goodbetterbestI have a bias regarding the content I’m about to share with you.

The truth is that you do, too.

My bias isn’t that I write for this blog, which in turn tracks back to Simply Youth Ministry and Group Publishing. It would lame for me to just tell you what I think I’m supposed to write here versus what I really think about anything. I’d hoped by now you’d see that coming and know better from me and any of the other diligent writers here. We’re here to encourage and serve you through thoughts, questions, stories and more.

youthgroupMy bias… is that I want what’s best for the students our church serves.
My bias… is that I want our youth workers to feel equipped with content so they can be more relationally freed up to invest into students.

With me so far?

Ready to own a bias of your own?

It’s why I’m telling you to go check out Simply Youth Group right now.

SYGLogoI first dove into the content in the spring after picking up a free DVD at the Simply Youth Ministry Conference. It was in beta-mode at the time, and yet still was a fine product that we immediately took advantage of in our church. The games and videos all complemented each other well, which further drove home whatever point we were trying to glean that day.

That’s just it, though – there was more than one fixed idea we hoped the students would grasp. While Simply Youth Group competently offers a biblical takeaway with each lesson (which addresses at least one of nine essential faith questions), its main offering is the “inquiry-based learning” approach. In short, it’s your personal on-ramp to Jesus-Centered Youth Ministry as you pose questions to your students just like Christ did.

Again, let me confess one more bias.

I write curriculum throughout the year, be it in-house for our church’s ministries or for publication. Not only do I have a critical eye for what we’ll use with our tweens and teens, but I’m likewise aware of my own limitations as a writer/creator. The resources provided in Simply Youth Group (for about $10 a week) are beyond what I can produce on my own. I’d guess you might feel likewise, even if you have the skills but prep time always seems to be an issue each week for you or your adult volunteers.

sygCurious? Interested? Try the free trial for a month.

Disagree? Have questions? Feel free to share your comments.

While you’re at it, feel free to share your bias and what you’re looking for to serve your students and leaders.


Let me tweak today’s title: Have you hugged your pastor lately? Okay, one more tweak: Have you hugged your pastor, EVER?

So you aren’t a big hugger. That’s okay (neither am I, as indicated by my awkward side hug above), because I’m not really talking about the physical act of hugging your pastor, rather what that physical act represents. A hug can represent affection, friendship, gratitude, camaraderie, and more. A hug is sort of an “I’m glad I know you, and that we are in this thing together” action.

So let me tweak today’s title: Have you told your pastor that you are glad you know him/her and that you are in this thing together lately? EVER?

If not, here are a few fun ideas:

* Take detailed notes of his next sermon. Write all over the bulletin/hand out, and drop it in his inbox with a letter saying something like, “Thanks, Pastor, for consisting preaching God’s word in such a powerful way.”

* Invite him to be a counselor at your next junior high sleepover. Chances are 99.9999% he will decline the offer. But it always feels good to be invited.

* Steal her car while she’s in a meeting and have it washed. For a couple extra bucks you can get Armor All put on the tires which adds a nice touch!

* Make a note of his birthday and anniversary. Send a congratulatory card.

* Drop a Starbucks or other gift card on her desk for no reason other than to say “I’m glad I know you, and that we are in this thing together.”

* Or, just give him a hug!

Reading this simple little post isn’t easy for some of you, and actually implementing an idea or two sounds almost foreign due to the fact that your relationship with your Pastor is strained or maybe nonexistent. There is no sense of affection, friendship, gratitude, camaraderie or, “I’m glad I know you, and that we are in this thing together”.

I’ve been there. And while it’s only one man’s experience, my experience is that when I have chosen to dwell on what’s lacking in my relationship with my Pastor, things seem to get worse. But a “hug” seems to go a long way.

This might be a good post for some of you with good relationships with your Pastor to share a few tips that have helped it along the way…




Are you registered for SYMC 2014? When I head out to Columbus, I want to pack lite and be ready for a great experience! This is not an exhaustive list of tech tips to make SYMC 2014 smooth sailing, but hopefully you will be able to mentally download some good trips ideas here. These tips come from years of conference-going and many are specific to my time with SYMC. I hope these will help you have a more successful trip!

TIP #1 Know what tracks and workshops you want to attend (at least know what is available). Knowing ahead of time will make your life easier. Check out the scheduling tool SYMC has provided If you prefer to schedule directly from your smartphone click here. Check out the details on the scheduling resource here

TIP #2 Book Store Discount…Bring your senior pastor’s credit card!

TIP #3 Bring a bag/backpack. You will be carrying your Bible, Participant Journal, Pen, Hotel Key, iPod, Headphones, Cell Phone, Water Bottle, Laptop, Moleskine, Deodorant, Backup Hotel Key, Gum, Chapstick, USB Thumb Drive, (remember when we actually carried a Digital Camera too?)…and on top of all that you will need to leave room for all the stuff you pick up in different areas of the conference hallways from conference partners, in workshops, and at the bookstore while you are at SYMC.

TIP #4 Bring business cards and address stickers. This is a little nerdy and lazy but I do not like filling out my address dozens of times over the weekend…I have seen people stick a sticker on those forms, complete with; Name, Address, Phone, and Email. The business cards are for networking…you may want to bring something to hold other people’s cards so you don’t lose them (or take a picture of it with your cell phone app that turns business cards into a contact and throw the card out…when they are not looking).

TIP #5 Connect with other youth workers! If you bring team members, don’t do the easy thing by spending all your time with them. Try to spend time with people you may never get to see again. Try a Connect Group. Find the National Network of Youth Ministries and ask them to help you meet other youth workers in your area. Ask people in your workshops to lunch and kick around what you have been learning or struggling with…if they say they can’t because they are on a budget offer to buy.

TIP #5.5 Connect with the speakers. There will be aome of the sharpest minds in youth ministry at SYMC. Connect!

TIP #6 Need some love?? Soul Care, enough said!

TIP #7 Don’t forget the tag your tweets with #SYMC. Run a search for #SYMC on Twitter to see and be a part of all the buzz!

TIP #8 See someone taking notes like crazy? Ask if they are a blogger and if they are posting their notes online!

TIP #9 Bring a squirt gun and shoot the guy who has to answer every question the track speaker asks, just kidding….but seriously, don’t be that guy.

TIP #10 When you get home write a short letter to your ministry point person on your leadership team telling them how amazing your time at SYMC was, share a few nuggets of what you learned, and thank them for making it possible (time away, money, etc…this effort can go a long way with leadership). If you paid for SYMC yourself, write that letter to your spouse. If you are single, take yourself out for ice cream and review your notes. If you are lactose intolerant consider taking one of those Lactaid pills or just pray about the risk.

I know there are way more than 10 tips, and I am sure that you have some that are even better than these. So, please share your best conference tips in the comments below! Hope to see you at SYMC 2014!!!!!



Print your Instagrams!

 —  October 28, 2013 — 1 Comment


I am a huge fan of Instagram! It is a way to connect with students in my ministry, a great outlet to express fun with my family, and keep distant family up to speed on life. Online is good, but I would like to do more with those square images than just look at them through the screen of an iPhone or web browser.

Here are 5 sites you might find useful and one you probably won’t that will help you take your Instagram pics from digital to tangible:

  1. Stickygram: Turn your images into magnets. We have a huge metal wall in our youth room, I am considering making some magnets to use for hanging; flyers, posters, calendars, and other images. $15 for 9 isn’t cheap but they look intersting and if they are quality prints and strong magnets it would be worth it.
  2. Artflakes: Giant sticker collection! Well, that is their tag line…4×4 is not giant, but it looks cool. You can do posters and cards too, check out their prices here.
  3. Postagram: This is one of 2 services that I have actually used. I gave some ideas on how this can be used in ministry here. Download the app, add a pic, write a note and send…done.  Postagram does the work of printing and mailing. Go send a card or two (sometimes they let you send a free test card), people love getting real mail.
  4. Origrami: I like the look of these cards and box they come in. You get 36, 4×5 prints for under $22.  This might be useful if you want to send a few pics to your volunteers for Christmas or to hang on a wall in your youth room.  Then again, with a little photo editing knowledge and 18 cent prints at WalMart maybe these are over priced…but super cool!
  5. Printstagram: This is the other service I have used. You can buy all types of printed out materials here: cards, mini prints, 365 day calendar ($40), and more.  I bought 2 of the sticker books. The stickers are tiny but you get over 200! I am thinking about buying a poster to hanging my office or our youth space. Students like looking at picture and they get excited when they find a pic they are in. (similar site
  6. Stitchtagram: Need pillows for your office or youth room couches? If so, you might want to check out Stitchtagram.

Bonus: If you have a crazy huge budget, and you like burning through money check out Instaprint. This company lets you rent their machines for $5000 for half a day and $7500 for a whole day. The idea is that people at your party can post instagram pics to their account and when they post using one of your designated hashtags their onsite machines will print the images. This would make a great addition to any youth room but you cannot buy them, they are only for rent.

Do you use any sites that make use of your Instagram photos?

Imagine this…

College and grad school students coming together for a summer to serve youth leaders by helping to lead mission trips.

They are trained intensely for two weeks, not just how to do their “jobs,” but they also get high level ministry training from some of the best youth ministry minds in the country. From that unbelievable experience, they head out around the country with vehicles full of equipment, credit cards, and the trust of the organization that sends them. These ministry leaders are empowered with all the skills and abilities to handle the responsibilities of leading their own ministry location. They each lead important day-to-day aspects of their mission trip. These leaders are not on their own however. They are part of an incredible support system that holds them accountable and encourages them all summer long. The experience of leading and serving prepares them to immediately take leadership in life, work, and ministry after their summer of service is over.

The best part… they have the opportunity to see God work each and every day bringing change in people’s lives – both in those being served and in those serving.

Sound too good to be true?

It’s not.

This is what happens to about 100 college-age ministry people each year through the Summer Staff roles with Group Mission Trips. It’s one of the best ministry training experiences I know about. The level of trust, responsibility, autonomy, accountability, and real-life ministry experience is hard to describe. I often describe it this way. “We take college students, train them for 2 weeks, give them credit cards, tens of thousands of dollars of equipment, and say ‘see you in 10 weeks.'” It’s crazy. I know. But it’s what we’ve been doing for over 35 years.

If your ministry has students who are feeling the call to ministry, want to know if vocational ministry is for them, or desire to gain significant leadership experience, I encourage you to check out Group Mission Trips Summer Staff. If you have any questions, contact Isaac Bartholomew.

Red shirt site

Anybody who sort of knows me knows that movies are my vice, my guilty pleasure. A bad evening at the movies…never mind, there’s no such thing!

Every now and then a movie comes along that has a lot to teach those of us who work with young teens. And most of the time they seem to fly under the radar without much fanfare. So I thought I’d share three fairly recent movies that I think everybody who works with junior highers or younger high schoolers should see. They are all very unique, and all give a peek into the various waters young teens navigate.

Moonrise Kingdom. The best Wes Anderson film yet.

The Way Way Back. The first 15 minutes will make you question this pick. The rest of the movie is pure gold.

Mud. My inlaws recommended this movie and I delayed far too long. One of my favorites in a long time!

Do you have a favorite to recommend?


The Youth Cartel’s Middle School Ministry Campference has become one of my favorite events of the year! If you work with young teens in a paid, part-time or volunteer basis we would love to have you join us for three days of learning, laughing and encouragement with others in our “tribe”. The campference is just that: A camp combined with a conference, which is what makes it so unique. If you want to join us, it’s almost too late…but not quite! You can get details and register right here.


Don't hate on the hair. My family.

Don’t hate on the hair. My family the 80’s


After watching the great video blog by Kurt and AC on the topic of special needs students HERE I was inspired to share some  more thoughts on this topic from a slightly different point of view.

My Mom suspected that the pregnancy wasn’t quite right.  She had chicken pox in her first trimester, but the doctors assured her everything would be fine.  Courtney arrived in 1975 as was one of 7 recorded cases internationally to be born with Congenital Varicella Syndrome. There was nothing about her that should have survived. . Here’s a quick run down of  how my sister entered the world several months early at less than 2 pounds:  She was blind, had one disfigured leg, no feeling in her left hand, urinary and digestive tract problems and was mentally delayed.  Yet, she was born a fighter and lived when the world said she should not survive.  To her doctors, teachers, caretakers and my parents she was a phenom. To me she was baby sister.

I want to contemplate for a moment if we had entered your youth group.  She would have been a Freshman when I was Senior.  What would you have done?

Here is what you would have seen from the outside looking in:

My Sister:

Here comes the sweet, vibrant kid in the wheel chair.  She was the outgoing one. She loved Anime and romantic comedies.   She was obsessed with country music.  However, upon meeting her you would not have immediately caught on that Courtney was developmentally delayed.  Maybe you would see a girl who was a little immature for her age. Then there were her medical challenges.  Her electric chair was huge and cumbersome.  She couldn’t see you, except out of the corner of her right eye.  Her left hand couldn’t grasp anything.  Someone,  a nurse, a parent or myself had to take her to the bathroom to deal with tubes and bags.


Then you would meet the highly overachieving perfectionist sister.  I loved my sister deeply,  but inside I struggled.  I grappled that I felt like I had to make up for what she could never be.  I wrestled with the injustice of both of our situations in life.  All Courtney wanted was to be a “regular” kid like me.  I always knew the attention my sister received was out necessity, yet it still hurt.  I felt left out.  I felt never good enough for anyone, because  I was  not born the anything “case” in the world.   You would not have ever guessed any of it.   At 17 I was entirely wonderful at keeping all adults at arms length.  If I was smart enough,  performed well enough,  and articulate enough,  then you would leave me alone.   I was very, very good at maintaining my polish.

My Parents:

Enter the parents. I read a statistic recently that 80-90% of parents with a disabled child end up divorced. By some insane miracle my parents have reached beyond 40 years of marriage. However, the pressure of living like today might just be the day that your child dies wears on you. My sister had numerous near death hospitalizations. Her leg was amputated at 2. Her eye was removed in her teen years and replaced with a glass one. All my parents did was give up themselves until they became a shadow of who they were.  They were physically, emotionally and spiritually exhausted all the time.  However,  what you saw were these people who desperately wanted their daughter to belong. Could you give her a chance?  Could you let her be a part of your youth group?  I mean they were fighting for her in every other area of life.  Church should be a place where they could rest and well you, youth worker,  you just HAVE to love her.

You as the youth worker have no idea how to handle this. Larger churches have the luxury of separate ministries for “special needs” students.  Smaller churches rarely have this luxury.

Who gets your attention?  Who gets your compassion?  Whose needs get met?

Stay “Tuned” on Monday for some practical thoughts on approach.