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

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!

Read More

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.  

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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.  

Read More

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.”

Read More

This is not a revival generation :(

This is not a revival generation :(

Every youth worker's dream is that we are pastoring a generation that will bring revival and be the point of the generational spear for a new spiritual renewal.  But, I think this dream is actually hindering our ability to serve this generation as well as hindering our ability to shepherd the gospel through this really challenging and complex time. 

Now don't get me wrong, I would love nothing more than for this to happen, but every indicator out there is telling a different story.  In 2012 Phillis Tickle wrote an incredible book, Emergence Christianity, and gave some great lectures about the changing culture and how that is changing Christianity.  

Her basic premise is that every 500 years there is a revolution in the way that people understand the world on what their foundations of truth are built upon.  The last time this happened was during the enlightenment and the protestant reformation.  It is truly fascinating and more complex than a little blog has time to go it to.  But it did get me thinking . . .

Read More

How is your millennial fragility hindering your ministry?

How is your millennial fragility hindering your ministry?

Each generation seems to bring with it some really great aspects and some dark shadow sides.  As a true gen Xer, we only really know our shadow side.  And most of us Xers had the privilege of doing youth ministry for the current crop of youth workers.  And now, the vast majority of youth workers are in their early 20's to mid 30's.  That means the vast majority of youth workers are millennials!!

I know millennials have been on the receiving end of a solid decade of crap from just about everyone, even their parent's generation, the generation that raised them.  This is a brutal and unfair moment for you guys.  You have been told your entire lives how great you are and how the world is yours and even better how you were going to be the ones to actually change the world for the better.  And now that you are adults, the rug has been pulled out from under you and it sucks!  

One of the shadow sides of all the empowerment and words of affirmation that millennials have received in their formative years is that there is an over-inflated weight given to words.  In fact, you can complete this sentence, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but . . . WORDS WILL KILL YOU!"

Read More

What kind of influence can you expect to have on parents?  (Especially if you are young, single, no kids, no high school kids)

What kind of influence can you expect to have on parents?  (Especially if you are young, single, no kids, no high school kids)

This is a great question, and I have seen some young youth workers lean into this reality well, and witnessed others completely botch it.  

Interacting with parents can be really intimidating.  Whether or not you realize it at times, parents will talk to us in ways that makes it clear that we are the JV, babysitters, not really know what we are talking about, and have little to offer outside of our “little” mid-week program.  

This kind of blatant or subtle condescension drives many of my youth ministry friends into madness.  When these buttons are pushed, it is easy for our pride to take over and to say and do things that don’t help win over parents, don’t move the ministry ball forward, and if we are not careful can even result in losing our job.  

But have no fear.  As a youth worker, you have an incredible opportunity to not only be a blessing for the student, but an even bigger blessing for the parents.  And if you can win with the parents, you can win the kid and even have a greater impact in the life of that student. Here are 3 simple ways to do just that:

Read More

Attractional Ministry is BACK!!

Attractional Ministry is BACK!!

The pendulum is always swinging, and over the past decade, attactional ministry has become a looked down upon and even scorned.  But, I think it is time to turn the corner and bring back the era of big fun, giveaways, and easy on-ramps for kids to get connected to the church.  

Don't get me wrong; I think there is plenty to critique about the attractional models of the past.  They were shallow; the rubric was only butts in the seats, and, on top of that, it is so expensive. With some harsh evaluation and the changing economic environments of churches, it makes sense that this way of ministry has gone away.  But I would like to argue that it is time to bring it back!

You see, our culture is rapidly changing and with this comes some important changes that we need to take seriously.  

Read More

Is it time for adults to be quiet and let students speak?

Is it time for adults to be quiet and let students speak?

After the awful tragedy at Parkland High School and all of the news, walkouts, and protests, I have found myself unsettled with the conclusions that many people are drawing.   Don't get me wrong, I love when young people recognize they have agency and are willing to look outside of themselves and enter the challenging world in which they live as they find their voices.  

In fact, as a lifelong youth worker, it is my joy when students begin to find their voice and begin to make their faith and their convictions their own.   It has been encouraging to see students try on activism, to wrestle with the deeper issues, and to be congratulated by so many people, especially people in power.  

However . . . 

The consensus seems to be that this is a moment for the children to lead.  But, as a youth worker, I am not convinced that this is the right conclusion to what we have seen unfold over the last six weeks or so.  

I think (or am thinking out loud) this isn't time for adults to be quiet, for adults to shut up, or for adults to secede the conversation.  The call back to other "youth" lead movements just don't wash.  

Read More

Thank God for my kid's youth worker!

Thank God for my kid's youth worker!

I thought my 20 plus years of student ministry would prepare me for the task of parenting a teenager.  I thought wrong!

A while ago, my son and I were driving and he decided to broach the subject of my over the top rules surrounding social media.  He called me on the carpet for changing my rules and requirements three different times, and he has had enough.  I confessed that this was my first time parenting a teenager.  He did not find comfort in that excuse and finally let me have it, "Dad, you have been telling parents for years how to parent their kids and help them set up rules for social media.  What's the problem?"  

It was at that point I had to confess that I have no idea what I am doing, and ask for his forgiveness and patience.  

Upon further reflection, I have realized that this was just an exposed crack in the deepening divide that is happening between me and my teenage son.  This distance is causing such sorrow and anxiety, in a way that I could never have imagined.

Read More