Responding to Loss

 —  December 14, 2012 — 2 Comments

There are 2 girls in my ministry that lost their dads to cancer in the past 2 months. I have a close relationship with both girls and it has been extremely difficult watching them navigate their grief. When something like this happens in a student’s life, I am always thinking about the right way to respond…to minister…to be there for my students. The thoughts below come out of my reflection of the past couple of months and my interaction with Madison.

I am not intruding…When I hear that someone has died, often times my first response has been, “I don’t want to intrude on the family…I will wait a few days before I call or visit.” While there are appropriate times to visit/call, I believe that students grieving just want a physical reminder of those that love them. It doesn’t have to be a 3 hour visit or a long awkward phone call – it really could just be a moment on the phone or a quick stop by for a hug. When I heard that Madison’s dad passed away, I texted her telling her I was going to stop by for a short while after church. Her response was in all caps, “CAN’T WAIT TO SEE YOU!!!!” I honestly think students really want us to intrude sometimes.

It’s ok that I don’t know what to say…When a student experiences a devastating loss, there really isn’t any right thing to say. When students are going through something difficult I am often tempted to fix it or give advice on how to fix it. But when students are experiencing grief, there are no textbook answers. When I arrived at Madison’s house, she opened the door and ran into my arms. When I looked around her house, I realized she was in a house full of grown-ups that didn’t know what to say either. I brought her a Starbucks and stole her away to take a walk. We walked around the block 4 times. I really don’t think that I said anything super profound, but I do think my presence helped lift her spirits. I don’t think we need to “say the right thing” we just need to be there to say something.

Checking in later…I realized that a few months after Madison’s dad passed, she was really low. I think after all of the visits, memorial service, etc. ended she was left with a lot of silence, sadness, and questions. People around her were moving on but she was still grieving. I have been trying to make it a point to shoot her a note, a text, or call once a month to just check in. I see her regularly at church, but I am trying to be intentional about remembering her loss when no one else does.

After spending time with Madison, I have been reminded that students don’t need the “right response/words/answers” to their grief, they just need the wide open arms of Jesus and someone to point them there.  Grateful that God uses me even when I have no clue of what I am supposed to do.

Madison’s Favorite


My default setting is forward.

I don’t do a good job of looking at the past – in fact, my memory is absolutely terrible. When someone holds a grudge against me I always think to myself, “I wonder why?” because I don’t remember the altercation or conflict that led us there. When people talk about the good old days, I have a hard time thinking that the time I’m living in isn’t the good old days. And while there are a lot of cons to this wiring, as I was journaling this morning I thought of a couple series cons:

When you only look forward …

… you don’t appreciate the past
When all you can see is today forward, you cheapen the sacrifice of those that have come before. While this must be balanced with the temptation to dwell on the past, appreciating and respecting the history is very important. Typically this type of attitude leads to high turnover and or disgruntled people who sacrifice thier souls for the cause.

… you don’t celebrate the past
When you’re always moving forward, there is always the next big thing to tackle and have to hurriedly keep feeding the machine. Celebration needs to be an integral part of every family, team and ministry. Reflect or you just might miss it.

… you don’t learn from the past
This one is the most obvious, even a cliche in today’s world. If you don’t learn from your history, you are doomed to repeat it. There is a reason this sentence sticks around year after year. Debrief, analyze, make it better. Dont’ just rush on to the next tentpole on the youth ministry calendar.

With these learnings in mind – I’d encourage you to take a little time here at the end of the year and appreciate, celebrate and debrief the past season of ministry. Have a few round table discussion, send some thank you notes and tell God about the past … as you start to look forward again.


This weekend we played another incredible game in our high school ministry – it was inspired by Facebook Hack (which if you haven’t ever seen, check it out here) from this past year and tied into the Instalife series perfectly: INSTA-HACK!

The game is simple – someone turns over control of their Instagram account to the host of the show, who is then given permission to do whatever they want in exchange for prizes. In this case we used the Wheel of Destiny to let it randomly choose what would happen. Some of the options included:

  • deleting 10 random friends
  • trolling someone’s profile (aka liking all of one person’s pictures)
  • posting a picture of another girl in the room and tagging it #newgirlfriend
  • $5 to Starbucks
  • become Instafamous – everyone in the room takes out their phone to follow them
  • Week-long hack – the phone stays logged in and randomly in the week we hack them again
  • … and many more!

We had previously hooked up an iPhone to our main screen using an Apple TV so the whole experience was sick and flawless technically, too. Oh and also painful … and hilarious. The students who played along were good sports and hosts were loving but ruthless. Another epic game we’ll for sure use in the future, too!


Tonight I am going to see a documentary about sex trafficking in Seattle called Rape For Profit. I was honored to able to share in it about the power of encouraging girls to understand their place in the bigger story. I’ve seen glimpses of the movie but not the whole thing yet. It’s showing on the big screen in our area- pretty exciting stuff. Next week, I’ll post an interview with one of the makers of the film. I am sure you be inspired and challenged.

In the first 2 minutes of the film, there is a powerful quote about prostitution not being the oldest occupation of women but rather the oldest oppression of women. Wow. That quote stopped me right in my tracks. Oppression.

In many aspects of a girl’s life she is told that she is weak. Not always on purpose but it can be heard in the underlining themes.

In church we talk a lot of about men protecting women. Yes. True. Good.

Can I tell you the best way to protect a woman?


I have met so stories from girls and women over the years who have been labeled as weak by others but when I sit with them and hear their stories and see what they have overcome…I am blown away by their strength.

The girl who lost a parent and was neglected by her remaining family but never lost sight of her potential. Even now as she works to attend university without the support of those around her.

The girl who rose out of poverty to attend a private university and find her way to the mission field.

The woman who lost her son and turned her grief into a ministry for caring for the brokenhearted.

Girls who would appear victims rising above the pain and the sadness of their lives to be world changers.

How? I think it started when someone told them they had a voice! That their story mattered. That they had purpose. And by doing so protected them from being vulnerable from those who target the broken and weak.

Protect a girl by empowering a girl.

There is a time to be the voice for girls. And there is a time to tell her that she has a voice and to give her a platform to speak.

There is a time to act on her behalf. And there is a time to tell her to act and to live fully in her calling.

Every Sunday or Wednesday you get to communicate a message to the girls in your ministry…you answer a question they are dying to understand. Am I weak? Do I matter? What can I do with my life?

Give them a voice.

Remind them of their potential and of their part in the story.

Provide avenues for them to find their giftedness.

Protect them by empowering them.



Merry Christmas Everyone

Cluster of Students Christmas present to all of Saddleback Kids and Students Ministries of Saddleback. C.O.S. recorded 2 Christmas Songs and 2 new worship songs. We pray and hope you will be encouraged and that this season of Christmas music would encourage you who Jesus is. Enjoy!


Today the HSM Team and I are away at a fun day as we get near the holidays. We do it every year – I call it the State of HSM, but it is really a time of fun, stories and affirmations. I wanted to show you a fun affirmation we’re doing today that I think is easily transferable to your ministry and something you might consider doing in your group.

  • We collected 10 words people used to describe the selected person – you could do this in a variety of ways – slips of paper, email, whiteboard, sign in sheets, etc.
  • Collect and compile them into a document
  • Drop them into, words are sized according to the number of times they were repeated
  • Print the final rendering on photo paper, then frame and reveal

Jessica had this great idea and the final product is nothing short of fantastic. I posted one here as an example. So easy and so powerful!


Okay…as promised, here are the seven winners of the SYM Show T-shirt from the good people over at

Winners, please send me your mailing address, ALONG WITH YOUR SHIRT SIZE, to and we will get those T-shirts in the mail in time for you to wear it to Christmas dinner!

Winners are:

- Randy Evans
- Josh Jones
- Jeremy Congdon
- Jonathan Pearson
- Beka Miller
- Justin Bowman
- Ryan Nielsen

If you’re looking to design a custom tshirt for your ministry, let Whooptee help!

Using A Sermon Prep Team [3]

 —  December 13, 2012 — Leave a comment

okay, here is the third post of this series, but i’ve decided to add a fourth. when i originally thought of this series i wasn’t thinking of my 6 week prep period prior to teaching the series. so in this post i will discuss that part and then the next post will cover what we do in our weekly meetings as we teach through the book.

here is what we did those weeks:

  • week 1: read entire book (prior to our meeting) in an unmarked bible (preferably one without chapter or verse distinctions) and talk about our initial observations, one chapter at a time
  • week 2: read through entire book again (prior to meeting) and list out tensions in the text (theological or relational) or tensions in life the text addresses
  • week 3: read through entire book (prior to meeting) and note where thoughts start and finish. every author has a “flow of thought” and this is CRITICAL to understand when teaching through a book. In our meetings we talk about and share where we broke things down.
  • week 4: repeat week 3 without looking at our previous weeks’ notes doing it this way you get a fresh look at it and in our meeting we then compare our new notes to the previous week and then collectively decide where the thoughts start and finish and which thoughts seem to be transitions between larger thoughts.
  • week 5: read through entire book again (prior to meeting) and choose one verse for each major thought. we’ve already listed out where these start and finish already so now we simply pick one verse or verses that best summarizes each thought. we then talk through each of our conclusions and collectively land on the key verses for each thought.
  • week 6: read through entire book again (prior to meeting) and take note of major themes we see throughout the book and then list specific verses we see that theme. in our meeting we collectively decide on these as well.

each of these areas require a lot of time for each of the team, but when a team of people are speaking into it is a balanced result. “living” in just the text like this over a period of time you become very familiar with the book and really feel like you know it well.

finally, here are a couple of other (important) thoughts i’d like to mention:

  • notice we did not once look at a commentary during this time of preparation – not even the introductions in study bibles. when teaching our job is NOT to give a book report nobody wants that a lot of people think that “doing the work” of preparation simply means reading what everyone else has said about the book after the study they did. i couldn’t disagree with this more. i’m not negating the benefit of commentaries but there is a huge difference between teaching from our head knowledge and teaching from our hearts and lives. i believe it’s vital for people to hear from someone that has lived in this book for a while versus someone who has simply studied and then regurgitates what they learned.
  • going through this process before i teach makes sure that i really do understand the flow of the book before teaching any one part of it. it helps me keep each section of scripture, however i break it down, in it’s appropriate context. in other words, it keeps me honest as i teach.

in the next post i will share the process we go through in our weekly meetings as i prepare to teach through particular sections.