(This is the promised 3rd and final post in this series on using older folks in our YM. Phyliss’ story of being 76 and how God called her to do her part with girls at camp is a wake up for us all. Read her thoughts for yourself. – Stephanie) 

My adventure began with an intriguing question: “Would you like to be the Camp Grandma at our Soul Sisterhood Retreat Camp Grandmanext summer?” My reply to Amanda was, “What is a Camp Grandma and tell me about the job description!” I’ll never forget her answer: “Just be there for the girls and love them up.”

Now I have participated in six sessions of Soul Sisterhood retreats and I am so glad that I accepted that invitation. Over the years I realize that what I enjoy most is meeting new people and learning their stories. This new challenge and experience at Soul Sisterhood retreats gives me carte blanche in interacting with these young girls.

The campers come to South Fork Farm with their dreams, expectations, challenges and, for those who have never experienced a sleep-away camp, there is even some apprehension. Most of them seem very confident and sociable, especially if they come with good friends or relatives. They immediately jump into action, enjoying the chatter and activities of camp. But in every group there are those who seem somewhat shy and unsure. I gravitate toward these “slow starters” who linger on the edges of the activities. I feel somehow that because I am an older woman and the “grandma” figure, they sense that I am not judging them. If I ask them about their families, their pets, their favorite food, their favorite vacation experience, they will open up. When that happens – when that shy frown turns into a glowing smile – my heart soars!   This is my greatest joy – to see that young lady share a part of herself with me.

Another gift of being Camp Grandma is the lift that I receive from experiencing the girls’ energy and curiosity. These campers are filled with hope and plans for the future. They are talented and driven to make a difference in their world. Also, they seem to enjoy hearing my frequent anecdotes about the “olden days” when I was their age. All of this exposure to their youth and innocence makes me hopeful for what lies ahead in this country.

Most importantly for me in my role as Camp Grandma is my hope that I play a part in helping these campers realize that our lives are all entwined and connected. We are all daughters of our King and Lord. They see our staff working together, supporting each other and showing respect for our differences. If I had a quarter for every time one of us says “Great job!” to a camper or to another staff member, I would be a very rich Grandma.

This Soul Sisterhood ministry is vitally important in developing the faith lives of each camper. Amanda has created a wonderful experience. She has given the campers an opportunity to witness the love, support, devotion of each other and of the staff members. I feel privileged to have been invited to be a part of this project. My prayer is that I will be able physically and mentally to play the role for many years.




My buddy Matt, the youth pastor at our Irvine Campus, and I just returned from helping launch Saddleback’s first international youth ministry in Manila.

The week was filled with hype, hope, and hard work around the launch. In fact, we were talking so much about “Week 1″ that I finally felt compelled to remind them that we were launching a youth ministry, not just a one-time event. Brittany Hinzo, who helps me with our international stuff had delivered a beautiful little baby girl just a few days earlier so I used her as a launching pad.

“Remember how excited we all were to hear about Brittany’s new baby girl, Navy? Guys, anybody can have a baby! The reality is the birthing process is the easy part; anybody can do that. What’s tough is raising a baby! While I’m just as excited as you about the launch, and largely responsible for creating this excitement, I’m more concerned about week #2 and week #28 and week #84 than I am about week #1″

Youth workers are notorious for new ideas, big plans and fireworks. We love “having babies”! And we are often equally notorious for being terrible at raising them. We have programs we never should have birthed, we are neglecting the health of important things because we are excitedly birthing new things. etc.

We love to ask each other what we are doing that is new, fresh and exciting and rarely ask each other what things we have been doing faithfully for 5 or 6 years that are bearing good fruit.

So while I’m excited about the birth of Saddleback Student Ministry’s addition to the family in Manila, I realize that anybody can have a baby. Can we raise one? I hope so.

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- Amber / @youthministry

(This is the promised 2nd post from my friend, Amanda Berger, about how she’s recruited a “Camp Grandma” the past two years for her summer camp organization. Read Amanda’s philosophy, then stay tuned in a few days to hear straight from the 76 year old grandma herself.)

Camp Grandma

If I had to name the MVP of our summer retreat staff, there would be no competition. Hands down, it is our Camp Grandma, Phyliss. She mesmerizes the participants with her stories and loves them up with hugs, personalized notes, and asking all kinds of questions.

The summer camp I run is called The Soul Sisterhood Retreat. It’s a creativity-focused, 5-day experience that uses the creative arts to deepen girls’ relationships with God, develop their creativity, and boost their confidence. We do other normal camp stuff like Bible study, games, campfire and worship, but the core of our retreat is to use creativity as a way for girls to dig deep into their faith and their identity.

Phyliss is our relational ministry powerhouse. While the rest of the retreat staff are also responsible for building relationships with the girls, the directors and counselors are also scrambling to plan, implement, and run our daily activities. Phyliss sits on the front porch of our 1920’s farmhouse retreat and tells stories from her amazing life. She was a Pan Am flight attendant during the early 1970’s and has travelled the globe. She tells a heart-wrenching story of giving up a baby for adoption (born out of wedlock) and finding that child again 20-plus years later–a story full of forgiveness, reconciliation and hope that no one ever forgets.  Phyliss is a gifted singer and loves to read and knit, and has a slight obsession with Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes (an important connection point with several participants this year).

Our camp grandma studies hard for her job, making sure she has the scoop on each of the 12 girls joining us during each retreat week. Prior to camp, each girl fills out an “All about Me” form, telling about themselves, their likes and dislikes, hopes and fears. Phyliss spends hours poring over their answers to find points of connection and similar interests. She’s able to tease out information and stories from the girls the rest of us had no idea were inside. And she writes beautiful, heartfelt notes to each participant telling them how wonderful and amazing they are.

Phyliss is intentional about finding the girls who don’t fit in quite as well or who are super shy or introverted. She deliberately focuses on drawing them out of themselves and into the experience around them. She asks about their artwork, ooh-ing and aah-ing over what they’ve created. She cheers and encourages, and even comforts those who are feeling a little homesick.

Girls learn how to be mature followers of Christ by watching the faithful women around them–women of all ages. I cannot imagine our retreat without the wisdom, compassion, patience, and insight that having our Camp Grandma brings. She is truly a treasure!

This article was written by Amanda Berger, director of The Soul Sisterhood Retreat, based in Plymouth, Minnesota. For more information about The Soul Sisterhood Retreat and their ministry, check out thesoulsisterhood.com.


The countdown clock has been ticking for a while, and it’s set for Monday morning. That’s when everything changes. On Monday, I board the plane with a few other folks and we head off to Manila to launch Saddleback’s first global youth ministry. The picture above is of our final video conference with their team. It’s about to get real in a hurry!

The idea of coaching/overseeing youth ministry in local churches across the globe (Buenos Aires, Hong Kong and Berlin are coming very soon) is both exciting and daunting. I’ve known it was coming for over 18 months and now that it’s here, it really does feel like a bit of a ministry and life game changer. I’m hoping the youth ministry nation would be willing to pray for us sometime during the next week or so as we get ready to launch!

Specifically pray for Erick (he’s the guy on the bottom left picture). Erick is our part-time youth director in Manila. He’s a young married guy with FIVE kids! He’s fantastic, and he’s in way over his head. Pray that God would give him wisdom, energy, time-management skills and favor with students, families and potential youth leaders. My world changes the moment I step on the plane to Manila…his changes the moment I step off!

Manila bound,



stop light


Ok, so I am a zealot. I admit it. I need every activity I do with students to have a purpose or a point. No one has ever accused me of being the silly youth leader, especially not the youth. Oh, I have drunk the raw eggs and thrown everyone’s shoes in the middle of the room, but not without a well communicated message about God’s unique plan or the dangers of food poisoning. It is a character flaw really.

However, there is a method to my madness. I always want my lessons/programs/activities to be a piece of a bigger puzzle. And what is that puzzle? It is the picture of what I want my youth to look like after having been through all the “programs” in my church and ministry. To steal a cliché, “I begin with the end in mind”.

When is the last time you have asked yourself what type of youth you are trying to produce, and then purposely came up with a plan or a program to grow them in that direction? When is the last time you sat with the Lord and asked His opinion on this?

If it has been a while, I think it is well worth your effort to think about the following questions:

  • What do I hope a student “looks like” after being in my program for 4-7 years?
  • What qualities will they exhibit?
  • What kind of Christian will they be?
  • Will they be leaders?
  • Do they have a heart for discipleship or are they evangelists or both?
  • Are they learning how to be on a journey with Jesus day to day and into tomorrow?

These are just a few ideas. What other questions would help you picture your kids in the future?

Last week, I talked about using metaphors to make your messages stick.

Now, here is a list of metaphors you could use. It may be an idea starter for you for a message or happen to fit with something you are already speaking on.

Rock/Stone – This has all sorts of possibilities. You could use it when you are talking about the stoning of Stephen. It could symbolize Jesus as the chief cornerstone. It could be something you hand out to all the students and let them write on it with a Sharpie a name of Jesus that is significant to them. It could represent sin and give everyone a stone to throw into a body of water and talk about God forgetting their sin when you confess it to Him.470783625

Gummy Bears – Place them in the sun in your car (still in the bag) and let them melt. You can do it quicker in a microwave, but that lessens the point. Then talk about how the sun melted the gummy bears together just like the Son melts us together. (total cheese…maybe you just want to do slices of American cheese instead..haha). Talk about unity here.

Arts & Crafts – Something your young child (or someone else’s child) has made that does not have a lot of skill. It could represent the opposite of what it took to create us and the world. You could use it to talk about love. (the love that was put into it, even though it is not perfect it becomes something of beauty when you know who made it and why).

Scented candle – Light it before your meeting starts and allow it to change the smell of the room. Talk about how we are a fragrance of Christ (2 Corinthians 2:15). A small candle can have an affect on en entire room, so can one person have an affect on a school/community/family/world.

Hexbug - Turn one on and watch it aimlessly move around. It is much like so many people who have no direction in life. God gives us purpose and direction.

Digital Camera - Talk about snapshots of life. Those moments that you remember. Are they things you are doing that you want to remember or do you wish you could press the delete button? Consider the choices you make every day.

These were a few things sitting in my office. You can use anything! Get creative. Not feeling that creative? Send me an email with some things from your office or your home and I would be happy to help you with a few ideas. Hit me up at erikwithak777 at gmail dot com


A leadership principal I’ve adhered to for years, and tried to help others recognize is that “The pendulum almost always swings back”.

In organizations and in culture things change, futures are predicted, proclamations made, trends noticed etc. Oftentimes this results in a sudden pendulum swing toward the “new way”. Folks who want to make sure the change sticks, or anxious leaders afraid to be late to the new party, often respond aggressively to the swing. As a result new rules and policies are implemented, articles and books are written, and seminars are taught.

But in time….usually not a drastically long time…the pendulum swings back. Maybe not all the way back to the old ways, but back to what is a more accurate “new way” or “new normal”. The pendulum swing was a good thing because it ultimately helped things progress…but they almost never progress as far as the initial swing.

The best, most recent, youth ministry example of this is the issue of faith abandonment; or more specifically the cause of faith abandonment. Suddenly the pendulum swung (or is it swang?) and youth ministry was to blame for most of the church’s problems. Everything we had ever believed about youth ministry was being questioned at best, or under attack at worst. We were doing it all wrong….or the fact that we were doing it so well was actually doing it wrong because it created a shallow, undeveloped faith in students. And there was some truth in all of that; SOME truth.

But if you’ve been paying attention, you’ve seen that the pendulum has already begun to swing back to the middle…not all the way back to the old ways, but back to what is a more accurate “new normal”.

Below are just a couple of recent examples of the pendulum swinging back:

Ed Stetzer

Mark Matlock

I’m glad we had a pendulum swing because it forced us to take an honest look at this beautiful mess called youth ministry. I’m sad some folks jumped on board the pendulum too early, giving a black eye to something that I don’t feel deserved it. And I’m thrilled that the pendulum is beginning to swing back to a new normal!