Archives For Ideas


Yesterday I had the opportunity to speak at Goodpasture Christian School during their chapel time. I have probably spoken there 20 times since I have been at Main Street. I have also had the pleasure of speaking at numerous FCA events all over the county. It is a daunting task to speak in front of 600-700 junior/senior high kids at 9am and often I wonder if they got anything out of the message. So in your days as a youth minister you will probably be asked to speak in front of teenagers at their school for a religious event and so I want to give you some tips I have learned (you probably know these…I am a slow learner) speaking at different events.

#1 – Gather all of the facts.

How long do you need to speak? What are some things you cannot say? Is there any specific message you want me to mention? Who is the target audience? Who is in the audience (denominations)? What does the facilities look like? Will there be any time for discussion? What kind of sound equipment do they have available? Gather the facts.

#2 – Be Realistic

I had delusions that I would alter the course of their life with one, finely-crafted message and that they would come up to me in droves crying, telling me how much my message meant to them. I am an idiot. Teenagers will text during the message, will think about other things, will be confused or just not care. Our job is to simply bring good news and let the message fall on whomever God wills, however God wills.

#3 – Keep it simple

I know you want to share the Greek syntax with them but they do not care about your 2 years of Greek graduate school and $20k in debt from that Greek (I digress). They need a simple message with a simple point. I recommend two books to help you in that endeavor: Andy Stanley’s Communicating for a Change and Doug Fields and Duffy Robbins’ Speaking to Teenagers.

#4 – Make it fun

I can hear your snarky response: “Dude…” wait a minute you would probably start, “Brother, you are watering down the gospel message by entertaining kids!” I guess you would not like the way Jesus communicated with parable. He probably watered down his own message right? Sheesh. Make it fun. Don’t be inappropriate but make it fun. I once brought tuna, sardines, spoiled milk, jalapenos, brussle spouts and mixed them all in one bowl. I then brought a $20 bill and said, “Who wants it?” Everyone raised their hands and then I put it in the bowl and said, “Who wants it now?” That kid came up and put his hand in the bowl, got the $20 and everyone laughed. I followed up talking about how everyone has value no matter how dirty things in their life get. Make it fun, make a point.

#5 – Tie things in to the gospel message whenever and wherever you can

You have to be sneaky with this in certain contexts but people need to hear the message of salvation in Christ alone, through faith alone by grace alone. Some contexts won’t let you do this but a simple, “God redeemed you on the cross” can get the message through.

What are some other things you have learned?


I read an excellent post by Aaron Helman who writes for his blog “Smarter Youth Ministry.” He wrote a post for the guys at Youth Ministry 360 entitled, “4 Traits of a Healthy Volunteer Team” which is worth your read. The blog post lead me to reflect on how I have recruited volunteers and I must be honest, this is one of my flaws in ministry. I am not good at this at all which is why I enjoyed Aaron’s post so much. I think every youth ministry needs to have a healthy balance and one way to do this is to have one heck of a team that is gun-ho at ministry to teenagers and discipling them. Having said that, I have learned how to recruit volunteers by how badly I have done it in the past. So here is how you DON’T recruit volunteers.

Placing a “Volunteers Needed” column in a bulletin, announcement sheet, article, post or Facebook page

I did this for about four years (still do it sometimes) until I realize that everybody assumes that everybody else is going to volunteer and so that means in the end, nobody volunteers. Or worse, the people who volunteer for the volunteer position are already over-committed in other areas thus stretching them thin and potentially leading them down a path of burnout. If you want volunteers in your ministry then ask them personally. But…

Asking whoever “can” volunteer to volunteer

In the ministry we need to be selective at who we ask to be present with teenagers for safety reasons but also for passion reasons. There is a lot of people who have the ability to volunteer but the people you want on your team are those who are passionate about the Lord and teenagers.

Making assumptions about who should volunteer

We are wrong to assume that there is a certain type of person who should volunteer in our ministries. Some of the most successful volunteers I have had participate in the ministry are folks who are in their 60s or 70s. The kids love them because it is evident to them that they love the kids and at the end of the day teenagers know this. Nerds, old people, jocks, goofballs, rich people or poor people…anyone can volunteer and we should not make assumptions.

Recruiting the right people and giving them the wrong job.

I guess that still means the wrong people but you understand what I mean. I have had people who were willing to volunteer and were passionate about the Lord but then I assigned them something they were not gifted at and it went over about as well as a bull in a china shop. I did not recruit wisely and tactifully. I just said “here you go.” Which leads me to the next bonehead move of mine.

Recruiting but not training.

Odds are if you have had a full-time job you probably have had some training and some retraining. I have stunk in this endeavor. I think volunteer means “chaperoning” and boy have I missed it on this. Volunteers need just as much training as we do. They need to understand teenagers, learn how to teach them, learn how to listen, learn, learn, and learn. It takes training and even the most gifted volunteer still needs to learn.

Finally, laying the guilt trip to get volunteers.

Have you ever done this? You make an announcement or send that snarky e-mail claiming that the world depends on volunteers and our teenagers are the next generation and a failure to lead them is an admittance of defeat and acceptance of a dying church. Too far? Maybe you are not that brash but some of your snide remarks to get volunteers is not the best way to recruit. You want people to come with enthusiasm and passion not with reluctance and guilt. Think your relationship with God. Do you think God wants you coming passionately or reluctantly?

What are some other suggestions?

I used to abhor the idea of networking in youth ministry. To me it seemed like a bunch of alpha males jockeying for front position in a race to see who is the most popular youth guy. Years later I see how foolish my thinking was because networking is not about position so much as it is about the biblical concept of “one-anothering.”  The task of networking is to encourage, equip, build-up and empower other youth guys and gals to be the best they can be for their own context. Networking forces ministers to learn from other guys who are so generous with their time and talents. It is not about showmanship but about mutual edification. I am learning more about networking but I love sharing with others and then them sharing what I have learned. Below is a list of some of theb est networkers in the youth ministry biz…

  1. Youth Ministry 360
  2. Tim Schmoyer (Life in Student Ministry)
  3. Christopher Wesley (Marathon Youth Ministry)
  4. Rusty Pettus (411Ministries)
  5. Simply Youth Ministry (
  6. Rethinking Youth Ministry (Brian Kirk)
  7. Average Youth Ministry (Ben Kerns)

Who are some others that I missed that are great at networking?

I was thumbing through an old youth ministry textbook (1997) and reflected how much youth ministry had changed. The book touted different models of youth ministry and left it up to the reader to “pick and choose” one that adapts to your ministry context. A lot of the models were outdated and some of them should never have been mentioned but the book and the 8 1/2 years I have been in youth ministry has caused me to think of some serious questions:

  • Should we ever look at other models of youth ministry as templates or should it be a helpful guide when contextualizing our ministry?
  • In what ways do past models inform how are ministry is working?
  • Is youth ministry about models anyways? Missional, attractional, whatever…
  • In what ways should youth ministries adapt and in what ways should youth ministry never change?

All of this thought has led me to at least two firm commitments: 1) never stop learning and 2) youth ministry is not about picking and choosing a model more so learning in a community of believers at what works.

First we start with the last commitment…

There are tools to the trade that are normative throughout all ministries (i.e., keeping parents informed, medical releases, casting vision, discipleship, etc.) but some things work in one context that will not fly in other. Sometimes you do not have the right resources (volunteers, money, etc.) to pull certain things off. Sometimes it is not the right season for doing certain things. Maybe you need to plan more or maybe you need to be more relational or maybe you need to have a season of recruiting volunteers or maybe you need to work on building the right team or maybe you need to establish credibility in the large context of your church and community.

Which leads me to my number 1 commitment: never stop learning. I can provide all fancy quotes for you but the bottom line is you never will arrive at a point in youth ministry where you have it all figured out. Never. If you are at a point where you consider yourself an expert (not to be confused with veteran) then prepare to be humbled. Never stop learning. Look at awesome blogs, talk with veterans, learn from each other’s success and failures and take action.

What are your suggestions?

Are you feeling the crunch of the Holiday season yet? Are you feeling the pressure yet? Most families are and so youth group should be a time where we focus on the family. Here are 5 things a youth minister can do to help every family around the holiday season.

#5 – Provide a Daily Devotional

I am in the midst of providing a devotional for the season of Advent that will be ready to release December 2nd. You can always count down from December 1st to the 25th and have a daily Scripture reading and a thought. Or provide a devotional online or on Facebook (I like Brian Kirk’s idea here). Allow the family to have some resources to put the holidays into proper perspective.

#4 – Have a family party

Have a big Christmas party where all the parents and youth are invited. We typically just have the youth but I am thinking about inviting the parents as well. Pay for the food and have some fun Christmas games. Make it an ugly Christmas sweater party!!!

#3 – Look for ways to help financially

I think it is important to help kids in the community with Christmas gifts. Every church better be doing something like that. But we fail if we help people in the community and that does not include our own church members. Look for families who are struggling financially and provide them with some gifts, dinner or maybe just pay the light bill.

#2 – Write thank-you cards

It is the end of the year on the normal calendar and the beginning of the year on the Liturgical Calendar. Either way you can begin or end your year expressing your appreciation for the parents, students and volunteers in your ministry.

#1 – Clear the Schedule

Resist the temptation to pack lock-ins, high-school bible studies, middle-school games in the gym and all sorts of activities around the holidays. Maybe a party (See #4 above) and that’s it. Clear the schedule and allow families to do what is important, spend time with families. You should take a break as well. Be with your family. Don’t go in the office as much. Relax. Clear the schedule.

What would you recommend?

We are having a retreat this weekend and I thought about all of the mistakes I have made and thought I would share from my mishaps.

Mistake #1: Poor Planning

This is where I am at right now so I am having to catch–up a little. But lucky for me I have wonderful parents who do the bulk of the planning so a lot of times I simply show up. But seriously, be a details oriented guy. Have you handed out schedules? Have you informed parents of times, money and items to bring? Have you made sure to study for the lessons? Is the bus filled up? Did you remember to pay for the retreat facilities?

Whoops… be right back!

Did you plan the games for the kids? Cover the details but…

Mistake #2: Too Much Planning

I am not sure what your idea of a retreat is supposed to be but I have met youth ministers who spend so much time planning, implementing, and packing the schedule full that they can hardly enjoy the weekend. I wasted endless amounts of time finding the right PowerPoint background, the right video illustration, the best game or whatever. A kid is not going to come up to you a week after the retreat and say, “Dude, that poster you made three weeks before the retreat really hooked me. I love that graphic design and the helvetica font.” A caution about scheduling, less is more at a retreat. I know you think teenagers need something to do every hour but they don’t. Let them sleep in a little, take a nap if they want, go for a walk if they need or make up a dumb game if they choose. It is a retreat.

Mistake #3: Not letting someone go who wants to go at the last minute.

“Sorry our bus is full!”

“Sorry the sign-ups were clearly posted and the deadline was in bold, italics and even in helvetica font :)!!!”

If the bus is full get a parent to drive. If they can’t come down until late then find someone to drive late. If they need to leave early then make it happen as long as they are there. I used to be a grumbler about this and lament about how this messes the schedule up. As long as people are there it will be ok.

Mistake #4: Doing it all yourself

Don’t do this. You’re dumb if you do. Seriously. Quit being an idiot and involve your students to take leadership and plan parts of the retreat. Get off your high-horse, holier-than-thou attitude and empower the parents to take ownership. Don’t believe me? That’s fine but expect a crappy retreat where you are grumpy and the kids and the parents will hate it. Plus you will burn out and quit anyways. Don’t do that.

Mistake #5: Not following up

Remember that girl who poured her life out to you at retreat but you never saw her again? That’s because you didn’t follow up. Call students. Ask parents how things went. Talk with your group about how to make things better. Find new ways to recruit people for the next retreat. Please follow-up.

What would you add?




I am convinced that seminaries, Christian colleges and the like should offer cooperatives (co-ops) if they are going to offer a youth ministry degree. I think it would save the hassle of churches cycling through different ministers who could not handle the pressures, the kids or the parents and in the long run it might save the students from getting a degree they are never (NEVER) going to use. Say your youth ministry career fails and you tell a potential hiring agent your qualifications for a marketing job: “Uhhhhh…I can come up with a cool design for a t-shirt?” Sheesh.

Maybe seminaries do this and I am unaware but I think it would be awesome for the institution, for the church, for the youth groups and for the would-be, world-changing, idealistic men and women who wish to change the next generation of teenagers through their awe-inspiring work in youth ministry. Sure it would take longer for them to graduate but man would that look good on a resume. If I were to hire someone I would prefer someone who worked under a seasoned ministry veteran rather than someone who knew nothing.

“But what about summer internships? Our degree offers those and that’s like a co-op.”

Short answer: no it’s not. A summer internship allows you to see the ministry at its best. The seasoned vet has already planned the summer out and all you do is have to be relational and show-up and don’t mess things up. You run, you play, you laugh and then you leave. It’s that quick. A full year of cooperative would allow the would-be minister to see the ebb and flow of what a year in youth ministry looks like. You can hide what a ministry looks like in the summer but for a full year you will see the good, the bad and the ugly. And believe me… this is what you need to see. Better yet, the churches will be able to partner with institutions in a greater more functional capacity. Instead of “send us your money and we will send you ministers” it can be “we can use both your money and your leadership training.”

What do you think?


“The Prophets” Oil Painting by Angelico

Share this verse in a class with teenagers…

“When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord” (Hosea 1:2).

That is a verse a sneaky little junior-high kid would come across to share with his friends and laugh and snicker. But how do you teach stuff like that to teenagers? Let me assure you that some of the stuff you come across in Scripture is graphic and would be considered R-rated material in movies. Yet if we are to declare the entire counsel of God (Acts 20:27) then teaching difficult sections is part of it. If you ignore the sections that are difficult to explain then teenagers will feel cheated if not led astray.

One of those sections in Scripture is the section called the Minor Prophets (Hosea-Malachi). Typically these books were called “The Twelve” and are labeled “minor” not because of theology but because of length. There are 1,050 total verses in the minor prophets where as Jeremiah (1,364), Isaiah (1,292) and Ezekiel (1,273) each have more verses than the minor prophets (Source). The twelve are filled with judgments of doom on different nations yet they are also filled with hope for God’s steadfast love (chesed). So how do you teach these books to teenagers?

Place them in their historical context

These books were written during the period of history among God’s people known as the Monarchy or United/Divided Kingdom. It would do the teacher well to read 1 Samuel-2 Chronicles and pay attention to the different kings of the Northern and Southern kingdoms. Also understanding the outside influences of Assyria, Philistia and other nations is very important for placing the books in a context. I will caution you to do some major studies on this so that you can understand where the writer is coming from but please do not go overboard in sharing this information with your teenagers. They do not have to read all of 1-2 Kings to understand a minor prophet. Introduce the context so they can understand where the prophet is coming from.

Take some time to explain the prophetic role.

Teenagers (and adults too!) think prophecy means predicting future events yet most of the prophet’s role was to declare judgment on a nation for its rampant disobedience (usually idolatry). Again, don’t go overboard with this but simply introduce the role of the prophet even tying in the idea that maybe God (in a different but similar way) is calling us to be prophetic today.

Think big picture instead of verse-by-verse

I am not against a verse-by-verse approach but it seems that there are some common threads throughout the prophets that can be taught instead of going through the entire twelve books. Threads like:

  • God’s Judgment
  • Disobedience
  • Idolatry
  • Apathy
  • Entitlement (bad and good)
  • Covenant Love
  • Justice and Injustice
  • Forgiveness
  • Repentance
  • God’s mercy and grace
  • Law (i.e, Torah)

Threads like that will allow teenagers to see the forest through the trees.

Finally, place HEAVY emphasis on God’s redemptive plan among the mess of his people

Whether it is talking about outright rebellion like Jonah or the people of God filled with an insatiable greed (Hag. 1:6) God always had a desire to first discipline but with the purpose of bringing his people towards righteousness. And when the people went towards righteousness God would restore them to waves and waves of his steadfast love. The life of a teenager is weird, complex, difficult and confusing. They are going through so many changes physically, mentally and emotionally. Their lives, more often than not, are messy. They need to understand God’s redemptive purposes and covenantal love despite their sinful and rebellious tendencies. A relationship with God is messy and they need to understand God is in the mess. Tie the cross in as God’s ultimate work of redemption and restoration for his people.

What are your suggestions/methodologies?

  1. Sit down and plan. I don’t mean just think about some activities to do. I mean plan your vision, your strategy to reach the different groups in your ministry. Adam McLane had an amazing post that I am using to help kick start our fall entitled, “The 48 Hour Self-Retreat – How to plan your Fall 2012 Ministry Strategy.” An excellent quote from that post: “I promise you this. If you take 48 hours and re-evaluate your 2012-2013 plan right now… you’ll be thankful all year.” No need to go spending time with the youth right now (that sounds horrible) as they need to get in the swing of school. Hopefully you have already had your fall kick-off. Take this down time to plan an amazing year.
  2. Sit down and pray. Take some time each day to pray for your students, your family and your own growth. Along with #1, why is it we plan for the students yet we do not plan for our own spiritual formation? Where are you struggling at right now? Pray that God would smash the idol factory that is in your heart and that you be fully present for the ministry this fall.
  3. Sit down and meet. Piggy-backing off of Adam’s post I think it would be wise to meet with a few different groups of people in your church. Meet with your new parents (those who have moved in and those coming in to the youth ministry from 5th or 6th grade). Give them information packets so they know what is expected. Meet with new students. Meet with fringe students. Meet with students who have visited your church. Meet with elders. Meet with your ministry staff. Meet with other youth ministers. Let God work in collaboration with what other people are doing.
  4. Sit down and read. How many books did you read last fall? “Robbie, I was so busy I could hardly get to it.” Ok… how much Scripture did you read? That one shot me right in the gut. Like a Greg Maddux two-seamer on the inside corner. Here is a leadership no-brainer: you cannot lead people to a place where you have never been. True, both you and the ministry are on a journey down a place trusting God in some unknown circumstances but I am talking about the depth of your spiritual journey. Fed people feed people. Remember that.
  5. Just sit down. Summer was crazy for me so sitting down and relaxing is very important. Go to some football games. Go hunting. Go out with your spouse. Watch some TV. Do whatever gives you energy and relax!

Hope this helps.


No doubt you have heard of this story or at least experienced it yourself.

Tommy wanted to start something new at the church he has worked for for a little over 18 months. He was a fiery, energetic guy and if he did something he did it 100%. It was winter time and Tommy wanted to start a new program in the spring where they would go on a mission trip over spring break to Honduras to help the church down there in VBS, door-knocking and a building campaign. It was a great idea and so he made all of the arrangements, mailed flyers to the parents, put-up a huge sign-up, a poster, mentioned it to the kids and got them excited. He thought  this was going to be amazing. One problem, he didn’t talk with the parents. Half the parents had committed plans to go on vacation and the other half simply could not let their child go as money would be impossible to raise in three months. Tommy was approached by the elders (right or wrong) and they let him know of the mass e-mails, phone calls and visits they have had from parents who are irate that Tommy has done this without their approval, wisdom and help. The elders have asked Tommy to cancel the trip and do something else. Tommy is angry and cannot believe the parents would be upset about sending their kids to a mission trip. The kids are upset because they won’t get to go now and the ministry seems to have taken two steps back.

In my opinion Tommy was wrong for many reasons. I don’t blame his fire though as he wants to do whats best for the kids but his fire is a little misguided. Yet, there are situations where we want to start something new in our ministries but we are at a loss as to how to do it. First of all, I am not an expert as many things we have done have been the same thing since I came in 2004. Other things we have started, failed and then cancelled it. Parents at Main Street know I am not afraid to try something as long as I have their support. So here are some rules, guidelines, suggestions, tidbits of wisdom I would give you if you are wanting to start something new.

  • You are not allowed to change a thing in your ministries the first two years. Unless you are starting a ministry or simply inherited something that was catastrophic, your job is to carry our what has been done and develop relationships and train a volunteer staff. That’s it.
  • What are you motives? Do you want to start something new because you think it will benefit the students or are you starting something new because you personally don’t like something? It’s time to do a real gut-check and leave your ego at the foot of the cross. Pray about this and think about it a while. Let the Spirit probe your core to see if this is the best thing that needs to be done.
  • Think slow, think small. I know you want to go into your ministries like your driving Grave-Digger over some insignificant cars but you got to be patient and think about change over long periods of time. You also have to think about small wins as battles you have won. The first couple years of my ministry here I wanted to go to this huge ministry conference and I asked the elders. They declined but let me go to a smaller conference and I thought this was a small victory. Think slow, think small.
  • Ask and involve parents.  That statement is worth repeating, “ask and involve the parents!” I hope this is a no-brainer but they are your pulse for how effective of a job you are doing and if you are doing a horrible job believe me, it’s because they are not involved in the decision-making. The wise man once said, “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed” (Prov. 15:22). This is true in life and this is true in ministry.
  • Ask the students. The older I get the more I realize I necessarily don’t know what the kids would like see done in the ministry. Involve a team of student leaders and throw things out there to them. Sometimes they will say, “That’s really amazing Robbie, you are the best youth minister in the world, God’s gift to this church.” OK…never that…but they will like the idea while sometimes they will tell you, “You are lame! I can’t believe you actually graduated from college!” Ask the students.
  • Let your leadership know. Whatever setting you are in, involve your decisions, dreams, vision with the leaders of your church. They do not like getting surprises.
  • Do your homework. If you want to start something new you better be able to explain why this “new thing” will be beneficial to the church. You better think about all of the objections that will come from meetings with your parents, students and leadership. You better have a plan in place to implement this new program that includes your vision, your proposed plan of action and the volunteers it will take to carry out this big idea. Do your homework.
  • Have the humility to accept the response, “Not now.” By “accept” I mean understand that it is God’s will. Don’t sulk, whine to other ministers, write an angry blog about it, gossip about it, or whatever. Simply accept it and realize that it is for the best.

Hope these help. What else would you add?