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An Open Letter to the Parent from the Youth Pastor

Dear Parent, Grandparent, Step-Parent, Guardian, or other ‘permanent’ Over-seer of teenagers in the home:

I realized as you dropped your teenager off tonight just how little we’ve really interacted.  We’ve smiled, waved, and given the occasional Christian side hug or holy nod of acknowledgement.   Mostly our interaction, though, is very impersonal and sporadic – unless I have dropped the ball on something (which I confess does occasionally happen), in which case it becomes intensely personal.   I have been thinking for quite some time now that perhaps it’s because I have not adequately shared with you who I am, what our ministry needs, or how much I desperately want to partner with you in ministry to your kids (as opposed to my initial inclination…which – again I’ll confess – is that you really just don’t care at all about the youth ministry unless there is a mistake, real or perceived.)  Thus the impetus for this letter.

  1. Please Get To Know Me:  I am not sure if you know things have been kind of tough these days?  I am working on a shoestring here.  The pastor is on my case because those street kids are finally coming (and he’s worried about it.)  My wife is pregnant again – but we haven’t told anyone since she lost the baby last time.  I am trying to finish up my last seminary class…and my secretary keeps sending out stuff without asking me to proof it first.  I don’t have a single place to go where I am not seen as ‘the youth pastor’ – so I’m lonely, isolated, and always ‘on.’ Continue Reading…

4 Easy Steps To Improve Partnering With Parents In Your Youth Ministry

In her previous post, Leneita shared her story of how she changed her view of parents once she became one and had teens of her own. Partnering with parents is imperative and seeing parents through a new lens is essential. Today I want to share 4 easy steps to improve partnering with parents.

But first, here are a few reason why partnering with parents could take your ministry to the next level: 


  • Parents spend far more time with their kids than we do, and therefore they have far more teachable moments than we do…
  • Parents who feel partnered with will support our ministries with their time, talent, and treasure…
  • Parents are biblically the main instructors of their kids faith. We are not here to replace them, but to partner with them, (even if they are not following through on their part, we must see ourselves as partners in ministry)…
  • Parents are chauffeurs to their kids and will do all they can to get their kids to good programs and events when we communicate effectively with them…
  • Parents as partners can become our greatest supporters and allies when we encounter storms of ministry. Conversely, they can become our greatest critics when they feel disconnected from us… Continue Reading…

Partnering With Parents In Youth Ministry: “It Used To Be Me”

It used to be me…

You know the youth person who treated the parent like they got in the way of my job.  Working with mostly “unchurched” students I thought I had a good excuse.  Parents weren’t around anyway.   Even when I did make some small attempt to reach out to them, they just shrugged me off.  I thought I didn’t really need them that much anyway.

Then my own children started entering the ages of official youth ministry.  They entered some programming where I was not the leader.  It happened to me.   One day  after church, a leader stopped my daughter and embraced her.  She looked her in the eye told her how beautiful she was and that she was special.  All the things I would  say to a student as well.  However, I stood there awkwardly not even being acknowledged by this person whom I had never met.  It seemed as if an eternity before I stuck out my hand and declared,  “Hi, I’m the Mom.”  Apparently,  she was a volunteer small group leader.

When it happened to me,  conviction came.  How many times had I done something similar?  How many times had a parent tried to tell me about their child and I ignored them?  How many times had I treated a parent like only a mechanism to fill out permission slips?  Then I am the one quick to complain when they don’t come to a parent meeting.  I am the one “venting” about “that one.”   Continue Reading…

Making Vacations Count For Youth Workers

It’s so hard to truly get away from youth ministry.  Not because there’s so much to do or because people are in such need.  That’s true – but that’s not why we find it hard to unplug.  We don’t unplug from ministry because it’s a calling – it’s like unplugging from oxygen – do it for a few seconds and it’s survivable…do it for a while and you’re suffocating… it too long and you’re dead.

Over the years, my wife and I have developed some tried and true methods for receiving our oxygen even though we’re unplugging for a while.

1) Set a time limit For years, Katie and I would say ‘no youth ministry talk on this vacation’ – but inevitably the conversation would always go back to students, church, people, pastors, planning….you get the idea.  Because ministry is a busy, productive life – we’re always leaving something great or returning to something awesome.  It’s natural that the conversation will gravitate toward those amazing moments (and, sometimes even the not so amazing ones.)  We realized that the ‘no ministry talk’ wasn’t really working for us.  So we set a time limit now.  Since we live in South Texas and it takes four days just to get out of the state – it’s a pretty liberal allotment.  After that time limit expires, then there is no ministry talk.  It works great – we get everything out of our system and we can really focus on our marriage, our kids, our life.

2) Only take one cell phone – and don’t make it yours.  Our society no longer knows how to function without cell service.  But if I take my phone (and leave it on, in case of emergency), everyone and their brother are calling me – and that magic 911 doesn’t pop up to let me know if I should answer it or not.  So a few years ago, we started taking Katie’s phone only.  Not many people have her number – so if it rings, it’s important.  (Kind of like Commissioner Gordon and the bat signal.)  It’s shocking to come home and see 347 messages on my phone….while Katie’s phone never rang once.  And everyone lived happily ever after.

3) Don’t leave the emergency contact with the person you know will call, even if it isn’t an emergency (I was going to say ‘don’t leave it with the secretary’ – but some assistants are better at guarding our time than the pastors are.)  When we leave town, I leave an itinerary with our worship pastor.  I know he’ll only call if it’s dire and I must know about it…plus I know chances are he’ll lose my itinerary before I get back – so I’m pretty safe either way.

4) Schedule debrief days.  We do it for ministry all the time – we rarely do It for family.  We need that respite – relaxation – from the intensity of vacation.  We schedule two to three extra days for each getaway – one on the front end (for packing without panic) and one to two on the back end to relax, unpack, and just enjoy being home.  We make sure the pantry is well stocked so we don’t have to go out – and we park in the garage so no one knows we’re back.

Its torture living with the paparazzi (sometimes ministry feels that way), but my family deserves a little privacy, too! And since the media hounds can find you even on your private, uninhabited island, it’s important to plan ahead for some rejuvenation and get-away time.  (Plus, I would hate to see a photo of me in my bathing suit ending up on the cover of the bulletin).  It IS OK – even encouraged – to completely, 100%, unequivocally unplug and detox from ministry.  When was the last time you did it??


Youth Ministry Getaway? To Vacation or Not to Vacation?

To Vacation or Not to Vacation…

For months I had turned to my husband and whispered,  “When will you take me away?” The children would stay home while we went.  All I could dream of was sitting on a beach with a whole lot of nothing “to do.”

Now that we were “there,” everything seemed to be going wrong.   Our 11 year old was having a panic attack about us being away for a whole week.  He had called 10 times in the middle of the night.  Why was this the time they had to talk about “the rapture” at church?  There were hundreds of calls from the ministry.   Two kids had gotten into a fist-fight and just as an FYI both sets of parents want to meet with us when we get back.  This was not the “vacation” I had been romanticizing for months.  As my mind raced, my soul kept chanting,  “Hurry up and relax,  soon you go home.” Continue Reading…

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.




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 <><

Keeping Parents Plugged-in on Mission Trips: Part Two

In my previous posts I talked about the importance of Keeping Parents Plugged-in On Mission Trips and the importance of Keeping Leaders Plugged-in on Mission Trips.

This video is an update from as they finish up their week in Memphis providing flood relief. My friend , over at sent the link to me with this comment:

“We are in Memphis, TN this week doing flood relief. I have been posting updates, pictures and am putting together a quick midweek video”

This is a great way to continue the communication with family and supporters as Brandon and his youth ministry finish out their week. Not only does it encourage the parents, it gives them a number of conversation starters when their kids return. Parents are able to better understand what their kids have been involved in, and are also able to praise and encourage them specifically.

Finally, as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words... In this case, a video is priceless!

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