Recently I got a call from a former student who was struggling in their faith. Honestly, it was greater than that. They made the decision that the “cost of following Christ” was just too great. Life was not working out the way they had hoped. Trials had come and as Jesus himself predicted of some, the thorns had choked the life away. My heart broke as we spoke. This had been a student who was entirely “on fire for the Lord” not only through High School, but also through their first years of college. The student told me it was just “too hard” to live the way Jesus wanted them to, He continued to let them down anyway so they were walking away from Him.

In the same week I opened up the paper to see the mug shot of another former student. When he was in Junior High a family tragedy had forever changed his attitude about life. Two summers ago he came back to our programming for a short time, and I had been encouraged. Then once again he dropped out of sight, and we couldn’t find him. That is until he has been arrested for armed robbery.

This is not the first time something like this has happened. I have had other students make life choices that have forever altered their path. Former students have been murdered, committed suicide, joined gangs, ended up in abusive relationships, and become addicts among other things. Each time there is something inside me that feels like I am the one who failed.

Before you tell me I’m not, I know all the right answers. I am the first person to remind others in ministry that we are never the Savior of anyone and Jesus is bigger than us or the students for that matter. However, I can’t help it. I feel like I could have “done” more. I couldn’t even tell you what the “more” is every time.

As these two events collided this week I started to wallow at my “lack” of success. This is when my husband reminded me of a vital truth, “These are their choices. This has nothing to do with your success or failure in life, and certainly not your failure or success with Jesus.” 

How easily I forget. I can so easily make their decision about me. I should’ve, could’ve, would’ve, it has nothing to do with us at all. The beauty in God creating us with the ability to choose, is we are given the ability to be in relationship with Him. The ugly side, of course, is that we can also choose to do our own thing.

I think I need to remember how easy it would be for me to walk away from the Lord as well. As CS Lewis once said, “Relying on God has to begin all over again every day as if nothing had ever been done.” The problem in running from God is that we look over and He is running with us.

So what I can do is to pray. Pray and realize my success comes the moment I show up and choose to be with Jesus again today. Pray that my students would realize the same for themselves. Pray you would remember for yourself.  Pray I would choose to believe what I wrote.

How do you deal with the days you feel like a failure?



This past week I led an activity with my teen small group. I asked them to write down at least 5 things they don’t like about yourself.   Next to that I asked them to write down 5 ways they keep messing up, and wish they could stop.  We then opened our Bibles talked about our sin, our need for a Savior, and His plan for us. Finally, I asked them to write the word GRACE over everything on their page.


Here was mine as an example:

Screen shot 2013-08-06 at 9.39.07 AM

As we talked I was reminded of something I read recently by Kara Powell on the topic of Sticky Faith, “As we have examined 500 youth group graduates to see how families and churches can build a faith that lasts it’s become clear that most kids equate faith with a list of “do’s” and “don’ts”. When (note I said when and not if) young people fail to live up to those behaviors, they run from God and the church—just when they need both the most.”

It struck me as one 13 year old boy became emotional during the study declaring, “I feel like I just can’t stop messing up.”  I wonder if we (the church, parents, all of us) are not only subconsciously expecting perfection from our teens (or Bionic as Tony Myles would say. Read his earlier post on the idea here) but are we teaching them about failure?


  • No One Is Righteous- NO NOT ONE…

Teach what this statement made more than once in the Bible means. I have told my uber perfectionist daughter on more than one occasion that if we could “get it together,” we would have no need for an ongoing relationship with a perfect God who loved us enough to conquer death.


  • You Are NOT ALONE

I said to a 16 year old just this week, “What’s funny to me about teens is that everyone thinks they are the ONLY ONE to make mistakes, while even the ones that seem to “have it all,” are figuring out ways to hide their inadequacies.  That feeling never goes away.”   Remind them you still mess up.  There isn’t a point where you finally get that list of do’s and don’ts totally right

  • Mistakes vs. On Purpose

An analogy I often use is, “Choosing to not study for a test and failing, is different from a pop quiz gone wrong.”  We will all mess up from time to time.  However, there is a difference if we keep playing the “how close can we get to sin without sinning ,”  or “what can I get away with” game.

  • Guilt vs. Repentance

Guilt is a feeling, that keeps us weighed down in our  failure.  Repentance turns us away from sin, embraces Grace, brings us closer to the Lord, and a genuine heart change occurs.’

  • Celebrate Failure

Try to teach students “what did you learn through this misstep,” and then coach them for “next time” on how to approach things differently.  A mentor of mine asked the questions above followed by, “How did others see Jesus in that?”


Kara Powell in the same article said her family practices saying something profound,  “Jesus is bigger than any mistake.”   The ongoing conversation needs to be that Christ WANTS us even when we slip.   He doesn’t love us in spite of ourselves, but because we are created in His image.

One 14 yr old summed it up well at the end of our study by praying, ““Thank you Lord for taking our trials and mess and molding them into something beautiful.”

What will you do to help  your youth fail well?

Fun collection of videos of youth ministry epic fails from the Simply Youth Ministry Conference. So fun!


Have you ever felt like a failure? Okay, we all have at some point, because we all fail. We all do certain things that may be great ideas, but go about it the wrong way, and utterly fail. One thing that I desire is for others’ to learn from my mistakes and failures. I try to do this with learning from others’ failures, and hopefully they can learn from mine as well. Today, I want to give you the top 5 failures that I have committed in student ministry:

  1. Epic Fail #1- Train and Equip Parents- As I have grown in student ministry (not going on 7 total years), I have learned that the parents represented in our ministry is as important as the students we are ministering too. Now, I am trying to teach, share resources with, and help parents become better parents to effectively parent the teens of today’s culture. If you are first starting out in ministry, go ahead and begin equipping the parents to build stronger families.
  2. Epic Fail #2- Recruit a team of adult leaders- In my earlier years of ministry; I had a couple of leaders, but did not set up an adult leadership that would take us to the next level like I should have. Regardless of the number of students in your ministry, it is important to begin building a team to take your ministry to the next level.
  3. Epic Fail #3- Inform parents when disciplining a student- There have been some times where a student gets in trouble, and I do not inform parents, and then the parents come back with a twisted story from their teenager, and I have to backtrack a bit, and build their trust and relationship back. I have learned that when a student gets in trouble or has to be corrected in our student ministry on an event or on Wednesday night, it is always important to mention it to the parents. I do not care how small, but in doing so, it builds relationships with the parents, and builds a greater trust from them to you.
  4. Epic Fail #4- Think through games and pranks- I am a prankster, and am personally okay with pranks. My failure is that we have not totally thought through pranks in our ministry. At camp we decided to play “human clue” and fake a real murder with the students. It seemed like a fantastic idea, but when it played out, we had students crying, had a girl faint, had a young boy call his mom for a lawyer, and upset some families that were at camp. What seemed like a fantastic idea was horrible, because it was not thought out. Think out your ideas of what could happen, and it will save you a lot of problems.
  5. Epic Fail #5- Building relationships with the local schools- Do this first. This should be one of the top things in your ministry that you are consistently doing. I have wasted time in this area at my ministry, and now am trying to play catch up. Building relationships with schools takes a great deal of time, and it is important that you stay at it, and consistently plan time to build this relationship.

So, do not fail at these things, and try your best to learn from the epic fails that I have done in our student ministry.

Josh Evans is the student pastor at Union Grove Baptist Church in the Winston Salem, NC area. He has been a mentor and pastor to students for 4 years. You can connect further with Josh on his blog or send him a direct email at joshhevans@gmail.com.

This month we’re introducing a new series here on the Simply Youth Ministry Today newsletter. It is called Top 3 and we’re kicking off this week with our Top 3 epic youth ministry fails. Thought you would like that one!

1) Every so often we play a video clip as part of the message and in one particularly tragic service we played the video clip a team member had made for me (Josh). Like an idiot I hadn’t previewed the clip from Tommy Boy and the very last sentence of the excerpt involved a joke about the size of the guys…sailboat. Needless to say, it would go on to be one of my most epic fails of all time. I ended the message with, “It sure has been great being your pastor.” Hahahah!

2) I (Kurt) was a 22-year-old rookie junior high pastor on my way to a youth group New Year’s Eve party with a carload of kids. I happened to have surf racks on my car and one of the 8th grade boys happened to be highly adventurous…which turned out to be a bad combination. I pulled over, strapped the student into my surf racks, and proceeded to drive 5 miles through town to the party. Luckily it was before the days of cell phones, Instagram, and every move being instantaneously captured. Other than a fairly harsh tongue lashing from the high school pastor (why do they always think they’re so much more spiritual?), there was no damage done.

3) To make a long story short: I (Kurt) was on staff at Saddleback for one month when I accidentally left a student in the stadium after an Arena Football League game. I counted…just not accurately.

This post was written by Josh Griffin and Kurt Johnston and originally appeared as part of Simply Youth Ministry Today free newsletter. Subscribe to SYM Today right here.

(Part 2 in a series of 7. Check? daily? for? another? insight into? brilliant moves I’ve made? over 30 years in ministry to students.? Imagine, each day’s story? gets dumber from here.)

We were some hot stuff, our Sr. High Youth Mission Team. We went to Habitat every 4th Saturday of the month so? we had MAD skills. So hot, we’d traveled as far as our UM Children’s Home on a district mission trip to do gardening and put up some kinda storage unit! We were BAD. (Which was good and a relevant term back then? thanks to MJ)? ?

Then we got wind of this new thing: youth groups all over the country had begun? going on trips to do? home repair stuff, wheelchair ramps, roofing, etc. Sounded studly to our group so we decided? we wanted to ride the wave of this new thing.? (It was the early 90′s) (don’t roll ur eyes at me)

The ensuing? madness was no one’s fault but the leader’s – me. We didn’t need? a fancy? youth mission? organization? because we knew as much as they did, so? let’s save? money. I found a small home-grown organization? running home repair? camps? out of their church.? We? set off in the “caution: church van”,? power tools in the back, ready to build us somethin’.

Let me cut the story short and? bullet point the epic fails:

1) MOST STUDENTS (and one certain leader) WILL OVERESTIMATE THEIR SKILL LEVELS ON THE INFO FORM: On a scale of 1-4 (being the highest), ? I think we averaged? ourselves a 4.5 in all areas. Thus we were left ALONE? at? a mobile home site to build a wheelchair ramp, install? a door,? and remove/replace several rotting foundation boards under the trailer. ? Epic fail #1.

2) NO SITE COACH OR NO WORK DESCRIPTION IS A BAD THING:? I never thought to ask if there would be site supervisors (like at Habitat) to tell us what to do, where to cut, and do the icky things we didn’t want to do.? I also didn’t ask if there would be any instructions on how we were to do what we were assigned to do.? Epic fail #2.

3) DON’T BE A SMART ALECK WHEN HOLDING A? POWER SAW: I was terrified? by this point into the trip. We were in WAY over our heads and I had no idea what I was doing. I was scared to let the youth use the power saw since none of us had ever really? done it unsupervised before. I lectured them on the safety of it all, turned the saw on to? demonstrate…and sawed through the power cord. Epic fail #3.

4) DON’T USE A CAR JACK TO PROP UP THE? ENTIRE BACK CORNER OF? A DOUBLE-WIDE:? One of those? rotting foundation boards wouldn’t budge from up top so the only way to get at it was to shimmy underneath the trailer and pull it out from there.? The trailer sat too low due to the rotting and needed to be propped up thus our decision to use the church van’s? car jack. Being the leader, I was quickly elected to shimmy into the dark, creepy place. The car jack didn’t break till after I’d already scooted? back out. Epic fail #4 (use of the car jack). Epic success? for God’s grace on an idiot? youth leader.

#5) IS A WHEELCHAIR RAMP? SUPPOSED TO BE AT? A? 45 DEGREE ANGLE?? Thank God the mud puddle at the bottom of the ramp stopped the forward momentum? of the homeowner as she took her first ride on the ramp.? Epic fail #5.

Oh, and I was the only adult on this trip and on the crew. Guess that’s #6.

MORAL OF THE STORY: Unless you REALLY know what you’re doing on a mission trip – use the pro youth mission organizations. They’re worth what you think you could do cheaper yourself. I’ve tried several? and am a raving fan of Group Workcamps Foundation.

Tomorrow:? An event? referred to only as? “Oh, THAT Halloween.”


PS-Thanks, Krystie, for reminding me what years of therapy? had blocked out.?