Improvisational Youth Ministry

I played a part in a dinner theater where I played a lawyer. I had a script to follow. A script lets the actors know when they are to speak their lines. I say a line, you say a line. But, I am terrible at memorizing scripts. Case in point, for this dinner theater, I hid little notes of script all over the set unbeknownst to the audience. Even this could not save me from forgetting my lines.

I came to a part in the script I could not remember. We had a reader behind the scenes who could give us a line if we forgot. For some reason I could not hear the person back stage so it looked like I was having a conversation with the wall. The audience laughed even harder. So much for scripts.

When my son was little, I remember him trying to tell me knock knock jokes. He’d say “Knock Knock” and I’d say, “Who’s there?” and he would cut right to the punchline It still made me laugh. Maybe he gets it from me, I can’t tell a joke. Jokes feel canned. Improv on the other hand, that’s where I shine.

I love the back and forth of making a joke on the fly. I love shows like Who’s Line Is It Anyway. Improv is like playing with play dough until something is created. Youth ministry, these days, feels more like improv rather than a script.

I am reading Impov Wisdom by Patricia Ryan Madson. It’s a fantastic book about ditching the script and rolling with what’s around you. In her 10th Maxim: Make Mistakes, Please she offers this wonderful quote

The more precise my vision of an outcome, the more likely I am to be disappointed. Things don’t turned out as planned. You don’t need to abandon your dreams; just don’t let them get in the way of noticing what IS taking place

I work with a youth ministry filled with wonderful students, but the more precise my vision the more disappointed I come. That’s the problem. This youth ministry will never become what I want it to become and it’s time to let that go. In letting go of my ideas and dreams I become aware of what God IS doing in and around my students, parents, leaders and church.

This is not to say I do not have goals or plans. Heck, I wrote a whole book about the planning process, but I’ve become willing to ditch the script to notice what the Sprit is doing versus what I want Him to do.

In her book, Madson introduces me to a new and fantastic word bricolage. According to Mirriam-Webster

According to French social anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, the artist “shapes the beautiful and useful out of the dump heap of human life.” Lévi-Strauss compared this artistic process to the work of a handyman who solves technical or mechanical problems with whatever materials are available. He referred to that process of making do as bricolage, a term derived from the French verb bricoler (meaning “to putter about”)

I love this so much. As youth workers, we often rely on a script of how a youth meeting, event, or program should go yet, all our best memories are from events that did not go as planned.

God like an artist, “shapes the beautiful and useful out of the dump heap of human life”. Isn’t this what we are trying to do? Take a youth group of diverse kids, some bright, some not so much, and make something out of it that will bless God, our church, and our communities?

I’m gong to try to do. a little less planning (in detail) and make a lot more room for puttering and see what God will make with this play dough called youth ministry.

12 Keys To Unlocking Your 2018

I don’t like to rush things. I like my seasons in order. I don’t like Halloween stuff in stores before October. I don’t like Christmas music before Thanksgiving. But, I love thinking about New Years  Eve and 2018 in late summer.

There is never a bad time for preparing.  I love taking notes, jotting down little ideas for message series, service projects, etc.  and then compiling them into some kind of strategy for the next quarter.

Our preparation to make an impact on the students we serve includes


Nothing will happen without inviting God to the party. Jesus went to a wedding and turned water to wine. Our plans, without God, are just water. Our plans, like water, are utilitarian and will suffice in keeping the engine from overheating, but that’s all. With God, out plans are changed, re-arrange and transformed into something far greater and make an impact far deeper that we could have imagined.

Asking the right questions

Jesus was asked a lot of questions and asked a lot of questions himself. We do not spend nearly the time asking the questions and reflecting on what the Holy Spirit may tell us. The answer to our biggest problems are in the questions we ask.

Putting it our there

One we have an idea we must share it. We must pass the idea around like a piece of clay rather than a rock. Passing around a rock says, “Here’s my idea, adore it but do not change it”. Passing around our ideas like clays says, “Here! Make this better. Transform it!”. Gather some people through e-mail, text, video, and in person and ask “How can we make this better”


We have to stick our flag in the ground. Talking is for the insecure. We can talk a good game but, if we do not pull the trigger, our ideas are sent to the graveyard where other ideas not acted upon go.

Don’t tell us what you are gong to do, let me see you doing it. The distance from idea to execution can be as long as it takes to work through the three steps above. The bigger the idea the long the time  it may take, the more people it may take, the more prayer it make take, but putting it in motion has to start now.

If you want to take a deeper dive, check out my new book Prepared For Impact where my friend Ryan Latham and I help you prepare for the opportunities God has waiting for you, right now, to start making an impact.

The book is packed with keys for preparing your next retreat, event, or meeting. Here’s what others are saying about it

“This book has been pivotal in the growth of my youth ministry! It is a great resource for beginners and seasoned youth workers equally. Filled with nuggets of wisdom, and challenging questions,it helps you turn your dreams and visions into a strategic plan of action. If you want to have a greater impact in the kingdom of God, buy this book!” – Jackee

“Prepared for impact” is the kind of book that thoroughly helps you become prepared for that next ministry step in your life. It brings up ideas that are both thought provoking and helpful. 10/10 would recommend.” – Amazon Customer

“If you believe you can accomplish everything by “cramming” at the eleventh hour, by all means, don’t lift a finger now. But you may think twice about beginning to build your ark once it has already started raining”
Max Brooks, The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead

Buy the book and start building habits of preparation so you can beat the rain every time.