Category Archives: middle school

Sunshine, baseball, and wornout grass

It was a nice sunny day and the entire family headed outside to enjoy the weather. The kids rode bikes, played with sidewalk chalk and just ran around. My wife and I played catch and talked. But then something happened that reinforced the fact that youth ministry is part of my family culture. Upon seeing one of the neighborhood kids (a 7th grader) come out of his house with his glove my wife says to me, “You should see if he wants to come over and play catch with you.” On one side, she figured I would enjoy playing catch with someone who is better at baseball and on the other side, she knew it would be a great chance for me to talk to him.

Joe (not his real name or is it) has a younger brother who is friends with my oldest son. He’s been over to the house before and we’ve talked before, so this was not going to be something completely new.

What I thought would be a 20 minute session of throwing fastballs and trying to throw curves ended up being something much bigger. I’m not sure how long we played or how many pitches we threw, but I know my arm hurt when we were done. In fact, as you can see from the picture, we played long enough to cause some serious damage to the well-being of my front yard.

We talked about school, family, and a little about church. I learned a lot that afternoon about Joe and his world. Something else happened, though. After I had to leave to start grilling for dinner, Joe stayed and played with my boys. He continued to play catch and just hang out – my kids thought it was great. And because youth ministry is more than a job – its part of our family culture – we had Joe and his brother over for dinner, too.

We were glad to have the chances to connect with our neighbors and it was a great chance to minister. But a few days later I learned that it was something more. One of Joe’s teachers goes to our church and a few days after this I was talking to her at church. We were talking about Joe, she was asking me some questions, and I mentioned to her that I had played catch with him earlier that week. She said, “Oh yeah, I know that. He came in the next day and told me about it.” She went on to tell me that she thinks I’ve been (and need to continue to be) a good influence in Joe’s life.

I was a little shocked. Apparently the fact that I spent time with Joe meant more to him than I imagined it would.

I was reminded that sometimes the seemingly small things we do with people, especially teenagers, are much more important then we first think.

Many times in youth ministry we get opportunities to spend time with students. Are you making the most of those opportunities?

Thoughts on SYMC 2011: the before edition

This weekend I am attending Simply Youth Ministry Conference (SYMC) for the second time. This might be the second time, but there are going to many “firsts” for me this time around.

I’ve been to about a dozen youth ministry conferences over the past dozen or so years. So, in that regard, this is anything but new. Although I’ve been to these training events so many times, I keep going back because a conference like this is more than a training event. Getting together with 2600 other youth workers can be quite overwhelming, but as I prepare for this year I am not at all feeling overwhelmed. It feels like I’m going to some big “youth ministry family reunion.”

I usually get pretty excited about conferences like this, but this year the excitement/anticipation has been kicked up a notch. Here are a few reasons I’m super excited about SYMC (also the “firsts” for me this year).

1. Traveling with a friend

Unless I was attending the conference with my wife, I have always traveled alone. This may not seem like much, but I’m not a huge fan of driving 4 or 5 hours by myself. So getting to drive up with a friend is going to be awesome!

2. First time to attend, be in full-time ministry and not be volunteering at the event (since my very first one back in ’01).

Almost every convention I’ve attended has been as a volunteer. And while I love serving fellow youth workers (which I’ll still do some this weekend – see next point) I’m looking forward to spending more time talking and listening than moving boxes and stocking shelves.

If you are going to be there, I’d love to chat!

3. Thanks to the team at Simply/Group I (along with others) got to help be part of planning different aspects of the weekend.

This conference is very much “for youth workers, by youth workers” in almost every sense of the phrase. This fact alone helps make SYMC stand out and raise up to a different level.

I get to help in a couple areas and I’m excited. I am going to be part of a couple peer panels (ghosts of leaders past & leaving a ministry well). I will be part of “The Shelter” team (very excited about this). I will also be volunteering throughout the weekend trying to make sure little details are taken care of when needed.

If you’re going to be in Chicago for SYMC, I pray God shows up in a big way. If we run into each other, let’s talk.

next up: packing, driving, saying goodbye to my family :(, & arriving in Chicago before the end of the day!

Looking Back: What if there was no Easter?

The other day, I was reminded of a post from 3 years ago entitled: What if there was no Easter? As I looked over it again, I thought I would repost (slightly edited) it today. What do you think life would be like if there was no Easter? Do you think about what it was like before Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection?

For the junior high class, we wanted to go about the Easter lesson from a different POV. In preparation, I did some extra study on the Law and what life would be like under it. I, for one, am very glad we can celebrate Easter.

Throughout the class (about every 10 minutes) have the students do something routine. They will do the same thing every time. The goal is to let them gain a better understanding of what the annual sacrifices were like. They will do the same thing over and over and over and will not be able to not do it next time. Do not make it too difficult or time consuming, or you won’t have time to do the rest of the study.

We are going to be asking and answering these questions:

What if Jesus had never died on the cross?
What if Jesus had never rose from the grave?
What if we were still under the Law?
What if we choose to live under the Law instead of under Grace?

The hope is that by looking at Easter from this POV, the students will better understand the importance and magnitude of what Jesus did for us.

We’ll be looking at Gal. 2&3, Heb. 9, and some various OT passages on the Law

Every Youth Worker Needs: Less Sarcasm

(Youth ministry is not an easy ministry. And in this series, Every Youth Worker Needs:…, I want to highlight a variety of things that might make your ministry a little easier. This ongoing series will include ministry tips, book suggestions, technology helps, and many other nuggets of advice.)

If you would have known me in high school and college, you would have a hard time believing I wrote the title of this post. Allow me to explain to you, in one sentence, what I mean. I used to be extremely sarcastic. It was simply “who I was” and how I interacted with others. In fact, it was so extreme that I lost a college roommate because he thought I was too sarcastic. We had many (probably at least one a week) conversations over my use of sarcasm and his belief that I used it a little too much. I defended myself back then and despite trying to refrain around him, I did little to change my sarcastic attitude.

Then there came this point where I actually regretted who I had become. For many years, the one word that described me was “sarcastic” and sadly, this followed me into my first ministry. It was years into my ministry before I realized just how my sarcasm was negatively affecting the students and the ministry. As easy as it was for me to be sarcastic – it was pretty second nature for me – I knew I needed to put a stop to it. I don’t remember if I ever sat down with my youth ministry team, the students or the families and told them that I was going to be less sarcastic. I don’t think it was as important to tell people as it was to actually change my words and attitude. And as I changed into a less sarcastic person, I could see visible changes happening within the group.

As I changed, I saw a vanishing of the distance (caused by my sarcasm) between myself and some of the people I was trying to minister to. I wonder what “could have been” during the first two years had I learned sooner. From my experience, I have seen four negatives to using sarcasm in your youth ministry.

4 negatives to using sarcasm in youth ministry.

1. Students do not know when they can trust you.
Okay, so that might be a strong, and over-the-top statement that is not true all the time, but I think its still worth thinking about. When a student asks a question or makes a statement, are they worried about what you will say in return? The more you use sarcasm in your responses, the less students want to open their mouth and say anything. Students need to know they can trust your response to their thoughts and emotions (the stuff they say and do expresses these two) and that your response will be positive or at least neutral, not damaging.

2. Someone (usually a student) gets their feelings hurt.
Sarcasm is known for being “biting.” In my experience, any time it is used it results in hurt feelings. Its not the person using sarcasm that is hurt, nor those who hear it, but the person to whom it is directed toward. As a youth worker, more often than not, we tend to direct sarcasm at a student. And when this student laughs we think we have accomplished the exact opposite of hurt. In reality, we are only fooling ourselves. No student walks away from a sarcastic remark without feeling some level of pain, especially if they respect the person who said it.

3. It neither lifts up or encourages.
Youth ministry needs to be a safe place for students to be. When sarcasm is acceptable and prevalent within a youth ministry, it seizes to be a safe place. Throughout the Bible we are told to encourage each other and lift each other up. Sarcasm hinders us from showing the love of God to those who need it.

4. Simply put, it is cheap humor.
There is no way around this one. If you are looking for a cheap laugh, say something sarcastic. But is this what our youth ministries need? I don’t think so. If you want to be funny, put more effort into it. And remember, you do not need to get a laugh every time you talk to someone. Your ministry is about connecting students with a loving God – not making jokes or getting students to think you are funny.

There are still occasions where sarcasm flows from my lips, but it is much fewer and far between. Not to mention, it is very rarely around a student. Yet, the very fact that I still have moments of sarcastic behavior means I need to be intentional about taming my tongue (see James 3:1-12, especially v. 10). I encourage you to take sarcasm out of your talks, out of your conversations with students, and allow your words to be an encouragement to those students you are ministering to.

(Every Youth Worker Needs: A Blog Series About Things You Need in Youth Ministry)

Best of ’09: Ministry Moments

The year 2009 A.D. is over. The past 12 months have brought with them many new things; some good, some bad, and some not worth mentioning. I would like to take some time and highlight some of my favorite parts of 2009. I will call this list the “best of ’09” – which simply means that, in my opinion, these are the best items in a certain category. I fully expect you to disagree with some of my choices or to be upset I did not add other items to the list. If you feel this way, please add your “best of ’09” ideas in the comments.

The seventh list will be ministry moments. This is a list of my favorite ministry moments from this past year. Some of these moments you might have experienced yourself, some of them might be just mine. This is not a comprehensive list, but is the list of those moments that stand out the most, and it is in no particular order.

Devotional at school

One Sunday evening during a jr. high lesson on getting the most out of your Bible, I provided a variety of devotionals for the taking. To my surprise, each devotional was taken by the jr. highers. I hoped they would use them as they read/studied their Bibles. The next day, while I was at the school, one of the students stopped me in the hall to tell me something. He told me that he had brought his devotional book with him to school that day and was planning on reading it when he had free time.

Youth Rally
It is an honor to be asked to speak to students. It is an honor and a great responsibility when another youth worker asks you to speak to students you do not know. I had the privilege of speaking at a few youth rallies this year and loved the opportunities to share from the Bible with teenagers.

My situation

I had the chance to watch God use our situation to encourage/challenge other people. Regardless of what situation you find yourself in, make sure you honor God and allow Him to work through you.

No title required

I was reminded that God wants to use me in my current situation, regardless of what my official title is. Just because you are not in “full time” paid vocational ministry, does not mean you are not being used by God to minister to students and their families.

Not complete yet

Knowing that God is not done with me and ministry, He still has a plan for using my gifts and passions to impact the Kingdom. This understanding alone might possibly be the best ministry moment of the year. God’s plan is bigger than me and bigger than I can imagine. I can’t wait to see what is around the next corner.

What were your favorite ministry moments from this last year?

Other posts in this series:
Best of ’09 – Music
Best of ’09 – Youth Ministry Books
Best of ’09 – Non-Ministry Books
Best of ’09 – Websites
Best of ’09 – Blog posts
Best of ’09 – Web Apps
Best of ’09 – Ministry Moments
Best of ’09 – Random Favorites

Relational Communication

(This article was originally posted on YW Journal, you can read & comment on it here on this blog or over at YW Journal)

When was the last time you had a significant conversation with a student? I’m not talking about the “I want to give my life to Christ for the first time” kind of conversation. I’m talking about the conversation where you hear about a recent fight with a parent. Or the conversation that details a student’s struggle to control anger and the desire to get a handle on it. Maybe it is centered around the difficulty of being a Christian example at school.

Having any type of conversation that goes beyond a surface-level can be difficult for many adults. Let’s just be honest, teenagers can be very moody and hard to understand, which makes talking with them intimidating to many adults. To make the situation even worse, most adults are so intimidated that the paid youth worker has to carry the responsibility of talking with 100% of the teenagers who come through the church doors, plus a few extra from the community. But there is a better way.

It’s not just for paid staff
Paid youth workers are not the only people qualified to have significant conversations with teenagers, in fact any adult can do it. But these significant conversations do not happen by accident, it will take effort and a better understanding of teenagers. First of all, students do not withhold talking to someone just because the person is not a youth worker. In fact, there are many students who are less willing to talk about certain issues with a youth worker than anyone else.

Being on both sides of the youth worker role, paid full-time and volunteer, has given me a new insight into one of the keys to effectively communicating with teenagers. The key is not in asking just the right questions. Nor is the key found in the location of the conversation (ie. better conversation is not had while drinking coffee at the local coffee shop). The key to effective communication with teenagers is having a relationship with them.

A listening ear
This truth became vividly clear to me one day while I was subbing in the local high school. At the time I was not in a full-time youth minister position, but I had been in the area for a few years and knew most of the students in the school. Most of the students knew who I was and they knew one of the reasons I was subbing was because I genuinely care for teenagers. During this particular day, I had three significant conversations with students – the kind of “ministry conversations” every youth worker longs to have with students.

I did not plan to have these conversations, in fact I almost missed one because I was reluctant to stop what I was doing to talk to the student. (I’m so glad I stopped and listened) Since I did not plan these conversations, what made them happen? The only connection between all three conversations was my ongoing relationship with the student. I had known them for years and they knew I truly cared for them and desired the best for their life. My relationship with the student was the key to unlocking significant conversation and that day I was reminded of how much students will share when they know you care.

Build relationships
So, how does an adult who cares about teenagers take advantage of this relational aspect to significant conversations? For starters, if you sit down with a student and its the first time you start thinking about having a significant conversation with them, then its already too late. This relational communication will take foresight and planning on your part. The first step happens when you begin to intentionally focus on building a relationship with the student. Now, this is not a form of manipulation used to get the student to talk to you – if you are not genuinely concerned with the student’s life, then they will know and they will not talk to you anyway. You cannot be fake with a student!

Actually if you are involved with youth ministry in any fashion, the desire to build a relationship with a teenager will come naturally. The first step is to take an interest in the student’s life; learn about hobbies, family structure, interests, and what they are gifted in. You cannot have an ongoing relationship if you do not know about their life and you will also struggle to carry a conversation if all you can ask is, “How was school this week?” Asking questions about specific aspects of a student’s life is important, but do not be afraid to stop and listen to what is on their heart.

The relational key
Being given the opportunity to have significant conversations with students does not involve a mysterious formula or collection of the right “buzz words.” The biggest, and strongest, key is simply caring enough about a student to have a relationship with them. Not a relationship based on what the student can do for you or the ministry you are involved with, but a relationship based on one adult showing God’s love to one student. If you have that strong relationship and listen to a student, then every once in a while you will find yourself on the listening end of a significant conversation. A conversation that just might change the future of one special teenager.

It does not matter if you are a full-time youth worker, part-time youth worker, a volunteer, a bus driver, or an “extra” adult – if you have a relationship with a student, then they will willingly talk and share with you. Most students do not talk to an adult based on the title that goes along with their name. They talk to an adult based on the relationship formed over the years. Knowing this truth and not utilizing it will lead to dozens (hundreds?) of missed opportunities to speak into a teenager’s life.

Free ebook: Tear Down the Wall of the Youth Room

Nick Arnold, from, has just released an ebook on connecting with students outside of the “church walls.”

Here is what Nick has this to say about the ebook:

Looking for a resource filled with creative ideas to build relationships with students? This is a free resource from Ministry Allies full of relational ministry ideas, including hanging out with students, working on projects together, going to cheer on other students together, and a ton of other great ideas.

You can get the eb00k by clicking on the link. Did I mention it’s FREE and full of great ideas.

(I had the privilege of being able to contribute a few ideas and comments to the ebook, along with a handful of other youth ministry minded people)

2 Small Group Series Released – Elijah & Trusting God

I’m pretty excited about these 2 small groups. They are the first “stand-alone” small groups/lesson/curriculum material that I’ve written that’s been published in any form other than being printed from my computer. Plus, I love the fact that they have great looking covers (its a shame they are only downloadable).

If you have used these lessons, I would love to hear what you thought.

I wrote a 4 week series on Elijah and its now available for download from Simply Youth Ministry. Follow this link: Elijah Small Group Series to get more information and to download.

Lessons include:

  • Week 1 – He Was Confident in God (1 Kings 18:16-39)
  • Week 2 – He Battled Fear (1 Kings 19:1-8)
  • Week 3 – He Battled Loneliness (1 Kings 19:9-14)
  • Week 4 – He Was a Lifelong Servant (2 Kings 2:1-11)

I also wrote a 3 week series on Trusting God and its also now available for download from Simply Youth Ministry. Follow this link: Trusting God Small Group Series to get more information and to download.

Lessons include:

  • Week 1: With Your Past (1 John 4:10)
  • Week 2: In the Present (Ephesians 4:22-24)
  • Week 3: With Your Future (2 Corinthians 5:6-10)

5 Year Youth Ministry Contract: Students (5 of 5)

This is post #5 of the 5 Year Youth Ministry Contract. If you have not already read the first four posts, you’ll want to read them before reading this one. Read the introduction first, followed by my thoughts on the youth minister difference, my thoughts on the church leadership & staff difference and then my thoughts on the church membership difference.

In this post, we will look at the difference a five-year commitment would make for the students.

The Students Difference

Anyone who has been in youth ministry for more than a few years knows that the best ministry happens after you have been at the same place for an extended period of time.

This might be the biggest difference of any we’ve talked about so far. I think the students will greatly benefit from knowing the youth minister will be there for at least five years. Will it make it easy for them to open up emotionally right away? No. But it will make it easier for them to trust the youth minister and know this relationship will last more than six months.

Students are used to people coming in and out of their life, which causes some of them to shut down emotionally and relationally. They do not want to open up and allow an adult to know what they really struggle with if they do not know they adult will be around in nine months. When a student knows the youth minister will be around for years, they do not have to worry about having another broken relationship with someone who claimed to care about them.

Beyond the improvement in the student/youth minister relationships, I think there is an even greater benefit for the students – one they will not immediately identify. In fact, this benefit might be one they are never able to verbalize until well after they are out of the youth ministry. The unidentifiable benefit is the intentional long-range planning for the ministry; including a systematic progression of lessons, purposeful retreats and events and an intentional discipleship ministry. Not to mention the improved ministry of the volunteers, thanks to more training and encouragement.

As students remain with the same youth minister year after year, there will be more opportunities for ministry. When talking with their friends, the students will talk highly of the youth minister and create some instant credibility among their peers. This credibility will allow the youth minister more access to minister to those friends and become a positive influence into their lives. The more students and friends of students are benefiting from the youth ministry, the impact of the youth ministry will increase exponentially. And when a tragedy occurs, the students in the community will know they can turn to your youth ministry for support and direction.

One last benefit comes from a deepening of the relationship between the youth minister and the students. As the relationships grow, I believe it will result in more memories for the students. There will be more opportunities for ongoing jokes, funny moments and more laughter. And this increased joy at youth ministry events will not only benefit the students, but also the youth minister and other adults involved.

Are there negatives for the students?

One of the only negatives I can think of would happen for those students entering high school after the youth minister’s fifth year of ministry. They would be entering into a high school ministry ready to minister to their needs, but there would be no guarantee the youth minister will be there for their graduation.

What other differences do you think a five year commitment would make for the students?
Do you think the students would benefit from having a youth minister with this commitment to a local ministry?

Posts in this series:
1. The Introduction
2. The Youth Minister Difference
3. The Church Leadership/Staff Difference
4. The Church Membership Difference
5. The Students Difference

Learned from Twitter: week ending July 18, 2009

Being gone for most of the week meant that I didn’t catch a lot of the good stuff Twitter had to offer, but I did catch a few things.

1. SITM (Stuck in the Middle) is giving stuff away, and all you have to do to win is help promote their awesome middle school event.

“WIN $50 and Free Pizza from Stuck in the Middle:…

2. bigsmooth433430 (Matt Couch) is celebrating a collaboration with a local school for one of their upcoming events. Awesome chance to impact more students and work together with the local school system.

“We’re in! Avon has agreed to support our Battle of Schools event! Thank you Jesus!”

3. shawnmichael (Shawn Michael Shoup) got to hang out with Skillet. Its always nice to hear good things about “Christian” bands.

“Secret’s out: I just got to hang out w/ the guys from Skillet for the past four hours. Great guys!”

What did you learn from Twitter this week?