Sunday, August 3, 2008


I am heading with a small but mighty team of teenagers and one more adult leader to the Southeast White House in Washington, D.C. for a missions/service trip this week. We will be working with the Little Lights camp.

This article has a good take on what it means to be "at-risk." Good food for thought, especially for those of us (self included) whose primary youth ministry practice has been in a suburban or non-city context.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Youth Worker Leadership Style

This is a neat assessment from LeaderTreks. I just took the 40-question assessment, but haven't yet received the results. It looks like it will be very helpful in understanding my ministry and leadership style. It is meant for anyone in youth ministry, whether paid staff or volunteer, or even a parent of a teenager. Everything I've seen from LeaderTreks is good. Click here to take the assessment, and then they email you in a couple of days with the results.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Fiction and Silence

I just read a great post on Building Church Leaders' blog about the importance of church leaders reading fiction, and not just the the regular ministry and leadership training fare we might otherwise read.

One of the books the post recommends is Silence by Shusaku Endo, a Japanese Catholic author. In face, I just finished that book last week. It was absolutely gripping. I couldn't put it down (which is a rare reaction for me to have to novels... and a historical novel, no less).

Endo follows a Catholic Portuguese priest in 17th Century Japan as he seeks out his former mentor who, it is reported, has renounced his faith. The book is a very personal treatment of the question of God's silence, suffering, and the evil of humanity.

It's a must-read, especially for Christians who are afraid they may be too comfortable.

Any fiction you've read recently and been impressed with or affected by?

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Youth Culture, part 4 of 4: Language

My last three posts have taken a brief look at youth culture. I've mentioned that I see 4 major elements of identity formation when it comes to what constitutes any given culture, all of which apply to youth: (1) Artifacts, (2) Behaviors, (3) Ideas, and now (4) Language.

By the way, if I haven't mentioned it already, I'm indebted to The Rev. Whis Hays for a lot what inspired this material, and particularly the way of categorizing and framing it.

This post, the last in the series, is about the language youth use. As with the other elements of youth culture, there are as many teenage languages as there are teenagers in the world, but there are at least some commonalities here. And because others have done some great work and research on this, this post is link-heavy. Check 'em out!

*The Source 4 Youth Ministry has a great page on teen lingo.

*Media tends to dictate (or at least influence) a lot of what teenagers (and the rest of us) are saying--The Center for Parent and Youth Understanding has a great page here on media.

*The online community (Facebook, Myspace, Instant Messenger) and "online-speak" has really filtered into everyday language. For example, I've heard students (and myself!) jokingly say out loud what was once intended to be an online abbreviation, but it's caught on. Examples: LOL! (Laughing out loud), omg! (Oh my gosh/God!)

*Schools also tend to be a breeding ground for language and its variations. Teens pick up a lot of how they talk from their friends on a day-to-day basis.

*The best way (in my humble opinion) you can find out what language youth speak? You guessed it, befriend and ask a youth! Not rocket science when you look at it that way. Or, if you're really brave, pull up a book and a notebook and pen and cup of coffee at your favorite local coffeeshop, wait for some teenagers to show up, and just listen to how they talk. Not that I'm encouraging eavesdropping.... but some coffeeshop-goers talk loud enough that you can't help but hear their conversations!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Youth Culture, part 3 of 4: Ideas

My last two posts have taken a look at youth culture. I see 4 major elements of identity formation when it comes to what constitutes any given culture, all of which apply to youth: (1) Artifacts, (2) Behaviors, (3) Ideas, and (4) Language.

This post, the third in the series, discusses some of the ideas youth have--what they believe and think. Of course, there are as many ideas or beliefs as there are teenagers in the world, but there are at least some common categories of concern to consider here, and some common questions that most adolescents share:

*"What are the most important things in my life?"
*"What are my biggest fears?"
*Junior High students often ask and assess: "Do you like me?"
*Senior High students often ask and assess: "Do I like you?"
*Friends, place, whether or not they are loved
*"What is God’s will for my life and my future?"
*Family—getting along with parents, siblings
*Relativism in religion—mixing and matching religion ("Have it your way!")

Regarding the current landscape of religious ideas, author Christian Smith has coined a phrase to express the overriding religious paradigm of teenagers today: Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.

Smith, together with another sociologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, completed an extensive study on contemporary American teenagers and their religious and spiritual lives. Based on phone interviews and face-to-face conversations with thousands of teenagers and their parents, the National Study of Youth and Religion was the largest and most detailed survey of its kind ever undertaken.

The Study reported that 84% of U.S. teens believe in God. (84%!) Only 3% of those surveyed said they did not believe in God. But 60% of U.S. teens believe that “many religions may be true”. American teens believe in God at a high rate, but are very uncertain as to who that God is. In a confusing world with loads of pain, at a time when our young people encounter many changes and challenges, there are a lot of gods that would have the hearts and minds of our young people.

And while the vast majority of teens consider themselves theists, 33% of those surveyed do not believe in a personal God who is involved in the lives of people today.

You can find more details about the study in Smith's book, here.

This current cultural landscape of ideas is one that poses both great challenges and rich opportunities to the youth worker.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Youth Culture, part 2 of 4: Behaviors

In my last post I started taking a look at youth culture. I see 4 elements of identity formation when it comes to what constitutes any given culture, all of which apply to youth: (1) Artifacts, (2) Behaviors, (3) Ideas, and (4) Language. Part 1 of 4 was a more detailed look at some of the artifacts of youth culture.

This post highlights some categories of behavior you might encounter and consider in working with youth. Many of these categories link to a more detailed Web site if you click on them.

Body language and demeanor
Text messaging, IMing, Facebook, etc.
Video games
Playing sports
Roles, responsibilities, and burdens
What do youth do when they're happy?
How do they express sadness?
Whom do they go to in a time of crisis? (Hint: not always to adults)
Stereotype: guys bond by doing; girls bond by talking
Space and territory (the lunch room, the school hallway)
Collective memories and humor

Any other behaviors or categories of behavior you have observed in working with teens?

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Youth Culture, part 1 of 4: Artifacts

Jesus models incarnational ministry to us... that is to say, he came into our world. Following Jesus' model, we are called to go into our students' world(s), wherever that may be and wherever that may take us. There are lots of ways to do this, but this next series of posts focuses on one way in particular--learning about youth today and their culture.

In asking “Who are youth?” and "What is their culture?" it is helpful to consider 4 elements of identity formation in culture: (1) Artifacts, (2) Behaviors, (3) Ideas, and (4) Language. I'll take each of these in turn, one post at a time, in the coming days:

(1) "Artifacts" are what a future archaeologist would find if she or he were to dig up remains from this time and place. Artifacts are what youth wear, carry, and consume. These are best thought of as the status symbols that define a given culture.

Some examples of youth artifacts today (complete with hyperlinks for you to follow!) are:

Uniforms, Jackets, and Emblems
Clothes and Style (and Accessories)
Cell phones
How they wear their hair
Messaged T-shirts
Piercings and tattoos
Beauty and Athletic Ability
Music Videos


Any more you can think of?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Article Link--Relational Basics: How to Develop Relationships with Kids

This is a great article by Doug Fields. He talks about what "relational ministry" is, some obstacles to it, and the "how" of it. This applies across volunteer and staff roles to anyone doing youth ministry.

Friday, May 16, 2008


Be realistic... start small... do not despise the day of small beginnings.

If reading Scripture daily is a challenge for you, check this out.

I don't totally agree with, "I'm not saying these will ever replace in depth Bible Study, but that is a luxury we just don't always have." Because Bible Study is a discipline to be loved and to value and be proactive about, not a luxury to be enjoyed only as time permits.

But her practical tools are great if you need a jumpstart. I've been doing the audio Bible thing of late, and it's been very helpful for getting me (and my 7-month-old) into Scripture more consistently.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Beyond Smells and Bells

As part of my preparation for Liturgy Lab, I am reading this book by Mark Galli of Christianity Today (and formerly of St. Mark's Episcopal in Glen Ellyn, IL, where I used to serve as Youth Minister).

You can find out more about Beyond Smells and Bells: The Wonder and Power of Christian Liturgy at Mark's blog, linked here.

It's a very good, basic overview to the church's liturgy: its shape, outline, relevance, communal nature, and so on.

Galli's writing style is warm and inviting and accessible. If you're looking for a short (less than 150 pages) primer on understanding liturgy (Anglican and otherwise), this is the best place I know of to start. (Although Galli may very well tell you the best place to start is by visiting a liturgical church and participating in its liturgy!)

If you'd like to read a longer sample of what Galli has to say, check out this article on the "relevance" of Christian liturgy.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Liturgy Lab

Check out what we're doing at Awakenings on Sunday mornings with the teenagers at Truro. It's about the liturgy and explaning its content and meaning.

I could see this being adapted to other ages and for other settings beyond just youth ministry. Have a look and let me know what you think!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Excellent Small Group or Mentoring Resource on Equipping for Bible Study

This is honestly one of the simplest, most in-depth, easiest to use resources I've ever seen for leading Youth in understanding prayer and Bible study. Great for use in a small group setting or in a one-on-one mentoring relationship.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Praying Scripture over our Youth

The best thing we can do as youth ministers is pray for our Youth.

God has blessed us as youth workers to have influence over the teenagers in our midst, but God changes hearts and reaches people before we ever do.

One of the best ways I have found to do this is to pray particular Scriptures over students. With some help from the mom of one of my small group guys, here is a compilation of Bible passages that can help direct our praying for Youth and their families (and for each other).  To use these prayers in a public worship setting, simply substitute the youth's name into the passage of Scripture.

(By the way, this blog is now inactive, but I currently blog here, beginning June 2012.)

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Should Small Groups have specific goals?

A youth minister over at PDYM blog has posed what I think is a great question for youth small groups. You can find the post here. I'd love to hear any of your thoughts, especially those of you who lead small groups (or who have led small groups). You can comment either at this blog or that one. I'm very interested in this conversation thread and so will follow it both places.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Evaluating Yourself in Speaking to Youth

Here is a Talk Evaluation Sheet for delivering talks to youth.

This is a helpful, structured way of getting feedback on a talk you are giving. Especially if you speak to Youth once a semester or more, feedback can be helpful in your overall development as a speaker.

How I have used this: I give one to a junior high boy, a junior high girl, a high school boy, a high school girl, and an adult leader or two before my talk and ask them if they would be willing to fill it out during and after my talk (and to be honest in their feedback). Getting the forms back afterward and reading through them has really helped me in developing my own skills in speaking to Youth.

And I have learned to not take it personally if the Talk Evaluation Sheet comes back to me with doodling on it!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Can Introverts Be Good Youth Ministers?

Throughout my life I have bounced back and forth between introvert and extrovert on the Myers-Briggs personality scale. (You can take a sample online test here.)

Just two years ago I tested as an extrovert, and just the other night on Facebook I tested as an introvert, so who knows? The distinction is all about where you gain energy--introverts gain energy and replenishment primarily from being alone, whereas extroverts gain it primarily from being with other people.

A couple years ago I read a great article about introverts and youth ministry. I have never thought I fit the stereotype of the loud, funny, center-of-attention youth worker who is always telling hilarious stories and having the kids hang on their every word. Not that there's inherently anything wrong with that (it takes all types), but it's definitely not me.

But youth ministry is about building relationships. In youth ministry one of the things that matters most is building relationships with youth, spending face-to-face time with them in their worlds.

Do the introverts among us stand a chance? If, no matter how long we have been in youth ministry, the thought of introducing ourselves and reaching out to teenagers we don't know remains scary or unnerving, is there any hope for us?

Read this thought-provoking article here to find out.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Core 2008: Generation Change

Today 9 Adult Leaders from The Upper Room Youth Ministry went to The Core, a one-day training event put on by Youth Specialties, an excellent resource company for youth ministry. Duffy Robbins was the speaker and did an excellent job presenting the material. There was quite a bit to process during the short five hours we were there, and I am sure I and the other leaders will be returning to the material as time goes on.

In the meantime, you can view the main page for the training event here. And you can find free resources from the event here, including all the notes from each of the sessions. So if you came and you missed some fill-in-the-blanks, you can get them at the free resources link, or if you weren't able to join us and want to see what you missed, check it out!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

"The mark of a good leader..."

I read this Proverb in The Message translation this morning:

"The mark of a good leader is loyal followers;
leadership is nothing without a following." (Proverbs 14:28)

Any youth worker--from weekly volunteer to full-time to occasional helper--is rightly called a leader. With that in mind, for us to ask ourselves and reflect on this morning:

*Am I a good leader to the youth among whom I minister?
*Do they follow me and my example?
*Inasmuch as they follow me, do I reflect God's image and point them to Jesus, who is the true leader for us to follow?

Food for thought on this Thursday.

Saturday, April 5, 2008


A collect in the Book of the Common Prayer gets it right when it comes to ministry: “In giving we receive.” I still remember the summer that I received a call to youth ministry. I was involved in a summer program of Rock the World Youth Ministry Alliance in Ambridge, PA called Josiah Project. One of the three ministry components was youth ministry (the other two were cross-cultural ministry and urban/city ministry). Admittedly, youth ministry was the one of the three that I was the least excited about at the time. God changed that very quickly.

I had been working with a team of middle school students at a ministry called The Pittsburgh Project, helping with house repairs in the neighborhood. After a hard day we went to the grocery store to get some ice cream. In front of us there was an older woman who clearly needed help with her bags, but I barely noticed, or if I did I rationalized that I was too tired to do anything about it, and had already “done my ministry” for the day.

Ethan, a 7th grader in our group, was right on top of it. He noticed her need immediately and went to help her to her car with her groceries. It was then that I realized that youth ministry is not just about adults ministering to youth. It is also about youth ministering to adults. And youth and adults ministering together. Ethan led by example when I needed to be led. And he is a huge part of why I am in youth ministry today.

What about you? How have you been blessed by youth that you were ministering with? Or has there been a time when a youth really ministered to you? How have you seen youth leading by example as Ethan did?

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Great Resource: PDYM Blog

I wanted to send you all to a great blog on youth ministry from Doug Fields and the folks at Saddleback Church (and beyond). It's a "community of like-minded youth workers" called PDYM (Purpose Driven Youth Ministry) Community.

The link is here: PDYM Blog

Probably my favorite post of late is one about a 90-something-year-old youth worker named Granny Franny. Check it out here. You won't be disappointed!

And don't worry--there are many more folks than just Doug Fields with good things to say about Youth Ministry! I'll be adding links to other folks and their stuff as time goes on.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Welcome to Youth Ministry Leadership!

Hello, everyone, and thanks for checking out the new blog!

This blog covers youth ministry, leadership, and church life. I will put things here that are useful for anybody in a position of leadership in youth ministry: whether full-time youth leaders, volunteer adult leaders, student leaders, or any minister-leader in the church. Much of what is posted here will have applications beyond youth ministry and church life, too.

I'll post some of my own reflections and writings, as well as links and excerpts from other sources I think folks would find helpful.

Let me know what you think by commenting on a given post! To do this, just click on the bottom of the post where it says "Comments."

To begin the discussion, I wanted to post my brief review of a book called What Matters Most by Doug Fields. If you've read it, I'd love to hear your feedback, which you can post as a comment.

Fields has written a short, to-the-point, practical yet reflective book on why learning to say, "No," and then practicing saying it, is essential to staying healthy in a ministry leadership position. Although Fields is a vocational youth minister and writes with vocational youth ministers as his primary audience, this book applies to anyone in ministry--paid or unpaid, full-time, part-time, or volunteer--and to anyone who is busy.

Early on he writes, "I want to challenge you to say no more often so you can say yes to what matters most" (18). Fields points out some warning signs that can help you discern if you're addicted to busyness, or if you're putting doing ministry above loving God (for example, by consistently counting the time you spend preparing a talk or small group lesson as your own personal devotional time). He also talks about practical action steps you can take to bring things back under control.

Jesus said, "Apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5). The temptation is always there for the minister to do more, be more, accomplish more, and say "yes" more. Yet as you do this, you risk damaging your first love: your relationship with Christ. Fields's short book is a call back to that first love with a clear escape route from any busyness, overworking, or people-pleasing that may have entrapped you.

Those of you who have read either the book or this post, what are warning signs you've learned to look out for as you fight busyness? What has God taught you in this area?