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Keys To Youth Ministry Longevity: The Importance Of A Mentor

As far as I know, Ron has never done youth ministry, but he is a big reason why I am still in youth ministry today.
I have known Ron for 15 years and met him when I first came to live in the States. Ron was Director of Small Groups and Assimilation at my first church here in the U.S and also became a mentor to me about 10 years ago.
Here’s 10 reasons why Ron has helped me to hang in for the long haul. Perhaps a mentor could do the same for you? 
1) He knows my good, bad, and indifferent, (and calls me out when I need to be challenged).
2) He’s a friend I trust and feel I can share everything with.
3) He’s in full time ministry at a different church and understands the rigors of ministry that I go through.
4) He has a place in North Michigan that we go to once a year to golf, grill steaks, and share real life together. Continue Reading…

Keys To Youth Ministry Longevity: Meet Rick South

Do you ever wonder what it takes to hang in for the long haul in youth ministry? Do you ever wonder what it takes to stay at the same church and have a fulfilling ministry? Today we begin a short series focused on youth ministry longevity and how to make a lasting impact in the lives of students…

I have known Rick South for eight years. He is someone I greatly respect as a youth ministry veteran and mentor. I met him when I lived in West Michigan and was in a network of youth pastors that met every Thursday morning at a local breakfast hang out. A couple of weeks ago my family and I vacationed back in West Michigan and I got to have breakfast with Rick and bunch of youth pastors, (at this really cool place called ‘Toast and Jams’). Continue Reading…

Is Your Lack Of A Day Off Killing You?

It’s Friday and it’s my day off. (I drafted this post on a Wednesday). If you are in  ministry, you have heard the importance of taking a good day off! Why?

  • The extra hours that come up each week that you and your family didn’t plan
  • The late night phone calls, or phone calls during dinner / family time
  • The brain that never switches off from ministry
  • The lost sleep because of a student or family who is being torn apart by sin
  • The weekend retreat that created the 100 hour week

Do these sound familiar? Maybe you could add a few to this list? But here’s the deal:

Lack of a day off and lack of planning on your day off could be slowly killing you…

I speak from experience when I tell you that I have run on empty too many times. I speak from painful experience when I tell you that my spiritual walk has taken a back seat and my family gets the left-overs because I have allowed ministry to consume me. Because of my painful experiences I am learning, (note that I said “learning”), how imperative it is to have a scheduled day off each week AND to ensure that I have a plan for that day.

Without a plan on our day off, we are likely to allow our day off to default back to ministry and the complexity of life…

Instead of allowing my day off to ‘default’  back to ministry, I have learned to create a plan for my day off that incorporates the following essentials for me, (and my wife).

  • Alone time with God
  • Alone time at the coffee shop reading. (My wife takes the first two hours, I take the next two hours, since we have kids).
  • Exercise - Whether it’s a mountain bike ride, (I am doing that this week), or going for a run, I find that exercise energizes me.
  • Family time – On Friday when we are all home, we try to do something fun as a family and ensure that we have talked about the plan ahead of time…

I know these ‘defaults’ of mine might seem simple and straightforward, but without planning them into my day off, I usually ‘drift’ back to the default of ministry.

Is your day off drifting back to the default of ministry or your planned defaults? How is your day off refreshing you? Are you running on empty and need to make a better plan?

Finally, what fills your tank? What would you add to your day off defaults? 

Phil <><

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…

Youth Ministry Leadership: Team Building Made Easy

Yeah, that title would be considered false advertising.  Team building is not easy, but it is critically important.  The foundation for any successful ministry or organization is a strong team.

A group of people who trust each other completely, share ideas openly, engage in healthy conflict, and feed off the group’s collective passion and energy.

If you have experienced a healthy ministry team you know what I am talking about.  There is nothing that they won’t try to accomplish, and nothing they won’t do to accomplish it.

On the other hand, if you have been part of a dysfunctional team you know how it can hinder any momentum or success in program.  Personal opinions are staunchly held , consensus is never reached, and discord always exists behind the scenes.  You spend more time doing damage control then you do ministering to teens. Continue Reading…

Youth Ministry Realities: When You Can’t Do It All

What can you do, when you can’t do it all?

Do you have those times in youth ministry when you realize that you are unable come through with all that you hoped to achieve? Whether it is that big event, that mission trip, or the weekly program that is getting out of control, we all have moments when we realize, “I just don’t have what it takes… I can’t do it all.” But what do we do, when we come to this painful conclusion?

Here’s a number of options I have had to work through over the years:

1) Depend On God: Yes, this should be a given. But, can we all be honest here for a moment? Even though we constantly tell teenagers to lean on God and depend on Him for strength, there is something about leadership that can easily set us up to begin depending on our own strength. It begins subtly and slowly, but when we are leading others there is often a tendency to feel weak if we have to admit we can’t do it. Somehow we feel inadequate about being a leader who does not have all the answers or have what it takes to navigate through a challenging time. However, isn’t that where God wants us? After all, isn’t God’s power displayed best in our weakness? Continue Reading…

3 Essential Fall Plans You Should Be Making Now For Your Youth Ministry?

This week, here in Michigan, our high schools have their last days and most have already had their graduation ceremonies. The summer is about to begin! However, it is this time of year that I believe it is essential to start making plans for Fall and not wait any longer.

The problem for us is this: Before we know it, we are on a mission trip, we’ve taken that needed vacation, or we are already in August staring down the Fall. It’s true isn’t it? Summer fly’s by! Therefore, to make sure that Fall does not turn into a last-minute planning frenzy, there are three priorities I work on now, while I have the time:

1) Recruiting New Volunteer Leaders: If we wait for potential leaders to leave town on vacation or get into their summer mode, it’s harder to have needed conversations. It’s also good to ask potential volunteers now, so that they can pray and consider helping during the summer months. Sometimes the ‘volunteering seed’ needs to be planted now and will grow over the summer. Waiting to ask potential volunteers a few weeks before the Fall can often feel rushed and disorganized.

2) Plan Out A Basic Calendar: Sitting back here in June is a great time to look at the calendar in a more objective,  relaxed and prayerful way. It allows us to see the big picture of what is going on and allows us to take time to space events and programs out and give healthy margin once the Fall arrives. It also allows us time to tweak and change the calendar without making rushed decisions when a potential calendar conflict comes up.

3) Plan Your Message Series Now: By thinking through your first 2-3 message series now, it will allow your creativity and ideas to ferment over the summer. It also allows us to get others involved and incorporate elements that might not get added if we were running fast into the Fall. Consider the felt needs of your students as you plan your Fall kick off series.Appealing to their felt needs and creating an exciting and engaging Fall series will help you create good momentum right out the gate.

What are you working on now for the Fall? What would you add to this list?

Phil <><

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…

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