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Do We REALLY Need Policies?

UntitledIt’s interesting how we as the “church” are reacting to the culture surrounding us. I have talked with youth programming that still encourages small group leaders to “hang out” with students beyond programming time while others have considered even transporting students in vehicles not deemed “official” church vehicles is a no-no.

Everyone agrees that social media is here to stay. I read an article recently that claimed todays teens are the first generation to grow up interacting through this method on a regular basis.   Easy access to smart phones and touch screen devices have created a society that is always connected. Just today I saw someone proclaim (over social media) how their small children like to face time friends so they can “draw together.”

There was a time when we could “ignore” certain guidelines based on where we live and the size of our community.   Yet, it seems like every time we turn around something new makes the news on a youth group (or pastor) gone awry.

Why are policies important?

They Make Us Proactive Not Reactive:

My volunteer handbook is full of guidelines based on mistakes and missteps I have made through the years. I wish I had been able to think through scenarios and helped bring peace from the get go.   We can no longer have and attitude that people should “know better.” Brainstorming policies that are (and could be) needed helps you from a position of constantly putting out fires.

They Bring Consistency:

There is always going to be someone on our team who tries to do things “their way,” even when you believe you have made it clear. Writing down policies (and asking your team to sign them in acknowledgement they understand) keeps everyone on the same page. No one has to wonder about expectations and how to carry them out because they have been made crystal clear.

They Bring Accountability and Knock Out Fear:

It’s easy to just put policies in place based out of fear from bad things that are all over the new. It’s also easy to think “that would never happen to us.   We can’t assume anything anymore from either direction. We must remember that our first responsibility is to shepherd students and their families.   When we have policies everyone is held accountable to a standard for the purpose of a quality ministry that helps students.

The fact is we want more of our time to be spent focusing on ministering with students than struggling with issues. There are so many variables we can’t control, let’s make sure to put in attention where we can.

(**Note: DYM offers lots of forms and places to begin on ideas of policies, including an example of a Volunteer Handbook.)

A Ministry On Its Toes

Fantasy Football draft is coming up for me. I love the NFL. I love the fake football draft. It’s great. I remember playing organized football for the first time going into my freshmen year of high school. Everyone was running around and the coaches were doing different drills to see what skill sets everyone has so they can put them in their proper positions. I remember the hitting drill. I remember it because at first, I was awful. The first time ever hitting someone with pads in a drill was against one of the biggest guys on the team. I stood there, on my heels, as the running back ran towards me and got pummeled. DE-STROY-ED! The coaches pulled me aside and explained to me that if I were to wait on my heels and react rather than being on my toes and go towards whats coming at me, I’m going to be flat on my back every time.

Some of us in ministry, are on our heels. Things go as they go and we react to situations rather than plan ahead and act upon it. Sometimes we wait for God to open a door for our ministry to go forward when many times I feel God is just waiting for us to move forward to He can lead us where He want to take us. I am about to jump into a new role and I know God has called me to move forward. I don’t need to apologize for it. I’m going to move until God tells me, “No”. Sometimes, we assume God’s answer is automatic “no” and we look for a “yes”. Sometimes I think God is saying “Yes” and we just don’t see it and we assume the answer is a “no”, therefore we are stuck in our current place.

As leaders, we are called to be on our toes. To be leaning forward. To be on the go, always moving forward. the enemy is coming at us with everything he has and if we are caught on our heels waiting to react we will find ourselves flat on our backs. God is faithful. God is good. We are called to take our ministries forward in whatever that means for you.

Maybe it is:

  • Having that difficult conversation with that student or volunteer you have been avoiding.
  • Getting rid of a volunteer who is cancer to your ministry.
  • Starting a small group ministry but you know it’s going to be a ton of work so you have been putting it off.
  • Planning a few months ahead because right now you are just week-t0-week and you are procrastinating.
  • Changing the “sacred cow” in that ministry because you know that model is not working in your context anymore.
  • Being active in making sure the rest of the church knows what God is doing in your youth ministry because no one seems to care because most likely they don’t know.
  • Talking to your senior pastor about how you need a raise.

What is it that you have been playing on your heels for too long with? Move forward and onward because God provides for those who have enough faith to take that tough step forward.

How To Deal With Lonely Leadership

At the end of a long night have you ever asked, “Why am I doing this?”  That question can stem from frustration, anger and disappointment.  That question can also stem from loneliness.

When you hit the top of the management scale it’s difficult to find encouragement and affirmation.  No one is pouring into you and all your energy is being spent on others.  Leadership can get lonely, but it doesn’t have to.  To face the loneliness you need to:

EMBRACE THE ROLE: It’s important to embrace the sacrifices and additional responsibilities that come with leadership.  In fact you need to embrace the role.  Refuse to complain and lean into the conflict that comes with it.  Not only will you be rewarded with your obedience, but you’ll find yourself less distracted.

JOIN A NETWORK: No one is going to understand how you feel better than other youth leaders.  Join a network, share war stories and pray for one another.  When you recognize that other people are facing the same struggles you are it builds solidarity.  Networks will remind you that you are not alone even if you feel lonely in leadership.

FIND A MENTOR: As a leader you are constantly pouring into others.  You need someone pouring into you.  A mentor doesn’t have to be another youth worker, it just needs to be someone:

  • You respect
  • Who has wisdom
  • You trust to give you brutal truth

To find a mentor look at your church, ask coworkers or people in your network.

LEAN ON GOD: In the end you are never alone in leadership, you just need to trust God.  He is going to lead you in and out of conflict.  He wants you to grow you just need to trust that He is in control.  Spend quiet time with God and track your journey in a journal.

Leadership can feel lonely, but it doesn’t mean you are on your own.  Own the situation and you’ll be able to move forward.

How do you deal with the loneliness that comes with leadership?

The Lonely Island of Youth Ministry


Youth ministry is lonely. Some of that comes with the leadership territory, and some of it is unhealthy. I’d love to reflect on both just a bit.

Leadership Lonely
This is part of the gig! If you are a leader, there are times when you are going to feel lonely. After you make a tough decision to let a volunteer go. After a big conflict with a parent. After a frustration with an elder over the church van. There’s a reason that the phrase “it’s lonely at the top” has stuck around in our vocabulary for so long. At times, if you are leading you will feel all alone.

Lack of Community Lonely
This is the one that is rough on youth workers. This is the one that challenges your call and increases the strength of temptation. This is the one that cuts tenure short and encourages brain games and dysfunction. Yes there is a reality of lonely leadership, but there is a painful loneliness that is different and far more painful. Sitting alone in the church basement office (been there). Being the only guy under 55 on staff at the church (been there). Serving in a church with a lack of people my age (been there). You drop in your situation here (probably been there too).

Couple suggested remedies to fight against loneliness:

1. Make your spouse your ministry partner – do ministry together. If that isn’t possible (hello 4 kids in my case), download the day together when you walk in the door. Partnership in ministry changes everything. If not your spouse than someone you can trust, you can be close to appropriately, someone who you can share ministry

2. Find a youth ministry mentor or find a solid network – if there isn’t a good youth worker network in your area, start one. And there’s got to be someone within an hour’s drive of you that has been in youth ministry for a little while – seek them out and start a Taco Bell meet up once a month. Chalupas and conversation = double win!

3. Watch the DYM Webshow – we hear it all the time, “it is like we’re doing youth ministry together with you” or “see you in a week at our next staff meeting around the DYM table.” Join in on the fun, just might be the remedy for a little bit of community.

What else do you do to help fight loneliness?


Too Much Change Too Fast Vs. Doing What You Got Hired To Do

As leaders we want to move forward and want results. But as a teammate with your staff and volunteers you want to be healthy. Coming in as the new guy there is the fine balance of changing and moving forward and not being “that guy” who comes in and does a complete overhaul on the ministry within the first few weeks. You don’t want to ruffle feathers too quickly (because I think leaders do and should ruffle feathers eventually because moving forward will scare people sometimes and leaders move forward) but you also do not want to sit on your hands and do nothing because the people who hired you didn’t hire you to do nothing. Chances are they hired you to do something and expect some sort of change in the ministry. So how do you balance this? How do we walk that tension?

Here are some thoughts about how I am going about it:

  • You are the leader and you are there to make decisions. Decisions fall on you and it’s up to you to make decisions on where you feel God is leading you and you don’t need to apologize for this.
  • I’m not making any big transitions right off the bat but I will start to meet, hang out with, coach, train our leaders to make sure we have the right people on board and we are all headed in the right direction. If I work from the inside out then when change does come on the big level, leaders will be on board and be your biggest cheerleader.
  • People are going to question decisions. It’s part of the game. What I hope is that I have communicated the vision of the ministry clearly so while they may question the decision, they would never question my intentions.
  • Change comes with resistance. Leaders push through resistance because they can see what things can be and help people to get there.
  • Leaders care for the team. They are willing to hear out, listen and be there for those they are leading, helping them to get on board with where the ministry is going. We are leaders, but we shouldn’t be ruthless. Pastors are shepherds, they gather, they move forward, they correct and they love their flock.
  • Respect the past while still moving forward. Great ministry has happened before you get there. Honor it, don’t just push it aside but don’t live by it. God has placed a vision and a passion on your heart and choose you to lead it in this time so move towards it.

If you have ever stepped into a ministry with a firm foundation, what are some things you have learned? What are the must do’s? What are the big no-no’s? How do you balance this? Comment below?

Box of Lies

Box of Lies

Let’s face it, Jimmy Fallon is one of the best youth pastors that never was. This guy is brilliant. If you are looking for a great game for your youth group, look no further than his show.

A few weeks ago, we played one of his games called, Box of Lies and it killed! Our students had so much fun with it! It is such a fun and memorable game… perfect for any “big” service (a Fall Kick-Off, a Promotion Week, etc.).

Here is a video of Jimmy playing the game with Kate Hudson:

To play this, you need to have a killer host… or a least someone who will have a ton of fun with it! It is a great opportunity for you (or a volunteer) to show off your personality and make memories with your group. In order to make it just a little more engaging for the audience, we didn’t show them what the object was inside, so that they could be guessing too.

A few of the objects that we did were:

-Barbie leg in a mousetrap

-Bedazzled Goldfish carton

-Live Lizard

-Sandwich with wet cat food in the middle

-Turkey baster filled with pictures of Justin Bieber

Have you played a Jimmy Fallon game? Which one did you do?

Help Me Understand…

As I am getting settled in my new house, new city and getting to know my new staff I still have been meeting with people. I technically do not start my new position for another 10 days, but as of last week I still have been hanging out with my direct supervisor and every single person on the team in which I will be overseeing, as well as some great key volunteers. One, because there is only so much I can organize the house and sit at home and two, because I think it is important to get to know, see how people feel and ask them certain questions so I do not go into this new position blind. I want to be able to have somewhat of a pulse on the team and the ministry in which I am joining.

I think one of the most important things any leader will ever do is ask questions. Not only ask questions, but know how to ask good questions. Whether you are hanging out with a student, with a leader or joining a new team, asking questions allows for you to know them and them to know you. It gives them a sense that you care about what they have to say and that you are listening to them. Who doesn’t want to feel like they are being heard?

So here are the questions I have been asking everyone I meet with in some way, shape or form:

  • How are you doing right now? (Are they tired, excited, nervous, anxious, overwhelmed?)
  • What are you most nervous about the future?
  • What are you most excited about?
  • If there was only one thing you could change right away what would it be?
  • If there was one thing you think should not change because it’s really effective what would it be?
  • Can you please help me understand _________ (In conversation if there is something that does not make sense or catches you off-guard you can clarify. I always want to give the benefit of the doubt).

I’m sure there are more, but these seem to be the go-to ones for me at this point in time. Now don’t just ask the questions and that’s it. Take value, take notes and engage in conversation so when time does come for change, you know, value and understand where people are coming from.

Free Yourself from Vacation Guilt


I’m currently on vacation, and loving it. I’ve got my 4 kids and wife in the car the past 10 days and we’re road tripping a huge chunk of the US and hitting up big reunions on both sides of our family. This is my one major vacation his whole year – I’m going to be away from my church and youth group for like 17 days or so.

I’m available to our students and church about 340 days of the year, 24/7. I don’t feel guilty when I’m gone. When I started to even feel this way I felt guilty even saying it, much less actually doing it! I wish I learned this long ago.

Don’t punish yourself about ministry when you’re on vacation. Don’t feel guilty when you’re gone. Work impossibly hard when you’re there so you can be gone when you’re gone. Be all in so you can be all out!


POLL: What type of youth ministry do you have?

What type of ministry are you currently involved in – do you primarily minister in a rural area with lots of small towns, farms and countryside around? Are you in the thick of the urban setting in a downtown ministry? Are you in between, in a suburban setting where lots of people commute to work in the city? I realize that there are many ways to describe areas we live and our youth groups are always a mix of different students, but think the information would be helpful/interesting for sure!


After Summer Service


I have been traveling for the last week and have had the opportunity to interact with students and leaders from the other side of the country.  In this process I also had to fly on  8 different airplanes.  If you have ever been on a plane you know the “disembark” dance.  The moment the wheels touch down,  everyone sits forward in their seat in anticipation.  Seatbelt light goes “off” and the masses stand,  poised to run off the  tin can that has just flown them to their destination. You wait, as the rows file in front of you.  UNLESS.   Of course you are too slow.  Then you are left in the dust.  There is approximately a two minute lag to get all of your stuff together and jump into the aisle without having to wait until everyone else gets off first.

It struck me this is a great example of what can happen with our students after our “summer service” experiences.  We have attended work camps or missions groups.  There was a planned “service” activity on the calendar.  High School students now have a paper in hand to “sign off” on “volunteer hours.”  However,  my question is what are we doing to teach them serving in the day to day?

Here are other things I experienced on my trip:

  • A 79 year old woman who housed me and made me eggs and sausage every day,  so that I could “speak to parents and youth workers.”
  • People who invited me to stay in their home,  in the midst of crazy lives,  taking time to talk with me and make sure I was well taken care of.
  • A group of people who went OUT of their way to accommodate some special dietary needs that I have.

Now I had also been invited in as an “expert” so perhaps they felt like they “had” to.   Yet- here are some things I noticed these same leaders didn’t “have” to do:

  • Take the time out to help a friend move, when few others showed up.
  • Hang out with a hurting student and give her a little extra attention because she needs it right now.
  • Hand write me a map so I could have the “best, most scenic route” for my morning run.

It’s easy to teach our students service in events, program and dates on a calendar.  What are we doing to go out of our way on a daily basis to show them how to serve and be selfless in the process?  Putting yourself aside is easy when you know you only have to make it happen for a week or so.  It’s much more complicated when it is a lifestyle.  Yet,  we have to ask do want to raise a generation that believes in the “cause” of the broken, oppressed, hurting, sick, poor and widows OR do we want to see them just love on their neighbors the way they love themselves?

How do we make this happen?

Model it.  When you don’t feel like it.  Be the last out the door and ask a student to help you stack the chairs.  Take an afternoon and sit with an elderly woman who just needs some company,  and bring them with you.  Hold the door for those in front of you,  call the cashier by name, stop to help someone pick up something they drop (even when you are in a hurry), go to the back of the line when it’s your turn to be in the front.  Think of others first when you don’t want to be second.

We can talk about service until the day is done.  Yet,   do we want to keep taking trips every summer or see some take ownership of becoming a servant?

What are you doing to bring the “servant” attitude back to school this Fall?

How to Prepare for the Fall

I snapped at my boss yesterday.

I realized it a few hours later and sent him an apology in which I also said, “I’m operating out of a place of depletion and stress right now.”

That’s not an excuse. It’s more a confession of my current reality.

At the end of the summer, on the heels of a two-week international mission trip, with the start of fall programming looming before me, what I’ve realized is that I’m exhausted.

To make matters worse, one of my colleagues died yesterday, very unexpectedly.

My congregation and I are reeling. I’m not only physically exhausted, I’m emotionally spent. At the end of the day, I told my husband, “I feel like I’ve been run over by a truck.”

Having recognized this, the question is, what am I going to do about it?

After all, fall programming starts two weeks from tonight.

I have a student leadership team retreat this weekend.

What I need to do is plan.

Solidify leaders.

Prepare student leaders.

Write curriculum.

Do publicity.

Shop for supplies.

But then again, maybe not.

Throughout Scripture, I’m amazed at how often we’re told to remember the Sabbath and to rest, something that I think those of us in ministry typically aren’t very good at.

I know I’m not.

Resting is counter-cultural.

Resting is, in and of itself, an act of faith.

But resting is perhaps what we most need during the times we’re operating on empty.

For me, that means that in the two weeks leading up to the start of the fall programming, I’m going to take time to rest – even though it doesn’t make sense to do so.

I’m not going to skimp on sleep.

Since nature replenishes me like few other things do, I’m going to get outside and hike.

Regardless of how much remains undone, I’m not going to work into the evening hours.

Each day, I’m going to read – another act that restores my soul.

Despite having a retreat this weekend, I’m taking Friday off.

Next week, I’m going to leave my laptop at home and escape with my husband for a few days of R&R.

Doing these things won’t only be good for me, they’ll benefit my family and my ministry.

As one of my students recently told me when I asked her what she’d learned from her summer working at a Christian camp, “It’s not actually selfish to take care of yourself.”

No, dear, it’s not.

And so this week, I’m shifting my priority from the stuff on my to-do list to my own soul care.

I urge you to do the same.

Fear Of Failing

So I have completely transitioned about of Saddleback HSM (just in case you missed this news, click HERE to read what has been going on in my life and ministry). It has been bitter-sweet. Sad to leave people I love but excited to work with some amazing people in the near future. This means the last 10 days I have had plenty of time on my hands. We have moved, we are setting up the new place but for the past few days have had no computer or internet at our house. There has been a lot of great quality time with my wife but there also has been a lot of time to just sit, reflect, think and pray.

A lot.

Maybe not a lot, but more than I am used to on a regular basis.

I don’t know about you, but when things get quiet, things that we tend to repress and avoid because we are busy tend to pop up and be a louder voice than usual. I think for any leader the voice and fear of failing on whatever next venture is (whether is a new position, next event, next service, etc.), is something we will always have to deal with. This is where the enemy loves to sit, fester, and try to pry in our lives cause doubt in our lives where God clearly has called us.

No one wants to fail but it is a constant fear, admitted or not, it is there. So how do you move past it? I have been asking myself this over and over the past few days as I am about to embark on a new adventure in which I know will bring challenges I am not used to.

Here are 3 things I have been constantly reminding myself of when these feelings of fear of failure seem to creep into my life:

  1. Remember what God thinks about me. I think we say this to our students all of the time but we as leaders forget to believe it sometimes ourselves. I need to be reminded daily that I am His child, His friend and that He is for me… even if I fail.
  2. Remember I sit in God’s grace…always. Even if the people around me show no grace, I am always in God’s grace. And this should be enough to pick my head up and keep moving forward. Proverbs 24:16 says, “For though a righteous man falls seven times he rises again.” This is the beauty of God’s grace.
  3. Overcome temptation. When it comes to leading there are many temptations. The temptation of if I fail, to get down on myself. The temptation of if I succeed, to become prideful and lean on myself only. The temptation to rely on me only and steamroll the team in which I work with. The temptation to try to do it all by myself because I know how I want it. As leaders, we need to over come these things and is something I have been in prayer about constantly.

Leadership is a great thing. Failure is not. But sometimes it takes some failing to make some great leaders.

Download Youth Ministry WebShow #250

Another week, another episode of the Download Youth Ministry Show! This week we’re all back together talking shop! We talk about youth ministry for 45 minutes every week or two, your questions answered every time! Join Doug Fields, Katie Edwards, Josh Griffin and Matt McGill every week around the table – and this week, special guest Jessica Torres fills in for Katie who is away at junior high camp.

Just enough youth ministry so you don’t feel guilty for listening.

As always, thanks to our amazing sponsors who support the show and help with incredible giveaways:

Send in your questions to webshow@downloadyouthministry.com to be answered on a future show, too!

MOVIE REVIEW: When the Game Stands Tall


Inspired by a true story, WHEN THE GAME STANDS TALL tells the remarkable journey of legendary football coach Bob Ladouceur (Jim Caviezel), who took the De La Salle High School Spartans from obscurity to a 151-game winning streak that shattered all records for any American sport. When the streak is broken, and tragedy strikes the team, Coach Lad must teach his players – and the entire town – that it’s not about how you fall, but how you get back up.

MOVIE REVIEW: When the Game Stands Tall
MPAA RATING: PG for thematic material, a scene of violence and brief smoking
OPENS: August 21st (select) August 22nd (wide)
DYM’S REVIEW: 5/5 stars

I really, really love this movie!

I played football in college – OK, let me clarify that for the record a little. I got destroyed my freshman year, learned the game my sophomore year, got some solid playing time my junior year then blew my knee my senior year. But I understand the game, played the game and love the game. This movie is a great football movie, and athletes and teammates will appreciate it the most without a doubt. But football, even the historic undefeated run and consecutive national championships, are just the vehicle for a film that strives to teach all of us more about the game of life than the game of football.

The movie stars Jim Caviezel, Alexander Ludwig (aka that one guy from The Hunger Games) and a really great Michael Chicklis who steals several scenes as assistant coach Terry Eldson. By the end of the movie you’ll know Beaser, Mickey and Buster Matthews all too well. The movie jumps right into the action, and the action looks great since all of the football was choreographed by the team behind Friday Night Lights. Really good stuff!

The movie isn’t overtly “Christian” but has a clear, faith-based message. The coaches are Christian but not perfect and also not afraid to stand their ground. They are human but have deep-seated values held firmly in place. Christians will enjoy seeing what a dedicated life looks like, and non-Christians will be challenged on how a genuine life of faith could change things. Christians are displayed as real people and even the coach has weaknesses and temptations he struggles with through the journey of the movie. Thankfully the movie never gets “preachy” in any way, yet is straightforward with the message: these players, coaches and parents are different because of their faith in Jesus and their Christ-like love for each other. In fact, I would hesitate to call it a “Christian film” and just say it is an inspiration true story of faith and football and let it stand on it’s own.

This is a great movie to go see as a youth group. The PG rating is earned but there is nothing offensive or even distracting from the clear messages in the film. This is a student-friendly movie, I know of a bunch of friends that are taking our youth group to see the film opening weekend and encouraging their local coaches and teachers to do the same. You could even take your whole youth group to see When the Game Stands Tall – I promise it will help bring up great conversations about life and faith. I brought my younger kids and they all walked away with learnings about faith and life.

These are the kind of movies we need to get behind. If you want more good stuff to come out of Hollywood, put your box office behind it. Beyond just the economy of the movie industry – this is a film you should have your own children see. This is a film young athletes should see. This is a film for dads to bring their kids to help cement values in their home. When the Game Stands Tall is an inspirational movie that needs to be on your must-see list for the fall. And if you see the movie on opening weekend, it sends a statement that more and more of these films need to be released.

We got to see the film a few months ago in a rough cut and wrote a special downloadable companion guide to the film to help create great discussions around the film’s message. We’re proud of this tool and excited to see it downloaded thousands of times already. You can get the DYM Conversation Starters here and other great tools for the movie here.

In short, I loved this film. Everyone in the DYM office loved this film. We’re thrilled to see a movie of this quality with an incredible story and A-list actors wrapped up in a compelling package. We’re big fans of When the Game Stands Tall – go see this movie! In theaters THIS weekend!


PS: Be sure to Stay for the credits … seeing the actual footage of the coaches and players from De La Salle in the first few minutes after the film ends is fantastic. Totally pulls the whole movie together, even made me tear up a bit.

Special DYM Webshow: The Remaining

Here’s a fun special episode of the DYM Webshow featuring Chris Dowling, the writer of the upcoming movie The Remaining. Good stuff!