Archive for category: Youth Specialties

Unintentional Arrogance

02 Jan
January 2, 2017

unintentional arrogance

I was listening to Mark Matlock’s “Transforming Conversations: Using Research from Barna’s State of Youth Ministry Report” session from the National Youth Worker’s Convention the other day and wanted to respond to part of it. Essentially, Barna and Youth Specialties did a massive survey on youth ministry in America, producing a lot of valuable data for youth workers and churches to process and discuss; you can find the research here. In his session at the convention, Matlock highlighted some of the data, including the topic of what obstacles youth workers face in youth ministry.

To reveal my own bias, before hearing the results, my immediate response to the question of my greatest obstacle in youth ministry is my own busyness.

According to the survey, the top two obstacles reported by youth workers were (1) the busyness of youth (74% said this) and (2) 34% reported lack of parent interest (respondents could put more than one obstacle). It is significant that student busyness was far and away the highest reported obstacle.

Further complicating the conversation was the survey responses from parents regarding the busyness of their children: 11% felt their teens are way too busy, 58% feel the balance is good, and 31% believe their children need more to do.

At this point Matlock opened up the conversation to the youth workers in the room to comment on the disparity between 74% of youth workers believing students are too busy, and 89% of parents feeling kids are at the right balance or actually need more to do. There were a number of different thoughts; some felt parents needed to be educated on the busyness of their kids, perhaps parents are not in healthy balance so cannot see that their kids are not either, etc. One person suggested that youth ministries are running too many programs so kids are picking and choosing, as opposed to them actually being too busy. Matlock suggested that perhaps some youth workers blame busyness because it puts the fault of lack of involvement outside their control; it’s the fault of families and other circumstances, rather than the youth worker not giving them something they value enough to participate in.

For me, it was frustrating to hear some of the responses. Sometimes I feel like we as youth workers can be unintentionally arrogant, genuinely believing we know more about what’s best for someone else’s child(ren). Yes, there are things students talk to us about that they don’t tell their parents; while it may make me uncomfortable at times to know that my fifteen year old may go to someone else about something instead of me, I remember my own discomfort with bringing up some topics with my parents as a teenager and so I try to surround him with Christian adults I respect and trust to be positive influences and role models for him. In the same way, some of their teens come to me; but it would be incredibly arrogant of me to believe that my limited interactions with their child compared to their lifetime of daily involvement would leave me knowing more than them, only that I may have a different perspective with limited insights.

Kids make time for things they value and are excited about. Parents prioritize that involvement when they know the important enough details far enough in advance to plan for it. Rather than looking to things outside of our control to blame poor response on (busyness of teens, lack of parent interest), we should be constantly evaluating and changing our approaches and programming in response to the rapidly changing youth culture. Further, this type of blame only builds invisible walls of disconnect instead of bridges with parents. One of the values I have constantly told my team is that we should never have to guilt or manipulate kids into coming to something, and we definitely should not have to be spending excessive amounts of time trying to talk them into participating – if they’re not excited about it, than we’re doing something wrong, not them. Maybe our schedule is overcrowded, maybe we’ve picked the wrong hook, the wrong date (yeah, the time I inadvertently scheduled a retreat on homecoming weekend – that’s not them loving school more than Jesus, that’s me creating an unnecessary conflict of interest), or the wrong content.


5 Reasons the Church Needs Youth Ministry

19 Jul
July 19, 2014

I love this video from Mark Matlock and the crew over at Youth Specialties! Some thought provoking observations on his part!

Planet Wisdom recap

11 Mar
March 11, 2013

pw blog 1

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This past weekend a couple van loads of us went down to Washington DC to the Planet Wisdom conference … and it was amazing. If I’m honest, I went into it with a lot of high expectations; a lot of my personal philosophy of youth ministry has been heavily influenced by the team behind the event, I love their books, their training, and the goals of the event itself. And the reality is, part of me thought it probably wasn’t possible for it to live up to what I thought it would be. I was absolutely wrong. It was an amazing balance of teaching (our teens experienced six plus hours of preaching … and ate every minute of it up), worship (HOURS of worship with The Digital Age), comedy (the Skit Guys – do I need to say more?).

There is something truly, truly moving to stand in a room with thousands of teens worshiping God at the top of their lungs. The messages were great; while designed to be heard by middle school and high school students, as an adult I thought there was tremendous content. I loved that the theme for the weekend moved through all the sessions, with a larger picture being painted and completed (as opposed to other conferences where the sessions are generally stand alone one shots).

On Sunday I spent some time debriefing with a bunch of the students who went; they loved it, they want to do it again, and their only wish is that we would have had more time on the weekend to debrief and process together all that we heard!

All that to say, if you’re a youth worker … check out Planet Wisdom. They host the conference in eight cities each year. It is an amazing value, miles ahead of anything else I’ve experienced for teens, and a great, great catalyst for discipleship in teens. And if you’er wondering, that’s our group below with The Digital Age. That poor, poor band ended the weekend with us attacking them …

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I wrote a (FREE) Halloween Devo

23 Oct
October 23, 2012

I love the music video for King & Country created for their song, ‘Proof of Your Love.’ It’s a lot of fun, great story, had my group completely enthralled, and packs a powerful message that can go several different ways. Plus, it has Zombies. And with Halloween around the corner, and everyone freaking out over The Walking Dead’s third season (it shattered tv premiere records a couple weeks ago), it seemed like a great time to come up with something based on the video! When I was hanging out with the band before their concert at my church, they were excited by the idea as well. In all honesty, the discussion guide could be used year around, but it felt timely for Halloween.

Anyway, click through and grab the devo and discussion guide from Youth Specialties!

Student Leadership Conference 2012 thoughts

13 Jul
July 13, 2012

I spent the last couple days checking out and leading a workshop at the Student Leadership Conference that Doug Fields (I stole the photos from his blog recap) and his team have been doing for years and brought to the east coast for the first time.

I loved it.

It was incredibly well put together – which shouldn’t be a surprise since it’s the same team behind YSpalooza, NYWC, Planet Wisdom and more. I was really impressed with the speaker lineup – for the ticket price I wasn’t expecting half a dozen of the top names in youth ministry!

I thought it was a great balance of deep learning, workshops, and fun outlets. And I had a blast leading my workshop!

I loved how the conference was saturated with examples of students being leaders, whether it was all the worship music being student led, the 17 year old author who spoke, giving opportunities for kids to get involved, be up front and more. The message came through loud and clear that students ARE the church and are capable of a LOT. It was exciting seeing the bar set high and teens being excited to rise to it.

All that to say, next year I’m making it a priority. It’s exactly the kind of training opportunity our student leaders need to experience.

Joe Castillo on America’s Got Talent

07 Jun
June 7, 2012

Joe Castillo is an amazing artist with a unique talent – telling stories with sand. I’ve seen him perform live several times at the National Youth Workers Convention over the years and have been blown away every time. It was fun to see another Christian artist/performer making the stage of America’s Got Talent. Hopefully he makes it far in the competition!

Free Kindle youth ministry books!

23 Apr
April 23, 2012

Stumbled across a couple cool free books for Kindle today; not sure how long the special will last so grab ’em quick.

Living with Questions, by Dale Fincher. It’s actually part of Youth Specialties Invert line of books, written for Christian teens on apologetics. It’s a great book and helps equip teens with answers and how to wrestle with questions. GET IT.

Commentary on Mark, by Robert Gundry. It’s a great resource; a verse by verse commentary on the gospel of Mark. Definitely worth grabbing.

Never too old for youth ministry

14 Dec
December 14, 2011

One of the many highlights at the National Youth Workers Convention this past November in Atlanta was when they brough Verna Kline up on to the stage. She is an 81 year old lady who has been volunteering in student ministry for 68 years. It was so much fun to listen to her share and to see the whole room give her a massive standing ovation. She had no idea they were going to bring her up – it was a total and beautiful surprise.

One of my ongoing irritations as a youth pastor has been the opinion by some that there is such a thing as being too old for youth ministry. That it’s something people outgrow. As though it’s something for young people to be leaders in before they grow up and get into real ministry. It’s bizarre, because in any other role working with teens, we respect people who give their life to it. When was the last time we said to a high school teacher when they hit their forties that they were getting too old to teach teens history? Or thought a seasoned coach was no longer able to lead kids to victory? On the contrary, we think it’s an honorable thing for someone to teach or coach for 40 years and then retire. We respect that!

It’s no different with youth ministry. There isn’t a time when someone becomes too old to love and care for teens, to build into their lives, to invest in them. Spending a lifetime teaching young people the Word of God is an awesome thing. I love that Verna Kline isn’t one of a kind; for years I’ve listened to long time youth workers share about their 80+ year old volunteers and the critical role they play.

HT to Youth Specialties.

Life Tattoos

29 Nov
November 29, 2011

The other weekend, when Heather and I were at the National Youth Worker Conference in Atlanta, there was a rapper who opened some of the main sessions named Propaganda. He really stood out to Heather and I, for a variety of reasons. We loved his style, his message, his presence – hopefully one of these days he’ll wander into our region.

One of the sessions he performed ‘Beautiful Pain’, which is also on his album. In it he raps about different people, both from his life and in the Bible who suffered – but he spoke of the beauty in their pain. He called the scars ‘life tattoos’ that were marks from God about their strength, courage, faith. He transformed tragedy, hardship and pain into something that truly was beautiful. It really, really spoke to me.

One of my struggles seeing my son Noah go through his various surgeries on his face for ptosis, the condition that affects his eye, and the scarring that the scleroderma is also causing on his face, has been worry about how he’ll handle all of the scars that are accumulating. If I could take them I would. For me that phrase ‘life tattoos’ jumped out at me big time. I would love for those marks to become tattoos from God that speak to his courage, strength, faith and patience. He’s a tough little dude – he’s been through a lot for a five year old. Finding a way to communicate it all in a positive, hope filled way is a challenge.

Propaganda is an artist with the label Humble Beast. His album, Art Ambidextrous, is actually available as a free download on their site. You should download it immediately!

Steve Taylor is the man

24 Nov
November 24, 2011

This past weekend I was at the National Youth Worker’s Convention in Atlanta, which was an awesome experience. Lots of amazing training, ideas, networking and more. But I have to confess, one of the highlights for me was getting a chance to meet Steve Taylor, the director of the film Blue Like Jazz (based on the book by Donald Miller), the producer behind acts like Sixpence None the Richer, and musical genius of my highschool and college days.

His music, a form of Christian satire, pushed back against so many of the things I wrestled with as a teenager and young twenty-something. Growing up in conservative churches, attending a legalistic boarding school and Bible school, most of my experience in organized religion involved people telling me what to believe … and warning of the dire consequences of not agreeing with their ‘truth.’ I enjoyed that someone out there was voicing and rebelling against so many of the things that just felt wrong to me, and it was good to know I wasn’t the only one.

Anyway, I shared with him about my days in a strict boarding school for missionary kids in Bolivia where his music was not allowed – he was a little too rebellious for our fragile minds! He seemed to get a kick out of finding out that some of us had his music smuggled and stashed away so we could sneak off to listen to it. I wonder if he ever envisioned some missionary kid in the hills of Bolivia, surrounded by cactus’s and tarantula’s breaking rules to listen to ‘I want to be a clone,’ ‘Harder to believe than not to,’ or ‘I blew up the clinic real good’? I love that more than 20 years later, his album ‘I predict 1990’ is still relevant.

So yes, I totally geeked out on meeting one of my favorite musicians. Definitely a fun moment for me. And with his wiring – the satire and pushing the boundaries with his questions – he is the perfect guy to be directing Blue Like Jazz.