Everyone is ramped up for school to be back in, rhythms to be brought back…and to implement all that we have planned.  We have new volunteers, new roles for veteran volunteers and we’ve cast out new vision.

All that makes it really easy to forget these things:

  1. The head of your ministry is Jesus. We can’t fall into having a Messiah complex where we think everything falls on us.  We have a role – and it’s important – but we are not the answer.  Jesus is.
  2. Your ministry is a part of something bigger – a church or campus ministry.  We must be aligned with the bigger picture and create windows of connection into that.
  3. People just want to feel like they belong.  Whatever age of people you are focused on, the bottom line is they are looking to belong.  And here’s the thing: belonging doesn’t come through programs or events or good sermon messages.  Belonging only comes through relationships.
  4. Ministry is and should be simple.  I have a friend and in many ways a mentor that often says, “only people count.”  He is right and we cannot forget that.  And, we must realize that “people counting” is different than us counting people.


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?”

For a long time I used to resent the children’s ministry at our church because I felt we were in competition.  Whenever we had to share resources or space I would do my best to leverage the situation in my favor.  All that would occur was unnecessary tension.  It’s not that I didn’t get along with the children’s director at the time, I just didn’t see eye to eye with her. Finally, after receiving wisdom from a few friends and conferences I realized I needed children’s ministry more than I knew.

A healthy children’s ministry is the foundation to a strong student ministry.  If they aren’t doing their job and producing young disciples it’s going to make yours that much more difficult.  What that means is youth ministers need to not only focus on teenagers but see how they can invest in the ministry that is building up the next generation.  To invest in the children’s ministry at your church be sure to:

  • Cheer Them On: You know that student ministry can be a thankless calling, well so can children’s ministry.  Show your support by stopping by the programs, complimenting the volunteers and giving positive feed back to the children’s director.  If they see that you care then in turn they’ll care what you are doing too.
  • Get To Know The Programs: If you are going to work with the children’s pastor you need to understand their lingo.  What do they call their programs?  Do they have a special term for their volunteers? What curriculum do they use?  If you know the programs you’ll know how to approach them when you have a comment, question or observation.
  • Meet Regularly With The Leadership: Meet regularly with your children’s team so that you can get to know one another.  By sharing life together you’ll understand how to serve one another better and approach conflict.  Take the time to share what’s happening in each other’s lives and grow as a team.
  • Invest In A Similar Strategy: While ministering to kids is different than ministering to teens, you want to make sure that you are on the same page.  There needs to be synergy from elementary school to middle school and on to high school.  If your programs compete or collide, you’ll find yourself starting from scratch each year.

When you invest in your children’s ministry you invest in the future of the student ministry.  Youth and children’s ministry need to come together to see how they can tackle the whole journey of childhood and adolescence.  Work together, share a vision and continue to grow disciples.

How do you work with your children’s ministry?

Chris Wesley (@chrisrwesley)

What is it about youth ministry that makes it seem like it’s always a game of shadows for so many of us? I just went out to finally see Sherlock Holmes 2 with two of the guys from our middle school ministry. After begging my wife to go with me since it came out, I finally gave up and took initiative on my own. As a side note, in case my wife reads this, it’s not her fault she never took me up on it as my invitations were always unplanned and spontaneous, and that doesn’t really work with an eight month old child. All this, however, is simply semantics. The movie was as good as I had hoped it to be, but as I drove home after dropping off the two guys it hit me: I’m pretty sure I’ve been involved in a game of shadows in my youth ministry this past year.

I’ve really discovered a lot over the past few months. One of the biggest discoveries came recently when it hit me that I’ve been sucked into the most common traps of youth ministry this side of the Mississippi. It started without even a warning. I simply looked around at all the programs, exciting events, and cool activities going on within our church and thought, “Wow, that’s what positive ministry looks like”.

I began brainstorming, and watched as ideas poured forth from my head onto my white board. Each one looked more brilliant then the last. As I did this, I convinced myself that my motivation was right. I thought, “These shiny new programs and events are what will help create the opportunities for relationships and sharing Christ.

Truth is, all I really did was fill up my plate-as well as the plates of those who VOLUNTEERED to minister along side of me. At the end of the year I found my self chasing hard towards an impressive looking ministry. The problem was I would leave at the end of these events wondering, “is this really the way it’s supposed to be?”. Sure, there were tons of students, lots of growth, and loads of fun, but for what purpose?

I look back and wish for the opportunity to do less, but mean more! I am determined to change things around. This game of shadows will confuse me no more. I am resolved to have a ministry driven by purpose. Not just any purpose, but the ONE purpose to which I am called. A Mathew 28 purpose.

Here’s the point: it’s so easy to get trapped by the pace of ministry, the lure of a dynamic program, and constant increase of numbers. It’s good to have a paced ministry, but be sure that the pace is one that ministers not only to students but also your family and yourself. It’s great to have a dynamic program, but understand, it’s not about you, your job, or your own personal success. It’s about making Christ’s name famous.

Lastly, let’s talk numbers. We hear this stuff all the time, and I realize that, but had it not grabbed me so easily I wouldn’t talk about it.

The reality is, Christ will draw people to himself, and He doesn’t need our help. He has invited us into his work, and wants us to be a part of it, but it’s His show. Listen to this carefully, numbers are a sign of positive Christ centered ministry, but not the sign. The power of the Gospel will draw students to it so don’t be so enthralled with numerical growth that it becomes the driving factor for your decision making as a leader. Let the Gospel of Christ lead, and be thankful for the way in which He uses you! Don’t be distracted by the youth ministry game of shadows.

Eric Upton is the Middle School Pastor at Bridgeway Christian Church and you can follow him on Twitter or roll over to his Tumblr here if you dare.

POLL DAY: Budget Cuts

 —  December 14, 2010 — Leave a comment

Let’s say you have a budget, which is awesome alone. But it gets cut. Where do you look to make the first cutbacks of these poll options?