What’s the secret?

20140317_122949What is it that causes children to run up to strangers and give them hugs?

What is it that inspires Americans to come on out to a random school in the middle of a foreign land and hug those kids right back?

I mean, really… what’s the secret?

If you’re a cynic, you might say that everyone is just in it to get something from the other group. The kids want to feel supported and the missionaries want to feel useful.

Maybe. Maybe that’s as shallow as the world is.

Or maybe… maybe there’s more.

Maybe there’s something real about football a group of kids who can’t speak each other’s language somehow playing a spontaneous game of football together… then monkey in the middle… and then some other game that was invented on the spot, and somehow understood by all.

I saw that happen today.

Maybe there’s a reason why a group of Americans have callouses on their hands after helping rebuild a playground today… or why a group of Hondurans donate their time to invest into kids spiritually and academically.

I saw that happen today.

20140317_113421Maybe there’s a reason why someone brought a pack-and-play on a plane to bring to these kids… or why others brought coloring books, crayons and more… or why others brought a suitcase full of donated toothbrushes, shoes and other supplies.

I saw that happen today.

Maybe there’s a reason why everyone waves at you when you drive around the city. I mean… everyone.

I saw that happen today.

20140317_131302Maybe there’s a reason why I’m even trying to process all of this tonight. Maybe it’s not a secret, but it’s as obvious as Jesus Christ being real, alive and powerfully present.

We had a good “Day 3″ today.

God is on the move… not just good deeds… God.

I saw that happen today.

I’d recommend you have a few moments of holy trembling over that.

While you’re at it… how is He on the move where YOU are at today?

P.S. I saw something else today, too.


“I am in competition with no one.”

(You may need to say that several times out loud, right now.)

If the Olympic games are merely a clash of competitors, then we won’t expect much more beyond “our team vs your team.”

Every once in a while, you see something even greater than that… where the focus shifts from what you expect to what you actually hope for.

ski1A recent story went viral when Russian athlete Anton Gafarov was served by a competitor during during the Men’s Sprint Free Semifinals at the Sochi Games. Gafarov had already fallen three times, which was perhaps only amplified in having it happen on his home turf. It led to him having a broken ski, which made it clear that he was out of the race for the men’s finals and wouldn’t be able to compete for medals.


Still, he wanted to finish in front of the home crowd, but his left ski was too badly damaged in the crash and its base had come off. Gafarov begin hobbling toward the finish line by walking… not skiing.

This when Canadian coach Justin Wadsworth bolted onto the course, bent over and served Gafarov. 


“I went over and gave him one of Alex’s [Harvey, a member of the Canadian team who didn't qualify for the sprint final] spare skis. It was about giving Gafarov some dignity so he didn’t have to walk to the finish area,” Wadsworth said in an interview to the Globe and Mail from Canada.

The Canadian coach didn’t just give a ski to the Russian, he even fastened it himself to Gafarov’s foot.

Remind you of anything?

Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him (John 13:3-5)

But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, (Matthew 5:44)

What is your sense of this story? Any applications in your life?

  • Who seems to be one of your competitors, enemies or “thorns in your side” that you have the chance to serve?
  • In what way do you feel like you have a broken ski? How do you need rescue?
  • What do the people in your relational circle need to hear about a God who doesn’t just clap from afar but runs in, bends down and serves them?

Some days, ministry has a weight to it that can overwhelm you.

Perhaps this is an odd metaphor, but when God gives me a heavy message to share or significant task to do I feel like I’m like a delivery man who is cautiously transporting nuclear energy. What’s in my hands will either fuel lives with power or poison them with radiation-all based on how I handle it…or if I somehow trip in the process.

This tension only increases when we work alongside people who seem on guard against God or church.

bdos_teamI’ve experienced that sensation while leading three different Big Day of Serving events in Ohio. There’s a sort of dangerous thrill that comes with working with people behind-the-scenes who may or may not know Jesus Christ…all while you set up some powerful service projects for students to serve Jesus Christ.

It all begins with the first cold call and continues into the relationship you form behind-the-scenes. You can usually tell how certain personalities or people will be easier to work with than others. It’s a hurdle common to church environments, youth groups, and more.

This is when we’re tempted to start telling stories of transformation.

Have you ever noticed how when we’re trying to convince someone that something is worth doing, we default to telling the positive stories of life change as a selling point? It’s just as tempting to avoid mentioning the details that didn’t turn out like we wanted them to.

What do you feel like telling your church when you or your ministry are being evaluated? Do you share how your efforts have failed, or at least one story that seems to make it all worthwhile?

bdos_akron2I learned something at the last Big Day of Serving that humbled me on this.

My team was blessed to work with the mayor’s office in Akron, Ohio. They did a phenomenal job of identifying projects we could sink our teeth into and make a huge difference in.

One of those projects came through the passionate suggestions of a local resident who has been a bit of a thorn in the side of the city for years. He often writes letters to the newspaper, criticizing how the city isn’t doing its job like it should.

I don’t know how you’d respond to such a critic, but my temptation would be to fire back some emails on all the things we’re doing right.

(Again, this would be the moment I’d want to amplify “stories of transformation” as a shield to help deflect the impact of what I was hearing.)

A city as large as Akron could do the same thing, telling a critic how “We’re doing what we can,” or “We’ll get around to that sometime in the next budget year.” Instead, the city invited this gentleman to take part in the Big Day of Serving with us as a project leader.

Instead of raising a shield, they let him use his sword to help cut through the problem.

dogI met the man and his three-legged dog (who, incidentally, isn’t named “Lucky”) as we walked around the week before to preview a particular park he wanted cleaned up. It was obvious that this was a guy full of passion who had much to share about how things just weren’t getting done according to his perspective. The City representative not only listened to him, but (while wearing his usual dress clothes) followed the critic into the muddy woods to see things first-hand.

The whole time this was happening, I again felt that tension of whether or not this was going to end up amazing or blow up in our faces. It was a risk putting this critic in charge of a site that we’d be sending youth workers and students to. It didn’t help my fears when he used some loose language that I imagined I’d later read about in the evaluation forms that our work teams fill out after the event.

On the other hand, this man was as much a part of the reason why we were doing the Big Day of Serving work projects themselves. Maybe his soul was the real thing that our students would be “working on.” Could you just imagine the type of passionate, “Peter-like” Christ-follower this man could be if God somehow got hold of his life?

Maybe I should tell you the rest of the story.

There is one, by the way.

Instead, I’m going to end right here for now and dare you to live in this dangerous, nuclear tension I’m outlining.

Thom and Joanie Shultz describe it in their book Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore:

  • bdos_workDivine Expectation: Realize that God is actively involved in everything, all the time. He has something dangerously thrilling for you to share and carry into the lives of other people. If you aren’t experiencing some “fear and trembling” in your ministry, quit being such an expert and remember how powerful the One you serve actually is.
  • Fearless Conversation: Make the cold call. Say several bold things in a message. Let others use loose, random language around you without you amplifying or mirroring it. Ask great questions, and let those around you do the same.
  • Genuine Humility: Carry a notebook and write down what you hear, seeking evaluation instead of praise. Be radically relational, honoring how God may be speaking to you through a voice you don’t want to hear.
  • Radical Hospitality: Make everyone feel as important as the world-changer Jesus says they actually are. Seek to understand them through the lens of caring curiosity, and create an on-ramp for them not to just join you…but so that you can also join them.

Carry and deliver whatever wild burden God gives you… hobble forward if that’s the best you can do.

hopeWhich reminds me of one last thing…

the three-legged dog?

Its actual name is “Hope.”

- – - -

I’d love to hear what you’re experiencing or learning in whatever your situation is. Please chime in.

Thank you for loving students!



*Love Tony’s insight on service and youth ministry? Receive his articles every Tuesday when you sign up for the SYM Today Newsletter!*


Teenagers generally don’t voluntarily get up early on Saturday mornings.


The group at Big Day last year in Akron!

As a Community Director for The Big Day of Serving, I’ve watched hundreds of students defy that trend. One year I even watched as the early birds created a red carpet experience for their peers who arrived later, cheering and high-fiving them as they came in.

That may sound like a commercial, but I’d like to ask you a question, tell you a story, and then leave you hanging. It begins with the Cross itself, for if you stare at it long enough you’ll eventually realize it has a vertical and a horizontal component.

Here’s the question: How are you doing at making sure the symbolism of this is represented in your youth ministry?

  • Vertical: Maybe you’re the kind of youth group where the upward component of Christianity is top-notch. Your worship services inspire hot tears of brokenness, and the way you get students into the Bible gets the Bible into students. Jesus Christ is lifted up, and the Holy Spirit is embraced.
  • Horizontal: Perhaps you’re all about relationships, social justice, and changing culture. You’re up on the latest trends and have plenty of on-ramps for teenagers of all spiritual backgrounds to jump in and get loved on. When unchurched people hear of you, even they are inspired by the great work they know you’re doing locally and globally.

One of the reasons I got plugged into The Big Day of Serving a few years ago is that it’s the perfect mash-up of these values. On one hand, it involves serving residents, transforming a community, and coming alongside of city projects that couldn’t get done without a volunteer workforce. On the other hand, it’s more than just a day of good deeds, because it’s anchored in the Christian faith.

And yeah… teenagers lead the charge. Who doesn’t want to help them make a difference?

That brings me to the story:

Our church recently took part in a city event as a food vendor. At one point, I watched as an older woman spoke some intentional words into our students who were taking food orders. They were both noticeably moved by whatever she said.

I eventually learned she was a resident we’d served during a Big Day of Serving event. Even months later, her memory of the students’ faces was so thick that she could pick them out of a crowded event and thank them.

I’d wager that’s something those teenagers won’t soon forget, either.

I could tell you plenty of other stories, too. One year a blind teenager came with his youth group to work on the porch of an old man who couldn’t walk around without his oxygen tank. Can you imagine the humbling vibe at that work-site?

Even my own son experienced his first Big Day of Serving last year. A tradesman taught him and his peers how to assemble wooden park benches. They beamed with healthy pride after making a dozen of them that day.

Now imagine that you and your students are a part of it all.

I told you I’d leave you hanging at the end of this, and I mean it. We’re doing something from the ground up here that is anchored to the vertical and horizontal beauty of the Cross. I won’t sell you on it. It’s compelling on its own.

So let me leave you hanging… Figure out how God wants you making the most of those dual components in your ministry. If it means serving in some other way, I’m a fan. If God wants you at the next Big Day, I look forward to rolling up my sleeves with you at the Akron, Ohio, worksite on the first Saturday in October (If you can’t make it, check out the other great spots all over the country this fall and next spring).

Whatever you do, do it all in the name of Jesus Christ. God loves accomplishing something in teenagers’ souls as they accomplish something with their hands.

Thank you for loving students!

- Tony

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!


scaleYou probably got into ministry for all the right reasons.

I may not know you, but I do know myself. If we’re at all alike, there’s a good chance something else is true of you.

Some days you’re in ministry for all the wrong reasons.

Maybe it’s not as obvious as you’d think.

  • You serve God.
  • You rearrange your schedule for students.
  • You bend over backward for parents.
  • You lobby before your church leadership in all the right ways.
  • You’re not trying to trick people out of their money.
  • You don’t attempt to be the “sexier” youth group in town.

It’s as if every time people see what you’re doing, you’re caught living out the best template for ministry you can think of.

The problem is you can be doing all the right things for all the wrong reasons.

There’s a situation in my life right now with a disgruntled group of people who have found joy in being disgruntled together. They’re people I’ve loved and invested some of my best energy into, from teens I mentored and took on mission trips to adults I scrambled to serve. One of the louder households left our church and began complaining “sideways” – subtle enough to go unnoticed by most, but potent enough to create a funk that I’m still not sure what to do with. It’s as if no matter how hard I try to live out some of the most basic principles in Matthew 18 on reconciliation I’m met with misunderstanding, evasiveness and slander.

I’m doing all the right things.

At least, that’s what I keep telling myself.

What I eventually realized is that some days it’s for all the wrong reasons.

There are moments that I want to be vindicated.

I want to work out the misunderstanding, because I hate having people say things about me that aren’t true- especially when I have put so much energy into doing the right things. If I dove into the reason why I do so, it is my human pride wanting to assert itself. I have to make clear that the door to reconciliation is open, but if they never walk through it or continue to group up on this then a part of me needs to turn this over to God.

Check out what the Bible reveals on this:

  • God has a pattern of vindicating His people as a whole.(Deuteronomy 32:36)
  • Humans have a desire to be vindicated individually by their behavior. (Job 13:18)
  • People who watch us will notice our desire to be vindicated and may assume the worst. (Job 11:1-2)
  • Jesus was vindicated by the Spirit – not other people. (1 Timothy 3:16)
  • We will only experience real vindication when we spend time face to face with God. (Psalm 17:15)

If you don’t get this right, then all of the serving you do will come across as ministry perfume and not the genuine scent of Jesus Christ.

Wrestle with this. Consider what you’re doing to get people to think or say better things about you. Give someone else permission to point out when you build a case against a case someone has built against you.

Otherwise, it will leak out. To quote William Ury, “When you are angry, you will make the best speech you will ever regret.”

Thank you for loving students!

Hey Simply Insiders, we have a sweet guest post today from our friends Jake and Melissa Kircher. Read up!

Nora_newborn-18 By Jake and Melissa Kircher

Whatever you call it: volunteering, serving, a two-for-one, ministering, or just plain old helping out…the spouse of a youth pastor is often expected to jump into the ministry world with both feet. Sometimes this works well for a couple, and their marriage thrives in this type of environment. But there are also plenty of spouses who feel forced into youth ministry roles that don’t mesh with their personalities, talents, and/or spiritual gifts.

So does the spouse of a youth pastor have to serve in the youth group?

Well no. And yes. No, you don’t have to be the volunteer equivalent of your youth pastor spouse, but you do need to fully support their ministry. You’re in this marriage thing together, and so you must be in agreement about major life goals and decisions. And as any youth pastor will tell you: Youth ministry is a way of life!

What does this mean practically? It means that each spouse has unique gifts, talents, and abilities and should use them accordingly. If the non-ministry spouse doesn’t feel they are supposed to work with youth, this should be communicated to church leadership. The spouse can then integrate into the church in a different area. The church’s governing bodies must support this, or it will lead to numerous issues both in the ministry and in your marriage. Take it from us; we learned this lesson the hard way.

But the non-ministry spouse should be supportive of the youth group—even if he or she isn’t a regular volunteer. They need to be on board with the job and all of its ever-changing demands, quirky hours, and challenging students. These kids will be a part of your life as a married couple, no matter what, and just because you’re not a youth leader doesn’t mean that you can check out of church life. Figure out ways that you can interact with youth groupers and also be yourself. Maybe this means mentoring one girl or boy. Maybe it means bringing your own children with you to youth group once a month. Or simply having a teenager and his/her family over for dinner when the opportunity arises.

You have to be yourself, even if that’s not a youth worker. But you also have to love, support, and embrace the fact that youth ministry will definitely be a part of your life.

-Jake and Melissa Kircher



The Scene: Working on the laptop at McDonald’s. A table full of pre-teen guys are trying to eat. The oldest (perhaps a freshman among them) is acting like a social rooster, pecking down the awkwardness of the younger guys, strutting for the girls sitting nearby, nudging the smallest one of out of the booth with his rear end… over and over.

I’ve been praying for several minutes about the best way to respond.

And then…

the others all suddenly had to leave. They hopped on bikes and peddled out. He looked like he was waiting for a ride – it was just him and I. I didn’t move toward him, but stood up while holding my drink and spoke.

Me: (slurp) “So, are you the oldest?”

Him: (a bit startled that I’m talking to him) “Huh? Oh, yeah.” (he smiles… like a security blanket… I’m “bigger than he is.”)

Me: “They look up to you, you know.”

Him: (he pauses, as if to realize it) “Oh, yeah. I guess.”

Me: (a half-step slower this time) “They look up to you.”

Him: (he catches my eye) “Yeah.”

Me: “Use that wisely.”

Him: (another pause) “Yeah…” (another pause) “…yeah.”

I go to get a refill, and return. A couple minutes later he heads out to catch his ride.

As he passes, he says, “Hey, see ya!”


Changing the world? Speaking Life into life? Serving students?

Maybe it happens just like this.

“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.” (Colossians 4:5)