Archives For Discerning your issues


I am finding it harder and harder communicate my deep love for Jesus among people in the real world.

I think that this is because most people in the real world have absolutely zero touch points with the actual person of Jesus Christ.  At best they have a vague understanding of Christianity, but this is really a nod a moralist, therapeutic, deity.  And at worst they lump me in with the 12 crazies who are from Wesboro church who long to picket how much “God hates fags!”

But both of these extremes still miss the actual person of Jesus.  And even if i could find a way to cut through the cultural clutter that negatively impacts their first or second impressions of Jesus, when they actually get to know Him, they are going to be even more offended.  For as much as we long to preset Jesus as this giant oozer of never ending, cuddly love and grace, there is an awful part that is offensive to all. Continue Reading…

Whether you like country music or not, this song is an incredible seminar for parenting teenagers.  A couple of things before you enjoy these 3:09 of parenting gold!

1) Developing a sense of Identity and  instill Value over Behavior Management.

2) Remembering where you as a parent have come from might allow you a little more grace for your teen.

3) Take the blame and claim them every time!

I yelled he’s mine that one
Got a wild-hair side and then some
It’s no surprise what he’s done
He’s ever last last bit of my old man’s son
And I’ll take the blame
And claim him every time
Yeah man, he’s mine and he’ll always be
The best thing that ever happened to me
You can’t turn it off like electricity
I love him unconditionally
I’ll take the blame
And claim him every time
Yeah, y’all, he’s mine
I thank God, he’s mine


This has been such an awful week for those of us who are associated with the “Evangelical” church.  The week started with World Vision changing their hiring practices to include married homosexual relationships.  Then a day and a half later reversed it.  And to round out the week, the movie Noah is hitting theaters.

Both of these stories have erected giant straw men called “Evangelicals” only to then proceed to light them up and burn it to the ground!

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It is that time of year.  The most dreaded time of year, Spring!  While the weather is great, and baseball season is upon us, the lives of our students are beginning to disengage from the programmatic rhythms of youth group.  They call it senioritis, but I am still confused how a sophomore has senioritis.  The truth  is that our low stamina students are checking out of this school year.  With all of the ways that students were dialed in to their many activities early in the school year, now only one or two hold their interest.  In the case of my students that includes a spring sport and a love interest.

The truth is that there are actually ton of reasons that students begin to disengage during spring semester; some good, some dumb, but no matter why, the what is real and how we cope with it matters.  

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“Everything is permissible for me”–but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me”–but I will not be mastered by anything. 1 Corinthians 6:12

Who needs lent?

In just a few days millions of Christians around the world will be celebrating Ash Wednesday.  Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent.  For many Evangelicals this word and this season have zero meaning.  In an theological system that centers on grace and a cultural context that thrives on individual freedom, it makes sense that the drab and dreary season of lent would get little air time.  But it is exactly for those very reasons that we should reexamine the Lenten discipline as we journey towards the cross and ultimately toward Easter.

I have recently rediscovered the many places throughout scripture that call those of us who follow Christ to give up our freedoms, make our bodies slaves, and give up our rights for the benefit of others.  The more I wrestle with these topics with my friends, the more I realize that in our grace based, individualized context, any talk of limiting either seems to be blasphemous.

Can slavery actually bring me freedom?

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Peter Pan is one of my favorite characters.  The desire to never grow old, fight pirates, and fly probably influenced my decision to become a youth pastor more than I care to admit.  Peter Pan has a dark side, however, that we must come to terms with in youth ministry. Think about how our attitudes as youth pastors often betray a Peter Pan mentality.  We think we will get to be young forever by working with teens.  We will be a magical leader who will give lost boys, (and girls) love and purpose.  That purpose is to have fun and fight the pirates of worldliness, boredom, and bad cable tv.  Parents are at best unnecessary and at worst, a roadblock to having fun, I mean to true ministry.  As for the love triangle with Wendy and Tink, I’ll have to save that for another post.  If we don’t come face to face with our dark side, we will become increasingly immature, negligent, arrogant, and dangerous.  All kids are meant to grow up and that includes us.  Youth need parents to be involved in their lives.  Youth pastors and other adults can have great influence in the lives of teens, but not as smug, impressive, show-offs.  We need to leave behind Peter Pan and find a better model to emulate.

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A huge gift for parents

February 10, 2014 — 2 Comments


It is really interesting how youth workers seem to have a love / hate, ok, maybe a hate / hate relationship with parents.

This last week I was at a national gathering with youth workers and in a break out session with 35 colleagues, I asked them to share their biggest frustration in ministry.  No, joke, in unison, the all said parents!It was interesting as it was sad.  For whatever reason, the tenor of student ministry professionals is that we are God’s agent for the spiritual development of students.  We are awesome.  We are experts at adolescent development and faith formation.  (At least, that is what we tell ourselves.)  We spend our entire existence dreaming up programs and meeting with students so that they will come to love Jesus.  But then our hearts get crushed as our students don’t show up to the parties we throw because we are getting such little support from parents.

I mean, COME ON!  Is soccer really more important!!

Then there are the family first peeps who think that professional student ministry is an anathema!

According to part of the bible, the nuclear family has the sole responsibility for the faith formation of their children.  All of the weight that we think we carry as youth workers, is carried exponentially by the family first crowd because their very own child’s walk with Jesus is dependent on their attempt at being whole, balanced, theologically sound, and the perfect representation of the their heavenly father.  All kidding aside, setting yourself up as the person who is ultimately responsible for your child’s faith development is an incredible burden to carry.

What if there was a third way? Continue Reading…

Let’s be honest, our job is not that complicated.  Really, after a year you have learned everything you need to know in order to faithfully do student ministry.  For the quick studies, you have made it a past year and are good to go.  For those who didn’t make that first year, you probably aren’t reading this blog. :)

Of course there is always things to learn, and I am a huge fan of life long learning.  But for the most part, the basics aren’t that hard.  What is hard are the specific ministry encounters, our own soul care, and navigating the political waters at church.  No book or class will help you in these endeavors.  The only hope you have for success and longevity is to be connected to colleagues who love student ministry and love Jesus.

I am so thankful to be a part of a denomination that values connection so much.  I have had the pleasure and joy of spending this last week connecting with my fellow youth workers, sharing life, joys, failures, and best practices for some mutual edification.

Connection is one of my core values and I am fully committed to it.  Is it for you?

What do you do to connect with fellow youth workers?  How do you stay sharp and encouraged in ministry?  May you too find some colleagues that you can connect with and share life with so you can serve your students for the long haul.



For the last few months, and if I am honest, maybe the last few years, I have realized that my heart towards student ministry and really towards students has changed.  What has happened is that over the years and years of student ministry, years and years of fickleness, heartbreak, death and destruction, my heart has gone into protection mode.  I think I just couldn’t take the heartache of walking through the chaotic lives of students anymore.  And unintentionally, I moved into self preservation mode.

I still provided an excellent program, excellent contact work, excellent trips, excellent talks, excellent discipleship, basically excellent student ministry. (or by best attempt at excellence)  But I did all of this with my heart somewhat removed.  Being too intimately involved with students is really the hardest part of student ministry, and I think I just couldn’t take it anymore.

Thankfully, Jesus isn’t done with me yet, and He gently revealed to me that my heart has grown cold and distant towards my students.  So beginning in December I prayed a simple prayer, “Jesus, please grow my heart towards my students.”

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$250,000.  This is how much money I think that I am worth.  The problem I am having is finding someone who agrees.  Although this may be my worth, my value as a youth worker is significantly lower.  And here is where the rub occurs.  You see, we all have a strong sense of worth, but it is determining our value that is the true challenge.

The difference between worth and value can be clarified by a simple craig’s list transaction.  A couple of years ago I wanted to get an iphone.  I mean I couldn’t see straight, I wanted an iphone so bad.  The deal was I had to pay cash for the phone and for whatever cost it would be to switch services.  Easy enough.  I grabbed my digital camera and started posting on craig’s list.

I quickly realized that items that were worth a certain amount to me, had a significantly lower street value.  And at every sale, I had to decide what the items true value was.  Sometimes I did ok, and sometimes I got taken pretty hard, but after a couple of weeks, my garage was clean and I was making calls on my new iphone.

What does this have to do with you or with me?  It has to do with wrestling with our value as youth workers.  How much money are we worth as youth workers?  We feel called to student ministry and we feel called to work at a particular church.   Then we are offered a salary package and with out even realizing it, we are confronted with the difference between our worth and our value.

No one tells us youth workers who simply want to serve God and love students that there is an actual science to salary negotiations.  So after some painful negotiations of my own and a couple awful ones for some of my friends, here are a couple of pointers that may be helpful for you next time you are sitting around the salary negotiations table:

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I love the new year!  Out with the old and in with the new.  As I chuck the past and lean into the future, there is one area that I have been increasingly sloppy in and therefore becoming less and less effective.  This area is my calendar.  This is the document that helps me maximize my time, keeps my social media time to a minimum and keeps me focused on my vision, values, and tasks for ministry.

Too often the tyranny of the urgent overwhelms our calendar and then we end up never getting the the important things we long to do in ministry, or even worse, we end up doing most of our ministry half assed.  For me, I have let misc. appointments crowd out the appointments I must make and keep to keep my ministry moving forward.  I have found myself wasting many hours wandering our office and campus visiting people, and just wandering.

I have found when I limit my office hours, then I crank out what I need to crank out, and then am free to meet with who I need to meet with.  As I have erased my calendar, started from scratch, I have come up with a plan that will help me get after all that God has put on my heart to do in 2014!

In general, here is the breakdown:

  • 10 hours program: This includes, church, youth group, sunday school, set up and tear down for those programs.
  • 20 hours office: These are the hours where I am in the office, at my desk, planning, writing, emailing, phone calling, meeting with staff, support staff, etc.  It is when my car is parked in my spot at the church.
  • 10 hours contact: These are the hours I meet with students and leaders individually, and in groups.  Some for intentional formation, and some for fun.
  • 5 hours misc: There seem to always be emails, evening appointments and basketball games to get to.  So instead of being surprised or busy or fighting with the wife for working too hard, I have limited some of my other hours to plan for the unplanned parts of ministry.  
  • 5 hours spiritual formation: These hours are both personal and professional, but must be in your calendar.  Your personal bible reading, study, prayer, solitude, whatever it is that recharges your walk with Jesus. 

A hard thing to remember when mapping out your calendar and hours is that your work hours are your work hours.  We should honor our church and those people whose tithes are paying for our salaries and work hard for the hours we are assigned.  This means that when we run, surf, hike, pray, get our teeth cleaned, go to the doctor’s office or the store, these are our personal hours.  Everyone else in the world does these tasks after work and on weekends.  Many of us professional youth workers have gotten in the bad habit of combing work and personal hours and then play, “Oh, poor me, I work 60 hours a week.”  I am pretty sure you don’t.  :)

This new year, let us have balance and intention in our hours and in our lives so we can fully get after all that God has put on our hearts for life and ministry.

Below is  a calendar that I use to help keep all this straitened out and holds me and my staff accountable for our time and tasks.  I would love to know what you do!  Blessings!

weekly schedule


I don’t know if it is like this for you, but for me, winter camp is often a programatic event that is surrounded by anxiety and angst.  Anxiety around driving in the bad weather, losing over $1000 dollars because I scholarship too many kids, and all the potential drama and chaos that happens when tons of kids get together with minimal supervision :)

The angst often occurs because of my own issues and pride.  It is difficult to enjoy camp because I have so many ways that the camp can improve their program.  I can’t believe the camp didn’t choose me to be the speaker and instead they hired some chump who is only half the speaker I am.  I love to sit in judgement of the program and of my kids.  I usually cloak my pride in some intentional, smart sounding spiritual nonsense, but it is pride just the same!

Well that was before my 2014 New Year’s resolution:

For 2014 I am going to be unguarded.  Over the years I have developed a calloused heart as the grind of student ministry has taken its toll.  Too many years of apathy, fickleness, business, and broken promises and relationships.  In order to protect my heart I have withdrawn emotionally and spiritually.  But no more!

Camp has proven to be the best place to try it out!

We just got back from camp and it really was the best!  It was truly a life changing event, and most of that is because I simply took off my angsty armor, and decided to stand unguarded with Jesus and with my students.  I decided to not allow cynicism or pride get anywhere near me.  And the result was actually getting to encounter the Holy Spirit, and to walk through some incredible spiritual conversations with my students.

I know for many of you, this is how you approach every camp.  But no matter if you are naturally an optimistic person full of hope for all that God has for your students, or have an extra dose of pride that blinds your heart, may we all gear up and embrace winter camp!  Thankfully God is bigger than where we happen to find ourselves spiritually and is faithful to use even the feeblest of efforts to draw our kids closer to Jesus.  But when our heart is tuned, we get to be part of the process and have our hearts encouraged as well.

Because of my camp high, I am ready to dive into 2014:

With winter camp behind me, and taking full advantage of the mountaintop experience, I am expectant and hopeful for Jesus to do a fresh work in our students, in our ministry, and in me.

Are you ready for this new year?  How do you combat cynicism?  How do you stay unguarded after years of ministry?  How are you leaning into the fresh start that God has for all of us in 2014?

Happy New Year and may God truly bless you and your ministry in this upcoming year.

Beer with Jesus

December 2, 2013 — Leave a comment

As I think about my devotional life and about how I approach Jesus, I have found surprising comfort and encouragement from this country song.  Wether or not you are a country fan, or think this is sacrilegious, listen to the lyrics and see if you can at least identify the songwriters stance towards Jesus, his questions, concerns, hopes and dreams.  What do you think?

Some things to consider:  Do we over-spiritualize our faith in Jesus?  Is there some validity in having a common faith, a simple faith? Is there some benefit to embrace this sort of humility in our prayer life with Jesus?  

I want to walk with Jesus in a way where Jesus is near to me, but where I don’t take him or his grace for granted.  Even more so, I want to help my students to embrace a real faith that is both common and simple.  A faith where Jesus meets them in their real and normal life, has wisdom and grace to offer, and where humility is key.  I am pretty sure there will be way less disillusionment in the church and among students when they see Jesus and their devotional time with him less as meeting with a genie, a therapist, a grandpa, or a superhero.

Maybe we can all be a little more humble and in awe of the time we get to spend with Jesus and spend that time asking questions and listening for answers.

I think tonight, I will have a beer with Jesus. :)

What are you thankful for?

November 25, 2013 — 1 Comment


It is Thanksgiving week and I am taking this week off of writing and of work.  I am looking forward to being present with my family and with my friends.  As you enjoy your Thanksgiving and wade into the joys and dysfucntion of family gatherings, may we all be extra aware of the blessings that we have been given.  “Every good and perfect gift is from above.” James 1:17.

In the comments would you be willing to share what you are thankful for this Thanksgiving week?



It is so easy to get caught up in the tyranny of the urgent and forget to make time for the most important things.  There will always be ministry to do, and programs to manage, but if we are not careful we will quickly become a shell of the person we are supposed to be.

As you mine the internet for games and curriculum, preparing your epic talk and putting out fires, it is easy to forget that while these tasks are important, they are actually not the core of what makes a solid and successful ministry.  The core of a solid and successful ministry is a youth worker who is humble, teachable, and continually putting time and effort into their spiritual and professional development.

While I love sharing best practices and am always looking for additional games to get me through this upcoming Wednesday night, what I am most interested in today is what do you do for spiritual and professional development.

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As a parent, I want my kids to be loved, cared and protected. In fact, just about everything I do as a parent is to build esteem in them and protect them from this big bad world. But as a youth worker, I know that building esteem as an end causes all sorts of problem. The true goal of parenting is to build character in our children. And as they build character, they will build esteem.

In this endeavor to build character, there is one ingredient that is sorely missing in my students, and am worried is missing in my own kids. The core value of protection, and in practicality, protection at all costs, takes away the one thing that builds character the most, suffering.

Before you freak out, I am not saying that we neglect our kids or intentionally put them in harmful situations. But what I am suggesting is that we back the helicopter off a bit and allow them to suffer the consequences of their actions.

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Everyone says that the longer the better for youth workers to stay in one church context.  And yes, there are all sorts of upsides to sticking around, but lately I have been thinking that 5 years might be ceiling for maximum effectiveness in your local context.

This is the pattern that I notice:

  • Youth worker shows up in a church context.
  • Spends the first year or so figuring out the context, dealing with the angst of the upperclassmen, and working overtime building relationships with students.
  • Youth workers kill it relationally!  They are masters at building relationships and winning students.
  • After 2 years there is a strong relational core in your ministry.  The new upperclassmen respect you and the incoming freshmen idolize you.  (in a good way)
  • Over the next few years this group of young kids become amazing upperclassmen.  They “get it,” they respect and love you, and you love them with all your heart.
  • Youth workers then soak up, and rightly so, the fruit of their labor!
  • Then around year 4 or 5, this group of students who you have known since pre-puberty graduates and you weep bitterly.
  • When you look up you see that you have replaced a solid group of leaders and young adults for an immature and rowdy group of freshmen.  This is more then our weak hearts can often take.
  • The thought of having to re-build an entire youth ministry with these young and immature kids sends us packing.

It is at this point that we have three options.  We can realize that our time in student ministry is done and start dreaming of church planting, realize that your gifts and abilities are too much for this context and start looking for a bigger and badder context, or to settle in and settle for a below average ministry with minimal students and minimal excitement.

Ok, I get that those are total straw men and mostly unfair.  The truth is that I have seen this pattern dozens of times among my peers and colleagues.  I have even noticed this pattern happen within my ministry and within me.  The more I reflect on this pattern the more I realize that there are actually two real options to avoid flame out by year 5.

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Planting Seeds

“For whatever one sows, that he will also reap.”  Galatians 6:7

For my entire life I have struggled with sin.  In fact, I have found that I am a slave to it.  Now, my sin may be different than your sin, but if we are honest, we can all agree with the Apostle Paul that we feel this war in our inner being between the flesh and the spirit.

As I reflect back on my life and think of the times when I was victorious in my spiritual life and the times that I have crashed and burned, allowing my sin to rule, I have seen one common theme emerge!

Whatever I feed more grows, and whatever I starve seems to die.

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So, you want a raise. Who doesn’t. Getting a raise as a vocational youth worker is one of the most difficult, and therefore rarest item to ever make a church budget. Just like the quest for El Dorado, this journey often leads to a disappointing conclusion. Before you sacrifice your family finances and your soft heart for the church by being a good soldier, working for Jesus and not money, consider the perilous world of church finances.

By better understanding what you were hired into, it will in turn help you make the appropriate and healthy choices at your current church, and when negotiating compensation packages at future churches. So, if you think it is about time you deserve a raise and are not sure where to go next, consider looking at your position from the outside perspective. This perspective should inform the some of the decisions that you will need to make as your student ministry career progresses. And finally this reality should allow us to guard our heart toward our current church and its leadership. With that being said, lets jump right into it:

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Dear fellow youth worker,

I wanted to thank you so much for your faithful service to the church for all of these years.  In fact, you are above average in your attempt to live for Jesus and to help others do the same.  In fact, for many of you called to youth ministry, your call began in your own youth ministry experience and it was during your late high school and early college careers that you decided to serve Jesus by serving kids!  For this, the church, your students, and Jesus is thankful!

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