Category Archives: Youth Ministry

Does Your Church Have a Kid’s Table?

There is a positive wave of conversation right now in youth ministry circles critiquing the youth ministry practices of segregating teens from the adult congregation. The folks at the Fuller Youth Institute have been researching what makes faith continue into adulthood. A big finding is that students who are involved in the adult community of faith have a longer, lasting faith. Here is a video that summarizes some of the questions and findings from their research:

One small change that we have made lately is making every 5th Sunday a Family Sunday. The children don’t go to Sunday School and we reformat our whole service to be family friendly. Our last Family Sunday we designed a Family Feud game show between two families and for the message our pastor interviewed his son. The big unifying message was about the effect that parents have on their child’s faith.

What does your church do to integrate children and youth into the life of the congregation?


Adolescent Marks of Discipleship: Language

I don’t listen to music when I run because I like to hear what is going on around me. I also love the “quiet” because it allows me to think. As I ran by the middle school I was struck by the language that the 11 and 12 year olds were using. Then a little further along a teenage girl pulled into her driveway pumping the rap beats on her car stereo. As I finished my run I thought about what I hope my daughters are like in middle and high school. What are the character traits that I hope they exhibit? Deeper than that, what are the marks of discipleship for adolescents? If the Holy Spirit is moving in the heart and mind of a teenager, how will they talk, act and think?

This is my attempt at laying out the marks of discipleship for a middle or high school student who endeavors to follow Christ. Discipleship is a hard journey and takes time. It doesn’t necessarily get easier with age. My selfish, sinful nature is always trying to drag me back down as the Holy Spirit is purifying and strengthening my soul. I have definitely not mastered these marks.

I’ll start with addressing the issue of language.


James writes, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water” (3:9-12).

Teenagers who are following Christ should talk differently then their peers who do not. If we allow the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts and minds, then our language will change. We will edify others instead of tearing them down. Our words will be a breath of fresh air to those around us.

Unfortunately sexual humor is pervasive in our culture and especially with teenagers. This destroys the purity of sex that God created. Women are objectified. Teens who are questioning their sexuality are laughed at and bullied.

“Oh my God” is not meant to be used in frustration and flippantly like many do. We have already had to call Anna on this one at home. I bet she picked it up at school and didn’t know any better. But even at her age she needs to understand the reverence and honor that God deserves.

Purifying our language starts with looking critically at the music and movies that we watch. It is naive to think that those things do not affect us. On our recent mission trip, I didn’t allow students to listen to rap music for this reason. Teens also need to think critically about those who they choose to spend time with. Peer groups influence behavior in a major way.

Our children are just beginning their elementary years but Hillary and I shouldn’t wait until they are teens to talk about these marks of discipleship. We have to take an active role in instructing Anna and Norah about the language that they use. Are they encouraging each other? What words are appropriate and inappropriate? What TV shows encourage pure language? What friends are good for Anna and Norah? Hillary helps out in Anna’s class so she can see who Anna’s friends are at school.

Some of you might cringe at this active parenting style. It is the path we have chosen. After 12 years of youth ministry I have begun to make some connections between parenting styles and students’ behavior. Sitting back and not steering a child’s behavior is like planting a garden and just letting it go. Weeds grow up and animals come in and destroy it. The best gardens require time and energy.


Top Ten Road Trip Reminders about Teenagers

I spent many hours over the past week with teenagers on our high school mission trip. So much of teenage life I have forgotten. It was a learning experience remembering what teenagers are really like.

Here is a list of top ten things I remembered about teenagers on this week long road trip to Alabama and back.

10. Teenagers eat a ton, especially guys

9. The smells that emanated from our vans were from another world

8. Social relationships are paramount – we told students which vans they would be in and this was definitely a crisis in their minds

7. Teenagers still need to be mothered – I had to constantly remind students to buckle their seat belts even halfway through the drive

6. White, suburban teenagers really like hip hop music

5. Whoever falls asleep in the van is liable to be poked, prodded and have pictures taken of them as they sleep

4. Teenagers think of fun, creative and sometimes weird things to occupy their time when they don’t have their cell phones or iPods

3. It is very important to lock the windows – teenagers have a fascination with moving the windows up and down

2. It is a beautiful thing to watch relationships deepen as we spend hours in the car together

1. Teenagers will always surprise you with their deep thoughts about life and spirituality

Thanks to all our students who let a crazy group of adults hangout with them for a week!

Built to Connect: The Value of Social Networks

If you believe the Christian narrative as recorded in the Bible, then before the world was made, the Trinity was in a beautiful, selfless, relational dance. Each member of the Trinity was looking to glorify the other members. It is the height of unselfish relationships. As human beings we were each created to join this dance and look to the interests of others instead of our own selfish desires. We were built to connect with God and with each other. We cannot function alone. Read the rest of this entry

Why Church Based Youth Ministry is Important

My middle school youth group. I wet my pants laughing before this picture which is why my hat is over my pants. True story.

Parents often tell me that their teenage son or daughter attends a youth group at another church because their friends go there. While part of me is glad they are plugging in somewhere, another part of me mourns because they are missing out on a great experience in their own faith community. The same is true for students from Christian homes who attend Young Life.

Why is it important for students to attend the youth ministry at the church they grew up in and where their parents attend?

Bridge between Youth Ministry and the Home

When a student attends the youth ministry at their church, there is a connection with the family of the student. The leaders in the ministry know the student’s parents and understand the family dynamics of the student. They can encourage the parents and build a solid bridge between the youth ministry and the home. This cannot happen effectively when the student is attending another youth group at a church where the parents don’t attend.

Connections with the Adult Community

A solid youth ministry connects students with the adult faith community in the church. Whether it is mission opportunities or fellowship times, youth group students get the chance to interact with other adults in the church. This can be an effective web of accountability and encouragement for students. I love seeing former Sunday School teachers get excited when they see their former student involved in the youth ministry of the church. When a student attends a youth group at another church, this web is disconnected and ineffective.

Young Life is not a Substitute for the Church

I love Young Life. I love their commitment to reach students with the Gospel who are outside the church and disconnected from Jesus Christ. I love their commitment to campus ministry and Christian camping. I love meeting with our local Young Life director and hearing his heart for students. That said, Young Life is not built for churched students. Al Jackson, a Young Life staffer, writes, “But while Young Life will be many things to a teenager, it can never fulfill all the roles a church is called to be in the life of a believer.” Young Life is a great evangelism tool for the church, but it is important that those who come to faith in Young Life are connected into a local church community. We are hoping to figure out here in Champaign how a church based youth ministry and a Young Life ministry can partner in this task of discipleship.

Consumer Based Youth Ministry

Ok this one might be tough to stomach, but are we creating consumers of church when we let our kids pick their youth group? What happened to challenging our students to be investors instead of consumers of church? In high school my dad started pastoring a small church and made us switch youth groups. It was hard and I definitely didn’t like it at first, but it taught me to step outside my comfort zone and become an investor in what was going on. We are doing our children a disservice when we let them make choices based on what they like. Too many people church “shop” based on what they “like” and are missing out on the radical discipleship that God is calling us to. We need to start calling our children to this transformational path early instead of letting them choose what is comfortable.

Make your church’s youth ministry a shining light to the world by challenging your children to invest instead of consume. Connect with the youth pastor and give him/her your full support. It might be hard for your son or daughter at first but when they stick it out they will reap the full benefits of a church based youth ministry.

Youth Ministry and Success Anxiety

As a youth pastor I suffer from “success anxiety.” I am anxious that the numbers in our youth ministry aren’t keeping up with the big youth ministries in town.  I worry that if we don’t attract more students to our youth group, then people will wonder if I am the right person for the job. Maybe if I did more all-nighters or had a cool, young worship leader, then we would enjoy success.

Honestly the choice for my staff and I is between success based on numbers or success Jesus’ way through discipleship. Discipleship is not cool, hip or attractive. When Jesus called people to radical discipleship many turned away and stopped following Jesus. If we look at Jesus’ ministry on earth, he was a failure. He started with thousands and left with only eleven. Youth pastors would definitely lose their job if they oversaw an attendance decline like this.

How does Jesus’ model of discipleship impact youth ministry?

I believe that the first step is acknowledging that success according to Jesus is much different than the world judges success. Success is not hundreds of teenagers hanging out drinking coffee and listening to Coldplay-esque worship. Success is students who are committed to loving God and loving their neighbors for their lifetime. Ultimately, life change like this does not have as much to do with us but what the Holy Spirit does in the lives of our students. We create an atmosphere for the Holy Spirit to move and model lives that are devoted to Christ.

What do you think? How does Jesus’ model of discipleship change the way we do youth ministry?

First Homes: Equipping Families for the Journey

Yesterday I wrote a post about the lack of a roadmap for the spiritual development of children and youth. I have been on a mission to discover what this roadmap could be like for families at First Presbyterian since I started my role here. Today I want to share this roadmap in a redefinition of our First Homes initiative. First Homes is all about incorporating the Christian faith into the home and equipping parents to be the main spiritual guides for their children.

Read the rest of this entry

A Roadmap for the Spiritual Development of Children

After a few months in my position as Family Director, I have realized one thing that is lacking in some churches today is a fluid curriculum and pathway for the spiritual development of children.  At our church we have two main events for children: Bibles for 3rd grade students and confirmation for 8th grade students. These two events are good but families need more than this.

For the past few months I have been reading and studying what other churches do in the way of a roadmap for the spiritual development of children and youth.  I have taken these ideas and morphed them into a format that fits our context at First Presbyterian.

Check my post tomorrow to see what this roadmap looks like!

Social Networks and Children

When I look at my daughters right now, I see them as teenagers. I can’t help it. Because of my ongoing experiences in youth ministry, I know that what happens with my daughters now will affect how they are as teenagers. Now my daughters like being around daddy but in a few short years they won’t want to be around daddy as much. I need to take advantage of this time now.

One of the big things that shapes children and especially teenagers are the social networks they take part in. A child’s friends have a big impact on the behavior and experiences a child has. Now that Anna is in school Hillary and I are very mindful of the friends that Anna has at school. Hillary volunteers in Anna’s classroom to help the teachers but also to learn about the children that Anna spends time with.

A few months ago I watched a TED presentation by Nicholas Christakis in which he talks about social networks and the impact that our friends on our behavior. It is so interesting and has ramifications for parenting and youth ministry. You can read a Wired interview with Christakis here or watch the TED presentation below.  This is why I strongly encourage parents to involve their children in the children’s ministry or youth ministry at their church.  Children and teenagers need friends that share the same values and beliefs as they do.

Questions > Answers

Taken from ASBO Jesus

“I pray to the God within me that He will give me the strength to ask Him the right questions.”
— Elie Wiesel (Night)

Elie Wiesel begins his book Night by recalling a childhood mentor who told him that it is more important to have right questions than the right answers.  Having already spent countless hours in church, my children have become great at parroting back the right answers.  Do they really understand the answers that they are recalling from their memory?  At their young age it isn’t as important that they know the depth and reasons for their answers yet.  But we can begin to challenge them to think.

Too often in youth ministry we tell students WHAT to think instead of HOW to think.  Then we wonder what happens when they go to college and are challenged on their answers.  They fall apart because they don’t know how to think and come to their own conclusions.  Why do we concentrate so much on telling students what to think?  Because it is easier to create robots who can repeat back what you just said.  We need to challenge students to go to a higher level of knowledge.

I love the movie Dead Poet’s Society because it is all about training students to think for themselves.  The movie portrays very well the fear that is inside some who think that training students to think will lead them astray.  If we truly believe in what we believe why are we afraid that training students how to think will lead them away from the Truth?  One unforgettable moment is when Mr. Keating stands on his desk and exclaims, “I stand upon my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way.”

Our youth ministries should be a place where students can question the beliefs that they were brought up with.  We need to stand up on the desks and view our beliefs from a different angle.  Together we can dialogue and hash it out in a loving, caring community where no question is out of bounds.  This will strengthen and solidify the beliefs of our students.  Kurt Johnston, the Junior High Pastor at Saddleback Church once described children’s ministry as putting beliefs and practices in the mental suitcase of child.  Then he described student ministry as dumping out that suitcase and helping the student decide what goes into their suitcase.

How are we teaching students HOW to think in our youth ministry?  How are we creating an environment where they feel safe asking the right questions?