(From my small church youth pastor friend, Brent Parker, Small Church Ministry Architects Consultant and fellow Texan.)

I love the summers of youth ministry! I sprint into June, jumping right into summer camps, mission trips, and family vacations. The syncopated rhythm of summer keeps me bouncing from one thing to the next until the first week of August hits, my wife heads back to her coaching job, and I realize that I have a new school year staring me right in the face. Where did the summer break go? And why am I so tired? Better yet, how will I get up enough momentum to push into the hectic pace of the fall school calendar? After more than 15 years in ministry, I am all too familiar with this annual struggle to break out of the sporadic rhythm of summer while trying to ease into the more predictable flow of Sunday school and worship, Friday night football games, and weekly Bible study small groups that come each fall.

When trying to establish a rhythm in their craft, musicians often make use of an instrument called a metronome. Maybe you’ve used one before, or heard the tick-tock cadence which is put out by a bar as it moves back and forth at a perfect pace. A small piece of metal can be slid up or down the rocking bar to either increase or decrease the speed of the “beat”. This consistent sound provides the boundaries within which the creative musician can operate. While the rhythm of a musician, or a piece of music, may vary from one to the next, maintaining the chosen rhythm is essential to successfully completing the piece.

At Ministry Architects, we have created what we call the Rhythmic Week. This is a simple process of breaking each day into 3 parts: morning, afternoon, and evening. We encourage youth and children’s workers to assign each “block” of the week to a general purpose. For example, I mark Fridays and Saturdays as my days off. I mark Monday mornings as a time to write thank you notes, to fill out attendance records, and to send out my weekly Youth News. Fill in each block with those general tasks which need to be accomplished each week, leaving several blocks for flex time and family time, and there is your rhythmic week. Setting your ministry metronome now will help you to find your rhythm as you head into this school year.

Hit this link for a free copy of the Rhythmic Week Template: http://ymarchitects.com/137/samples 

Justin (time)

 —  August 28, 2013 — 1 Comment


Upon further review, something just occurred to me…

just in time, I believe.

“I can’t believe what those two people did on stage! Kids were watching!”

(2004, Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson)
(2013, Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke)

“What an amazing performance! What a talent!”

(2013, Justin Timberlake)
(2022, Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke?)

Say it ain’t so.

I’m all for forgiveness, but wouldn’t you agree it’s odd how quickly we become selective in our outrage (and forgetful, too)?

What do you think… is that a commentary more on pop culture or the culture that consumes it?

Of them the proverbs are true: “A dog returns to its vomit,” and, “A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud.” (2 Peter 2:22)

Good morning Insiders!

We’ve got a wonderful guest post this morning from one of our female voices in youth ministry, Brooklyn Lindsey. This is great encouragement, so dive in…

BrooklynLindsey_face0BY BROOKLYN LINDSEY

My husband was preaching last week. I was listening. At the end of his sermon he prayed: “God, if I were you, I wouldn’t choose me. But you do. You already have. And it changes everything.”

When he prayed, the words shot through me, not to my heart, but into my gut. That place where I know there is going to be a change taking place.


Oh God…you’re speaking to me.

If I’m being honest with you God, I’d say that too. If I were you, I wouldn’t choose me to do any of this. I don’t feel worthy, or capable, or worth it at all. But you did choose me and sometimes (maybe a lot of times) I forget that.

But why are you speaking to me?

I’ve been going through a process of focus, simplifying and re-directing back to the paths that lead me to good things. I’ve been sorting through the crazy-makers in my life and minimizing them. I feel pretty good about all of this.

Heck, I’ve cleaned up my desk, returned phone calls, written things on time, prepared ministry programs, spent time with teenagers, connected with hurting people, loved my family, spent time with my kids, made my most important relationships priority, dug into some great books, implemented and adjusted strategies, and celebrated more than I wallowed.

But it was clear to me after I heard those simple words that maybe I needed a reminder and a gut check to get me going again. Because I have felt abandoned even after hundreds of messages and conversations reminding others that we are not alone.

I needed to say this out loud.

God has already made the choice to love me.

God has already chosen me to be salt and light.

So it’s time to embrace it (again), this gift of grace.

Maybe you’ve felt this way.

Condemned when you’re not.

If you do, maybe these things will help you:

1. Say this out loud: “I AM LOVED.” You have been washed. You are no longer slaves to sin, but you’re a beautiful part of the Jesus family.

2. Write it down: “I HAVE A PURPOSE.” Start digging. Unearth the creativity that gets squelched in fear and monotony. Break out of it. Do something random. Go for a walk, get in a boat, wander around in a place you’ve never been, listen and breathe and let go in order to really grasp the way we’re held by the Creator.

3. De-glorify BUSY. It’s not your god. Kill “I’m so busy” from your vocabulary. Your God is grander than the time that you wrestle with each day. Take one step at a time. Don’t go too fast.

4. Look around. Take inventory of your life. How has this love, this knowledge, this calling, this important work, changed everything? Take a look at it and ask yourself, How has this changed me? Let it be fuel for your next steps, your next words, your next thoughts.

5. Go. You know that one thing that you keep dreaming about. Your intentions are to do it, to take care of it, to talk to someone about it. You believe in it. It lights your face up when you talk about it. While all of that is great, it will only begin to happen as you take steps toward it. Your direction will begin to move toward the place where you want to be, so take the first step. Whatever that looks like.

I’m thankful for gut-check prayers.

God, If I were you, I’d tell me it’s time.

A new person is alive, and we can move in that direction.

~ Brooklyn Lindsey


Good stuff or what?! Thanks for reading, and even more, thank you for your awesome commitment to help students grow closer to Jesus.

- Amber




It begins with a lump in the throat, followed by a cold sweat, clammy palms and finishes with a sinking feeling. It’s the moment you realize you’ve “failed” in youth ministry.

Today I thought I would share some of my most cherished moments from the “how not to be a youth pastor” handbook.

1.  “The Unbroken Arm”

Imagine your student who is “that kid.”  You know the one who needs to push all of your buttons, and you are too proud to admit it? At camp I say four times, “Don’t stand on the trash can that is five feet in the air, we are playing basketball, and you could fall off.”  14 yr. old Malcolm ignores me.  He falls, grabs his arm screaming, “It’s broken.”  Me in an award winning moment, “No it’s not, go play basketball like you were asked.”  Malcolm finally begs me to go to the nurse.  Begrudgingly I take him, even though I think he is “milking it.”  I go back to my group while he ices his arm.  Ambulance comes.  Four hours later he returns waving a cast in my face, evil laugh, “It’s broken.”


It doesn’t matter if a student doesn’t listen,  when they get hurt you should not prove a point.  2nd lesson: Next time don’t let them get on the trash can in the first place.

2.  “Biking Home”

Imagine taking your students camping. You bring bikes so they can “explore” on their own. Everyone else thinks a different adult told Freddy he could take a bike. So when everyone was supposed to meet back at 3 he was no where to be found. Dinner came and went,  still no Freddy.  Police became involved.  I got to call home to tell Mom, who barely spoke English, we had lost her son, 7 hours from home.  Finally, somewhere around midnight he was found sunburnt and dehydrated.  Apparently, he had attempted to “bike home” after deciding “no one liked him.’

There are a couple of other “choice” stories from trips, and parks to which I arrived at this conclusion.  (We already had them sign character contracts and liability forms prior to any of this.)


Taking students on trips for the sake of the event doesn’t really fit in to my philosophy of “relationally driven” youth ministry. Also losing kids is bad. Even in the age of cell phones, batteries die or they get turned off.  Instead, I realized that going forward in all things we would have one small group leader with 3-5 students every time we set out on any trip where they”had freedom.”  The purpose?  To build relationships. To be a family on a “family outing.”  Since that time you would be shocked at the depth of “life” we have learned from students in lines for roller coasters at parks and places where you can “go exploring.”

3.  “The Stump.” (This one comes to us via my hubby, but too good not to share.)

Camping trip.  Youth Leader sees a tree stump sticking out of the ground that can fit maybe 4 kids holding onto each other. Decides to have a “team building exercise,” where 12-15 kids have to all stand on the “Stump” together.  By the end of “said” activity all the students were complaining and revolting so violently, lunch was withheld until they made it happen.  (Although it was literally impossible.)


You need to have team building- actually conducive to building cohesiveness.  Well actually the youth did unite: against all of the adults.  They actually had teens so angry from the “event” that parent meetings were held when the trip was over.  Those “youth,” who are now in their mid 30′s, make sure to bring up this “activity” laughing whenever they see us.  The point? No activity can be about the leader needing to be in “control” of the teens. In addition, deciding they “will learn this lesson or else” rarely works as a model of youth min.  Instead it’s about setting it up, allowing them to learn “something” (even if it isn’t what you intended) and knowing when to pull the plug.

I have many more “failures” over the years I could share. Through these I have learned invaluable lessons about honoring parents, teaching methods, and having more compassions for my students, just to name a few. While there was a higher percentage of all out “blow ups” in the early years, I still fall down.   It reminds me I am still learning, and it’s the Lord’s ministry not mine.

What about you?  What’s your “Biggest Mess Up” as a youth worker and What did you learn?

6 Things A Mentor Does

 —  August 28, 2013 — 1 Comment

Here are 6 things I believe a mentor does or should do:

  1. Gives timely advice.  Their advice seeks to encourage and guides toward Christ-likeness in all facets of life.
  2. Risks own reputation.  At times the mentor backs the mentee, putting his/her own reputation on the line.
  3. Bridges to resources.  Whether the resource is a book or a contact or an opportunity for ministry, mentors resource mentee’s for their growth.
  4. Sets the example.  In all facets of life mentors provide the model to follow – being honest about imperfections, of course.
  5. Shares ministry.  By co-laboring in ministry a mentor intentionally increases the credibility of the mentee.
  6. Pushes up.  Mentors seek to push mentee’s beyond their level of leadership and celebrates how that occurs.

HS football


Believe it or not, I played high school football. And even though I entered high school assuming I’d be a wide receiver, since that’s what I had played in Pop Warner, I was quickly tapped as a running back…mostly because I was the only one on the freshman team who knew how to hold my hands when receiving a hand-off! One of the first lessons my new running backs coach taught me was this: ALWAYS FALL FORWARD. It’s assumed a running back is going to get tackled, but the goal is to always fall forward…for positive yardage…on your way down.

I think this principle applies well to youth ministry, too.

Far too many youth workers are afraid of “falling.” For many, there is fear or shame associated with making a mistake, an event not being as awesome as it could have been, a lesson flopping, or a parent being frustrated with a decision made. Falling down is part of the game, friends! When you were tapped to be a youth worker, it’s assumed that you will get tackled from time to time. Just do your best to fall forward.

How to “fall forward” in youth ministry:

  • Identify what caused you to fall.  Was there an avoidable mistake made? Can it be prevented next time?
  • Learn from it. If there was an avoidable mistake made that can be prevented next time, what do you need to learn? What contributed to the mistake? What role did you play? How can you grow through the experience?
  • Turn it into positive yardage.  Believe it or not, falling can result in positive yardage for your youth ministry! Oftentimes our failures can be springboards for greater success! Some examples?

-        Your first-ever parent meeting has one parent show up…but you’ve now taken the first step in ministering to the parents of teenagers in your church! Positive yardage.

-        Your first-ever object lesson landed with a thud…but you noticed that students were actually paying attention during the attempt! Positive yardage.

-        Your senior pastor pulls you aside to share his “concerns” about what happened at youth group last night…but for once he’s paying attention! Positive yardage.

As the new school year, along with another season of football, kicks off, quit worrying so much about falling down…instead focus on falling forward.


This post has nothing to do with Small Church Youth Ministry. Just God, kids and one woman’s mixed emotions.

I was sitting in a hotel room Sunday night and checked in on Twitter…which was, of course, buzzing about the VMA’s. So I first watched JT – awesome! That’s talent and I teared up a little about his inclusion of N*SYNC in his Vanguard Award. Still a fan of Bye-Bye-Bye. You should see me do the moves. Its…unbelievable.

Miley and Robin? I still don’t know exactly what to say or think. It was the buzz all through three airports Monday as I traveled home.

My thoughts are mixed, on one hand vs the other:

On one hand: What was she thinking?

The other: Who was doing her thinking for her?

On one hand: She knows better.

The other: Does she really? Who didn’t do stupid stuff in their 20′s? I mean REALLY stupid?

On one hand: She’s probably ruined her career.

The other: No she hasn’t. People will still watch. Who’s fault is that? Theirs.

On one hand: It was SO not children appropriate.

The other: Why were children allowed to watch in the first place?

On one hand: Where was her dad?

The other: She’s a grown woman.

On one hand: She wasn’t alone on stage, btw.

The other: Yeah, what about Robin Thicke?

On one hand: What about her professed Christianity?

The other: Good thing salvation isn’t based on the VMA’s.

On one hand: What about our students? She wasn’t a good role model.

The other: All the more reason for us to do what we do. BE the difference.

On one hand: What must God think?

The other: He loves her (and Robin) and wants THE very best for them. Jesus came for them, too.



If you, like me, have the privilege of actually getting paid a full-time salary to work with teenagers, you are in a rare category…and you are probably lazy, like me.

Full-timers: Because you work lots and lots of hours every week, you are probably really struggling with my accusation.
Part-timers and volunteers: Because you work lots and lots of hours every week ON TOP of your youth ministry role, you probably have a smug, “it’s about time…” look on your face right now.

Full-timers, indulge me for a minute.

- Do you regularly take 2 full days off each week? Volunteers and Part-timers usually don’t…they are doing youth ministry on their day off.

- Do you get paid for the week you are at Summer camp? Volunteers and Part-timers usually don’t…in fact they often have to use one of their hard-earned vacation weeks to attend camp.

- Did you take an extra day off the week following Camp? Volunteers and Part-timers probably didn’t. They were right back to grind.

- Do you ever roll into work a couple hours late the morning after a big event, or after mid-week because you “worked late”? Volunteers and Part-timers probably aren’t allowed to do that by their other boss.

- Do you ever hang out on facebook, update your fantasty football team or pin something on Pinterest on “church time?”. volunteers and Part-timers could get fired from their jobs for doing the same thing.

- Do you ever go to the dentist, go to your child’s football or soccer practice or take an extended lunch with your spouse on church time without reporting it to HR? Volunteers and Part-timers don’t have that luxury.

I could keep going. But I’ll spare the full-time youth worker community any more embarrassment! I’d be willing to bet that nobody in the full-time youth worker kingdom is “busier” than I am: I lead a team of 20 full-time staff and hundreds of volunteers that minister to thousands of teenagers each week. I serve on our executive team and my boss is Rick Warren. I am expected to give oversight and direction to the youth groups of six regional campuses and prepare for the launch of youth groups in TWELVE international campuses; each in a different country. I blog a little, create a few resources and speak here and there, too.

AND…I get paid for the week of summer camp, take an extra day off (or two) after each camp, roll into work a couple hours late after events that keep me out at night, I update my fantasy team from my office and go to the dentist and attend my son’s sporting events on company time. Benefits that my busy volunteer and part-time friends probably don’t enjoy.

Maybe I’m not “lazy”…and you probably aren’t, either. But I am fortunate, blessed, honored, privileged and overjoyed that God tapped me as one of the lucky ones. Typically I encourage youth workers to avoid the temptation to compare their lives to those around them. But today…and maybe every time you feel a little overwhelmed by your role…take a second to shift your focus from the junk of full-time youth work to the joys; from the pressures to the perks; from the busyness to the blessings.

When I focus on the junk, pressures and busyness of my ministry life I get overwhelmed and whiny.
When I focus on the joys, perks and blessings of my ministry life I want to work even harder at it.

Thoughts? Bring it on!