My buddy Matt, the youth pastor at our Irvine Campus, and I just returned from helping launch Saddleback’s first international youth ministry in Manila.

The week was filled with hype, hope, and hard work around the launch. In fact, we were talking so much about “Week 1″ that I finally felt compelled to remind them that we were launching a youth ministry, not just a one-time event. Brittany Hinzo, who helps me with our international stuff had delivered a beautiful little baby girl just a few days earlier so I used her as a launching pad.

“Remember how excited we all were to hear about Brittany’s new baby girl, Navy? Guys, anybody can have a baby! The reality is the birthing process is the easy part; anybody can do that. What’s tough is raising a baby! While I’m just as excited as you about the launch, and largely responsible for creating this excitement, I’m more concerned about week #2 and week #28 and week #84 than I am about week #1″

Youth workers are notorious for new ideas, big plans and fireworks. We love “having babies”! And we are often equally notorious for being terrible at raising them. We have programs we never should have birthed, we are neglecting the health of important things because we are excitedly birthing new things. etc.

We love to ask each other what we are doing that is new, fresh and exciting and rarely ask each other what things we have been doing faithfully for 5 or 6 years that are bearing good fruit.

So while I’m excited about the birth of Saddleback Student Ministry’s addition to the family in Manila, I realize that anybody can have a baby. Can we raise one? I hope so.


A leadership principal I’ve adhered to for years, and tried to help others recognize is that “The pendulum almost always swings back”.

In organizations and in culture things change, futures are predicted, proclamations made, trends noticed etc. Oftentimes this results in a sudden pendulum swing toward the “new way”. Folks who want to make sure the change sticks, or anxious leaders afraid to be late to the new party, often respond aggressively to the swing. As a result new rules and policies are implemented, articles and books are written, and seminars are taught.

But in time….usually not a drastically long time…the pendulum swings back. Maybe not all the way back to the old ways, but back to what is a more accurate “new way” or “new normal”. The pendulum swing was a good thing because it ultimately helped things progress…but they almost never progress as far as the initial swing.

The best, most recent, youth ministry example of this is the issue of faith abandonment; or more specifically the cause of faith abandonment. Suddenly the pendulum swung (or is it swang?) and youth ministry was to blame for most of the church’s problems. Everything we had ever believed about youth ministry was being questioned at best, or under attack at worst. We were doing it all wrong….or the fact that we were doing it so well was actually doing it wrong because it created a shallow, undeveloped faith in students. And there was some truth in all of that; SOME truth.

But if you’ve been paying attention, you’ve seen that the pendulum has already begun to swing back to the middle…not all the way back to the old ways, but back to what is a more accurate “new normal”.

Below are just a couple of recent examples of the pendulum swinging back:

Ed Stetzer

Mark Matlock

I’m glad we had a pendulum swing because it forced us to take an honest look at this beautiful mess called youth ministry. I’m sad some folks jumped on board the pendulum too early, giving a black eye to something that I don’t feel deserved it. And I’m thrilled that the pendulum is beginning to swing back to a new normal!

What have you learned makes a serving experience or camp a great one?

Doug Franklin over at Leadertreks has some great thoughts on how most of this is up to the posture of adult leaders. Here are ten of his observations:

  • Mission_TeamGoing is not enough: “…we don’t just want them to go, we want them to grow.”
  • Be a trip mentor: “A trip is a great place to develop a long-term, life-changing relationship with a student.”
  • Have a purpose for the trip: “What do you want your students to look like when they return?”
  • Inspire spiritual growth: “Students will feel a need for God while on the trip, and this is a great opportunity for you to introduce them to spiritual disciplines”
  • Find teachable moments: “…mix a student’s experience with the truth of God’s Word.”
  • Challenge students: “… [it[ starts with challenging the top performing students."
  • Get sleep: “Trips become increasingly ineffective as team members become tired.”
  • Add value to your adult volunteers: “… the number one problem I see over and over again is adult volunteers who have no idea what they are doing on the trip. They come because youth trips need adults, but beyond that they are not sure why they are there.”
  • Remember Boundaries = Love: “Don’t give students what they want; give them what they need.”
  • Stay connected to God: “You can’t impart what you do not have.”

(Read the rest of Doug’s solid article here.)

I think Doug is spot on. Just last month we had a major difference in a serving camp experience because of the investment we made into our adults, which in turn helped them better invest into students.

Which of his points most stands out to you?

Is there anything you would add or subtract?

Today I made a statement I’ve never made before. I said, “College Ministry is sort of like being a foster parent.” I believe that to be true for a few reasons, perhaps the most obvious reason being college-age people are in many ways “orphaned” by the Church structures we typically live under. But there is another reason I made the statement. Let me explain…

I had a meeting this morning with a pastor of a college ministry who emailed me to see if we could connect. Although I don’t have a ton of time for these types of meetings I always try to make time and really enjoy them. I love meeting new people and especially ministry leaders. He was sharing his heart for college students and expressing his struggle with having to say good-bye to them once they graduate. He really enjoys the relationships and is always in a bit of turmoil when it comes to people moving on from his ministry. One of the questions he had was about whether or not I could relate to the pain of that.

I, of course, said I cannot – I don’t like people.

Just kidding! Obviously I can relate a great deal to this and really appreciated his heart for those he invests in. We talked about how to navigate this, but I did address one thing he pointed out. He was telling me he finds himself, at times, distancing himself from them because he knows they will at some point leave. I totally understand this tendency and this is when I said the statement I mentioned above.

You see, many people say they could never do foster care because they don’t think they can handle the emotional pain of having the give up their kids at some point. I fully understand that protective tendency, but my point this morning was that I find this reasoning to be in opposition to Jesus’ call to deny ourselves daily. In other words, not to care for the orphans of our society simply because we want to protect ourselves from feeling pain seems to be pretty selfish and therefore inappropriate when held up to Jesus’ call for continual selflessness. So, in this context and in light of the gospel call toward self denial, I was trying to encourage him to hang in there and continue to invest himself into as many people as he can – knowing full well it would be hard. It was an encouraging time of discussion with this new friend. We also discussed ways he can have more sustainable relationships, which was fun to talk about as well.

- Chuck

frozenThere is no shortage of parodies surrounding the movie “Frozen.” 

You’ve likely seen your share.

I apologize for sharing another one.

The leadership team at this church came together to create their own, all related to a pastor who is working on his sermon and won’t come out of his study.

Cheesy? Sure.

Unnecessary? Perhaps.

I do have a few questions of my own, though:

  • How do you think the church reacted after seeing this on a Sunday?
  • Why?
  • What in your church/ministry could elicit a similar reaction?

My opinion? Without knowing this church, I see a snapshot of leaders who love doing life together. Everyone got involved… and I can only assume you felt that, too. I wonder how they’re nurturing that.

Any applications or desires for your ministry?

Screen Shot 2014-06-26 at 7.23.10 AMOkay, personally, I was over the whole acronym thing about 15 years ago. That said, for the first time in that time frame I have come up with one that I think works well. How’s that for internal contradiction? Anyway, I came up with this a little while ago and has served as somewhat of a guideline for putting together my staff, and more specifically, the “pastoral” staff. However, I do believe this can serve as a guideline for any leadership team.

The way I say it is, “I believe every staff is held together by P.A.S.T.E.” I would say that to have the best team possible we should have people in each of these areas. I’ve written brief descriptions of each below so read through them and compare it to those you lead with or those on your team. Also, see where you might fit into the bigger picture yourself.

P – prophetic. This person tends to be concerned with having reverence for God and caring for the poor and needy (like the prophets in scripture).

A – apostolic. This person is a starter of new things, likes having a lot of plates spinning and can generally boil things down into a simple vision people follow.

S – shepherd. This person is caring, a good listener and will generally give people hours of their time in counseling.

T – teacher. This person can bring refreshing and practical perspective on the scriptures for those who are being taught.

E – evangelist. This person can bring the truth of the gospel into an area (whether that be an entire city or a neighborhood or a workplace).

Every person on my staff has at least 2 of these.  For me, mine are Teacher, Apostolic and Evangelist (not necessarily in that order).  How about you and your team?


Leadership 8A lot of times when we think of student leaders, we think of the students who are the elite of our ministry. And that is completely false. Student leaders are just students who are committed to serving a cause greater than themselves. My pray is that our students simply learn to serve like Jesus. So here are a few random thoughts that I’ve been noodling on that has been pushing us in that direction.

  • Grow together  – Asking students to do and be things you aren’t doing or being is the easiest road to a revolt within student leadership. Instead, take them as a whole with you included on a journey of growth in serving like Jesus.
  • We are all in the same boat - I got a great idea from one of my veteran volunteers. He gave me the idea to create a struggle sheet. This sheet listed the things that we as christians struggle with. I had them fill it out anonymously. Once they were done I collected them all and shuffled them. Then I passed them back out, with each student receiving someone else’s sheet. I then begin to say “if this struggle is on your sheet raise your hand?” Hands begin to go up with each struggle mentioned. Then I let them know that we are no different than the students we are committed to serving. They struggle with the same stuff we struggle with. My goal was to change their perspective on thinking that we were some how special or better than anyone else. I also wanted to create a level of compassion within them, for the students we will serve.
  • Setting expectations - Not for the sake of having rules, but for the sake of serving others and becoming better followers of Christ. No one is expected to have it all together, but you should expect them to pursue the growth that draws them to serve and be more like Jesus. Set expectations and expect them to meet them.
  • Create something worth being a part of - This generation isn’t just looking for change, but to be a part of a movement. They are looking to be the catalysis to helping the less fortunate or speaking up for the voiceless. Remember “Kony 2012″, “Bring back our girls” or “Blackfish”?I believe students latched on to these causes because of their longing to be a part of something. There is no other mission on the planet like showing, and sharing God’s love to the world. It’s the greatest most important cause/movement ever. I want students to join in on the movement that changed my life when I was 17. This generation is hungry to be a part of something life changing. So make it worth it.
  • Personal growth - Student leaders need to grow as a person and also in their walk with Christ. Even though we encourage getting involved, we definitely don’t want them just jumping on the bandwagon of causes. We want them to understand that their influence is important, but it also can hinder them without personal growth. Growth in influence and authority without spiritual/personal growth leads to ego growth and narcissistic leadership.

My goal is for students to simply serve like Jesus. I want their title to remind them of their commitment to serve and not just lead. There you go, just a few random thoughts. What has been a struggle for you concerning your leadership program for students?


Hope it helps,



stirstickI go to Starbucks every morning. I’m like an old man stuck in his routine. It’s where I read, write, think, pray, and drink $2.00 tea that I could make at home for 25 cents.

Today, after ordering my tea I headed over to the condiment counter to add some milk and sugar. To my dismay, in the little spot that normally holds the stir sticks was a note that read, “We are out of stir sticks. Sorry!” I was a little surprised, because for a coffee place to run out of stir sticks seems sorta like a hamburger place running out of buns. Forgivable, I suppose.

What was more surprising to me was that two hours later as I was walking out the door…the little note was still there! How many customers had wandered over to the condiment bar hoping to find stir sticks had been left frustrated? Less than 50 yards away sits a grocery store, and I’m pretty sure they sell stir sticks. Now, they may not sell the eco-friendly wooden stir sticks that Starbucks uses, but they certainly sell something.

Why didn’t anybody on the Starbucks team feel empowered to go buy some random stir sticks from the store?
Is sticking to the “approved stir sticks” cited in the manager’s notebook more important than customer service?
Would it have been totally okay to go buy some, but nobody took the initiative?

Those are all questions that went through my mind as I walked out the door. And they raise some interesting questions for those of us who lead youth ministries:

Are you a leader who is creating a culture of empowerment…does your team feel the freedom to problem solve?
In what areas does ministry to people in real-time trump your policies and procedures?
Do you have people on your team who, if given the freedom, take initiative or do they assume somebody else will do it?

- Kurt