“Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt, made the parody t-shirt.”

There are some truths that you simply need to be reminded of, only from a fresh angle, to overtake your moods and tendencies.

C.S. Lewis said it this way:

Now Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason ’has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes. I know that by experience. Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable. This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods “where they get off,” you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion. Consequently one must train the habit of Faith.

The first step is to recognise the fact that your moods change. The next is to make sure that, if you have once accepted Christianity, then some of its main doctrines shall be deliberately held before your mind for some time every day. That is why daily prayers and religious reading and church-going are necessary parts of the Christian life. We have to be continually reminded of what we believe. Neither this belief nor any other will automatically remain alive in the mind. It must be fed. And as a matter of fact, if you examined a hundred people who had lost their faith in Christianity, I wonder how many of them would turn out to have been reasoned out of it by honest argument? Do not most people simply drift away?

This is a value worth teaching your students, especially in a world where there are constantly new ways to repackage/remix everything from music to movies.

It’s also a value worth noting in how you teach your students. It will be your mood or tendency to reach them using whatever reached you.

Case in point, consider the original Star Wars trailer:


Now watch this “super trailer” for all three of the original movies:

Finally, consider this “Guardians of the Galaxy” style version:

Same content, but different presentation.

  • Which one would inspire you to go buy a ticket?
  • Which one would most inspire your students to go buy a ticket?


Are you teaching and doing ministry according to what worked for you “back in the day,” or realizing there’s a whole new generation who sees life differently than you do?

Does it matter? What do you think?

Closer, Farther OR Bubblegum…


In light of the recent VMA awards, I wanted to share with you a favorite “goto” lesson I do often with my students. This works as either part of a series or as a “Quick” in between curriculum. 

Lesson Overview:

Purity goes way beyond the body and should be brought up often.  Purity is about the mind, the heart, AND the body.  One of the most difficult parts of navigating life as a teen is trying to figure out practically what living for the Lord means.  Our tendency as those in ministry can be to give our students a list of “do’s and don’ts”  that are really our opinions. You know: DON”T wear that outfit, listen to that music or watch that television show or movie. DO only wear this thing, watch G movies, and listen to worship music.  The problem with that approach is that it can encourage a student to modify their behavior without ever looking at what is going on in their heart. Instead, when we help them look at what they are they putting into their minds through their eyes and ears we can help them navigate if they are filtering it through a Christ centric world view,or if they even want to.

In this lesson you are going to be taking the lyrics of a popular song and go line by line through it asking if students know the reference or what it is about.  If they don’t understand something, you are going to explain it.  The point is to not be judgmental but instead to help them really learn what they are listening to and what it means.  We want them to be honest if the song is bringing them closer to the Lord, away from HIm in what they are thinking on or is it “bubblegum”  (just fluff),


Bible Passages:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Phil 4:8

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Matthew 5:8


The WEEK before you plan to do this lesson ask students to brainstorm their favorite songs on the radio.  (Blurred Lines, especially the rap version would be perfect for this right now.)  Tell them next week you have a surprise lesson planned.  (You can also pick a song off the radio but it works best if you use current songs students are listening to.  You can pick two or three.  It is up to you if you want to add that you don’t want to work with songs with explicit lyrics. Try to get them to be honest beyond what they think you want to hear.)

Find the lyrics online and print a copy for everyone in small groups the following week.

*Note: It doesn’t hurt to have 2 or 3 songs ready to go just in case they are “quick”  You may need to send a note home to parents letting them know what you are going to do this week.  In addition if a small group leader hasn’t heard the song you pick that is fine.  You might want to encourage them to listen to a snippet so they know the sound.  However,  what’s more important is the prep in making sure they have each read the lyrics and know what it is saying.

Opening Activity (Optional):

Name that song:

Play one or two lines from about 5 to 10 Different Songs.(Depending on the time you want to take.)  You will want them to be a mix of Christian Music, Worship Music, Oldies,  And Even Current Popular Songs (That you know and would consider “positive.”) Do NOT play the whole song!

The person who can name the most songs gets a pack of Bubblegum.

Say Something Like:

Tonight in our small group time we are going to see if you know what you are listening to.  We are going to go line by line through a song that is played often on the radio right now. (Tell them the song)  We are going to decide together if this song helps us learn about God, brings us away from him or is what I call “bubble gum.”  Those are songs that are full of “sugar” they aren’t overtly “bad” but they don’t necessarily help us get closer to the Lord.  Our goal for the evening would be that you can begin to truly pay attention to what you listen to

Move to Small Groups


We are talking tonight about (insert song) Why do you like the song?

Answers will vary.


Take the time to walk through the song line by line, explaining the song as you go.

Stop often and make sure they are understanding “hidden” references.  Pull it apart.  However, avoid judging whether or not they “should” be listening to it.  If they ask if you like it, give your opinion. Tell them why you do or don’t like it.  Sometimes you might even say,  “I understand why it’s so catchy and you like it, but it doesn’t mean it’s a song that is bringing you closer to the Lord.”



  • What is each line about?
  • Is it obvious or is it an underlying reference to something else?

Don’t judge the song or the thoughts just go through and help students understand it.

Now have them look at the song as a whole and ask:

  • If you are honest does this song help you think about the Lord and grow in your relationship with HIm?

Answers will vary based on the song.

Say Something Like:

I am not attacking your music selection.  I am also not saying you ONLY have to listen to Christian music or worship music. What we are talking about tonight is that what we listen to matters.  Those words, even if we think we are only listening to the “sound” are coming into our heads.  Have you ever realized you know the lyrics to a song from the radio you don’t even like?  There are times when music from the radio that isn’t written FOR Jesus makes us think about Him. There are times love songs are like that. We have to decide beyond Sunday morning what in the world around us helps us to not only focus on the Lord, but learn to live for HIM.  Let’s take a minute and just look at two really short verses.

Read Mark 5:8 & Philippians  4:8


  • What do you think it means to be pure in heart?
  • Why will they see the kingdom of God?
  • Why do you think we are supposed to think on things that are true, pure, lovely, etc.?
  • What does that mean?

Finish by saying something like:

Being pure in heart is not about being perfect.  It is about making choices that help us grow closer to the Lord. Seeing His kingdom is about knowing HIm.  Everyday we can make small choices in what we listen to, watch or absorb that either bring us closer or farther away from God.

Take some time to talk about other ways they can focus on the “pure” from Phil 4:8 in a practical way.  Challenge students to pay attention to the lyrics of the music they listen to in the coming week.  Follow up the next week by just asking them about pure, noble, etc.

*Note: You can also do this lesson focusing on movies, television, youtube, or any media.  It’s great to come back to it several times over the year as a reminder of what purity is, and that it isn’t just about our “bodies.”

Let me know if you have questions,  Feel free to pass this on.



Marty McFly.

Biff Tannen.

Doc Brown.

Depending on when you were born, you’ve likely either had a full-fledged theater experience or an at-home movie viewing of Back to the Future. It’s arguably one of the better movie franchises to come out of the 1980’s, thanks to its writing, directing and acting.

backtothefutureLet’s not forget the car either. Seriously, I still want a DeLorean.

A website called the A.V. Club compared how the actors appeared in the original movie (with makeup that aged them 30 years) with how they now look 30 years later.

It’s an interesting commentary on pop culture.

Speaking of the 80’s, that was really the era when the average household began owning a video camera. Since then, we’ve gone from having to lug around large TV-reporter-sized units to putting phone-sized HD tech into our pockets.

I wonder… as a youth worker, have you by chance kept any video footage of students over the years?

  • Ever record a baptism?
  • Did you snag the moment they gave their lives to Jesus during a camp altar call?
  • Have you ever caught them talking about what matters to them?

Where is that footage? Is it just collecting dust, or could you serve those old students by doing something with it?

  • What if you had a pizza party with some students who graduated a few years ago and showed them some highlights from when they were active in youth group?
  • How about creating a Facebook page where teens (likely now young adults) could share their favorite pics and videos in one place?
  • Is there some guy (or gal) in his twenties who needs to receive a DVD in the mail of a missions trip you all went on together 10 years earlier?

Maybe we need to take a cue from pop culture and help the present-day people go “back to the future” they said they knew God wanted them to live. I did this once by showing a girl, who got wrapped up in guys her senior year, footage of her in her freshman year declaring she was going to put God first in her relational life.

What do you think this value could look like in your context?

Thank you for loving students!



In spite of the fact that I am athletically challenged, have never really known exactly what to cheer for as my children have played soccer, basketball, or baseball and don’t even really like or follow ANY sports of any kind, somehow all my son has ever wanted to do is play football.  We placated him with the “flag” version for several years,  however,  he  just wanted to play the “real” game.  This year as he enters 7th grade we gave in.  It has been an eyeopening experience for all of us.  It is teaching him discipline and responsibility in new and creative ways.  However, for the first time EVER sports will infringe on church and church activities (including youth group.)  It is interesting because in the world of us youth pastors this is what we always complain about.  How could parents/students choose sports (or band, debate, drama) over what’s important?

Here are some thoughts from the “other side:”

Unpacking  Faith

As far as he or we can figure out He is the ONLY Believer on His team. Daily in practice he is navigating listening to both coaches and players cuss and deciding if this is a good choice for him. This is only one example of ways he is forced to think about what living in the world and among the world, but not getting sucked into it really means. We have had discussions on ways he might talk about Christ with others. In short he can’t relegate his faith to certain nights of the week when he is “supposed” to be thinking about it.

Life Lessons

It has amazed me the solid life lessons football is teaching him.  He is learning the power of being truly needed on a team. This summer he has missed out on some “vacation” for the sake of the commitment he made. If he does not learn to follow directions and allow himself to be guided and “coached,” there are consequences.  As an incredibly regular and awkward JH kid he needs affirmation in addition to his parents.  It matters when Coach D tells him his strength is his greatest asset.  (Of course it didn’t hurt that he picked a kid up and pushed him back 30 yards in practice the other day.)  It isn’t “better” but he wasn’t learning  all of this in this way in youth group- a great one,  with an awesome youth pastor.  (No not me, silly, he goes to another one too.)


My son is crushed he is going to miss youth group on Thursdays for the sake of football.  He likes the structure of small groups and deep Bible study, his youth pastor and his friends. This year he is testing if “football is worth it” going forward. For awhile he may attend another youth group as well, because it meets on a night when there is no practice.  It made me wonder what is it that we “youth people” are really angry about when parents tell us, “I’m sorry it’s (blank) season, my kid won’t be coming.”  Is it we miss their child?  Is it we are worried about the student slipping away from the Lord?  OR  Are we mad that our “program” wasn’t more appealing?  Should we perhaps find ways to reach the sports kids at their interest point?

Parent’s Hate The Pull Too

Now I know there are some families out there who move heaven and earth to make sure sports take precedence in their kid’s lives.  HOWEVER,  I think more parents are like us.  They see their child enjoys something, and might even be good at it, and they want to let them be a part of it. Each of my children are allowed to pick ONE activity besides church stuff per season.  Still I have three kids in MS so if they all pick something different- that is three directions at best.  Sometimes we are just tired, we are trying really hard, and that is why we ask you to just make this “one exception for my kid” to come to “whatever.”


There is a difference between kids who are apathetic and flippant about church and youth programming and those who are not.  This is in spite of sports or other activities.  We don’t expect adults to ONLY be involved in church why do we put that pressure on our students? Unfortunately we live in a secular culture that sets schedules in spite of our “religious affiliations.” My son likes football, his Dad and I care his relationship with Jesus doesn’t suffer. We will get him to youth group, and attend early services on Sunday as we have to deal with afternoon games.  I am hoping that somehow we can find support in this decision to allow him to play. After all he really wants to be the next “Ray Lewis,” whatever that means.

How are you helping your “sports” families this Fall navigate church and “other?”

I recently read an article called #FAIL in youth ministry and how to deal with distractions while preaching (you can read it here). Students need to understand the rules and when they don’t follow them during service, a youth leader needs to come along side and correct that behavior.

The illustration that was used in the article turns out to be a special needs student who was the distraction.  Granted, the youth pastor or the leaders didn’t know about this student at the time, but the lessons learned from this situation didn’t reflect that they were a special needs student who couldn’t control their actions.

So here are some lessons that could have been learned:

1.  Our youth service is not more important than people.  I don’t know of very many churches that accept special needs children and their families.  If they do, they are very rare.  My son, who has special needs, makes all kinds of noises in church that would definitely count as a distraction, but people have grown to accept my son and love on him every time they see him.  ::You should see him worship God :D::

2.  We can use that situation as an opportunity to teach students to love and respect everyone.  Teenagers love to be in their groups that are comfortable.  Let’s get them to get out of the coziness of their friends to reach out in love to these students.  This is not a one time love, but it has to be shown over time.

3.  After knowing that the student has special needs, why not create a buddy system for these students where a student would be with them the entirety of the youth service.  It would create a sense of peace in the parents to know that someone cares about their child, and buddy would be able to help curb the response of the peers wondering what is happening.

These are just a few suggestions.  I am still trying to figure out how to minister to special needs students and their families.  I know that it is a huge mission field for sure. If my oldest son didn’t have the needs, I might have reacted the same way.  It is my world that I live in all the time, and for a church to rally around these students would shine brightly for Jesus.

Bill Peterson is the youth pastor of Crossfire, a ministry of the Worship Center in Leesburg, VA.

Shane wrote in and asked this:

I wanted to see if you guys would be putting the “Do Something” or “Love in Action” Series online somewhere?  I like the idea you guys had tying in the Operation Christmas Child boxes and wanted to use the same series progression if possible.

For the past couple of years we’ve done a couple of really fun and active series with our students in HSM. One series was called Do Something, another similar one we called Love in Action. Both were great series where instead of a traditional message we had students get out of their seats and really do something instead.

If you want to read about the weekend services in more detail you can right here:

I love it when youth workers ask about this series and how they can get involved with some of the same organizations we used. We had students write letters to the families of fallen soldiers (Children of Fallen Soldiers), pack food for families who will visit a local food pantry (OC Food Bank) and many more but my favorite of all was packing shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child (visit their website here).

It would be so awesome if you wanted to give it a try – maybe a 3-4 week series or 1-off project like this could work in your youth ministry, too! Start by choosing which one to take on (like Operation Christmas Child in this example) and have your students join in on helping your students add to the over 100 million children around the world have heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ through a simple shoe box.  We even set up a little “store” where students could shop for products to put in their shoebox and took up a collection at the end of youth group to pay for shipping. Everyone had such a blast with this particular weekend – and it is poignant to see how simple items like soap, a toothbrush/toothpaste and school supplies, we can meet a very physical need while sharing the powerful message of eternity.

I’d love to read about what you choose do to demonstrate Christ’s love in action. Tweet it or talk about it on your blog when it is over. Be creative and come up with new one – we’ll steal it next time we do the series, too! Just make sure you have your students DO SOMETHING soon!


Weekend Teaching Series:  I Am __________ (series premiere, week 1 of 3)
Sermon in a Sentence: Shut up and be a gossip-stopper.

Service Length: 74 minutes

Understandable Message: This weekend we kicked off our big fall series – this is a critical time of year to capture students who are starting off the year right in church and making a real effort to attend. This year we’re doing a series called I Am Blank and filling in the blank every weekend with a typical mistake/problem area/blind-spot of the Christian life. This week the message focused on gossip and it was super interesting to prepare this week being hyper-sensitive to the topic. It seemed like everywhere I went there was gossip! It made for lots of illustrations and reminders of just how much we need to stop gossip and slander it it’s tracks.

Element of Fun/Positive Environment: This week we had a fun but simple game – our version of 2 Truths and a Life with students using their cell phones (and to vote on which as the lie. It was a fun game and the prize was a Twinkie Shower from the balcony – lots of fun, even though it probably isn’t wise to sugar everyone up right before you ask them to listen to the talk for 30 minutes. Lots of energy in youth group this week – KILLBALL was after the 6:30 and as always it didn’t disappoint. Although my team, the Deep V’s, came in 2nd which was frustrating.

Music Playlist: Dancing Generation, Here For You, Child of God, How He Loves, Your Love is Strong

Favorite Moment: LOVED hearing Hannah (from our team) share her story of gossip in high school – it was crucial to bring all of the points of the message together. It took a lot of strength to dig through your past and then share a big failure with a bunch of students it is a BIG deal. It was absolutely perfect and I’m so proud of her. Really made the message come to life.

Up next: I Am _____________ (week 2 of 3)

Kickoff for the fall, there is nothing like it.  Everyone is focused on getting plugged in, connected, signed up and registered.  The summer dreams have come to an end, school is back in session and the thought, “Here we go again.” races through your mind.

For some of us the beginning of the year stresses us out and for others it excites us.  There is so much to do, so much to get done and then BOOM! The year starts and we are off.  It’s like a marathon where the anticipation before the race is killer; however, once you get moving you settle down.

Kickoff is a season that can race by; however, it’s also a season that needs to be embraced.  On top of fun memories of moon bounces and wild games, it’s really a season when you can strengthen your foundation.  It’s a season when you need to:

Recruit New Ministers – The best time to recruit other ministers is when the program is in full swing.  That way potential volunteers can:

  1. See the program in action.
  2. Talk to actively serving ministers
  3. Ask questions they might not have known to ask if inquiring during the summer

When you recruit new ministers right after kickoff you’ll have a positive excitement that will be contagious.

Invite More Teens – It makes sense to invite someone to an event before it happens; however, your ministry isn’t an event.  While you want to build up hype and momentum before the program begins you’ll want to put more afterwards.  By continuously inviting teens to your program your creating an open enrollment feeling.  So many times we give up on a class or a program because we miss the first session.  Ministry should be treated like any relationship, where you can step in at any time.

Build Margin – Once the year begins we feel our margin slip away; however, there is no better time.  You should be letting your leaders loose, let them fail, succeed and problem solve.  As the point person you should be able to take a step back, observe and take in the experience.  As soon as the year gets going, slow down and find that pace because it’s going to be a long year.

Kickoff is not the end of summer and it isn’t just the beginning of your ministry year.  It’s a mile marker that you should utilize to grow stronger.  Look for the opportunities in every situation and continue to move forward.

What other opportunities do you see during kickoff?

Chris Wesley is the Director of Student Ministry at Church of the Nativity in Timonium, MD. You can read more great youth ministry articles and thoughts on his exceptional blog Marathon Youth Ministry.