Reflections on Youth Ministry and Dropping My Son Off at College

This blog post, by me, originally appeared on the Download Youth Ministry blog.

A few weeks ago my wife Heather and I drove away from the university campus we had just left our second son at, tears on both our faces, making the long drive home. Weren’t we just changing his diapers? Our football lineman was once so small.

I’m so thankful to be a youth pastor.

My wife and I jumped into full time ministry 21 years ago as newlyweds. We had our first of four sons three days before our first anniversary. The youth group called him “Cletus the Fetus.” Heather wasn’t as impressed as I was with their baby naming skills. Having my own children move through our student ministry has been an eye-opening and perspective changing experience for me. For a brief moment, all four of them were in our youth group at the same time – now we’re down to just two as the older two have graduated and moved on. Here a just a few reasons I love student ministry as a father and why I think it was so critical for my son we just left at a college too far away:

  • My son loves the church. I couldn’t say the same when I was a teen. In fact, it was right around his age that I swore off faith altogether. I was a pastor’s kid who hated what I had seen and experienced. My wife and I have always had as one of our barometers for health whether our kids like our church – not just the children’s ministry or the student ministry, but the church as a whole.
  • My son has a crew of loving Christian adults in his life. Mama Lin (Willie), Ed, and Figgy (Mike) spent the last seven years as his small group leader, showing up to events, visiting him at his job, and listening to all his stories. Those three men created an environment that built trust, loyalty, and incredible spiritual growth with a group of – what seemed at first to be challenging – Christian young men. There’s Kim, Carl, Melissa, and so many more who also serve in our student ministry. The best part? I got to choose them. I’m the youth pastor. Why do I put so much care into who is a part of our student ministry? How often do we get the opportunity to choose the adults who influence our children?
  • My son knows how to serve, to lead, to study scripture, to have accountability, to find other believers. He’s not perfect. I’m sure there are going to be moments in his college experience I would rather not know about. But I got to plan the seven years of his student ministry; it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon, and staying in one place for all these years meant I got to see it through from beginning to end. I have seen my son lead worship, I’ve launched him off the blob, I’ve done street evangelism with him in Costa Rica, we’ve fed the homeless together on the border with Mexico, I’ve wrestled and beat him many times … and been beaten by him a few times in recent months.

Youth ministry is a gift. We get to be present during the most transformative time in peoples’ lives. Everything is bigger, everything is exploding, everything is new. And we get to be there. We get to see children go from concrete thinkers emulating their parents to teens processing and making their faith their own. My house is quieter than I would like now, but I feel good about where my son is at, literally and figuratively. I couldn’t imagine not having been his youth pastor!

Skit Guys’ Family Camp movie review

The Skit Guys’ new movie, Family Camp, is a must see! Such a fun, family friendly film! The concept of the movie, a church family camp, is the perfect story for Tommy Woodard and Eddie James to shine. I’ll be honest, most faith-based movies rub me kind of wrong; they tend to be cheesy, predictable, or overly preachy. Family Camp manages to avoid those traps while still telling a story with a message, one I can’t wait to watch again.

I loved the humor. Great lines, hilarious physical comedy, a story that wasn’t predictable – it kept my family riveted to the screen. I loved that both actors had imperfect characters; at first glance I thought it was going to be black and white, one would be the example, the other the warning. Instead, they both had struggles and both had storylines teaching a powerful lesson about marriage – without being preachy or cheesy.

Our group took over an entire screening and it was a hit with everyone – every generation enjoyed the film. It’s definitely worth checking out. Seeing it on the big screen is the way to go! The Skit Guys’ succeeded in not just making a great faith-based film, they made a great movie.

Check out the free Family Camp movie discussion guide available at DYM!

2021 Writing in Review

2021 is coming to a close … and it has gone by fast! I continue to have a lot of fun creating youth ministry resources. 2021 saw seven curriculum resources published and 29 game and/or media resources published, all through Download Youth Ministry. I also wrote an update to my chapter in the Youth Cartel’s book, Youth Ministry in This Season of Disruption. Heather and I wrote the Insta Devo resource together, as well as worked together on the Caption Challenge games. My youngest, Zach, was the brains behind both of the Dare Tag games. And I learned that if you make fun of Boomers (Boomer Say What), it will become your most popular game of the year. Click the images below to check them out!

Curriculum

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Games & Media

Christmas Movie Trivia title  The Naughty List title image  New Years Times Square Trivia title image  Can You See It - Take Me to the Movies  Deadly Animals title  DadOrGrad_blog    Dare Tag Messy Edition thumbnail    boomer2    Gen X'er Say What thumbnail  Gen X'er Say What Vol2 title image  Cowboy Say What thumbnail  Pirate Say What title image  Aussie Say What thumbnail        Caption_Challenge_Summer_Vacation_thumbnail  caption challenge mega bundle  Caption_Challenge_BTS_title  caption challenge trick or treat  Black Widow   Strange Holidays Summer Bundle  Strange Holidays June title  Scripture Video 4 Pack Vol3 title  3 pack

Christmas Party Game List

Over the last week, our student ministry has done both of our middle school and high school Christmas parties! For us, that means time to hang out, Christmas cookies, and a lot of group games! We decorate our gym with a lot of Christmas colored lights, Christmas music, and Christmas inflatables (giant Santas – stuff you would put in your front yard – it’s easy to set up and tear down!). It’s a night all about fun! Two things we added this year that we haven’t done in previous years:

  • We bought a Christmas photo backdrop! This was GREAT. Everyone wanted to get photos in front of it! I brought a nice camera, which meant everyone was good with me taking the photos! Here’s the backdrop we got.
  • We called it an Ugly Sweater Christmas Party … and SO MANY kids wore festive outfits. It was amazing!

Overall, the games were a hit and we had a blast. Here’s what we played, which group played it (they all would work both groups … I have fun changing it up), and the links to find them:

  • Santa’s Naughty List; Middle and High School. This one just released! It’s a ‘Wheel of Destiny’ game on Sidekick that comes up with punishments (Christmas themed dares) for kids who end up on Santa’s Naughty List!
  • Santa’s Feud; Middle and High School. Using the ‘Survey Says’ app in Sidekick, I put together a ‘Family Feud’ style Christmas game. This has become a tradition at our Christmas party – kids LOVE it! There are a couple great ones already on the DYM store.
  • Exchange It! Middle and High School. A new twist on the classic White Elephant game! Using the wheel of destiny, kids are rotated all around the room until you decide to let them open the presents! I modified the different cues to line up with my group more, but this game is a winner.
  • Christmas Movie Trivia; Middle School. A fun Christmas movie trivia game I made this year.
  • First to Ten Christmas Edition; Middle School. These games are always a winner – I love that it’s one that involves the whole room.
  • Elf on the Shelf 3; Middle School. Perfect for that crowd.
  • Would You Rather Holly Jolly Edition; Middle School. This was a fun way to get everyone moving and talking.
  • Christmas Movie Madness; High School. I love this game! I played it with the whole room; kids threw their hands up if they knew the answer, I called the first one I saw, and if they were right they got candy.
  • Jingle Battles volume 2; High School. Stupid fun, which is my kind of fun. I had everyone stand up, move to the side of the room they thought would win, and then sit down if they were wrong. It took about five rounds to get to one winner!

My Christmas Resources!

I have a handful of Christmas resources that I have created – and a couple that Heather created with me – that may be useful during this time of year! The images below are all links to where they are located on the Download Youth Ministry store. Check them out!

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God With the Fearful is a one-off Christmas message based on Matthew 1:18-25 focusing on God’s promises to Joseph to save him and be with him in his fear. It includes a message manuscript, handouts, discussion questions, PowerPoint file, and images for social media.

  Christmas Movie Trivia title  

Hashtag Sleigh Ride, Christmas Movie Trivia, and Caption Challenge Christmas Edition are all games that can be played in person or online. Hashtag Sleigh Ride and Caption Challenge Christmas Edition both include versions for Instagram as well! Heather and I co-authored Hashtag Sleigh Ride and Caption Challenge Christmas Edition.

 

Strange Holidays is a fun collection of seasonal social media images and challenges that can be used, one per week, for the months of December, January, and February! The Christmas Scripture Video five pack has five typography videos with Christmas related scripture passages – at $6 for all five videos, it’s an incredible deal! They are all licensed to be used in person and online, so they can be used as worship elements, or even just social media videos in the buildup to Christmas. See the video below to see what they are:

2020 Writing in Review

2020 has had a lot of challenges … but it was a fun year for being published! I had a chapter in a book, saw sixteen curriculum resources release, and had nineteen games and other media type resources release. I should probably clarify that I did not create all of this in 2020; some of these were resources I had submitted in 2018 and 2019. It takes anywhere from a couple weeks to a couple years for things to go through the publishing process. Another fun development this year was teaming up with different family members; both Noah (Hua Mulan) and Zach (Guinea Pig Party) had ideas for games that we put together during quarantine. Heather was the brains behind the Caption Challenge and Hashtag games, both of which have been far more popular than anything I have come up with, as well as the one who came up with the idea for Insta Devos. And Micah helped me with Actin’ Sus, which will probably retain the title of best selling youth ministry resource by a McNutt until the end of time. Anyway, if you’re interested, click on them to check them out!

The Book:

Available at Download Youth Ministry:

Curriculum

                

Games & Media

                                    

Published with The Youth Cartel, now available at Download Youth Ministry:

         

Seven Year Teaching Plan

In the most recent episode of my podcast, “Kinda Interesting: Thoughts on Youth Ministry,” I talk about our seven year teaching plan. Essentially, I wanted to tackle three things with our Sunday morning teaching time over the seven years we have a student in our youth ministry (6th-12th grade); core truths that we really want to drive home, topical issues relevant to the group’s needs, and biblical literacy. You can check it out here.

Having stayed committed to this plan for more than a decade now, I’m increasingly happy with it. It’s flexible enough that we really are able to roll with what’s happening in culture, needs of the group, and strengths of the teachers. At the same time, it gives enough structure that we have to give our topic selections a lot of thought and care so that we can meet our big picture goals. Finally, I love the thought that for several years now, any graduate that has been at our church for middle school and high school will have graduated with teaching from every book of the Bible.

Where do I get the materials? Primarily through a handful of companies I’ve come to trust over the years; Youth SpecialtiesThe Live CurriculumThe Youth Cartel, and Download Youth Ministry. In addition, we’ve created some studies for books of the Bible that I couldn’t find materials elsewhere for.

Here’s the overview:

  • Core Truths (yearly, 11 weeks). These are the teachings we land on every year – if teens don’t remember anything else when they graduate, at least they’ll know these eleven lessons. Within this broader category, there are two main themes; our church values and purpose (Know, Grow, Go) inform us of why we gather, while the HABITS series gives the spiritual disciplines that tell us how to follow God.
    • Our Purpose
      • Fellowship (‘we are real people’)
      • Worship (‘in love with a real God’)
      • Discipleship (‘in love with a real God’)
      • Evangelism (‘making a real difference in the world’)
      • Service (‘making a real difference in the world’)
    • HABITS
      • Hang time with God (quiet time)
      • Accountability
      • Bible study and memorization
      • Involvement in church
      • Tithing
      • Sacraments (communion, baptism)
  • Topical (yearly, 17 weeks). This is the category that gets the most flexibility year by year. Basically, it’s age specific, felt need topics (e.g., the place our group is in right now leads us to talk about this). Some topics will probably be repeated every year (dating, sex, peer pressure).
  • Biblical Literacy (23 weeks). This is the bigger picture piece of the puzzle. One of our church values as a whole is Biblical literacy, and our concern that as a culture we are becoming less and less familiar with the scriptures. Towards that end, over the course of seven years we will give students an overview of the whole Bible, working our way through every book (in varying degrees of depth). If you look at the plan,, you’ll see that we’re working our way systematically through the Old Testament while bouncing around the New Testament.

Tale of Tamar

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Download Youth Ministry recently released a one-off message resource that I put together called Tale of Tamar. I’ll be honest, this is one of my all time favorite messages I have ever done. In the message I use the genealogy of Christ in Matthew 1 as a launching point, noting that the gospel is proclaimed through the names chosen. In spite of tradition and expectations, as genealogies were used to enhance the purity and dignity of the person being traced – in this case Jesus – some shocking names are included. One of which is Tamar; a foreign woman from ancient Jewish history, whose shocking story of sexual mistreatment is actually a beautiful story how God sees each of us. In God’s story, Tamar’s presence enhances the purity and dignity of Jesus’ lineage.

All that to say, I love this resource. It includes the message manuscript, powerpoint, handouts, and a small group discussion guide. Doug Fields wrote about it, “I’d teach this tomorrow… actually, I probably will. Ha. Seriously, who wants to teach on Matthew chapter 1? Well, now I do. Well done.” If you want to check it out, here’s the link. Check out DYM’s description:

Are genealogies even important? In Matthew 1:1-17, we see the gospel proclaimed through the genealogy of Jesus. Shockingly, four women are mentioned, including Tamar, a Canaanite who was taken advantage of and abused by the men in her life. We read her story in Genesis 38. In God’s economy, Tamar’s presence enhances the purity and dignity of Jesus’s lineage. In this one-off message, you’ll challenge your students to find their identity and value in Christ’s story, not in their past.

Tamar’s tale, often forgotten, is a powerful one that is incredibly relevant today.

Exodus: Babies, Burning Bushes & Plagues, oh my!

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My latest resource, a four week teaching series, went live over at Download Youth Ministry! I’m pretty excited about it; it was selected as an ‘Editor’s Choice’ AND Doug Fields gave it a recommendation. You can find it here.

I had a LOT of fun putting this one together and teaching my way through it. On a whim, I connected it to illustrations from The Wizard of Oz … and it really seemed to work. When I was young I used to read all of the classic Oz novels, so it was an entertaining challenge to find quotes and examples that fit. Exodus is an important book and the story is a powerful one. Here’s the description from DYM for the resource:

Editor’s note: This is a really solid resource! It’s well-written, well-themed, and fun. It also dives deep into topics that students won’t normally hear about (like free will vs. predestination), but it handles those topics in a way that’s relevant for students.

Doug’s note: Love it! So creative!

This four-week series walks students through the book of Exodus, using The Wizard of Oz and the yellow-brick road as a launching point for looking at the narrative of the book as well as the ways in which it applies to our lives today. Students will finish the series having a better understanding of this important Old Testament book, as well as being challenged to courageously follow the leading of God.

Week 1: “Be a Lion, Not a Mouse”
Looking at the opening stories of the midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, and their refusal to obey Pharaoh’s command to kill Hebrew baby boys, and the story of Moses killing an Egyptian in secret and fleeing to Midian, students are challenged to have the courage of a lion in following God and standing against what is wrong.

Week 2: “How About a Little Fire?”
In Exodus 3–4, Moses speaks with God at the burning bush, giving five excuses for why he cannot do what God says. Students will be challenged to both follow God’s leading, as well as find hope in God’s encouragement to Moses.

Week 3: “If I Only Had a Heart”
Ten times Exodus records that Pharaoh hardened his heart against God. Ten times Exodus records that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. In this lesson, students explore the concepts of free will and predestination.

Week 4: “There’s No Place Like Home”
The second half of Exodus is focused on giving the law and creating the tabernacle. Exodus closes with God dwelling in His new “home,” the tabernacle. Students will explore God’s holiness, His sovereignty, and His presence with us.

This Resource Includes:
• 4 Complete Message Manuscripts
• Small Group Discussion Guides
• Title and Background Slide
• Social media images and story graphics for each week
• PowerPoint presentations
• Student Handouts

2019 Writing in Review

2019 was a big year for me! I have always loved writing, but my publishing efforts really went on hold during my four years of seminary. Once I graduated in 2017, I started slowly creating and submitting again, with a focus on curriculum for youth ministry. Those resources started dropping this past year; I actually had fourteen different resources release over the course of the year, which is exciting to look back on! My favorites? The First Testament curriculum series at the Youth Cartel; I love the challenge of creating a series and have always felt there is a lack of Old Testament resources for student ministries! Here they all are; click on them to learn more! The Micah resource was highlighted by Doug Fields as a strong resource, and the Ephesians typography video was actually chosen to be one of the DYM member perks!

Released at The Youth Cartel:

   

Released at Download Youth Ministry:

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Released at YouthMin.org:

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