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.

Anatomy of a Blown Event: Where Did I Go Wrong?

If I had a $1 for every failed event….well, lets just say, I would have a lot of dollars. Events are cool when we pull them off, but is that all there is to an event? Not the good ones. When the pre, actual, and post event pieces come together, it’s a beautiful thing. When they don’t, we get called into offices, meet with budget committees, make volunteers mad, and possibly lose kids and respect. If we have a string of events like this, it can cost us out jobs. Let me offer sell you some Event Insurance. Take a look at your events and see where they are going off track.

Every event starts with an idea.. The problem with ideas are that youth workers cook these up in a secret lab in an undisclosed location, a puff of smoke rises, we cry, “Eureka!” and begin telling everyone what we are going to  do and how everyone is going to help me execute my great idea. It’s right after that great idea pops in our head, that we can start going down hill, and fast.

Failed events have one or more of these elements in common

  • We keep an idea to ourselves. In other words, it’s our event and not the groups. It is our precious idea and we don’t want anyone else getting credit for it (see the last point)
  • We plan it ourselves. We get so jazzed about our idea, we break out our Mac or yellow note pad and before you know it, it’s done. Just because we have a good idea doesn’t mean we should do it.
  • We promote it ourselves. I hate making announcements. They are a necessary evil though, if we want to get the word out. But wait, what if the students, and your adult leaders were so bought in you could tone those announcement down a notch.
  • We execute it ourselves. Because we thought of it we feel most responsible to make it happen. So, we wind up making all the phone calls, set up all the chairs, and call for the food. This makes us a stoke waiting to happen.
  • We praise ourselves. I think the true test of any event is not how much we have done but how many people did it take to accomplish it. If it is something only you could do, it is possible that your event was too small.

Successful events have one or ore of these elements in common:

  • Start with “What If”. Take your idea to various levels in your church, from students, staff, parents, pastors, heck, ask the custodian while you are at it. Not everyone will care but they maybe able to offer that nudge that gets you a better insight on your idea.
  • Pray about it, plan and tweak it together. At your next meeting of students and adults, have a marker board available and do some brainstorming. Collect ideas and then whittle them down to the best ideas. Be sure to pray before and up to the event.
  • It’s everyone’s job to promote. Social media like Facebook, Twitter, and other venues, make it easy to get the word out, but nothing beats a personal invitation. Put some invites in your kids and leaders hands and let them loose. Check out the Freebie Page on my website www.thediscipleproject.net for a checklist called How To Get The Word Out.
  • Students do it, you help them. If the students own it form the idea phase you won’t have to do much but assist them. Let them be the visionaries and you hep them execute it. Let them book the band, call the speaker, set up chairs, order the food, etc. Assign an  adult to each student or group and let them walk through it with them.
  • Celebrate the successes and mistakes. Every event or group of events should have a debrief. Talk about what worked and what didn’t. Make sure to share the joy of watching your students lead. Praise will make them want to try again, and again.

Youth ministry is not all about events, but if we must do them, we might as well do them successfully. There are a multitude of tiny details I could have included, why not fill in the gaps for me. Leave your suggestion(s) below.

Check out my cool diagram I included here Anatomy of a Blown Event.

Failure Is An Option

I was told numerous times in staff meetings over the years that failure is not an option. But it is and it should be. Usually this slogan is centered around:

  • a big church event
  • keeping your job
  • growing the church or youth ministry (see #2)

This is small thinking at it’s worst. Failure in these cases is certainly an option and should be an option. I was recently on a missions trip and the boys we were with were making some building mistakes. Our crew chief, Billy (an amazing man) would say, if you are not failing you are not doing anything. I could not agree more. Our fear point for failure revolves around us. We worry what others (the world), other churches, or believers will think of the us or our church (small c).

We need to broaden our view of failure. Would Peter’s daring walk on water be nearly as interesting if he had not sunk? No, because the lesson here is not: Don’t Sink, the message is: Keep your eyes on Jesus. We are so worried about sinking we never even think of getting out of the boat. Let us  keep our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.

Let’s challenge our youth and ourselves to fail greatly for the cause of Christ. This should be our list and mandate for failing. These are dreams, goals, and mandates that our worthy of our efforts and even our failures in our effort to achieve them.

  • Building the Kingdom of God
  • Raising up a new generation of leaders
  • Making our youth ministry student-led instead of spectator induced
  • Keeping our personal lives above reproach (this does not mean making mistakes)
  • Glorifying God with our lives

Now go and fail greatly; believing that in the end, there is no failure  or condemnation in Christ Jesus.

Need some more inspiration? Here ya go:

Failure Magazine

Michael Jordan “Failure” Commercial

How Failure Breeds Success

Failing Forward- John Maxwell

7 Tips For Launching Student Led Ministry


“Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought [them] to Adam to see what he would call them. And whatever Adam called each living creature, that [was] its name.So Adam gave names to all cattle, to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper comparable to him.” Genesis 2:19,20

Have you been wondering how you can release more ministry to your students? God shows us, by example, how to release ministry. Here are a few points I take from these verses

  • God is not worried that Adam will some how screw up His creation.
  • God has no ego. He was not afraid that Adam would steal his thunder.
  • God trusts Adam even though he is new in town.
  • God did not go back and change the names He didn’t like (he didn’t say “Aardvark, that’s a stupid name.”)
  • God empowered Adam over the creation.
  • God gave Adam a task He believed he could handle.
  • God did not do for Adam what Adam could do for himself.

God shows us by example, how to trust students. Each of these steps are something we can do with our students

  • Let students altar, throw away, or tweak your perfect plan.
  • Put away your ego. It’s their ministry. Most of them will be there longer than you will.
  • Put kids on the path to lead. Show them the path and lead them.
  • Live with some of the decisions they make even if you don’t agree.
  • Give kids a vested interest in their community of faith called the Church.
  • Give tasks to students that set them up for success. (did you notice God did not expect Adam to name all the fish in the sea)
  • God could have named the animals and then told Adam what they were. Adam probably remembered the names more because he named them himself. Students will own the ministry more if they are naming it themselves (and I don’t mean just naming the youth group but putting their names on the whole ministry)

For more youth ministry tips sign up for the Fresh Impact Newsletter


10 iPhone Apps Youth Workers Might Find Useful

Here are a few of my apps that get me by when I am in a pinch.


Creative Whack Pack– This is a fun way to take old ideas and see them through a new lens. Nice for the price, considering I paid $20 for the actual card pack.

Receipts Lite– Ever get in trouble for not turning in your receipts? This will help you budget and get those receipts in. For more detail, get the paid app.


Guitar Tool Kit– I have to fill in sometimes to play for worship. This app is great for me because it has a tuner and a ton of chords I can look up.

Atomic Fart– Need I say more?

You Must Choose– Fun digital version of the Would You Rather books. Great for road trips or small group openers.


IBook– This is a pretty good app for reading books on your phone. You can save your page, highlight paragraphs, and make notes.


POW– This is a fun app and a different way to post pics of your students. You can make short comic strips complete with dialogue bubbles. Oh the stories you could tell.


Fluent News– This is a great app because is culls major news organizations and picks top stories. You can also check stories by categories and save the stories you like in a folder.


Story Cubes– This is a fun tool to get kids to make a story. Shake your phone and roll the dice. Each student has to take a die and make the word on the die part of the group story.

Word Twiddle– Feeling stuck for a word or thought? This random little tool may jog your memory. I use this sometimes when thinking about new names for youth programs.

Am I missing an important app that would be beneficial for youth workers? Let me know.