rotary phone

“Does it work?” one of my children asked.

“Yes, it’s plugged into the phone jack, of course it will work,” their grandmother responded.

“How do I use it?” they sat wide eyed.   “Well, you put your finger in the hole of the first number you want to dial and pull it down until it stops, do that with every number until the call goes through.” she explained.

“Can I try it?!?” they wanted to know.

This conversation happened last month between my three Middle School children and their grandmother.  She happens to keep an “old fashioned” rotary phone plugged in.  It’s funny to think a generation not only has never “used” one of these, they can’t recall seeing it before much less it existing in their home.  There was a time when getting in touch with students was as simple as seeing them in person or picking up a phone… that was attached to a cord of some kind. Not so any more.  In person is still the BEST way to communicate with a student or their parent.  However, there are times when we must track them down by other means.  If I want to “know” what’s going on in their lives I have to use different methods. I think this is true of the “churched” and “unchurched” crowd.

It may seem like an oversimplified list,  however to be in the know of my students I literally have to use ALL of the following methods:



The “Old” Faithfuls

Phones and email still remain key ways to communicate. I have one student who loses their phone often, but always checks emails. Another student will only text me. Now with talk to text options on smart phones, conversations are made easy.  There are times when I just need to hear their voice. I always make sure to know if they still have a landline, and who answers it.  These are always are starting places in the dance for communication.


facebook Facebook

My students may ask if you have an account on “The Book.” (It’s what some of my youth call it.)  Sometimes this is the best way to get a message to a student, or a simple reminder on their home page. Starting a youth group page, or events page for trips is usually the easiest place to get all of your students to check and be held accountable.

 kik Kik

“Kik” is a texting app that can be added onto a smart phone, ipod or tablet.  The reality is not all of my students have a phone, or their phone service is turned off from time to time.  This texting app allows you to talk to friends as long as you have “wifi.”  Recently, I had a student with no phone, who never checks Facebook or email.  We finally determined she had this account and we could get her info she needed.

instagram Instagram

More and more of my students are either taking down their Facebook pages, or they simply don’t use them.  Where they are at right now is Instagram.  If a picture is worth a thousand words then this is the place for you to “see” what’s going on in the life of your students.

This may not be true of everyone, however, most of my students currently do not use Twitter.  Vine is the up and coming video looping site and Pinterest is where we go to gather information about an idea. However, the truth is if I really want to “talk” I still approach it “old school,”  I show up and see them face to face.

How do you stay in touch with YOUR students?

Several years ago, as my wife and I were stepping into a new season of Ministry, one of my mentors asked me an incredible question. He said, “What are you consistently and deliberately praying for in your ministry?” At the time, I prayed for our ministry regularly, as I am sure you do as well, but I had never considered a consistent and deliberate prayer request.

In that season, I began to ask God to give me a clear prayer focus for the Student Ministry I led. In the first few years my requests were fairly normal… God help our ministry to do this… Help our kids to be that… I would wake up, and begin each day with prayer, making sure to include that request. In time, I watched God multiply the incredible things He was doing in our ministry (or at least increase my ability to see them).

As I sought this consistent and deliberate prayer focus at the beginning of last year God very clearly turned the attention of my prayer to my own heart. John Calvin once said, “The human heart is a factory of idols.” Powerfully true. You and I have the ability to turn basically anything into an idol. Now, we all know that some idols are easier to identify then others. I wasn’t bowing down in front of a golden calf, or anything, but God quickly revealed that I was beginning to make an idol out of my “ministry.”

Here’s the deal… I am a good Youth Pastor. I am not bragging, it’s just true. I am a good Youth Pastor, and I am sure you are too. In fact, you are probably much better at it then I am… But my concern is this: Some of us are probably better “Pastors” then we are followers of Jesus. As my friend Lance Witt accurately explains it; Jesus is the gift and ministry is simply the box by which we deliver the gift, yet some of us have switched the two.

It seems to me that some of us unintentionally slip into viewing what we get to do as our occupation rather than our calling. If I view my role as an occupation than I can do it, I can make it happen, I can figure it out on my own… If it is a calling, however, than I am in desperate need of the Holy Spirit to help me do what God has asked me to do. We forget that.

I had begun to try and “manufacture” ministry from my own spirit, in my own strength, and in my own direction. I was doing what I thought was best for our kids and our ministry… Some of us subtly believe that we can teach, preach, meet with families, recruit Ministry Partners, hang with kids, and host huge killer events with little to no reliance on the Holy Spirit. At least I did.
So my prayer became simply this: God, help me not try and manufacture ministry, but to be deliberately dependent on You. Praying this everyday of the year (sometimes several times a day) gave me life in ministry like I had never experienced before. It took the pressure off, because I was forced to remember that I am not the Holy Spirit (we all need that reminder sometimes). It restored my energy, and renewed my excitement to see what God was going to do next. It is teaching me to be more thankful. It is helping me to remain open and teachable. Most importantly, it is teaching me to stay out of the way of what God wants to do in and through our ministry.
This question has helped me, and maybe God will use it to help you: Am I trying to “manufacture” ministry, or am I being deliberately dependent on the Spirit of God for every step I take?

The reality is that God’s plans for our respective ministries are far greater than we could ever think or accomplish. The more we try to do in our own power the more we rob ourselves and our students of experiencing all that God has in store. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to miss out on anything God wants to do.

Consider seeking a consistent and deliberate prayer request for your ministry this year. You never know what God might want to teach you…

Ryan McDermott is the RP Director of Student Ministries at Christ Fellowship – Royal Palm, FL. Follow him @ryanmcdermott.

Last week I was able to attend the Holy Trinity Leadership conference at Royal Albert Hall in London. I wrote previously about Nicky Gumbel’s Main Session and today are my notes from another main session from Judah Smith of City Church in Seattle.

Judah Smith – On Church Leadership Session 1 

Leading is about giving – A leader who stops giving finds themself on a lonely walk. Our People want to follow generous leaders who are generous with time, love, passion and wisdom. He also asserts that great leaders give value to people – leadership is always about giving.

Leading is about expecting nothing in return – When we give or preach or serve, do we expect something back? Are we looking for affirmation, acknowledgment or appreciation and if we do, what do we do when we don’t get it. Leading with strings attached will rob us of fulfillment and satisfaction. Our people do this sort of thing to us as leaders and its brutal, so why would we do it to our people?

Leading is about consistency – Leaders act in consistency with their character, action, word and conduct. People are drawn to consistent leadership, and the truth is that a shooting star never helped a lost hiker and the same goes for us.

Leading is about loving – Loving must come before leading, and when we are loving and leading people, our position doesn’t matter as much. We need to fall in love with God and what He is doing, and bring our people along to be a part of that mission.

GS – Twitter

GUEST POST: Family Dinner

Josh Griffin —  February 13, 2012 — 1 Comment

As I grew up in my home my family had a tradition to sit down together at least once a week for dinner. We picked Sunday nights as the time when we would all come together and sit in our dining room around the large oval table. As the food was passed around we would share stories about what was going on, re-tell great memories, have theological discussions, and joke about life. Truth be told, any one of us could finish the story of one another, the punch lines to every joke told had all been heard, and the current events weren’t really that exciting. Yet, despite all that we still sat down every Sunday night and shared these moments with one another.

Don’t get me wrong, we weren’t the family out of the Norman Rockwell painting you see displayed while in line at the Home Town Buffet, we had our share of those kinds of family meals. In spite of those more forgettable moments it’s something my family really treasured.

Now that I am married, and have a family of my own, it’s not as often that I get together with everyone around the Sunday dinner table. We still head over from time to time and have the same discussion with my dad about how over-done or under-done his tri-tip is, but it’s not nearly as frequent as it was.

Even so, I notice that in the modern culture family meals are about as scarce as a street corner without a Starbucks on it. Many families go weeks if not months on end without ever really taking the time to sit down with one another and share life over a meal at the same time. More often then not we are so busy that if we are sitting and eating together it’s in the car over a large fry and a burger. This may come to surprise you, but I wouldn’t qualify that as a family meal.

Family meals are one of the best ways to reconnect with our families. Taking the time to sit down, share stories, and invest in one another is a simple and yet super effective way of strengthening each other as a family unit. After all, why do you think much of Jesus’ ministry was spent at the table, serving food, or at parties where people were eating and drinking together? The word “ate” shows up about twenty two times just in the Gospels alone. Jesus understood that one of the greatest methods of investing into others involves food. We all have a basic need to eat, and when you fill that need first it opens the door to fill our need for community as well.

It’s time we slow down, if for nothing else just a couple of hours and reconnect to one another in our families over a meal. No one is asking you to be Paula Dean or the next Top Chef, but the challenge here is to lead your family to a place of community. Here are three ways to help get the family back around the table, and build the community that may be missing.

1) Plan ahead
When you’re trying this out for the first time, or for the first time in a long time, keep others in mind. Understand that the more advanced notice you can give, the better. Many of our family members have busy schedules, not to mention ours. So, if you can pick a day and time and let others know to plan around it, this will show them that you value them and the things they need to do as well. Plus, this really helps promote it too. As the date comes closer, remind them, and share your excitement with them. It also helps if you cook a family favorite meal, or something special (breakfast for dinner is a unique way to encourage participation).

2) Be Consistent
They say if you want something to become a regular part of your life you have to do it over and over again. Well, I’m not sure who “they” are, but I’m pretty sure they’re on to something. Don’t expect this to just take off without effort. You may find the family sitting down, at your request, and the only thing you hear is the awkward scraping of knives across the dinner plate, and grasshoppers chirping in the background. That’s ok, stick with it, and things will get better. To help yourself out, come to the table with some pre-thought out questions in your mind. It’s best if they are open ended and not ones that can be answered with one word. There are a couple books out called the “Would You Rather” series. Load up with two or three of these to get conversations rolling. The biggest thing is, don’t give up.

3) Kill Technology
Lastly, kill your technology. One of the biggest and most detrimental killers to family meals is technology. It seems in our culture today we can’t go more than two minutes without our phones going off alerting us of a new email, text, status update, sports score, or angry bird. We can’t connect face to face with the people around the dinner table if we can’t stop connecting with the people who aren’t at the table. Make a rule that during family dinner time phones aren’t just put away, but they are turned off, in another room, and completely out of our possession. Don’t sit down to eat with a murderer (pretty sure that’s in the Bible somewhere) kill technology before it kills your meal.

Eric Upton is the Middle School Pastor at Bridgeway Christian Church and you can follow him on Twitter or roll over to his Tumblr here if you dare.

Being in youth ministry for fifteen years now I have seen a lot of different youth group styles, philosophies, and I can tell you that haphazard is not a good style or philosophy. Having a strategy for your youth group needs to be a value, but not an idol. Strategy is important; it provides clear understanding of objectives and parameters around how they will be achieved.

It’s not the be all end all – but if done right, it will go a long way to creating a smoother process for yourself and your leaders. Here’s why:

Strategy breeds consistency: Having a standardized skeleton of how things are done is really disarming for students and leaders. When the program changes week in and week out and we stand at the front and encourage them to bring a friend, what are they bringing them to? When you have objectives and a somewhat strategic program, leaders know what to expect and students know what they are bringing their friends to. This simply requires that we commit to following through with whatever we decide will be our approach.

Strategy requires rationale: When we use a strategic approach, it requires that we have a reason for every element of the program and that if asked we can explain it to a parent or student. An example might be playing a secular song when the students are coming in as a means of disarming visitors who might be walking into a church for the first time. Why do we have worship? If didn’t have it, why not? Why do we play very few games? I am not sure its wise to have many elements of a youth night that have no reason or purpose.

Strategy is dynamic: It is vitally important that we be attentive to what God is doing in the midst of all of this. If students are encountering God in worship, it might be time to cut back the intro to increase the worship time. Maybe your group is not ready for a thirty-minute talk. Keep tabs on things and adjust as necessary.

Strategy is important … but not the most important thing. Doing good ministry, being attentive the needs of your students’ spiritual growth is key. Having a strategy is most helpful in taking the high level vision to an attainable and implementable set of actions for your leaders to work with.


7 Small Group “Be”s

Josh Griffin —  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!


Youth Ministry is such a dynamic thing, change is common and needed, the group dynamics can shift week to week based on who is there and who is not. The temptation can be that sometimes we can be as dynamic with our approach week to week, changing style, flow and structure to a youth night. What I have noticing more and more is that a steadfast commitment to keeping a reliable and consistent structure can and will have more value and dare I say more fruit than a go with the flow style and here are two reasons why.

It Makes Outreach Easier: In the past year we have adopted a much more standardized format to our youth services, they are not the same week in and week out, but will always incorporate: a message of some kind, Worship and small group time for all students. What I have noticed as a result of this change is that students don’t ask, “what is happening at youth this week, I want to bring my friend out”. This was a question that as a small group leader several years ago I would get often. Students now know what to expect , and as a result are inviting their non-churched friends in droves. Consistency is many ways is safety, and creating a safe place for students to grow in their faith is of the upmost importance.

It is helpful to your leaders: I remember vividly, being a small group leader, and having one of those “God is moving huge nights” with my small group guys and just knowing that the next week we would take it further, challenging them more, sharing more. But then we got to youth the next week and its now crazy games night instead. The lack of consistency meant a loss of momentum and in some respects missed opportunities to build on what was already happening. Having consistency makes being one of your small group leaders so much better because you know that you are going to have time next week to answer those tough questions that you had to park, or for students to share how they implemented what was God put on their heart the week before. I am not saying not to have fun games night, but have the scheduled in a way that they are not counterproductive the the purpose of your ministry.

This might not be for everyone, its challenging to do, to set a vision, purpose and objective and stick with it. But from what I have seen, the impact it is having on students spiritual growth is worth all the hard work and discipline we have put in. Your students and leader will appreciate it, I know ours have.

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. You can, too! See how right here.