In December HSM is gong to do a series call Instalife about jealousy, pretending and bragging – talking through what the Bible says on these very important subjects. I happened to stumble on an article (poorly titled, but oh well) on the very subject on Gizmodo that is absolutely perfect research for my message. You can certainly read the whole article, but my favorite part of it being the list of questions the author put at the end:

  • Am I sharing this picture only because I want people to wish they were where I am?
  • Am I someplace expensive? Is it obvious?
  • Am I someplace nobody else was invited? Do they wish they were invited?
  • Am I posting this only because I want people to like it? Or like me?
  • Am I posting this only because it makes me look good?
  • Am I posting myself and explicitly stating how good I look?
  • Am I a nice person?
  • Have I called my parents lately?
  • Did my parents get divorced because of me?
  • Did my parents stay together because of me?
  • Do I know for sure that my ex follows me on Instagram and I want to make sure she sees this so she’ll regret it—oh, how she’ll regret it all!
  • If I saw what I’m about to share, would I roll my eyes?
  • Can I imagine anyone commenting, on this picture, “Ahhh I’m so jealous! I hate u!”
  • Is this an Instaboast?

Now … this is a completely secular article but points out some great truths for me to now use in my message. If I didn’t know roughly what I was teaching on I wouldn’t know to collect stuff like this right now. If I’m preparing a “Saturday night special” talk for my audience on Sunday morning, they’ll never be as good as when I prepare in advance.

Let me spell it out rapid fire if it isn’t obvious:

  1. Plan in broad strokes your teaching calendar for the season ahead
  2. Be a collector of what you read/stumble on
  3. Listen well to what you hear around you and in the culture
  4. Look for stories on your theme in your community
  5. Pray throughout the process
  6. Deliver a great talk

Good luck as you prepare your talk this week … and the one 2 months from now!


Hopefully yesterday you took some time to think about the tightrope of ministry and how challenging each step of the journey can be. So what are some practical ways you can do youth ministry life well? Glad you asked! Here are 4 ways we try to put into practice ourselves:

1) Talk through the calendar before you go public with it.
One of the biggest learnings we’ve had related to this topic is making sure you clear your ministry calendar with your family calendar first. This will save you a ton of headaches as you navigate little league, board meetings, and that pesky thing called your anniversary. The 24 hours it takes to complete this step are critical to success in youth ministry life. Trust us, we’ve surprised our spouses (and still do occasionally…mostly because Kurt springs stuff on Josh) enough to put this one right up front.

2) Establish some (mostly) non-negotiable family boundaries.
What night is your date night? How many nights of the week out are okay doing church stuff? When is the best time for the family to be all together? There has to be grace and flexibility on a regular basis, but stack hands on what are the non-negotiables and create some boundaries for yourself in ministry. If you skip this step, you’re going to say “yes” to everything and “no” to your family. Done that, too. Argh.

3) Build a team and empower them to help carry the load.
Youth ministry is bigger than one person—if it’s all about you, prepare for burnout and ego deflation. You can hang on for a while, but while you hang on, you’ll also bottle-neck growth in your ministry and other leaders. So why not build margin in your youth ministry life by surrounding yourself with capable people and empowering them to carry significant parts of the load?

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.

Got a great question from a fellow youth worker this week about topics we cover every year in our youth ministry. It was a quick answer for me – and I’ll share those below – but would LOVE for you to share in the comments what you teach on each year as well:

Each year, I try to start the school year with a 1-off message or short series about your purpose in life, the purposes for the church and our new identity in Christ. Every year it is framed differently and people might not even recognize it is intentionally the same message every student needs to hear again and again.

This is the easiest one on the list – simply because this is by far the biggest felt need of students so we for sure cover it every year. It is the most widely promoted, best attended series of the year. Last year’s version was called Facebook Official and was really great.

Apologetic Series
This is a more recent addition to our “teach on every year” list but it has become more and more important to see that students are challenged to build a stronger foundation for their faith. The past few years we’ve brought in a special guest speaker who specializes in this (maybe you could find a local Bible college professor or something) to help you bring the heat that series.

Life/Teachings of Jesus
Every year I want us to do a clear Life of Christ series. Maybe 3-4 weeks on the teachings, miracles, statements, sermons, parables – something that centers on Jesus alone.

I think those are the big ones – oh, one last thing – I would have added that we do a Christmas series every year … but this year, we’re trying something new and doing a series called InstaLife in December then joining up with families/parents the week of Christmas. Hope it goes well!


How many times have you planned your lesson on a Saturday night while also trying to watch SNL? How often do you pray for red lights on the way to mid-week so the Holy Spirit can “lead you” to come up with something to talk about once you get there (as if the Holy Spirit can’t lead you a few days ahead of time!)? If you’re like Josh, this has happened more than a few times, and if you’re like Kurt, it has happened WAY more than a few times.

We all know that few things are less sexy than planning out a teaching calendar. We also know that few things are more important. But where do you start? Today we want to share with you ONE strategy for creating a teaching calendar. There are lots of approaches…but here’s one of the ways we do it ourselves.

We like to break our teaching into three primary categories: Christian Education, Life Skills, and Felt Need. We try to spend approximately one-third of our teaching calendar in each category. We don’t cling to the schedule, but use it as a loose guideline.

We try to teach each topic in a 3-week series format. The primary reason is simply because it’s tough to cover a subject in one 30-minute lesson. A series-driven calendar allows you to take a longer, more expansive look at the topic on hand.

As you prepare your calendar, and as you pencil in the various series at the various times, pay close attention to where Holidays fall and plan the right series at the right time. Consider timely events such as back-to-school season, New Year, and the Prom to help spark creative and timely lessons.

You’ve probably heard (and agree with) the mantra that goes something like this: “Your students will never remember your lesson…but they will remember your relationship with them.” And while that’s almost universally true, lets not make the mistake of using that as an excuse for poor planning when it comes to sharing the good news of Jesus Christ.

Have some tips for planning a teaching calendar? Share them in the comments!

This post was written by Josh Griffin and originally appeared as part of Simply Youth Ministry Today free newsletter. Subscribe to SYM Today right here.

I’ve been enjoying the past few weeks more or less “off” – You Own the Weekend is our annual series where I don’t teach – students do! I’m a firm believer in giving away the platform (maybe to a fault) so students can hear from different voices and diffrent learning styles. Vote in today’s poll and consider checking out 5 Reasons You Should Let Someone Else Teach Next Week.


I recently contributed to the SLANT33 blog when they asked the question – How do you decide what to teach? I gave a wide variety of answers from where I find my inspiration, here is a selection of them, head there for the complete article on the subject:

Create a focus group and run your ideas by them. Every Tuesday during the school year at 4pm, you’ll find me in my office surrounded by a select group of high school student leaders who are my focus group. I run everything by them: rough drafts of sermons, object lessons, ideas, icebreakers, series ideas. They give invaluable insight into what they and their fellow students need to hear and how the message can best be shaped to meet them where they are living. And yes, they have veto power. It kills me when they use it, but I know it is for the greater good.

Be inspired by others. I love nothing more than devouring sermon and series ideas from other people! Youth pastors are creative, so if your idea well is running dry, find some people out there who are killing it. Stolen ideas I’ve had recently: a series on Facebook and a question/answer message where students text in questions to be answered live in the service.

Hit the majors. There are certain topics we are going to cover every year in our youth group. The majors for us would be things like friendship and purity. We make sure that specific perennial topics are being covered, though we might change the number of weeks or the voice speaking so it always feels fresh.

Excited to unpack these and much more at my NYWC seminars this weekend, too!


Here’s a quick look at the sermons and series we’re taking on for the rest of the year in our high school ministry here at Saddleback. Really excited about this fall!

No HSM [9/11 services in big church]
Secrets (week 1 of 2)
Secrets (week 2 of 2)

Facebook Official: Relationships, Friendships, Love and Status Updates (week 1 of 4)
Facebook Official (week 2 of 4)
Facebook Official (week 3 of 4)
Facebook Official (week 4 of 4)

Do Something: Don’t Just Listen … Do (week 1 of 3)
Do Something (week 2 of 3)
Do Something (week 3 of 3)
1-off for Thanksgiving

STORIES: 1-off testimony weekend
Christmas (week 1 of 2)
Christmas (week 2 of 2)
No HSM [Christmas]
No HSM [New Year]


You might not have noticed yet that Slant33 has been relaunched recently but the premise remains the same: 1 topic, 3 perspectives. I got a chance to jump in on the question How Far Do You Plan Out Your Youth Ministry Calendar? What’s Your Process? Why? Here’s part of my thoughts on the topic, click through for the complete thought and to get the other 2 takes from Brian Berry and Lars Rood, too:

I love Google Maps. When you load the homepage, the default view is zoomed way out, showing you the whole United States. Type in an address and it zooms in quickly to show you a specific region. Click “street view” and BAM! you’re looking at things as if you were literally walking through the neighborhood on foot. Kinda creepy, since this means Google is stalking us, but kinda awesome at the same time. And a great example of how we typically plan our youth ministry calendar.

We first take a look at the big picture of our ministry then zoom in on the season ahead and finally get a street view all the way down to the current teaching series and events.

It is a wise idea to get away for the day and get a big picture of your ministry. Take a break from the pace of ministry and the distractions of email, voicemail, and the persistent nagging of Google Plus and wrestle with an overview of your youth group. August is the perfect time for this!

For some, this is a simple task because they live in the world of ideas and vision. For others, it will be challenging to stick your head up over it all and get a glimpse of the whole.

Key questions to ask yourself at this big-picture stage:

  • Where do you think God wants to take students in the next year?
  • What worked well last year, and will it work again?
  • What annual events would be effective again this year?
  • What needs to get the ax?
  • Have you blocked out your week of vacation?
  • Where are we strong, and where are we weak?
  • Is there a good balance of God’s eternal purposes for our ministry (evangelism, fellowship, discipleship, ministry, worship)?