UncommonWisdomfrontcoverWith your permission, I’d like to share an adaption of the introduction to my book “Uncommon Wisdom from the Other Side: A Senior Pastor Talks Youth Ministry.”

Not because I want to sell you a book
(although, feel free to buy one).

I want to share something so important that I wrote it there, and have written it here.


medic4Thank you for signing up to reach the next generation.

Your heart will gain scars.

You’ll be misled by others.

Close friends will seemingly abandon you.

The resources may run out.

You may fake your faith some days for the sake of others.

Simple things Christians say will annoy you.

The church you serve may appear two-dimensional in your three-dimensional stress.

Students will let you down.

You will disciple at least one Judas.

People will say all kinds of unkind things about you and your family.

And it is the best possible way to live.

medic3It would be easier to just pat you on the back, but you need to know what you’re being patted into.

The reason it’s called “ministry” is because someone is needed to “minister”-which implies a gap exists that needs filling. You may occasionally get applause for doing this, but if you’re looking for it you have things backward.

Trouble will hit.

Relational blood will be spilled.

People you expect to be medics will at times be holding the knife.

And you’ll at times be one of the guilty parties.

medic5If you can see this for what it is and enter the chaos glued to Jesus, you’ll unearth questions about church and ministry you didn’t realize existed.

You’ll also see some things about God you’d like to change, such as how he gets to call the shots on good days and bad days. You’ll later treasure these things because when you aren’t able to answer the “what happens next” question, you’ll start focusing on the “who can I love who is in front of me now” question.

That’s the question that really matters more, anyway.

It’s going to be ugly. Anytime something full of life is born,
there is a big, bloody mess.

Why do we forget this and whine about it when it happens?

Then again… perhaps you feel OK with ministry today and are nodding, assuming you’re ready for whatever comes next.

  • Will you keep nodding when your spouse is about to experience a nervous breakdown because of your “calling”?
  • Will you keep nodding when your own walk with God feels drier than it’s ever been and you have another message to deliver?
  • Will you keep nodding when the bliss of working inside the four walls of a church starts to feel like solitary confinement?

Such hardships may not dominate, but there will likely be seasons when everything seems crazy and Jesus will need you to help redeem even the “redeemed.”

  • This is where what you preach finally gets owned.
  • This is where your faith moves from practical ideas about living to oxygen when you’re suffocating.
  • This is where you take on Satan, not out of adrenaline, but out of Jesus.

medic2Consider this line from C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters where one demon counsels another on wearing down a man who has given himself to their “enemy” God:

“Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”

It’s not my aim to destroy your faith but to ground it in the Lord before it gets destroyed. Ministry will give you every circumstance to abandon what you’re doing because there’s always a seemingly nicer job at a store or restaurant down the street where you can clock in and clock out.

Then again, perhaps you weren’t made to clock in and clock out.

Maybe (just maybe) you will deny yourself, carry your cross, follow Jesus, and experience a resurrection in this generation.

(Note the order of that sentence. It’s what turns you into a battlefield medic for the Church.)

Doing that will unearth more of God than you feel prepared for, which in turn will make you run off screaming or surrendered on your own cross, because you finally see students like he does.

Because youth ministry is ugly and beautiful… all at the same time.


Thank you for loving students!



*Love Tony’s insight on service and youth ministry? Receive his articles every Tuesday when you sign up for the SYM Today Newsletter!*


It’s difficult to forget the smell of carpet that you’ve wept into.

My family had moved in with my in-laws—into a small modular home while trying to figure out my next step in ministry. The pastor at the church I’d just left said I hadn’t grown the youth group fast enough: his goal was 200 within two years… I’d only nurtured it from 35 students to 179 in that time. Apparently that was a failure, and I was now jobless.

To add fuel to the fire, I’d experienced a significant letdown in ministry three years before that. I was forced to resign from a church because I didn’t vote for a new senior pastor who’d forced his way into leadership from his staff role. Between both experiences, I had a lot of reasons to hate the idea of church, and ministry in general.

So why was I weeping?

carpetI’d just received a phone call from a friend who served at the church where the senior pastor had nudged me out years earlier. He shared how they were in an unexpected crisis since the senior pastor had just been mandated to take a leave of absence due to an addiction issue he’d been hiding. The church hoped he’d be personally and professionally restored, but had an immediate need for someone to fill the pulpit. My friend asked if I’d be willing to be a guest speaker for a few weeks.

“Absolutely,” I replied without thinking about it. As we hung up the phone, though, I found myself sitting in silence for a few moments.

  • I expected to feel justified.
  • I expected to feel judgmental.
  • I expected to feel like a Savior.

Crumbling to the carpet, I instead began to weep from a place deep inside of me that was surprisingly broken in all the right places. Even though I hadn’t been a part of this flock for at least three years, I felt its pain.

Apparently, I was having my own crisis.

During the three years that had passed (and including what had happened at the church I’d just left), I’d realized some things:

  • You can’t always control how other people respond to you, but you can control how you will respond to them: If another Christian chooses to act with immaturity or selfishness, that’s his/her sin; if I choose to hold resentment or gossip about it instead of work it out in accordance with Matthew 18, that’s my sin. It’s why I eventually had conversations with both pastors from those churches to resolve past issues.
  • Immaturity that you see in others may keep you from seeing immaturity in you: As I shared in last week’s post, it’s easy to become so self-righteous about what matters most that you become blinded to what actually matters most. Who really calls you out on your blind spots?
  • The local church is a part of the Church: Any Christ-centered congregation is a mixture of “God and humanity,” which means it has all the positive potential of God and all the negative potential of humanity. You have to choose which piece you will nurture. I get the sense the Lord loves it when we help his Bride stand up after she’s fallen over.

I showed up for my first week of teaching and loved on people. I did this again the second and third weeks. By that point, the former senior pastor gave every indication he wasn’t going to return. The church asked if I would be its interim senior pastor—a ministry that I took on for nine months. There was talk at one point about offering me the role of senior pastor, but I excused myself from that discussion to help clean the slate for someone else.

After that experience, another church called me up and asked me to serve them as an interim pastor. They had their own crisis and heard how I’d helped the other congregation. I served them for six months and watched God grow my heart even more for His Church and its future.

battlefieldmedicThere will be seasons of your life that you are a battlefield medic for the Church.

You may yearn to be a specialist who gets a nice office or a padded paycheck, or even a volunteer who finds worth in never going anywhere. Sometimes God simply wants you running from one random explosion to another in order to tend to the wounded and raise them back up to health. This is full of stress, but if that’s where you’re needed then that’s where you’re needed… whether you’re directly working with teenagers, or simply helping the Church itself have a healthier future.

That’s the ironic ending to this story for me… a new beginning. I’m now a Lead Pastor intent on helping adults care about students, while at the same time volunteering in my church under our youth pastor’s leadership in order to still personally impact teenagers. Your story may not end up as mine did, but I wonder if it will end up as you’re planning it to.

Let the next crisis break you in all the right places… even if it means you end up smelling Jesus in the carpet.

Thank you for loving students!


Psst! He’s also a breakout session leader extraordinaire at Simply Youth Ministry Conference



Fundraising Advice?

Tony Myles —  October 17, 2013 — 4 Comments

fundraisingI read a question today about fundraising for mission trips that echoes something you may be struggling with. Here it is, followed by my reply:

Q: I need advice.

We just wrapped our fall fundraiser with very disappointing results… again. My students will not commit to raise money. Every fundraiser we do I have 2 students and that’s it. We have a great parent ministry and our parents have said they would just rather pay for missions trips than fund-raise but we’ve tried that and when the rubber meets the road they decide they don’t have the money. I’ve done everything that I know to do to get the students psyched up about trying to get the money raised and I get no results. Any advice?

A: One approach - require them to participate in “x” fundraisers or events before the trip.

We did this for an annual youth convention – some kids would just go on the trip because it was exciting but wanted nothing to do with the church or youth group the rest of the year. It created a funk with community/relationships on the trip and beyond. So we said, “Want to go on the trip? You need to take part in at least three other things we do over this year.” Fundraising counted as “two things” – made it a lot easier and we saw the dynamic change in the trip itself.

everybodyFrom my vantage point, this offers a few principles that make the participation of fundraising successful before a big trip:

  • It equalizes the playing field: Kids who don’t “need it” still do it alongside of kids who do “need it.” You’re creating the dynamic of community before the trip.

  • It creates shared memories together: Instead of kids coming into the big event without knowing each other, they’ve already invested into something with each other. That creates conversation right off the bat.
  • It locks kids into the trip that much more: When you’ve poured your sweat into something, you’re less likely to back out of it. If you’re tired of seeing students pull out at the last minute, offer them something do in the months before that last minute occurs.

What do you think? Have a different reply to the question? Or does what I shared make sense?

Chime in – let’s figure this out together.

P.S. Here are 5 creative fundraising ideas via Plywood People.

seniorpastorshirtsI didn’t vote for my senior pastor.

I’m speaking about something that happened 10 years ago, but even in writing those words now I can feel the funk of that moment.

To top it off, I told him that I didn’t vote for him.

I’m getting ahead of myself.
Let me offer some back story.

A different senior pastor hired me to be his assistant pastor and youth ministry director. He started the church only four years before I came in, helping God grow it to more than 700 members. We served together for a year, but he eventually realized he was more wired to continue planting churches than he was to pastor a large church.

Three other staff pastors and I agreed to stay on to navigate what was ahead. I was asked to take on the lion’s share of teaching at the three weekend services, perhaps because I’d been there the longest. Still, my heart bled for student ministry. Even when asked to candidate to be the senior pastor, I turned it down. God had clarified my calling, and he had the final authority on that matter.

Maybe that’s why I really struggled with the guy who took on the job.

One of the other staff pastors quickly resigned, creating tension we didn’t plan for. The remaining two and I dug in even further, eventually enduring a year of entertaining various candidates for the role.

The search committee became exhausted. The church grew weary. The three of us barely slept.

That was when one of the other staff pastors said in a meeting, “I guess I’ll do it.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“We need a senior pastor. We all know that whoever comes in can fire any of us anyway, so I’ll just do it.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Surely this man had not spent time with Jesus like I had.

Surely not.

“You can’t ‘just’ do that,” I said. “You need to have a burning calling, like how I do for student ministry. The church doesn’t need a default guy. They need a leader.”

That was the tone of my response to him even as he moved forward. The search team was likewise surprised, but their exhaustion prompted them to proceed. By the time he was barely voted in by the church, I was brooding with self-righteousness.

It’s why I privately shared with him that I hadn’t voted for him. I likewise explained that I would do my best to not let the church know, but would instead come alongside of him as a support.

It sounded honorable to me. The only problem was he began asking me to do things I wasn’t comfortable with, such as writing his sermons or telling people I had actually voted for him.

I again resisted, always behind closed doors and only with him.

Maybe that’s why two months later he told me I was no longer needed at the church. A few days later (on my birthday, no less), I stood before the church and broadly explained, “God has let me know that my time at this church is now finished.”

Now I’d like to ask you a question.

So what?

Seriously, so what?

All of this did happen, and all of this did devastate my family. Still, reread what I just shared and see if you can pick up on the power statements I dropped to manufacture more authority to my side of things, even if it meant turning the authority over me into a shallow caricature:

  •  “Surely this man had not spent time with Jesus like I had.“
  •  “You need to have a burning calling, like how I do student ministry.”
  •  “…he was barely voted in…”
  • “…on my birthday, no less…”

Have you ever done this?

It’s like we add just enough details to be sure we’re seen as the godly martyr who did everything right in the power struggle.

I wonder how that collides with following Jesus… the same Jesus who dares, “Deny yourself, carry your cross and follow Me.”

I’ll tell you “the rest of the story” next week. You won’t believe what happened next.

In the meantime…what are you brooding about?

Is your deal with God that you’ll only serve him if you like the authority above you?

Let’s unpack this together.

Thank you for loving students!



*Love Tony’s insight on service and youth ministry? Receive his articles every Tuesday when you sign up for the SYM Today Newsletter!*



Love on youth leaders and students! YOU can help teens learn what it means to live on mission for Jesus!

Applications are out to join the Red Shirt Team that facilitates Group Mission Trips- Workcamps and Week of Hope- around the country each summer to help over 20,000 youth encounter Jesus! There are many different roles to be filled, so there is at least one that fits your own strengths and gifts! Need more info? How about hear from someone who has actually been a Red Shirt?!

When asked about his experience as an emcee for Group Workcamps, Darren Sutton had nothing but good things to say! Watch his video below:

Take Darren’s word for it!

Apply for the Red Shirt Team and make next summer one of the best of your life as you serve, go deeper in your relationship with Jesus, and help youth grow in their faith as they see what it means to help a world in need. What could be better?

Thanks for considering this opportunity to continue loving students,



I was told not to tell anyone we were on a missions trip. mclovin

The missions organization our youth group was serving with suggested that we not anger the Canadian border patrol. Apparently saying we were going to “work” with the homeless would trigger questions about permits and more. We were to say we were just sightseeing.

“Why are you coming into Canada?” asked the twenty-something guard from his little booth. The tone in his voice suggested he thought of himself with an air of superiority. He was wearing mirrored sunglasses and had feathered hair, like he’d seen Top Gun one too many times.

“We’re spending some time in Toronto,” I replied.

“What will you be DOING in Toronto?” he asked, literally looking away from me as he said it.

The conflict inside of me began to well up. It didn’t feel right to say we’d be sightseeing—that would be a deliberate lie. I stuttered out a few words that were probably more evasive than clear.

“We’re going to… help…. the homeless.”

border“Don’t you think Canada can handle its own homeless?” he pushed back, as if I offended him. “Pull over there,” he said, motioning me toward the administrative offices. “Everyone in your vehicle will need to show identification.”

I knew we were going to be grilled. It only got worse when a teen named Jake told me, “Pastor Tony, I don’t have identification.”

Never mind that I’d told all the kids more than a dozen times to have a photo I.D.—something I even asked before we left. “Jake,” I replied, “you have no idea how that is exactly not what I needed to hear right now.”

Our group walked into a small room where a woman behind thick glass eyeballed me. “Tell me why you want to enter Canada,” she demanded.

“We’re trying to…” I began, searching for a thought.

“Trying to what?” she pressed, suddenly reminding me of the woman from “The Weakest Link.”

“I’m taking these kids to… Toronto,” I offered, knowing that wasn’t enough.

“You’re not answering my question,” she rightly pointed out.

This back-and-forth went on a few more times. Finally, I broke down.

“Fine,” I said, “I’m a pastor. This is a youth group. We’re hoping to come into Canada to share Jesus with people. The organization I’m serving with said not to tell you because we’d be discriminated against or you’d demand a work permit, but these are teenagers and we just want to serve. Can we please come in?”

She smiled. “If you would have just said that in the first place, we wouldn’t have had a problem.”

I smiled… until she deflated the moment by saying, “Just let me see everyone’s I.D.”

There was a chair in the corner, so I sat down. Surprisingly, 10 minutes later she waved us all through. I didn’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth, especially since I’d realized the freedom in being truthful. We headed out toward our worksite.

Along the way, however, Jake leaned over and said, “I used Josh’s I.D.”

Josh was on the trip, too… and was Jake’s identical twin. Apparently we weren’t as honest about what happened as I thought.

If you were me in that moment, what should happen next?

  • We turn the van around and be forthright?
  • We keep driving and never look back?

Chime in. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Thank you for loving students!



*Love Tony’s insight on service and youth ministry? Receive his articles every Tuesday when you sign up for the SYM Today Newsletter!*


EVERYBODY! Out of the Van!

Tony Myles —  September 30, 2013 — 11 Comments

Larry said he was going to punch Josh in the face.

That was right after Josh called Larry a fat idiot.

Moments before that, of course, Larry had announced to everyone in the van that Josh had “Zero taste in music.”

Josh, as usual, had given Larry that ammunition by asking to hear some “old school” MxPx again.

It was day 7 of a 10-day missions trip—on the road across five states. My wife and I had somehow packed ourselves and 10 students into a 12-passenger van that barely held together and had no air conditioning.

Let me say that again: teenagers packed into a van for several days in a row without air conditioning… in July.

Larry really was going to get violent with Josh. I could feel the tension growing as one of the high school girls went into her own happy space and began repeating, “PLEASE! PLEASE! PLEASE!”

I had enough.

We exited the highway and pulled into a gas station parking lot. All I said was, “EVERYBODY! OUT OF THE VAN!”

I didn’t have a plan. I only had frustration.

So I prayed. It sounds cliché, I know…but I prayed.

Somehow in that moment God broke my heart for what had happened.

I began weeping and even had to wait a few minutes before I could even come out and face the students.

I asked, “What are we arguing over? How we’re going to save lost people? The right way to reach a friend we know who feels his life is over? What we should do about what’s happening in some of your families? NO! WE’RE ARGUING OVER MUSIC! And honestly…I can’t think of anything else I can say other than to point that out. When you’re ready to get back in the van and remember why we’re on this trip, I’ll be in there waiting.”

Eventually they did. An awkward silence took over the evening as we made our way to where we were staying for the night. By morning, three of the girls on the trip who hated conflict made sure everyone apologized to my wife and me.

roadrtripThe trip eventually concluded, and God did use that time in all of our lives. I’ll never forget that moment of exiting the van, though. It’s even stayed with me as I get into my own side squabbles in church stuff that I think matters, but really doesn’t.

When we go on trips, I now tell teenagers, “Just so you know, around day 3 or 4 on this trip you’re going to really dislike someone else for dumb reasons. Try to keep that in mind, and let’s remember why we all signed up to be here.”

Sometimes the greatest thing we can do in a conflict is enlarge the Story of what we’re supposed to be wrestling over versus the noise that really doesn’t matter.

Thank you for loving students!




It felt like I grabbed a can of Mountain Dew the moment I became a youth pastor. At first glance, it seemed like a prerequisite for ministry was a charismatic personality. Even the clarity of the Bible created some confusion, for the Apostle Paul said, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” introvert-extrovert

That’s the truth that caused me to lean into a lie. I wanted to see the people I cared about in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ and assumed the only way I could do it was to become the life of the party.

I wonder how many of our students feel the same way.

Think about it: Is there a vibe that kids have to constantly bring their friends to youth group? What if they only have one really good friend who isn’t interested? How about if they don’t want to stand up and play your “stupid game”?

Time for a gut check. Does your ministry have as many on-ramps for introverts as it does for extroverts? Here are some ideas:

  • Before programs: Offer comfortable seating where quieter kids can come early, relax, or play video games. Provide set-up tasks they can help with (and give them a cool team name, like “Roadies” or “Techies”).
  • During programs: Help introverts take risks by not embarrassing them. Ask them ahead of time if they’d be willing to read Scripture, help with an object lesson, or do something significant behind the counter. Advance planning creates the runway for introverts to soar from.
  • After programs: Some introverts like to slip out fast when your program concludes. Assign at least one leader who will learn that student’s story and catch them with a simple question on a weekly basis, such as “How can I pray for you this week?”
  • On trips: Introverts may feel uncomfortable sharing a huge tent or being packed into a van with their peers. Let them bunk with their best buddy, and be sure to build in rest stops at malls, restaurants, or open areas where they can feel alone (yet always be within sight of the leaders).

Keep in mind that introverts may not fit the stereotype (and they may not want to). As I said, I became an extrovert for what I sensed were noble reasons. Even though I didn’t have the spiritual gift of evangelism I wanted to become more conversational and social in order to “do the work of an evangelist.”

How is this fleshing out in your church and youth group?

  • Do you see quieter kids “trying on” different personalities?
  • Has your personality (or someone else’s) become the “right” one to have?
  • Is there any kind of expectation that people have to become someone they’re not in order to communicate who Jesus is?


What other things should we think about when it comes to serving students who may fall more into this category? For example, is it possible to swing too far toward introverts? I’ve seen a fair share of “postmodern” environments where all the contemplative prayers and incense make the extroverts run out the door to play dodgeball. I’ve even wanted to join them.

Share your thoughts, and thank you for loving students!

- Tony