Building a Good Foundation

img_85181My church began just over 5 years ago with 30 people in a backyard of my pastors house. Since then we have met at 4 different locations (one house and 3 schools), as we have seen good growth occur. The student ministry program too has met in 3 different locations (houses and rented facilities), and has had to ‘set up’ and ‘tear down’ every week just like ‘big church’ does. In March, all that changes for us… 

That’s when we get to move into a renovated office/warehouse building that will become our permanent home for church and student ministry. We never originally thought that we would buy and renovate so soon, but, being in Southeast Michigan we have seen many businesses move away and this facility was a great opportunity for us…

As we build and renovate this facility I have learned that 5 years of not having a full-time facility has allowed us to focus more on the people and less on a building. Sure, we have a place to meet and we have to set up and tear down every week, but the reality is that we cannot keep up with some of the amazing things that other churches do. Instead we have been forced to think and act simply. The results are: strong relationships with students, healthy growth in depth and numbers, and many many students who have been recruited to do ministry in a church plant situation. 

Someone once said, (I don’t have much of brain to remember who), that planting a church is like trying to build an airplane as it is rolling down the runway for take-off. I think that is a good analogy! Can you visualize what that might look like? I can right now… a bunch of guys and gals frantically working to put the pieces together that will ensure a safe takeoff… Can you imagine the urgency on their faces as they bolt things together?  

But here’s my question: 

What are their priorities to get done first? 

The most important things? 

Do you think they worry about the video system in the plane, or the comfort of the seats, or the color of the interior? Nope… They are concerned with getting the plane to take-off safely, (and of course), land safely too :o )

Being in a church plant has forced me to consider what matters most as I partner with great leaders to build a ministry. But it hasn’t always been this way… If you are like me, I have ministered at churches where I have got hung up on stuff that was not so important. Stuff that could best be described as ‘youth ministry fluff’. I have to confess that I have often spent too much time comparing my youth room with another church, or wishing I had more stuff or better space etc… Are you like me? Come on… let’s be honest :o )

In my time here so far, I have been blessed to see that ‘stuff’ and ‘facilities’ only go so far to reaching and keeping students coming. What they desire (and need), goes so much deeper. I am so thankful for learning this lesson, and it is my goal to keep reminding myself of this as we move in March. 

I hope this is an encouragement to you as you reach and equip students. I hope you can relax and invest in what matters most and build a solid foundation wherever you are.

How to have Great Leaders

austin-powers11Whether you are full-time and paid, or whether you a volunteer overseeing youth ministry, we all need good leaders to partner with us. We all need adult and students leaders to make ministry happen and to see that lives are impacted for the kingdom. If we think we can be the lone ranger, we are mistaken. Great ministry happens when we are surrounded by great leaders who share the vision and care deeply about students. 

The Big Question: How can I recruit and develop great leaders? 

Of course,it should be a given that it’s about God’s power and providence. There are also many answers to this one question, but I believe and have seen that there is one crucial element and answer that will make the difference between great leaders and average or bad leaders…. Are you ready for it? 

It begins with who you are!

It stands to reason that it’s not a good idea to buy hair products from someone with no hair. It stands to reason that you should not go to a dentist whose has teeth like Austin Powers. It should stand to reason that your leaders and partners in ministry will not partner with you if you are not the real deal. Or, if they do work with, they are likely never to live up to their full potential if you are not living up to it yourself… Here’s how it works: 

If I want my leaders to do the little but hugely important things like phone the kids, or send a postcard in the mail, or take a student out for coffee… it’s important that I take time to call or write… If  I want my leaders to be growing in their faith and always have something to encourage and share with kids, it will depend on how I am doing  in my faithwalk. If I want my leaders to stay cool in high pressure situations, over time it will depend on how I do the same. If I want my leaders to become good listeners for the students, it will depend on how I do the same for them. Bottom line: I can’t expect my leaders to do what I am not doing… My words and training mean little if I am leading by example.  

I meet a lot of frustrated leaders who need volunteers or have volunteers and are frustrated with them. We have to remember that we are all works in progress, and no one changes over night, but over time, our leaders will lead in the way it is modeled for them. It’s painful to admit, but if we can take an honest look at ourselves and allow God to change us, we will have a greater impact when we do the very things that we would like our leaders to do. More people will volunteer and their effectiveness will be greater… so will yours, (and mine). 

You see it’s the idea that leaders will learn leadership better when it is modelled for them. It’s the whole idea that Paul speaks of in 1 Thessalonians chapter 1: 

You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere.

It’s the whole idea that our leaders, our partners in ministry and our student leaders will become (over time and not instantly), what is modelled for them. 

So, what kind of imitators are your leaders becoming? Today, take a look at some areas of your leadership and consider what small and important things you can do to model great leadership. What are some of the things you can care well for your leaders so that they care well for the kids you see every week. What phone calls do you need to make? Who needs a note in the mail? What truth does God want to impress on your heart that you can inspire your leaders with?

What is God saying to you today about who He wants you to become? How will that impact your leaders? How will impact God’s Kingdom?

Phil <><

It’s ok to kick back sometimes.

January 4th = The night before school gets back in the swing of things… Or a night when families are not back in the swing of things… 

Every year for the last few years I notice that attendance is down this weekend of the year for our high school program ‘EDGE’. On weeks like this I am concluding it’s ok (and better)  to use this to our advantage.

Rather than have a huge kick off and be dissapointed by turn out etc, I find it’s ok to accept what is going to be, and change up what we do a little. On nights like this we make them a ‘connections night’ where we have extended worship, more hang out time and we are intentional about having lots of varying games opportunities. We also have a message, but brief and to the point.

This is what we find happens:  The students actually seem to make the most of the relaxed atmosphere and  seem to connect real well with each other. But here’s another insight I saw tonight: Since we have less in the program schedule, the leaders have less programming to do and therefore spend more time with the students simply connecting.

In the last 6 months or so we have been intentional about creating these connections nights and it has really paid dividends for us. It has also been to good to mix up the pace for our leaders. They too need a night where they can focus on talking, laughing and praying with these students and not programming so much. As our students get used to these nights, they have also become a place where students know they can invite a friend to EDGE as a ‘first base’ event and then step into the usual program the week after… I wish I could say we planned that… we didn’t. 

Our typical ‘flow’ of what we do looks like this: 

Series kick off (big elements including band covers, videos etc)

3-4 week series. 

Connections Night

Back to series kick off…


Phil <><

Charlie bit my Finger!

A while back a student from our youth program emailed me this video saying, “hey phil, is this you as a kid”? I love this video and think it is hilarious. It’s a great video to use for a message on conflict at home… it begins young.

Hope you liked it!

Phil <><

Marriage and Ministry – ABC Dates

Being in ministry does not always create an easy environment to keep romance alive and communication healthy. I speak to so many youth workers and their spouses who share some of the same struggles as Lisa and I: How to make time for each other and how to truly invest in our marriage in a way that will help us more than just ‘get by’… Do you think like that?

For Lisa and I, about 6 months ago, we were given an opportunity to slow down and reflect on how our lives and marriage were holding up. As we talked, we realized that life had become busy and we were surviving, but not growing… We were talking, but not fully engaged… We realized that some changes had to be made. I wish I had time to tell you about all the changes we have made, but I will save that for later… Let me tell you how the ABC dates have been a huge investment in our marriage…

Here’s how they work for us: We plan a month out and plan every two weeks to go out, (that’s 26 a year… yes, there are 26 letters in the alphabet). We put those dates in the calendar and then in order, (but it doesn’t have to be), we plan out the ‘letter’ for that date. We try to do an activity or go to a restaurant that has the letter for that date, (sometimes we eat and do an activity too – sometimes just the activity to keep it cheaper).

Here’s How:  

A – Applesbees and Arcade games, (good old fashioned arcades games too).

B – Bowling (we had not been bowling in years… we were awful, but it was so much fun to laugh at each other).

C – China Chef (a cheap hole in the wall chinese place that we love) and Corn Maze (We walked and talked for a few hours)

“Yeah, yeah… what about Z and Q and letters like that…”? – We have them all planned, you will be surprized how many ideas you get! Try it…

The ABC dates are simple, but creative. They often require you to do activities that you have not done in a long time. They require you to plan and set aside time in advance, but here are the results:

The Results: When we get creative with the letters we ended up doing things that have made us laugh, made us talk more, made us experience more, and made us look forward to dates more. It’s so easy to do the same things all the time and they lose their impact. The ABC dates are never the same…

In the 6 months we have been doing this I can honestly say that this is one significant investment that has brought about great depth of love  for each other. It’s amazing to see what happens when you take time to invest in each other and get excited about the next activity. Something happens, and it makes the difference. Try the ABC’s out if you want, but most of all… take time to plan dates together… no matter how busy life and ministry is…

Biometric Fingerprinting for your kids


I can’t believe it. I am amazed. Check out this blog: . Now  can take your kids fingerprints and from then on they can check in at your youth program by placing their finger on a scanner… How amazing is that? 

I don’t think I will be using it for a while, but it sure is advanced. WOW!

Phil <><

Ministry can be like chasing cheese!

Do you ever feel like ministry is like trying to chase cheese down a hill? It’s like you always have something more to do, always another student to meet with, another leader to train, another message to write… Or the church toilet to clean (after the middle school lock-in), the website to update, a boring church meeting to attend… you name it, it’s always a busy time in youth ministry.

So what do ya do when it gets crazy and busy? Here’s what I am learning to do: 

Two books have influenced me in the last few years that have been huge in discerning how to ‘get down the hill’ of ministry safely: 

1) What Matters Most by Doug Fields (pick it up at ). When you discover what is most important in life and ministry, you are able to let the cheese roll away and not have to chase it. In other words, there will always be more to do and the reality is you can’t get it all done. You can either chase like crazy and not get it done anyways, (and in the process compromise your walk with God and your family), or you can take time out to discern what is truly important and ensure that these things get most of your energy, while less important things get delegated or put on the back burner. Doing this gives me great confidence to say, “great opportunity, but if I say yes to it, I will be saying no to something more important”. 

2) Eat That Frog,  by Brian Tracy: This book is practical and helps me in priorities and ensures that the ‘big frogs’ or the most important and challenging things get done first. It outlines practical steps that I can take to be organized. To say, “oh, I’m a youth worker and all youth workers are disorganized” is a cop out… that does not have to be true. And my effectiveness is tied to my planning and organization.

Nothing happens unless I am intentional… great events of tomorrow are planned today. 

Happy Reading 


I’d be dead without Volunteers.

roadkillThis morning I am meeting Sara and Nancy for coffee, and later I am meeting Jeremy for lunch. All three of them are great volunteers in our youth program, but they have also become great friends in the last couple of years. In ministry, these are the kind of people I would be dead without! They not only produce amazing things at our events and programs, but they are the kind of people who every youthworker needs to hang in for the long haul. 

For me, the key to getting and keeping volunteers like this has been very intentional in how I meet with them and how we do life together. Here’s 5 things I do with all my volunteers: 


1) Large Leaders Meeting – Every two months: This is to celebrate victories, cast vision about why we do what we do, take a look at what is coming up in the big picture and pray for our kids. (I sometimes bring a load of postcards so leaders can write their kids as they pray for them. (When I say ‘their’ kids, I mean the ones that they have in a small group)… We always try to meet at the house of one of my leaders (it’s big house), and have snacks and drinks to make it laid back. (We could meet at the church, but I want it to me more like a party than a meeting)!

2) Individual Meetings: On an ongoing basis, I try to meet with all my main leaders at least once every two months for a coffee and catch up. I split an hour meeting into three ‘C’s. First, I ‘Check Up’. How are you doing personally? How is your walk with God etc. The second ‘C’ is: ‘Cast Vision’ – What do I need to say that will restate or refocus why we do what we do? Finally, the last ‘C’ is to ‘Communicate Details’: What events, details or changes do they need to know about?  

3) Key Leader Meetings: ’Key Leaders’ are leaders who oversee a certain area in our programs. These are the people I often meet with at least monthly. This time includes, planning and implementing what is coming up. 

4) Emails – once a week:  This is how I communicate the ‘nuts and bolts’ of what we are doing. Schedule, events, details of program are emailed to leaders and are we have a calendar and events page online with specifics. 

5) Quarterly Fun Events: Events at my house, BBQ’s, Christmas party, Wii nights etc… All designed to build community and relax

Phil <><

Tomorrow begins Today!

ist2_1141718_desk_calendar_january_1st_with_clipping_pathA good friend once told me that discipleship for tomorrow begins today. In other words, nothing happens unless it is intentional and planned. We can say we want to start the new year by growing deeper in our faith. If you are like me, my ‘plans’ are often just empty hopes of what I want to see happen, instead of being something that is concrete.

Here’s how I am trying to help my hopes become a plan and action for this new year. Here’s a snapshot of what I am planning and some is what I already do on a weekly basis:

Morning Quiet Times: For me a morning quiet works best when I am the first up in the house… that is hard sometimes when you have a toddler who likes to wake early. However, when I do get up before the craziness begins, this is what my quiet time looks like: A cup of coffee in my lazy boy and I sit and talk with God for a few minutes thanking Him for all I can think of at that time. (It’s amazing how this gets my focus on track). Then, for the next 15 minutes or so, (that’s it) I relax and try to be quiet with God and my coffee, just listening and trying not to think about my day too much. It’s amazing how pausing like this helps me to hear God better… So simple, but so powerful!

Study: In the last half of last year I discovered ‘The Wiersbe Bible Study Series’ – This is something I read through and study for the first 30 minutes of my ministry day before I get bogged down in ministry. I usually skip a couple of times457161 a week, (on Sundays and on a few days where I try to read a ministry related book before my day starts). These studies by Wiersbe are great and practical. I am currently working through a study on Philippians that I didn’t finish yet…

Big Chunk Reading (sounds really spiritual doesn’t it)? : A couple of times a week I try to read a large chunk of the Bible to get an overview and sometimes for inspiration. This week my plan is to start reading through the book of Luke as I follow the Christmas story and the life of Jesus…

Start Simple: The most important thing I have discovered is this: It all takes time and simple steps forward. I have found that starting with one simple thing is the best way for me. I am not one of those ‘spiritual giants’ who can have a huge plan and put it into action straight away. For me it starts with getting those morning quiet times in place first…

Family Fun at IKEA


Family Events: Every week we try to do two of three fun events as a family that is easy to do, (but not always), and is something that we can have fun as a family. It’s important to have mini-events to look forward each week and have some lighter moments as a family. I find it real easy to come home and stay in my ministry mind and not switch off and ‘be all there’ with my family. Having these events planned out is a must for us as a family, and they never have to be huge things, just planned things… tonight we play ‘memory’ with Emma. Simple, but real fun for all of us…

What we did today: (Plan B from our sledding plan – an inch of snow doesn’t work). Emma will be 3 in March and is developing some strong opinions of what she likes to do, (anyone relate)? We are also looking to get her a new room and big girl bed before the baby comes in July.  Today she said that she wanted to go to IKEA and eat meatballs… it was a great way to have fun, eat meatballs and try out new beds in IKEA.

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