We’ve all heard the old adage about the “two dogs fighting.” The basic premise of the story is one represents living for the Lord and the other our “evil desires.” These dogs battle within and the one that wins is the one we feed.

In my own heart these warring dogs are “Success:” Christ’s design vs. the world’s. I thought I was “feeding” Christ’s definition. Then the Lord led my family into one of the hardest seasons we have ever been through, literally. Not one area of our lives has gone “smoothly:” Health, Finances, Relationships, Ministry, Marriage, and Location. We have even been through a “history making” hurricane and blizzard. It has been one of those times in life that borders on the ridiculous and causes you to question EVERYTHING. It’s when I had a revelation:

In my heart of hearts I believed I could “work” up the “Jesus” ladder the same way you do in business.

I was doing what I believe many of us do, I was focused on “getting ahead” in ministry, and calling this my relationship with the Lord. If you called me out on it I would have denied it. As Jesus led, I would move from a small ministry, to a grass-roots one, then leading one, then eventually I would be the “next big thing” in ministry. While I do believe Jesus can and will use me any way he wants I thought he OWED me this for journeying in relationship with him. DSC_0563

He showed me some of my “heroes” and the truth about them:

  • Noah spent over 100 years building an ark. During this time the hope was others would see and believe. In the end only his immediate family and their wives joined him in Salvation.
  • “Saul” was well educated, rich, religious, from a good family, had status and well respected. “Paul” was flogged, imprisoned, exposed to death, shipwrecked 3 times, lashed within an “inch of his life,” five times, beaten with rods three times, hungry, thirsty, cold, naked, and pelted with stones.
  • Moses spent at least 80 years of his life in the desert: 40 as a shepherd and 40 wandering with his nation. The majority of his life was spent fighting the enemies of Israel. He got to see the promised land,  but never enter it.

The world deemed NONE of these people successful while they were alive. They were considered crazy, zealots and wackos.

Here’s what I also saw:

  • Noah was saved due to his faithfulness to the Lord.
  • Paul wrote a majority of the new testament and spent his life in pursuit of “finishing the race and the task “of taking Christ into the world. He only wanted to be faithful to the Lord.
  • Moses was buried by God himself and there was no one else who “knew God the same way face to face.” He was rewarded for his faithfulness to the Lord.

In my flesh I want to be noticed. Jesus asks me to redefine success as being faithful to journeying with Him. All of these men were saved not of their own doing nor did their rewards come because of what they DID for Him. He said, “Come be my friend, in the end your reward is Me.” They messed up along the way, they could do nothing to “earn” the Lord’s love and he owed them nothing. However, he chose still to use them mightily.

Yes, I have two dogs in me. The truth is sometimes I feed the one in the world. It feels better with more accolades ringing in my ears. It feels like I AM DOING SOMETHING GREAT. However, the end game isn’t about that at all is it… it’s to hear, “Well done, good and FAITHFUL servant.” It’s not about faithful to what… it’s to who…

The question is: Am I willing to believe this is enough?

article.2013.04.09This week we’re going to take on the top 3 questions that we get when people come to visit our youth ministry. You’ll get mine (Josh) today and Kurt’s tomorrow. Here are 3 very frequently asked questions:

How can I start a youth ministry internship at my church?
We are very blessed to have some really incredible interns at our church and a program that doesn’t cost the church a ton of money that produces some pretty amazing youth workers. If you want to start one, you’ve got to answer some very basic but fundamental questions about the program:

  • Will we pay the interns?
  • Where are they going to live/eat/office?
  • What is the duration of the program?
  • What are we hoping to accomplish in both them and in our ministry?

If you can answer those basic questions, you are off to a great start! For starters, I would pay the interns a very small stipend, if possible, to help cover gas and a couple meals, and keep the duration short like a summer term. Map out the basics of what they will be doing and how you want to shape them and you’re well on your way.

While I don’t have space for much more, for extra credit here’s a roadmap of where to go next:

  • Look for margin where you can add managing interns to your regular workweek. The last thing interns need is an absent leader!
  • Create a required reading list during the internship.
  • Schedule a few times for them to interact with key leaders in the church.
  • As you plan their development, consider having them observe, follow then lead an event, youth service and volunteer from application to placement.

How many events do you guys do at your church?
We made a decision long ago that we weren’t going to build a ministry that was event-driven. But to be honest, we have to continually fight the advance of program creep. Program creep is where you continue to add more and more and not take anything away!

With that in mind, we have our weekly youth group on the weekend and small groups that meet in homes during the week, and then just occasional supplemental events from there. A serve project here, a Dodgeball tournament there. We consciously don’t do a ton of events to keep balance on the biblical purposes. Just so you know, in summer we do a TON more events, so things change with the seasons, too!

So do you teach every week at youth group?
I would guess I teach about 50% of the time in our youth ministry I love giving the platform away for so many reasons:

  • Students need to hear from different voices
  • Sometimes the same thing being said by someone else sticks.
  • Leaders need platforms to develop their speaking skills.
  • I need a break!

Don’t be afraid to give away your platform a little bit you might be surprised at how quickly you fall in love with the byproducts of it. Just keep in mind as the point person make sure you are speaking at the key times and visible and supportive when you’re not on stage.

This post was written by Josh Griffin and Kurt Johnston and originally appeared as part of Simply Youth Ministry Today free newsletter. Subscribe to SYM Today right here.

Switch It Up

 —  April 16, 2013 — Leave a comment

It’s easy to get stuck in a rut in youth ministry and, it’s also very frustrating. When ministry is moving slow it feels like no one is engaged and everything is happening below your standards. There will be seasons in your ministry when you feel like your calling has just become a job.

If you feel like your ministry needs a pick me up, then look at switching things up. Change what you do, try something new and give your ministry new life. To get out of your rut you don’t need a major overhaul, just a few teaks. To change and shake things up in your ministry try giving:

  • Someone Else The Reigns: If you are constantly making the decisions, choosing and leading activities you’ll find your ministry limited. When you are limited you feel trapped and stuck. By delegating leadership and creative responsibilities to other volunteers you enable them to take the ministry where you could not. This does not mean they are better leaders than you it’s just giving it a different approach.
  • Groups Permission To Play: Your small group leaders need to know that they have ownership of their groups. This means allowing them to once in a while deviate from the plan by just sharing life, playing a game or addressing a different issue. Giving permission to play means allowing the group to grow organically.
  • Yourself A Break: The reason your ministry might feel tired is because you feel tired too. Give yourself a break by taking a vacation, building in more margin and working on your Sabbath. When your mind and soul are at rest they are more equipped to think outside the box. A creative mind is a rested one.


Switch it up by giving away the burdens and responsibilities that might wear you down. Give yourself room to breathe so that that you can think clearly on where you need to go. Your ministry needs you for the long haul which means tweaking and adjusting your routine from time to time. Don’t be afraid to switch it up.

How do you switch it up? 

Chris Wesley (@chrisrwesley)

Theresa has become a friend over the last couple of months. Up until 2012 she served youth ministry in this way:

“Over a decade after saying yes to being a youth volunteer, I’ve served as youth director of a couple churches, and had the opportunity to launch a youth center. In 2009 I was honored to partner with and help Michael W. Smith realize his dream to expand his original vision of Rocketown, serving teens through culturally relevant programming, mentoring, and entertainment, with the opening of Rocketown Florida. Recognized by Michael as the heart of Rocketown, I performed every job from custodian to show promoter to pastor (all the while with the official title of Operations Director).”

This unique ministry served a litany of “survival mindset” or urban youth. It felt natural to ask her our questions and get her feed back!

How would you define urban youth or family?

I define an urban youth or family as one who often sees more of what life really is – an urban setting, by definition, is often less shielded from hurt, brokenness, poverty, and other harsh realities of life. However, I also define urban youth and families as seeking to be recognized and identified by who they are and not where they live, their ethnicity, or socioeconomic status.

In today’s shifting culture we are seeking to redefine urban. What would you say if we said the new urban youth is one living in a survival mindset?

There is a need to extend God’s love to youth through re-identification in Christ. Too many youth are ok with being identified by their circumstances. Through the love of Jesus, urban youth can begin to understand that current reality doesn’t have to define their dreams for tomorrow.

New Urban youth are catapulted out of survival mode when they are encouraged to dream and find identity in Christ and his immeasurable love for them. One student revealed to me her dreams of being the first in her family to graduate high school. Her transition from being identified by circumstances to being identified through Christ began in a conversation that started with a simple question. She then did become the first in her family to graduate high school. The conversation went like this:

Me: What do you dream about?

Student: Being the first person in my family to graduate high school.

Me: What can you do to make that dream come true?

Student: Study. Focus.

Me: How are you doing with the studying part?

Student: I need a little help.

Me: Well, let’s get some help then.

That simple exchange started her on a new path, a path that no one in her family had yet walked. And through her hard work and a little help from us, she was successful.

Do you have students living in survival mode in your youth group? (Or have you met families living in this mindset?)

Yes. A group of boys hanging out at our youth center were constantly starting fights on and around our property. They tried to explain to me why they were involved in so many fights. They fought for each other, they explained, because they had no one else who cared for them or protected them.

They were in survival mode. Fighting was there way of committing to each other and supporting each other in ways their family, friends, and community did not.

I asked them, Where will you be in 5 years?

They replied, Probably locked up.

I changed the question to, Where do you want to be? They started revealing their hopes and dreams to be a professional BMX’er, engineer, and film producer. In order to help each other’s dreams come true they had to find a new way to survive in the neighborhood, without fighting and being thrown in jail together.

The entire group made a commitment to stopping fighting. This commitment meant they were able to dream together, and support one another in a new way. They transitioned from surviving to striving for something bigger than they had previously thought was possible.

How would/do you approach them?

I approach every teen in three ways

1. New Identity = You are not your circumstances. Every person has dreams, purpose, worth, and is loved by Christ Jesus. Our circumstances do not define us.

2. Love As God Loves = I don’t love and serve from my being, resources, or ideas. I stay focus on God’s love, his desire, his care, and purpose for each individual.

3. No Friends, All Family = Every student becomes family. Family members respect one another, support one another, bear one another’s burdens, and dream together. No one is a project. Everyone is family.

These are great insights! Thank you Theresa! Look for posts like this from youth workers all over the country every Monday!!

T SpazzyMore about Theresa today:

In 2012 I moved to the beautiful state of Colorado. Through this winding path of God’s grace, I have found a new passion: To shape and serve teens by serving youth leaders, youth organizations, and parents of teens.


Here’s how I’m doing that.

1. Mentoring and coaching
2. Speaking and training3. Providing relevant written resources for today’s youth leader.

Find her at:

theresamazza.com or Twitter: @theresa_mazza

“What do I do when the former youth pastor is still attending our church?”

I get this question from time to time and have actually had to work in this environment in both of the churches I’ve served in over the past 20 years.

Sometimes the former youth pastor takes a promotion and ends up as a worship pastor or the director of a regional campus. Maybe they were a key volunteer holding together the ministry during transition until you stepped into the role. In larger churches, he or she might have been promoted to the Student Ministries Pastor and you take over a junior high or high school ministry. In any case, contending with the former head of a youth ministry you are now charged to lead can be unsettling, challenging or even painful.

I wanted to share a few thoughts today to help you as you process and live in this situation:

If the youth pastor is supportive
I had the privilege of serving under Doug Fields when he was the Student Ministries Pastor at our church. Now I get to carry on his legacy as the high school pastor. People always talk about the “big shoes” I had to fill and the pressure of following him. Doug has an incredible intuition – in just a few minutes he can spot weaknesses and offer ideas on how to come up with creative solutions to them. He is honest with me, he loves me and I know he makes our ministry better. That’s why I hang on every word he says – because of that relationship I know he cares about me as a leader, our high school ministry and wants what’s best for us both. At the same time he wants me to break the rules, challenge the methods of the past and move the ministry forward. He values what I value even if it is different from the way he did it.

A supportive former youth pastor who remains engaged can still be intimidating and challenging but it is one of the best gifts you can be given as a leader. Having a cheerleader and a fresh set of outside eyes is invaluable as you rarely look up from the trenches of day-to-day ministry. Being set up to win by the youth pastor who went before you is affirming and legacy-building. Thank God if you have one of these loving men or women in your church today.

If the youth pastor is not supportive … check back tomorrow for part 2!

Would love to know the situation you serve in and ideas you have to thrive in this environment, too!



Pretty excited for our students (and maybe yours if you don’t live too far away)to participate in a 2-day Student Worship Conference here at Saddleback Church. Here’s a little bit from the website that just launched this week:

To be quite honest, this conference is probably similar to other worship conferences, however, this is geared specifically to students to truly build them and see a bigger picture of what it means to lead people to the throne of GOD. Even more, this Student Worship Conference is intended to help equip students with the basics of what worship is and what it means to be a musician and/or a vocalist in ministry. Many adults volunteers, youth pastors, worship leaders or pastors assume students are to already know what they need to know when it comes to leading worship through music. WRONG!!! No student knows what they are doing. For the most part, most adults do not even know what they are doing. We need to teach all students to become worship pastors and not just worship leaders, because anyone can lead worship (we will explain that more at the conference).

There will be lots of special guests, student bands and fun here at the Refinery at Saddleback. Get more details here, hope you will join us!


The Big 3

 —  April 15, 2013 — 2 Comments


I was recently asked what I believed to be the three most important aspects of a healthy junior high ministry. I hesitated because I don’t think I’ve ever been asked to narrow junior high ministry down to the THREE most important pieces. For me, passion for Jesus and a desire to point junior highers toward a relationship with Him is assumed in ministry to junior highers so that wasn’t included in my answer. Here is what I came up with, in order of importance:

3) Patience. Nothing good happens over night. It takes time to build a “junior high ministry culutre” in most churches. It takes time to develop a team of dedicated volunteers. It takes time to figure out how junior high ministry differs from high school ministry, etc.

2) Caring Adults Who LIKE Junior Highers. Every christian loves junior high kids…they have to because it’s part of the christian code to love each other. But most adults don’t LIKE junior highers. Adults who are comfortable and actually enjoy being around quirky, insecure, high-energy, question-filled, obnoxious junior highers are hard to find but vital to a healthy junior high ministry.

1) A Church Dedicated To The Cause. Is the church excited about young teen ministry? Is it willing to resource the ministry by providing a meeting space, tossing a few dollars its direction, helping you recruit qualified leaders (even if those leaders decide to abandon their current place of volunteerism)? Is the church going to rally behind your efforts to minister to junior high parents and to nudge the entire congregation towards recognizing that young teens desperately need to be valued and included in the overall life of the church….allowed to use their gifts, be themselves and be embraced by the entire church family instead of being relegated to the “junior high area”?

That’s my BIG 3: An excited church, caring adults and patience. What would your BIG 3 Include?

tonyI’m excited to interview Tony Morgan, church strategist and author of the new book, Stuck in a Funk. Here is 5 questions with Tony, and you can get a copy of his new book on Amazon right now for $5. He’s helped lead several churches I follow closely and have been inspired by him (and his incredible blog) regularly. I respect this guy a lot, and am thankful for all of the great things God is doing through him. Enjoy our discussion!

1. Excited to read your new book, Stuck in a Funk, have you ever found yourself in one? You better believe it. It’s part of life. We face being stuck in our organizations, but we also face it in our personal lives. In both instances, I’ve personally found that sense of stuckness happening when the future vision is unclear or there isn’t a plan to see the vision accomplished. Then once I determine the next steps, I need the discipline and perseverance to work my plan. All of that gets easier when you’re doing life with people who embrace the same vision.

2. Are there specific signs you’re stuck in a funk? Sometimes I find myself there but unable to explain it or how I got there to others? I think being too comfortable is a sign. The funny thing is everyone else around us is pursuing comfort and happiness. Wouldn’t it be nice if a warning light popped on in our lives when we’re getting too comfortable? It’s those seasons when we began to trust too much in our own experiences and capacities. The ironic thing is that I typically experience the most joy when I take risks where I genuinely have to trust God for wisdom and strength.

51kWfnfFAzL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-49,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_3. This book is about churches who are stuck, but it seems like at it’s core it is about leaders that are that way. Yes? Ah… I tend to agree. I think leaders getting stuck is certainly one of the key reasons that organizations get stuck. Leaders need to go back to whatever it is was prompted them to become a leader in the church. They need to recapture that passion and purpose from God. But, just to be honest, it’s going to take a different vision, strategy and systems to get different results. Hope is not a strategy. And, that’s the challenge — leaders actually have to lead at some point.

4. What is the biggest obstacle to getting out of a ministry funk? Every church is unique. Because of that, the combination of contributing factors that lead to a church getting into a ministry funk are going to look different from church to church. That said, one common challenge is being inward-focused. Another is holding onto leadership approaches or structures that may have worked in the past, but don’t now. Another common issue is gaining a clear vision, but, more important, being intentional about the strategies and systems to see that vision become reality. To get to where you want to go tomorrow, you have to know what’s important right now. Just to be honest, sometimes we need an outside set of eyes to facilitate us through that process.

5. Many youth workers have big vision and have a harder time with systems can you explain an easy way to keep these connected to move forward? Yes, vision is important. You certainly need that. The big mistake pastors (including youth workers) make is that they just need to teach people the vision, and everything will take care of itself. Well I can have a vision for being a physically fit, but hearing someone teach about it isn’t going to cut it. It may change my thinking, but systems help shift behaviors. I need new disciplines. I need an exercise system. I need an eating healthy system. I need a buddy system to stay motivated. You get the point. There are many systems in any body, and, unless the systems are healthy, the body won’t be healthy whether we embrace the a vision for health or not.

Thanks so much, Tony!