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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 <><

A Long-Term View of Student Ministry

A number of months ago one of our students was tragically killed in a car accident on his way to church with friends. This young man had a strong faith and had a passion for serving and missions trips. His funeral was obviously a very gut wrenching occassion, but in many ways a time to celebrate his faith, life, and his eternal destination. At the lunch after the funeral, a parent asked me this pertinent question:

When all is said and done, where do you hope to see students by the end of high school? What are your priorities for them?

It’s a question that I somewhat answered at the time, but is a question I have been working through ever since (and still am). The funeral of a sixteen year old student and this question from a parent gave me a new perspective on what I do. In some ways, it gave me a new lens to look through in what I do… It has caused me to struggle through the question:

What matters most in my ministry” What priorities are truly going to help students grow and “finish well”?

Or, maybe, frame it this way:

What is most important today that will impact students in the long-term?  Continue Reading…

New Ministry Position: One Year Later

One year ago I started a new ministry position as Pastor to High School Students. As I reflect back on my year, here are some memories, thoughts and insights…

THE FIRST WEEKEND WAS MEMORABLE: My first commitment was to attend the high school winter retreat. I thought it would be a great way to make good connections with students… so I thought! Unfortunately, on the Saturday morning, one of our new students collided with another student on the tubing hill. One ambulance ride later, and a stay in the ER, he was air-flighted with a bleed on his brain. Praise God he was fine after a few days in hospital… but a very scary moment for everyone… I will never forget my first retreat, (neither will he).

LISTEN FIRST, IMPLEMENT SECOND: I made the commitment that I would move slowly and take time to understand the people and programs first. I committed to not making any major changes in the first year, (only tweaking what we had). This is easier said than done, but was crucial for me. I gleaned so many important insights, learned good lessons, and most importantly built trust with leaders, students, and parents.

RELATIONSHIPS: No matter what I do in ministry, I cannot forget that relationships are at the core of everything I should be doing. This last year has been filled to the brim of meeting with students, leaders, and parents. In a new position, I think it is easy to get task focused, but we cannot get too busy to build relationships… The age old statement of, “people don’t care what you know until they know you care” is so true.

CLEAR VISION: Given many years of history before me, there were a lot of ideas and visions that were ingrained into the heart of this ministry. Some were good, some used to be good, and some… not so good. It has been imperative to constantly discuss a vision for healthy ministry and the steps needed to get there…

OWNERSHIP: It’s easy to start somewhere new and lead everything as the person who has been employed to be the ‘expert’. However, it’s important that people feel ownership of what we are doing. I often find too, that given the time and investment, others actually do a better job than me… It’s imperative to see this key truth: People become devoted to a ministry when they are given a clear vision and ownership to see the vision come to life…

GOOD FRIENDS: In the last year we have been surrounded by many people who have become good friends. Dinner and lunch invites still continue to come in for us, even after a year of being here… that is unusual… I think?

TRANSITION: I am just starting to read a book called by a friend in ministry . I will be doing a review soon… If you are interested in how to transition well, it could be a great read for you…?

Phil <><

Midweek Series “Slice of Life”

SLICE OF LIFE: This Week we kick off a new video series called, “Slice of Life” where we interview students from our ministry. This series has been created for a number of good reasons:

CREATED BY STUDENTS: Students themselves came up with the idea to have a series focused on their “slice of life” and how God is working in their lives.

OWNERSHIP: Anytime students are excited about an idea or series, it’s important to help channel their excitement into somethig that will impact other students. When I can get out of the way and help students to minister, I often see greater fruit…

BUILD COMMUNITY: One of the premises to this series is the idea that we have students from different backgrounds sharing their faithwalk. In our ministry we have about 6 different high schools represented, (plus home school students too). It’s important that this group of students get to hear stories from students from different places and situations. In the long-term, students feel like they are getting to know each other better… Long-term, it builds community.

VIDEO MESSAGES: We try to shoot the students on video. This helps if students get “stuck” or lost for words. Editing is a beautiful thing. In addition, it helps to present another mode of learning for them.

CONTACT TIME: I find these kind of message series where we interview students is incredible for greater opportunities for contact time… It’s amazing to see to the insights and thoughts that students share when you place a video camera in front of them… After the interview, I find some brilliant opportunities to talk, catch up, and hear more about what is happening in their lives…

PREP TIME: Perhaps the least important, but helpful thing with this series is this: The prep time is less that a usual week and it allows me to prepare for upcoming messages and have greater time to meet with students and leaders during the week…

That’s all for now. How are you creating opportunities for students to share their “Slice of Life”?

Phil <><

Crucial Times for Youth Leaders

We don’t have to look around us to much to see that there is so much at stake in the lives of students. Whether it’s the student who is seeking God to find purpose and meaning in life, or a student who is struggling through hurt and pain, or a sold-out student who is wondering how to stay strong in their faith, we have a window of opportunity to minister to these young people. There are only so many hours and opportunities to make a difference as these students navigate challenging obstacles. Or to put it this way: Time is crucial and we must make the most of crucial times as we minister to students

Because it is likely we only have few hours a week and a few years with these students (as well as having many students to minister to), it is crucial that we use our time wisely and well. Here is what I consider to be the most effective use of my time:

1) The first fifteen minutes At our youth program, I consider the first and last fifteen minutes to be the  most important times. Often, it will be the first fifteen minutes that will communicate whether or not we really care as students arrive. It is usually the time when students are most nervous about walking into a room of students and leaders. Therefore, as leaders, even if we have not seen each other since the weekend, it is important that we do not get caught up in “leader conversations” as students arrive. Secondly, it’s important that we look out for nervous or introverted students as they arrive. You can’t take back a bad welcome…

2) The last fifteen minutes: The last fifteen minutes is often where I see students most open to God’s working in their lives. It is here where they will be most comfortable and will be processing what they have heard from the message / study. But, if you are like me, as the evening starts to wrap up, I am already thinking about evaluating what happened and begin conversations with leaders about how things went for them. However, it is important that we look to seek out students and check-in with how they are doing. It is here that we most likely to hear from their heart and be able to minister most effectively to them.

3) The next fifteen to sixty minutes: What I mean by this is the next contact time opportunity with students outside of programs and events. If you are full-time or a volunteer and have a number of students, it is often challenging to know how to reach them outside of your programs with limited time. However, I find that it is small (but impacting) times with students that make a huge difference.  Examples like:

  • Show up to the last part of a sports game if you have a busy week. (Make sure your student knows you were there).
  • Send a note in the mail. With all the modes of communication we have, I find this to be the one students love the most. Everyone loves to get mail!
  • Facebook, text, tweet! Letting students know you were praying for them, encouraging them, or just saying “hi” all go a long way to communicate care to them. Caution: Be careful of getting into deep conversations online and ensure that their parents are ok with you communicating with them this way.

I am sure you have better idea than these, and I know they are not rocket science, but I have found that so many leaders do not do these things regularly. The challenge is to realize that time is crucial and we must make the most of crucial times…


Last week I talked about “Listening” as being a key to healthy and successful ministry. This week I want to looked at an area of youth ministry which should be a given, but I often feel is greatly overlooked: Ownership…

Ever hear leaders say, “Sometimes it is easier to do it yourself”? In student ministry, I think it is ALWAYS easier to do it yourself. And as leaders of ministries, that is often exactly what we do don’t we? Things get done, events get planned, programs run smoothly… But is that a good thing?

While we might be running an organized and well executed ministry, I think it is better to run a ministry that has potential to have, “holes all over the place” if it means we are giving students ownership of what is happening. In the short-term it can be messy, but in the long-term, there is a greater reward for the students we minister to…

1) Students Belong: The greatest need I see in every student  is the sense that they belong somewhere or to something. Giving them a sense of ownership and walking alongside them builds confidence, allows them to learn in safe way, and most of all, they feel like they belong. If students don’t feel the sense of ownership through belonging, I have seen that one or two things can happen. First, they might not stick around… Second, they will quickly become spectators instead of owners. Spectators can often turn into critics…

2) Students Become Long-Term Leaders: I am convinced that the likelihood of students being committed to a church (and having a strong faith), after high school is hugely dependent on how they learn to lead while they are in our ministries. It is imperative that they not only discover their gifts, but they are able to put them into action in a safe environment of a student ministry. More than that, it is imperative that students find avenues to lead and contribute to the overall church and minister alongside all kinds of people. If however, students only ever serve within a student ministry, is it any wonder that the transition from high school into ‘regular church’ is tough? Therefore, it’s important that students lead and serve in our ministries as well as with people in ‘big church’ that they might not normally come into contact with…

3) Ownership Builds Numerical Growth: I will never forget reading about Billy Graham’s incredible ability to predict the turn out of one of his huge gatherings back in the 80′s. People were amazed at how he could accurately predict how many people would come to an event. When asked how he could know, (thinking that maybe God had spoken to him personally), he shared his simple formula: First, he  found out how many people were involved with the planning and production of the event. Second, he would multiply that number by a figure he had come up with through years of observing attendance. The greater the people involved, the greater the number attending. In other words, the greater the number having ownership, the greater of people who will come…

Note: While numerical growth is not the goal, it certainly will become the fruit of having a healthy ministry that builds ownership into it’s DNA.

Therefore, not only is ownership crucial for helping students to belong and become, they are also used to build the ministry they are in… The hope is that new students would plug in and find faith and the same sense of ownership.

My next step is to ‘steal’ a series idea from , where he has students lead a whole message series called, “You Own the Weekend”. This is a great way to build ownership for students. Check out Josh’s blog for how he does this…

Phil <><


Last night I met with a group of my high school students at the local Panera Bread to hang-out, talk, and…. listen.

If you are like me, it’s so easy to get bogged down with planning, message writing, and meetings. It’s easy to become task driven and focus less on just ‘being’ with students. Last night I was truly blessed to be around a group of students who are excited about God, are excited to see their friends being reached, and excited about growing deeper in their faith. Last night was a time to listen to their hearts, their ideas and their hopes. Here’s what was impressed upon my heart from our time together…

1) We Discover the Real Issues Students Face:

Students foundational adolescent issues tend to not change too much in that they still desire Identity, Autonomy and Affinity. (Marko in Youth Ministry 3.0). However, when as, Chap Clark puts it, we “sit on the steps” that lead up to student culture, we get great insights to students current issues and needs. Last night was one of those nights for me as I discovered so many things that I was unaware of or had not considered. As I look forward with my teaching, planning and implementation, I am able to focus my energies to support students in areas that they truly need .

2) We move from Colonialism to being  a Missionary:

In his book Youth Ministry 3.0, Mark Oestreicher talks about the importance of seeing ourselves as a missionary. In other words, seeing ourselves as someone who is foreign to a culture and comes in and listens to the locals and understands them first. Coming from England, I am all too aware of British colonialism in the world where the Brits went in to foreign lands and insisted that the locals follow the British customs and cultural nuances. What happened? The Brits got kicked out! Now, I hope you and I don’t get kicked out of our churches or ministries, but it’s important to consider if we are only imparting our own set of agendas and ideas on students. Are we ‘colonizing’ or being a missionary to these students.

Now bear with me for a minute as I say this. I am aware that there are many things that students do not yet see in their lives that are imperative to know and live by. I am aware that students ‘felt needs’ are not always what they really do need… However, they are less likely to listen to us unless they know that we have taken time to listen to them first…

3) We give Ownership to Students:

This was huge for me last night. As I sat and listened to students talk about what they are seeing in our ministry and what they are excited about, they were owning the ministry with their words and their plans for the future. As they talked, they got lit up with ideas and dreams -  they began to take ownership. When students can put the ministry vision into their own words, it is better that a well-crafted vision statement in any student ministry.

4) We Hear Honesty

“Phil, you give great messages, but when one of us can back up what you are saying and can be involved in your message, it has a greater impact”. That was my takeaway last night, among other things. It can be hard to hear that kind of stuff can’t it? But, when we listen long enough, students can feel like they can communicate their true thoughts with you. Ultimately, it will lead to creating a better and more effective ministry. My ego might take a hit, but who is more important here?

5) We Send the most Important Message:

I think the most important factor for me was that they heard the most important message last night. “I care about you guys. You are important and you can make a huge difference”. I didn’t say it with words, I communicated it through listening…In coming weeks, when you and I stand in front of students with a message or study for them, I am convinced they will hear better when they know that we care deeply and have their best interests at heart.

So this next few weeks, I encourage you to hang out, have fun…. and listen.

7 Tips for Planning a Great Event

calendarI know it’s the summer, but now is a great time to be brainstorming and thinking strategically about what events you will be doing when the Fall gets here. In the past I have used a lot of unnecessary energy and faced disappointment from events that didn’t turn out like I hoped. Today, as we look ahead to the Fall, let me give you a few tips from my vault of successes and mistakes.

1) Know the Purpose and Target Audience: This  is probably the most important step in planning the event. Who is it for? Is it for students who are not there yet? Is it a connections event to build community? Is it for students to grow deeper? My experience has been that the answer cannot be, “all of them”. The more specific we are, the greater the impact on the target audience you are reaching. A great question that always helps me to better understand the purpose is this:  ”When the event is over, what would we hoped to have seen happen”?

2) Communicate the Purpose and Target Audience: Once you have established the purpose and the target audience, make sure that everyone (and I mean absolutely everone – students, leaders, parents and the pastor), know the purpose. I have been frustrated in the past when planning events and the leaders and students are coming up with great creative ideas, but for a different kind of event. The more we communicate the purpose the greater we can channel creative ideas.

3) Build Ownership into Planning: When students are part of the process at the outset and are part of planning and implementation, the greater the impact of the event.  Although this can be messy and often students drop the ball, it is key to help them to be involved in as many ways as possible. In the past I have designed and implemented the slickest events with a group of youth leaders with low impact. In contrast, I have worked with students (and leaders) to design and implement events with high impact. Bottom line: Students want to see the event succeed if they have ownership of the ideas, creativity and implementation.

4) Keep the Event on the Same Night as Usual: There are two very good reasons I can think of for why this is key: First, it means you are not asking leaders to come out on a different night and therefore it is easier to staff the event. Second, when doing outreach events, it is crucial to allow for a ‘next step’ to the regular program the following week. It’s easier to invite a new student out the following week if it is on the same night.

5) Delegate, Delegate, Delegate: Yeah, yeah. We have heard this a million times. However, how much does this happen? Your ability to be ‘all there’ with students and be connecting with new students. Failure to delegate well will mean that you and I are programming the event more than we are pursuing students.

6) Create a ‘Next Step’: Having a next step as Andy Stanley would say, is creating an “easy, obvious and strategic” step for students to take at the event and / or following the event. A next step might be simply inviting a new student to come back the next week for your regular large group meeting, (this is why having the event on the same night is so important – it is easy, obvious and strategic).

Another next step might be have students sign up to get plugged into a small group at a connections event. If students are  connecting and getting to know each other better, a great next step is to be promoting small groups where they can continue to experience connection.

7) Pray! Finally, but most importantly, make sure that you pray for wisdom, direction and for God to do great things with this event. At the end of day, we are just event planners without God being at the center of what we are doing. Praying prepares our hearts to minister to students with the heart of God as well as preparing the hearts of the students who are coming. In my experience, this step is often the one that gets missed in the clutter of planning. Don’t miss this step!

Hope this helps. I am sure there are more tips you could include. Why don’t you share them with me? I would love to hear from you!

Phil <><

Planning – A Volunteer Perspective

Yesterday I posted about how I plan our message and series for the year. I emphasized why it is so important to pray and plan well in advance. One of the reasons is to help my leaders and students be involved the process creatively as well as give our speaking team time to prep.

In my post, I mentioned one of my leaders ‘Sara’ who speaks regularly in our large group environments. Not only is Sara a great communicator, she is an authentic and effective youth leader who has been ministering to teens for nearly a decade now. However, she is a full time mom and wife, and has her own that keeps her very busy. Yesterday Sara commented to my post and gave her perspective of why planning well in advance is helpful to her as a volunteer.

PLEASE NOTE: I hesitated to post this since I did not want anyone to think I am giving myself a high five for what I do. I felt it is important for all of us who are in the trenches full time to consider the ripple effect we have on volunteers and their effectiveness when we plan well…

One of Phil’s greatest assets as a leader is his dedication and determination to plan in advance with an openness to have to change or fly by the seat of his pants if needed. As a volunteer, I cannot tell you what a blessing this is! I am not constantly given last minute projects, spontaneous times to teach, whirlwind ideas and unnecessary crises that could have been avoided if there was good advanced planning. In Youth ministry and in any ministry frankly, we have to throw down often enough for crises, last minute emergencies or changes and there are always fun, spontaneous moments. But, to be following a leader who doesn’t plan in advance eventually becomes draining, exhausting, frustrating and frankly a complete drag since their last minute plans now become your problem when everyone is expected to drop everything in their life to make it happen. People and families get burnt. Phil leads a great example in this area and guess what one of his biggest problems is? He has more leaders than he needs! People are drawn to those who are respectful of their time, talents and families!

Message Planning

It’s been a couple of weeks away from the blogosphere for me since the summer break began. In ministry I have slowed my pace a little,  I am getting some extra time with my family, and getting jobs around the house done before the birth of our second in a couple of weeks.

Today I got together with one of my key leaders to finalize our Fall message plans and talked about some changes in the way we do our messages in our large group environments. Here’s what we do:

1) What we Teach for the Year: As I look at the year I have found that I need to consider which foundational areas students need to know and apply by the time they get to end of the school year. I wish I could say that I have developed my own system to ensure we have balance and foundation to what we teach, but I have not. Instead, I have found that ‘The Seven Checkpoints’ by Andy Stanley and Stuart Hall is a great start to ensuring that what we teach throughout the year. The premise of Checkpoints is this: We are likely to get about 32 hours of teaching time per year in our large group environments. However, we cannot teach students everything that is in the Bible in that short time. Also, everything in the Bible, while being true, is not relevant to students.  Checkpoints helps us to ‘narrow our focus’ (an Andy Stanley term), and ensure that we are teaching students the most important and relevant topics. Through a typical year we hit 7 areas that we feel every student needs to know.

2) Team Teaching: Although I lead my ministry, I have found it to be important and neccesary to incorporate good communicators to teach God’s Word to students. I have to be able to admit that different students need to hear different personalities and perspectives. It is easy for students to tune out the guy who is on stage every week. I am very blessed to have one leader who has her own ministry as a speaker to teens, and I have two other leaders who I utilize often who do a great job too. Even though team teaching requires a lot time, meetings, and investment on my part, it is so worth it to see students being blessed. Even if you are a volunteer, consider who at your church might do a good job coming in to speak or lead one evening?

3) Planning Well in Advance: Planning well in advance is imperative since it allows me to ‘perculate’ ideas and themes over weeks and months. It also allows the other speakers to prepare well and be creative. They get the opportunities to draw in students and leaders into the creative process.

4) Leave Some Gaps: My experience has taught me to leave at least 4-8 weeks of teaching unplanned for the year. In other words, every Fall and Spring I try to leave an intentional gap in my series teaching so that as a ‘current need’ or topic with greater relevancy comes up, we can be flexible to teach about it.

5) Be Flexible: As well as having gaps, it’s important to be flexible. No matter how detailed we try to be, there are always variables and last minute changes to consider. Whether it is a change in the large church schedule that requires me to change, or a leader who cannot speak for me, there are always changes to be made. I have found it is important to create a great teaching plan, but remain flexible with it.

6) Pray: Finally, but most importantly, I am always trying to seek God’s Leading as I plan for the Fall and the rest of year. I firmly believe that the Holy Spirit works just as effectively a few months before as well as a few weeks before. Therefore, it’s imperative to be praying carefully before I start planning.

That’s what I do, hopefully this is some help to you as you plan what you teach. Feel free to comment or send me a message if you have any questions.

Phil <><

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