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:

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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. 

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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. 

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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.

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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. 

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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.  

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.  

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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.

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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?

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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.

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A Mid-Summer Letter to Parents

A Mid-Summer Letter to Parents

Dear Parents,

July is already upon us and summer is in full swing!  I hope that you are soaking up a little rest and relaxation in between the continual complaints of boredom from your kids.  As you are look for places to keep your kids occupied and out of trouble, I would like to offer you a couple of simple ideas to help you thrive this summer.

1) Boredom is part of being an adult.  Feel free to affirm this reality.  Don't let them off the hook to easily and make them come up with their own plans.  Like all things, pushing through seems impossible, but when you break through there is success.  Your kids are incredibly smart and I a always impressed with how they always find a way to do exactly what they want to do.  Make them work for it.  Build some character!

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Fortnite Ministry: Ceeday models the love of Jesus (and some PG-13 language)

Fortnite Ministry: Ceeday models the love of Jesus (and some PG-13 language)

What I have enjoyed just as much as getting crushed in my attempt to play this game, is watching the youtubers cut videos and show off their expertise.  One of my favorite guys to watch is Ceeday.  (If colorful language bothers you, then just take my word for it) 

In this video, Ceeday models the love of Jesus and sets the stage for about a dozen different sermon illustrations.  

Unfortunately, you can't show this video in youth group to illustrate your point, but everyone will know what you are talking about if you reference Ceeday, default skin, and being carried.  This is exactly what Ceeday does.  

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Want to know the secret ingredient in keeping students connected to Jesus?

Want to know the secret ingredient in keeping students connected to Jesus?

The million dollar question seems to be something like, “How do we keep students committed to Jesus into adulthood?” This is one of the main questions I have been wrestling with during my tenure as a youth pastor.  And depending on the season, I end up somewhere swinging between it all being on Jesus or all being on me.  It is true that Jesus is the author and perfector of our faith and as shepherds we are called by god to build up or students in their faith.  At the end of the day, it is both.  I plant, you water, I plant, you water, and God causes there to be growth and life.  This is a mysterious partnership.

In this mysterious partnership there are always better techniques and practices to improve our planting and watering.  And if we take a step back, I think we will see that the solution to fertile and usable soil has been there all along.  We try all these ways to make the gospel more appealing, to make the good news seem better. In the process we distance ourselves from the church.  The church is old, bureaucratic, institutionalized, boring, irrelevant.  While that might win us points in the short term, by making us seem hip, flexible, and relevant.  This attitude decimates the chances of our students becoming adult followers of christ.

If our time and energy is spent winning students to us or to our student ministry at the expense of the church we really are cutting off the nose to spite the face.  The church, warts and all, is where adult followers of Christ gather for worship, discipleship, fellowship, and ministry.  Student ministry is temporary, college ministry is temporary, big church has to be the place we help students land if we want them to continue to know and love Jesus into adult hood.

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Don't confuse manners with behavior modification

Don't confuse manners with behavior modification

One of the most important aspects to a balanced and thriving student ministry is having an intentional scope and sequence to your curriculum.  We must be intentional with what we teach and to use the limited amount of time we have with our students well.  And while many of you are thoughtful about your teaching and are biblically deep, contextually astute, and clever as all get out, there might be one significant area that gets left out.

I am sure that you would agree that our culture is getting more and more coarse.  Students are increasingly self absorbed and rude.  Maybe the truth is that you don't even realize it anymore or have simply died to it.  Maybe you think that you will lose street cred if you push back against their entitlement mentality.  Or maybe you are satisfied that you can at last get them to say grace when you are all together for a meal.

As students become more and more isolated, they have fewer and fewer places in their lives where they actually have to consider others.  Their music choices, their movie choices, their food choices are all individualized.  Whatever they want whenever they want it is their instinct and highest value.  If at any time a student is done paying attention in a group, they simply need to plug in their ear buds, check facebook, and check out.

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Are you tired of losing students out the back door?

Are you tired of losing students out the back door?

As summer is beginning, and I reflect on our ministry and the students that have come through the doors this school year, I have realized that there are quite a large number of students who have come and gone and no longer part of our youth ministry community.  I get that sports, school, schedules, etc are the cause for a lot of this drop off.  But most of the reasons that initially caused students to drop off or fade away are no longer part of their reality.  They are now simply out of the habit.  So, the real question is, how do we get these students back in the habit of being part of our community?  Here is what I do:

Put all my students into boxes:

I know, I know, it is awful to put anyone into a box and make a complex being into a two dimensional box filler.  But for this exercise, you have to die to this sensitivity.  Once you get over that, take a sheet of paper and list out all of your students.  I list them out by grade.  I start with every student I can think of and write away.  It doesn't matter if they are committed or I have met them once, or even if they have actually never made it to youth group.  It simply matters if I am connected to them.  (If you are part of a large student ministry, this exercise can be done with your small group leaders for the same effect)

Once I have every student I know listed on a sheet of paper, I then place them into boxes.  These boxes have nothing to do with spiritual maturity or how much I like them.  These boxes have 100% to do with how committed they are to our youth group community.  For those who are invested, I just look at their names and smile.  Then I circle the names of students who are very loosely connected.  I like to call them fringe, you call them whatever you want.  Some of these "fringe" students come pretty regularly, but they are not committed.  Then I put an asterisk next to students who have dropped off completely, those who I have not seen for at least a month.

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The secret to get any kid to share in small groups

The secret to get any kid to share in small groups

Every Fall we have a training for our youth ministry volunteers.  And every year the biggest concern, fear, and anxiety surrounds leading small groups.  If I am honest, I don’t really resonate with this fear. This is because I am a youth ministry professional and I got into this gig because I love students, I love interacting with them, and I love drawing them in, picking their brain, and nurturing conversation around life and faith.

But if I want my students to grow and develop in their faith, and if I want to lead a ministry larger than 6 students, then I will need other adults who can also sit down in a group of students and facilitate conversation.  

What I am about to share is not rocket science, but they are simple tips that will allow faithful adults from just about any background to sit down with a group of students and engage in deep and meaningful conversation.  

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A New Vision for Short-Term Missions

A New Vision for Short-Term Missions

Short-Term Missions has done and is doing a lot of damage around the world. There have been numerous books, blogs, and podcasts bashing short-term missions.

Many would say we should stop going on such trips due to the amount of harm that has been done. One of the biggest reasons why short-term missions have done so much damage is because it only benefits one side of the experience: the trip goer. Our interaction with our short-term mission host community can quickly become a consumeristic transactional relationship where we end up using the poor solely for our benefit.

Youth groups and short-term missions organizations go because of the benefit they see that it has on their students and adults, which isn't a bad thing, but do we seriously consider the effects it has on the community in which we serve? Maybe a better question is, “Do we care?”

I genuinely believe that none of us want our short-term mission trips to do damage or use the poor for our benefit. Therefore, if we truly want to make a lasting impact on the community we are serving and on our team, then we must be willing to change our paradigm in how we do them. We should consider approaching our short-term trips through reciprocal relationships.

“Re-cip-ro-cal” adjective. definition. “when two or more people are carrying out or have carried out a similar action with both receiving mutual benefit or consequence.”

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