Words That Changed My Trajectory

“Brian, I’d like your help”

This simple request changed my life. 

Three months prior to this question I had put my faith in Jesus at Young Life camp and I was new to a church youth group. I wasn’t the only newbie, Steve, our youth pastor had only been on the scene about a month and he was making plans to split the youth group into two (Jr. High and High School). 

I responded positively to that request for help and became a leader for the new junior high group. Over the next nine months I learned that leading games, giving messages, participating in skits and giving high-fives & side-hugs DOES make a difference in the lives of pre-teens and teens.

Youth group leader.  Young Life volunteer. Church Plant Youth Pastor… 18 years as a career youth pastor.  And now another 10 as a youth ministry consultant and speaker (and continuing as a volunteer). 

I am so thankful that Steve risked by asking a this young man for help. Now it’s my turn to ask a 17 year-old for help. 

This Friday, we kick-off our Middle School Program for the year at Faith Church with Meet in the Middle. The high-fives, side-hugs, games, skits and message still will make a difference in the lives of pre-teens and teens… 

I’m so excited that my daughter, Halle, has responded to the request for help– she is the 17 year-old this time and she will be delivering the message to our group!IMG_2747

What You’re Not Doing

hospital-6-1518170I often joke “I’m not the person you want sent out to do hospital visits; mercy doesn’t register on my spiritual gifts tests.” While I am mostly joking, mercy isn’t one of my primary gifts. I am to work at it, show it, but it isn’t something that necessarily is the most life-giving thing for me to do. However, it’s part of the “job” of being “pastor” (and I’d argue, it’s part of the job description of a Christian).

Sometimes we just have to do things that aren’t our favorite things to do, but they are good for us and help refine, reshape and retool us.

I spend a lot of time with people in ministry, and especially youth ministry (all over the country). Over the last few years I have seen a growing list of things I’d expect a youth pastor to do go neglected. Quite frankly, there are some things that I think we ought to do more, that we aren’t.

My hope is that those in ministry would use this quick list to self-assess. May it serve as an encouragement for those who are doing these things. I hope it’s a fine-tuning-tool for some who need to make some adjustments and may it be a fire-starter for those who recognize it’s time to step-up.

You’re Not Studying The Bible. I love that organizations and curriculum like Stuff You Can Use, DYM, YM360 and Orange exist– however, I believe you have become too reliant upon the writers of these curriculums to do the work for you. As a writer for one of these curriculums, I implore you, make the study your own, personalize it for yourself and then for your group. Please learn and understand the truths you’re presenting– students will recognize your convictions and can tell when they are your convictions or a script you’re reciting.

pexels-photo-933964.jpegYou’re Not Sharing Your Faith. It’s known that most students don’t share the Gospel with their peers because they fear rejection and they are afraid they’ll mess it up (not have the right words). However, I believe one other MAJOR reason– they haven’t had it modeled. Jesus commissioned US to “make disciples.” You are to help believers grow (mature) but we are to share the salvation message with those who don’t yet know. You want students to start sharing? Model it by talking about your experiences sharing your faith with your non-believing peers. Our students can learn and be inspired by Dare 2 Share, but you have the opportunity to impact all the more when you model it.

spectators-at-an-event-1456971You’re Not Going To Them. I love helping Youth Pastors design and develop a weekly rhythm. Way-too-many youth leaders have moved away from the old-fashioned phrase  “contact work.” Attending games, concerts and productions matter. Not only are you encouraging your core-student who is performing, but you’re able to use that time to meet new students, rub-shoulders with parents and likely make connections with teachers and admins who are also influencing your students. Get out!

I recently buddied up with one of our elders and visited a congregant spending a few nights at the hospital. While I wasn’t stoked about going, it was really good for me. It stretched me, but in a good way. My hope is that you can be stretched too. As you spend time in the Word (and share great talks), as you engage with peers outside the faith (and share about it with your teens) and as you meet teens (in coffee-shops, gymnasiums and auditoriums) may you experience great momentum in your ministry!


Tales From The Interim: Part Three

IMG_4389I like to start my weekly small group meetings  by asking a random opening question, simply to get the ball rolling.

For example:

If you could go back in time and observe your life from an outsiders perspective, what event or time would you go back to and why?”

I ask questions like this for my small group to create a safe space where we get to hear from all the participants, it establishes that everyone contributes and every person adds value. Most of the time, a question like the above, helps the group to gain insights into the life and thoughts of each other.

The specific question above, serves as a brief intro to this blog series. In May of 2016, the leadership of our church asked me to take on a short interim role as we engaged a search for our new Student Pastor. “Short” became a little longer as I served for 18 months. In many ways I got to rewind the tape and relive some key strategies in youth ministry.

If you’d like to catch up, feel free to read the first to relaunch realizations here: ONE and TWO.

Relaunch Realization Number THREE: Know and Be Known— Relational Programming 

As I stated in the second post, naming a short term destination helped everyone to understand the why behind the decisions being made and the events being offered. With those named, it was time to implement events that helped us get the desired outcomes. My goal was the leaders, students and parents get a sense that they could know (others) and be known (by others).

Creating a relational space was key, almost everything offered in the summer of ’16 was  on the calendar so that community could increase. We kept the summer calendar clear of events that took a lot of preparation (I, like most of our other volunteers, work full-time outside of leading in the interim), and most everything drove toward relational investment.

We did simple events like:

  • Late-Nite-Apps (gathering at 9pm at Applebees for 1/2 priced appetizers)
  • Minor League Baseball Game (cheap and no-brainer)
  • Bike-Hike and BBQ (active and food always is a win)
  • Bible and Barbecue Nights (weekly Bible study with simple theme and little prep needed)

IMG_7838Our most “robust” event that summer was our “campouts” for both middle and high school, but even those were programmatically simple, allowing our students to get to know our leaders and vice-versa. Instead of week-long camps, we did camping trips for two nights and three days that included water-sports, grass volleyball, kickball and a lot of time just hanging out. We did grade & gender mixed small groups to help create community outside of class distinctions.

I relaunched my youth ministry career the way my original youth pastorate started— by starting simple and creating a relational context where all can be known. Perhaps you are a “big program” person? Even for you it could be good to take a season where ministry is stripped back so that individuals can truly be seen and heard and trust can be built.

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?

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!

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!