What I pray before I speak to students

Every Wednesday Night before the students show up, right after I print out the final draft of my message, I pray this prayer. Maybe not word for word, but this same idea every time.



Thank You for the opportunity to speak to these students that You have given to this ministry.

I am not worthy of speaking Your truth into these kids’ lives, yet You make me worthy through Your grace and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Thank You for the time and the resources You have allowed me to have to prepare this message.

Forgive me for anything I may have overlooked in my message.

Forgive me for the times this week that I could have been studying more but instead I was scrolling though Facebook & Twitter or justified a lack of preparation to something that came up this week.

Forgive me when I rushed through my analogies or come up with stuff on the spot that may or may not work well with the message.

Purge any arrogance in my heart. Remind me that the only reason I am behind that pulpit tonight is because You have placed me there. Lord, remind me that it is not about:

  • me,
  • how many students laugh at my jokes,
  • if students think I am relevant,
  • if I’m looking fresh tonight,
  • or if the color scheme for my PowerPoint presentation is really good.

Remind me that the main reason I am up there is to point them back to You; to make much of Your name and to lead them to be disciples and make disciples for You.

Lord, help me not to find my value in the attendance number or returning visitors, but to find value in being faithful to Your calling in my life.

Be glorified tonight! I pray that You will do a work in the students’ hearts and that You speak through me.

In Your Son’s great name,


Giving Constructive Criticism

Confrontation.  It’s hard, it’s messy, but it’s needed.

So how do you give constructive criticism to someone in a way that isn’t rejected? I’m going to present a method to give it in a way that makes the other person feel like “Hey, I’m doing a good job, I just need to work on a few things” rather than “I’m a piece of crap and I need to go move back in with my mommy.”

It’s called the Feedback Sandwich.

It’s as simple as this: Begin with a praise.  Give the critique.  Then end with a praise.

But…be careful not to turn the feedback sandwich into a “You’re Awesome.  You suck. You’re Awesome.” There needs to be balance in what you say.

The format goes: “Name, praise; YET (never say but) critique. If this happens, that praise will be even more praise-y, because you are so praise-y.” (See? lots of praise!)

Here are some examples:

Have a volunteer who never tells you when they’re coming or not coming?  Joe, our teens really love you and get so excited when you are here; yet, you can be here so randomly that even I don’t know when you’re coming.  If you can give me a schedule or just let me know when you can’t be here, we can work together in harvesting your gifts so that we are more effective and can reach more kids and impact the Kingdom.

Have a student leader who is struggling with some sin?  Jane, you are a natural-born leader and your peers really look up to you; yet, they can see that you are struggling with this sin.  If you push through and don’t let it hold you back, you can be a even greater example of perseverance and strength to your friends.

Have a pastor who is micromanaging you?  James, I love that you are so invested in our ministry and that you’re not one of those pastors who sits and the sidelines and doesn’t care; yet, I feel like I want to be given a chance to do things more independently.  If I succeed, your validation of me will mean the world, plus it will give you a chance to focus on tasks that really need it.

Genius, huh?

Sometimes it can be hard to find something praise-worthy about that person.  One of the wonderful people in my life who disciple me recently told me, “Sometimes, even if we can’t stand a person, we need to focus on the good traits they have–traits that remind of us God’s traits.”  God is creative, loving, consistent, vocal, active, and countless more wonderful things. We are made in his image, and sometimes we need to remind each other of how we resemble God. What better compliment is that?

And remember, this isn’t fool-proof. There will be those people who reject critique in every single form and who don’t do well in confrontation. I think that’s when you need to go all Matthew 18 on them.  Good luck.

Now…go make me a sandwich.

Have you tried this?  What are some ways that you have effectively given criticism?

Youth Pastors and Self Promotion

How many times have I unfollowed someone on Twitter because they link to their blog every hour?

How many times have I rolled my eyes in a Facebook group for youth pastors because I ask a question, and instead of interaction I get linked to a blog?

How many times have I had a conversation with a youth pastor, and all they can talk about is their accomplishments?

It’s annoying, guys.  But it’s also pretty accurate of what most of us do at times.  Youth pastors, and pastors in general, love to promote themselves.  Why is this?

The Psychology

Youth pastors, by spiritual nature, are teachers and desire to contribute knowledge to their community.

Sometimes at church we might get shut down by a committee, pastors, or even our students.  And perhaps we are insecure; when things aren’t going so hot at church, we over-talk the things we are proud of.  We try to contribute to a community of other youth pastors that can see we have some strengths; strengths that our churches can overlook.

Youth pastors are also used to trying to promote their youth group and begging people to check out their church, web page, or event.  So it makes sense that when we post a blog, we begin begging people to read it.

The Problem

Pride creeps in and tells the pastor that their blog or contribution to the youth pastor community is their identity.  Pride tells them that if they get 100 retweets or comments on their blog, then they are valuable and worthy.

And others can see this pride–it’s redundant when someone fills up my feed with their blog posts and nothing else.  It’s annoying when I ask somebody for help and they just link me to their blog.  It’s usually irrelevant as well.  And hopefully, it’s misrepresentative of the pastor.

As someone who has always struggled with finding her identity in the affirmation of others, it is draining for both my self and for those I interact with.  If I am only finding my confidence in others, where is God in this equation?

The Proper Ways to Promote

Promote your group.

You want to fill my news feed up with something you love?  Quit filling it up with yourself–fill it up with how much you love your students. Your students see your stuff too, and will see that you love ministry not because it makes you “famous” (in your own little world) but because you love students.

Promote community. 

Realize that you need community, not a pat on the back.  It’s great when someone retweets me or tells me I had a great post.  But what we really yearn for is interaction with that post.  So that means we need to interact with others as well.

Promote others.

You want to post links to great information? Great!  Post a variety of links to others’ blogs.  I love posting links to different stuff in my Twitter account; whether it’s youth ministry blogs, parenting sites, youth culture reports, etc.  This shows I don’t just love my blog and what have to say, but many others.

Promoting others is promoting learning and promoting humility.

What do you guys think?  Are you fed up with youth pastors promoting themselves?  How do you make sure that you “promote” your blog, website, or group effectively without becoming obsessed or annoying?

The Key to Good Communication in Youth ministry

I’d like to say that when I was a student in Youth Group, I always relayed pertinent information back to my parents. I mean, I never missed any events and I always knew what was going on… but if I’m honest, more of that probably had to do with my Dad being the Pastor and already having all of the information.

But out of that, it was easy for me to fall into the trap early on in ministry that if a student got a piece of paper with important announcements, surely this slip of paper would make it into the hands of their parents before the end of the night. I think a lot of times we as Youth Pastors hope this to be the case and we trust students with the information, assuming that they are independent and fully capable of taking care of such a simple task.

But they rarely are able to relay important information. And when we assume they are, ministry suffers.

One time I handed out calendars for the next few months at the door as students were leaving.  I gave one to a kid whose mom had parked literally 10 feet from the door; he got the calendar, walked right out the door to the car, got in, and lost it. I didn’t see him lose it, but his Mom never got it, and they couldn’t find it in the van, his room, his clothes, anywhere… It was just gone.

To this day, I have no idea what in the world happened.

I’ve learned a lot about communicating with parents since then and I still am learning, almost every week, how to better keep parents in the loop; not just with dates, but with purpose, vision, and ideals.

I won’t say I’ve discovered any key to this; but what I am reminded of, and am sure you sometimes need to be reminded of as well, is the basic fact and truth that in Youth Ministry the key to good communication is to over-communicate.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate, and then Communicate some more.

We have a few events coming up in the next few weeks that I know our students all know about, but how many of their parents know? How many of their parents know why we are doing them? What’s expected of their students? What’s the cost? Can their students can bring friends?

And something I’ve caught myself saying in the past, and maybe you have too, is that it’s ridiculous for me to have to send out an email about every event, and then write a post on the student ministry website about it, and then post it on Facebook, and then post it on Instagram, and then make hand-out flyers…just to communicate that next Wednesday we are having ice cream on a different part of the campus.

But here are a few things that I have come to rest in for communication in Student Ministry:

1 – I’ll never regret over-communicating, but I will almost always regret communicating poorly.

2 – The ministry will be better if I can pass this off to someone else. It might take more work to get everything prepared for them to make all the emails, blog posts, Instagram images, etc.; but that will just force me to have a more organized event, which in the end, will turn out better.

3 – The reality is that it probably takes less than an hour to over-communicate. Is it worth an hour a week to ensure that all of our students and their parents are going to be aware of what’s going on next week so that they can come, know where to go, not be left out of the loop, and not feel like I don’t care about them? If I ever find myself answering “no” to that question, I only hope it’s because I’m resigning ministry.

So what are your thoughts on communication in Youth Ministry? Would you agree that, for the most part, Youth Pastors are poor communicators? Why do you think students fail to relay information, and how can we help them with that?

Should Youth Groups allow students to use their phones?

This is a topic that seems to get asked about quite a bit by Youth Pastors, especially in our Facebook Group (of nearly 700+). So we decided to have two of our contributors who use technology quite a bit to weigh in on why your students should or shouldn’t use their phones, and tried to steer clear of some of the typical answers.

youth group cell phonesRead Jeremy Smith’s thoughts on why Youth Groups should absolutely let their students use their cell phones.



turn cell phones off in church

Read Ben Read’s thoughts on why Youth Groups are better off not allowing students to have their cell phones.

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Youth Ministry and the art of Running the Race by Phil Bell

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The trainer vs. the Developer  by Brandon Anderson

Dear Youth Leader by Greg Stier

Bruises and Excuses by Jarrid Wilson

STUDY: Texting while driving now leading cause of death in teen drivers by Delthia Ricks

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