Whether you are a youth pastor, parent, teacher, or random person in the mall, you know that teenagers (along with several other age ranges) are addicted to technology in some form or another. It does not help that this is the most plugged in generation with iPhones, iPads, laptops, televisions, Xbox 360, and every other digital screen that you can imagine.

This has caused many people to worry. The death toll for people texting while driving in the last five years is over 16,000 people, families have transformed from Friday nights together to everyone in their own room in the basking glow of their digital device, and many teenagers are showing symptoms of withdrawal from studies that have looked at fasting from technology.

The question is, how can we as a community fight back against tech addictions? We have a few ideas for you below.

  1. Tech-Free Church Services
    What would happen if we fully turned off all tech at church and youth groups for the one hour that we are sitting in the sanctuary? This is not limited to the phones of congregation members, but includes all of the monitors in the lobby promoting the Bible studies or iPad that are used to sign up for missions trips. Retreats that have limited or no phone use (do not read “no phones” as leadership should always have a way to be contacted) can make engaging with teenagers easier.

    Maybe you ease into it and only do one Sunday a month and see the success of it. It may not seem like a long time, but soon you begin to talk to church members that you sit beside. Youth pastors now can preach and know that there is one less distraction in the room. Small group leaders know that they have their group’s undivided attention. Relationships flourish and you begin to forget about that tech.

  2. A Tech-Only Room
    So many families want to know how they can reunite their families back in their homes. Teenage boys are in their room playing Xbox, teen girls are in their rooms on the phone, dad’s in the living room watching television, and mom is on the laptop in the study working.

    One experiment that has seen significant success is a tech only room. It contains the only television in the house, the only place you are allowed to get on computers, and the only place you are allowed on the phone. This can cause an inconvenience at first and does not guarantee that families will even converse fully, but it ensures that you get to see family members while they are home. At the same time, for families that have concern for pornography or too much video game playing, this is easily monitored simply by proximity.

  3. Talk About Rules Before You Have To Enforce Them
    Setting up a culture within a church or school system or implementing rules at home that are established before any issues come up have shown to reduce the risk of anything happening before they should. Let your teenagers know what will happen if they text while driving, install the proper monitoring applications, and consistently check up on them. Let them know that if they break rules on computer and gaming usage or do something that is inappropriate, that they will punished a certain way.

    We are not looking to “punish them with the rules” but instead to protect them from the dangers that tech brings. Know why you are putting rules into place and explain it to teenagers or others so that everyone is on the same page. If there is strong pushback, at least listen to what they have to say, regardless if you plan to take their advice. This will show respect for them and may even give you a better opportunity to speak into your teens’ lives.

    When these rules are established, follow them yourself. Teens have the easy excuse right now of texting while driving because adults do it too. Be a good role model and if need be, enact the punishment upon yourself if you break it. At the same time, a reward for following the rules has shown to promote further positive-viewed behavior.

How have you seen a tech-free environment have a positive outcome?

Jeremy Smith is a youth worker at the Air Force Academy chapel, working for Club Beyond, and attending Denver Seminary for his Masters of Arts in Counseling Ministries. He has been involved in Youth for Christ for eight years — check out his blog at Seventy8Productions.

Parenting in this new millennium in the first world culture may be the most different than any other generation that has ever been before. We are in a world of being always on, teens having access to more sinful content than ever, and a culture that says it should be all about you instead of all about your children and family. At the same time, God seems to be less of a focus within the family system than ever before.

Maybe the most frequent questions I have heard as a youth worker from parents at the chapel I serve in is how parents approach technology with their children. This is a whole new world with little to no precedent established from previous parenting models. This unknown territory has initiated fear, concern and doubt in the value added to technology with their children as well as a perceived loss of family communication and values being passed on.

We want to share with you a few tips for parents to have with technology and their children. Take it if it adds value or share with us how you have done it differently down in the comments.

  • Parents Should Look Through Cell Phones
    As a youth worker, I am in the unique position between teenagers want privacy in their lives and parents wanting to protect their children. As a youth worker, we want to support great parenting and yet find ourselves also being empathetic to the teens. Yet, I constantly find myself voicing the support of a parent to have the right and authority to look through their child’s phone. If you set up an understanding with the child before you begin and explain that this is a right to have a phone with the agreement that will be monitored, it becomes less of an invasion of privacy and more about the fact that they are reminded that their phone is a privilege.
  • Pornography Is An Issue For ALL Students
    Parents here me say this and think, sure for all other children it is a problem, but not theirs. Many statistics differ. “But my would never do that!” Some studies say that 100% of children are exposed to pornography if they use the computer more than three hours a week. That would include your child. “But my daughter wouldn’t see have an issue with it.” Unfortunately, the issue of women regularly looking at pornography is sharply rising as is an addiction to it for females. Have this talk, put necessary software on your computer, and do not assume ANYTHING.
  • Do Not Be Afraid of Technology
    Technology can be a scary thing. The two points above are hard conversations and points of sin for many different people, but the nature of technology can be a good thing. To shove off all things technology would also be a negative approach. Instead, know that technology is a tool and if you keep that priority and do not allow it to rule over you, it can help your family. Make fun family videos to post on YouTube, find your favorite time with family to watch a television show, and communicate via text messages, just do so with moderation.
  • Communicate Intent With Actions
    If I could communicate any one thing to parents, it would the fact that they need to communicate their intent with their children more. Sure, not every decision you do with them needs to have a briefing of why you decided what you did, but at the same time, so many arguments and battles that happen could simply be prevented if you had just communicated the love, time, and fear that goes into why you put the different rules down that you did. Will you have to repeat them because teenagers forget? Yes. Does communicating prevent all arguments with children? No. But some of my own parenting models came from when my parent explained why I was limited on television use or needed to call instead of text them.

What other parenting tips on technology would you add to this list?

Jeremy Smith is a youth worker at the Air Force Academy chapel, working for Club Beyond, and attending Denver Seminary for his Masters of Arts in Counseling Ministries. He has been involved in Youth for Christ for eight years — check out his blog at Seventy8Productions.



If you work with the youth of America in any fashion, be it youth ministry or as a parent, you know that we have identified this generation by the inventions that they have been raised among. Some call them the Internet Generation or the Digital Gen, which leads many to assume that this generation not only is always online through a digital interface some how, but that they actually prefer it.

That notion could not be further from the truth. But before we get there, let’s look at how they got that name.

  • 90% of teenagers are connected to the Internet through phones, laptops, or gaming devices. In fact, there are more ways to get online now than ever before.
  • 68% of teens text daily, girls more than guys
  • 51% visit Facebook daily, sometimes for more than 3 hours a day
  • Some rough estimates believe the average teen is on a digital device up to 13 hours a day and can be as high as 18 hours!

While those numbers seem to scream that they have a problem, what those numbers do not reflect are what the teens know about this heavy usage and their desires for something more.

  • 1/3 of teens actually long for time off from the Internet while 36% of teens wish they could go back to a time when there was no Facebook.
  • 49% of the surveyed teens prefer a face-to-face conversation above any other form of communication.
  • 41% of teens consider themselves addicted to their phones and 43% wish they could unplug (half of those wish their parents would join them too!)

[Study from CommonSenseMedia.org]

The question for you, be you youth pastor or parent, teacher or just someone who sees teens at church, how are you helping or hindering the situation? They had to learn these habits from somewhere and be given permission (even if it is an unspoken one) from someone. Are you perpetuating the problem or offering a solution?

If you do not get anything else from this article, hear this: teenagers not only want face-to-face conversations, but they want to be heard. Sometimes it comes across as needy and whiny, but they are navigating a turbulent time in their lives where their identity is shifting from being within a family to developing into an adult and it is not a safe journey by any means.

What can you do within your context to promote a healthier way of communicating that honors the teenagers?

Jeremy Smith is a youth worker at the Air Force Academy chapel, working for Club Beyond, and attending Denver Seminary for his Masters of Arts in Counseling Ministries. He has been involved in Youth for Christ for eight years — check out his blog at Seventy8Productions.

I am a man that loves to further my education. I know that I do not know it all and have weaknesses and have found that education in some form or another has enabled me to improve on those weaknesses as well as further my strengths. Yet, many would say that they do not need it or simply do not have the time. Unfortunately, with stagnation can come “pond scum” and getting stuck in ruts that can make our faith bland or seemingly fake. We need to keep ourselves on our toes and challenging ourselves.

 

Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young. – Henry Ford

 

This week I will be headed to Youth for Christ’s Regional Conference for the central states. While here, I will be able to hang out with like-minded people who have a unique perspective on youth ministry and Christian faith. In this time, I hope that I will be refreshed, renewed, and learn a few things.

Continued Reading

I don’t know about you, but my stack of “need-to-read” list of books is immense and I’m constantly reading something. Currently, I have three different books I am going through at one time: The Millennials: Connecting to America’s Largest Generation by Thom Rainer and Jess Rainer, The Pastor: A Memoir by Eugene Peterson, and Connect: Real Relationships in a World of Isolation by Jonathan McKee. Keep reading to be inspired, encouraged, and learning for your own faith and your ministry.

Professional Classes
I am in my first year at Denver Seminary and loving every minute of it. Honestly, in the last twenty-one years of my life, I have not been in class for one year. This education is not for everyone, but the teachers and professors that challenge your thinking and community of learners to grow with is inspiring and spurs on creativity and passion. If you have not been in a classroom as a student for years, it might be scary. But do not let that scare you and prevent you for at least looking into this adventure.

Professional Conferences

Conferences are a great idea for those that can only commit a week to their professional development. It provides the community and courses for those that are willing to take the four to seven days and invest in the events. As I shared before, I will be going to Youth for Christ’s Regional Conference along with our biennial national conference’s MidWinter in February 2012. Two great conferences for youth workers are Simply Youth Ministry Conference and Youth Specialties’ National Youth Workers Convention.

Mentoring and Accountability

While all of these things are great ideas, they should all be done within accountability. This might be in the form of other youth workers or a mentor that is investing in you. In the end, learning does have great benefits but is still work. We need to have people who are our cheerleaders encouraging us on and at the same time a coach pushing us when we do not want to go any further. This encouragement and support can only make us better and improve our ministry.

Jeremy Smith is a 26-year old youth pastor at the Air Force Academy chapel, working for Club Beyond, and attending Denver Seminary for his Master”s of Arts in Counseling Ministries. He has been involved in Youth for Christ for eight years and absolutely loves sharing the life of Jesus with teens. Check out his blog at Seventy8Productions.



You may have seen a youth group that has just settled. The students know what is coming next in program, you have not done anything new in five years, there is a lot of insider talk going on and any new people that want to come to youth group find themselves left out. You have probably played the same games every four months, the lessons seem to be oddly similar week to week, and praise and worship has become stale. I have been to a couple of them and I find my heart breaking for what more their could be.

I have worked in some very different places as I have served as a paid youth worker. Sometimes the community of youth workers did amazing ministry that inspired me to go far and above what I thought was good enough for youth ministry. Other times, I have served in an area where the youth workers did just enough to look good and get their pay check. The organization I am working with now, Club Beyond, does not settle for good enough.

We do youth ministry in chapels on military bases which means we have high expectations for being great in ministry. Traditions can be a great thing, but if not navigated well, you can fall into a youth ministry rut.

So is your youth ministry settling for good enough? Take this quick survey:

  1. What is the state of the spiritual formation of your students?
  2. Has your youth group format changed at all in three months?
  3. Do your students ask the tough questions and do you address those questions at some point?
  4. Are you excited the day of your meeting or think more about what is going to happen afterwards?
  5. Have your teenagers, volunteers, parents, and yourself been challenged at all in the last four meetings?

These might not be fun questions to answer, but for your students to thrive at youth group, you need to provide a ministry that is thriving too.

Jeremy Smith is a 26-year old youth pastor at the Air Force Academy chapel, working for Club Beyond, and attending Denver Seminary for his Master”s of Arts in Counseling Ministries. He has been involved in Youth for Christ for eight years — check out his blog at Seventy8Productions.

Youth workers, both full-time and part-time, paid and volunteers, first-year and veteran can face many of the same struggles of ministry, one of the most worrisome is burnout. Burnout is typically characterized by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a reduced sense of personal accomplishment. Consequences of burnout include impaired physical health, reduced job performance, negative communication with colleagues, declining professional commitment, reduced self-esteem, and poorer overall life satisfaction.

What burnout is NOT is being tired because of lack of sleep, getting frustrated at yourself or others because things did not go your way, or lack of self-control in confrontations (though all of these can feed into burnout). Youth workers face burnout through numerous avenues including inflexible work schedules, excessive control from your supervisor(s), conflict between personal and ministry needs, high expectations, and insufficient personal relationships or mentoring. In the end, we know that burnout results from the emotional demands of interacting with others and need to intentionally take time to tend to our own soul. Without a Holy Spirit within us and brothers and sisters in Christ surrounding us, we will never be able to fully meet the needs of those within the ministry we serve.

In the end, we know that burnout results from the emotional demands of interacting with others and need to intentionally take time to tend to our own soul.

In the next three days we will be looking at how to handle the stress that leads to burnout, what to do afterwards if we do suffer burnout, and how we can prevent putting ourselves in that situation. We will further address each of these this week, but here is a brief description of each of those topics:

Dealing With The Stress [read more]
Burnout begins with the demands and stress from work, home, personal goals, and sin, but ultimately it comes down to the excessive stressors. We need to know how to handle this stress by know what emotionally and physically wears you out, establish and keep strong boundaries from your work with your family and faith, and allow God to be the one who leads the ministry.

When The Flames Go Out [read more]
Burnout is our emotional and spiritual response to the excessive demands that we put on ourselves. We will look at three vital steps one must do in follow-up of burning out including taking time to stop and be with Jesus, identify what excessive stressors led to the burnout, and working with others in your organization and ministry to prevent those stressors from leading to another burnout.

Burnout Prevention [read more]
We need to take seriously the concept of burnout and take steps to prevent it. We will look at three different ways that Jesus tended to His soul from Mark 14:32-34 including the ability to recognize His troubled soul, He surrounded Himself with those He trusted, and He went to our heavenly Father in prayer.

Jeremy Smith is a 26-year old youth pastor at the Air Force Academy chapel, working for Club Beyond, and attending Denver Seminary for his Master”s of Arts in Counseling Ministries. He has been involved in Youth for Christ for eight years — check out his blog at Seventy8Productions.



The teenage life is a huge time of transitions, from safety and security in their family to finding out who they are in school and life outside of the family. From a teen’s eyes, it might seem like an endless series of crisis events. And to make it worse, no two crisis could be the same. They can face anything from bullies to divorcing parents, failing grades to friends who cut.

As youth workers to see hundreds, maybe thousands of students a week, how do we interact, work with, and serve those students who are going through a crisis? There are three things that every situation will need you to do, regardless of the situation: you need to be ready for crisis to happen, we need to give them time and space initially instead of fixing immediately, and we need to see it to the end.

We will further address each of these this week, but here is a brief description of each:

Be Prepared for Crisis [read more]
Preparation of a crisis that could (and will) happen involves three things: leaving time in your schedule to give it your full attention, knowing the resources available to you to best handle the situation, and creating an environment that is safe to be open and talk with adults and others about their problems. These allow us to effectively and fully engage with the student, preventing deeper wounds being created from our own shortcomings.

Giving Them Time And Space, Instead of Fixing Anything [read more]
Our first reaction to working with students is the desire to fix what they are facing because of any three things: we need to quickly fix their crisis so we can face our own, we are uncomfortable with the pain, or we assume that we know what the whole story is that has led to this crisis. But if we give them the time and space, this will allow them to work through their emotions (no matter how hard that is) as well as establish a deeper relationship between you and the student.

Creating A Comfortable Environment For Students [read more]
So many crisis are never told to an adult because of the fear that they will be judged, ignored, or rejected because of the problem. Yet, we can create a safe environment for them to share their hearts with us instead of hiding it away by developing deep and authentic relationships that start with sharing your own hurts and wounds from your past, regularly telling students that adults in the church are hear to talk, and consistently preach and teach on the tough topics like suicide and bullying.

Jeremy Smith is a 26-year old youth pastor at the Air Force Academy chapel, working for Club Beyond, and attending Denver Seminary for his Master”s of Arts in Counseling Ministries. He has been involved in Youth for Christ for eight years — check out his blog at Seventy8Productions.

This past Friday, I received the unfortunate news that my grandmother, one of my biggest heroes and Christian role models, passed away. I can truly say she was one of my best friends for all 26 years of my life and I will miss her intensely for many years to come. The pain of her death is real and the grief I feel is overwhelming.

The other realization that came about in the last few days is that I have to lead a volunteer training the youth ministry I serve with this weekend. How could I be a leader to these people, putting on a face when my soul was weeping, and getting through the training? If I do that I am being fake to myself and to God, but not addressing the training fully is a disservice to my volunteers and the students they are called to serve. Through this time of sorrow and leading, I have come to three points that are important to keep in mind.

Accept Grief For What It Is
People who minister to others tend to not allow others to serve them. I do not know if it is pride, trying to be strong for others, or just the inability to let others into our lives when we hurt, but we bottle it up until we can deal with it at a later time when it is “more convenient.” But to accept this as truth can eat away at our souls. Even Jesus needed time to mourn for Lazarus after he passed away, why do we think we should be the exception? If we do not allow ourselves to fully grieve, we can start to hide away parts of ourselves from loved ones and eventually try to hide it from God. That wound can then fester and turn into something bigger and more destructive than what it first started out as.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words
The youth ministry world is constantly talking about how they want to have authentic community with their leaders, to draw closer together with those that they serve along side. One beautifully painful way of doing so is to be upfront and honest with them. Open your heart to them, ask for them to pray for you, shed some tears together, and allow them to carry some of your burden. This allows you to be vulnerable to your volunteers and at the same time, gives them the permission to bring their heart to the group no matter how wounded it might be.

Respect Their Time, Do Not Dwell In The Pain
I had come to train my volunteers and that is what needed to happen, eventually. Some of these people might be paying babysitters, others skipping out of family plans so that they can get the training to fulfill a calling to serve the youth at your church. Honor them and their time by not dwelling on the situation longer than is necessary. Be real, open your heart, and then get to business. This moment of mourning does not have to be the only time to be real with your volunteers about your heart and so you can reconnect with them over the following months individually at Starbucks or breakfast at McDonalds. In so honoring their time, you can strengthen the relationships that have already been established.

Jeremy Smith is a 26-year old youth pastor at the Air Force Academy chapel, working for Club Beyond, and attending Denver Seminary for his Master”s of Arts in Counseling Ministries. He has been involved in Youth for Christ for eight years — check out his blog at Seventy8Productions.