Losing Students Without Losing Yourself

Youth Ministry in Motion Podcast Ep. 69

Show Notes

I just watched the season finale of The Walking Dead and it only confirmed that I may be the Morgan of Youth Ministry Apocalypse.

In the show, Morgan says, “First I lose people, then I lose myself.”

He simply means, “I try to protect people, but no matter how hard I try, I can’t protect everyone, change everyone, or save everyone.  When I lose one, I lose myself.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone into an almost depressive like state after losing a kid from our youth ministry. I saw their potential. I wanted to go the distance with them through high school and maybe even college. But, for one reason or another

  • family leaves the church
  • kid finds another youth group
  • sin gobbles them up like zombies

It doesn’t matter the reason, it just sucks. It’s hard not to take any of it personally, but caring too much can be ultimately, unhealthy.

There is no way around this. Look how many Jesus “lost” or left him. Judas, Peter, the rich young ruler, nine of the ten lepers, the rest of the disciples, and a bunch of no names who said they’d follow Jesus but wouldn’t because they couldn’t let go of whatever was holding them back.

That is not to say that a kids or family is leaving Jesus just because they leave our church or  youth ministry. That’s just arrogant thinking.

We’re all going to lose student, for various reasons. If you have a small youth group this is even harder because you feel like you’re losing a part of yourself and you feel hope draining away.

I have run the gambit of emotions from sadness, to depression, to anger, it feels very much like the death process which denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

Denial – This cant be happening. I prayed. I invested.

Anger– God, this is your fault! Church, this is hour fault!

Bargaining – God, if you let them stay/bring them back I will…

Depression – This sucks. Ministry sucks. Teenagers suck. I suck.

Acceptance – I don’t know why this is happening, but it is. God, help me.

I have made a lot of kids leavings about me. Others have made it about me (It was your fault) and sometimes it was my fault. A bad decision or a bad attitude could have contributed to it. I’ve never gotten over the this process even after 30 years, but I have managed to put things in perspective so I can keep on moving forward.

These aren’t my kids

These are God’s kids. They are on loan to me for as long as He see fit. Yes, I have still have to do my best, but think there’s a providence in comings and goings. They are with me for a season, to do a work and then they are off.

They must grow

Students must grow. If I can’t help them get to where they need to be spiritually, relationally, etc. they must move on so they can. A few times I’ve asked students to share, with the rest of the youth,  why the were moving on. I thought this was healthy and gave the both the student and the group closure.

I have to grow 

I have to grow. I can’t be so dependent on a student that I forget the Lord. I’m not saying God purposely takes a kid out of my group to make me grow, but if it’s an idolatrous situation, God has no problem doing that. Most of the time though, when a kid leaves, for any reason, there is some reflection, prayer, and growth taking place in my life. Growth is a natural result of loss.

The ministry must change 

Every kid who leaves, leaves a whole. Sometimes a kid who leaves had an important role as a leader, tech person, etc. and, if you’re a small youth group,this is not an easy fix to replace. You are left hanging. So, you must either invest in another student and raise the up, if they have the inclination, or you must change the way you do things and sometimes it’s both.

This isn’t about me

In end, I have to say, this isn’t about me. Yes, I said above that sometimes it is, but most of the time, it is not. There are bigger things at play. God is moving, shifting, planting, and uprooting so He can accomplish His will.

To make it about me is super selfish, yet that is what I do. I work through my process and eventually come to my senses (like the prodigal son) and go home to my Father to heal up and get ready to start again.

The danger of all emotional attachments is that you’ll get hurt in the end. Ministry is often like that. Life is often like that. Jesus certainly felt it. Morgan’s choice, at the end of the episode was to leave, to walk away, to choose to be alone because losing people is just too hard. I feel you Morgan. I feel you.

But if I could tell Morgan anything I ‘d quote Alfred Lord Tennyson,

“It is better to have loved and lost, then never to have loved at all.”

We all  lose people, and yes, get lost in the process, sometimes, But don’t quit caring and don’t quit loving kids. Love is worth the hurt and, in the end, the only things that makes life worth living.

Can I ask you for a review? If you have enjoyed the podcast, would you consider giving me a review and a few stars over on iTunes? Thanks


Youth Ministry Round Up #7





Justin Bieber Led Worship at a Coachella Event

A Free, Just-As-Good, Alternative To Photoshop?

What To Do When Everything Is Changing (Good for businesses, good for youth ministries)


Great insight about being a surviving artist (KJ-52)

Losing Students Without Losing Yourself (Click here for the show notes)


Is your youth group dying from low expectation? Brian breaks down on why the cost of faith should be high.

Great YG Countdown rom Delmar Peet

Real Doctor Reacts To The Good Doctor (TV Show) This would make a good parody video of a “Real” Christian Watching A “Fake” Christian and commentating.

Six Simple Truths of Communication Every Pastor Should Follow


Youth Ministry in Motion Podcast Episode 68

Show Notes

I was listening to one of my favorite new podcasts, Everything Happens with Kate Bowler (Teacher at Duke Divinity School)  with one of my favorite actors, Alan Alda (M.A.S.H, Same Time Next Year, and The Four Seasons).

Alan is on the show to discuss the training he does with doctors on how to improve their communication skills with patients. Often doctors offer bad news in harsh ways. They lack empathy and can be very cold in their approach to what should be an intimate and caring moment between two human beings.

I see this kind of practice as no different as when youth workers, pastors, bosses, etc. are talking with, well, anyone. Us youth workers, especially when we’re younger, can be so impetuous and full of spunk (also read as: CRAP) that we think we know everything and are better speakers than listeners.

Think of all the times a pastor has to communicate where it matters how they communicate

  • when someone comes in for counseling for addiction
  • when someone receives bad news at the doctors
  • when there’s a sensitive meeting about church members
  • dealing with death and dying

Whether we’re “experts” because we have a degree or because we’ve simply been doing pastoral work a long time, we should always evaluate our communication skills. We, like doctors, have to deliver bad news,

You can ‘t go on the trip because…

You have to step down because…

We have to have a talk about…

Your soul is in trouble….

Not even three minutes into the podcast, Alan Alda offers a simple recipe for good communication based on the acting skill called improve. These are massive lessons all ministers in all positions, should learn when communicating with their the congregation, students, their spouses and pretty much everyone else.

The Essence of improve

focus on the other person

Listen intently, make eye contact, watch their body language.

the other person come first

Wait for cues or permission to interject, don’t interrupt. Our opinion may be different, but it’s not more important than the other persons opinion.

make your partner look good

How can I speak to empower the other person? How can avoid tearing anyone down and still making my point. Don’t degrade the other person to make ourselves look good.

become partners in communication

Approach every conversation as a partnership. You are both trying to achieve something, work together to help each other share what is really important to them

don’t deny your partner

Let them have their say. Let the other person “beat around the bush” a little until they are comfortable getting to the point. Don’t deny the other person your empathy and care no matter how difficult the subject.

You don’t have a target of communication, you have a partner in communication.

We do not speak at people, we speak with people. People are not targets for our information, they are partners in developing a conversation around what both of us want to talk about.

Scripture exhorts us to,

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. Colossians 4;6

Conversation – words, speech, divine utterances (aren’t they all?)

Full of grace – disposed to, inclined, favorable towards, leaning towards to share (listen more talk less, less judgement more empathy)

Seasoned with salt – God preserving and seasoning a believer as they grow (Seek each others growth, and to preserve one another dignity)

Take a moment and ask yourself,

How much of my last conversation was filled with grace and seasoned with salt?

Was the person I was talking with a “target” of my information or. a partner in our communication?

We can, and should, always improve in our communication with others, especially to those whom we are making life long followers of Jesus.


You might also be interested in my take on Improvisational Youth Ministry 

You can also watch the podcast as I share live on the Youth Ministry in Motion Facebook Page, come join us.


Youth Ministry Round Up #5


I just like this photo: So many lessons.


More People Likely To Divorce After Watching Porn, Study Says

How I Plan Curriculum – Heather Lea Campbell

How I Write A Sermon Series 

Mother Allegedly Uses Tazer To Wake Up Son For Church


This Week In Youth Ministry Podcast 


I check out my friend Boo’s Youth Room. Your not gonna believe what he has.

Work hard and you’ll get your shot – The Emergency Goalie

How Often Should Your Church Be Posting on Social Media?

Relentlessly Poking The Revival Fire

This is my ninth, and final, post in my series 9 WaysTo Dynamically Revive Your Youth Ministry. You can click here to start at the beginning.

When I give you ideas and tactics for reviving your youth ministry, I make some assumptions.

I assume you are praying. I assume you are taking care of your own soul, I assume you are passionate about what you do. I don’t think these are careless assumptions. These are, or should be, core beliefs for someone in our position.

If all the above is happening (not perfectly all them) and heading in the right direction, then our role is to poke the fires.

This is also called stoking the fire. By definition, stoking the fire means to poke a fire and fuel it so that it burns higher. In the case of a camp fire we move the wood around so that oxygen and can get in and we add wood when the fire gets low.

These are all tangible effort. If we are praying then God is listening. What Neds to be done is the work. Look at Elijah,

Elijah took twelve stones according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the LORD had come, saying, “Israel shall be your name.” So with the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD, and he made a trench around the altar, large enough to hold two measures of seed. Then he arranged the wood and cut the ox in pieces and laid it on the wood.        I Kings 18: 31-33

Like Eliajah, we have to build the altar, lay the stones, get the wood, cut up the sacrifice. If Elijah does not of this, God does not answer by fire. This is not about working harder, longer hours; this about making preparations for God to answer our call.

Elijah dug trenches because he was one upping the prophets of Baal. Their God did not answer at all. Elijah essentially said, “Hold my beer”. He embarrassed the prophets of Baal by adding water to the sacrifice. Not only would God anger by fire, but he can even set a wet sacrifice aflame.

I don’t think we should be so brazen as to our water over our sacrifice. The wood in many youth groups are already wet making it hard to start a fire at all. Our kids are soaked with the world and water logged with cares and worries.

So, how do we poke the fires?

First, watch for the flicker.

It’s hard, sometimes, to get youth genuinely excited about the things of God, but I always watch for the flicker. I feel like I am trying to start a fire in a hurricane and my match keeps going out. I have to remind myself, It’s God’s job to answer by fire, not me. I watch for the spark and the flicker.

So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. I Corinthians 3:7

We build, we prepare, God brings the fire.

Next, add a log to the fire 

When I do see the flicker, I hurry and grab some kindling, not a big log. I don’t throw a ton of responsibility on a kid the minute they sense the Holy Spirit working in them. I take small steps, twig by twig I feed the flame.

I find out what they are good at and then try to match it with something in our youth ministry. If I cannot find a place for them to serve I create a place for them to serve no matter what they can do. The flame builds a little hire.

Finally, poke it here and there

I watch there fire closely. I watch for the winds of doubt and the flood discouragement that may try to extinguish the flame of faith. I poke the fire with relationship, with encouragement, with affirmation, and with motivation.

If there is more than one flicker I band those logs together so they feed off one another. I poke the fire even more making sure there is room to breath and experience God. Then, I work and I wait to see what happens next.

Like fire building, reviving a youth ministry is a slow process. The fire may never get as hot or as high as we like it, but we should always be grateful their is a fire at all.

I hope you enjoyed the series, and if you did, leave a comment. Be sure to sign up for the Fresh Impact Newsletter to receive more ideas, resources, and strategies.



Letting Parents Power Your Youth Youth Ministry

This is my eighth post in my series The 9 Dynamic Ways To Revive Your Youth Ministry. You can start the series HERE 

I can remember a parent coming to me with a concern that middle school girls (of which she had one) was not getting enough attention. I responded,  as I always do, with, “So what you’re saying is, you have a burden for middle school girls and you’d like to help out?” She agreed and taught middle school for about six weeks. I give her a ton of credit and she brought a new energy to the ministry.

Whenever I can get a parent to participate, it changes the dynamics of the group, mostly for the better. There have been those times where that’s not the case, but I’ve had more positive experiences than negative.

When parents participate, they lend their power, their gifting, their authority and their fun side. Yes, their fun. Some of these parents can be fun. They’re the cool parent everyone likes.  Sadly, many of these “cool” parents bale because they don’t want to infringe upon their kids need to be autonomous.

I think parents can make great team leaders, game leaders, and goodwill ambassadors for the youth ministry. Now, it gets a bit hairy if you ask that parent to lead a small group on sex with their kid in the room.  I avoid that at all costs, but overall, parents are just people. It’s our paranoia that gets the better of us in believing parents want nothing more than to be a nuisance and a pain.

We shouldn’t fear parents, we should embrace them. I have an open room policy where parents can come watch what we do any time they want. I Facebook live many of our meetings so parents can go back and watch them later.

One of the many dangers of distancing parents is that we lose perspective. We think we’re the man (or woman) with a plan and these parents will just mess it up. Forging positive bonds with parents can give our youth ministry the much needed boost it needs. Give it a try.

One more post, the last in this series, Relentlessly Poking The Revival Fire

You Won’t Revive Your Youth Ministry Alone

This is the seventh post in my series The 9 Dynamic Ways To Revive Your Youth Ministry. You can start at the beginning here

One of the most powerful movie moments I can remember is from the movie The Abyss. It stars Ed Harris and the scene is Harris’ character Virgil Brigman breaking down while trying to revive his drowned ex-wife.

3:37 -8:30 (some nudity and language)

Youth Pastor’s (and Pastors of all kinds) have fought for their youth ministries and churches like this. They’ve tried to breath new life into, banged on its chest, blew into its mouth, slapped it in the face and screamed at it at the top of their lungs. Some youth ministries respond to that and for others we have to call the time of death.

If youth ministries were only like movies. They play like one, but the endings vary greatly.

Revival doesn’t mean numbers. Numbers can be an offshoot of a youth ministry experiencing revival but it by no means the only indicator.

A youth ministry can be dead and have 100 kids in it. Numbers are not the only indicator of life. Revival means to bring back what was once dead.

Passion for worship

Hunger for the Word

A new love for God and others

This kind of revival doesn’t require numbers to validate it, but a youth ministry revived has a better chance at growing than a dead one. Revival doesn’t come so the youth ministry can grow, revival comes because a loving God wants to have a passionate relationship with our students, growth is a by-product.

If you watched the video, everyone is surrounding Lindsey (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio). Someone is pumping the air bag, someone is charging the paddles, someone is doing chest compressions. The others are waiting, hoping, praying.

I have seen a few ministries under my own leadership die. In some cases, it was me, alone, trying to bring the group back to life. I preached, I prayed, I outreached, but nothing. It’s possible that even the best teams couldn’t have resurrected these youth ministries, but too many youth ministries don’t have resurrected leaders or teams. The dead cannot bring back the dead.

As grim as this sounds, dead youth ministries can come back to life but it will require a team who themselves are alive in Christ. The team must work together to bring revival, not revival for numbers sake but revival so God might receive the glory.

If you want to revive your youth ministry, you need a team who is alive, working together, won’t give up, has some fight in them and when that youth ministry does come back to life, they’ll look at each other, cry, rejoice, and look at each other with a knowing glint that God has done this and not we ourselves.

Getting close, on the eighth post in the series, Letting Parents Power Your Youth Ministry

5 High Value Questions You Should Be Asking About Your Middle School Ministry

This is the sixth post in my series on The 9 Dynamic Ways To Revive Your Youth Ministry. Click HERE to start at the beginning if you like.

If you want to revive your youth ministry, look to the bottom grade level. Look at who is coming up from your kids ministry. Look at the middle school kids you already have. Here are some questions you’ll want to ask yourself and then do something about.

Do you have separate times to bond with just middle school kids? 

Schedule some time to attend middle school events your middle school kids are in. Not because they are your biggest givers or give you the most affirmation, but because they are most likely to receive your investment as genuine love and interest.

Have you created an on-ramp for middle school kids to serve? 

Whenever the church has asked me if there was anyone who could do X, I normally would recommend a middle schooler. I did so because I knew if they caught the serving bug, they’d go all in on it.

Middle school is a great age for discovery what they are good at and if we give them opportunity accompanied by affirmation, the church will benefit from their commitment for years to come.

Do you visit your children’s ministry once in a while to say hello? 

I like to make monthly visits to kids church. I poke my head in and say hello and ask if they need anything. I like to meet new kids because one day they could be in the youth ministry and I don’t want them to think of me as a stranger.

I also volunteer for VBS, to take pictures at the Easter Egg Hunt, and do a booth at the Fall Festival. Is it always convent and simple to do these things? No, but I am sowing towards the future which means I need to plow the ground now.

Do your high school kids have a sense of responsibility? 

Plan a few middle school only events and maybe ask some of your high school kids to tag along and “help”.  Getting your high school kids to invest in the younger kids teaches them to pass on what they have learned.

I always remind my High School students that one day they won’t be in youth group any more. I ask then, “What will you leave behind?” This is discipleship.

“Go into your own youth ministry and make disciples of all middle school students.” Doing so brings a revival of service and an excitement from the bottom up.

How will you bring your middle school kids in?

We have a youth group of about 15-20 kids, which makes bringing middle school kids in homey and less anxious for the student.

Last year the middle school created a chain of teaches and students that an upcoming middle school student followed over to the youth room. It was the kids church’s way of seeing one of their own off to the youth ministry.

When the middle school student arrived our students picked them up off the ground, lifted them into the air, and cheered them. Pretty powerful stuff. The student also received a box of goodies, a bible, etc.

Here’s a video I did talking about a gift box for guests, it may give you some ideas.

Pay attention to the “bottom” of your youth ministry, it’s where life begins and the future is stored.

Onward to the seventh post, You Won’t Revive Your Youth Ministry Alone

Three Ways A Committed Mission Will Awaken Your Youth Ministry

This is part five of a nine part series called 9 Dynamic Ways To Revive Your Youth Ministry. You can start at the beginning HERE.

We talked about Reinvigorating Your Youth Ministry With A Clear, Compelling Vision. Vision is great. It’s the end game. It’s what you ultimately want to to see in your student and ministry. Sadly, vision statements become empty words when they are not paired with the action, the mission, that makes it happen.

A great vision without a great mission is delaying the inevitable. I’ve see churches roll out their vision statements and not change a thing. The expectation was always to get people excited and let the excitement carry them to the pointe where they didn’t even remember what the vision was.

So, what do you have to do? First, share the vision. Next,

If you’re serious about the vision

You cannot keep adding or replacing programs that do not work. If the program is not fulfilling the ultimate vision you have, it must go, otherwise it’s getting in the way and working against the results you want.

On the other hand, if the program in question furthers the vision, you better be taking about it, believing in it, practicing it, inviting others to it and becoming the end results you want to see. If you are not living it, your kids are not catching it.

How serious are you about the vision?

If kids can buy in, you can do it

What I try to tell young people is that if you come together with a mission, and its grounded with love and a sense of community, you can make the impossible possible.  – John Lewis

Everyone does not have to agree. The leaders job isn’t to get everyone to agree, it’s to find consensus and lead the change. There will be those who will buck the system, determine ahead of time who those people will be and figure out a way to make them fans before the change occurs. Be proactive.

Once the decision is made, set the date for change, then make it happen.

Keep the vision in front of them and the mission to follow

The visions is the why. Why are we doing this? So we can become what our vision says we want to be. There will be times when the mission is hard and that is when you say, “But the vision is worth it.” Not everyone will agree with that but if you keep the WHY in front of the HOW, you’ll attract others who want to be a part.

Preach messages, create graphics, have rally nights, celebrate your progress, all of this is to keep the vision moving forward.

If you see progress it’s because you scheduled progress to happen. It did not happen by accident.

Facebook was not originally created to be a company. It was built to accomplish a social mission – to make the world more open and connected. – Mark Zuckerberg

Zuckerberg saw it, then he said it, then he did it and keeps dong it, on purpose.

We can do the same in our youth ministries.

Continue on with the sixth post in the series,  5 High Value Questions You Should Be Asking About Your Middle School Ministry.

Raising The Dead One By One

This is part four in my series 9 Dynamic Ways To Revive A Dying Youth Ministry. If you’re behind, you can start HERE

Sometimes, as a youth pastor, you will inherit a hot mess or a dumpster fire. The previous youth pastor did their best or maybe not. Or maybe the youth ministry you have just went south for a variety of reasons,none of which are your fault. How will you get it back on track?

Jesus didn’t call the masses to discipleship, he called whom he wanted one by one and two by two and that is where your youth ministry’s come back begins.

When I’ve taken over a ministry like this, which has been multiple times, I have developed some comeback steps that I think might work for you. Oh, and before you think this is an over night fix, this process is labor intensive and may take years.

Build relationships and trust

Part of trust building is not making promises you cannot keep. I never told the kids I could do something when I couldn’t and when I did promise something, I darn well made sure it happened. Students need to know you’re not just a good person, but someone who can do what they say they can do.

Trust your kids back

No, their probably not as trust worthy as you, but trust them anyway. Find reasons to believe in them. Find their gifts and strengths and create opportunities for them to  use them.

Speak life to them 

Like Jesus speaking to Lazarus inside that grace, we must speak life over those kids. Kids hear enough about what they can’t do, They also must contend with their own noise their head about not being good enough.

Yes, I understand, you want the youth ministry to be be bigger, but berating your kids to do it will not get it done. Stay positive, speak positive. Hope and action are stronger than negativity.

Call them out of death and into life

Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. It’s easy to tell when the dead are back to life. They walk around, they talk, they eat, but they are not the same

It’s possible that the kids in your youth ministry do not know Christ. They have not experienced the living Savior and are literlly powerless to change the growth trajectory of the youth ministry .

Go back to the basics. It doesn’t matter if they prayed a prayer at camp or raised a hand in church, if they don’t understand what or who they are accepting, change will not be forthcoming.

Give their youth ministry back to them

Part of coming alive is using what God has given us. I heard a great phrase recently, “the activity of God”. Kids will see the activity of God in themselves when they start doing what they are gifted to do.

If kids are only required to show up, play whatever game you’ve come up with an then sit and listen to you speak for 15-20 minutes, its no wonder your youth ministry is in trouble. Get kids moving.

Make everything about Jesus

If we are out of our mind, it is for God; if we are of sound mind, it is for you. For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that One died for all, therefore all died. And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died for them and was raised again.…  I Corinthians 5:14

What compels you? Is growing the youth group the only thing? Put aside your ego and point to Jesus.

Because of Jesus’ resurrection we are doing this event

Because of what Jesus said we are doing this

Because of Jesus loved us we are reaching the lost.

Make it about Jesus, not you.

Check out part five: The Three Ways A Committed Mission Will Awaken Your Youth Ministry