In the interest of full disclosure, let me say this: I’m a fan of virtually every organization, event and effort that exists to minister to junior highers! If young teens are the focus of somebody’s efforts, then I’m probably a fan.

But there is one event that stands out from the rest. Christ in Youth’s Believe continues to be the premiere event for junior highers…and if you’ve never taken your group, I think it’s worth considering! Here are a few things that make Believe such a perfect event:

- Overall Quality: Production quality, quality of speakers, the way they treat leaders, etc. I’ve NEVER been to a more professionally run event for students. Never, ever.

- Junior High Intentionality: Believe is designed specifically for middle school/junior highers. Chad Monahan and the Believe Crew “get” junior highers, and have a deep desire to point them closer to Jesus.

- An Amazing Way to Recruit Leaders: Over the years, we’ve had numerous adults join our volunteer team on a permanent basis after Believe. Because it’s only 24 hours, it’s an easy “ask”…just about anybody can handle 24 hours with junior highers. But because it’s an intense 24 hours, people quickly decide whether or not ministering to this age group is a good fit. In other words, they discover that they love it or hate it! And I’ve been surprised at how many nervous leaders find out they actually LOVE the idea of serving in junior high ministry after spending the weekend at BELIEVE.

- Road Trip! Chances are there is a BELIEVE somewhere near you, but probably not super close. So the odds are you will be taking a 3-4 hour road trip which adds to the fun!

This year’s theme is “Upside Down” and over the course of 24 hours, students will take an up close look at the upside down nature of the Parables and Jesus’ desire to flip the way we look at the world around us. Below is a fun little video they’ve made to promote this year’s tour. If you are looking for a GREAT event for your junior highers, I hope you’ll consider BELIEVE.

Simply Insiders,

It’s time to pray over students and their families in Nevada who are facing harsh tragedy today. There was a deadly shooting at a Nevada middle school today in which 2 were killed and 2 were critically injured.

Even more tragic, the shooter was only 13 to 14-years-old. Click the image below to read more about the incident.


Please pray with us for this school, its students and faculty, and students’ families in their time of deep sadness. Let’s band with them, because we know we pray to God who sets the lonely and families and is the ultimate comforter for those who mourn.

Thanks for praying and believing with us,

The Simply Youth Ministry Team

The Gospel & Suicide

Shawn Harrison —  October 18, 2013 — 3 Comments


What do these teens have in common?

Rebecca Sedwick

Bartlomiej Palosz

Adrian Alvaresz

Srijan Saha

a Mount Anthony Union Middle School student

These teens have all committed suicide recently, and most of them (if not all) took their life due to being bullied by their peers. These young lives can be added to the thousands of other teens who have committed suicide over the years, for various reasons and in various ways. However, the issue of bullying is a commonality in the majority of cases, especially those in recent years.

Suicide is the third largest cause of death among 15-24 year-olds.

Tragically, tomorrow, next month, and next year, more names will be added to grave stones. More families will be left picking up the pieces to their shattered lives. More questions will be asked; more doubt in faith will spring up; more anger at God will be experienced with great pain.

As youth workers, will we be standing in a posture of being proactive or reactive when suicide strikes our ministry, community, or even our families? Yes, no matter how prepared one is, suicide still knocks us off our feet in disbelief. However, it is my firm belief that this blow lessens by the steps we take in educating ourselves and others about the warning signs and preventions of suicide. Like so many other things in today’s environment, it is no longer a question of “if” suicide will strike our lives but one of “when.” We need to be prepared on all fronts, and one way of doing so is planting the gospel firmly within our students hearts, minds, and souls.

By the word “gospel,” I’m not talking about one particular fraction but the whole reality of the gospel, found in the Person of Jesus Christ. He is the firm definition of hope, freedom, life, pursuit, longing, et al, which are the very things teens are strenuously looking for today. Therefore, it is my conviction, that in order to combat the root issues of suicide and bullying, we need to go with our students beyond the surface of “Jesus loves you,” and into the depths of our identity and worth found in Christ alone. Although as youth workers we may realize this, I’m not convinced that today’s teenager believe this deep within. And maybe they don’t believe this because we don’t believe this ourselves. Or maybe we do believe this, but we wrongly assume our students do as well.

In either case, students are killing themselves, because in their minds, death is the only viable answer left to pursue. And this, we know, is a lie. So, what other answers are we providing for our students and their friends?

Here are 6 answers I strive to teach students every chance I get:

  1. You are made in the image of God, and nothing changes this.
  2. God’s unconditional love for you is greater than any sin you will commit (and have committed).
  3. Our identity and worth are wrapped around who Christ is, what He has done, and what He will do within our lives.
  4. We are a redeemed community, sent to live out the gospel in authentic community with others.
  5. We all stand upon the common ground of needing Jesus.
  6. The love of Jesus is greater than the lie of suicide, and the threat of being bullied.

Next week, I want to unpack these answers more. Meanwhile, check out some other great resources regarding suicide prevention found at Conversations on the Fringe and Six:11 Ministries.

Post 2 & Post 3

Here’s a little brainteaser:

Many without it despise it. Many with it abuse it. Many simultaneously want more AND less of it in their lives.  What am I?

Because it’s Wednesday and others have already written on the subject this week, you know the answer (and because it’s in the title of this little article).

Most articles I’ve read and sermons I’ve listened to on the topic of authority have revolved around topics such as, “How to respect authority,” “The benefits of authority,” etc. So I thought I’d flip the script just a little bit and share a few thoughts concerning how to utilize the authority you’ve been given.

The amount of authority you wield is determined by all sorts of factors: Your role, longevity, your age, the hierarchical structure of your church, your level of experience,, and your proven track record are just a few things that contribute to how much authority you are given. And just about everybody who works with teenagers in a church setting has been entrusted with a certain level of authority. The question, then, is: What to do with what you’ve got?

And I believe the answer to that question begins by answering another, much bigger, question: Is authority given to you for your benefit, or for the benefit of others? I’d be willing to bet you’ve never thought about it that way before. I know I hadn’t until recently, but I think there is some merit to the idea that the authority we’ve been given is put to best use when it is used as a tool of blessing instead of a weapon of control.

Here are a few ways I believe your authority can serve as a blessing to those around you. I’ll let you translate them into your context:

  • Your authority can elevate the underdogs. Most people use their authority to elevate themselves and their personal agendas. But because you have authority, you have power and influence to elevate others…especially the underprivileged and neglected.


  • Your authority can empower. It’s fairly common for those with authority to also be the influencers, power-brokers and progress-makers in an organization because they have the authority—they can control whose ideas rise and fall, what programs get attention, etc.  BUT, they can also use that authority to create a culture of empowerment, collaboration, and opportunities for others to shine.


  • Your authority can multiply. If you hoard authority, things can only progress at your pace, but when you look for ways to give away influence and authority, things progress exponentially! When people feel elevated and empowered, they gain authority and the cycle has a chance to repeat again and again.

Here’s my simple challenge for you: Instead of plotting for ways to gain more and more authority, prayerfully discern what God would have you do with the authority you’ve already been given.



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Our ministry tries to take evangelism seriously, so we have a history of trying all sorts of things to help our students reach out to their unchurched friends. One of our Friday night events included (among a whole bunch of other stuff) a dance area. It was an amazing event that turned out almost exactly how our team envisioned it would.

However, while parents were picking up their kids, a very upset mom grabbed one of our volunteers and frustratingly blurted something along the lines of, “I thought this was a church event! Why was there freak dancing? My daughter won’t be coming back!”

By the time the volunteer leader found one of our paid team, the mom was long gone. But she wasn’t gone for long. The following morning she shot an email off to Pastor Rick who forwarded it to me. I share the following email exchange in the hopes that it will encourage you as you deal with conflict in your ministry setting. while I’ve certainly learned that not everybody response the way we hope they will, this exchange was a powerful reminder of the importance of quickly dealing with concerned parents.


Pastor Rick,

Why are our youth leaders allowing “freak dancing” at the youth activities???  My daughter was at the Refinery last night and came home with this disappointing news.  She won’t be going back.


Dear Mrs. O’Brian,

My name is Kurt Johnston and I’m the junior high Pastor here at Saddleback. I wanted to shoot you a quick note thanking you for expressing your concern over the dancing at last night’s junior high event. You would be surprised at how few parents are willing to let us know when they have a concern.

I’m the parent of two young teens myself and, like you, I expect church events to be an appropriate place for them to attend. It’s important that you hear from me personally that our ministry in no way “allowed” freak dancing to be part of last night’s activities. There were leaders in the room and whenever we saw anything that bordered on inappropriate, we addressed it right away (in fact the dancing was a very minimal part of the night…maybe 50 kids participated). Obviously with over 700 students at an outreach event, many of whom have never stepped foot in a church before, there will be some students who push the envelope and who don’t have the same boundaries as our “church” kids do. In fact, that’s why last night’s event was created; as a monthly front door experience for un-churched kids. If, out of 700 students, there were zero instances of cursing or rebelling or even freak dancing, then I would be a bit saddened because it would mean that we did an outreach event and nobody showed up who needed to be reached.

Our student ministry department is committed to helping junior highers grow in their faith and in their walk with Christ, and we are also committed to reaching out to students who have yet to experience God’s amazing grace. In an interesting twist, I asked two first-timers last night if they had fun, and their response was a strong “NO!”  When I asked them why they said because we played music that was too clean and didn’t let them dance the way they wanted.

Last night was an amazing night. We had food, a skate park, smores at the fire pits, a scavenger hunt, giant “earthball” games, outdoor volleyball, and classic TV shows in the theater. Yes, we had a few students who danced inappropriately at times, but our staff worked hard to keep that to a minimum. I understand your decision to not allow your daughter to return to “The 3″ next month, but I also ask you to pray for our junior high ministry as we continue our efforts to expose lost kids to the good news of Jesus Christ. Please feel free to call me should you have additional questions or concerns about our junior high ministry.

God Bless,

Kurt Johnston, Pastor To Students


Hi Kurt,

Thanks so much for your reply. I appreciate the time you took and the information you gave. I feel a lot better about our church and youth group now that I havehappy_email_woamn read it.  My daughter brought three girlfriends last night to “The 3″ and we brought the same girls tonight to the 6:30 service. Hopefully they will continue to attend, hear the power of God’s Word and have changed lives! Thank you for your commitment to the youth, and thanks again for your response. I will definitely be lifting you, your team, and the junior high ministry in prayer.


WOW….3 friends to church last night, awesome! Hopefully ‘The 3′ will continue to open doors like that. Please tell your daughter that wildside is proud of her…that is exactly what we hoped students would do. Good for her!  – kj


Sometimes all it takes is taking the time to give a parent context and remind them of your mission! Thanks for loving students,



*Like reading Kurt’s thoughts on junior high and youth ministry? Get them in your inbox every Wednesday through SYM Today Newsletter. Sign up here!*

How to Defuse a Bomb

Kurt Johnston —  October 1, 2013 — 4 Comments

For most youth workers, few things in ministry are as dreaded as navigating conflict…especially when it comes in the form of an angry parent or frustrated volunteer; and it comes suddenly and unexpectedly.

thm_63263aYou know the scenario: You’re hanging out in the youth room doing your youth pastor thing, and before you see it coming, he’s in your face. He’s on a mission. He’s got a few concerns and he’s gonna share them with you right now. He has no desire to think about the timing. His agenda is the only one that matters. He’s a ticking time bomb and time is running out.

Don’t panic- what looks like an explosion waiting to happen can usually be defused quite easily AND turned into something positive. Here are steps I try to take in these types of scenarios to defuse the bomb.


1)    Directly engage. It’s tempting to try to avoid the person, especially since you’ve got a program to run. But time bombs can’t be ignored. They demand the proper attention. I’ve learned the best thing to do is to proactively engage the person immediately. This lets the reasonable person know you’re concerned that he’s concerned about something, and it lets the unreasonable hothead know that you aren’t afraid to engage—that you won’t be bullied or intimidated.

2)    Don’t get defensive. This isn’t the time to defend yourself. The truth of the matter is that most frustrated folks simply want to be heard. When you take a defensive posture, you reinforce their suspicions and concerns. However, when your first response is to acknowledge their concerns and listen to what they have to say, it shows them their concerns are important to you and things (usually) begin to cool down right away.

3)    Delay the rest of the conversation. Chances are you won’t be able to address the entire issue in the 2-3 minutes you can afford to give this person before youth group, so don’t try. Instead suggest that you delay the rest of the conversation to a later time in the very near future. Invite them to coffee or lunch and let them know that you would welcome the opportunity to continue the conversation at that time. This will do two things: It will give everybody time to cool down and think about the issue at hand, and it will communicate that you’re taking their concern very seriously and want to address it as best you can.


I’ve learned over the years that trying to avoid frustrated, angry people almost always serves to make the situation worse. But when I’m willing to directly engage, when I don’t get defensive, and when I offer to reconnect about it later, I not only defuse the bomb, but I often build trust and loyalty along the way.

Thanks for loving students,




You Can Fake It!

Kurt Johnston —  September 24, 2013 — Leave a comment

When’s the last time you faked it?

Maybe it was last Sunday’s lesson—you know…the one you really didn’t have time to prep for so you faked it.  Or maybe it was at the last staff meeting, when asked to give a report and you didn’t have very much exciting stuff to fake_it-liveinthephillippines-comshare so you embellished just a little bit; you faked it. Maybe it was when your close friend asked if there was something on your heart and instead of sounding cold and distant, you invented something…you faked it.

The truth of the matter is you can fake it…and you can fake it really, really well. And better yet (actually, much worse yet) is that you can fake it really, really well and almost always get away with it. Why? Let’s look at the examples I listed. You can fake it through a lesson because you are a gifted teacher with lots of experience. You can fake it through a staff meeting report because you know the measurements of success your Pastor/supervisor/peers applaud. And you can fake it with your closest friend because he/she trusts that you aren’t faking it!

Scary isn’t it? It gets even scarier. Not only can you fake it really, really well but you can fake it really, really well for a really, really long time. If you want.

But I know you don’t want to; nobody does. So here are a few ideas to help keep it real!

Identify your problem areas. Start by giving yourself an honest assessment. In what areas do you consistently tend to “fake it”? Healing always starts with identifying the problem.

Determine to break the habit. For some, faking it has almost become a ministry way of life…a habit that you barely even recognize as problematic. If this is you, do the painful work of identifying the problem areas and prayerfully asking the Holy Spirit for the strength and courage you need to address your areas of weakness.

Find a friend to help. Find a trusted staff member, or volunteer leader, and give that person permission to hold you accountable. Tell him/her the areas you’ve identified and give them the freedom to pull you aside from time to time to check in or to pull you aside immediately if they sense you just “faked it.” Of course, pulling you aside privately would be a good idea. You don’t want them to raise their hand during your Sunday school and ask, “I know you just said you were praying for the class yesterday, but were you really?” That’s not a helpful friend; that’s a dipstick.

You are a good youth worker. So good, in fact, that you can fake it. But why would you want to?

Thanks for loving students,




Balance is a Myth

Kurt Johnston —  September 17, 2013 — 11 Comments

balancemythMost of you have bought a lie.

You’ve been sold beachfront property in Idaho and now wonder why you’re frustrated. Many of you reading this article are in your 20’s and have listened to and bought into an approach to life and ministry presented by men and women who aren’t like you—people in their 40’s and 50’s at “mega” churches with lots of other people on their team. But you probably aren’t like that.

You’re probably much younger, and almost certainly the only paid youth worker at your church (if you are getting paid at all, that is). But you listen to guys like me at conferences or in books we write (remember, we have other paid people on our team so we have time to write books…), stressing the importance of “balance” and “margin” in the lives of youth workers. A lifestyle that is within reach for only a select few. OUCH! YIKES! DANG! What am I getting at, here? Here’s what I’m getting at here:

Balance is a myth. It doesn’t exist in the world of youth ministry. And deep down, you know that to be true, which is why the pursuit of it has caused you so much turmoil.

Ministry is a messy, never-ending, “Put your hand to the plow and don’t look back,” type of endeavor and by its very nature doesn’t allow for balance, at least not as we have come to define it. So I propose something new. I propose the pursuit of health instead of balance.

Balance says there is a time and place for everything. Health says everything eventually gets time and place.

Balance says things need to fit nicely into the appropriate boxes. Health says things don’t usually fit in boxes so there must be another appropriate way.

Balance almost always leads with “no.” Health almost always leads with “let’s think about it.”

Balance tries to turn some things off while turning other things on. Health understands that most things never completely turn off and can find contentment regardless.

It’s possible that I am the most out-of-balance youth worker on the planet, despite my past efforts to put family, ministry, friendships and my personal pursuits in tidy little boxes that never infringe upon each other. And most of my frustration has been the result of having purchased my own beachfront property in Idaho.

But I’m healthy (mostly) and my family, ministry, friendships and personal pursuits would support that claim. And embracing an unbalanced, healthy approach to life and ministry has been the best decision I’ve ever made

Tired of chasing balance while serving in youth ministry? Maybe it’s because you are chasing something that doesn’t exist.

Thanks for loving students,