn to progress and not just activity.

Am I asking them to fulfill roles and responsibilities?

I text my team a couple of times a week, letting them know about what’s going on. I offer several opportunities on how they can add value to the meeting or certain jobs that need to be done. I also call them individually if I feel like someone on my team would fit a particular activity such as games, food, etc.

I’ve been to several bookstores lately, and it’s the time of the year where bookstores collect books for school, hospitals, etc. The girl asked me “Would you like to purchase a book for X?” She continued, “If you’re feeling extra generous, this is the last in this particular series of books.” I wasn’t feeling extra generous but she had me because she asked.

What I understand is that I cannot hide behind technology. I cannot lead by text. I have to lead face to face, with human connection. It’s easy to say no to or ignore a text. It’s much harder to say not to a real person or to a real need.

Stay tuned.

Question number three What Is Your Mission?


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5 Questions To Evaluate Your Volunteers

I have great volunteers. They’ve worked hard with me. Some have been with me for a year, some have been with for eight years. Part of my role  is to re-evaluate them to see if they need to make a shift in the ministry laterally to another position or if they need to make an exit to another ministry.

Lately I’ve been thinking hard on how to re-engage them. Our youth ministry is pretty loose. It’s pretty loose because our church is pretty loose. That’s the culture of this small, southern church.

We average around 15-20 kids a week. We have events. Our weekly meetings are almost self starting because kids come in, know what to do, and they generally and genuinely love each other.

Because we do not have a large group and because of the culture, there isn’t a ton of stuff for volunteers to do and creating more work for the sake of more work just wouldn’t work.

So, here at the end of the year, I am doing some re-evaluating of the ministry and our volunteers and there are some questions I am needing to ask. If you’re in a similar situation, I hope my thinking out loud benefits you too.

Why Does This Youth Ministry Need You?

This is a strange question, right? Yet I have to ask it. It’s all about leverage. Volunteers have leverage if I absolutely need them to run the program I’ve designed or if the kids needs are so great they need other adults in their life to help them along.

I have leverage if the task side of the ministry is so small I could do it myself. In other words, If I am creating jobs for them to do, I can also uncreate job too and not lose anything by doing so.

At this moment, I have too much leverage, and that’s a bad thing. Much of what can be done in our youth ministry could be done by our college students or younger. It’s possible that I could just scale the ministry down and phase out the few volunteers I have, but that would also be a bad thing, in my opinion.

I asked this question to my volunteers and one of them said, “I don’t think this youth ministry need me” To which I replied, “The youth meeting doesn’t need you, but the youth do.” This particular volunteer had lost their place. I knew that and she did to, but asking this question put it all on the table without a confrontation.

Some of my volunteers are going through a season; a season of personal battles, a season of kids, a season of job change, and a season of working hard to make ends meet. I am empathic to that and I have to make graceful decisions in light of that.

There is a follow up to  this question, “Why do you need this youth ministry?” The answers varied but they all said the same thing, “I want to make a difference” and “I want to be of value.”

At this point, after some though and counsel, I need to put the leverage back in their court. I need to build more value into the program and give them a sense of pride and meaning again. I want, scratch that, I need them to feel like their contribution matters.

“Good leaders ask great questions that inspire others to dream more, think more, learn more, do more, and become more.”
John C. Maxwell, Good Leaders Ask Great Questions: Your Foundation for Successful Leadership

On to the next question.

Question number two: What Is Your Passion Level?



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4 Youth Ministry Games You Have To Try

I’m fresh off a trip to the National Youth Workers Conference where I hosted a few Idea Labs and co-taught a session on Discipling The Busy Teen, but I wanted to share a few games you could use at your next youth meeting.

On our first night hosting we played a few games that were simple and prop light. You can also Christmas these games up with a little help.

First , Head Shoulders, Knees, Cup

Next Tic Tac Toe Dash

The Question Game

And Finally,

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