Orange is the new Black

September 30, 2013 — Leave a comment


Ok, this blog post isn’t about the new Netflix show, Orange is the New Black. But it is about Orange and how all over the blogosphere Orange leaders are spending the week promoting Orange!

What is Orange? That is a good question. Orange is a ministry philosophy, a curriculum / strategy resource, and an epic conference designed to encourage and equip those who are like minded in ministry.

Throughout this week some of my friends and I will will be writing about some of the many facets of Orange and the upcoming Orange conference. There will be product reviews, give-a-ways, and general encouragement towards the Orange strategy. Below is a list of the bloggers who are participating this week. I highly recommend you take a look at them and even add them to your RSS feed.

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Surprise! You are actually the pawn. :)

Surprise! You are actually the pawn. :)

Over and over I listen to youth workers who are so frustrated at their senior pastor, supervisor, and parents because they just don’t seem to understand or respect their leadership.  The more I listen to my friends, the more I am convinced that the reason is simply, leadership is not the primary, in fact its not even in the top 10 of values, skills, or even responsibility of a youth worker.

Unfortunately many youth workers are young, educated, and look up to strong leaders who write extensively about leadership.  But these authors and pastors are LEAD pastors.  Crazy, they are the leaders of their churches and organizations.  Even in their churches they hire people to FOLLOW THEIR LEADERSHIP.  In fact, most youth workers in those larger churches lead significantly less then those youth workers in smaller churches.  They fully get who the leader is and where they sit in the org chart.

The truth is that youth ministry is near the bottom of the org chart in most churches.  It is an for many of us, an entry level position.

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How Did He Do It? 

I recently read through the story of the Prodigal son in Luke 15.  And this time what stuck out to me was not the son’s rebellion, not the other son’s hard heart, not even the father’s lavish grace.  This time when I read through this story I was struck by what was not said, what was not described, but what must have been true in the relationship between the father and his boys.

Of course it is a lavish grace that the father extends, but what is amazing is that the manner in which the father lived in front of his sons made it possible for both of them to return to intimate relationship.  Somehow the father communicated his love and grace because the prodigal son knew in the depth of his being that his father would take him back.  I know that the scriptures place him in a humble position, willing to take a position as a slave, but still the son knew that he could go back, even after completely shaming his family and specifically, his father. So at the depth of despair, in his hour of need, he remembered that his childhood home was an option to get him out of this mess.

This is the part of the story that I wish there was more clarity on.  How in the world did the father communicate his overwhelming love and grace to his sons so that they knew in their heart of hearts that they would always have a place at the table?

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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.

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This fall I kicked off my 17th year as a youth worker. One might expect that by this point in my career I would have it all dialed in. For the basic logistics, program, and structure (which hasn’t fundamentally changed, ever) it was a flawless launch. But for anyone who has done student ministry for more than a year, these logistics and structures are not the easy or hard part of this job, it is simply the field in which we play.

The people who I have, and currently do, look up to in student ministry have managed to keep the easy things easy, and treat the difficult things with the weight in which they deserve. So, the trick to thriving is simply to enjoy the easy part, and work hard at the hard part.


Did you know that the only real job for the youth worker is to simply love students. That is the beginning, middle, and end of our job. Everything we do has this at its core. Every thing we do is motivated by this reality. Most youth workers got into this gig because they love students and want them to love Jesus. Those who stick around and thrive have made the jump from generic “students,” to the more specific, Maggie, Sarah, Tristian, JJ, Nilsen, Spencer, Jessica, Katurah, Hannah, Bix, Haley, Kimmie, Shelby, and Kyleigh. (Insert your small group here)

Generically loving students makes you the hero of the grand drama of student ministry. Worried parents, annoying students, close minded senior pastors, are all glitches to your center stage focus of ministry. But when your love becomes specific, then you are no longer the center of the play. You are simply one of the many actors in the particular student’s drama, they are the star, not you, not me.

The easiest part of our job is to actually see the students God has entrusted to your ministry. See them, love them where they are at, and love them right into the kingdom of God!


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The following post was featured at

the-good-newsThis last week I got in the mail some response cards from some of my students who went to a local summer camp.  On these cards my students checked the box that they had said yes to Jesus and have made some sort of faith commitment.

In my faith tradition this encounter went something like this:

Now with every eye closed and every head bowed, I would like to give you an opportunity to respond in faith to Jesus.  If you want to say yes, say this prayer with me, “Dear Lord Jesus, I know I am a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness.  I believe you died for my sins and rose from the dead.  I trust and follow you as my Lord and Savior.  guide my life and help me do your will.  In your name, Amen.”

This handful of students prayed this prayer!  Praise God!  Hallelujuia!!

But on closer investigation, I have realized that this prayer makes absolutely no sense in their world view!

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A while ago Josh Evans listed out the 10 must have books for student ministry.  They are great books and sparked some great discussion.  As youth workers we should be learners and a consumer of many books.  The books that Josh recommends should be consumed, reflected on, and implemented.

I am blessed to be in a context with youth workers who are some really great thinkers and avid readers.  We used Josh Evans’ blog as a jumping off point and came up with round two of books that we think should be read by every youth worker!

As we considered our context, which is about as post-Christian as it gets, we chose books that sharpened us, inspired us, equipped us, challenged us, and helped us understand the world in which we are doing ministry better.  These are not in any particular order and we hope you buy them all today!

not much just chillinNot Much, Just Chillin: The Hidden Lives of Middle Schoolers 





hurt-2-0-inside-world-todays-teenagers-chap-clark-paperback-cover-artHurt 2.0: Inside The World of Today’s Teenagers




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For the past few years it has been obvious that the culture in which we do ministry has fundamentally changed.

I know that pop culture continues to devolve into twerkfests on MTV, but that is nothing new.  What I am seeing that is new, is that the Christian adults within this culture have a totally different world view and values than those Christians that have gone before them.

There was this time in youth ministry’s hay day where a youth group was made up of the kids of that particular church and their friends.  It was important for the kids to be a part of youth group, and if it wasn’t important to the kids, it was at least important to the parents.  In fact, much of my early years of student ministry was bemoaning the fact that so many church kids would be forced to come to youth group and cause trouble for me and my leaders.  If I only knew how good I had it.

Now, students along with their parents see fellowship, gathered worship, church, and youth group as electives.

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The Innovation of Loneliness

September 6, 2013 — 3 Comments

I recently had a conversation with my seniors where the prompt was simply: “We all have hidden things that shape who we are and how we interact, here is one of those things.”  In an attempt to build some true community and authentic friendship, I wanted our students to realize that the things they struggle with were the same as others.

What I thought would lean toward some confession and revealing the common teen age struggle of self image, drinking, smoking pot, etc, spiraled into a conversation about how every single one of them feel alone and isolated.

I was shocked!  These are popular, good looking, fun, and social kids  And every one of them felt invisible and lost.  I found this video to be really helpful in putting this universal feeling of loneliness within our current social media context.

I am sure there is a thin place for the gospel to actually be good news in this new cultural reality!

As youth workers we must see our students for who they really are and what they really struggle with so we can meet them at their point of felt need with the love and grace of Jesus Christ.  Because there is an answer, a solution to this universal dilemma and I am sure a big piece of this has to do with belonging and community.

This is exactly in the wheelhouse of student ministry!  Student ministry models this spiritual reality: adoption into the family of God, belonging and having value, respect for each other in this family, and developing the family values of our heavenly Father.

May the Lord bless you and your ministry as you kick off this new year!  May you have His eyes, words, heart as you welcome these lost and lonely students into the family of God! 


Top 10 Ways to Turn Your Pastor into the Biggest Advocate of Student Ministry:

The truth is that very few senior pastors are passionate about student ministry. If they were, they would be student ministry pastors. God has given them a heart and calling to shepherd the entire church, in which student ministry is only a part. If you want them to become a big fan and advocate for student ministry, then it begins with having them become big fan of you. Here are 10 practical ways to build heart strands with your pastor and helps them become a fan of you and student ministry.


10: Remember, They are the boss!

9: Don’t be a liability.

8: Professionalism is key.

7: Clean your office.

6: Love their kids.

5: Don’t forget to love them too.

4: Be teachable.

3: Document everything!

2: Keep your ego in check.


Ok, there is the complete list. Like all things, it is much easier to understand then to do, but when our actions match these values we will be the smell of perfume to our pastor, a blessing to our church, and you will be surprised by the amount of support your area of ministry will get. Get after it!

MCC Fall Calendar

Fall Calendar thanks to Ben Read at  Thanks homie!

Dear Parents,

It is finally September.  Summer is a distant memory, school is in full swing, and for us here at Marin Covenant, it is now time to get down to business.  The student ministry team here at Church has put a ton of prayer, time, and effort into this upcoming year and we could not be more excited about what God has in store for our ministry and for your kids!

In order for this fall kick off to be a success and for your child to land in our student ministry community, there has to be a joint effort in helping them land.  As I have said before, your son or daughter has a totally different set of felt needs when it comes to church, youth group, and their spiritual life.  For you, as an adult, it is easy to come and go, to take seasons off from the church, and even seasons off from community.  But when you are ready to dial it in, you make it happen.

Unfortunately, this isn’t how it works with your kid.  There is not guilt or shame that drives whether or not they are a part of youth group or church.  In fact youth group, church, even the Bible are not seen as needs for their spiritual development.  What 99.999% drives whether or not they are going to be part of youth group, part of church, part of the faith community and move towards an orthodox understanding of the Christian life is their friendships.

This means, that if they have friends at youth group, then we will actually show up, and even grow in their walk with Jesus.  If they don’t feel comfortable there or don’t feel like they have any peeps, then they are out!  This is a challenging reality to live in.  But it is reality none the less.  So that means for your son or daughter to actually land at youth group, they have to show up, have friends, and feel comfortable, seen, and even loved.  This can only happen if we work together :)

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which way to go

Remember life before Mission Statements?

I remember back to the good ‘ol days, before mission statements, vision statements, measurable goals, strategic plans, and purpose driven everything. In those days life was simple, Chubby Bunny, DC Talk, the 4 Laws, and Pizza ruled the day. And somehow by God’s grace, churches grew, people came to know and love Jesus, and some of those people even felt called by God to go into ministry.

As corporate language has invaded the church there has been a sharpening of focus for churches and for ministry. This corporate language is not the point of this blog, and I apologize if you went into anaphylactic shock because of it. Yes, I agree the church isn’t corporate and we hate all things corporate (except Apple). But every church I have been to and every youth worker I talk to says that they want their church and their ministry to grow. And while they assure me that growth means spiritual growth, we all know what we mean, numerical growth. And the people who have been leading the charge are those who have taken the best of the corporate world and used them in the church.

A list of mission statements:

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Hope for the brokenhearted

August 26, 2013 — 1 Comment

It is painfully obvious that we live in a broken world. With international tragedy and chaos every night on the news, it is easy to be overwhelmed. When these tragedies occur in our own country with flooding, hurricanes, mass murders, and school shootings it gets even more painful. And when these tragedies happen locally, the pain and heart break is often too much to bear.

What do we do when someone close to us dies in a car accident? How do we handle the news of a terminal disease in a family member? What sense can we make of natural disasters that devastate entire populations? In this broken world, can we find hope for the broken hearted?

Be merciful to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and my body with grief. Psalm 31:9

While it is true that brokenness, tragedy and grief seem to be ever present in our world, there is a huge opportunity to offer hope and peace to those in the valley of the shadow of death. But if we are going to offer hope in a way that others can receive it, there are some important things we must remember:

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As we start up a brand new year, no doubt we will have some students who will be considering Christian college.  Here is a guest post by Michael Juba about some things to help our students consider as they wrestle through this decision.  Enjoy :)


Education. Nurturing. Spiritual enrichment.

All these phrases—and many others—describe the kinds of experiences many students have at Bible College as well as within their youth ministries. There are multiple reasons that a religious-themed higher education is right for those, especially those who are members of their youth ministry.

Here are some tips to help you when choosing a college.

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If your calendar is anything like mine, then you know that in just a matter of days or weeks, our students go back to school. And with the start of school comes the big fall kick-off. But before we can launch our epic programs and begin our year of ministry, we must first do the next to impossible task, gather those busy and fickle students who have been spread as far as the eye can see during summer.

While summer is great on paper, it seems to be almost disastrous to they needed rhythms our students and ourselves need. Yes we have camps, special events, and more hot dogs then the doctor would like. But for as many special activities we do as a student ministry, the truth is that summer actually scatters students to their individual actives. As they seem to all be landing from their family reunions, oversees vacations, summer camps of every kind (including college essay writing camp), and jobs, it is time to begin the process of gathering them together from their individual adventures to a common and shared purpose and identity as a student ministry. I have found that this is actually much more of an art form then simply announcing a fall kick-off and everyone showing up ready to go.

Our students are fickle and more individualized then ever and summer only exasperates this ethos. But for us to be the student ministry that God has for us this school year it is time to circle the wagons and heard thee cats. Over the years I have found some helpful tricks for gathering our wandering students.

Here is my strategy to collect my busy and fickle students:

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I think programatic youth ministry has gotten a bad rap over the past few years or decades.  A solid program is the skeleton in which relationships can be built and faith gets formed.  With no program, there is just you and a half dozen kids.  Every great youth ministry has a program that is fun, engaging, inviting, and points towards Jesus.

But a good reminder is that no matter how amazing our programs are, how many cool lights and graphics we have, what are online presence and platform has become, without personal contact we have nothing.

At its very core, ministry is about relationships.  

Now I know you are pretty smart and know this.  But before you skim down to the end or click to a new page, ask yourself if you really do know this?  A good gut check is to take a look at your calendar and see how you spend your time.

Of all the hours you have allotted to pull of ministry, how many of them are spent building relationship, doing contact work, texting your guts out, facebook and instagram stalking, buying ice cream and coffee for, calling, etc. Chances are less and less of your time is devoted to these things.

I am watching this alarming trend among my good friends who are youth workers.  They think that clever programs and graphics with witty names draw kids to youth group.  Worse, some actually think it is their teaching.  While clever programs and solid teaching are vital for solid ministry, it is the hidden hours of connecting with students individually, seeking them out, listening to their stories, building memories doing silly things, goofing off before and after events, and mostly remembering the little details of their life that allow them to be seen and cared for.  And when students feel seen and cared for, then they are willing to engage in a program and even let their guard down enough to wrestle through the intimate and dangerous issues of life and faith.

As you gear up for your fall program, work hard to have epic games, clever videos, and sassy graphics.  Knock your program out of the park!  But DO NOT NEGLECT THE THINGS YOU DID AT FIRST!!  Make contact with those kids, see them, love them, build friendship with them.  Then and only then will your hopes and dreams for your program be realized!

Happy Fall Kick Off!


The greatest job ever!

In my opinion, youth ministry is the most amazing job on the planet! We are actually paid to spend time with students, loving them and helping them love Jesus. At its, core, that is really all student ministry is. That is it!

And it is because of this simple passion that many of us sent our resumes and pursued churches in the hopes of actually having this blessed task as an actual profession. We remember the exact place we were when we received the call from a search committee informing us that we are their candidate and this dream, is not becoming a reality.

But for some reason, this idealism, passion, and excitement for Christ, for ministry, for students doesn’t seem to be enough. The actual profession of student ministry turns out to not be so simple. Loving students into the kingdom is actually this tiny sliver of what we do and what we are graded on. There is this hidden road that no body helps us navigate that is wrought with land mines, and many times littered with the poor youth workers who have gone before.

This hidden road in the awful and steep learning curve of student ministry in a church context. The bad news is that if navigated poorly will destroy the traveler, harden their heart for ministry, and for the church, and might even devastate their faith.

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Back by popular demand . . .

Do you remember the last time you kicked back, relaxed, and just had fun? I don’t.

Have you ever noticed that high school students that joking and laughing seem to come pretty easy? In fact, if you really look, most of their interaction is light hearted joking with one another. When my friends and I get together, this just isn’t the case. Our conversations are really deep and important. I wonder why that is? But why it is, is not the topic of this post. The fact that it is, is what I would like to explore.

As youth workers, we are called to connect with students, and to be cross cultural missionaries. We are to enter their world and find places where we can share the love of Christ, to bring the abundant life to them, in their context, on their level. What if one of those thing places was actually good ‘ol fashioned fun. Fun in the form of music and dancing might actually be a powerful tool to accomplish this challenging task.

Why do you think we suck so much at having fun? It might just be because we are old. Somewhere along the way we have gotten caught up with all the heaviness of life and our calling. We have taken our jobs seriously as youth workers, and we are pretty good at it. We can teach the spiritual disciplines, help manage sin, provide spiritually moving experiences, all while genuinely providing space to help students grow in their faith. It seems the rule is that the more serious you take your calling to student ministry, the less fun you should have.

What if part of our job was expanded from just creating spiritual experiences for our students to helping them live an integrated life? What if we could help the develop a theology that works for their entire lives, not just their very limited time at youth group? What if we could help them see that being deep and having fun are not mutually exclusive, that being spiritual is bringing Jesus into every activity, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

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This Isn’t How it is Supposed To Be:

One of the worst feelings I’ve ever had in youth ministry is the feeling of going at it alone, feeling like I was the only one who cared for students at my church. Most of this feeling came because I really was the only adult from our church who was at youth group helping connect and pull off our program.

It doesn’t take many nights like that, or trips where you find yourself scrambling at the last possible minute to find an adult to drive for you, that you are willing to do whatever it takes to recruit volunteers. At this point in the ministry it doesn’t even matter if they like kids–just give me a warm body!

Getting Volunteers Now:

Ok, if you are in a situation like the one I described above, you simply need to just get a warm body in the room. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but you cannot be doing this alone. First for spiritual and emotional reasons, but also for legal reasons as well. If you are holding out for some adult who will attract kids, interact with them appropriately, and help nurture a healthy version of Christianity, you will die holding your breath.

A simple, if not very sexy solution is to get parents there. Have them drive, host events, help set up, clean up, facilitate small groups, whatever. They are adults, they care about the program because their kids are there, and you can grab them right now. Even if it is a different team for every youth group or trip, just get them.

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I am blown away at the amount of resources that are available to parents to help them navigate the technological world that their kids live in.  It seems that the more that is out there, the less equipped our parents are to deal with the never ending onslaught of new technology and clever ways around old technology.

There are many opportunities for youth workers to communicate with parents and educate them on this subject.  But every year that goes by the technological gap between parents and kids seems to grow exponentially.    As an older youth worker, I am starting to feel the effects of the distance.

For the longest time, it seems that the approach of concerned parents and youth workers was to simply protect our kids from the darker parts of technology.  This worked well when we only had tv and video games to worry about.  Now there is the online component to video games, and those video games involve graphic violence and sex.  Add to the mix every and all social media platforms and it starts to get scary.  And that ipod you bought your kids, that is a thoroughfare of unregulated technology.

Obviously protectionism alone can not solve this problem.  There is too much and too many ways around it for parents to adequately control it all.  So what is a parent to do?  I think the answer begins with understanding two fundamental truths:

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