article.2013.04.16Graduation! Your amazing students whom you have loved and cared for the past few years are heading out to the great unknown of college, the work force, their parents basement, or a strange combination of all three! But because moving away to college is such a big deal, those are the students we are going to focus on this week.

As students leave your ministry the temptation is to completely set them free and while this is the typical model in most churches, what would it look like if you extended your influence in their lives to cover this challenging transition? Here are a few practical ideas how.

Help them find a church.
For students who move away, the number one in a new city and starting a new life is finding a church home. Oftentimes the struggle is I just can’t find a church like ours, which is flattering, but a dangerous position for a student to be in their freshman year. So help! Google the churches within a couple miles of the campus and see which one would feel familiar to them. Visit their Web site, or give them a call and ask a few questions, and pass the information along to your student.

Here’s an idea: Find out where your seniors are heading for college, and ask a key volunteer to do a little bit of church research for each community and, as a graduation gift, give an Awesome churches near your school packet to each graduate!

Give them a resource.
Help them in this transition with a devotional resource or a letter a day from a member of your church with a verse to encourage them. Okay, we have never seen that one done, either, but how cool would it be! Don’t let students dangle in limbo spiritually; challenge them to continue in the spiritual disciplines and increase their faith in God even when they are in an environment where it will be challenged daily.

Check in periodically.
Being remembered is huge. Too often students leave for school and leave their mentors, parents, and youth workers behind. That is by design, and one of the catalysts that force students to think for themselves as they barrel into adulthood, but it also leaves them vulnerable to attack.

A quick Skype call, a phone call on the weekend, even a weekend trip to see them could be huge. You never know the power of a simple text; it would probably mean the world to your students 400 miles from home.

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.

Is your ministry messy? Are your students in the midst of messy stuff right now? Please say yes…so I don’t feel so alone right now.

I am not really sure why it has gotten more messy lately or if we are just finally willing to really step into the mess and embrace it. Nonetheless…it is messy.

Girls struggling with identity issues, lack of confidence and sexual pressures…but dig deeper and we have girls struggling with sexual identity, self-injury, broken families, drug addiction and pregnancies. Heavy…painful…messy.

Today I had a moment of clarity.

I need to face my mess…We need to face our own personal messes. (That includes you…)

Have I taken the steps needed in my life to work through my own mess? Have I done the hard work to overcome habits and hang-ups in my life?

Students in pain or in the midst of mess can trigger our pain and mess. The key is will we recognize our own triggers…either we’ll get hurt or get healing.

Now it’s not that my life is free of mess but I have had to at least be willing to address my mess and start the process of healing before I can really step into our student’s pain.

It will be impossible for me or my leaders to help students find healing if we haven’t done the work in our own lives. We have all heard it said before…we can’t take students where we haven’t been or…in this case, help them find healing when we are stuck in our mess.

So, how to do we embrace our mess?

Get help for ourselves.

Read. Connect with others. Seek professional help. (One or all of them.)

Here are a few books that have helped me with my mess:


Changes That Heal



Listening to Your Life

wounded healer


The Wounded Healer

jesus i never knew

The Jesus I Never Knew

What are books that have been helpful to you during difficult times?



Love this new resource that is the discount of the week over at Simply Youth Ministry. 99 Thoughts on Marriage & Ministry - a book that looks to help young couples as they navigate these challenging waters. From the back of the book:

Ministry is such a rewarding experience, but why does it create so much strain on marriages? Jake and Melissa Kircher have learned some valuable lessons (often the hard way!) about building a healthy marriage amid the demands of ministry. They aren’t perfect, but they’ve matured individually and as a couple because of each mess, problem, heartache, and obstacle they’ve encountered. They understand your struggles and frustrations, because they’re their struggles and frustrations, too.

Today only – 58% off – just $2.50 each!


I love visting other youth groups and seeing the different ways that each of them approaches ministry and seeing the different cliques and types of students that each group attracts. In the city I work, the diversity between each of the different ministries is pretty surprising but something I love to see, that students can find a place that speaks their language, with a community they belong to and feel safe in. Each group is a reflection of the the values and style of each leader and fulfilling the purpose of reaching different students.

When I visit a new group I am always on the look out for one thing, the awkward kids. The ones that don’t fit in a lot of places, the ones that maybe don’t have tons of friends and that might look and act very differently than other students. I am not looking for the jocks, the hipsters, or any sort of “cool” kid, in fact I think most youth groups have their fair share of those students, I am looking for the complete opposite. Show me your kids that like to use the coat rack as a light saber, show me your Zacchaeus’s, those are the students to help point to a healthy community.

It’s easy to create a space where social students can be social, but creating an environment where students that don’t fit in can fit in is what it’s all about. You show me a ministry that has no awkward kids, I would be able to argue pretty quickly that, that group is not a safe place. There are students that are reminded often at school that they are different and they don’t fit in, but there is no way that the same should be said of youth group. You belong here, you are safe here, you are one of us here, you are accepted here.

Awkward kids are a sign of health, a sign of a culture of grace for students of all kinds, where young people can feel that they belong, they are safe and are accepted when in many other areas of their life they don’t experience that reality. A group that is diverse, is a group that is experiencing authentic community and youth group is a great place for that to happen.

-Geoff @geoffcstewart 

From time to time I’ve done all of these things to my people – and had them done to me by supervisors, pastors and leaders as well. Pretty common leadership gaffes that take a toll on your people:

Poor Communication
Want to alienate people? Keep information from them. I understand that there is certain “top level information” and certainly important things that need to be kept discreet or even secret until a launch or big reveal – what frustrates people is keeping secret even the most basic information that should be disseminated to everyone. Don’t hide behind phrases like, “that’s just our culture” or “it has always been that way” – change the culture and don’t be OK with the dysfunctions of the past. Every email builds a culture.

Require them to be at things at the last minute
If something is required, it should be incredibly important and everyone should have advance notice if at all possible. If there is a better way of communicating information and avoiding the meeting, do it that way. Gather fewer times a year and make them more effective. I like thinking in terms of deposits and withdrawals, most leaders realize far too late that have long overdrawn from their team equity account. Rethink mandatory.

Make every decision in an ivory tower
A great way to alienate your volunteers is to completely uninvolve (that’s not a word, but I don’t care) them in any and all decision-making. Keep them guessing why you made the call you did, keep them in the dark about policies you announce that change everything. Summer calendar coming out? Forget collaboration and just do it yourself for a sure fire way to fail as a leader.

Believe the best person to do the job is you
If you are always the default solution to every problem, everything will soon become your problem. Stop bottle-necking authority and making everyone wait for your approval before they take action action. Let leaders lead!

Alienated people become former staff members at your church. Volunteers on the outside of your ministry soon start volunteering outside of your ministry! What would it look like if you worked hard on good communication,infrequent but potent mandatory gatherings, led from the middle and let your leaders actually lead. Could change your ministry and life!



I was a freshman girl.

They were senior boys.

We had grown up together. Our families were friends at the church. We traveled to many camps and retreats together.

We were friends.

I trusted them.

But all that changed after one annual youth group event.

It was tradition, every year on that winter day we had a day off of school, our youth group would journey up the mountain for a day of fun together. It was a long day and we would head home after dinner, after the sun had long set over the mountains. We piled into the vans and cars and I choose go in the van with my guy friends for the ride back to the church. You know one of those large 12+ passenger vans with bucket seats. We sat all the way in the back because they were the senior boys and that was the cool place to sit. The leaders were in the front seats unaware of what was about to happen in the back row of the church van.

It had been a long, fun day in the mountains and I was tired, I didn’t think twice about my surroundings and I fell asleep during the long drive back. It was a week or two later that I found out what happened in the back of that church van when I fell asleep. One of the boys I knew, I had grown up with, a guy I trusted took advantage of me by fondling me. The other guys in the back who had not fallen asleep, encouraged this boy to see how long and much he could do to me.

I share my story with you not so we can pick apart my choices as a freshman girl, not to condemn these boys choices, not to criticize what my youth leaders did or did not do, but to remind us of the importance we carry as youth leaders of teenage girls in this broken world.

Here are some good reminders for us as female youth leaders:

1. Truth is even good Christian boys are tempted and make poor choices. We cannot be naive and think that something like this wouldn’t happen in our group. At the same time it doesn’t mean that we cannot trust our boys either. Set up safe guards for your girls.

2. Spread out! Yes the back of the van, room or wherever is the furthest from adults is going to be the cool spot. But if that spot exists keep an eye on who is there. If you see that there is one girl with a bunch of guys send a girl student leader to join them, or go hang out in the cool spot too.

3. We need to be AWARE. Aware of the settings the girls in our groups are placing themselves in while under our care. Aware of those dark corners, or aware when students are missing from the group for a while. Aware when that flirty, innocent girl is enjoying the attention of the cute boys and caught up in it.

4. You can never be too safe. Yes you may need to make a rule or decision to remove a girl from an unhealthy setting she has placed herself in. She will be upset at you for ruining her opportunity with those guys. But I wish someone had seen the unhealthy choice I placed myself in and upset me that night by making me ride home somewhere else.

I love quizzes. You know the ones that tell you something about yourself. This one challenges the way you think about your students and programming.

On a separate paper number 1-10. (in any way.)
Next to each that has a yes write the name of the student/parent (or students if there is more than one) that you are thinking of.

1. At least on student is either a child of divorce or growing up in a single parent home.

2. At least one student is suffering from angry outbursts, apathy, or is difficult in some way.

3. At least one student mooches off of others, complains about being hungry or seems to constantly be grubbing for something.

4. At least one student appears to be neglected at home emotionally, spiritually or physically.

5. At least one student lives in a neighborhood, environment or home where you know they rarely feel safe.

6. At least one student seems to always be the victim or feels entitled in some way.

7. At least one student receives more negative feedback than positive encouragement at home. (i.e. You’re never going to be.)

8. At least one parent seems to always be late, complaining, or non-existent when you try to track them down.

9. At least one student who seems to set their own boundaries at home. (i.e curfews, bedtimes, makes most of own meals, runs own life.)

10. At least one student is either overly needy or has extreme trust issues when sharing details about their life. They may offer facts with little or no emotion attached.

The more positives you gave the more students and families you have living in a survival mentality.


SAM_1656After talking to youth workers across the country we have heard these students labeled in a myriad of ways: unchurched, at-risk, inner city, and urban. We are grabbing ahold of the title, Urban. It does include a demographic area, culture, multi-ethnicity, social ills, and socio-economics. However, we would argue, in terms of the Christian community, this title blurs those lines and moves beyond them. In other words you might be living in the suburbs of New Jersey, rural Kansas or downtown Los Angeles and all have students that fit into our little quiz. The other side of the tracks with their common misconceptions and problems are moving, and reaching each of us in ministry in some way. You may be asking how are these different than hurting kids. Survival kids can be hurting; however, the hurting kids may not be dealing in survival.

This idea came from talking to YOU, the youth workers, all over the country. We kept hearing, I have these students and families and I don’t know what to do. There were times when it was a problem to fix, or a family was described that seemed to be falling apart. Over and again there was a common thread, families from around this world had forgotten what hope could feel like, and merely existed into tomorrow. It was more than teaching them to dream. Youth workers felt like there were kids who might not make it.

Our goal is to enter into this conversation with you on survival mentality or the new urban.

We want to help you to understand:

1. Who these families are.
2. The importance of seeing them as Christ does.
3. Practical ways to help them embrace who Jesus has called them to be.

If you can only name one student like this in your group our contention would be there are more on the way. The world is changing daily. As youth workers we have a choice to be either reactive or proactive in preparation for the tidal wave of urban families.

Check out tomorrow when we share where each student fits in this mindset

How many students could you name?


Last weekend I had the honor of being in a fairly small group of people listening to Dr. Henry Cloud talk about leadership.

He shared tons of good stuff, but one thing he talked about stuck out above the rest: Necessary Endings. Using hoarding as the analogy, Dr. Cloud talked about church leader’s tendency to “hoard” old methods, events, traditions, etc. as we lead the church. Just like a hoarder’s garage, our churches and the ministries we lead are often cluttered with old ways of doing things and cherished things from the past that we cling on to….often for reasons that make perfect sense to us, but seem odd (or even disturbing) to outsiders who don’t understand or appreciate the past. Many of these things keep us from moving forward….thus the need for “necessary endings” at times.

Think about your junior high ministry. What are you holding onto that you shouldn’t? What systems, traditions, methods, events, and “junior high ministry comfort food” do you refuse to let go of? Is there stuff in your ministry that used to be of value; stuff that is important or meaningful to you but not to anybody else? In short, are you a junior high ministry hoarder who needs to bring about some necessary endings so your ministry can move forward?

I am.