Archive - February, 2009

What Tim loves about NYMC 2009

Here’s a flavor of what NYMC is about. I met Tim from Canton, North Carolina today in my track. This is what he just loves about the conference:

Arrived at NYMC 2009

Arrived this afternoon at NYMC in Columbus! It’s great to be here and I feel the excitement around me from other youth workers. The guys from Group do a great job in welcoming you like you are a long-time friend! Thanks Group people!

The conference center here is great, not too big and not too spread out. It FEELS connectional and not impersonal. Word is that there are 1800 youthworkers here this weekend. AWESOME!

I heard there is an Irish pub across the close to here that serves a killer fish n’ chips! I hope to give a food review in a later blog. For now, my lovely wife Lisa is out shopping and discovering Columbus while I connect with other youthworkers. That’s what I love to do! It’s awesome to be able to talk, encourage and hear what God is doing in other places around the country! It’s great to be able to share joys and struggles with guys and gals who get it.

Affinity Groups: One of the exciting things that I have seen here last year is the Affinity groups. The goal is that you can connect with a group of people for the weekend who you have, ‘affinity’ with. Example, ‘Small Youth Ministries’ , ’40 and over in Ministry’, ‘Senior High’,’ Middle School’,’ Working with difficult leaders’ ‘PDYM’, and so on…. The goal is that we connect with a group in an area or topic of ministry that we would like help or encouragement in.

That’s all for now. I am excited to get to the general session in a few hours.

Life in Stories

A couple of days ago I blogged about the challenge to get students on board with a message idea. For many of us over 22 and out of college will find that students see us as being old and ‘out of touch’. However, when we ‘sit at the steps of their world’, we will find that our ability to connect increases.  Today I want to quickly look at an effective way to connect with students in our messages. This is nothing brand new or out of this world, but this principle is easy to forget and overlook… How can you and I can help students find life in THEIR stories…

When we sit at the steps of their world and discover who are they, we are taking time to discover their stories. In other words, we are discovering a small part of their ongoing testimony. It is these stories that can often be used powerfully to share how God is working and has worked in their lives. Often we spend hours trying to figure out how to connect with students, when in fact, the quickest (and sometimes best) ways are to have students share their story…

Last Sunday, I saw the power and impact by applying this principle to my high school ministry program. One of my seniors shared her story of how God brought healing to her life after a challenging time. I gave her ‘interview questions’ and walked through the questions a week before. The interview took about 20 minutes in total, and I sandwiched it with two verses from 2 Corinthians. It was very simple, but very powerful. Perhaps more powerful than a message I could have given… The feedback I received from my small group leaders afterward was very good. They shared how impacted and connected students were… It was a good lesson to see that students find life in stories… THEIR stories!

This is not something we do every week, but I think that every other series we do, should have a life story included. Try and see how it works for you?

Sitting on the Steps…

Do you ever feel like you are constantly digging to find new ways to connect with students or find ways to get them on board with a message idea? Do you ever wonder if they are connecting with a youth leader who might seem ancient to them? (That’s you and me by the way). I think we all feel like that at times! I think to some degree there is some truth to the ancient feeling. However, in the next couple of days, I want to talk about some helpful ways that I have been learning to overcome this problem. Today, I want to talk about the best kind of message preparation you and can make… but first: 

The Reality

If we are out of college and over the age of 22, I believe that many students will look at us as being ‘out of touch’ with them and their peers. Perhaps they feel like we do not  understand their issues? However, I also hold fast to the truth that students will let you into their lives when they see a consistent love and care for them. When we speak, the best hours of preperation may not be in the message material itself, I believe it is the preparation we do when we invest in getting to know students and their lives…

When we stand in front of them, they will subconsciously know if you and I understand them well enough to address the issues in their lives. Because of this fact, we cannot short cut our relational time with them. If you have read ‘Hurt’ by , he speaks about the research he did at a school where he would sit and observe (and listen) to students. He found that students have their own world that adults are not party to. As he spent time and ‘sat at the steps’ of their world he slowly began to have conversations with them and discover a clearer picture of their inner teenage world. It took time…

In a similar way, as youthworkers, we need to sit at their steps and listen and learn. When students know that we understand their issues and that we care about them, they are more likely to listen to the truth that they desperately need to hear. 

Sometimes we think we need to put more hours into making our message ‘dyanamic’ and ‘catchy’, where in fact, we need to do our message prep by spending more time with our audience. We need to spend more time being their audience. We need to tune into their world and let them know we are following their story. Maybe then, they will tune into God’s truth that you and I deliver? 

Three Things I do to help me ‘Sit on the Steps of their World’ 

1) Ask Good Questions: I am always asking questions about them, their week, their friends and their opinions on events. I often use the phrase, “help me understand this..”, (even when I think I already do). I also use phrases like, “what do you think adults misunderstand about you guys”?  I find that so many adults want to tell kids what they need to know before they ask what they need to know… get it? 

2) Get into their World: As a youthworker we should all be reading and understanding the latest trends etc.   has a lot of great articles and updates that I find very helpful. I also try to watch what students are watching on TV and surf where they surf online too. This is helpful. However, I find that getting into their world happens best if I show up to their world. Planning a lunch, going to a game or school play sends a powerful message to the students we are trying to reach, but it is also a great opportunity to learn about students in their world. 

3) Meet with Them: No matter how big our ministry has become, I always maintain how important it is that the lead youthworker still meets with students regularly. When we do this, we send the message to students and their friends, that we care enough to meet with them. When I meet with them, I always ask them honestly, “how is our student ministry helping you?” I am often suprised, encouraged and challenged by the authentic responses I get at these times… Sometimes they give me my best message content…

The ‘I’ Date


img_1596Every two weeks Lisa and I go out on a date night together and try to do something fun and different each time. Right now we are going out on ‘ABC’ dates (Check out: ).  Last night we took a few friends with us to watch my friend Josh play for the Detroit Ignition for our ‘I’ date. 

Unfortunately the Ignition lost last night . The score was 15-7 as they went down to the Chicago Storm.  Fun dates and creative ideas keep our marriage healthy and always give us lots to talk about. We are building some great memories too!

Healthy ‘Defaults’ for Ministry Balance

img_1593A couple of weeks ago my friend Jeremy was sharing  how he wished he could have a default button in his life, just like there is on a computer when you have to restore it after an error.

Have you ever had to do that after your computer crashed, or unrequested programs got added into your computer and created errors?  I have, unfortunately! It’s at these times we have click, “restore to default” or something like that. The goal is to restore the computer back to the way it was before the crash or the problem. 

If you are like myself or my friend, I wish I had a default button in my life that would allow me to back to the ways things were before the ‘error’. An error could be many things for each of us, but for today I want to take a look at how we need healthy defaults when our lives get over extended and out of balance. Specifically, how our ministry schedules can often lead to a ‘crash’ and how we need constant  ’defaults’ along the way to bring and keep balance. 

Here’s just a few ways that I try to keep healthy defaults in my life: 

1) Date night every two weeks. We are currently doing ‘ABC’ dates. (click here for a post on this)
2) Monday night family plan. Monday is my day off. Every Monday, we have dinner and plan out two, maybe three fun activities to do as a family for that week, (we ask our little girl what would be fun to do – ideas have ranged from getting ice-cream to playing ‘memory’ or doing puzzles… If it’s fun for her, it’s fun for us. We also plan meals for the week to make our shopping trip easier…
3) Eat Lunch at home as often as possible. Being in a church plant situation, I often find myself at coffee shops working. Therefore, wherever possible, I try to stay close to home and get home for lunch as often as I can. 
4) Work longer days on tues, weds, thurs, and be home on Friday by 2pm. The afternoon is for family, naps, shopping or whatever we need to do. 

Simple ideas, but powerful in our busy schedules. How are you doing with your healthy defaults? How can you restore your balance this week? What healthy defaults can you put in place that become consistent and help you avoid crashes?

NYMC 2009

Here’s the promo for the National Youth Ministry Conference I am heading to next week. I love this conference! Last year was my first time. It is highly connectional, deeply inspirational, and highly humorous!

Message Writing Format for Leaders

It’s imperative that we step aside and let leaders speak, but it’s imperative that we also give our leaders the tools to do so. I have found that coming up with a basic message writing format really helps me, as well as my leaders. Here’s a format that I have developed from guys like Andy Stanley and Doug Fields: 

Giving a message is like taking a flight and going on a journey somewhere…brit-plane2

TAKE OFF: Intro/Grab Attention/Get students on board. 

Just like a plane on take off, most of the thrust and power goes into the getting the plane off the ground. Without a good thrust, you will run out of runway. In the same way, no matter how great our message content is, if we are unable to grab attention and get kids ‘on board’ and ‘take off’ with an idea, we will run out of ‘runway’ quickly. What media, drama, or special element will help us take off?

TOPIC: What issue do students face? What problem are you presenting? 

TRUST: How have you struggled in this area. How do you relate to this problem? (It’s important that students can sense that we are on the journey with them, and that you have or have had struggles in this area). 

TRANSITION: One sentence that takes us ‘above the clouds’ of the problem and transitions us into clarity of God’s answer. Example: How can you and I deal with this issue in our lives? It’s a good job God didn’t leave us in the dark. Let’s take a look at God’s Word and figure this out…

WORD: This is where we draw out God’s truths for students. Usually I try to break down this part into the following: i. Context – What was happening at the time.  ii. Characters – Who are the people being addressed or written about. iii. Our context – How does this apply to us today. iv. Why is this important for us to understand? Remember to ensure that we pick a passage that addresses the issue that was raised at the beginning. It’s easy to take students on unnecessary diversions by focusing on every detail of the passage. Try to stay with the big idea. 

WHAT IF: As we begin to descend to ‘land the plane’ it’s important to ask the question, What if you and I were to live this truth out in our lives… what would our lives look like? What would our decisions be like? What would our relationships look like? It’s important that we begin to give them a runway to land on with us. So that they can visualize the vision God has for them. Just like a pilot can see the certainty and safety of the landing lights of a runway, students need to see the certainty of how living out these truths will impact their lives… Without the “What if “questions, we are asking students to land in the fog…

WHAT NOW: What steps can students take to live out these truths? 

As they ‘disembark’ do they know where they are going this week? Just like passengers need directions once they get to the airport terminal, so students need further steps they can can as they navigate through their week. What specific steps can we give them to take that will help them start living out the truth they have just heard? 

This is the basic way I have shared with my leaders to help them take students on a journey. It helps to give them a natural and normal format to follow and gives them a starting point in their message journey and gives them an easy ‘landing’. Try and tweak it for yourself?

Step aside and let leaders Speak

If you knew that you could make changes in your ministry to present God’s truth to students more effectively, would you make them?  Seems like a no brainer right? One of the best ways to present God’s truth more effectively is to step aside and let other leaders speak…

Why is that so difficult for some of us?  Let’s be honest, if you are like me,  it’s very easy to come up with reasons for not making use of volunteers in this way…

First, it’s easy to conclude that their volunteer status equals poor messages… Not true. 

Second, it could mean that we have to plan far in advance… Not easy for some of us!

Third, after we have met with the leader and walked them through the message,  we could have written it ourselves in less time… This is true, but would it be more effective? 

All seem like compelling reasons?  However, here’s why it is imperative to to invest, equip, and empower our volunteers to give messages: 

1) They are Different: As hard as this is to admit, students in our ministries will tune us out week after week. No matter how dynamic we are,  kids will naturally tune us out.  I have a British accent and my youth ministry friends say I could talk about anything and it would be interesting… I wish!  I tell them, yes, the new kids love it… (if they can understand me at first), but give them a few months and it’s old!  Our leaders are a different face, have a different style, and different ways of thinking through things… Your students have different learning styles and different ways to think through things too… We cannot cover the whole ‘bandwidth’ of students personalities and learning styles on our own. 

2) Planning Pays Off Volunteers will present poorly if we give them short notice… When we plan ahead in a series, we can give leaders 4-6 weeks to think and work on a message.  Leaders perform better when they have time to pray and think through their message. If we are not planning this far ahead, we are not helping our leaders succeed. 

3) Investment  Pays Off. Recently two leaders gave messages for me and I have invested hours of time into both of them. They both have good communication skills and a strong faith and these most recent messages were the best I have seen them give. We would all agree that their first messages were shaky and not as concise as they could be, (do you remember your first message?) Investment pays off as we take time to encourage, tweak and improve their skills. 

4) Get the Night off and Lead: When a leader gives the message for me and I am able to take the night off from speaking, I am able to lead better. I can step back and assess the program from a different vantage point and see tweaks we need to make that I would not normally see.  Finally, I can invest more relational time with leaders and students. It’s great for students and leaders to see us laughing and being a part of the group in a different way…

Is it time to step aside and let leaders speak? 

Phil <><

Michigan Hockey

Tonight was our ‘H’ date (see

We live pretty close to Ann Arbor, so we went to a Hockey game for the evening! It was a lot of fun and Michigan won!










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