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Family Focused Student Ministry – Part 1

Today I am beginning a five-part series on family focused student ministries. In the last few years I have intentionally changed my focus of ministry to focus on the family as a whole. Here’s why:

Every student that we see in our ministry is part of a family system and is impacted by the health of their family. Given that we typically will have only a few hours a week of contact time with our students, I have had to realize that my impact on my students is greater when I can impact and support the whole family.

In addition, students value relationships and family more than ever. Many of them have been raised in a world of broken families or have seen the impact the of broken families in their friends. Out of this brokenness, they are desperate for answers as they look to their future. Therefore, it is imperative that we not only look to support their families with healthy family focused ministry, but we also look for ways to model healthy family through our own lives as volunteers and paid youth workers.

In the next four days I will take a look at how I am attempting to model and support healthy family ministry for myself, my volunteer leaders, my students parents, and for my students. I don’t claim to have all the answers, I am simply on a journey to discover the answers. Here is a snapshot of where I am going this week:

For Me: In 1 Timothy 3 Paul gives Timothy the charge of calling overseers and deacons. He insists, “if anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church”? In the same way, as a church leader, I have to realize that healthy family ministry starts with me and how I model health for students and their families. It’s crucial that I understand how my ministry will reflect my own life and family…

For My Volunteer Leaders: My volunteers have families and are an example to our students on a weekly basis. Many of them work full-time, or have teenagers of their own. The time they volunteer in student ministry is over and above their work week, is over and above their family time, and ultimately takes them away from their families. Therefore, it’s imperative that I create an environment that is conducive to healthy family ministry for them…

For My Parents: Families are busy, stretched, and stressed. Everything I do must be intentional about helping families – not hurting them. The way I schedule, the way I communicate, and the way individually support parents should be a passage to helping them (and ultimately helping their kids). Again, if I can impact parents positively, I am helping my students for the long-term. If however, I choose to lead a silo ministry that runs incredible programs, I might feel like I am helping students, but in reality I am not.

For My Students: Many of the students in our ministries come from broken homes or difficult situations. Statistically many of them are living with only one parent and have seen divorce. It’s important that I see the big picture of my ministry as a model to these students who need to see how a dad / husband acts and lives. In the same way, many of my students need to see how a mom / wife acts and lives through the example of my wife. It’s vital that my students get the inside scoop to myself, my wife, my kids, and the way we live… Scary thought?

In the next four days I will be exploring each area and brainstorming the ways that I currently support families and how I hope to support them in the future.

Phil <><

Balancing Family and Ministry

Emma and AddieLast week was an exciting one for Lisa and I as we welcomed our second child to the Bell family. Here you can see our first, ‘Emma’ with her baby sister ‘Addie’. Emma was excited to meet her, Addie on the other hand was not a big fan of meeting people…

I have been on vacation for a week and I am headed back tomorrow. We are all a little sleep deprived and very excited to be parents again. However, one of the blessings of having another Addie has been the insights God has provided for me as I reflect being a parent again. As I consider these last few weeks and as I look ahead, here is what I am learning about Family and Ministry:

Clarity: Having another child is a great way for me to be able to bring clarity to what matters most and to consider my primary ministry – my family. No matter how many tasks and how many events or programs I have, it’s important to realize that family should come before youth ministry. While youth ministry is of huge significance, it is my belief that God has called me to 1) Be child of His first, 2) Be a husband and father second, 3) A youth pastor third. Agree or disagree, this has been continuous theme I hear from mentors in my life.

Balance: Balance is always hard to find in ministry, but it is crucial that all of us should try to lead our families well and pursue balance. Two great books that I recommend on this area are: ‘Choosing to Cheat’ By Andy Stanley, and ‘What Matters Most’ by Doug Fields. Both books are an easy read and very practical.

Andy Stanley is the pastor at Northpoint Community Church in Atlanta which is one of the fastest growing churches in the nation…yet he maintains that family come first. He rarely works over 40 hours a week and God has done some completely amazing things at Northpoint. As I have kept my hours at a sustainable and healthy level, I have seen not only my family blessed, but the ministry too.

Example: The power of example is always a huge area I often talk about, (just see my previous post). You and I have too many students and families watching our lives  for us to set a murky example of healthy balance.  Ultimately, these students will live out what is modeled for them. It’s important to not only take care of our families first, but to realize that we helping those around us too.

Planning Ahead: Putting my family before ministry also means that I should give them priority in my schedule. As I look ahead at the Fall we already have some key family nights and date nights in our schedule. It’s often challenging to do this since ministry can consume us in many ways. However, it’s important to schedule family first.

Finally, as I have said earlier, I have seen great things happen not only in my family but in my ministry. When I have clarity and pursue healthy balance,  I win, the church wins, and of course… my family wins too.

What is God teaching you about balancing family and ministry?

Phil <><

We celebrate the good gifts God gives us in our children. Children are a gift from the Lord. Psalm 127:3

Celebrating Marriage (and Ministry)

gods_design_for_marriage_umjrMonday was our 7th wedding anniversary for Lisa and I. Apparently the 7th year can be the most challenging year of marriage. With kids, financial pressures and ministry, I can see why so many couples struggle. It has not been plain sailing for us at times.  However, in the last year I feel Lisa and I have taken some good steps as we look in the mirror of our marriage and we have realized what we need to do to be healthier as a couple and what we need to protect. 

I wish I could say we have figured it all out, but we haven’t! There are some things we have been learning and some good things that I believe will keep my marriage and (ultimately) my ministry, healthy. Bottom line, we can’t expect our ministry to be healthy if our families and marriages are not…

Things I do (and should do more often) to keep my marriage fresh. 

ABC Dates - This is an idea that Lisa came up with a while back that I blogged about about (link). Every two weeks we go on a date that begins with the current letter of the alphabet we are on. It involves either an activity that begins with that letter or going to a restaurant beginning with that letter. We have played arcade games, bowled, been to corn mazes, watched hockey games and eaten at all kinds or weird places… Bottom line: Our marriage is more interesting and fullfilling when we do stuff outside the norm. ABC dates force us to do things outside the norm. 

Family Night - This works in two ways. Every Monday is my day off and our ‘planning night’. We sit down to dinner with our planners and look at our meal plan, Lisa’s schedule, my schedule, and plan one or two times to do fun stuff as a family that week. Later that week we go a ‘Family Night’ together: Bike rides, ice cream, the park etc…

Communicate My  Schedule – Not rocket science but is something I hear way too often from my ministry friends as a stumbling block for ministry marriages. Today I just printed off my whole summer schedule for my wife. However, none of it was planned until she gave her approval. (Do you shudder at that thought of your spouse giving approval? If so, ask yourself why? Jim Burns from once told me that he gives his wife veto power over his whole schedule)… 

Planning Quality Getaways: Ministry is crazy enough for all us and we know that our spouses can often get shorted for time on a regular basis. Therefore, I make it a priority to plan in advance our vacations and daytrips away. Right now we have planned daytrips this summer, (we are expecting a baby soon and this does not allow for vacations so much :o ). We also have a late Fall getaway and late winter getaway already on the calendar. Might sound like ‘over-planning’, but my experience tells me that if my getaways and vacations don’t make it on the calendar, other stuff will.

Here’s what I do to protect my marriage and family: 

Healthy Hours: Not working more than 50 hours a week – I actually schedule for 40 and with all the ministry ‘add ons’ I usually end up at 50. My mentor told me that every hour over 50 is not likely to be very effective anyway. 

Turn my phone Off… We don’t need to be talking, texting, or emailing when we are at home and with our families etc. Is it neccesary to take calls or send texts at mealtimes? When we do these things we are ‘not all there’ with our families. Lisa once commented to me that she wished I would ‘be all here’ when I am at home. This was hard to take, but was true. Do you need to be ‘all there’ by turning your phone off? 

Leave Frustrations at Church: This is a tough one, but one I am learning is imperative. I must learn to filter my frustrations and learn to channel them through trustworthy friends outside of my church. When I bring frustrations home to Lisa, it is hard for her not to be hurt by people and circumstances. It is imperative that she is excited to be worshipping at church without a negative feeling toward people or circumstances. 

Take a Day Off – If I murdered someone, or stole, or committed adultery, no one would disagree that I had sinned. Why then is it that we often find it hard to keep a Sabbath? You and I must take a day to reflect, refresh and refocus. Even if your boss does not take a day off, that’s not your fault. Doug Fields once told of a pastor who told a young youthworker that he didn’t take a day off because, “the devil does not”. The reply, “I’m sorry pastor, the devil is not my role model”… Who are our role models? What are we modelling for our families and students? 

Well, there are some things I do. What about you? What are you doing to keep your marriage healthy and protect it in the process?

Buying Back Time

Do you have those weeks where you put in a whole bunch of ‘extra’ hours in ministry? Let’s face it, what is ‘extra’? The fact is that there is always more to do. More emails, more calls, more meetings, more planning, more messages to write, etc. 

Here’s how I define ‘extra’ in my life: 

Extra for me is when I can see that my walk with God and my time with family has been stretched through the week. Extra is when I know I did not see my wife and little girl for more than a few  hours each day for a two of three days in a row. For me that is how I gauge ‘extra’. I believe that there will always be more to do and my list can become endless if I am not careful. Whether you are single, married or your kids are out of the nest, you need to define for yourself what ‘extra’ looks like. 

‘Extra’ over time becomes ‘extreme’. In other words, it’s ok to have those seasons where it is busy and there are maybe some big events and trips to work on. However, extra become extreme when our times with God and family are stretched over a few weeks or months. When the extra times turn into the extreme, we spend less time with God and more time managing on our own strength. When extra turns into the extreme we spend less time with family and friends and the ones we love feel cheated by ministry. This is why I try to ‘buy back’ these times. 

For me, buying back time is about recognizing these seasons and embracing the busyness with a plan to spend good time with God and the family within that season. For example, I am in one of those seasons now. We are recruiting a new wave of volunteers and we are about to move into a new facility and change things up quite a bit. Therefore, after my last meeting at noon today, I intend to buy back time from my loaded schedule this week. 

What does this look like? Simply put, it is about being intentional to spend time with God and my family this afternoon and this evening. I was intentional about blocking time out this week to do so. I have nothing planned for Saturday and my whole day is centered around time with the family. 

This might not sound like rocket science, but I know how easy it is to justify working the whole day today and doing some more admin on Saturday morning. However, for me, it takes discipline to block out my schedule to ‘buy back’ what God and my family has ‘lost’ this week? 

On a final note: Does this mean that I completely neglected God and my family this week? Nope… just been a little busier doing the ‘extra’ stuff and I want to make sure that the extra stuff over time does not become the ‘extreme’…

How do you buy back time in your schedule? 

Phil <><

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!

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!










Charlie bit my Finger!

A while back a student from our youth program emailed me this video saying, “hey phil, is this you as a kid”? I love this video and think it is hilarious. It’s a great video to use for a message on conflict at home… it begins young.

Hope you liked it!

Phil <><

Marriage and Ministry – ABC Dates

Being in ministry does not always create an easy environment to keep romance alive and communication healthy. I speak to so many youth workers and their spouses who share some of the same struggles as Lisa and I: How to make time for each other and how to truly invest in our marriage in a way that will help us more than just ‘get by’… Do you think like that?

For Lisa and I, about 6 months ago, we were given an opportunity to slow down and reflect on how our lives and marriage were holding up. As we talked, we realized that life had become busy and we were surviving, but not growing… We were talking, but not fully engaged… We realized that some changes had to be made. I wish I had time to tell you about all the changes we have made, but I will save that for later… Let me tell you how the ABC dates have been a huge investment in our marriage…

Here’s how they work for us: We plan a month out and plan every two weeks to go out, (that’s 26 a year… yes, there are 26 letters in the alphabet). We put those dates in the calendar and then in order, (but it doesn’t have to be), we plan out the ‘letter’ for that date. We try to do an activity or go to a restaurant that has the letter for that date, (sometimes we eat and do an activity too – sometimes just the activity to keep it cheaper).

Here’s How:  

A – Applesbees and Arcade games, (good old fashioned arcades games too).

B – Bowling (we had not been bowling in years… we were awful, but it was so much fun to laugh at each other).

C – China Chef (a cheap hole in the wall chinese place that we love) and Corn Maze (We walked and talked for a few hours)

“Yeah, yeah… what about Z and Q and letters like that…”? – We have them all planned, you will be surprized how many ideas you get! Try it…

The ABC dates are simple, but creative. They often require you to do activities that you have not done in a long time. They require you to plan and set aside time in advance, but here are the results:

The Results: When we get creative with the letters we ended up doing things that have made us laugh, made us talk more, made us experience more, and made us look forward to dates more. It’s so easy to do the same things all the time and they lose their impact. The ABC dates are never the same…

In the 6 months we have been doing this I can honestly say that this is one significant investment that has brought about great depth of love  for each other. It’s amazing to see what happens when you take time to invest in each other and get excited about the next activity. Something happens, and it makes the difference. Try the ABC’s out if you want, but most of all… take time to plan dates together… no matter how busy life and ministry is…

Family Fun at IKEA


Family Events: Every week we try to do two of three fun events as a family that is easy to do, (but not always), and is something that we can have fun as a family. It’s important to have mini-events to look forward each week and have some lighter moments as a family. I find it real easy to come home and stay in my ministry mind and not switch off and ‘be all there’ with my family. Having these events planned out is a must for us as a family, and they never have to be huge things, just planned things… tonight we play ‘memory’ with Emma. Simple, but real fun for all of us…

What we did today: (Plan B from our sledding plan – an inch of snow doesn’t work). Emma will be 3 in March and is developing some strong opinions of what she likes to do, (anyone relate)? We are also looking to get her a new room and big girl bed before the baby comes in July.  Today she said that she wanted to go to IKEA and eat meatballs… it was a great way to have fun, eat meatballs and try out new beds in IKEA.

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