Tales From The Interim (Part One)

IMG_7217In May of 2016 the leadership of my church asked me to serve (on an interim basis) as point person for our student ministies as we began a search for our next Student Pastor. We believed this would last about four months. Somehow the math got messed up and my four month interim turned into 18 months.

So, with that math in mind, I will start a four-post series (wink-wink) where I share insights from my return to the Youth Pastorate!

My relaunched YP career began where my last one couldn’t— with experience. My first go, back when hair was popular and possible, as a 19 year-old, started with just me with four Jr. High boys at a church-plant (similar to today, about 50% of them were deodorized). By contrast, in 2016, I inherited a solid group of volunteers, a critical mass of students and a good core of supportive parents.

Most in youth ministry reading this post will relate more with my 2.0 experience— you’re either inheriting and/or reimagining a student ministry; which leads me to my first insight…

Relaunch Realization Number ONE: Stop, Look and Listen
In 1992, I was starting from scratch and learning on the go, it was my youth ministry leadership infancy and toddlerhood all in one, a little Chutes and Ladders if you will? Fast forward to 2016, I inherited an already-in-process Monopoly game— metaphorically there were houses on some properties, hotels on others. I found cash laying out, Chance cards stacked and property cards that had evidently been mortgaged.

monopoly-board-game-1512077The problem: I didn’t know who owns what property, which game piece belongs to which player and who’s turn is it to go next?

As I re-entered the game, I had to assess the situation before making a move. Similarlty in youth ministry it is often wise to stop, look and listen before making your next move.

IMG_7989Whether you’re inheriting (starting a new role) or simply at a stage where you’re reimagining what your ministry can and should look like, I suggest that you hit the pause button and truly assess the status. Here are few things I did and some simple ways to stop, look and listen:

  • Rewind and review; look at the calendar of the last year and list the wins, losses and ties (if inheriting invite others to do this with you in all areas from curriculum to events to training)
  • Be intentional in asking honest questions of leaders, parents and students (what’s going well? what could we tweak? what are your hopes? what’s missing?)
  • Invite trained outside eyes to observe the ministry (selfishly, this is what I love doing, sometimes  you simply need someone from the outside to report what they see to gain perspective, don’t hesitate to ask how we can do this)
  • Go see another ministry to learn what others are doing, but DON’T look to implement yet… you’re still in the stop, look and listen phase!

Like Monopoly, I took a moment to enjoy the Free Parking, maybe it’s time for you to do the same as you stop, look and listen before you take your next turn?


What I Overheard at NYWC17

dsc02175Ever been in a restaurant booth and overheard the conversation at the table behind you? Maybe you’ve walked into an elevator and heard an exchange chock-full of opinion? Or perhpas you’ve taken part in a focus group where input is freely given?

All of the above happened to me this week in Memphis at NYWC! Here’s what I heard in regard to youth ministry…

In Regard To The Unchurched

Though youth leaders ask, encourage and implore students to bring their unchurched friends to youth group, very few youth pastors are doing anything to engage unchurched friends on their own. One youth director said, “I know I’m hypocritcal, but I don’t know how to get out of this bubble.”

In Regard to Numbers

IMG_3890Most Student Pastors are relationally-driven, but the one thing that consumes much of their time is growing the numbers in their youth group attendance. 50% of our 100+ coaching appointments were in regard to “gaining numbers” in youth group. One Youth Pastor said to me, “I am driven by discipleship in a church that measures attendance only.”

In Regard to Staff Relationships

I was quite pleased to hear FAR MORE encouraging conversations about the relationship between senior pastors and youth leadrers than any other year at NYWC. There were certainly some tough waters, but one conversation stood out where a Youth Pastor said, “it is refreshing to be pursued relationally by my senior pastor; it’s never about the job, it’s always about my life, my family and my relationship with Jesus.”

In Regard to those Training For Youth Ministry

Both students and professors spoke to the need for more practical training— taking the academics to application! As one who works for Youth Specialties, I believe we are bridging that gap practically, but it was so refreshing to hear several professors name the desire to make classroom teaching as practical and real-life ministry oriented as possible. I heard a student say, “my prof came to watch me teach and hung aound all night at our youth group.”

In Regard to Youth Specialties

IMG_9026Through a couple focus groups, several airport, elevator and restaurant conversations I was encouraged to hear the following about YS (several times the persons speaking did not know I represent YS):

“I love that they (YS) are leading the conversation about reconcilliation and are proviing it with their lineup.”

“If I wasn’t a part of the 101 Collaborative and didn’t receive the coaching I received, I would have left youth ministry this year.”

“YS has taken a few punches in the last decade, but they were not down for the count, I now can say I am in their corner and not just cheering for them, but I’ll fight with them… youth ministry needs YS.”

“Finally, an organization is recognzing the need to train bivocational youth leaders— since we outnumber the fulltime youth pastors!”

I love what I get to do with and for YS. I hope you’ll consider joining me in one of our collaboratives and at NYWC St. Louis in 2018!

Spring Training… of a different sort

My son fell in love two years ago. Seriously, head-over-heals in love. It started as an interest and within weeks it was pretty intense, he couldn’t stop talking about his new love… BASEBALL!

Several weeks ago this eight year-old son heard on sports radio that pitchers and catchers were reporting for spring training and position players were only a couple days away. Instantly we were outside (in the rain) playing catch. Spring training—time to get ready for the season!

I love this season in youth ministry too— are you preparing for what’s next?

  • Youth pastors— how are you preparing your team for the next season of ministry?
  • Youth workers— what are you doing to better yourself for better engagement, improved methodologies and growth spiritually?
  • Student leaders— who is your next mentor to help you develop your skills and unleash your gifts?

I’m pretty pumped about several opportunities for “Spring Training” in my liIMG_0017fe in the next few weeks.

  • Local— our volunteer team from Faith (our church) is getting away for a weekend together. There will be nearly 25 of us sharing a large house, doing life and getting trained for ministry engagement.
  • National— at Youth Specialties we are partnering with the youth leaders in Cincinnati and the Cincinnati Christian University for a Team Training Event (YS Team Training with CCUth Collective)
  • International— Australia has been on my bucket-list forever and I’m ecstatic to be img_8959partnering with the CRC for a one-day leader training and then several churches for leadership training and preaching opportunities.

I love that I get to engage locally, nationally and internationally to prepare for what is next. I hope you’re preparing yourself or your team too!

March Madness For Youth Ministry

Are you a fan of the underdog? I love stories of people who overcome obstacles. I’m drawn to the team that comes from nowhere to win it all (Hoosiers is still one of my favorite movies). I am moved by inspirational stories of those that couldn’t or shouldn’t that now have done something fantastic.

As I have matured and learned from my own mistakes, failures and successes I find myself more drawn to help develop others as they strive forward in their ventures. One “developmental” opportunity that I am specifically excited about is the upcoming YS 101 Collaborative which launches in April. This is an intentional seven-month coaching collaborative for those newer to youth ministry or in a new role. I love that I am going to team with others to help (what some would see as) underdogs become champions in kingdom work.

Though the 101 hasn’t started, I thought I would write a post as if I were talking to a participant and answering the question “what  strategic things should I be doing now in March to help with long term ministry success?”  Here are three quick tips.

  1. Dates & Rates

images-1If you haven’t already, ALL of your major events for the next six months of ministry should be known by students, leaders and parents. Summer camps, missions or retreat dates should be known by January or February (at the latest). So now, let’s focus on the fall—perhaps you have a fall camp or D-NOW coming in September? Let your ministry people know now what dates they should be reserving and what rate (fee) will be charged.

2.   Develop Now What You Want 6 Months From Now

Though you’re still putting the finishing program touches on your spring and are fundraising for summer missions, the fall program is only 6 months away. Have you thought about the incoming class of middle schoolers or high schoolers? Who will be leading those new small groups? It is wise to start recruiting and developing leaders now so that they are prepped and ready for the fresh start in the fall.

3.   Direct (and redirect) People To The Why

c_37.jpgDo people know the reason why you do what you do? For me, I want lost people to come to know Jesus as Lord. I do youth ministry because ultimately I believe students can and should be the best missionaries the US has ever seen. Your why could be different than mine— If you haven’t already, work your why into your next message, your next email and your next leader training… and then do the same next week, the week after… rinse and repeat.

There ya have it: Dates, Develop and Direct, three quick tips for success in your youth ministry game…After all, it is March and for those NCAA hoop fans, March Madness is about to begin and the underdog success stories are about to surface. May yours be one of them.


collaborative-social_focusedP.S. If you haven’t yet, please check out our 101 Collaborative— I’d love to have you are someone you know as a part of this program. Two onsite retreats, 5 months of online coaching and a FREE registration to the National Youth Workers Convention in Memphis! A can’t miss!

4 Simple Mistakes Churches Make In The Hiring Process

screen-shot-2017-02-23-at-7-06-18-amI almost got side-swiped while traveling 65mph (okay, more like 70) on the freeway recently. The driver of an F-250 pickup apparently did not see me. Though I was likely in this person’s blindspot, I was able to quickly slow down as he jumped lanes, narrowly avoiding a crash.

I probably don’t need to state the obvious, but in the church world we have blindspots as well. And more specifically in the world of church personnel placement I see some obvious blindspots and/or mistakes churches make in the hiring process.

Here are four mistakes I often see:

Repeat Questions.

By the time a candidate is actually doing an onsite interview he or she has likely answered questions about his or her testimony, strengths, weaknesses and philosophy at least a half-dozen times.

Solution: Keep a summary sheet for each candidate and anytime you invite new congregants and decision makers into the process bring them up to speed so you’re garnering new information from the candidates.


telephone-1-1239731There is no reason for a telephone “conference call” anymore. The comfort and ease for the search team sitting in the same room is fantastic for the people in the room, but not for the applicant on the other end of the phone. Awkward pauses, questions from faceless voices and laughter for no apparent reason only causes confusion for the candidate.

Solution: The internet is your friend. Skype, FaceTime, Zoom, and Webex are all better options than the old-fashioned conference call. When you’ve narrowed to a top 5, get online with your candidates and enjoy some face-to-face internet interaction.


The adage is that things never happen fast in a church. But I can tell you that search processes do not have to go in slow motion.

Solution: Before you start a search process have an end-date in mind. Outline your meetings in advance. Recruit a team to that plan so that everyone knows how quickly you intend to move. Yes, schedule conflicts will arise, but know that there are only small windows of time that a candidate is looking and once he or she is looking at your church they are often looking at multiple options. Keep moving and keep communicating.

Too Expensive

Stewardship of kingdom funds is a responsibility we have to take seriously, but so is the stewardship of time and relationships. Whether it is the Senior, Executive or Associate Pastor leading the search process, he or she will either add hours to their schedule or take away time from other pressing matters. The average search will take a church 8-12 months on their own. A church must realize that absence of a leader in a critical staff position may actually lead to people leaving the church as well— this will have financial ramifications.

Solution: Outside search firms (such as what I do as YS Search) may actually be the wise


The Faster & More Affordable Job Placement

stewardship choice. We already have a network of relationship to tap into. We do this as our full-time focus, giving a significant advantage over a pastor taking time away from his or her regular responsibilities. I would make the case that not using YS Search may be too costly for the church rather than the other way around.

Whether you’re changing lanes while driving or making a change in personnel at church, be warned— check your blind spots! A small correction can save you from big mistakes.

How HGTV & Student Ministry Are Basically The Same…

Just to get a laugh I posted this status update on Facebook recently:

screen-shot-2017-02-16-at-7-42-42-amI forget the name, but I saw this show on HGTV where the couple remodeling the house discovered issues that were going to cause the remodel to cost significantly more… after the dramatic commercial break they decided to go for it. The house turned out great. Anyone know the name of that show? #hgtv

If you have EVER watched a show on HGTV then you understood the humor— it seems EVERY show on HGTV has this similar storyline.

However, I’m still a faithful viewer of these HGTV programs, because I love to see development. I enjoy seeing obstacles overcome. I love transformation.

img_0196I’m getting so excited about a new venture with Youth Specialties, something that is all about  development and transformation. The 101 Collaborative is a seven-month coaching initiative for those new to youth ministry, in a new role or those looking for a refresher in foundational youth ministry skills and strategies. It launches this spring.

I believe there are three foundational reasons a newer youth pastor should be a part of this Coaching Collaborative.

  1. You’ll Become More Self-Aware

The program is designed for you to better know yourself (your gifts, motivations, skills and strengths) and know how to better communicate these assets to others. I believe knowledge of self leads to improved boundaries and ultimately helps you understand your part in the body much more (1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12).

2.    You’ll Develop New Skills and Strategies For Your Context


So excited that Summer Sipes and Dr. David Fraze will be joining me as the Coaches for the 101 Collaborative

College and seminaries are excellent, but the actual “doing” of ministry differs from the philosophy you’ve created, adopted or inherited. I’m excited to help our 101 participants take theory into practice and have coaches and peers walk through this together as you contextualize ministry to your own local setting. The “line-up” for 101 includes everything foundational for sustainable long-term ministry success.

3.   You’ll Learn From and Become a Collaborative Community

Youth ministry is relational and the 101 Collaborative will create relational environments where you’ll likely gain life-long friendships and expand your networking abilities. The program itself starts and ends with on-site retreats and then includes monthly online video chat sessions, one-on-one coaching appointments and peer groups.

It’s hard to believe it, but April 24-25 and our opening retreat is just a couple months away. The kicker to me is that we are including the National Youth Workers Convention (NYWC Memphis in November) as part of the tuition (arrive one day early for culminating retreat).

Though we only see 43 minutes on TV, the actual transformation of a house on an HGTV program takes several months. I cannot wait to see how a several month process will promote transformation in life and ministry through the 101 Collaborative

3 Ways To Prepare For Your Next Ministry Role NOW – Before There Is Need!

Water? Check. ticked-checkbox-1245057

Batteries? Check. 

Candles? Check.

Non-Perishable Food Supply? Check.

Whether it be “Storm Watch 2017” or preparing for “The Big Earthquake” we all know the importance of being prepared ahead of time. If the storm/calamity hits you will be thankful that you were ready. You’ll only regret not doing it if the need arises and you’re not adequately supplied.

Similarly as a Youth Pastor/Director the best time for you to prepare for what’s next is when there actually is no need at all!

Prepare For The Next Position While You’re Happy In Your Current Role

A change in the economy, church leadership, calling or being presented a fantastic new challenge (among many other reasons) may be “the big one” in the life of a Youth Pastor— being prepared in some specific ways before you need to be will help propel you to what’s next.

As the Director of YS Search I deal with scores of churches who are looking for new personnel (most commonly Youth Pastors, but also Children’s, Family, Worship, and other roles.). Though there are certainly more, I can say there are three essential ways a person can prepare for a future opportunity before they even know an opportunity is out there.

Have A Teaching Video


About 25% of the applicants I do interviews with have a video of their teaching, yet nearly 100% of the churches I do placements for require it (though some will settle for audio).

Before you NEED to capture a video (because you’ve thrown your name in the hat elsewhere) or before it’s TOO LATE to capture video (because you’ve resigned or been let go) you should prioritize capturing some film.

As a general practice I believe it is essential that a youth pastor video him/herself in order to self-assess teaching, style and presentation. Capturing video of yourself when you’re not looking for a job is the best time to do it— you’re the most relaxed, you are teaching/shepherding “your” group and your motivation for capture is truly to improve your skills.

Keep Your Resume Updated

Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 8.54.46 AMKeeping the most pertinent and up-to-date information on your resume will help you if the need ever does arise. Instead of creating a resume out of need (looking to prove your worth) spend a little time each year around the new year updating it (graphically, copy, etc.). Here is a link to a previous blog post I wrote where I talk about specifics of resume writing.

Take A Personality Assessment

I’m an “ENTJ,” “Strategic,” a “high D” and an “Advance” person. Though these may mean nothing to you, these are samples of results from personality assessments I have taken. Not only were these assessments great for my own self-awareness, these have given me language to help better explain who I am and given me insights into my motivations, strengths and possible blindspots.

An assessment does not define you (put you in a box), but it may help you (or a current/future employer) better understand some of what makes you tick and I believe it is a great tool to have to help you improve in your current role or an asset to use when discovering whether a future opportunity is a good fit. On a personal note, my favorites have been Strengths Finder and MCore. 

Capturing video, keeping your resume updated and learning valuable insights through personality assessment will only help to improve your current status, but could very easily pay future dividends when a new opportunity presents itself!

NYWC16 Personal Faves

The 2016 National Youth Workers Convention has come and gone, fortunately for me I have some pictures that will remind me of some special moments for years to come! Here are a few of those moments and what they represent.

Time With Future Youth Leaders! A group of students from Colorado Christian University img_8919reached out before the conference to inquire about doing a lunch together. In addition to a great Fajita Salad Elisabeth and I were able to answer the fantastic questions these soon-to-be Youth Pastors asked. The depth and variety of questions gave me great hope for the churches that will someday call these men and women.


Josh Griffin and me at his 101 seminar

The YS 101 Track– Ministry Essentials! I was able to curate and lead a new track at NYWC this year, title YS 101. The idea came  directly out of our YS Coaching appointments (shout out to our awesome YS Coaches) the last two years. Youth leaders are hungry to get back to the basics of youth ministry. Weimg_8959 offered six different 101 seminars (one at each seminar block) and each one was well-attended. Doug Fields, Sean Meade, Heather Flies, Duffy Robbins, Josh Griffin and I each facilitated one of these seminars. What excites me even more is that the 101 Track at NYWC is only the launching point of something much larger happening through YS, a 101 initiative that will offer 101 Training all-year! I got to share about this on Saturday in the Big Room, and I can’t wait to get the word about the 101 Collaborative.

Celebrating My Wife’s Birthday with Friends and Rend Collective! One of my favorite414802bb-e46d-4779-9a73-2583b5b7d14d text messages came on Sunday afternoon when Elisabeth was at the airport waiting to fly home one-day ahead of me, “I love that we got to do NYWC together; I really like your friends and love that they are becoming my friends too!” Saturday was her birthday img_8934and we got to celebrate it in style– by hanging out with Rend Collective and enjoying the way the led nearly 3000 people in worship! Earlier in the day I was honored to do an Idea Lab interview with Chris and Gareth from Rend as well! Most of all I loved, loved, loved having my birthday-bride with me at NYWC!


Heather Flies in Big Room

There are so many other things that stood out– like Heather’s message on Sunday, an Idea Lab and hangout time with Tic, time with our coaches, my pre-convention and post-convention time with Fred and of course all the other people I get to hang out with during NYWC! Okay.. I’ll stop… until next year! Thanks for the memories NYWC!

Four Ways To Move Middle School Students

Several years ago, I participated in a multi-generational mission trip to India. As our young students boldly shared before large groups of people there, they would commonly begin by saying, “I’d like to thank you guys for inviting us to come to your country.”


Unfortunately, since the English pronunciation of the word “cow” sounds quite similar to the Hindi pronunciation of the word “gaay”, what our audiences heard was, “I’d like to thank you cows for inviting us to come to your country.” It’s important to tailor your message to your audience! And we tried, but breaking American teenagers of the habit of using “guys” proved near impossible!

I recently received a text from a younger youth pastor whom I’ve coached, asking for advice in tailoring a message to middle school students. I love working with middle school students, but I know that for some people, middle school feels like a foreign country! But in the same way, understanding your audience and appreciating their culture will help you tailor a message that moves them. Here are four ways you can prepare and deliver a message that will MOVE middle schoolers:

c_37YOU MOVE: There is virtually nothing static about a middle school student. There shouldn’t be anything static about your talk. Make sure that you are moving as you communicate with middle schoolers. Walk forward toward your audience, or from one side of the stage to the other; kneel or sit down to draw your audience’s attention to a new place on the stage; extend your arms to make a point. Movement doesn’t need to be unnatural in any way, and shouldn’t distract from your message. Done well, movement on the part of the speaker can help keep your middle school audience connected and focused.

THEY MOVE: Along the same lines, getting your audience to move in some form or fashion is effective as well. I may throw in a quick question with instructions to “stand up if you’ve ever _____” or ask the audience for a round of applause after a student has shared (clapping acts as a stimulus). Middle schoolers need to move. Giving them opportunity to do so within the context of listening can actually refocus and refine their attention.

BE MOVING: Be passionate about your subject. Middle school students want to hear your story as it relates to THE story (of God). As you share from the Scripture, make sure you talk about how God is transforming you. There is a fine line between being moving and seeking to manipulate… be truthful, be honest, but invite students to see the active movement of God in your life.

INVITE THEM TO A MOVEMENT: I believe the best way to put an exclamation mark on a good middle school message is to invite a student to action (movement). Give them something simple, practical and doable. Sometime this movement can be specific, like an invitation to “come to this service project,” but I believe the most effective movements are the ones the students initiate, after being inspired and invited to dream and to do!

As you get to know your audience, take some new risks in your talks. Put these four movements into action. Just don’t call them cows!

Leading In Transition

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 4.29.23 PMA few years ago I wrote “An Open Letter to The Departing Youth Pastor” that became my most read blogpost ever. Because of that and the sheer volume of conversations I have about the subject of change in ministry, I decided to pitch a seminar to Youth Specialties a couple years ago.

Last week was the Youth Specialties National Youth Workers Convention in San Diego, CA. On top of other responsibilities, I led the seminar entitled, Leading In Transition. 

Because leadership change is inevitable, a good number of attendees likely came to the seminar wondering if NOW is the time for transition? Some were there because change has recently taken place and they were starting afresh. A third category of attendee was present as well– the volunteer carrying the load through the transition. During the seminar we spent time addressing each of the following:

  • How do I know it’s time to leave, and how do I do this well?
  • How do I start strong in a new ministry?
  • In the midst of change, how do we keep students the focus?

IMG_5067I was blown away by the number of people who attended the seminar. Every chair was filled and a good number of others chose to stay and sit on the floor or cram the doorway.

I think the highlight for me was at the end when a good 15-20 people stuck around to ask specific questions and/or ask for the notes. These private conversations led to many-an-email-address exchange and the opportunity to help scores of people outside the context of the convention.

By my observation, the majority of the people were most interested in the things they need to prioritize as they start in ministry.

I am blessed to be part of the YS family. What I did at NYWC I believe only scratches the surface of what I hope to do with churches as they partner with us for either YS Search or for YS Coaching. Because change is inevitable, we simply want to be an outside resource who can perhaps help provide perspective and insights! If you know of a church who we could help, please spread the word!

I’d love to see you at the Louisville NYWC, where once again I’ll be part of the free coaching offerings and will be able lead the Leading In Transition seminar again! Get registered, November 19-22 in Louisville, KY!