middleI think I’ve seen and heard it all.

Keep in mind, I think I’ve seen and heard it all.

Then out of nowhere, I watch these loving brothers and sisters of mine called the Church end up arguing over something completely short-sighted. I’ve been on the receiving end of it, as well as stuck in the middle of it – whether I was a youth worker, staff member or lead pastor. It happens in churches of varying sizes, demographics and more.

For all of our efforts to put vision statements on walls and catch phrases on t-shirts, some days we don’t keep the Main Thing the main thing.

Maybe that’s why when I saw this picture, I realized how much I identified with it.



You probably think you’ve seen and heard it all, too. Maybe that’s why it hurts that much more when something goes south and chaos happens:

  • A volunteer/peer in ministry says something that makes you look foolish
  • A parent tells you that their kid won’t go on a trip if/unless another kid is going.
  • A service project becomes about how it makes us feel versus how it makes others/Jesus feel.
  • A building project becomes less about ministry and more about the carpet/decor.

Take your pick. Think of some more.

I’d like to learn from you on this, especially since one of my roles as a senior pastor is trying to help us stay focused on what’s most important.
  • What are the things you have found yourself getting into dumb arguments about in your church?

  • What do you wish your senior pastor would do (or would have done) differently to help things?

It’s difficult to forget the smell of carpet that you’ve wept into.

My family had moved in with my in-laws—into a small modular home while trying to figure out my next step in ministry. The pastor at the church I’d just left said I hadn’t grown the youth group fast enough: his goal was 200 within two years… I’d only nurtured it from 35 students to 179 in that time. Apparently that was a failure, and I was now jobless.

To add fuel to the fire, I’d experienced a significant letdown in ministry three years before that. I was forced to resign from a church because I didn’t vote for a new senior pastor who’d forced his way into leadership from his staff role. Between both experiences, I had a lot of reasons to hate the idea of church, and ministry in general.

So why was I weeping?

carpetI’d just received a phone call from a friend who served at the church where the senior pastor had nudged me out years earlier. He shared how they were in an unexpected crisis since the senior pastor had just been mandated to take a leave of absence due to an addiction issue he’d been hiding. The church hoped he’d be personally and professionally restored, but had an immediate need for someone to fill the pulpit. My friend asked if I’d be willing to be a guest speaker for a few weeks.

“Absolutely,” I replied without thinking about it. As we hung up the phone, though, I found myself sitting in silence for a few moments.

  • I expected to feel justified.
  • I expected to feel judgmental.
  • I expected to feel like a Savior.

Crumbling to the carpet, I instead began to weep from a place deep inside of me that was surprisingly broken in all the right places. Even though I hadn’t been a part of this flock for at least three years, I felt its pain.

Apparently, I was having my own crisis.

During the three years that had passed (and including what had happened at the church I’d just left), I’d realized some things:

  • You can’t always control how other people respond to you, but you can control how you will respond to them: If another Christian chooses to act with immaturity or selfishness, that’s his/her sin; if I choose to hold resentment or gossip about it instead of work it out in accordance with Matthew 18, that’s my sin. It’s why I eventually had conversations with both pastors from those churches to resolve past issues.
  • Immaturity that you see in others may keep you from seeing immaturity in you: As I shared in last week’s post, it’s easy to become so self-righteous about what matters most that you become blinded to what actually matters most. Who really calls you out on your blind spots?
  • The local church is a part of the Church: Any Christ-centered congregation is a mixture of “God and humanity,” which means it has all the positive potential of God and all the negative potential of humanity. You have to choose which piece you will nurture. I get the sense the Lord loves it when we help his Bride stand up after she’s fallen over.

I showed up for my first week of teaching and loved on people. I did this again the second and third weeks. By that point, the former senior pastor gave every indication he wasn’t going to return. The church asked if I would be its interim senior pastor—a ministry that I took on for nine months. There was talk at one point about offering me the role of senior pastor, but I excused myself from that discussion to help clean the slate for someone else.

After that experience, another church called me up and asked me to serve them as an interim pastor. They had their own crisis and heard how I’d helped the other congregation. I served them for six months and watched God grow my heart even more for His Church and its future.

battlefieldmedicThere will be seasons of your life that you are a battlefield medic for the Church.

You may yearn to be a specialist who gets a nice office or a padded paycheck, or even a volunteer who finds worth in never going anywhere. Sometimes God simply wants you running from one random explosion to another in order to tend to the wounded and raise them back up to health. This is full of stress, but if that’s where you’re needed then that’s where you’re needed… whether you’re directly working with teenagers, or simply helping the Church itself have a healthier future.

That’s the ironic ending to this story for me… a new beginning. I’m now a Lead Pastor intent on helping adults care about students, while at the same time volunteering in my church under our youth pastor’s leadership in order to still personally impact teenagers. Your story may not end up as mine did, but I wonder if it will end up as you’re planning it to.

Let the next crisis break you in all the right places… even if it means you end up smelling Jesus in the carpet.

Thank you for loving students!


Psst! He’s also a breakout session leader extraordinaire at Simply Youth Ministry Conference



I’ve been feeling something for a while now.

Maybe you have, too.

It’s something I’ve even “prayed” about… like how Christians say they pray about things, but really just conclude something they hope God’s okay with.

closedpulpitI plan to leave my church.

I’ll stand in front of my congregation and say,

“I’m going to attend elsewhere. Things don’t feel like they used to. There’s another congregation that seems more put-together and exciting. They even somehow seem more ‘biblical’ over there, too. You guys just aren’t feeding me anymore.”

Such a plan only lasts for a nano-second.

(Translation: I’m not actually planning on leaving my church. I’m confessing a temptation I feel every now and then… maybe you have, too.)

I’m supposed to be mature.

I need to think bigger than that. You need to think bigger than that.

We need to think bigger than that.

As a lead pastor, I do get emails from people who do this almost every season. It’s like the changing weather makes people change their church.

Thankfully, there always seems to be a remnant through God’s grace – a core group who understands things at a healthier level. These are the “for better or for worse” servant-leaders who get it and push through spiritual walls for the sake of what God is doing in them and through them.

The problem is on a general, church-wide scale it feels like when people aren’t “feeling it” they’re eventually gone:

  • “The worship team doesn’t play the songs I like.”
  • “I purposefully didn’t come for weeks as a test. No one from the church called me. Never mind that I’m not in a small group… the point is…”
  • “The building campaign should be run this way…. instead of that way.”
  • “I showed up for an event and it wasn’t what I expected.”
  • “It’s not how it was when I first started attending.”
  • “I’m just not feeling fed.”

It’s the last one that grinds me the most… not because I believe I’m a great preacher, but if God’s Word is the foundation of a message the only reason people couldn’t feel “fed” is if they closed their “mouths.” According to Jesus, God’s seed is good – it’s the soil that has the problem. Maybe it’s just easier to blame a preacher or church than personally own that.

Why am I posting this here?

There’s a reason why your senior pastor seems worn down some daysit’s because your senior pastor is worn down some days.

Senior pastors often feel like plate spinners who are trying to keep things healthy so people stay happy. It’s not our job, but it somehow becomes our job. It ultimately makes us want to work somewhere where people demonstrate long-term commitment and patronage… like their favorite ice cream store. (Sadly, that comparison is truer than we’d like to admit.)

Right now, go reaffirm a “for better or for worse” commitment to your church and its senior leadership. While you’re at it, dare others to do the same.

Feed up… before he or she gets fed up.

What are some of the “reasons” you’ve heard someone left a church? Share a comment. (Maybe by confessing some of the insanity we’ll better recognize it before it comes out of us.)

female pastorSince my last post was a shot in the arm for youth workers, I thought it only fair to return the favor for senior pastors. Theirs’ is a tough job and made tougher by the challenges of a small church setting. Many joys and plusses, yes – but the trials are escalated in a smaller setting. The voices of church politics or that four-generation family (“We’ve been attending this church since it was built in 1894!”) are louder in a smaller setting and harder to tune out.

So here’s a list to keep in mind, youth worker, to make your pastor’s job easier:

1) Be aware of the politics: I’m not saying you have to kowtow to the situation but don’t make it all harder by stepping on egg shells or toes every where you go.

2) CC your pastor on all youth ministry email: Unless he/she hates this idea, its a good way to keep them in the loop and you accountable for everything you say and plan. All the pastor has to do is drag it to a folder and read when necessary. Even I do this with my Ministry Architects emails: I cc my supervisor and ministry buddy, Jeff Dunn-Rankin, on everything. Gives me pause about what I write since I know he’ll eventually read it. Plus, he gives me great coaching and feedback.

3) Your youth ministry lima beans are not the only yucky vegetable on the pastor’s plate: Remember that a pastor in a small church is juggling several jobs which are often shared by multiple people in a larger church setting. She/he is often the pastor, chaplain, janitor, admin, media tech, etc. So patience on your part is a virtue. (I hate lima beans!)

4) Never let your SP be surprised by a problem: Your first phone call at even a hint of a problem is to the SP. That way, they’ll be there to support and advise. Its when you wait to inform them of an issue that will get you in the most trouble. Don’t ask me how I know this; let’s just leave it at a lesson well-learned!

5) Give them the grace you need: Remember that they’re human, they don’t know it all, some of this youth stuff is new to them also…and they’re still feeling their way along in your working relationship.

6) Oh, and just like you want space after a trip, retreat, or vacay? They need the same space. Let them have their turn basking in the glow. Give them a week or so on non-crazy issues and at least 48 hours for the nutty stuff.

Senior pastors out there: any you would like to add?


Senior-Pastor-Friend-or-Foe_718_245x169Dear Senior Pastor, Yours is a tough job. The responsibility buck stops with you and I get that totally. So the list you’re about to read is said with love, familiarity with both “pairs of shoes” and its nothing new, really. I’m just slipping it across your virtual desk as a reminder.

1) Give loving feedback EARLY on: Don’t wait till staff review time or a board meeting 6 months later to let your youth worker know you weren’t happy with something. How can they improve if the expectations are unknown? Make sure there aren’t any unspoken/invisible rules.

2) Make sure your YP has a thorough job description from the get-go: I’m still surprised how many youth workers, whether paid or volunteer, are working without a job description. Isn’t that a little like giving them a foreign car but not the manual? Some stuff comes easy, but a guide is necessary when its time to fix things that don’t come instinctually.

3) You weren’t always so organized, either: Along the way in your early years, I bet a church secretary or the CE person took you under his/her wing and set you straight about deadlines, etc. Don’t get frustrated; just teach your expectation and create a framework that helps the youth worker succeed. Systems and processes are important in successful youth ministries. Read Mark DeVries’ “Sustainable Youth Ministry” – SOLID stuff!

4) Don’t wait till after the big summer event/trip to tell them they’re moving on: Maybe this is just my personal pet peeve…but I’ve known more churches who waited till a few days after the summer mission trip to let the YP go when the truth turns out they’d been unhappy for a long time. Truthfully? It feels like the YP was a little used so they would go on the trip and the board members didn’t have to. Not cool.

5) Wait 3 days after a retreat/7 days after a trip with any complaints: Just today I saw a post from a youth worker ON their mission trip who was asking for prayer because the church board wanted a meeting the day after he gets back “with problems.” Remember your last mission trip and how long it took you to recover? Your YP needs some time to rest plus a few days to “bask in the afterglow” of the amazing things God did while they were on the trip.

6) Catch them doing good work: For every one complaint or problem you have to bring up, catch your youth worker doing 10 things right. Share it with them…and everyone else while you’re at it.

OK, all for now…but what would you add?


Having some frustrations with your boss or supervisor? This won’t come as a shock for most youth workers that have been in it for any length of time – about the #1 complaint or challenge I hear from youth workers is difficulty with the senior pastor or supervisor. So how can you help make progress in this relationship? Hopefully these words will be helpful even if you’re working well with your boss:

1) Figure out when they typically communicate and be available
This may take some time, but figure out what tools they use to communicate. Determine what they value most – long conversations over email, passing conversations in the hallway, texting all of the time – there is no wrong answer here, just try to figure them out!

2) Respond quickly as much as possible
Add your boss/supervisor to your VIP list on your iPhone or your “coworkers” tab in Outlook so their emails always get priority and a special callout in your inbox. Respond thoughtfully but as quickly as possible.

3) Use the method they prefer
It doesn’t matter if you’re a texting guy or someone who loves Facebook – use the method they prefer! If they are a phone person, become a phone person to them. If they love email, you love email. If they don’t have a Facebook – delete your … wait a minute – just don’t use Facebook or you’ll only hear back from them 2x a year.

Want to get some quick wins with your supervisor? Value what they value and communicate how they communicate.


Just Believe

Josh Griffin —  April 9, 2013 — Leave a comment

article.2013.04.02This is the time of year many youth workers get disillusioned with their ministry. Another job opportunity piques interest or the thought of working a simple 9-5 becomes a little intoxicating to think about. The fun of the fall kickoff is in the rear view mirror; the big events have died down while students hunker down for the last couple months of the school year. The grass looks greener everywhere else, and you start to get down on yourself or look for a way out.

Feel familiar? If it does, read on and find some hope to fight the Spring-time itch:

Believe in your calling.
You are called to do ministry you are made for this! You stand shoulder to shoulder in the long line of incredible men and women God has used to further his kingdom. Satan is an expert at kicking us while we’re down, and he will also try to kick us during the down times of the ministry season.

I (Kurt) have found that the early spring is often the time of the year that I find myself a little frustrated in ministry; and it’s in these times Satan likes to kick me. Reminding myself of my calling and thanking God for allowing me to play a role in his kingdom is the best way to kick back.

Believe in your church.
You are called to your church maybe not for the rest of your life, but don’t let anyone else know that. Serve like you will be there for the rest of your life. When something happens to make you question that calling (maybe an unsupportive leader or discouraged pastor) make sure you get it all out on the table so it doesn’t fester inside and eventually cause damage. Maybe take some time today to reflect on the early days of hope and joy when you first started working with these students and believe again.

Believe in your people.
You have the right people in your church to build a great team of youth workers. Believe in them enough to value their time, encourage them well and train them for the challenges of working with students. Pray for your leadership team before you delete this email, and send them an encouraging note letting them know you did!

Believe in students.
Students are young and immature sometimes they say things quickly that sting or hurt you with their na’ve words, unaware of the verbal damage they have caused. There may need to be a confrontation or a challenge to maturity, but chances are they need a leader who will love them and be long-suffering in his/her guidance over the long haul. Believe God has given you the right students to change your community for him.

I (Josh) started a fantastic spring tradition in our ministry a few years ago: For five weeks in a row our students are in charge of every aspect of our church services. Seeing them rise to the occasion always renews my belief in the teenagers God has called me to serve.

Not sure what you’re facing this Spring or maybe we just needed to say some things to ourselves today. Just believe.

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.


Simple little trick I learned from a great boss years ago: have a file on your desktop called “Talk to Boss” that gives you quick access to what you need to talk to your senior pastor/supervisor about that week. Time with your leader is rare (the larger the church, the less the time for sure) and you need to make the most of it. If they send you an agenda item, drop it in there, too!