The joy of Panic Attack!

 —  February 5, 2011 — 4 Comments

My cute 7 year old son just played a drum solo in his school’s talent show. He did a phenomenal job, if I do say so myself. However, the few weeks leading up to the big show was not so awesome. We had a run in with a 5th grade bully! Three different times this bully intimidated my 1st grader and told him he had better NOT sign up for the talent show, HE was going to be the ONLY one to play the drums, not Dylan. (Side note: my kid has an unusually remarkable ability to play the drums at a very young age and he had preformed at last years talent show as a kindergartner as well). Dylan was sad, and discouraged and did not want to deal with this kid so he decided he wasn’t going to preform. But after a good talking to from my husband and different students that we see on a regular basis he felt up for it and began to practice again. LONG story short, because of the encouragement from students and even their parents and ministry leaders from our church Dylan felt strong and brave and loved and like a full blown rock star! We had 35 people sitting in the audience with PANIC ATTACK T-shirts on (his band name :) ). They cheered and clapped and gave him a standing ovation! It was one of the greatest moments of my life!
It was just a joy to see so many people who love my kid stand up for him in a situation like this. Another reason why I love having students in our lives. God’s church is AWESOME!

I have been an iPhone holdout for several years. I have tested about every smartphone platform (I think I skipped Nokia’s S60…) but the iPhone. I have set them up for clients, transferred their data, but no extended use on my part. It was almost a badge of honor not to have traveled to “the dark side”. Through a strange series of events and blessings over the last 3 weeks, involving some eBay, Craigslist, and some stuff only explainable by God, I now have an iPhone. I had passed up two opportunities to go that road before, based on the preference if a physical keyboard. It is still my preference, even though the soft-keyboard in iOS 4.1 is pretty good.

Ministry uses of the iPhone:
This is an article that is not really a new discussion so much as my experiences to share. There are a lot of really good and decent apps on iOS that make life in ministry a little easier to navigate. It’s odd that while I tinker and do some crazy stuff on computers, tablets, and smartphones, my overall needs on a smartphone are relatively simple and can be made to work on about any of the major OS platforms. Here are a few of the apps that stood out.

Bible by YouVersion: one of the better implementations of their app, very similar to the webOS version for HP/palm phones. All the basics are there including downloads for offline use.

LIVE Curriculum App: We use the LIVE Curriculum in our Youth Ministry. The App is nice, well designed, and functional.

Dropbox / Zumodrive: I like to have access to my files remotely, and this is a great way to make it happen. Personally I use both and sync them (redundant backup). You can get 2GB of storage at each. The apps are pretty similar in use.

Documents2: It’s a doc viewer for about any format you choose. The ability to add files over WiFi is a bonus.

PDANet (link omitted intentionally): This requires a “Jalbroken” iPhone. It turns your phone into a mobile Wi-Fi hot-spot, and I don’t really recommend it for regular usage, it really works great in a pinch to grab an internet connection for your laptop or netbook when WiFi is no where to be found. The app is on par or better than the Android App and Blackberry app by the same company.

Aside from some other productivity and social networking apps, The above are the standouts to me.

Overall View
Coming from other platforms, one of the iPhone’s biggest weaknesses is almost a strength as well. There are a few things that the iPhone doesn’t easily support — such as widgets, eye candy, and other customizations (there are “undocumented ways”, I know). But I have not seen a force close, or a Java error, or really any error message. The thing just works. It’s kind of nice.

What we can learn…
I think if we as churches took an approach that church should “just work”, we might make more advancements for the Kingdom of Christ. We need to stop looking at what the church down the street is doing, and concentrate on what God (our CEO, Owner, Executive Board, and COO, if you will…) is telling us we need to do. We need to focus on those few things and do them well to the point “they just work” . God never planned for the church to minister to the point of stretching and burning out. If He plans a ministry for the church, He is going to provide the people, the resources, and the skills necessary to pull it off. We often miss it in trying to plan it our way.

Go have a meeting with THE “Higher-Up” and let Him guide it from start to finish.

Brent Lacy has served many capacities in the IT sector and is a youth worker at his local church, too. Check out his blog right here.

I have been in a student ministry paid staff position for three years, nearly to the day (another three years of volunteer ministry before that). I am, well actually my family and I are in a place of transition, I just resigned from my position as Youth Pastor at our church yesterday. We will be presented to another church in view of a call in a couple of weeks, and although we are not assuming this church will call us, we truly believe this is where God is leading us. That said we felt our time at our present church is coming to a close, and regardless of the outcome of the vote we have decided that it’s time to step down. All this has got me thinking about how to gauge our effectiveness in the three years we have spent here. How effective has our ministry been? Has it been a huge success or a monumental failure? If I’m being completely honest, it’s been keeping me up at night. A conversation with a mentor in ministry has helped to put my mind at ease, so I share with you what he shared with me hoping it will keep you from long nights staring at the ceiling.

“Your going to be miserable in ministry until you get over this. Eventually, it may drive you out of ministry. You will always have naysayers, you will always be criticized by some. Here is how you need to evaluate yourself. Have you acted on principle? Have you acted in agreement with Scripture? You have worked harder for this church than any two people, and that’s all you can do. While we absolutely should consider people’s thoughts and opinions, do so understanding you will never be everything to everyone. Do your best, do what God calls you to do, and love people. When you evaluate yourself and your ministry, if you’ve done these things, then you have been successful.”

Ministry is tough, and for those of us called to either vocational or volunteer service the critics can sometimes be harsh. Regardless, I have finally been put at ease by this wisdom shared to me, and now to you. It’s the kind of thing we as pastors tell everyone else. It’s the kind of thing that when we hear someone share it with others we think to ourselves, “Yep. I would tell them the same thing.” But having it said to me instead of coming from me has been powerful. Maybe it can help you too.

Stephen Trainer is a husband, father, school teacher, youth pastor, dog owner and technology geek. What else could you want? Find out more at his blog:

Cover of New Book

 —  February 4, 2011 — 2 Comments

Well, just got the final cover of my forthcoming book called, “Worlds Apart.” This will be coming out September 1, 2011, but I am beginning to share some of its contents at the CollegeLeader trainings, including next week at the DFW training. There are some unique aspects to this book, so more details coming soon….

Youth ministry is not easy. Usually fun, often exciting, hectic, busy, sometimes frustrating, adventurous, tiring, but never easy. That’s why we need times to just get away and rest in the spirit of Jesus and His disciples.

In Mark 6:31, after some intense ministry adventures, Jesus said to His disciples, “Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” It’s easy to forget the importance of rest and relaxation in the business of ministry. But if we want to avoid burnout and want to serve Jesus for the long haul, we need to give our minds and our bodies time to rest and recharge.

I love retreats, especially with my adult leaders, because more than a time of rest, they are also a time of relationship building. In John 15:15 Jesus said to His disciples, “No longer do I call you servants … I have called you friends.” Do you think Jesus said that simply because the disciples were in ministry with Him? I don’t think so. All of those conversations walking from place to place, the conversations in the evenings when they couldn’t fall asleep, the meals they shared together, the getaways–these were the times during which their friendships were built; times of BEING together. While very important, the other stuff was doing-oriented. I have come to the place that I am simply not interested in just working together to get a job done. I want to be able to say, “I served Jesus faithfully, reaching students for the kingdom, and I didn’t do it with hired guns. I did it with friends. We worked hard. We played hard. We laughed. We cried. We prayed. We struggled. We learned. And through it all, we were friends.”

Today let me leave you with a Scripture to live and a statement to ponder.

“Serve the Lord with gladness” (Psalm 100:2).

Here is a rather full statement that I came upon recently in a devotional. Read it through a few times slowly. Meditate on it. Wrestle with it. Digest it in your spirit.

“In all the ordinary forms of Christian life, service is apt to have more or less of bondage in it; that is, it is done purely as a matter of duty, and often as a trial and a cross. Certain things, which at first may have been a joy and a delight, become after a while weary tasks, performed faithfully, perhaps, but with much secret disinclination, and many confessed or unconfessed wishes that they need not be done at all, or at least that they need not be done so often. The soul finds itself saying, instead of the ‘May I?’ of love, the ‘Must I?’ of duty” (Hannah Whitall Smith (1832-1911) in The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life).

Where are you at today?

Kevin Mahaffy, Jr. is a youth pastor from New York and blogs regularly at

I’d like to take a guess and say that administrative work is NOT topping the “My Favorite Things” list for most youth pastors. We do the paper-pushing because it seems like we have to; like it’s a “necessary evil” of our job description. When I started out in ministry, I was anything BUT organized. Because of that, I often found myself less than prepared for stuff I “coulda, shoulda, woulda” seen coming. Years ago, I created a skeleton that I hang every workday on (especially workdays in the office). You may hate acronyms, but this one has served me well: D.R.O.W.N. And the great thing is this works no matter what size church, paycheck, or office you have–even if you don’t have of those things!

D: Desk surface. Having a desk surface you can actually see is step #1 in having a smooth(er) day at the office. I’ve learned that the condition of my workspace is usually pretty indicative of the condition of my brain. So, the first thing I do is make sure I start the day with at least a semblance of order on my desk. I’m a “piler” by nature but I’ve gotten pretty good at limiting myself to one pile and actually knowing what’s in it. That helps my mind stay clear and uncluttered.

R: Respond to emails and voicemails. Let’s face it, nobody likes to wait. And whether you consider yourself someone who likes making calls or writing emails, the fact remains that the sooner you get back to people, the less they’re going to draw horns and blacked-out teeth on any picture of you they come across. I make it a rule to start with the most difficult/uncomfortable/awkward calls first. Putting THOSE off will only make things more difficult/uncomfortable/awkward later.

O: Objectives for the day. I married a list maker. Ipso facto, I have become a list maker. Whether you’re a hipster with an iPad or someone like me who still loves the feel of paper and pen, make a list of what you’d like to accomplish. Your emails/voicemails you just dealt with might add/change/take away from your objectives for the day. Then, there’s the wonderful feeling of crossing things OFF the list! The most important nugget of advice I can share about lists is BE REASONABLE. Writing “Create a 6-year curriculum plan then write every week’s lesson” on today’s list might seem ambitious, but it’s not. It’s insane. Keep to things you can realistically get done today.

W: Work. Yes, I know we all know it’s a calling to be in ministry, but let’s face it: there’s work to do! So, once you’ve got your objectives for the day set, go after them like you go after that middle school kid in dodgeball; the one who threw up on your sleeping bag at retreat. Among all workers–paid or volunteer–Christians should exhibit the greatest work ethic and the highest quality work out there.

N: Next Day. Start this one 10-15 minutes before you PLAN on leaving for the day. Do whatever you can to get set for a good start to the direction for tomorrow, whether that’s a jumpstart on a clear work surface to start the day with or jotting something down on tomorrow’s objectives list, be it something you didn’t get to from today’s list or something that the SYM podcast inspired you to do.

While administrative work might be as much fun for you as Chubby Bunny is for me, I hope that you can find a new level of productivity and efficiency during your time at the office.

Jerry Varner is the Student Discipleship Pastor at Southside Church in the Richmond, VA area and has been in full-time student ministry for 16 years. He blogs sporadically at

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For the next 10 days the blog will be filled with fantastic youth ministry voices other than mine – because I’m headed to Kenya with 30 high school students and leaders. If you would say a prayer for us as we travel and minister, that’d be great! Here’s the prayer guide we sent to parents this week:

Day ONE & TWO: Travel to Nairobi, Kenya…and then on to Kitale
Pray for a smooth airport check-in. Pray for safe travel to Kenya. Pray for rest and the preparation of our hearts for ministry. Pray that all goes smoothly with the logistics of traveling with a group our size.

Day THREE: Travel to Kitale and CHURCH…and possibly the prison.
Pray for the Congregation of Oasis of hope church. Pray for our team as we minister to the prisoners of the prison. Pray that these prisoners would hear and accept the message of Jesus Christ. Pray for the students as they share at the church.

Day FOUR: First Day of Camp
Please pray for our team as we prepare camp for 200 kids and teenagers. Pray for good connections, good conversation, and for camp to go according to God’s plan. Pray for our partnership with this ministry. Pray for the kids at camp to have open hearts to the message of Jesus Christ. Pray for the students on our team who are teaching, singing, leading and counseling the kids. Pray that we would be open to ministering outside of our comfort zone. Pray for another student on the team today.

Day FIVE: Camp & Academy
Pray that God would give opportunities to our students to share their personal faith with a camper. Pray that we wouldn’t miss any opportunities to share Jesus. Pray that God would make an impact on lives through our team. Pray for your student today.

Day SIX: Camp & High School Speaking
Pray for protection from exhaustion and the enemy as we wrap up our last day of camp. Pray that our team would have courage and be bold in sharing their faith with the street kids. Pray for the team leaders today. Pray for the teachers that they would continue the mission of bringing kids to Jesus Christ. Pray for students as they speak to students at a local high school.

Day SEVEN: Farm & Party
Pray for the our time with these precious children. They have been through so much. Pray that we can encourage them and love them.

Day EIGHT: Work Projects & City Tour
Pray for our last day of ministry. Pray that we would stay focused as team and that fatigue would not set in. Pray that we would make the most of our last day.

Day NINE, TEN & ELEVEN: Pray for safe travel back to Nairobi and then back to America.
Pray that we adjust well spiritually emotionally, and physically. Pray that God would continue to work in our hearts after we return. Pray that we would continue to remember and reflect our journey in Kenya. Pray for protection from sickness and fatigue.


Photo courtesy of PostSecret

Wow. I am speechless. But we know it’s happening…so are we talking about it?