Even though school has not let out here in Maryland we are already in summer mode. It doesn’t mean we shut things down or fill it up with summer camps and events, we just alter our schedule. We tone down programming, keep things simple and maintain our pace. The goal in our summer is to prepare for the fall while staying in touch with the teens.

Your summers are so important. How you approach them will determine your readiness for the fall. There is a tendency by many youth ministers to either overload their schedule or completely check out. If you are going to do youth ministry for the long haul you need to treat the summer with the same focus, and attention that you do every other season. If you take advantage you’ll find yourself:

  • Building Margin: By trimming back some of the bells and whistles of your program you’ll find yourself preparing less on a week to week basis. Take that time to rest, pray and grow as a leader. When fall comes you’ll be more conditioned and ready to take on it’s grueling pace.
  • Keeping Momentum: While you want to build margin, you don’t want to completely stop what you are doing. Make sure what you do over the summer is consistent and scheduled. By maintaining a little bit of a pace you can ensure a smoother transition into fall.  
  • Taking Ministry To A New Level: With the margin your are building you can also experiment with a few activities and projects that would be too difficult to pull off in the fall. Think big and don’t fear failure. Summer is a time to cut loose.
  • Investing In Leaders: During the grind of the year it’s hard to find time to get to know your leaders. Use the margin that most people have to hang out and get to know one another. Take them out for coffee, catch a ball game or invite them over for a barbecue. Make the summer relational.

Don’t waste your summer by overplanning or completely check it out. Develop a strategy and take advantage of it’s laid back feeling. By capitalizing on the summer you’ll be more ready for the fall.

What do you do with your summers?

Chris Wesley (@chrisrwesley)

A few months ago we talked about our first steps in helping our students develop a more Sticky Faith. We interviewed Kara Powell about how to help students have a faith that lasts beyond graduation and how churches are working to build communities that are integrated to a degree but still have effective age-specific ministries as well. If you missed the interview please check it out right here.

The second half of that week we talked about what our church was introducing that very week: Worship Together Weekends. The plan was to cancel youth services once a month in order to encourage families to attend the adult worship services together. The hope was that exposing our teenagers to the larger church experience at Saddleback would help them feel like part of the overall church family, not just part of the youth group.

We’ve been getting a ton of questions about it and many have asked for an update, so here we go!

So far, so good!
The first several weeks of Worship Together have been really great—by cancelling youth services the first weekend we actually also happened to coincide with several holidays (July 4th, Labor Day, etc.) so having the joint services was helpful on the lower-attended weekends anyhow. The real test is probably still coming soon, but it has been great so far.

We have a student section.
Yes, we have a section that is specifically designed for students—but we encourage students to sit with their families and friends first before heading there. Some choose to be there and our student ministry team is very present at all services that weekend, meeting parents, greeting, or on stage for announcements or welcome.

No momentum has been lost.
You would think that cancelling youth group once a month would kill momentum, but we haven’t had adverse affects yet. We communicate with texting and Facebook almost exclusively with our students so they know exactly what’s happening each weekend if we’re on or off. Hasn’t been confusing at all, which is a slight miracle.

So where will we go from here? We committed to a one-year experiment, and so far it seems like everybody is pleased with the results, and we’re excited to hear about other churches that are experimenting with new ideas to help students STICK!

Are you trying new things to develop Sticky Faith in your students?

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.

At anytime there are Churches all over the world in the process of searching for a lead pastor or recovering from the departure of the last one. It’s not an easy place to be, but the statistics would say that many of you reading this have been through this or are in the middle of it right now. I am currently entering the 15th month in my church without a lead pastor and it has been a challenging season for sure, but I thought it might be helpful to share about the good and bad of a time that each of us will likely face at some point. For some, this transition period is healthy, and the successor simply steps into place taking the baton and running with it but many on the other hand are sudden departures, with no one to fill the position in the wings and it is these transitions that are the most challenging and painful, mine has been the latter.

The obvious challenge of being leaderless has been a loss in momentum of the Church as despite the effort of our team, losing the “face” of the Church has meant a partial loss of identity and we have spent many months trying to regain lost momentum. For us loss of momentum came with a noticeable migration of attendance and the subsequent drop of in giving. It was not long before budgets tightened and decisions became tougher to make.

There have been staff casualties; hours cut back, positions not filled after departures increasing the amount of work to be shouldered by a decreasing number of people. In the midst of these challenges and growing collateral damage of the reality of Pastoral transition, I am thankful that of all the groups in the Church, our students have remained almost unaffected by the process. Even as parents decide to move churches, students have remained where their friends are.

While the youth have remained fairly unscathed, the same cannot be said for their volunteer leaders and quite frankly myself. It has been very challenging to lead in this uncertain time, with no clear voice or vision to execute; it has taken a great amount of patience and trust in the Lord believing that there are better days ahead. I have had to manage my expectations of what decisions can and will be made in the past 14 months. Even changing obviously broken systems is not easy in with out a leader.

Much of what has changed in the past months has been incremental as stability is often the focus in times like this, and thus a young, passionate leader can become frustrated when we have to put a pause on new initiatives and programs for an indefinite period of time. For some churches it could be 6 months to find a new leader, for us we are going to be 16-20 months at a minimum.

In the midst of a growing portfolio of work, I have had to remind myself that my first priority is my students, their spiritual growth and shepherding. When I look at the relative health that has remained in the youth group, I am actually excited because I am deeply convicted that from this health is an opportunity to shape the future of our church and to be an encouragement in a discouraging time.

Working in a Church without a lead pastor is challenging to say the least, its often difficult, and could seem like a logical place to jump ship. But please, please, please consider what you have been called to. Like a marriage, I chose to work at my Church in sickness and in health and it is not until the moment I am called away that I would even consider leaving no matter how challenging the circumstances.

Chances are each of you will experience a time of lead pastoral transition, I pray for you that it is not as long as ours. Stick with it, trust the He has better days in store for your Church. The workload may seem like too much and the road too tough, stick with it and serve the Church. The refining process for lack of a better word stinks, you feel overwhelmed with work, disheartened by declining attendance and longing for the day when the right leader arrives and takes the reigns. In the mean time, I have to stay faithful and love my students, my Church and focus on doing what I can to lead well in a challenging season of ministry.

PS – If you are in the midst of this and want to chat sometime, email me! We are in this together geoffs@peaceportalalliance.com

-Geoff (Twitter)


Ah, summer ministry is finally here. The change of pace and the escape from church office hours is welcomed; the excitement of camp is all around you. Summer can be one of the most influential seasons in ministry—here’s why we love it and why your summer activities matter so much.

Embrace the change of pace.
When things change, people pay more attention. When you shake things up over the summer you’ve got a chance to be creative in your teaching style, or give guest speakers a new voice to your students (and we don’t mean expensive guest speakers…we mean student leaders, the dad with a cool testimony, etc.). Don’t let the summer be the same old thing—time to experiment!

Plan things to be ultra-relational.
Summer activities are an excuse to hang out with students. Take advantage of that opportunity. Dial down the program and work hard to create space for conversations and real life to be exposed. You might be surprised how the barriers come down when it isn’t over-programmed. Keep a journal and at the end of summer it will be exciting to see how God worked.

Make sure you make some “me” time.
If you’re not careful, you could plan out every waking minute of the summer and end up burned out by August. Don’t make this mistake; usually youth workers make it once and learn from it, or didn’t survive and changed professions by the next summer.

Summer activities build momentum for the kickoff of the school year.
A great summer makes for a great fall—work hard to invest in your people this summer and the returns will last until Christmas.

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.

For those of you who have never heard of the Tim Tam Slam- I’m sorry. I’m sorry you haven’t experienced this cultural, communal phenomenon. I’m sorry you haven’t tasted this creamy, chocolate bonanza. I’m sorry. The reason you don’t know about it is because no one has told you- and that’s against the rules. Wait, rules? How can a no-holds-barred-chocolate-bonanza have rules!? Calm down. There are only two:

  • Rule 1) You must tell people about Tim Tam Slam
  • Rule 2) Never slam alone

It’s not an exaggeration to call the Slam a communal experience. It’s an experience that’s meant to be shared, both in participation and awareness.

By most accounts Tim Tam Slam has Australian origins, but also has a strong tradition in the UK. To begin the Slam, bite a small corner off the chocolate cream cookie (said Tim Tam), turn to the other end and bite the other corner. You now essentially have a cookie straw to drink your hot chocolate (or tea in the UK). Dunk the Tim Tam into the hot chocolate and begin to suck. When the hot chocolate gets to your tongue you pop (or slam) the entire cookie in your mouth and let it dissolve without much chewing, if any at all. What ensues is a rush of chocolate intensity you’ve yet to experience. Clearly, this degree of chocolate consumption is not an exercise for the weak of heart!

I introduced the Slam to my high school students at our winter retreat a few weeks back. It was a strategic decision that went beyond just having some giggles with the students. There were 4 main reasons I wanted to do the Slam at camp:

1. Tradition- The students in my high school ministry love being a part of something bigger than themselves. Of course, this is not unique only to our group, but their level of commitment to tradition is one I haven’t seen before. I’ve commonly heard, “but we’ve always done ________” from adults, but here students love saying they’ve been a part of/dressed up for/planned/attended something for years. I knew by unveiling the Slam at camp we would be creating a new tradition for them to enjoy.

2. Buzz- Our winter camp was at a program camp that usually packs out with 400-500. Our weekend was particularly low in attendance and I worried some of the buzz or energy students get when they’re around hundreds of peers might be lost. My hope was that the mystery surrounding the Slam (“Tim Tam Slam? What is this madness? Tell me!”) could help create some anticipation that we could use as fuel for other camp activities.

3. Momentum- After what would have surely been a successful maiden of voyage of the Slam, our students would have bought into the tradition aspect and we’d have higher buy-in and more buzz for the next occurrence of the Slam (or more specifically the camp or event where it took place) therefore perpetuating reasons 1, 2, 3, and

4. Teachable moment- Remember those rules? Well, those rules in the hands of a wily youth pastor could turn the Slam into an illustration describing following Jesus, evangelism, things we’re passionate about, etc and how we’re supposed to share those things that change our lives and make us do goofy things.

Just to clarify, I’m not claiming ownership of the Slam, nor do I think its some sort of ministry miracle. It is, however, something that when used thoughtfully, can be used for the good of ministry. And anything that reminds us to be intentional, strategic, or thoughtful in ministry is a great thing.

I haven’t cashed in on that teachable moment yet, but the Sunday morning message moment is coming. It won’t be an earth shattering illustration, but hopefully one that students can immediately relate to, personalize, laugh about, and share…. or at least give us another excuse to do the Tim Tam Slam!

Matt Johnston is the High School Pastor at Journey of Faith in Manhattan Beach, CA. He’s been alive for 26 years, in youth ministry for 8, and married for 3. The married part has improved the first two parts greatly- coincidence? He also enjoys slamming Tim Tams on occasion. You can follow Matt on Twitter, if you’re into that sort of thing.

There is a dark and uncomfortable reality to leadership that never makes it into the glossy brochure. It is my least favorite aspect of leadership and one that no one likes to talk about in anything but the abstract. That reality is this: Leadership can be crushingly lonely.

The ministry that I lead is in the midst of challenges. Energy is lagging. Momentum is a fondly remembered feeling. Attendance has lagged. Leaders are tired. Pressure is mounting. Everyone is looking to me to re-energize the team, kick start a new momentum swing, bring new people in the door, excite leaders and alleviate all of the pressure. That is a lonely and challenging place to be.

Loneliness, whether real or imagined, can be discouraging, alienating and destructive. It’s up to us to determine how to handle it. James starts his letter with an unbelievable exhortation: Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. This is one of those verses that’s far easier to think about or ponder than apply. Often in the depths of loneliness, all you can do is trust God to apply it for you.

Leadership is great when everything is going well but gets lonely blindingly fast when challenges are introduced. For those who have led, you know that challenges get introduced after about .14 nanoseconds and so loneliness can set in pretty quickly. You strive to lead well through the good times and challenges both but as a sinful being, you can only do so much. Those that you’re leading seem to believe that you have unlimited resources, energy and ideas. You can continue the facade or admit that you’re broken, limited and human. Either way, the decision is yours and that’s a lonely place to be. Consider it pure joy, though, because those you lead will test your faith and produce perseverance in you. The perseverance that it takes to lead will make your faith mature and complete.

The flip side of this is our own relationship with those who are leading us. We often expect them to intrinsically know when we’re struggling and need help. Those that are leading you, though, are stretched themselves and can only do so much. You expect them to have the answers and feel a deeper loneliness when they don’t offer them. You feel lonely when they issue challenge instead of encouragement. You feel lonely because you’re scared to admit your own inadequacy to them. You feel lonely because you’re doing to them the exact thing that those you’re leading do to you. You expect your leaders to have all of the answers and solutions just like those you’re leading expect you to solve every problem. Consider it pure joy, though, because following will also test your faith and produce perseverance in you. The perseverance it takes to follow will make your faith mature and complete.

Leading is hard and oftentimes lonely. You think that people will line up to encourage and applaud you but that quickly forming line is often full of people with more problems, more complaints and more needs. Even with these challenges, leadership is a deep and holy calling. Stay the course. Finish the race. Consider it pure joy for it’s making your faith mature and complete!

Buz is a special education teacher who passionately loves his ladies (wife and 2 daughters). They live in Spokane, Washington and you can check out his blog right here.