How To Write Better Small Group Questions

By | discipleship, fellowship, growth, leadership, LEADERSHIP, Questions, small groups, spiritual health, SPIRITUAL HEALTH

There is nothing more rewarding than sitting back during small group and listening to your teens dialogue.  A few months ago I got to enjoy that for the first time when one question asked by my co-leader sparked an entire conversation facilitated by the teens.  It’s a far cry from the first few meetings we had.  I would ask a question and then there would be silence.  My co-leader would try to add something and there still would be silence.  Over time they began to open up and the group began to grow.

Time, commitment and consistency are all a major part of a small group’s growth.  Without those aspects a group would fizzle out.  On top of great dynamics groups need a conversation that will facilitate that growth.  This is where well thought out questions and curriculum come in.  Unfortunately, your questions might stump growth.  They might kill the conversation before it begins.  If you want questions that promote faith deepening conversation make sure they: Read More

4 Steps To Mentoring Teens

By | discipleship, habits, leadership, LEADERSHIP, mentoring, spiritual health, SPIRITUAL HEALTH, vision

After a long night of “studying” I remember wondering whether or not I would encounter Father B on my way back to the dorms.  He was the residential Jesuit at my freshman dorm on Xavier University’s campus.  Each and every time as if he were waiting for me, there he was just hanging out.  As I passed by not wanting to make eye contact, I would hear him say in the most loving and genuine tone, “Good morning Saint.”

After some time I found myself regularly meeting with Father B.  At first it was informal and eventually became a mentorship.  It’s because of that relationship that I was able to endure many storms and become the man I am today.  As a youth minister it’s something I strive to do for this next generation.

Mentoring is an essential part to any youth ministry.  While it’s not the first system to establish, it’s one that should eventually be incorporated into what you do.  It’s through mentoring that you can raise up the next generation and teach them to seek out wisdom from those who have travled the journey ahead of them.

So if you are looking to establish a mentoring program in your ministry it’s important to keep in mind these 4 steps:

  1. Create A Path: Teenagers are constantly being shaped into what they are supposed to do; however, rarely are they asked, “Who do you want to be?”  This is probably the most important question you can ask a teen.  And, it should be the first question you ask when mentoring them.  This question sets a direction and casts a vision.  It helps you know where to go with them.
  2. Give Them Application: It’s easy to fill someone’s head with knowledge; however, how much they retain can be a mystery.  The more application to your information, the more likely the teen you mentor will remember.  When you mentor someone it’s important to incorporate tangible habits that will lead to personal growth.
  3. Meet Consistently:  The best way to build a habit is to maintain a sense of consistency.  If there is too much time between each meeting or communication you can’t expect to see exponential growth.  An effective mentoring program is not just a one time deal or something that meets quarterly.  If you want to walk with someone through life you need to make sure you are meeting consistently on a weekly to monthly basis while communicating email or text in between.  The more they are reminded that you are near the more they are reminded what needs to be accomplished.
  4. Sit In Their Messes: If you really get to know someone sooner or later you are going to witness a disorientation that they are facing.  Mentoring isn’t about fixing someone’s problems or messes, it’s about walking with them through the darkness.  You are not going to have all the answers and that’s okay.  What you can provide for your student is solidarity and sometimes that goes farther than the wisdom you might dump on them.

Since you cannot meet with every student in your ministry one on one it’s important to raise up other mentors to serve alongside of you.  It’s not a ministry that you should start up right away if you are new to youth ministry.  Establish a foundation through small groups, worship and ministry.  It’s with mentoring that you take students deeper, create leaders and set them up for success after they leave school.

Do you have a mentoring program in your ministry?  If so what does it look like?

The 7 Best Practices For Teaching Teenagers The Bible

By | 7 Practices for Teaching Teenagers the Bible, Bible, Book Review, discipleship, resources, ym360

I just got done reading Andy Blanks’ The 7 Best Practices For Teaching Teenagers The Bible.  As someone who doesn’t have a seminarian background I’ve found it intimidating over the years learning how to incorporate scripture into my messages and small group curriculum.  Even if you have been to seminary or studied theology I’m sure you know learning scripture is a lot different from teaching it.  But, one of the responsibilities that comes with youth ministry is teaching the Bible; however, what about your volunteers?
Have you ever thought about their comfort level with scripture?  Do any of them have experience outside of personal use?  Most of them probably joined your ministry thinking, “I just want to spend time with the teens.” When you tell them to teach scripture I’m sure many of them are thinking, “Wait, what?  I’m no expert.”
That’s why this book is helpful.  For those of us in full time ministry it’s a refresher and a chance to refocus on the basics of one of the essential spiritual habits.  But, for our ministers it’s a chance for them to build confidence and a solid foundation when it comes to growing disciples.
There are many things I love about the book; however, two things stand out:

  • It’s A Quick Read – The book moves quickly because of the variety of story, exercise and application.  While there are moments to pause, reflect and go deeper, it’s really a book that’s easy to navigate through.  I’ve found many books on practical ministry overwritten that drag on, but this one gets right to the point.  Because it’s a quick read, I’m not worried about giving this out to my team to read.  I’m a book junky, not everyone is; but, this one is definitely worth the time.
  • It’s Filled With Concrete Application – At times the book encourages you to stop, reflect and even try some of the practices out.  It’s not the first book that does this; however, it’s done in a way that’s clear and easy.  Whether you are reading the book on your own or with your team, you can definitely use the exercises to build confidence.  

Again, this book is a quick read and it’s broken down just as the title suggest, 7 Best Practices.  They are:

Best Practice #1 – Engaging With God
Best Practice #2 – Prepare Well, Teach Well
Best Practice #3 – Context Is Key
Best Practice #4 – Embrace Unpredictability
Best Practice #5 – Plan For Interaction
Best Practice #6 – Teach For Application
Best Practice #7 – Know Your Role

My big takeaway from reading this book is the fact that I need to spend more time looking at scripture instead of just reciting and retyping it.  As Andy puts it:

To be an effective Bible teacher, you must regularly seek to know God by engaging with Him through His Word.

There have been weeks where I’ve gone preaching God’s word to students; yet, struggled to embrace His word for my life.  This book was a reminder that if we are investing in teens, we need to be invested in God’s plan for us, otherwise you have to wonder, “What am I doing in ministry?”  As a youth minister I greatly appreciate the love and encouragement poured into this book.
As great as this book is for youth ministers, I would strongly recommend it for any volunteer in your ministry that has fellowship or discipleship role with a student.  This will take the edge out of teaching scripture, give them some practical tools and show them how to go deeper.  So if you get a chance, head over to to learn more.

Which of the 7 Best Practices are you best at doing?  Which one do you need to revisit?

When You Can’t Bring Them To A Conference

By | Conferences, discipleship, resources

I’m pumped and excited because in 11 days I’ll be heading to Louisville, KY for the Simply Youth Ministry Conference.  It’s a chance to reconnect with all my peers in ministry, grow as a disciple of Christ and just allow the Holy Spirit to refuel my fire for youth ministry.  I don’t know if you are going, but if you are give a shout out and let’s meet up.  What I love about this conference is how it’s one for youth ministers by youth ministers; therefore, the connection is real.
Another thing that has me really excited is that I have the opportunity to bring some of my team along for the ride.  This is going to be a chance for them to see ministry from a different perspective.  A chance to get out of the trees to see the entire forest.  It’ll give them the opportunity to be fed and challenged by other youth ministers.
Whether you are going to SYMC or not there are many benefits from attending a conference.  To bring your team is an added bonus; however, one that we all can’t receive.  With tight budgets and busy schedules bringing your team to a conference is tough, so instead:
There are a few ways of doing this with low costs; yet, high impact.  To start off look at:

  • Canned Conference – There are a ton of available resources out there from Right Now Conference to Catalyst.  When you use a canned conference you give your ministers the opportunity to hear from amazing speakers, with the convenience of staying at home.  Another benefit is the ability to move at a pace that works for you; therefore, the conference can be viewed in a weekend or over a few weeks.  At least once a year we bring our team together to watch these speakers and then we break down what we’ve heard together.
  • Streaming Conferences – These can be hard to find; however, they’ll connect you with live attendees.  With Twitter, Facebook and other social media interactions you can go deeper on topics with people around the world.  A few great ones to check out are Radicalis, ReBuild My Church and the Chick-fil-a Leadercast.  The beauty here is you can bring your team together and watch it live or watch it separately keep in touch online.
  • Put On Your Own – Sometimes the best learning experiences come from home.  Granted you’ll be digging into your own resources; however, ask people from your congregation who can offer insight on leadership, teamwork and communication.  Ask a few volunteers to come and speak to your ministers about what they’ve learned in their fields and how they can apply the principles in youth ministry.

Conferences are great, they are powerful and if you get the chance to bring at least one member of your team do it.  It’s a sign of investment and it’s a chance to connect them to the bigger community in a new light.  But if you can’t bring them to the site, bring the site to them.
Again, if you are stopping by the Simply Youth Ministry Conference in Louisville, KY this year feel free to say hello.  I believe you can still register.

What other conference resources would you recommend?

Are You Giving Them All The Answers?

By | discipleship, message, ministry health

When I was a junior in high school I had to read The Sound and The Fury by William Faulkner.  At that time of my life I didn’t enjoy reading anything more than a magazine, so to read something written in stream of consciousness was torture.  The only way I could get through class was by reading the cliff notes version which was not highly looked upon by the teacher; however, it worked.  I was able to share in class and it was working until the day I shared too much.  I didn’t realize that cliff notes gave you insight to information that isn’t quite there and it was discovered that my answers were not my own, but from another source.  I had learned answers to questions that I didn’t really understand.
No matter how you deliver curriculum, theology, scripture and truth you have to wonder whether or not you are really preparing teens for the real world.  Yes, you might have all the information in front of you and they might have all the information in front of them; however, how is it changing them?  While what we teach, and preach is important, it will lose it’s weight if we don’t know how to deliver it.  It isn’t always about giving them the answers, it’s also about:

  • Getting Them To Think: What is it you want them to know?  Christianity is rich with so much information, wisdom, and tradition; however, if there was only one thing you wanted them to walk away knowing, what would that be?  Once that is decided, clarify it, repeat it and give examples of what it looks like in their paradigm.  Getting them to think, in planting a seed in their mind that can grow and expand and lead to more ideas.  Getting them to think is giving them creative authority on how to go out and live their life.
  • Evoking Their Emotion: Why do you want them to know what you want them to know?  If you throw out information (even wisdom) without a reason as to why it’s important, they’ll take it as it is and probably do nothing with it.  If you want your teens to care you need to give them a reason to care.  While you want to avoid manipulation, don’t be afraid to share why it’s important to you.  The best way to do this is through story telling, because everyone wants to be a part of a story.
  • Giving Them Direction: Now that they know what it is, and why it’s important you need to show them how to apply it in their lives.  Some of the teens will feel compelled, ready to set the world on fire, while others will be reluctant because they fear failure.  You’ll want to focus those who are excited and encourage the ones who are apprehensive and this is done with clear direction.  Give them a few steps, or describe opportunities where they can apply what they know in their everyday lives.

It’s tempting to just spout out information week in and week out when we meet with our students.  It’s tempting to just get up and preach or hand out a worksheet because it’s easier.  The focus needs to be on creating conversations, growing ideas and giving them permission to fail.  Next time you plan a message, and activity don’t worry about giving the answers but ask yourself:

 “How am I getting them to the Truth?”  

How do you guide your teens to discover the answers?

Where Does Your Ministry Start And End?

By | discipleship, Systems and Structures, target audience
Credit: Free photos

When running a race I constantly think about the start and the end.  When it comes to the beginning of the race I wonder, “Should I go full steam ahead or slow and steady?”  I know if I don’t start correctly I could jeopardize the entire race.  When it comes to the end I try to envision what crossing the finish line could look like.  At these times I fantasize crossing the finish line, arms raised, family cheering me on, being lifted on my fellow runner’s shoulders and given a nice 12inch chicken finger sub.  None of that but the sub ever happen; however, that vision gets me moving.
In ministry we need to constantly think about the beginning and the end.  What that means is we need to think about our:


Too many times we expect people to jump from unbeliever to fully committed, sold out Christian in a day.  The problem with this mindset is that not everyone is starting from the same place. But the solution isn’t creating one ministry for everyone (that’s impossible), it’s finding a target audience.  This can be a challenge in student ministry because there is an array of teens in the community, so we go after the teens who show natural social skills.  Teens who are involved in sports, arts and other community groups.  By focusing on a target audience you focus your energy and resource to create the greatest impact.  It’s like the difference between a laser beam and a flash light.

Your ideal outcome should be a disciple of Christ; however, what that looks like exactly is the question you need to answer.  No matter what, be specific.  We define a disciple by the Christ-like habits we want them to embrace.  For us those habits are personal prayer, accountable relationships, stewardship, sacramental grace, bible study and ministry.  They aren’t the only ones; however, we feel they are important because they lead us to what we want adults to do in our church.  We could focus on information; however, we don’t have enough time to teach it all.  We do have the time to instill in them habits that will lead them to the Truth.

Focusing on who you are serving is key; however, it’s frustrating because we feel the pull to serve as many people as possible.  We just need to remind ourselves to look for the greatest impact.  If you do want to make an impact with more than one audience it’s important to partner with other youth ministers, support them and help them find their target audience.  Together we can make an even great impact.

Who’s your target audience?  Do you agree we should focus on one?

How To Get Better At What You Do

By | discipleship, learning, Systems and Structures

I wish I read in high school like I do now.  Maybe I would have gotten into a more prestigious school and found myself with larger loans.  In all seriousness I love reading, I love learning, I love listening to podcasts, watching conferences and meeting one on one with people who I admire.  Learning is important, duh no brainer, right?  Well, yes, but then again I’m not sure if we are doing all the learning we’re supposed to be doing.  Could we be neglecting something?
While it’s important to learn from other youth ministers and from theological institutions I think from time to time we need to expand our horizons.  Here are four fields we as youth workers should explore:

  • The Business World: I know there’s push back out there in regards to looking at ministry as a business, but I’m saying get over it.  If you don’t market correctly you won’t draw new people.  If you don’t look at your systems and structures you’ll lose out on efficiency.  Youth ministers should be reading business books, blogs and attending webinars that tell you how to run your organization correctly.
  • The Philosophical: This is an area I need to hit up more and maybe the reason I don’t is because it intimidates me.  But if we can dive into a little Plato, Descarte and Peanuts we can encourage ourselves to think outside the box.  Besides there might be philosophers you disagree with…good then you’ll find your mind challenged.
  • The Anthropological: Big word I know, but what it means is the study of humankind and their cultures.  If we can learn what’s different about other denominations, religions, cultures and so on, we can learn how to communicate across barriers.  Case in point, Paul in Athens.
  • Story: If we fill our heads with too many facts, we become boring.  Too many times than not I hear a sermon or message filled with incredible facts but no passion.  When you can study the art of story telling you can take important information and give it in a way that brings compassion.  To develop that skill, start reading stories (fact and fiction).

I know not everyone is a reader, that’s why I also recommend podcasts, conferences, seminars, lectures, concerts and film (not television).  When we can expand our minds we can learn how to reason, how to defend and how to communicate.  And that’s what we need, we need to communicate, share and create an opportunity for someone to connect with Christ.

What are you learning?  And what other areas should we be exploring?

What Should We Be Teaching: And what questions should we be asking?

By | discipleship, habits, mentoring

I’m going to admit it, but then I don’t know if this is a bad thing to admit, but I’m a big fan of the Biggest Loser.  I am happy that a new season has begun, it’s just one of those shows that never ceases to inspire me.  I use to be 261 pounds myself and then I got down to 191 pounds doing Weight Watchers, but over the last year and a half I crept up to 212 pounds.  Why did I gain weight?  I forgot the basics of eating healthy and I love junk food.  So I’m back on the plan and losing weight again, but watching the show helps.  But I can’t help but find myself concerned about the future of each contestant and whether or not they keep the weight off.  I know it’s hard to do so and if you don’t continue to work at it, if you don’t learn about healthy living it’s going to come back.
Funny enough I was reviewing Philippians 2:12 with a student and a similar thought came to mind, “When students leave our student ministry, how sure am I that they’ve learned everything they need to know to maintain a healthy relationship with Christ?”
And that always leads to a second question:
Are we teaching them the right things?
I know this is a topic most youth ministers ask themselves (even if things are going well) more than once.  Whether your ministry is thriving or diving it’s always a good question to review because if you don’t think about what you are teaching, how do you know whether or not you are reaching your vision?  To determine whether or not you are teaching the right things you have to ask yourself?

  1. Is this something they can apply to their lives?  It’s easier to just give a student a Bible and tell them to read Leviticus then it is to explain to them how one verse applies to their life…but what will they learn?  Students are bored when they don’t get why you are teaching them a particular verse unless it has something to do with their lives.  If they can’t apply it, then it isn’t relevant, so should you be teaching it?
  2. Will this help them grow? If you want your students to grow you need to teach them habits.  There are dozens of great habits that will form a student into a follower of Christ, but you should only pick a few.  You teach too many it’ll be too hard to master them all, pick the ones you feel that your ministry can teach best.
  3. Will this challenge them? There is a lot of important truths out there; however, you’ll want to teach them truths that are going to open the flood gates of their creativity.  Give them a story that builds compassion.  Show them a situation that will inspire them.  What we teach isn’t just about importance it’s about movement.  After all that’s what the church is…a movement.
  4. Am I pressured to teach this?  If you are in a denomination chances are you feel pressured to teach a bazillion things.  Again there are a lot of important and challenging aspects of our faith that one should know; however, if you are teaching it because you feel like you have to, chances are it’s going to come off forced.  And when your heart isn’t behind something people (especially teenagers) know.  

We have to accept the fact that we can’t teach everything, but what we can teach is growth.  We want our teenagers to be motivated to grow on their own.  We want our teenagers to feel like they can rely on the skills that we give them.  We don’t want them comfortable with their faith, we want them inspired to go and grow and change the world.
I know my list is highly incomplete, so I ask you:
“What questions should we be asking?” and “What should we be teaching our students?”

Reading Is Good: I Read That Somewhere

By | Books, discipleship, Reading, spiritual health

I read a lot, which is funny considering how much television I watch too.  I know I need to cut back on the television, but the reading it soothes me too much.  There really isn’t much I won’t read except for Daniel Steele love novels.  Not sure if I’m ready for a Kindle or Nook, because to me there is nothing better than opening a new book and smelling the pages…that’s right I smell the pages.
Reading for me isn’t just a leisurely activity, in fact it’s a way for me to grow in my calling.  It’s definitely iron sharpening iron and a way to grab insight in a non confrontational way (if you don’t like the book you put it down.)  And while it’s obvious for us to read blogs, books and magazines on youth ministry there are probably a few other areas we should be checking out, such as:

  • Leadership:  I have a book on Robert E. Lee that I’ve read, great book, great leader, lots of lessons learned. Now I’m not a Civil War General, nor will I ever be, but there are a lot of lessons that one can learn from a man like General Lee.  You can learn what it’s like to fight self doubt, to embrace defeat, to move through chaos and those are all battles we fight in ministry.  A leadership book is going to give us insight on what it takes to make it happen.
  • Business: Now I’m not a fan of saying Jesus is our product, but we do need to look at churches and youth ministries like businesses.  You have employees (ministers), you have customers (parents and teens) and you have systems (programs, events, etc.).  I recommend Jim Collins as a good start to learning how to make your ministry or church more efficient.  Again we don’t have to “sell” Jesus but we do need to make sure we run a ministry that’s built for success.
  • Spirituality: Right now I’m reading a book called, “The Hidden Power of the Gospels” by Alexander Shaia which takes a look at how the Gospels were written.  It challenges your perspective on how you digest God’s word.  C.S. Lewis or Donald Miller it doesn’t matter what century or decade they wrote in, you need someone who is going to challenge your perspective of God or else you’ll find that you’ve put Him in a box.
  • Adventure: One of my favorite reads this summer was “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall.  I enjoy the outdoors and running so it was an easy fit, but I also enjoy adventure.  Sometimes you need to cut loose and read about things that are big.  Fiction would be okay, but when you can find true stories about people that are larger than life, then nothing can be more inspirational.

Of course you need to read scripture, but I felt that was a little too obvious to mention here.  In fact if that’s all we read we can find ourselves again creating a restricting frame work of what we believe.  We begin to limit how big and great God really is, we begin to trap our minds and creativity.  I mean don’t get me wrong, read the Bible, but read other things that will enhance that experience.  So if you don’t have plans this week pick up a book, download one or go to the library (yeah they still exist) and enjoy a good story.
What do you read?

Parent Ministry: How are we serving parents? Join the conversation

By | discipleship, parents, Systems and Structures
I want to teach my son how to tie his shoe.  I want to teach him how to throw a curve ball.  I want to teach him how to make fresh ravioli.  I want to teach him that God loves him.  I’m guessing teaching the first three things will be a lot easier than the last one, but then again I don’t know.  This whole parenthood thing is new to me, as it is to all first time parents and I confess knowing what to teach my son and figuring out how to do it… a little overwhelming.  I can’t imagine that I feel alone, that’s why it’s important to recognize that when it comes to serving teenagers we should also be serving parents…why?

Because we can’t replace them and they can’t replace us.  As youth ministers there’s this pull to replace parents, but the truth is we need to compliment them.  Teens aren’t always going to listen and speak to their parents, but they will listen and speak to other adults.  The church needs to be full of those other adults, we just need to make ourselves accessible.  We also have to get rid of a us vs. them mentality.  Parents aren’t perfect, but they are the number 1 influence in their child’s life, we just need to help them be a healthy one. And it’s not that parents don’t care about faith they do, we just need to be there to back them up and give them answers.
We also need them because they know their kids, they’ve known them since day one, we’ve known them since what…7th grade?  We know them on the weekends when they are off their meds, out of their clicks and in a different environment.  Parents know them when they are acting their shoe size and not their age.  Parents are our inside tract to reaching out and bringing students closer to Christ.
So to partner with parents, to compliment what they are doing and who they are, to give them the resources they need to raise up disciples of Christ we need to answer the question, “How are we serving parents?”

Please share your thoughts below.