Intern 101: During the Internship

In my previous post, I pointed out how important the process of hiring an intern can be.  By working hard on the front end and hiring someone who is on board with your philosophy of ministry and works well with your personality, you can be relatively certain of a successful internship experience.  However, once you’ve hired your intern, it’s important to put together a deliberate and meaningful plan for his or her arrival.  By planning ahead and employing some deliberate strategies, you can maximize the effectiveness of the internship experience.

Below are the top ten tips and tricks I’ve learned through the many internships I’ve experienced that can enhance the internship WHILE your intern is onsite.  Maybe these can spur some great ideas for your next internship.

1.  Have clear-cut guidelines and expectations.
One of the best things you can do for your intern is to provide a solid framework for them to flourish in.  Clearly communicate to them about your expectations.  What should they wear to the office?  What does a normal week look like?  What are their responsibilities?  How should they interact with their host family?  Are there rules concerning hosting guests or spending time with students?  What is the schedule for the summer?  Answering these questions up front will help put your intern at ease and make “unwritten expectations” minimal.  Be clear and thorough.

2.  Have a comprehensive “to-do” list for them on day one.
In the same way you should be clear about guidelines and expectations, you should also be clear about the tasks your intern should accomplish throughout his or her time with you.  While this gives your intern clarity and purpose during the internship, it also helps you throughout the internship.  When your intern enters your office to “hang out” during a busy day, you can remind them of their task list and challenge them to work ahead.  This methodology can also aid your intern in learning how to be a “self-starter.”

3.  Make every moment a teachable one.
Never underestimate the power of example, and never miss out on a great teachable moment.  Sometimes in ministry, crazy things happen.  Sometimes in ministry, you have to do things you may not really “want” to do.  By bringing your intern along and walking through your thought process with them, you can help them formulate their own opinions and philosophies for future ministry.  Talk about ministry over a burrito, in the car, in the office, as you travel to a meeting or at a family dinner.  Don’t be afraid to do the hard work and make those ministry moments teachable ones.

4.  Emphasize the spiritual.
It’s easy to break ministry down to the nuts and bolts or the “how-tos,” particularly when interacting with your intern.  But the truth is that you could probably train a monkey to “do” youth ministry.  Planning events, making phone calls, reserving the retreat space…all of that is pretty pedestrian when you boil it down.  Teach your intern to “be” youth ministry by emphasizing the spiritual.  Challenge them to grow in Christ, to rely on prayer, to study the Word, to disciple with love.  The spiritual is where the power comes from, so don’t overlook it for simple nuts and bolts.  Among other things, we start every day of the internship with prayer together, just as a small way to make the spiritual a priority.  I challenge you to find ways to emphasize the spiritual for your intern.

5.  Give them responsibility, but not too much.
This is probably the most difficult balance to find, but it can make or break the internship.  Your intern needs to have an opportunity to spread his wings, to try out her own methods, or to figure out a new plan when things go awry.  When you intervene at every turn, your intern won’t really learn how to handle tough situations.  Give them responsibility and trust them, but be ready to intervene if things get out of hand.  Don’t micromanage them, but be sure to “have their back” in a pinch.  I require my intern to plan, recruit, budget, and execute at least one major youth event during the internship, while I act as a “youth leader” under his leadership.  Find your own balance, but let them learn by leading.

6.  Have hard conversations.
In every internship I have experienced, there has been the need for at least one “difficult” conversation.  Office etiquette, curfew, host family issues, distractions, word choice, and preaching evaluations all have the potential to be “difficult” conversations.  By clearly and lovingly communicating “constructive criticism” to your intern, you can help form their methods and habits for the future.  Confrontation isn’t always fun, but it’s usually formative.  Tough conversations are just part of the mentoring process, so be prepared to make the most of them.

7.  Connect them with a variety of people within your church.
Your church is full of unique individuals.  My knee-jerk reaction to hosting an intern was to guard them from some of the more “colorful” personalities in our congregation.  Recently, however, I have changed my tactics.  Truthfully, EVERY church is full of unique people, and your intern is going to deal with “colorful” people in her own church someday.  Allow them to interact with these folks in small doses, and then let them work through their thoughts with you afterwards.  This can have positive impact for years to come.

8.  Evaluate and communicate regularly.
Your intern is spending this time with you so that they can grow, learn, and be challenged toward future ministry.  Make sure you give them plenty of feedback.  My intern and I spend the first part of each day together praying and talking through things.  In addition, we schedule multiple “evaluation lunches” during the internship where I can share with them and they can share with me honestly.  This type of open communication sets a great tone for the internship and a relationship in the future.

9.  Listen and learn from your intern.
If you’ve got ministry entirely figured out, then you can skip this part.  However, if you’re like me and are learning new things about ministry every day, then your intern might be a great place from which to learn.  Your intern potentially comes from a different context and has a viewpoint of your church and your ministry that you simply do not have.  Listen to them, pick their brain, ask them questions, and hear them out.  I’ve made many ministry changes based on the recommendations of my interns.  Listen and learn.

10.  Show them ministry, and not just yours.
One of the greatest things about the Kingdom of God is that it extends far beyond your church’s four walls.  Make deliberate efforts to show your intern the greater Kingdom.  Schedule lunches with other Youth Ministers from your area.  Encourage involvement with other youth groups at camps, retreats, and conferences.  Invite other ministers to speak to your group as an example to your intern.  Show your intern the joy of collaborating with other co-laborers in Christ.

These top ten tips and tricks are important to me, but I’m certain many of you would add other things to the list.  What would you recommend adding to this list?

Is Youth Ministry Killing the Church?

It seems about this time every year, I begin to see a lot of blog posts about how Youth Ministry is killing the church, how Youth Ministry is fundamentally flawed, and how students are leaving the church in record numbers.  Youth Ministry is always the scapegoat in this conversation, the sacrificial lamb to blame for all of the woes plaguing the church.

I will be frank and tell you that this trend of blaming Youth Ministry for the mass exodus of young people from the faith is honking me off.  While I see the trend, and am disheartened whenever I see one of my former students straying from the faith, I am not convinced that Youth Ministry is the root cause for the decline.  I’d like to offer some rebuttals to the idea that Youth Ministry is the root of all evil, and I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Here are some questions I think need to be asked.

1.  What would the statistics be WITHOUT Youth Ministry?

While studies like Sticky Faith and Barna continue to show the alarming trend of students leaving the church, I wonder if those numbers would be exponentially worse without Youth Ministry in the mix.  If you follow the same logic many do when it comes to Youth Ministry, you could have some interesting conclusions.  For instance, people are dying of obesity-related illnesses in large quantities.  Clearly, doctors are killing America.  We should get rid of doctors and start over.  You see the absurdity of such logic, as it doesn’t really get to the root cause of the issue at hand.  I argue that Youth Ministry is not the root cause of students leaving the church.  It may simply be a symptom of the greater disease.  I contend there are other factors.

2.  What about the culture around us?

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but this isn’t 1950 anymore.  Wally and the Beav are long gone.  Shows like Dick Van Dyke and My Three Sons have been replaced with the Real Housewives and Modern Family.  But the list of cultural changes isn’t limited to our entertainment.  Absentee fathers, single parenting, gay marriage, and a plethora of other “hot button issues” are waging war on our students.  Many well-respected pastors, researchers, and social commentators have even called this a “post-Christian society.”  Are we so naive to think that these other factors don’t contribute to the droves of students leaving our churches?

We aren’t living in an age where families just “attend church together” every Sunday as part of their normal family tradition.  There isn’t a standard expectation in our society to attend church.  Many of the students in our ministry at Hazelwood come to church without their parents.  A number of them have no positive spiritual influence to speak of outside of youth group.  To assume that Youth Ministry is somehow the reason these students don’t “stick with it” is to miss a lot of other contributing factors altogether.

3.  What about all the success stories?

I’ve seen too many amazing spiritual transformations in Youth Ministry to believe it is beyond repair or without merit.  Each year, we watch about 15-20 students give their lives to Christ and follow Him in Christian baptism.  Many of these students, as I mentioned earlier, have no real spiritual connection outside of our Youth Ministry.  I’ve seen students answer the call of God and follow Him into full-time ministry.  Many students from our church are currently serving in other ministries around the country and even around the world.  Through our ministry, students have had opportunities to serve on mission fields in various states, countries, and places of need.  In Youth Ministry, students meet every week to encourage, pray for, and laugh with one another in Christian community.  How can we throw out the baby with the bath water here?

Five years ago, a young lady went on a trip with us for the first time.  She met Jesus there, and her life was never the same.  I watched her pursue Christ faithfully despite adverse conditions spiritually in her home, and financial difficulty at every turn.  Our Youth Ministry often helped pay for her registrations so that she could continue to go with us and grow in Christ.  This past year, she came into my office with a smile on her face.  She had a job her senior year, and had saved her money so she could pay for her own way on our Adventure Trip.  She walked into my office, and gave me THREE stacks of cash.  The first was for her trip.  The second was for her sibling.  And the third was to pay for another student who couldn’t afford to go.  Youth Ministry isn’t completely broken.

4.  Isn’t there another solution?

One of my biggest complaints about most of the “Youth Ministry Stinks” articles is that they rarely offer solutions.  While I don’t think Youth Ministry is to blame for our loss of students entirely, I do think we need to make strides forward, and take Youth Ministry to the next level.  This is where I appreciate solutions-based research like Sticky Faith.  It gives tangible, proven ideas that I can implement in my ministry in the hopes of hanging on to more students in the future.

By connecting our students to the larger body, giving students opportunities to wrestle with questions of faith, and more effectively partnering with parents in ministry, we can make Youth Ministry even more productive in the future, and hopefully watch more students remain faithful after high school.

Is Youth Ministry responsible for the exodus of students from the church?  I’m not so sure.  Can it be better and more effective?  Absolutely.  And that, my friends, is something I think we can ALL agree on.  So let’s get out there and change the world…one student at a time.

An Open Letter to Church Leaders

You might assume by the title of this post that I’m concurrently working on my resume and a blog post, but I’m excited about sharing this post with you and with my own church leaders as we seek to make Christ famous.  I am also eager to hear back from you on what you would share with your church leaders, and I hope this post will be a great conversation starter.

I know that every denomination and every church has a different structure and different definitions of “leadership.”  In my church, we are locally governed by a group of elders, as qualified by 1 Timothy 3.  These are men that I respect, love, and am honored to serve with.  With that context in place, here we go.

Dear Church Leaders,

Let me start by saying that I am honored to serve in the Kingdom with you.  You have been called by God, appointed, and affirmed by our congregation to lead and govern us as a Body.  You bear a heavy burden, and I am thankful for your leadership, your devotion to our Lord and His church, and I write this letter with a submissive heart.  As a co-laborer in Christ, I’d like to share some things from my heart that may encourage and challenge you.  I hope this can open the door to more collaboration in the future.

1.  Your interest in the Youth Ministry means more than you know.  As I speak with fellow Youth Ministers, one of the most common mantras I hear is “I wish my leadership was more aware of what we are doing.”  I know you are busy, and there is no way you can be involved with every ministry in our church.  But you have no idea how encouraging it is to see our leaders stick their head into youth group on a Wednesday or Sunday night, to volunteer to run an inflatable at a 5th Quarter, or even just to ask us in the hallway how the ministry is going.  Those little connections make a BIG difference!

2.  Embrace our differences.  One of the greatest things about the Body of Christ is that it is full of very different people serving One God in very different ways.  There are a lot of things about the students I minister to that would probably blow your mind, and the methods I employ may not make sense to you, but I hope I have proven that you can trust me.  Students live online through smartphones and tablets.  They spend HOURS on Snapchat, Kik, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and more.  I know we may be very different, but I’m certain we both have a place for ministry in this congregation.  So, forgive me when it sounds like I’m speaking Greek, or when I’m asking for some gadget in my budget that weirds you out.  Hear me out, and I guarantee I’ll have a reason for it.  Then, we can go from there.

3.  Give me feedback…any feedback…please.  I believe with all of my heart that God has called me to this ministry, and specifically to ministry in this church.  I think about youth ministry when I get up, when I go to bed, and almost every minute in between.  I’d love to hear from you about your perceptions concerning our youth ministry.  I have blind spots, and I need your feedback so that I can improve.  Be honest, be kind, but I want to be the absolute best Youth Minister possible.  You can help me with that.

4.  Don’t be afraid to try something crazy.  One truth about leadership that I learned early on was that you will never make everyone happy.  You have been given a huge responsibility to shepherd and lead the flock, and sometimes, that means shaking people up.  I challenge you to take a leap every now and then, think outside the box, and make people uncomfortable.  Some of the best decisions I’ve ever made in ministry seemed a little crazy at the start.  I know it may mean criticism from time to time, but don’t be afraid to try something new and different.

5.  Pray for our students.  Our students are in a crazy world.  Many of them have difficult home lives, some struggle with abuse and neglect.  Others are being pressured by coaches, parents, teachers, and school administrators to perform at near-perfect levels in every area of life.  It seems that the students’ calendars are more full than mine with academics, athletics, church, extracurriculars, and more.  Lift them up in prayer often.  It would be greatly appreciated.

I am praying for you, for our church, and for your leadership.  I believe we can do some amazing things together for the Kingdom, and I am eager and ready to follow your lead.  Let’s do this!

Avoiding the Holy Huddle – Challenging Students Beyond the Church Walls

I think one of the most important lessons we can teach our students is that the Kingdom of God is larger than the four walls of our church building.  When students graduate from our ministry, I hope that they find a place to worship, to serve, to grow, and to connect with other Christians.  Whether they end up worshiping at Hazelwood with us or somewhere else, the goal is that they stick to their faith, no matter where God may lead them.  Showing them God’s work around the world, in my opinion, helps prepare them to serve God in any location.

As a ministry, there are some deliberate steps we take to help students see the global God at work.  I’d love to share some of these steps with you, and hear some feedback on what YOU do to prepare your students for the global Kingdom.  As we collaborate, perhaps we can better prepare students for life after youth group.

1.  Connection with Other Youth Ministries


For whatever reason, it seems that youth groups have become more autonomous in the past decade.   It seems like less youth groups are participating in collaborative efforts like area-wide youth rallies, statewide conferences, and so forth.  I still believe these hold value for our students, particularly when it comes to showing them the Kingdom outside their own church.    Our Youth Ministry still participates in statewide conferences, where we can be encouraged and connect with other youth groups from our state.  For our last conference, we took a local church with us and partnered with them.  We also stay connected with other ministries in our area through Youth Minister monthly gatherings.

2.  Local Service Opportunities

Students love to serve, and giving students opportunities to serve locally opens their eyes to the world around them.  When students see the needs around them, they begin to understand how their gifts might help meet the needs of the world around them.  1 Peter 4:10 says, “Each one should use whatever gift he has receive to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.”  Our church offers many different opportunities for young and old alike to serve in the community.  Though we could always do more, I’m thankful for a church that has an outward focus in this area.

3.  Mission Trips for All Age Groups

Acts 1:8 says, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  We model our Youth Missions Program after this verse, offering trips for each age group in our ministry to challenge and encourage them to see God at work in various cultures and subcultures.  Middle Schoolers participate in “Jerusalem,” or local mission trips through Mission Indy, an organization with an amazing purpose (you can check them out at www.missionindy.com).  High School students travel via bus somewhere on the continent (Samaria, to continue the analogy).  Throughout my twelve years at HCC, we’ve taken High Schoolers to Tennessee, South Dakota, Mexico, New Hampshire, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York, Tampa, Washington, D.C., and more.  Some trips are work-related, some are relational, and some are prayer-focused.  Finally, an area we are growing in is with our College Age students, who travel abroad (the ends of the earth).  This past summer, we took a group of 12 to Honduras, and we are making plans for another trip in a couple years.  By offering trips for all ages, students see the global God at work.

4.  Purposeful Guest Speakers

Sometimes, we can get very protective of our youth groups, and not allow them to hear from people with other viewpoints or doctrines.  By having relationships with other Youth Ministers in our area, I am comfortable asking some of them to come share with my group from time to time.  While I choose carefully, this can be a great way for students to wrestle with doctrinal issues while they are still under your tutelage.  This past summer, our guest speaker for our huge High School Adventure Trip was a great Youth Minister friend named Tyson from a local church.  He did a great job, and I think my students were blessed by His messages.  I challenge you to invite some purposeful guest speakers into your Youth Ministry.

5.  Continuous Challenges to Change the World Around Them

I know we all do this, but it’s worth mentioning that our students should constantly be challenged to be the “light of the world” and the “salt of the earth.”  By continually challenging our students to change the world, it reminds them that God has a purpose and a mission for them, even now!  I believe this encouragement goes a long way in making mission-minded, lifelong disciples.

I’m eager to hear from you – what do you do to help students experience God outside the walls of your church building?

An Open Letter to Students on Identity

Dear Student,

I see what is going on.  You might think it’s invisible to the people around you, but I see it.  I see how you are working so hard for approval from those around you.  I see the clothes you wear, the things you buy, the music you listen to, and the way you act around others.  Sometimes, I wonder if these things really add up to equal YOU or just some version of you that is “presentable” to the masses.  You have so much of your identity wrapped up in what others think of you, and I want you to know that what they think really doesn’t matter.

You might wonder how I know these things.  Well, it’s because not that long ago, I was like you.  I know you probably think I’m way too old to understand, but I remember going through Middle School and High School.  I remember entering the school every day, hoping that I didn’t do anything stupid that would draw the ridicule of the “popular kids.”  I remember the uncertainty of the lunchroom, a virtual gauntlet, the caste system with tater tots.  Where do I sit?  Who are my friends?  Who can I trust?  I know it’s sometimes overwhelming, and I know you want so badly to fit in, but I think I’ve found a better way.

Instead of wrapping your identity around clothes, music, popularity, and how many “likes” you get on your Instagram, why not try putting your trust in Jesus?  You might think that sounds hokey or ridiculous, but here are some truths that I have come to find pretty powerful from God’s Word.

1.  God created us in His image.  We are His.


Genesis tells the story of Creation.  God crafted the world in six days.  Everything we see around us was crafted by Him.  Yet only one thing He created was confirmed as being “very good.”  It was us – humanity!  So, the solar system, the beautiful sky, the most incredible animal you can think of…all of it pales in comparison to you!  God created you, and you are His!

2.  God’s love for you is unconditional.


1 John tells us that God is love.  John 3:16 reminds us that God loves us so much that He sent His Son for us.  But I think Romans 5:8 says it best.  “God demonstrates His love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  The world is all about what you bring to the table, what you provide.  God loves you unconditionally.  God’s love isn’t dependent on what you do, He loves you for who You are.  You can’t earn more of God’s love, and you can’t escape it.  God loves you…period.  Read Romans 8:38-39 if you don’t believe me.

3.  Trusting in God gives you purpose and direction.


One of the best truths that God gives us is that of purpose.  When we trust in God, we believe not only in His unconditional love, but also His divine plan for each of us.  God has something in mind that only you can accomplish, that only you can do.  He created you, He crafted you to be the person you are, and gave you your gifts, abilities, and personality to accomplish His purposes.  Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  God has a plan, so you have a purpose.

I have found great joy and solace in knowing that I have a God who loves me unconditionally, who created me in His image, and who has a plan for me.  With these truths firmly in place, I am free to follow Christ, to focus on what He has in store for me, and to rest my identity in the One who will never let me down.  And that, dear student, is a beautiful place to be.

In Christ, Your Youth Minister

An Open Letter to Students on Identity

Dear Student,

I see what is going on.  You might think it’s invisible to the people around you, but I see it.  I see how you are working so hard for approval from those around you.  I see the clothes you wear, the things you buy, the music you listen to, and the way you act around others.  Sometimes, I wonder if these things really add up to equal YOU or just some version of you that is “presentable” to the masses.  You have so much of your identity wrapped up in what others think of you, and I want you to know that what they think really doesn’t matter.

You might wonder how I know these things.  Well, it’s because not that long ago, I was like you.  I know you probably think I’m way too old to understand, but I remember going through Middle School and High School.  I remember entering the school every day, hoping that I didn’t do anything stupid that would draw the ridicule of the “popular kids.”  I remember the uncertainty of the lunchroom, a virtual gauntlet, the caste system with tater tots.  Where do I sit?  Who are my friends?  Who can I trust?  I know it’s sometimes overwhelming, and I know you want so badly to fit in, but I think I’ve found a better way.

Instead of wrapping your identity around clothes, music, popularity, and how many “likes” you get on your Instagram, why not try putting your trust in Jesus?  You might think that sounds hokey or ridiculous, but here are some truths that I have come to find pretty powerful from God’s Word.

1.  God created us in His image.  We are His.


Genesis tells the story of Creation.  God crafted the world in six days.  Everything we see around us was crafted by Him.  Yet only one thing He created was confirmed as being “very good.”  It was us – humanity!  So, the solar system, the beautiful sky, the most incredible animal you can think of…all of it pales in comparison to you!  God created you, and you are His!

2.  God’s love for you is unconditional.


1 John tells us that God is love.  John 3:16 reminds us that God loves us so much that He sent His Son for us.  But I think Romans 5:8 says it best.  “God demonstrates His love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  The world is all about what you bring to the table, what you provide.  God loves you unconditionally.  God’s love isn’t dependent on what you do, He loves you for who You are.  You can’t earn more of God’s love, and you can’t escape it.  God loves you…period.  Read Romans 8:38-39 if you don’t believe me.

3.  Trusting in God gives you purpose and direction.


One of the best truths that God gives us is that of purpose.  When we trust in God, we believe not only in His unconditional love, but also His divine plan for each of us.  God has something in mind that only you can accomplish, that only you can do.  He created you, He crafted you to be the person you are, and gave you your gifts, abilities, and personality to accomplish His purposes.  Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  God has a plan, so you have a purpose.

I have found great joy and solace in knowing that I have a God who loves me unconditionally, who created me in His image, and who has a plan for me.  With these truths firmly in place, I am free to follow Christ, to focus on what He has in store for me, and to rest my identity in the One who will never let me down.  And that, dear student, is a beautiful place to be.

In Christ, Your Youth Minister