Youth Ministry. I know.

symc-2014-250x250Your conference budget probably turned over in January, right?

Request the money right now to go to Simply Youth Ministry Conference on Columbus, OH in March!

Quit making excuses.  There’s still plenty of time to make arrangements.  You aren’t leaving the country!  You don’t even need any special shots or pills for this trip.

I know.  You’ve been to every conference there is.  I get it.  I’ve been to a billion conferences, too.  And you’re probably right – there’s nothing really ‘new’ under the sun.

I know.  It’s Columbus.  I’m from Texas…Ohio is just some other state vaguely in the middle of the country.  And I heard it snows there…sometimes in March.  You’re probably right – not an exotic location.

I know.  It’s hard to get away.  You have to get 47 signatures to be gone, find people to cover your specific roles, find people to cover the roles you usually find people to cover for just in case someone needs covering.  And don’t even get me started on the kids and the babysitters and trying to get things ready for my wife.  You’re probably right – a lot of logistical church stuff to do.

I know.  It’s easy to sit at your desk and justify every reason on earth not to be at SYMC this year.  I also know it’s easy to sit at your desk, boring holes into your calendar through tears you are willing not to fall, simply because you’re overwhelmed.  I also know it’s easy to sit at your desk and wonder if you’re even getting any of this ministry stuff right.  Someone’s always complaining.  Some kids aren’t coming.  The ones who are coming don’t seem to get it.

I know.  It’s lonely sitting at that desk.  And that’s exactly why you need SYMC.

It’s not an exotic location at the perfect time in your schedule with guaranteed tracks that you’ve never heard before.

But it’s not lonely.  And you’re not alone.  There’s a nation of youth workers pushing back from their desks and up to the table as we embark on a week of transformation.  Wherever you find yourself and your desk this week….find your way to Simply Youth Ministry Conference.

Youth ministry.  I know.  We all do.  That’s why I want you to be there.

Simply Youth Ministry Conference in Columbus, OH, on March 7-10, 2014.

Youth Ministry Tips I got from the Grammys

sara-bareilles-carole-king-grammys-brave-beautiful-mashup-at-grammys-2014-videoI love me a good awards show.  It doesn’t matter if I’m ‘into’ what’s being awarded or not.  (Like half the awards shows I watch I don’t even know what they’re for!!)  I like to watch so I can smack-talk the whole time.  One day, I want to have my own ‘can you believe she wore that’ show on some second-rate cable channel.

So, last night, I dutifully tuned in to the Grammys.  And I spent ample time on Facebook being silly and making jokes and marveling at the fact that Metallica got old and Willie Nelson is still alive.

But I also took away an amazing word-picture of what I believe most churches are missing in their youth ministries.

The Grammys has taken to some pretty amazing live performance mash-ups.  Techno with balladeers.  Concert pianists with metal heads.  Rap stars with rock stars.

But one of the more poignant performances in last night’s show was given by an old/new mash-up. Sara Bareilles joined forces with Carole King and gave us this amazing performance.  At the end of the performance, Ms. Bareilles is very obviously enraptured with this music icon and honored to have played alongside her.

We’re missing that in youth ministry when:

a) We just throw curriculum in the hands of leaders and say ‘teach this’.  Every leader has an experience to share – an expertise to wield – a story to pass down.  Make sure you teach them how to do that – and then give them space to do it!

b)  We only use one age group to lead.  It’s a knee-jerk reaction to assume that only 20-somethings and few hipster 30’s can get the youth ministry job done.  Age is a crown of glory – and if we aren’t utilizing leaders from every generation, we aren’t doing church biblically.

c)  We get caught up in our current culture and dismiss the cultures that have come before.  One of the most beautiful (and sometimes strange) parts of the 2014 Grammys were the unusual duets and trios comprised of artists from seemingly opposed musical genres.  It was a little messy at times – but it made for some very compelling performances and an awards show that was one of the best concerts I have ever seen.  To do less in our youth ministries is very one directional.  (pun definitely intended.)

So take a youth ministry lesson from the Grammys – and enlist a grammy or granddad to participate in the student ministry.  Mix it up.  Make a beautiful mess.  And see if your students don’t respond a lot like Sara did at the end of her riffs with Carole – giddy, enthralled, and amazed!

Why Project Runway’s Heidi Klum Would Be a Great Youth Worker

pr9-timandheidiReality television star and super model Heidi Klum is one of my favorite people on Lifetime’s Project Runway.  (Obviously…she’s the only reason most guys watch that show!)

My middle son and I watch every week – and the rest of the family endures.  I have a few good friends, like Stephanie Caro, who watch with me in absentia through text exclamations and criticisms.  (We should seriously be fan-judges on the next season!)

Last week, after a particularly poignant moment with the show’s mentor, Tim Gunn, Stephanie and I decided he would make a great youth leader.  She expounded on that idea here!

But as I watched this week, I realized he isn’t the only potential youth worker on that show.  Heidi would be a great youth worker, as well.

1.  Heidi gives clear and understandable expectations at the beginning of every show.  She succinctly lays out the parameters for each challenge.  And while your students might give push back with boundaries, it’s one way they know they are loved.

2.  Heidi clearly uses her expertise in fashion to honestly share truth with the designers in an effort to help them become better.  She never pulls punches or waters down fashion sense for fear of hurting someone’s feelings.  The Truth youth workers wield is poised to help them be better.  They don’t get there if we water that down.

3.  That said – she never gets personal – and she’s never rude.  She has found the perfect balance of disagreeing with a designer’s choices while honoring them as a designer.  Students can learn to respect a youth leader who can disagree with them without denigrating them.

3.  Heidi says ‘you suck’ with a smile – and then lets the designers know they are loved with a kiss.  Sometimes we have to say hard things to students.  They can receive it when it comes in love.

And face it, Heidi is gorgeous.  Do you know how many boys you’d have in your youth ministry if she was one of your youth leaders??!

Youth Ministry Wisdom from Duck Dynasty #1

734377_433830263393012_1083168096_nI’ll confess.  Right now, this post is 1 of 1.  But here’s the truth – and if you watch Duck Dynasty, you know – that show is chock full of youth ministry wisdom, so I know there will be more!!

Last night was the season 4 premier of Duck Dynasty.  The show centered around the celebration of Phil and Kay Robertson’s 50th wedding anniversary (I think…I’m not sure anyone but Kay ever mentioned the actual year — and she said 48.)

The Robertson children decided to give their parents a ‘real’ wedding, as their parents were married by a Justice of the Peace originally.  As a complete surprise, this event would require lots of folks volunteering and playing their parts to pull off the momentous occasion.  And as the daughters-in-law began to pull people into the process, one of the unsuspecting men came out with this pearl of youth ministry wisdom:  “Never volunteer when you don’t know what you’re getting into.”

People who serve in youth ministry need to know what you’re asking of them.  Many times, we’re in a hurry to fill the spot, grab any warm body, connect with someone we KNOW will make a great connection with students.  And we put the cart before the horse, unsuspectingly.  We enlist a potential leader without clearly communicating what they’ll be doing.  Sure – they may know they’re volunteering to teach a class – but do they know what material they’ll be using, how many leadership meeting they’ll be expected to attend, what they need to be doing to prep for their teaching time, how they’ll be expected to connect with kids outside the class….do they know what they’re volunteering for?

Communicate well by having a job description for every adult you’ll enlist.  Spell out everything.  Then follow up as that potential leader begins serving.  Continue to clearly communicate vision and expectation.  You’ll create leaders for the long-haul.

“Never volunteer when you don’t know what you’re getting into.”  If you’re church members are watching Duck Dynasty, they might just have a higher expectation now….and a beard.

Why Youth Pastors Shouldn’t Rule the World Reason #273

“Hey! Good to see you….bro!”   “How’s it goin’, chica?” (Maybe we only say that in South Texas.)  The standard fist-bump, high-five, or side hug.

Youth pastors shouldn’t rule the world because we cannot remember names.  And rather than just ‘fessing up’ to this short coming, we’ve designed all kinds of ‘smoke screens’ to throw people off our tracks.

Here’s a news flash….THEY KNOW!  When you don’t remember their names, know their stories, or invest in their lives – it doesn’t matter how many pseudo gang-signs you throw or generic colloquialisms you say – they know you don’t know them

How about this story of ‘fallibility’?  (I almost didn’t write this one because I know my former students will recognize their stories in it and because it’s so shameful….yes, in my humble but accurate opinion, worse than sending the entire church porn under the pastor’s name!)

My student ministry was growing.  Kids were bringing their friends all the time.  We had a lot of students coming….and staying!!  Lindsey (her name is not changed, because if she’s reading this, I want her to know I still KNOW her name) had been attending with her friend Leah for months.  Every week I would give her a standard ‘hey girl’ line – or something lame like that.  Occasionally I would bust out an ‘I’m so sorry – can you remind me your name again’ (which, in my opinion, is the best way to do it!).  Lindsey made a decision for Christ – and soon after, decided to be baptized.  I never forgot her name again.  (YAY for me!).  But how that translated for her was ‘Darren doesn’t remember your name unless you get baptized.’  I know this because she told me every day for the next two years!

What kind of ministry are we doing where our interactions with students are so superficial that we cannot remember names?  Or where our programming is so paramount we don’t get the chance to learn names?  Or where we are so over-run with students we don’t enlist people to KNOW who those kids are?  Or where we only invest (or appear to invest) after kids become ‘regular’ in attendance, get saved or baptized, or take on leadership roles?

Jesus made a big deal out of names.  He called people by name – changed names – and even defined people by their names.  At the very least, we should know them.

Lindsey – thanks for challenging me to be better at that (or at least more honest).

Remember names – it’s an indicator that you care.

Youth Ministry Thankfulness

This is a guest post from a great colleague, Josh Griffin, High School Pastor at Saddleback.  With his permission, I am re-posting his thoughts.  Check out his blog at  And thank you youth workers, for everything you do and are!

Thank you for obeying God’s call to do youth ministry:
Thanks for serving.
Thanks for teaching God’s Word to students each week.
Thanks for being silly and fun.
Thanks for be serious, too.
Thanks for listening.
Thanks for listening, especially to that one kid who seems to bend your ear each week.
Thanks for being a great husband or wife and modeling that to your students.
Thanks for watching what you watch, say and do as an example.
Thanks for pointing me toward Jesus.
Thanks for being cool with not getting as much thanks as you deserve.
Thanks for loving God.
Thanks for spending time with God regularly.
Thanks for hurting when I hurt.
Thanks for supporting my family. Thanks for believing in my teenager.
Thanks for seeing the potential.
Thanks for pushing me to join a small group and experience Christian community.
Thanks for carrying burdens.
Thanks for challenging students.
Thanks for all of the inside jokes.
Thanks for guiding me.
Thanks for being there when my grandpa died.
Thanks for what you gave up to be in youth ministry.
Thanks for not needing recognition when you should be getting it.
Thanks for taking care of your heart and soul.
Thanks for helping me learn how to share my faith with my friends.
Thanks for your affirming words to me about my children.
Thanks for you quirks that make you original, I’m so glad you’re not the same.
Thanks for doing your best every day.
Thanks for your blog posts and Twitter.
Thanks for that encouraging word on Facebook when I was down.
Thanks for your counsel on which college I should go to.
Thanks for doing our wedding.
Thanks for making an impact.
Thanks for buying me a Coke.
Thanks for telling me the truth.
Thanks for shaping my life forever.
Thanks for being there when no one else was.

(things I imagine students, parents and other youth workers saying to you this Thanksgiving)


Sometime’s Good Enough is Good Enough

There’s a lot of talk in youth ministry about excellence and ‘raising the bar’ and setting a higher standard.  And there should be.  We never need to look at the ways we communicate the exceptional love, forgiveness, and mercy of Jesus in a mediocre light.  We should strive for excellence in everything – not for excellence’s sake…but merely because the message we communicate is not mundane or cheap in any way.

I digress – that is NOT what I learned at camp this summer.  I already knew that.  I also already knew that I have a pretty high propensity for perfectionism.  Every single thing on a Wednesday night talk can go exactly as planned, but if the music starts 12 seconds late, I think the entire night was a bust.  I could spend three hours (and used to!) making sure all the letters on my bulletin boards were in exactly straight lines (yes, I know that jumps the fence of perfectionism into the pasture of OCD.)  In preparing for events, I get so ‘worked up’ about everything going just right that I really get a little crazy.

One year, I was planning a spring retreat.  One of my student interns was working hard – but a little more reserved, sullen than usual.  When I asked him what was wrong, his reply was maybe one of the most memorable accountability checks I’ve ever had.  “I hate it when you get this way.  It takes the joy out of ministering with you.  Sometimes good enough is good enough.”

Wow.  That was almost seven years ago and that healing sting is still fresh and refreshing.

Anyway – so as I was preparing for camp, I kept that mantra going in my head (as I do now before every major thing I do).  It doesn’t have to be perfect to be Godly.  I need to be obedient to do the work God has set before me and trust that things that go awry are part of The Plan.

So as we are driving our 1,100 miles to camp in luxurious 15-passenger rental vans this summer, my mantra is getting a work out.  The vans are nice – not limo nice, but definitely not junk yard ghetto, either.  But as we get further and further from home, something becomes very apparent.  They are in desperate need of alignment.  As we approach the half-way mark, students are losing fillings as we bounce along the highway.  Milk left over from our traveling breakfast has turned to butter.  Those of us stressed during the preparation for the trip have experienced one of the best massage chairs ever.  We’re gonna have to slow down or these vans are going to bounce off the road.

But wait!  That’s gonna put us behind schedule.  We’re gonna have to adjust all our times.  This was not in our plan for the week!  “Sometimes good enough is good enough.”

Obviously, this wasn’t something for which we’d planned.  Thankfully, it wasn’t a serious breakdown on the side of the road.  (Incidentally, if you ever DO break down on the side of the road in New Mexico, be prepared to wait a while…that place is pretty desolate!)  But in the interest of safety, we were gonna have to slow down our trip a little bit.

We did that – we only arrived about 20 minutes later than planned (not even enough to adjust our schedules at all.)

Throughout the week, we had a few more opportunities to invoke our mantra.  And at one point, it was my honor to pass along the sage wisdom of my intern to another of our adults.

“Darren, don’t you think we should call the rental company and try to get them to replace those vans – or at least repair them?  The alignment is really ridiculous.”

“You know, we’ll just adjust our drive time on the way home to accommodate the alignment.  We don’t need to sacrifice our week here for a simple alignment – sometimes good enough is good enough.”

“Hmmm.  OK, then – you’re right. It’s no big deal.”

Sometimes good enough is good enough.  It doesn’t have to be perfect to be right…or holy…or a part of God’s perfect plan for your ministry.  Sometimes we can even see God more clearly through imperfection.  Sometimes good enough is good enough.