Are you registered for SYMC 2014? When I head out to Columbus, I want to pack lite and be ready for a great experience! This is not an exhaustive list of tech tips to make SYMC 2014 smooth sailing, but hopefully you will be able to mentally download some good trips ideas here. These tips come from years of conference-going and many are specific to my time with SYMC. I hope these will help you have a more successful trip!

TIP #1 Know what tracks and workshops you want to attend (at least know what is available). Knowing ahead of time will make your life easier. Check out the scheduling tool SYMC has provided If you prefer to schedule directly from your smartphone click here. Check out the details on the scheduling resource here

TIP #2 Book Store Discount…Bring your senior pastor’s credit card!

TIP #3 Bring a bag/backpack. You will be carrying your Bible, Participant Journal, Pen, Hotel Key, iPod, Headphones, Cell Phone, Water Bottle, Laptop, Moleskine, Deodorant, Backup Hotel Key, Gum, Chapstick, USB Thumb Drive, (remember when we actually carried a Digital Camera too?)…and on top of all that you will need to leave room for all the stuff you pick up in different areas of the conference hallways from conference partners, in workshops, and at the bookstore while you are at SYMC.

TIP #4 Bring business cards and address stickers. This is a little nerdy and lazy but I do not like filling out my address dozens of times over the weekend…I have seen people stick a sticker on those forms, complete with; Name, Address, Phone, and Email. The business cards are for networking…you may want to bring something to hold other people’s cards so you don’t lose them (or take a picture of it with your cell phone app that turns business cards into a contact and throw the card out…when they are not looking).

TIP #5 Connect with other youth workers! If you bring team members, don’t do the easy thing by spending all your time with them. Try to spend time with people you may never get to see again. Try a Connect Group. Find the National Network of Youth Ministries and ask them to help you meet other youth workers in your area. Ask people in your workshops to lunch and kick around what you have been learning or struggling with…if they say they can’t because they are on a budget offer to buy.

TIP #5.5 Connect with the speakers. There will be aome of the sharpest minds in youth ministry at SYMC. Connect!

TIP #6 Need some love?? Soul Care, enough said!

TIP #7 Don’t forget the tag your tweets with #SYMC. Run a search for #SYMC on Twitter to see and be a part of all the buzz!

TIP #8 See someone taking notes like crazy? Ask if they are a blogger and if they are posting their notes online!

TIP #9 Bring a squirt gun and shoot the guy who has to answer every question the track speaker asks, just kidding….but seriously, don’t be that guy.

TIP #10 When you get home write a short letter to your ministry point person on your leadership team telling them how amazing your time at SYMC was, share a few nuggets of what you learned, and thank them for making it possible (time away, money, etc…this effort can go a long way with leadership). If you paid for SYMC yourself, write that letter to your spouse. If you are single, take yourself out for ice cream and review your notes. If you are lactose intolerant consider taking one of those Lactaid pills or just pray about the risk.

I know there are way more than 10 tips, and I am sure that you have some that are even better than these. So, please share your best conference tips in the comments below! Hope to see you at SYMC 2014!!!!!



I’m writing this column on my day off.

Before you judge me, realize we all do it: quickly glancing at email, returning just one call, swinging by the church to pick up something (only to be stuck there for two hours), subtly shrinking the margins of our fast-paced life. The first pastor I ever worked for literally said, “I don’t take a day off because the devil doesn’t take a day off.” I quickly learned he wasn’t joking!

Many people wear this “ministry-aholic” mindset a little too proudly. But with that type of arrogance and the creep of church codependence, it’s only a matter of time before everything crashes down and you burn out.

That isn’t going to be me. Don’t let it be you, either. These simple non-negotiables guide the margin in my life:

A DAY OFF Go ahead: Try to reach me on a Monday. You’ll probably be disappointed. That’s the day I sleep in, shut off my phone, and disconnect from the very needy ministry world around me. Sometimes I even leave the house just so I’m not around if someone drops by. (I’m crafty like that.) To stay in ministry for years, I must take off a few days along the way.

TIME WITH GOD Part of my Sabbath includes being fed spiritually. In the early days of ministry, I’d even sneak away to occasionally worship in a place where no one knew me as pastor. It was glorious.

VACATION TIME Every year, our family takes a vacation together and my wife and I go on a “just the two of us” trip. Both are vital to refreshing our relationships. Try it, and you’ll never let your vacation time pile up again.

COMP TIME If I have to put in a ton of extra hours for an event or program, I make sure to find extra time in its wake. Too many pastors reach the world but lose their own children. Don’t be one of them. Even if you don’t have kids yet, make sure you’re preparing for that scenario now.

Remember that rest isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of intelligence. Just look at anyone who’s lasted at anything. Although seasons of craziness pop up, I guarantee that this person lives by some non-negotiables.

Speaking of which, I’m headed back to my day off right now.

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2013 issue of Group Magazine. Don’t get the magazine yet? Hit this link to subscribe and get in on the action today!

Simply Youth ministries biggest sale of the year is going on right now.  Up to 40% off some the absolute best resources for youth ministry out there.  If you have a small youth ministry budget, now is the time to get in on these deals.  Don’t miss out!


How do I handle parental complaints? Easiest question ever!

STEP 1 Ignore them as long as possible. Parents can wait! Hey, you’re enjoying well-deserved time off playing Halo 4 after The Extreme Best Overnighter in the World (T.E.B.O.W. for short). The best way to ignore critical parents is to follow this handy advice:

If the complaint arrives via voicemail, ignore it. The upset person is at least 50, so help him or her take a technology baby step by waiting at least 48 hours to respond. But if the person name-drops a key elder or deacon, call back immediately.

If the complaint comes via written letter, toss it. Snail mail? Did a mystical portal drop me into 1974? After a few days, simply throw away the letter. Then claim it must’ve been lost in the mail.

If parents complain via text-message, reply ASAP. This is true especially if they’re likely to start a social-media insurrection. Jam out a quick apology, promising to make everything right.

STEP 2 When you do talk to disgruntled parents, accept no responsibility.
Have a scapegoat handy (a convenient college-age hipster is perfect). Be ready with key deflections to indicate the situation was out of your hands and you’re totally disappointed, too. Then hope no videos surface of you laughing during the incident. Keep these clever excuses ready in a pinch:

I wish someone had made me aware of this right away. Redirection places the blame back on parents. For a solid follow-up, work in this one: I guess we’ll never know the truth now.

I’ll deal with those people immediately. Was it your choice to play that R-rated movie? Was it your call to duct-tape a freshman to the ceiling? Who knows? With careful word play, parents will never know, either.

STEP 3 Drive a wedge between parents and teenagers. Divide and conquer is a biblical concept, so undermine parents whenever possible. Roll your eyes when Dad isn’t looking. Exchange knowing glances with kids to show how out-of-touch their parents are. Pacify adults long enough so you can plan The Next Big Thing That Will Change The World Overnighter Extravaganza(T.N.B.T.T.W.C.T.W.O.E. for short).

By now I hope you get the idea: Do the opposite of everything you’ve just read and you’ll handle complaints well. They’re a tough but necessary part of your growth as a leader. Jump in quickly, take responsibility, and repair the damage. Blessings on the journey!

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2013 issue of Group Magazine. Don’t get the magazine yet? Hit this link to subscribe and get in on the action today!


Change is one of the only things that is always present in our work with Group Mission Trips. I’ve had at least 6 job titles in my 11 years working with this ministry. I can’t tell you how many different job descriptions I’ve had during that time. We’ve gone from doing only one kind of mission trip, Workcamps, to 3 different mission trips (Week of Hope & Lifetree Adventures) and a single-day of service youth event (The Big Day of Serving). Things have changed from a single team of people focused exclusively on organizing and supporting mission trips to combining forces with our partners Group Youth Ministry/Simply Youth Ministry to help bring everything we can to support youth workers.


Change is hard. Change isn’t easy. Change can cause pain. For some people change is welcome and they jump on board fast but don’t fully take stock of the potential trouble spots. For others change is difficult and they seemingly fight against it every chance they get. And many people fall in the middle of those two extremes.

It’s not any different in church ministry than in a mission organization. How you manage change is just as important and dreaming and thinking of the change. Here’s three great ideas for managing change in your ministry:

  1. Make sure everyone involved in the change is part of the process. One member of out team is constantly preaching the message of communication to the rest of us. And he’s right! Especially when it comes to change. You cannot communicate enough. Before the change is even finalized. When you announce the change. While the change is being implemented. After the change is now the new normal Communicate And the biggest part of communicating – listening. Listen to what people are saying. And try to hear what they are not saying. Involving everyone will help to give people a chance to make the change theirs.
  2. Help people understand how the change will benefit them. In every change there are good things for everyone. New opportunities. New ideas. New responsibilities. New working relationships. New results to shoot for.  New And new can be very unnerving unless you help people know what is in it for them. Even in ministry, your team will want to know how this change will benefit. Them as an individual. The ministry as a whole. The youth who area  part of your ministry. Giving everyone an understanding of how the change is good will go a long way to navigating the process of implementing the change.
  3. Regardless of how good a change is, someone will be negatively affected – at least in their mind. Seek those people out. If a team is getting a new role in the ministry because of the change, spend time with them as they adjust. If it means there isn’t a spot for someone, give the the space and time to grieve the loss and give them your time to process. If possible, implement change in stages or steps so that those affected the most have time to adjust. If the change you are implementing has a bunch of negatives (even small ones), spacing out the change will allow those most affected to move through the process with grace.

Change isn’t always easy (I know) but it can be incredibly good. Keep these steps in mind the next time your team and ministry go through change.

Starting this Friday you’ll be able to see pretty much every member of the Group Mission Trips team at SYMC in Indy. We’re helping in tons of different ways at the conference. There will be members of the GMT team checking you in when you arrive, helping with getting the general sessions ready, working in the resource area, and well… I can’t remember everywhere else.

Toby Rowe and I will be leading several workshops as well. If these topics interest you, we’d love to have to participate in one of these.

Saturday afternoon – “Using Service to Create a Servant’s Heart”

Sunday afternoon – “Making the Most of Your Mission Trip”

Monday morning – “Fundraising for the Big Event”

In addition to all this, you will not want to miss Toby (and a bunch of us) on Sunday Late Night after the general session! He’ll be leading “Games We Never Should’ve Done”. It’s going to be a fun crazy time of reliving some of our best “mistakes” from all our years of Mission Trips and giving other youth ministry vets a chance to share theirs.  It will be a night you won’t soon forget.


If you’re not registered yet for SYMC, it’s not too late. We are nearly Sold Out but we are not there yet. There is room for you. Go here to register.

not too late

To plan a mission trip. It’s really not too late. It may seem like it is. It might be scary. You might think, “I’ll just wait for next summer.” Please don’t. If you’re not planning on getting your group engaged in service away from home this summer. It’s not too late.

Here’s 5 things you could do today or this week to still plan a trip for this summer.

  1. Contact a mission organization to help with getting your trip together: An organization like our, Group Mission Trips, would love to help you organize and plan a life-changing experience for your group.
  2. Connect with the mission pastor/director/leader in your church: These folks have many contacts and lots of information about needs that could be met and maybe even trips for your youth group to join.
  3. Ask a fellow youth leader (in your town/denomination/network/etc.) if they are going on a trip: There’s a good chance a friend of yours in ministry might have room in their group for you and several of your students to join their group. What a great way to get some of your group involved!
  4. Find out if there is church plant or inner city ministry or rural community center (some kind of ministry that is different from your own) within a days drive: Ministries like these can often use help. Many may even be set up to bring in groups for summer ministry. All you have to do is ask.
  5. Stay at home but serve! Find a local ministry you could truly bless with a week of no-strings-attached service. Get a bunch of tents. Camp out in someone’s back yard. Use the church kitchen to cook meals. Make your own local mission trip. But serve, please!

I believe there is something amazing God does when you go away and serve people. It’s a great thing to help your students leave their comfort zones and see God work in them and through them. Please don’t miss out. IT’S NOT TOO LATE! I promise…



Ministry is such a rewarding experience, but why does it create so much strain on marriages?
Jake and Melissa Kircher have learned some valuable lessons (often the hard way!) about building a healthy marriage amid the demands of ministry. They aren’t perfect, but they’ve matured individually and as a couple because of each mess, problem, heartache, and obstacle they’ve encountered. They understand your struggles and frustrations, because they’re their struggles and frustrations, too.
99 Thoughts on Marriage & Ministry will help you discover advice, wisdom, and insight in five core areas:

  • Marriage Basics
  • Balancing Marriage and Ministry
  • Finances
  • The Church vs. Your Family
  • The Darker Side of the Church

Marriage can be messy, and marriage while serving in ministry is extra messy. Whether your marriage needs just a little tuneup or a major overhaul, 99 Thoughts on Marriage & Ministry will encourage both you and your spouse, and will empower you to pursue a strong, healthy marriage.

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Meet the Authors: Jake & Melissa have been married for seven years. Their blog ( explores real-life issues that most marriages and relationships face. Through honesty and humor, they provide encouragement and wisdom to couples, both married and dating. Jake has been a youth pastor for 11 years and also works with We Love Our Youth Worker and REACH Youth New England. Melissa has served as a volunteer youth worker and a mentor for high school girls. She is a freelance artist and writer. They have one foster son who loves to bang on the drums.


- Stephanie