From Student to Missionary

I asked Jordan Bressler to share about his experience as a missionary to New Zealand. I also asked him to share a link at the bottom for how readers can support him. Jordan was an all star student and I’m very proud of him for investing his life in others through missions.

“So where are you from?”

This is a question I get really often these days in New Zealand, where my “accent” immediately puts me out of place.  While the short answer I usually give people is just a generic “America,” the truth is sometimes a little more complicated for me.  Is where you’re from where you were born? Then I would be from Charleston, West Virginia, even though I only lived there for the first 2 months of my life. Is where you’re from where you grew up? Because then I’d be from Israel, where I spent the first 9 years of my life living there. Or would you say the place where you formed your identity and grew the most be the place you’re from? Because then that would be California, USA, having spent the most of my school years there.


Regardless of where I say I’m from, the many different experiences I’ve had in each one of these places has shaped me as a person. I’ve learned about many different cultures, how these cultures interact, and how I can interact with them.  Over the years I have started to really understand Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23.  “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.  To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews… to the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.  I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”


Doing ministry in New Zealand has been a place that I can put together all I’ve learned and interact with many international cultures.  While I’m sure being a brash, young American is a good way to get noticed, only through the learning and becoming “all things to all people” can I hope to reach the lost.


Athletes in Action reaches the lost through a process called “Win, Build, Send.”  The idea is that you “Win” people to Christ, “Build” them up in their faith, and “Send” them out to do the same. One of my favorite examples of this is the story of our student named Mark.  This past August, one of our student leaders, Josh, met Mark one day doing one on one evangelism, where we go out either on our own or in pairs, and randomly walk up to people and try to initiate a spiritual conversation.  Mark wasn’t a Christian at the time, but by the end of the 20 minute conversation he decided that he wanted to make a faith step and begin having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ!  


Mark continued to be interested in pursuing a relationship with God, and joined one of my bible studies that semester.  It was refreshing having someone so new to the faith in the group, to ask the fundamental questions, and to allow us to help him grow in his faith.  In addition to our bible studies, Mark attended some of our other social events, monthly meetups, and one on one discipleship meetings that are all a part of our “Build” strategy.  It has been my pleasure to watch Mark grow and to own his own faith, despite no one in his family being a Christian or even supporting the idea of it. He has grown so much that he is almost ready to become one of our new student leaders, ready to be a part of the “Send” phase, and win others over just as he was.


Now you may be hearing this story and think, “Well that’s great and all, but what can I do?”  You may be thinking that New Zealand is just too far away for you to make a difference in the lives of the people who live there, however I would like to give you the opportunity to reach out to the lost young people in New Zealand!  I am looking to add people to my team of supporters to help in several ways, whether it be through prayer (the most important) or financial (the hardest to get).  If you feel called in some way, and you’d like to learn how you can help, receive my monthly newsletters, or learn more about my story, please don’t hesitate to contact me at


If you are interested, email Jordan and/or click the link below, which will take you to his giving page.

A Student Shares Why His Leader Matters

Last weekend I met a student named Jeff who told me about his Life Group leader. The more I heard, the more I realized I needed to share his story. My hope is reading why Jeff loves his leader, you will be encouraged and realize what a difference you are making in the lives of your students.

Here’s what Jeff has to say about his leader (I left this unedited, except for some paragraph breaks, so you can see it just as it was written):

Hello! My name is Jeff and I’m a Junior in high school and I’ve grown up at the church my whole life. Because of my involvement at the church I’ve been around A TON of leaders. Leaders at summer camps, weekend retreats, serve trips, weekend service leaders and, most of all, small group leaders. Small Group leaders are my favorite. I’ve been through quite a few since the start of my small group (called “life groups” at my home church) in 7th grade. I’ve been asked to share from a student’s perspective what makes an awesome leader, so here we go!

My first account of an absolutely incredible Youth Ministry Leader was actually one of the first leaders I ever had. When I got thrown into a small group of 7th grade guys I just barely knew, I also got thrown into a group with the junior high pastor at our church and a high school student that were tasked with somehow, every Wednesday night, teach us about fellowship and Christ Jesus.

Now I remember vaguely some awesome lessons our pastor taught us at small group, but I remember even more so, our high school leader, Blake, being so present in our group. Blake served at the same service most of the guys in our group attended so everyone once in awhile, after service a few of us boys would pack into Blake’s old 90’s Jeep Grand Cherokee and go get burgers.

Blake would take us to get food, hangout and listen to music, give us rides to church and would always, always be at group on Wednesdays. We would talk about cars and trucks and motorcycles and about going camping and listening to music and how girls were oddly becoming more and more intriguing and we would talk and hang out and do absolutely whatever. It didn’t matter what we were doing. It mattered that Blake, an older leader, someone that had some amount of responsibility, someone that probably had something more important to do, spent his time with us.

It didn’t always have to be a spirit-infused conversation about the Godhead. It didn’t always have to be a “sit down and let me tell you what I’m struggling with”. Blake was and is a magnificent leader because he was my friend first. So when I needed to have those conversations, ask those tough biblical questions, tell him the dark stuff, I was ready, willing and running to him because he wasn’t a just my leader, he was a dear friend. And I’m always so stoked to tell people he still is. Even after he resigned from leading our small group, even after he started having to pay bills and worry about a future and a girlfriend and so much more, he still is my friend.

I still meet up with Blake as often as I can and get counsel if I need it, but also we still talk about cars (Jeeps specifically because that 90’s Grand Cherokee became my favorite car and I now have a newer version of that same model, due solely to Blake’s Jeep), we, unsurprisingly, still talk about girls and still get lunch. Blake is after 6 small group leaders, countless summer camp leaders and many more weekend leaders, still the best leader I’ve ever met. A great leader to me is anyone who is willing to generously give their time, but most of all, genuine friendship to students that need it. Doing that just allows Jesus to work through leaders even more effortlessly.

A Ministry That Dazzles Me

The other day I was reading through Matthew Chapter 4 and at the same time I was trying to think of a blog post for my first posting on Volunteer Youth Ministry. Matthew Chapter 4 talks about the start of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus is gathering others to assist him in spreading the Gospel. So Jesus began looking for Bible college majors and others who had recently received their Masters of Divinity degrees….oh wait that’s not what Jesus did…Jesus walked up to two fisherman, Peter and Andrew and told them to come with Him and He would make them fishers of men.

And right at that point the first volunteers in ministry were hired! No experience, neither of them were Bible majors, both would probably tell you they are normal, broken guys just wandering through life trying to make ends meet. And then Jesus came into their lives and the rest is history.

I remember when I first got talked into volunteering with the High School Ministry at my church. I was scared to death! What if I said the wrong thing, what if they asked me a question about scripture and I didn’t know the answer?  After a lot of prayer, and I mean A LOT of prayer I decided to go for it. But I still wasn’t sure this was where God wanted me. I had tried other ministries at my church and to be honest, they didn’t really dazzle me or make me feel like I was using my spiritual gifts.

I started with my first small group. Our first night together I remember telling myself, just be yourself. I’ve always had the ability to talk to anyone, and God gave me the spiritual gift of humor and sarcasm so I just relied on those and remembered that I needed to be a really good listener. After the first night I was hooked. Since that night years ago I’ve led four different groups of high school students. I currently have a group of 16 high school juniors. I’ve been with them since their freshman year and it’s been so cool to see the growth in them, not just that they are taller now, but that I see them growing in their faith and making their faith their own. It’s so cool to know I’ve been a part of that. I still run into former small group students I’ve had, a few of them are now leading their own high school or junior high groups. One of the best feelings in the world is seeing students that you loved on and poured into and now they are doing the same thing with students. I know at this point in my life, I’m right where God wants me and I found a ministry that dazzles me!

If I can leave you with one thought, here it is: Jesus uses us right where we’re at in life. He meets us there, but he won’t leave us there, He’ll stretch you and grow you. He won’t take you around trouble, He’ll lead you through it. I’m sure Peter and Andrew at first thought they were in over their heads, just like I did the first time I led students. But Jesus grew them and used them in huge ways and he’ll do the same to you…if you let Him! Can’t wait to share the journey I’ve been on with you!

Reflect or Prep

I just finished my morning devotions, or did I just finish lesson prep? Being a youth worker, it’s so hard to have my quiet time with God and not turn it into lesson prep for my Life Group students. If I’m not careful, and I’m often not careful, God’s word doesn’t transform me, it inspires a lesson I write to teach others.

Maybe this is what Paul was talking about when he asked, “Who will rescue me from this body of death? I do what I don’t want to do, but I don’t want to do what I ought to do?” Both the misapplication of that verse and the paraphrase of it are my fault. Sorry. In this scenario, that’s how I feel, though. I really want to soak in God’s word and let it transform me. However, I have a lesson to teach on Wednesday and this is really good stuff… but it needs to be about me and God in this moment.

Do you see what I mean, though? I’m asking myself how (or if) I soak in God’s word, rather than just pass it on. I’m writing this blog post because if I’m asking myself this question, I’m guessing a lot of other ministry leaders need to do themselves this question, too.

Rather than posting 5 bullet points for how to do this, you may have already got what you needed by reading this far. I’m done. Soak it in. Thanks for reading.

Upward Influence

As volunteer youth workers, we do our ministries a favor when we bring new ideas to the table. The caution here is to not expect our ideas to be adopted. However, if we don’t offer them, the ministry for sure won’t even consider them.

Today I decided I’m going to start challenging my students occasionally to follow through on the weekend messages. I’m going to do this by text message. Taking this a step further, I thought it would be a good idea if our High School Ministry sent out text message challenges to leaders each week so we could pass them on to students for them.

Here’s why I think this is a good idea:

  1. If the challenge comes from their Life Group leader, instead of the staff, it’s more personal
  2. Doing this draws volunteer leaders into a more central role in the ministry in the eyes of students
  3. The leaders who are relaying the messages will be more likely to become weekend leaders if we are challenging the students to take action
  4. Students will be more likely to attend weekend services when they are challenged by the weekend services

What solid ideas do you have that you could pass on to your youth ministry team? If they use them, great. If they alter them, then use the ideas, wonderful! If they don’t use them at all, at least we gave them the option. Maybe they’ll use them later. Way to be a team player!

Challenging Students

As a volunteer Life Group leader for our High School Ministry, I sent this text message to my students for two reasons:

  1. I want them to take action based on our weekend services
  2. Half of my life group students do not attend the weekend service. I want them to realize good stuff happens there. I also want them to develop a desire to get there, aside from the challenges I make during Life Group for them to check it out.

Today is the first time I sent out a message like this. My strategy going forward is to send a text out like this once a series. I don’t want the messages to go out every week or they’ll get ignored. Some weeks I’ll send out a message telling them what’s going to happen in the weekend service to entice them to show up.

As youth ministry volunteers, we need to be continually honing our strategies to reach students effectively. If we wait for the paid staff to teach us everything or to tell us what to do, our ministry isn’t firing on all cylinders.

To read more about how to be a continually more effective volunteer, download a copy of Volunteer Youth Ministry, A Roadmap for Effective Leadership









VYM Vision

We at VYM stacked hands on our vision today. It’s all about the conversation of the community and we want you to be part of it. As a group of volunteers, we’ve benefitted from sharing with each other what we’ve learned in youth ministry over the last several years. We don’t want to limit that to our little group. We are widening the circle to include the broader community of youth workers… including you. We want to learn from you and help you benefit from what we’ve learned.

Please visit our vision page to see what all of this means and how you as a youth worker can personally benefit from it.

The 4 Elements of a Great Volunteer Team

Saw this post over at Cory Lebovitz’s Blog about building a great volunteer youth ministry team. He’s got some tips that all youth ministries would do well to implement. I’m going to post a small snippet below. Head over to his blog to read the whole post.

The 4 Elements of a Great Volunteer Team are:

  • Investment in One-Another (Care) – When people feel known, cared for and appreciated they are freed up to accomplish great things together. Healthy care for your team is a responsibility for all, not just the leader. Do not just serve with the people on your team; get to know them. Learn the names of their spouse and kids; find out the pressures and passions they have outside of the team. When a team member misses a meeting or a service time, reach out and let them know you missed them. When people care for one another they will fight for one another.

Head over to his blog to read the whole post.

Small Group Culture Legacy

This is a follow up to my last post about meeting with the new small group leader my recent high school graduates have. Their new leader has the same passion I do for seeing the boys grow spiritually. We even have some of the same personality traits. We’re both kinda shy until you get to know us. For that reason, they are having trouble connecting with the guys like I did over the course of 4 years.

Here’s what our conversation helped me realize. While I did a great job of loving the guys, teaching the boys the Bible and Christian living, I didn’t set them up well for what comes after they leave my group. I knew it would be a struggle whereever they went because they would never find exactly what we have. We have developed traditions, and a unique culture.

I emailed the boys after I met with their new leader. I gave them some tips on how to connect with them. During my meeting with their leader, I also gave him some ideas for how to replicate the connections I had with them, and even gave some insight on the personality of each of the boys.

This whole conversation made me realize something that I will do from now on. Instead of hoping my boys land in a good situation whereever they go after my group, I will teach them how to take the culture of our group with them. They will, rather than look for how they will be served by their new ministry, learn how to recreate what we have in our group in the new group they join after high school.

By doing this, they will be trainers that will help other leaders develop the relational skills and traits we develop in the 4 years they are with me. Here’s the benefit, by taking this approach I am not only teaching my boys how to love God and live for him, I’m also teaching how to take our culture with them and develop it in others. I am teaching them to be teachers of healthy small group culture. This will also greatly reduce the likelihood they will graduate from their faith when they graduate from my group.

I highly recommend my leaders do the same with your students. Think of the impact you’ll have on people you’ll never meet by teaching them to take your unique culture with them. That’s for sure leaving a legacy. After we’re gone from this earth, we can still make an impact that way. I love that potential.

To read about the culture I develop with my students, download Volunteer Youth Ministry, A Roadmap For Effective Leadership

Dennis, Can We Meet Up?

Got a text message this morning that really made my day.


My small group boys from last year are now in a college-age small group. Their leader contacted me today to meet up to talk about them. I love this for a few reasons:

– I love those boys and I’m stoked to help their new leader know them better
– I love that their leader cares enough about leading them to reach out to me to find out how to lead them more effectively

As leaders we do our students a huge favor when we serve them strategically. That’s what this leader is doing by setting up our meeting this afternoon. It makes me happy to know that my boys, who I poured into for 4 years, have a new leader who cares about leading them as much as I do.