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.

“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

10 Ways to Fail as a Youth Worker (Part 1)


We use the twitter hashtag #fail all the time.  Our students use it even more! Here are a few ways to ensure that thy include you in the #fail category:

1) Don’t talk to your students unless it’s at a youth program.  If you don’t follow up with your students throughout the week or on weeks where they have to miss youth, you’ll end up #failing.  Make sure to reach out to students throughout the week.

2) Don’t have a spiritual mentor.  If you don’t have someone who it wiser and more seasoned than yourself, you’re bound to #fail.  Always (yes I mean always) have someone who can lead you through your life in ministry.  You will always have something to learn – make sure you’re learning it!

3) Don’t plan ahead.  I had to learn this one the hard way.  It’s hard to compete with youth activities (sports, chess club, drama club, etc) – one reason it’s so hard is because they plan so far ahead!  As soon as their activities start they are, for the most part, mapped out for the rest of the year.  We’ll schedule a lock-in 2 weeks from now and wonder why someone wouldn’t skip their tennis match to make it to our lock-in…#fail.  Always try to be one step ahead of the game – the best way to do this is to make a year long calendar – and stick with it! It takes time, but it’s worth it in the end.

4) Don’t educate yourself.  If you don’t go to conferences, read books/blog posts, or connect with other youth workers then it’s going to be tough for you to be on top of your game in youth ministry.  One of the reasons I absolutely love the youth ministry field is the amount of cheap training there is and the support we receive from one another.  Take advantage of these resources or you will likely #fail.

5) Don’t stay connected with other youth workers in your area. This is a follow up to #4, but it’s so important.  Build a community of youth workers in your area.  This is such an easy way to keep you from #failing.  Meet once a month (or more!) and chat about your struggles and successes.  Offer encouragement to one another.  Pray for each other.  We’re all in this calling for the same purpose – to bring teens to Christ.  Let’s help each other out!

(Continued in Part 2)