Posted By Kurt Johnston

Back in 1997 when I arrived at Saddleback, I noticed something right away that disturbed me; the junior high ministry was in the habit of using high school seniors as leaders. It bothered me partly because seniors in high school seemed so young and it felt like we, in essence, had a youth group within our youth group and seemed like a ton of work. But mostly it bothered me because it was unfamiliar….I hadn’t seen students that young in a hands-on leadership role before. In my previous settings, we had always had a “college age and over” age limit for our junior high volunteers. I can’t tell you why that was, it just was. I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised by what I observed! Our high school seniors have proven time and time again to be fantastic leaders.

Fast forward to today. Today as I was walking through our church office, I stopped to talk to Bryce Kelly. Bryce is just starting his JUNIOR year in high school and is about to embark on his journey as a junior high small group leader andwasin ourjunior high area to geta last minute pep talk. Yep, we have had such success with our seniors in high school that we have decided to use Bryce and his friend Elise as guinea pigs to see if high school juniors can serve well in junior high.

My hunch is that I will be pleasantly surprised once again.

Posted by Kurt Johnston

Normally my random thoughts are entirely unrelated. But today I share a few random thoughts and observations from my weekend at Youth Specialties’ NYWC

- It is great to se YS flourishing. With the departure of Marko and the sale to Youthworks, there was certainly reason for youth workers to wonder what the future of YS held. This past weekend made it obvious that under the leadership of Tic Long and the youth works team, that YS is in very good hands.

- I think I know, but I have NO idea! I’m specifically talking about grace. After hearing Ted Haggard and his wife in the general session, and sitting in a workshop led by Ted, I am really….maybe for the first time…beginning to see that my understanding of Grace is too limited, too small.

- Apparently, us youth workers love thinking we suck. I was shocked at how many of the workshop titles revolved around the negative, and how much of the workshop content was focused on all the stuff organized, church-based youth ministry is doing wrong, and the horrific consequences of our wrongness.

Soapbox Alert: are more kids walking away from church than ever before? That seems likely….but how do we REALLY know? Maybe we are just more concerned about it than ever before, which is really good, but did we really track this or study it back in the day? And assuming way more teenagers are walking away from faith, is youth ministry the sole culprit? What about all the other factors that contribute to the
faith journey that have as much….or more….influence than our youth ministries? Do many of our current youth ministry methods need to be evaluated? Of course. But to say that they are to blame for adolescent faith abandonment (or even that they are primary cause) doesn’t seem completely honest to me. It makes for wonderful workshop titles and sells books, that’s for sure. But if it gets us to take an honest look at what we are doing, and helps us move the ministries new directions we feel we need to….like it has with me….then that’s a good thing.

But PLEASE don’t let a book written by a seminary professor or an article penned by a youth worker in a completely different context than yours, or a workshop led by somebody who sees themselves as a prophetic voice to the youth ministry world…..please don’t let anybody tell you from a distance whether or not you are making a lasting difference in the lives of the kids God has entrusted to you.

Youth ministry isn’t perfect, and we have done lots of things wrong (chubby bunny), but I gotta believe things would be way worse had we not been trying all these years.

- Middle school/junior high ministry still lacks resources. YS is one of, if not the biggest publishers of youth ministry resources, yet in their store I had to look long and hard to find books, curriculum etc directed at this age group. I have met dozens and dozens of sharp junior high ministry minds who certainly have something to contribute….come on Publishers, go find ‘em. Or call me and I will give you their names.

-Wayne Rice is the man! To see Wayne, one of the co-founders of YS, warming up the crowd singing old school youth group choruses while playing his acoustic guitar was one of the highlites of the weekend. You probably had to be an over-forty youth worker to really appreciate it, though.

It’s one of those days where I wish I could be in 2 places at once!

Today a whole bunch of people I love & respect are gathering in San Diego for the National Youth Workers Convention. If you’ve been there, you know it’s a fantastic event for training & learning & talking to other people who love youth ministry the way that you do. But I’ve got that feeling you get when a bunch of your friends are at a great party, and you’re somewhere else.

I shouldn’t be complaining… I get to be at the NYWC in Nashville in late November, and also at the Simply Youth Ministry Conference right here in Chicago in March. Both those events absolutely energize me, and leave me with great ideas about how to serve students better — and give more of myself to Jesus. So today…I’ll just look forward to them, instead of whining about not being in beautiful San Diego.

But since I don’t get to sit in any sessions today, I decided to read a chapter of Kurt Johnston & Tim Levert’s new book, The 9 Best Practices for Youth Ministry…. and imagined I was in some fancy hotel ballroom listening to them speak wisdom to me, instead of just reading it. I’m a dork, I know. But they did a great job, in my imagination. I’m loving the beginning of their book — I’d highly recommend picking it up if you haven’t already!

(PS – yes, I figured out how to add links to my post, so I wanted to make the most of it!)

Posted by Kurt Johnston

This has nothing to do with junior high ministry, but because most who read this are still junior highers at heart, I think you might appreciate it.

It’s awkward, but funny…inappropriate, but not really….offensive, but innocent. And I’m pretty sure it was meant to be legitimate.

Noticing The Invisible

 —  September 29, 2010 — 5 Comments

They’re putting up a new sign in front of our church. The old one has been there for about 30 years, and was starting to crumble. My friend Bruce works on projects like this for the facilities team here; he was describing to me the cool design of the sign, and what it’ll look like when it’s done. It’s going to be terrific. Then, with satisfaction in his voice, he mentioned that he just got done remodeling some of the little kids ministry rooms in our church. The rooms are way more functional now, and they look fantastic, too. Last summer he worked his tail off updating our old chapel… but the great result was visually evident as soon as you walk into that room.
But that got me thinking about middle school ministry, and how the work that we do is designed to impact the soul of a young teenager. Which is really, really hard to “see”!
It’s so different from finishing a “project”, and being able to stand back, look at our work, and say “it’s all done!” Renovated, updated, complete…. Not so much. People are a “work in progress”, right? I know that I am! And I’m a long way from finished.
These middle schoolers that we’re serving have so much life in front of them yet. And the stuff that we’re trying to build into them could effect them for the next 50 years or more! Everything we do to try to point them towards a life with Jesus can have profound impact, eternal impact. On them, on their friends, on their current family, on their future spouse, on their future family. Grandkids, even! But most days it can be pretty hard to see… so that’s what I’m trying to remind myself of today.
I’m trying to notice what’s invisible!

I’m not a business man, but I saw this one coming for years. For lots of reasons, one biggie being that their online business is about 1/10th that of Netflix, Blockbuster has filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy and hopes to reorganize.

Some leadership things popped into my head when I was thinking about the Blockbuster saga; some of them may even apply to youth ministry:

- Change isn’t bad….in fact sometimes it is necessary for your survival.
- If it ain’t broke, it will be soon enough.
- it isn’t about what you think works….it’s about what your “customers” think works.
- objects in mirror really are closer than they appear.
- if outsiders recognize problems before leaders on the inside do….there are BIG problems!
- Success almost always breeds complacency.

Share one of your own!

It’s been a busy start to the school year! (can you relate?)
For me, I think this year’s been over-busy.
And this morning, when I took a minute to look back at yesterday, I realized that in all the action of the day, I hadn’t overtly, intentionally included God. Sure, I prayed to him in a couple of meetings… And I meant it! And I didn’t “run from God” at all yesterday.

But this morning I was thinking about how Not Running From God is way different from Pursuing God.

I don’t want to just “not run from God”. Today, I want to really Pursue!

Random Randomness

 —  September 22, 2010 — Leave a comment

Posted By Kurt Johnston

- I was recently struck/challenged by the amount of what I call “God Talk” we use in our junior high ministry setting. By “God Talk” I mean the fact that we talk about God….a lot, but don’t talk about Jesus nearly enough. Some may see it as semantics, but I think it is more than that. In a culture where just about everybody is pro-god, I want students to begin identifying more and more with Jesus. Not sure where this is leading me, but I think it’s the right direction.

- Speaking of Jesus, we are about to wrap up a three-week series we called “Give Me a J!” which is a look at who Jesus is, what did he have to say, and what it means to us. It’s been a really great series. So good, in fact, that it will likely become a super series at simply junior high. But in case you don’t want to pay for it, here are the very basic key points from each week:

WHOIS HE: 1. God in a Bod. 2. The Promised Savior 3. The Only Way to Heaven

WHAT DID HE HAVE TO SAY? In a word, his message was about FREEDOM.

1. Freedom From Sin 2. Freedom From Acting Religiously 3. Freedom From Selfishness

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO ME? 1. If You Don’t Know Him, Meet Him. 2. If You Do Know Him, Share Him.

- Do you have Xbox live or use your Wii online? If so, and you enjoy television and movies, then I strongly recommend considering the online Netflix subscription for only $9.00 per month. the number of movies and television shows that are available to watch instantly is quite impressive. Of course, you can subscribe even without Xbox or Wii, but will only be able to watch on your computer Vs. your television.

- I find the Tea Party movement fascinating. If they can manage to stick to their original agenda (in case you wonder, TEA stands for “Taxed Enough Already”), they may have some legs….and may even be able to attract some moderates to their side of the discussion. But if they begin to meddle in other traditionally conservative issues (abortion, gay marriage, immigration….) I think they will loose effectiveness. Of course, I don’t really follow all this stuff enough to have a strong feel for it….it’s just an extremely un-educated observation about politics; which I’m interested in to some degree.

- Just got the new EVO phone. I may have crossed the line into a realm of technology/bells and whistles/awesomeness that I shouldn’t have. I truly can’t figure the thing out.