First Church of Awww-kward

If I could have banned a word last year it would have been the word: awkward. From sit-coms to general conversation, the word just creeped in to describe anything uncomfortable to talk about. Although I don’t like the over use of the word it completely describes my youth ministry and just about every other youth ministry in America. But awkwardness can be the catalyst for learning.

Consider this, we are trying to build a community and a church and the church, out of awkwardness. We have kids with no filters from brain to mouth, kid who are shy, kids who figuring out who they are. I struggle on a weekly basis to connect jocks with nerds, cheerleaders with anime chicks, and I wonder why the group doesn’t grow or achieve certain goals.

Every youth meeting is fueled with awkwardness. From trying to get kids involved in games to getting up and sharing a testimony or announcements. We are flying in the face of adolescent angst. So, what do we do? Nothing. There is nothing we can do. I’m not sure we need to.

The disciples, I’m sure, could recall some awkward moments:

  • Peter sinking right in front of Jesus
  • James and John’s mother requesting special favors for her kids
  • Jesus talking with women
  • Jesus arguing with Pharisees
  • Jesus healing lepers
  • Judas running out on the last supper
  • The woman challenging Jesus about dogs getting crumbs of bread

The list goes on. Jesus was a master of creating awkward situations. Jesus did not avoid them, he embraced them. Maybe, instead of trying to avoid awkwardness or abolish it , we should capitalize on it. It is the awkward moments that create teachable moments.

You know what is really awkward? Trying to explain all this in a staff meeting.

For your pleasure: awkward family pictures

Don’t Take It Personally

You know if someone leads with the words, “Don’t take it personally.” you are about to be offended. Many of us take our youth work very seriously. Sometimes too seriously. We are supposed to be relationship, programming, and preaching experts. We work hard at these things and we don’t like to be questioned. We don’t make widgets. Widgets are not unthankful or ungrateful. Widgets don’t talk back, don’t have whiney parents, and don’t say ugly things about us on Facebook.

Offenses make it easy to become youth ministry Pharisess. We don’t want anyone’s advice, because we think others have no idea what they are talking about.  Pharisess were the the most offended people in the bible. “Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?” Matthew 15:12.

Are we being offended by all the wrong things?

  • Are we offended that others want to change something we’ve done something for a while?
  • Are we offended when God moves in a way that jacks up our program?
  • Are we offended when new kids come and force us to change the way we relate?
  • Are we offended when an authority asks us to consider handling a situation differently?

Youth ministry is too short a run to be offended. Don’t hold on too tight to the things that don’t matter. Let’s be offended at the things that do matter:

  • Jesus was offended that people were selling and not praying
  • Jesus was offended that needs were going unmet.
  • Jesus was offended at the stubbornness and hard heartedness of people.

Maybe it  just comes with age, but I have a message  for the petty and small thinkers: I am over you.  I refuse to let offense slow me down. To paraphrase a line from Jesse Ventura in Predator, “I ain’t got time to be offended.”

It’s easy to take things personally when it’s all about you.

Paul told the Ephesians “Let all bitter, sharp and angry feeling, and noise, and evil words, be put away from you, with all unkind acts;” 4:31

What offense has been eating at you and robbing you of time, energy, and passion? Take it to the Lord, forgive quickly, and be about the Father’s business. You’ll feel better, perform better, and live better with  a lighter load. If you are offended by this blog, don’t take it personally.

Youth Ministry Is Not A Game..Or Is It?

When I was in youth group (a very long time ago), I remember my youth pastor doing a contest called L.I.F.E.. He broke down the youth group into four teams and we would have weekly contests between team members, etc. and at the end the winning team received X. This is still a viable tool to use today to get more kids to show up or get involved but I wonder how certain aspects of social media have changed this game dynamic or changed this medium of game play.

I belong to several social media apps that use Funware to keep me coming back.  Funware is a game dynamic that offers points, badges, etc. to get us to keep coming back to the app or webpage. Frequent flyer miles are an example of the earliest Funware used. If you earn enough points you get a free flight. I remember an episode of the Brady Bunch where they collected greens stamps and they had to decide what they were going to buy.

I use apps like Get Glue and Foursquare for fun. Get Glue offers special digital stickers you can post on your Get Glue page and will they will even send you the real stickers once once you have accumulated enough. You get stickers for watching movies on opening weekend or watching  new t.v shows several times in row. Foursquare is an app that allows you to “check in” to places. If you check in enough times you can become mayor of that location.

There are many more kinds of apps like this available and more coming out every year. Old companies are trying to revamp their model by using Funware. I am working on a project for our youth ministry that involves a similar mechanic. This game play mechanic will only available to those subscribed to the Fresh Impact Newsletter, well, because they are awesome. If you would like to receive it, you can sign up in the top right corner of this page.

So, is youth ministry a game? Do you use contests, exclusivity, earned titles, loyalty programs or privileges to get kids to come back to your group? If you don’t, why not? Please share your best idea(s) so we can all benefit.

You can debate the topic of games in youth ministry HERE

Here is a link to a great video on the topic of Gamification by Gabe Zichermann author of Game Based Mechanics. I should warn you, he does use some salty language in the video.

I have been pondering this blog for quite some time. As the world of social media and apps becomes more game centric, I am wondering if this has impacted the way we engage students and build loyalty to our students. Is it possible that the under use of games, in the broadest sense, a missing link? Let me know if you’ve retooled your contests or games for youth ministry based on funware or social game mechanics.

I have a created a lens on that includes comment areas, polls, and a debate so you can weigh in on any of the topic I have covered here and a few new ones.

Help! I Need Training, Mentoring, and Community! Now!

My friend Nathan over at Called To Youth Ministry asked me a few weeks ago if I was interested in doing some mentoring and I told him I am always up for helping fellow youth workers. Called To Youth Ministry is sponsoring an online training opportunity. For twelve  weeks we’ll cover topics like Dealing with Burnout, Getting Your Youth Ministry Plan Together,  and the How To’s of Discipling Teens. In addition, and most importantly, we’ll search the scriptures and pray together for God’s will for you, your family, and your ministry.

I will be leading 1 hour conference calls on selected Thursday nights at 9:00 p.m. CST and we will be posting thoughts back and forth over the course of the semester. If you are interested in getting some more training on a flexible schedule and at a minimal cost, you can check it out or sign up HERE

I look forward to the journey.


The Myth of Fairness

There is nothing fair about life or ministry, yet, we spend an enormous amount of time and energy trying to make everything fair for ourselves, our our youth ministry, and our leaders. Jesus was not fair. Jesus chose less qualified people and shunned the most qualified. Trying to be fair:

  • Decreases trust in our leadership.
  • Hampers our ability to make hard decisions.
  • Pushes us towards people pleasing.
  • Leads us to be double minded.
  • Cautions us from taking risks
  • Keeps us from pulling the trigger on important projects.

It’s not fair that we give scholarships to some kids for camp and not others. It’s not fair that we choose some to be leaders and not others. It’s not fair that we spend more time with students than others, but we do and we should stop feeling guilty about it.  Jesus did not apologize for choosing Peter, James, and John to be with him during pivotal moments. He did not apologize to the Jews for blessing Samaritans. He did not apologize to the Pharisees for saying that prostitutes and thieves would make it into the kingdom before them.

If we have a chance to be fair, in certain cases, we should. Trying to build our lives or ministries centered on fairness is like chasing Big Foot, it’s a myth.

Where are you being fair where you should be leading? I think my post Timing Is Everything is complimentary to this)

How has being fair cost you?

How has not being fair led you to success?

Pentecostals Are People Too…Most of The Time

I don’t know what you expected when you clicked on this link,  a blog in tongues and a link to a separate blog with the interpretation perhaps? I jest…. a little.

This post is not a poor, woe is me type blog, but more of one to encourage an understanding among the brethren. I get along fine, for the most part, with the other youth workers in my community. If you are in my area and are reading this, this is not a blight on anything I have been involved in or going to be involved with, just some simple reflections on being, many times, the only pentecostal youth worker in the room.

Your might be asking, “So, what kind of Pentecostal are you?” That’s usually code for,  “Are you crazy?’ or “Will you do anything that will make me extremely uncomfortable?” The answer to both those questions might be yes but may having nothing to do with being pentecostal. I grew up in Catholic family for 17 years and went through the whole deal. I spent a year as a Baptist and I finally landed in an Assembly of God church. I did not become pentecostal though until a brief trip to an A/G college.

Although I am a part of a network of youth pastors, and some of them are my dearest friends, I still feel, sometimes, like a pair of brown shoes with a black tuxedo. I have had several conversations with other pentecostal youth workers who feel like the last kid picked for dodgeball because the team thinks their first reaction to being hit with the ball is to cast the devil out it. They feel they are often asked to support programs but are never asked to speak or have too much influence at events,  I guess out of fear they may say something heretical or go Acts 2 on the crowd. Other than Catholic priests, I think we are the easiest targets of the media (see The Last Exorcism or the upcoming movie Red State )

If you are not pentecostal, let me offer you some inside tips:

  • Pentecostals don’t all dance, because most of us do not know how and if we do it looks like a Jane Fonda work out.
  • Pentecostals aren’t al extraverts.
  • Pentecostals do not have a secret plan to get all the kids in the world to speak in tongues or a “tongue agenda”. Although, I may have missed that meeting
  • Pentecostals don’t all listen to Misty Edwards and Rick Pino.
  • Pentecostals do care sometimes that the Baptists are beating them to lunch.

Pentecostal youth workers are like any other youth workers. They want to be involved, participate, and yes, lead. We have ideas, concerns, and even a few solutions.

To my Pentecostal brethren, and pretty much anyone else, here are a few tips to getting invited to your next network meeting:

  • Agree where you can agree and disagree respectfully when you can’t. Don’t say stupid things like, “If you do not speak in tongues you are not going to heaven.” Which is first of all is untrue, and second of all has nothing to do with the community wide lock in their planning.
  • Don’t act superior. Gift are gifts, You are not more special than the person at the table who has the gift of leadership or hospitality. It’s not like you found a great deal on Ebay. Every gift is by grace.. And stop wearing jackets with more than three buttons, it makes us look like doormen.
  • Don’t look down others (see previous point). Don’t make it a practice to villan-ize other churches or youth workers in your community from the pulpit, online, or even in private. This will only continue to build walls.
  • Do what is asked of you and do not take liberties and blame it on the Spirit. The Spirit brings freedom, unity, and peace. If you are given the opportunity to lead, don’t take advantage of opportunities afforded to you.
  • Show respect for a difference of opinion. We do not have everything right. We all see through a glass darkly. The gospel of Jesus must come first.

So, the next time you pass that strange, little church on the side of the road, there might just be a lonely Pentecostal youth worker in it, waiting for someone to take him or her to lunch. Hey, we like Chick Fila too!

Youth Worker Devotion: Like Sparks Through Stubble

But the souls of the upright are in the hand of God, and no torment can touch them.

To the unenlightened they appeared to die,

their departure was reegarded as disaster, their leaving us like annihilation;

but they are at peace.

If, as it seemed to us, they suffered punishment,

their hope was rich with immortality;

slight was their correction, great will their blessings be.

God was putting them to the test

and has proved them worthy to be with him;

he has tested them like gold in a furnace,

and accepted them as a perfect burnt offering.

At their time of visitation, they will shine out;

as sparks run through the stubble, so will they.

Wisdom 3: 1-7

I hope wen you read this your first question isn’t, “Does Paul read and believe the Apocrypha?”. If you did, you missed the point. Whether I do or not has nothing to do with the fact this portion of prose inspires me. It speaks of the dead in Christ who were tested and found faithful.

This should be our hearts cry.  What I draw from this:

  • I want my life to be fire not smoke.
  • I want to be found faithful
  • I want to shine out
  • I want my life to move fast and slow
  • I want to be tested
  • I want to believe the best in people (unlike Job’s friends).
  • I want to see purpose in death and disaster.
  • I want to ignite something.
  • I want my life to be a catalyst for great things.

Stop. Close your eyes and imagine your life and your faith igniting the dry hearts around you. What do you see your life igniting? Burn Bright. Shine out for the cause of Christ.

Two For Flinching

I hate games where you can get punched for doing something that is natural for you to do. There’s the game where you try to get people to look at a circle you make with your fingers. There is the Door Knob game where you have to touch a door knob immediately after you’ve passed gas or you get pummeled. The worst is when you flinch and get the ‘ol two for flinching.

Flinching is the norm. We get an idea and we wait, and wait, and wait, then we flinch and pass on it  and we get punched down the road because we didn’t move when we should have moved.

We will always pay the price for not puling the trigger when we should. What are you flinching on right now in your life or ministry?

  • Family vacation
  • Leadership development
  • Disciplining a Student or Adult Leader
  • Launching that program.
  • Stopping that program
  • Starting a new habit
  • Stopping an old habit
  • Changing Up Wednesday Night
  • Talking To Your Pastor About That Raise

We all deal with something we are flinching on. I recently read the 25 Tech Fails of 2010. If you look at the companies that failed the most, they are successful, well established companies, that took risks. Do they care that it didn’t go well? Probably. Did it cost them a ton of money to launch? Yep. Will they be listed in next years top 2010 list? I hope so, because it at least says they are trying. The one’s who didn’t get mentioned are flinching, waiting for the “no fail zone” to widen so they can get away unscathed.

I like this quote by Google CEO Eric Schmidt, he told the  BBC. “Remember, we celebrate our failures. This is a company where it’s absolutely okay to try something that’s very hard, have it not be successful, and take the learning from that.”

You are going to get punched, so let it be for trying, failing, and learning rather than for flinching.

Student Leadership Boot Camp


Here’s a thought. Let’s let students lead. “Not as easy as it looks” I said in a previous post. The hardest part is letting go. Letting go of control, letting go of ego, and letting go of the outcome of students leading is tough. So, I have pulled the trigger like never before.

We were having our regular Endeavor meeting, our student leaders, and I wanted to get out the message of the importance of being a leader to the rest of our students. I tossed out the thought of doing a boot camp, a quick shot in the arm to get students interested and involved in leadership. I asked, “What can we do to make this different?”. Andy, a senior, said, “Could we open it up to the community?” Ding!

So, Student Leadership Boot Camp is born. It will take place on Saturday January 22nd, 2011. What makes this different, is that, while the two main sessions will be done by youth pastors, to inspire students; all the smaller sessions will be taught by our students. The students will take some of the lessons I have taught them in the past four months and share them, along with their own thoughts on leadership. We do not have all the sessions nailed down yet, but I will let you know when they are. The cost is $10.00 and includes a t-shirt, materials, and lunch.

If you are from the state of Alabama, where we are located, or from some where else, and want to join us, you can drop me an e-mail at But I’d rather you give Andy, our senior a call, he’s stoked to talk to you about it.  Drop me an e-mail if you are interested and I will give you his number.

Here is the BootCampRegistration for those who are in the “neighborhood” of Birmingham and are interested in coming.