UncommonWisdomfrontcoverWith your permission, I’d like to share an adaption of the introduction to my book “Uncommon Wisdom from the Other Side: A Senior Pastor Talks Youth Ministry.”

Not because I want to sell you a book
(although, feel free to buy one).

I want to share something so important that I wrote it there, and have written it here.


medic4Thank you for signing up to reach the next generation.

Your heart will gain scars.

You’ll be misled by others.

Close friends will seemingly abandon you.

The resources may run out.

You may fake your faith some days for the sake of others.

Simple things Christians say will annoy you.

The church you serve may appear two-dimensional in your three-dimensional stress.

Students will let you down.

You will disciple at least one Judas.

People will say all kinds of unkind things about you and your family.

And it is the best possible way to live.

medic3It would be easier to just pat you on the back, but you need to know what you’re being patted into.

The reason it’s called “ministry” is because someone is needed to “minister”-which implies a gap exists that needs filling. You may occasionally get applause for doing this, but if you’re looking for it you have things backward.

Trouble will hit.

Relational blood will be spilled.

People you expect to be medics will at times be holding the knife.

And you’ll at times be one of the guilty parties.

medic5If you can see this for what it is and enter the chaos glued to Jesus, you’ll unearth questions about church and ministry you didn’t realize existed.

You’ll also see some things about God you’d like to change, such as how he gets to call the shots on good days and bad days. You’ll later treasure these things because when you aren’t able to answer the “what happens next” question, you’ll start focusing on the “who can I love who is in front of me now” question.

That’s the question that really matters more, anyway.

It’s going to be ugly. Anytime something full of life is born,
there is a big, bloody mess.

Why do we forget this and whine about it when it happens?

Then again… perhaps you feel OK with ministry today and are nodding, assuming you’re ready for whatever comes next.

  • Will you keep nodding when your spouse is about to experience a nervous breakdown because of your “calling”?
  • Will you keep nodding when your own walk with God feels drier than it’s ever been and you have another message to deliver?
  • Will you keep nodding when the bliss of working inside the four walls of a church starts to feel like solitary confinement?

Such hardships may not dominate, but there will likely be seasons when everything seems crazy and Jesus will need you to help redeem even the “redeemed.”

  • This is where what you preach finally gets owned.
  • This is where your faith moves from practical ideas about living to oxygen when you’re suffocating.
  • This is where you take on Satan, not out of adrenaline, but out of Jesus.

medic2Consider this line from C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters where one demon counsels another on wearing down a man who has given himself to their “enemy” God:

“Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”

It’s not my aim to destroy your faith but to ground it in the Lord before it gets destroyed. Ministry will give you every circumstance to abandon what you’re doing because there’s always a seemingly nicer job at a store or restaurant down the street where you can clock in and clock out.

Then again, perhaps you weren’t made to clock in and clock out.

Maybe (just maybe) you will deny yourself, carry your cross, follow Jesus, and experience a resurrection in this generation.

(Note the order of that sentence. It’s what turns you into a battlefield medic for the Church.)

Doing that will unearth more of God than you feel prepared for, which in turn will make you run off screaming or surrendered on your own cross, because you finally see students like he does.

Because youth ministry is ugly and beautiful… all at the same time.


Thank you for loving students!



*Love Tony’s insight on service and youth ministry? Receive his articles every Tuesday when you sign up for the SYM Today Newsletter!*


Hey friends!

Below is another fantastic post from Junior High Ministry Veteran, Scott Rubin.

thinkerIt seemed like a great idea.
Bringing six 7th grade boys to the food pantry to serve under-resourced people in our community. Help them appreciate what they’ve been given. Grow a little compassion in their hearts. Do you see where this is going?

My mood might have been 2% down at the start, after getting an email from a mom a couple hours before. She was basically scolding me for not including her email address on my communication about the night’s details I’d sent 2 weeks before, and again 2 days before. I had sent the email to her husband’s address, but apparently sometimes he doesn’t forward them to her. My bad.

It was great to see all the guys as they arrived, and we goofed around for a few minutes before I pulled them all to the side to give them a real short “vision pep talk” about what we’d be doing and why. I felt like I was really rallying the troops for this night of service! One of the 6 put his hand up to stop me; I was ready for him to make an insightful observation about our serving. His comment? “I can juggle”. Ok! Glad we’re getting pumped up about helping neighbors in need.

Things started out decently; the “regular adult volunteers” at the pantry were really happy to have some extra help from our guys. We got assigned to pack some vegetables first. We had fun while we did it – and it was good to catch up with each of the guys. Our shift was only about 90 minutes … but after about 45, some complaining started. “I’m hungry!” “Didn’t you eat before you came?” “Yeah, but that was like 2 hours ago!” OK… I’m glad we’re getting the point of serving people who are really hungry. And then “I don’t want to touch those carrots. They’re wet! I hate carrots. Can’t we do something else?? Why do those guys get to do that, while we have to do this?”

Now without bragging, I’ve got to tell you that I’m pretty good with middle schoolers. Redirecting, refocusing, listening & adjusting. But for most of these guys, nothing was working. I really was feeling like this night was failing. At one point, I honestly wondered “Why am I doing this? There are plenty of other things I could be doing.”

But… there were 2 of the 6 who were almost completely dialed in, the whole night. When we took a break midway through, and I walked them around the facility showing them how it all worked, these two kept eye contact with me, and were really engaged, even if they didn’t say much. And they were trying their middle school best to not just help, but to help the other guys stay on task. But you know what I wanted? I wanted all 6 of them to be motivated like that. I didn’t want 4 pulling the other 2 into goofy-land. So it felt like “mostly failure” to me.

I don’t have a neat little tie-it-up-in-a-bow ending for this post. But on the way home, I felt like God was telling me, “I did more than you could see in those 2 seventh graders. And maybe in the other 4, as well.”

What feels like failure isn’t always failure…right? Right?

youthgroup_logoHere are a few topics I believe we as youth workers need to speak on in our ministries. I do believe that the increase in the statistics of these areas is largely due to social media. So as you read through think about how is social media affecting these areas and how can you affectively address them in your ministry. Notice that I don’t give solutions, because I believe every youth group is different and you know your students better. I wrote this to hopefully open our eyes a bit to what could potentially be going on in our youth groups.

  1. Bullying: (Source: stageoflife.com) – Bullying is still prevalent as it has always been, but with social media it has increased. Now students can be bullied 24 hours around the clock. 91% admit to being a victim of bullying.
  2. Texting and Social Media: (Source: stageoflife.com) - 57% of teens credit their mobile device with improving their life. They also see it as key to their social life. The average teen spent 31 hours a week online which is like 5 hours a day via a poll done in 2009. I can imagine that number has grown with the infusion of smart phones.
  3. Sex: (Source: diseasecontrolcenter) – 47.4% of the students surveyed had sexual intercourse and out of the 47.4% that had sex 39.8% of those students did not use protection. 15.3% admitted to having sex with 4 or more people during their lifetime.
  4. Drugs and Alcohol: (Source: SADD) – Statistically 72% of all students will have consumed alcohol by the end of high school. 37% have done so before the eighth grade. 6.7% of teens between the ages of 12-17 have smoked marijuana.
  5. Body Image: (source: stageoflife.com) – More than 90% percent of all girls between the ages 15-17 want to change their appearance. Body weight is ranking the highest. 13% admit to having an eating disorder. 7 out of 10 girls believe they don’t measure up or they’re not good enough concerning their looks, performance in school and relationships. 12% of teen boys are using unproven supplements and/or steroids to improve their body image. 44% of teens use skipping meals as a way to lose or control their weight.
  6. Depression: Students are dealing with depression. From the severe to the not so severe, at any rate they are dealing with it. The NAMI (National Alliance of Mental Illness) states that 1 in 5 teens have experienced depression.
  7. The Future: (Source: stageoflife.com) – 66% of teens are afraid of the future or life after graduation.

Now, I’m not a huge statistics type of person, but I do believe it paints somewhat of a picture for you and I to internalize into our own ministries. When I look at the numbers, I think, “how would these numbers fair in my ministry?”

Now, I know that there are more than 7 issues, and I also can tell you that these things are happening in my ministry. And if you were to take an honest look into your ministry you would probably say the same. I hope there isn’t anyone out there thinking that none of this is going on in their ministry.

Praying for students and telling them not to do something is not enough.

So the question is, what are some ways, with a Biblical perspective, that we can educate and open up dialogue about these topics with students and parents?

My first suggestion would be to share this with parents and let them know you are here to support students and families that are going through these things.

hope it helps


lets talkKurt and I discuss culture and that is exactly what it was a discussion. So hopefully a few learnings pop out as we discuss culture. Our conversation ranged from Miley Cyrus to Darryl Strawberry. We talk about it all. Now, right up front you will learn two things:

  1. How Kurt dances his way through youth ministry.
  2. How the word twerking made it’s way into the “Let’s Talk Youth Ministry bit archive.

If you have a topic you would like us to talk about send us an email to talkaboutym@gmail.com.


hope it helps

ac and kurt

lets talkFInd out the TWO volunteer trainings Kurt and I would do if we could ONLY do TWO trainings each!!!

Also learn two things about us you probably didn’t know. One has to do me surfing and the other has to do with whether or not Kurt reads my blog posts.



What would be your top two volunteer trainings?


hope it helps

AC and Kurt

2015GameChanger3inx3inAs I was thinking about this post “3 potential game-changers”, I came up with more than three, but with this post I also wanted to highlight things that seem common to us in youth ministry. I believe we all do these three things to some degree but if we did them intentionally it could be a game-changer for the ministry. Here are three potential game-changers:

Prayer – Prayer can be the easiest thing to get swept away by the business of youth ministry. The effectiveness of what I do every day in youth ministry relies on me receiving inspiration and direction from God. I love how Jesus would get away and pray. He stayed in communication with God. The key to being consistant in prayer is to be intentional about it. Prayer that is done intentionally can radically change your ministry. This is because you are now prioritizing the divine intervention of the Holy Spirit. Being intentional about prayer is more than just praying before service. It starts with your personal prayer life. If you’re not consistant in your personal prayer life than it will be nearly impossible for you to be consistant in praying for the ministry. Four ways to be intentional:

  1. It starts with you – Be intentional about your personal prayer life.
  2. It’s not just something you do – Prayer is your connection to divine wisdom, instruction and direction. Prayer is a big deal and you should treat it as such.
  3. Be strategic - Be creative and think of ways to getting more people praying for the ministry. One example: we have a lot of parents praying for our ministry. I want to unify them which will strengthen them and also bring more focus to what they pray for. Be strategic in prayer.

Listening - I can’t tell you how many students I’ve spoken with that feels like no one listens to them. Specially those who self-harm or have thoughts of suicide. Listening is a powerful part of ministry that can be overlooked. We can be so quick to give the cause/solution/advice not even realizing that everyone else in their life is probably doing the same thing and no one’s listening. Unless I’m intentional about listening I won’t. I will have answers before there needed and solutions before I hear the whole problem. Listening is just as important as having the solution. Whether you are talking with a student, parent or volunteer be intentional about listening because it says a lot. Three way to be intentional:

  1. Listen with the intent to listen – listening helps build trust. If people feel like you genuinely listen to them, then they are more apt to listen to you.
  2. Ask good question – don’t be so quick to respond with advice or the solution because you may miss something. I try and ask a minimum of 20 questions. Asking questions lets them know you are listening.
  3. Watch your body language – your posture can give off unwanted vibes. So make sure your whole body is attentive to the person speaking. It makes a difference.  

Being interrupted – How many times after service, before service, via phone call or a drop by the office were you approached/contacted by a student and you said “heyyyy…how are you?” and they said “I’m alright”with the look of my life is falling a part and I need you to hear me out and speak some life into my situation. I can tell you that happens to me every week. I believe you have to be intentional even about being interrupted. Nothing that is going on during your program or work day is more important than making sure you allow yourself to be interrupted by that student. Three ways to be intentional:

  1. Pray about it – Pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance when interrupted. While things may interrupt us they never interrupt Him. Pray God doesn’t allow you to look the other way.
  2. Be more specific than the question “how are you” - Most of the time we ask that question out of habit, but in order to be intentional about it you need to be more specific. Ask “how’s freshmen year ” or “how’s the family”. Being specific is an intentional way to let them know you don’t mind being interrupted.
  3. Followup – I always have them come to me after service because I can forget. I also set up a time to talk with them again.

What else in ministry could be a game-changer if done intentionally?


hope it helps


awesomeYou know that one thing you just did? Or that next thing you’ll do?

They’re the GREATEST things in the world, and you’re “incredibly humbled” to be do them.


Welcome to the “humblebrag.”

A Wall Street Journal article describes it this way

“Whether we like it or not, and especially on social media, we’re all self-promoters, broadcasting even our quasi-achievements to every friend and follower.”

The phrase was coined by Harris Wittels who explained that the “humblebrag” is when someone overtly boasts while covertly side-stepping coming across as bragging by wrapping it up in some type of humility


That’s something Christians can be culprits of just as easily as others.

And why not? Don’t we have the Greatest Message in the world to communicate? And aren’t we all “super excited” at the latest way we’ve found to share it?

  • “Hey, check out my YouTube video…”
  • “You should click on this link…”
  • “Read this post…”
  • “Could you retweet this…”

It’s what you say when someone asks how your last service or event was:

  • “Oh, it was incredible! You should have been there! God did something awesome! And, well… I was just thankful to be used by Him. I always am.”
  • “Well, the pastor was on vacation… and I don’t know if it’s okay to say this, but a few people told me they like my preaching a little better than his. I think a revival may break out soon.”

It’s how you describe the next thing that your name is attached to:

  • “Hey, you need to get your friends out to our next outreach thing. I’m going to bring my ‘A-Game’ and expect you to bring your school out to hear it… you know, so God can work through me.”
  • “I just wrote this blog post that I think just may change the future of how we do what we do. I’m super humbled to share this with you.”

It’s how you let everyone know your life is going well:

  • “Yay! We just became debt-free! It meant living off of croutons and Kool-Aid for six years, but we dropped a few pounds so it’s all good.”
  • “I’m soooooo grateful to have such a super-sexy, always-praying-on-the-knees-while-singing-worship-songs-and-writing-new-ones spouse who made me breakfast in bed today while writing out our tithe check.”

Granted, those are a little over the top and exaggerated. I’m guessing you saw yourself or someone else in them, though.

(In fact, it’s a whole lot easier to see this in others… isn’t it?)


It’s worth a gut check:

  • How often do you look for a reason to talk about God and toss yourself in there?
  • How often do you look for a reason to talk about yourself and toss God in there?

I’d love to hear your observations or pet peeves on this.
Maybe even share a few creative youth worker “humble brags.”

Oh… and while you’re thinking of some, make sure you check out my new book Uncommon Wisdom From The Other Side that came out this week. It was a labor of love to write it, but I’m “super excited” for how it turned out.

(Ahem… see what I did there? And you’re welcome.)

270208_2181937635525_2980948_nBeing a small group leader is great and scary at the same time. I took a group of guys from freshmen year to senior year.  It was great, but there were some things I had to learn to be ok with throughout the four years that I wish i knew at the beginning. It would’ve helped me shape the group better. Some of the things I had to learn to be ok with were great and others kind of came with the territory. Knowing these ten things now will definitely benefit my next group. So I thought I’d share my learnings.

  1. Be OK with it being more than bible study. – I thought I would be just doing a study and hanging out with some dudes. Little did I know, doing life together bonds you together like family. Even though they are all at different colleges, some local and some out of state, they know that I’m here for them if they ever need me. Love my boys.
  2. Be OK with just planting seeds. - I had guys in my group that came and left and I felt like they never fully got what I was trying to teach them. It would get me down at times. I had to remember that I’m called to plant the seeds of God’s word and God changes the heart. I must be ok with just planting seeds and trusting that God will produce the harvest.
  3. Be OK with students joining and leaving. - Whether it be because of a friend who’s joining another group or the season of the student’s life is super busy and they have to take a season off of small group, there is a chance students will leave. Tip: Celebrate the students who join and don’t take it personal when someone leaves. Make sure the door is always open for them to return.
  4. Be OK with your life changing. - My guys pushed me to be the example they needed me to be. I can’t tell you how much my life has changed because of my small group guys. They pushed me to really study God’s word, be a man of prayer and be a better husband/father. Tip: expect God to change your life for the better.
  5. Be OK with being interrupted. – There will be times that your small group will need you to be there during a time of crisis. From death in the family, to them making some huge mistakes and needing advice, know that they will need you at times unplanned.
  6. Be OK with not knowing what to say or do. – You will feel this way at times, but it’s ok.  It’s actually the best place to be, when it pushes you to lean on God and seek His wisdom. I lived in this area my first year leading a small group.
  7. Be OK with students being there for different reasons. - Some are there to be challenged in their faith and others are there just to hang with friends. I’ve had several of those types of students and all I can say is be patient and trust God.  I’ve seen students who were all about just hanging out one year and helping start a christian club at their school the next year. So be confident in God’s ability to change their direction.
  8. Be OK with having your faith stretched and strengthened. - Nothing stretches and strengthens your faith like a bunch of students trying to learn and grow in their walk with Christ.  I’ve seen God show up so many times in my guy’s life that it has strengthened my faith. I would study and teach things I thought I knew very well, until one of the guys would ask a great question that would challenge my thinking on the subject. Little did I know, God was using my group to stretch and grow my faith in Him. He will definitely do the same for you.
  9. Be OK with keeping parents on task. – Communicate to the parents what you expect of them in a loving and supportive way and address issues quickly as they arise.  TIP: If you want parents there on time, be there to greet them when they pull up every time. If you want them to pickup on time, end on time and greet them for pickup.
  10. Be OK with knowing you will make mistakes and/or fail. - You are not perfect and no one is expecting you to be. There will be things you will try to do that will not work out.  You will make mistakes and/or fail at times. It’s ok and we’ve all been there.  The goal is to learn from your mistakes and failures and minimize the return of the two in the same area.

What are some other things small group leaders have to be ok with leading a group?

hope it helps