After 30 years of working in youth ministry, in almost every capacity imaginable, I felt God opening a different ministry door for me. My wife and I sold most of our possessions, packed up our home, and headed to the mission field (something we had done once before). This time though to work primarily with adults. Shortly after we arrived in the Dominican Republic, our oldest son landed a job as the youth director for a third campus that our home church was launching in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Thrilled that he was going into the “family biz,” I was overcome with a deep desire to impart to him the church bus-loads of insight that I had gained over the past three decades. My motivation was to help him to enjoy some of the fruits of ministry that I have enjoyed while avoiding some of the same mistakes I made. What follows is advice that I wanted to pass on to my 23-year old youth worker son (and any other youth worker):


Youth ministry, like most professions, is hard work. You need to learn to juggle many tasks. So many youth workers, especially those starting out, have a difficult time managing their weekly schedule. Often what compounds this problem is that they have very little experience working in the “real world” where they have a boss daily looking over their shoulder, expecting results.

If you are to succeed in youth ministry, you must learn to work hard and smart. You may be tempted to use your time unwisely. After all, you have a lot of flexibility with this job. You can take two-hour lunches. You can run personal errands almost any time of the day. These are great luxuries of this job. You still have a job to do though and in order to honor your church, and most importantly the Lord, you still need to put in the hours required.

My advice to you would be to figure out what you need to get done every week and begin to experiment (and document) with how long these things take to accomplish. In any given week you have many different things to focus on. Here are just some of the things that you need to figure out how to fit into your week:

  1. Study for teaching
  2. Time with students (individual meetings and attending their events)
  3. Prep for meetings other than study
  4. Time with leaders
  5. Administration
  6. Future event/camp planning
  7. Educational reading
  8. Prayer
  9. Set up meetings

Once you have figured out what you need to get done each week and approximately how long it takes, WORK HARD at doing each thing well. You need to learn to discipline yourself to stay focused on the task at hand and not allow yourself to get distracted by the tyranny of the urgent or with things that are not a priority at that moment.

Churches can be a breeding ground for sloppy work habits. Fellow staff will come into your office and shoot the breeze for large chunks of time. You and a staff member will bump into each other and end up chewing the fat. None of these things is wrong or bad in and of themselves. But when it happens fairly regularly, integrity is breached. When you have lots of non-work related activity in your day and you don’t make up for it later, you will add stress to your life because you will find yourself behind in your work. Not to mention, your church is paying you to work a set amount of hours. Honor that.

You need to learn to excuse yourself from non-work related conversations or activities if you find them eating up a chunk of your day. One again, these activities are not wrong in and of themselves. It’s when they begin to interfere with you getting your work done in a timely manner that they are wrong. You don’t want to get in the habit of having to take work home with you or working on your day off because you aren’t efficient with your time at work. I will address this more in depth later.

Youth ministry is filled with never ending tasks and people needs. The best way to do what God has called you to do is know what needs to get done, figure out the best way to do it (which could mean delegating it) and work hard at it. I would suggest that you start your day doing the things you enjoy least in order to get them over with so you always have things to look forward to in your day. “Success depends not merely on how well you do the things you enjoy, but how conscientiously you perform those duties you don’t.” *ch 9

Working hard means you are being faithful to your church, your direct boss, your students and volunteer leaders, parents and ultimately God. “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31.

Rob McIlvoy is a 30-year youth ministry veteran who has worked in churches, Young Life and internationally. He initially wrote this for his 23-year old son who had just landed his first full-time youth ministry position. He was hoping to impart words of advice as he began his own calling.

Unlike our students, I’m really excited for the school year to start.  This semester, I get the chance to help shape the way our ministry does campus outreach.  Of course, this means we get to throw some pretty awesome events (i.e. tailgate parties!), but we wanted our ministry’s outreach and involvement to be more than that.

Our ministry is made up of (mostly) 5 VERY different schools, and we wanted to make sure that we ministered to each campus accordingly.  The problem is that, as adults, there is only so much we can know about a school.  We only know what we are told, making it hard for us to correctly identify the school’s individual needs and effectively meet them.  Because of that, we are trying something brand new this year, School Teams.

The vision for School Teams is to have a group of students at each campus who love their school and are committed to meeting its unique needs.  We want them to unify and empower the Body of Christ at their school to not just sit together in their own clique, but to go out to serve and evangelize.  This could be anything from a campus clean-up event, to a freshmen cookie party on the first day of school.  The possibilities are ENDLESS!

These students will be our “go-to” people for each school.  This means a couple things for them.  It means that if we ever have a new student in our ministry that isn’t involved or connected at their school yet, we introduce them to a school team member who will make them feel welcome on their campus.  The second meaning of being a “go-to” is that they are letting us know about important news updates at their school.  If there school is doing a food drive, we want to know about it! How great would it be to help empower a school to collect food for a local homeless shelter?  Our students would also let us know about any tragedies at their school.  It would be awesome if, after service, a school got together to pray for a classmate or faculty member.

Even though we are creating special teams for each school, we still encourage ALL of our students to love their school and be a light at it.  School Teams are just our ministry’s way of ministering to schools through ministering students.

We presented this to our Student Leadership team and gave them the opportunity to apply for it.  We used an application for this because it allows us to see their heart for their school and it shows the level of commitment they have for the program.  Here’s a copy of the application for our ministry’s School Team you can download right here.

How about you, what do are you doing this next school year to minister to your local schools?

Colton Harker is the Student Leadership Coordinator at Saddleback HSM.  If you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact him at or on twitter at @ColtonHarker.

A great quote that demonstrates why mission trips make such a big impact.  And change lives:

“Of the four mission trips I’ve been on, this year’s theme was by far my favorite. All week we focused on Jesus’ proclamation “I am making everything new!” from Revelations. And there is nothing that describes this mission trip like the process of making everything new. Each year we come into a new place, meet new people from all over the country, acquire new skills from our work (I now know how to install dry wall!), find new faith and make a new home. And just as Jesus could give us no better gift than to make us new, there is no better gift that we could give our residents than to make their homes a place in which they can be new again too. But not only do our residents experience renewal through projects, we as individuals also undergo a truly astounding transformation. In just five days, we become closer to our youth group, utilize skills we almost never would at home, get to know wonderful new people, and find the strength to bring ourselves closer to God. It is a truly unique experience that has brought so many wonderful people and so much happiness into my life.” –Christine 17, Camper

From time to time I post a question that comes into the blog for YOU to answer. What advice would you give this youth pastor who is asking about teaching/discipling checkpoints in their youth ministry. Weigh in!

I have encountered over the short time I’ve been in ministry a host of students that either have gotten a dose of poor theology or have many many questions that if they are believers (which most say they are) they should have a solid grasp of…I’m not sure how you do it, nor do I think there is a cookie cutter way to do it, but I’m seeking advice on how to build our Jr. High ministry from the ground up… I am wondering if maybe I should come up with 6-7…10 things that every student must know before high school? Maybe the concepts and some insights from the book of John, and James…answer critical questions like…

  • What is salvation?
  • How are we saved?
  • Who is God?
  • What is the church?
  • What is sin?

What would you say? Weigh in!


The amazing summer intern Cory Tomlinson sent along each of our games from summer camp to share with you. Our students got SO into the games and had a total blast. Enjoy!


1. Tiles (Puzzle Pieces) That Spell Out HSM


1. Separate Into 2 Teams
2. Have each person on the team link arms together
3. Have the team move their line into the pool
4. While staying linked, have the person closest to the deep end dive down to pick up the tiles (puzzle pieces)
5. Pass the puzzle piece down the line towards the outside of the pool making sure arms stay linked together
6. Repeat step 5 until all pieces are out of the pool
7. Have the entire team stay linked and move out of the pool
8. Put puzzle together

Kneelay Race

1. Dixie Cups
2. 2 Sparkling Cider Bottles
3. Home Depot Buckets
4. Water


1. Have teams line up into 2 lines (1 line per team)
2. Have person going first wait on their knees (do this every time someone gets ready to go)
3. Hand student Dixie cup and have them fill it up with water in the home depot water bucket
4. That student races on their knees to the sparkling cider bottle and once there fill the bottle with the water from the cup
5. Once poured that student runs back to their line to high five the next person to go.
6. Repeat steps 3-5 until Sparkling cider bottle is filled up to the line with water
7. First team done wins

Sponge Bowling

1. 2 Liter Soda Bottles
2. 4 Carwash Sponges
3. 2 Home Depot 5 Gal. Buckets
4. 8 Frisbees
5. Water


1. Line up using an even number of students for every team. (as many students as possible, as long as it’s an even number).
2. Have two students set aside to throw the Frisbees.
3. Start with a sponge in the bucket
4. The person next to the bucket will fill up the sponge with water.
5. Then carefully pass the sponges down the line to get the water into the 2 liter bottles.
6. Fill each bottle to the designated line.
7. Once all of the bottles are filled to the lines, have everyone return to behind the line.
8. Have the two throwers starts throwing the Frisbees to knock down the 2 liter bottles.
9. If they do not knock all of the bottles down within four throws, the throwers are the ONLY ones who may go retrieve the Frisbees.
10. First team to knock down all of their “pins” wins.

Stomp the Yard

1. Balloons
2. Ribbon


1. Put one team on each side of the tennis court
2. Have each team pick 30 people that will play the game
3. Have the people not playing the game blow up 1 balloon for each person playing and tie it to the ankle of someone who is playing.
4. Once all of the players have balloons tied to them have the people not playing sit down until points are awarded.
5. First team to get step 3/ step 4 done wins the first round of the game.
6. From there, all of the people with the balloons on their ankles will proceed to the court.
7. Half of each team must be on both sides of the net.
8. Once everyone is situated then the whistle will be blown.
9. When the whistle is blown then every player’s goal is to pop the balloon on someone’s ankle from the opposing team.
10. The last team standing will be awarded the final set of points.

Batter Up

1. Bases
2. Whiffle Balls
3. Caution Tape


1. One team is in the outfield while the other is up to bat.
2. The pitcher will throw the ball and once the batter hits the ball to the field the field people must try to catch it.
3. Once an outfielder has the ball they MUST FREEZE where they are.
4. Once they are frozen FIFTEEN people from the team out in the field must run over and line up behind the player that caught the ball.
5. While they are trying to line up the hitter must run from home base to home base.
6. If the hitter can get back to home before the opposing team lines up 15 team members then they get the points, if the outfield team gets lines up first then they win the points.


1. Slip N’ Slide Tarp
2. Baby Soap
3. Baby Oil
4. Kickball
5. Bases (Baby Pools)

Directions: (It’s a game of kickball on a slip and slide)

1. Have one team in the outfield and one team up to kick.
2. Have the pitcher roll the ball and the kicker kick.
3. If the person up to kick kicks the ball, they should start running the bases.
4. If the ball is caught the kicker is out.
5. Continue cycle until there are three outs then switch who is kicking and who is pitching.
6. Continue for two rounds per team.

Hope they help or inspire you in creating some great games, too!


This week we’re talking volunteers! A key part of any youth ministry is the leadership team. If you’re doing ministry all alone, you’re going to bottleneck growth or burn out—take time to build a great team and you’ll never regret it.

But building a great team can be a big challenge! Today we’re going to blast out a few bullet points that we think will help you surround yourself with a great group of like-minded youth workers:

Recruit Well
• Ask God to lead you to the right people within your church.
• Look for key places to find people—men’s/women’s Bible study groups, the college ministry, leaders moving up with their younger students, etc.
• Resist the urge to just make a blanket announcement; you’ll get “zeros” who will hurt you in the long haul or “heroes” who are already volunteering for everything and are overcommitted.
• If you have a red flag at any point in the process, pass on that person. Better to have a difficult conversation before than have to clean up a mess after.

Place Well
• In part of your interview, talk through their passions and gifting.
• Personality plays a big role in success of using volunteers well. Factor in personality.
• Place people based on their available time; if someone is stretching to be a small group leader, it might be too much commitment and you might want to suggest another role.
• Finally, place them according to their gifts and availability…not according to your needs!

Train Well
• Prepare your people for common challenges they will encounter in their role serving students.
• Promise (and deliver on that promise when necessary) that you’ll be there when they face something they don’t feel super prepared for.
• Resource them with articles, books, and back-pocket guides to help them group as a leader.

Encourage Well
• Remember their birthdays, send encouraging notes, etc.
• Be present when you speak to them; pouring into them is, by extension, pouring into your students.
• Gather regularly for celebration, training, and story-telling.

What else needs to be done well in order to build a great team? Add your thoughts!

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

As part of our mission experiences, we get feedback directly from the students that attend.  We ask them what they thought of the experience, the projects, the lodging, the worship programming, and the staff.  We love to get the feedback and use it to improve what we do.

We always ask a couple questions the get to the heart of why all of us do mission trips – seeing students lives changes.  This year we got the following responses.

94% said they grew closer to God
99% said they want to participate in a future  Mission Trip

How cool is that?  The vast majority of the youth from about 1,300 churches grew closer to Jesus.  God used the experience to change lives!  I believe that is why so many want to do it again.  They know that they experienced something special.  They experienced God working in their lives.

I can’t think of another thing in my ministry that had as much of a positive impact as these statistics indicate.  It’s why I love what I do.  I believe it’s why so many of us take our students on a mission trip every single year.

Beyond Their Years…

 —  August 8, 2012 — 1 Comment

Stephanie* tells me her story…it’s filled with pain and hurt inflicted on her by the ones that should love her the most. I hear the pain in her voice but she seems to brush it off…pretending that its not really that bad. She’s coping or surviving. My heart breaks for her. What she has experienced in 14 years of life is hard to swallow. She’s a child but at the same time she is beyond her years. Later while playing a game at camp…she laughs and smiles. She’s having fun but her story is always there under the surface.

Strangely, she is not alone. In our large group…there a handful of girls whose stories make me want to weep. Junior high girls broken by the world. One girl asks me why God would let a man rape a woman…what would lead a young girl to ask this question?

What can we tell them and how can we help them?

I don’t think the four spiritual laws are enough for these girls. (I don’t think the four spiritual laws are enough for me.) Before I expand on this- let me clarify- I believe salvation for these girls is enough…and attainable…a gift. But in my experience these girls will not suddenly become church girls. Not because they don’t want to…but because they don’t know how…and because they don’t know how to let Jesus’ healing power heal their deep brokenness.

So, the gospel message is enough for their eternity…but I believe it can be more powerful than just that in their life. We must repeat over and over the power of it. We must speak it over and over again. We must not grow tired of speaking it. We must not get discouraged when they don’t change their language, their clothes and even their behavior. We can’t give up.

They need to know that Jesus heals. Jesus loves. Jesus saves. Jesus offers us more…and better life.

He transcends the pain. He is not the one who inflicts pain. He is gentle. He cares for the broken and the outcast. Yes, He is radical, strong but he is gentle and loving.

Honestly, they can’t hear it enough. They are messy and they make ministry messy. They cuss in front of all the wrong people…they wear clothes that make you blush. BUT THEY NEED THE CHURCH…AND THE CHURCH NEEDS THEM!

Be the church that welcomes the girls who no one else will welcome because of their baggage and their pain. Be the church that shows them the true Jesus.

I am not giving up on these girls…I hope you won’t either.


*Name changed to protect a girl who has already been hurt by others.