When Your Youth Ministry Is Too Weak To Lead


If you have read though many of my posts, you know I am a big proponent of student-led ministry. This is good in theory, but it requires, if they are new to the concept, hard work to retrain their mindset and the mindset of the church who might have certain expectations for you.

In small youth groups, which are most youth groups in America, 10-15 kids, trying to get your teens to own their youth ministry feels like a herculean task. You want them to carry this new standard but they are too weak hold it let aloe carry it. I began to think about this weakness and what causes it, and what we can do about it. Here are a few of my thoughts:

1. Spiritual Starvation– Youth groups that are built on games and entertainment, when approached with the idea of student leadership and it’s costs, sometimes choke on this idea. I know preachers preach meat over milk, but sometimes you have to go back to the bottle just so they can hold on to the knife and fork. Go back to the basics and the “why’s?” of why you meet and covering the basics of the gospel.

2. No Exercise– Youth groups who are not used to servant projects or mission trips, possibly have an inbred mentality of us four no nore. They haven’t exercised their faith in a long time and left them in a type of spiritual atrophy. Get those muscles working again in your church, your community, or anywhere else in the world and you’ll see their muscle tone return.

3. No Energy– The youth group that suffer from this might need some outreach opportunities to their friends. They have fatigue from too little or maybe from doing to much. Pulling off a big deal like a concert or event, give the group the big picture of what they can do for their youth ministry and community. Likewise, scaling back on a very busy schedule may free your kids up to lead

4. In-Fighting– It could be that your youth group has been fighting so much they are emotionally exhausted from tearing into one another. When countries experience this, from a coo or rebellion, it becomes more difficult to govern and make progress. Maybe there needs to be a peace treaty drawn up and you play the role of ambassador getting parties to sign it for the sake of the group.

5. Spiritual Anorexia and Bulimia– This youth group suffers from a identity problem. As much as you tell them they are the righteousness of God in Jesus Christ, they just see themselves as nobodies, and so they purge themselves of the nutrients they gobble in your meetings. Lessons on self image, who we are in Christ, and who is the church, may get them to a healthier self image and hold on to the meat of being leaders.

In the end, even though we want to reboot the group and get them growing, we may have to carry our group until they can carry themselves. Be patient, feed them well, exercise them regularly, work for peace, and eventually they will pick up their faith and run with it, then you’ll have to try to keep up with them.

Idealism Or The Idea? Your Choice Means Misery or Success


If you blow up the picture above, Captain America is waxing eloquently about how America should be. He ends with the phrase “no, you move.”  Idealism works for Cap, he’s a comic book character, he does not live in the real world, we do. Idealism says “you move”. Cap would not make it as a pastor.

According to the dictionary Idealism is the practice of forming or pursuing ideals, esp. unrealistically. I cannot begin to tell you how much idealism almost wrecked me in my young days. The battle between idealism and reality is strong and ongoing. Every conference we attend, article we read, and video we watch, draws what is perfect in our heads. When we bring those ideas to the youth ministry table, and start to push others around us to conform to it, that is where the trouble begins.

Idealism pushed people away.

Idealism forces it will upon others.

Idealism crushes our hearts and creates bitterness when it becomes unrealized.

The Bible is ideal. How Jesus disciples is ideal. Becoming consumed with the ideal attendance, the ideal strategy for small groups, or our ideal preaching style can all blind us to the reality of what Jesus is doing in our midst. We can become so consumed with the ideal anything, we miss the point of the idea itself. Idealism is the enemy of the idea.

Have you been ever been more consumed with your idealism (the forceful perfecting of an unrealistic vision) than in love with the idea, letting unfold naturally? Share your wisdom on how you killed the beast.

Post summed up: Idea good. Idealism bad.


The Lure Of Becoming A Secular Youth Ministry


Secular sounds like an antiquated word in this day and age, but it’s the only one I could think of to describe the alternative to a faith based, radical youth ministry.

The lure of becoming a secular youth ministry is very appealing. It calls to us. It beckons like a siren to

  • run a program instead of making disciples.
  • keep our head down and do our job.
  • avoid engaging the community we live in with the gospel.
  • put in office hours like everyone else on our block.
  • do what we’re told instead of what is best. Compliance is king.
  • not challenging kids to follow Jesus for fear they will leave.
  • preach behavior modification rather than an all sufficient Savior.
Youth ministry used to be radical, now it’s normal. What separates our youth ministries from the Boys and Girls Club, the YMCA, or other social relief agencies? Their is nothing wrong with any of the aforemetioned organizations, they’re just not the church. 
I miss Mike Yaconelli. Many times at the end of Youth Specialties he’d encourage us to go back to our churches and “get fired for the glory of God.” Today we’d tell him, “Good idea Mike, but not in this economy.”
Have you felt the lure? The passion drain? The desire for your youth ministry to be liked, respected and above all, normal? Do you have a suggestion on how we can avoid the trap of becoming a secular youth ministry? Tell us about it.

Six Ways You Can Make The Next Guys Job Easier



When Bill Clinton left office so George Bush could move in, Bill left a little present. Many of the White House staff took the W’s off all the computer keyboards. Very funny. But, if we take more than we leave in a youth ministry, it only hurts the future. I’ve inherited a few youth ministries in my time. In some cases, it was like I won a burned out house in a lottery. Now, it was probably, not the youth pastors fault entirely, but I suspect he did not help the situation. If you are planing on being at your current position forever, then ignore this post. If you think you might move on , can we please make the next guys’s job easier? Here are six things you could leave the next guy, that would make their job easier.

1. Leave them good records. 

Most of us walk into a group blind. We don’t know which end is up or how to approach our new group. Good records on attendance, visitors, events, etc. let me know where you left off and where I need to take the group. Leave behind a good list of names and address, maybe even some photo’s with names. Let me recommend Youth Tracker. It does this and so much more.

2. Leave them kids who know what consequences are.

I had one youth group that thought it was normal to talk while I was up speaking. I don’t mean whispering, I mean talking out loud. I don’t know how the previous youth pastor managed that. In addition, I could get no previous staff member to discipline a child. The group had an entitlement mentality and the staff had a “we don’t want to run anyone off” mentality. Reality Check: We don’t do a kid (or the future youth pastor) a favor by not offering our group a fair and consistent process of discipline. Those two girls? Yeah, they did not last long.

3. Leave them adult leaders to help them carry the load.

Leave behind a few leaders who get it. Leaders who know the group, know the process, and know how to work with the new guy. Leave some leaders who know how to carry on without you and are not loyal to a man but committed to the Lord and loyal to the group. Leave behind some adult leaders with a bigger vision than yours and the group you helped build, will be able to move forward.

4. Leave them kids who are familiar with the gospel, the Bible as a whole, and an idea of what discipleship is.

I have had groups where I shared a message about following Jesus and the group thought I was speaking a foreign language. Every Bible study, message, and devotion we share is an opportunity to galvanize biblical concepts and make it to where their is a lot less re-learning to do when the new guys show up. Let’s not preach or teach to save our jobs, look cool, or please people. If we keep the Lord and His Word center stage, we”ll leave a group behind that won’t think the new guy is speaking Cantonese.

5. Leave the next guy a cave full of student disciples (Leaders)

Some youth pastors show up to their new jobs like Elijah and wind up weeping over the fact that their are none who love the Lord and all have bowed to Baal. The Lord told Elijah, I have a cave full of people who love me who have not bowed to Baal. Let’s be intentional about making disciples of Jesus and not just disciples of us. When we are leaving a church, we should have talk with those students and tell them to get on board with the new guy. A youth group is bigger than us. There is a plan far bigger in play for this group and we are just part of it. Let’s not make it about us.

6. Leave them an epic example of how much you loved God and these kids.

I used to get mad when I came into a church that had a great youth ministry before I got there. Why? Because for the first year, all I would hear about was the last guy and the great events etc. Now I understand, they raised the bar. They lifted expectations and now I could not just fall back on my laurels, I had to step up. A youth ministry that demands the best of the next guy is a good thing. This does not make my job harder, it challenges me to step up and grow.


Tell me about about what you are leaving the next guy or tell me what the other guy did or did not leave you that you wish he had.

What Is Our Youth Group NOT Advertising?


What does this sign say? More importantly, what does it NOT say and do we put out things about our youth ministry just like it?

Clearly, the grocery store is going for price point sale. We have cheap stakes, they are not the best steaks, but they are the cheapest. Do we “sell” our youth ministry in a similar fashion? Do we say things like “We are a fun youth group!” We use that to get kids to come and hope they stay. It may be true that our our youth groups are fun but is it a bait and switch tactic?

Jesus told people up front, this thing called discipleship, it’s tough. Now, I am not in favor of pinning a visitor to the wall with an all nothing proposition on their first visit, but I wonder how much this proposition comes up at all in youth groups.

I also do not think we should advertise our youth ministries as the cheapest faith in town, “Come on by, we won’t make you angry by challenging you or preaching the gospel, but heck we’ll have fun.”

What do you think? Do you think youth ministries still practice bait and switch tactics and is this hurting youth ministries (and churches) in the long run in making disciples? Tell me what you think.































Youth Ministry Diagnostics, Plus A Free 17 Point Inspection Tool

Oil change places have a great selling point, they will check X amount of things on your car for one price. It sounds invasive. It sounds like they’ll take the whole thing apart and put it back together. We feel pretty safe because they will check x amount of things.

The rub is, when they check x amount of things, that means it may cost me more money. It may cost me a fuel filter or windshield wiper, but that’s o.k. if I really need them. Sometimes I say no, but it always cost me later if I do.

Today I’d like to offer you a free inspection tool from time to time. This resource is 17 Point Post Youth Meeting Checklist broken into three categories, People, Program, and Personal. It’s helped me reflect on what is important (people), what I can get better at (program), and what to take to heart and what not to take to heart (personal).

When was the last time your did an inspection on your youth ministry? Do you know what to look for? Do you need some help? Give me a call and I’ll be glad to get my overalls on and take a look under your hood.




Five Places You Could Be Instead Of Your Office


I used to like being in my office, until I figured out I was being ineffective in my ministry and sheltered from those who I need to spend time with. If I am not in my office, here is where you may find me and you may want to join me


1. I am with other church members, including my Pastor

I may be having lunch, dinner, or breakfast with all kinds of people. Why? Because I want to hang out. I want them to know the real me. The best way to do that is to not be in my office, but to be where they are. I may be playing golf, eating, or something else but I am trying to get know my congregation so I can share my vision and passion for young people. I am also listening for red flags about the ministry and for needs our youth group can meet for that person.

2. I am at the library or coffee shop thinking

“Thinking?” you say? yes, thinking. I need think time. I need time to process what God is saying to me through His Word and prayer. My to do list is not as important as my think list. I need time to think about that kid, that parent, that staff member, and that challenge I am facing. Can’t I do that in the office? Not me. I need the change of atmosphere.

3. I am at the thrift store.

Why am I at the thrift store?

  • I am building my library cheaply with good books
  • I am find cool things such as games, trophies, and more to use with our youth ministry
  • I am finding whacky costumes and hats
  • I am finding weird giveaways for the next game night. 
4. I am home
I lived for too long, living out of my car and my office and letting my house get wrcked. I go home occasionally for lunch or otherwise to do laundry, dishes, and general clean up, so the burden is not completely on my wife. My home, and yours, is more important than the office because the people we love the most live there.
5. I am working
You mean you are working and not in the office? That is right. Shuffling papers is not my style and is not very productive. It is an illusion of real work. More people work out of the office than in these day. Check out the Mobile Work Force InfoGraph from Mashable. I am
  • I am taking pictures and posting them on Facebook
  • I am textting kids and parents
  • I am sending e-mails 
  • I am creating
Could I do this from the office? Sure, but it cuts down on my being able to multi-task effectively.
Do you have office hours? What are they?  Do you have an office?  Are you in it too much? Where do you go when you are not there and is it productive? Let me know, I’d love to here about it.

Breaking Down The “Why?” Question In Our Youth Ministries


I have been reading the book Start With Why By Simone Sinek. The focus of his book is in the title; that people are more about why you do something than what you do or how you do it, so why don’t we start with asking why before we create another ineffective program? I used to think that if I told kids what we did (events, fun, concerts, etc.) and how we did it ( with energy, lots of give aways, food, big crowds) they would be sold, come to the event, and then stick around for a while. Had I stuck to that premise only, I would have left youth ministry a long time ago. The what and the how no longer excite me, but the why is still what has kept me going.

I think most of the kids have stuck with me in the ministry for a while because they know I do not do it for the money, fame, and glory because their isn’t any. They stuck around because I cared about them enough to hang our with them, share the truth with them, and from time to time, discipline them. They figured out that the Why? under current of my life was to see them become fuller followers of Christ while they were under my watch. They knew I was with them for as long as I could be, and I never gave up on them so long as it was within my power.

This does not mean my WHY was not without a few faults. I would slip from time to time back into what we do and how we do it and make that the focus. I would sometimes not do relationships very well, but the kids hung around anyway, God bless’em.

So, how do we take the translate the meaninglessness out of our what and how of youth ministry to give us a compelling story instead of an invitation tag line or bumper for the next video of a  program we’re pushing? I recently re-thought out our worship band and this is my why, what, and how of our youth band. I recently sent this to our band leader.


WHY do we have a band? – This is purely philosophical, but if we cannot answer the why then the what and the how do not matter.

Why do we have a band?

  • Because it allows young people to use heir gifts and talents to glorify God rather than be spectators.
  • Because young people need peers to model what worship is. 
  • Because, if we do not create an atmosphere of worship, with the best that we have, that lifts God high, we will never see students step out in faith and worship God in the fulness of the Spirit. 

Simple right? This is WHAT the band is going to do

1. Practice become worship leaders to their peers to the throne room of God, in band practice.
2. Grow deeper in their individual walk with God because of their commitment to worship
3. Become the best they can be at their instrument and vocals.

More simple, right?  This is HOW we are going to do it: We will

1. Expect them to be at practice and on time. Let’s have a few weeks of grace but the rule in the past is: If you do not practice with the band, you do not play with the band that following week. Let’s stick to that.
2. Create an environment of innovation. No idea is too crazy, no song to stupid, no combination of instruments too ludicrous. In other words, if they have an idea, let them share it, weigh it against the feedback of the rest of the band and what you think; and if it is doable, run with it. This means:

a. If someone has a solo, either instrumentally or vocally let’s figure out how to fit that in (special, offering, communion, closing, etc.)
b. Mentor and challenge kids to step up. Don’t let talented kids hide. Encourage them to step out. Really focus on certain kids to be lead worshippers. Here is a four step process I use when mentoring

I do it you watch (this might mean you show them how to pray out loud, move in the Spirit, etc.)
I do it you help (give them opportunities to do what you just did)
You do it and I watch (take the training wheels off and let them ride, even if they crash, they learn something)
You do it I train someone else ( Once that person has to confidence to do it, let them do it and move on to someone else all the while being available for feedback, etc.)

3. We’re going to bang the drum in all these areas. We will  say it, write it, practice it, show it, paint it, sing it, or any other method that will keep our WHY at the forefront.

4. We will start each practice with a short devotion about worship, more story driven than principle driven but not leaving out either. The devotion will be short with interactive (open ended) questions and we will let kids struggle with the answers to  “what does this mean for me personally?” and “what does this mean for us as a band and a youth ministry?”

5. Recruit fantastic musicians and singers, from inside and outside the church, to mentor our kids in their instruments and vocals.


That took me about 15 minutes to think through and write out. Feel free to steal it, rework it to make it your own, or come up with your own.


Part II Coming Soon: Steps To Coming Up With Your Why Statement












Is There Hope For The Un-Relational Youth Pastor?

We all know that youth ministry and ministry in general is driven by relationships, but what about those of us who are not anti-social but growing relationally challenged? I will say that early on in my life I felt like I had to be the life of the party and entertain everyone around me, now that I am older I don’t feel the need to do so, but I look at relationships, especially with young people differently.

I grew up an only child, so I am used to having alone time. In fact, the older I get, the more I like to be alone. I like to read, study, you know, all those things many of did not like when were younger. How has my relationship style changed with students and just about everyone else? Here are a few things I am practicing:

  • Shorter burst of relational time but more meaningful.
  • Say things that matter and skip the fluff.
  • Longer periods of quiet and reflection so when I do jump in to the thick of it I am charged and ready for it.
  • More texting (short encouragements).
  • Less Facebook time (especially chatting)
  • More meal time with students.
  • Not feeling guilty if I am not always there.
  • Letting others step into the spot light.

These are not just tips from a guy who is growing older in his profession, they are nuggets for anyone who thinks they have to be “on” all the time. I don’t think am losing a step in the area of relationships but as choosing my steps more wisely.

Do you struggle in building/maintaining relationships with students? Tell us about it. Have some more tips for the relationally challenged? Share those too.

Why Youth Pastor’s Are Not (Real) Missionaries



I’ve heard through he years that youth pastors are like missionaries. I used to think that was true, but upon reflections, I find it is only partially true.  I just got back from Phoenix and our National Fine Arts Conference and District Council for my denom. I talked with my friend and missionary Larry Henderson. Larry and his wife Melinda are missionaries to the Canary Islands.

Larry was helping with a booth to support missions in Europe where only 3% of the population is Christian. We started talking about what is working in youth work in the Canary Islands and guess what? It’s no shocker, it’s relationships. They gather kids up weekly and play soccer and then share the gospel or invite them to a bible study. The whole thing is relationships.

Now, we , as youth workers, do share some similarities with missionaries

  • We work in a foreign culture (Two Words : Lady Gaga)
  • We have the occasional language barrier (brush up on your lingo here or here)
  • We face cannibals on a weekly basis (Don’t laugh, you haven’t seen my youth group)

We are missionaries in practice, up to a point. The differences are many

  • Missionaries are revered for their sacrifice to live in another country ( I am over 40 and culture is officially another country to me, I want a cookie)
  • Missionaries are supported financially. (Need I say more)
  • Missionaries are applauded for reaching those God forsaken pagans (we are asked about that strange kid with the purple hair)
  • Missionaries garner prayer support (prayed for any other youth workers lately)
  • Missionaries are invited to share stories from the front lines. (Can you name the last time you were invited to share what God was doing in the youth ministry with your congregation?)
  • Missionaries can try anything that might reach the indigenous people and they don’t get fired if it does not work. (We get yelled at because the music is too loud)

What do you think,  are youth pastors true missionaries? Should youth pastors move to being independent contractors (ala Young Life and YFC) and we just tell churches, we’ll work in your community but don’t tell us how to do our job? If only 3% of the teenagers in our country were Christians would the roles of youth pastors change? How?