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3 Healthy Ways to Start Your New Year in Ministry: Part 2

In my previous post I shared some insights from Hebrews 12 and the importance of realizing we are not alone in ministry. Often ministry can feel like we are isolated and it feels impossible to hang in for the long-term. Realizing the countless ministry heroes who have gone before us, as well as seeking out the veterans of today, goes a long way to help us stay encouraged when we have “those days.”

Today, I want to focus on a second healthy way to start out the new year in ministry:

Get Rid of Excess Baggage:  let us throw off everything that hinders… Hebrews 12:1

The Complex and Absurd of Ministry: One of the greatest challenges I see for youth workers is the natural tendency to allow our lives and ministry to be overly complex and absurdly busy. Many youth workers wear this badge with pride, and I have often been one of those people. However, as time goes by, I am seeing the foolishness in chasing after every opportunity and every latest trend.

The Hebrew Christians had begun to move away from their dependence on God’s grace through Jesus and had become increasingly focused on Jewish rituals, traditions, and backsliding to old habits. In many ways, I see a similar principle played out in ministry, and it is to the detriment of our personal walk with God, and ultimately the shepherding of students… We often depend too much on traditions, familiar ways, and our personal dependence on ourselves…

Here’s what I am considering this new year: 

Dependence on Programs, Systems, and Self! It’s easy to focus more on a program or system, than the power of God and His wisdom to guide us… It’s easy to get stuck in traditions and familiar ways of doing ministry instead of seeking God’s immediate best… It’s easy to depend on our own skills, work longer hours and become driven by certain results… In the long-term, they can squeeze out our dependence on God and His specific focus for our ministry… How much is my ministry defined by traditions, familiarity, and systems, rather than stepping back to seek God’s leading? 

Before you rush in to 2012 and fall back to the familiar, take some time to step back to survey what needs to be thrown out…

What are some of the things that are hindering you and your ministry?

Phil <><

Protecting Volunteer Leaders from Burnout

Volunteers are perhaps the most valuable people in youth ministry! Great volunteers who hang in for long haul will make a lasting and impacting difference in the lives of students.

Sadly, the most common reason that I have seen volunteers cease to work with students is not their lack of passion and calling –  it is rate of burnout and being tired out…

In my previous post I talked about the importance of protecting volunteers in general. Today I want to focus on one area I mentioned briefly:

How can I help protect my volunteers from burnout and exhaustion?

1. Create a Healthy Ministry Schedule: Asking most volunteers to serve on a weekly basis is already a challenge for many in their busy lives. For many parent volunteers in particular, making youth group once a week and staying in contact with their small group is a big deal. Therefore I try to commit to scheduling our ministry with healthy breaks and bear in mind my volunteers schedules. a) During Christmas break we do not meet. b) We do not meet for Spring Break. c) Summer is changed up significantly and we have a “come if you can” policy. We need significantly less leaders with our summer schedule, so this works for us. c) We schedule events in a way that they are spread out significantly.  We would rather do a few ‘big” events well, rather than many “poor” events that can tire out volunteers (and students).

2. Insist That Family Comes First: This often can take a while to sink in for my volunteers. Again and again I need to remind them that ministry needs to be a win for their family. Anytime they call me to miss a program or event because of family, I insist that “family always comes first…” In their minds they are often feeling guilty for “calling in”, but it’s my job to affirm healthy family. I have also found that when I take this approach with my volunteers, it actually creates greater loyalty since they I know care about them and their family first. It’s not just about “getting ministry done…” Continue Reading…

Teaching Students God’s Truth: Can we teach it all?

A long time ago I read by Andy Stanley and Stuart Hall. In this book Stanley and Hall outline the need to teach students the absolute essentials for their faith development. At the time I remembered agreeing with the premise that we only have so many hours per year of teaching time with our students. Therefore, the question we must ask is: What do we absolutely want them to know and understand by the time they graduate? Stanley asserts that the Bible is full of truth, but not all of it is applicable to teenagers. We can’t give them everything, so must consider what gets ditched and what do we keep and teach?

For me recently, I have been evaluating my teaching and programs and I am concluding that some of our teaching isn’t essential. It’s good yes, but essential, no. Given that my total teaching time with my high school students will be around about 50-60 hours per year, I must be ruthless in getting rid of teaching that could be good, but not essential when all is said and done. I am must work equally hard in adding material that is essential to the specific group of students I am working with. Here’s what I can do to ensure that I am hitting the most important and applicable areas:

1) ESSENTIAL AREAS OF TEACHING: Write down the top ten areas that every student in your program needs to know by the time they graduate or “move up”. Look at what you teach in a 3-5 year period and make sure these top-ten areas are included first. This process should take a few months to come up with as you prayerfully consider these areas.

2) ESSENTIAL BIBLE BOOKS: Write down the most essential books of the Bible that you need to cover in a 3-5 year period and map out a provisional a plan. Be sure to have a balance in Old Testament / New Testament material.

3) BALANCED PROGRAMS: Create a clear balance of programs that “fire fight” the issues students are facing as well as environments that help students to “fire prevent” by teaching foundational theology and doctrine. For us, we have two weekly meetings. One is topical and mostly issue related (I call this “fire fighting”), while the other is clearly foundational faith building (I call this “fire preventing”).

4) ASK STUDENTS: Every few months, ask them what issues they and their friends are facing and create a “moving plan” that will hit the felt needs of the students. When we hit their issues and felt needs, they usually will learn more. These messages are presented in our midweek program that tackles topical issues in students lives. I survey my students once a year and I ask them every few months what areas / issues / topics they need to learn about.

5) ASK YOURSELF: Are you simply following a curriculum plan that someone else created for you, or whether you are giving your students the essentials that is specific to your group of students?

6) INVOLVE OTHERS: As noted above, I ask students continuously, but it’s essential to gain the insight and opinions of other youth workers in your ministry. Ask God to speak through the people who are working with your specific group of students and evaluate what you need to change and tweak. It’s imperative that we realize that we need to create a custom program for our specific group of students and not rely on someone else’s research that worked for their ministry in a different context. Too often we rely on curriculum and a scope and sequence that worked somewhere else, but maybe not for us. With all this said, I do you use curriculum regularly, but I tend to pick and choose what I feel we need for my group and dismiss what is not needed…

A hard question I must ask you today is this: Are you simply going through the motions of using a canned curriculum, or are you really seeking to create a custom program that is best for your specific context, environment, and students God has called you to minister to?

Finally, feel free to share any ideas as to how you create a balanced program with essential teaching?

Phil <><

Youth Ministry Management: Eat that Frog!

My most important lesson in getting tasks accomplished? Simple: Eat that Frog!

Eat that Frog is a fantastic book that will serve you well in your ministry. The premise behind the book is this:

There’s a saying that says, “If the first thing you do each morning is to eat a live frog, you can go through the day with the satisfaction of knowing that that is probably the worst thing that is going to happen to you all day long! Your ”FROG” is the one you are most likely to procrastinate on if you don’t do something about it now…” 

It is also the task that is the biggest task to get done and is easy to put off for easier tasks… But doing the easier tasks will not help you in the long-term… By eating that frog in my ministry, I am finding that I get more done these days.

Check out the website for this book. There’s a cool video that will give you greater insight too: 

Youth Ministry Management: How to Get Stuff Done, When Stuff is Piling Up!

We are a few weeks into the Fall season and for me this has been one of the busiest seasons I have encountered in a while. It’s usually about this time of year when the non-stop busy schedule has created a backlog of tasks and to do lists that seem to keep growing and growing. (At least, that is the case for me).

It’s times like this when it’s easy to get overwhelmed and feel like we are drowning in a sea of administration and programatic mess. It’s times like these when we have to become ruthless and focused to get back on top of youth ministry management. Here are a few things I am doing to get back on top of things:

1) Take Regular Rests: Not what you were expecting? But, this is the most cruciall step for me. It’s been a busy season and it’s easy to become inefficient and sloppy when I get tired. At times like this I need to ensure that I am resting in order to work more effectively, efficiently, and conscientiously when I am in the office.

2) Be Ruthless: At the beginning of a typical week I take my google task list and move all the most important tasks to the top of the lists. For me, these always include: a) Contact time with students and leaders. b) Message writing c) Meeting planning. Everything else gets bumped until the major things are done. It’s then I get to my admin and emails etc.

3) Check Email Infrequently: If you have email on your phone this is a hard one to do. However, I find it best to check my email in chunks at certain times of the day. Usually I would check it 4-5 times a day when I have more time, but for now I find myself checking email twice a day. It’s also worth noting that we can become easily unfocused by constant new tasks that come our way through email. It’s better to dictate your email than let email dictate your task list…

4) Don’t Reply to Every Email and Phone Call Instantly: There are some emails and phone calls that are important, granted. However, not every phone call is an emergency and not every email needs immediate attention. Wherever I can, I try to add the emails and voicemails to my task list and “chunk them out” at a later time.

5) ‘Chunk Out’ Emails and Phone Calls Together: As I said above, I try to add emails and voicemails to my task list and get them done together. I typically have Tuesdays as my admin and meeting day. It is here where I try to get back to people and ensure they hear from me.

6) Communicate Your Schedule: Ensure that key people know you are in a crunch and will likely take a little longer to get back to them in the next few weeks while you get back on top of things, (Just don’t take a few weeks to get back to them though)!

7) Don’t Waste Your Time: I often here people complain about being too busy to be able to catch up, yet they are still able to write on everyone’s Facebook wall or play XBOX 360. In seasons of busyness, it’s imperative that we ruthless in every way. It also means giving up a few home comforts in order that we can get back on top of things.

8) Delegate! Recruit people to help you with as many things you can hand off. Know that it might not be done the way you want it to be done, but at least it’s getting done. I am always presently surprised how much ownership and fulfillment it brings to people when they know have helped me at busy and messy time. Bless someone by letting them help you!

Well, that’s what I am working on… How about you? What tips do you have? 

Phil <><

Balancing Family and Ministry Part 3: Boundaries

In my previous post I looked at the importance of creating a family friendly schedule that is a win for our families and our churches too. Today I want to talk about the importance of healthy boundaries in ministry.

Check out my first post in this series to see how you can enter to win a FREE registration for

When I started out in ministry I wanted to change the world and see students lives radically changed by God. I was younger, single, and I wanted to do whatever I could to make a difference! Today, I am older, I am married, but my passion has not changed. In fact, I feel a greater urgency and passion these days than ever before… And here’s the struggle: Our passion to make a difference in ministry can often create unhealthy boundaries for our families. It’s imperative we set up healthy boundaries that allow us to be effective in ministry and work hard for our church or organization, but also healthy for our family. 

I have made many mistakes with boundaries, but I have learned a great deal too. Here are the boundaries that truly make a difference for me and my family: 

1) The Hours I Work: My church has called me to minister to students and I take my role very seriously. My church trusts me to work the hours in my job description and expect and be a wise steward of my time. But, I find there is always more to do than my hours allow. If I am not careful I could be working unhealthy hours and miss out valuable times with my family. It’s up to me to set up a healthy schedule.

For me, I usually schedule ten hours below what is expected, knowing that emergencies, extra phone calls, and last minute meetings will add another ten hours. It’s also important to realize that there are certain seasons when we work longer hours, but it’s also important to “buy back” family time sometime later. As a steward of my time, it’s imperative that I work smart to accomplish the most important tasks.

2) My Day Off: I work really hard to not answer my phone, check email, or talk ministry on my day off. My voicemail even states that Friday is my day off and “I will return your message on Saturday”. I have come to realize that being available every day is not healthy for me and my family and in the long run will not benefit my church. A day off is imperative. How are you keeping your day off protected?

3) Cell Phone: There was a time when I took every phone call and often missed out on crucial conversations and times with my family. The outcome was not healthy… Therefore, these days my phone gets switched off at family dinner times and usually doesn’t get switched back on until the kids are in bed. It’s then that I return any messages I have. I also avoid taking phone calls while we are driving somewhere as a family. I do this to be “fully present” with my wife and kids. It’s important that I communicate that they are my priority while I am with them.  It might seem that I am making others wait to get to me… you would be right in thinking so! I work hard to return messages quickly, I always communicate that I was with my family when I return a call since it’s important for others to see the priorities I place on family time.

4) Date Night and Family Night. As I discussed in a previous post, I schedule these crucial dates 1-2 months in advance to ensure my calendar is family friendly first. It’s then that I schedule meetings, sports events, and additional events on my calendar…

Well, those are my top four healthy boundaries for my family. What about you? What helps you do great ministry, yet keep healthy boundaries around your family? What have you been learning in all of this? 

Balancing Family and Ministry Part 2: Scheduling Priorities

Yesterday we began a series focused on balancing family and ministry by taking a look at the life of a young youth worker called David! I was blown away by the responses and comments. Check out the post by clicking here. You can also enter to win a FREE registration to The by following the instructions at the bottom of this post…

Today, I want to share with you some things I do to ensure that I invest in my family and strive for healthy balance while doing ministry. I have a story similar to David who we read about in the previous post. There was a time when I felt like quitting ministry altogether! However, God has kept me in ministry and helped me to learn life-changing lessons and learn how to find balance for my family. For me, like many of us, it is a question of good boundaries and scheduling. In my next post I will look at boundaries, but for today I will focus on my schedule.

The biggest schedule lesson I have learned is this: Schedule the most important family commitments before anything else. Now, obviously days like Sunday and maybe a Wednesday midweek program are always on our schedules, but apart from those kind of regular activities, there is a lot of flexibility in our scheduling. Therefore, before everything else gets added in, I ensure that the following priorities get added into my schedule.

1) Family Meal Times: Believe it or not, it’s easy to miss these simple family times. It’s also very easy to be late to dinner regularly if we are not careful. Constant lateness home for dinner is a big deal since it communicates the wrong message to our spouse and kids. Therefore, I actually write dinner and lunches into my schedule, otherwise they can get overlooked. It also helps my wife know what to plan on a weekly basis if she knows I am going to be home for certain meals.

2) Date Nights: We used to be able to have a weekly date night before we had kids! Now it is twice a month! We usually plan these nights out 1-2 months in advance. When I take time to make these date nights a priority, it communicates that my spouse is more important than anything else. It also ensures that we always have something to look forward to when life is busy and challenging.

3) Family Nights: Now that we have two kids, we have an intentional family night where we do something “out of the normal”. It could be a family bike ride and picnic on a summer evening, or a family game / movie night on a cold winter evening. Again, we do these family nights every two weeks and schedule them in 1-2 months in advance.

4) Traditions: For us family traditions are so important! Throughout the year we have these small events / getaways planned that we all look forward to. These range from overnight getaways to a hotel with water-park, to our yearly trip to the apple orchard. As adults it’s easy to lose the excitement and anticipation of these simple events and trips. But I know how important these memory makers are for my kids! If you were to talk to my kids, they would tell you that the yearly trip to a German style town called Frankenmuth in Michigan is there highlight! Most importantly, it’s one of many yearly traditions we have established that always give us something positive to look forward to and memories to look back on…

Now, let’s be honest for a minute. There is nothing I have said that is a new thought for most of us is there? However, if you are like me, I have found that ministry can take over our schedules very quickly. It’s imperative that we are intentionally scheduling family times before everything else takes over…

And here is the outcome:

- My family stays healthier

- My church gets a healthier youth worker and my ministry has greater effectiveness.

- I hang in for the long haul and my students will benefit from my longevity.

What family priorities do you need to schedule? What family priorities have become defaults in your schedule that are benefiting you, your family, and your church?


1) Comment and Help David: What advice would you give David? What can he do to make the necessary changes? What needs to happen in his family and ministry?

2) Comment and Share Your Story: In what ways do you relate to David’s story? What have you done to make the changes? What changes could you make personally?

3) Tweet To Win! Tweet the following text and your name can be entered a SECOND time to win!

I just entered to win a FREE conference registration for SYMC 2012  from @PhilBell  #stumin






Balancing Family & Ministry Part 1: SYMC Giveaway

Today I begin a series focused on balancing family and ministry. In addition, if you comment on this post AND tweet this out, you could win a FREE registration to in Louisville, KY next March. (See details at the bottom of this post on how you could win).

The team at Simply Youth Ministry have created a conference that does so much more than equip youth workers with the tools to do ministry effectively. Right from the beginning, their vision has been to invest in the whole person of the youth worker. SYMC 2012 is a place for youth workers to not only gain incredible skills for ministry, but also discover a place of authenticity where they can refuel and breathe. With this in mind, today I want to encourage you take time to breathe and refuel as you consider how you balance family and ministry…

David’s Story: 

David took his first ministry position straight from college. He got married the following year, changed churches a year after, and had twins with his wife Kim the year after that. David would agree it’s been a busy and sometimes frustrating time as he has tried to deal with the constant changes that family and ministry brings. His job is mostly stressful and a growing church has often become a burden instead of a blessing it once was… If you were to take time to speak to his wife Kim, the exhaustion is evident on her face. The last two years have been sometimes miserable as Kim has watched David get pulled in many directions in a ministry that looks great from the outside…

On the inside of David’s family however, Kim is feeling over burdened with greater responsibility at home and is often feeling alone as David works an unhealthy hours. David too, is at breaking point… He is running on empty and it is only a matter of time before he falls apart…  The cracks are starting to appear… These days he feels like he barely has time to breathe… 

Does this story sound familiar? Are there cracks appearing for you? If someone could peek on the inside and could look at your alone time with God, your family time, your days off, and the authenticity of your friendships, what would they see? If you are like me, there are some areas that I need to work on…

Help David! Comment, Tweet, and YOU could WIN!

Tomorrow I will post some things I have been doing to balance family and ministry.  But for now, I would love to hear from you! Here’s what you can do to help David, and possibly win a registration to SYMC 2012!

1) Comment and Help David: What advice would you give David? What can he do to make the neccesary changes? What needs to happen in his family and ministry?

2) Comment and Share Your Story: In what ways do you relate to David’s story? What have you done to make the changes? What changes could you make personally?

3) Tweet To Win! Tweet the following text and your name can be entered a SECOND time to win!

I just entered to win a FREE conference registration for SYMC 2012  from @PhilBell #stumin

For more information on the Simply Youth Ministry Conference go to:  or call Matty McCage at 615-349-7111 to register.




Spoon-Feeding or Self-Feeding Youth Ministries? Part 1

Think about this for just a few minutes:

How do our youth ministries help students to actually grow in their faith? More pertinent than that, what methods are we using to create faith ownership that lasts beyond high school and college?

Here’s the challenge I keep battling with:

Am I, (are we), spoon-feeding our students so much, that they are not owning or developing their own faith? Are our programs and efforts so focused on one youth group night per week that students “starve” the rest of the week? Do we help students fail by helping them focus so much on their youth group experience that we don’t help them experience God daily? Bottom line: Are we creating spoon-feeders who depend on us,  or self-feeders who become faith owners? 

Now, first let me say, there are some incredible ministries who are doing some fantastic stuff that is bringing about life-change from the methods they employ. Here’s what I am talking about:

  • Ministries who have weekly meetings with incredible teaching and connection times
  • Worship times where students connect deeply with God
  • Service projects and missions trips
  • Weekend retreats and summer camps
  • Student leadership teams
  • Amazing events that students wants to bring their friends to

For the most part, all of these events and programs, while they are great, center around us and our churches providing opportunities for students to grow. Now you might be thinking, “well, of course they do! That’s what we are supposed to do right? That’s what my job description tells me to do… That’s what my pastor, parents, and students expect me to do…” And of course I would wholeheartedly agree with you… Well, to a point…

But here’s a central problem I am seeing in my ministry and so many ministries I am connected with. Over the decades of youth ministry, there has been such a focus on churches teaching and feeding the students spiritually, that we have forgotten a very important aspect of teaching students to become self-feeders. Are we creating expectations, environments, and opportunities for students to self-feed in their faith or are students showing up to be fed by our exceptional programs and events?

Just look at the local church today… It is filled with many adults who grew up in vibrant youth ministries and were spoon fed on a weekly basis by people like you and I. Many of them are now dependent on their weekly “spiritual meal” on Sundays, while the rest of the week they starve spiritually. Many of them have turned into church consumers who rate their churches by what they get out of it… 

Think about your ministry for a moment… Are you really supporting students in faith ownership, or are you helping them depend on you and your programs? Take a few more moments… Are we helping them to be self-feeders or spoon-feeders? 

Here are some pertinent questions to think through: What are we doing to help students develop spiritual habits during the week when they are not with us? What are we constantly communicating to ensure that self-feeding is an expectation for our students? What materials are we making available to students to help get them started as self-feeders? What self-feeding principles are we constantly smattering into our messages to point students to a self-feeding lifestyle?

Tomorrow, I will list some things I am doing to create a self-feeding ministry… Be thinking about what you do. I would love YOUR imput on this! Please feel free to comment!!!!



10 Ways To Have A Vacation That Recharges You!

Being in youth ministry can be challenging. But it can be incredibly rewarding and a great blessing!

With that said, it’s imperative that we keep ministry as a blessing and not allow it to become a curse.  Any ministry, no matter how exciting it is can get old without good breaks and getaways… A GREAT vacation that recharges and rejuvenates, is essential for anyone who wants to ensure that ministry does not get old. More than that, it is crucial that we get a good break that gives us a new perspective when we return.

Here are few things I do on vacation that help me to get recharged and invest in my family.

1) Leave Your Laptop / iPad at Home: No email, no planning, no temptation to do work. After all, it’s a vacation!

2) Turn Off Your Phone and Leave Away Messages: Leave good away messages that communicate that you will not be checking voicemail or checking email. However, be diligent to ensure that students, parents, and church leaders have a point person to go to in your absence. It is pertinent that you do not check your voicemail or email while you are gone. If your ministry cannot depend on you, there must be something broken… It will fix itself if you learn to let go and communicate healthy boundaries to others.

3) Take a Few Good Books: Have a focused time to read and relax. No ministry books allowed, just books that will fill you up and help you relax. God’s Word is obviously on the top of the list. Plan ahead with passages or books you would like to read to fill you up…

4) Schedule What Your Family Needs: If you are in ministry and are married, your family has often taken back seat to ministry, emergencies, and those all-nighters. It’s essential that your family gets to enjoy you and make memories together. Yes, make sure you have some alone time, but also make sure your spouse (and kids if you have kids), feel special and valued.

5) Take At Least A Week, Preferably Ten Days: It often takes a few days to unwind from the ministry schedule, so ensure that you get to enjoy your vacation by having at least a week relaxing and unwinding.

6) Get Away: A “Stay-cation” is not a vacation… In ministry, you need to get away. There are too many triggers and temptations when we stay at home.

7) Treat Yourself: Do something a little a out of the ordinary. Whether it is having an extravagant meal, scuba diving, or whale watching, do something that is a memory maker for you and your family. It’s important to create memories and stories to look back on. I’ve never been scuba diving, but I have some great memories with my wife and kids…

8.) Rest! Yes, I know it should be a given, but I know too many of my good friends who have a hard time relaxing on vacation. They are still checking their voicemail and worrying about whether the ministry is going to plan without them. We are able to rest when we realize that God does not need us to do anything. He chooses to use us and will accomplish His purposes while we are on vacation. God does not need to depend on us… Just sayin…

9) Sleep-In! I have two kids who will wake me up early, even on vacation. However, my wife and myself have agreed to let each other sleep-in at least one day. You should try it!

10) Don’t Talk About Ministry: This is really hard for a lot of us since our world revolves around ministry. However, I think it’s important to give ourselves and our families a break from the ministry conversation. It’s not that ministry is a bad thing, but it’s important to realize that our family needs breaks from being in the trenches full-time.

If you are looking for more ideas to make the most of your vacation, you might want to check out Blog:

What would you add to this list that has worked for you?

Phil <><

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