youth ministry

Youth Pastors in the News

Here’s a list of headlines from the month of November for the Google News search term, “Youth Pastor.” I’ve deleted multiple links to the same instance.

Don’t like the news about our profession? Make good news in your community.

youth ministry

Movie Reviews that Don’t Suck

I don’t pretend to know much about film or movies. Fundamentally, I’m far too cheap to go to the movies very often. A few weeks ago Paul and I went to see The Martian while on our trip to Seattle:

  • Two tickets: $25.60
  • Parking: $6
  • Seeing The Martian with my son: Priceless
  • NO. It was $31.60! That’s twenty-two cents per minute!!!
  • Exclamation marks!

So that’s my bias. While I love watching movies I don’t know much about them beyond how much they cost per minute to watch. And I have a thing for documentaries.

Perhaps this is why I’ve been so intrigued to witness Joel Mayward‘s growth with his movie reviews?

I first took note of this several years ago as he posted excellent reviews on his blog. Then, as his interest grew, we started working with him on a few smaller projects. This grew and his interest continued to mature. A year or so ago we began working on a book with him eventually titled, Jesus Goes to the Movies. Earlier this year he and I spoke at an event where he presented an entire theology of Film & Ministry that completely blew me away.

Two New Things with Joel Mayward

  1. – Yesterday we launched with Joel. Here Joel will be focusing his attention on essays about the intersection of faith and film as well as more of his truly excellent movie reviews. Unlike most Christian movie reviewers, who tend to focus on surface things like counting cuss words or discounting an entire movie because of a sex scene… Joel’s review tend to go back to a central theme… “Where is Jesus in this movie?”  While geared for everyday Christians, Joel’s reviews help you think differently about film… beyond consumption, they introduce you to the
  2. CINE Film Discussion Guides – Also launching yesterday is a companion series to Jesus Goes to the Movies. The first half of JGTTM is a theology of film in youth ministry. But the second half is all about practical application which includes film discussion guides you can use right in your ministry. When we were publishing the book we wanted to make sure that the book stayed current… so we came up with CINE, building on the success of another downloadable curriculum line VIVA. Our first edition of CINE came out yesterday and includes film discussion guides for four Christmas movies… and it’s totally free. (Grab it here)

Why the investment in movies?

This last part is pretty simple. It’s two-fold.

  1. We believe Joel is onto something great. He’s helping us all think differently, deeper, and better about movies. He represents an uncommon Christian response to film that we think is needed and we want to get behind that… Joel possesses a characteristic we call “Very Cartel-y.
  2. Movies and film are powerful to teenagers. At the end of the day the Cartel is fully invested in helping youth workers reach more teenagers, better. Few things influence our culture quite like film. And since that’s true, we want to make sure we’re creating and supporting resources for youth workers that are excellent.
youth ministry

That booth life

My feet, ankles, and knees are tired in that “I just stood on concrete for 3 days” kind of way.

It’d been about 8 years since I’d last run a booth at the National Youth Workers Convention. Generally speaking, I’m not convinced that something like that is really our sweet spot at the Cartel… but with the forthcoming Student Justice Conference locally at Point Loma Nazarene University we felt like we kind of needed to be there since it’d be the largest gathering of SoCal youth workers we know about.

Here are some observations from my weekend.

The Good

  • Have you heard about The Youth Cartel?” This was my line… and it was super fun to introduce a few hundred brand new people to our lil start-up.
  • Just like we’ve experienced on the phone, via email, and on social media… people love the idea of the Student Justice Conference. I guess the trick is just getting people signed up.
  • Wes Trevor is the man. He helped me run the booth, he made it fun, and we did better when he was there.
  • The exhibit area was well organized, everyone played by the same rules, stuff like that. It was nice to have a volunteer floating around and making sure everything was OK.
  • It was great to run into regular blog readers. That was a bit mind-blowing. I see the stats, I know people read, but when it’s “real people” in front of you… it’s just kind of cool.
  • I was privileged to spend two days with my kids. Paul worked the booth with me all day Friday and Megan did all day Saturday. It wasn’t always fun but I think it was great that they were willing to do it.
  • Being a local event was awesome. Sleeping in my bed is awesome. And I liked offering friends advice on where to eat and stuff. Yeah, San Diego!
  • I loved seeing a bunch of friends. Even though the booth was generally slow I had a steady stream of friends stopping by to chat and catch up. Sometimes life gets lonely and it’s good to remember that you actually do have friends.
  • It was fun hearing, “Oh, you are the guys who ship stuff with green soldiers… right?” Yep, that’s us. It’s always great to connect with the #tinyrevolution.
  • As an event organizer it was important to change perspectives and see the event from the vantage point of the exhibitor. That perspective will continue to make our events better for our exhibitors.
  • We sold a few books. Not as many as we’d hoped or needed to, but I brought home fewer than I took.
  • We did the booth our way. As we brainstormed having a booth for the first time we looked at the costs and thought… “It’s not any fun or ‘Cartel-y’ to spend all of that money on buying one of those pop-up booths and more money on little stuff with our logo on it.” So we decided to make our booth out of stuff laying around in my garage… mostly cardboard… and then just give people money instead of pens or t-shirts. Most people got our slogan “We didn’t waste money on this booth… so we could waste money on you.” It was the honest truth of what we were doing.
  • We seemed to do better than a lot of other exhibitors. People hung around, they were curious, while they were suspicious– as soon as they got who we were and what we were all about, their suspicion turned into something more fun. We aren’t out to appeal to everyone– but when we connect with someone there’s energy there and it’s fun to see in real life.

The Bad

  • When you are exhibiting at an event the only matrix that really matters is traffic. And there was good traffic on Thursday night when they promoted it big time and Friday night after the big room. Outside of that? It was very, very thin. We would have done just as well if they’d only opened the exhibits after the last evening session. I slept on the floor Saturday afternoon and no one noticed.
  • Relatively few people at the event seemed to come into the exhibit hall. Again, as an organizer, I know how hard this is and we are just learning how to get it right more than we get it wrong. But it’s hard to justify being there when a good majority of the people willing to go through the exhibit areas are just looking for free stuff. We were giving away dollar bills and we had a hard time finding people to give them to. For real. I brought home lots of $1 bills.
  • I didn’t like the side stage they put in there. I get why they do it… it is an incentive to buy a booth… but it made it very hard to talk to people when there was a person talking over you on a microphone.

The Odd

  • There were people who turned down $1 bills. They must have been senior pastors. 
  • The schedule was such that I didn’t do anything at the event outside of the booth. I have no idea who spoke, what the seminars were all about, etc. Literally, all I did was work the booth, eat a meal, or go home.
  • As much as I love our tribe, there are people who are so wounded that they seem to take it out on everyone. It seems they need to remember mom’s advice: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
  • I’m happy to be out of the loop with what’s going on inside the host organization. (and my former employer) People would ask me about it and quite frankly, I just had no idea what they were talking about and that was super refreshing. My focus is on what we’re doing and that’s plenty for me.

If you were at NYWC this weekend, what were your favorite things? 

youth ministry

Youth Pastors in the News

Here’s a list of headlines from the month of September for the Google News search term, “Youth Pastor.” I’ve deleted multiple links to the same instance.

Moral of the story: Don’t like the news? Make Good News in Your Neighborhood.

youth ministry

Solus Christus is Not Popular

Solus Christus – Our salvation is accomplished by the mediatorial work of the historical Christ alone.

It’s one of the “Five Solas” that are core to what makes Protestants… protestant. These are what the Reformation was protesting.

But I have to point this out: Solus Christus sure isn’t popular today. 

Not in American Protestant churches, anyway.

Listen to podcasts of sermons from around the country or go to events or listen carefully and you’ll hear a not-so-subtle variant that teaches Jesus + _____ = A Faithful Christian.

That blank can be:

  • Attending worship services
  • Baptism
  • Giving
  • Youth group
  • Small group
  • Extra worship gatherings
  • Leadership
  • Volunteering
  • Membership
  • On and on and on.

My point isn’t that those things are bad. None of those things in my list above are bad. In fact, most are actually good! You could even say they are important things, maybe even signs that a person is actively walking with Jesus?

But when you compare how much emphasis is placed on the things in that bullet pointed list compared to the Five Solas‘ foundational to the Reformation itself?

It’s confusing (at best) and misleading (at worst) to the people on the other side trying to figure it out.

  • You talk about making church attendance a priority in your life, but what about Jesus?
  • You talk about identifying with Jesus in baptism, but are you identifying with Jesus or the church?
  • You talk about giving to the church, but I thought I was supposed to give my life to Jesus?
  • Youth group is a great place to grow, but without Jesus at the center of your youth group it’s just a social club.
  • Coming to more worship services is great, but at what point am I no longer worshipping Jesus and instead am just a fan of the band?
  • Christian leadership is needed in our society, but I’m not sure a lot of the leadership stuff being taught is even Christian?

You get the point.

Jesus is enough.

Don’t get bored with Jesus.

It’s all about Jesus.

If you want a great youth ministry point students to Jesus and not _____. That might not be “hot” or land you on the seminar team for a bunch of conferences… but I’d rather do a good, boring job than be popular, anyway.

youth ministry

We Eat Our Young

Hamster cannibalism is not uncommon. When a hamster gives birth, she may feel pushed to eat some or all of the new pups. This may be a response to lack of resources (like food, space, or protein), fear of a perceived threat, or some type of confusion.


Humans eat their young, too. 

Two stories about teenagers came on the radio today while Megan and I drove to school.

Story One

IRVING — Ahmed Mohamed — who makes his own radios and repairs his own go-kart — hoped to impress his teachers when he brought a homemade clock to MacArthur High on Monday.

Instead, the school phoned police about Ahmed’s circuit-stuffed pencil case.

So a kid does something really cool, that few teenagers could do, makes his own stuff… brings it in to school to proudly show off to his teacher… and gets arrested.

It’s outrageous. 

A student is smart and gets arrested because administrators don’t see him as smart, they see him as a threat.

How can you say you love teenagers, dedicate your life to youth ministry, and NOT be outraged by that?

Story Two

Somewhere else during Morning Edition there was a story that started out like this, “He was on his way to school, running late– because you know, he’s a teenagers– and when he got there…

I looked at Megan, ourselves pushing hard to get to school on time, and said “Because you know, all teenagers, all 46 million of them, are late all the time because you know… they are teenagers.

The Bias Against Teenagers

It’s hard to listen to media bias against teenagers when your 9th grade daughter is sitting next to you. Megan is amazing in so many ways… her friends are, too… and yet two stories in short sequence paint a picture of adolescents as sub-human buffoons who are destined to fail.

So I turned off the radio and we had a great conversation that started like this, “In the media, teenagers are incapbale until they aren’t. They are either idiots who can’t do anything right or they win 6 gold medals… but the fact is most teenagers are just like most adults. But you never hear that because it doesn’t sell.” 

The Need for Allies

As youth workers we know that these bias exist and yet we are largely silent. An incident like this happens in suburban Dallas and you are left to wonder… “Where are the youth ministry people? Why the silence?

It makes me wonder… What would it look like if youth ministry were good news to teenagers?

  • What would happen if you were an advocate for the teenagers in your life?
  • What would it look like to correct a bias when you hear it?
  • What would it look like if people saw you and thought to themselves… “I better not talk crap about teenagers around that lady, she’s CRAZY about teenagers.”
  • What would happen if teenagers in the community looked to you as an advocate?
  • What is possible when the teenagers in your community knew you had their back, that you’d step up for them, that you’d leverage your voice and power for them?

Friends, we are not hamsters. We are humans made in the image of God. Teenagers are made in God’s images.

My daughter needs more advocates. Our daughters need advocates. God’s children need allies to stand up against a culture that eats it’s young, that leaves them feeling terrible about their status, that reminds them every day in subtle and not-so-subtle ways that if they don’t climb Mount Everest they are a complete failure.

May it never be true!

When a teenager is maligned in the media, so is the image of God.


Ally yourself with your tribe.

Leverage your power and voice for the people that you say you serve.

And when you do? Stand back and watch what God can do.

youth ministry

Let High School be about High School

Today my oldest child, Megan, starts high school.

While it’s really easy for me to get self-reflective and think about my own high school experience and how having a high school aged child makes me feel old, none of that really matters to her.

I want to share one thing that I shared with her last week about the start of high school: Make high school about high school. 

  • High school isn’t about preparing for the next thing. It’s about today.
  • It’s not about picking a career. Very few 18 year olds know what they want to do for a career. Very few 35 year olds seem to know, either. Chill about a career. 
  • It’s not about prepping a resume for college. Being really busy and joining 5 clubs and volunteering 1000 hours isn’t going to help you get into a top school. We’re more interested in “college fit” than some stupid number in a magazine anyway. 
  • It’s not about learning job skills. You’ll have decades to work on that. 
  • Your school might require “professional attire” but don’t make high school about preparing for a profession. And if you end up doing a profession you love, you’ll wear what you need to wear and love it. 

High School is About High School

Do stuff just because.

Try new things.

Do something you love and something you hate.

Push yourself to learn and let grades take care of themselves.

Learn how you learn.

Learn how to study.

And learn how to get by without studying…

Complain. Rage against the machine. Dream about making things better.

Understand that the best parts of high school aren’t even in the classroom, don’t miss the good stuff.

Make really good friends.

Waste time with them.

Laugh until you snort.

Make friends that you’re OK laughing so hard that you aren’t even embarrassed that you snort.


Don’t worry about us, we’ll worry about you enough for both of us.

Don’t worry about college, you’re on the right path.

Just chillax. Enjoy.

If you make high school about preparing for adult life or trying to get into the “best school” than you’ll miss out on something great.

Make high school about high school.

Enjoy it.

Get after it.

Don’t devalue today by making high school about tomorrow.

You’ll be glad you did.

Mr. Keating sums this up pretty well…

youth ministry

The Cost of Thriving

As youth workers we are people in transition.

  • The teenagers we serve are often in transition
  • The churches where we work are often in transition
  • Therefore we become people engulfed by transition

A net result of this tribal transitionalism among youth workers is that there always seems to be more people looking for jobs in youth ministry than there are actual jobs in youth ministry worth having.

Simple supply and demand means that even though the youth worker has usually mastered a role that very few people are equipped [or actually want] to have in a local church– they are usually paid less because there are more hyper-qualified people than great jobs.

“You don’t do this for the money” they say.

And that’s true. But if you’re going to stay in youth ministry for a career you’re going to, at some point, need to stop struggling and have access to the resources you’ll need to succeed.

The Cost of Not Thriving

Here’s the simple reality. If you’re just surviving, you ain’t thriving, and you won’t last.

  • A cheap apartment will work for a while.
  • A crappy car is charming for a while.
  • Being around people with disposable income while you’re thinking of re-using disposable diapers is OK… for a while.
  • Watching your high school friends talk about stuff they are doing on Facebook that you can’t do is cool for a while.
  • Not going to grad school is going to be fine for a while.
  • Getting handouts, hand-me-downs, and generous gifts for your kids will be awesome for a while.
  • Your spouse will be fine with your work hours for a while.
  • Not having real hobbies or friends will work for you for a while.
  • You can convince yourself that you’re making everyday sacrifices for Kingdom reasons for a while.
  • Changing jobs so much that you’ve perpetually got 2 weeks of vacation will work for a while.
  • Not having a decent budget to work with is manageable for a while.
  • Not being supported or appreciated is alright for a while.

But here’s what I know. The cost of not thriving catches up to you.

A long list of my friends eventually gave up on vocational youth ministry. They’ve moved into the marketplace or other church roles– or more commonly– “felt called to plant a church” which is a place where they could have some say in:

The hours.

The pay.

The expectations.

See– the cost of not thriving for their family meant the long-term cost vs. benefit analysis of perpetually struggling and dealing with job insecurity just stopped making sense. Given the choice between living and thriving, people pick thriving every time.

I did all of the right stuff for all of those years and after all of this my family is struggling in several different ways.” So they moved on to something else.

Not something less, something else.

Stop Calculating Cost of Living

The next time you’re in transition– looking for a new job or talking to a church about coming on their team– forget calculating the cost of living. For some reason researching the cost of living leads to churches offering you a package of salary and benefits that’s just wedged between terrible and tolerable.

But if you want to be in this for the long haul? You’ll need to figure out the cost of thriving.

And you know what? That might not even be about money. It might be about work flexibility or working from home or flex time or more paid time off or the church paying for more of your housing or grad school or a better conference budget.

Say no to calculating your cost of living.

Say yes to calculating your cost of thriving.

youth ministry

Teenagers Need More Sleep

Adolescents who do not get enough sleep are more likely to be overweight; not engage in daily physical activity; suffer from depressive symptoms; engage in unhealthy risk behaviors such as drinking, smoking tobacco, and using illicit drugs; and perform poorly in school. However, insufficient sleep is common among high school students, with less than one third of U.S. high school students sleeping at least 8 hours on school nights.

Centers for Disease Control, School Start Times for Middle School and High School Students, August 7th 2015

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) does not issue opinion papers. They issue health warnings based on fact.

Just 31% of high school students get the 8.5-9.5 hours of sleep per night recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. That means over 18 million students are at risk for behavior problems, poor academic performance, and suffering long-term health risks simply because they aren’t getting enough sleep.

What Needs to Change?

  • Encourage a culture of healthy sleep at home.
  • Encourage schools to push back the start time to later than 8:30 AM.
  • Encourage youth sports, extracurricular, and religious organizations to end activities by 9:00 PM on school nights.
  • Educate parents/teenagers that increased activity does not make students correlate to receiving acceptance at choice universities or obtain more scholarships.
  • Educate parents/teenagers to practice healthy habits in regard to mobile devices, leaving them silenced and out of the sleeping area.
youth ministry

Long-Range View of Leading Small Groups

I just completed my fourth season of helping to lead a small group of high school guys at my church. (Love being a volunteer and greatly enjoy not being in charge.)

A couple years back I wrote a post, This Better be Worth It, about the mental game of carving out space to chose investing in high school small groups over investing in a lot of other things in my life– I’m giving up a night of my life each week, it better be worth it.

But I want to pass along another matrix altogether for week-to-week evaluation of that worth.

The Promise

You’re going to have bad weeks. Heck, you’re going to have bad months. You might even have a bad semester or whole school year where you’re pretty sure that you didn’t make an ounce of impact.

Leading a group of high school guys is often somewhere on a spectrum between herding cats and a DIY root canal. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth it. Herding cats can have a purpose. And sometimes… you’ve got to do your own root canal.

I’ve been at this high school small groups thing since 1997, why in the world do I keep going?

The Long-Range View

  • Week-to-week means nothing compared to a memory sparked 10 years later.
  • High school students will only remember that you were a party pooper and you got pissed that they were talking or you scoffed at turning their small group into a night of American Gladiators… they won’t remember that week you pushed real hard to get through all of the content. 
  • I get real excited about faith steps… those tend to stick.
  • Conversely, I don’t get too worked up about week-to-week attendance. I take notice, but I don’t nag.
  • I call out deflection in an individual, but I also acknowledge that not every teenager is capable of being vulnerable.
  • When the whole group is deflecting I lean into that because I know we’re close to something important… which is why they are avoiding it.
  • I expect immaturity and allow room for it while asking them to push through it, it’s related to the bubble our society keeps teenage guys in. They have a lot of adults who chaperone them but very few who engage them in conversation or ask them to think.
  • I like that they get glimpses into manhood by being around me and my co-leader, but I’m not that interested in pushing them into “thinking like a grown man” and manhood too soon. (A mistake I see many make, almost like a default response to working with teenage guys.)

Ultimately, I am comfortable in my role. I know I’m not the most important adult male in their life. But I hope to be someone they can know for a long time, someone they can trust, someone they know they can talk to about real stuff.

After working with high schoolers for almost 20 years… that’s the stuff that I see lead to long-term spiritual growth. High school small groups provides some waypoints. But it’s ultimately mixed in with a lot of other messages, some of which land while others don’t.

In the end, you have to judge your role in students lives through the lens of your faithfulness to the calling and not on how last week or last month or last school year went. Because ultimately… that’s too soon to know.