Side Project

Hey guys! I am taking a short break from my multiple weekly blog posts.  I’m doing a side project that I’m super excited about.  It has absolutely nothing to do with youth ministry (gasp!) but is taking up more of my time than anticipated.  Just thought I would give you a heads up! I’ll be back soon! 

A Few Things Every Parent Should Know About Youth Ministry


Youth Ministry is probably the best job ever.  We get to play video games all day, leave the office at 2PM after taking a 2 hour lunch, and we almost never have to buy our own food on the weekends because we can just order pizza with the Church credit card.  We only have to do real work on Sundays – even then, it’s pretty easy!

That’s what a lot of people think youth ministry is.  As awesome as that sounds, it’s not an accurate description of youth ministry.  Believe it or not, youth ministry is more than games, pizza, and glorified babysitting. Here are a few things I wish every parent knew about youth ministry:

1) Youth ministry is a lot of work. We almost always work 5 days a week.  We’re on call 24/7.  There is a ton of work that goes into making an event, small groups, youth group, and mission trips happen. As much as it may seem like we only work on Sundays, that is far from the truth. 

2) Your expectations of your youth worker are probably too high. Most youth workers quit their jobs after a couple of years because they cannot meet the unrealistic expectations of parents and Church staff. Do you want our youth group to triple in one year? So do I!  Is this a realistic goal? Probably not.  Make sure that you’re setting realistic goals in your mind for your Church’s youth ministry and its staff. 

3) We really do plan intentionally.  I know sometimes it seems like we’re doing a Super Bowl party, lock-in, or ski trip just for fun, but we have planned every single event intentionally.  We do parties and lock-ins so our youth can experience genuine Christian fellowship and we often use them as a chance to do service in our community. We do our ski-trips because we get some of our best worship times during these trips.  Everything we do has a Biblical purpose behind it (except maybe our hot-dog eating contest…that’s just for fun)! 

What are some things that you think every parent should know about youth ministry? 

Youth Group from a Student’s Perspective

I recently had the chance to sit down with Alex Burks, one of my former youth group students.  He is now graduated from High School but sticks around to help at his local Church with the youth program.  I asked him some questions about his experiences in youth growing up an he had a ton of good stuff to say!

What was you favorite part of the youth group? My favorite part of youth was probably worship. It was real, even if some people didn’t sing or clap or do anything for that matter, at least it was real. We were who we were with God, and I miss that sometimes.

How many youth workers did you have between 6th-12th grade? I had 4 or 5 youth pastors.
Do you like getting new youth workers often, or do you wish they would stick around? One thing I learned was that the longer somebody stays, the more it sucks when they leave. I wish we could have had a consistent YP, but change has proven to be good in the past. With a new leader comes new ideas that the group can build on.

What are some qualities that you admire in your youth workers? I like how enthusiastic the heart of a youth leader is. It takes a brave man or woman to lock oneself in a church with a bunch of hormonal, irritable, trouble making, or otherwise unruly children. The spontaneity of a youth leader is also a lot of fun.

What are some qualities that you don’t like in your youth worker? I don’t like how youth leaders can sometimes cause their youth to develop bad habits. One of my former youth leaders thought it was perfectly acceptable to listen to negative secular music and watch any kind of television show or movie, “as long as you don’t let it affect your relationship with God.’ Pfft, well that’s impossible.

Anything Else? That’s basically all I can say, I’m still not sure if its what I want to do for the rest of my life, but I do respect youth ministers more than people of any other occupation. The job is not easy, but it is rewarding.

What do your students have to say about their youth workers? If you don’t know, I encourage you to find out! I’ll be interviewing more students over the next few months and sharing the honest feedback I receive.  I would love to hear some of yours, too!

  Alex Burks is a graduate of North Harrison High School in Ramsey, IN.  Alex has enlisted to be a member of the United States Air Force and is looking forward to beginning his career as an airman.

My Budget Sucks.


Does your youth ministry budget suck?

Do all other areas of ministry seem to get more money than you do?  Do you feel like you’re constantly doing fundraisers to get money for the simplest things and everyone else has some money in the budget for necessities of their area of ministry? If you feel this way, you’re not alone.

Our youth ministry has a pretty fair budget but it’s definitely not much compared to others in our Church.  We made a big push to get a bigger budget this year and are still waiting from our finance committee to find out whether or not our proposed budget was approved.

I’ve found myself thinking, “What if we don’t get an increase?  Worse yet, what if we get a decrease in our budget? What will we do!?!”

This morning I was reading through Proverbs and came across this verse:

Proverbs 24:3-4
Through wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; and by knowledge the rooms shall be filled with all precious and pleasant riches.

This verse shook me up a bit.  I think that having a healthy budget is a huge help to any sustainable youth ministry.  But is it necessary? No…it’s not.  God can work in the lives of our youth with a $40,000 youth budget or a $100 youth budget.

Maybe we won’t be able to afford a new ping-pong table this year.  Maybe we won’t be able to upgrade our Wii systems to WiiU’s.  Maybe we can’t have many freebies at youth this year and will have to do a few less object lessons.  But will this stop God from working? No.  Does a small budget mean a small youth ministry? No.

So, if your budget sucks, deal with it. God will continue to work in your youth ministry – I promise.  If you have a good budget, be thankful and make sure to use it wisely. Our God is bigger than money. Remember that.

The Importance of Volunteers

Tomorrow a guest post I wrote for MORF magazine will be published about recruiting volunteers.  It’s perfect timing because yesterday I was able to see the fruit of my volunteers abundantly.

We had a 3.5 to 1 youth to volunteer ratio yesterday.  In my early years in youth ministry I would have thought this was excessive, but I would have been so wrong.

Having a 3-5 to 1 youth to volunteer ratio frees you up to do SO much with your students. You can have your volunteers each do one or two of the little things that take you away from the youth.  I was able to have two volunteers pair up and each lead discussion groups which enabled me to float around a bit to different groups and hear a little bit of what each group was saying.

I had volunteers organize the clean-up, the snacks, and the supervision of some of the more “rowdy” youth.

Guys – I’m telling you – the more volunteers the better! Our youth LOVE to have adults there, too.  It makes them feel more like they’re a part of the Church as a whole – not just the youth group.

Make sure you say thank you to your volunteers – they’re awesome.  If you don’t have a lot, then go recruit!

I know this is more of a rant than a legit post, but I am so thankful for my volunteers and I wanted to share that with all of you.

Interview with YL Summit Team


On February 22-23, 2013 there will be a new youth ministry conference in town – it’s called the Youth Leader’s Summit.  I’m stoked about this event! I had the chance to sit down with the team and get some info.

What is the Youth Leader’s Summit?

Youth Leaders Summit (YLS) exists to Encourage, Equip, and Empower those who work with Students. It is a conference for your entire youth ministry team, whether you are paid, unpaid, volunteers, interns, new to ministry, or a ministry veteran, this is the conference for you. Austin Walker had a wild and crazy dream five years ago to have a conference that had the bells and whistles of other conferences with an added focus on connection to other youth workers for encouragement and resources. Youth Leaders Summit was born out of Austin’s desire to impact the world for Jesus. He believes that each of us, as individuals, has the ability to truly disciple about 12 students at a time, following the example of Jesus. YLS was created with the dream in mind to uplift youth leaders in three ways. The first is by encouraging them that what they do for God has incredible value. Next, to equip youth workers with tools and ideas to more effectively disciple students. Finally, it is important to empower them to take those tools and use them to the best of their abilities for God’s glory that the world would be forever changed. The model was taken one step further by desiring to connect youth workers to one another for regular fellowship and providing a place to share programming ideas and resources allowing each to be as effective as possible at discipling students so that millions will be reached.

The connection within and outside the conference itself sounds great – but how will you accomplish that?

Social media will be a huge resource.  We’ll use a ton of avenues of social media to keep connected.  We are also going to try to meet up in person by region.  In addition to those we’re going to use our webinar platform to communicate with Summit attendees.  We’ll keep up with periodic e-mails and see how you’re doing, too.  And if that’s not enough – we’re going to give out all of our contact info – we want to be available year-round to youth workers when they need it.

So….who are you?

We are youth workers, either currently or previously. (All the bios for the speakers are on the website We have a passion for Jesus, a passion for students, and a passion for transforming students’ lives for the glory of God. We believe that there are things that have worked in the programs that we have studied and implemented and want to share that expertise with others.

We also make it a point to have fun while we do all of those things!! We love to laugh with and at each other (usually at each other).

You like to laugh? Do you guys pull a lot of pranks on each other?

We don’t do many elaborate pranks or anything that involves too much work…but we do really like scaring each other   Oh, we also throw dodgeballs at each other when we walk through doors…we like to have fun!

Click Here for a sample of the YL Summit team’s scaring fun! 

Please note that I (Tom) encouraged Austin and the gang to pop out and scare all of the YL Summit attendees frequently – it would make the event fun and terrifying! 

Why should I go to YLS? There are a ton of other good conferences (SYMC, Orange, NYWC, etc) and my budget only allows for one conference a year. 

These are great conferences! However, they are quite expensive, time-consuming, and tend to be impersonal. YLS is going to offer great things, including high quality worship and messages, but we are really focused on connecting youth workers with one another for one common goal – to reach students for Jesus Christ. YLS doesn’t have a publishing company, or a curriculum line attached to it. Rather, we are focused solely on the execution of effective relationships with students and programming for students. We understand that there are financial constraints attached to what we, as youth workers, can do as far as continuing education. It is our desire that no one be turned away from YLS, which is why we have started our pricing so low.

Discounts are also offered in order to make it work financially for as many people as possible. We want to help anyone who works with students on any level to create lasting connections on a higher level of effectiveness together.

I love free stuff. Will there be freebies?

There will be freebies at each of our big group sessions and many of our breakout sessions.

Austin – what’s the funniest face you can make?


That’s an epic face. Okay…back on topic. Okay…this all sound great, but…why Minnesota? Why February?

Well it’s my (Austin) home base.  I’m from here and I can network here with some of my existing resources.  The YL Summit definitely has the capacity to expand with time, but we had to start somewhere, so why not home? We chose February because the spring just gets really busy with planning our summer programs and everything else going on. Any later than February is tough too, because there are so many conflicting spring breaks.  If we waited until fall then we would be competing with a lot of other established conferences.  Plus it’s the new year and we all have shiny new budgets and funding for continuing education.

Awesome stuff, guys.  When is your next FREE webinar? 

January 17th at 8PM CT.  We’ll be discussing the topic, “When Tragedy Strikes”.  With national events like Newtown this is a really important topic to cover.  We’ve personally had a ton of tragedy in our Church this year, too.  We just want to discuss some healthy ways to handle tragedy when it happens. The best part? It’s totally free! Click here to sign up!

Thanks guys! 

Make sure you check out the YL Summit this year! You don’t want to miss it! 

Our Contact Information



Phone: 651-300-4YLS (4957)

Social Media:

Find us on Facebook: YouthLeadersSummit

Follow us on Twitter: @YLSUMMIT

Follow us on Pinterest: YLSUMMIT

Follow us on Instagram: YLSUMMIT

5 Ways to See Your Students More

I love that a lot of us are being encouraged to make students a priority over administration, design, planning, etc. in 2013.  This is awesome! Here are a few things you can do to make sure you see your students more this year:

1) Invite them over for dinner.  This one is great – call the family and invite them over for dinner.  The best part? 9/10 times they will invite you over instead!  Free food and a lot of quality time with students. 

2) Go to as many of their events as possible.  Keep track of sports and extra-curriculars and go see your youth perform!  This one seems like a given, but it’s easy to forget unless it’s a student on the varsity football/basketball team.  Make sure you’re checking out the drama club and chess club, too. 

3) Pull random all-nighters.  Is your wife/husband out of town? Need something to do? Grab a few guys for a random all-nighter! Make sure you get another adult chaperone, a case of monsters, and a 5 lb bag of gummy bears.  Then plug in your X Box and you’re ready to go!  My students LOVE when I do this!

4) Get snapchat.  This is a great app that lets you send silly pictures back and forth with your youth.  Snapchat is notoriously connected with “Sexting”, so be careful that you’re not sending anything stupid (I know it would be funny to send that dude in your small group of picture of you mooning him, but it’s not the best idea).  This is a great way to “see” your students when you can’t hang out with them and it enforces that this app can be used for fun – not just sexting. 

5) Hang out with them at your programs.  This one seems glaringly obvious but is often the most overlooked on the list. Sometimes we’ll be so busy with the program itself that we forget to hang out with our students.  Make sure that you try to connect with as many students as you can when they come to your event!

What are some ways that you make sure you see more of your students every week?

“Speaking to Teenagers” Giveaway!

speakingtoteenagersCongrats SCOTT!  You’re the winner! Enjoy your FREE book!

I recently received a copy of Speaking to Teenagers by Doug Fields and Duffy Robbins.  I saw the book and thought to myself, “I’m already pretty good at speaking to teenagers – why would I need to read this book?”  Despite my initial attitude, I decided to give the book a shot – after all, Doug Fields and Duffy Robbins are pretty legit.

I read this book and loved it.  It’s a great tool to anyone in youth ministry – no matter how much experience you have speaking to teenagers.  I enjoyed it so much that I decided to purchase another copy to give away to one of my readers!

I’ll pick one lucky winner to receive a copy of Speaking to Teenagers  on Tuesday January 22nd, 2013 (winner to be picked at random).

Here’s how to enter:

Comment here on how you would use the book – just a fun read, to give to your Church’s youth leader, to improve your speaking skills, etc.

Tweet this message to be entered again! – I just entered to win “Speaking to Teenagers” from @tomdshriver – so can you! Enter to win here:

Guest Post: The Sabbath is Even More Important Than You Think


Do you make your day off an uncompromising priority?

Or do you cheat too often, resting only when you “can”? Most youth workers report that they fail to take a regular weekly Sabbath.

And all of the time, they fail to understand the consequences that stem from that decision.

There’s a reason God commands us to rest. He knows we can’t function without it. You know why I don’t work on Saturday? For the same reason that I don’t kill people or provide false witness. This is too often lost on church professionals, but the Sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments, and God was as serious about this one as he was about the others. 

Remember this. Skipping your Sabbath is absolutely Biblically disobedient.

Just in case that’s not cause enough for you: People who rest are more effective workers. Try this article or a dozen others just like it. People who take time to rest and recharge simply get more done. That means there’s an excellent chance you’ll actually get more done in a fully-charged 40-hour week than if you run yourself ragged.

Sabbath-skipping is the best way to ensure you burn out of the ministry. In my interviews with former youth workers, 80% report that they didn’t take a regular Sabbath.

I’m sure there are important things that are keeping you away from your day off, but I promise you they are not more important than your career and your ministry.

Your body-clock is going to take a break anyway. Maybe you won’t take a day off, but you’ll almost certainly make it up in other ways. You might take a nap during the week or spend a few hours zoned-out and cruising YouTube.

Whatever you do, remember that the Sabbath isn’t just some suggestion from a blogger; it’s a commandment from God, for your protection and benefit.

What are things that keep you from taking a Sabbath?What do YOU need to do to make keeping this commandment a priority?

ImageAaron Helman is on a mission to help end the epidemic of youth worker burnout. He writes Smarter Youth Ministry to help youth workers with their biggest frustrations – things like managing time and stress. He is also the youth minister at Firehouse Youth Ministries in South Bend, Indiana.

10 Ways to Fail as a Youth Worker (Part 2)


This post is the second of a two part series.  To read Part 1, Click Here!

6) Don’t reach out to parents.  When I was a kid, my mom made me go to youth group.  I didn’t always want to go – but she would make me get in the car each Wednesday night and go anyway.  Why? Because she had a good relationship with my youth pastors.  She knew their heart and vision and believed in the program they had established.  If my youth pastors had not developed a relationship with my parents, I may not be where I am today. It’s important to connect with as many families as you can, or you will #fail!

7) Don’t have a volunteer team.  I have known youth ministers who like to do it all themselves – DON’T! We can do it by ourselves but it’s no healthy at all – it will make us and our students #fail.  If we’re the only ones in spiritual leadership positions then our students tend to rely on us – not God.  This also leads to youth ministry burnout – always have a strong team of volunteers to help you along the way.

8) Don’t spend more time with your spouse than your youth. Family comes first – period.  If you are with your youth more than you’re with your spouse, you’re #failing.  Make sure you’re talking to your husband/wife often and asking if they feel your ministry is getting in the way of your relationship.  If it is, then step back a bit.  Your marriage always comes first – period.

9) Don’t be original.  I love reading about what other youth pastors are doing.  This gives some really good ideas that can be implemented in our youth program, too.  Make sure you’re not just doing someone else’s program week after week.  If the Church across the street did something that was a big hit that doesn’t mean it will be a big hit for you too. Be original in what you do! The kids that come to your youth group come because they like your youth group.  If they wanted to do the same events as the Church across the street then, well, they would be attending the Church across the street! It’s okay to borrow sometimes, but make sure your overall group is original – or you’ll probably #fail.

10) Don’t debrief programs. No matter what the program is – always debrief! I typically break events into three categories – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.  I note the good things (made money, had good numbers, brought teens to Christ, etc).  I note the bad things (lost money, not much attendance, not enough publicity, the message was lost, etc).  I note the ugly things (youth snuck alcohol to event, two students made out in the closet during sardines, one of my kids broke his leg due to my negligence  etc).  This will help you decide whether or not to do this event again and how you can improve it next time.  Make sure to send your debrief form to all of your adult volunteers involved to get