Category Archives for "youth ministry"

Taking Time To Invest In The Next Generation


Leadership is not about the next election, it’s about the next generation.

Simon Sinek

I volunteer on Sunday night as an adult leader at my church’s high school youth group, and I have a confession:  I don’t always enjoy it.  I sometimes feel out-of-place.  I sometimes feel like I’m the “old guy.”  And I occasionally wonder if I’m making a difference.

(How did I become the “old guy”?)

This weekend, I was talking to my wife about some recent thoughts and observations regarding my role.

Without fail, I end up having a few conversations each week with students.  These conversations confirm my initial decision to volunteer with this ministry.

Students arrive at youth group with all kinds of baggage.

  • They are stressed out, because they have a big project, paper, or test due in the coming days.
  • They are exhausted, because they are super involved in sports, music, or other activities.
  • They are lonely, because they don’t have real friends.
  • They are insecure, because they don’t have a secure and stable home life.
  • They are confused, because they are flooded with conflicting messages at home, at school, and especially on-line.
  • They are struggling, because they don’t fit in, they got involved with an unhealthy habit or relationship, and they are afraid to ask for help.

I can’t solve their problems, but I can be there to listen.  I can give them feedback based on my experiences.  I can be there to be a positive example in their lives.  And I can be there to let them know they are valued.

In my discussion with my wife, I was reminded of the importance of plugging into those who are younger.  If you are reading this, you more than likely have experiences and wisdom to share with others.  You have the opportunity to become a mentor, an advocate, and a cheerleader for those coming behind you.

If you want to leave a legacy…if you want to be stretched, be intentional.  Invest in those who are younger than you.

When you do this, you’ll discover:

  • There is hope for the future.
  • The next generation is full of promise.
  • The youth of today can actually teach you.
  • You can make a difference in the lives of those who are younger than you.

If you feel like you still have a long way to go (and we all have a long way to go), seek out a mentor for you.

I have a renewed respect for those who invested in me.  I think of my youth leaders.  I think of my teachers,  I think of my bosses.  I think of my parents.  I’m guessing they had similar concerns about my generation, and yet they continued to invest in people like me.  They listened to me.  They encouraged me.  They pushed me forward.  They loved me, and they helped me feel valuable.

Now it’s my turn!

And it’s your turn too!

Who invested in you?  How are you investing in the next generation?

For other related articles, check out:




Plate Spinning

A few months ago, I had to explain what the expression “plate spinning” means to one of the younger members of our department.  He had just been promoted from a design engineering position to a position that required more project management responsibility.  As I was explaining to him about the challenges of staying on top of all the different aspects of his new job, I used the expression “plate spinning”, and he looked at me with a puzzled look.

I explained to him what the expression meant, and I thought to myself “I am getting old.”

Plate spinning was a popular “talent” exhibited on television shows like The Ed Sullivan Show.  I seem to remember seeing it for the first time on The Bozo Show.

I use the phrase all the time as it often describes very well the self-inflicted challenge I face by trying to accomplish too many things at the same time.

I’m glad I could educate my team member on the fine art of plate spinning, but this conversation was a good reminder of our need to stay culturally relevant.  If I didn’t take the time to explain this expression, my younger team member may have simply thought I was crazy.  It’s essential we find ways to connect with those coming behind us.  We have things to share and a message to pass along, but we will miss out on opportunities for this message to be received if we don’t connect with the receiver of the message – if we don’t speak their language.

If we’re serious about having a mission mindset, it is important that we take the time to become culturally relevant – to know and understand those around us and to consider how we can share our message in a way that connects with our audience.

This is one of the reasons I enjoy hanging out with the teenagers at our church.  It seems impossible to me, but I’m one of the “older” adult volunteers in the group.  I have learned quite a bit from the teens.  I often find myself asking them what a phrase or comment means.  For example, someone said “YOLO.”  I didn’t know what they were saying, so I asked.  (You only live once.)

So here is my question for you:  What are you doing to make sure your message is heard?  How are you staying culturally relevant in an ever evolving world?

What’s your favorite expression and does it still make sense in today’s world (or do you need to explain it)?

6 Things To Remember About PCTC 2014

I went to my very first PCTC this weekend in Harrisburg, PA.

PCTC stands for Pursue Christian Teen Conference.  It’s a conference held each year at the Harrisburg Hilton which is designed to help teenagers take the next step in pursuing Christ.  This year’s theme for PCTC was The Walking Dead.  Conference planners, speakers, and singers used zombies (walking dead people) to help the teenagers learn and have a blast.

The weekend left me exhausted and uplifted.  Hanging out with teenagers for an entire weekend is a stretching experience to say the least.  They have endless energy and unbelievable passion for life.  Students today are facing bigger issues than I ever realized.  They are coming from broken homes.  They are challenged in their faith by a world which seems to be pulling them away from Christianity.  They are in pain.  They even hurt themselves in order to relieve some of the pain inflicted by others.  These students need hope in their lives.

PCTC provides a place and opportunities to inject hope into the lives of these teenagers.

I have a lot to process as I recover from my first PCTC experience.  Here are six of the thoughts and memories running through my head:

6 Things To Remember About PCTC 2014

  1. Next year, I need to take the day after PCTC off from work.  I did not realize how much energy PCTC would entail.  Teenagers apparently don’t require as much sleep as adults which is okay.  I just wasn’t quite ready for it.
  2. Bert Crabbe did an amazing job teaching the high school students.  I will look at the story of the leper and the paralytic much differently thanks to Bert’s marvelous story telling.  We are all unclean like Steve the leper.  We need Christ to make us clean.  We need to be like Fred the paralytic’s four friends.  We need to bring our hurting friends to Christ.
  3. Worship was amazing.  I know it took our students a little while to get used to the different music and style of the worship band.  Despite some technical glitches with the projector, I felt drawn to God through our times of worship together.  We don’t typically get extended periods of time to sing like this in our typical church services or youth group meetings.  PCTC provided the time and place for more focused times of worship.  I came home singing several songs.  More importantly, I came home with a deeper desire to connect with God.
  4. We have great students.  Saturday night, our students gathered after the main session to debrief together.  During this time, students were given the opportunity to share how PCTC was impacting them.  I heard countless stories of renewed hope, of new passion for following Christ, and of connection with each other.
  5. We have great adult leaders and a great youth pastor.  Trips like this do not happen without a lot of planning and prayer.  I am so honored to serve alongside other leaders who get it.  They are willing to sacrifice their time, energy, and resources to help students grow closer to God.  I am so thankful for these people I call friends.
  6. Cut the crap.  Rocky, the high school program host, shared a story about a man from Harrisburg who told him to “Cut the crap.”  I will always remember this story.  Here’s the basics of this story:  If we walk away from PCTC only remembering the great music, the great speakers, and the fun activities, we need to cut the crap.  PCTC is ultimately not about these things.  PCTC is about Christ.  That’s it.  And this is what our lives should be about also.  If it becomes focused on other things, we need to cut the crap.

I’m sure there are other things to remember.  And everyone who went will have a different take on their experience.  I had a blast.  And I’m already looking forward to going again in 2015.

If you went to PCTC, how would you describe your experience?  When was the last time, you went on a youth retreat or conference?  What do you remember about that experience?

Thank You – #2

Thank You No. 2

Today, I’m thankful for teenagers.

I’m spending the weekend with high school students up at Spruce Lake Retreat Center in the Poconos.  I’m not sure how much sleep I’ll be getting this weekend, but I’m sure the experience will be worth it for the students and for me.  Pray for these kids at the weekend called Escape.  Pray they might encounter God in a new and deeper way this weekend.

Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.  I Timothy 4:12

Why are you thankful today?

Words With Friends #Riot140

I have a confession.  I’m addicted to Words with Friends.  It’s a game I can play on my phone, on my laptop, or on my iPad.  It’s like Scrabble, and I can play with people all over the country.  I currently have games going with friends in Arizona, Florida, and Pennsylvania.  Feel free to look me up and challenge me to a game.

This past Sunday at youth group, our youth pastor (Adam) preached about words.  He challenged the teenagers (and adult leaders) with a reminder that our words matter.  What we say has the power to lift someone to the highest heights or drop them to the lowest valley.  Our words are a heart issue.

I’ve thought a lot about Adam’s message over the past few days.  There are many times when we seem to speak way before we think.  Do we realize that our words have power to change someone’s life?  Or are we just moving our lips in hopes that we will get noticed?

The Bible talks about how we should (or shouldn’t) use our mouths:

May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.  Psalm 19:14

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  Romans 10:9

Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.  Psalm 141:3

“You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:  ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.  They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’”  Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand.  What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”  Matthew 15:7-11

The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.  Proverbs 18:21

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.  James 3:3-10

I’m sure there are other verses I could reference.  Hopefully, these help you see what I’m talking about.

I want my words to matter.  I want to praise God with my lips and with my actions.  I want to lift others up and to point them towards Christ.

Jon Acuff talks about critic’s math.  “One insult plus a thousand compliments equals one insult.” 

When we insult someone – when we use our words to tear someone down, we are wiping out whatever other compliments we may have shared.  We need to be careful with how we speak to others and about others.

And so, I stretch on.

How have words changed your life?  What has someone said to you that made a positive difference in your life?  What do you need to say to someone today that will change the course of their day and maybe even their life?

Connecting With Teenagers – Worth It!

Last night, I had the privilege of attending the “RIOT Graduation“, an evening in which the outgoing seniors of our church’s high school youth group were honored.  19 of the 37 seniors from the group were there with their friends and family to celebrate this milestone.

Part of the program for the evening included a time when each senior came up to the stage along with a friend, family member, or relational leader for a time of letter reading.  Each senior hand-picked someone in their lives to write a letter to them which was read up on the stage.  As one of the newer relational leaders of the team and as a father of a high school freshman, it was a great experience to watch as family, friends, and leaders expressed their thoughts and feelings about their senior.

I have to admit that there were a few moments when my eyes might have been watering just a little bit especially as parents expressed their admiration, love, and hope for their child.  That could be me someday.  It’s amazing how quickly it all goes.

I was especially impressed with relational leaders who were called to the stage to read a letter to one of the students.  It was obvious in these moments that relationships with teenage students can be life changing for both students and leaders.  We live in a world that is so busy and is so filled with distractions that one-on-one relationships often take a back seat to busy schedules and impersonal communication over social media or texting.  It was clear in these letters that leaders had taken time to connect with students beyond the casual hello at a youth group meeting.

I’m currently reading Connect: Real Relationships in a World of Isolation by Jonathan McKee.  In the book, McKee shares his thoughts on connecting with students on an individual basis.  He gives reasons why this is important.  And then he shares practical ideas to help leaders (paid and volunteers) make meaningful connections with teens.  In Connect, Jonathan shares:

Face-to-face conversations can be transformative.  It’s amazing how God uses one-on-one interaction to shape lives.

Yes.  It can be uncomfortable at times.  Yes.  Teenagers say the strangest things and ask the weirdest questions.  Yes.  Students will stretch you.

But it’s worth it.  As I was reminded at last night’s RIOT Graduation event, real one-on-one relationships between students and leaders can make a huge difference in the life of a teenager.  Last night, I saw 19 young adults ready to take the next step of their lives better prepared because of the time investment made by the adults in their lives.

I’m thankful for people like Ray and Joann Rivera, Dave and Nora Kennedy, and Ken and Kathy Shumate who took time to invest in me when I was a teenager.  And I look forward to paying that forward for the teenagers in my life.

When you were a teenager, who invested time into your life?  How are you investing in the current generation of teenagers?

YS Palooza Highlights

This weekend, I had the privilege of attending and volunteering at YS Palooza – a conference for youth ministry leaders put on by Youth Specialties and hosted by my church.  It was an incredible experience and far better than I could have ever imagined.  I could probably right several blog posts recapping each learning lab.  The speakers were all amazing, and the Youth Specialties staff were fabulous.  While the conference was meant for youth leaders, I could see many people being inspired by the dynamic teaching.


Mark MatlockMark Matlock
Kara PowellKara Powell
Duffy RobbinsDuffy Robbins
Jonathan McKeeJonathan McKee


Andy Needham BandAndy Needham Band

Here are some of the highlights from the two-day conference:

  • 45% of American teenagers are diagnosed with some type of disorder.  This problem doesn’t exist elsewhere in the world.  In the United States, teenagers are in isolation.  They lack integration into the adult world.  Most United States teens are treated as children even after puberty.  (Mark Matlock)
  • “Faith growth is not just an individual thing – it’s a community/group thing.  It not just me – it’s we.”  (Mark Matlock)
  • We need to learn to be still.  It’s tough to hit a moving target.  “The best activity maybe inactivity.”  It’s so easy to have the tide of life pull us away from time with God.  (Duffy Robbins)
  • 1 out of 2 young people drift from God or church after high school.  (Kara Powell)
  • Based on research by the Fuller Youth Institute and Sticky Faith, involvement in inter-generational worship and service opportunities is the number one variable that helps teenagers to build sticky faith.  (Kara Powell)
  • Parents are the number one influence in their kid’s spiritual development, but other adults have a role to play.  (Kara Powell)
  • Small group leaders need to listen to teenagers.  (Jonathan McKee)
  • Connection with teenagers must be the first priority for youth ministry volunteers.  (Jonathan McKee)
  • Good News People are magnets – not megaphones.  Good News People admire the shards of God’s imagine in others.  Goo News People do not live out of fear.  Good News People astonish others.  Good News People invite others into a better story.  Good News People always credit Jesus.  (Mark Matlock).

Along with the great speakers, there were many great resources mentioned worth checking out:

  • Raising Wise Children by Mark Matlock
  • You Lost Me by David Kinnaman
  • Sticky Faith by Kara Powell
  • 10 Minute Talks by Jonathan McKee
  • Help!  I’m A Small Group Leader by Jonathan McKee
  • Eats Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss
  • Connect by Jonathan McKee

And finally, there were a couple of video clips that really hit home for me:

YS Palooza has left me with a lot to process.  More than anything, it has me thinking about how I can do a better job connecting with kids (including my own) and pointing them to Christ.

What do you think?  Who invested in you as a teenager?  Who can you invest in today?

The Voice – Which Voice Will You Listen To?

Which voice will you listen to? The one that says you are not needed, or the one that says you matter? I heard both these voices the other night. I choose to hear that I matter.

Let me explain.  Sunday night, I was helping out at the youth group by serving as one of the adult leaders.  I’ve been volunteering with RIOT (the name of the group) since I went to Guatemala with 25 of the students from the group.  Over the past several months, I’ve seen lives changed and relationships strengthened.

Part of the life change I’ve seen is when students make a decision to follow Christ and get baptized.  On Sunday night, one of the students made that decision and was baptized at the end of Sunday night.  As the baptism service was starting two older gentlemen walked in who weren’t normally part the adult volunteers.  I figured they must be related to the girl getting baptized, so I walked over and tried to help them to the front so they could get a better view of the baptism.  As I asked if I could help them, I was quickly the older man.  He told me, “I don’t need your help.  If I needed your help, I would have asked for it.”  Okay.  I was just trying to be helpful.

This was one of the voices I heard the other night.  I could choose to dwell on that voice – a voice telling me I’m not needed.

As I was leaving the church Sunday night, I heard another voice.  Our youth pastor grabbed me as I was walking out the door, and he said “What you do matters.  Thank you for being here tonight.”

What a contrast!  It was as if I had two different people sitting on my shoulder.  One was saying, “You stink.”  The other was saying, “You’re the best!”

We hear voices like this all the time.  “You can’t do it.”  “Get away from me.”  “You’re a loser.”  “You’re not wanted.”

But there’s another Voice we need to listen to.  Sure it could be a youth pastor, a good friend, or a family member.  But there’s a Voice we all need to hear.  It’s God’s voice, and he wants us to know we are special – we’re made with a purpose – we are fearfully and wonderfully made.  What we do matters.  And more importantly, you and I matter to God.

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.Psalm 139:13-14


“For I know the plans I have for you,”declares the Lord,“plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”Jeremiah 29:11


The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves.  He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.Zephaniah 3:17


I don’t know your history or what you’re going through right now, but this is the Voice that you need to hear right now.

Who has been a positive voice in your life?  What have your heard from these voices (and from The Voice)?

Where Stretch Started

Youth Retreat 2

That’s me in the center.  This picture was taken back in February of 1989 at Camp Johnsonburg where my senior high youth group, SYNC (Senior Youth Nurturing in Christ), was enjoying our annual winter retreat.  This is about the time when I picked up the nickname, Stretch.  When I started my junior year in high school, I was 5’6″.  By the end of my junior year, I had grown several inches.  Somewhere along the way, someone started calling me Stretch.

High school was a stretching time for me in more ways than one.  I obviously grew in size, but I was also stretched in many other facets of my life.  As a preacher’s kid, I struggled to figure out my place.  I was known as a goodie-goodie to many, but I was certainly not perfect.  At times, I was a very obnoxious kid – just ask some of my youth leaders.  As I went through high school, I began to discover an interest in leadership.  This was an area where I stretched a lot taking an active role in the student leadership of our youth group and in the student government at the high school.  I certainly stretched academically as I took on a full load of honors classes.

Youth Retreat 1Here’s a picture of my dad and Dave Kennedy on this same youth retreat (my dad is wearing the darker shirt).  My dad was the youth pastor, and Dave was one of the youth leaders.  What I didn’t fully realize until recently is that my youth leaders (including my dad) were stretching too.  I’m sure I helped in that matter with my own actions, attitudes, and questions, but the leaders of our youth group were more than likely stretching in many different directions themselves – raising a family, working on their marriages, growing in their careers, serving in their churches, and interacting in their neighborhoods.

And this is where I find myself today.  The tables have turned.  I’m a youth leader balancing work, life, and church.  And I’m still stretching.  I’m not growing vertically anymore, and I’m trying to prevent any horizontal growth.  But I am definitely stretching in my faith, my leadership, my work, my marriage, my family, and in other ways as well.  And so that nickname has stuck with me, and I suspect I will continue to stretch as life continues.

How are you stretching these days?  What was your nickname in high school?  How has that nickname stayed with you since then?

Paying It Forward – Youth Ministry

When I was in high school, I attended the youth group at our church.  Our youth group was called SYNC – Senior Youth Nurturing in Christ.  Part of the reason I attended this group was my dad was the youth pastor.  Did I really have a choice?  Part of the reason I attended was the great friends I had in the group.  I will always remember people like Brian Willem, Mark Redlus, Paul Braun, Pete Braun, Andy Travis, and John Kosydar.  What a crew!

And a major part of the reason I attended was the youth leaders.  I will always remember leaders like Ray and Joann Rivera who consistently opened up their home for late night conversations about life.  I will always remember the Shumates and the Derstines who spent countless weekend nights hanging out with a bunch of obnoxious teenagers like me.  And I will always remember Dave and Nora Kennedy who poured their energy into us while juggling the responsibilities of starting a family.

On one occasion, our group was inside for “game time”.  The adults often joined in with the kids for games of indoor soccer, four square, and relay races.  On this night, we were having relay races up in the Brainerd Room of the church.  Relays involved skipping, running, crawling, and even going backwards from the starting line at one end of the room to a chair located at the other end of the room and then back to the starting line again.  When it came time to go backwards, Dave Kennedy (one of the leaders mentioned above) took his turn.  As he made it to the chair, he lost his balance and proceeded to do one of the biggest crash landings I have ever seen.  When it was all over, Dave popped up, we all laughed, and the relay races continued.

This quick misstep could easily be overlooked as simply being a funny youth group blooper memory.  Yet it means so much more for me.  Leaders like Dave risked rug burn and embarrassment to make sure I had a fun and safe place to hang out.  These leaders demonstrated that we mattered.  They were willing and ready to spend 4 hours a week plus countless hours planning and going on retreats, camping trips, and other special events so kids like me would have a place to hang out.  Leaders like Dave had a huge impact on me in high school, and their impact continues today.

Last night, I had the privilege of being a leader at RIOT (my church’s youth group).  I’ve been attending the weekly Sunday night meetings ever since I came back from Guatemala.  During “game time” last night, we played kickball.  It brought back so many great memories including the memory of Dave Kennedy flopping over the folding chair.  I was the first one up to kick, and I proceeded to kick the ball into play.  As I neared first base at full speed, I had no idea how slippery it would be when I hit the extra-large base that was floating on the slick concrete floor.  Before I knew it, the base slipped out from under me, and I was sprawled out on my back side.  I think the kids were in shock as they saw me flat on my back.  I quickly popped up and the game proceeded.

Over the past three or four months, I’ve had the opportunity to meet many of the kids who come to RIOT.  They come from all backgrounds, and they are dealing with all kinds of home and school situations.  They need adults like Dave Kennedy in their lives who will go all out during “game time” and will lend a listening ear when times get tough.  I’m so thankful for Dave Kennedy and my other youth leaders who led by example.  I hope I can live up to the example they set.

Were you in a church youth group when you were a teenager?  How do you remember your leaders?  Have you thought about diving into volunteer as a youth leader?  What’s stopping you from taking the plunge?