RSS feed en My MODX Site 2006 120 Blog: Making the fun stuff Christian and the Christian stuff fun Part 3: Mixers that Mix! Mixers. Ice-breakers. Get to know you games—that is our topic for today. Now you need to know that I’m a big advocate of the list above. Being an extrovert who does not have many shy bones in his body, I’m all for smashing through ice and mixing with someone that I have not gotten to know yet. With this in mind, we really must spend a moment or two and make sure our mixers mix, the ice gets broken and we do, in fact, get to know each other.

It has been my experience, through reading countless games books and traveling online (or “on the line” as Vince Vaughan would say) that many of our mixers are simply games with the added result of a factoid being passed from one person to the next. Or, they are competitions disguised as a get to know you game. I want to stir things up a bit by suggesting that many of our mixers simply do not mix. And, while our ice-breakers may appear to be a cool activity, they are not ice-olated in the area of not being all that effective. Ok, sorry about that …

When it comes down to it, our strongest selling point in youth ministry is relationships—our relationship with God, our relationships with each other and with the world at large. We must ensure that our youth meetings are filled with activities that truly help us to get to know each other, and get to know each other deeply. Mixers can help do this but only if they really do help us to get to know each other. With this in mind, ask your mixers these questions:

•Do I have time to talk about something with the person I am mixing with or am I simply trying to ‘be the fastest to finish’ or ‘win some prize through this activity’?

•Is there some aspect of this mixer that will give me something that I can grab a hold of so that I can talk to this person later on?

•Is this activity a healthy mix of being enjoyable and profitable at the same time?

•Should I think about slowing this mixer down just a bit so that the youth can mix with each a bit better? Similarly, should I remove any rewards or prizes from a mixer to help make it a bit less rushed?

So, do you want to start your meeting well? Start with a good welcome (our last post) and follow it with a mixer that … really mixes. This is one way to reach your goal for a youth night that is both enjoyable and profitable.

For more on this see Creative Christian Ideas and the free mixers section of

We also have some free online mixers at:

By the way, did you hear the one about the alien who landed at a soft drink company and said 'take me to your liter'???



Mon, 23 Nov 2015 14:49:18 -0500
Making the Christian Stuff Fun and the Fun Stuff Christian Part 2: No Boffo the Clowns! Welcome back … or should I welcome myself back? It has been a while but I’m back and ready to rumble.  

When I was a kid I had the pleasure of growing up in Phoenix Arizona. Now you probably know that Phoenix is hot …. as in HOT! So, we tended to spend a great deal of time indoors in front of the TV. It was here, and only here (in Phoenix) that you could delight in one of the greatest show of all time: The Wallace and Ladmo show. I could wax on and on about this life-changing event but I won’t. Rather, I will tell you about one regularly occurring visitor—Boffo the clown. Boffo was unhappy, unfunny, unpleasant and always there to bring the show down to his joyless level.

A few months back I began to draw our thoughts to “how to make youth group enjoyable.” As I have stated before we must strive to make the Christian stuff fun and the fun stuff Christian and I wrote about the need to begin your weekly gathering well. Today I want to give you a guideline to help make the meeting more enjoyable for all involved—no Boffo the Clowns. What I mean is, make sure the person leading the youth meeting (or a segment of it) can stand in front of your group and bring it ‘up’ rather than ‘down’.

I say this because it has been my experience that many groups operate on the “let’s give everyone a try” mentality when it comes to leading the youth gathering. There is some wisdom in this as you never know what a person will be like unless you give them a chance. And, many times somebody that you suspect may not be all that good in front of a crowd actually surprises you and brings the house down (I think many of the modern ‘talent’ TV shows operate on that principle). However, a bit of godly wisdom must be used here as the goal is to provide the most productive gathering possible. With this in mind, here are a few tips to help develop volunteers who can lift a meeting rather than take it down to Boffo’s level:

Run some training. Have an experienced or professional leader come in to provide some teaching on how to stand in front of a crowd. Someone with acting experience or a school teacher will be of great benefit here.

Practice Practice Practice. It goes without saying but practice can really be a help here. Spend some time with your team running through some program segments (Welcoming the group, running a mixer etc.) and critique each other.

Learn to smile. This may the most difficult one, however, it is also one of the most effective ways to communicate positively. Good leaders tend to smile a lot. Again, get lots of practice here. And, you may want someone in the group constantly reminding the person upfront to smile (have them point to their teeth as a reminder).

Be brief. Again, one of the easiest ways to lead things well. Don’t over explain or drone on and on. Get to the point!

Preparation (prevents poor performance). One thing I tell my communication class is to always spend a minute or two at the podium, pulpit, place on the stage where you will be speaking. Get comfy, give it a run through and learn to note any issues that could bring you down.

Finally, running youth group activities is not merely the domain of the extrovert. Youth ministry has long been the domain of the extrovert. This is fortunately changing and we need to realize that introverts can be good in front of a crowd as well. The issues isn’t “extroverts are good in front of people and introverts are good in a small group,” far from it. The issue is simply who is best for the job. (I think back to my early youth group days when we had two people who often ran our youth nights, one was Bruce who was an introvert who loved being alone fixing his truck. The other was Mike, great in a large group. Both did fantastic jobs upfront, each with their own style and manner.)

So, it is the start of the year. Get crackin’ on developing a group of people who can lead your youth group activities in a way that maximises your time together! [By the way, you can learn more about Boffo here! ]

Thu, 10 Sep 2015 12:11:03 -0400
Making the fun stuff Christian and the Christian stuff fun. Part I: The art of a great start I want to begin a series that seeks to help answer the question, “what should we do each week in youth group?” As many of you know, it is my aim that we strive to have solid content in an enjoyable atmosphere. Or, let me put it another way: Let’s make the fun stuff Christian and the Christian stuff fun!  The goal must be to run a weekly program filled with Christian content such as Bible study, prayer and activities that promote Christian things such as fellowship and love. With this in mind lets talk about how to start your weekly youth gathering with a rousing welcome.

The welcome is crucial. It must send out the signal that says “we are a Christian group, tonight is going to be worth your while, and we are going to enjoy being together as we get to know Jesus and each other better.” To do this, don’t start your time together by simple forming teams and playing a mindless game. Similarly don’t bore them with a long prayer or theological treatise on why we are meeting together. Here’s what you do:

1. Either have them sit in the normal fashion (I’m assuming chairs or couches in rows or a semicircle). Or, have them stand in one large circle.

2. Say “Welcome”! You could even have them say a brief welcome to the person(s) next to them.

3. Proceed to your “welcome activity”

You will then move on to an activity designed to help the group to catch up and get to know each other a bit better. Here are some great welcomes that should be sure fire ways to start the gathering well.

1. 1-2-3 You start by saying “in a second I’m going to say “Welcome to youth group. You respond by shouting back “Welcome to youth group” and then you must: 1. Give one person a handshake, two people a fist bump and three people a high five.” You then shout “Welcome to youth group.”

2. 10 x High 10s Start in a similar fashion to #1. However, instead of doing 1-2-3, they simply give 10 people high tens and then sit down.

3. Make a noise. Stand in a circle and have each person make a ‘note or noise’ that describes their week. (High = good, low= not so good.) Go around the circle and have each person make their note. At the end, have everyone make the sound together. If the group is comfortable with each other, go around the circle one at a time and listen to each other’s note. If the group is not so comfortable, you can have everybody make the note at the same time. You could then ask particular people why they made the note they did. (If you want the group to do it one at a time, you could give each person the option to pass if they felt uncomfortable.)

4. How’s your week- get high, get low! Ask the group to rate their week by height—a great week means getting as high up as possible (like standing on a chair) a bad week = lying on the ground. You can then ask certain individuals to explain their “height.”

After the welcome, say a prayer committing the night to God and then move on to your next activity. Hopefully the goal is clear—start well, reinforce the fact that this is a group wants to get to know each other and God better.

Next, we will look at mixers that really mix!

Mon, 09 Feb 2015 12:22:34 -0500
Youth group made easy! (Well, a bit easier) It is September and that means three things: 1 Back to school and youth group. 2 Time to start writing more thoughts about youth and youth group things. And, 3 McDonalds Canada has handed out their biannual “Two for one coupons!” I am not ashamed to admit it … but I love the 2 for 1 deal, it makes choosing what to have so simple.

Now let me make a parallel with youth ministry. It is my contention that we have made youth ministry just a bit more difficult than really needed.  Attractional v. Missional? Lots of games v. no games? Is the group for Christians or for non-Christians? Etc.

I want to say that there are some things that we can do to make things just a bit easier, sort of like that handy coupon that comes in the mail twice a year. With this in mind, here is Ken’s list of “things you must do to make your year of youth group a bit easier:”

Work with those kids onside; these are probably the “church kids.” They are your base.

As I have said many times in the past, your greatest strength (next to our Lord), is those youth who love the program and give it a high priority. I am still amazed to see the number of groups who neglect these youth in their efforts to reach the unchurched. Big mistake.

Run a weekly meeting that is high on relationships, high on spiritual input done in an enjoyable way.

This probably goes without saying but run every aspect of your weekly meeting through the filter of “does this activity promote good relationships between all involved? If it doesn’t, drop it!

Run a good network of small groups.

Again, a given for must of us. However, many of us still run small groups that are squeezed in at the end of the program giving them too little time and too little importance. We also chop and change these groups in the name of “meeting more people.” To be effective you need the same amount of time, same group of youth with the same leader.

Adult mentoring in a consistent considerate fashion.

Intergeneration mixing is key. One component of this is having parents and older leaders around—regularly and often. This generation of youth love oldies so run with it! Kenda Dean makes a persuasive case in Practicing Passion when she says, “The presence of an adult guarantor in faith is cited repeatedly as the most important factor in a young person’s decision to claim faith as her own” (Practicing Passion, 243).

Work at making youth gatherings a place where friends are welcomed and desired.

Again, this is more of a reminder than anything new. However, far too many groups are simply … not all that welcoming. Are newcomers welcome, met with smiles and the invitation to come and join our circle (or any other activity that the particular group is doing at any given time)?

Listen to the youth and show interest in them. Speak to them and with them, not down to them.

When you are talking to a young person, look them in the eye, listen to what they say, show interest in their world. You don’t need to be an expert on youth culture or youth issues—you simply need to be an expert in “being interested in them!”

Finally, be patient with the youth and with the program. Build for the future, think long-term.

Remember what I have written long ago: you are not building a speedboat, you are building an aircraft carrier. You want this group to get better and better, but that will take some time, some prayer and a good deal of effort. You also want this group to be around for a long time. This means you must always work with the future in mind asking questions such as, “How do I build these youth to be strong disciples when they are young adults and older?”, and “How can I develop youth to be well-trained, productive leaders for the future?”

God bless as you start this new term and I leave you with this question: is it wrong to eat 2 for 1 Big Macs two days in a row?

Tue, 09 Sep 2014 17:37:52 -0400
Staying Healthy in Youth Ministry: Get Outta Here! Rule 1: Run a ministry that fires you up rather than wears you out

Rule 2: God is in control—don’t be a control freak

Rule 3: Work for a good boss

Rule 4: Get some sleep

Rule 5: Get outta here (take time off!)

It’s time for us to head towards a conclusion on staying healthy. Today I want to visit a similar theme that I looked at months ago. Quite simply, if you want to stay healthy in youth ministry, get outta town by sundown (and stay away for a bit)!

Most of us agree that taking time off is important, however many people in ministry simply don’t do it enough. So, here’s my advice: take your day off, take your holidays, take your study leave and stay in ministry.

My story

After getting married Julie and I moved to a location that, while extremely fruitful in ministry, was also proving to be hard work. We realized that we needed to “take our day off hard”. This meant we needed to make a very serious effort at having a good day off. The Lord was good to us and we were able to buy a small getaway cottage in a town about an hour and a half away from home which became our escape. Each Sunday night we would finish church and smile as we packed the car and headed out. We were gone … gone from our house (where people could/would drop in at all times day or night) … gone from our church (that we loved but needed a break from regularly) and gone from our ministry lives. We would leave Sunday night and be back ready to go Tuesday morning. While there may have been a few other factors that kept us going, I can tell you honestly that without this time away we would not have lasted—we would have been another youth ministry ‘casualty’.

I am a broken record on this; if you want to be fruitful in youth ministry, you must have day off that brings you fruitful rest. Ministry is a hungry beast—it wants all of you. If you enter the workweek tired, you are done.

With this in mind, some tips for your day off:

1. Do not take 24 hours, aim for a bit more.

Sure, a break for 24 hours is excellent, but your body and mind may actually need more than this. Some youth leaders take a day of that is designed to mimic the Old Testament Sabbath, they start their day off at sundown (or even noon) on one day and finish it at sundown the next. While this may sound good, my feeling is that it is merely an excuse for the workaholics to get some work done at both ends. I would strongly encourage you to try for a time out that includes two nights (i.e. Thursday night to Saturday morning or our Sunday night to Tuesday am.) The goal is to get rested, not fulfill a requirement. Learn the needs of your body clock and rest accordingly.

2. Your day off may not be the time to catch up on your Bible reading and prayer

Many of us in ministry feel guilty for not having solid devotions during the week. With this in mind, we aim to ‘catch up’ on our day off. While I don’t want to knock Bible reading and prayer, if you are finding this a task on your day off I would suggest you rethink this strategy. The solution is, of course, to work at having better devotions during the workweek. Sure, begin (or end) your day off with a devotion, but don’t be enslaved to “spiritually getting done what I ought to have done” in the past six days.

3. Spend time with people who energize you

Days off must excite you, invigorate you, energize you, and refresh you. Spend it with people who do the same. Some of you will want to be alone, good call. Others need to be with people. If you are the latter, find those people who help you to enjoy life, not suck it out of you.

4. For your vacation do not go back to where you used to minister

I have found that many ministry friends (myself included) often spend our vacation time catching up with people from our previous ministries. I have learned to stop this. It is exhausting and counter to what a vacation should be. I spent hour after hour “catching up” with former youth leaders or youth group kids when, in reality, I was simply ministering in a different setting. I went home more tired than I started.

5. Don’t feel guilty for taking your break during the school year. In other words, enjoy summer!

It is important to begin the year well. It is important to continue the year well. It is important to finish the year well. To do this, you need to have a bit of a break over summer. You may want to take your vacation then, or you may find that your summer is slow enough on its own. Personally, I rarely took my vacation time over the summer, why would I? Whatever the case, plan appropriately. I would suggest you take a week or two off approximately 6-8 weeks after the school year begins. This will help you to continue well. You may also want to have a break sometime later in the school year in order to finish well.

For those in the Northern Hemisphere, here is my suggestion: take a break in early November or late October. Take another break in late March or April. For those in the Southern Hemisphere: take a break in early May or late April. Take another break in late September or October.

6. Finally, think through your study leave / continuing education

Study leave is invaluable on a number of fronts. We get away, take a break from the usual and fill our minds with new thoughts. Use this time! Find a college/seminary that is running weeklong courses and audit one (or start a new degree!). Take a risk and sign up for a course that is a bit ‘out there’ (something outside of your comfort zone). You could even visit a new location and have a nice ‘holiday’ after your classes sightseeing. The rule here is simple: take your study leave!

Stay sane friends!

Wed, 11 Jun 2014 16:02:54 -0400
Staying Healthy in Youth Ministry: Get Some Sleep!

Rule 1: Run a ministry that fires you up rather than wears you out

Rule 2: God is in control—don’t be a control freak

Rule 3: Work for a good boss

Rule 4: Get some sleep

Do you remember that Monty Python skit about the Four Yorkshiremen? They sat around reminiscing about the past and how bad it was. “Luxury” was one of the words they would use. “We used to live in a hole in the ground.” “We had to live in a lake.” “Lake! There were a 150 of us in a shoebox!” And on it goes.

A few years back there was a similar trend in youth ministry … and remnants of it still exist today. It seemed that the common trend was to boast about how little sleep you got the previous night. “Six hours? Luxury … I only had four!” was a conversation I overheard a few times. Even in ministry this became somewhat common—“Sleep? Luxury! Who needs sleep?” Well, let me answer that by saying, “You do! And lots of it.” It is not “luxury” to get a good amount of sleep. Nor is it godly to get a minimal amount of sleep. In fact, it can be ministry suicide. Your body, your mind and your spirit have been designed to rest and rest hard!

Here is why I tell you this, you need it … and,  many of you do not sleep enough. And, if you do not get enough sleep, you probably will find ministry very tough going.

Youth leaders need energy; physical, mental, and spiritual. You also need your creative juices to flow. You can only do this if you are running on a tank with some gas in it. This, in part, must come through a healthy night’s sleep.

I won’t bombard you with the research out there but, needless to say, the people in the labcoats are saying “it is important, get some sleep tonight.” With this in mind, may I make some suggestions?

  1. If you have important things to do in the morning, turn the unimportant things off in the evening. You know what I’m talking about: your computer, your gaming device, your cellphone, your TV, etc. Whatever keeps your brain ‘on’ needs to go ‘off’’.
  2. If you have important things to do in the evening, don’t back it up with something important the next morning. I know this is impossible to do all the time, but work on this as a general rule: late nights need to be followed by more relaxed mornings. I have found that, in ministry, we can often loosen our schedule up to accommodate this.
  3. Have a good sleep in at least twice per week. I have no science to back this up—just my own experience, but every couple of days schedule in a good long night.
  4. Have a few mornings that are program free. I have found that I need at least two mornings per week to myself. These are times to catch up on my reading, spend some time writing, take a walk or simply grab a coffee and chill. While this may not relate directly to sleep, they will happen a lot more naturally after a good night’s rest.
  5. Get rid of guilt. Many of us actually feel guilty for sleeping. Sleep is a gift to us from the giver of all good things. Sure, if you are lazy, feel guilty, because you are guilty. However, if you aren’t a sluggard, grab a good nine hours and wake up smiling and guilt-free. Remember the words of Psalm 127:2: It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest,?eating the bread of anxious toil for he gives to his beloved sleep

One final word to those introverts out there

Youth ministry tends to favor the extrovert. I don’t mean the “hand me the microphone and get me in front of a crowd” type of extrovert. I mean those of us who like being in a group of people. That is me, I like parties and I love big youth gatherings. However, that is not everyone. Many of us tend to like to be alone or with a smaller group of people. Two things need to be said here:

  1. We need more introverts in ministry. For far too long youth ministry has been about crowds and noise rather than intimacy and depth. Let’s make sure we get some balance and find a way for the introverts among us to be involved in youth ministry.
  2. If you are an introvert in youth ministry, it is imperative that you get a large quantity of alone time. This is not ungodly—it is the way the Creator has designed you. In my mind your need to get away is similar to everyone’s need for sleep, you need to recharge and refresh. Please do not feel guilty for keeping your schedule from being jam packed with events filled with people. That is the quick road to ministry death. You must learn to keep a balance of the necessary group activities with quieter times for personal space.

If you are an introvert, I hereby free you to have hours (and hours) of time during your week to take a walk by yourself, sit in a coffee shop and read/prepare, go see a movie or simply sit at home for a few hours each day by yourself.



Mon, 21 Apr 2014 13:47:39 -0400
Staying Healthy in Youth Ministry: Work for a good boss Rule 1: Run a ministry that fires you up rather than wears you out

Rule 2: God is in control—don’t be a control freak

Rule 3: Work for a good boss

Each of us must work either under, or alongside, a senior minister or group of elders (your church or denominational structure decides what type of structure works best for them.) One of more of these people has the power to make your working life a joy where you are encouraged and fired up, or, a burden where you may end up exhausted and in a state of ‘unhealth’. It is important for you and your ministry that you work with someone who promotes your professional (and personal) wellbeing and not your career destruction. In my experience, it is a necessity that you ensure that your boss is healthy. If they aren’t, chances are you won’t be either.  As we reflect on what it means to work for a good senior minister, there are two things that must guide your thinking here.

Avoid working for a workaholic senior minister!

Ministry tends to attract highly driven types, and that is a good thing. This world needs Jesus and we need men and women who are passionately committed to helping people follow him. The problem is, some of these church leaders simply don’t know when to take off their shoes, grab the remote and kick back for a spell. These are the dreaded “workaholic senior ministers” (and my guess is, you know one!)

Now there are two types of workaholic ministers: those who know they are nuts (and don’t expect you to follow suit) and … those who don’t know they are nuts (and expect everyone else to work seven days and seven nights a week). I worked for one of the latter. When I took the job he told me that this was “church life in the fast lane—we work six days and six nights.” (While he took one day per week off, he believed that every one of the other 144 hours must be given over to ministry.) To be honest, it wasn’t the six days so much as the “six nights” that killed me.

I have talked to countless youth leaders who work for a workaholic. The vast majority of these youth leaders have the same message, “he just doesn’t get it and I’m slowly dying.” So, the question is, what do we do about it?

The first thing is of course, … don’t work for a workaholic. This would be a question I would ask in the interview process. I would also ask around (other staff, elders, the previous youth leader etc.) and if you get a whiff of stressed out, overworked staff, run to the hills. I have said this before but it bears repeating, it is better to work for Starbucks than for a toxic church situation—Starbucks tends to look after its staff.

If you are working for a workaholic. This is difficult, and there are no simple, magic cures that I can offer here. The first thing I would do is to try my best for a series of conversations where you explain to your boss that you struggle with his work ethic. In fact, try to convince him that God wants us to rest (I think it is written in stone somewhere…). At the very least, will your senior minister agree that, “what works for them must not be expected of you?” You may find that they simply do not understand where you are coming from. This is where some solid elders or key parents may need to come in as support.

I would also try to show him through various ways that you are working very hard and not slacking off. This could come through giving him weekly reports and keeping him updated with everything that is going on in the youth ministry. While this is a good strategy, keep in mind that workaholics are rarely satisfied; either with themselves or with those who work for them. In the end, like all difficult bosses, you will have to learn to work with them and, in many cases, around them.

Is there an elder that you can speak with? The workaholic senior minister will probably not listen to you (you are, after all, merely junior staff). However, he may listen to a peer.

For those of you working in this situation, the bottom line may simply be to make sure your next gig is different.

Make sure your boss is not on the verge of burnout

This is a very difficult skill to cultivate but I need to post a warning for all of you in youth ministry. Be careful, you do not want to work in a church where the senior minister is about to blow a gasket.

Many ministers are great at covering up the lurking burnout that is just below the surface. They appear to be fine until wham-o, they fall in an exhausted heap. Before taking a job at a church I would seek out some information: Has this person ever taken time off in the past for exhaustion? Are there some informed people who are worried about his/her health? Does the minister have trouble making decisions (about issues in the church)? Do the decisions that get made never become realities? Does the minister get teary at the drop of a hat? These are some of the signs that I have learned to recognize.  Be warned, a boss on the edge has the serious ability to make your life a living hell … that is because their life is a living hell and they just aren’t thinking straight.

Again, it is better to skip a potential ‘sweet gig’ than to work in a life-sucking furnace. If you have any hint that the senior minister is on the edge … look for a temporary job where the toughest thing is learning to say “tall, grande or vente?”

Mon, 24 Mar 2014 13:33:02 -0400
Staying Healthy in Youth Ministry: God is in control! Ministry is exhausting. It can crush your bones, numb your mind and suck every ounce of emotional energy from your spirit. Ministry is so very exhausting for three simple reasons:

  1. You are working with people. People who, like yourself can be flawed and demanding, sinful and unpredictable, and insensitive and rude.

  2. You always need to be ‘up’. By this I mean that you must constantly be ‘up’ for the events of this week (church, youth group etc.). You must always be the role model. This comes with an inevitable degree of wear and tear.

  3. There is an inbuilt importance to what we are doing. It is so very important that we must not give up or give in. This sometimes causes us to push ourselves when we should slow down or even stop for a rest and recharge.

An added dimension that can sometimes make youth ministry harder than most other ministries is simply because we are ‘under’ so many others. Think of all those groups whose opinion matters to our job wellbeing. 

  •We must work under a senior minister and/or elders. You may say “I work with him/her” but the fact of the matter is, they are still over you in the Lord. And, can have a big say in your longevity at your present job.

  •We must aim to work with and even for parents—we are, after all, working with their children. Therefore, their opinions matter greatly.

  •In addition we of course work with the youth themselves.

We need to listen to so many opinions, so many preferences, so many ‘helpful bits of advice to further our ministry.’ Youth ministry is, as a result, filled with workers who are barely hanging in there. I see it in some of my colleague’s eyes—they are the walking dead, are they hanging in by their nails? Nope, they left their nails in the cliff’s edge a long time ago.

This is the second in a series of post designed to offer some guidance towards “self care: staying sane in youth ministry.” The first post offered some practical advice. This one is going to be a bit … trickier. Your second rule for self care in youth ministry is while you must take great care to work hard and to work smart, God is in control. GOD IS IN CONTROL!

Staying healthy in youth ministry rule #2[1]: You must (MUST!) realize that God is in control!

I have met a lot of youth ministers. There are some who, quite frankly, are lazy. They are lazy in their actions and they are lazy in their minds. However, it has been my experience that they are the minority. The majority work hard and are eager to get better at their craft. Many of them are the exact opposite of lazy—they are driven.

The problem is that in this desire to get things done we become … control freaks. This is one of the most unhealthy aspects to ministry and it is also one that, in the end, will cause you harm.

Now, there are those of us who are aware of this fact, and if you are a control freak you really must acknowledge this fact. Failure to do so will almost certainly cause you suffering and fatigue. Sure we want to see things get done—important things, but we must be very careful. Consider these well-known words from the Apostle Paul:

We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.  Colossians 1:28-29

Notice that Paul works hard, very hard. However, he realizes that it is Christ who is working in him. It is God’s power, not Paul’s. This frees Paul up to relax even while “laboring and struggling”, knowing that the results are up to God.

With this in mind, I want to leave you with three simple thoughts:

1. Be faithful, work hard

Leaving things in God’s hands doesn’t equal an excuse for laziness. We must be faithful with the gifts that God has given us and use all our energy to see his Kingdom built.

2. Be smart—do things God’s way

I have written about this copiously in the past so I won’t say much else here. Bottom line; if your church or youth program is producing unhealthiness in your spirit (and body), it may be an unhealthy program.

3. Know that it is God who brings the fruit from your ministry

Ultimately we must stand with Paul when he says “I planted, Apollos watered, but God brings the growth.”(1 Cor 3:6-7). God brings the growth … not us. This must mean that the fruits of our ministries are totally out of our control!

What does this mean for me?

Can I take a day off and not do one scrap of work? YES!

Can I turn off my phone and feel guilt free for not responding to texts? YES!

Can I say “no” to a 6:00 am prayer meeting (especially when I’ve had a small group Bible study the night before)? YES!

Do I fret when kids just don’t seem to get it? NO!

Do I worry about the numbers game when I have parents or elders breathing down my neck? NO!

In the end, I have learned to examine myself in the present and make sure that what I am doing is faithful, smart, and healthy and that God is in control of the results. I have learned to look back and to see how the Lord is gracious and compassionate and uses my feeble efforts to build his Kingdom. This frees me from my natural tendency toward control freakdom.

[1] Rule #1 = run a ministry that fires you up rather than wears you out.

Mon, 17 Mar 2014 21:32:51 -0400
Staying Healthy in Youth Ministry Part 1 [Well it’s been awhile and it is time to get back into the swing of things as my self imposed exile from writing is over so hold onto your hats. Here we go!]

A few weeks back I gave a seminar titled “Self care: keeping yourself healthy for long-term ministry.” One person came up to me and said, “I really wish I had heard that talk when I started out ten years ago.” With that in mind, I want to spend the next few posts on covering just that—how to stay healthy in youth ministry. I also want to answer a question I am often asked, “How have you been in youth ministry for so long?”

Do I merely have the supernatural gift of longevity … well, not really. But what I do have is some wisdom picked up from hitting the wall a few times and learning how either avoid it or how to go around it.

As we do this we are going to go through a few of the ‘rules of staying healthy’. Our first rule is simple: run a ministry that fires you up rather than wears you out.

Ministry is tiring; there is no way around that. However, there is a kind of tiredness that is a ‘joyous exhaustion’. This is where you can fall into your bed knowing that “tonight was a great night because some really great things happened.” Think about that really great retreat you organized where the group really clicked and a number of youth had their relationship with the Lord taken to a new level. This is the kind of joyous tiredness I am talking about. This is very different to the “did we even make a difference in this event we just ran?” type of weariness and to the “why don’t my volunteers seem to get it” exhaustion that we feel deep in our bones.

With this in mind, it is imperative that you are running that type of ministry that can keep you going even when the natural tiredness comes. Here are three tips to help you along:

  1. You need to be in charge of a ministry that operates with your gifting and abilities. I am not an administrator—never have been, never will be. Office stuff and long meetings wear me out. I like being with youth and running youth group gatherings. I also love small group Bible study. Too many of us rushed into a job without taking a long look at whether this job is a good fit or not. So, what are you good at? What type of ministry really gets you pumped up? If you are into discipleship but running a ministry committed to evangelism, you are going to find yourself quickly wearing out. The wise word here is: if you want to stay energized, cut with your ministry grain rather than against it.
  2. You need to get to the stage where everything doesn’t depend on you. I came to that realization many years ago. The youth group I was running was working well and I discovered that I could take two to three weeks for my annual vacation. I had a team of leaders that worked well and a group of core youth who loved the program and could run it without me. So, if you want to be like the energizer bunny, build up your leaders, and build up your core youth.
  3. Think about the practical aspects of your week: the when, what and where. Staying healthy may simply be a matter of knowing what to do and when to do it. Many of you will know my dislike for Friday evening youth group. I have seen that this program tires most leaders out rather than builds them up. In addition to this, I need to be careful of early morning prayer meetings. There will always be someone telling you that “Jesus got up early to pray”! (I had a youth leader who was adamant that we pray every other Friday at 5:00 am. I tried my best to hang in there but after three meetings I’d had enough—it simply took too great a toll.) If you are an early morning prayer type person- more power to ya. If not, don’t sweat it, God is satisfied with us praying at a later time. You may also want to think about how much driving you do. In many different settings, youth leaders find themselves spending hours in traffic or on the road. I have found this to be an energy zapper. Think about saying “no” to those meetings that aren’t all that necessary and a long distance away. Or, learn to take the bus where you can catch up on emails at the same time.

Bottom line is: stay sharp by thinking smart.

Fri, 28 Feb 2014 15:23:58 -0500
Starting Out (Part 3): It is easier to float with the iceberg than to prop it up Today we are going to talk about icebergs even though I don’t know a lot about polar exploration. I’d love to give it a shot but I just don’t think this Arizona boy will ever have the chance. I guess winter in Saskatchewan can at least count for a distant second.

I want to continue to focus our thoughts on starting out—what do we do to get our youth group going in a way that is profitable for long-term discipleship and ministry.

If you’ve read my earlier posts you may remember that I’ve encouraged you to do some things that will help your time in your new youth group to be more profitable. I want to now focus on a question that is basic and yet foundational to your work: Who will this group be for? Most youth leaders begin with dreams of reaching out to the lost and so they aim for a group filled with nonChristian youth. While this is understandable, be very careful. A group that is predominantly nonChristian will lead you to, what I have described in Changing the World, the upside down iceberg.

As you know, icebergs have all the weight at the bottom. This base supports the top, which, while visible, is the minority of this great structure. The principle is the same for any effective youth ministry. If you want to see a group that reaches out to those who don’t know Jesus, you must have the strongest base possible. This base must be made up of two key groups: Christian youth from the church/local area, and youth who, while they may not yet be strong Christians (or even Christians at all), are willing to wholeheartedly participate in every spiritual activity that you run.

I think about many of youth groups that I have either heard about or participated in the past few years. They are designed to attract the lost. When the lost do come, there must be activities that will be enjoyable and will keep them coming. This becomes a tremendous burden to the volunteers and to the leader themselves. This is an example of an iceberg that is wrongside up. The leadership team must then prop up this iceberg to keep it from crashing down.  In my experience, gravity always wins and inevitably, the group crashes.

The better way

Your goal must be to build a strong base of Christian youth. These youth can then minister to nonChristians youth. As the base grows, so does the top—the whole thing gets bigger and bigger!

So, one of your first steps is to begin your youth group with the above two groups (Christians and any youth who willingly participate in Christian activities) as your base. Find out exactly how many Christian youth are in the church or have gone to the previous group. Meet with these youth and explain to them your desire to run a group that will be built on getting to know Jesus each week and encouraging each other to follow him. If there was a youth group before you moved into the leadership role, find the next group; those youth who came to the youth group and were willing to participate in the spiritual activities. These two groups are your core, your bread and butter, your pizza base and every other metaphor that you can insert here.

A word to youth ministry vets

I’m not talking about those of you who look after animals but anyone who has been in youth ministry for a while. We all need to be careful of the upside down iceberg—even seasoned specialists with the best of intentions can be sucked in to running a group that is upside down. This will make things so much harder in the long run. 

Fri, 08 Nov 2013 18:07:28 -0500
Starting Out (Part 2) Last time I asked you to go through three important questions. This time, let’s steal something from real estate and apply it to youth ministry.

In real estate there is one key rule: Location Location Location. It is where it’s located that matters. In youth ministry, especially when starting out, it is Relationship Relationship Relationship.

So, let’s take the first step

Here is the first thing you must do—and it is very, very important. Get to know your people. Find out about them as you spend time with them. A wise man with the last name of Bacon once said, “Knowledge is power.” Since bacon is awesome, and must be listened to, it is worth thinking about this quote. You must get to know as much about the place you are working as you can. What worked in the past? What didn’t? What about the previous youth leaders—why did they leave, how long did they stay? What are the hopes of the youth in the church for the youth group? What do their parents think?

You must get to know as many people as you can, as well as you can, as quickly as you can. For Canadians, this is where Timmie’s is your best friend. For Americans it’s Starbucks. For Aussies it is one of any of the 1,000 fantastic coffee houses within walking distance of your front door! Spend time in these places getting to know your volunteers, potential volunteers, youth in the church, parents of the above, staff members etc. In fact, by the end of your first month you should be so full of caffeinated beverages that your eyes glow.

You will also want to take the bold step of inviting yourself over to everyone’s house for lunch or dinner. I realize that this can be awkward, so tread carefully, but I probably don’t need to convince you of the value of sitting in a family’s home to gain some knowledge and appreciation of who they are. As soon as someone from the church says “we really should have you over for a meal” you grab your calendar and say “how about this Thursday?”

As you meet with people you must learn to ask the right questions and to listen, really listen to the person across the table from you. You must also take this opportunity to begin the job of earning their trust and their willingness to follow you.

Your needs:

  • Some $$ to cover coffee (& meal?) expenses
  • The right set of questions

Suggested questions:

  • Tell me about yourself, where did/do you go to school? Was/is it a positive experience?
  • Tell me about your family?
  • Where are you in your relationship with Jesus? (How/when did you become a Christian?)
  • Describe for me what you like about youth group (if they are involved)?
  • What are some things that you would like to see happen in youth group?
  • Would you be able to be committed to the youth ministry regularly?
  • [For Parents/older people: Do you think you could give us some help at all?]

Now, get to it. Find those people and grab a coffee!

Mon, 30 Sep 2013 22:15:11 -0400
Starting Out: 1st thoughts! Well, this week is the week when summer is officially over and the school year begins. For most of us in youth ministry this is our kick off week. At least it is for me. With this in mind, I thought I would spend the next few posts offering some wisdom for anyone of you who is starting out in youth ministry.

Now I need to be clear on one thing—when I started out in youth ministry I did not have a clue about what to do. I had energy and a passion for Jesus, and that was about it. Hopefully in the next few posts I can give you just a bit of a “leg up” and help make the next few months go smoothly for you.

There are three key areas that you need be very clear on:

Who you are (your gifts, what you can do, what you can’t)

What you hope to do in the next year or three

How you hope to do it

Having a firm grasp on these three areas will make your life go a bit more smoothly. (I am going to assume that you, dear reader, have some self-awareness of who you are, what gifts you have and don’t have etc. I am going to assume that you also have some people around you who are honest and can speak truth into your life. A good mentor who is familiar with youth ministry is going to be a real help here!)

Who you are

While we know God is sovereign and can do anything, we have a “sober judgment” of ourselves (Romans 12:3). Do not bite off more than you can chew, nor should you underestimate your abilities and giftedness. This is where close friends, or a wise marriage partner are crucial.

For example, if you are a naturally gifted evangelist, this will no doubt make up some part of your ministry. If you aren’t, you may not want to program in a big push on evangelistic growth, just yet. If you are a good upfront speaker, you will want this to be a key part of your program. If you aren’t, you will either find someone else who is, or you will build your teaching time around small groups.

The key here is to really, truly have a grounding in who you are and what you can achieve. I have seen far too many people in youth ministry who really should have been librarians instead. (Just to be clear, I’m not knocking those of you who are librarians, it was the simply the best profession I could come up with to contrast with youth ministry. I love librarians where would we be without them?)

Keep in mind that you will grow and pick up skills and new abilities as you mature in your ministry. Right now we are focusing on the first year. With this in mind, be clear on your abilities.

What you hope to do in the next year or two

The people (and youth) in your church want two things: 1. They want you to listen to them and lovingly hear their needs, wants, goals, struggles etc. 2. They want you to lead them; helping them to encounter Jesus and his people on a deep level.

It is your job to formulate some plan that will facilitate this. I will write more on this later but you must walk the tightrope of crafting a program with your group in mind and providing a new program that is effective in building Christian maturity.

How you hope to do it

The last one is pretty obvious isn’t it? You need to have a plan. Hopefully you have been trained somewhere along the path as to the “hows” of youth ministry. Needless to say this is the big question isn’t it! This will be the focus of the next few posts. To get us started, however, let me suggest two books that are very helpful, if not crucial for the new youth leader both of them are by Mark DeVries:

Sustainable Youth Ministry

The Indispensible Youth Pastor

Next we will look at first steps in your first year. 

Tue, 03 Sep 2013 16:36:51 -0400
Rethinking Summer Camp Part V: Attracting and Keeping Camp Staff!

Here is an email that I get far too often:

“Ken, I’m hoping that you can help me. I run a summer camp called _______(fill in name) and I am in need for camp staff. In fact, we may have to cancel some of our camps if we do not get more volunteers. I could possibly take on some nonChristians to help out but I’d really rather not. Any suggestions?”

I don’t want to be too pessimistic but as I have said earlier, this is a sign that the future is not as rosy in youth ministry as we would like to believe. Healthy youth groups produce healthy Christian youth who can then go on to do youth ministry. The end result is that camps (and other ministries) have a surplus of volunteers. However, we are not in that situation any longer. So, instead of moaning for the good old days, may I suggest five courses of action to help alleviate this problem.

1. Seek financial help. If you pay your staff well, you will have a much easier time of finding workers. This is pretty basic I know, but the average camp pays very poorly. From my perspective, I have students who would love to spend their summer in camp ministry—much more than working at the local grocery store. But they simply cannot afford it. So, they sacrifice a summer of fruitful ministry to chase next year’s tuition.

With this in mind, one of your first priorities must be to raise a significant amount of capital. Your first place to start is with alumni. These former campers will have fond memories of their time in camp. Don’t be afraid to explain to them very clearly what your needs are and where the money will go. You may get some push back with statements such as “but in my day all the staff were volunteers”. You need to clearly explain that we are living in a very different culture and that the future of the camp is becoming less clear unless something changes.

You may even want to give all your campers the chance to contribute financially throughout the year. Plenty of campers have part time jobs. You may be surprised at what you could raise through this.

Consider meeting with the missions committees from churches that send campers and staff. Explain to them your needs. See if you can become part of their missionary giving.

2. Train your staff for long-term partnership. This goes without saying. In fact, many camps are quite good at training up leaders. Stay focused here and always be thinking about how do we keep our junior staff and use them for the next 3-10 years.

3. Partner with churches. As I wrote in my previous post, it is imperative that camps work with church for follow up. It is also very important that they work with churches for staff. How can your camp promote a partnership with a local congregation that last more than a summer or two? If you can have a number of churches, from a wide area support your camp, many of your key needs (follow up, financial support etc.) will be solved. Your goal is that when it comes to camp, your camp will be the obvious place for this church to support.

Here’s a quick story: when I worked in Vancouver there was a camp that many of our youth went on. Early on I noticed that the youth who were the best at helping on our weekend retreats were those who had done ‘pit crew’ on this summer camp. These kids where such a blessing to our retreat ministry (we had about ten retreats per year in the various ministries). I quickly realized that we needed to give back to this camp—we would promote this camp each year and, we would strongly encourage our youth to sign on as volunteers knowing that they would be trained in ministry. Our church and this camp formed a partnership, a two way street blessing if you will.

4. If you can’t find young staff, find older ones! This is pretty straightforward. If there are no youth to staff your camps, seek non-youth. Are there seniors who are time rich, don’t need to be paid, strong in the faith and willing to give you a week or two? With a bit of searching, you may find more than you realize. Especially if you modify the camp just a bit to have less focus on the ‘wild side’ and more on what the older volunteers are good at: talking with youth, listening to them, talking with them about God and praying with them. Most young people today really don’t care about the age of the staff, they care about whether the staff cares about them.

5. One last word, don’t sacrifice on spiritual quality in the search for quantity. It is tempting to fill your staff needs with people who are less spiritually mature, or even not in a relationship with Jesus. Be very careful of this. If your goal is to produce strong followers of Jesus, you need strong leaders who themselves follow our Lord. They must be able to echo Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 11:1 “Follow me as I follow Christ.”

I would love to hear more suggestions to add to the list on how we can reverse this staff shortage in our summer camps.

Thu, 15 Aug 2013 13:40:42 -0400
Rethinking Summer Camp Part IV: Following up your campers! Well, it’s a beautiful day in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan! Summer isn’t winter that’s for sure!

Now, let’s have our final session on about how to get the most out of your camp. This covers one of the most important … and most overlooked … this is the all important issue of follow up.

It is my belief that we tend to see the gospel as some sort of magic potion or rite that we must pass on to youth. Once the “accept” it or “go through the rite” everything is fine and God will take care of the rest. It doesn’t take more than a moment or two of thought to see that this is crazy. Furthermore, simply look at the success rates of our camps when it comes to longevity of faith among those who make a decision on camp and you can see that something needs to change.

A few years back I spoke to the head of an organization that was deeply committed to seeing young people come to Christ both weekly and on summer camp. In a moment of honesty he told me that “my crowd has absolutely no plan when it comes to looking after youth who make a decision for Christ.” Another camping organization that I spent time with admitted that this (following up campers) was the “weak link” in their program. Their solution was to have a twice a month “reunion church service on a Sunday night”. While it would start strong a few weeks after camp, it would peter out after a month or so.

It is my belief that follow up may not be as difficult as we have made it out to be.

The less than strategic way to do follow up:

Encourage your counselors to write emails, text the youth in their cabin throughout the year.

Have a reunion multiple times throughout the year

The problem with this approach is that it maintains the focus of the Christian life for the new Christian on the camp itself rather than a local church. This church is far more equipped to look after these youth than the annual summer camp.

The more strategic way to do follow up:

  1. Grab a map.
  2. Look for “key areas” that you can isolate your follow up process on. Look back on past camp rolls and note down all the areas that youth have come from in the past. For example, suburbs from major city, small towns, regional centres etc.
  3. Find out churches in these key areas. Let me give you an example. If you are from Vancouver, you will know the satellite community of Tsawwassen (pronounced ‘Ta was en’). This community has a large Baptist church right on the main street. This church also has a solid youth ministry program going.
  4. Form a partnership with these churches. If your camp had students who came from this Tsawwassen, you will seek to form a bond with this church so they could do the follow up.
  5. Work with this local church to send able cabin leaders to your camp. These leaders will naturally form a relationship with the youth in their cabin. Those youth who do not have a youth group at home will be encouraged to go to their cabin leader’s group.
  6. Have a night towards the end of camp where you break up the group according to where they come from. The leaders from these areas encourage the youth to come to their youth group once camp is not on.

This type of follow up program creates a “win-win-win” scenario. The youth win because they go to a youth group where they know one of the leaders well. The local youth group wins because they grow numerically. The camp wins because these youth will hopefully return to camp and bring some youth from their new youth group with them. Thus, the whole process begins again.

Hopefully this whole process will bring some much needed clarity to our follow up process with our summer camps. 

Fri, 09 Aug 2013 22:05:50 -0400
Rethinking Summer Camp Part III: Getting the most out of it part 1! I am sitting in one of my favorite places on the planet. In fact, other than Disneyland, this is the ‘happiest place on earth’ for me. It is, in fact, Starbucks in Phoenix, Arizona. The good news is that it is hot outside- without a snowflake in sight! It is warm, after I do some work here I’ll go for a swim in the pool and, to top it off there is a baseball game on tonight. Good times.

So, we were talking last week about summer camps and I was questioning who are these camps for, Christians or nonChristians? I’ve appreciated your responses- thanks.

Now, let’s talk about how to get the most out of your camp. There are three things to focus on: advertising with integrity, a good schedule, good leaders, and solid follow up afterwards.

1. Good advertising is a must

Now I need to be clear; I don’t mean widespread advertising—although this is a good thing (as you know, the best advertising is word of mouth). What I do mean is clear advertising that tells the prospective camper what the camp is about. Here is a simple exercise; go to a few camp websites (or brochures) and see what they offer. Is it fun? An exciting week away? Making new friends in a stunning environment? Is there anything about God, Jesus, new life in Christ or the real reasons that camp is on? You will be surprised how often this is the case. It is as if we are hiding the very thing that we are trying to promote.

I found this out when I worked in BC. Many of the smaller camps (and those clearly tied to denominations) were very clear about what a week at camp was about. However, some of the bigger ones weren’t. In fact, I said to one camp leader, “You can’t find anything that is remotely Christian on this brochure.” He simply shrugged and we both felt awkward.

As I write this there is a local camp that is being heavily promoted. It seems to be based on the Percy Jackson books and helps kids to “act like a demigod”.  I think it involves wooden swords and the wearing of body armor. The point is, their promotion is clear and tells you exactly what they want you to experience at camp.

Shouldn’t we do the same?

In fact, in this age of “youth seeking after meaning and all things spiritual”, isn’t that our greatest selling point?

2. A good schedule is a must

This goes without saying really. However, I want to ask you to rethink some of the schedules that you’ve grown up with. Here is a common “old camp schedule”:

Breakfast: morning activities (sailing, rock climbing etc. )

Lunch: afternoon activities

Dinner: activity/ chapel/campfire/ cabin groups

This schedule, which is quite common, is focused in the wrong direction. The focus is clearly on the activities which are fun and ‘exciting’. Now I realize that often there is a ‘God slot’ placed somewhere in the earlier part of the program. But let’s see if there is another schedule that might just accomplish the goals of solid spiritual growth with an enjoyable time.

A new schedule

Breakfast: full morning program of ‘spiritual stuff’ (worship, personal devotions, active learning, Bible teaching, small groups/cabin groups)…

Lunch: afternoon activities (maybe prayer groups just before dinner)

Dinner: evening activity… campfire/chapel/cabin groups

This schedule may at first appear only slightly different. And, in a way it is. However, the focus in the first part of the day is the focus of the whole point of camp—growing Christians. You will maximize your input in the morning when the youth are raring to go. (Btw, it is important that the youth are not up all night talking and pranking each other…this is not helpful at any level). You then move to an afternoon full of fun activities like swimming, archery etc. The day ends with a quiet campfire, chapel or cabin groups. In short, you want to use the mornings when the kid’s minds are alert, for the ‘meat’ of the program. After a long day of activities, youth are tired, and often emotional (ever seen a ‘cryfest’ at the end of a camp day during chapel? You can call me cynical, but sometimes it is more fatigue than the Holy Spirit coming to the surface.)

HOT TIP: think about having your older youth (or junior leaders) running prayer groups late in the afternoon just before dinner. While this is happening you can have your daily leader’s meeting. This keeps you from running it early in the morning or late at night.

One final thing, the morning ‘meaty’ program needs to be run with the joy, and ‘oomph’ that we run the other activities. We must aim to make it enjoyable (not gimmicky) and shine with all the goodness of what it means to follow Christ.

So, here’s the point: Promote you camp with honesty, clarity and integrity. Run your camp with a schedule that doesn’t skimp on spiritual input. 

Wed, 10 Jul 2013 15:25:48 -0400
Thinking About Summer Camp Part II: Who is summer camp for? Well, I’m in Phoenix Arizona and it is going to be hot… really hot. It’s gonna hit 115? (for my American friends) or 46? (for the rest of the world) this week. But hey, it’s a dry heat. With the heat comes summer camp. Ah yes, a great time to cool off near some water and have a great time of Christian fellowship.

A few weeks back I asked two questions about camp, “What is summer camp about?” And “Who is it for?” Now I realize that this may sound like an odd question, but I’m not convinced that we have really thought this through all that thoroughly. We tend to limit our thinking to, “I’ve been to camp, my family has been to camp. Camp is great, support camp.”

However, culture is changing and, if I’m not mistaken, we will start to see a bit of a hurt put on the whole camp movement.  The average summer camp isn’t bursting at the seams with volunteers and leaders. We are struggling to fill our positions each summer as we see a decline in numbers in our local church youth groups. There is a ‘trickle down effect’ and it is my worry that we will continue to see a decline in the numbers of volunteers needed to staff our camps and a drop in the numbers of campers themselves. The pool that we draw from is shrinking and less kids in church based youth groups = less camp staff and less campers. (There is one caveat I can add about camp—with the increased busyness of parents, summer camp may well become a viable ‘babysitting club’ option for some youth. This may help to extend to life of summer camp but will significantly decrease its effectiveness.)

With this in mind, it is crucial that we think critically and carefully about summer camp. Let’s tackle one of the questions I raised a few weeks back—who do we aim to attract to our camp? Here is my answer:

Camp is a temporary gathering of members of the Kingdom of God who come together for a week of Christian fellowship. They do this because summer camp offers them two things: 1. A chance to gather with spiritually like-minded youth from a wide region. 2. The summer break gives them the luxury of spending a solid week in unhurried Christian fellowship pursuing Christian disciplines. Many of the youth’s schedules ‘crowd out’ some of these spiritual disciplines. Summer camp is a time to slow down and ‘re-engage’.

Please note that my definition is not meant to exclude nonChristians but rather is about placing the emphasis on ministry to the Christian youth, not on attracting the nonChristians. It will mean that at camp we can work on those activities that we should be able to do well: prayer, Bible study, worship, service, growing together in fellowship, love etc. (As I have said earlier in other forums we must remember that the Bible teaches us that these activities in and of themselves are attractive and effective in Christian growth and promoting the gospel to the outsider.)

Our goal for summer camp is that the youth who come will be encouraged and equipped to go back to their communities to live for Jesus. This will also mean that those Christian youth who come to camp will minister their friends and seek to bring them to the very camp that was a blessing for them! They will want their friends to experience the great things that summer camp offers: prayer, Bible study, worship, service, growing together in fellowship, love etc.

Can I remind you of the ‘Iceberg Principle’ of youth ministry? Imagine your group (or summer camp) is an iceberg, if the base of this (70-90%) is nonChristians, you will spend all your energy keeping it from toppling over. If your base is built of Christian youth, you can effectively minister to the 10-30% of nonChristian. What this means practically for us is that we will seek primarily to attract a large majority of Christians who will invite a much smaller minority of nonChristians. This will allow us to do those things during the week that promote Christian growth and truly effective evangelism. When the Christians go home they will be built up and encouraged, and when the nonChristians go home they will have a clear experience and understanding of what the Christian community is all about. Some of them will no doubt join their friend’s youth groups because they enjoyed the experience of camp. (Obviously our hope is that many of them became followers of Jesus on camp as well!)

It is my belief that summer camps have a direct parallel with local youth ministry. Not only are they inseparable, but they are symbiotically linked and connected in the deepest possible way. With this in mind I want to suggest that many of the questions that we deal with in youth group (i.e. ‘How do we attract nonChristians?) have the same answers when we think of summer camp. Aim first to build, equip and encourage the Christian. Once we have done this they can reach their friends in a way that has spiritual integrity.

Thu, 27 Jun 2013 14:07:09 -0400
Summer Camps (Pt 1) The good news is that summer is just around the corner. When you look at my backyard and the wall of snow that forbids me from seeing my backyard (no joke!), you realize that this is good news. With summer comes… summer camps! For many kids this is great news. Summer camp= horses, rope courses, rifles and water sports. Oh yeah, it also includes connecting with Jesus (or, for many, reconnecting with Jesus).

This week I want us to re-think the effectiveness of summer camp— now before you spill your coffee in view of my last comment, there are a few things you need to know.

1. I became a Christian on a camp.

2. Summer camp had a profound impact on me and my development as a person.

3. I love camps—I’ve run a lot of them (I stopped counting at 300).  With these things in mind though… please allow me to probe just a bit.

I have now been in Canada for almost nine years, and am surrounded by summer camp ministries. While I love them, I must ask, “Are summer camps really that effective in reaching youth for Jesus?” I know many of you will say, “Yes, of course!” but let’s just look at the facts. When I was in Vancouver, the local youth leaders I knew may have picked up one or two youth every now and then from all the various summer camps held around British Columbia (and there are a lot of them!). But the number of converted who joined youth groups and stayed was far from staggering. Sure, one or two youth is better than no youth. However, a lot of effort goes into these camps. And, a lot of hands go up in the “Who wants to turn to Jesus” slot. The feet attached to these hands just don’t seem to make it into a local church.

Following on from this, I spoke to the former head of one camping program and she told me that, “we surveyed each and every student we could find who did our training program attached to the summer camp in the past twenty years. Only 3% of them continues to be actively involved in church.” You probably know these training programs under various names (LIT, CIT, SIT etc. It is basically “in Training” with a consonant attached.) Now I realize that this is a slightly different category to nonChristians who go to camp but it still begs the question, “Are we being effective in our summer camp ministry?”

We know that summer is a long time and can be boring, so a week away can be a great opportunity to connect with nonChristians. Therefore, we use this program to attract and (hopefully) lead nonChristians to Christ. However, as with many of our adopted youth ministry strategies, is it effective? Is it the best way to reach youth over the summer? Are they worth all the effort we put into them?

In the next few posts I want to ask two simple questions, “What is summer camp about?” And “Who is it for?” I’m striving for clarity here… Is summer camp a time for Christians to gather together and enjoy a week of summer fun? (Which is a concept fine by me.) Or is it a time to charge the Christians up during the long spiritually dry season of summer? (A good thing!) Or, is it a time to reach the nonbeliever through an active, “fun” program?

Let’s explore these questions over the next few posts. 

Wed, 15 May 2013 19:55:45 -0400
Baseball caps, cranky old men and good youth ministry So, you’ve no doubt heard a story like it… a youth walks into church for the first time and commits a major crime—he is wearing a baseball cap. He doesn’t realize that it’s a crime, but in the eyes of a few of the older church goers it ranks up there with spitting your chewing tobacco on the church carpet and wearing a Marilyn Manson t-shirt. (Although here in Saskatchewan you could probably get away with the chewing tobacco.)

An old man sees the offending cap and approaches the young man and berates him for his indolence. The youth nonchalantly looks away but inside makes a vow of steel, “I will never go to anyplace like this again…ever.”

There are two things to consider here: 1. The young man’s mother has desperately prayed and cajoled her son to come to church. He finally gave in and this was the reception he found. This is an unmitigated disaster. 2. It is my contention that we can solve this problem in the future through good youth ministry.

Good youth ministry is about producing strong disciples of Jesus—we all agree on that. Good youth ministry also leads to good adult ministry. Our goal must be to not only produce strong youth who are followers of Jesus but to equip them to be strong adults who are followers of Jesus. The youth that we presently are ministering to must grow up to be the kind of adults that are welcoming to all newcomers, hatted or not.

So let me leave you with three thoughts:

We must work, with all our effort, to produce youth who understand what it means to follow Jesus, by grace through faith.

This is where the basics of the faith really must kick in. Christianity isn’t about outward appearances, it is about a changed heart. Following Jesus is all about him and his grace towards us. Youth who know this must grow up to be adults who live this out.

Are we producing youth who are adaptable?

Our youth must be equipped to follow Christ wherever they find themselves. Not that this is easy, it isn’t. However, our goal must be to build our youth into young adults who can follow Jesus wherever they find themselves. In a foreign land or in a pub, in a church with choirs or a church that serves donuts before the sermon.

Are we producing youth who welcome outsiders?

The adults of the future must understand that church is a place of community and grace, loving relationships and joy. We are welcoming—not blind to sin mind you, but welcoming all the same. Our Lord “welcomed sinners and ate with them” (Luke 15:1-2) and so should we. Whether a baseball cap is sin or not (it isn’t by the way) is a moot point, the issue is friendliness and warmth shown towards the newcomer. Let’s make sure we begin with our own house, our groups must be welcoming and friendly places, free of unhelpful cliques and anything that hinders the newcomer from getting to know us and our message. The sad things is, some of the youth in our churches may well be more mature than that elderly man who got so angry at the hatted youth.

Let’s make sure this never ever happens again.

Thu, 21 Mar 2013 13:17:10 -0400
Developing Leaders Part Deux (that’s a fancy way of saying ‘two’!)

Part of my job is to read youth ministry books. Some are good, others are… well, the author’s mothers are proud. One thing I find in the books that come south of the 49th Parallel is some wisdom on “how to get volunteers for your youth ministry.”

Now I don’t want to knock my brothers and sisters from the lower part of the continent, but they tend to operate out of a paradigm that is just not… how do I say this… real. Sometimes it seems like it is assumed that every church is big (they aren’t) and every church has at least 30+ youth (they don’t). When it comes to getting volunteers we are told to “have the prospective volunteer fill out an application and then set a time for an interview.”

Now I’ve worked in a big church but I’ve never done business like this. Fill out a form? Have an interview? I’m wondering if we have made the whole finding volunteers, youth leaders a little bit more complicated than it really is. Finding leaders or, for many of us, developing leaders is one of our primary tasks in youth ministry.

Need#1 = maturity

The first thing the wise youth leader must do is to understand exactly what they are hoping for when it comes to developing a leadership team. What you aim for is what you’ll hit etc.. So, my first bit of advice is pretty straightforward: you want leaders who are disciples of Jesus. These disciples of Jesus will set their hearts on helping you to make disciples of Jesus (see 1 Cor. 11:1 & Phil. 4:9). Now I realize that what I’ve just said is pretty basic but… you know what? In my experience many of our churches are so desperate for leaders that they put people into leadership positions that aren’t mature disciples. It’s like that children’s soccer team that doesn’t have a coach. After finally realizing that no one is going to do it, a father says, “Heck, I’ve never played soccer but it can’t be all that difficult.” This type of thinking will doom any youth ministry. Find mature Christians. If you can’t find mature Christians the goal of your youth ministry is for you to personally spend your time ministering to a small group of people and take them to maturity. Then, presto, you have some mature leaders to help you minister to others.

Need #2= instinct

Your goal is to develop leaders that can disciple others “intuitively.” They are so in tuned with what you are doing that they merely take the reins and keep doing to others what you have done to them. Remember the words of Paul to Timothy, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it…” (2 Tim 3:14). Timothy knew the scriptures and was wise for salvation because he knew deeply those who taught him these scriptures. Timothy’s knowledge was ‘second nature’ to him.

This is our goal in ministry—to develop people who’s ‘second nature’ is to teach God’s word and to do it well.

Need #3= imitation

I want to give you the most simple way to make leaders: be like me! You find this in 1 Corinthians 11:1 where Paul says, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” You also read it in Philippians 4:9, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” The simplest form of leadership is to raise up a generation of youth who follow you. Now I know what you are thinking, “Follow me!?! No way… you don’t know me like I know me!” This is true, and I’m thankful for that… but you are wrong. You are, most likely, worthy to be imitated by someone much younger than yourself. Don’t let the Devil fool you into thinking otherwise.

With these three things in mind, put away the formal interview sheets and raise up an army of youth who will soon grow up to become that leadership team you are so desperate for. Godspeed!

Mon, 11 Mar 2013 00:03:13 -0400
Strong leaders...Strong youth group Well, it was Superbowl weekend… I’m sure you were transfixed to the tube on Sunday as the two teams battled it out. That is, unless you do not care about football U.S.A. style or, your Arizona Cardinals suffered such a heartbreaking loss a few years back that you couldn’t bring yourself to watch it yet…

One thing that is obvious to even the most casual NFL fan is that a good quarterback makes the team. Good QB, good team. Lousy QB, you probably will end up with a losing record and will try to draft a good one out of college.

In youth ministry you stand or fall with your leadership team. With a good team you have a much better shot at building a solid, strong  (and probably a growing) youth ministry.

So, the question begs, “How do we develop a good leadership team?” Let’s go through some big picture thoughts…and I hope to narrow it down for you in some future posts.

Leadership Development Big Picture Thought #1: Make it your goal from day one

This is not something that you stumble upon or decided to do in the future. It must start from day one. Now, this does not mean that you will have a strong team from day one, it simply means that you will begin to plan to build a team from the outset of your ministry.

What this means for you practically:

You will keep a sharp eye out for any godly, strong, able and time rich: students...young workers (who didn’t go to university)...grade 11 or twelve youth...retired people who are ministry minded and time rich

Your goal is to not have a rotating set of volunteers who merely cook or provide transportation (although there is a place for this type of volunteer). You want Christian disciplers and role models.

Leadership Development Big Picture Thought #2: They must be on the same page as yourself

If you are a quarterback who wants to run the West Coast Offense (if you follow me…if not, just act like you understand) you need teammates who understand what you are trying to do and will support you. If you have teammates who do not support you… you will lose. It is very difficult to work with a team who does not want to follow you.

What this means for you practically:

You will seek to develop a base of volunteers leaders who understand what you are trying to do and will be skilled in supporting and carrying out your vision. This means you may need to be patient and work to build this team. It may take a year or three.

One thing to note:

While what I have just written is really pretty straightforward, it is very difficult to do. It takes time, prayer, training, and lots of Bible study with your future leaders.

So, with this in mind, begin now. Find a group of people (youth?) that you think can help you out in a year or two and begin a small group Bible study. Or, join a young adults group that you think has some potential youth leaders. You could even join or lead a home group of adults. Get to know them, if you are the leader, teach the Bible to this group. I would suggest you take the group through Paul’s letters where the gospel is clearly explained and how we are to live in light of it. Discover together what it means to be a disciple and to carry the cross as you do a study from the Gospel of Luke. Take a few months and go through 2 Timothy together to discover what it means to be a leader.

As you do this, you will fire up some people to help you take your first steps towards a strong youth ministry.

Mon, 04 Feb 2013 13:38:01 -0500