This weekend was the conclusion of our You Own the Weekend series and it really went out with a bang! They had great stage design, great music, and most importantly, great speakers. One of the speakers was talking about man in crisis. He said that everyone is either about to be in crisis, already is in crisis, or just getting out of crisis. I thought this is a really interesting way to look at it.

As youth pastors, we often see students (and adults) in the middle of a crisis. At this point, they are in survival mode. We have to focus of damage control and how to get through it. Luckily, we often get to lead students to the last part of the process, getting out of crisis. It is here that we get to reflect on what the Lord has done because of the situation and students get to learn about themselves and God incredible!

But I don’t think that we put nearly as much effort into the first part. We hardly acknowledge the fact that our summer will eventually turn into a winter. Because of this, we don’t really prepare before hand for the upcoming crisis, leaving us vulnerable and, ultimately, forced into damage control.

This is something I brought up to our student leaders. I told them that crisis doesn’t always mean that parents are getting divorced or siblings are sick, crisis can be those problems that we run into while we are leading a project. Like when the girl that you delegated a huge portion of the event to didn’t pull through. Or when your principal continually shuts down any event your Christian club tries to throw. While those might not be what most people would call a crisis, I think that those can lead to a crisis of the heart. Those situations can easily cause someone to react sinfully in their mind, hearts, words, or actions (or all four!). So how do we prepare for these crises?

The answer is prayer. Praying that you are prepared with what it takes to handle the situation that you are going to be going through. This weekend, we had our student leaders read Galatians 5 and talk through the fruits of the spirit. We had them think about each word, talk about what scripture has to say about it, and find out why it is an important characteristic of a leader. We then hung up a sign for each fruit around the room and gave them time to walk around and stop at each one, praying that God blesses them with a better understanding of the fruit and that He allows them to live it out.

I think it is a great lesson for leaders in general (not just student leaders). This worked really well with our student leadership team and I think it could be a win with others as well! Hope it helps!

Colton [Email||Twitter]

Give Every Teen a Voice

 —  March 28, 2013 — 1 Comment

I have mixed feelings when it comes to student leadership groups within your student ministry.  While it’s important to create leaders, to group them risks creating a click within the ministry.  No matter what your feelings are on student leadership groups, it’s important to nurture teens to be leaders.  One of the best ways to do this by giving them a voice.

It’s with a voice teens feel empowered, encouraged and valued.  It’s with a voice that you are mobilizing the next generation.  To give teens that voice you need to:

Encourage Them To Serve: Actions speak louder than words.  Not only does service speak loud but it teaches humility and love.  Allow teenagers to serve alongside of adults in ministry and mission.  They’ll become visible to the rest of the congregation and community, and that’s huge.  If they lead with their actions, you give their actions a physical voice that’s hard to ignore.

Seek Their Feedback: If you speak to teens you need to get their thoughts and input.  To be proactive give them rough drafts of your message, ask them to comment of possible statements you might make.  I do this by going on Facebook and messaging a few teens I know.  Give them permission to share with you what they really think and they’ll support you in your leadership.

Brag About Them To Leadership: If there are teens in your ministry you want to spot light let the rest of your staff (Especially your pastor) know about their hard work.  This will encourage coworkers to recognize the student leaders in your church and they’ll feel like they’ve been noticed.  This will help them feel value beyond youth ministry.

Give Them A Platform: If teens are given the opportunity to share their faith publicly you prepare them for leadership roles in the future.

  • Playing in a worship band.
  • Giving a testimony.
  • Small group leading their younger peers. 

Are all ways of how teens can lead as adults in the future.  Not only are you giving them a platform; but, the opportunity to lead in the same way adults can lead.  This will show them how they can lead in the future.

When teens feel like they have a voice they’ll embrace your ministry more.  They’ll be taking on responsibility to grow the church and have it function at a high level.  When they feel empowered they feel motivated.  When teens have a voice you’ve done your job of mobilizing the next generation.

How do you give teen’s in your ministry a voice?

Chris Wesley (@chrisrwesley)


If you’ve been reading my blog for a few years – you know that our annual student-run series called You Own the Weekend is one of the highlights of our youth ministry year. The idea came from a student who wondered what would happen if students took over everything – we merged and melted the idea into a series where for 5-6 weeks, students from each of the major high schools collaborate and pull off the entire weekend service. And they go all-out, too! Here’s a silly picture from this weekend where Capo High School even got the football team’s inflatable tunnel to use for decoration! Our mantra is that every student from every school gets an invitation to church.

So we’ve been doing this for 5 years now – tons of students come, everyone brings their friends and lots of parents show up to cheer on their teenagers, too. But, we had a first happen this past weekend. The high school principal came to his high school’s weekend service! It was incredible! Made me thrilled for our students, thrilled for the leadership they sit under each week! Thrilled what God is up to next. #awesomemoment


We recently had a youth pastor ask us where to start with campus-based ministry. At the end of the day, our campus outreach program is based in 3 relationships:

Students: We work a ton through the Christian clubs on campus. I meet regularly with the leadership teams of each club and help them out with service projects (lunch trash pickup, writing encouraging letters to the staff, etc.) events, getting speakers, advertising, and I provide them with resources and connections. I help them think big and make sure they know that they are callable of HUGE things. I make sure I am available to help encourage them, pray with them, and help them work through any issues they might have.

Other on campus Christian organizations: The main organization in our area is Fellowship of Christian Athletes. They are awesome. They already have some roots laid out at our schools, making them a valuable ally. They recognize that they aren’t a church, so they love to point their students to local churches. So we make ourselves available to them in whatever way we can help. That could be giving them resources, providing connections, making our buildings available, prayer, or more. We help each other out. One of the things we are working on now is a leadership summit for all of the Christian club leaders in the area.

Staff/Administration: We consistently look for ways to build our relationships with schools. We are focusing right now on principals and ASB (student government) directors. Right now, I am meeting with all of the major principals and ASB directors in the area so that I am more than just a name in an email. I want to be able to build a friendship with them. I want them to know that they can trust us and that we are here to serve. Together, we brainstorm different ways that we can serve their campus, students, teachers, and staff. Besides the meetings, we have built relationships through simple things like Christmas cards. The service projects that we have done on their campuses have also been able to help our relationship.

Campus outreach is a slow build, high reward ministry. It takes time to build relationships and find a system but, once you do, the potential is limitless.

Colton Harker is the Student Leadership Director at Saddleback HSM.  If you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact him at or on twitter at @ColtonHarker.

As I’ve written before, I am immensely thankful for my friendship with Doug Fields who has taught me so much about youth ministry. One of the things I love about Doug is how he pours into the lives of youth pastors & students through his Student Leadership Conference. In fact, I can say that its largely because of SLC last summer that we’ve seen such an incredible year of student leadership within our High School Ministry here at Saddleback. They heard from the best and had a great experience together and came back changed – I couldn’t be more excited about signing up for another year at SLC!

Believe me, I get how difficult it is to train, equip & prep student leaders on a weekly basis. It’s no easy task. It is all about having a servant’s heart first. It all starts there. Once students understand that – it provides a great framework for their involvement throughout the year in ministry.

Whether or not you’ve heard about it before, I can safely say that if you’ve never been to SLC before – you and your student leadership team are missing out. I can’t wait to take my students back this summer, especially because I know what that means for how we’ll start next school year.

Excited to be a part of Doug Fields’ Student Leadership Conference - I’ll be in 2 of the 3 locations (California and Pennsylvania as a speaker and with our student leaders – sorry Dallas, my youngest is graduating from kindergarten) and am pumped to meet you and your best and brightest student leaders, too! Going to be so cool!


When our student leaders commit to our program, they are committing to a full six-month “cycle.” At the end of every cycle, we launch applications for new student leaders and we give out renewal forms for the current student leaders. Besides asking if the student intends on committing to another cycle, the form includes a handful of other questions that provide us with valuable information that allows us track the progress of our students and help our program become more effective.

Thinking about putting one together? Here are some questions that I would strongly recommend to you:

1) What is the state of your faith? Obviously, it is important to know where your students are at in their relationship with the Lord.  Some students might be afraid to answer this question thinking that they might get kicked out if they aren’t doing great at that moment. Encourage them to answer honestly, knowing that you are there to help them along no matter how good or bad their spiritual walk is.

2) Recycled Questions. One way to check progress is to reuse questions that are on your application.  It is really interesting to compare their responses with what they wrote on their original application. My favorite question that we recycle is “what does it mean to be servant-hearted?”

3) How has the Student Leadership program impacted you? A more straightforward way to check progress is to directly ask the student how the Student Leadership program has grown or challenged them. Greater insight into how they have grown as a leader and as a servant can help you keep them accountable with the lessons they have learned and it can equip you to be more helpful in finding leadership opportunities that they would excel at.

4) What have you enjoyed about the Student Leadership program? Ask them what works. Instead of tracking the progress of your students, this question helps you examine your program. When the time comes for you to switch things up and refine Student Leadership, it will be helpful to know the strengths of your student leadership model.

5) What can we be doing to improve the Student Leadership program? You can’t refine your program without knowing where it can grow! This can be a scary question to ask, but the answers can lead to some really incredible changes. I love this question because it gives you another opportunity to empower students and allow them to speak into your ministry.

Does your ministry do something similar? What would you ask your students?

Colton Harker is the Student Leadership Director at Saddleback HSM.  If you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact him at or on twitter at @ColtonHarker.

GUEST POST: How to Say No

 —  December 30, 2012 — 1 Comment

If your student leadership program is structured like ours, you sometimes have to turn some students down. Even though you know that it is for the health of the student and the program, that conversation can be so freaking tough! It is SO easy for those conversations to go south. Just a little miscommunication could lead to a student walking away thinking that they are unwanted or unvalued by your ministry.

Here are some things that I do in order to help the conversation be as fruitful as possible:

Balance Truth and Love. As I said, it is so easy for a student to walk away from the conversation feeling unwanted by your church. Leave no room for doubt that your ministry truly values and loves them. However don’t allow your fear of hurting their feelings to sway you from telling them the “why.” The conversation can’t be fruitful if you aren’t honest with their weakness.

Give Action Steps. Saying “no” to a student without talking it through with them is what leads to that feeling of worthlessness. It makes it so that they are only focused on what is wrong with them instead of what they can do to grow. Use this conversation as an opportunity to speak into a student’s life. If they are being turned down because of poor spiritual health, give them resources or adivce to help take them to another level. If appropriate, tell them what they would need to do so that, next time, they could be a student leader!

Be Clear. Do your best to make sure they fully understand what you are saying. Ask if they have any questions. Give them time to speak into the situation and feel heard. It is natural for us to try to make awkward conversations as short as possible, but take your time them. While this might be just another thing on your “to-do” list, it is a big part of their day; keep that in mind!

Pray. Of course, shower this conversation is prayer. Pray that God speaks through you. Pray that the student’s heart is receptive and open to what you say. Pray for it all!

What advice would you add to the list?

Colton Harker is the Student Leadership Director at Saddleback HSM.  If you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact him at or on twitter at @ColtonHarker.

Our first annual Student Leadership Christmas party is just around the corner and I can’t be more excited! Because they work so hard and give so much to our church, we want to go all out with this party to show them how much our ministry appreciates them!

Now it wouldn’t be a true Christmas party if we didn’t have gifts! We wanted to make sure that each student walked away from the party with an awesome gift (and I’m not talking about the 1993 VHS Workout tapes they are going to get at the “white elephant” gift exchange). We wanted them to get something that was well thoughtful and picked out just for them. So this Christmas we decided to write each student leader an individual challenge that would grow them not only as a Christian leader, but as a Christ follower as well.

If this sounds like something you would want to do for your Student Leadership team, here are some tips to get started:

-Pray! Pray that God speaks through you as you write to your students. Pray that the Lord give you wisdom, discernment, and insight as you speak into their lives and continue to shape them into godly leaders.

-Think about what they’ve done and what they’re doing to discover what they can do. What could your students be doing to take their ministries or projects to the next level? Challenge them to think big and “outside the box.” Also reflect on how you’ve seen them lead in the past. Is there a leadership characteristic that they can grow in?

-Think about who they are. Get inspired by a student’s talents, gifts, passions, and even their experiences. Think of ways that they can be using their shape for ministry. Is one of your students really passionate about prayer? Challenge them to think of more ways to integrate prayer into your ministry. Was a student in and out of the hospital as a kid? Ask them how God wants to use their experience for His kingdom.

-It’s okay to use similar challenges for multiple students! Don’t focus finding a completely different challenge for every student. Focus on finding ways to grow each student as a Christian leader. Most of the time, there will be more than a couple students who would benefit from the same task. For example, many of our seniors are being challenged to mentor a younger student. We believe that it would be a great next move for each of them

-Try to get specific. As I said, it is okay to use the same challenge for many students but, when you can, try to get specific. For example, we have a senior named Cassie that would be a great mentor for a younger girl. Another student leader, McKenna, recently told me that she really looks up to Cassie and wishes that they were closer. So I challenged Cassie to have an intentional relationship with McKenna. If you see an opportunity like that, take it!

-If you can’t think of one, find someone that can. If you come across a student and have no idea how to challenge them, ask someone that would. Find an adult that knows the student personally or has seen their leadership in action.

Have you done something similar in the past? What tips would you give?

Colton Harker is the Student Leadership Coordinator at Saddleback HSM.  If you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact him at or on twitter at @ColtonHarker.