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Tag Archives | Group Magazine

You Don’t Wish You Were Here

My mom used to say the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence because a septic tank lies underneath. Thus, my very loose translation of Proverbs 4:27 for youth workers: “Don’t look to the left at the megachurch or to the right at the big parachurch ministry.”

Have you ever experienced drive-by jealousy while passing a mega-ministry? Do you feel overwhelmed when Instagram and Twitter bombard you with attendance stats and successes? It can feel like a nonstop highlight reel of comparison.

People often comment about how great my job must be. Truthfully, it’s just like yours, full of hurting, broken kids who regularly make poor decisions. Although I usually post about the good stuff, the grass dies here just as often as at your place.

When your eyes and heart focus on what others have and do, three things happen: You lose because you become discouraged, kids lose because you’re distracted, and God’s Kingdom loses because his servant is disheartened.

If you’re stuck there, remember these two things:

1 Bloom where you’re planted. If you were to poll your teenagers, you’d discover they keep coming back for relationships, not a fancy building, free pizza, lasers, or Kinect. Kids love your group because they’re known there, they matter there, and people care for them, pray for them, and accept them there. Your ministry may sometimes look like a mess to you, but it’s a blessing to be able to share Jesus through it. Consider the lives and stories you have an opportunity to speak into, and strive daily to show Jesus in each of them. In this generation that’s so hungry for significance, kids are just waiting for you to give them something—and Someone—to live for.

2 Look forward. What can you add to the ministry landscape? More than you can imagine! Thousands of struggling youth workers are trying to figure out how to work in a context just like yours. God has taught you many lessons in the trenches, and others need to know how to deal with those same tough situations. Here’s how you can share your experiences so others benefit:

  • Start a blog.
  • Write a guest post for another blog.
  • Submit a magazine article (easier than you think).
  • Walk alongside a new youth worker in your area.
  • Speak at a local training event.

Time to go water the lawn!

You Don’t Wish You Were Here by Josh Griffin originally appeared in the September/October issue of Group Magazine where he is a regular contributor for his “In the Trenches” column.

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POLL: Youth Ministry Magazine

This week’s poll is a straightforward one: would you subscribe to a Download Youth Ministry Magazine? Just an idea we had the other day – thought we should get some quick feedback! Tell us why you voted what you did in the comments!


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Kick Yourself Off Youth Ministry Island


When my rowboat finally hit land, I loved what I saw. Palm trees, coconuts, crystal-clear water…perfection. Everything was mine. I was in charge. I’d made it. For years, I’d wandered at sea, but this paradise quickly erased the pains of the journey. I found shelter, gathered food, and swam. It was incredible…for a while.

Let me back up. For a long time, I cared about the whole church. I was “all in,” wearing every hat on the giant ship. Being an all-around crew member rather than just the activities director was exhausting. I performed multiple tasks on every deck. More than once, I wanted to toss a few people overboard.

One day, I snuck away on a little rowboat to find dry land. I was free to do my own thing—to build the youth ministry and nothing else. It was oddly exhilarating to work with teenagers, not caring if they ended up at my church or not. (After all, if the church weren’t paying me, I probably wouldn’t even go there.)

If you’ve ever been to Youth Ministry Island, you know it quickly loses its luster. The place pulls an awful bait-and-switch, and here’s what remains:

Loneliness—The excitement upon arrival is intoxicating, yet over time you feel isolated. While fighting the elements, you realize survival would be more possible if you were part of a crew.
Invisibility—Being off the radar seems like a win initially. Then you notice you’re left out of celebrations. You realize your freedom has come at the expense of team. Longevity, after all, is birthed from being part of a much greater whole.
Martyrdom—To top it off, you feel like a victim. “I’m the one who should be getting credit,” you think. “Everyone else is out to get me.” Paranoia wins because you’re alone and invisible.

As fall approaches, what boat will you be on? If you’re alone, invisible, or playing the martyr, you may have set sail for Youth Ministry Island. Take these steps now to get back aboard the big ship:
• Care about the whole church and speak highly of it.
• Support the senior pastor and leadership.
• Offer to assist with “out of your area” opportunities.
• Help design a church that welcomes back graduating students.

Good youth ministry isn’t just about caring for teenagers. Find passion for everything God is doing so you don’t get stranded on Youth Ministry Island.

Youth Ministry Island by Josh Griffin originally appeared in the July/August issue of Group Magazine where he is a regular contributor for his “In the Trenches” column.

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Rick Lawrence has edited the #1 youth ministry magazine (Group Magazine) in the world for 30 years. He is a thinker, a creative, a writer, a rebel (in sorts), and a leader. He leads the youth ministry area at Group Publishing and when Simply Youth Ministry partnered with Group 4.5 years ago I began to observe his leadership up close.  I love being around Rick! He’s one of those guys who makes me better when I’m near him. I find my weaknesses exposed by Rick (because he is so much stronger in certain areas of ministry/leadership than myself), but instead of being threatened, I feel empowered and known by a colleague who loves me as I am and is never demeaning about my weaknesses in the shadow of his strengths. If you are going to the Simply Youth Ministry Conference, you will experience Rick’s creativity, warmth, mind and leadership (if you would like to go, you’ve got one more day to save some money–early bird registration ends tomorrow)

1. What is your definition of leadership?

You’d think an editor would have no problem coming up with a definition—any definition for anything. But all I’ve got to offer are some disconnected phrases that seem true to me:

Leaders create followers. Followers are people who say and do things they wouldn’t have said and done if not for their exposure to the “radiation” a leader is giving off.

Leaders give what they have to give. By this, I mean that true leaders, or leaders of truth, are giving from the “good treasure” God has entrusted to them (see The Parable of the Talents). They’re not afraid of that treasure—in fact, they love giving to others because they know they’re wired to give.

Leaders take risks. Again, just as in the Parable of the Talents, leaders would feel suffocated if they weren’t taking risks on behalf of the Kingdom of God, and on behalf of those they are leading.

Leaders are always pointing to something higher than themselves. They know they are conduits to something, not an end in themselves. Another way of saying this is that they serve a higher Love than self-love.

Leaders, in a very real sense, share in Jesus’ passion to “set the captives free.” No matter what “captivity” looks like for a “prisoner,” a leader is driven to bash open the cell doors.

2. What’s an important tip you have to share about leading others?

If you are not, as C.S. Lewis used to say, “under the Obedience,” then you’re operating like a grenade with its pin pulled. Sooner or later you’re going to blow somebody up. True leadership flows out of the life that comes from embracing our true nature as “branches” intimately grafted into the Vine, who is Jesus. All of my mistakes in leadership have come when I have operated outside of my Obedience—whether from ignorance, laziness, arrogance, or insecurity. The other thing, related to this, is that all of the leaders who have changed my life have had three magnetic characteristics:

They are sifted—I just spent more than a year writing a book about my experience, and the experience of others, in embracing the transformative power of a process Jesus called “sifted like wheat” (Luke 22). In my book, I describe sifting as a God-ordained momentum that brings freedom, represented by this rhythm: beaten, separated, and revealed. Sifted people are broken people whose true identities have been surfaced by what they have endured, and now they’re dangerous-for-God.

They are curious—By this, I mean they are always hungry to learn from others and never assume they already know everything they need to know. They’re thirst for truth is insatiable.

They are bold—I mean, they are not polite people in the same way Jesus was not a polite person. They are people who carry a kind of weight with their life—they are not afraid to move into the intimate places of my life, and they are not afraid to throw their soul’s heft around.

3. What’s your biggest failure/weakness as a leader?

One word: passivity. Whether at home, work, or church, my biggest regrets are almost exclusively tied to my obvious or subtle choices to remain passive when leadership is needed. I wince just thinking about the times I’ve felt tired or put-upon or resentful of stepping in to a hard situation, so I let someone else take the bullet.

4. What do you do to keep growing as a leader?

I once agreed to co-write a book called The Family Friendly Church just so I could hang out and spend a lot of time with Ben Freudenburg, a pioneering family ministry leader who dreamed of writing a book but needed help. I knew, just knew, that if I had an excuse to spend a lot of time with Ben that it would help me to grow—and I was right. So the best way to grow as a leader is to find excuses to spend time with leaders who have the three characteristics I’ve shared above. I have never been disappointed when I have pursued, and even stalked, those who “radiate” the spirit of Christ. Leaders help other leaders grow.

4.5. What is your favorite _______________?

Three Films: Pride and Prejudice (the 5-hour BBC version), Dan In Real Life, and White Christmas. Three Books: The Journey of Desire by John Eldredge, The Loser Letters by Mary Eberstadt, and ReWork by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. Three Bands: Patty Griffin, Counting Crows, The Normals. Three Experiences: The Simply Youth Ministry Conference, my three-day sabbaticals at St. Benedict’s Monastery near Snowmass, and the Club Valentino comedy/variety show we put on every year at my church. Three People: My wife Bev, my daughter Lucy, and my daughter Emma.

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