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Youth Ministry Training: How To Minister To ‘Entitled’ Students

Today and tomorrow I am excited to share excerpts from my new book titled, . This book is designed to give youth workers practical insights and strategies on effectively connecting with 10 groups of teenagers that we can overlook, ignore, or avoid all too easily. Today, we look at an excerpt dealing with ‘Ted and Roy’  - two students who feel like they are entitled to it all… How can we help students like this?

Ted was actually pretty new to our group.  Thinking about it, how could I expect him to understand himself in Christ.  I didn’t know if he had ever honestly made a commitment to him.  He was acting like the world,  because he was still attached to it.  His “stuff”  was the center of his world and he had never been asked to see beyond it.   Roy on the other hand I knew was trying to follow the Lord.  I had to gently remind him  what we’re “owed”  is eternal separation from my God.  I had to show him that the Lord would indeed take care of his every need,  physical,  emotional and spiritual.  He had to learn to live in that.  When a sinless God chose to leave his throne to be born in a dung infested stable, live a detested life and die as a common criminal for the sake of a restored relationship?  We are the ones who “owes” everything, no matter what we do or don’t have on earth.

Both Tony and Roy need to remember the truth of  1 John 2: 15 & 16

 “Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world.”

  •  Show them Jesus.  Start with a study for your students discussing who Christ was as God and what he gave up for us.  If appropriate watch the “Jesus Movie,”  or “Passion of the Christ,”  to give them a visual.
  •  Give them opportunities to serve, inside and outside youth group:  Sometimes we get stuck inside ourselves because we have forgotten about the view beyond the end of our nose.  Take them to nursing homes, service days, clean the church on a Saturday. If you make money,  give it away to an organization or a missionary your church supports.  Teach them to serve, just to serve. Continue Reading…

Youth Ministry Realities: “I Hate You!”

If it hasn’t happened yet,  it will.  A day will come when you get your first “I hate you speech.”

It can come in the form of  an eye roll or that horrible sound when they stick their tongue to the back of their teeth. They might write it in a journal. They might tell you that they will never come back or disdain being in your “stupid” group.  It comes because you wouldn’t break the rules for them.  It comes because you are making them move past complacency.  However, it happens for whatever reason you know it when it arrives.

You feel small, bite your lip, and might even hold back the tears. Sometimes you may want to scream.  Other times you throw your hands in the air and quit (on the inside you quit for the millionth time…. that day.)  You want to scream back. You want to get in their face. Anger and hurt and disappointment, that it has to be this way, all bubble up inside.

I would argue, when they really hate you then you are finally doing something right. For you care enough for them to want to push back on their lives.  Others just let them “get by,” while you are pushing them to more. We are cruelest to the people that we feel safest with. We know we can rage out and in our hearts they will keep coming back. Continue Reading…

How To Help ‘That Kid’ In Your Youth Ministry

If you want to pick up a copy of No Teenager Left Behind or download a copy,

Striving Towards Irrelevancy In Youth Ministry…

One of my favorite books of all time is .  In it, Nouwen gives his perspective on what being a Christ-like leader truly means.  He says, “I truly believe that the Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her vulnerable self.”

I can’t think of many vocations where the urge to be relevant is greater than in the area of youth ministry.  You know what I am talking about.  If you have ever spent time catching up on the current music trends, scoured YouTube for cool videos to play on Wednesday night, or bought a pair of skinny jeans that no one over 20 should have any business adding to their wardrobe then you know of that which I speak.

With your permission I would like to free you from the shackles of relevancy.  Christ created us to be a specific person.  Don’t you think that it is the same person he called to minister to his precious children? So just be who you are.  If you hate rap, don’t pretend you like it.  If games and skits aren’t your thing, there are others on your team for that.  Stick with bible study and relationship building.  If you still love wearing grunge-era flannel…..well, actually that is one you need to give up on.  In the end, kids can tell when you are being genuine, so it is better to just be yourself.  It’s who God wants you to be anyway.

Are there any ways that you struggle with wanting to be relevant?


Youth Ministry Leadership: Friend or Leader?

Students don’t need youth workers to be their friends, they need adults who will lead them to God and invest in their lives. Unfortunately, many of us have bought the lie that we need to be ‘friends’ with our students in order to have influence in their lives. Some of us have even allowed our need for acceptance from students to cloud our need to lead them effectively.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love doing youth ministry and I love investing in students. I love spending hours talking with them,  laughing with them, and getting to know their heart. But I do this as someone who is leading them and is invested in their lives as their pastor and youth leader... not their friend…

Besides, students don’t see us as their friends. They see us in a distinct role as youth leader, youth director, youth pastor, (or whatever your title is). Even though we might try to gain acceptance as their friend, they will never see us that way, so why keep trying? God has called us to be their leaders. They already have a bunch of friends, why would they need more?

Over the years, here are some observations I have made when I see youth leaders trying to be a friend instead of a leader.

friend to students can easily get caught up in popularity of students but unknowingly take away from the person of Jesus. A leader to students will do everything they can to point them to Jesus and ensure that He gets the glory. A leader to students also recognizes the need for team and looks to applaud fellow youth leaders

A friend to students can easily get sucked into unhealthy need for acceptance by students. When a student rejects that leader, it can feel devastating. Whereas a leader to students feels totally accepted by God and is focused on helping students discover the same acceptance. If we are devastated by a students rejection, we must consider if we are getting sucked into an unhealthy need for acceptance. Unfortunately, I have met many youth leaders who are fueled and ruled by the need for acceptance from their students. This is a very dangerous path to walk down.

Continue Reading…

Transitions In Youth Ministry: Part 2 – The Comparison Game

In my previous post, I talked about the importance of building healthy foundations when transitioning into a new ministry. Today I would like to talk about a potential danger that new and transitioning youth workers can easily struggle with:

PLAYING THE COMPARISON GAME: So often students, parents, and leaders are hurting from the loss of the previous youth worker that they will naturally compare us with the previous person. The LAST thing we should be doing is joining in to play the comparison game too! It can become a dangerous and unhealthy foundation to build in our first year. Here’s what the comparison game can cause us to do:

  • We change who we are to keep others happy while we are not fulfilled ourselves…
  • We become defensive when we are compared to the last person and end up “bashing” the guy or gal before us…
  • We change our vision and priorities to keep others happy and continue what others thought was successful…
  • We can become frustrated when we change who we become frustrated in working toward a vision that is not ours…

THE REALITY OF THE COMPARISON GAME: Let’s be honest, every good youth worker should be creating a strong connection with their students, leaders, and parents. Therefore, we need to expect that people will have a natural tendency to miss the previous person and talk about them a great deal. Often a comparison statement is communicating “I miss the previous person, and you are not him or her.” This is natural and normal, but it’s important that we fight the urge to change who we are or take it too personally when we are compared…


Transitions In Youth Ministry Part 1: Healthy Foundations

Transitioning into a new youth ministry, or your first ministry can be very challenging! A good start (or a poor start), makes all the difference. But what are some of the keys to making a good transition into a new youth ministry? There are many, but here are the ones I have found to be paramount in making a good transition:

LISTEN FIRST: A commitment I have made in my last two positions was to move slowly and take time to understand the people and programs first. In my opinion, we should be committed to not making any major changes in the first year, (only tweaking what has been done in the past). This is easier said than done, but it’s important to glean important insights, learn good lessons, and most importantly build trust with leaders, students, and parents.

RELATIONSHIPS: No matter what happens in our first year, we cannot forget that relationships are at the core of everything we should be doing. In a new position it’s so easy to get task focused, but we cannot get too busy to build relationships…  After the first year it will be solid relationships that will make you and your students want to achieve greater things together…  Continue Reading…

Dealing with Tough Stuff

At first glance the article seemed amazing…   I opened it expectantly as it addressed a topic so close to my heart: Girls understanding their identity in Christ.   It began well with the realization that just “telling”  a  teen girl  that they are “pretty” enough will not solve the problem.  Yet, as I read on my frustrations rose.

If I share the piece you will most likely wonder what I am getting so uptight about.  It made great points about how the issue is that young women today need to see themselves through the eyes of Christ.  The “dilemma” is that we are looking at ourselves at all.  All eyes should be on Jesus and Jesus alone.  Again these are great points.

Here is what frustrated me.  It was one more piece about  “what” should happen.   In the end there was not answer to “how,” to help this generation with this quandary. I am tired of reading articles on “what” is wrong with no answer on how to help.   We have come to believe that if we merely talk about the problem then that brings about a solution.

We have come to believe there are certain problems that “just won’t” go away.  That means we should just talk about it. So we hold a sermon series, small group discussions or have a passing conversation on these “hard hitting topics,”  (like self-image.) Then we move on to the next one.  All the while our kids remain in a place of hurting or apathy.   We want to see them change, but we don’t know how to “make” it happen.  That is why we write posts about the problems and solutions with no answers.  In my opinion we need to stop this cycle and start addressing what we “can” do more than what we “can’t.”  Stop writing out hopeful words and start explaining what we can do.

So how do we deal with these tough topics? Continue Reading…

A Helpful Reality for Youth Workers to Understand

Have you watched those newscasts where someone who has been saved gets to be reunited with the person or persons who saved them? The TV crews somehow manage to capture that moment, hours, days, or weeks after the saving event took place. The saved person gets to tearfully express their sincere thanks to the one who saved them. During the saving event however, there is much going on as emergency crews frantically work to revive someone or get them to safety. There is usually not a good opportunity at the time to express thanks…

In some ways, this is a reality for us in youth ministry. Hold on for a moment and let me explain… Our students are walking through a time of life where they are navigating through challenging decisions, painful consequences, and times of extreme anxiety. Yes, there are many laughs and smiles and many hilarious moments we share with them, but we can’t forget that students are in the middle of one of the most challenging times of life. They are moving from being concrete thinkers where they saw the world as a simple place, to abstract abstract thinkers who see the complexity in life and the reality of the challenges. They see the complexity of relationships and they are pained by the messiness of broken marriages and friendships that once looked simple from the outside. They feel the need to succeed in a world that is more competitiveness than ever, and a world that is less forgiving than ever… It’s these storms of life that every teenager has to navigate through and we are the ones who partner with parents and come into students lives to support, encourage, and equip them as they get tossed and battered by the winds and waves of adolescence…

In some sense, we as youth workers, are the emergency crew who come in just at the right time to help these students pull through and get to the other side of their adolescent journey. During this time, there is much going on, and much drama, and confusion as they face one issue from another. As teenagers they are also fully consumed with who they are and are trying to discover their unique identity and purpose in this journey through life.

The Helpful Reality for Youth Workers

As someone who has been working with students for a long time, I have noted that students will rarely thank us fully during their time of struggle or during their time in my youth ministries. They either forget to thank us, or are too consumed with teenage survival to realize who is helping them in that moment… It’s not to say that we don’t get some “thank you” moments. But, it’s important to realize that students don’t mean anything by it, they just don’t consider it fully at the time. Just like the person who is being pulled out of the water by life guards and being rushed to the hospital, these students are crisis mode as they navigate through the dangers and new realities of young adulthood.

If we are in youth ministry looking for affirmation from students and receiving continuous thanks for our efforts, we could become disappointed very quickly… It is usually way after they graduation that I begin to hear back from students and get hear their stories of young adulthood. It is often these times when I hear of an action or a conversation that the student remembers which made all the difference to them. It is then I am reminded that what I do is worth it… 

Today, as you minister to students, realize that they might not thank you for it at that moment, but like that person who has been saved from the treacherous seas, they will often seek you out later on to express their sincere thanks. Don’t be holding onto affirmation from them today as you might become disappointed and despondent that your efforts are meaningless… But do know, that you ARE making the difference!

For now, I want to say thank you to you! Thank you for ministering to students and investing in their lives. Thank you for giving up your time, talent, and treasure to make an eternal impact. One day you and I will have a joyful reunion with our students in Heaven and will have many incredible stories to share. Be a part of those stories today and don’t give up. Your reward is in Heaven and your thanks will be given in full…

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 <><


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