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It is impossible to walk through a retail store these days and not be overwhelmed with Halloween. Since the beginning of September, aisles of orange and black decorations, bags of candy and costumes have been calling out to my children, building excitement and expectation for their dream holiday. For my kids, Halloween is a simple holiday that involves their two favorite things: candy and dressing up. For Christians, however, Halloween seems to be a bit more complicated.

No matter how you slice it, Halloween has a dark and seedy past. Its history can be traced to a Roman festival that involved worshiping the goddess of fruits and seeds, a pagan festival of the dead or a Celtic festival celebrating the end of summer. This latter part isn’t that bad, but the celebration of the spirit world coming close to the living world is. It’s difficult to encourage recognizing a holiday that has many touch points with the occult. How can Christians get behind a holiday that, at best…OK, there isn’t anything we can get behind in the history of Halloween.
However, as bad as it seems there might be another way we can look at Halloween—and I don’t mean to pretend we are against it publicly while we quietly celebrate it with our friends and family (like a good wine). I think there is a way we can celebrate and even promote Halloween in a way that honors God and might even bring the kingdom of God closer to your neighborhood.

Before you call my supervising pastor and get me fired, humor me for one minute. How many of us Christians have Christmas trees as part of our family tradition and home decoration? If you Google “Christmas Tree Pagan,” you will find there are more than 3,000,000 sites.

A quick view of these sites will afford many stories and traditions in which evergreens were used in worship and celebration as a symbol of life in the midst of death. In ancient Rome and Egypt, there were traditions of tree worship and burning sacred logs. The most worrisome history is that of Odin, a German god who required sacrifices to a sacred Oak tree. Even though the history of the Christmas tree is shady, it has been recast in a Christian light so that by the 18th and 19th centuries, the Christmas tree had become a fully accepted part of the Christmas celebration.

Christians transitioned the Tree of Odin to a tree with some vague inferences to Christianity so that now all is well with decorating a Christmas tree. The goal was to take a cultural norm with pagan symbols and use it to tell the Christian story, similar to what the apostle Paul did when he used culture to proclaim truth (Acts 17:22-23). In a similar way, that is what we need to do with Halloween; but simply transitioning Halloween to a Harvest Festival to make it more tolerable might be a missed opportunity.

If our cultural context had many touch points to spirit and ancestor worship, goddess worship or occult practices, then celebrating Halloween might be a tough sell. However, in the context here—suburban America—Halloween has nothing to do with anything except candy and playing make-believe. The primary people who are concerned about the darker issues are Christians. Because pagan worship has nothing to do with the world in which most Americans live and because Halloween is observed more as a secular holiday with zero spiritual overtones, maybe we could embrace it and use it as a place for Christians to impact their communities.

Halloween actually could be our holiday, a holiday of hospitality. With hospitality being one of the Christian virtues that is fading away, Halloween could be the holiday during which we embrace our neighbors, when we get to break down some of the barriers that have built up between us and those people who live on our street, when we get to be a blessing to them. In a time when we are less likely to be known by people in our own neighborhood and our neighbors are less likely to be known by us, Halloween could be the perfect holiday to rebuild that bridge.

Halloween could be our holiday to love our neighbors as ourselves. It could be the holiday for Christians express the love and grace of God throughout our neighborhoods and communities. If you haven’t celebrated Halloween in a while, here are a couple of ideas to make a holiday with strong Christian overtones:

1) On a normal day, no one from your street comes to your house. Halloween is the one day when the entire neighborhood potentially could come to your door. The one day when your neighbors mill around in street is the one day your lights are off and door is locked. That doesn’t seem quite right. So, be home; turn your lights on; answer the door.

2) If everyone is coming to your house, why not be the house that gets the reputation for best house to visit for trick-or-treating? Instead of the house that gives away raisins or toothbrushes—or even tracts—your house can be known as the house that gives away full-sized Snickers. Three decades later, I can still remember the stingy houses and the very generous houses I visited as a child.

3) As a youth worker, this holiday can even be a blessing to your students. Get your kids off the streets and put them to work by helping you make your house amazing. Have a party for them in your home. While they are there, have them decorate, pass out candy, do card tricks, whatever. Simply be being there, your house transitions into a place of life and celebration of life.

Halloween is the one holiday when your neighborhood actually comes to you. Instead of running away from this holiday, maybe we should embrace it, redeem it, make it our own. What story are you telling to your neighbors when they knock on your door? What are the values you are sharing with them? Jesus came to give us life and life abundantly. Halloween is the perfect time to share this abundant life. How great would it be if your house is the house that celebrates life; if your house was the house the neighbors’ kids couldn’t wait to get to for trick-or-treat?

Let us recapture the value of hospitality and show off this abundant life we have in Christ! King-sized Snickers for everyone!


Writing curriculum is one of the most challenging endeavors a youth worker undertakes.  (I have found that it is hard even writing the word curriculum, mostly because I am a horrible speller.)  As hard as writing curriculum can be, what really makes a curriculum great or awful is its scope and cycle.  And this is where Orange’s XP3 Student ministry curriculum hits it out of the park!

It is often confusing cruising through a website and trying to figure out what is going on, why they do what they do, and how it all fits together. I get that 90% of that confusion is because I don’t pay attention and skim read. So, I really enjoyed sitting down and having the creators of this material, Jeremy Zach and Jared Herd, explain it to me.

These two guys and their team put together some really great material. But what is even more compelling is the values they begin with as they write their curriculum.

Here are a few values that form the foundation of how this curriculum is put together.

  • They understand that student ministry is truly cross cultural missionaries to this unique context. They get that our kids are more familiar with Karma then they are of Sin. Because of this they are going to approach biblical ideas and concepts full of truth, but in a way that can be translated to this culture.
  • No matter how great the script is or the teacher is, they genuinely believe that “the best teaching happens in a circle, not rows.” This approach means that leader training and small group questions are critical for the success and spiritual growth of our students. Because of this understanding, Orange makes sure they do both well.
  • XP stands for experience. Jared reminded us that all of us don’t remember one youth talk, but can all recall the ways God showed up on mission trips, service projects, camps, etc. And it is the XP that makes this curriculum so much more. Instead of simply passing on information, the core of this curriculum is providing opportunities and space for students to actually put it into practice, experience it, and be changed by it.
  • The picture at the top of the post shows how this annual scope and cycle work. “XP3 is designed as a comprehensive student curriculum that helps students experience their faith in three areas: Wonder, Discovery, and Passion. Every series falls under one of these areas, but because these are big concepts, we have identified core insights within each to help explain the focus of the series.”

This is an annual scope and cycle that is biblical, comprehensive, culturally astute, and takes the gospel and the transforming power of Christ seriously.

With that summary, I would like to offer a few thoughts . . .

1) You are not supposed to use everything that is in a curriculum. Youth pastors love being angsty and contrarian. For whatever reason we love looking down our nose at curriculum and scrutinize it throw out all the things that don’t work. What is so great about curriculum, is that chucking what doesn’t work is what you are supposed to do. You are paid to contextualize the material so it is applicable to your group.

2) Don’t be a lone-ranger. There is a large community of XP3 users who are sharing how they are contextualized material in their context. Be a learner, see what others are doing ask questions. This is put together by great people. We often think that curriculum comes down from “the man,” some faceless group of people just trying to take our money. But the truth is that every page is written by godly women and men who want nothing more than for your students to experience and be transformed by the love of Christ. The most amazing thing is that Jeremy is one of the smartest and most accessible people I have met in the Orange system. Any problem or issue, you simply need to call him and he will actually pick up and walk with you through whatever the problem is.

3) If you don’t use XP3 to help shape your scope and cycle to have a balanced and intentional ministry, how do you come up with your scope and cycle? Most curriculum does a good job of this. But if you don’t use any curriculum, how do you make sure you have a balanced curriculum? If you are not planned a year out, then please consider buying a curriculum that works for you and your context, or do the hard work of developing a complete scope and cycle, but it must cover at least 1 year, 2 is better, and 3 is best.

4) When you have a curriculum plan for the entire year you get the privilege of showing that off to parents. This plan builds trust and respect for you and your ministry. And that allows you more and more access to the parents and their children.
There has to be a plan! Use curriculum that does, or come up with it yourself, but must have a plan!,

I am so thankful for XP3 and their amazing staff for continually providing such excellent content that is intentional, thoughtful, and truly helpful. Your hard work raises the bar for us youth workers, and then equips us to get there! I would strongly encourage you to check it out!

If you don’t use XP3 what do you use? If you write your own, would you be willing to share your scope and cycle?

Orange Conference

As you contemplate these questions, also consider being encouraged and equipped this year at the Orange Conference!  Won’t you consider joining me and 6000 of my friends in Atlanta, GA this April for the Orange Conference. This is an entire conference designed to wrestle with the intentional partnership between the church and the family, and will be refreshment for your soul!


Guess What? It’s Not About You!

A call to student ministry is a special and unique thing. We have been called by God to participate in the spiritual development of students. For a very specific and often chaotic season, we get the privilege and honor of being adults who coach, mentor, disciple and journey with adolescents who are exploring their faith and making it their own. What could be greater? As we attempt to live this out in the real world with real students in a real context, this simple and yet profound calling gets blurry.

The students we work with have joys and concerns, victories and losses, growth and set backs. We attempt to be there for every student for every part of the roller coaster ride; and while we work our guts out, pouring our lives into these students, our vision becomes impaired. Because very slowly, without us knowing, the joy that comes from getting to be there for students and walk with them turns and starts to become about us. Instead of being an adult who journeys with students for a season of their lives, we see ourselves as the adult who journeys with them, who advocates for them, who loves them, who will get them through adolescence, who will solve their problems, etc…

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Oh, How Nice It Would Feel To Drop the Hammer of Truth!

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had high schoolers lay into me about how youth group doesn’t do it for them anymore, or about how they need something with more depth. Sometimes I lie awake at night, imagining all the ways I would love to give it right back to them; to actually be a straight shooter and tell them how it really is. But just when I’m about to explode and completely blow away some unsuspecting, verbally processing mid-adolescent, God gives me a gracious reminder of my unique role and purpose in the body of Christ.

I recently had lunch with a former student who was the thorn in my side during her time in my student ministry.  Everything I did wasn’t good enough, every lesson wasn’t deep enough, and every other adult in her life was smarter and wiser then I ever could be.  Now, while most of my students probably already believe this, this young woman decided to make it very clear to me how dissatisfied she was with my leadership of our group.

I distinctly remember a conversation we had at the end of her sophomore year, when she tried to let me down easy that she would no longer be joining us for sunday school because it was baby food, and she would be going to big church instead.  She then proceeded to invite any other students who wanted real spiritual food to join her.

Their Self-Righteous and Rebellion is Right and Normal:

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It seems like just yesterday that I was sitting in a hotel room at a Youth Specialties conference with my colleagues in ministry.  There were at least four of us staying in the Motel 6 down the road just to save money.  We didn’t mind sharing the room because we could not believe that we had gotten jobs as youth workers.  We were being paid to love on students and help them love Jesus.  All four of us had recently graduated from college, were friends from camp, and relishing the opportunity to take our place as the next generation of youth workers.

The urban legend that shaped our views of success was the one about longevity.

We had all heard the statistic about the average tenure of a youth worker was 18 months, and most of had experienced that number to be a reality in our lives.  But this statistic would not define us.  We were in youth ministry for the long haul, not just 18 months, not even 3-5 years, were were going to be youth workers FOR LIFE!!

17 years later, I am the last of my four friends who is still doing vocational youth ministry.  And of the dozens of peers who are of similar age that I have had the pleasure of calling colleagues in youth ministry, I alone remain.

It seems like every young youth worker I talk with has a similar perspective to the one I had years ago.  And the truth is, that like my circle of friends, only a small percentage of them will continue on in student ministry into their 30’s, less into their 40’s, and none into their 50’s.

While this is the truth, this is not a sad truth.  I have no special honor for being the last of my friends who is still in youth ministry.  It is simply the way it is.  While it is ok for young men and women to speak boldly about things they do not quite understand, it is the implications of this false view that ends up limiting them in the long run.

Speaking boldly is part of the fun of ministry.  We love pontificating with our peeps, and really, anyone who will listen, about whatever the subject is.  We speak with great passion and conviction.  This should not be squashed, for passion and conviction are some of the important stones in a ministry foundation.  But sometimes this passion and conviction replaces wisdom and discernment and often proves to be a liability in the long run.

If youth ministry for life is your mantra, then my fear is that being open to all that God might have for your future gets put in jeopardy.  Calling is always seasonal.  Our lives unfold before us like a well written Choose Your Own Adventure book.  And because of this, the specifics of what sort of ministry we are called to do will always be in flux.

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What is Lent?

I find it interesting that as youth workers we are always looking for a new series to do with our students.  We inherently know that we must mix up the ritual and routine of youth group or kids will get board and get into a rut.  This need to mix things up might actually come from God himself.  I think that we were actually created for seasons, for change, for rhythm.  And this need for annual celebrations is affirmed all throughout scripture with the commands to celebrate all the different festivals.

While this need for seasonal change is needed and expected, many Christians seem to discard the traditional season change in the Church.  According to the church calendar, today is Ash Wednesday marking the transition from “ordinary time” to the season of Lent.

According to Wikipedia, Lent is the period of the liturgical year leading up to Easter.  The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer – through prayer, penitence, almsgiving and self-denial.

Lent is the worst season in the Church.

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Parenting_Beyond_Your_Capacity_Connect_Your_Family_to_a_Wider_Community_OrangeThis last week I read a really helpful book by Reggie Joiner and Carey Nieuwhof called Parenting Beyond Your Capacity. This is a straightforward book that offers a clear roadmap for parents who want to connect their family to a wider community of faith. And for parents who think that going at it alone is best, Joiner and Nieuwhof offer a compelling argument for the need to invite others into the circle so that our kids have the widest safety net possible as our kids grow into adults and explore a faith separate from ours.

Parenting Beyond Your Capacity is kind of like a primer for parents to understand the Orange concept of parenting. Being an orange parent is understanding that “a parent’s influence is best realized in partnership with a wider community.” And that community is the church. If you are looking for a book to share with parents to help them understand the orange model of ministry than this book is for you. This book highlights 5 family values that are key for the long term spiritual health and maturity of kids and students.

Family Value 1) Widen the Circle: Pursue strategic relationships for your kids.

Family Value 2) Imagine the End: Focus your priorities on what matters most.

Family Value 3) Fight for the Heart: Communicate in a style that gives the relationship value.

Family Value 4) Create a Rhythm: Increase the quantity of quality time you spend together.

Family Value 5) Make it Personal: Put yourself first when it comes to personal growth.

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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…


I remember it like it was yesterday.  I had an outreach event where we used a raffle with a huge prize as an incentive to have kids come to youth group and to bring friends.  The prize was HUGE and so was the criticism I received form my intern and her recently received B.A. in youth ministry.  The bribe worked and a ton of students came to our student ministry, and this event turned the corner in momentum of for our ministry.  And unfortunately turned my interns heart away from me and student ministry.  Which leads me to this question:

Is there harm in bribing kids to come to youth group?

Now, before you get all judgmental or self righteousness in your theology, why are you really opposed to bribing kids to come to youth group?  I’ve heard the arguments:

  • That people live out the gospel that they are introduced to.  
  • That bribing kids doesn’t correctly portray the life of faith that we are called to live.  
  • Bribing highlights students selfishness and doesn’t help students live the kingdom life that they are designed to live.

But aren’t these arguments simply the pontificating of youth workers who have given up a little bit?

Remember back you your middle and high school experience.  Why did you come to faith? Was it a cute boy or girl?  You didn’t want to go to hell? Jesus would give you a better life?  We are all selfish and self absorbed at first.  Meeting some of these needs is just getting our foot in the door.  And Jesus does that with us, we do that in every other ministry, and for students, it is the same.


What do you do to get kids to come to your program?  How is that not bribing?  What if you embraced that reality and capitalized on it?

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There has been some discussion lately among some of my youth ministry friends about the future of our profession. There seems to be another round of shots fired across the bow at youth ministry and the professionals that lead these ministries. Sticky Faith, Family Based Ministries, and people with axes to grind continue to lay the decaying faith of adolescents and young adults squarely at the feet of us professionals and the failed models we are propping up.

Fellow professional youth workers have no fear, our jobs are here to stay!! We have an amazing calling and part of an amazing legacy, and I am convinced that for the foreseeable future, churches will continue to do everything in their power to make sure their staffs include a paid youth worker. Here’s why:

1) If a church is going to attract young families, they need to prove that they will care for the entire spiritual development of their kids.

For better or worse, a church that has a paid youth worker, signifies to the entire church family that they care about families. While children’s ministry is incredibly important, many parents will tolerate poor children’s ministry if they know that as their children grow into teens, there will be a place for them to continue to work it out at the church. Think of all the families that restart the church hopping process when their kids reach 4th and 5th grade. All of the sudden, that great church plant, or dynamic young preacher doesn’t seem to cut it when their own kids’ faith is on the line. A paid youth worker communicates care for this significant felt need.

2) It is a model that has positively impacted those who are now at the age to make decisions regarding staffing and budgets in churches.

It is an unavoidable truth that people invest and do the things that are meaningful to them. Think of how you choose what to do for your youth ministry program. Chances are most of what you do is based on the things that God used in significant ways in your own life when you were in student ministry. Youth ministry has now been around long enough that the power players at most churches remember the Hay Day of youth ministry and the significant role that ministry played in their faith development. They want their church to provide solid ministry for their own kids and their view of a thriving church includes a thriving student ministry. Most thriving student ministries are headed up by a paid point person.

3) Students continue to need a place for fellowship and learning that is separate from their parents and makes space for their unique developmental needs.

For all the talk about family ministry and integration, the fundamental task of adolescence is still individuation and separation from their family’s faith. Students need a place separate from their parents where they can ask the hard questions, push back, run away, and still be seen and loved by the church at large. Student ministry provides a unique haven in this adolescent development where students can work out their faith separate from their mom while still being connected to the church. It is really brilliant if you think about it.

4) The traditional model of youth minister, run by a professional, continues to be the most effective model at helping students develop personal faith and providing significant water marks in their lives.

I know it is so cool to be pissed at the church and youth ministry for all the kids who walk away from faith. But stop and think about all the kids who have ever come through your ministry and reflect on the ways that God has grabbed ahold of. We need to actually stop and celebrate the great things that God is doing in them and through them now. This isn’t something to gloss over. A vast majority of those in leadership now in the Church with a capital C are people who were leaders in their student ministries. Praise God for the gutter to glory stories of those people who find Jesus all by themselves later in life. But when you start to ask around, those people are the exception. Youth ministry is the tool that God has and is continuing to use to clarify people’s call into His family, and into ministry.

5) Name one church who has all the resources they need who would intentionally staff their church without a professional to run the student ministry.

For reals, name one. I know finances are hectic and churches have to be creative. But not hiring because of financial hard times is not the same as not doing youth ministry because of conviction. And the churches who are relying on faithful volunteers, whom I am honored to count as my colleagues, would pay those volunteers or someone else if they happened to win the Mega Millions Jackpot this last week.

A caveat:

While I do firmly believe that churches will continue to pay for people to work with students, they will no longer pay people who do shoddy work. Financial hardship is a reality in many of our contexts and every dollar matters. If our church leaders are going to be good stewards of their resources then they will only be paying people who will work hard and do a good job.

Gone are the days where youth workers are simply paid to goof off with students, play video games, eat pizza, and have a few informal bible studies at their house. If someone is being paid to run a youth ministry, then they will be expected to run a youth ministry. This includes program, administration, duties assigned by pastor, and then video game extravaganzas, all within a tight budget.

The good news is that our profession is here to stay! The bad news is that we will continue to be expected to work harder and be more effective than our predecessors. Friends, it is gut check time!

Are you still called to do ministry in this environment and with these expectations? Do you still love students, but may be losing steam on the professional aspect of it? Is it time to maybe need to call it quits? Or do you simply think I am full of crap and protecting my own paycheck? :)

$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:

christmas table

More than any other holiday, Christmas is surrounded with family warm fuzzies. On the surface it is a month of preparing your house and making it as warm and hospitable as possible. And we brave the strip malls to buy presents as a way of showing love towards our friends and family. Christmas highlights one of the most critical needs humans have, to be known and to be loved.

Yes the birth of Jesus tells us so much about God and his love and plan for humanity, yes the manner in which he was born shatters all of our preconceptions regarding status and power, and yes we have God exegeted in the incarnation of his Son. But all of these great truths are not found in isolation. They are proved a reality by way of invitation, invitation into the family of God.

While we were sinners, broken, outcasts, it is at this time that Jesus left his rightful place in Heaven and became Emmanuel to reconcile us back to God and change our identity and purpose forever. Once we were not a people, but through Jesus Christ, we are the people of God.

As I reflect upon this reality, I am convinced more and more that this invitation into the family of God, to given the purpose of the family business is the thin place our world has to experience the good news of Jesus Christ. People feel more alienated then ever, our students are more isolated then the even know. Even with all their access to social media, they are alone.

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I know it is nothing new that Christmas has become secularized. From the Happy Holiday wars to the removal of the nativity scenes, the reason we celebrate Christmas has finally left the building. I had an epiphany the other night as I was driving around with my kids doing some Christmas shopping listening to my favorite Christmas album, John Denver and the Muppets’ Christmas. (It is actually a rough album, but has a high sentimental value for me.)

As we listened to the story of Alphie I was reminded again the wide variety of meaning people have put on Christmas. Well, way back in 1979 we get some strange theology from John Denver and his enormous love for the outdoors combined with a cultural understanding of Christmas.

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For youth group this christmas, we are asking students to look at five different characters that were in close proximity to the birth of Jesus.  Although the lesson was rather simple to make, the conclusions were a little more difficult to swallow.

The Distracted:  Luke 2:1-3

1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.

In the time of Jesus’ birth, God was in the process of doing the most amazing thing in all of human history.  At the same time, Bethlehem was jam packed with families for the census.  While there were many people in the proximity of this historic work of god, everyone seemed to miss it.

Imagine a gigantic family reunion.  Everyone was busy preparing their homes for guests, buying presents for loved ones, etc.  And while everyone was doing their own thing, God shows up.  This kind of feels like the mall at Christmas time.

This Christmas season, What are the things that are consuming your mind, are distracting you from seeing that god is actually alive and moving in our midst?

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How do we help a generation who has no sin see their need for a savior?

A major part of our calling as youth workers is the vital task of evangelism. Unfortunately the tyranny of the urgent puts our true calling on the back burner. We have programs to run, bible studies to lead, and parents to keep happy. As great as these are to do, very few of us got into student ministry because we love programs and managing parents. Many of us got into student ministry because we have a heart for this broken and lost generation. We are cross cultural missionaries called to the field to connect with early and mid-adolescents so that, by any means necessary, they will come to know Jesus.

“I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some “ 1 Corinthians 9:22

Classic Evangelism: This verse sums up the classical understanding of evangelism. Simply we want people who don’t know Jesus yet to know him as their Lord and Savior. We want to use whatever means, whatever stories, whatever programs, whatever resources are needed to do it.

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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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Retelling a lost story

October 21, 2013 — Leave a comment

This article was originally published at


Remember This Movie: Lions and tigers and bears, ___________! If you could immediately fill in the blank, then, whether you realize it or not, you have been impacted by culture. If upon further thought, you could fill in the blank and your mind went to Dorothy and her companions walking along a yellow brick road towards Oz, then you have some context for that cultural expression. And if the conclusion of that statement causes you begin to think about your favorite scenes, smile at the munchkins, hum a song, and even have fond memories of seasons of life when you enjoyed watching the film, then you are part of the generation that has been impacted by the movie, The Wizard of Oz.

Many of us have grown up with this movie. We know the songs, we know the stories, and we know the characters. We have seen poor high school versions of this movie, and even a brave interpretation of the story by Micahel Jackson. And because this story is so ingrained in our current pop culture, there was a place for someone to come along and use that story to tell a fuller story. And that is exactly what happened in the production of Wicked.

In case you haven’t seen the play, which I highly recommend, let me give you a quick synopsis. Wicked is a more complete story of what is going on in Oz during the time of Dorothy. The movie is Dorothy’s story, and the play is the unfolding drama between the two witches, Galinda, the Good Witch of the North and Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West. All by itself, Wicked is a compelling play with great characters and music. But what makes Wicked amazing is that it so incredibly clever.

Wicked tells the story by weaving in and out of the movie the Wizard of Oz. They reference people, places, and scenes. It is as if you get to walk through Oz and occasionally cross the yellow brick road just missing Dorothy and her entourage. During the entire play you have, “Ah, ha!” moments as you put all the pieces together. I found it to be a great evening of fun and incredibly refreshing. As I was driving home, I realized how much more I would have enjoyed this play if I had rented the Wizard of Oz before and re-familiarized myself with the original story. There was so much I missed, and if I weren’t so cheap I would have done that.

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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.

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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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