As pictures of Oklahoma have crossed my screen, I realize we are just now digging out of the wake of Hurricane Sandy here in the Northeast.  Friends in  Massachusetts and Newtown, CT are still putting their lives back together.  There are times when “tragedy” doesn’t make the news.  A good friend of mine almost lost his life last week in a freak accident.  A pregnant wife at the end of our street lost her husband this past Fall to a stray bullet.  Bad things happen to good people.  Bad things happen.  We are left so often dealing through our own questions while simultaneously answering them for our students.

What Do We Say?

1.  There Are No Easy Answers

The “Why” questions come fast and furious.  It is important to let students wrestle through the “tough stuff.”  Let them know you struggle to understand as well.  However,  we live in a world with sin and evil.  There is a true adversary “seeking who he can devour.”  This isn’t “God’s fault.”   In the end we will never fully understand how this war for our souls works.  It is important that students understand this isn’t a grand punishment.  There are times when all we can do is listen to the hurt.  We must allow them to grieve and express their anger.  It isn’t helpful to tell them “not to feel something.”  What is vital is we don’t allow them to stay in this place.

2.  There Is Still Hope

In the midst of Sandy a good friend of mine reminded me,  “God is still good,  it’s circumstances that are bad.”   It is hard to imagine that  God  would “allow” tragedy to happen.  Our focus needs to be on the truth that He still loves us.  He is fighting for us.  It is a reminder that this broken world is not our “true home.”   Christ tells us while we are here there will always be hurt, trials, and sin.   Jesus is the answer in the midst of all that goes wrong.  It doesn’t mean we stop grieving.  However,  we must remember there is still hope even in the worst situations.  We must remind students He never leaves us or abandons us, even in the middle of the “bad.”

3. It’s Alright To Cry & Ask for Help

Comfort, prayer, and support are great ways to show the love of Christ in terrible situations.  When you are stunned in the midst of a tragedy you tend to think you “must be strong,”   or fall apart completely.   Let them talk it out.  Let them know strong emotion in the midst of this is normal. Hold them, and show them love.

I am not going to claim to understand  tornadoes, hurricanes,  bombs and gunmen. All  I know is when we made the choice to disobey the Lord in the garden and know the difference between good and evil, innocence was lost.  Christ came to redeem our souls,  but that doesn’t negate all sin in the world.  What I do know in the midst of the questions He remains Lord of all whose love is unfailing.   He is the one we have to look to for hope.  This is who I offer students.  Sometimes there are no words at all.   That’s alright too.


With Mother’s Day around the corner, there has been a lot of talk in our group about parents. 90% of the 200 students I serve do not live with both biological parents. One young woman has a great step-Mom, however she grapples as her “other” Mom consistently disappoints and hurts her. Another lost his Dad a few years ago and shared, “I love my Mom honestly, because she is all I have left, but it still isn’t great.”



Through the years my students and I have talked about their families often. There have been parents who are prostitutes, addicts, in jail, absent, & neglectful. I have seen anger, divorce and perfectionism tear families apart. Each time the tears well up. My heart hurts. I have told kids to endure just a little longer and eventually they will “get out.”

There is a problem with this tactic. I have also witnessed many of these same parents are torn apart by a cycle of shame from which they believe there is no hope of escaping. Telling a twelve year old to “wait it out,” is a long time. It can worsen the “survival” mentality.

So when we hear the tales of the horrible home life how do we react?

1. Believe.

We must honestly believe the Lord CAN and WILL change EVERY life. Not just the students, but the parents as well. It starts with us living in the hope that Christ offers for today. He knows how to resurrect the dead. If our attitude is just, “Well He could, make this different, BUT, probably won’t.” We have already lost this family.
2. Stop Judging.
There are two sides to every story and we often get all of our details from our students. Before we jump in and point fingers, we must hear both sides. Get to know the whole family. I have been humbled often, by parents who are trying their best. When I start to judge, I then stand above a family forgetting there is more going on than I might see. Pointing fingers is rarely helpful.

3. Pray

There are situations we don’t know how to handle. As I listen to home lives wrecked, I feel helpless and angry at times. What I have is prayer. This reminds me the Lord is at work, even when I don’t see it with my eyes.

Am I claiming every home life is a mess? No not at all. However, each of us carries baggage that wounds the ones we love. Our students are often telling us ways their parents hurt them. Too often in ministry we hear the “horrors” over the “triumphs.” The steps above may not have been revolutionary, however, in our “line of work,” they are vital. Remember the Lord wants the family whole more than we do.

How do you handle it when you hear the stories of broken homes>



From time to time I’ve done all of these things to my people – and had them done to me by supervisors, pastors and leaders as well. Pretty common leadership gaffes that take a toll on your people:

Poor Communication
Want to alienate people? Keep information from them. I understand that there is certain “top level information” and certainly important things that need to be kept discreet or even secret until a launch or big reveal – what frustrates people is keeping secret even the most basic information that should be disseminated to everyone. Don’t hide behind phrases like, “that’s just our culture” or “it has always been that way” – change the culture and don’t be OK with the dysfunctions of the past. Every email builds a culture.

Require them to be at things at the last minute
If something is required, it should be incredibly important and everyone should have advance notice if at all possible. If there is a better way of communicating information and avoiding the meeting, do it that way. Gather fewer times a year and make them more effective. I like thinking in terms of deposits and withdrawals, most leaders realize far too late that have long overdrawn from their team equity account. Rethink mandatory.

Make every decision in an ivory tower
A great way to alienate your volunteers is to completely uninvolve (that’s not a word, but I don’t care) them in any and all decision-making. Keep them guessing why you made the call you did, keep them in the dark about policies you announce that change everything. Summer calendar coming out? Forget collaboration and just do it yourself for a sure fire way to fail as a leader.

Believe the best person to do the job is you
If you are always the default solution to every problem, everything will soon become your problem. Stop bottle-necking authority and making everyone wait for your approval before they take action action. Let leaders lead!

Alienated people become former staff members at your church. Volunteers on the outside of your ministry soon start volunteering outside of your ministry! What would it look like if you worked hard on good communication,infrequent but potent mandatory gatherings, led from the middle and let your leaders actually lead. Could change your ministry and life!


I think we can all be a little frustrated with our volunteers from time to time. Sometimes we want them to be just a little more relational or just a little more supportive. Maybe during service, they just sit in the back and don’t spend time out engaging with students. As frustrating as that might be, you have to look at yourself and ask, what example am I setting for my volunteers?

The bottom line: you need to be doing the kind of ministry you want your volunteers to be doing. You are the one that is setting the values for your ministry and casting that vision to your team, which means you should be following that as well.

Did anyone else grow up hearing the phrase, do as I say, not as I do? As a kid, you are left feeling confused and frustrated. You think, well if what you say is so great, why aren’t you doing it? Your volunteers are thinking the same thing when your actions aren’t matching your words. And, just like the kids that hear that phrase, your volunteers will always copy actions, not words. You need to be setting the example for your team.

Casting the vision for how leaders should minister to students is only part of the battle. You can be an incredible visionary, but if there is no follow through, your vision is worthless. Ideas are never enough. Your team needs action. Your team needs YOUR action.

So the next time you see a bad habit spreading throughout your team, look to yourself. Are you the one spreading it?

Colton [Email||Twitter]

Service to a just cause rewards the worker with more real happiness and satisfaction than any other venture of life. – Carrie Chapman Catt

It is absolutely true that oftentimes the people volunteering feel like they are getting as much out of it if not more than those they are supposedly helping. Why? Here are some of the most common reasons I’ve heard:

Knowledge. Volunteering can teach you things about the world that you didn’t even know you didn’t know, whether the experience happens on another continent or right in your backyard. You might discover something about a particular group of people that makes you rethink the previous views that you held, or learn how the ostensibly helpful systems we have in place are actually keeping certain problems from getting better. And I can’t tell you how many people say they feel like the experience of volunteering taught them a lot of things about themselves good and bad and showed them how to be better.

Skills. When you volunteer, you might come away from the experience knowing how to do just about anything it really just depends on the kind of volunteer work you’re doing. Builders for Habitat for Humanity learn a number of skills related to house-building, including carpentry and teamwork, but those who volunteer in other departments might learn transferable skills in administration, marketing, leadership, and more. Chances are, if you can think of a skill you might need in the workforce, it’s something that you might be expected to do somewhere as a volunteer.

Experience. Knowledge and skills are great, but what’s especially powerful about volunteer work is that, depending on the kind of activities you were engaged in, many employers look at almost as another type of job experience. Cooking in a soup kitchen for a year is great experience for someone looking to make meals in the food industry, especially if you can add to it some formal training in the classroom. In fact, this kind of experience can be incredibly important in times like this where jobs are scarce and it’s difficult to get an entry level position to get the work experience you need.

Joy. How can you beat the smiles of an entire village in Africa after you dig a well that will provide them with drinkable water for the next three generations? Or the tears of happiness shed by a family after you fix their home that was ravaged by a storm? Or the look of relief on the face of a mother as you hand her Christmas gifts so that she doesn’t have to tell her children that they won’t be getting anything that year?

Perspective. No one has an easy life, but if you ever start feeling like the world is out to get you and sabotage your success or happiness, I recommend volunteering. Nothing puts things in perspective quite like seeing families dig through dumpsters together or be thankful that they have a roof over their heads even though they live in a shantytown in Brazil where each family’s house is little more than a metal box. Most volunteers end up heading for home happier than when they arrive if for no other reason than they are thankful for all that they now realize they have.

Aileen Pablo is part of the team behind Open Colleges and <a href=”http://newsroom.opencolleges.edu.au/”>InformED</a>, one of Australia’s leading providers of Open Learning and <a href=”http://www.opencolleges.edu.au/distance-education.aspx”>distance education</a>.

Youth ministry was very frustrating until I realized it’s more of a journey than an experience. My problem is that I wanted instant and powerful results. All I got was disappointment. It’s not that the ministry was a failure (It was anything but that), it’s just that what I wanted was not what we were getting. I was impatient.

Again, youth ministry is a long journey and if you stick around long enough you will see fruit. To produce disciples and bring teens into a deep relationship with Jesus Christ takes hard work, patience andPERSISTENCE. If you are persistent in your ministry you’ll eventually build momentum and see the reward to your labor. Three areas in youth ministry where persistence is key are:

Recruiting Volunteers:There is no silver bullet to recruiting volunteers. It takes a lot of:

  • Meet and Greet
  • Email Blasts
  • Announcements From The Pulpit
  • Phone Calls
  • Invests and Invites

The more you make it a part of your routine and your volunteers the more leaders you’ll recruit. There will be seasons when you get better results than others; however, the key is to continually ask.

Connecting With Parents: No offense, but you are not the first person on a parent’s mind. To bust through the noisiness of a parent’s life you need to persistently call, reach out and connect with them. If you are hosting an event, don’t just throw out a flyer, create a buzz. If you are trying to meet one on one with a parent, set-up the meeting, check-in and then confirm it. Hold them accountable and support them by consistently communicating with them.

Leading Up: If you want your pastor to respect and support you, then you need to make the relationship a priority. To keep it in the front of your mind you need to be persistent when dealing with contention and disagreement. Communicate when it’s hard to talk and shout his praise when it’s not easy. Work through the tension and watch the relationship grow.

Persistence is a key to endurance in youth ministry. It means working through the tension and trusting that God will pull you through. It’s easy to give up, change things around and abandon ship when life gets hard. What you need to do is stand up straight and move forward.

Where else is persistence needed in youth ministry?

Chris Wesley (@chrisrwesley)

The week before going to camp or this case a retreat is always hectic with tons of plans and last minute details that have to hammered out. The stress level is high and patience is running low as we rush around sourcing out pens and extension cords. We do a retreat every year and somehow we hadn’t learned from the year before and were allowing students to sign up after the registration deadline which increased the workload for our team in shuffling cabins and bus lists but we knew it would be all worth it and after all the more the merrier of course!

In the craziness of last minute registrations and final details we were experiencing a problem bigger than insufficient pens and power bars. With two days remaining until we were leaving for camp, a significant number of our leaders were not committed or not coming to camp. When our leaders sign up for the year we give them two weekends we were all hands on deck for and this was one of them and they just weren’t committing to be there.

I was frustrated.

I was frustrated because they had said they would be there and now nearly half weren’t coming. Some had to work, others had weak excuses and others did not respond to multiple emails and texts. We had a leader crisis two days before camp.

I didn’t know what to do, so I drafted up a long and well articulated email that outlined my frustration, reminded them of the commitment the made and tried to explain the life change that happens at camp and basically tried to take them on an all expenses paid guilt trip. It felt great to write, to get my feelings out but I quickly realized that while helpful for me, it was not going to be helpful for our team. I left the message for an hour and after showing my colleague, rewrote the email shorter, clearer and outlined THE NEED -More volunteers for the weekend THE ASK – Would you consider shuffling the weekend to spend with our students at camp THE WHY - Help them understand why our weekend camp is the most important event we do all year. The result was 11 more volunteers committing to being there.

Here is what I learned:

  1. Anger, Frustration and Rebuke are not best communicated via email.
  2. Let someone you trust get you off the ledge by showing them your draft and chat with them about your frustrations.
  3. Deal with the need before the event and follow up one on one after you have cooled down.
  4. Remember that God is going to do something in spite of you, or your volunteers.

There are going to frustrating situations where you might be tempted to use email to let someone or a group of people know how you are feeling, and while it might feel good for the moment its not the place for conflict. Deal with immediate need and once you have sorted out your feelings, take the time to meet one on one with your team when the extra time to meet will be worth it in the long run.

Long story short: Don’t send that email.

-Geoff @geoffcstewart

From time to time I post a question that comes into the blog for YOU to answer. What advice would you give this youth pastor who is asking some tough questions about hiring an older youth worker. Was hoping you could share your thoughts in the comments, too. Weigh in!

I just have a simple question … beyond the obvious (stamina, “cool” factor, cost? etc.), why is it so many churches are reluctant at hiring youth pastors nearing 50 with 20+ years of student ministry experience? I obviously fall into the camp. Oddly enough I feel like I am pastoring and leading volunteer leaders, staff and students better (and more wisely) at this age than I did when I was younger. Additionally … the credibility with parents comes in having my own HS and JH student living in my home.

Thoughts? Weigh in!