What is a Bully?

 —  April 1, 2015 — Leave a comment

Growing up I was “picked on” notoriously. There was the kid who threatened to kill me because he didn’t like my mail box, the era of the “anonymous” messages on my answering machine telling me I was stupid, name calling and “practical jokes,” that cut deep. Honestly, I felt like both third and sixth grade were the ninth layer of hell. It caused me to try and change my personality to better fit in. Funny thing is it never dawned on me that I was being bullied.

When my science teacher told the 11-year-old Leneita she should, “Just get over it, kids are not always nice, and you should learn to suck it up,” I believed her. I mean no one ever shook me down for my milk money, stuck my head in a toilet, gave me an “atomic wedgie,”  or shoved me in a garbage can. Yet, I can remember many, many days with a sick feeling in my stomach that caused me to not want to go to school to face these tormenting peers that wouldn’t stop.

Fast forward to a world where kids are online and sharing all their feelings good and bad in public spaces from ages as young as nine or ten. This morning I learned of a fifth grader who was finally taken out of Christian school and is being homeschooled. After three years of never-ending “drama,” it needed to end. Instead of kids being “picked on” at school, bullies can now pick on kids anywhere, anytime.

Students have sat in so many assemblies about the topic of bullying they have almost gone numb to it. They either think it is the extreme of when someone gets beaten up, or they think it is every time someone is mean. Teens don’t seem to understand that a bully usually comes back time and again to tear you down.

It doesn’t help that those in “authority” can’t quite agree on how to approach the topic. I read an article by a school principle who made the point that their school has a “zero tolerance policy, ” and “every reported incident is investigated thoroughly.” However, he followed with pointing out that sometimes, “kids will just be kids and it is part of growing up to learn to deal with conflict.” (Sounds like my sixth grade science teacher.)

Worse yet, is this phenomena has become so subtle students live in fear of being the next victim. I work with two students who fit this category. One has had to deal with teasing. As far as I can get out of him, I’m not sure if it has crossed the line to something more. Yet, as a junior high boy, he lives in panic every day that it will. This young man exists in a constant state of anxiety. What if today is the day that the jabs turn into a consistent persecution? Another young lady that I work with tries desperately to just “fly below the radar”. A good friend of hers has been the brunt of a bully. On the one hand, she is the first to stand up for her young friend. She will tell the other girls that call her names that it isn’t right. For herself though, she must maintain a constant state of perfectionism. What if someone observes her flaws as well? For both of these kids the potential of bullying is just as notorious as living through it.

Going to school between sixth and 12th grade can feel like jumping ship into a river of piranhas, on a daily basis. That is the nature of those years. It is all about status and survival. However, there is a dark undercurrent that we must recognize.

A couple of friends of mine proposed the statement, “peer harassment,” to delineate a one time “issue” from an ongoing struggle. I think this helps students and adults navigate what a “bully” truly is. It is a much better wording. Losing an Instagram friend might hurt your feelings, and that is real, but it may not be the act of a bully.


If we can change the wording there are some things that could happen:

Listening and Responding:

Really listening, between the lines hearing what is being said. We can learn to ask if this is something that keeps happening or if it was a one time offense. We must let students know that they are not “weak” if they “can’t handle being picked on”. In addition, some students do have softer hearts than others. If we listen and respond then we won’t just dismiss a kid because they aren’t strong enough. We don’t live in their shoes and truly listening beyond words to the soul is vital.

Avoid Telling Students What They Feel:

We need to stop telling students when it shouldn’t bother them. “Oh, those kids are just jealous of you,” is our common response. Maybe. Knowing why you are getting hurt doesn’t make the pain go away. If someone keeps you that you are stupid at some point you might believe them. For others a one time bad experience might do the same damage. Not every student will be able to “handle it”. Harassment and bullying can create the same wound depending on the student. Our empathy must rise, and we must stop pushing their feelings aside. Letting the victims know that their pain matters is a first step. Then we can teach them how to navigate these waters.

Recognize There Are Rarely Simple Solutions:

Students put hands on another student and they end up suspended and on some occasions they are even expelled. However, when you are the student who stands up for “what is right” in these delicate years, it can open “Pandora’s Box.” Yes, the “bully” is gone. Now you deal with glares of some who wonder why you “made waves”? Disney and Nickelodeon teen sitcoms, would argue we can all laugh it off or stand up for ourselves and it will be fine. Sometimes it isn’t that simple. Believe me, I like quick and easy solutions. But, I think of a gay 19-year-old who took his life a few years ago who made the news. He was picked on from about 5 years old for being effeminate. Before he ever “came out of the closet” he was called horrific names. His parents thought he was demonized and attempted an exorcism on him. Supposedly he “got over it”. He even participated in the “It Gets Better” campaign with a video for other gay teens. The acts against him ended. The wounds were left oozing and bleeding. The ghosts of all of those years caught up with him and he took his life. Actions ended. The agony didn’t. This is what I call a “stinky onion issue”. The more layers we peel away the more it smells, assaults our senses, and makes us cry. No one “formula” will make is all go “poof.” It is about learning to undo, all the “layers”. We need to remind our students that Jesus saves, heals our afflictions, and provides us with the best role model of how to handle injustice.

Teach the Power of Hope:

I think of all of the insecurities I still have from my years at the hands of multiple bullies. There wasn’t just one kid who needed to “move away”.  Instead, I was left trying to figure out what was wrong with me. What happens to those in the midst of bullying is that they are stripped of hope. They can’t see the Lord, he feels too far away. Sometimes our role is to simply hold someone close and let them know someone loves them more than they could possibly know.  All is not lost. Sometimes, when they don’t know the way, we have to show them what He looks like. This happens through crying with them and whispering words of truth.

If you are like me this topic leaves you wondering. All of the training in the world still leaves me feeling like I don’t know what to do in every situation. Gone are the days of caricatures in teen movies of the “mean kids,” who can be dealt with by a well executed prank. Yes, we love the exhilaration of triumph in the last moments when they “get theirs”. However, rarely is that “real life”.  Let’s work together to keep praying and chipping away at this topic. It may not be simple, but we need to keep working on it.


My web browser of choice is Google Chrome. Why? It works well and it integrates the Google universe into my workflow. Like other browsers, Chrome will let you install extensions to help you do more than just browse. Here are 5 of my favorite extensions.

  1. Chrome Remote Desktop
    Chrome Remote Desktop lets me remotely access another computer through the Chrome browser. Just like an expensive remote desktop software…but this is 100% free.
  2. Clearly
    Clearly is the perfect browsing companion for Evernote users. This extension will clean up blog posts, articles and other webpage and create a clean, more readable version. You can then read that page, save it to Evernote, or print instantly.
    Pro Tip: You can even highlight within the page you are reading and those highlights will show up in your Evernote folder.
  3. Boomerang for Gmail
    Boomerang allows me to send an email in Gmail a later date. All I do is write the message(s) and schedule the day and time I want it to go. It will send even when I am not online. There is a pay-for version but the limited service is perfect for my needs.
  4. 1Password
    You will need to own the app/software 1Password (find prices and platforms here). 1Password allows you to access all your passwords for all your accounts by just remembering a single password. This extension helps simplify and integrate 1Password in your browsing experience. This is one of my favorite apps. Check out this video for more info on 1Password.
  5. Google Cast
    You will need a Google Chromecast for this extension. Bottom line, this extension lets you throw your Chrome browser onto your TV wirelessly.
    Pro Tip: If you drag a video into your Chrome browser window, the video should play. This means you can use your computer via Chrome to wirelessly play a video on your tv.

What are your favorite extensions? Tell us in the comments and add the name of your favorite browser.

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.