10 Important Youth Ministry Practices That Could Prevent A Teen Suicide

Recent suicides by entrepreneur Kate Spade and chef/tv star Anthony Bordaine, reminded me that if money, power, influence, tons friends and excitement  can’t hold back depression and suicidal thoughts, what’s keeping a kid in my youth group from ending his or her life?

Here’s the podcast

This report, last year (2017) show that teen suicide is on the rise

Here are the notes

I have had, to my knowledge, only one student attempt suicide in my 30 years of youth ministry. I cannot tell you whether any of my youth ministry practices prevented any of these as there are no testimonies as such. But, my hope is, that everything I tried to do (listed below) was a speed bump for a kid who was heading down that path.

Let me share 10 youth ministry practices that could keep a kid from ending their life.

open ended questions…

So much of a midweek meeting with youth is about the program. Youth leaders are trying to make the program happen so the conversations with students can b very surface level. Regardless of the length of the conversation, we can ask open ended questions that would allow a student, who you’d consider at risk,  the room to answer openly and honestly.

Start with “how’s school going?” but go a little deeper with, “Do you feel like you have a strong group of friends to help you make it through school?”

affirm their worth & how much God values them

Kids are constantly hearing about how much they don’t measure up.  We have to pour on the love and affirmation to counteract that. I don’t just mean through messages, but though one on one, over lunch, or in a text message.

You don’t need to see them down and out before giving them a kind word. Give them the love they need long before they need it.

forgiveness and redemption 

Jesus is our hope. I, like you, have preached my share of fire and brimstone, not good enough to go to heaven, messages. I don’t deny the reality of hell, our own sinfulness or our inability to measure up to the holiness God asks of us, but if this is the only messages kids hear, what hope is there?

I’ve gotten much better at offering truth in love with a bunch of hope for good measure. God reveals to each of us how we do not measure up and pours grace upon our wounds. A student doesn’t need our condemnation and judgment, they need to know there is a way to be forgiven and that God has made a way out of the darkness they’r in.

follow up

This one is so simple, yet, the busyness of life steals it like Satan steals the seed. How many times has God checked my heart to call or contact a student who I thought was struggling and busyness swallowed that thought? Too many to count.

Whether it’s us or one of our leaders, we have to respond to the Spirit’s prompting towards those kids who are missing in action. If a student misses one night that’s one thing, but two in a row, that could means something else. We must be diligent to notice when students are not with us. When we call or text we are saying, “We noticed you were gone.” We care.

random kindness

I had a student who was sick recently. I could have sent a text and offered “thoughts and prayers” but I went deeper. I had a lady in our church, who’s a florist, put together some of this students favorite goodies and deliver them to her house by the time she was arriving home from a procedure.

This girl was not an “at risk” student, but I did it anyway. Why? Because I don’t know how much kindness she receives at school. She doesn’t fit the type of kid who might think about suicide (neither was Spade or Bordaine) and I hope, with healthy doses of kindness towards her, she never will.

be awkward, “how are you doing, really?”

Go ahead and be awkward. I had a conversation with a young man who, by his pictures on Instagram, was not going well for him, The pics, plus not looking well, plus hear say, led me to believe he might be at risk.

We sat at McDonald and I saw something in his eyes and demeanor I did not like. So I just asked him, “Have you thought about hurting yourself lately?” He denied having an inclinations, and it was awkward to ask, but I’m still glad I did. Now, he knows that I know he might have been having struggles. He might open up next time I ask.

train teens/leaders to be empathetic

Youth night at church should be a safe haven for kids, but sometimes the students in our ministry do not act any different than the kids they see at school. Youth night is filled with imperfect kids who do and say imperfect things just like we do, but we have the microphone or the floor,  and we can direct thoughts and attitudes.

We can teach on how Jesus who, rather than judge others, showed mercy and empathy. We can have practices like

  • getting to know each other’s names
  • meet and greet
  • small group time for conversation
  • affirmation times

These kind of things are not practiced regularly or enforced at school;  but at church, kids willfully come and we can design our meetings to encourage kids to practice empathy towards one another.

clearly defined standards, policies and procedures

I am a big fan of standards. If the house rule is not bullying, that’s the rule and no one is beyond it. If the house rule is no creeping on each other, that’s the rule and I enforce it to the best of my ability.

I had a group of kids one time where one boy would not leave a girl alone. I asked that young Man to stop, I councils him, I told hime to take a few weeks off to think about it and call me every week to check in. He would not have any of it and neither would his friends, and they all left.

Not only should we have standards (rules) we enforce but when we have kids at risk, we need to have phone numbers in our phone for emergencies, numbers of counselors or therapists we can recommend, and other resources we can point to.

If a kid maks the claim that they are going to commit suicide, we need to have a policy, back up by the church, that allows the youth pastor to make that call in agreement with his pastor or boss.

be prophetic

If you’re older than a teenager, you have some thing they do not, perspective. You’ve lived through a few things. You know things because you came though some stuff with God’s help. We need to pass that on.

If you’re a youth worker or a Christian, like me, you have some idea of God’s word and the hope and promise it contains, and you need to spread it around.

We have to see kids, not as they are, but as they will be. Jesus called Peter the rock while he was still a pebble. We should be looking at kids and saying things like,

  • you can make an impact
  • you have potential
  • you have more courage in you than you think
  • you could be a leader

Positively prophesying over a student lets’ them know that you see something they may not and affirms their worth and value. Powerful, positive, Spirit-Filled words can change the course of life for a kid and lead them out of the darkness.

small groups and accountability

Connecting kids in a smaller group where they can know others and be known is powerful step for at risk kids. Being in a smaller group allows them to build trust and be more vulnerable as well as have a safety valve to release the pressures of life.

These groups do not have to be standard Bible study groups, but could be groups who are just committed to checking in, praying for one another, and lifting one another up on hard days.

Like I said, I cannot prove that any thing I just listed here has averted any kid from taking their life, but, I can’t disprove it either. So, I guess I’ll keep doing what I’m doing and pray for the same outcome, that kids will find their way out of the darkness and into God’s marvelous light.

Here’s a free resource from my friend Jim Hancock on dealing with suicide

Here’s my interview with Jim on How To Deal With A Crisis

Let’s Talk About A New Way To Disciple Teens

For those who do not know, I have a Youtube channel dedicated to quipping youth workers and I have started doing Wednesday @ 1  Livestreams. In this episode I talk about my new book and how it came about.

You can grab a free chapter, The Discipleship Dilemma,  by subscribing to the Youth Ministry Round Up Newsletter at the bottom of the page.

10 Weird Feelings After A Mission Trip

I recently came back from the country of Panama. This is my 4th trip to a South or Central American country and every time I get back I feel so many weird feelings. Here are my top ten weirdest feelings after coming back from a mission trip.

Walking past kids and feeling you should make them a balloon animal.

Walking past kids and wondering why they’re not excited to see you. I brought balloons!!

Tempted to say hola’ , adios, buenos días, and gracias to EVERYONE  

Wondering if it’s ok to drink my own water.

Driving myself everywhere.

Why are cars driving so far away from me? I loved being able to reach out and shake hands with fellow drivers. 

Trying to figure out how to order my food in English without making hand gestures.

Wondering what I am doing every day.  Where’s my schedule? 

Constantly checking my back pocket to see if I have my passport.

Wondering where my other 50 friends went to. #missionposse

Mission trips are fun, exhausting, exhilarating, and God filled, but watch out when you get home, its weird.

What’s the weirdest feeling you have after a mission trip?

Need mission trip devotions? Click HERE 

You Don’t Need New Lipstick, You Need A New “Pig”

Have you heard the saying, “You can put lipstick on a pigs snout, but it’s still a pig?” This phrase is in reference to dressing up an ugly situation hoping you can disguise it, hiding all it’s flaws. Let’s be honest, when it comes to some youth ministries, sometimes there just isn’t enough lipstick.

Our youth ministries can get ugly sometimes . We try to dress it up for our parents, our pastors, the board, etc. There’s nothing wrong with an “ugly” youth ministry. Our youth ministries, like our students, like us, are becoming beautiful over time and through various cycles.

What I suggest is, not try to cover up the “ugly” with lipstick of excuses, pretending it isn’t ugly, in this moment.

Here are some of the lipsticks we’re tempted to put on our pig.

The Lipstick of Busyness

To add another metaphor, adding more activities to your calendar is like adding more deodorant when you haven’s showered in a few days, you still stink. More activities only masks the problem, hoping that no one will notice that the youth ministry is not making disciples, not making progress, and not growing.

Eventually, your youth ministry will slow down, and then it will hit you, “what was all that busyness for?” and your still stuck with a youth ministry going nowhere.

The Lipstick of Comparison

When we start saying things like, “Well, at least …” we’ve started lowering the bar.

Well, at least no one is pregnant.

Well, at least we’re not lot like….

Well, at least kids are coming

Is this bad? Not necessarily. Phrases like this are a coping mechanism when things are not going according to plan. We should always find the positive in our “pig”. We should always look for the small increments of growth and change in our students and celebrate it.

The problem is, if we’re using the phrase too often, it becomes a justification for not trying something different or for not giving more effort to change the things we can change to move our students deeper or further in their faith. It also becomes an excuse for not improving ourselves. The latter is something we have complete control over it. Let’s stop lowering our expectations of God, ourselves and our students and reach for higher goals.

The Lipstick of Numbers

More must mean we’re ok, right? No. Churches with bigger youth ministries just have bigger pigs to decorate. The big numbers can get in the way of a fair evaluation (if any) and slows our need to make changes.

Big numbers can mask flaws in our discipleship strategy. Big crowds are great but the youth ministry as a whole can be unhealthy.

Don’t let big numbers lull you into a false sense of security. Big numbers are not the end game, helping students become more like Jesus is.

The Lipstick of Happy

Everyone’s happy, that’s good, right? Sure it is, but is happiness a good indicator? But how did everyone get that way? Appeasement? Fulfillment?

I always want my students to be happy. I pray for their well being, but from a ministry context, my call is to put them in positions that will make them grow into who God is making them to be, this, sometimes, makes them unhappy.

This kind of unhappy is ok because it’s revealing something about their life and showing them they have room to grow.

We all have a pig, or some shade of pig. If we stay at a church long enough or stay in youth ministry long enough we’ll start to hear the “oinking”.  Once that happens, we have a choice, dress up the pig with excuses and wallow in the mud with it or do what is necessary to turn things around.

Our youth ministries will always have a little ‘pig” in them because youth ministry, leadership, teenagers and life can get ugly, but we should always love our pig and do our best to care for it.

If I can help your youth ministry be better pig, click here to book me to speak, consult or give a workshop.

Remember, pigs can still do amazing things!!

Is This My Last Mission Trip?

I’m sitting in a motel room in  Montgomery, Al. waiting to go to sleep before my trip to Panama tomorrow. Since I am retiring from full time youth pastoring, I started to wonder if this would be my last mission trip.

I think this might be my last mission trip of this kind. By this kind I mean a trip where all the kids do dramas, etc. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s a great introduction to missions, but I’d like to go deeper.

I’d like to arrange trips to a Yavapai Indian reservation, where my friend Russ serves as an official. I visited him once, with some students, and I wondered what it would be like to do more.

I’d like to serve veterans. I have no idea what that might look like, but it would be cool to host them at a retreat or something like that.

I’ve like to serve the LGBT community in some manner. To simply love on people, offer hope and meet needs.

I’d like to serve in the urban community in some way. Maybe doing a grocery service or letting  students do handy man jobs.

I’d like to serve in all 50 states, doing something for people or cultures I’m not familiar with.

I guess mission has a new meaning for me. Mission isn’t a trip, it’s a lifestyle. I’d like every day to be a mission of service to someone or some group I don’t know or understand.

The purpose of every mission, to me, is to show off and grown in Christ’s love. I hope to bring some students with me on some of these trips, but some of these trips I think I’ll do for me.



400 Gone. Just. Like. That.

It was like Thanos had snapped his fingers and 400 subscribers vanished.  In my earlier post I shared how I had lost over 100 subscribers, but I had no idea I had lost that many. Here’s what really happen and why I think it happened.

After some back and forth with Mail Chimp, my e-mail list provider, here is what the compliance team told me,

Paul. Reviewing the account and the contacts who were unsubscribed from that recent campaign, we can see that many of them are on the yahoo.com or aol.com, and domains which use them for their email service. It appears that some automated process at these domains is clicking through all links in the campaigns, including the unsubscribe link. After checking our system for similar cases of high unsubscribes, we also found that virtually all accounts experiencing this issue are using an address at icloud.com or me.com as the reply-to address in their campaigns. Looking at the account, we can see that your campaign also matches this criteria.

So, it wasn’t my fault after all and everyone did not hate me for sending  one too many e-mails. Oh, did I mentions the good part, all the e-mails that are gone, I can’t add them back.

Unfortunately, we will not be able to return the addresses that unsubscribed back to your list. US Federal CAN-SPAM Act regulations are very specific with regard to respecting all unsubscribe requests.

I went from a list of over 700 to a list of a little over 300. There are lessons to be learned here.

Don’t Take Anything Or Anyone For Granted

You know when people tell you “nothing lasts forever”? They ain’t kidding. I can’t say I took all the great people on my list for granted, but I took the list itself for granted. I never thought something like this could happen. Stupid technology.

Don’t Put Your Trust In Anyone But God

Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God. Psalm 20:7

I was up at 2:00 a.m this morning thinking, praying, and repenting. Somewhere along the line, I had misplaced my trust. I put too much trust in a list to bring me what I needed, be it affirmation or sales, or whatever.

One of my old Associate Pastor friends told me a story about trusting God. One of the Busch sons of Anheuser-Busch beer fame, attended our church for a while. When the church as not doing well financially, my friend  told me he would be sitting on the platform, on A Sunday morning watching the back door to see if the Busch son came in. My friend thought, “if he’s here today, its going to be alright”. He also told me that God immediately checked his heart by “I wish you trusted Me as much as you trust him”. Wow!

By looking at my new number of subscribers, I could not help but think of Gideon. Gideon had a war to fight, but God thought he had too many men so God pared them down to, yep, 300. God will get the glory in the end, not my list (sorry guys)

Whether God was involved in this purge or not, it doesn’t matter. The incident itself revealed my heart. Anything I accomplish isn’t because I have a list of people, who are awesome by the way, but because I put my trust in the Lord.

Going forward, I’m watch the back door to make sure God is walking in. When he does, I know everything will be ok.

Good News:  I have room for a few more subscribers, plenty of room. 🙂

Sign up at the bottom 🙂 vvvvvv



A New and Engaging Way To Facilitate Small Group Discussion

Is this your small group?

You: I ask an important question

Them: Awkward silence

You: C’mon guys (in whiny voice)

No more! The Elevate Sessions are an interactive way to get your students talking about where their life is going: Up, Down, or Sideways.

Check out the video below and then snag your Elevator ride up to a fruitful small group discussion right here

The Elevator Sessions include 

– Five discussion topics with questions

– Ready to print sheet for the Table Talk Elevator

Bonus: A way to use the Elevator as a youth ministry evaluation tool