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Faith Ownership In Students: Part 1 – Active or Passive Learning?

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling… Philippians 2:12 (NIV).

As youth workers (and parents), I believe our drive, our vision, and our implementation of ministry programs should be centered on this important goal:

Students should live like disciples even more so when they are outside our ministry environments.

Youth Ministry Faith Ownership

For our part, are we helping students own their faith or depend on us and our weekly programs? If we are honest, this is a scary question to ask isn’t it? But, as we ponder this question, I want to ask three additional questions in the next few posts. Here’s the first one: Continue Reading…

Youth Ministry Gut Check: Are You Spending Too Much Time Writing Messages?

Today I want to ask an honest question. I would love feedback as I am still churning through this one myself. Do we spend too much time writing messages when students really need us to be in their world, rather than trying to talk about their world?

I’ve been reading back through Generation iY by and I got stuck on one of his observations about Millennial generation students that you and I minister to. Here’s what he said:  Continue Reading…

Using Guest Speakers In Your Youth Ministry

Whether you are the paid guy or girl, or a volunteer running a ministry program, there is tendency to think that all the messages we give students have to depend on us from week to week. However, I have found that we have more impact on students when give them variation of speakers and utilize the people in our church and communities. Here’s an example from my ministry this week that would be easy for any youth ministry to follow: Continue Reading…

Why Students Don’t Care About Your Message…

A couple of weeks ago I received a promo email from  (You should check them out, they offer great tips, advice, and training for all things preaching and speaking).

Usually I scan these kinds of emails quickly, but this one really caught my attention.

Here’s an excerpt I have been given permission to share with you:

You’ve studied. You’ve prayed. You’ve written and you’ve practiced. 

Despite all that, most people sitting in church aren’t going to sit on the edge of their seats hungry for what you have to say. I wish it wasn’t that way, but unfortunately, that’s reality. 

People won’t automatically listen to you because you’re a preacher. In fact, this may be a strike against you in some people’s minds.  Continue Reading…

The Second Most Important Part of Message Prep

When you are in ‘crazy busy  ministry mode’ and you have to put a good message together, what are the elements you spend most time on? That’s the question we’re looking at today…

Last weekend I preached in ‘big church’ on Philippians 2. It’s always a great privilege to preach in church and It’s always a great opportunity for me to advocate for our student ministry. It’s comforting for parents of teenagers to know that their kids are in safe hands… Well, that’s the plan at least!

As I prepared the message last week, I did not feel I had as much time to run through my presentation and transitions. I felt like I had good time to dig into and unpack the passage, (that’s the most important part of message prep), but by the end of the week I had many commitments to take care of and ‘presentation practice’ as I call it, did not get as much attention as I would liked. You see, every message that I give, I try to practice and make sure that I fully ‘own it’ by the time I present it. As Andy Stanley says something like, “if you don’t own your message, why should you expect the people to own it when they leave?”

So what do you do when you are short for time and have not been able run through your whole message sufficiently? My advice: Practice the ‘take off’ and the ‘landing.’

1) The Take Off – This is the introduction where you gain attention, present a problem and give your audience a compelling reason to hang with you throughout the message. Just like an actual take off in a plane, people want to be able get up safely above the clouds and see where they are going without being stuck in the ‘clouds of confusion’ for too long. In other words, it’s imperative that we present the issue and clearly help our audience see where we are going for the next 20 minutes or so. Having a clear ‘take off’ off is essential and will set up the rest of message well.  Continue Reading…

Three Youth Ministry Priorities For Mondays

For many in youth ministry, Monday is their day off.

For others, Friday is their day off.

For some of us, we ask, “what is a day off?”

For me, Monday is a ministry work day and I usually get my day off on Friday. Since Monday is the first day of my ministry work week, I have found it imperative to start the week by focusing on priorities that are time consuming yet a crucial set up to the rest of the week. It should be a given that my soul care should be an everyday priority, but here are three practical priorities I focus on most Mondays.

1) Message Writing: First thing Monday morning I find my usual spot in Starbucks, plug in my headphones, and start message writing until early afternoon. I am usually working a week ahead in my messages and finishing off my current weekly message. (I often speak twice a week, so it can be a hefty message writing morning).

2) Planning: Monday afternoons are spent planning programs, events, and message series. (I usually am working 3-6 months ahead).

3) Email and Task List: Before my day is done I clear as much email as I can, create new task lists (I use google tasks), and try to create a plan for the rest of the week and the tasks I need to get done. It’s important to ‘clear the decks’ before Tuesday gets here…

You’ll notice that there are no meetings with students, leaders, or other staff members. For me, Mondays are my day to hide away and get great messages written, make good plans, and get caught up on email. The rest of week includes a great deal of contact time where I get to invest in students and leaders.

For me, it’s important to have one day per week when I can hide away and get a large chunk of message writing and planning done.

How about you? Do you have a day like this? What is your day off? What do Mondays look like for you?

Phil <><

TOMORROW and the rest of this week: YOUTH MINISTRY RESOURCE GIVEAWAY! Come back and check out what you could win!!!

Athletes In Action Speakers = Great Outcomes!

Last night, as part of our mid-week program we had two athletes from come to share their faith with our high school students. (defensive end football player), and (softball player), did a brilliant job sharing their faith in a relational and engaging way. It was promoted as a night to bring friends to, and a night where the Gospel would be shared clearly. It was a brilliant evening! Here are some of the outcomes and takeaways I discovered:

  • It was an easy invite for students to bring their friends to: Having a local college athlete share their story is an easy way to get students to bring their friends. We saw a large number of visitors last night who all came with regular students to our ministry.
  • A guest speaker can share the Gospel boldly: It’s not that we do not share the Gospel regularly, but there is something great in having someone else share the Gospel to our students. It’s not the same voice or same style and therefore the students tune in and hear the Gospel clearly. 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 <><

Are Kids Fighting to Come To Youth Group?

I’ll never forget my friend Rick telling me about the night students were “fighting” to come to his midweek program! One evening, just before youth group started, he looked outside to see more students than he had ever seen at his church. He quickly thanked God for the gigantic turn-out and then went outside to greet many new faces… That’s when he discovered the sobering reality: One of his students was in conflict with another student at their local high school, and both had shown up to his youth group to “settle the matter”. Apparently a large number of students had come to watch the main event too!  Rick tells of how he “settled the matter” with the students in a more Christian way, but yet many of the students stayed for youth group.

As I talked to him about this incident, I will never forget thinking this: How can we get that many students to passionately show up for youth group and bring their friends every week? (Without the fights of course).

In the first few months of the Fall we have seen a big jump in numbers and have actually struggled to keep up with much of the growth we are seeing. If I am honest, I can point to some factors that have helped us grow numerically, but I don’t know that I am wise enough understand the full picture. However, below I  mention what I consider to be the greatest factors that have helped us grow in depth and numbers. Caution: This has taken nearly two years of prayer and hard work and there has been no quick fix to create growth…

Pray Earnestly! I know this should be a given, but it’s easy to get into the habit of depending on our skills and programs and forget to partner with the Holy Spirit. We cannot expect great things to happen unless we are depending on the One who is able to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine.

Fixate On Healthy Community: When I use the word “fixate”, I really mean that! Our students will tell you how much we have talked about, taught them, and created activities to build healthy community. We have students from over five different school systems and it is easy to have pockets of students who never get to know each other. If we don’t fixate on building healthy community we will default back for comfort and cliques. Therefore, it’s been imperative to create ice-breakers and activities that get new and established students talking, laughing, and working together. Students begin to realize that they have so much in common with people they did not know before. This in itself helps them to belong!

Listen and Give Ownership: Every year we survey our students to gain insights in a number of ways. It’s imperative that we listen to them! One question we ask them is, “What issues or struggles are students facing that we could talk about and help with?” From this question and ongoing conversations with our students, we gain incredible insights to their world as well as their spiritual and emotional needs. When we create a message series based on these needs you can bet they will show up! Next month we will also being doing a video series called “Slice of Life” where I video interview students about their faith, their struggles, and how God has helped them. We did this series last year and it had a huge impact. It all came from an idea one student gave us… Students show up when their questions are answered, their hurts are healed, and their ideas become reality…

Note: Obviously, we create messages and Bible studies based on what we know they need too. We can’t only respond to their felt needs. There has to be a good balance on “fire-fighting” the issues while also teaching many foundational “fire preventing” topics.

Invested Leaders: In my usual month I have many meetings and conversations with my youth leaders. In fact, I would say that my contact time with leaders has recently been higher than my contact time with students. It’s imperative that I realize how my investment in caring adults will pay off in the way they invest in students lives. I can either choose to be a shallow hero to every student, or I can choose to equip my leaders to become the fully invested youth leaders who make a greater difference on student at a time. Students will show up week after week when they know that a caring adult will be there to listen to their heart, celebrate life with them, and challenge them to grow spiritually.

There are many things I can add to this list, but I feel these are the “big ones” that have impacted our ministry over the last couple of years. What is working for you? What are you working towards? How are you helping students to fight to come to youth group?

Phil <><


The Lesson I Learned When My Laptop Crashed During Sermon Prep

Today my Macbook Pro crashed!

It was a BIG crash! The good people at the Apple store told me my hard drive is not recoverable. Ever have that happen? Believe it or not, this is the first time I have ever had a computer crash in this way… But here’s the bigger problem:


So, apart from backing up my sermon as I wrote, or writing it on a web-based application like , here is my BIG lesson I have learned:

“Owning” The Message And Preparing Well Is Helping Me Now:  It’s a pain to have to write it again, but ownership of the message will make it easier to write again.  In Communicating for a Change,  Andy Stanley talks about the importance of “owning” a message and internalizing the core of the message. He even goes so far as to say, why should people listen to us if we don’t own it ourselves? Since reading the book I have tried to ensure that I prepare in such a way, I could preach without notes if needed.

So, even though I have to write my sermon again. And even though I am crammed for time to do it before Sunday, I am thankful that I feel fairly confident that I own the message and have the big idea (and most of the points) in my head… Owning the message is imperative for our audience, but I found out today how helpful it is to write the same sermon again!

For now, here are 5 simple things I do in my writing process to help me “own” the message:

1) Pray: Obvious, yes. Crucial, for sure! Good prayer time saves time!  It’s easier to discern what God is wanting me to say. So often it’s easy to jump into research or even writing without considering what direction The Holy Spirit might want me to look in.  

2) Prepare: Lots of reading of commentaries around the passage or topic. (This really helps to solidify what I own and know). I use for Mac.

3) Plan a Map: This is where I outline a starting and ending point for my message. In many ways, we take people on a journey with us. It’s important that we consider how to get them on the journey, how to keep them on the journey, and how they land at their destination.

4) Put it Together: I don’t write every word, I write an outline that is a detailed version of my map. (This is the part that is lost on my hard drive at the Apple Store).

5) Practice: This is perhaps my best way to own the message and internalize God’s Truth for myself as I preach. It also helps me to iron out transitions and make tweaks as I go. When I practice, I actually talk out the whole message from start to finish. I particularly focus on the take off and landing…

So, there you go. Not rocket science, but perhaps you have struggled in putting sermons together in the past. These 5 points really help me a great deal. Hope they can help you too in case you don’t backup your sermon as you write it!

Phil <><


  • My Macbook Pro will be in repair for a few days getting a new hard drive
  • I backed up my Macbook 3 weeks ago…
  • I started using a our student ministry Macbook Pro to finish my sermon… It crashed. Not kidding. Can’t get the thing to work!
  • I wrote this post on my lovely wife’s laptop. Unfortunately the laptop is not very lovely. I need to buy her a new one!
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