The basics…

First, we consider the story of Steubenville.

Second, we consider our students’ stories.

We move then to communicating with our students based on an assumption. An assumption, that they are not hearing what they need/should be hearing about healthy and unhealthy relationships in their homes or even in their schools. While some of our students may be hearing the basics, we must move to a place of understanding that those who aren’t hearing it need us as the church to be the ones talking about these issues.

What I mean is that we have to start with the basics because students are more inundated with violence and sexually aggressive behavior than they are with appropriate behavior (kindness).

In fact, a study from the APA (American Psychology Association) said that 93% of the scenes on TV that include teen girls participating in sexually active behavior are considered “unhealthy.”  Unhealthy indicates that some of the behavior is abusive or aggressive towards girls. Taking advantage of a weaker person is the norm in our societies and maybe on some level even socially accepted.

Kindness is counter-cultural to this world of violence and abuse. Kindness is a strange word. On some level it sounds so weak and seems to lack power. But kindness is powerful and it is strong in this hurting and broken world.

So, when it comes to the basics. Here are a few things as a starter that students should be hearing from us:

  • Strength equals responsibility not power. Strength may come from physical power, social position or just from being a male. This strength doesn’t give you power over others but it gives you responsibility to treat others with kindness. Culturally strength has meant dominance…dominance can lead to abuse of power. This is not the way of a follower of Christ.
  • Taking advantage of someone weaker is wrong. Plain and simple…Strength does not give you permission to keep others down or to hurt others who are weak.
  • Love never hurts. Statistics tell us that 1 in 4 girls will find themselves in an abusive relationship whether it is verbally or physically. We must communicate that love never hurts! Young men need to hear it and young women need to hear it. It sounds like a simple idea…that everyone should know/understand but clearly that is not true based on the stats. If students aren’t seeing healthy relationships modeled at home than this truth may be much more essential than we think. Unfortunately, we should not assume abusive relationships aren’t happening in the families in our churches.
  • No one deserves to be harmed. There is a destructive conversation happening when we hear phrases like “she was asking for it” or “her clothes were leading him on” as a reason that would “justify” abusive behavior. Hurting people with words or by our actions is NEVER acceptable. I don’t care what a person says or wears…they NEVER deserve to be harmed by another person.
  • Always choose kindness. Instead of a culture of violence, let’s lead a generation that chooses kindness. Students who see the weak and the broken as people in need of kindness…and what better place should they get it from than those in our churches.

It’s not the total conversation but it is a good beginning. When was the last time you talked with your students about kindness? Or about healthy/unhealthy relationships? Have you ever talked about abuse? What other things do our students need to hear from us?

Join the conversation!

As my high school group of guys have grown older I’ve noticed the amount or responsibilities and conflicts in schedule have grown.  Because our groups meet every Thursday night it’s easy for them to miss a week here and there.  However, as the obstacles and alternate opportunities grow their attendance starts to falter.  They tell me they love being their; however, they are just so bogged down with:

  • School Work
  • Sports Practice
  • Responsibilities At Home

I’m sure this list could continuously go on for many of you and that your groups face similar challenges.  The key to keeping the group strong is to enable it to grow outside of your allotted time.  That means connecting with teens multiple times during the week in a variety of ways.

That might seem fine to you; however, overwhelming to your volunteers. If you introduce that idea to them there might be push back or reluctance, and that’s okay.  You just need to help and show them how to grow outside the designated time.  To do that:

  • Give Leaders An Out – From time to time give your small group leaders permission to do something outside of the usual time or agenda.  Because time is so valuable allow them to sacrifice a night of the “usual youth ministry” to do something different.  Challenge them to embark in a service project instead of discussing service.  Encourage them to do something social that will build camaraderie.  Give them permission “to play”.
  • Extend An Invitation - Many leaders might not know where to start when it comes to investing in their group outside the weekend.  Invite them to join you when you are heading out to a game (Where their teens might be present) or on an outing your group might be planning.  By extending an invitation you are leading by example. 
  • Set Them Up For Success - On top of extending an invitation to join you equip them with resources that will help them connect with teens outside the group.  That might mean training them on social media etiquette, or giving them the tools for planning a night of laser tag.  As the youth minister of your church you have a wealth of resources and knowledge that your volunteers need access.  

The more a group can grow outside of the weekend or it’s usual time the stronger it will become.  It will teach the teens how to build relationships outside of a youth ministry setting.  It will also build confidence in your leaders because they’ll feel like they have ownership.  When your leaders are motivated to lead outside the group it extends your capacity to be present in the community.

How do you help your volunteers connect with teens outside the designated time?

Chris Wesley (@chrisrwesley)

The students from Capo made some great videos for this weekend – including this funny one starring Jesus. Their theme was Christ fills, and examined how we try to find fulfillment in so many other things as high school students. Good stuff!


8 months ago my family moved from Florida to New Jersey.   Since that time we have been searching for a local church home.  We work in the “non-profit” ministry world and this affords us the privilege of choosing a house of worship.  In addition part of my “job” at Aslan (my home ministry) is to speak at partnering churches.  Through these two events I have had the honor of sitting in at least 13 different churches in New Jersey alone.

DSC_0841They have been liturgical, non-denominational, traditional and contemporary.   They have claimed the NIV, ESV & NKJV are the Biblical translations we “should” use.   I have sang hymns from a book, and worship songs from a screen with a classically trained pianist, bands,  organs and hand bells.  We have stood, sat and kneeled in pews and chairs in gorgeous old churches and schools.  Some have been around for hundreds of years and others are considered “plants.”  Sometimes corporate prayers have been written out or memorized, and other times spontaneous.


These churches would say they are:



Bible Based


Seeker- Friendly

Each one offered something unique.   Each was a beautiful example of the Body of Christ at work.   While I wouldn’t attend each one regularly I could see pastors and congregations with a passion for Jesus.  I have been deeply convicted of how little time I have spent understanding how others worship our Risen Lord.  Of course I thought I was finding a church for ME and MY family…

The other day I was talking to the Mom of one of the boys in our  after school Bible program when she said,  “I would really like to get back to church,  I just have to get myself together.”   In discussing what this meant, I told her we were trying new churches and offered to pick her up to come with us.   There was a little hesitance as her youngest son has severe ADHD and in her experience children sit in with adults in the service.  “This is just too hard to have him in with me.  He gets bored and disruptive,” she explained.  I told her there are many places where they have a time and place for the kids to go separate from the adult service.  This is usually the same type of church we attend.

My mind raced wondering where would she be “comfortable?”  This area doesn’t have many multi-ethnic churches and she is African American.  What would she like?  Now that I am looking through the lens of others coming WITH me,  what should I see? As we talked I realized there were two things that she needed:

  1. A friend to be with her.
  2. A place where her son would be comfortable.

When it comes to church each family is looking for something unique.  It might be a “denomination” where you grew up.  Perhaps you have never been in church and you want to give it a try.  The pews, chairs, songs, Bible translation or “doctrine,” may or may not be important to you.

However, we are ALL looking for is a place where we feel invited.  The church that handed us a book or mug as a “Welcome gift,” with no real “Welcome” attached didn’t inspire us to visit again.    I think we can over think what our “urban,” or “unchurched” families need.   We get hung up on the dress or the presentation.  What transforms is a place where the Word is preached, the truth is made clear and the love of Christ is obvious in all.

13 Christian churches with 13 different sets of people presenting 1 Gospel with 1 Savior at the center should simply be a light to the world.

article.2013.03.19If you’re like us, it takes you 45 minutes to spill all of the details of the 60-minute workshop you attended that changed your life last week at a youth conference. Inspired by it, you lay out a vision for your youth ministry for the next five years. The volunteers sit there like a deer in the headlights; then one of them timidly raises her hand, “Sounds like somebody went to a youth worker conference last week,” she says.

It happens! Sometimes at an incredible event we come down with a case of Let’s Change Everything Syndrome (LCES). If you’ve ever had LCES, you know the temptation to overhaul every aspect of your ministry in the first five days after you get back. Beware of the side effects: volunteer abandonment, blurry vision and upset supervisors.

Post-conference excitement is natural, and there’s nothing wrong with the desire to make changes when we’ve been exposed to new ideas. But LCES can do more harm than good. Here are a few tips to avoid it.

Pray about what God is asking you to do.
Sometimes after reading an incredible book or hearing an inspiring speaker we think about what we want to do as a result or what worked for them instead of what God’s voice is clearly directing. The only way to distinguish between competing visions is to spend time with God and ask for his vision. Usually taking some time to process, decompress, and pray are the best steps to hearing from him after you’ve been exposed to new ideas.

Wait for the right season to change.
The right time for changes is typically not the Spring or the middle of Fall (which, coincidently is when lots of training events happen). Think strategically about when to bring about significant changes to your ministry. Lay an infrastructure for the move to small groups all summer long; then release them in January. Prepare your volunteers for the junior high/senior high split at the start of the school year this Fall, rather than eagerly announcing it out of the blue tonight at youth group.

Start with one thing.
Reflect in your Moleskin journal or iPad app on some of the biggest things you learned at the event, or conversations you were inspired by. Make a list of everything that is considered an “action step” and prioritize them and map out a 1-2 year plan of action. Update it occasionally as you retreat or receive additional training and insight.

Keep a dialogue going.
Don’t make changes in isolation! While the church might not have been able to send your whole volunteer team to an event, take the time to share your “one thing” with your spouse, your volunteers, or student leaders. Once you’ve taken the ball down the court, don’t be afraid to rally support and analyze it to make the ideas better and increase ownership.

Any learnings you want to share after coming home from a youth worker training event?

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.


If you’ve been reading my blog for a few years – you know that our annual student-run series called You Own the Weekend is one of the highlights of our youth ministry year. The idea came from a student who wondered what would happen if students took over everything – we merged and melted the idea into a series where for 5-6 weeks, students from each of the major high schools collaborate and pull off the entire weekend service. And they go all-out, too! Here’s a silly picture from this weekend where Capo High School even got the football team’s inflatable tunnel to use for decoration! Our mantra is that every student from every school gets an invitation to church.

So we’ve been doing this for 5 years now – tons of students come, everyone brings their friends and lots of parents show up to cheer on their teenagers, too. But, we had a first happen this past weekend. The high school principal came to his high school’s weekend service! It was incredible! Made me thrilled for our students, thrilled for the leadership they sit under each week! Thrilled what God is up to next. #awesomemoment


Had an acquaintance who went from having a new Twitter account to 5K followers in less than a week. Possible he did it the right way, but probably not. Ever bought followers or been tempted to? Vote in today’s poll!



Everyone is talking about Steubenville this week. You don’t have to look far online to find someone’s opinion or thoughts on the case in Steubenville. Whether it is about the crime, the victim or the young boys at the center of the case.

This case is about 16 & 17 year olds. Teenagers that could be at my church or at your  church.

Everyone is talking about it…are we?

I mean, we should be…right?

Not only are there things we can learn as parents and youth workers from this sad story, there are also things that we should be talking about with our students.

I want to dedicate this week to talking about Steubenville. Each day I’ll post a blog that will either focus on what we can learn or what we need to communicate.

Tuesday: (Communicate) Be Kind, Hurting Others is Always Wrong (First Things First)

Wednesday: (Learn) Everyone Has Potential To Make Bad Decisions 

Thursday:  (Communicate) Don’t Just Be a Spectator (If you see something…Do something)

Friday: (Learn) What Should Our Youth Ministries Be  Saying About Sexual Abuse?

Saturday: (Learn)  Links to Relevant Reads (Where I am learning stuff…)

I am excited for this week. I think we’ll have some great conversation. I know that I am learning stuff and I can see a huge value in engaging with our students on such an important topic. I hope you’ll tune in for the week.

Also, I would like to open the blog to guest posts about this story or to related conversations. If you are interested in joining the conversation- email me at neelym@occ.org