Like many of you, when I signed up to be a youth pastor, I signed up to help students do life with God. I also believed then, and still do today, that there is no shortcut. It simply takes time. I also know that there is no greater way to spend big chunks of quantity time with students than the retreat setting.

So far, so good.

But what I didn’t know was that in order to do those retreats, I’d have to sign contracts that would cause me countless nights of stress leading up to them. I had no idea that 12 months out I’d be asking my church to leverage thousands of dollar on the belief that students will eventually express interest and sign up. And for me, times have been a changin’…

  • Gone are the days where if a student went last year, had a great time, and even connected with God on the trip that they’d automatically sign up and bring a friend next year.
  • Gone are the days where families could afford to send students to special retreats and functions with relative ease.
  • Gone are the days where I am willing to roll the dice and sign random contracts based on faith and my “guesstimations”.

So what am I to do?

I still believe the same basic premises that started this post. I still believe in retreats and life change. But I no longer believe that camp contracts (or even doing contract-free retreats) is the only way, and certainly not the best way to get this done. I’d like to propose that youth ministries can learn a lesson from places like coupon based websites. If you’re unfamiliar, coupon websites that offers services that become active once a minimum number of people buy in. For example, someone offers a deal on tourist attraction or something for 50% off. If you’re interested, you sign up and give your credit card and then once 15 people buy it, the “coupon” is on and they charge your card.

So, in youth ministry, this might look like:

  • Summer camp brochure is made months earlier than normal. We promote the trip and encourage students in the same ways we always have.
  • But now, students are told 2 things. #1. The cost for the first “x” number people is “$$$”. Maybe we could offer some kinda early buy in discount. All prices could be refundable and the trip is tentative until we have ______ people going. Once we have ______ people going and maybe by a certain date, then the trip is on and a deposit of “$$” is non-refundable, but is transferable.
  • Here, if you need a minimum of 10 to do the trip, the onus is on the participant to invite friends and push the retreat. They want to go, so they’ll encourage friends that if they don’t go, he or she can’t go either.
  • As a youth pastor, I don’t have to pay now, and pray like crazy later. Or at least I can do way less of that.
  • I can spend more time encouraging students and less time being a travel agent.

Brian is a youth ministry veteran of 16 years, currently the student ministries pastor at Journey Community Church near San Diego, CA. And he blogs!

I love my friends at Group/Simply Youth Ministry/Group Workcamps. They’ve been a part of the fabric of my life for 20 years.? Most of what I know, I’ve learned from them. I love them with all my heart.

I love my friends at Youth Ministry Architects. The “Core Four” leaders have taught me all kinds of new things in the? last three years. I like being challenged to be better! I love the way they love their team members. I love them with all my heart.

I love my friends on the Inside Track Team and Connect (Affinity) Group Leaders. I guess its the maternal instinct kicking in:? I got to love the team into being and now they love each other like siblings in Christ should. I love them with all my heart.

I love my fellow youth and? children’s workers. Its not always a lovable job, is it? But I’ve witnessed the sometimes thankless love they? pour into kids? pay off.? I love these people? with all my heart.

I love my students, past – present – future. I love seeing what they’re up to and I love being a part of the group around each of them that loves them for who they are. I love them with all my heart.

I love my friends.? I love how FB has brought people back into my life. I love seeing what they’re up to even when I don’t post any comments. I love when friends check in on me and those that hold me accountable. Many have kept loving me when I’m not lovable.? I love them with all my heart.

I love my family. Kids, parents, siblings. I love how they check in on each other,? the special plans made for holidays and the gatherings when life gets tough. I love them with all my heart.

I love my husband. He is crazy about me and that is saying a lot because I’m not easy to love. His love has moved me into a place of self-confidence and self-worth. He thinks I’m amazing. I love him with all my heart.

I love God. Like the husband He put in my life, God loves me when I’m not lovable. He has blessed me in unmeasurable? ways. God is so good. I love Him with all my heart.

If you’re reading this? I love you. Really.

Stephanie



Freaky

 —  February 14, 2011 — Leave a comment

Posted by Kurt Johnston

a friend of mine from church shared this:

During the year 2011 we will experience 4 unusual dates…. 1/1/11, 1/11/11, 11/1/11, 11/11/11 ………

NOW take the last 2 digits of the year you were born plus the age you will be by the end of this year and it WILL EQUAL …. 111!

GUEST POST: Take A Risk

 —  February 14, 2011 — 1 Comment

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” Proverbs 3.-5-6

The older I get, the more I recognize I don’t have all the answers. Unfortunately, I draw this conclusion from the instances I’ve attempted to navigate life on my own and failed to experience the self-affirming outcomes I desired.

The failure I’ve mentioned is a result of pride and our pride is, in part, a result of book shelves lined with resources, a consistent flow of email newsletters, and office door handles cluttered with conference lanyards. All of these resources and experiences are great in and of themselves but they’re not meant to be the central source from which we gain our motivation, creativity, or leadership aptitude.

I will admit that it’s more convenient to lead from past experiences than wait upon fresh revelation but its rarely most beneficial. You’ve heard it said, “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.” I believe the difference between an average leader and a revolutionary leader is their ability to take risks. The fear that every leader has is taking the wrong risks and that is where God enters the equation.

We will begin to increase success and decrease failure if we will intentionally and, at times, patiently wait upon God’s direction. God will do something in us that no book, newsletter, or conference can ever do; lead us to the calculated risks that will transform us into revolutionary leaders.

On Saturday, January 1, 2011 television history was made when the Discovery Health Channel became the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN). In terms of taking risks this is a risk few would have the stomach to take, largely due to its $160 million price tag and years of necessary planning. According to St. Petersburg Times TV/Media Critic, Eric Deggans, this move is, “likely the first time a 24-hour cable channel has focused on one person’s brand”.

This is not only a risk for the network but for Oprah Winfrey who is now faced with the challenge of converting a hour long syndicated TV show into a cable channel pumping out 1,200 hours of programming each year. The Oprah Winfrey Show began in 1986 and had been going strong ever since. Some would call her crazy for leaving that kind of legacy behind but I would call her revolutionary. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not in love with everything that Oprah produces and I don’t necessarily agree with her religious or political views but you have to admit she is a wise business person.

As followers of Christ we have direct access to THE revolutionary leader and we would be foolish not to intentionally keep him at the certain of our lives. We have to submit to the realization that we don’t have everything figured out. In the presence of God we lay down our desires and pursue His revolutionary plan.

God’s waiting. It’s your move.

Shon Bradford is the student ministry pastor of deviate student ministry in Buckeye, AZ.



Thanks to Josh for letting me guest blog on MTDB. I had to have him stare at a picture of Obi-Wan Kenobi saying, “These are not the droids you are looking for” to convince him. And it worked.

This can be a difficult time of year in youth ministry, especially for us northerners. Discouragement runs rampant like gossip among cheerleaders. And we question whether we’re in the right place. Pizza delivery jobs look attractive – and definitely less stressful. The reality is that youth ministry has a devious way of pressing us to the point where we feel frayed and spent — and we just want someone to clean up the mess in aisle ‘us’.

I want to say one thing: Stay Encouraged. What you do in youth ministry is important. I get to see the results of your work – and it matters. So, hang in there.

In my work with leaders, I’ve noticed five practices that help cure the ministry blahs. They aren’t anything you probably haven’t considered before, but that doesn’t mean they’re ineffective. So, here’s my prescription to cure the ministry blahs. And, hey, I am a doctor.

1. Take your temperature: Watch your reactions – especially when things don’t go your way. Do you get angry? Fearful/insecure? Depressed? Lonely? These emotions are the canaries in the cave to let you know something’s wrong ahead. Anger is most common and, unfortunately, most of us are unaware of how we respond to others. Pay attention to how you react and learn why you feel that way. Those feelings could be telling you something.

2. Develop a non-digital hobby — this one may seem weird, but it’s one of my new recommendations to leaders. And it helps. Most healthy leaders I see have a hobby where they work with their hands or get outdoors. It can be fishing, sailing, gardening, biking, golf, tennis, woodworking, bird watching, weight lifting – or even dodgeball. I’ve seen dramatic changes among hard-driving pastors — changes that their staff and family appreciate. And, no, scrap-booking doesn’t count.

3. Get away on a non-digital retreat – as I blogged a few weeks ago, the social media world draws us in and demands more and more. It’s never done. Take a two-day retreat from all of your screens and from consumerism’s “discontentedness”. Create some margins in your life — get acquainted with a good book, your spouse, and the outdoors.

4. Renew your first love — Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day (and I hope you’ve done well to celebrate). I’ve discovered that I need to renew my love for Jesus — to remind myself of what he’s done in my life and of his call on my life. When I’m in the blah’s, I’ve often forgotten the “to serve” element of youth ministry (Mark 10:35-45) and made it about me. So, I’ll do whatever it takes to renew my relationship with Christ and quit being so self-focused.

5. Take intentional ministry steps. Pick five students you don’t know well to invest in for the remainder of the school year. It’s easy to figure out how to coast until the end of the school year and just manage. However, developing an intentional and relationally intensive ministry to five new teens will remind us of why we entered youth ministry in the first place — to personally make a difference in the life of youth. Some of my greatest youth ministry ‘successes’ with students came during these February/March efforts.

If you tried any of these (and they helped), I’d love to hear about it. You can let me know at terrylinhart.com. And stay encouraged. What you do in youth ministry matters!

Terry Linhart is co-editor of the forthcoming book, GLOBAL YOUTH MINISTRY, and author of the popular TALKSHEETS: LIFE OF CHRIST series.

I’ve been thinking about the big question of “what does it mean to have a healthy youth ministry?” I recently finished reading a book by Kenda Creasy Dean entitledAlmost Christian: What The Faith Of Our Teenagers Is Telling The American Church“. In it Kenda describes the growing trend within the american teenage culture of being “spiritual” but not Christian. Teenagers today are focusing less on who God is and more on how connecting to a higher power makes them feel. Christian sociologists have used the phrase “Therapeutic Moral Deism” to define exactly how this paradigm plays out. I don’t have time to get into everything about Therapeutic Moral Deism, but you can learn more by reading this article by Christian Smith who wrote the book “Soul Searching”.

So how can we build a healthy youth ministry in the midst of our current teenage culture? What do we focus on as we build our youth programs? As I am sitting here in a cafe writing this, I’ve drawn two different strategies on some napkins concerning where we as youth workers can put our focus. The first is what I am calling a “God-Centered Youth Ministry”. Here’s the concept:

In a God-centered youth ministry all of our teaching/small groups/etc. focus in on “theology” which is the study of who God is. We focus on what the Bible says about God (what He is like, His characteristics, His plan, Salvation,etc.). From there we then move on to “anthropology” which is the study of human beings. Simply put, it means this:

1) FOCUS ON JESUS & WHO HE IS

2) IN LIGHT OF WHO JESUS IS…WHAT IS A TEENAGERS RESPONSE?

So what is the other option? What is the opposite of a God-Centered youth ministry? Below is my doodle concept of a “People-Centered Youth Ministry”:

With a “People-Centered Youth Ministry” the focus in not on Jesus, but on the students. This kind of youth ministry will focus on particular types of teenage behaviors and how those students attempt to navigate the ideas of spirituality. Simply put, a “People-Centered Youth Ministry” looks like this:

1) FOCUS ON THE STUDENTS AND HOW THEY FEEL

2) STUDENTS BECOME RELIGIOUS.

The problem with the second model of youth ministry is that religion will never save anybody. In our world today there are tons of religions and I hear students (and adults) say all the time time that “as long as your are sincere about your faith it doesn’t matter what you believe.” However, no matter how sincere you are, you can still be sincerely wrong. Check out this event from the book of Exodus:

“When Joshua heard the boisterous noise of the people shouting below them, he exclaimed to Moses, “It sounds like war in the camp!” But Moses replied, “No, it’s not a shout of victory nor the wailing of defeat. I hear the sound of a celebration.” (Exodus 32:17-18 NLT)

Moses has just come down from Mount Sinai where He received the Ten Commandments from God. Suddenly he and Joshua hear the sound of the entire people of Israel celebrating together. They here a united people shouting and singing and worshiping. However, just a few verses before we here what God has to say about their worship:

“The Lord told Moses, “Quick! Go down the mountain! Your people whom you brought from the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves. How quickly they have turned away from the way I commanded them to live! They have melted down gold and made a calf, and they have bowed down and sacrificed to it. They are saying, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.’” Then the Lord said, “I have seen how stubborn and rebellious these people are. Now leave me alone so my fierce anger can blaze against them, and I will destroy them. Then I will make you, Moses, into a great nation.” (Exodus 32:7-10 NLT)

Even though the people of Israel were being sincere, God told them that they were sincerely wrong! We have to be diligent in our effort to point the students in our ministry to Jesus and not to the world. We need to place our focus back on to the study of God and not on the study of ourselves. If we don’t, we can fall into the same trap that the Apostle Paul spoke of in the book of Romans:

“Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles.” (Romans 1:21-23 NLT)

Which model above can be seen in your own youth ministry? Which aspects of your current programs would you have to change in order to bring Jesus back to the center?

Rob Ham works on the WILDSIDE Jr. High Team @ Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA and blogs at I (Heart) Youth Ministry.



I’m on a quest. My goal: to clean up and simplify a whole bunch of my youth ministry’s “stuff”. I think lots of youth groups are like mine…we make rocket science out of stuff that should be very simple. Take volunteers, for example. Certainly there is a whole lot that goes into building a healthy volunteer team, but what are the most basic things…the things that when done well give the best results? I haven’t thought this all the way through, but here is my initial thinking:

ENLIST: Do a good job of getting the right people on the bus. You need more volunteers, but you don’t need more of the wrong volunteers! Create some sort of system that helps you enlist the right youth workers for your junior high ministry.

EQUIP: Keep it basic, but make sure you train and equip your team. Figure out what the most essential equipping components are and focus on those.

EMPOWER: Give ministry away! Let them create new ministries! Don’t view your team as nothing more than foot soldiers carrying out your orders. Give them ownership and let them run.

ENCOURAGE: Cheer them on! Lovingly correct them when needed! Say thank you a whole lot.

What are some of the crucial, but very basic, things you do with your volunteers?

Over the holidays my wife and I spent a week in Charlotte at my wife’s parent’s house. They are great hosts and always make sure we feel welcomed, relaxed and taken care of. My mother-in-law is passionate about hospitality. She loves hosting guests and entertaining, and she does a great job of it.

I just discovered that when her and my father-in-law moved into their home, they spent a night in each of the guestrooms in the house. Why? Because they wanted to know what the experience would be like for their guests. They took note of the different room temperatures, the comfort of the beds, noises, the light the comes through in the morning, etc.

Talk about a commitment to your goal! As leaders this should be our mentality, we should be willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish our mission.

Are you trying to make your church or youth group more welcoming?
Have you ever visited another church or group just to feel what it’s like to be a visitor?

Are you trying to reach a new level of excellence in your programming?
Have you ever run through an entire service; message, music and all, in advance to find the weak spots?

Are you trying to make a relationally-focused youth ministry?
Have you ever tried to go on campuses near your school or attend students games and performances?

Are you trying to do a better job with publicity and advertising?
Have you ever paid attention to how you receive and interpret marketing?

These are just a few questions I thought of. The questions we need to be asking are all unique to our ministries. What are you trying to accomplish? How can you get a new perspective on that goal? What room haven’t you slept in yet? These are the questions that people who are committed to their ministry ask. Don’t settle for the status quo, find something to improve on. Be willing to sleep in all the beds.

Stuart Owens is the youth director at his childhood church in Tallahassee, FL. You can read more at his blog, www.stuartrowens.com.