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Author Archive | Justin Knowles

4 Things To Remember When Dealing With Parents

So this week is HSM Summer Camp. I’m going to be up front with you, I have nothing to do with the planning of it. But the week before we head out, its all hands on deck fro answering questions for students, leaders and mostly parents. For the most part, summer camp runs smooth, but there always is the dreaded “putting the cabins together” and not everyone is going to be happy with everything. That is okay, it is part of it.

All this last week, I would say I spent a good 2 hours on the phone with upset parents. These parents were not out of control; they were just worried because they were looking out for the best interest of their child. My phone calls with parents were great and it got me thinking about how we as youth workers deal with parents and some things we need to keep in mind.

When dealing and communicating with upset parents we need to:

Listen- I have heard of horror stories where parents don’t feel like the youth pastor actually listens to them when they are upset about something. I think one of the most important things we can do is just to listen. Stop talking. Hear them out whether they are being rational or not. Most people think they will get backlash right back so when we don’t respond and hear them out, it automatically lets them take their guard down and allow you to say what you need to say in a loving but clear way. Parents want to know they are being heard.

Affirm – Whether you think so or not, how they are feeling is a real feeling to them. We may not agree with what they are feeling or why they are feeling it, but regardless, it is how they feel. Saying, “I can see how you can feel that way” or “I understand where you are coming from” shows that you are listening and hearing what they have to say.

Inform – Remembering that their feelings are very real to them, we still need to explain why something is a particular way. If it was an oversight, we can apologize and fix it if necessary. If there was a reason you made the choice they are upset about, this is where you would lovingly explain to them why it is that way.

Encourage – We are to partner with parents. We want to listen to them, affirm their feelings, inform them, and then encourage them. If you do the first 3 things, usually the end of the conversation is much different from the upset beginning. It allows us to cool down the confrontation and then turn it into a conversation about the most important thing (and the reason why they are calling you so passionately) their child. We are to speak life into their family whenever we can.

Granted, some conversations don’t always end so nicely. Hopefully you will be able to figure the best way to represent Christ with a passionate parent. But I feel remembering these things while talking with an upset parent will help us get through a difficult conversation and turn it into an encouraging one.

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Fun Twitter Campaign Idea For Summer Camp


This weekend we leave for HSM Summer Camp. It honestly is one of my favorite things we do all year long. The staff is pumped. The students are pumped. Our volunteers are pumped. I think it is easy to say, everyone and their mother is pumped for camp. One thing we have been trying to get pumped up (because we have not really focused on it besides the last few months) is our @SaddlebackHSM twitter. If I’m honest, we have neglected it but that has changed recently.

As I’m sure all of you know, many students are online in some way, shape or form. We have noticed many students have made the transition to Twitter so we want to communicate to them and get our ministry Twitter up on its game. So with camp coming up, I decided to launch a Twitter campaign of “100 Awesome Things About Summer Camp”. The goal was to get students to interact with it and in a way spread the word about HSM twitter to other students and friends while promoting our stuff. So we started to make a list of things about summer camp and used the hashtag “#100AwsomeThingsHSMCamp” and went to town.

I would have to say it was a success. Students “favorited” or “retweeted” many of the tweets and it was a really fun way to get students excited about camp. Go check out the rest of the tweets by clicking HERE.

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What To Do When You Don’t Know What To Do

There are times in ministry (and life for that matter) where I come upon a situation and I really do not know what to do. I get a very angry email from an upset parent and my first response will probably not be the best. There is a leader in which I know is not working out and I need to ask them to step down. There is a student in which seems not to get anything I have been teaching or saying and they just keep doing the same thing over and over again. There is a decision that only you can make but you don’t really want to make it because you know you are going to get back lash. I feel like I have been in a season of all of these things happening at once and I find myself just standing scratching my head thinking, “What do I even do here?”

Here is a few things I do when I do not know what to do:

Stop. Relax. Chances are it’s not the end of the world, it just feels like it. One thing I know for sure, the best decisions are not the ones out of immediate reactions of anger and annoyance.

Forget about the overall outcome. Many times just the thought of what is going to happen down the line will freeze us in making a right decision, or any decision for that matter. When we don’t get too ahead of ourselves, we stop and think, we can make the best leadership decision.

Think about the next right, immediate decision. So instead of thinking so far in the future, ask “What would be the best next decision now to get towards the solution?” We can worry about whether or not this is going to pan out and stay stuck or we can think about what the next move is and move forward.

Pray about it. Sometimes I feel like it’s really easy to skip this step. We get so caught up in the anxiety, we miss probably the most important step. We know what Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” We have the power of the Holy Spirit to help guide us in decision-making. allow God’s peace to guard your heart and your mind. Give it to him.

Respond appropriately. When we give it to God and have spent some time in prayer about it, we can confidently know our decision is the best one we can make and we know we have gone about it the best way we humanly know how. Then respond appropriately and people will be able to see your leadership and how well you handle tough calls.

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Our End Goal In Youth Ministry

I don’t think it comes as a surprise, but I think small groups are great. There are a ton of reasons why students join a small group. It could be just the thing to do at your church. It could be because their parents are making them. It could be because a leader a student has a relationship with invited them into the group. It could be because a student has seen the life change it causes and invited a friend to it. It could be because a student wanted a community around them so they just joined one.

Either one of these reasons are great. I approve. I want all students in a group. But I think there is one reason we as leaders should have a purpose for small group ministry.

Last weekend I was talking to a student about her small group and she hit the main reason right on the head. She said, “I joined the group at first to have community, but as I kept going I realized I really joined because of my need to repent of my sins and learn how to follow Jesus fully.”

BOOM! I was so proud in the moment that this student realized this on her own. She decided to let God control her life and she should stop running it. Her joining the group was the first step to letting that happen. She knew that the community around her would help her understand the studies, she knew the group would pray for her, encourage her, help keep her accountable.

But the main thing was to repent. And this will be an ongoing process.

This is the end goal of youth ministry and healthy small groups of God’s people are instrumental in bringing life change . . . repentance . . . transformation.

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4 Thoughts On Creating A Successful Small Group Ministry For Students

I have been chatting with quite a few people lately about small groups and how we do them. It really has got me thinking about how we do things and what really does make a successful small group ministry. When I took over small groups, it was an already thriving ministry and I have been trying not to sink it (HA!). But I have learned a few things about what needs there are to make a well ran small groups ministry for students.

  1. It takes time. Small groups are not a one-time, one-event type explosion of a ministry. Small groups deals with life change of students and this takes time. I know as a church, Saddleback is all about small groups. Everything revolves around them they have been doing them for 15+ years. It takes time and energy, so be patient, commit to a model and run with it.
  2. It takes personal commitment to create an authentic community. I know that as a student ministry we are doing well in small groups because the adults are doing well because our senior pastor is in full support of small groups. It’s the DNA of the church. I have talked to student pastors who’s senior pastors do not put a priority on small groups and it makes it a lot harder for successful student groups if it’s not a personal commitment from the upper leadership.
  3. It takes a decent budget. I know. This one is tough. But the saying, “Put your money where your mouth is” comes to mind. You can say all you want about small groups are important, but unless you put a budget to it for resources and leader care, it will be hard to move forward. One way we help with budgeting for them is we charge $35 for sign ups. It helps pays for resources for students throughout the year, leader trainings and resources and anything else for small groups. The only thing with this is, you only get the budget for however many sign up. I don’t know if this is the best way, but it works for us and allows me to have a budget to keep groups going throughout the year.
  4. Small groups need to be the end goal. Everything we do is to push students into small groups. All weekend services, all events, everything we do is to push students into small groups. We know that if a student ends in a group, the chance of them being discipled and experience life change goes up. It can be easy to think that if you have more things available you will get more people involved but sometimes it just makes it harder to choice which way to go. Having one, narrowed focus and end goal helps push students to be in one place and you can focus on making it awesome.


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Leaps Vs. Steps: Getting Them There

What is the opposite of faith?

It’s a question that deserves to be pondered and I have been thinking about it a lot. I would have to say the answer would be:


If you can see something, you don’t need to have faith to know it’s there. When something is not right in front of you but someone tells you it’s there up ahead, you need faith in them because you can’t see it. So the opposite of faith, I would say, is sight.

There is a difference between having faith your ministry will get to a certain point and actually helping your ministry get there. We can have all the vision in the world for where we want our ministries to go but if we don’t have practical steps to get there we will never reach it. As pastors we love to take leaps of faith. The student’s in our ministries are sometimes not ready, mature, willing to take a leap of faith because they don’t know how or because they are afraid. So it’s our responsibility to show steps to how to get where we want them to go.

So a standard goal I’m sure we want to see is for all of our students reach is to be a fully developed follower of Jesus (This is just general to get my point across but I’m sure no one can argue this is something we want to see in student’s lives). We can have all the faith and vision in the world but unless we have tangible steps for students to take to get there, it will never happen. They just don’t leap to this point in their spirituality.

So what would this be? If the goal is a fully developed follower of Jesus, what would be some practical steps in your ministry be to help get them there? They are not going to make the leap to this point but they will take easy, tangible steps.

  • They need to read Scripture. Great. Very important. Do you have a place where they can be taught how to study the Bible? A Sunday school? A small group? A resource? Or do you just say read the Bible?
  • Accountability. It’s a big deal. Do they know HOW to get it and WHY they need to have this in their life? Do you have something they can receive this in their lives?
  • Quiet times. Awesome! Just saying it is not enough. Many students don’t know how to even go about how to read the Bible and have a quiet time and pray to God. Do we just assume they know what we say when we say, “Quiet time”?
  • Sharing the Gospel. Amazing. It’s a big deal. But are we just saying, “Ok, now go out and tell your friends about Jesus” or are there ways in which we can help them take the necessary steps to get to the point where they can confidently be able to articulate the Gospel to their friends? A curriculum? Class? Book? What?

See the difference? Having vision and faith is a huge part of ministry. Without God and the Holy Spirit moving in our lives and ministries we would have nothing. But in order to get students to go from here to there, we need to make sure they are not leaping into an abyss of confusion but stepping towards a firm foundation in their faith. They will hesitate at a huge leap but they will take a simple, tangible step.

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Let It Go (Promise It’s Not FROZEN)

I tend to be a creature of habit. On my days off, I have a cup of coffee and watch a few episodes of The Office. Tuesday’s I go in later, so I work on DYM stuff. Wednesday’s are days I like to work on curriculum stuff and so on and so on. The point is, when we find out that something works for us, it can be really easy to keep the same routine going…and going…and going. So what happens when we want to see growth or try something new? What happens when we want to see growth and we get frustrated when we don’t see anything happening? When we keep doing things the way they always have been done you are going to see the same things you have been seeing.

In order to move forward you need to let go the way you have been doing it.

This can be scary. But when we feel the Holy Spirit pushing us to move on in something in ministry because you know it will benefit it, you have to do it. When we read god’s Word we are prompted to move and make disciples. In Psalm 119 it says God’s Word is a lamp upon our feet, not a spotlight into the forest. Like a flashlight in the dark, it only shows us our next step and once we take it we can see further down the road. When we feel God prompt something for our ministries we need to take the step, letting go of the way we have done things, and take a step in faith and lean on God to provide.

Trust me, it is a lot easier said than done. But just imagine the ways God can show up when we move in faith when it comes to changing something up you feel God is telling you its for the benefit of your ministry. It’s something I am currently, and always, trying to think and be aware about.

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3 Great Thoughts To Have In Writing Curriculum

Since Matt McGill has not posted something in a while here on DYM, I feel obligated to let others know just how smart the guy is. The other day a few of us went to lunch with Matt to pick his brain about how he writes curriculum. If you didn’t know, Matt is one of the best (in my opinion and hope you don’t mind me sharing this awesome insight) at writing and coming up with effective curriculum for students. We asked him a few things and he gave us some great thoughts and processes to how he thinks and goes about writing curriculum.

One of the best things he shared I feel like it’s too good not to share with all of you who write their own curriculum.

The question was: What is your goal with curriculum?

Matt’s answer: I want them to engage Scripture. There are 3 different things I want them to think about while going through a passage. Have them read the passage twice. Have them make notes of…

  • What confuses them.
  • What encourages them.
  • What convicts them.

Then get to the questions. But half the time you won’t make it to the questions because students will be discussing those 3 concepts for the majority of the group night. If we can get them thinking critically with Scripture, they will learn and grow in it.

Short, sweet and to the point. I think those 3 questions when it comes to students interacting with the Bible are huge and if we can get students to think in those ways, I know our students will be able to pull some great truths and apply it to their lives as they go through Scripture.

Let’s give Matt a big thanks for this insight. Grateful for him and the time we got to spend with him talking ministry.


Check out all of Matt’s resources HERE.

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Who Is Your Sounding Board?

In ministry we teach “it’s all about the community”. But sometimes we as the ministers don’t really follow our own advice. If you are not careful, leading can be a very lonely, lonely place. Because we are the ones students and leaders go to for help, the amount of time we actually have to get some help for ourselves get tougher. If we are not careful, this can cause some serious damage.

One of the most important things I would say in my own spiritual life is having people I have intentionally placed in my life who can be a sounding board for decisions I need to make in my personal, spiritual, and ministerial life.

These people I trust greatly. These people I know I can go to for anything. These people I know will tell me the truth and not just what I want to hear. They ask me the tough questions, question my reasoning, challenge me in areas of my life I need to be challenged in. All in all, they make me a better Christ follower which makes me a better pastor. When we do not have these people in our lives and ministry, you will not only pay the price but your students will suffer the consequences of your actions and decisions because you had no one to go to.

We really are better together. We were not created to do anything alone. God wants a relationship with us. He wants us to have relationships with others. Pastors and youth workers need relationships to thrive. Thriving ministers have people in their lives who ask them the tough things and thriving ministers have people they can go to for anything in life and ministry to be a sounding board.

So the question is: who is your sounding board and who are you being a sounding board to?

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Adding Video Testimonies In Messages

This last weekend was “Move Up” weekend. It is the weekend in which all of the new freshmen came into HSM for the very first time. Everyone at this point is now considered the grade in which they are attending school in the fall. So we have new freshmen all the way to new seniors. It is a very fun and exciting weekend, that is for sure.

What we usually do is have our staff share one thing they wish they knew as a freshmen in high school now that we can look back on those important years. There is a panel of speakers who each give one point and a verse to go along with it. Having speaker after speaker can get a little routine so a good way to break up the service is to throw a point via video. It switches things up, keeps things fresh, students are glued to the screen. It’s a god call all the way around. This also allows you to split up your panel. You can 3 people up first, give their points, throw up the video and while that is going, set up the next batch of people. It’s pretty easy and it always looks better than having a thousand people on stage or people shuffling on or off.

The above video is one I had the pleasure of doing. It’s simple, but for this type of thing, it’s just what you need. It’s a great element to add to any service.

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Ministry Is Not Immediate

I like immediate results…

Who doesn’t right? I mean, who really likes to wait for anything? Sometimes I fall into the culture in which we are infused. with Google, smart phones and Siri, we have immediate information whenever we want it. There are microwave dinners (which I lived on in college) that give you instant dinners. We don’t have to memorize phone numbers because our phone gives us that information right then and there (I still remember my best friend’s home phone number).

Sometimes I feel this type of thinking falls into ministry. Although there might be some immediate wins here and there with things like events because you can easily tell if people showed up or not, for the most part ministry is not immediate. I wish it was, but it’s a process. Sometimes I believe we have the “Extreme Home Make Over” mentality where it is going to just take a week for God to completely transform a person but this is not how God works. He does not fall into the “right now” culture we live in.

Sometimes we need to remember sometimes we will not see the fruit of our labor…

And it’s okay.

There will be students we continually pour ourselves out to and we don’t seem to be getting anything in return. We don’t see anything working. But never discount what The Lord is doing in their hearts. We can’t see how God is working in them and they might leave our ministry not showing anything for it and we might not have any idea if something will ever come of it.

Growth is a process. So let us not grow weary for pouring into students because there will be a a season of growth whether we get to see it or not.But we are to be faithful in our calling and serve our students and sometimes we get to see the fruits of it.

And it is one of the greatest gifts on the planet.

Galatians 6:9 - And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.

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What The World Cup Has Taught Me About Ministry

Everyone is jumping on the World Cup wagon. Some people are mad about it because we are fakes and don’t care about soccer for 3 years until the world cup comes back. That’s true, and I’m okay with it. So when I was over at a students house for his graduation party, almost everyone at the party was watching the USA game. People from the age of 5 to 75, they were watching it and were all in. Cheering, groaning, yelling, celebrating.

I asked one of the students there if they were really into soccer and this is how the conversation went:

Me: Do you follow soccer besides the World Cup?

Student: Not at all. I just watch the World Cup? I thought it was boring.

Me: Why are you so into it?

Student: I was not at first, but all the adults in the family got into it and I started to watch it and I just couldn’t stop. I think it’s exciting now and I can’t get enough.

It got me thinking about anything we do in ministry. If the leaders and staff are “all in” in something, students will naturally follow.

Want students to go crazy in dressing up for rec. games at camp? Have your leaders go all in and lead the way.

Want students to be excited about going to summer camp? Have your leadership go all in promoting it like crazy in everything you do. Facebook, Instagram, service announcements, leaders personally asking if they are going. Make it impossible to not know about it.

Want students to want to be in small groups? Talk about, get excited about how amazing and life changing small groups are. Have leaders talk about them, have student testimonies about how small groups helped them through life and how God changed them through small groups.

Want students to go to events? You have to be excited about it yourself.

This conversation is a great reminder of how students tend to work. They want to go to exciting things. I can be pretty sure if the adults in the room at the party were not watching soccer and not passionate about it, the students in the room would not have been as excited. But they feed off the energy and excitement and see it so they in turn want to be a part of it.

Now it works for soccer, but imagine what could happen if we were able to point that excitement and passion towards Jesus. If they see your staff and leaders excited, passionate, vocal and visually exited about what god is doing in their lives, students will follow and then they won’t be able to get enough.

We can’t just say something is exciting and life changing…we need to show it and be “all in” and the leader’s passion will rub off on the students and you will see them start to follow.

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One Little Thing Can Change A Ton

I saw this video and it intrigued me. I am also reading “The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference” by Malcom Gladwell (which I recommend and you can apply it to ministry) so maybe I’m just hyper aware of these things at the moment. But it’s crazy what a small difference can make in perception.

Reading this book and watching this video got me thinking about how it can just be a small change to make the ministry you are in to change drastically. It is really easy to keep doing what you are doing. It’s amazing how one small thing can totally change everything.

So my question is…

What is one thing that is holding you back? What small thing needs to change to potentially shift your ministry? Spend some time in prayer today and do that.


Small Group Leader Curriculum Brainstorm Meeting

Last night we had a wonderful meeting with some of our core volunteers about what next years curriculum should consist of. We realize our leaders our boots on the ground and they collectively have a great pulse of where our students are as whole based off the different groups they have. So the night is using their knowledge of this year, conversations they have had and situations they went throughout o help better our curriculum and small groups for next year. We explain that all ideas are exactly that… ideas. Hold on to them loosely because we may not use them. We want to include volunteers because they have some great insight and when they are included they feel ownership of the ministry. It was so fun to talk, discuss and dream with our leaders.

Here is what the basic run down looked like:

6pm – Leaders arrive
6:10pm- intros/thanks/prays lets eat.

  • Half way through eating (Get up and explains the discussion questions on each table. Our staff will be at tables with computers taking notes down). We had discussion questions about the year so leaders can dialogue about their favorite moments, least favorite moments, what worked for them to teach, anything creative they did to help a lesson and share stories of life change.

6:45pm – I explain the night, what future holds for small groups possibilities.

6:55pm – Explain the different stations

7pm – Dismiss to stations.

7:05pm – Stations start.

  • Sticky note ideas - MO2 lunch room. Using color coded notes, leaders will come up with ideas of topics for 1-off topics, curriculum 2-5 weeks series, small group workshop ideas, and video curriculum ideas. They basically think of different topics they deem important for students to know.
  • Video curriculum ideas – Common area offices  - station is watching part of different video curriculums and answering a questionnaire about what works, what doesn’t, how should it look, how long, what worksheets and type of questions should go with it?
  • FAQ - Josh’s office – What topics, questions, things came up that you felt unequipped to deal with? How can we better train you next year? What parts of our curriculum did you use and were effective?
  • Prayer station – MO2 lobby – Leaders will spend time in prayer over small groups next year. They will literally write out on note cards a prayer for their own small group, their own life, for HSM, and a ministry faith goal within their group.

7:50pm – Back to MO2 to pray and dismiss.
It was such a great night to get together with our leaders, eat, talk, have fun and pray as we prep for next year.

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When Things Break Down At Home

You know what sucks?

Personal stuff going on outside of the ministry you love to be a part in. When things in your ministry are going off the wall amazing yet in the back of your mind you have that “home” thing that you are dealing with and you can’t seem to shake it and its infecting everything.

You know what sucks even more than that?

Going through all of that alone.

I’m extremely confident the only way we will be able to last in ministry is when we have set up people in our lives in which we can go to when our personal life outside of ministry is not doing so well. I feel like many times I trick myself into thinking because my ministry is going well that in turn it means my personal life is a reflection of my ministry. Things can be building up in your ministry while they are breaking down at home. It’s awful. But it’s less awful when we have people on your team or in your life who is able to speak life into you and hold you accountable when things are not doing so well outside of church life. It’s our duty to make sure we hold each other up and let them in our lives.

I know I have seen this in my life and I can tell you for a fact when we go to those people, the burden is lifted a little. The fact that someone is praying with you and for you makes a huge difference. And it gives you more hope in you getting through what is going on. When we combine doing this with going to Jesus, who says “Come to me all who are tired and weary”, we might not get over whatever it is, but we will be able to get through it with the support we have.

Do you have this in your life and ministry? Who is it?

Galatians 6:1-2 ESV

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

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