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,


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

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.

“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

(I’m picking up the convo where we left off last week; see Steps 1-5). 

You’ve been fired, you didn’t see it coming (though, I’d push you back on that and say, “Really?”), you’ve gone home to sequester yourself for 24 hours. Now what?

#6 – Determine if you’ll agree to “resigning” or if you’d rather be “asked to leave.” Whatever you decide, don’t vacillate. Either direction has its own course and you need to stick to one path.

#7 – If you decide to “resign,” determine what your severance package needs will be before signing the letter of resignation. 3 months is minimum; 6 months is better. With severance agreed upon, you are also agreeing that you will “finish strong” by leaving things in fabulous order and will not participate in any negative conversations. You will stick to the story that you resigned and you are exploring the call God has for you elsewhere.

#8 – If you decide not to “resign,” tell your boss in a written form with other leaders cc’d. Keep it very professional; eliminate any passive aggressive snarky-ness. Give them a target date for finishing up your position (unless they already gave you a date). 1-2 weeks is long enough. Anything more is too tempting for political messiness. Include in the letter what your transition plans will be as far as files, data, calendar, etc. Keep your tone very helpful. You might suggest that you’d like someone to help you take your stuff out of the office so that person knows you’re leaving behind what belongs to the church. Most importantly, be sure to share that your intent is to finish well. When asked by members, tell them succinctly without attitude, that you were asked to leave, you honor the leadership, and you are exploring the call God has for you elsewhere.

#9 – Begin working on your resume. Google what’s new, sharp, and eye-catching. Look at what jobs are available on the biggest YM job boards like tools.simplyyouthministry.com, ministryarchitects.com, or youthspecialties.com. Remember: if you want another ministry position, you don’t want to burn bridges.

#10 – TAKE THE HIGH ROAD! I mean it, friend. There is no other way to do this. The reality is that if you’re picturing a courtroom scene in your head where you get to present evidence as to why you were wronged, it won’t happen. The more drama you create by whispering here and there, the more it hurts your career, your family, the church, your youth, the Kingdom. Yes, I know you weren’t treated fairly. “Vengeance is Mine, saith the Lord” – in other words, let God deal with your “former” church. I’m watching one of my FB friends play out their depression and co-dependency online and really, it isn’t helping anyone. In fact, it may actually prove why that person were asked to leave.

It gets better. The lessons learned, if you’re willing, will be one of the best things to ever happen to you. Trust me, I know.


(PS: Check out Terrace Crawford’s This Week in Youth Ministry podcast; he interviewed me about this very topic! )


Does your church or youth ministry need small groups?

Allen White had a great post on this and it got me thinking about the varying forms of community that people of all ages crave at different levels:

  • communityMassive: Conferences, conventions, concerts, local cross-church gatherings and workcamps can serve this.
    • Mentality, “I’m a part of the Church, and not just my church.”
  • Big: Weekend services, mid-week ministry gatherings and a big day of serving can serve this.
    • Mentality, “We’re getting together – a bunch of people I do and don’t know to do something important that is larger than all of us, but involves all of us.”
  • Medium: House parties, block parties, informal holiday get-togethers, potlucks and summer camp can serve this
    • Mentality: “I’d like to generally hang out with the circle around my circle, but still specifically hang out with my circle.”
  • Small: Small groups, classes, table discussions, travel to-and-from places and even a smaller mission trip can serve this.
    • Mentality: “I hope a core group of people take the time to get to know my story and others allow me to get to know their story.”
  • One-on-One: Accountability relationships, friendships, mentoring and personal Bible studies can serve this
    • Mentality: “It’s important to me to not just be known, but to be personally understood and better understand.”

Toss in that some prefer informal versus formal approaches on each of those, and the problem only compounds for people like us trying to get them into some meaningful community. Add introvert versus extrovert and you’ll want to throw up your hands altogether.

Which… is probably where it needs to start.


Literally: “God, what is the dominant form of community we should impress upon folks? Or should we let them impress their favorite form of community upon us?”

hourglassOne of the chapters in “Uncommon Wisdom From The Other Side” explores this. I’m including one of the graphics here for you to ponder and consider. I call it the “Relational Hourglass.” For a full explanation of how it plays out at each level, check out the chapter “From Life Change to Life Changers.” At the end, I share this summary:

You may also notice how the curves of an hourglass slope, first to shrink and then to expand. The pool of students you can track at each level thins out as they move forward, but then inverts as they take on love and responsibility for others. You can high-five numerous kids at the door but only truly track the intimate details of a handful of youth. On the other hand, as they invest in their friends, you become a part of that as you influence the student leaders.

Just remember that this is an hourglass. It may take a while to move them to the next level you think they should be at. Don’t let that stop you from loving them wherever they are today. [ read more ]

What has been your experience on the type of community that’s working best for your ministry versus what you’d like to be working?

Is it a matter of making our approach that we feel God has ordained work…

or a matter of joining God in what’s already working?

Who needs community (and which kind)?

Does your church or ministry really need the type of community being pushed out on the people? Or are they looking for something else?

What do you think? 

Thiago-nascimento-opera-background-speaker-jpg1We are super thankful for those who serve in youth ministry AND children’s ministry!!! Steve Adams, our children’s pastor at Saddleback Church, was our special guest on the show this week. We discussed the importance of building relationships.

Subscribe here!! Remember, if you have a question you can send it to talkyouthministry@gmail.com. We are also now on iTunes check us out for the audio only. Excuse the quality…a permanent location is in the works. :)


Hope it helps,

AC & Kurt

“So what do I do now? Seriously – what are my actual next steps? I just left the pastor’s office. I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck. I didn’t see this coming. I know I should have seen the signs…but I didn’t. Now what?”


1) Don’t sign anything. No resignation letters or transition agreements, etc. Even if you feel pressured to agree to “we’ll say you resigned instead of got fired.” It’s not the optimal time for you to think clearly.

2) Skip the pack-up production and take only the 2-3 most cherished items with you. Leave quietly and within 15 minutes of exiting your boss’s office. No boxes, books, furniture – nothing that looks like the big, emotional goodbye. You’ll get the rest of your stuff eventually, but believe me, people will be watching what you take and don’t. The littlest thing will cause a rumble.

3) Don’t call anyone but your spouse or your mom. I mean it. The first few conversations after “the talk” could make or break years to come of what follows your professional reputation.

4) Go home. Don’t stop at the store or a friend’s or another youth worker’s place or the bar or the ice cream parlor. Go home where you can process in a complete zone of safety.

5) Set aside messages for the rest of the day. The texts, emails, phone calls, visits, etc., will start to come in but you and your family need time to cry, scream, swear, get mad, throw stuff – and no one needs to see it. If need be, have a relative come over to answer the door. In your “away” message, let people know you’ll get back to them the next day. Every single thing you say is painfully fresh and won’t be filtered like you’d like it to be…and will be repeated numerous times by others. Why give anyone any bullets to shoot you with?

Let me know if you want to read steps 6-10.


PS-Just got interviewed about this very thing for a podcast. Thanks, Terrace! Here’s the info: the episode will air next week, Thursday, March 5th, at  www.ThisWeekinYM.com or you can listen and download the podcast on iTunes.com.