Transformation Tuesday

31864_401918224827_3062487_nYes – I know it’s Wednesday.  Someone doesn’t know how to accurately set his auto-publish feature.

If you read this blog much, you know I love youth ministry.  It was a life changer for me.  I was a kid who was drowning in an ocean of dysfunctional household and awkward hormones.  A youth pastor stepped into my life and God used him to change everything.  My life – my entire life – was transformed because of that relationship.

Tuesdays heretofore (whatever that means) will be dedicated to those stories of transformation.

Your story might be similar to mine – how being in a youth ministry changed you.

Maybe you’re a youth worker, and your story of transformation comes from serving students.

Perhaps you’re a senior pastor or a church janitor – I’m sure you’ll have profound stories of how youth ministry has altered you!   :)

I want to hear it!  EMAIL ME – let me share your stories of transformation.  Here’s mine:


My household was crazy.  My dad was pretty mean.  My mom was pretty victimized.  And we grew up seeing all of it.  Because of the impact of my grandmother and her little country church, I decided to be a Christ-follower at a pretty early age.  But as a young teenager, I found myself walking (probably tripping is more accurate – I was clumsy and growing) into a larger church that had a youth ministry – something I had never even heard of.

Most of the kids were jerks (hey – I don’t judge – it was the 80’s).  And I distinctly remember one evening after church calling my dad to see how he wanted me to get home.  He was at Elmer’s Tavern – where he was most nights – and I never thought two things about that.  Unbeknownst to me, some of the church kids had picked up another phone receiver in a different room and heard the barkeeper answer.  They descended like vultures – laughing, teasing, mocking.  It wasn’t uncommon – I was pretty awkward anyway and spent most of my time deflecting the crap my peers slung at me, church-goers or not.  Today, we’d most definitely call it bullying.  Back then, it was just kids being kids.

I left church feeling shamed and dejected.  I had kept my ‘so-called life’ out of the public eye and now everyone knew.  My family was crazy.  A lesser man would not have returned.

But the love and kindness of the youth pastor beckoned me.  I’d love to tell you it was all about Jesus and being holy.  The truth was – the leader was a man who was kind to his children and didn’t beat his wife – and that was a compelling story for me.  So I kept going.  I kept enduring the ‘cool’ kids so that I could get a glimpse of what real life could look like.  And somehow, those kids started being nicer to me.

About six months later, a confession was made.  I don’t remember the circumstances, but I’ll never forget the moment.  One of the students who had been my tireless terrorist had turned soft.  He (along with many of the kids) was befriending me.  And after Bible study one night, the truth came out.  The youth pastor had been ‘in the know’ about the night I called the tavern for my ride.  He had been watching how students were treating me all along.  This teenager confessed, “One night you were gone.  After Bible study, Mitch lambasted us and told us if we didn’t stop harassing you, you might not ever come back.  Then we found out you weren’t half bad.”

Somewhere in there I should have probably been offended.  But all I remember is how it felt to have a grown man advocate for me.  It was the first time in my life that an adult male had tried to create a safe place for me.  My life would never, ever be the same.   And I knew that God’s calling on my life would be creating that same space for teenagers.

I love Mitch Jackson.  He will always be my youth pastor.  And I am so grateful that he showed me (and all of us 80’s, snarky, apathetic, depressed teenagers) how Jesus advocates for us, loves us, holds us.  My life has been transformed.

How has youth ministry transformed your life?  Share your story!  And be a part of SYMC: Stories of Transformation!!



Everyone’s Called to Youth Ministry…

….comes out today!

I’m so excited!!  Not because my book got published – but because I truly believe this philosophy.  I think it’s transformational for youth workers who are tired of leading alone.  I think it’s rejuvenating for churches who need youth ministry to be about more than getting through another week of Bible study.  And i definitely believe it’s foundational for teenagers who need influence from as many adults as possible who are trying to follow Jesus!

Get your copy here!!  

Youth Ministry Safety Starts with You


The word conjures different meanings for different people.  In Texas, that word means ‘I have a gun…so I am safe, but you might not be.’  In the world of junior high boys, it means throwing a thumb to your forehead before you have to ‘claim’ the fart.  Apparently it means something in football, too – but I’m not athletic….so I can’t really speak to that.

Safety means different things to different people – but it’s a non-negotiable for ministry.  Especially with students.  Now I’m not talking about background checks on your volunteers (which should absolutely be done!).  I don’t mean carrying insurance and keeping your church vehicles well-maintained (which absolutely should be done!).  I’m talking about a culture of safety – and it starts with the youth leader.

Teenagers can be unintentionally ruthless in their teasing.  Create a culture of safety by requiring that jokes never use another student as the punch-line.   We’ve always had a ‘no-slams’ rule in our student ministry.  If a teenager cuts someone down, they have to give two compliments to the person….even if it was all in jest…even if the other person laughed.  Once, we were playing a game in our youth ministry group.  One of the teenagers said something off-handed to another student….something along the lines of ‘don’t be such a girl’ or something like that.  Everyone laughed – including the student who was targeted.  About 20 minutes later, and out of the blue, it took me and three football players to pry that kids white-knuckled fingers off the neck of the kid ‘who was just teasing.’  I am confident that the wounds ran deeply and silently enough in the assailant that he would have absolutely strangled that young man to death had we not been there to stop it.

Teenagers can be unintentionally wounding in their pranking.  Pranks seem harmless enough, right?  Wrong.  Pranks merely exploit the one for the amusement of the most.  And in a culture where most kids are trying to make sure they don’t say, wear, or do something that brings unwarranted attention to them…pranks can be a switchblade to the throat.  Recently, I heard a story of a sixth grader on his first youth trip.  He was nervous about going and almost backed out at the last moment.  During the trip – and while he slept – and with youth pastor sanction – the students painted this young man’s face with finger nail polish.  Harmless enough.  But when the young teenager awoke to find he had been violated, he had a complete meltdown.  Safety.  It just wasn’t there.  Not only was this kid not ‘protected’ – he was set-up by the adult he trusted and taken advantage of during our most vulnerable time…while we’re dreaming.  Not only that, but after his meltdown, the youth pastor simply said ‘Suck it up.’  No apologies.  Just more danger.

Teenagers can be unintentionally callous in their youth groups.  New kids come in – they’re never greeted, never spoken to, never engaged.  It communicates a silent death to kids who are looking for connection.  “You can’t find that here – you do not belong – we don’t know you – and we don’t care to.”

Is your youth ministry safe?  If you are allowing, encouraging, or participating in teasing…it isn’t.

Is your youth ministry safe?  If you have a heritage of pranks, initiation, and hazing, even seemingly harmless ones…it isn’t.

Is your youth ministry safe?  If you don’t stand in the gap for students when they’re wounded, taking seriously their tears, their hurt, their scars…it isn’t.

Is your youth ministry safe?  If you are the only person engaging new students…it isn’t.

Is your youth ministry safe?  It starts with you.

The Great Youth Ministry Tramp

As ministers, we must be willing to admit that ministerial success often becomes the real basis for our joy and significance, much more so than the love and acceptance we have in Jesus Christ. Ministry success often becomes what we look to in order to measure our worth to others and our confidence before God. ”    – Tim Keller  (read the whole post here)

A good friend of mine posted this blog by Tim Keller today.  It rocked my world….again.  I have been wrestling with the truth of equating youth ministry success with the sufficiency of God for a good half year now.  After 23 years of ‘in the trenches’ ministry, I realized I had a mistress – and I’m not even sure when I got into bed with her.

Ministry is a sneaky seductress that looks so much like your First Love when it all begins – sometimes it’s easy to mistake the two.

When I was a kid, we had a set of twins in our school.  Suzanne and Suzette.  I could never, ever tell them apart.  I was never so excited as I was the day they determined to no longer dress alike.  Now that we’re all grown, I can easily tell them apart (no matter who is wearing the striped shirt and crazy jams – hey, it was the 80’s!)  I look at them now and wonder how I could have ever mistaken the two.

About six months ago, I had that same realization about ministry and my walk with Jesus.  Early on, ministry was because of Jesus.  But somewhere along the line, ministry became my Jesus.  And I didn’t even know it.  That little success-harlot gave me a sideways glance and I only recognized her as my True Love.  She spent a long time  patiently wooing me from the One who truly had my heart.  She wasn’t flirty.  She wasn’t sly.  She was sinister, cold, and calculated.  It was as though the witch had taken the form of the Princess – and I was none the wiser.

But, as often happens in a relationship, trial by fire came.  And the disguise was no longer a sufficient ruse.  The skank reared her ugly head and I realized I’d been had.  I had been sleeping with the enemy all this time. Looking back, I wonder how I ever confused the two.  The differences are so obvious to me now – but they were so veiled early on…

The sad part…even now that I KNOW I was tricked by that *!%^$@ – I still fight the draw back to her poisonous lips.  She whispers sweetly – her perfume intoxicating – her promises empty, but alluring.

The hardest thing on your relationship with Jesus is ministry – their appearance so similar, it’s other-worldly.  Know your First Love – intimately, deeply, truly.  Guard your heart – it is the only way you can truly distinguish the Princess from the prostitute. (Proverbs 4.23).

If I Was Whitney’s Youth Pastor…

As a child of the 80’s I was truly heartbroken when Whitney Houston died.  I did not fling myself onto i-Tunes in a grief-stricken downloading frenzy – I already owned most of her music.  I love Whitney.

No one sings like Whitney.  But as I listened to her music (maybe a little more than usual after her passing, but probably not), I noticed she had a lot of questions – soul searching – in her music.  If I had been Whitney’s youth pastor, here’s what I would have said to her.

Where Do Broken Hearts Go?  There’s only one, Whitney, who can caress your broken heart until it’s mended.  He formed you, fashioned you, and gifted you in your mother’s womb – and He’s the only one who will ever know your true heart of hearts.

Don’t Ya Wanna Dance?  Be careful who you dance with, Whitney.  Make sure he’s worthy of your heart.

Ain’t It Shocking What Love Can Do?  Yes.  It is.  Misplaced love can cause us to make stupid, thoughtless, life-altering mistakes.  But Love protects us if we diligently guard our hearts.

How Will I Know If He Really Loves Me?   This is a hard question to answer, Whitney.  Boys are dumb – and fickle.  Be cautious – and invest in someone who invests in God as his first love.  It’s not a guarantee that you won’t get hurt – humans are flawed (and especially us guys).  But you’ve heard it from me before – there’s only One who can be fully trusted with your heart.  He can help you answer this question – and protect you if you make a mistake.

And If, By Chance, That Special Place That You’ve Been Dreaming Of Leads You To A Lonely Place, Find Your Strength In Love.  It’s true that sometimes our lives don’t always end up the way we envisioned.  Hurts, betrayals, and disappointments abound.  If you ever find yourself in that lonely, desolate place – return to your Love.  Jesus waits for you – longs for your return – wants to bind your wounds and balm your weary soul.

Didn’t We Almost Have It All?  Yes.  You did.  Almost.

The choices we make in our decade of decision (18 – 30), always follow us into the decade of consequence (30 – 45).  (Yes, I realize it’s a little more than a decade.)  Are you helping teenagers learn how to guard their hearts?  Make wise decisions?  Rely on their Creator?  I wonder if Whitney had someone in her life – investing in her success as a person beyond her success as an artist.  I wonder if there are students in your sphere of influence who are asking the same questions Whitney asked.  Who is answering them?

Real Stories from SYMC #29

Tony Myles.

I actually heard about Tony through my wife, Katie.  (See story #31.)  She served on a peer panel alongside him and several other youth workers.  Shortly after, I discovered Tony and I would be serving on a peer panel together.  Everything Katie said about him….totally true.  He was sensible and pragmatic, but transparent and authentic.  His words were loaded with wisdom and experience.  And I was shocked…..because Tony has crossed to the darkside.  He serves as a senior pastor.

Recently, Tony and I were spending some time together.  I was facing an issue similar to a situation he recently had faced.  I was so impressed with his listening ear.  I walked away from that conversation NOT with a gaggle of answers (which I wasn’t really seeking anyway.)  But I did leave thinking ‘Wow.  I would love that guy to be MY pastor.’  His congregation is surely blessed.  I hope they know it.

You’ll be blessed by lots of pastoral care and wisdom at SYMC – but only if you hurry up and get registered.  And if you’re looking for Tony, you can find him here.

The Friday Five: Youth Curriculum

It’s the bedrock of most youth ministries….curriculum.  No matter what we do, though, it always seems we have to ‘hone’ it to make it fit in our context, with our kids, to our vision.

These are five curriculum lines (or publishing companies) that deliver!!!

1. Katie Sutton (ok, so she doesn’t have a website – but her curriculum is the best I have ever used – connect with her at )

2. LIVE! by Simply Youth Ministry 

3. Student Life

4. Youth Ministry 360

5.  InQuest