The spiritual foundation of Generation Z

The spiritual foundation of Generation Z

As I have been studying up and preparing for my three week class on Generation Z, I found this last section to be the most compelling and heartbreaking. It is easy to get lost in the stats regarding technology and the correlation between screen time and depression. Or to examine the LGBTQQIP2A+ sexuality alphabet soup and the implications of that. (Both incredible topics and worthy of discussion)

But this week we take a look at the spiritual foundation for Generation Z and what is the native tongue for this generation, is not even on the radar of church leaders or parents. The spiritual moment our kids find themselves in goes all the way back to the garden. It is the total antithesis to orthodox Christianity, and the more I have been studying, I have been alarmed at how much it has influenced the church and me.

What is this new spirituality, this new religion? Humanism.

Read More

Do you want to understand the soul of Generation Z?

Do you want to understand the soul of Generation Z?

Before you poo poo this video and say to yourself that this person does not reflect any generation Z person that I know, watch the first 1:20 again. What they say, in my opinion, perfectly sums up what is going on in the very heart and soul of this young generation.

In fact, what they share about is right in line what my 11-year-old, white, suburban daughter choir nerd thinks about herself, her friends, and the world.

I think we are fooling ourselves if we don’t take a good, hard look at this worldview and work hard to understand it, empathize it, find the beauty in, and also find the unique way the gospel is going to impact them.

Our kids are growing up in a world with fewer rules and standards:

Read More

What do you know about generation Z?

What do you know about generation Z?

This has been the question that has consumed my thinking for the past few weeks. Starting next week, I will be teaching a class at our church called Raising Generation Z: examining the technology, sexuality, and spirituality of this rising generation and what parents and church’s role and response should be. (Something like that)

There has been countless words spoken and written about the millennial generation. And this has shaped how we currently do youth ministry as well as how we are currently doing church. I think this is a good thing, primarily as the millennial generation is aging and becoming significant leaders. And I am willing to be that most, if not all youth workers these days, (Except for Tom Pounder) are in the millennial age bracket.

What is unique about student ministry is that, at its core, it is a cross-cultural ministry to a completely different generation. Most people miss this and just put their thoughts, desires, passions, and perspectives onto a younger generation. This works, but what works even better is taking a step back, differentiating ourselves from those whom we minister, understanding their worldview, their issues, and then craft a ministry style, that cares for them where they are currently living.

Read More

Marry Christmas from the Kerns Family 2018

Marry Christmas from the Kerns Family 2018

Dear Friends and Family,

I wanted to begin our annual Christmas letter with an apology.  I am sorry.  

For the past 20+ years I have devoted my entire professional career to loving teenagers and walking through the chaos of adolescents in a kind and loving way with kids and a wise, non-anxious presence for parents.  Those were good years.  

In the space of one year I hung up my youth ministry hat and became a parent of two middle schoolers.  And sitting on this side of the fence, my only reflections from this last year are a simple recognition that caring for middle and high schoolers is quite a different thing from parenting them.  

What’s funny, is that I have been gearing up for all the chaos, the temper tantrums, slamming doors, strange fashion, abandonment of faith, trying out dirty and dangerous things.  We are touching some of that and I am sure there will be more in the future.  But these sorts of issues are the challenges of our kids developing their own sense of self and becoming their own version of themselves.  I have walked with countless parents through these brutal experiences, but now it is my turn and I am not that thrilled with how the tables have turned. 

But, if I’m honest, what I have found to be more difficult and character building is not the brutal challenges of individuation, but the three precursors to this process:  

Read More

Don't overlook the shepherds in your student ministry

Don't overlook the shepherds in your student ministry

I hope by now you have wrapped up your student ministry semester and enjoyed your end of year Christmas festivities. And now you are ready for a break. You should be. But as you go wheels up this Christmas season, don’t forget about the shepherds among your student ministry.

What I mean by this is that we do student ministry for the masses. We do it for the kids who come and love it. We sing songs, play games, have small groups and the kids that have shown up are the ones who get it, or at least get you. But if your church is anything like ours, some students don’t fit the mold, don’t go with the program. They are smelly, lice filled dredges. Just kidding. Those are the shepherds. :)

However, similarly, some kids are basically like that loosely connected to your student ministry. And while your supervisor doesn’t know about them and they don’t count in your numbers, they are still valuable humans who Jesus longs to meet in a profound way. They are the outskirts of your ministry, and therefore most likely missing the good news that is for them.

Read More

Are you ready for "Youth Pastor Sunday?"

Are you ready for "Youth Pastor Sunday?"

It is Advent and, if your church is anything like mine, the church is in full Christmas mode. We have our best sermon series, our best music, our best decorations, all building to our Christmas Eve service! It is going to be incredible!!!

But then, in just a few short days after Christmas, everything will go dark. Everyone goes on vacation, including the Lead Pastor. That means that it is once again time for that time-honored tradition of “Youth Pastor Sunday.”

“Youth Pastor Sunday” is that Sunday that comes around once or twice a year. While Memorial Day weekend or Labor Day weekend are contenders, no Sunday has more youth workers preaching than the Sunday after Christmas.

Read More

The danger of losing ministry to the program

The danger of losing ministry to the program

I’ve been trying to keep the attendance numbers of our youth group quiet for a while now. When people ask me how many students came on Tuesday and Wednesday night, I give a vague answer. I try to tame my reaction and excitement about our growing numbers and instead share a more qualitative story about a student who prayed out loud for the first time, or who has become consistent about bringing their own Bible and participating in small group discussion. 

Our youth group has been growing steadily over the last year or so, and as exciting as this is, it’s also something I want to handle carefully. At the last church I worked in, my boss who ran the youth program used to say, “Ministry is about the numbers…but it’s really not about the numbers” and the truth and power behind that statement has stayed with me. 

There is a natural excitement that comes when we look at a program that used to host eight or nine regular kids and is now bringing in twenty or twenty five people each week. Obviously this growth is an answer to prayer! As youth workers, we care deeply about students and we want every teenager in our communities to be reached for Christ. We go to sporting events, volunteer at schools, hang out at fast food restaurants and encourage kids to invite their friends because we want to see more and more students experiencing God and plugging into the church. I’m sure we can all agree that steady growth is a good thing to be seeing in a youth program.

Read More

10 minute, 10 word prayer experience to spice up your youth ministry

10 minute, 10 word prayer experience to spice up your youth ministry

10 for 10 is one of those ideas I think God just downloaded into my mind to keep me sane. You know the feeling: you’re in Mexico, you haven’t slept in several days, caffeine holds no effect anymore, and you hate the sound of your own name. If one more person calls for me…. Every shirt you packed is stained with the tears of teens and the dirt of the tent you’re sleeping in. Can no one remember to take their shoes off outside?!

All those lofty ideals and theories you had for moments of spiritual transformation feel as far away as — soap.

Then you’re bumping down a dirt road in a 12-passenger van, avoiding potholes and perritos. No, you cannot bring that dog back across the border. Yes, that does make me a monster. No, I do not care. You’re breaking up a backseat argument for the 10th time that morning. Surely I didn’t fight this much when I was 12… right? You try something desperate (er… creative?) and suddenly 8th graders are excited about a Bible passage. 

Let me just say that last bit again. 8th graders were actively dialoguing about a Bible passage. Praying. And loving it. And you start to mentally backspace the resignation letter you were writing. We had a ton of fun with 10 for 10 during our drives the rest of the week.

Here’s the general idea:

Read More

5 easy tricks to get any middle school boy talking in small group

5 easy tricks to get any middle school boy talking in small group

The greatest mistake youth workers make when ministering to students, specifically middle schoolers, is that simply talk at them, telling them what they need to know and what they need to do.  

This mistake makes sense.  We love Jesus deeply and we got into this business because we want, more than anything, for young people to fall in love with Jesus as well.  So, week after week, month after month, we try our best to compel them to love Jesus the way we do.  

But here is what we forget.  When we were 12 we didn't love Jesus the way we do now. 

When we were 12 we were developing our faith and our heart for Jesus.  We did have some experiences in middle and high school that contributed to our faith and put us on the path to know and love Jesus in the deep an intimate way we do now as adults. 

Read More

1000 Frisbees

1000 Frisbees

Big games are the worst! Don’t get me wrong playing games and having fun with students is often the highlight of my week, but finding the right game often feels like eating a box of nails. Every week I would scour through all the different game sites to find something. Something, that would fill the allotted time and didn’t result in ten kids sitting on their phones in the corner. I found my average success rate would be right around .300 and that should impress you.

This grind every week to find compelling games lead me to think differently about how I approach the creative process in this important area of my weekly programing. Two things that changed things for me. 

Read More

Your faith journey is different than that of your students. Help them with theirs. :)

Your faith journey is different than that of your students.  Help them with theirs. :)

Most youth workers, including me, have been doing student ministry since they were students themselves.  Because of this reality, there is often an unchecked issue brewing just below the surface.  This is that we often fail to differentiate our spiritual development and needs from those of our students.

Remember being a high school student?

There was a time, and maybe you are still in that time, when you remember being a high schooler and you remember the spiritual journey of that time.   This memory is one of the things that makes you such a great youth worker.  I remember how great it was when I first started out in student ministry.  Whatever I was learning, however I was growing, only added fuel to my growing passion for students and for them to encounter the living God who was rocking my world!  In fact, I have found that it is always best to teach from a place of authenticity and personal growth.

But as the years wore on, I began to realize that I was outpacing the spiritual development of my students.  I found myself trying on new ways of connecting with Jesus.  Lectio Devina, candles, solitude.  I found that the more I was growing spiritually, the more I wanted to share my new spiritual growth with my students.  But now realized, the more I shared with my students, the more I was losing them.

Read More

Cry night is my favorite…sort of :)

Cry night is my favorite…sort of :)

I want you to let your imagination go for a second.

Hands lifted. Voices loud. Emotions charged. Tears streaming down the face.

…what do you think of when you read that last sentence?

If a Justin Bieber concert full of teenage girls comes to mind, you’re not alone. Or how about the conclusion of a This is Us episode? I have barely even seen the show, but my impression of how that show tugs at heart strings would appear to line up with that sentiment.

For a youth worker, that may sound like the last night of a weekend camp during a worship set, frequently coined as “cry night.” And who doesn’t love cry night? It’s a perfect moment of adolescent exhaustion combined with a kick drum hitting you in the chest all the while singing songs about the love of God for you right here, right now. After the session is over, you go into small groups and the tears and tissues are flowing. Jesus moved right?. Clearly! Kids’ lives are changed forever. You can tell because their eyes are puffy and they can barely say a complete sentence behind the rage of sniffles. Your job as a youth worker is complete. 

Read More

How to Speak to Middle School Students: A Guide

How to Speak to Middle School Students: A Guide

If speaking to Middle School students feels like an impossible task, you’re not alone. It’s such a feat, in fact, that few care to learn it: but not you! You’re here, concerned about translating the gospel into the (foreign, treacherous) culture of Jr High. The following read will take you about 7 minutes, and will revolutionize your communication style with pre-teen students.  

 1. Tell Stories 

Stories are powerful. Ask Jesus. Ask Aesop. Ask Walt Disney. Ask Ellen Degeneres. There’s not a culture without legends, a child without imagination, a human without stories. While there is a time and place for rhetoric, lofty ideals and concept, it is not Middle School talks! Hone your storytelling craft: books, podcasts and even google searches yield hundreds of ways to listen to great stories and learn to tell the same. It’s worth it! Students will remember great stories for years.  

Read More

What does evangelism look like with a Middle School

What does evangelism look like with a Middle School

Here are some questions I was recently asked about the world of middle school ministry.  Here is how I answered these questions.  I would love to know your thoughts, pushbacks, snaps.  Let’s keep pouring unconditional love on these middle schoolers so that the experience of God’s people match the theology we are trying to communicate!

How would you say Junior High students define salvation?

For those who have grown up around the church, they would say that salvation means that God died for their sins and because of that they can go to heaven.   For those outside the church, I don’t think they have any mental parameters for salvation.  It doesn’t make sense and answers no felt needs. They get that God loves them and that they are special.  

How would you define salvation?

Salvation is the total redemption of those who were lost, isolated, and alone by their own choices and the choices of those around them.  While we were yet sinners, Christ came, lived, taught, died and rose again so that we may have our sins atoned for, our debt ransomed and then have the gift of being adopted into the family of God as full blown daughters and sons, with all the rights and responsibilities that come with that high honor.

Read More

What do do when a parent rages and wants to rip your face off?

What do do when a parent rages and wants to rip your face off?

It is pretty difficult to do youth ministry for any length of time and not have some sort of blow up with a parent.  And I have found that no matter how hard I try, every now and then, I find myself at the receiving end of a firing squad.  Most of the time it is from some misunderstanding, but there have also been times when a parent’s rage was deserved.

But no matter who’s at fault, I have found the two silver bullets to de-escalate just about every major conflict between parents and youth workers.  The problem is, youth worker’s aren’t going to like it.

1)  Fall on your sword.  This sounds like retreat and like you are losing some justice issue.  You are not.  You are dealing with minors, with people’s kids, and in some way you have offended, caused anxiety, dread or fear to creep into their hearts because of something you have done.  Their kid, their most prized possession, is simply just one of the many kids in your program.  You have many things to worry about and most of them are seen simply through your lens, not the lens of a parent.

Read More

Are you fascinated by your students?

Are you fascinated by your students?

This was the best question ever posed to me in student ministry. If I am honest, I think the answer is a firm, “No!"

I love my students, I love my church, I love youth group, I want as many kids in the room as possible, and I want them to play ball, and I want them give me the right signals so I know they are with me.

In all the things I just wrote, not one of them has to do with the actual, individual, unique and amazing young person that I get to share life with in and out of the church. And it is this subtle difference that separates the decent youth workers from the incredible ones!

I know most of you, somewhere deep in your soul, long to be an incredible youth worker. Not to be Christian famous, but to do a great job and make an impact for the Kingdom of God. In order to do that, it is actually much easier than you think. It only take two things:

Read More

Does virginity matter anymore?

Does virginity matter anymore?

I recently read a book where the author criticized the church of her youth as seemingly only caring about her virginity.  My friends who also have read the book read that critique and resonated with it.  In fact almost any millennial upon reflection of their time in student ministry has the same critique.  

I actually think that this is an unfair critique.  This is because youth ministry 5-10 years ago was about maintaining a particular culture, a Christian culture.  The problem is that virginity seemed to be the highest goal, rather than a discipline that was an indicator of much larger Christian virtues and culture.  

Virginity was an indicator of deeper Christian character such as temperance, prudence, justice, courage humility, selflessness, and self-control.  These virtues, not virginity used to be what marked Christians and is what built strong Christian culture, strong Christian families, and strong Christian youth ministries that helped reenforce these virtues.  

To simply put it, virginity is an indicator of mature Christian culture.  It is like calculus.  In order to understand calculus you need to know and understand, rudimentary math, algebra, geometry, and trigonometry.  

Read More

Is there a corporate ladder in student ministry?

Is there a corporate ladder in student ministry?

What is the top of the youth ministry world? When will you have arrived? Is it about the number of students in your ministry? Is it about working at a particular church? Is it when you get to travel and speak? Is it when you get to speak at main stage for Youth Specialties? Every career has a ladder, and student ministry is no different.

Let's just take high school education as example. The basic corporate ladder goes something like this; substitute teacher, teacher's aid, class room teacher, head of department, assistant principle, principle. Then if you have sights higher than that particular high school, assistant superintendent, and finally super indent.

But this isn't the top of the ladder. From superintendent, there is an entirely different ladder to climb ending with, who knows, the governorship or even the president of the united states.

The crazy thing is that some people have absolutely no desire to be anything but an instructional aid. They know who they are and what they are gifted to do, and they fully live into it. One of my best middle school volunteer staff is this person. She is a total gift to her school and does her job with passion and grace.

Read More

Say "NO!" to behavior modification

Say "NO!" to behavior modification

While I am sure that most of us want our students to become followers of Christ and to put their unique gifts and talents to work in the expansion of His Kingdom, what we end up valuing and celebrating falls pathetically far from this aspiration. We’ve encouraged behavior modification.

By the time our students are firmly in mid-adolescence we have communicated a very clear, a very boring, and a very hypocritical version of Christianity. You may already disagree with me because I have no idea how much passion and hard work you have put into your gospel centered messages, your exegetical sermons, and 5 point leadership development program.

But the awful thing that I have found to be true is that students could care less with what we say. In fact we truly are the adults in the Peanuts cartoons. It is our lives and actions, our decisions and interactions that communicate what sort of Christianity we are peddling. So good theology and passion aside, I would like to gently push back and invite you and me to examine our actions and wrestle with the heretical version of the gospel we unintentionally sell to our students.

Answer the following questions, and then ask why you answered the way you did.

Who are your leaders?Who are the most celebrated students?Who are your favorite kids?Who’s stories get celebrated?

Read More

What is the best way to run an effective Leader's Meeting?

What is the best way to run an effective Leader's Meeting?

Every week before youth group we have a half hour leader's meeting for our volunteer youth staff. This is, by far, the most important meeting of my week. It is an opportunity for our entire staff to touch base before we jump into another night of student ministry. Over the years these meetings have taken on many different looks. But as I continue to reflect on how to make that time a win for everyone, I have landed on my three most important components to an effective leader's meeting.

1. The Check In: Full time student ministry is my job. It is the thing that I spend a majority of my time thinking about, praying about, and trying to improve on. This is not true for my volunteers. They have real jobs that take 40-60 hours of their lives. That job is the thing that takes up most of the free space in their brains. They come to youth group after a long and hectic day at work, or at home with their own kids, or from class. When they walk through the door, they are often frazzled and rushed.

Checking in allows us to actually care for each other. The volunteers are not filler to this ministry, they are this ministry. And it is important that as the leader of this team we see them as people with real lives, concerns, joys, and sorrows. Allowing space for people to share their outside lives together unites the group and builds emotional strands towards each other and actually deepens our sense of team.

Read More