Accepting Your Youth Ministry As They Are, Small and All

Much of the chaos we experience as youth workers is self induced. We get entrenched in a mindset and build around that. Now, if that mindset is whole and healthy, all is well. When our mindset is unhealthy, watch out. For me, the word “accept” was unacceptable. It was a sign of surrender. What couldn’t I accept?

I couldn’t accept a small youth ministry

I was taught, indirectly, or otherwise, that small was bad. Small meant weak. Small was a sign that I could not get the job done, whatever that meant. Small was an indictment on my leadership ability and even my spirituality. I am learning to love my group, no matter what state they are in. Whether we are small or dysfunctional or whatever. They are my charge and I must learn, like the Apostle Paul, “to be content, whatever state I am in”.

I couldn’t accept working in a small town

I grew up in Brooklyn, NY. I have experienced the bigness of life. I moved to Vero Beach, Fl, a much smaller town, but not a cloistered environment. I now work and live in a much smaller town of Pleasant Grove, Al.. It’s the kind of town where if I sneeze, someone texts me and says, “God Bless You.” Yeah, it’s that small. My life has seemed to get smaller over time. I struggle with small towns because I have such big ideas.

I couldn’t accept small mindedness (and I still can’t) 

I have ideas flying in my head all the time. I love change and forward progress, but not everyone does. Much of my misery in youth ministry is due to bucking the system and the small mindedness of a few. I just could not accept that they could not see the big picture or the big idea. This is one area that I refuse to lay down on, but I have changed my rate of change and do  better job of presenting those ideas.

Jesus accepted more than his disciples would have liked Him to.

Jesus accepted other disciples. James and John wanted to call down fire.

Jesus accepted being arrested. Peter wanted to fight.

Jesus accepted the cross. The disciples fled.

Who am I not to accept the Lord’s placement for my life or the people he has asked me to serve?

Accepting things as they are is still the toughest statement for me to live out. But I love the kids I pastor. I am working on accepting the town I live in. I will probably never accept small mindedness and I don’t think God will either. I had always been driven by the power of more and by the often unfair expectations of those who led me, but, after 25 years, I am finding my place and peace in accepting things as they are but with one foot always moving forward, just a little slower.

What do you find hardest to accept about your life or ministry?

You Can’t Just Preach Your Way Out Of It

Preaching is a life giving way to affirm and to challenge students. Preaching should not be our go to method for solving problems in our youth ministry. There are problems we face both personally and professionally that require more than a message.

In building terms, if we have issues within our group such as dissension, hypocrisy, etc,  a message is the dry wall, not the frame. Drywall without a frame falls flat no matter how great the quality of the drywall. The frame is the hard work we put into the relationships we have with students. We see Jesus had many monumental preaching moments, but it was the moments between those moments that made disciples. Our one on one connections with students builds the framework to put up the drywall, share the message.

We have to learn to balance our schedule. How much time are we spending on message prep and how much time are we spending on relationships. In order to see the fruit Jesus saw, we have to have more get aways with Peter, James, and John in between our Sermons From The Mount.

Have you tried to preach away, or preach your way out of a problem? How did that go?



3 Traits Of A True Student Led Ministry Believer

I was at a campus bible club this morning and the speaker did not show up. One of the youth pastors, who is a decent speaker and a good guy, shared some thoughts from his message the night before. Nothing wrong with that, but how would True Believers have handled this differently?

We Don’t Always Come To Our Students Rescue

We have all done this, we feel like we have the have to save the moment or jump into the lead when things are not going well. If the ministry belonged to the kids this morning, the meeting would have looked like this

“Hey guys, our speaker is not here this morning, I need three students to share what they learned last night in their youth group or something that God has taught you recently.”

And then I would have waited in awkward silence until those who were supposed to do it came to the front.

We Build Student Led Ministry Into Every Ministry Opportunity

If the kids in that group knew it was their ministry they would have been prepared to share. It would have been a forgone conclusion. In fact, if they knew it was their ministry, they would not have waited until the youth pastor said it was time to start, they would have started it themselves. True Believers inject every kid with the Can Do Virus and then let it spread.

We Are Always Prepared To Give Away Our Ministry

I normally offer a time of prayer in our group where kids can come to the altar to share needs etc. Last night I gave that away. I told the kids that “tonight, you will pray for one another.” And they did. Where as, on a normal night, I amy have 1-3 come up for prayer, I think every one was prayed for that night, by another student believer.

“Is nothing sacred Paul?” No, nothing. If we truly believe that we are the best choice for every job in our youth ministry we are crazy. If we truly believe a student can do what we do, on a program we’ll give it away. I know it’s our nature to take the choice pieces for ourselves and let kids set up chairs or some other benign chore; but here are kids in our group who are called to preach and we should let them. Their are kids called to sing and we should let them. Their are kids called to lead and we should let them.

Are you a true believer?

What are some other traits of true student-led believers?


Don’t Let Your Eyes Fool You, God Is Working

Like many youth workers, I am prone to let the size of the crowd or the posture of our students decide what my emotional state will be the rest f the evening. Last night I saw a kid with his hat over his eyes during worship. “Great’ I thought. Then I caught myself and said, “it will be o.k.” I had a strange burst of confidence come over me. I preached with my normal exuberance, saw a few come to the altar, and then prayed.  Then came the reason I should not trust my eyes.

I was outside during our youth’s choir practice and who comes looking for me? Yep, kid with the hat over his eyes. He wanted to talk with me. This was only his second time at our church. We had a great talk about where he is in life and he shared his heart. He wanted to get his life on track. We prayed and he decided to follow Jesus.

It’s easy to walk into your youth room and see it half empty and say “where is everybody?” But don’t let your eyes fool you. The kids that are there want to be there. They drove themselves. The begged their moms to come. Some of your kids invited a friend. They slouch, talk, and text during worship. It’s not working is it? They aren’t getting it are they?  Don’t go by what you see. God is there. Working. Beyond our eyes.


Do you get discouraged by what you see? How do you overcome the meeting blahs of low numbers or disinterested looks?


Altar Calls Part I: Don’t Abuse The Privilege

I am unashamedly in favor of calling kids to commitment, but the altar call has been abused to the point where I think many youth workers second guess the Holy Spirit’s desire to call kids to commitment.

Let me first say, kids can accept Christ without a physical coming up to an altar or to the front of the church, but I don’t believe that is all an altar is for. Altars are for sacrifice, worship, and for prayer. A call to the altar is not and does not have to primarily be for salvation only.

I fact, I recently saw a post form a young man that was t camp I preached at this summer. Here are his comments:

He is thanking me for giving so many altar calls. What he does not know is, I always give altar calls ( you can read his whole testimony here. 

Here is another conversation I had with another young man who was not all that familiar with altar calls.

Conversation with a camper this summer

Him: “thanks for doing that thing last night”
Me: “what thing?”
Him: “you know that thing, where you come down to the front…”

Me: “the altar call?”
Him: yeah, that! That was legit.

Kids are hungry to commit not only to something, but to someone. That someone of the altar call should not be us, or our program, it should be Jesus. Let’s not waste a kids time, energy, or faith by calling them to anything other than a life long love affair with Jesus. Let’s not abuse the privilege a kid gives us to leading them to living water.

What do you think? Do you think youth pastors abuse the privilege of the altar call in calling a young person to faith? Tell me your experience.

Part II Coming Soon


A Message For Youth Pastors Over 40: Make Peace With Your Past


I decided this was the day. The day I would get rid of all that old youth ministry stuff that I have collected for 20 years. It was time to say goodbye to 17 (yes 17) binders of information, forms, messages, and other youth ministry trinkets. It was fun back then, but I don’t live there anymore and neither do the students I minister to today. Heck, the world I lived in does not exist today.

As I sifted though through binders and folders I found typed, yes typed, like on a type writer, messages and forms.  I caught the title of a few , flashed a grin back at them, and in the trash it went. I was merciless. But why so brutal?

As a 44 year old youth pastor I have been able to watch the evolution of student ministry as did those before me witnessed. The past is funny thing, it can comfort you and it can kill you all at the same time. I had to make peace with  the past before it became the enemy of my future. Here are three ways we can make peace and move on to the future God has for us.

Make peace with your past successes

Good is enemy of the best. Past successes are great, but our kids don’t care about those. As much as we try to tell them, “Hey!  I’ve been around!” They just want to know that we care about them, right now. Think about those kids, student leaders, etc. from your past that you treasure in your heart. You worked to get there. You put the time in. Don’t look back and ask why you can’t have that again. Get back to work. Put in the time and three years you’ll have what you want, again.

Make peace with your past messages

We can look back and see all the cool messages we preached, the great illustrations, and some may even be timeless and reusable, but don’t give in to that temptation to bring them back. Messages can be tiny idols we keep in our pocket and while Moses turns his back we pull them out and dance around them. I avoid certain weeks of camp because I know certain speakers will pull a message out of their Summer Messages folder and pretend it’s new. It’s sad. Let’s get on our knees once again and ask God for fresh bread that He has already baked for us.

Make peace with your past programming

The old adage “If you continue to do what you have always done, you will always have what you’ve always had” is true. I have tried to pull old tricks out of my hat in every ministry I have had and I have had to eat dirt every time. Kids know when we are trying to sell them on something we used to do. I think students think it’s insulting. We can get offended when kids baulk at our idea or we can recognize that these kids don’t want to be treated like our old youth group. Embrace who they are and change your style to fit them.

**Note: I am talking about pre-set programs not principles. Principles are transferrable some programs are.

I cleared my physical shelves and my metaphorical shelves. I made room for new successes, new messages, new revelations, and new ideas for reaching kids for Christ. Come along aged warriors, remember the past and smile, but look to the future and rejoice. Our best days are ahead.


Did I miss anything? Are you over 40 and found that you had to make peace with something like education, old wounds, etc. What else could we add to this list?

Youth Meeting: When You Don’t Know What To Preach

I love to preach. I mean, full out bringing it, but some weeks I have no idea what to talk about. It might be that I am in between series or am I am struggling for series ideas. If we were all honest, we’ve all felt this and have uttered these words, “This week, I have no clue.”

I have a t-shirt that says, “It’s all good”. My wife hates it but it’s become my motto for preaching. The bible is all good. Everything from Genesis to Revelation (even Leviticus). As I pray, listen, and trust the Holy Spirit; I know that whatever comes out will glorify God and empower kids. Many times I don’t get to preach because I am happy if I just open the altars for prayer so kids can touch the hem of Jesus’ garment. I just get out of the way.

If you really are clueless about what to preach it’s o.k.. Don’t freak. Here are a few thoughts that might stir you.

1. Just ask Jesus, “What do my kids need tonight?” It is that simple.

2. What’s happening in the world that our kids need to understand in the context of scripture. This could the Dark Knight shooting tragedy or a quote from the Olympics. Keep your eyes and ears open.

3. Is there a popular You Tube video that needs to sparks discussion.

4. Is there a popular song on the radio that’s in your head that speaks a deeper truth.

5. Do we just need to turn on some worship music and let kids come to the altar?

6. Reflect on what God is doing in your own life.

7. Share a story from your life that you’ve never told.

8. Share your testimony, don’t preach it, share it.

You may be reading the Bible and you’re just not feeling it. Keep reading. Skip around, read the passage over and over again, keep going to the well until your bucket is full first and then fill the kids bucket.

I’ve stress out about the message more than I care to admit. As long as I am loving kids enough to tell kids the truth, and loving kids period, it’s all good.




Songs You Might Want To Add To Your iTunes Wish List

Every Tuesday I scan iTunes looking for new songs, motivation, and inspiration. This morning I thought I’d share what lit my fire this morning.

Fan The Flames – Dustin Smith (anything with fire get me going)

Te Amo – Israel and New Breed (anything with T-Bone works for me.)

Mighty Fortress– Jesus Culture, Mary kat Ehrenzeller (She kills this)

I Won’t Settle – Nate Ward 11 (this will show up in a youth meeting message)

Can’t Have My Soul – Je’Kob (putting the devil and the world on notice)

Come To The River– Rhett Walker Band  (just buy the whole album)

I’ll Fly Away– Flatfoot 56 (f you are looking for a punkish version of this songs, and who isn’t, this is for you. It has


Here I Am Alive – Yellow Card (I like the pop vibe and the message)

Live Like A Warrior– Matisyahu (It’s infectious. Makes me wonder if he’s been hanging with Toby Mac LOL)

Never Gonna Give It Up – Jett Black  (My nod to 80’s style metal/rock, it;s probably the only good song on the album, ok,

Raining Rock is pretty good too)

To All My Family and Relations– Spirit Family Reunion (if you like it folksy/country/laid back, this is for you)

That’t it for now. Did this help you find some new music you can’t get out of your head? Don;t have time to scan the Ituniverse and this helped you out? Let me know and maybe I’ll bring you a new batch of tunes next week.







Would Merit “Pay” Work On Any Level For Youth Pastors?

I have been thinking about this for a while. I have been wondering if merit pay for youth pastors would work. Is there a way to use this system in the positive without the negatives. In other words, you can never lose incentives, only gain them. “Pay” in this instance is not necessarily money. Incentives could be anything: conventions, trips, access, etc. if certain goals are met.

These goals would not consist of number of salvations, baptisms, etc. This would be too creepy and carnal. I am speaking from a purely programatic sense: Numbers, trips, job well done, hard work, team work, etc.

Teachers get merit pay if their classes score good grades, etc

Football players make extra money for tackles, catches, and touchdowns.

I don’t want to say Youth Pastor are lazy but like every other job, we have our few. Would merit pay be a cure for that? It’s not Gods’ fault if a youth pastor wants to sit at Starbucks all day hope kids show up (I understand demographic issues, etc.). We work in tandem with God. We reap what we sow etc. Does merit pay or rewards work in the context of the church? I don’t know. I have never been on that type of system. I would probably buck it, but it depended on the rewards not the losses for me. Could I gain access to things I would not normally get like a cool car, more money for my budget, a tricked out van for the kids, access to authors and musicians?

Before any of us get too high and mighty and say “this is a worldly way of doing things” think of all the things you would not do if there are no incentive for you to do it. Doing what God says with out results is one thing (see Jeremiah and most of the other prophets). You know that you know you were supposed to do it, but none of us would be full time or even part time youth pastors if we did not have a way to provide for our families (unless you are a prophet, see above)

The jury is still out for me. I am just asking questions.


More Questions

Have you ever worked in a church with a merit “pay” system?

My question is, would you work harder if you knew you could gain something or that you would lost something?

Taking Student Leadership Mainstream



I love developing young leaders. Since I started I youth ministry (100 yeas ago it seems) I was taught to develop a leadership team. The book you see above was my first student leadership book. It recommended I start a S.A.L.T team, this stands for Student Action Leadership Team. From this point on I was always recruiting new leaders, we would have planning meetings, etc. It was very exclusive. Now let’s jump ahead 20 years.

I used to believed in the elite team. The special forces of youth ministry. I sought the best and the brightest, until I got a “revelation” that that is not what Jesus did. Yes, he chose 12 disciples, but that was not his “leadership” team. If they were supposed to be his leadership team, they were certainly not the best and the brightest. I would have chosen the rich young ruler or the prodigal son’s bother because he was always home and faithful.

Jesus took leadership mainstream. He called young men who could not make it in traditional rabbi school where you had to apply to be a student (yes, I used to use student leadership applications doh!). I have an Endeavor style ministry, mixed with my own thoughts and ideas, that believes all kids can take their place in God’s story.

I am still experimenting with some mid-week program models but I have divided our youth ministry meeting time into a 45 and 45 paradigm. Summer is different, but the idea goes like this,  kids think up and develop projects with an an adult facilitator for the first 45 minutes of our program. They meet, eat, chill, plan etc. Some nights they are planning a weekend retreat and some nights they are thinking on ways to add value to the program that night. Everyone can choose something. The second 45 minutes is service. We have praise and worship, offering, and message, etc.

I still have “go to” kids but my pool of developing young leaders has grown. I get to watch kids in action. It’s like watching a football combine and seeing kids run through the drills in real time. In this process kids are learning, doing, and failing vs sitting. This model isn’t perfect, no models are, but this mainstream approach to leadership feels more like Jesus to me.

For more info on developing student leaders and some of my recommended resources you can check out my article on Equipping Student Leaders

How are you taking student leadership mainstream in your group?