Three Youth Ministry Facts by Miley, Justin, and the VMAs

vmsa logoMost of you missed the train wreck that was Miley Cyrus’ performance on the VMAs last night.  Be grateful.  The long and short of it:  she twerked and grinded on a foam finger and several others….in a nude colored bikini….through the entire song.

If you were able to stick it out through that unfortunate excuse for entertainment, you eventually saw Justin Timberlake (complete with a mini-reunion of *NSYNC) bring the house down with the redemption performance of the night.

What do we learn about youth ministry?  Here’s just a quick list–

1.  Edgy doesn’t mean quality.  If your ministry is simply about getting ‘ratings’, you need to re-evaluate.   You might get the ‘ratings’ you’re hoping for, but at what cost — and can that kind of ‘show’ sustain?

2.  People will talk (and tweet) more about the missteps and mistakes of youth ministers than their success stories.  Even Miley supporters agree that she was smutty, vulgar, and talent-less…and NO ONE was afraid to tweet, meme, and post about it.  Expect people to point out your failures and notice your short comings more easily than your steady, quality leadership.  And expect them to tell people about it when you screw up.

3.  Performance always out lives and outshines entertainment.   The social media love thrown JT’s way was supportive, respectful, and appreciative…although not as plentiful as the Miley-rants.  He had more airtime and more kudos and a more enjoyable show…and there’s a reason for that.  Timberlake has a talent and longevity in the business that garners respect and attention in the most positive ways.  And though people occasionally talk about Miley Cyrus, they buy Justin Timberlake’s albums.  If you want to build something in student ministry that lasts, give a quality performance (as in ‘job performance, work ethic, career longevity).  Entertainment only lasts so long…


5 Critical Questions for Youth Pastors

Vibrating-steering-wheelSo I’ve realized in the past few years just how lackadaisical I’ve been in my student ministry.  It’s not that I lost my creative drive or passion for families…I just got comfortable ‘coasting’, so to speak.  I’d still invest in some ‘youth ministry awesomeness’ — but I wasn’t looking at my ministry or myself with a critical eye.

You may need to make a hard left to course correct…asking these questions could help yank the wheel.

1.  Why am I doing this?  Not this specific event, but church ministry in general!  If the answer is less than ‘Jesus called me to do it and because of that, I can do nothing else,’ consider a course correction.  It’s easy to get mired down in thoughts of family provision, lack of experience or training in another field, or just plain old ‘I don’t know what else I would do.’  None of those are reasons to stay in ministry…and they aren’t strong enough reasons to keep us there, either.

2.  Why am I doing this?  And by ‘this’, I mean, yes, that specific event – ministry – trip – etc.   If the answer is anywhere in the wheelhouse of “because we always do this”, “because I already have the route programmed on my gps”, “because we’d have revolt if we got rid of this”….it’s time to yank the wheel!  We MUST assess the reasons why we do what we do…otherwise this youth ministry becomes the newest generation of ‘we’ve never done it that way before.’

3.  Can I do this without Jesus?  If the answer is yes, then it’s not ministry…it’s programming.  I would jokingly tell my wife “I’ve been doing student ministry so long, I don’t even need Jesus anymore…I got this.”  Then one day, I realized it wasn’t as much of a joke as I thought it was.  I had mostly cut Jesus out of the process.  That’s not ministry.  If it’s not something ‘bigger than me’ to accomplish, then it’s not worth doing.

4.  Who is my Provider?  If our answer is the church, then we’re already in the weeds.  Make a hard U-turn!  We are not at our church for money, insurance, vacation time, or whatever other benefit we get that the guy down the street doesn’t get.  We’re at-will employees of Almighty God – and HE alone is our Jehovah Jireh…not the personnel committee, the church treasurer, the less-than-tithers or the lucrative givers.  Don’t make me rant about youth pastors who go or stay based primarily on money.  I was caught in that trap once upon a time…and it’s a miserable existence.

5.  Who is my First Love?  It really is the most important question of all.  Sometimes church work can suck the Jesus right out of us.  Be sure to intentionally invest in your personal walk with Jesus – independent of Bible study prep, sermon notes, or whatever other work-related reason drives you to Scripture.  Have you been embraced by Holiness today – have you sensed His presence – do you know His laughter – has He whispered anything to you recently?

Jesus is at the beginning and end of all we do as youth workers.  As you travel this road, make sure He’s also in the middle.

Your Wife Is More Important Than Your Ministry

100_1422I know, before you even say it, sometimes the ministry spouse is a husband.  But I don’t have one of those – so I’m talking about wives.  Maybe there’s a similarity with husbands – if you have one, let me know.

Wives make it or break it.  Ministry, I mean.  A supportive wife who loves God and embraces the ministry call makes ministry an amazingly peaceful and altogether fun job…even when it isn’t.  And conversely, a spouse who isn’t happy about being in ministry and isn’t afraid to show it can make the best of church circumstances feel like a punishment.

Regardless of how you identify your wife on that spectrum, make no mistake.  She is more important than your church or your ministry.  She is more than the best volunteer you ever had.  She is more than the mother of your children who raises them while you work on church stuff.  She’s more than a financial planner who balances the books and makes sure everything gets paid on the penance you make.  She’s more than your dumping ground when things go bad at the deacon meeting.

You know that.  But does she?

When was the last time you guilted free babysitting out of one of your students and took your wife out for a picnic?  When was the last time you sat at the dinner table after the kids have bounded off for homework and electronics (if you’ve eaten dinner with your family at all)  and just looked your wife in the face and listened to her?  Really, REALLY listened.  (Not that half-way crap you call listening.)  When was the last time you did the dishes, swept the dining room, folded the laundry, or made dinner?  When was the last time you whispered into her ear all that she is to you while you rubbed her shoulders or massaged her feet or held her hand…and weren’t trying to get sex?

Your wife is more important than church, church work, or the tasks she performs so that you’re a better minister.  And you better tell her before she forgets…before you forget.

If your wife happens to hang out on the internet, have her check our GlassHouseSpouse for some encouragement in HER role in ministry.

The Timex Standard in Youth Ministry

clock 2Have you ever spent an entire week sweating and bleeding and not sleeping alongside teenagers on a mission trip only to return home from the trip to a parent who is 40 minutes late picking them up?  It’s maddening.  We’re physically tired.  We’re spiritually spent.  We love our students and exult in all that God has done over the week…but we’re ready to go home.  We’ve had these kids for a week – the least the parents can do is show up on time, right?

And so the hypocrisy begins.

We internally rail on parents when they show up late to retrieve their students or the group has to wait because someone is running late for departure time.  But we’re also the first to pull out the Holy Spirit when we need to run late during Bible study.  I mean, we can’t rush the things of God – and maybe the Spirit is just thick amongst our students one night.

Or how about this one – we tell parents we’ll be back from the outing at a specific time, but we’re running late because…well, hey, things happen.  We are coordinating an eight car, two passenger van convoy.  And you’d think that fast food restaurant had never served a bus-load of teenagers with an abundance of special orders and a pocket full of pennies before!  Cut us some slack!

Life cannot be ruled by the clock.  Sometimes issues do arise.  Sometimes the Spirit of God does demand additional minutes to complete His work.

And sometimes parents run late picking up their kids.  If we want to hold them to a Timex standard, we better keep an eye on our own pocket watch.  Clocks can be sinister inventions…but they are also powerful communicators about what and WHO matters.

Best Thing I Heard at SYMC 2013: Day 3

figure-watering-grass1.  Water what’s strong.

Don’t waste time trying to nurse what’s dead – invest in what’s strong and allow it to overtake the weak areas.  LOVE IT!

2.  Sometimes the messenger IS the message.

Definitely sometimes the messenger enhances a message that might have otherwise been missed.

3.  I killed people in the Bible for lying to me.

Yep – God don’t mess around…so help me always be honest with you, Jesus.

4.  I don’t get carpet.

It’s a floor covering made of fiber, Matt.

5.  We shouldn’t be driven there.  We shouldn’t someday make it there.  We should start there.  (on our knees before Jesus.)

Bring me back to that place in my life, Lord, where prayer was the first thing – not the last.

6.  I am with you – even in the aftermath.

Thank God – I might even say ‘especially’ in the aftermath.

7.  God does say he care for the flowers – and they live in dirt.

God’s provision doesn’t always look the way we think it should.

8.  It’s time to focus less on the why and more on the who.


9.  I’m flippin’ Phil Bell.

It sounds so cool with a British accent.

10.  Dad, can you help me with my NHS forms?

I’d rather do ministry with that kid (and his brothers) than any other kid on this planet!

Best Thing I Heard at SYMC 2013: Day 2

mustard1.  Mustard is not a shy condiment.

Indeed.  Neither is horseradish – it just doesn’t get the credit it deserves.


2.  I was on my way to Anchorage and had a hang-over….I mean lay over!!

Well which was it, Mike?  Because both could probably be plausible.  Don’t try to cover your tracks now – it’s too late!


3.  Don’t go viral for the wrong reasons.

Tell that to Sweet Brown.


4.  When most are running away, you guys run into the fire.

I have never thought of student ministry in these terms – but it is so accurate.  I pray that I can help other parents and leaders start running toward the fire!


5.  If we really believe God’s strength is our strength, we’d start before we were ready.

Whoa.  This still leaves me feeling winded.


6.  Katie is awesome.

Yes.  I know this.  And I am never more honored and humbled at God’s mercy on me than when I stand in a crowd and listen to her speak His wisdom into the lives of  students, families, and leaders.  She is altogether amazing – and I am rich beyond measure.


7.  You don’t get much more white Mennonite than that.

True.  I’m glad Lecrae didn’t have to see that, Joel.


8.  We should always play to the size of the heart, not the size of the audience.

He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.   Ecclesiastes 3.11


9.  Don’t believe the lie that your present circumstance is your permanent circumstance.

It’s such an effective tale, though.  It evaporates hope and dims sight to blessing.


10. God is not in the business of better – He’s in the business of new.

Thank God for that!  I don’t need to be better.  I need to be new.

Best Things I Heard at SYMC 2013: Day 1

desk-bell-icon1.  Wouldn’t it be great if interviews with churches were like speed dating…two words in and you could be like, “NEXT!”

Yes – yes it would….and I will most definitely be partnering with my friend who said this to write some additional blogs about what that might actually look like.  DING!  Please move on to the next one.


2.  Andy Blanks is a sissy-foot.

I’m just wondering if anyone has actually seen Andy Blanks, one of the founders of YM360?  ‘Sissy’ would not be in my top 360 adjectives to describe him.


3.  Draw a chalk circle.  Then stand in the middle of the circle and pray for revival for everyone inside the circle.

I didn’t draw the circle….yet.  But I am definitely doing the praying.  (I’ll draw the circle at home…where someone isn’t holding my credit card hostage for damages.)


4.  “Standing on ant hills trying to touch the stars – trying to contain the oceans in peanut butter jars.”

Awe.  Someone I used to know said ‘the word awesome should be reserved for God alone.’  Tonight, I heard that phrase in my head during this performance.  It was an amazing, nay awesome, reminder.


5.  “Darren, last year I was in a terrible place.  My ministry was not good and I was not good.  I came to a workshop you did on discouragement – and it changed everything.  I’m in a better place,  my ministry is thriving.  And I just thought if your encouragement to me was that profound, maybe you could use some of that, too.”

First of all – it’s a humbling honor to be able to invest in the lives of youth workers.  I marvel that God would let me do it at all, knowing fully who I am.  Second – you never know what the Holy Spirit is doing when you’re leading.  And third – God always sends the right encouragement at the right time.

As you lead students and families – remember those truths.  They’re universal no matter who the mouthpiece is — and it might just be you.