When Kids Say: I’ve Seen This Trick Before

I was eating today at a japanese restaurant. I had not planned on eating at the grill for one simple reason: I had seen all his tricks before. It made me think, how often do students say the same thing about our program : “I’ve see this trick before”. It could be that we beat a game to death, sing the same songs, preach in the same way or on the same subject. Magicians have the same trouble. They do the same tricks for a year and then work on new material. You wouldn’t pay to see the magician do the same tricks over and over would you? Magicians and Hibachi Chefs and Youth Pastors need to learn a few new tricks or at least customize the old ones. I mean, I have been bored with my own program and I’m the one leading it. Anyone feeling me out there?

Doing tricks on a hibachi is great for a large table of people, with kids. Even if you have seen the tricks before you get a kick out of watching the kids reaction who’ve never seen this before. There were two of us sitting at the hibachi table. He did the same tricks: The onion volcano choo choo, the egg role (Ha ha) etc. There were two of us. But see, he was stuck in a rut. He was trained to cook the same way for every customer. How about you? Have you quit customizing your program and turned it into a one size fits all? Don’t be shocked if kids quit coming because they’ve seen that trick before.

Watch this to see what I mean Amazing Hibachi Chef

Did you see anything amazing? Probably not. You probably have a chef in your town who does the same tricks. I’m not taking anything away from the guy, he has skills.

But, what if my hibachi cook took the time to know me and when I came in he said, “I have been working on a new trick just for you that you have never seen.” You bet I’d be back more often to see it. Our kids need us to think, pray, and create more ways for them to see, understand and receive the gospel. Jesus only did the mud in the blind eyes thing once. Why? If he had done it all the time he would have lost the crowds. The crowds said of Him, “All the people were amazed and said to each other, “What is this teaching? With authority and power he gives orders to evil spirits and they come out!” Luke 4:36. Jesus brought something new to the table that the crowds had not heard or seen.

So, What if..

1. You met somewhere different

2. You didn’t preach that night (someone else did or no one did)

3. You had a foot washing service.

4. You had communion.

5. You knew your audience better.

6. You scaled down or up accordingly.

7. You did something specific with a kid or a group of kids in mind.

8. You had a prayer line or just a night of prayer.

9. You anointed kids with oil for service.

10. You told new stories (instead of those old ones over and over)

11. Students led the service.

12. You got better at communicating or chose a different communication style

13. What if you used art to tell your message.

14. You changed the way you call kids to the altar or close the service.

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. Variety is the spice of life. You don’t have to change every week, just enough that keeps your kids from guessing your order of service every week.

Risk Taking Youth Ministry Part II

This is Part II of my interview with Youth Pastor and Risk Taker Mark Cox

How did the students, leaders, parents, and pastor respond to your wanting to change things?

Right off the bat, there were mixed reviews. Don’t get me wrong; a lot of people were supporters of the idea. However, there were a lot of people that were scared. They loved what we were doing. So it took a lot of selling to help people understand that this wasn’t just a good move for us, but that it was a God thing.

Almost all of our committed youth workers were pumped about it from day one. It just took us a couple of months to hammer out some of the details, because this change affected other areas of our student ministry, too.

My pastor wasn’t the first person I talked to about this move, either. My process looked something like this: As soon as I realized that there was a potential to go down this path, I called Shane Combs, the youth pastor at my home church (Emmanuel Church of Greenwood), because he currently implements this strategy. I picked his brain longer than he was probably comfortable with. Then I talked with a couple other youth pastors about it (you rarely get kick-back from people in your field about big changes, so don’t rely on their “thumbs-up” as your only guidance). I went home that night, and prayed with my wife about the issue. She told me that if God was leading me to make this change, then she was 100% behind me. At this point, I felt it was necessary to talk to a couple of our core volunteers about it. After a lot of lunches and phone calls, I proposed it to my pastor. He’s not a details guy, but loved the concept of training students to lead their peers, so he was on-board.

Really, the only response that wasn’t a “go for it” kind of response came from my close friends (youth pastors, volunteers, etc) who know my weaknesses (details, foresight, etc). That was a major part of this transition – bringing people alongside me in the process to help me see the side that I wouldn’t naturally see. Overall, though, we saw a pretty overwhelming positive response to the change.

How did the launch go? Was it everything you thought it would be?

The nature of a launch is excitement. The nature of small groups is intimacy. So our launch wasn’t so “launchy.” Sure, the students were excited about it, but it’s much easier to gauge the excitement from a single room, than to read facebook statuses and tweets after the groups met.

OK, that was really narcissistic. The launch was actually really cool. One student got saved in the first week, and four more got saved in the second week. We’ve definitely seen God’s hand on what we’re doing. And as far as numbers go, we’ve never been one of those churches that see several people make decisions every Sunday, so this is definitely a new thing God is doing. Its really exciting seeing God move each and every week. It really changes the way you look at church. Momentum plays such a huge role.


Question: What advice would you give to others thinking about a program change in ministry?

Man. That’s such a huge question. I guess if I was to boil it down to the smallest elements of it all, I’d say three things:

  1. Make sure it’s from God. If this is a you thing, it’s not gonna happen. God has clearly shown us that true change comes from Him, His Word, and His Son. If you want to drive big change because you read a book and you want to adapt someone else’s model, just make sure God is leading you to make that change for the sake of the people – not because of a fad
  2. Over-communicate. One of the main mistakes you can make (read: “that I made”) is not bringing enough people alongside of me to go on this journey together. People inevitably have a lot invested into your church. If you come in with a sweet new plan, but don’t include those people in the process somehow, they’ll get burned. I’m not saying to hand the vision of the project off. I’m saying that it doesn’t take much time to purposely give people buy-in. Plus, it will pay off in the end.
  3. Follow through. I’m really good at starting stuff and not finishing it. There were a couple elements of the change that I put more than enough focus on. Yet others were left needing some work. This is the kind of project that deserves deadlines, reminders, and plenty of detail work. You can’t be too prepared.

There are so many other pieces of advice I have (communicating clearly with your senior pastor, staying positive, etc.), but I think these are the core principles I kept going back to.

Thanks Mark for sharing this critical information on change and taking risks for the glory of God in youth ministry. I’m asking all my reader to pray for you, cheer you on, and consider what risks this interview has challenged them to take,

You can follow Mark on Twitter @markhcox

Check out is blog at http://thinknextnow.com/

We’d love to hear your comments and questions for Mark so ask away.

Risk Taking Youth Ministry Part 1

Our gigantic youth ministry experiment commences tomorrow night. Can’t wait to see what happens!- Tweet from Mark Cox 9:11 PM Aug 24th via web

This is the tweet that was that catalyst for the following interview. I love it when youth pastors take risks. I hate it when other youth pastors see other youth pastors take risks, and say , “I can’t or I’m not allowed to do that.”. After seeing the tweet, I knew I wanted to know more and I wanted to tell other youth past that risky youth ministry is not only possible but mandatory if we are wanting to reach students for Christ. Here is Part I of my interview with Risk Taker Mark Cox

Mark, tell us a little about yourself and about the current youth ministry you are serving.

I’ve been in youth ministry ever since I graduated high school. I spent my four years in college being a volunteer youth worker, and became a youth pastor as soon as I graduated college in 2005. I’m at a great church outside of Little Rock, Arkansas called Indian Springs Baptist Church. I happen to believe that I have the best students on the planet, but I might be biased :).

Our youth ministry has a pretty exciting history. Before I came, Daren Neely was the student pastor, and he led it well. Our youth ministry has always had a lot of influence with the students in our area. That’s why it was staggering when we started experiencing a decline in student involvement.

This interview came about because I saw your tweet and my heart just leapt in my chest and said, “This guy is about to do something risky. I want to know more.” Tell me about the youth ministry before the change,

Yeah, we’re definitely stepping out on faith.  Our student ministry has always been one of simplicity, strategy, and intentionality. We aren’t your typical “youth group.” We learned early on that a lot of the events that were expected by parents were dragging the energy out of us student pastors. When it came time to put effort into what matters most, we were drained.

So, we stopped doing the things that drain us (filling a calendar with meaningless events). We became a very simple student ministry. The few things that we decided to do well were our Wednesday night service environment (church for the unchurched), Sunday Morning Small Groups (the “next step” environment), and camps, retreats, and mission trips along the way.

This was a great change for two reasons: we could focus our efforts on making the few things great (rather than OK) and we could send our students out to create meaningful relationships with those who are far from Christ (rather than having another church event where we can hang out together).

This is pretty much what our student ministry looked like before our transition. We did a great service on Wednesday night, designed to reach any student on any level with God. We broke down into small groups on Sunday morning to dig into Scripture and go deeper together. And we planned a few strategic events throughout the year to keep the fire going.  And it was working…until recently things changed.

What was God doing in your heart leading up to the change?

As a leader, when things don’t go the way you would hope, one of the natural responses is to start questioning your own leadership. I don’t care who you are – when you’re not experiencing momentum in leadership, you tend to start expecting mediocrity. I think there were even times I started to make excuses for why student involvement was so low. I think I was just trying to make myself feel better by explaining it away. The truth was there, though. Students weren’t getting saved. Our outreach service had turned into a Christian club.

I was so frustrated, because I know the principles that lead to apathy, and I knew I let it happen. A friend of mine challenged me to re-read Andy Stanley’s “7 Practices For Effective Ministry” around that time. This is one of my favorite books and I figured it could help me sort through a couple issues. I got to the chapter that focuses on the third principle, “Narrow The Focus” and I had no idea what I was about to encounter. I was minding my own business, reading through the chapter, when I read the following words:

“Maybe you need to eliminate what works, so something else can work better.”  (“7 Practices, p. 106)

I froze. I knew what God was saying. He’d been preparing me for this moment for months. I didn’t need to process it. It was as clear as anything I’ve ever seen or heard. That day, He supernaturally communicated to me that I should kill our services, and move to a system that empowers the students to lead their peers. No more spectatorship. Transform the students into youth pastors.

From that day forward, I spent a lot of time talking to the wise counselors in my life (my wife, my youth pastor, and some other trusted ministry friends). They all said the same thing: God has obviously spoken to you. Now, you just need to figure out how to do it and get rolling.

What did the change look like and why was this the way you thought the change was supposed to go?

The change ended up being fairly smooth. I’d always been told that church fights would happen and stuff like that. I don’t know about other people, but that just wasn’t our story.  Specifically, we were killing our midweek student service to allow our students to lead evangelistic small groups in their homes, The goal is two-fold: to reach students who are far from God and to train our core students to become servant leaders in the same event.

In order to do that, we had to spend 3 weeks talking about what it would look like. This included a lot of vision-casting, stats, plans, details, steps, and communication. We recorded it on video, so we could replay it to those who missed out (we released all this in one of our most dead times of the church year). One of the things we were afraid of was that so many people would be gone during this transition, that when school started again, the people who missed these talks would show up at our building wondering what they missed. It didn’t happen this way. The beauty of social media is that you can implement buzz marketing if you just have a few committed students who are willing to get excited about it. Soon, word spread and people got educated.

The change itself took a total of 5 months. We spent almost a month talking about it on Wednesday nights, and spent two months training our student leaders. The first two months were spent honing in on what God was doing (and if He was the one doing it). I’m glad I spent that intentional time seeking Him, because driving change without the Spirit’s power is a suicide mission.

Oh No They Didn’t! Staying Out Of Trouble With Your Teens

Teenagers can be about as stable as Homer running a nuclear reactor. The little red light could go off at any time accompanied by wailing sirens. Here a a few tips for staying out of trouble with your teens.

1. Keep your promises

Promises are important to teens. They are even more important if they come from you. Teens live in a world of broken promises divorces, fake friends, sleazy boy/girl friends, etc. If you promise to be at  game, be there. If you promises to take them some where, go there. If you break a promise, own it and apologize. Keep your promises because broken promises are the hardest thing to mend.

2. Don’t call them out publicly

A teenagers phone goes off the other night in youth. I have two choices, rebuke her make a joke. I made the joke. Why? Because a public rebuke is not only the quickest way to get you in trouble with not only that teen, but all their friends as well. YM is all about relationships. Sometimes we can caught up with rules or become self righteous and feel like spouting off, don’t, it will cost you. A simple rule to keep in mind is praise in public, correct in private. This will save you some relational grief.

3. Don’t just jump in, look for permission first

Teens are tribal. You need permission from the tribe or tribal leader to

  • Sit at their lunch table
  • Talk to their friends
  • Invite their friends to things
  • Take about their culture (like you know it)
  • To act like them (to a degree)
  • To share stories about them (in a message)
  • Breath

Ok,  the last one is a bit of exaggeration, but not by much. At least this how my 17 year old daughter makes me feel. It’s a dance. You have to see permission to join the dance. To just jump in makes the tribe cranky. Don’t do it or you’ll find yourself in a big, black pot of boiling water or on one of those giant skewers Johnny Depp found himself on in Pirates of the Caribbean. Look for the nod, the wave, the opening to be a part

4. Don’t leave them out,  consult with them

Yes, I said consult them. Teens feel powerless most of the time. Parents, teachers, and youth pastors just plan stuff and don’t bother to say anything to the teenager except “Show up” Letting students be part of the process gives power back to a teen to make decisions. Start a leadership team and let students own the youth program. They will thanks you for it later.

5. Don’t talk down to them If you want to cause strife, just talk down to a teen like they are stupid or a little kid. At times, we can sound sarcastic or condescending, We should always try to elevate the conversation, to help students understand that we believe  they have something to contribute. Whether we are speaking casually or form the pulpit, we should always respect our audience. They are not as:

  • dumb as we think
  • apathetic as we think
  • unloving as we think

Don’t assume anything. Err on he side of caution and give them the benefit of the doubt. Whether it is in casual conversation or from the pulpit, we may be the authority but we don’t always have to prove it.

Avoiding The Pastor Disaster

Keeping with our theme of not shooting ourselves in the foot through self inflicted conflict., I share 5 ways to avoid conflict with your Pastor. In my naive days, I thought the youth ministry was my world, my silo, separate from other ministries. In reality, the only reason we have this full time, professional, role is because our boss, our pastor, signs those checks. I know, they could not do it unless God let them but I challenge you to get a bank to cash a check signed by God.  So, let’s try our best today  to remove ourselves from harming the relationship that could be the difference between success and failure.

1. Keep them in the loop

A lack of informations produces fear. Operating out of a fear and operating out of confidence make all the difference. Consider your pastors schedule

  • Hospital visits (that stuff you really don’t want to do)
  • Counseling sessions
  • Jail visits (hopefully not to any of your students or possibly you)
  • Sermon Prep

The list goes on. When something is going on that they NEED to know about but doesn’t , it could result in the knee-jerk expression of fear “Who’s in charge?” Then, they will have to exert that they are. Here are some ways to keep your pastor in the loop.

  • Add them to critical e-mail lists (adult leaders, parents newsletter, etc)
  • Tweet them when something changes
  • Give them your four month plan
  • Bring up changes in staff meeting
  • Keep your calendar online and send them a link
  • Post it to their door
  • Make sure their secretary has the information.

Another way to keep your pastor in the loop is invite him to switch pulpits. Let them do your service and you do his. This way they can see the good you are doing and give them a chance to connect with students.

Whatever you do, keep your pastor informed about what is going on. This way they can brag on you 🙂

2. Tell them before they find out

We all have those moments of “should I tell or shouldn’t I?”. My vote: tell. What are some of the things you might want to tell your pastor before they find out?

  • An exchange of words with THAT parent
  • An exchange of words with THAT deacon or board member
  • And exchange of words with his wife or kids
  • When numbers are down. Plead a Mea Culpa and ask for help.
  • When you know you spent to much and the event sucked.
  • When a prominent student is no longer attending.
  • That thing that happened at that camp before they see it on YouTube.

There are a dozen more, but God will usually let us know when we should share. Take the hit early and work your way up from there.

3. Plan together

If your Turkey Bowl is conflicting with the Downtown outreach, that’s a problem. Staff members too often live separate live and engage in silo building. Do as much planning up front too avoid date conflicts.  I know some of this may be out of your control but try asking for 1 day a quarter to break out the calendars and everyone getting on the same page. The very fact, that the youth pastor is suggesting does 2 things 1) Signifies the apocalypse may be occurring and 2) It sends your stock sky high.

4. Think big picture not youth group

Like I said in the beginning, this is only our youth group as long as someone above us tells us it is. When I was working flipping houses for rent, someone gave some great advice, “Don’t fall in love with your property”. This statement simply says, it’s gonna get messed up; so don’t get obsessed with it. Solomon says it this way,

“So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.  I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will have control over all the work into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless.” Ecclesiastes 2:17-19

My suggestions is to erase this phrase from your vocab “My ministry” or “My youth group”. This group only exists because there is a local church established. You may just want to stop saying “mine” all together.

Your best bet is to get on the same page with your Pastor. What is the overall mission of the church and how can you lead the youth to help them accomplish this and disciple your students at the same time. This can lead to a longer stay and a reputation of being a team player.

Trust me, for this radical, “fight the power” youth pastor of old to say this, seems quite strange, but I found it to be quite true.

5. Make their priorities your priorities

It should not take us long to figure this out. Just listen in staff meeting for a few weeks and write down key words. Some words may be

  • Budget (money is important, be thrifty)
  • Facilities (building is important, keep it clean)
  • Souls (evangelism is important, do more outreach)
  • Schedule ( time and organization is important, be on time, be organized)
  • Key names ( relationships are important, improve them)

Like I said, it does not take long to know what they think is important and the longer you take to make their priorities your priorities, you increase the chance of a conflict. I am not talking about kissing the ring, I am talking about decreasing the opportunity of conflict so God can bless your obedience and open doors to getting some of your dreams and ideas through.

5 Ways To Avoid Self-Inflicted Conflict With Parents

I was happy to be a part of this weeks live conversation on Monday with Tim Schmoyer and Life in Student Ministry. The topic for this weeks conversation was dealing with conflict. Something I am well aquatinted with. If you are a breathing human being you will face conflict eventaully. If you work with teenagers your chances of facing conflict  go up exponentially. What I have found is, that much of the conflict we face is self-inflicted.

For the Youth Pastor, there are two kinds of conflict, conflict over program and personal conflict. Program conflicts are represented by, over programming, “that game” you played,  and “why can’t my 6th grader go on the senior only trip?”.  Personal conflict comes when we don’t handle the program conflicts very well. There are a dozen reasons for parents to be unhappy. Let me share  just five ways to avoid self inflicted conflict in these areas with parents

1. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate.

You can’t do it enough. Parents want to be in the know not left in the dark. It coul be something as simple as a time change you did not inform them of. Figure out how many ways you can change the way you communicate:

  • Post the changes on Facebook
  • Have a parent Twitter feed
  • A weekly e-mail
  • Quarterly parent meeting

2. Have all forms available.

Like many of you, I do a yearly permission form. When parents do not have the proper paperwork such as permission slips or retreat forms it make us look sloppy and even lazy.  Have a place where these forms are easily accessible. Post them on your website, staple a folder on the wall and stick the forms in there, etc. If forms need to be notarized, make sure you offer a list of people in your church or places around town where they can get the paper work notarized. If all else fails, become a notary yourself.

3. Make it right and fast

If you blow it or think you blew it, make that call and apologize. Scripture says, “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison.” Matthew 5:25

Paraphrased: “Make peace with parents quickly, lest they e-mail the pastor and then you are in deep trouble and are promptly fired, and are back to eating mac and cheese and raman noodles every night.”

4. Be involved

The more you are seen and heard by parents the more they can get to know you. Schools decrease the chances of conflict by having Open House where the teacher can meet parents and answer questions. Some parents need to have their fears alleviated like:

  • Will this youth pastor really love my homeschooled kid?
  • Will this youth pastor take unnecessary risks with my child?
  • Does this youth pastor have sound judgement?
  • Will this youth pastor be an ally to me and my home.?

Some of this will just happen over time  but don’t avoid it. Invest early and you will reap rewards.

5. Watch your attitude

Attitude is

  • Tone of voice
  • Body language
  • Facial expressions
  • Emotional Response

All these have to be kept in check if you want to avoid self inflicted conflict with parents. Don’t roll your eyes when a parent makes an insane request, don’t raise your voice when challenged, keep it even toned as much as possible (only God helps me with this because I am bad at it), don’t shift around or shuffle your feet when a parent is talking with you about something important and do make eye contact with them, otherwise, they might think you have somewhere else to be (and you might be) but show the parent they are important and their concerns are legit.

I hope these tips help in the short and long term. of your ministry. Am I missing one? I’m positive I am, so share yours and we’ll all be a little smarter when working with parents. God knows I need it.

My 2000th Tweet!

Just posted my 2000th tweet! In honor of this momentous occasion I am giving away 20 youth ministry resources. I have some new forms, tools to connect with students, and a few new messages. How to get these resources? Just sign up for the Get It First Youth Ministry Newsletter

I look forward to connecting and sharing new resources with you.

Do You Have The “Anywhere, Anytime, Anyone” Syndrome?

I used to think I could work anywhere, anytime,  and for anybody. I thought I was the youth ministry swiss army knife that was good for all occasions. Like the army knife pictured, I had 85 gadgets good for any denom, para church, or non-denom situation. Boy, was I delusional. One of the things I learned working at a Methodist church is that I cannot work in a Methodist church. I understand that all are not created equal, but if it’s traditional and I have to keep up with a ton of paper work, then, that is not the job for me. Are you suffering from the Anywhere , Anytime, Anyone Syndrome? Let me break it to you harshly

  • You can’t work just anywhere

As much as I believed I could, I couldn’t. Eventually it  catches up to us. all. When I start looking outside my frame of reference I have this justifying thought that goes, “Youth ministry is the same everywhere.” It is and it isn’t . Youth ministry, as far as mechanics may be the same, but the context and structure is different. I thrive best when I have the freedom to do and don’t have too many bosses, etc. “Well of course you do Paul who wouldn’t?” Well, to start with, most youth pastors in their first 5 years. Learning the ropes, the politics, and a million other things keeps new guys hopping. I have been through the fire and now I know what kind of structure I want. It only took, 5 churches and 20 years to figure it out.

  • You can’t just work anytime

Seasons are called seasons for a reason. There is a short amount of time  for each season to do it’s work in the earth. Plants must grow, wither, die, and grow again (see Ecclesiastes). There are times when we think we should be doing this not that. Joseph thought he should have had his brother bowing down to him, not rotting in jail. Youth Ministry and all ministry comes in seasons

  • The employed/life is good season (growing)
  • The I am miserable at my church season (withering)
  • I am working at Chick Fila to pay the bills season (dying)
  • I hate the ministry and I am never going back (dead)
  • I am called whether I like it or not, sign me up (growing again)

God brings us through these seasons so we will grow and prosper according to His plan. Anytime is in God’s hands not ours. There are things to be learned that can only be learned beyond the church walls.

  • You can’t just work for anyone

I know, there are jobs we take because we want to and those we take because we have to. I have done both.  I can’t just work for anybody anymore. I have dealt with my share of type A personalities, driven men who have little time for you. After working for the same kind of guys and being fired (twice) buy those kind of guys; the Lord revealed to me that I was like a wife who went from bad marriage to bad marriage, endured beatings, only to fall into the arms of the first man who would take care of me. I need a pastors and team who are committed to relationships and doing life and church together. I need pastors who value my opinion. We sabotage ourselves when we accept positions with the faulty notion that we can work anywhere and for anybody.

Let me encourage you to say no. If you can,

  • Say no to the jobs that don’t fit you.
  • Say no to the wrong pastors and leaders for you.
  • Say no to the wrong structure that will inhibit you.
  • Say no to the jobs that do not play to your strengths.
  • Say no to jobs that are about pay checks instead of passion.
  • Say no to working for anyone, anywhere because you think you can, you can’t.

God has designed all of us to be somewhere with someone who compliments us and challenges us. I was a martyr for many years, thinking I had to go through these things, with these churches, with these men. Whether I did or didn’t have to learn this way I don’t know. What I have learned is that God has made us all a certain way, for a certain purpose, with certain gifts to be used in certain ways. Don’t settle for less.

How Strong Is Your Foundation?

It’s simple, you can’t build a 2200 sq. ft house on a 100 sq. ft foundation and yet we have all tried. We’ve tried to build on hype and hype is short lived. Those who want to build their youth ministry large, must build the foundations wider an deeper. Scripture says, ” When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?” Psalm 11:3

Here are my top five foundational builders

  • Doctrine– I cannot emphasize enough how important this is. If we are not teaching our students biblical beliefs we are building on sand. Storms will come and if our students are banking on our next worship services to get them by, we are in trouble. Try teaching through the Apostles Creed for a semester. Doctrine is the steel that is laid throughout the foundation to tie it all together.
  • Relationships– Go to that wedding, that funeral , even if you don’t have to. It’s foundational. You are showing that you care about more than just a youth ministry but a whole church family. Keep your relationships with parents, staff, and students hot. Make that phone call, post FB status’ when kids succeed, send that e-mail to parents, it matters. Ministry does not happen without relationships. Ministry is relationships.
  • Vision– Where are you going? Where are you promising to take them ? What has God put on your heart and what has He shown you in His word? Organizations need vision. Make it plain and then follow up with the steps to make it happen.
  • Execution– Do what you promised. Nothing will send cracks through your foundation quicker than unfulfilled promises.
  • Mentoring– If you are not training students to lead, don’t unpack, you won’t be there long. We must have a plan and a path to lead students along. Weekly meetings with key students (see #2) and empowering them to do all that God has put on their hearts (see #3) will only strengthen the foundation. Don’t do a for a student what you can train a student to do.

There are more, but these have been my core values for over 20 years. Did I miss one? Let me know what has been foundational for you.

Worship: Pardon The Interruption

I was in a prayer meeting with six or seven students. One of the leaders brought an IPhone to play worship music on. I do this often as well but tonight the inevitable happened; in the middle of a song the phone rang, later you could hear an email come through, then a Words With Friends update.

I could have taken the route of saying, “nothing should distract you from worshipping God”. Then I began to think of worship as a relational activity with God rather than to God.

What if God wants to interrupt our worship? Our song? Our prayer? Our dance? What if he has something to tell us or reveal to us?

Many religions objectify their god. Their god is a static tool for them to worship. The god simply sits and listens to the chants and prayers and is under no obligation to interact with it’s worshippers. But this is not true of our God.

We teach our students and ourselves to focus on worshipping Jesus and to not be distracted. But, what if the thought that we think is  a distraction, is from God himself?

  • Maybe their is sin God wants us to repent of in the middle of our Chris Tomlin song? Isn’t that what the presence of God does? All things come to light. In God’s presence, Isaiah became aware of his foul mouth.
  • Jesus said,  “So if you are presenting a sacrificei at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.” Matthew 5:23-24 Maybe God wants us to stop worshipping and reconcile a relationship.

I guess my overall point is that God is not an idol of static worship.  He is the ever-living God who wants to celebrate a son coming home, forgive a sinner who repents, hug a child seeking love, befriend a lonely soul seeking a friend. Let us worship God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Let us leave room for God to interrupt our singing, our raising of hands, our kneeling and focus so we may worship Him with our obedience.