The Bionic Teenager?

 —  August 1, 2013 — 6 Comments

I sat in a planning meeting today with several caring local professionals. They hope to host a youth summit in our area, and our conversation eventually centered on the desired outcomes of the conference. We began brainstorming  what we want to see happen in the students involved. In other words, “Who will they ultimately be when they leave this event because they were a part of it?”

After several minutes on that line of thinking, I raised my hand and offered an observation:

“It feels like we’re trying to create a bionic teenager. I don’t know if everyone remembers that old TV show the Six Million Dollar Man, but there was this concept in its opening theme that it feels like we’re sharing here – that we have the means to make students better than they were before… ‘better, stronger, faster.’

I think everything we’ve talked about are great values for kids to grow into, but if I were to force this on my own son he’d feel immense pressure because he can’t get there overnight (let alone consistently). Maybe we need to include the values of ‘rest’ and ‘journey’ somehow? Students can take steps this way, but they may need to intentionally pause along the way and take stock of their progress so they don’t crash because they feel they’re not yet perfect.”

My thoughts were met with enthusiasm, not to mention a lot of affirmation. I felt like I’d made a real contribution to the discussion.


praiseI wondered how often I’ve not had that thought in ministry. Maybe you can identify:

  • “Once kids go on this trip, their hearts will be forever transformed for Jesus.”
  • “If I can only get that student baptized, then he/she will become a role model to the others.”
  • “The more often students are consistent with youth group attendance, the more consistent they’ll be with Jesus.”
  • “They have to start (reading the Bible/praying/fasting/tithing/singing) more if they hope to have a real breakthrough.”

Even just writing those made me realize how absurd they all are.

And yet… don’t thoughts like that creep into your head and planning, too?

The thing about bionics is that something unnatural was added to appear natural.

Hmm. Is that the end?

What do you think is reasonable and unreasonable to expect in these matters?


The (unfair) truth of the matter is that some people are just naturally more creative than others. And sometimes those folks who feel like they are lacking in the creativity department decide that instead of learning how to be more creative, it’s better (or easier) to simply admit their creative shortcomings and focus on other important aspects of ministry.

So this post is for those of you who would identify as “creatively challenged”. Here are a few tricks I’ve utilized over the years that have helped me stretch my creative muscles:

* Plan Ahead. Planning and organization IS NOT a road block to creativity as many people think. The reality is that when you plan ahead you leave lots of time on the front end of a project to chew on things, talk to others for input, etc. Many creative folks claim to be much more creative in “crunch time”, which is fine….if you are a creative folk. Otherwise, a litle pre-planning will go a long way.

* Find Your Creative Time. Creativity is hard work, so do it when you are at your mental peak. If you are a morning person, do your creative thinking first thing. If you are a night owl, wait until evening time.

* Be A Looker And A Reader. There’s an old saying: “Stop and smell the roses.” I say, “Stop and smell the roses then figure out how you can use them in an object lesson.” The world is full of all sorts of awesome sights, sounds, smells and textures that we can apply to our ministry settings. Become somebody who looks at the world around them and who reads magazines, billboards, bust stop ads etc. Observant people are usually fairly creative.

* Use T.V., Don’t Let It Use You. While watching TV, keep a notepad handy and jot down anything from the news, sporting event or show that you might want to refer to in an upcoming lesson.

* Hang Around Creative People. There’s strength in numbers. Two heads are better than one. All of us are more creative than one of us. One of the best ways to stretch your creativity is to hang around folks who seem to ooze it.

* Always Ask, “Can this be improved?”. Don’t settle for the status quo. If you plan ahead, you’ll have plenty of time to look over your lesson, event, parent meeting agenda etc. to see where you can make it better.

* Empty Your Mind Before Beginning. After an activity, it’s important to keep good records and files that you can refer to next time around, but try to avoid the temptation to make reaching for last year’s file the first thing you do this year! Sometimes starting with an entirely blank slate is the best way to let creativity flow.

* Have An Honest Ear. Is there somebody in your ministry who will be honest enough to tell you when an idea is a dangerous one, or a stupid one, or a boring one? Having somebody you trust to bounce things off will help keep you from settling for something uncreative as well as protect you when your newfound creative skills could get you in trouble!

* Become 5 Again. I’ve never met an uncreative 5-year old! But something happens as we get older: We become aware that certain ideas shouldn’t be shared. We get penalized for “coloring outside the lines”. We become insecure and afraid of failure. All of these things serve to shut down our natural creativity. Force yourself to set these adult attitudes and concerns aside from time to time just to see what the 5-year old version of yourself comes up with!

I love Google Maps.

When you load the homepage the default view is zoomed way out showing you the whole United States. Type in an address and it zooms in quickly to show you a specific region. Click “street view” and BAM! you’re looking at things as if you were literally walking through the neighborhood by foot. Kinda creepy since Google is secretly stalking us, but kinda awesome at the same time. And a great example to how we typically plan our youth ministry calendar.

We first take a look at the big picture of our ministry, then zoom in on the season ahead, and finally get a street view all of the way down to the current teaching series and events. Let me explain in a bit more detail:

It is a wise idea to get away for the day and get a big picture of your ministry. Take a break from the pace of ministry and the distractions of email, voicemail and the persistent nagging of Google+ and wrestle with an overview of your youth group. August is the perfect time for this! Now for some this is a simple task because they live in the world of ideas and vision – for others it will be challenging to stick your head up over it all and get a glimpse of the whole.

Key questions to ask yourself at this big picture stage:

  • Where you think God wants to take students in the next year?
  • What worked well last year, and will it work again?
  • What annual events would be effective again this year?
  • What needs to get the axe?
  • Have I blocked out my 2 weeks of vacation?
  • Where are we strong and where are we weak?
  • Is there a good balance of God’s eternal purposes for our ministry (evangelism, fellowship, discipleship, ministry, worship)?

Paint in broad strokes what your youth ministry year will look like at this point. Lots of prayer – ask God for discernment. Use pencil.

You’ve now got an idea of the big picture of your youth ministry – now it is time to specially plan the next season. There are lots of ways you can do this – right now I like to divide the year into 3 unequal parts – Fall, Winter-Spring and Summer. This is the time to start to really firm up specific teaching topics, series and events. You probably already locked up some bigger things like summer camp, trips and retreat locations, but now is the time to make final decisions.

Key questions to ask yourself at this season stage:

  • What needs to be cut?
  • Am I keeping this program to satisfy a parent/vocal students or because it is what is best for our ministry?
  • Where do I have momentum naturally and where is it lacking?
  • What are the teaching topics for this season?
  • Who is the best person to teach?
  • Has my spouse seen this before I go public with it?

What looked good in the big picture view might be too much now that you’re zoomed in a bit closer. You are still flexible enough at this point for an audible. Use the eraser now if needed, but definitely not on your vacation time.

The closest we zoom in for planning is the current month. You’ve planned everything from a year out, you firmed up much of those plans in your season overview, now it is time to lock everything down and walk into what you’ve planned.

Key questions to ask yourself at this season stage:

  • What adjustments do I need to make based on circumstances that have come up since we planned the year/season?
  • Am I balanced and healthy with this calendar?
  • What can we do make our youth ministry even better next year?

I’m in the thick of planning our summer right now! May God bless you as you serve students and plan your youth ministry calendar, too.


The author of Ecclesiastes writes that there is a time for everything.  Working in ministry, you know this.  In ministry, there are times where everything seems to be working (12 trusted Christ at the Call of Duty tournament!!!).  Other times, not so much.  You need an Encouragement File during both of these times:

An Encouragement File is simply a file of encouragement that you have received by other people.  I keep a literal file folder of papers in my desk, readily accessible if I need it on an off-day or during a discouraging season of ministry.

Begin collecting encouragement from others.  Pastor Appreciation cards, encouraging e-mails from parents, notes from your spouse or parents, and Facebook statuses are great places to start.  I copy and paste Facebook statuses into one file and occasionally print it out to update my encouragement file.  You are looking for EVERY single piece of encouragement that you can find.

    1.    Times of discouragement. There will be times in your ministry where you will get greatly discouraged. If it hasn’t happened to you yet, it will!  During these times, read through your Encouragement File.  Be reminded that good things DID happen at one time, and lives were positively changed.
*If continually discouraged for a lengthy period of time, consider seeing a non-local Pastor (someone that you can let your “Pastor-guard” down to) or a highly recommended, Christian counselor.

2. Times of planning.  Pull out your encouragement file when you plan your ministry calendar.  You would be amazed how helpful it is to start out with a list of events/topics/Scriptures that teens or parents were already helped by.  It’s a good reminder that expensive/flashy/etc. is not always the most effective (i.e. “The car giveaway touched my heart last night!” or “The Pizza For Life giveaway forever changed my teen’s life…”) , but the consistent, steady, and Godly influence of you and your team are more effective.

Here’s a start for your Encouragement File: You are making a positive difference in your teens’ lives!

Andrew Brashaw is a youth pastor of 8+ years in New Lothrop, MI.  He doesn’t blog or own an iPhone, but he does Twitter once a month @andrewbrashaw.

Between the two of us we’ve literally created hundreds of youth ministry calendars. Over time we’ve managed to pick up a few pointers we wanted to share in this SYM Today. A calendar focuses you on the purposes for your ministry and lays out the direction for the ministry. Here’s a process you can use, modify, or mock as you plan the upcoming school year calendar:

Strive for balance
The first mission is for the leadership to be clear that one purpose or agenda isn’t going to dominate the calendar. We lead a youth ministry that wants to be purpose-driven, not driven by one particular purpose. We will spend time talking about evangelism, fellowship, discipleship, ministry, and worship—not letting any one thing drive the direction. You may not be “purpose-driven,” but we hope you want to be purposeful in your approach to ministry, and a calendar helps.

Take one purpose and run with it
If you decide balance and purpose is a good thing, the next step is to plan specific events, classes, trips, and meetings that focus on specific purposes and goals you have already deemed valuable. We also look at what we did the previous year and debrief them on the fly. If they worked, we consider it for the next year. If it didn’t work, we do our best to go after something fresh. In our setting, we like to take a specific “purpose” and spread it out over the course of the year.

Repeat that process for each purpose
Then we go month by month again, this time through the eyes of a purpose, such as evangelism. After that we’ll hit fellowship dates for small groups, then drop in discipleship retreats, camps, and trainings. We cover all of the purposes, with the goal of having each purpose represented clearly on the calendar.

Drop in the deadlines
Once the calendar is more or less “set,” we drop in deadlines for registrations and various milestones that related to the projects. For example, our mission trip requires a registration start and end, as well as three meetings for parents and a celebration weekend. Small groups don’t just start on day one; they need registration dates, deadlines, and enough time for us to process the students into groups. When you plan an event, be sure to also include the follow-up dates as well.

Look at the big picture and cut away
Then we look at the overall big picture and goal for balance and health, and we start the painful process of figuring out what needs to be cut. We also go in with the mindset of what items need to be adjusted—could we partner our event with another time our target audience is already at church, instead of asking for another night out of the team and the committed?

That’s ONE way to think about your ministry calendar. What’s yours?

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

The event is over—you collapse in a heap swearing you’ll never do another overnighter again. Deep down, as much as you hate it, you see relationships growing with students and know the Gospel is being presented, so maybe… just maybe, you’ll do it again. Either way, now is the time to sleep.

Your peaceful and overdue slumber is sharply broken by the piercing of your cell phone. It’s 9 A.M. and the church staff is just getting to the office and wading through the aftermath of your event. The trustee is ticked about the Diet-Coke-and-Mentos-covered parking lot. The deacon wants to know why the baptismal is now empty and the carpets are so wet. The church cleaning guy is frustrated at the amount of toilet paper that’s missing and the senior pastor called having found where it ended up—the trees in his front yard.

This fictional event…well, honestly some of it is fiction…holds some great reminders. Yesterday we said make sure you say thanks; today’s reminder is to make sure you clean it up—which is how you say thanks to your church for letting you do this stuff in the first place!

A few lessons from our fable:

1) If possible, don’t use your own facility for “high maintenance” events. Rent out a YMCA or travel to a few different places so one place doesn’t take such a beating.

2) Clean up after yourself. There’s no faster way to lose your credibility, position, or salvation than leaving a mess in your event’s wake.

3) Know yourself. When I (Josh) think something is clean that usually means it’s somewhat passable. Find a leader who is detail-orientated and will make sure every nook and cranny are clean, and everything is back in place.

4) Be the last to leave. When you lock up behind you, there’s nothing left to chance. Not only that but it also lets you model servanthood by being the first one in and the first one out.

5) If you break something (hey, things happen)…give someone a heads up. Do it before it’s later discovered, and you look completely irresponsible. Don’t be that guy who blindsides his/her boss.

6) Fuel it back up and get it washed. Did you use a vehicle in your program or event? Borrow a parent’s minivan for your missions trip? Get it cleaned inside and out ,and make sure the fuel tank reads FULL.

7) Simple rule of thumb: Leave it better than you found it. Who cares about the senior citizens Bible study at 6am on Saturday morning? You do! Make sure their room, and any of the other ones you used, are back to ship shape.
Make them wonder if your event even happened because things are so tidy.

What else would you add to the list?

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.

When I first came on staff with Mars Hill | Ballard we didn’t have a whole lot of students coming to the youth group. Most of the people at our church were 20-somethings or young families which meant there simply weren’t a lot of teenagers around. So, I had to go out and bring them in.

We already had a rhythm of throwing an outreach-type event every month, so I kept that going. But to be honest, for me, it wasn’t big enough. We would have a few new people at the most and, if we were lucky, one would come back for our Wednesday night gathering. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing small about a few new students showing up. But, I felt that God wanted me to cast the net out a little further.

So, I quit inviting them to our events and started inviting them to their own show.

I got the idea from a ministry Mars Hill did years before I got there called the Paradox theater. Basically, they ran a music venue in order to create a presence within the community.

All I did was go to the high school down the street about 15 minutes before the end of the day and handed out half sheets of paper that said, “If you’re in a band and want to play a show, email me.” I made these flyers on Microsoft Word. They were not impressive. But, for the students in my area, the message on them was more exciting than a college scholarship.

My email box filled up. If I remember right, I booked three bands before 48 hours had passed.

In no way were these Christian bands, but that was cool with me because I wasn’t trying to reach Christian kids. In fact, all I was trying to do, my entire goal, was just to get 100 people to show up and shake all of their hands. I wanted them to know that we were actually nice people, and we had a safe place for them to go.

So, I started planning the show. And started freaking out. I found out there are a lot of things to think of when throwing a show!

Two things in particular are sound and security.

Somehow show-sound is different than worship-sound, especially in the multipurpose room we were using. I didn’t get the sound stuff figured out until the night before the show when, by a miracle of God, the sound volunteer showed up at the same time Mars Hill was packing a van with audio equipment. The van and the volunteer mixed for the weekend, and we had a good, quality sound. Lesson learned: Don’t plan on a miracle happening for this one, plan ahead, and make sure you’re set up for good sound.

The bands that were coming were metal bands. Metal means moshing. Moshing means liability.  Top that off with pot, alcohol, and kids sneaking off into other parts of the church. So, I had to get some extra eyes on the situation. I got three guys to do security. Their job was to foresee dangerous situations and keep them from happening and to create a presence of authority so that kids knew it wasn’t a consequence-free zone. In addition, I had every door besides the door to the actual room locked and barricaded. I included the rules on the Facebook event, including the fact that we’d kick out anyone at the sight of drugs, alcohol, or violence. We had to ask a few students to leave because of intoxication, but by God’s grace, there was no violence.

Besides this, there were all the other logistics that go into any event.

Well, when it came time for the actual show, I was shocked. We had about 150 kids show up. What was weird was that only about nine of them were actually from our church. The rest of them were brand new.

Of course, I had about 70% of my volunteer team there. As the place started to pack we made sure to say hi to everyone that we could. I had several good, fun conversations with students, inviting all of them to check out our Facebook page and come to youth group.

The show was great. The bands were actually pretty good for high school bands. I made friends with all the band kids and their friends by giving them a back stage area packed with energy drinks and food. Before the night was up, the band kids and I made plans to do dinner and talk about the Seattle music scene.

After everyone went home, it was time to clean up and follow up. Both of which took some time and effort.

I went on Facebook and started looking around. I saw a ton of students posting positive comments about the event. The news hit the rest of the school. In fact, it was mentioned in the school paper that goes out to all the students and parents.

The best part of all, I got to develop deep relationships with four of the kids I met at the show. By God’s grace I led all four them to Christ and baptized one of them myself.

Also, whenever I went to the high school a ton of kids knew my name, came up and talked to me, and I became a lot more well known than I was before the show.

We ended up throwing a second show at the end of the summer and had great success there as well. It truly was a great way for us to meet students, grow our influence and share the gospel. I hope you’ll consider it and if its appropriate for your ministry, give it a shot.

Mitch Miller is a youth and young adult speaker based out of Seattle. Feel free to contact him through twitter, facebook or email. You can find all his info at

Every event the question comes up: How are we getting the word out? And, of course, every few months the answers morph and change as the world of communication evolves. What we’ve learned is that there is no one answer that suffices. We have to repeatedly communicate to both kids and parents in lots of ways. We utilize our website, posters, invitation cards, text, Twitter, but far and away the most effective the past few years have been Facebook and YouTube. I work with middle school students, so some of them are not old enough or their parents do not allow them to have a Facebook page yet. However, the majority of families in our community either have a student or a parent who’s on Facebook, so we have a profile for our ministry that we update daily. The challenge is to keep up with where students are at and be creative in capturing their attention. Every week we have students make announcement videos, and when we have a special event like camp we’ll make special promo videos. Here are 2 fun, creative videos we made to promote our winter camp this year.

Kevin Mahaffy is the Middle School Pastor at Southwest Community Church in Indian Wells, CA. Check out his blog and more at