My buddy Matt, the youth pastor at our Irvine Campus, and I just returned from helping launch Saddleback’s first international youth ministry in Manila.

The week was filled with hype, hope, and hard work around the launch. In fact, we were talking so much about “Week 1″ that I finally felt compelled to remind them that we were launching a youth ministry, not just a one-time event. Brittany Hinzo, who helps me with our international stuff had delivered a beautiful little baby girl just a few days earlier so I used her as a launching pad.

“Remember how excited we all were to hear about Brittany’s new baby girl, Navy? Guys, anybody can have a baby! The reality is the birthing process is the easy part; anybody can do that. What’s tough is raising a baby! While I’m just as excited as you about the launch, and largely responsible for creating this excitement, I’m more concerned about week #2 and week #28 and week #84 than I am about week #1″

Youth workers are notorious for new ideas, big plans and fireworks. We love “having babies”! And we are often equally notorious for being terrible at raising them. We have programs we never should have birthed, we are neglecting the health of important things because we are excitedly birthing new things. etc.

We love to ask each other what we are doing that is new, fresh and exciting and rarely ask each other what things we have been doing faithfully for 5 or 6 years that are bearing good fruit.

So while I’m excited about the birth of Saddleback Student Ministry’s addition to the family in Manila, I realize that anybody can have a baby. Can we raise one? I hope so.



(yawns, stretches)


My computer drives me crazy on a daily basis for this very reason. Sometimes it locks up because I’m multi-tasking beyond its memory capabilities. Other times it takes a long time to process a video I’m downloading or creating.

You have this in your life, too.

Your smartphone that never seems to operate as fast as you want it to. The cashier doesn’t get you through the line as fast as you want. Your route home in traffic is slower than normal for no reason that you can tell.

And then there’s generational lag.

Watch this video and see if you can relate at all to being in a room full of teenagers and yet being off in some category of the conversation:

What is that category for you?

For example, as hip and in-touch as I assume I am, I’m always amazed at how little I know of who’s who at music/teen awards ceremonies. How have you ever felt like that over something in culture… or simply in terms of what’s happening in your student’s lives?

How can we reclaim our lag time?

FREE WEBINAR TOMORROW, Tuesday, July 22, at 9:30 am MDT.

TOOLS Wesite Clip

Get started with Simply Youth Ministry’s TOOLS!

Join Jake for a live  Demo Webinar for a thorough walk-through of how to use these sweet TOOLS: Contact, Communicate, Team, Events, and Jobs.

He’ll go slowly through the tutorial to make sure you feel confident using TOOLS to maximize your youth ministry by the time it’s over.

Bring any and all questions you have about TOOLS.  Jake will get them answered in a Q+A session at the end!

Register for the FREE Webinar now! 

So tune in and join us for a fun time of chatting about youth ministry and learning about a resource that could make your life a LOT easier!


- Amber / @youthministry



Honestly, I can’t remember how our small group discussion ended up here. All of a sudden a very animated 16 year old yelled,

“I hate it when adults tell me I have potential.”

“Why?”  I inquired.  In my own mind that is a great word that helps others understand that we were made for more.

The boy continued, “Well,  first of all I mostly hear the word from teachers or my parents when I am getting lectured. It never really seems positive. Also, I don’t ever feel like I am allowed to make mistakes. It’s like everyone just thinks I am a mess. When I do something right, it’s like that was wrong.” I wanted to make sure I understood. “So what I hear you saying is that you feel like people just think you can’t get ever get it right? When you do that is just a deviation from the norm. What you want is people to see that you are really not trying to mess up. It just happens sometimes.” (Yes, I used the word deviation. Yes, I had to explain what I meant by that.)  His eyes went wide, “Exactly! It’s like when adults say “potential,” they can’t see I’m trying.”

As I listened “between the lines,”  I realized this young many was saying,  “Help me don’t talk at me.”

So in those moments when we need to call a student to “more,”  how do we? For the reason we throw words like “potential” around is often because we feel our students are either going down the wrong path or are just plain apathetic.

What’s the approach?

 Make Sure They Know WHOM They Belong To:

1 John 3:1a tells us,  “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”  I asked some students recently “Do you know what it means to be God’s child and the benefits that come with that?”  None of them could give me an answer. They would describe themselves as “Christians” and had grown up in the church. We must help them know when Salvation comes we now belong to Jesus, learning to live in that.

Let Them Mess Up and Wrestle with the Hard Stuff:

Our role in a teen’s life is to help them know what following Jesus looks like. We also need to recognize that sometimes they may wander. Other times they turn around and want to know,  “Why does following Jesus look like this?”  Many times they are trying to figure out what being with Jesus means. When we see destruction ahead our role is to tell them what it looks like, and how to avoid it.  Then we need to trust they will ask the right questions and stay on the narrow path.

Walk It Out:

Here is how Christ modeled reaching our “potential:”

I will do it  - You watch.   (Miracles performed, life lived, lessons taught.)

You do it  -  I will watch.  (Sending out of the disciples twice while he was still on earth to cast out demons and spread the good news.)

You do.  (Jesus sent them out.)

“There is nothing sadder to those of us who disciple kids, when we see you get stuck and not want to change,”  I told this boy. “We can see Jesus wants you to lead where you are now. So many times we see you walk away, and it hurts our hearts. We use the word “potential,” because we see you choosing to turn away from who the Lord is calling you to be. However, I want you to know that all of us, me and the other leaders, we haven’t reached our potential either. Being all Jesus wants us to be takes us into eternity. Potential doesn’t have to be a bad word, it all depends on how we spin it.

Do your students have “potential?”

(This is the promised 2nd post from my friend, Amanda Berger, about how she’s recruited a “Camp Grandma” the past two years for her summer camp organization. Read Amanda’s philosophy, then stay tuned in a few days to hear straight from the 76 year old grandma herself.)

Camp Grandma

If I had to name the MVP of our summer retreat staff, there would be no competition. Hands down, it is our Camp Grandma, Phyliss. She mesmerizes the participants with her stories and loves them up with hugs, personalized notes, and asking all kinds of questions.

The summer camp I run is called The Soul Sisterhood Retreat. It’s a creativity-focused, 5-day experience that uses the creative arts to deepen girls’ relationships with God, develop their creativity, and boost their confidence. We do other normal camp stuff like Bible study, games, campfire and worship, but the core of our retreat is to use creativity as a way for girls to dig deep into their faith and their identity.

Phyliss is our relational ministry powerhouse. While the rest of the retreat staff are also responsible for building relationships with the girls, the directors and counselors are also scrambling to plan, implement, and run our daily activities. Phyliss sits on the front porch of our 1920’s farmhouse retreat and tells stories from her amazing life. She was a Pan Am flight attendant during the early 1970’s and has travelled the globe. She tells a heart-wrenching story of giving up a baby for adoption (born out of wedlock) and finding that child again 20-plus years later–a story full of forgiveness, reconciliation and hope that no one ever forgets.  Phyliss is a gifted singer and loves to read and knit, and has a slight obsession with Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes (an important connection point with several participants this year).

Our camp grandma studies hard for her job, making sure she has the scoop on each of the 12 girls joining us during each retreat week. Prior to camp, each girl fills out an “All about Me” form, telling about themselves, their likes and dislikes, hopes and fears. Phyliss spends hours poring over their answers to find points of connection and similar interests. She’s able to tease out information and stories from the girls the rest of us had no idea were inside. And she writes beautiful, heartfelt notes to each participant telling them how wonderful and amazing they are.

Phyliss is intentional about finding the girls who don’t fit in quite as well or who are super shy or introverted. She deliberately focuses on drawing them out of themselves and into the experience around them. She asks about their artwork, ooh-ing and aah-ing over what they’ve created. She cheers and encourages, and even comforts those who are feeling a little homesick.

Girls learn how to be mature followers of Christ by watching the faithful women around them–women of all ages. I cannot imagine our retreat without the wisdom, compassion, patience, and insight that having our Camp Grandma brings. She is truly a treasure!

This article was written by Amanda Berger, director of The Soul Sisterhood Retreat, based in Plymouth, Minnesota. For more information about The Soul Sisterhood Retreat and their ministry, check out

…and I don’t mean parents. I’m talking grandparents, the old ladies in the women’s group, the crotchety dudes who grumble when students wear hats in the Sanctuary. The answer to the title question? Of course they do!

Can you believe that I STILL run into YP’s who say their counselors really shouldn’t be older than college-age? I consult with search committees who still describe their perfect youth pastor as a guitar-playing, b-ball throwing, surfboard-skimming, young married dude whose wife will also serve FT in the YM (for free, of course).

So as we’re all recruiting volunteers for the new school/youth ministry year, do yourself (and your students) a big favor: start with older people in your church. The secret? Ask them the right questions. Put them in the places they feel comfortable, where they can use their giftedness. Oftentimes, we frighten off potential older volunteers (who have time available and are WAY more dependable than many other vols) by our approach: too fast, too quickly asked, too confusing, too big, etc.

Older people can do more than just bring cookies. Here’s a list of volunteer roles older folks can fulfill in your YM:

1) Closet Coordinator: Every youth room has a supply closet that needs a mom’s touch.

2) Weekly Supply Organizer: Get your SS teachers s what they need by having a team get the SS rooms ready.

3) Garage Sale Gurus: Have a list of upcoming supplies/props the YM will need and put these folks on the hunt.

4) Prayer Partners: Have each student in your YM prayed for daily by an older person.

5) Divine Design: Your youth room is a MESS! Have someone come in once a month and straighten it up!

6) Data Divas: Many older folks are computer savvy. Have them keep your student data/attendance up-to-date.

7) Craft Coordinators: There is a segment of your students who are the creative, artsy, crafty type and someone to teach crochet (or whatever) would be cool.

8) Paperwork Police: Yeah, why not lesson the chaos for the adult chaperones at events or when leaving on a trip by bringing in a few folks to collect the paperwork? Can’t hire an admin? Schedule older vols for a few hours each day.

9) Who-knows-who: Older folks know a lot of people and they know others in your church that can help with what you need. Put them on your recruiting team.

10) ADULT COUNSELORS!: Of course older people can be a part of your team in face-to-faith ministry with students. The best way I can share this precept is from a friend of mine, Amanda Berger, who is the president of a ministry to girls called Soul Sisterhood. She runs “girls only” camp weeks and for the last 2 years, she brought a Camp Grandma on staff and has had HUGE positive results. You’ll hear from her on a few days and then a few days after that? You’ll hear from the Camp Grandma herself. Stay tuned.




refresh your gamesThere are certain classic games that your group loves to do. Chances are some of your favorites have been worn out because you over used them. Want to bring them back? Put a new twist on them. It’s not that hard. Just take the basic object of your favorite game and play it in a new way. Think of it as your favorite game on steroids. [don’t actually use steroids]

How does this work? Let me give you an example:
Rock, Papers, Scissors (Ro Sham Bo)
You know the rules, but change what the action is. There is a good chance you have played another version of this. Like Ladies, Hunters, Bears. Participants pair up and stand back to back. On 3 they turn around and pose as a lady (hand on hip and other hand on head saying “heeeyy” in a high pitched voice) or hunter (pretending to hold a giant gun under their arm and saying “BOOM”) or bear (both arms in the air yelling “Roooaaaaarrrr”).
Ladies beat hunters.
Hunters beat bears.
Bears beat ladies.
Loser sits down and the winner finds another partner until you are down to your final 2.

If it’s a tie they are both out. (this helps the game go by quicker).

Take Ultimate Frisbee as another example.

Just find another random object (one that won’t hurt) and use that instead. A few ideas: Ultimate Cow Tongue, Ultimate Octopus, Ultimate Pillow, Ultimate Flip Flop, etc.

Want to go really big? Play Monopoly, BUT use an entire room as the set up. Lay down cardboard or butcher paper and make a huge board. Then take a couple of square boxes and make large dice. Use cardboard sheets for your chance cards, etc. Find full size objects to be your game pieces.
Playing the Game of LIFE? Use Tricycles or little kid cars.

You can make the most boring game turn into something exciting by giving it a twist that your students aren’t expecting. Don’t limit yourself. Look around in your game closet and see what you can put together.

What game have you refreshed that worked well?

You never know where it’s going to happen.

Where was Started

Where was started

Google began in a garage. Microsoft started in a basement. Facebook launched in a dorm room.

Lots of famous companies began this way.


billions and billions more failed in the garage, basement and dorm room.

  • Maybe it just didn’t seem professional enough to do business next to a water house.
  • Perhaps it felt weird to meet an entrepreneur in a basement riddled with beer cans.
  • It could be that the dorm room idea would have taken off if the “creative genius” had better roommates who took phone messages from big companies.

Still, there are those rare occasions when something world-changing happens in the most unlikely of spaces.

Where eBay was started.

Where eBay was started.

What do you imagine is the greatest thing that can happen where you spend the majority of your day?

What are the seemingly-common areas you’re spending time with a students that are where eternal life change will happen… or won’t… based on if you do/don’t make the most of that space.

  • Be aware of the sights.
  • Be aware of the smells.
  • Be aware of the sounds.

You never know where something groundbreaking might happen… or maybe you do.

Testimony signs outside of Elevation Church in Charlotte, NC on Easter morning.

Testimony signs outside of Elevation Church in Charlotte, NC on Easter morning.

How can you make the most of ordinary space for ministry?

What’s the greatest story that could be told about the next conversation you’re about to have?

“Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak.” (1 Corinthians 8:9)

“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.” (Colossians 4:5)