One of the things that the Lord has really put on my heart recently is encouragement. So far, I have realized two things about encouragement: 1) Encouragement is powerful – with just a few words, we are able to affirm, refuel, and inspire others, and 2) encouragement is a gift.  I am blown away by the fact that we have the ability to use our mouths to build each other up.  We can be used by the Lord to communicate His love to His children!  Crazy!

When we encourage others, we are glorifying the Lord.  We are appreciating the unique ways that He has gifted His creation.  We are celebrating the fact that He uses sinners to do incredible things for His Kingdom.  Because encouragement is so important, we need to make sure that we are practicing it in our lives!  In order to make the most with this gift, we should keep a few things in mind:

  • Be specific.  If you have an incredible small group leader in your ministry, don’t just say, “You’re doing a great job.”  Let them know why they are doing a great job.  Talk to them about the gifts you have seen them use.  Talk to them about the impact they are making in their students’ lives.
  • Be authentic.  Don’t say anything you don’t mean!  Giving out insincere encouragement will quickly make your words useless.  Empty words are a waste of the incredible gift that the Lord has given us and can even be damaging to someone’s growth.
  • Be thankful. A great way to encourage others is to thank them.  Celebrate the awesome ways that the Lord has used them.  Make sure they know how much of a blessing they have been in your life and ministry.
  • Be observant.  Capitalize on unique opportunities for encouragement.  Notice the moment when a student steps outside of their comfort zone on a serving trip.  Take the time to write letters of affirmation to your graduating seniors.  This also means that you are making sure you see those that don’t often get praise, the unsung heroes.

Spend time in prayer about this.  Pray for the ability to look at others in the same way that Jesus looks at them.

I challenge you to spend some time thinking about the person in your life that needs encouragement.  Go out of your way this week to write them a letter or pull them aside for an intentional conversation.

Colton Harker is the Student Leadership Coordinator at Saddleback HSM.  If you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact him at or on twitter at @ColtonHarker.

I was asked recently why/how I got into youth ministry. I told him clearly it was for the money!

After we had a good hearty laugh (sigh), I described how my great youth ministry experience as a student and in particular thinking my youth pastor was super cool got me thinking about getting into the ministry for myself. Besides giving him the Sunday school answer of “because God told me to” these were definitely catalysts the Lord used to make his calling me into ministry much more clear as I graduated high school.

This answer, however, spurred another question. He said, “You seem like a guy who students would think is cool, but you’re also a young guy. Will your coolness expire as you get older?”

I told him confidently that love, care, presence, and availability for students and a passion for God will always make me cool. It’s not about my clothes (lame), my knowledge of Justin Bieber or Kate Upton trivia (lacking), or my taste in movies and TV (vastly superior). It’s about pursuing God and being willing to engage students so they can do the same. I told him there were tons of youth pastors in their 40’s and 50’s and even more volunteers that age and older. It was a great opportunity to share the awesomeness of youth workers, especially the veterans!

I only hope I can be an effective youth worker 20 years from now and not take the sucker bait to accept the demotion to adult ministry… Well, unless God tells me to.

Matt Johnston is the High School Pastor at Journey of Faith in Manhattan Beach, CA. If you’re into it, you can check him out on twitter here and he blogs occasionally here. Also, be praying for him as he’s a Dodgers fan and baseball season is about to start. It will be a rough 6 months.

Meeting with my one of my volunteers recently we talked about her small group, how it was going, how she was engaging with them and she confessed that she felt she was just not a good small group leader. I was astonished; she is a gifted, Jesus-loving, hard-working leader who has been one of our core team members for years. I needed to know why she was feeling this way and for how long… and I quickly discovered that one of the biggest reasons for feeling this way was me.

After years of listening to my sermons, retreats, and anecdotal accounts of my life she felt that; for lack of a better word, she was boring. That was hard to hear, that because of the person that I put myself out to be and all the stories that have I shared from the front she would feel that her life could not measure up and therefore her small group girls could never be satisfied with her. The reality is that I am a pretty boring guy – after all I am a frequent attender of estate auctions, I re-purpose antiques in my garage, sell things I make online, and golf. All of these things are pretty dull to the average teenager. But have I painted a misleading portrait of who I am and what I do, and have made myself out to be a caricature of an actual person? Am I even real to them?

This is a struggle that most pastors (especially youth pastors) have. We end up sharing lots of the crazy stories that have happened to us, including the ones many of us go out of our way to make happen because they might make great illustrations. (One time I drove 5 minutes past my exit of the freeway following a pick up truck full of loaves of bread because I was hoping some would fly out and hit my car – and sure enough three loaves did.) But I really enjoy spending time with students, especially my small group, one-on-one because if anything they get to see that I am a pretty normal guy. The ones that don’t know the real me look at my twitter and Facebook, and it’s one event or conference after another, one more “adventure” that I am on. This highlight reel is not in any way, shape, or form an accurate portrait of my life.

Then what do we do? I would suggest that you do what I try and do and remind people that you are normal, that you watch TV with your wife and cats, that you sometimes clean your garage on Friday nights, I don’t read my Bible all day either and that that’s okay. Remind your leaders that students desire for them to be real, not a superhero leader whose life is not attainable; to be a leader who is authentic, who struggles with things, who loves Jesus, and shows the ins and outs of their relationship with Him. Remind them that their story is God’s story working itself out through them and therefore is valuable and meaningful. Take every opportunity to be real with them and remember to do life with your team as well as your students.

Geoff Stewart is the Pastor of Jr & Sr High School for Journey Student Ministries at Peace Portal Alliance Church and regularly contributes GUEST POSTS to MTDB. Be sure to check out his Twitter stream for awesome ministry goodness. Want to get in on the fun and write up a guest post yourself? See how right here.

Danger: Trusting everything a student tells you. I know most dads want to think the very best about their student. So, for example, if (insert your student’s name) says that they are reading their Bible, most dads take that for face value. When what the student really may be saying is that they are spending one minute looking at the Bible so that they can tell their dad they are reading their Bible.

Solution: Actually engage your student in conversation. Talk with them. Ask questions. Probe the statement they are making. In every arena. Not just Bible reading, but talk with about school, and other activities. Take time to go have Starbucks, cast a line, or go for a drive time and really talk to them. They need it. You need it! This is a form of spiritual protection…knowing about your student.

Danger: Spiritual health is just another aspect of our busy life. Corporate worship, Christian fellowship, and Christian accountability are just other items on our long list of things that we do. In fact, we typically do those things when we don’t have anything else to do (homework, sports practices/games, family trips, attending sporting events, etc…). Students are taught through this behavior that spiritual health is something that we are ultimately concerned with when we have nothing else to do.

Solution: Make spiritual health a priority for your family and its members. Don’t miss corporate worship. Don’t allow your students to make excuses for missing church (i.e. no one else is going, I have too much homework, I have a game, etc..) There are certainly occasions when families miss church (which should be rare). The idea is to promote the importance of Christian fellowship and accountability. When you are forced to be out of town as a family, find a church to attend on Sunday mornings. Communicate to your students that they cannot be involved in extracurricular activities that draw you as a family away from church by playing/performing on Sundays. This reinforces the fact that our spiritual health is the ultimate priority in your family. This too is spiritual protection!

Danger: Tell them what they should be doing, but don’t model it in your own life. They need to see it in you! When is the last time your students saw you tell yourself “No” to something? Yes, you tell them no to things (which by the way is, in many cases, the right thing to do), but they never see you telling yourself “no” for the sake of the gospel and glory of the Lord. In my opinion, this is the greatest exposure to spiritual danger for students. A hypocrite. If there is one thing that a student can recognize and see instantly it’s a hypocrite. Satan can use that to either push them totally away from the faith or damage their faith significantly.

Solution: Students need genuineness. They need to see you talk a big game and live a big game for Christ. They need you to be open and honest with them. They need to know areas in which you struggle and when you mess up (you will!) they need you to man up to your mistakes, ask the Lord and your family for forgiveness, and commit to doing better for the glory of God. Too many dads either don’t allow their students to see who they really are (which makes them hypocrites in the eyes of their students) or they simply aren’t really who they say they are (which is the definition of a hypocrite).

Tony Richmond is the High School Pastor at First Baptist Church Keller in Keller, Texas.

Enjoyed stumbling across this old blog post from Ron Merrell (he was our camp speaker this past summer) about the 4 P’s of Church Stickyness. Program, People, Placement and Promise. Here’s a clip of his thoughts on one of them – head there for the rest:

PEOPLE – Friendly. Welcoming. Diverse. Kind. Warm. Knowledgeable. Genuine. Sincere. Safe. Compassionate. Able to listen. Loving. Respectful. Gentle. Energetic. If these words described everyone in your church, you’d be the most magnetic place in town. And I’m not just thinking about your “greeters” or “staff.” I’m thinking about your congregation. As the Lord does His work in your people, you hope that it produces the qualities above and more! People. But what can you do to develop the second “P” of church, especially when there is a less-than-friendly vibe to your crowd?

This is a hard one, because as a staff person you can create several things to allow people to connect, get them integrated into relationships, feel welcomed initially, etc. But… there’s a difference between “having a church full of winsome, loving, genuine people who go out of their way to greet others” and creating a “greeting team.” The first is better, but WAY harder to create! Focus hard on this one. You can’t train, teach, emphasize, and value real, Christ-like community enough. People WILL tolerate a subpar Program if the People are amazing. But, over the long haul, People will NOT tolerate subpar relationships even if the Program rocks.

Is your church … your youth ministry … sticky?


7 Small Group “Be”s

 —  October 11, 2011 — 1 Comment

Our small groups are kicking off this week – the leaders are trained and we had a fun Meet-N-Greet night so everyone could connect with their new leader and begin to settle in for the school year of groups. We walked students through HSM’s Life Group Covenant and challenged groups to commit to these things:

  • I commit to Honesty – BE REAL (Ephesians 4:15)
  • I commit to Humility – BE 2ND (1 Peter 5:5)
  • I commit to Courtesy – BE THOUGHTFUL (Titus 3:2)
  • I commit to Confidentiality – BE QUIET (Proverbs 16:28)
  • I commit to Consistency – BE ON TIME (Hebrews 10:25)
  • I commit to Bringing My Bible – BE INTENTIONAL (Joshua 1:8)
  • I commit to Accountability – BE ON GUARD (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)

Feel free to use them in your ministry if it is helpful, too!


At the end of HSM’s recent Secrets series we played a wrap-up video that turned out pretty solid. I’m hoping this is an idea we can use for each series – that we end each series by emphasizing the whole arc of the teaching and pull it all together in one final message.


1. Have grace for yourself, and trust Christ IN you!
– When I focused on all the things I could have done better or the mistakes I made I became paralyzed and unable to minister to my students. I learned it was so important for me to have grace for myself and trust that God was bigger than that time I said too much, or didn’t say anything at all, and that He is in me, guiding and using me despite myself.
– Also, don’t be afraid to ask for advice! Talk to other leaders and pick their minds. The Lord has given us all different gifts. More than once I’ve found another leader’s approach to a certain topic helpful.

2. Meet the students where they’re at — full of grace.
– Over half my life group struggles with sex and drinking, BUT they keep coming to group. I try to challenge but never judge, and show them grace and love ALWAYS.

3. Be open and transparent about past struggles — with discretion, of course.
– The first time I met some of my girls was at Summer Camp. It wasn’t until later in the week when I opened up about my past relationships that the girls felt comfortable enough to let me in on the really difficult stuff they had been facing.

4. Hang out together outside of group.
– This helps foster community. The closer your students become as friends the easier it is for them to connect in your group on a deeper level. Even the students that wouldn’t normally bond find they enjoy each other’s company.

5. Hang out with your students one-on-one.
– This is where discipleship happens. In the beginning your students may be apprehensive so hang out two or three-on-one. This is where you have the chance to really hear their hearts and poor into them on a more personal level.

6. Encourage them and let them know you’re available.
– Never underestimate the power of a birthday card or a text letting them know they were missed when they didn’t show up for group that night!

Hope Schoen is an intern on the High School Ministry team at Saddleback Church.