There are SO MANY reasons I love the Simply Youth Ministry Conference…and many of them are fairly predictable; stuff you would expect to enjoy about almost any conference you would attend.

But one of the things I like most about SYMC, and something that sets it apart is the unpredictable stuff the crew at Simply Youth Ministry is willing to toss into the mix! This year is no exception. Below is a sneak-peek at the general session speaker for Saturday night…a slot usually reserved for the “big dogs”:

Grey Matter(s)

 —  January 14, 2013 — Leave a comment


I’ve been thinking lately about the (seemingly) lack of absolute clarity/certainty when it comes to aspects of faith and ministry. And, I find it interesting that so many people really do seem to have a hard time embracing nuance, “the fuzzy middle”, uncertainty….the idea that many times there is no black and white but mostly shades of grey.

And I get it; especially when you look at scripture. God’s Word is full of declarative statements, warnings of the dangers of being lukewarm, proclamations against wishy-washiness, foundation-building instructions (rock vs sand, by the way) and on and on and on. It’s obvious that God is certainly a god of absolutes.

And here’s where things seem to get grey: When we mix our understanding of so much of scripture with the day to day experiences life and ministry hand us. To that we add our pride; or desire to always be “right” about an issue or to have a definitive answer. To this we add the (whether self-imposed or others-imposed…or both) expectation that “leaders” always know what’s best, can articulate it AND get others to buy into it. Then we mix in a little bit of outside influence through the books and blogs we read and various “thought leaders” we listen to. And finally (not really finally because I could go on and on….) we sprinkle in the expectations of parents, students, volunteers and peers to confidently proclaim truth and clarity to vast issues those under our care and leadership deal with.

In my experience, lots and lots of situations we face can easily be reconciled (or at least honestly evaluated) by the clarity and straightforwardness of God’s word. LOTS! Because so much of life is about black and white, right and wrong, God’s way vs. the world’s way.

And in my experience, lots and lots of situations require the willingness to live in the grey zone…the world of “both/and”, “neither/nor”, “sorta”, “maybe” and “gosh…I’m not quite sure.” Simply put: Life is often at least 49 shades of grey.

-Grey isn’t sexy.
-Grey isn’t provocative.
-Grey doesn’t build an audience on the book/blog/speaking circuit.
-Grey doesn’t build a following: “hey, follow me…I’m not sure about lots of stuff!”
-Grey doesn’t answer the questions so many people are hoping somebody will answer for them.
-Grey doesn’t give easy answers to issues.
-Grey doesn’t allow me to take side, therefore having a “camp” I belong to, and allies from whom to gain support.
-Grey doesn’t allow me to make a declarative statement, put the issue to rest and move on.

Life and ministry are easier in the world of black and white. Absolutes are fantastic…when they exist. But when they don’t, let’s avoid the temptation to be lazy thinkers and laborers. Let’s be willing to do the hard work of living, leading, loving and learning in the midst of uncertainty.

Want to think a little more about this? Here are some prompts:
- In what areas have you settled for a “black and white” answer that may actually require some “grey thinking”?
- In what areas have you settled for “grey” that may actually be a “black and white” issue?
- How comfortable are you NOT always having an absolute answer for your JH students?
- How might you help your JH students develop the ability to wrestle through, and be okay with, uncertainty?

7th Grade Girls

 —  January 10, 2013 — 1 Comment


I’m sitting in Starbucks thinking about my small group. On Wednesday nights I lead a small group of 14 7th grade girls. Let me rephrase that, I lead a group of 14 sweet, crazy, loud, don’t want to do anything serious whatsoever 7th grade girls. They are wonderful. As I sit here reflecting on our time last night, I find myself giggling out loud just thinking about some of the things they say and do. I thought I would share them.

-       They like to scream. And hug.

-       They love any excuse to wear pajama bottoms outside their house.

-       Makena texts ahead of time to let us know what she is wearing to group.

-       Sugar is the enemy. We don’t show them any sugar until they are leaving.

-       Julia brings a stuffed snake named Frank that answers questions during bible study.

-       Did I mention they like to scream?

-       Half of my group looks 10 and the other half looks 18. However, everyone acts 13.

-       The big things and the little things really matter to them. When they walk in the door, they each have 18 very important things to tell me.

-       When we start our bible study time there is a constant hum in the room. They literally cannot all be quiet and paying attention at the same time.

-       I write down a lot of prayer requests regarding sick dogs, tests at school, and friends of friends.

-       Even though they are all teenagers, they are still such little girls in so many ways.

I love these girls. We have not gotten to the point in our small group where tons of deep stimulating conversation about Jesus is happening yet. But I know the time we are spending together and the relationships being formed are eventually going lead us toward something amazing.

My girls modeling the Armor of God

My girls modeling the Armor of God

True Dat!

 —  January 9, 2013 — Leave a comment

Yesterday I had the privilege of speaking to a group of about 500 youth workers from the Church Of Christ. I shared four truths I’ve been learning the past few years that have simultaneously led me to a deeper faith experience AND exposed my areas of shallowness.

1) Life Is A Squiggle.
This one isn’t really new, and it has sort of become a “calling card” of sorts for me. I’m convinced that when we embrace the reality that life is unpredictable, that we are slaves to sin (sorta like Paul), that twists and turns are all part of the journey we actually begin to rely on God in deeper ways than ever before.

2) I Need A Travel Parnter….Or Two.
I’m not talking about traditional accountability where you sit together with your accountability partner (whom you often really don’t have deep relationship with) and go through a list of accountability partners. I’m talking about a friend or two who know and love you deeply; who know the good, bad and ugly about you. A friend with whom, as my buddy Scott Rubin says, you can put “your worst foot forward”.

3) Busyness Will Keep Me In The Shallow End.
After purposely bragging in my intro about how much I have going on in my life (as part of a set up for this part), I then shared the sickening story of my recent complete unawareness that my neighbor was in her 3rd round of chemo for breast cancer. A guy who lives SIX houses down was the one who told me. The Pastor on the block…who is so busy doing great ministry…isn’t even connected to his next door neighbor. I talked about the fact that Jesus despised the Pharisees for their “cup issues”; being impressed with their outward appearance. Can you imagine me bragging to Jesus about the outside of my cup with him knowing about my lack of concern for my neighbor. Yikes.

In Life, And In Ministry, I Need A Long View
We are infatuated with the here and now, with instant gratification. But most good stuff in life takes time to develop.

Those are some things God has been teaching/reminding me of lately. If you haven’t done so in a while, take a few minutes sometime soon to jot down what He’s been teaching you.


In a few weeks, our Junior High and High School teams head to our annual “Staff Camp” for a couple days of big-picture planning and fun.

This year, we are going to spend some time brainstorming how to implement three goals I have for our youth ministry this year:
1) Collaboration between JH and HS
I realize our ministry is fairly unique in that we have completely separate teams, budgets etc. for JH and HS. The unintended consequence of this is there is a lot of redundancy, wasted effort, hidden talents etc. This year I am hoping our team members begin to see themselves as part of the WHOLE team who happen to focus on a certain age-group. We’ve made steps this direction, but I’d like to see us collaborate and benefit from one another even more.

2) Anchoring our students in basics of faith
Not sure how this will unfold, but I do know that just because teenagers are part of a bible-teaching youth group doesn’t mean they automatically become well grounded, or anchored, in the foundational truths of faith. I want 2013 to become the year we become more intentional in this area.

3) Equipping them to more confidently share Jesus
Our youth group does a great job of bringing their friends to church…but I’d like to see them equally excited/confident about the idea of bringing their friends to Jesus. Sure, church is a great place to meet Jesus, but I think our ministry has taken our foot off the gas pedal here. In the past, we have had a fairly strong emphasis on equipping our students to not only be “salt and light” but also a verbal witness. It’s time to regain some of that.

If you have insight into any of these three areas that you’d be willing to share….please do!


With the beginning of the new year comes the push toward this year’s Simply Youth Ministry Conference in Indianapolis March 1-4. There are lots of conferences out there, and they are all fantastic. But here are a few reasons I think SYMC stands out from the pack and is well worth the investment; an investment that is much smaller if you register before January 16th:

* It is a conference “By Youth Workers, For Youth Workers”. The Simply Youth Ministry team doesn’t think this conference up by themselves in a publishing building somewhere. Instead, they enlist the help of over 100 in-the-trenches youth workers who speak into every aspect of the conference, and run everything through their youth worker “sniff test”. It wouldn’t be much of an exaggeration to say that Simply Youth Ministry mostly just funds a conference put on by a bunch of youth workers.

* It’s like camp for you….without the teenagers! Look, we all love our students but it’s nice to take a break now and then. SYMC is like a camp for youth workers. And at our camp….pranks are HIGHLY encouraged!

* It is a place where iron sharpens iron. This year’s theme is “STRONGER” and it really could be the theme every year. SYMC is built around the idea that we are stronger when we talk to each other, learn from each other and sharpen each other. Sure, you’ll be able to rub shoulders with the youth ministry “big dogs” if you want to…but we’ve learned that the best conversations at SYMC are almost always with other attendees in workshops, peer panels, affinity groups, etc.

* It is where the Youth Worker Nation comes together! SYMC is one of the largest youth ministry conferences in the country. And it provides an incredible opportunity for 3,000 of us to gather in one place to learn, celebrate and party.

Merry Christmas!

 —  December 24, 2012 — Leave a comment


Merry Christmas, everybody!
Scott is spending his break Celebrating his Parent’s 50th wedding anniversary in the Dominican Republic.
I’m sneaking away with family and friends to camp in the desert and ride dirt bikes.
Katie is staying in town relaxing and cooking good food.

Very few folks in the church work harder than junior high youth leaders, so no matter how you are spending the next few days, we hope they are filled with the people you love celebrating the One who first loved us!

Simple Truth Bible

A constant sticking point over the course of my ministry has been the ongoing attempt to help junior highers develop a desire to read God’s Word on their own…outside the walls of the church or comfy confines of their small group.

And for the most part I’ve failed in my efforts. Simply put, far too few young teenagers spend time reading the bible. FAR. TOO. FEW.

So I am jumping out of my skin with excitement over The Simple Truth Bible, a brand new 365 day “Bible” that works students through the key themes of scripture in very easy to chew bites.

The cover bills The Simple Truth Bible as “The Best Minute of Your Day” but the reality is each little devotion will take about 10-minutes. 10-minutes per day in God’s word sound like we are setting the bar too low? Consider two things:

1) Most junior highers are spending exactly ZERO minutes a day in God’s word, so 10-minutes is infinitely/immeasurably better!

2) Let’s pretend every junior higher in your ministry spends 10-minutes a day, 6 days a week, reading The Simple Truth Bible. That adds up to an hour a week, 4 hours a month, and 48 hours per year. What sort of growth might occur in their lives if they actually spent 48 hours alone with God’s word over the course of the year! By the way, that also equates to about half a school day every month reading the Bible!

The devotions in The Simple Truth Bible were written by a mix of youth ministry “experts”, in-the-trenches youth workers and even a few teenagers! The result is a fantastic, easy-to-use “bible” that every teenager needs in their hands.

You can pre-order as many copies as you want, and read more details about it and download 20 sample devotions right here.