Category Archives: youth ministry

to quote someone else: changing culture (Peter Block)

“A shift in the thinking and actions of citizens is more vital than a shift in the thinking and actions of institutions and formal leaders.”

taken from Community: The Structure of Belonging by Peter Block

I read Community several months ago and have been thinking through the implications of its content ever since. This particular quote has generated a lot of pondering and wrestling in my head.

As a youth minister, there are things I want to see changed or focused on within the context of the congregation within which I work. There are attitudes that need adjusting, focuses that need fine-tuned, understanding that needs broadened, lessons that need learned, and apathy that needs shaken. There are even changes that need to happen, but can only happen when there is a shift in the culture. And changing a church culture is no easy task.

As Block points out the best (only?) way to change a culture is to shift the thinking and actions of the people in the community you want to change. What community culture do you want to see shifted?

  • A Sunday School class.
  • The youth ministry.
  • Your volunteer team.
  • Staff dynamics.
  • Church leadership.
  • Awana group.
  • Your small group.
  • Parents of your students.
  • Your family.

Changing any of these communities will take effort and time. If you are a leader of the community, you have a vital role in helping to shift the actions and thinking of the people within the community. You need to be intentional about changing your thinking, actions, and language. Since you want to see the changes, you have already made the mental shift. You might have even made a shift in how you plan, organize or promote things in order to show the shift. But the most important step (and one that gets forgotten by many leaders) is to verbalize and share your thinking on the shift.

Do you need to change how you talk about a topic? It could be as simple as changing the way you promote the Sunday School class. For example, if you want to shift the class to be more about discipleship than fellowship you will need to stop talking about how much “fun” class is and start using phrases that reflect the depth of the studies.

Do you want church to be less about attendance on Sunday and more about living a life for Christ every day? If you are a leader, you need to help the congregation shift their thinking from the one to the other. How can you help people see the Christian life as more than a checklist? A few possibilities include: speaking about the shift from up-front, changing the way you evaluate and discuss the ministry of the church, or spending time sharing the need for the shift with a few “key” people who can help you champion the changes.

What would you add to this conversation? What have you learned about changing culture?



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?

SYMC ’11: Final Thoughts

What can I add to my daily SYMC posts?

What more can I say about the Simply Youth Ministry Conference? As I reflect on the conference, I’m convinced more than ever that it is so much more than a collection of speakers and workshops. There is much more to it. The DNA & heartbeat of Group and Simply Youth Ministry is bigger than just putting on a weekend conference.

The heartbeat is relationships centered around Jesus Christ and a love for youth ministry and youth workers.

Part of the DNA is providing innovation and in-depth learning for youth workers.

And what makes these things work best is the authenticity with which the companies & their employees handle themselves.

This was my second year at SYMC, but it felt more like my 15th time. There is no way I could have known all 3,000 people and had meaningful conversations with each one. But what did happen was that I felt like I was going to a family reunion and able to spend quality time with those I did know. I sat and talked with several youth workers for hours about ministry, family, and anything else we could think of. I shared meals with new friends and heard about their passion for ministry. There is simply no better feeling than being able to start a conversation with someone you’ve never met simply because you know you both share a passion for youth ministry. Sharing this bond with others is part of what makes a youth ministry conference such a kick-start for those times you feel low on energy and passion.

And it is these relationships and connections that turn the other 51 weeks into a richer collection  of conversations and support. When I have questions/concerns about ministry, some of the first people I turn to are those I have met through SYMC. And my ministry has improved because of their advice.

As you can see, the reason I went back to SYMC this year (and the reason I’ll go back next year) is that the conference is more than 5 day event.

  • SYMC is a spark plug for your ministry.
  • SYMC is a collection of listening ears.
  • SYMC is love and support
  • SYMC is genuine.
  • SYMC is “what you see is what you get.”
  • SYMC is a family.
  • SYMC is a set of shoulders to stand on.
  • SYMC is a safety net to prevent huge falls.
  • SYMC is a smiling face.
  • SYMC is a place to rest.
  • SYMC is a place to recharge.

What other reasons do you need to attend? Sure, there are plenty of information, statistics, technology, advice, and wisdom. It is virtually impossible to return home without at least one thing you want to implement into your ministry and I came back with some great ideas and a renewed passion to not become stagnant. But it is not for those things that I return, they are simply the bonuses.

Next year, SYMC is traveling to Louisville, KY. I hope to see you there!

SYMC ’11: Monday Edition

The Monday of the conference is always a little bittersweet. I’m sad to leave my ministry friends and the great environment, but I’m ready to see my family again.

The day started out with a peer panel on “leaving well without losing your heart.” I got to be on a panel with some great friends: Tim, Len, & Darren. We had a really good discussion. All of which reminded me (yet again) that there are some really hurting youth workers.

If you are feeling hurt in ministry, wondering if its time for you to leave, or being forced to leave – know that you are not alone.

The general session ended the conference by reminding us all that we are not alone. We are all threaded together in the larger story, thus none of us has to be alone or feel like we have to do anything by ourselves. And we were reminded that behind all of our “junk” and struggles is the one person who draws us all together – Jesus.

And so ended SYMC 2011.

But, I’m not convinced the conference is really over. You see, for me the conference is so much more than the programming of 4 days – its the relationships, connections, conversations, prayer support and friendships that cannot be measured or controlled by a schedule.

And these things will continue throughout the year until 2012 in Louisville, KY.

If we met at SYMC, or you are in youth ministry, I’d love to connect online (twitter, facebook, or this blog) to continue the ongoing conversation about ministry.


SYMC ’11: Sunday Edition

Saturday was a day of “rest & conversations” – Sunday was a day of learning.

Rick Lawrence used an old Brennan Manning story about a strawberry to remind us of God’s working in our lives. Overall the general session was good, but one thing really stands out. We were challenged to find a partner we didn’t know and pray with them, but Rick asked that we try to listen to God before we just prayed a standard prayer. We were supposed to ask God to show us a “strawberry” in our partner’s life. When my partner prayed for me, she prayed about a “guitar” but didn’t know what it meant.

I’ve thought about this for the past few days, trying to figure out what it means. I’m not sure if playing guitar with my family is something I need to do more of. Or if its simply a need to spend more time listening to and worshiping with music. Or if it is more than that.

Saturday I didn’t go to either of the tracks, but today I went to Kara Powell’s on Equipping and Empowering Parents to Build Lasting Faith With Their Kids. It was superb. Here are a few points that stuck out to me:

  • 6 out of 7 kids don’t feel equipped with faith that prepares them for college
  • 40-50% of teens will drift from the LORD 18 months after graduation (80% intended to stick)
  • We must remember that parents are often afraid and not intentional (one of our goals is to support and equip them to be the spiritual leaders for their kids)
  • We need to help parents focus on “trusting God” v. “obeying God.”
  • “When she made a bad decision, I didn’t send her away. Rather I brought her close.” (from Spiritual Parenting, p. 70-74) How do you respond when kids make bad decisions?
  • The more students are involved in intergenerational worship (and relationships) before graduation, the better they do in college.

The last part of the day did not go the way I thought it was going to. I had planned on going to the session on helping to plan the KidMin conference, but ended up at the life podcast. I just got “caught up” spending time with my friends and just couldn’t get away. 🙂

It was a great last full-day, and reminder of some of the things that make SYMC such a great conference: great trainer and authentic relationships.

SYMC ’11: Saturday Edition

Saturday was (for me) a day of connection & conversation.

The day started with general session #2 – Rick Lawrence reminding us that Jesus is the connecting thread through all of Scripture. Louie Giglio challenging us to think about and answer the question “What kind of culture are you creating?” Louie said he felt that past youth ministry culture was more about cynicism and immaturity than anything else.

What our culture should look like:

  1. Humility (which is simply seeing God)
  2. Honor (we honor because we have been honored)
  3. Jesus (it all comes back to Jesus)

Takeaway quote: “Circumstances are not an excuse for cynicism.” (read that again and think about how it applies to your current situation.)

I sat in the Effective Branding class. A few things to remember when working on branding your ministry are: know who you want to reach, be intentional, be consistent, & keep it simple. <- Much easier said than done! But completely doable no matter what your budget.

I ended up walking out of a class because it wasn’t what I thought it was going to be. I ended up having a great conversation with a friend about transitions in his ministry and some of the similarities between what we are trying to do and what he is trying to do. It was very encouraging.

Sometimes at the conference, I like to eat meals with people I don’t know. Sometimes this turns into a rather quiet meal, but the rest of the time it is great. Today at lunch was one of those great endings. I ate with a couple I didn’t know and started talking about ministry. We had a great conversation about what is going on in their ministry and how to try and handle some of the frustrations they are facing. I walked away encouraged.

I got to talk with a hurting youth worker, too. We talked about some struggles he is facing and how he can better balance his full-time job, his part-time youth ministry position, his family, and any other free time he might have. I hope some of the ideas I shared will help him balance his life and reduce some of his stress.

At the evening general session, I felt I needed to spend time away from the crowd. So I walked out early (fully expecting to rejoin) to simply spend quiet time with God. I had spent most of the first day and a half “doing” the conference and had neglected to take time to simply “be” with God.

Ahh. I needed that!

And the final part of my day was probably my favorite 4 hour stretch of the entire day. I sat in a chair talking with a small handful of friends (two I’ve known for years, 1 I just met), plus a steady stream of bitesize conversations with people as they walked by. We laughed, talked about ministry, laughed, talked about our personal lives, laughed, and I think at some point I almost cried I was laughing so hard. It was such a refreshing reminder of what friendship within the body of Christ looks like. I am so glad I didn’t miss this moment. It was a much needed blessing & a great end to an awesome day.

What will Sunday bring?

Will you be watching for God?

What can you do to hear God speak to you?

SYMC ’11:Friday

Friday was the official first day of the conference. And if the rest of the weekend is anything like today, its going to be a wonderfully fantastic conference. (This is my prediction and has been since October)

Today I got to watch more youth workers show up and register, hope to get to meet a small percentage of the few thousand who are here.

Friday highlights:

peer panels – I got to be on one peer panel (Ghosts of Leaders Past) and it was a great conversation about how to handle stuff that comes from past ministers. You could have to follow a “rock star” youth minister, a legacy of short-term ministers, an irresponsible minister, or “that’s what so-and-so did”. Each legacy you follow has a different impact on your ministry. What legacy did you follow? What legacy are you creating?

general session – The first general session was great. Doug Fields spoke about the many voices that we hear – voices that can be discouraging. He also talked about 4 things teenagers are looking for.

  1. Teenagers are looking for relationships
  2. Teenagers are looking to be amazed
  3. Teenagers are looking to do something radical
  4. Teenagers are looking for healing for their hurts

And Jesus is all about relationships. He is amazing. He is radical. He is empathy.

Two more things – a picture of an empty general session room and a picture of a general session room filled with youth workers 🙂

SYMC ’11: Thursday

Today was a good start to SYMC

Had a good trip to Chicago with Bill. Got to stop by and see a good friend from college. But then we arrived & the fun began.

Registration was super easy.

Sack chairs were really comfortable.

Seeing friends was ______________

  • awesome
  • encouraging
  • a reminder that I’m not the only one
  • the beginning of more memories

Thursday was a good day & the conference hasn’t even started yet! Which means tomorrow is going to be even better!

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!

Best (Free) Droid Apps for Youth Ministers

Android phones may not have as many apps as the iPhone has, but you don’t need that many when you have quality ones. There are many great apps that will benefit you and your youth ministry, and the ones I’m going to suggest don’t cost anything!

Here are some great, free, apps that will benefit you and your ministry.

Barcode Scanner

Ministry Helps:
Barcode Scanner
This little app is helpful in a couple ways. First, you can scan a book, DVD, or other product and look up its price. When shopping for a youth ministry with a limited budget, this will be very helpful. The other benefit of this app is that you can use it to scan QR codes which can be used to download other apps, contact info, and calendar events. (Use this app in combination with Shopper to find more price information)


There are plenty of Bible apps to get from the Android Market. My suggestion is that you download YouVersion by If you have YouVersion on your desktop, you can sync your reading plan and notes with your phone. This app gives you the ability to find a Scripture quickly, read the Bible when you have a few minutes, or follow along with the sermon when you accidentally leave your Bible in your office.


Dropbox allows you to have access to all of your files (at least the ones you put in your dropbox) while on the go. Put your message notes, list of students going on a trip, or pictures from the past year in your dropbox folder and you have access to them whenever you want, even if you are not in front of your computer.

This app has been recently updated, with some significant improvements. As a youth minister, you will be able to use this app to post updates from your youth trip, comment on students’ pages or quickly update pictures for those not on the trip to view.

*Messaging (already on phone)
Since you have a smart phone that has the ability to use apps, I’m going to assume you have some sort of texting plan. And so do your students and parents – so use this feature. Mine is on the home page because I want to be able to easily access it, so should you.

Google Shopper

Google Shopper

This might seem like a strange app to include on the list, but I have found it to be an invaluable app to have. The ability to scan (works with Barcode Scanner) an item’s UPC and then compare prices, online and in stores, to see what other local stores carry the item will save you time and money. You do not have to drive around looking for the best price or spend hours searching through the internet. Trust me, this app will be worth the price you paid (free) for it and more.


Having this app on your phone can make connecting to youth workers (or the occasional student who actually has a Twitter account) even easier. You can update without sending a text, you can take a picture or video with your phone and then update it to Twitter. During a ministry trip or while at a convention, set up your account to send you notices with specific mentions or from certain people.

Voice Recorder

Voice Recorder
This is great app for turning your phone into a digital recorder. You can use it to practice a message, remember something you want to write down but don’t have paper, or to record your family talking to you while you are gone on a trip. With the ability to send the recording to your computer via email, this is a much cheaper option than a digital recorder.

Youth Ministry Conventions (YSEvents & SYMC2011)

SYMC 2011

If you are going to the National Youth Workers Convention or Simply Youth Ministry Convention, these are must apps. The apps gives you the list of artists and speakers, the schedule, and the YS app gives you access to local info on each city and the ability to watch a life stream for the big room. Or if you are a fan of youth ministry but can’t make it to the conventions, these will give you access into the world of the convention.

Panic/Stress Minimizers:
*Calendar (already on phone)
This the app for Google calendar, which I did not use at all until I got my Droid. Since I have the ability to sync my phone with my desktop, this app allows me to keep much better track of where I need to be and what I should be doing. Plus, the ability to set up reminders (via email or notification) gives me another avenue to reduce the chance I’ll forget to meet a student for lunch.

Grocery IQ

Grocery IQ
Shopping for the high school cookout, but can’t remember how many hot dogs were left after last year? Use Grocery IQ to help make the shopping list and make comments on “actual use” from event to event. This app will also help you keep track of how much you are spending, too. Use with barcode scanner and Google voice to make adding items easier/faster.

Making a house call to that seventh grader, but can’t find his house? Maps, especially using the Navigation feature, will help you find anyplace you are looking for. Not only can you use your phone as a GPS, you will also get “Places” which allows you to search for stores or particular locations based on your location. So when you are on that summer trip and realize the van’s gas gauge isn’t working right anymore, you can find the nearest gas station. *Bonus Use* Make a widget that will always give you directions back to your house, the church, or anywhere else you want.

Trip Master

Trip Master
Need to track your mileage for tax reasons or to turn in for reimbursement, but struggle to always right it down. Trip master can help. You can track your mileage using GPS or by entering your odometer reading (manually or voice). When you need this information, you can export either via email or the SD card.

Weather Channel

*Weather Channel
Is it gonna snow? Will we get drenched with rain? Will it be hot enough to go swimming? I’m sure every youth worker has asked these three questions and many more. Planning events is hard enough, then you add in the weather and it is down-right impossible to know what to do. With this app, you can have instant access to the latest weather from, including the radar map. I use this app at least 5 times a day.


Have a few minutes to wait:
A great way to either waste a few minutes or listen to some new music. If you know what Pandora is, then you know why you need this app on your phone. If you haven’t used the website yet, go ahead and try it out. You might even want to use this app to help introduce your students to new music.


This is basically a smartboard on your phone (well, minus the ability to write to it from your computer). You can use this app to draw quick diagrams or sketches. You can also write small notes, like a student’s birthday. You can save whatever you write as a .jpg then you can send it to yourself or even use it as your desktop background.


Just for Fun:
Bubble (a bubble level)
This app does exactly what you would think it does – it tells you when something is level. Use Bubble when decorating your youth area or office. Plus, if you want to play one of those “Minute to Win It” games that involves a rolling ping pong balls and paper clips, this app will help you get the right angle.

Traffic Jam

Traffic Jam
This is a fun game that will help take your mind off of ministry for just a few minutes. The goal is to get the yellow cab through the traffic to the exit. The levels start out easy and get more difficult as you go.



This Boggle-type game lets you select the words by highlighting them with your finger. Its easy to play, plus you can quit at any time and start back right where you left off.




If you are a blogger, and use WordPress, you will want to include this app on your phone. You can check comments and stats. You can modify posts or write whole new ones.



Angry Birds

Three more apps I probably need to at least mention: GMail, MyVerizon, and Angry Birds

Within each category, the Apps are simply placed alphabetically, not in order of most useful. Apps with an (*) before them are ones I use enough, they are on my home screen.