COVID MAD LIB – Youth Group & Family Fun

There is a lot to be bummed about as this “Great Pause” has hit us all… however, there are many innovations to celebrate, as we attack this adversity. I love seeing our collective creativity!

Whether a cure for some family boredom or seeking to change-things-up for my small group at church, I have found myself day-dreaming of some old-school games that can be repurposed for our new-school reality of COVID-19.

A few years ago, I wrote one of those Christmas Letters to our friends and family,  updating them on all the comings and goings of the Aaby family. Only, I spiced the letter up by writing it Mad-Libs style, allowing the reader to fill in some key words. It was hilarious!

Screen Shot 2020-04-15 at 9.09.32 AMLast night I decided to write one related to COVID-19 and give it a test-drive with my family. It was a lot of fun.

So now, I’ll pass it on to any Youth Pastor, small group leader or parent looking for a little five to 10 minute activity that will bring some laughter. Below (PDF link) is my latest “AAB-LIB” (a play on my last name, Aaby, and a way of not getting sued by the makers of MAD-LIBS).

INSTRUCTIONS: Gather your youth group (online) or family (in person) and go around the “room” asking one person at a time to give you an adjective, noun, verb, etc. based on the numbered list and the PDF link below (don’t let others see it in advance). Or simply print the PDF and fill it in directly.

NOTE: Keep it family and youth group friendly!

  1. adjective:________________________
  2. beverage:________________________
  3. business name:________________________
  4. food item:________________________
  5. verb:________________________
  6. noun:________________________
  7. number:________________________
  8. adjective:________________________
  9. clothing item plural:________________________
  10. body part:________________________       
  11. business name:________________________
  12. noun:________________________
  13. number:________________________
  14. place:________________________
  15. noun:________________________            
  16. number:________________________           
  17. measure of time:________________________
  18. verb:________________________
  19. adjective:________________________
  20. body part plural:________________________


Got a good one? Copy/paste or screen shot it and send my way, I’d love to read the great ones!


Ol’ School Rulz! Time For A Ministry Pendulum Swing

  • What many were doing in January was MOSTLY working.
  • What most shifted to in March was SORT OF successful.
  • What we do in April could make the BIGGEST difference moving forward.

Unplug. Go old school. 

PendulumThe pendulum swung hard and fast to digital. 

The church beat the schools, coaches and peers to Zoom. The first week of coronavirus shut-down brought about the fastest changes in church and youth ministry programming. We did well. 

However, the teachers, tutors and friends have all caught up and taken over. So much is “required” by these schools, clubs and even the friendships. Our students are online for school,  hobbies, friendships and entertainment. 

The pendulum should swing back so that eventual balance is established post-Covid-19.

Principle One: Your Hand Will Show Your Heart: Very few students know the feeling of getting a handwritten letter, card or homemade gift. Snaps, Texts and DM’s have become the norm. The Pendulum Swing: Whether you’re a pastor or small group leader, your heart and love will be shown when use snail mail or a front-porch drop off. 

Principle Two: Your Voice Will Be Louder: My friend Bob Lenz called me the other day. A call. I was fresh off of an infinity number of Zoom calls. 
It. Was. So. Nice. To. Just. Talk.

The relief, and love, I felt from an out-of-the-blue call was wonderful. It was as if I could hear him better than I heard the voices on my video-chats. The Pendulum Swing: Even if a student doesn’t answer, the sound of your voice on a voicemail could be the blessing they didn’t know was coming. Maybe, just maybe, they’ll pick up and your impromptu call could be exactly what was needed today. I get that so many Youth Pastors grew up on texts, but allow the ol’ school rulz to apply, go pre-text, make 3 calls per day.

Principle Three: Remember Your Audience: I’ve watched about ten Student Ministry “Messages” or “Talks” in the last two weeks, ranging from five to 30 minutes. It’s completely subjective (or simply my opinion) but it felt that seven of the ten were more geared for an adult audience. It made me wonder, “are youth pastors so aware that parents, staff and our peers around the country are watching that we need to ‘up our game?’” The Pendulum Swing: Keep it even more simple than you think you should. Tell more stories. Invite them to the simplicity of Scripture while showing your heart. Keep it short, they are already watching SO MUCH on video.

It’s time to go ol’ school. It may be an over-reaction, but that’s okay. The pendulum can swing for a couple of weeks, we’ll balance out later, but you won’t regret the personal touch of a hand-written note, a phone call and a more simple message.

Zoom Freebie!

I invested in Zoom years ago… unfortunately it wasn’t a stock investment.  I invested in the yearly Pro Account as it serves me so well in what I do working with churches and pastors across the country (and world). 

Since Covid-19 started to shut everything down, many have become keenly aware of and fired up Zoom (and other video-chat apps). It’s served youth ministry so well in connecting with preteens and teens, but it has led to questions about diversifying what we do while on Zoom with our groups.

Every day on one of the Youth Ministry community pages on Social Media I see questions about games you can play on Zoom.

So, as I dive back into blogging, I thought I’d throw out a simple and practical game I created a few years ago for one Sunday morning at our church. It’s so simple you can create something similar, or use my (6 min) game video for yourself. 

Quick note, the game is named “Will He?” My son’s name is Will so there’s that, and he wanted it to be known that this was shot a few years ago (but man, the kid was cute).

I think it’d be awesome that while you’re social distancing you can grab one of your own family members and come up with some of your own silly challenges and drop a video and simple text into iMovie and voilà you have your own game of “Will he?” or “Will she?”

Zoom Instructions:

  1. Use the Share Screen Feature on Zoom so that all participants can see what your screen is showing.
  2. Have each participant mute their mic, but keep their camera on so they can reveal their answer (showing a “1” “2” “3” or “4”).
  3. Instead of “sit down” if they miss a question, they simply turn their camera off (but they can still see the screen).
  4. If you have a few people who still remain at the end of the video come up with an easy tie-breaker like “closest without going over… what time did I get out of bed this morning?” 

Have fun!

If you end up creating your own “Will He?” or “Will She?” send me ( a YouTube link, I’d love to see them.

Here ya go, copy, paste and have fun:


Home Schooling: Not Just For Students

Do you remember that time EVERYTHING CHANGED in a matter of minutes, days and weeks? Yeah, that was a week or two ago. Those were the days where students who previously were attending classes moved to online and/or a homeschool scenario. 

For those in the ministry-world it became a week or two of major adjustments, ideation and creation as we figured out the best ways to move ministry from on-location to online. 

I love the innovation I see as digital natives teach us how to better engage them. 

teenagelargeHome-schooling is not just for students. Now is the time for those in ministry to homeschool as well.

What does that look like for you?

I have three suggestions for ways you can get better in the middle of COVID-19.

  1. Start a Spiritual Discipline: Where are you not as spiritually disciplined as you’d like to be? Reading? Prayer? Memorization? Practicing your gift? Sharing about Jesus? Perhaps now is the time to begin a spiritual discipline you previously have not practiced or not practiced enough. My suggestion: keep it simple. For me- I plan to create a prayer log (journal). I want to look back at this time and see what I was praying about and how God answered.
  2. Get Mentored: Many of us in ministry are mentoring (or discipling) others. But are you being mentored? As we practice social-distancing many of us have some discretionary hours we didn’t have before. My suggestion: identify a person you look up to spiritually and simply ask them if you can spend 45 minutes with them on a weekly basis for the next 4, 6 or 8 weeks. When you make the ask, let them know what you specifically admire about them and what you’d like to develop in your own spiritual life. If they aren’t available, ask someone else.
  3. Intentionally Interview Others: There are MANY people I look up to in ministry. I have watched their ministry at a distance and even implemented ideas that I’ve seen him or her do. What would it look like to use this time for one-off interviews for the purpose of learning from them? My suggestion: identify ministry areas you’d like to better execute (i.e. creative games, best practices in missions, better stage-presence, message delivery, etc.). Simply reach out to other people in ministry just for the purpose of interviewing them about their best practices. Keep it short (30-45 minutes) and protect their time. Think outside the box, it doesn’t need to be the “known” person, in fact, thinking regionally and people in your local network will have many advantages and if nothing else encourage them as you share what you admire.

It’s time for homeschool. Let the classes begin.


Rather than some pithy intro to a blog post, I would simply like to give 10 suggestions of ways churches and student ministries can adjust ministry for the foreseeable future. In keeping with a traditional model that most youth ministry has, here are some possible ways to create your new-normal. 

1. Create a Hub: Have a centralized location for students, parents and leaders to get new information and links from you (best scenario is church website and student page—other possibilities include Facebook, a blog page, etc.).

2. Worship: Send a weekly playlist (better yet, solicit a few students to create a vetted playlist) of 3 to 5 songs that can be suggested to listen to to encourage your group. This could be a great way to introduce new worship to be added when we can begin to worship together again.

3. Devotional or Message: We all have smart-phones, why not continue to encourage students through God’s Word? Provide a 15-25 minute talk, devotional or message. If nothing else, lead them through your own way of studying God’s Word and engage them with your heart and passion. Upload to YouTube or Vimeo and provide the link.

4. Facilitate Small Groups Via Video-Chat: Empower your small group leaders to continue to meet with their small group through a format like Zoom or Google Hangouts. Provide small group questions based off your teaching (see #3).  

5. Encourage Service: Students grow through service, there are plenty of ways students can use their gifts to serve others right now. Obviously, keep in mind CDC recommendations, but serving your neighbors (yard work), writing letters to shut-ins, serving your own family are all top-of-mind opportunities. Perhaps create an online forum and solicit ideas from your students.

6. Engage Unchurched Friends: Encourage your students to reach out to their churched and unchurched friends to check in and see how they are. Encourage students to share that they are praying for their friends and ask them if there are things they can be praying about. This could lead to opportunities to share the Gospel and the hope we have in Christ alone.

7. Online Gaming: While you can’t get-on-campus, you can get online with students in safe gaming environments. Invite others to join you or your leaders in online gaming forums. 

8. Weekly Team Meetings: Continue to serve your leaders well by providing a weekly check-in and training time with your volunteers. They may have suggestions for engagement and you’ll want to hear the stories coming out of their small group times. Again, utilize Zoom or some other online video-chat format. 

9. Parent Gathering: Parents would love to be more in-the-know as to what’s happening and being taught in student ministry; creating a once-a-month online gathering now may last far beyond COVID-19. Come to the gathering with a summary of where the teaching is heading, an update on some current trends in teenage culture and provide plenty of time for questions and answers.

10. Prayer Time: Invite students and leaders to an online video-conference for the purpose of prayer. Just like any other prayer gathering, there may be moments of awkward silence, but you can also format the prayer time where you simply ask one or two people to pray before you move to a different subject and ask a couple others to pray specifically for that. 

My hope is that we utilize this unique season in such a way that we begin even better practices for when we get to engage in person again!

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!