I Want/Need Your Ideas: Our Welcome Center

Here is a picture of our youth’s welcome center. It needs your touch. What would you do with this space to make it pop for our members and new guests. Talk to me about people, props, colors, anything you think would make this space work. What do you do? Share your secrets. C’mon, don’t make me beg.  Leave your comments.

Mighty Youth Workers Devotion Series

I have been reading about David’s mighty men recently and I am always blown away by their honor and heroism. If 2 Samuel 23 were made into a movie it would make the movie 300 look like The Blind Side. These warriors of old are not unlike youth workers of today. We are in the trenches fighting the Philistines we imagine look like pastors, parents, students, our own emotions, family stresses, the devil, and life itself. Let me offer this small tidbit to encourage you today.

” Next to him was Shammah son of Agee the Hararite. When the Philistines banded together at a place where there was a field full of lentils, Israel’s troops fled from them.  But Shammah took his stand in the middle of the field. He defended it and struck the Philistines down, and the LORD brought about a great victory.” 2 Samuel 23:11,12

  • When the Philistines banded together

We are at disadvantage sometimes. We are the lone voice, right or wrong, in the board room, the parents meeting, the staff meeting, or the network meeting. You have a great idea, a vision, a desire, or a powerful thought, and it seems like everyone is against it. We have been trained to be peacemakers. Jesus extols it but there is a time when we must speak out. Our passion is like fire in our bones. If you are outnumbered, think about scaling back or break your vision into smaller, digestible pieces. We must always remember that our ‘enemies”, real or imagined, are not human. Parents, pastors, or deacons our not our enemies.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. ” Ephesians 6:11,12

It’s easy to use this verse to say that those who oppose us are driven by dark forces. This is not usually the case. Most of the time we are fighting ideologies and philosophies, generational practices and culture itself, and sometimes the enemy is our own hard- headedness. Shammah knew his enemy, and we must discern ours.

  • Israel troops fled from them

There will be lonely times in youth ministry. There will be times we stand alone but we are not truly alone; God is with us. We may see our youth leaders flee, our students flee, and even our friends flee. The visions may be too tough to see, they might not see what you see. Some see taking new ground as a very scary thing and they do not feel they can fight whatever boogey men lurk around the corner. The Israelites did not see the point of standing and fighting. Too lessen the fears of those around us, we must paint the picture of a field worth fighting for. Use stories of previous victories and potential victories to build the inner strength of those around you. Some will still flee but some may hear the warriors call and join you.

  • But Shammah took his stand in the middle of the field

This is where the rubber meets the road. Maybe Shammah was tired of running. Maybe he he was tired of giving up ground. Whatever the reason, he stopped, drew his sword, and said enough is enough. What is your field. What are you tired of running from? Maybe it’s a meeting, a parent, a person of authority, your personal demons, whatever it is, it is exhausting you. We must take our place. Our paychecks come from a church but our calling is from God. My field is young people. I will fight for them against the devil, my own laziness, apathy, the culture and more. I don’t believe Shammah’s fight was short. I believe it took some time. If we fight too hard too early we ill lose steam, our job, and possibly our passion. Fight for the long haul not the short term. In addition, I don’t believe the fight was over lentils. I think there were greater principles in play. Let us not fight for lentils (programs, policies, or privileges) but for the big picture, the spiritual growth of students within the context of the whole church.

  • Every victory is the Lord’s

This should not go without saying. There are days we fight and win and take the credit when in reality it was the Lord who did it. When someone changes their mind, takes our side, or helps us push, we must look at it in the larger context of what God is doing. We may win a battle but the war is still raging.

“A song of ascents. Of Solomon. Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.”  Psalm 127:1

We are co laborers with God. He sees the architectural blue prints of our youth programs and churches and we must be in tune with His vision. When others laud us for great programs, large crowds, or great ideas we must deflect praise to God.

You are mighty men or women of God. You have a field, defend it, fight for it but not at the expense of scorched earth where the ones we should love get hurt. We are warriors in battle. Don’t give up. If you do not stand, who will? I believe in you but more importantly God believes in you. Go get’em.

Is Youth Ministry A Competitive Sport? Part III

In the last two post I have covered being competitive but not in in competition with other churches or youth ministries. Competitiveness is good. Competition is bad. The difference, I believe, is in the heart. I do not wish any harm on any other churches in my area, in fact, I pray for their success. But, if we are down about our group we might be tempted to say, “well, so and so church is reaching most of the kids. I don’t have to do much to improve myself or the youth.” Not only will you not build the Kingdom of God with that attitude, you probably won’t be in your position very long.

Just because a church down the street seems to have it going on at the moment doesn’t mean it always will. Things change,

Cycles change: This time next year, it could be you who has an influx of students, but are you ready to keep them ? In six months a bunch of kids will walk in but do we have anything to offer them? Next week one guest could show up that God wants to use to transform your group but will you spot them?

Youth Workers Change: This is a very Cult of Personality business we are in. That is why some followed Apollo, some Peter, and others Paul. Paul asks is Christ divided? I don’t believe Paul was talking about physically following, but where the hearts of these followers were. The youth worker down the street may leave in a few years and kids may leave and go searching again.

Students Change: We live in trendy world. You can check on Twitter to see what is trending. What is everyone talking about. We can become demoralized when we constantly hear about what is going on at First Church. Don’t be. Students are fickle. They follow trends in youth groups too (worship style, preaching style, etc.) I don’t condone this. If a kid is at a church, saved under that church’s ministry, they should continue in the faith there. But we know this does not always happen. We should be prepared and know that we can’t reach everyone but neither can First Curch. Who is First Church not reaching and decide to pursue them.

The last person (in this series), and also the first person (in real life), you should be competitive with is you. Take a look at how you spend your time. Consider offering a percentage next to each so you can clearly see where that time is going

  • Time with student leaders
  • Time with adult leaders
  • Time with parents
  • Time with your pastor
  • Time on campus
  • Time just hanging out
  • Time studying
  • Time doing administrative work

I believe time management is one of the top three killers of youth workers. Look at the list. Which area are you having problems in? Is this because you possibly have not invested enough time in that area?

We youth workers believe we have our own competitors. We categorize church, family, personal time, etc. In our hearts we are  not competing with those things but with our self, our own values and feelings about those things. If we believe something is of value then we must make time for it. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Please don’t take my blabbering as another emotional beat down on how you are not doing something well or you are not giving enough, etc. All I am saying is we need to name the culprit that is stealing our time, energy, and focus and then deal with it.

Let’s be competitive in our desire to reach students in our community, let be competitive with the things that are stealing the time, attention, and in some cased the hearts of our students, and let’s compete with our own laziness and lack of self discipline that is keeping both our youth groups and the Kingdom from growing.

Runners run for a personal best time.

Weight Lifters compete against their last weight.

Archers attempt to split there own arrow.

We also should set our goals in ministry and compete until we achieve them or get as close as we can. In our work with teens, being our best matters.

“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air;  but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified” I Corinthians 9: 24-

Let’s always remember what we are competing for is not found on earth but in eternity.

Is Youth Ministry A Competitive Sport? Part II

I’ll say it again. I do not believe in competing with my brothers and sisters in Christ. It is not my group vs theirs or my calling vs their calling. We are not called to be competitors but rather to be competitive. In this blog we have to ask ourselves why we have to be or stay competitive in the youth ministry market place. I know this sounds carnal, but it is not meant to be. It is a fact of our lives. As long as churches make productivity, number of students, and the size of program the goal, I plan on staying competitive in my Kingdom work because my job (what I am paid for) will depend on it.

What are we really competing with? A students attention is focused in so many different direction we can hardly keep up. Consider why some of your students missed your last meeting

  • sports
  • studying
  • scouting
  • family time
  • a club meeting
  • another organization

Every youth meeting faces these challenges. These are things we cannot change and most of them we don’t need to. But there are reasons students miss our meetings that we should be concerned about:

  • We start late
  • We seem unfocused
  • We don’t have a vision
  • We don’t invite kids to something deeper or a bigger cause than support the meeting
  • We aren’t creative with our programs or messages
  • We are boring
  • We don’t insist or train students own their youth ministry or care about others

I have been all of these in the past 20 years and students rightfully stayed home.  There ball team had more clarity. Their math club was more interesting. Their coach was more inspiring. We compete with all these things. Taking time to examine all the parts of our program, our skills and abilities, our leaderships, and our hearts will only lead to making the changes necessary to stay competitive and being our best for the Kingdom.

I believe this old adage serves us well, we should pray like it’s all up to God and work like it’s all up to us. I believe we have to rely on the Holy Spirit to produce anything good. If we try to produce ministry in the flesh we will corrupt it, but if ministry, creativity, productivity, and excellence come from the Spirit there will be fruitfulness.

How can continue to be our best?

  • Take an online class in a subject that will help you
  • Read books in various disciplines outside of youth ministry (business, theology, politics, etc.
  • Attend seminars in things besides youth ministry like social media, social justice, business and education
  • Volunteer at places that are not necessarily Christian organizations
  • Get out and talk with people unlike ourselves by joining hobby clubs or cause clubs (meetup.com)
  • Substitute teach

We can either whine or shine. Those are our options. If you do not believe we are in a competitive market, just ask the other youth pastors in your area to “loan” you some of their kids for a few weeks so you can build up your group. Yeah, that’s what I thought. Anyway, I know there will be some who still think I am off base but this is the elephant in the room at most youth pastor network meetings. We are all very supportive of each other until it starts to effect our bottom line. Do I wish things were different? Yep. Is the system we work in going to change anytime soon? Nope.

So, until the model changes, we should all continue to love and pray for our youth pastor friends, help where we can, support when we are needed, and sacrifice when we should for the betterment of the Kingdom.

Is Youth Ministry A Competitive Sport? Part I

“Where is everyone tonight?”

“I think a lot of them went over at First Church to their outreach.”

“Man, what is going on?”

Ever have this conversation before or after a youth meeting? I know we like to say we are not in competition with our brothers in Christ, and we are not. We, youth workers and programs, whether we realize it or not, ARE trying to stay competitive in 3 areas: programming, the A.D.D. nature of our students, and ourselves.

Let me tackle the first competitor: Another Youth Program

This is where my over analysis of life in general kicks in. In my town, like yours probably, there are churches that have similar programs to yours. They all have bands, great facilities, etc. When kids don’t show up to our programs, I usually go through a check list in my brain of what could draw a student somewhere else:

  • Charisma of the leader (How well they speak or interact with students)
  • Budget of the church (How much can they spend)
  • Number of students (everyone goes there)
  • Organization (how well do they plan, execute, and market their program)

Evaluating these key areas of our program can help us see where the program might be falling flat.

  • If you are concerned about your message delivery, take a speech class at your local community college, read a book on it, practice in the mirror more, or take some online training.
  • Look at the budget and see exactly where that money is going and whether you are spending it on maintenance or on outreach.
  • You may not be able to change the number of students you have right now, but that doesn’t mean you can’t change the momentum. Try focusing on leadership development with your students and adult leaders. Light a fire under them to lead and take ownership of the program. Let them plan it, execute it, and reap the rewards of it.
  • Make a list of some recent event that did not go so well and then tear them apart with students and other adults. Was it poorly planned or not well announced. Start tweaking how you execute. We many not have the gifts of another youth worker in our community, but we do have a vision and a mandate. Work the game plan God has give you and don’t spend a lot of time trying to mimic someone else.

Scripture tells us we are not to judge ourselves by others (2 Corinthians 10:12.) I am certainly not asking you to do that, but we can’t be naive to think that every youth worker in out community has the mentality of “we’re all in this together”, because we are not. As long as money, job security, numbers, and certain expectations are attached to our job performance, we are in a competitive race for the time and attention of students in our community. But, as I learned playing tennis, when you are playing someone better than you, you tend to try harder and seek improvement. Being competitive isn’t bad, being in competition is.

Do you feel like you are in a competition? Do you feel the pressure to compete with other churches? Is it o.k. to be competitive? Let me know, I want to hear from you. Be encouraged, God has your back no matter where you are in the pack. Part 2 coming soon.

Ten Skills Student Leaders Must Learn Now

What kind of skills do your student leaders have? How do they help make ministry happen at your church? Are they like Napoleon Dynamite and have skills that are cool but are useless like bo Staff skills, nunchuck skills, bow hunting skills, computer hacking skills?

I have been plotting a course for my students leader group. Part of that course is not just sharing information but training in developing skills. Here are 11 skills I will be working with my student leaders for the next 3 months

Ten Skills Training Sessions

1.How To Read /Study your Bible

2.How To Share Your Faith

3.How To Organize Your Life

4.How To Pray/Pray For Others

5.How To Disciple Someone

6.How To Do Hard Things

7.How To Make Friends

8.How To Handle Relationships

9.How To Lead A Devotion

10. How To Use Social Media To Share The Gospel Intelligently

11. How To Lead A Project

This is just a primer. As Doug Fields likes to say Leaders are Learners. This list is just the beginning. Feel free to add some you are working on with your students.

It is like the old adage: Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime. How long will your kids last with what you are training them to do?

The Best Story Wins

Seen any good commercials lately? Any stick with you? I bet the the ones that did told the best story. One commercial I saw was for Pizza Hut and strangely I cannot find the video anywhere. The commercial has real Pizza Hut employees doing the commercials and the theme is Your Favorites Your Pizza Hut. Some of the themes they use are

This is not just a pizza this is

  • your kids favorite Friday night meal
  • your ball teams favorite way to celebrate

Pizza tells a story and so does your youth ministry, but is it worth telling? Here are three bad stories youth groups tell intentionally or otherwise

  • We’re right and everyone else is wrong story

This story is an old story. I understand we follow a narrow path but that does not mean we have to narrow our story so only a few can investigate it. If Jesus is for everyone,  broaden your story so anyone can hear it, understand it, and receive it.

  • We have to be bigger and better story

This is a selfish story. This makes the gospel a story about us and our group. The story is about Jesus and becoming more like Him for those who believe. For those in our ministry who do not believe, God’s story is about redemption. When we focus on us, we rob the True Story of any real power

  • Be Afraid, Be Worried Story

Is Jesus coming back? Yes. Is the world crumbling around us? Sure looks like it. Is Hell hot? That’s what Book tells me. But is  this the story we want to tell with out the redemptive nature of Christ. Too often we use the horror story of hell and the second coming as a way to manipulating students to greater commitment or to come to an altar. If this is the whole story, we’re all in trouble. I believe in telling the truth in context and not as a stand alone truth. Truth in context is a always a deeper, richer story. A solo truth, out of context, is a shallow, short story and will only motivate so far and challenge students to only go so deep.

What story is your group telling? Try writing your groups story, start with Once Upon Time There Was This Youth Group... and see where the story leads you from there.

The better stories you could tell? Coming in Part II.

Youth Workers and Sub-Teaching

So, I am writing this post from a middle school class today. I am sub teaching a math class today. Currently it is a pre-AP class so discipline problems are minimal. I have been subbing for about 3 yearrs now. So, why should you consider subbing?

  • It gets you out of the office.
  • It gets you in contact with students
  • It gets you in touch with what teachers go through every day
  • It helps you realize that home work load your kids bring home.
  • A little, and I emphasize a little, extra money
  • See a mixture of cultures interact

Let me offer some advice to you if you are a novice.

  • Class rooms are not youth rooms

You cannot interact with students in a classroom like you would at your church. Classrooms are built on structure not social scenes. If you try to run your class like a youth group you will lose control of your class and the teacher you are subbing for will not be happy.

  • Introduce yourself but don’t try to  prove yourself

You are the authority by default. That is how the kids see you. Don’t try to convince them you are qualified, act qualified and they will go along with you. The mistake I made early on was try trying to convince them why I should be in charge instead of just being in charge. They don’t care how many years you’ve been “in charge’.  They are interested in your “other” job though as a youth worker so don’t be afraid to mention it if you are asked. Don’t forget to write your name on the board.

  • Ask for help

As a sub you are not the teacher. If you do not know what time you take kids to lunch, ask. If you do not know how to handle a certain situation, ask. By not asking you show the kids you are clueless or inept. I had a situation this morning where a girl got upset and threw her books on the floor and sat angrily in her chair. I went across the hall and asked a female teacher for some help. Problem solved.

Other tidbits

  • Get there early and set up
  • Makes sure you have role sheets
  • Know where your teacher keeps the discipline forms
  • Make sure you understand the assignments the teacher has left.
  • Keep kids on task
  • Leave a note for the teacher you subbed for with anything they might need to know (discipline probs, etc.)
  • Straighten up the teachers desk where they can find your notes. Don’t over due it.
  • Be prayed up and look forward to a good day.

If you are interested in subbing contact your local school board for the next training class.

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.