Lessons-learned-300x208I had the privilege of taking a few of my student leaders to a workshop where they were a part of a Q & A panel. There were youth workers there asking questions about their experience in youth ministry. Now, they had a few of the questions beforehand, but I didn’t prep them nor did I shape their answers. I wanted them to be honest about their experiences good or bad.

It was probably one of the greatest moments in youth ministry for me. Not because they made the ministry look good, because they didn’t. They shared the good and the bad. As the youth pastors in the crowd begin to ask questions and the students begin to answer, a few things became very clear to me.

  • Life change is not in the events we do. It’s what takes place at the event that changes lives.
    We spend a lot of time and stressful hours trying to come up with the craziest and greatest events ever. Which is not a bad thing, but if you’re measuring life change based on it you are probably not going to see the fruit you expected. What became clear to me is that I need to focus my time on what happens at the event because that matters more.
  • We can view failure as a loss or a learning experience.
    The saying “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” should be a universal slogan for youth ministries everywhere. And I would add “try, try something different.” You must not be afraid to fail in ministry, and knowing what works warrants you to know what doesn’t work. We’ve tried a lot of things that haven’t worked. And because we are not afraid to fail, we find what does work. What became clear to me is our youth ministries are too unique to think that their is a one-size-fits all system or plan. You try, you fail, and you learn. You will find what works in the process.
  • Students remember what we do, more than what we say.
    As the students began to speak about their experiences and what has been the most impactful, none of them answered the teachings or curriculum. It was the selfless act of a leader who took time to walk with them through a difficult time in their faith and/or personal life. What became clear to me is that we need to spend more time being and modeling the Word of God to students and not just teaching it.
  • Be relationally intentional.
    I heard more stories about how God worked through relationships than anything else. What became clear to me is that we need to spend time helping our leaders become more intentional concerning relational ministry.

I learned a lot just listening to our students answer questions about our ministry. I would be lying if I said all of it was enjoyable. They spoke of things we tried that didn’t work and we learned from them. I would encourage you to do the same. Let your students speak honestly about your ministry and learn from them. You will be surprised how attentive they are to the ministry.

Hope it helps,



We stood in the middle of an arena while hundreds of junior high students were running around, playing ninja and 4-square with more AXE body spray on than any human should be allowed. The concern on Rebecca’s face was real. She had been leading her youth ministry for just over a year and was feeling as if their Sunday morning small groups were a little flat. She wasn’t at any type of breaking point, but wanted to make the planning process a lot smoother than what it had been. She wanted to get ahead of the curve. If she could be more intentional with her planning, her students would be a little more responsive, and she could make some headway in helping them lay a solid foundation for their lives.

Here are a couple of practical tips I reminded her to keep in mind when attempting to intentionally plan ahead for optimal health and longevity in ministry:

1. Carefully gauge where your students are at spiritually.
This is going to be a general assessment. Yes, every student is at a different place in their spiritual journey. However, we should be able to have a general understanding of where our students are at. We’re able to assess this by prayerfully looking at the conversations we’ve had with them, looking at some lifestyle choices they been making, and by having healthy communication with their parents.

2. Prayerfully determine where God is leading your group.
Most of us are looking for a quick-fix solution on this one. With numerous Bible study and curriculum options available for us, it’s really easy to make a knee-jerk reaction on what we are going to teach this upcoming week. Yet nothing replaces the discovery that only comes with prayer and reflection. This is the time when God speaks to the deepest part of our hearts in showing us not just where our students are at, but where he is wanting to lead them in the next season of life.

3. Intentionally plan ahead, allowing for flexibility.
Here is where things start to get really fun. Planning out a teaching calendar, whether a month or six months in advance, can be somewhat overwhelming yet very freeing at the same time. Once we know where our students are at and where God is leading them, we can intentionally plan out the teaching path. A tool that we love to use in our youth ministry is the LIVE engine. Our junior high pastor can plan out months of small group lessons ahead of schedule, including lessons that she has written, and then loop all of us in simultaneously. Through this tool she also has the ability to be sensitive to current events, ministry needs, and last-minute schedule adjustments by moving lessons and rescheduling them within the calendar.

Over 15,000 churches worldwide have partnered with LIVE to intentionally plan ahead and to communicate with their leaders and parents. Start your free 30-day trial and see how LIVE Curriculum can come alongside you to make planning a little easier.

In this episode we go to the email bag. We discuss what to do when the ministry you’re serving in is not what you thought. We also discuss parents. Remember, you can leave a question or topic suggestion at talkyouthministry@gmail.com.

Hope it helps,

AC & Kurt

If you are looking for some sweet graphics for your upcoming Easter Service check out these links…maybe even share them with your senior pastor for a big church.



Church Media Design


Open Resources

Here’s a link to a Pinterest board put together by Open Resources filled with sermon/media ideas for Easter.

If you are looking for a message for Easter check out the Holiday bundle from LIVE!

I am not sure why I’m locked on to this topic about youth workers getting fired. All is good in my world. But I thought I’d put out a third post and make this a trilogy. Check out the 5 Steps After Getting Fired and the Steps 6-10 posts.

Sometimes things just go awry in church ministry. Being let go from your job is a part of the youth ministry profession.There are times when its nothing you did (like the church is experiencing budget shortfalls) but many times there is some sense of unhappiness with your job performance coming from someone.Whether truth or not, churches will sometimes look for things to be unhappy about so they feel better about exiting you before they head in a different direction with a “Superstar Superman” youth director who will fix all their growth woes.

Here are 5 practices to make you better at your job and make it harder for leaders to find fault:

1) Keep an updated youth contact sheet: “That youth director never once reached out to my son!” Sound familiar? Avoid this by creating a spreadsheet with every single youth name on it connected to the church. Active church families’ teens, inactive church families’ teens, and active youth visitors should all be there. Give the spreadsheet headings: email, text, call, Instagram, FB, visit, etc. Mark down group and personal contact points. (Tip: For the inactive church member students, leave the occasional message in the parents’ voicemail, in addition to the student’s.) This way, you can turn it in once a month to your boss or the board, and they don’t even have to ask.

2) CC your boss: Having a thread of what was said in a sensitive area with an unhappy person never hurts. Also, cc’ing your boss will keep you accountable for what you say. It also lets the unhappy person know you’re willing to work this out and are being transparent.

3) Repeat after me, “I’m sorry, and…”: Too many youth workers come off as defensive. So when someone comes to them with an idea or a complaint, the first words out of the youth worker’s mouth is, “I’m sorry, BUT…”  What follows is never good. The “but” immediately sets the complainer’s walls up even higher. Saying, “I’m sorry and I’ll check into that,” or “I’m sorry. I’ll work hard at making sure that doesn’t happen again,” helps the other person to feel heard.

4) Leave a (electronic) paper trail about events: Squelch people’s questions and concerns. Use a program planning sheet for each event so that every staff and leader/volunteer can see details as they fill in. Post it in a Google Drive for people to see at any time or attach each version in emails. (Email me at stephanie@ministryarchitects.com and I’ll send you my one page version or go to ministryarchitects.com and find their major event notebook freebie.)

5) Be intentional. Never assume: Never assume anyone knows the why behind the what. Don’t leave great follow-up to chance…because it won’t be great follow-up.

I have had my name butchered at Starbucks on more than a million occasions. Most people who hear, “Leneita” without ever meeting me assume I have an ethnicity other than the blond, blue eyed German-English-French/Canadian from which I came. It’s pretty funny actually. So I found it really interesting that Starbucks decided to deal with their inability to simply ask me how to spell my name and racial tension by starting a campaign. My understanding is that as we discuss my spelling the Barista at hand should write “#RaceTogether” on my cup and then we are supposed to have a discussion about the origin of my name, or the color of my skin. As you can imagine Starbucks has gotten a lot of flack for this approach to talking about race but I believe their intentions are well meaning. It sparks a larger discussion we ought to be having in our churches and youth groups.


I live in an inner city neighborhood with my husband and children. It so happens that we and other church staff members are the only “white” families in our ‘hood’ among primarily African-American families. Our area is an under-resourced area riddled with many of the stereotypes of this type of community: drugs, violence, crime, and general despair.

The trouble is that all too often others on the outside make judgments about who’s on the inside of the homes that line our streets. My children have had friends from the suburbs who are not allowed to play at our house and friends from out of town would often rather not stay at our home. The idea of race in this locale has been tied to a bad reputation.

On the other hand I have great neighbors who have a hard time trusting why we would purposely move here. The color of my skin is synonymous to those who have made hard and hurtful judgments.

For more ideas on this topic, take a look at the article on pages 24-26 in the latest issue of Group Magazine:
Leading Our Students to Racial Reconciliation.

My neighbor “Grandma” is 97 and came here from Georgia when she was a newlywed. According to her figures she has over 100 grand and great-grandchildren. She refers to me at over 40 as a “pretty young thing,” and loves to hear the laughter of my teens when they play football and volleyball in our yard. I tell you this to say there is a story in the heart of each person that a hashtag can never figure out.

We live in an area that struggles under the weight of hopelessness. Still, I am not convinced that skin color has anything to do with this. I grew up in a rural area where there were two people in my whole school whose skin shade varied from mine. However, my home town dealt with drugs and even murder. Skin color didn’t have anything to do with our sin.

We forget Jesus loves us all equally. There is no parent “too far gone”. There is no young man who can’t walk away from dealing drugs. There are friends who grew up here and whose hearts burn for the day our community is transformed entirely by the Lord. Yet, in my current town our history of segregation is like a weight around our neck.

Race is a more complicated issue than any of us want to discuss. It is not linear. It is the way I see the people on my street and the way they see me. It’s the way we look at each other with attached ideas in line at the grocery store, or traveling on an airplane. It is more complicated than anything the media will ever cover.

I guess Starbucks is attempting to say we need to talk about it. Of course that means we all need to be honest with the opinions we carry. When do we look at someone and make assumptions based on the melanin saturation of their skin, the color of their eyes or the style of their hair? Can a three minute conversation as I pay for coffee help with this?

The world we live in is changing. Your youth group may only have one or two students who are a different shade than yours. Yet, each of them are following actors, singers and athletes who look different but are modern heroes. This acceptance makes us think that we can ignore the race issue. I believe this is because we don’t know how to talk about it.

So, let’s start a discussion with our youth about this issue: 

Look up the campaign and lead a discussion about the good and the bad of it. Ask your students what their perceptions are of those who look different than they do. Talk truthfully about “loving your neighbor as yourself.” Be honest with yourself about all of the opinions you carry about ANYONE who looks different than you do. Deal with it.

Then remember we are all created in the image of God, man and woman in his image. Genesis doesn’t say anywhere that merely our spirits or souls look like him. Nope, from the ground up we each reflect the Lord. That is unfathomable.

I live where I do because it’s where the members of my local church, of which I am on staff, reside. If I want to minister effectively I need to be close. I am learning to love my neighbor as myself. Let’s teach our congregations to do the same.

*** Note: at the time of this posting rumor has it Starbucks is canceling this awkward campaign.

“How long do you preach to your students?”

howlongThis is a common question among youth workers, especially within an American culture where attention spans matter. I wonder sometimes if ministries in foreign cultures that are used to longer church services ever have to even ask the question, but that’s perhaps another blog post for another time.

Most youth workers set aside a certain amount of time for their message to make its point, dabbling somewhere in between 10 to 30 minutes. Others might offer that a general rule of thumb is one minute of preaching per the age of your audience (i.e. an audience of 15-year-olds equals a 15 minute message)

—-Click here for additional youth ministry sermon resources.—-

Perhaps another way to consider the question is “How long should you preach before engaging students another way, and then preaching some more?”

For example, if you watch major TV shows or movies that do this well, they’ll give you a thick scene… then shift it to something completely different… then shift it back to the thick scene… and so on. Sometimes the shift is lighter, like in the Passion of the Christ when you’re watching Mary look at Jesus being beaten – and then there is this little mental flashback of them being playful with each other years earlier, or him needing her help as a child – and then we’re back to the heavier stuff.

If you do this well, a “message” can last longer than it would otherwise. The catch is to make sure things complement each other versus distract from each other.

What do you think?

– Tony / @tonymyles

P.S. Here are some other thoughts I once wrote down on the process of creating a sermon: http://www.ehow.com/how_7474517_create-sermon.html

Do We Throw A Shower?

 —  March 19, 2015 — 9 Comments


I can still remember getting the letter in the mail. This bright young woman had been in my cabin at camp that summer, and I actually knew her youth pastor quite well. She had rededicated her life to the Lord and decided she wanted only His love with tears streaming down her face. When you are a camp counselor some students are special to you, and she was one of them.

The words on the page read, “I know you will be disappointed with me like everyone else is. I wanted you to know I am pregnant, and I will be keeping the baby.”

Honestly, this had been the first time I had encountered this, and I wasn’t sure how to act or what to feel. My first thoughts begged, “If I had helped her truly grab hold of her identity in Christ would she have made a different choice?” Then I refocused on her first thoughts, “I know you will be disappointed with me like everyone else.”

That was the first time I had known a teen close to me who got pregnant, but it was not the last. In the years since, I have known many young women who have made choices that cause a new life to come into this world. For some reason I too often think it has something to do with me as the youth pastor. It doesn’t. Our students struggle to grab hold of the Lord for themselves and this is the deeper issue.

1. Support the Family: Sit down with the family on an ongoing basis and find out what the overwhelming needs are. Build a deeper relationship in this area. Are they supplies? Are they coming up with a plan for the student staying in school? Where do they need you most? Is there even family support? How you aid the couple depends entirely on the level of at home support. Find them people who can speak into their life of what it means to raise a child, with Christ.

2. Help Focus the Couple: As much as possible build relationships with both the mom and dad to be. Since in many cases this pregnancy will not end up in marriage, our attention becomes entirely centered on the girl. It can be our attitude to simply assume the new “dad” will be nowhere to be found. We want both to see the responsibility involved here. The girls think this is a little “doll” that will finally love them unconditionally. Help them think through the care of the new baby. Help the new- dad know how to be best involved. We must aid them in walking through the truth that they are now being given the care of a new little person. This is the complicated dance of single parenting, dual involvement, while still not even entering adulthood.

3. Walk the “System” with Them: They may not know how eligible they are for “help.” There are so many programs that will ensure that pregnant Moms have medical care and food. There are government vouchers for daycare so that the Mom will stay in school. Crisis pregnancy centers offer parenting classes and clothing closets. Youth For Christ has a “Teen Moms” program. Even MOPS International (A Christian mother’s group) often has chapters of “Teen Moms” meetings. What is at your church? In the midst of preparing for the baby, they may not even know where to turn. Be the one to make some phone calls to find out who is out there that wants to aid in support the teens who are having babies.

4. Throw a “Blesssings” Shower: Most often a baby shower is focused on the mother. It is a way of celebrating the move from “woman” to “mother.” In this case we make the focus on the baby and the life on it’s way. Yes, this new Mom still needs the slew of diapers, baby clothes and a car seat. Yet, in this type of shower the time is spent less on games and food. Ask all of the guests to bring a scripture, poem or word of parenting advice for the new parents and baby. Purchase a scrap book. Ask everyone to spend the time reading their “blessings” and sharing them. At the end of the time everyone places their additions in the book. Then for years to come this is a keepsake. It is a way of this child knowing as they growing that in Christ’s eyes they were never “a mistake.”

5. Be “in it” for the long haul”: I think of the day I left the hospital with my first new born. John and I thought they must have been crazy to let us leave with her. Imagine being a teen? This feeling is quadrupled! There is still school to attend. Peer pressure to bear. Scrutiny to weigh on their shoulders. Will they attend prom? Are they grown- ups or kids? Truth is it is not about the pregnancy. It is not about just 18 years and then they are “free” from this stress. They are now parents. Forever. They need to know that they have someone who will love them and walk this with them for the journey.

It would be so much easier to just hear about the pregnancy and “handle it.” Maybe we could even “throw a shower,” and hand them a gift and move on. Yet, that is not our true heart. We truly desire to see this couple understand their relationship with Christ. We want this child to grow up understanding that their life was written with a purpose and a plan. We want this couple to understand the gift they have been given by the Lord. They need to learn to grieve the loss of their own childhood without thinking that Christ has forgotten them. This child needs to be dedicated to Jesus. Like the rest of this understanding parenthood is a process. This is a Mom and a Dad and a Child… who needs us…

They all need to know like all of us…
…“I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself.” Jeremiah 31:3b