One of the best things about the bosses I’ve had in 15 years of youth ministry is that they don’t look over my shoulder. They’re careful to weigh in on the important stuff, cast vision, defend and jump in only when necessary. That’s the best! I function best when I’m believed in and given tons of freedom to dream and deliver. Get too much in my way and I won’t feel believed in, trusted or even like I’m really leading at all.

The problem with empowerment and freedom is that it is often accompanied by loneliness. When someone says “you’ve got permission”, “your call” or “run with it” and then walks away, I’m initially super thankful – the last thing I want is a senior pastor or a supervisor that is too hands on. But the freedom you first enjoy can turn ugly when I start to feel alone. I get lost in my head and start to feel under-appreciated and undervalued. Sometimes it goes the other way and I wrongly feel arrogant or prideful. Either way, I’m not in a good place.

An adjustment I want to make to help correct this is to keep my leaders in the loop and know that they continue to trust me with leadership, but at the same time fight for non task-specific relational time with them. I’m going to be more proactive with asking for coffee and connecting in and out of the church office. I’m not going to let myself fall into the sad trap of feeling alone, siloed or isolated.

What’s interesting is that as I realize I feel this way about my bosses, I want to be sure I’m the kind of leader that lives this out toward those under my responsibility as a boss myself. I want to be a leader that is generous with responsibility and continually giving significant leadership away, but at the same time making sure I cheer on my team, share life, hang out, fight for time and coach/train when we fall short. I want to make sure I’m modeling what it means to give leadership away and being a good leader to my team at the same time. It would crush me for them to think they are trusted with responsibilities and not trusted with my time.

“Fire and forget” leadership is cheap and can be used to disguise just dumping responsibilities instead of developing genuine leadership in someone else. Good leadership gives away tasks and responsibilities and grants freedom, but great leadership gives tasks and responsibilities away then journeys with that person to make them an indispensable part of the team.


UPDATE: Click here for the episode. For some reason the show played automatically every time you visited this page.

Episode 150: The Ultimate Administrator
Our 150th show, and the last of 2010. Doug, Matt, Katie, and Josh are all back this week. We find out that admin stuff has Matt in a funk, but he pulls out of it to help answer your questions about: letting teachers decide what to teach, labor force mentality in churches, background checks, Doug is the ultimate administrator, materials to help students grow spiritually, keeping students engaged in youth group, salaries, and dealing with problems with your senior pastor.


Job Position: Youth Ministry Cheerleader

Job Description: Encourage, build-up, affirm, applaud, bouy, comfort, strengthen, console, revitalize, energize, refresh, inspire and praise youth workers in your church.

Job Requirements: A heart and passion to encourage those who are working with the youth of the church. Spiritual gift of encouragement helpful but not required.

What would happen if this job description appeared in your church bulletin one week or in your local newspaper? What if such a position existed? What if there was someone whose only job was to affirm and build up youth workers?

Youth ministry is exhilarating, fun and unbelievable. It’s easy to get discouraged though since growth is often slower than you would like and you’re often in a role of planting or watering seeds without always getting to see them bear fruit. I know that for me, it’s often easy to lose sight of the forest while I’m focusing on the tree (planning a night, getting permission slips, cleaning up the broken lamp) that’s right in front of me.

I find myself wondering what would happen to my energy, passion and excitement if I had someone who was consistently reminding me what the forest looked like. This person would have no responsibilities to challenge, push, stretch, correct or mold. There are enough people that do that, are great at it and their presence is very much needed. I’m talking about someone who only encourages. How much different would your leadership team look like if there was someone who did nothing but affirm them? How much more effective would your ministry be if that person focused on energizing the leaders? Imagine the trickle down effect on your students if there was someone whose only job was to refresh leaders!

I recognize that encouraging leaders on my team starts with me and I like to think that I’ve gotten better at it over the years. Our team has put a special emphasis on spiritual gifts this year and using the gifts God has given you to serve. Encouragement is honestly one of the those gifts that I wish I had but struggle with sometimes. I’m a checklist driven, task master most of the time. I’m stunned by the possibilities of what my ministry would look like if I had someone who was skilled at encouragement and was passionate about using that gift with my leader team.

Anyone interested?

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. His guest post was exactly what I’ve been feeling all week. Thanks, Buz!

Phil (on our HSM team) is the captain of event planning. He posted the 5 Keys to Event Planning on his blog yesterday and thought you might benefit from the link. Here’s a couple of them, head there for the complete thought:

1. Know the purpose of the event
Why are you doing what you are doing? You need to figure this out early on. It may be an event that you’ve come up with yourself or one that you’re planning for another team member. If it’s the latter, ask! If it’s the former, check that there is a point and it isn’t simply something that you will find fun (though hopefully that will play at least a part). Write a mission statement, one sentence that sums up the event that can come back to to help you stay on track.
Even for a simple parent reception ask yourself what the intended outcome is…do you hope to meet parents yourself, present something to them, help them connect to each other, honor them as ministry partners or just take a moment to pray.
Never put an event on the calendar simply because it was there last year.

2. Know WHO the event is for
Parents, Students, Staff, Volunteers, Newcomers, well connected students, Christians, the whole youth group…
This is vital. If you plan a camp and invite non-Christians then your teaching must reflect that. If you want to run a discipleship retreat, figure out how to attract the specific demographic you’re after and tailor the retreat for them.

3. Work out a budget
Do this early on. Don’t fall into the mindset of “money doesn’t govern my ministry” because in many situations (like on the paper report you present to your senior pastor) it does!
Start with the big costs like Venue, Transportation and catering and then add in the next level of costs like a guest speaker etc.
Remember to ask questions when booking all of these, never assume anything – your budget will hate you for it. Check what you should tip a bus driver (I always ask to have the tip included in the contract), factor in room tax, check to see what A/V equipment is available and whether there is an extra charge. Don’t feel like you’re asking too many questions, remember, you are the client!


Matt and Doug always deliver god youth ministry content – their Youth Ministry Daily (free) email is loaded with great insight and challenges. This week they’ve been tackling church politics, and it is not to be missed. Couple things: 1) read this sample of their stuff (full article here) and 2) go subscribe – it’ll take 3 simple clicks and worth it.

Politics can be redefined as “one’s ability to gain support.” When you redefine politics in a positive light, it can become something that builds up the body rather than breaking it apart. The Church is a body, and each part needs one another. Work to gain the support of other people in your church for the ministry where God has called you.

Let people know what’s going on in your ministry. Communicate vision, events, and milestones worthy of notice and celebration. You don’t need to hire a public relations firm and blitzkrieg your church with all that’s happening within your youth ministry. But, you can work to keep your ministry in the minds (and hearts) of your church without overwhelming them. You can’t gain the support from people if they’re in the dark about the happenings of your ministry.

A wise leader knows how to pick his/her battles. If you’re always fighting, your ability to gather support will diminish. You can’t win every battle. If you think you can, you act like a bull in a china shop, instead of a human in a china shop (where there’s a lot less breakage).


Few would argue that some of the most passionate, gifted energy among us is housed in those who are college-aged. And yet few have succeeded in pointing such passion and energy toward lasting, healthy ends-especially in the church.

Most churches and families have programmed a finish line at twelfth grade. We walk our seniors out the door, breathe a deep sigh of relief, and let them disappear. The problem is most never come back. Too old for youth group-and feeling too displaced by labels like “single” or “young adult,” the majority of college-aged Christians disconnect from faith communities. “They’ll rework themselves into our system once grown-up,” we of an older generation surmise. “Once they’re married with kids and able to tithe. For now, however, they seem like a lost cause and our attentions are better focused elsewhere.”

This slow fade is slowly eliminating the potentials and influence of this generation and thus, the impact of the modern church.

What would it look like for a senior pastor, a college pastor, and a twentysomething to sit around the table and flesh-out issues of the current generation’s fade from the church? In The Slow Fade, Reggie Joiner, founder and CEO of the reThink Group, Chuck Bomar, former college pastor of Cornerstone in Simi Valley, CA, and I have done just this. Moving between perspectives of pastor, father, and friend, we confront this fading generation and lend insights toward its halt.

The typical model of twentysomething ministry involves about four worship songs, a sermon, and an emotive ending song to stir the heightening finale. (In the more eclectic circles, the front- and back-ends of worship might be swapped.) From here the emotionally caffeinated crowd disperses to the nearest coffeehouse, Waffle House, or frat house and flirts with the herd until the next gathering.

And we wonder why adolescents are struggling to adequately move into adulthood. We wonder why eighteen to twenty-five year olds have little to no lasting involvement with our faith communities. When the reality is, as adult believers, we have some responsibility in this. We’re among the reasons adolescents are not healthily assimilating into adulthood, because we’ve not shown them how their role matters. Furthermore, how crucial they are to our whole, should we ever hope to bring lasting Love to the world.

A discussion of the most overlooked and underdeveloped facet of the modern church, The Slow Fade makes a case for inter-generational relationships as the way to keep college-aged people engaged in faith. Leveraged belonging is necessary for lasting connectivity. Connecting college-aged people to the life of the church requires more than a flashy band, or even a relevant sermon. It requires individual care and a felt sense of belonging. If you show me my part in the whole, I will continue to show up. Meaning, the answer is not a new program and doesn’t cost a dime. The answer lies within any willing adult wanting to have influence.

College-aged people are making some of the most critical choices of their lives. And any adult who chooses to invest in the life of a college student is likewise choosing to invest in a generation. More than ever, this age-stage needs a community of faith and willing individuals interested in their lives. And we have the chance to play that role. A clan of sleeping giants lies in our midst, and we have the chance to wake them-and maybe even be woken-up ourselves.

Abbie Smith wrote her first book, Can You Keep Your Faith in College (Multnomah, 2006), while a Religion major at Emory University. She recently graduated from Talbot Seminary, in Los Angeles, with a degree in “Spiritual Formation and Soul Care” and resides in Savannah, Georgia.

I just got off the phone with a youth worker who overspent summer camp by $6,000. Now, his entire youth ministry budget is $9,000 – two months into the church’s fiscal year nearly his entire youth ministry budget is toast. So now what? As I thought about his situation (a little shout out to Mike!) I came up with a few practices that have worked for me when we have to pinch every penny:

Don’t be afraid to change the calendar
I wrote 6 Ways to Stretch Your Youth Ministry Budget, and when there’s little or no money left that’s when those principles have to be put into practice. Just because something is already on the calendar doesn’t mean it gets a free pass in the new day. Go low cost. Go free. Don’t subsidize it. Cut it. Change up the youth ministry calendar to reflect your revised financial state.

Make every event break-even
I’ve posted in the past 4 Rules to Make Sure Break-Even Events Break Even, and with no budget left to spend this is more critical then ever. Be extremely conservative in your estimates. Set and promote registration deadlines and stick to them so you’re not stuck with the bill. Charge a couple bucks extra, even if it means taking a few less students.

Wait for super deals on resources
With little or no budget left, you might have to put the brakes on significant purchases for your youth ministry. And while some dreams may have to go on hold – good deals on youth ministry resources pop up from time to time so take action when they do. Look for bundle deals, or products that you can purchase one time that keep giving all year (specifically subscription stuff, like the LIVE small group curriculum, or Simply All Access).

Find ways to get more funding
Asking for more budget due to mismanagement will be a tough ask. But growth in your youth ministry is totally a viable reason to look into getting more funds. If you’ve grown 15% halfway through the year, consider going to your leadership and asking for ways to fund the growth – that’s the best kind of “blowing your budget.” Consider making your need visible to the church body and look at other fundraising options if your church allows.

If you’re on a tight budget 1) be thankful you’re fortunate to have one at all, and 2) you may want to consider picking up $5 Youth Ministry which … ironically … costs $9.99.


Recently I’ve been trying to keep my senior pastor more in the loop. I realize that is probably an obvious and smart idea – and to be honest, I’ve been better at it at times and worse at others. In full disclosure, I’ve wanted the pastors I’ve served under in the loop or in the dark at different times for different reasons. Right now, me keeping my senior pastor in the loop looks like this:

  • An Outlook reminder triggers me on Friday afternoon to draft an email
  • I write an email with specific items of interest to him, praises, action steps and roadblocks I’m facing as the leader of our high school ministry
  • I try to include one idea or opportunity to let him know I care and am thinking about the whole church
  • I am generous with the credit given to others
  • I limit the email to around 300 words
  • I don’t expect a response

Is your supervisor in the dark or in the loop? Should you schedule a “stand up” meeting with him or her in the hallway this week? What is his/her best form of communication, the ideal form to handle this information? Take a second to figure out how you can best communicate with your senior pastor to make sure your youth ministry is supported and the leadership can move with good information in their hands. You can prevent a world of hurt if you take a few minutes to keep them informed.