You’re Not In Trouble, But…

I’ve used this a couple of times with pretty good results. “You’re not in trouble, but…” is the perfect medium I’ve found between the lands of Knuckleheadville and You’reawesomeistan. When student isn’t really being “bad”, you just need him to take a break from driving everybody crazy, we too often resort to discipline when what we really want is a break.

Next time Chris, or Suzy or some other kid in my youth ministry is on my last nerve, but not really being “bad”, I’ll say, “You’re not in trouble, but I need you to…”
– Quit shooting Nathan with the water gun
– Stay off the roof
– Put the chainsaw away
– Quit driving the church van when the pastor’s looking… you’re only 12

In addition to this, something I learned from working with Doug Fields over the years is to partner with another leader to take turns managing the extra grace required kid every youth ministry has.

The “Real” Reason I Do Youth Ministry

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The real reason I do youth ministry is for the stuff I inherit when my boys forget to take their stuff home. :-)

Attitude Check Without The Attitude

First off: Never say the word ATTITUDE to students if you want to them to hear anything you would say following the word attitude. That word is more like a weapon than a tool.

A student is coming to help me with a project today. He texted me a few minutes ago to say his mom was on his case about getting his chores done, but he’d be here soon.

What he needs is an attitude adjustment at home. I can’t tell him that without triggering a negative internal reaction on his part. So, instead, I wrote that I was proud of him for helping around the house and that it would do wonders for his home life if he does it with the right heart.

Basically, I told him to check his attitude in a way that would have him actually check his attitude instead of check out of our conversation.

Bonus thought: The more strategic we are with our words in youth ministry, the less counseling we’ll have to do because students will feel the effect of the encouragement to go the right direction.

Family Counseling: Start From a Good Place and Control the Meeting

Here are a few tips I’ve learned by counseling students with their parents:

- Don’t be available at a moment’s notice. If you can delay the appointment for at least a few hours after the explosive argument, they’ll have a chance to cool down and the session will be more productive

- Start the appointment with prayer. Prayer brings God into the conversation and reminds the counselees that they are Christians. That’s a little tongue in cheek. But, really, sometimes this will help the gloves not come off so much during your meeting.

- Begin with stories of what they like or appreciate about each other or a fond memory. Everybody has to share something. This accomplishes 3 things: 1. It softens everybody in the room, 2. It shows you are going to lead the meeting, 3. It sets a positive mood.

- Stay on point until you reach an agreement. Tackle one issue at a time. THIS IS ESSENTIAL!!! The tendency will be for the conversation to go down secondary paths not related to the current topic. You are in control of the meeting. When somebody (parent or child) takes the conversation down an unrelated bunny trail, it’s important that you pause and redirect the person back on track until a common understanding is reached. You’re not looking for buy in or agreement, you’re looking to help them understand each other. Good questions during this time are often, “How would you have handled that if you were the parent?” and “How would that have made you feel if you were the child?”

- Keep the conversation moving. The tendency will be for families to harp on a subject much longer than they need to. They’re pouring out their pain and it feels good. You’re leading the conversation so it’s your job to come to an understanding and move on to the next topic. Once understanding is met, announce, “Now that we have an understanding there, we’re going to put that on the shelf for now and not revisit it again in this session. What’s the next issue?”

- Summarize and suggest action steps. Repeat every issue discussed in the meeting as well as the understanding everybody came to on each topic. Give some ideas that could help them communicate better or be more considerate of each other.

- Close in prayer.

Generational Youth Ministry

To raise up a crop of believing servants, youth workers must:

- Watch for potential: You can’t mentor every student. Look for the ones who are open to being molded, eager to serve, and are, on some level, dedicated to God. These students aren’t perfect, necessarily skilled or even popular. They are, however, full of potential, and almost select themselves – they’re not difficult to spot because they’re already exhibiting these characteristics

- Let students behind the scenes: Let them in on the decisions that need to be made, what you’re trying to accomplish, and how it will benefit the cause of Christ. Get their input and talk through options. This will teach students critical thinking while allowing them to take ownership in ministry

- Plant seeds of service: ”When you’re a small group Bible study leader…”, “When you’re a college student facing temptation and standing firm on your faith…”, “When you’re a parent and your teenager does that…” I speak seeds of service into my students’ lives frequently. I want them to see themselves as serving Christ in every area of their lives. Some of them, like Kevin, Kyle and Eric, will even translate that into serving students.

Coulda, But Didn’t

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I’m kind of kicking myself this morning. I’m in Dallas visiting family. The other day I noticed President Bush would be signing books at Barnes & Noble. I was there early, but didn’t get a ticket because I was in the wrong place when they handed them out.

I’m not too bummed, but I am a little. I got to see him interviewed at my church a few years ago and got an autographed book then, but didn’t get to meet him.

To salvage the situation, I thought I’d compare that to my youth ministry. I care more about my students than I do about getting an autographed book from the president. However, I’m sure there are many opportunities I miss because I’m in the wrong place when the good stuff is happening. The good stuff can even bad stuff, but it’s made better by sharing the experience.

Since I’m on vacation, some of my students taught the Bible study last night in my high school small group. I’m actually more bummed I missed that than meeting the president.

Taking these losses as an opportunity to evaluate my level of involvement with my students will help me hopefully be a better youth worker, but also, because of what I gain by the way I respond to those losses remove the sting a little and give me good illustrations for when I train youth workers and teach students.

After all, all things work for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purposes, right?

Called To Worship

This post was originally posted a few years ago on my previous blog

I don’t blog often enough about my own spiritual journey. This weekend has been a time when God has especially called me into fellowship with him through worship, though. That sounds very churchy… “called me into fellowship with him through worship”. However, I believe that’s exactly what happened.

Since I work for my church, I tend to be in task mode when I’m there or resting from the craziness of working for a church… and admittedly tuned out more than I should be. This weekend, however, our church services were cancelled so that we could perform an act of service for our neighbors. It was named, “Good Neighbor Weekend.”

Ironically, on a weekend when we did not have church services, this has been a weekend when I felt especially called into a connection with God. It wasn’t something I sought; it was more like a conviction of something that’s been lacking in my life.

Saturday was spent listening to worship music on Pandora and watching some worship videos of Hillsong United online. It was great, but I didn’t really feel all that connected. Something wasn’t quite jumping the synapse between me and God, but the mechanics of worship were there.

Tonight, however, through a movie called Leap of Faith (Steve Martin), I was called into the presence of my Creator and convicted. It was kind of like Matt Redman’s song, “The Heart of Worship”, we’re offering shallow, or even artificial, stuff up to God as a “sacrifice” of worship. However, when God decides to move in us as we worship, there’s nothing that can stop him.

In Leap of Faith, there’s:
– A crook of an evangelist
– A location not on the schedule
– A list of desperate needs gone unmet in the hopeless community
– A community that, on the brink of destruction, has nowhere to turn, but God
– A kid who steps out of his good reasons to be skeptical, and goes passed the evangelist to the cross where he finds genuine healing
– A miraculous rainstorm that ends the community’s literal and figurative drought
– A crooked evangelist destroyed internally by the awesomeness of God

Here’s worship as I was drawn into it:
– God uses a flawed person like me (or even a flawed Hollywood movie like Leap of Faith) to worship him and lead others into worship
– God enables us to worship him and even calls us into it
– God moves as he sees fit and when he chooses in spite of me
– God is always the rightful object of worship
– God is amazing – sometimes we need to be spiritually dry and restless to be in a place where we are ready to worship. It’s at that time God is praised not only through worship, but for enabling us to worship and draw close to him because of his calling.

A Great Way To Thank Small Group Host Homes

We used our host home for several years. During that time, I estimate hundreds of students have attended small group there. All of us have made connections with God there and had our lives improved in various ways.

In a scene kind of like the last scene in It’s A Wonderful Life, we wanted to communicate all of the great things that happened as a result of the generously opened home during the years we met there. One of our leaders, Sarah, the one who’s ditching us to move to Sacramento, (hi, Sarah — she reads this blog) — Sarah put together a great photo album/scrap book. On each page a student wrote a note to the home owners. Each note started with, “In your home, I…” and they continued writing how their lives were enhanced through their small group experience there.

7 Ways To Use Facebook In Your Ministry

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1. iPray. It’s a closed group that students have to request to join. They can post what they need prayer for and pray for each other.

2. Groups. Before or after almost every event there seems to be a group started for it. Before the event groups are started to promote the event. After events like camp, groups are started to help students find each other on Facebook and stay connected.

3. Pictures. EVERY week I take pictures (even if it’s just a few) at our weekend service or at Chick fil A afterward and throw them up on Facebook. Students love it. Not everybody can get away with that, though. It’s kind of funny. A friend dressed up as me at our Halloween party last year and was taking tons of pictures. People kind of freaked out a little until they realized he was just being me for Halloween. I don’t know how to explain that, but there’s something to be learned about having a person known for taking pics in your ministry. We’ve never made me an “official” photographer, people have just gotten used to me doing it.

4. Tag. I usually tag at least one student in each picture and they usually tag each other from there. Always tag your ministry in each picture. As students tag each other, they might see your ministry tagged. That’s just one more door for people to check you out.

5. Open profile. Have your ministry’s profile open to the general public. People should be able to see everything there is to see without being friended with your ministry. I suggest having a profile instead of a page for your ministry. There’s more stuff you can do that way.

6. Daily activity. Go on once a day and wish people happy birthday. That’s a great way for friends of friends to see your ministry. It’s also a great way to have an extra touch in the lives of students… especially students who have stopped coming.

7. Troubleshooting. Look for concerns. If you see students who post status updates that show they are hurting or are posting inappropriate content, shoot them a Facebook email to touch base, encourage, invite out for a Coke. Be careful not to jump on their case if they’re posting inappropriate content. Address it in a redemptive way.

They Want To Hear Yes

I will repost some of my more popular posts I’m able to recover from before this blog had the hacker attack. This one is kind of funny, but also has some wisdom that will make help you handle difficult situations with a little more ease.


Our church has a cars ministry. The ministry fixes cars then gives or sells the cars at a low cost to needy families. There was a woman who was declined to receive a car through our normal application process. She did not like the answer “no” and wasn’t going to settle for it. She either wanted a car or she wanted to be put back on the list to get in line for a future car.

After much debate with this lady, the church staff member who had been unsuccessfully trying to get her to accept the news, came to me for help. Of course, who do people typically go to when there’s dirty work to do? The youth guy. Her request was simple, “Please go to the lobby and tell the woman she did not get a car, and she cannot be placed back on the list.”

Being a big fan of the word, “Yes,” I thought about the scenario as I made my way to the lobby. No matter what, I was going to give the woman a “Yes.” I just had to figure out how to phrase it. It came as a flash of genius as the words were coming out of my mouth. It must have been a Holy Spirit-inspired moment.

I told the woman, “Yes, you can get back on the list to apply for a car. That will not be a problem.” Her attack-mode demeanor softened while the poison-laden words she reserved for me evaporated. With her on my side, I followed that comment up with the caveat, “We just can’t put you back on the list for one year. Those are the rules of the car program. As soon as the year is up, we’ll gladly put you back on.”

With a quick thank you from her, that part of the story came to a satisfying end. I was anxious for what I knew would come next. I knew it was going to be good.

I walked back to report what happened. Before I could say a word, the staff member with hopeful, but timid words asked me what I told her. I said that I told the woman she could get back on the list. After that, I didn’t say a word. I just watched the atomic bombs of fury going off in her eyes. If she’s going to have the youth guy do her dirty work, I have to get something out of it, right? It was better than the 4th of July. She was livid . . . until I told her the rest of the story.

That whole exchange, from being asked to talk to the woman to having a little fun with the staff member, took less than 10 minutes. The argument that ensued before I got involved had been going on for weeks. It’s amazing what the power of a well-used “yes” can do.

In your ministry, diplomacy goes a very long way. Look for ways to tell people what they want to hear with integrity and then work in the caveats of truth that they would be less receptive to hear otherwise. This usually requires more thought than I had time for in this situation. Typically we should be slow to speak so we can speak with wisdom, diplomacy and words that help or heal.

Diplomacy is an art I’ve developed over several years of maddening situations like the one above. The prideful, rules-are-rules, proving-your-way-is-right poke in the eye stirs up anger. A diplomatic gentle answer turns away wrath. (Please pardon the scriptural paraphrase.)