What Defines Your Youth Ministry? Jesus-Centered Youth Ministry


Jesus-Centered Youth Ministry

Moving from Jesus-Plus to Jesus-Only

by Rick Lawrence

There’s a surging hunger among teenagers for Jesus. In fact, that desire is so deep, it’s #1 on their “wish list” for what they’d like to talk about at church. So what would a youth ministry look like if it shifted toward a passionate, persistent, and permeating focus on drawing students into a closer orbit around Jesus? Inside the pages of Jesus-Centered Youth Ministry, you’ll discover the foundation for a ministry that is Jesus-centered, along with the bricks for building it. You’ll discover that not only is it possible to create this kind of ministry, it’s also essential that you pursue this path.

READ CHAPTER 1 . . . . . . . . . . . . BUY NOW

Thanks for loving students!

Jake Rasmussen and the SYM Team

Call Jake at 866.9.simply with questions


If I ask you why you care students are in your youth ministry, you will probably say something about helping them growing in “their faith.”  I inquire, “Okay, who do you want them to be?” You say something about them being fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ.

Yet, if we are honest when we take a step back and look at how we RUN our ministries, it is not always with the end “result” in mind. We plan a calendar, take trips, run small groups, and do activities. Some of us will say our focus needs to be helping parents disciple their children, others say we need to build student leaders, outreach, share the Gospel, or simply pour into our youth. However, I would contend there are two questions that should drive everything we do in our ministries.

1.  When a student leaves us, what will they look like?

I, of course, am not talking about their voice and body changing into an adult. Let’s say a family enters your church and has a baby. This baby grows up in the church through all the ministries and then graduates, leaves home, and heads out into the “real world.” Who is that young adult? A fully devoted follower of Christ? What does that mean? Do they read their Bible everyday, tell others about Christ,  pray often, and enter the mission field?  What is it? How is everyone in your church working together to see this happen?  The time of the “siloh” between nursery, children, youth and adults needs to be over. What are we doing to work together to grow our children?  Let’s stop “starting over” every time our kids enter a new phase of life, and instead see each of us as part of their journey into their lives as a someone taking the world for Christ.

2.  How does what we are doing “influence” who they are becoming?

The second question has to do with our programming and approach. There was a time where I would say the main question we needed to ask before embarking on anything was, “How does this build a relationship?” That is still vital, and it’s a great filter. Yet, still we have a tendency to make plans based on who is standing in front of us today,  not in the future. When we plan this way, we run everything we do through a sieve of purpose. It helps us know what not to take on, and what might need readjusting. So you take students on a missions trip yearly. Why? How is this part of the journey in the Lord? What do you need to do to get them ready or to follow up with them afterwards? Are you teaching them about service and why that matters when they are 8 or 9-years-old and again and again before the trip ever happens? This helps with equipping parents and growing the body of Christ as a whole.

These are not questions we can ask once, but often. I contend they should be asked anytime the church does anything. At least quarterly, sit down as a full staff and see how you are working together. It doesn’t really matter if a student jumps in when they are 5 or 15-years-old.  When we do ministry this way we are all about moving with Jesus all the time.

Are you asking these questions?



When Kayla was born, Rachel and I made an immediate decision that has fundamentally shaped our approach to raising kids. It was a decision based on a reality: Our kids didn’t choose to be born into a pastor’s family! My wife and I together choose the way of ministry, of our own free will. It was forced upon Kayla and Cole from the moment they entered the world.

And so we determined to raise our kids not in a “Pastor’s home,” but in a “Two parents who follow Jesus” home. Obviously, ministry and church life have saturated the fabric of our family. Kayla and Cole have been raised as Pastor’s kids and we wouldn’t have it any other way. But we strived to, and mostly succeeded at, letting our faith in Christ dictate how we raise our kids instead of the expectations, pressures and spotlight of being a Pastor.

Here are a few super practical examples:

- We have never (I truly believe, NEVER) expected anything more from our children because of my position than we would if I were, say, a Christian dad who fixes cars for a living.

- “What happens in youth group stays in youth group”. Here’s what I mean by that: I rarely share with parents about their kid’s minor youth ministry infractions. When a kid is rowdy during the lesson, we deal with it in youth group and move on…his/her parents would almost never even know it happened. So Rachel and I determined we would treat our kids the same way. When one of our kids goofed up or misbehaved in youth group, it was dealt with just like any other student….and then left in the youth room, just like any other student.

- We have ruthlessly defended their right to be normal kids. Our kids deserve the “right” to go through all the normal adolescent stuff: awkward dating breakups, ditching small group to see a movie, making a poor decision or two…or three. When people have raised a “Kurt’s kids should be above this” eyebrow, we have been quick to defend our kids and protect them from the goofy pressure that members of the congregation put on PK’s.

- We gave them very few “perks”. Entitled PK’s drive me nuts. The Pastor’s kid who doesn’t think the rules apply to her. The Pastor’s Kid who knows the rules don’t apply to him, because he has been allowed to fudge on the rules over and over again. Our kids had some perks (attending most of our camps and events when they were little), but not many.

Anybody out there want to share one or two ways you’ve tried to “normalize” the childhood of your ministry children?

Hey Simply Insiders!

There are a million and one theories, strategies, and methods out there for how to approach youth ministry. In Rick Lawrence’s new book, Jesus-Centered Youth Ministry, all those tactics are sliced through to get back to the core of who youth ministry is truly about- Jesus. It’s all about moving from Jesus-plus to Jesus-only in a life-altering and ministry-changing way. The book was originally written 8 years ago, but this edition has 75% fresh content derived from what Rick has learned since its first print.

Check out the video below to hear Rick share about his heart behind Jesus-Centered Youth Ministry, and be sure to click here to learn more and purchase your copies!

Want to win a copy of Jesus-Centered Youth Ministry for each person on your youth team?

Share a photo on Instagram of your youth team with the caption “All of us at [insert church or ministry name here] can’t wait to read the new Jesus-Centered Youth Ministry by Rick Lawrence! #ymnation @simplyyouthministry”

*Don’t forget to tag us! Winner will be announced tomorrow (3.20.14). This is an Instagram only contest!


“All of us at SYM can’t wait to read the new “Jesus-Centered Youth Ministry” by Rick Lawrence! #ymnation @simplyyouthministry”

Happy ‘Gramming Insiders,



It seems like everywhere I turn these past weeks I have had conversations with those in ministry as to whether or not I will be taking students (or friends, or anyone) to see the “Son Of God” or “Noah, ” movies that are both sonofGodbeing released this month.

In the Christian community we have many thoughts on movies “like this.”  On the one hand they are big budget movies with a wide national release.  We love the movies like, “Facing the Giants,” but these are different.  They  are “top tier” movies that give us the ability to show our “unchurched” friends that these “stories” from the Bible are powerful and relevant.   However, I also have seen some annoyance at the continued portrayal of Jesus with perfectly white teeth and obviously blow dried hair.  In Noah, I have heard moans at the fact that Russell Crowe is playing a man from the Middle East.

noah_movie_poster_1It’s easy to either over or under emphasize movies like this. Churches are buying out entire theaters to encourage their patrons to attend and take friends. They want to show “Hollywood” that indeed those of us in the “Christian community” will make the time to see something like this. In contrast, I have friends who have declared they will not “give money to more misrepresentation of the Bible.”

I admit it, when “The Passion of the Christ” was released we took over 200 students to see it on the big screen. It is still a movie that shows a powerful representation of the days leading up to and the crucifixion of Jesus. While we all love to see Charlton Heston play Moses, (even decades later) there are some things we need to keep in mind when it comes to the Bible based movie and our students.

Personally,  I am not sure if I would take “ALL” of the students and their families to see these films, but I would (and probably will) take some. What do we do to prepare?


Take the time to go through the actual Bible passages with those in your programs and tell them what might be coming. We know that Jesus didn’t “stand out” based on his ugly or gorgeous appearance. It was dusty and people walked everywhere, there wasn’t “Crest” to perfect the smile. Noah and his family did not have British accents (Can someone explain to me why this is the go to accent for all movies in history?). No, Hermione was not Noah’s daughter in law. What might they encounter that IS and IS NOT in the actual Word?

It’s A Movie:

There is a cool scene from the Noah trailer that shows the flood springing up from the ground and the sky. This is the first time I have ever seen anyone acknowledge that it may not have been just a lot of rain that brought water over the earth. No matter how awesome it is,  WE WILL NEVER REALLY KNOW what everything looked like. Someone told me recently how wonderful it was to see the way Jesus walked around on earth and interacted with people. Let’s remember, this is one person’s interpretation of that.

Great Conversation Starters:

Don’t throw the “baby out with the bathwater” as they say. These movies are great conversation starters, and people are interested. I think many of us are intrigued to whether or not the “stories” of the Bible could be fascinating on the “big screen”.  If nothing else they are epic stories. Go to the movie with some students and talk about it afterwards. Even if they don’t care what was “really” in the Bible, what are the concepts about faith and trust and God that you can use to get a conversation rolling?

Personally, I will take some students to see these movies. Actually, we had a great time in one of my small groups recently walking through the story of Noah, line by line. One of my Seniors actually declared, “I hope they show it took over 100 years for him to build that monster in the middle of a desert!”  It was a great time to discuss what “poetic license” is.  We don’t know any conversations Noah had with anyone outside of God during the building of the ark. We do know he was the ONLY person on earth listening to or caring about a relationship with God. We also know that God told him to do this crazy thing and he did it. Finishing up, I asked them, “Could you have faith like Noah?”  We talked about having a relationship with the Lord that is SO close you will do ANYTHING. It was fun and inviting, and they can’t wait to see it. We will go together. Then after we see it., we will make a “day of it” to go out and talk about it.  What a great way to really tell them what we think about the Lord and what a relationship with Him looks like. We get an inside scoop to hear their thoughts as well.

How about you?  How are you using these movies for the Lord?



When we started raising our kids, it seemed like Rachel and I had an obvious decision to make: Follow somebody’s prescribed “steps to raising Godly children” or figure it out on our own with scripture, prayer, the wisdom of others, and our own common sense leading the way. We opted for option #2. We’ve never followed a pre-determined plan. We’ve made small tweaks and massive adjustments along the way. We’ve treated our two children very similarly in some ways and completely different in others. It’s been quite a journey, we’re not finished yet…but there is a sort of “finish line” in sight.

But we didn’t use a completely “off the hip” approach to parenting. Even though we knew we were going to take it day-by-day, we did have a goal in mind. In essence, we started our parenting journey with the end in mind. We knew what we hoped for our kids, even though we weren’t sure how (or if) we would see it come to fruition.

Our goal: To help Kayla and Cole become independent, life-long followers of Jesus.

Independent: We don’t want them living in our spare bedroom when they are 30.
Life-long followers of Jesus: Jesus. Not “god”. Not a denomination. Not a certain tradition. Not a denomination. JESUS.

College? We’d like it (Kayla is currently in her second year) but not a goal.
Marriage? Sure. If they marry somebody else who is a life-long follower of Jesus.
Financial Security? Beyond being able to provide for themselves and family? Nice, but not a goal.
Servants? Leaders? Contributors to Society? Integrity? Generous? We’re hoping being a life-long follower of Jesus will sort that all out for them.

I’m sure as you read this some are resonating with the simplicity while others are shouting at their computer screen, “Come on Johnstons, rais the freakin’ bar!”

Here’s some homework between now and my next parenting post (not sure when that will be…it’s not the only thing I’ll post about): Get together with your spouse and write a little “parenting purpose statement”, or one or two sentences that describe what your ultimate goal(s) are for your children. Yours may be much more detailed than ours, which is probably an okay thing! I think this exercise is important because even though there isn’t a perfectly prescribed parenting plan out there, you don’t want to shoot blindly in the dark, either.

Parenting 101: Start with the end in mind.


Kurt / @kurtjohnston

P.S.- Here is a great new resource on parenting! Check out Bold Parenting by Lars Rood to learn more about raising your children to be more than just rule-keepers but have a deep faith of their own.

My daughter, Kayla, is 19 and a sophomore in college. She has become a big fan of the writing and speaking ministry of Bill Hybels’ daughter, Shauna Niequist. So I really wasn’t surprised to see her mention and link to one of her recent blog posts. But I have to admit, I was a little surprised, and almost instantly started sobbing like a little baby, to see which blog post she linked to, and her comment about it.

Screen shot 2014-03-12 at 8.52.31 AM

Raising children in church ministry is tough, and there is no perfect formula. But there is hope! Your church isn’t perfect and neither is mine, but there is hope! Your parenting style and skill set isn’t perfect and neither is mine, but there is hope! Your children aren’t perfect and neither are mine, but there is hope!

For years, people have asked Rachel and I for insight into raising kids in a ministry setting, and for years we’ve been having little coffee shop conversations with couples here and there but hesitant to do much more than that. But with your permission, which includes an understanding that there is no prescription to healthy parenting and our way is only that….our way…and that our kids our still wrestling through what it means to follow Jesus as young adults, I’ll begin from time to time to post a few things we’ve learned over the years that may serve as some hope and help for you as you attempt to raise your children while ministering in a local church setting.

Introducing Micro-trainings, happening in the Resource Center on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at #SYMC 2014!

Don’t miss out on these times below! There are 2 options for every 30-minute time slot.SYM sunday 1_15

Here’s the breakdown of the times, and then find the descriptions of each micro-training underneath:


4:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.     - Fundraising for the Big Event with Toby Rowe

- Simply Youth Ministry TOOLS Overview: Helping You Work Smarter  with Jake Rasmussen

4:30 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.    – Life Long DiscplesThrough Short Term Missions with Brent Bromstrup

- LIVE Curriculum Demo with Matty McCage



8:15 a.m. – 8:45 a.m. –   Fundraising for the Big Event with Toby Rowe

- Tips for Developing and Deploying Student Leaders by Jeff Wallace

1:15 p.m. – 1:45 p.m.  -  Domestic Missions with Brent Bromstrup

-  Simply Youth Ministry TOOLS Overview: Helping You Work Smarter with Jake Rasmussen

1:45 p.m. – 2:15 p.m.  -   Go Big, Go International: Making Overseas Trips Happen with Students with Jobe Lewis

-  Simply Youth Group Q&A with Toby Rowe

4:45 p.m. –  5:15 p.m.  - One Day Missions with Jeff Thompson

- Engaging Conversation with Jeff Wallace

5:15 p.m. – 5:45 p.m.  - Convincing Parents That Mission Matter with Jake Rasmussen and Tony Myles

- Simply Youth Group Full Demo with Toby Rowe



8:15 a.m. – 8:45 a.m. -   Domestic Missions with Brent Bromstrup

- Maximizing the iPad (in your Ministry) with Brandon Early

1:15 p.m. – 1:45 p.m.  -  Go Big, Go International with Jobe Lewis 

- Maximizing Your Time: How to Be More Productive Without Pulling Your Hair Out or Dropping the Ball with Melissa Rau

1:45 p.m. – 2:15 p.m.  -  Using Service to Create a Servants’ Hearts with Toby Rowe

Tech Tips Every Youth Worker Needs to Know with Brandon Early

4:45 p.m. –  5:15 p.m.  - Transform Your Community: Host a Mission Event with Jeff Thompson

- Simply Youth Ministry TOOLS Team with Jake Rasmussen

5:15 p.m. – 5:45 p.m.  - Designing Epic Mystery Trips with Tony Myles

- Establishing a Youth Ministry Teaching Calendar: Create a Plan for Long-term Impact with Melissa Rau

Micro-training Descriptions:

  • Quick Connect on Domestic Missions, with Brent Bromstrup and Workcamps and Week of Hope (Brent, 30 minutes)

Join this quick, informative conversation and learn how your youth group can change lives and impact communities across the US. You?l hear about options, details, best-practices in preparing, and have time for Q&A. Featuring the ministries of Workcamps and Week of Hope.

  • Quick Connect on International Missions, with Jobe Lewis and Lifetree Adventures (Jobe, 30 minutes)

Considering heading outside the US on a mission trip? Bring your questions, concerns, and curiosities to the resident experts on international mission adventures. You?l leave this time with the information and excitement you need to experience the mission adventure of a lifetime with your students.

  • Quick Connect on One Day Mission Events, with Jeff Thompson and The Big Day of Serving (JT, 30 minutes)

Is there an area of your town or city in need of desperate help? Or a recent disaster that is more than your church can handle? Come and learn how the Big Day of Serving can come along side your church or community to rally hundreds of people to be the hands and feet of Jesus and grow in their relationship with him at the same time.

  • Convincing Parents that Missions Matter (Tony and Jake, 30 minutes)

Struggling to get your parents as excited about missions as you and even your students are? Stop in to learn the best strategies, tips, and answers to overcome even the most stubbornly opposed parent. And we? l talk about the big prize becoming parents?partners in pointing their teens toward Jesus.

  • Fundraising for the Big Event (Toby, 30 minutes)

Don’t let the fear of fundraising keep your group from going someplace big! Come and discover successful fundraising strategies for large trips that will put your checkbook in the black. We?l share our best ideas for raising money from sources outside your congregation, learn how to create a fundraising plan, and more.

  • Making Lifelong Disciples through Short Term Missions (Brent, 30 minutes)

Your next short term mission trip can be the beginning of a lifetime of following Jesus. In 30 minutes, you?l learn how to make that happen through careful planning, intentional times of reflection, and effective follow up.

  • Go Big, Go International: Making Overseas Trips Happen with Students (Jobe and Robin, 30 minutes)

Feeling like you want to take your kids on an international mission trip, but don’t? have the know-how or expertise to get it done? Your students and the people you? l serve will thank you for spending these intensive 30 minutes learning the best practices and preparation for leading a trip beyond our borders.

  • Using Service to Create a Servant’s Heart (Toby, 30 minutes)

Discover ways to transform the hearts of your students through immersing them in service. Together, we?l explore ways to shape a Jesus-focused and others-centric youth ministry. The result a youth ministry that has the heartbeat of Jesus as it changes the world.

  • Transform Your Community: Host a Mission Event (JT, 30 minutes)

Have you ever thought about bringing the impact and influence of a mission trip to your hometown? Stop in to learn what it would take to host a mission event, from one day to a full week, or more. You can begin the process of transforming your community with this one conversation.

  • Simply Youth Group – How-to and Q&A (Toby and Matty, 30 minutes)

Learn how Simply Youth Group can help you have an awesome youth ministry while freeing you to spend time with your students. We’ll cover what it is, what it does, what to expect, and how to best use it. Q&A time included.

  •  LIVE Curriculum Demo (Matty, 30 minutes)

Want a conversational curriculum that guides teenagers toward a Jesus-centered life? Then come check out LIVE a workable, adjustable framework that can be adjusted to the unique characteristics of your church.

  • Simply Youth Ministry TOOLS Overview: Helping You Work Smarter (Jake, 30 minutes)

Learn how to use TOOLS to free you up so you can spend time doing what matters most. You?l get the big picture of how all the TOOLS resources fit together and how they can benefit you and your ministry.

  • Simply Youth Ministry TOOLS Communicate: Ensuring Your Message is Always Heard (Jake, 30 minutes)

You need volunteers right now – to fill in the gaps in your youth ministry. We?l help you with the process of gathering, screening and training a stellar team. Includes a TOOLS Team demo. Discover how to best use the current avenues of communication to get your message to students, parents, volunteers and more. Includes a TOOLS Communicate demo.

  • Simply Youth Ministry TOOLS Team: Discover Amazing Ways to Recruit, Screen, and Train Volunteers (Jake, 30 minutes)

Learn how to let TOOLS keep track of who? attending and who? missing, so you know who to follow up with this week. Includes a TOOLS Events demo.

  • Simply Youth Ministry TOOLS Events: Don? Let Students Slip Through the Cracks (Jake, 30 minutes)

Learn how to let TOOLS keep track of who? attending and who? missing, so you know who to follow up with this week. Includes a TOOLS Events demo.

  • Simply Youth Group Full Demo and Talk Back (Toby and Matty, 60 minutes on Sunday)

Walk through an entire program of Simply Youth Group. Experience the fun, the thought provoking content, and the deep, Jesus-centered discussions that can be delivered to you every week. And give us your feedback that will help shape future SYG programs.

  • Tech Tips Every Youth Worker Needs to Know (Brandon Early, 30 minutes)

With new tech gadgets, apps, and tricks coming out faster than anyone can keep up, how is a youth worker supposed to know which to implement and which to ignore. Stop in to learn the essential and most effective tech tips that will keep you and your students connected and moving forward in ministry. Time for Q&A and how-to.

  • Engaging Conversation and Great Questions: The Keys to Limitless Spiritual Growth (Jeff Wallace, 30 minutes)

Your students (and probably your entire church) have moved past the days of hoping for another great 45 minute message. But leading open discussions is hard, and every time you ask your teens a question, they just sit there! Come and learn the skills of how to guide your students to a deep connection with Christ through conversations and questions.

  •  Establishing a Youth Ministry Teaching Calendar: Create a Plan for Long-term Impact (Melissa Rau, 30 minutes)

Give your students the best shot at growing closer to Jesus while making the greatest impact through your teaching and content. How? By learning the art of creating a teaching calendar. Join us to see how a daunting task can be made simple in a few easy steps, and propel your kids into a deeper faith.