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Youth Ministry Communication: Are You A Dropped Call?

Are You Static, Five Bars, or a Dropped Call?

Doesn’t matter who the carrier is, a dropped call or a call full of static and robot voices is annoying.  The message is muddied, if it’s received at all – and it’s frustrating to have to start over not knowing where the call was dropped or when the conversation went south.

Sometimes (unwittingly, I’m sure), youth pastors become static on the line of communication between parents and teenagers.  Tragically, they can even become the dropped call.  A running theme in our podcast for parents of teenagers centers on keeping the lines of communication open between them and their student.  Youth workers can be a crystal clear call – or one of those calls where you want to slam your phone into the nearest wood chipper.  Who are you?

DROPPED CALL:  You stealthily place yourself between students and their parents.  You see yourself as the answer to students’ problems.  You see all the deficiencies parents are bringing to the table and you are there to be the stand-in dad or spot-on mom.  You never encourage kids to open up to their folks because you know mom and dad will screw it up, given half a chance.  You position yourself AND your youth ministry to be a safe haven away from parents – a place where kids can talk openly to someone in place of their parents – you position yourself to ‘drop the call’. Continue Reading…

When Sports Compete With Youth Ministry: Revisited

Last night at our midweek environment we had two factors working against us. First, we have had our first two days of warm weather as we heated up to the 70′s here in Michigan, (the average high is 43). The second was the beginning of Spring sports and countless try-outs that took students away from our midweek environment. When this kind of double whammy occurs, it can be easy to become despondent and defeated, but it’s important to step back and see the big picture of what is happening. It’s also important to consider how we respond to these times in ministry. Below are some points I made last year in a post titled, When Sports Compete With Youth Ministry: Part 1

Viewing the Situation Differently:

1) Embrace, Don’t Fight: Attacking the school system, parents, and schedules does no good! Our message might be accurate, but it falls on deaf ears when we challenge commitment to the church. In my experience, parents and students will always try to “make it work” for the church when we come alongside them instead of attacking them. It is often in the “come alongside” moments that they are more willing to make it work for our programs. Remember, parents and students are not our enemy, culture is.

2) Understand Parents and Students Better: It’s hard for me to understand parents of teenagers since I am the parent of two toddlers. However, I have made it my goal to ask questions about the reality of sports for parents and their kids. I have some brilliant youth leaders who are parents themselves. I make a point of  listening to what it is like to have a student in sports and try to understand the struggles and pressures on the family. It’s not as clear cut as we might think sometimes… I have acquired much more empathy for parents as they make tough decisions with their kids schedules. Until I am in their shoes, I cannot judge how easy it is to make decisions about sports and church schedules. Continue Reading…

Announcing Another New Contributor: Darren Sutton

The vision behind is to provide youth workers with skills, tips, and encouragement from in the trenches veterans. Today I am excited to announce that Darren Sutton will be another voice adding to the youth ministry conversations on this blog. This week he and Leneita Fix will be sharing the advice for newly wed youth workers, as well as advice for veteran youth workers.

In the meantime, here’s a little about Darren: 

Darren has served in youth ministry for over 20 years.  He has a passion for students and the adults who influence them.  He co-founded Millennial Influence with his wife, Katie. Together, they produce a weekly podcast reaching parents of teenagers. Darren is a student pastor in Texas.

You can connect with him at:


Essential Priorities For Parent Leaders

Great parent leaders can make the difference! Without them, students would not be supported and encouraged in their faith in quite the same way. Parents have a brilliant perspective and understand more clearly what is at stake for our students.

On the other hand, poor parent leaders can be a nightmare! But I’ve found that with intentional investment and clear direction, parents can become some of my most effective leaders. It might feel like extra work compared to what we put into other leaders, but great parent leaders can make an impactful and lasting difference in students lives. Here are six priorities I have for parent leaders:

GUEST POST: Parent Meetings for Unchurched Parents?

In her previous post, Leneita Fix talked about the importance of having the right focus and attitude toward unchurched parents. Ultimately, we should see them as Jesus see them, but we don’t always do that do we? Today, Leneita shares practical steps to get unchurched parents to show up to parent meetings, as well as crucial insights to building authentic relationships that bring about opportunities to minister to them…

1) SIGN YOUR STUDENTS UP:  Have students (if you don’t already) fill out some sort of start of year registration.  On that ask for parent or guardian.  Also, ask for the names of any other adults living in the home and their relationship to the student and the parent/guardian.   (i.e.-  “Stepfather”  may actually equal Mom’s new boyfriend.)     Get all pertinent contact info- Home Phone, Email, Facebook, Address,  Parental Cell Phone.  The more contact info the better.  Ask students to update this every couple of months in case anything changes. Continue Reading…

GUEST POST: Partnering With Unchurched Parents – Leneita Fix

I still remember the day the Lord put it on my heart.   Totally my attitude had become to believe that the parents who were “churched” could be held to a higher expectation than the “unchurched.”  I mean most of these “heathen” adults were broken individuals who didn’t even have a relationship with Christ.  How could I expect them to show up to a parent meeting?  Much less how could I ask them to invest in the spiritual development of their children?  Did they even know what that meant?

Then one day the Lord showed me a passage in HIS WORD.  All right it was really two passages.  The same words spoken twice, through the mouth of the Lord.  Once it came from an Old Testament prophet and then again through Jesus.  Both described the effect of understanding Christ- “His preaching will turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers.”   My judgments began to unravel.

In the Garden,  BEFORE the fall- man and woman were told to be fruitful and multiply.  The intention was two parents and children.  After the fall, the Lord knew this had been cracked and separated.  In our relationship with a living God, he longs for restoration.  Part of that process is the family unit.

Now in practicality we can’t DO anything to make this happen.  I can’t cause a wandering father to return home.  With 3 million grandparents in the US raising their grandchildren I can’t cause the parents to take responsibility.  With divorce and death and a variety of familial situations I can’t make any changes.

HOWEVER, I can start with an attitude of seeing the parents the way that Christ does,  no matter who they are.  It begins with respect and honor.    When Jesus looks at us he doesn’t focus on our sin or our wrong doings.  Instead he sees us the way his Creation was intended.   He sees us as redeemed.  His heart yearns for us to be whole and walk fully in his ways.  We begin with looking at parents the same way.

In her next post, Leneita shares practical in Getting Unchurched Parents to Show Up to Meetings and building authentic relationships that build bridges to restoration…

Leneita Fix is the founder and lead consultant for Blue Sky/Green Sky Consulting whose heart is :  ”Passionate about developing and training youth-oriented programs that are looking to take a generation from surviving to thriving in Christ.  In 2012 she will reach the 20 year mark of experience in youth ministry, suburban, urban and rural.  Most of her time has been spent in the urban community,  living as a neighbor to those around her. 

Making Parent Meetings Worthwhile: Part 2

In my previous post I talked about the importance of creating effective meetings for parents in our ministries. The world of a parent is often stressed, over-scheduled, and overloaded with information from countless places. Our ministries are just one of many things parents are considering during their busy week. Therefore, it’s crucial that at certain times of the year, we create worthwhile parent meetings that effectively communicate and partner with parents.

So, here are some additional things that I find helpful to make parent meetings worthwhile:

Continue Reading…

Making Parent Meetings Worthwhile: Part 1

For many of us, we are already in full swing of the Fall season. Programs are getting kicked off, students are back in school, and schedules have launched into hyper speed!

One particular group of people who are stretched and stressed are the parents of the students we work with. As a result of the crazy season, it is easy for them to overlook or forget about everything we do in our student ministries. Therefore, it’s imperative we do two things: First, don’t take their lack of understanding of our programs personally… They are just very busy. Second, it is crucial that we do everything to partner with them and help them understand the who, why, what, when, and how of our youth ministries.

Here’s what I do: 

1) Create a Parent Meeting at Least a Month into the Fall: I used to get frustrated by poor turnout when I scheduled meetings either at the end of the summer, or right at the beginning of the Fall. Instead, I look for a late September / early October meeting. A later meeting with a larger number is better than an early meeting with only a few showing up… And, promote the snot out of your meeting… I’m even considering giving away Starbucks gift cards to get them there… (It sure would work for me…)

2) Connect Them with Each Other: When we have our meetings, I try to find ways to connect parents with each other. Whether it is a small ice-breaker or asking them to talk to one or two others at the front end of the meeting, it is crucial. The parents at our meetings could well become some of the best support for each other over the school year. When parents begin to share their stories with each other, they realize they are not alone. This is crucial!

3) Connect Them to Serve in the Ministry: Use the meeting as an opportunity to sign-up parents for anything and everything! (Obviously, it has to be something you can actually give them to do). When parents find a place to serve and belong, they develop a healthy ownership of the ministry. Whether it is bringing snacks, phone calls, administration, or helping with large events, use the meeting as a way to get them involved. By including them in serving them become owners of our ministries. We want to move parents from being onlookers to owners of what is happening… 

4) Cast Vision: Just like students, many of our parents come from different churches and backgrounds and therefore have lots of opinions on what our youth ministries could look like. It’s important that we cast vision in a clear and compelling way that will get parents excited about what God is doing.

5) Share Your Heart: This is not the same as casting vision… This is the time where we lay our passions, hopes, and dreams out there for them to see and hear. Parents are looking for a good vision and plan for their kids, but they also want to know that the leader is passionately committed to go the extra mile for their kids. This is a particularly challenging step for young leaders, since it means making ourselves vulnerable and exposed. However, my experience tells me that parents will go the extra mile for us when they see our hearts and hear our overflowing passion for their kids.

Next post: More tips to make parent meetings worthwhile, including partnering with parents, and follow up after the meeting…
Phil <><

GUEST POST: Self-Feeding Youth Ministries – By Darren Sutton

Youth ministry can be a lot like parenting.  No, youth workers are not replacement parents.  But there are some striking similarities in the ways we ‘rear’ the kids.

I remember how easy it was to feed my kids when they first came home from the hospital?  They cried and I just popped a bottle in there and the noise magically stopped.  And then there was the initial excitement when they started holding the bottle on their own!!  FREEDOM!  Not only could I pop the bottle in to stop the crying – now I could walk away!  My kids were finally feeding themselves!!

Then I realized the shocking truth!  It was only an illusion of self-feeding.  Just because a baby can hold his own bottle does NOT mean he is feeding himself.  I was still prepping that bottle for him – making sure it was disinfected and the contents were fresh and safe.  The milk was safely contained – only available when the baby applied the right amount of pressure in the right places.

Is that my youth ministry?  Give the kids a bottle so they don’t make noise…and if I’m really progressive, let them hold their own bottles?  What happens when that safe, prepared bottle runs out of milk?  Just refill it and stick it back in?  If you’ve ever parented – you know that doesn’t work for long….

Eventually babies grow up.  Milk is no longer enough to satiate their appetites.  I vividly remember the day I first started giving my son a little cereal with the bottle?  He was growing up and I was so proud!  He was finally getting REAL food.  Man food.  He would soon be a carnivore!!  Maybe, but it was still safe – spoon feeding – baby food.  It was easy to swallow.  Knowing that nothing on earth would make mashed up peas from a jar attractive to my son, I packaged it in the fun of a spoon becoming an airplane flying into the hangar.  And lo and behold – he was still fully dependent on me.  I made the cereal.  I bought the baby food.  I sat at his high chair and made it attractive.  I shoveled it in…

Is that my youth ministry?  Play games and shovel in food, whether the kids like it or not – and just hope and pray that they get some of the nutrients they need to sustain themselves? Sooner or later, kids want to crawl out of that high chair and make their own food….

Using a parental perspective on youth ministry, helping students self-feed might look a little bit like this.  After we progress from the bottle and baby food, we give them Cheerios.  It’s virtually mess-free.  It helps improve their dexterity.  It’s easy clean-up and not ridiculously unhealthy.   We remove the bottle and offer them a sippie-cup instead – it still offers the protection of a lid, but kids have to learn a new way of drinking from it.  And if they leave it sitting improperly, it could get messy.  We start moving in spoons, plates, lid-less cups, bibs…and it gets messy.  They throw food on the walls.  They miss their mouths.  They may even occasionally give up and go back to eating with their hands for a time.

And what do we do as youth pastors?  We embrace that!  We LOVE that!  We facilitate that.  We sit near the high chair and watch as they learn to become self-feeders.

My kids are all in high school now.  If they’re hungry – they make a sandwich.  They can cook.  They clean up their dishes following a meal.  They know how to use napkins if they make a mess.  And I am here to help them when they try out new dishes….

THAT’s true youth ministry – and the kind I want to perpetuate!  I want to be a youth pastor that sits next to the high chair while they make a complete and utter mess of ‘learning’ how to feed themselves. And that’s really dirty business that usually sees a lot of stains and requires a lot of clean up along the way. And that’s OK – I like messy. I love the ‘AFV’ moments where the kids have spaghetti in their hair, on the wall, coming out of their nose. It’s then that I truly see their faith maturing, growing, and becoming their own.  Soon, they’ll become truly independent….completely feeding themselves.  And I am quite confident that their ‘messes’ will have equipped them to teach someone else how to hold a spoon…..and that’s the mess – and beauty – of true ministry.

Darren is a veteran youth pastor in Corpus Christi, TX, and co-hosts a weekly podcast for parents of teenagers () with his wife, Katie. You can catch his blog at  and follow him on twitter @darrensutton.



Spoon-Feeding or Self-Feeding Youth Ministries? Part 2

In my previous post I talked about the importance of considering he long-term implications of our ministries and whether we help students to truly own their faith through self-feeding. Today, here are a few self-feeding ideas and practices I employ to help ensure that students are learning to develop spiritual habits that will last and bring fruit in their lives.

Here’s some thoughts I have been considering. Feel free to give me more ideas!!!

1) Create Bible Study Opportunities That Will Place The Burden On Students: We are currently doing a summer series Bible study in the 1,2,3 John. At the start of the study we have given students a packet that has questions about the passages we are studying through. We set the expectation that everyone should be reading ahead on a weekly basis and showing up thoughts and ideas about the study. We communicate the excitement of group learning when we all show up with great insights!

2) Use Phrases That Constantly Communicate Self-Feeding Principles: Here are a couple I use: Christians are self-starters and self-feeders. We’re not here to help you become big fat baby Christians who are spoon fed, we are here to help become self-feeders. In many ways, it is about communicating a vision of self-feeding by constantly using key phrases to remind students of the expectation.

3) Give Students Bible Study / Devotion Materials To Take Home: This year I have been creating and adapting simple 30 day devotions for students to take home to use and study. The feedback I have been getting has been fanastic! In fact, when I don’t make these available now, students complain!

4) Have Self-Feeding Students Promote Self-Feeding: Here’s what I mean by this: There’s always students who are already reaping the benefits of being a self-feeder. They are growing in faith and experiencing a closer relationship with God as a result of self-feeding. My job is to find opportunities to get them in front of the rest of our students to talk about how, why, and the benefits of being a self-feeder. Recently, we did a series called “Slice of Life” where we interviewed students who shared how God has been working in their lives. In each video interview I asked every student what habits they practice to feed and fuel their faith. It was great to hear the many different and great ways that students are fueling their faith…

5) Involve Parents: Part of my ministry should be to partner with parents. One of the ways I try to help students become self-feeders is to involve their parents in the process. This involves casting vision for expectations that their kids should be benefiting from daily habits. It also will mean great communication with parents about resources we are providing their kids to help developing self-feeding habits as well as letting them know what we are teaching their kids on a weekly basis.

These are just a few methods I employ currently. What do you do? What ideas do you have? What should we be looking ahead to do? I would love to get your ideas on this. I truly believe that this is one of the most crucial elements of the ministries we oversee…

Phil <><


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