Moral failure is something that has been coming up a lot in recent conversations. A few weeks ago, my friend told me that the head pastor of her home church recently stepped down from his position due to moral failure. The church was devastated. The ripples of the pastor’s sin rocked the lives of his entire congregation and even the community as a whole. It damaged the reputation of his church and even worse, damaged the reputation of the Christian Church.

I feel like most of us can tell a story or two about a pastor falling hard because of sin and moral failure and the destruction that it left in its wake. But too many of us hear these stories and have an “it can’t happen to me” mentality. Because the scary thing is, it can happen to any of us.

No one plans on having moral failure. Nor does it just happen out of nowhere. It starts small. It starts in the small compromises that we make in our everday lives. The “small” sin that we think, “isn’t the end of the world.” But those compromises add up. Moral failure isn’t possible without those compromises. A pastor at our church spoke on the subject this weekend and said, “sin is not a game. It is a war. A war for your soul.”

I was super convicted by his message and asked myself, “do I view sin as if it is a war?” and “do I act like sin is a war?” If I am being honest with myself, I don’t think I always do. And I don’t think I’m alone in this. I think it is scary how reckless we can be with our hearts. While we don’t mean to, we often leave them vulnerable to temptation and sin. It is incredibly important that we, not only as church leaders, but also as followers of Christ in general, acknowledge the severity of sin and guard ourselves against it.

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” Proverbs 4:23

So take some time today to reflect on this. Are you guarding your heart? What is the “small” sin in your life that you need to be stomping out?

Colton [Email||Twitter]

In a casual sense, the term “entitlement” refers to a notion or belief that oneself is deserving of some particular reward or benefit. (Wikipedia)

I am entitled. So are you, I’d imagine?

Time to put the brakes on it. You don’t deserve anything. Not your position, your salary, your status, your youth room or your budget. Why do we act like it? How did we become so arrogant, above the people we are supposed to be serving? I see it in myself (still, sigh) and I see it in younger youth workers all of the time. We get easily frustrated at a big church decision that affects us in a way we don’t like. We blow off guidance or shrug at counsel because it would be inconvenient to our beloved methods. We get an out-of-whack sense of importance about who we are and how blessed this church is to have us running this incredible youth ministry for them while they slowly decline into irrelevancy.

Stop! Be thankful for what you have, however much or however little it is. Thankfulness is an expression of humility. Be thankful for the little youth budget you did get. Be thankful God is blessing another ministry in your church and you got kicked out of your own youth room. Be thankful for your leadership God chose to put over you (I’m sure He would love to put you there, but you’d think you were entitled to it anyhow). Say thank you when someone generously blesses you. Slow down enough to respond to someone in need rather than only thinking about yourself.

Being thankful keeps your heart … and your entitlement … in check.


Youth leaders are vital to the success of your ministry. We all would admit that we cannot build a healthy student ministry without leaders! We all need leaders and volunteers no matter what size student ministry you may have. Here are my thoughts on ways to keep your youth workers on board with your vision and your ministry:
  1. Build a healthy relationship with them- When you recruit youth workers, choose people who you can have a relationship with. One of the coolest things about our youth leaders is that most of my wife and I’s closest friends serve in our student ministry. So, we have some strong relationships with the ones who are in there! If you want to keep youth leaders long-term, you need to have a relationship with them.
  2. Listen to their feedback- I came from a small church where we had 30 students and a few youth leaders that I personally recruited. I basically started the youth group from scratch and the Lord blessed. Then, He moved me to a different church with about 75 students and about 25 youth leaders. They knew the system way better than I did. One thing that I tried to do and still do is listen to their feedback and ideas. Some youth pastors have a way of doing things, and they are not open to ideas from their youth leaders. This is something that turns people away from serving in your ministry so listen to their feedback, and do not be afraid to use their idea and give them the credit!
  3. Show them that they are appreciated. I am reading a book right now called, “life in student ministry” by Tim Schmoyer, and he constantly is hitting me hard about praising your youth leaders! This is a great way to keep youth leaders with you. They must feel like their ministry is important to you. They must know that you appreciate them. Try your best to pay for their ministry stuff. Our budget cannot handle paying for every youth leader for every event, but we try to cut cost for leaders and be a blessing to them. If we had the budget to pay for every leader, I for sure would take that and apply it! Shower your leaders with gifts and blessings. We just had our Christmas party, and we got each leader a Christmas photo of their entire small group. It was not too expensive, and it means a lot to our leaders. They must know that they are appreciated if they are going to serve with you long-term.
  4. Your heart must be fleshed out- Volunteer youth leaders do not want to serve in your ministry if they cannot see that you genuinely have a heart for your students! They must see your heart, passion, and enthusiasm for this ministry lived out!
  5. Cast vision regularly- Vision is not something that you cast once a year! This is something that the leaders need to be reminded about over and over again! They must hear where you feel God wants to take the youth group. You must cast is regularly, and you must live out the goals and vision that you are casting!
  6. Train them- Leader training is so important. This is something that we are working on, but we are going to try to improve even more on. Your leaders need training. We always have areas that need improvement, and you need to provide this for your leaders. They also need to be humble enough to be willing to go through some training.
  7. Pray with them- There is nothing better than having a relationship with your youth leaders where you can drop down and pray with them. You both need this relationship! Ask them how you can pray for them and their families! They need to be assured that you are praying for them outside of youth group.
  8. Model their job description- Many times we have a job description for youth leaders that we as the youth pastor hardly hold! The youth leaders need to see you living out the Christian life as well as the job description and standard that you hold them too.
  9. Let them lead- Many times youth pastors want to do things themselves. We are human, and we struggle with being on an inward power trip thinking that we can do things better than the youth leaders. If you give them a responsibility, allow them the authority to carry it out.
  10. Support them- You must support them from the pulpit of your church as well as from the pulpit of your student ministry. They must know that they are supported by their student pastor. Support them in front of the students and take their side on issues unless it is a moral problem on their part. They must feel supported.

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

When Kurt and I came up with the idea of sharing a couple books that influenced us the most in ministry my mind immediately thought of a dozen books that have significantly shaped me as a youth worker. Without a doubt I am a better leader, husband, parent and youth pastor because of the influence of incredible men and women who have shared their hearts, learnings and failures with me over the past 15 years.

As for the Top 2 … well, these are the best of the best. If you haven’t read them, I can’t encourage you enough to pick them up and let the authors pour into you like they did me. Here’s the 2 most influential in my life personally, and a list of runners up you may also want to check out:

The Heart of a Pastor — HB London
I remember reading this book while I was serving in my first church. Ministry then was a series of extremes. It was extremely rewarding and I had a front-row seat to life change for the very first time as a pastor. And was extremely challenging and difficult to figure out how to do youth ministry for the first time. If it wasn’t for a grace-filled pastor and elders I would have (and possibly should have) been long gone. I read this book and one particular phrase continued to stand out to me as a stark reminder of my calling: bloom where you are planted. No excuses, no wandering eyes, no wishing you were somewhere else — God has called you HERE so until you hear from Him, act like it. So I did. Fantastic book.

Purpose Driven Youth Ministry — Doug Fields
This book came at another crucial time in my youth ministry experience. My wife and I had actually resigned our youth ministry position and were finishing up the summer out before leaving “to go to seminary” — translation: we wanted out, and this was the nice way of saying goodbye. During our final months I happened to stumble on Purpose Driven Church by Rick Warren and eventually this, Doug Fields’ student ministry version of the book. As I devoured the pages, it felt like what he was saying was what I had always felt — even intrinsically know — about how church could be. We went back to our church that summer and God blessed us with 4 more incredible years at that same church we had resigned from, and the student ministry became something really special. This book played an eye-opening role in my journey to become a real youth pastor. An absolute must-read.

First Two Years in Youth Ministry by Doug Fields
Sustainable Youth Ministry by Mark Devries
Every Man’s Battle by Stephen Arterburn
Grace Awakening by Charles Swindoll
Bringing Up Boys — James Dobson
Handbook on Counseling Youth — Josh McDowell

What books have shaped you? I’d like to read them next!

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.

One of my favorite traditions we do as a Student Ministries Team here at Saddleback is that we take an annual retreat together. This week I’ve been enjoying a much-needed week away with the team. I needed it for my own soul and refreshment, but our team needs it as well. Here’s why:

We eat/laugh/play together
I laughed last night more than I have in a long time. I laugh a lot, most people even think of me as an easy laugh, but last night was particularly fun. In the “head down” rushing pace of youth ministry sometimes we forget to laugh. Getting away on a retreat let’s you put your guard down. Conversations over meals are the best, and time in the pool or on the tennis courts is super fun.

We share stories together
Last night we had a youth ministry art show – everyone on the team was given a small canvas and asked to create something about youth ministry. It was incredible to see the heart come out and some really unique perspectives on the each others stories and the story of youth ministry.

We make memories together
The more memories, the strong the bond. Staff retreat gives us a chance for spontaneous memories to form and new inside jokes to be created. It helps fill trust reservoirs.

We head home to do battle with the enemy together
The team that retreats together … advances together. Most of the team heads back tomorrow to immediately dive into the final throes of HSM Summer Camp prep. We’ll jump right into an extremely busy season, but filled and ready to fight again for another year.


Was talking with one of the members of our youth ministry team recently – she told the story about one of the girls in her small group being in the hospital for testing and facing some potentially pretty serious health issues just around the corner. The response of the rest of the girls in her group was quick and simple, “what can our small group do?”

That might be the best phrase a student can ask, I think. It shows a depth of maturity not seen in many of that age. It means:

  • they get fellowship – the strength of community in a small group
  • they get discipleship – they’ve matured to unselfishness
  • they get ministry – we are about action not observation

I was excited to hear that phrase, especially when it is said by a teenager. Excited about what God can do with that kind of heart. Excited to see how they answer that question.