It seems that the latest social media craze is here in Periscope. This new iOS app allows the user to capture and broadcast video live with a smartphone. Periscope has been hitting the Political and celebrity world hard. One of my students works as a page in the Des Moines Capital. Potential 2016 presidential candidates are constantly using the app to be in front of their followers. Celebrities like Jimmy Fallon and Jim Gaffigan are on Periscope, Gaffigan has been LIVE several times a day placing viewers at the center of the filming of his new show “The Jim Gaffigan Show” that airs on TV Land in July of this year (there are also celebrities not named Jim on Periscope).

Signing up is free, all you need is a smartphone, Periscope app, & Twitter account.

I have been thinking through ways to use Periscope in my setting.  One application is to host a brief tech talk tomorrow (Tuesday, April 28). I would love it if you joined me for 15 minutes at 3pm central time tomorrow. Here is what you need to do to be part of this live event.

  • Sign-Up for Periscope
  • Search for “brandonearly” in the app
  • Follow me and wait for the Periscope to go live

or you can sign-Up for Periscope and wait for the link to go live at 3pm Central on my twitter @iambrandonearly.

I have a few “go-to” tools that help me prepare a message. I am the primary teacher in our high school youth ministry but I also carry part of the teaching load for our church (about once a month). More than anything, I want to correctly convey God’s word. My hope is that I do that in a way that honors God and engages people. Here are a few sites that help me shape messages.

This is my go-to note-taking app. It is free and it is everywhere.

Visual Thesaurus
It is hard finding the perfect word(s). This is a good thesaurus, but it is a great visual. I like seeing my choices and this site uses a unique layout. There are apps that do something similar, but this has been the best I have found.

I feel weird trying to rhyme a phrase, but it can be very memorable. I use this site sparingly, but it is handy.

Listen and learn. I watch other teachers, a lot. This really helps be learn and sharpen as a presenter. I love the warning that indirectly comes with this tip from Francis Chan.

Not an app. The role prayer plays in my ministry has changed over time. I can not believe how I have let this slide over the years.

Prayer does not equip us for greater works— prayer is the greater work.
– Oswald Chambers

The app I use to speak from. If you are teaching from your tablet here are several options, just find the app that works best for you.

What am I missing? Do you have a go-to site that helps you with message prep?

– Brandon / @iamBRANDONEARLY


Every other day lately it seems like I receive a new coupon telling me what I can buy my mom on her special day in May. In the restaurant world, Mother’s Day is seen as one of the busiest of the year. We will buy flowers, jewelry and candy to tell those we love all about our love for them. Once we have celebrated this day our eyes as a society will be turned to the dads.There will be mass jokes about grilling, fixing things and sports. Moms and dads all over the globe look forward to these days filled with handmade cards and mystery breakfasts in bed. After all who doesn’t want to celebrate their parents?

The trouble of course is that the traditional family is no longer traditional. This puts many of us and our students in a deep conundrum on these days. What if your parents are divorced and remarried and you have four parents? Do you hurt the heart of your biological mom if you acknowledge your stepmom loves you too? What if your mom or dad is no longer present in your life for one reason or another and you are actually being raised by someone else? What if your parents are divorced and are now with a same sex partner? In this particular blended family you could potentially have three moms and one dad.

The teen years are also filled with a push and pull of even feeling close to parents at all. I hear often from teens at this age that they feel disconnected and invisible at home, while parents are telling me their kids don’t want them. Parents are hungering for a sentimental card while a child may not want to write it.

So how do you help students who may be struggling on these holidays?

Remember They Still Want THEIR Mom & Dad

Maybe you are thinking this isn’t an “issue” in your group. It’s just a day that will come and go, like any other. Let me tell you they are thinking about it. They are wondering how to respond and what to do. Many students I have met from the most difficult family situations deep down are waiting for their mom and/or dad to still show up and be their parents. Often times in these situations we like to take the attitude of, “Well you know, your parents are a train wreck anyway.” (Even if we never say it out loud.) We may not be able to “fix” the home life, but we can remember deep down they love their parents and actually long for home to be a place of wholeness.

Be Sensitive

Many churches do something special for the congregation on Mother’s and Father’s Day. While you are no longer taking the time to make cards in Sunday school with students, they are aware of those difficult Sundays. You may not even know the depth of an at home struggle or how kids really feel about what is going on. Be aware of sweeping statements that talk about family. Recognize you may not know everything that is going on, but that doesn’t mean you have to ignore it either. Take time in your group to help students see all of the people in their lives that support them. They may need to see the Lord has filled in gaps of their extended family with others who love them radically.

 Talk To Those Who Need It

Just because that boy says he is alright with his mom’s cancer diagnosis, doesn’t mean he isn’t wondering if this will be the last. The young woman who lost her dad suddenly this year to a heart attack is secretly dreading Father’s Day, as is the one you know who has a dad in jail. Perhaps they have a parent in the military who spends more time deployed then at home. We don’t always consider these “real” holidays so we don’t always acknowledge them well with our students. Be on the look out for attitude changes in students leading up to these days and see if they need someone to talk to. Take the time if needed to take a student out and just talk to them about whatever is on their heart.”

It’s Ok To Say I Love You

There is no card that says, “Sometimes you let me down, but I still love you anyway. Happy Parent’s Day.” If you have a student that feels like they stare at all of the cards that carry sentiments that don’t fit, let them know they can still tell their parents they love them. More importantly let them know that loving your parents whoever they are is “normal.” For those from blended families or being raised in non traditional settings, let them know that loving all of your parents or those that “act” as your parent does not minimize their love for anyone else.
You may decide to share some stories of imperfection from your own childhood. Be cautious to not share too much or to minimize what a student is feeling. However, sometimes our students need to know that there is no such thing as a family that has it “all together.” What is most important is as you head into Mother’s and Father’s Day remember it isn’t status quo for your whole group.

What do you do during these times of the year?

oprah-email-marketing-meme-300x224As of 9 a.m. today I had 1,400 emails in my inbox. That is actually lite compared to some of my friends. I have a friend who told me he has 30,000 emails in his inbox. Seriously! I said, “you should claim email bankruptcy“. Email bankruptcy is a thing, here’s how it works.

  • Control/Command + A
  • Delete
  • Send an email to all of you contacts saying, “I am sorry, all of my emails have been deleted. If you were waiting for a reply from me on any particular email please resend the email.”

That method is quite abrupt, and semi-permanent (very permanent if you delete your deleted folder). It’s not my preference but I’ve thought about doing this many times.

SIDE NOTE: My most productive hours of work seem to be 9-11:30am. I try to do the things that need by best attention in that chunk of time. I find that if I get weighed down with email and other simple tasks I give away the most productive portion of my day. That means I turn off notifications on both my phone and computer. Do I miss things? Sometimes. But I attribute that to other people’s poor planning not my lack of availability. I cannot be tethered to email for “just in case.”


  • I process email twice daily: After lunch and before I leave for the day. Dedicated time receives my full attention instead of trying to squeeze in moments.
  • Response Easy: Immediately respond to any quick questions then delete.
  • Response Hard: If the message needs more thought I will flag the message and follow up at a designated time (within 24 hours.)
  • Deleting and Filing: I found three types of emails in my inbox; unread messages, messages that were read and no longer needed, messages read and hovering as file storage…these all needed to go!
    1. New messages eventually fall into the last 2 categories) if not deleted.
    2. I found that messages I replied to never got deleted. I would type a reply and then shut down the window. I need to add an extra step of deleting that message I replied to.
    3. Instead of leaving files in my inbox, I now sort them to an Evernote folder or a Google Drive or Dropbox folder.
    These alone helped me delete about 1,100 of those 1,400 emails.
  • Reply/forward emails to someone who can help: Sometimes an email will sit in my inbox for weeks because I don’t have the time to give it attention. If it’s something I can’t handle right away or that somebody else in my ministry can answer more clearly, I’ll reply to that person and carbon copy (CC:) someone who can help and then immediately delete the message. For example, last week I received a request to use our church to host a concert. I wrote back,

    “The best person to help you is Tony, he oversees facilities. If you do not hear from him this week feel free to connect with him directly, I have added him to this email.”

I am on my way to a zero inbox. I am down to 335 messages. How many messages are in your inbox?

blog-lessons-learned-blackboard-800wGrowing up I’ve had several people in my life that have made a lasting impact. I am totally the man I am today because of the people who took the time to invest in me.

I feel privileged to have been able to do the same in the lives of the students I get to invest in. And along the way, I’ve learned a ton about being present in the lives of students. I’ve also learned how serious God takes it. So i thought I’d share a few of my learnings with you:

  1. I’ve learned students are listening – They are listening to our every word. Even though they might not do what we say all the time they are still listening. I’ve had students remind me of things that I’ve said that has helped them that I don’t even remember saying. I’ve also had them call me out on things I’ve said that I didn’t think they were paying any attention to. THEY ARE LISTENING and you have the ability to speak words that will build them up in their faith. On the flip side, you also have the ability to speak words that will tear them down or lead them astray. You must know that they are listening and the things you say is affecting them for the better or worse.
  2. I’ve learned students are watching – I believe students watch us more than they listen to us. As a leader/mentor it is important we model what we preach. This is why relational ministry is so important. Because the principle behind relational ministry is that we model Christ and the biblical principles of His kingdom to students doing life together. So it’s great in the sense that they get to hopefully not just hear about a life surrendered to God, but also see one. So if you are living a life surrendered to God that’s what they will see. Likewise, if you are talking the talk, but not walking the walk they will also see that. Remember, they are watching.
  3. I’ve learned to be honest with students – Be honest about where you are in your walk with Christ. And don’t be afraid to get help with the things you don’t know. Also, be lovingly honest in your conversations where you have to speak some tough truth.
  4. I’ve learned to be their leader, not their friend – Be their leader, not their friend as if they are your age or in your stage of life. This gets people into a lot of trouble because there are no clear lines drawn. And you begin to treat them as someone you can dump all of your frustrations/worries/hangups/habits/issues on. I need to use discernment concerning sharing about my life with students; and I need friends outside of ministry that are my age (or older) and are in my stage of life or have been in my stage of life that I can personally relate to and walk my faith journey with.
  5. I’ve learned it’s important that I strive to be trustworthy and lead with integrity – Remember, having integrity is not about being right, it’s about doing what’s right. We need to point students in the right direction. We need to teach them the right direction even when you’re wrong.
  6. I’ve learned that students are vulnerable – My role in their life gives me influence. It’s important that I take it seriously and never take advantage of it. Matthew 18:6 – Sometimes we think this verse means if we cause them to start doing drugs or something terrible, but our hypocriticalness can totally cause a student to stumble, and walk away from their faith. God holds us accountable with the lives He has entrusted us with.

Your presence in the lives of students are needed. Know that it is a responsibility God takes seriously.

Hope it helps,


Our friends at Lifetree Adventures provide incredible international mission experiences for youth groups, church groups, individuals, friends, and families all over the world. One of their unique mission experience destinations is Cuba! (Yes, you can travel to Cuba!) Dave Hoffman, recent Lifetree Adventure Traveler, shared about his time there. Read below about how awesome your Cuban Lifetree Adventure could be!


“From the time we stepped through the doors of customs, I knew that Cuba was going to be an amazing Lifetree Adventure.

We met our Cuban partners and started our drive to the “casa particular” that would be our lodging and home base for the week. Many Cubans make their homes available for rent to travelers and tourists, and our group had the pleasure of having wonderful hosts, and wonderful food at our “casa particular.”

Over the next five days, we visited home churches and learned more about the ministry partners that Lifetree Adventures has established. Each night, we shared stories about where we saw God at work, and discussed our lives back home. In just a few days, we went from total strangers to a close knit circle of friends!

Over the next four days we were able to worship with the Cuban people, meet a pastor that was imprisoned during the early days of the Castro government, pray for the pastoral teams of many churches and visit the seminary where leaders of all denominations receive training.

During this time we had the opportunity to work with a group of women that reach out to families that have children with disabilities. Seeing their dedication to supporting each other, whether they were church members or not, was inspiring.IMG_2167

We were also able to help out on the farm as the Mango trees were laden with fruit, overloading the branches and the fruit was touching the ground. One afternoon we worked to prop up these branches using branches (for braces) and strips cut from palm bark to tie the braces to the branches.   We enjoyed working and sweating together to get this fruit off the ground, knowing that it was going to help support the pastoral teams that we had visited, worshipped with and prayed for.

Thursday morning was bittersweet as we left our gracious hosts, and headed toward the tourist beaches of Varadero. It was sad saying goodbye to our friends at the house, as well as our new Cuban friends in ministry, but we were also looking forward to an afternoon and morning on the beach!

Varadero was like crossing into another world – a tourist world and not the world that the Cuban people we had met lived. We stayed at a wonderful resort and enjoyed time on one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve had the pleasure to step onto. We swam, enjoyed the sun, had some 596wonderful food, saw a show and enjoyed time together as a group.

On Friday, we left Varadero for the city of Havana. The drive along the coast was amazing as it is truly unspoiled (except for a few Chinese oil interests and Cuban military facilities). Havana is a city that is beginning to see its beauty restored. Yes, there are many building in disrepair along the Malecón (a famous 7 km drive/walk along the city’s sea wall), but there are also signs of restoration and pride as the city begins to wake up from years of neglect. We spent the night at the Catholic Church in Havana and enjoyed walking around the old town, the Fort protecting Havana, the central square of the revolution and many of Havana’s sights.

I can’t wait for my next trip to Cuba for another Lifetree Adventure trip in just a few months.” – Dave Hoffman, Lifetree Adventure Traveler


To learn more about Lifetree Adventures, visit the website or call Robin, your experienced international mission advisor, at 800-747-2157!

I still recall the look on my mentor’s face when I first started in ministry. She would get this quiet smile as I would tell her that I already knew everything and I didn’t have much to learn. My opinion was truth and there wasn’t anyone who could tell me anything differently.Years later, I understand that look she used to have. It wasn’t bitterness or even resolve. She understood there comes a point when you realize actually how little you know.

I am thankful for mentors who let me think I knew it all so that I could learn I am actually desperate for help. I do wish however, that I had been shown how to navigate the pitfalls a little better. There are lessons learned along the way, that I wish I had learned long ago. As I walk alongside the next generation, I see there are heartaches they could miss. If they could just “get” these 5 things, I truly believe they would take this world for Christ in ways that would boggle our minds:

1. Only Christ has what you need.

I know it sounds elementary.Yet, I don’t think we teach our youth HOW to have their identity in Him. Why? We don’t really believe that he has everything. I heard Francis Chan say recently that we will look to Jesus as a Savior but will we see Him as our role model for living?

When we are unhappy or the world is unfair we try to find our identity in our work, our looks, our status and even our ministry. We must learn early that we must look at ourselves through the eyes of our Savior and never lose our desperation for Him.The moment we think we can gain control, we have actually lost everything.

2. Take the hurdles head on.

I had a mentor tell me once,”You can choose to run around the hurdles in your life. We all want to do it.The problem is that there will always be another one. At some point you need to learn how to jump them.” We can run away from our challenges, the one catch is that there will be another one.That verse in James says to consider it pure joy WHEN we face trials of MANY kinds. The sooner we can learn hurdles aren’t so scary, the more we can live a full life for the Lord. It may not feel like it in the moment, but with His hand we can get over them.

3. The journey matters.

When you are 10 you want to be 13. At 13 you just want to be 16. Then 18.Then 21.Then married.Then have children. Our focus can always be on that “next thing” there is to attain. We should have goals, that is important. However, the most important lessons learned are in the journey. (It may sound like a Hallmark card, but it’s true.) Where you are right at this moment is part of the shaping process that makes you look more like Jesus.  We need to help students ask the Lord, “What do you want me to learn in the adventure we are on together today?”

4. Scars are just tattoos with better stories.

We get wounded in life and sometimes it is beyond our control. Other times people hurt us. There are moments when those that should have loved stab deep.There are even moments when our decisions are indeed irreversible. The result is always a gaping and oozing sore. What we need to ask is, “Do we want to be healed?” Our attention can be solely on the unfairness of the lesion. Forgiveness is not giving the offense absolution. Instead, it is the understanding that no one can be effective if they are trying to ignore a bullet hole in the leg. Forgiveness recognizes that bitterness causes separation in our relationship with the Lord. Forgiveness is an act of choice that is followed by feeling. Our wounds do leave scars. But, when we let the Lord heal them then we can learn to embrace them. We are no longer the walking wounded, but those who are not afraid of the tale of our scars.

5. Don’t lose your zeal.

We have a tendency to feed this mentality that all teens rebel. You know when they “grow up,” then they will live fully for Christ. The other side of this is that we can teach our youth that at some point they should be less excited and passionate about Christ. Today is the day called for Salvation. Today is the day that the Lord wants you to be fully his to be used fully by him. Does rebellion happen? Yes, we have free will. Should we expect it? No. Let’s teach this generation they don’t have to be complacent. They can be a light that the world is drawn to, no matter the age.

If I could some it all up I would say this to my youth, “Live without regret.” If we can look back with as few cringing moments as possible it will all be worth it. I think most of all I just want this generation to understand that they are more powerful than they know. Now I stand with that same smile of knowing while I remind them, they have the full potential to put my faith to shame.

– Leneita

In this episode, we discuss modesty in youth group when it comes to clothing by the pool. We also discuss grade transitions: Elementary to Jr. High and Jr. High to High School. Send questions or topic ideas to


Hope it helps,

AC & Kurt