Top Model: Ministry Edition

Tony Myles —  September 16, 2013 — 6 Comments

Youth ministry is safe.

Before you reply back with a counter-thought that puts me in my place, hear me out.

Youth ministry is safe because it gives you a reason to not do what you’re asking students to do.

Role ModelEver notice how easy it is to spend all your time trying to get teenagers to take a bold step with God that you don’t actually take yourself? We say things like, “Share Jesus with your friends! Bring them with you to church!”

How often are you regularly doing those things with your own peers or neighbors?

Maybe you feel you’re too busy serving students that you don’t have time to sit in “big church.” Perhaps you feel so called to your niche that you don’t know where to start with other adults.

Students don’t need another pep talk from you on how to serve their generation. They need to watch you be an example in serving your generation.

Here are some ideas:

  • Print out a Google map of your neighborhood. Write down the names of the people in each home, and learn the names of those you haven’t yet met. Begin praying for everyone by name.
  • Install a basketball hoop so the neighborhood kids feel free to play on it. Use it as an excuse to meet their parents.
  • Instead of reading a book on the couch, head outside and read it outside. Be sure to say “Hi!” to those who walk by.
  • Crank up some familiar music when you’re working on a project outside. Music can help people feel you’re approachable.
  • Share chores with your neighbors, like helping them with a big project or asking them to help you with yours. Spring for lunch either way.
  • Set up a “grown up table” outside for things like Halloween when people will be walking around the neighborhood. Have bottled water and granola bars available for the adults.
  • Get a dog and walk around your neighborhood each day. It gives you the chance to linger without looking like a creeper. Just make sure you pick up your dog’s “deposits.”
  • Do thoughtful things for your neighbors, like mowing their lawn when they’re at work. (Just avoid trimming their hedges to look like a silhouette of Moses.)
  • If a neighbor has said, “If you need anything, just ask,” go ahead and ask. Sometimes you build a friendship by helping someone else feel needed.
  • If you’re not in a situation where you’re close with neighbors, such as apartments or homes that are far apart, organize a board game night in your home or a community room where you provide ice cream sandwiches and the games.

I think you get the picture. The point isn’t to regard your neighbors as a project so you can get them to church and say, “TA DA!” It’s about loving your neighbor as you love yourself so the Holy Spirit can use your example to change more than one generation.

You know this won’t be easy, and you probably have all your excuses lined up. Feel free to comment and share them so we can sort them out together.

I will say this with full confidence, though– this will be more fruitful than you think.

Teenagers aren’t just looking for a great youth worker… they’re looking for a Christ-follower who is leaving footsteps they can step into.

Thank you for loving students!



I like it when people pick up the tab for my food.

A guy named Doug approached me years ago when I transitioned into a church as its youth pastor. He’d been a faithful student ministry volunteer and wanted to start a friendship with me. We connected at a nice restaurant where we swapped stories and yapped about youth work.

We eventually got onto the topic of missions, and I learned that Doug had a heart for Alaska. He’d traveled there earlier that summer so he and his team could share Jesus with the locals and help villages prepare for the winter months. He wanted to take another trip there, this time rallying all our students to join in.

The only problem was I hadn’t been to Alaska and didn’t have any attachment to it. Doug could’ve been talking about Russia or China and my reaction would have been the same for the very same reason. I wasn’t invested into a process that gave me that vision.

Intentionality, if you will.

I awkwardly shared this with him, not to shoot him down but to ask how we could get kids to care about areas of the world beyond their own. It occurred to me (perhaps for the first time) that I’d never done this in previous churches and much of the enthusiasm for mission trips or certain areas of the world came from me. Students may have had good experiences once they jumped in, but it really required me asking them to get passionate about what I was passionate about.

Using Acts 1:8 as a model, we wondered, “What does Christ’s mission to reach ‘Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth’ represent to us?” We brainstormed a four-step strategy to warm the hearts of students toward doing more than events and trips but progressively thinking like a missionary. Think about how this plays out for your ministry:

  • MissionsOne-time local opportunities: How can you help students have a no-strings-attached experience in blessing others locally? Maybe it’s using a youth group night to do yard work for homes near your building, or perhaps it’s a Big Day of Serving event you bring to town. How could you give them their first taste of the joy of serving?
  • Area partnerships: Who in your area could you create a relational commitment with? For example, if you have a high number of teen pregnancies in your area should you partner with a Christian crisis pregnancy center? What about identifying an area or need close by for a Week of Hope project?
  • Drivable distances: Where could you take a road trip to help teens experience different cultures within your culture, so it still feels like what they know yet presents a different demographic or perspective? Is there a before-and-after story they can join into, such as a Group Workcamp?
  • Extended opportunities: What parts of the world should you care about and send teams to? Is there a ministry students could keep track of and hear regular updates on how their investment is paying off? For us, it was Alaska. For you, it may be something through LifeTree Adventures.

A process like this gives kids a taste of evangelism and serving at one level before they jump into the next. An obvious benefit is they can take steps forward as they’re comfortable. A hidden benefit is they don’t just go on a trip “somewhere else” without having a foundation of engagement where they live.

Intentionality, if you will.

Is this the one thing that’s missing in your approach to missions? Might some type of strategy like this or something else give you the forethought needed for the future to helps kids think about sharing Jesus today? I’d love to interact with you on this, so toss in your thoughts and let’s figure this out together.

Thank you for loving students!

- Tony

Teenagers generally don’t voluntarily get up early on Saturday mornings.


The group at Big Day last year in Akron!

As a Community Director for The Big Day of Serving, I’ve watched hundreds of students defy that trend. One year I even watched as the early birds created a red carpet experience for their peers who arrived later, cheering and high-fiving them as they came in.

That may sound like a commercial, but I’d like to ask you a question, tell you a story, and then leave you hanging. It begins with the Cross itself, for if you stare at it long enough you’ll eventually realize it has a vertical and a horizontal component.

Here’s the question: How are you doing at making sure the symbolism of this is represented in your youth ministry?

  • Vertical: Maybe you’re the kind of youth group where the upward component of Christianity is top-notch. Your worship services inspire hot tears of brokenness, and the way you get students into the Bible gets the Bible into students. Jesus Christ is lifted up, and the Holy Spirit is embraced.
  • Horizontal: Perhaps you’re all about relationships, social justice, and changing culture. You’re up on the latest trends and have plenty of on-ramps for teenagers of all spiritual backgrounds to jump in and get loved on. When unchurched people hear of you, even they are inspired by the great work they know you’re doing locally and globally.

One of the reasons I got plugged into The Big Day of Serving a few years ago is that it’s the perfect mash-up of these values. On one hand, it involves serving residents, transforming a community, and coming alongside of city projects that couldn’t get done without a volunteer workforce. On the other hand, it’s more than just a day of good deeds, because it’s anchored in the Christian faith.

And yeah… teenagers lead the charge. Who doesn’t want to help them make a difference?

That brings me to the story:

Our church recently took part in a city event as a food vendor. At one point, I watched as an older woman spoke some intentional words into our students who were taking food orders. They were both noticeably moved by whatever she said.

I eventually learned she was a resident we’d served during a Big Day of Serving event. Even months later, her memory of the students’ faces was so thick that she could pick them out of a crowded event and thank them.

I’d wager that’s something those teenagers won’t soon forget, either.

I could tell you plenty of other stories, too. One year a blind teenager came with his youth group to work on the porch of an old man who couldn’t walk around without his oxygen tank. Can you imagine the humbling vibe at that work-site?

Even my own son experienced his first Big Day of Serving last year. A tradesman taught him and his peers how to assemble wooden park benches. They beamed with healthy pride after making a dozen of them that day.

Now imagine that you and your students are a part of it all.

I told you I’d leave you hanging at the end of this, and I mean it. We’re doing something from the ground up here that is anchored to the vertical and horizontal beauty of the Cross. I won’t sell you on it. It’s compelling on its own.

So let me leave you hanging… Figure out how God wants you making the most of those dual components in your ministry. If it means serving in some other way, I’m a fan. If God wants you at the next Big Day, I look forward to rolling up my sleeves with you at the Akron, Ohio, worksite on the first Saturday in October (If you can’t make it, check out the other great spots all over the country this fall and next spring).

Whatever you do, do it all in the name of Jesus Christ. God loves accomplishing something in teenagers’ souls as they accomplish something with their hands.

Thank you for loving students!

- Tony

Marty McFly.

Biff Tannen.

Doc Brown.

Depending on when you were born, you’ve likely either had a full-fledged theater experience or an at-home movie viewing of Back to the Future. It’s arguably one of the better movie franchises to come out of the 1980′s, thanks to its writing, directing and acting.

backtothefutureLet’s not forget the car either. Seriously, I still want a DeLorean.

A website called the A.V. Club compared how the actors appeared in the original movie (with makeup that aged them 30 years) with how they now look 30 years later.

It’s an interesting commentary on pop culture.

Speaking of the 80′s, that was really the era when the average household began owning a video camera. Since then, we’ve gone from having to lug around large TV-reporter-sized units to putting phone-sized HD tech into our pockets.

I wonder… as a youth worker, have you by chance kept any video footage of students over the years?

  • Ever record a baptism?
  • Did you snag the moment they gave their lives to Jesus during a camp altar call?
  • Have you ever caught them talking about what matters to them?

Where is that footage? Is it just collecting dust, or could you serve those old students by doing something with it?

  • What if you had a pizza party with some students who graduated a few years ago and showed them some highlights from when they were active in youth group?
  • How about creating a Facebook page where teens (likely now young adults) could share their favorite pics and videos in one place?
  • Is there some guy (or gal) in his twenties who needs to receive a DVD in the mail of a missions trip you all went on together 10 years earlier?

Maybe we need to take a cue from pop culture and help the present-day people go “back to the future” they said they knew God wanted them to live. I did this once by showing a girl, who got wrapped up in guys her senior year, footage of her in her freshman year declaring she was going to put God first in her relational life.

What do you think this value could look like in your context?

Thank you for loving students!


scaleYou probably got into ministry for all the right reasons.

I may not know you, but I do know myself. If we’re at all alike, there’s a good chance something else is true of you.

Some days you’re in ministry for all the wrong reasons.

Maybe it’s not as obvious as you’d think.

  • You serve God.
  • You rearrange your schedule for students.
  • You bend over backward for parents.
  • You lobby before your church leadership in all the right ways.
  • You’re not trying to trick people out of their money.
  • You don’t attempt to be the “sexier” youth group in town.

It’s as if every time people see what you’re doing, you’re caught living out the best template for ministry you can think of.

The problem is you can be doing all the right things for all the wrong reasons.

There’s a situation in my life right now with a disgruntled group of people who have found joy in being disgruntled together. They’re people I’ve loved and invested some of my best energy into, from teens I mentored and took on mission trips to adults I scrambled to serve. One of the louder households left our church and began complaining “sideways” – subtle enough to go unnoticed by most, but potent enough to create a funk that I’m still not sure what to do with. It’s as if no matter how hard I try to live out some of the most basic principles in Matthew 18 on reconciliation I’m met with misunderstanding, evasiveness and slander.

I’m doing all the right things.

At least, that’s what I keep telling myself.

What I eventually realized is that some days it’s for all the wrong reasons.

There are moments that I want to be vindicated.

I want to work out the misunderstanding, because I hate having people say things about me that aren’t true- especially when I have put so much energy into doing the right things. If I dove into the reason why I do so, it is my human pride wanting to assert itself. I have to make clear that the door to reconciliation is open, but if they never walk through it or continue to group up on this then a part of me needs to turn this over to God.

Check out what the Bible reveals on this:

  • God has a pattern of vindicating His people as a whole.(Deuteronomy 32:36)
  • Humans have a desire to be vindicated individually by their behavior. (Job 13:18)
  • People who watch us will notice our desire to be vindicated and may assume the worst. (Job 11:1-2)
  • Jesus was vindicated by the Spirit – not other people. (1 Timothy 3:16)
  • We will only experience real vindication when we spend time face to face with God. (Psalm 17:15)

If you don’t get this right, then all of the serving you do will come across as ministry perfume and not the genuine scent of Jesus Christ.

Wrestle with this. Consider what you’re doing to get people to think or say better things about you. Give someone else permission to point out when you build a case against a case someone has built against you.

Otherwise, it will leak out. To quote William Ury, “When you are angry, you will make the best speech you will ever regret.”

Thank you for loving students!

Let’s be honest: It’s hard to find a student who wants to step up.

I’m not talking about teenagers who want a position of power. Many do, and often for the wrong reasons. I’m talking about getting students to do something that is authentic and needed, yet incredibly awkward.

Let’s use prayer as an example. You may have delivered the greatest message about Jesus teenagers will ever hear. Your youth group may be experiencing a phenomenal moment on your missions trip. Your local school’s most outspoken atheists may have just all given their lives to Jesus Christ.

Yet you know that the moment you ask, “So does anyone want to pray?” there will be an awkward pause… and one after that… and one after that. Heads will droop down. Every student will become a mannequin. They even will stop texting.

Let me say that again: They even will stop texting.

Maybe Bill Hybels said it best in his book Too Busy Not To Pray with the opening line “Prayer is an unnatural activity.” From the moment we’re born, we’re bent toward self-interest and independence. Perhaps that’s the key factor, or it could be once we’re exposed to the idea of prayer we aren’t quite sure what to do with it:

• “Should I give God my wish list, like a heavenly Santa Claus?”

• “What if I pray for something and it doesn’t happen? Does that mean I did it wrong, or      that God doesn’t exist? I’m not sure I like either option. Maybe I just won’t pray.”

Again, I’m singling out prayer merely as an example. What I’m really talking about is getting students to step up in their faith.

A mentor once counseled me to not say someone’s “no” for them. It’s easy to not ask someone to do something you assume they’ll say no to. It’s why a majority of Christians don’t share Christ with others, presuming they’ll just be written off.
Sometimes we actually prod a negative answer in other people, though. When we ask if anyone “wants” to pray—or serve or lead—we’re setting people up to unconsciously say, “No, I don’t want to.”

What if you changed just one word?

• “Is anyone willing to pray?”
• “Is anyone willing to serve?”
• “Is anyone willing to lead?”

It’s amazing how that one word is a game-changer. When I hear the word “willing” I have to do a gut check on where I really am at in wanting to honor God. Even if for only a nano-second, I find myself staring at the cross of Christ versus my own wants.

Could it really be that simple? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Thank you for loving students!


Do you live near Lima, OH or Columbia, SC?! If your answer is yes and you still have not signed up for the Big Day of Serving happening in your area on September 21, 2013, then you’re are LAME! But if you change that by signing up today then we will revoke your lame title and give you serious cool points! Not from Lima or Columbia? Don’t worry! There is definitely a Big Day near you too this Fall, just check the website for other dates and locations. Here are the Top 5 Reasons why you should get your students to Big Day of Serving this Fall:

#5- Students will be a part of something bigger than themselves.

#4- You get to do missions… locally!

#3- Everyone gets a free T-shirt!

#2- We handle all the programming; you get to build relationships with students.

#1- Your students will grow closer to Jesus as a result of their service.

*Sign up here for Big Day of Serving*


Don’t know enough about Big Day of Serving to want to sign up? Watch the video now:

Big day of serving vimeo

Now is the time to sign up to get your students helping the community through the Big Day of Serving on September 21, 2013! You do not want to miss this opportunity to mobilize your youth ministry to service and to transform lives.



The Scene: Working on the laptop at McDonald’s. A table full of pre-teen guys are trying to eat. The oldest (perhaps a freshman among them) is acting like a social rooster, pecking down the awkwardness of the younger guys, strutting for the girls sitting nearby, nudging the smallest one of out of the booth with his rear end… over and over.

I’ve been praying for several minutes about the best way to respond.

And then…

the others all suddenly had to leave. They hopped on bikes and peddled out. He looked like he was waiting for a ride – it was just him and I. I didn’t move toward him, but stood up while holding my drink and spoke.

Me: (slurp) “So, are you the oldest?”

Him: (a bit startled that I’m talking to him) “Huh? Oh, yeah.” (he smiles… like a security blanket… I’m “bigger than he is.”)

Me: “They look up to you, you know.”

Him: (he pauses, as if to realize it) “Oh, yeah. I guess.”

Me: (a half-step slower this time) “They look up to you.”

Him: (he catches my eye) “Yeah.”

Me: “Use that wisely.”

Him: (another pause) “Yeah…” (another pause) “…yeah.”

I go to get a refill, and return. A couple minutes later he heads out to catch his ride.

As he passes, he says, “Hey, see ya!”


Changing the world? Speaking Life into life? Serving students?

Maybe it happens just like this.

“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.” (Colossians 4:5)