DEVOTIONAL: “Too Much ‘Against,’ Not Enough ‘For”

Awhile back I was speaking at a conference for denominational youth workers—they came from more than 20 countries around the world. The organizers asked me to talk about the future of youth ministry. I told them I’d take my best swing at it, but even my wife seems unpredictable to me, so it’s arrogant to predict the future of youth ministry. I did, however, promise to offer my primary hope for the future of youth ministry: “Let’s focus on what we’re for, not on what we’re against.”

That day, I divided the room in half and had youth leaders on each side find a partner. Then I challenged pairs on one side to list things the church is against, and pairs on the other side to list things the church is for. After two minutes I had the pair with the longest list on both sides read them aloud. Then I asked the whole group: “Which list would people who are outside the church be more familiar with?” They had no doubt: “Against!” they screamed. Here’s the sad fact: About the only thing most people know about Christians today is what we’re against.

We need a new acronym—it’s WWJF, which stands for “What Was Jesus For”?

This is exactly what Jesus was trying to communicate when he told the parable of the wheat and the weeds in Matthew 13. In it, Jesus is essentially saying, “Don’t pay attention to the bad stuff—the weeds; instead, concentrate on nurturing the good stuff—I’ll take care of the bad stuff later on.” Translated for youth ministry, this means weWDYSF work hard to plant what we’re “for” in kids (the wheat) and pretty much don’t stress about extracting what we’re against (the weeds). A strong crop of wheat will crowd out the weeds, and any that are left over get pulled by the “Gardener.”

So, how can we obsessively focus on what we’re for, not what we’re against? Here are three trajectories…

1. Engage kids with the real person of Jesus—everything He does, we’re for. Five years ago my friend Ned Erickson shared with me something he calls The Progression: “Get to know Jesus well because the more you know Him, the more you’ll love Him. And the more you love Him, the more you’ll want to follow Him. And the more you follow Him, the more you’ll become like Him. And the more you become like Him, the more you become yourself.” The Progression is not only profoundly true—as we help students get closer to Jesus, they become more distinctly who He had in mind when He created them—but The Progression is also an invitation…“get to know Jesus well.” Jesus created the models and boundaries of truth organically, by living out the truth in His life. The way we help others get to know Jesus better is to show them how to slow down and ask more questions about everything He said and did, and to put them in dependent situations where they have to rely upon His strength, not their strength.

2. Emphasize “doing” more than “knowing.” George MacDonald, C.S. Lewis’ spiritual mentor, said this: “One chief cause of the amount of unbelief in the world is, that those who have seen something of the glory of Christ, set themselves to theorize concerning him rather than to obey him. In teaching men, they have not taught them Christ, but taught them about Christ.” MacDonald’s guiding philosophy was “do the next obedient thing you know to do.” It’s in our obedience to Jesus that we chiefly come to understand His heart, and therefore what He is centrally for.

3. Practice the first priority of leaders—to pursue learning. I’m always surprised by peopIe who go to training conferences (like our own Simply Youth Ministry Conference— and report that they didn’t learn anything new. Look, a person who’s committed to learning can learn something from anyone, anytime. If you tell me you didn’t learn anything during a training event, that tells me more about you than about the event. Of course, some events offer a much richer learning environment than others. But hungry people will always find food, no matter how bare the pantry appears. The more you pursue learning about the wide array of topics under the youth ministry umbrella, the more you’ll be focused on what you’re for, not what you’re against.

If the “wheat” produced by these three trajectories grows tall, the harvest will feed your soul and your ministry. Remember, Jesus has the dirty hands of a Gardener…he’ll take care of the weeds. ◊

Mondays on the SYM Today Newsletter (sign up here) will provide a focus on fueling your heart for youth ministry with encouragement from either Rick Lawrence or Jason Ostrander like Jason’s recent post on Jesus as Youth Leader.


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Only wretches need saving


If you’re not signed up for SYM Today newsletter, you missed out on opening your inbox today to “Only Wretchs Need Saving,” a devotional from Rick Lawrence about growing in gratitude for God’s amazing grace in our lives.

Why are you waiting? Just sign up! Its FREE, its useful and has a different focus each day of the week. More on Tuesdays later!

Hope everyone had an awesome weekend! Praying for you guys this week as you love students well.

- Amber

Would love to get your response in this week’s poll – when is the best time for your as a youth worker to spend time with God yourself? Lots of different options for you to choose from – vote now!



I’m excited to announce that Simply Youth Ministry is releasing a new student devotional book this week: 10-Minute Moments the Basics. It is a 30-day student through the book of John that is perfect for foundational spiritual growth or new believers. Here’s a little insight from the product description:

Want to help teenagers build a lasting life of faith? It all begins with a solid foundation! 10-Minute Moments: The Basics will help students in their spiritual journey, whether they’re new followers of Jesus or have been Christ-followers for years. The truths in this book aren’t called “basic” because they’re childish or simplistic; they’re “basic” because they’re foundational and essential to leading a life that honors God.

Teenagers will discover a fresh understanding about God from the Gospel of John, one of the clearest and most-read books of the Bible. They’ll explore the fundamental beliefs and teachings of Jesus, and they’ll encounter a deeper of everything God has done for us. Each day’s reading only takes about 10 minutes—a great step toward building a personal habit of daily time with God.


This week I realized I have done something no christian leader wants to admit, I fell off the personal devotional wagon. Now I am not saying I haven’t been involved with scripture, quite the opposite actually. I have done something I believe lots of other leaders do, started reading my ministry into everything.

Now I will be the first to admit, that a HUGE part of ones job when they teach is to spend time in the Word solely for the purpose of teaching, but sometimes we forget that we need to spend time in the Word for ourselves. We need to be in there digging and learning for our own walk with God.

That’s what has happened to me, so how am I going to fix it? I have decided to spend some time in my journal, I will also listen to some worship music. I am going to turn off my phone, my laptop and my tv. I am going to go into solitude. I am going to sit and be still (something I don’t do well) and I am going to read my Bible for what God wants to teach me.

Now one thing I have started to do is have a Bible I just use to read for myself out of. This might seem crazy and perhaps even expensive because I already have so many Bibles, but I find if I don’t keep things separate I don’t shut off easily. So I will use that Bible, not my iPhone, study Bible or teaching Bible for my reading.

I don’t know about everyone, but one thing I know is if I do this there are a lot of others out there who fall off the wagon. So how do you stay on the wagon? What are you doing to keep up with your PERSONAL devotional time?

Kyle Corbin has been serving youth as a volunteer or pastor for over 10 years. He is currently the youth pastor at the Bridge Church in North Vancouver B.C. and blogs here and you can follow him on Twitter @CorbinKyle


We wanted to give you “Insiders” a first peak at a new book by Doug Fields, 10 Minute Moments: Plugged In. It’s a companion study devotional to the Plugged In video small group curriculum. Here’s a quick description:

10-Minute Moments: Plugged In is a daily devotional that’s set up as a journal. Students read a Bible passage, poke their brain with a few questions, get some suggestions on what to pray about, and then space to write down their thoughts. It’s a one-month plan that’s easy to read and easy to stick with. And, if you hadn’t guessed from the title, each “lesson” only takes about 10 minutes.

This time around, they’ll tackle the five biblical purposes of our lives–