Helping students develop a desire to grow on their own is an important part of the discipleship process. Too often, youth ministries primarily encourage attendance at programs, which sets students up for a spiritual drift after graduation if they can’t find a “program” to attend. Here are a few ways to help students develop their own relationship with Christ.

Give them a book you’ve read.
Think about the books that shaped you as a teenager and find the equivalent today. Tell students the story of why this book was important to you and your faith and encourage them to take steps down that journey as well.

HINT: Avoid the temptation to assume the same book is perfect for each student. If you can say, “I picked this out just for you…” it will make reading the book much more compelling.

Issue a challenge that’s out of their comfort zone.
Owning your faith usually takes root when a student rises to a challenge. Want to see someone grow? Push them to participate in a missions trip a long way from home. Watch them grow raising the funds to participate, and enjoy a front row seat to the refining process as they get to push past their breaking point into a moment of deep spiritual cementing.

HINT: Again, a personalized challenge is stronger than a generic one. Seeing a pattern, here?

Read something alongside them and meet occasionally to discuss.
You gave one of your core students a prayer journal? Did you share a 1-Minute Bible with them? Read a copy of it yourself at the same time, and meet up a couple times to check in and discuss what you’ve been learning.

Equip your small group leaders.
Last year we did “grow on the go” tubs filled with a few resources for leaders to give out to their students along the way. A push for a devotional during a message is great, but a personal nudge and gift of a devotional from a small group leader is the best.

Live it out yourself.
If you want to help your students grow on THEIR own, model it to them yourself. So much is caught rather than taught, so frequently do personal “check ups” in your own life to make sure you’re growing, too.

How are you helping students grow on their own right now?

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.

A rut I was in early in ministry was to seek out the books that were trendy instead of choosing the books I should actually have been reading at the time.

Now I think all reading is good development – you could even read the Hunger Games and it could help your ministry and stretch your mind. But I think we have to be careful not to chase after the trendy books (Christian and secular alike) when the best stuff we should be reading sits idle on the shelf or gathers digital dust at the bottom of our Kindle.

I appreciate the larger conversation that takes place in Christianity when someone stirs the pot with a book that all of us our reading – but my encouragement to you today is to make sure you crack open that book that will really help you.

So what should you be reading? My first thought was to push you toward a few books that I would consider must-reads, even classics in youth ministry. But instead of doing that … I think you already know your next book.

So put down that latest-and-greatest book from whoever the hot author is right now and pick up the title you should be reading. An incredible you is waiting at the end of the book!


I’m excited to check out A Youth Worker’s Commentary on the Book of John – I love the idea of a Bible commentary specifically for youth workers and teenagers. Think I’m gonna pick it up – here’s the description from Simply Youth Ministry:

When a youth pastor is preparing a lesson, it’s sometimes challenging to find a curriculum that really offers depth into the Scripture passages and goes beyond a cursory look at the text.

A Youth Worker’s Commentary on John is the first in a new series of commentaries developed with youth workers in mind. An in-depth, yet readable approach to the gospel of John, this first volume includes commentary, word studies, personal and historical stories, and discussion questions that will help get students thinking and talking. The gospel of John is the most personal and revealing of all the portraits of Jesus in the New Testament.

This commentary has the entire NIV biblical text printed alongside a rich, deep look into the meaning of this gospel. Youth workers will find this to be an invaluable aid for message and lesson preparation. They’ll get a solid understanding of the gospel of John, including its historical context, rationale, and meaning, to see how to apply what they uncover to the needs and issues the teens in their group are dealing with.


The schedule of summer for me means way more relational time with students – and it also means I finally get through the stack of books that I’ve been meaning to get to all year. Here’s the 5 books I’m hoping to tackle the next couple of months.

Onward – this book was given to me by Kurt Johnston and I’m starting it first. Excited to read about Starbucks recovery several years ago. Fascinated with them already, excited to get an inside look at how they work/think.

The Indispensable Youth Pastor – Aside from Onward, this is the book I’m most excited about on the list. Looks like Mark Devries has put together another winner.

Launching Missional Communities – This resource was sent to me by the authors late this past fall, and I like it because it sounds so outside of my normal thinking.

Teenology – This is one of Jim Burns latest books on raising teenagers. He just spoke recently at our church, and it reminded me to make sure to read this since I work with kids, and it won’t be too long before we have a teen of our own around the house. Wild!

The Volunteer’s Field Guide to Youth Ministry – I’m looking at this as a potential resource for our incoming volunteers this fall. Not sure if it’ll be something we use, but want to check it out this summer.

What’s on your summer reading list?


Was just randomly looking through books and tools that might help HSM in our next season and landed on a few that I’m interested in and/or look promising for some situations I’m facing that you may soon, too. Here’s a few items I’m excited about checking out:

If you’re stuck trying to figure out the work of youth ministrymaybe check out Duffy Robbin’s recently expanded and updated book Youth Ministry Nuts and Bolts.

Youth ministry veteran and bestselling author, Duffy Robbins, offers an updated and revised edition of his book about the important, behind-the-scenes mechaincs of youth ministry. The tasks of budgeting, decision-making, time management, team ministry, staff relationships, conflict resolution, working with parents, and a range of other issues, are the things that keep a ministry together and functioning well. Nobody gets into youth ministry because they want to think about these things; but a lot of people get out of youth ministry because they didn’t think about them. All youth workers– whether paid or volunteer, full-time or part-time– will find Youth Ministry Nuts and Bolts to be a thoughtful, fun, practical guide to youth ministry administration.

If you’re stuck on how to help parents get more engaged in raising their students I love Walt Mueller’s stuff and 99 Thoughts for Parents of Teenagers looks like a cheap/simple resource to get into their hands quickly.

If you’re the parent of a teenager, you need all the help you can get. How do you help your children make wise choices? How do you give your teenagers freedom to make their own choices while still providing a guiding hand? How do you invest your time and energy in ways that make an eternal difference in your children’s lives? Walt Mueller delivers the goods in 99 Thoughts for Parents of Teenagers, a no-holds-barred look at the good, bad, and ugly aspects of parenting teenagers. Drawing on his experience as a parent of four children who have passed through their teenage years, Walt shares wisdom, thoughts, insights, and suggestions for making the teenage years count.

If you’re stuck trying to communicate to students the same way … maybe you need to think about using some video curriculum for a while. What if you could bring in Doug Fields, Francis Chan and Max Lucado? I think this video teaching series from BlueFish looks awesome.

If you’re stuck trying to figure out teaching teenagers at all I can’t recommend Doug Fields’ and Duffy Robbins’ book Speaking to Teenagers. A gamer-changer in helping you learn to be a better communicator:

Get ready for a crash course in effective communication. More than just a book on how to “do talks,” Speaking to Teenagers combines the experience and wisdom of two veteran youth ministry speakers, along with insightful research and practical tools, to help you develop messages that engage students with the love of Christ and the power of his Word. Whether you’re crafting a five-minute devotional or a 30-minute sermon, Speaking to Teenagers is essential to understanding and preparing great messages. Together, Doug Fields and Duffy Robbins show you how they craft their own messages and give you the tools to do it yourself. They’ll guide you, step-by-step, through the process of preparing and delivering meaningful messages that effectively communicate to your students.

If you’re stuck in a creative rut … maybe Les Christie can help. The book Awaken Your Creativity shows a ton of promise for helping you get unstuck from doing the same old thing.

You know how tough it can be to come up with new and inventive student ministry ideas every school year. It can be infinitely more grueling to be that creative on a weekly basis! Whether you’re developing a new message, a unique way to get students talking and interacting, or something different for the weekend retreat, most of us find ourselves tapped for creative ideas after a little while. Take comfort: You’re not alone, and you’re not necessarily out of creative steam. Everyone hits a block at some point, but you can find a way to tap into the creativity God placed within you. Les Christie has been doing youth ministry for decades, and he’s not out of ideas yet! This practical book will help you explore the stumbling blocks, the tricks of the trade, and the catalysts to creativity.


I’m excited to get a copy of Mark DeVries new book, Indispensable Youth Pastor. If you want to know more about the book, including author’s interviews, a look inside and more – hit the link above to the book’s official landing page. Excited to dig into this one … looks promising!


Got the best email today – a youth worker name Jerry tried to get enough of 99 Thoughts for Small Group Leaders for his volunteers but couldn’t because it was temporarily sold out (!!) at Simply Youth Ministry and Amazon. Died laughing:

Hey Team!

Take a look at this picture. Study it well. When you’re ready, scroll down and keep reading.

Let me point out a few things here. First of all, let’s start with the most obvious. The book.

This is a book I want to give you as a gift. You’re on my team and I can’t tell you how much I esteem and appreciate that fact. I wish like anything that this book came along with an expensive surf-n-turf dinner but believe me, once you open the book, you’ll find that the feast is for your soul, your spirit, your mind, and your heart as a small group leader.

Next, I’d like to point out the guy on the computer screen to the far right of the picture. That’s Josh Griffin. Josh, along with Doug Fields (but mostly Josh) wrote the book. Josh is the high school ministry pastor at Saddleback Church and he wrote this book for you. His face there is on his blog site. Subscribe to it.

And the email on the left of the picture above that you can’t read unless you have bionic squinting ability, is an email from Josh Griffin himself to yours truly. I had written Josh to congratulate him on the success of the book—a book that has become quite difficult to find due to high demands. Squint hard enough and you’ll see that Josh called me “friend” in his email. So, it’s official.

Which brings me to something that you can’t see in the picture above—well, not directly. In the picture, my hot hand is holding one copy of the book I want to give to all of you. Just out of camera range are 9 other copies. I have 10 total. I ordered more than that, but 10 was all the distributor had, so that’s all they sent. Here’s the snag: The phenomenally gifted team of small group leaders I lead has 23 people on it of which you are one. Those of you good at math have already figured out that 10 is less than 23. So, how do I decide which 10 leaders get the first round of books?

Do I give it to the 10 best-looking leaders? That would make for an awkward situation at our leader meeting this Sunday, wouldn’t it?

Do I give it to the leaders who have been around the longest? Maybe, but we’ve got 2 MORE new leaders joining our ranks THIS Sunday, and they’re phenomenal too!

Do I toss a coin? That wouldn’t help in this situation!

Do I take bribes? Yes, I do.

Do I have an essay contest? I think that’s far too collegiate for us.

How about a cage match to the death, until only 10 leaders remain? Yes, that’s it. That’s the answer. We will fight tooth and nail over 10 copies of Josh Griffin’s book.

Hope to see you Sunday at 1 p.m. in The Warehouse. We will wrap up around 3 p.m….well, 10 of you will.

Also, this week we unveil our new Student Leader team for the 2010-2011 year! Come gawk at them!

See you soon, my friends! You are so loved by God its beyond description, and so loved and appreciated by me.

I want to serve in this guy’s youth group. Awesome.


Just finished up reading Kurt Johnston and Tim Levert’s new book, The 9 Best Practices for Youth Ministry. This is the first book that Kurt (full disclosure – he’s my boss at Saddleback!) has written for youth ministry in general, not just something junior high specific. The best practices are based on the Exemplary Youth Ministry Study and made practical by the authors from their 30 years of youth ministry experience and observations of youth workers and churches across the country.

The book was good – ranged in content from familiar to very fresh – my favorites were Chapter 5 (Increase the Congregation’s Appreciation of Students) and Chapter 7 (Develop Confident, Competent and Committed Leaders). I learned some great principles to help communicate the wins to the church as a whole and was reminded to intertwine the youth ministry as part of the entire church. I also really appreciated the chapter on the TILT model of volunteer placement within a specific area of ministry.

Good stuff on a whole lot of fronts – probably one of the must-read youth ministry books of 2010.