Have you ever been asked to assess someone in your ministry for a next step in leadership? Maybe it’s a volunteer who’s applied to be a summer intern. Maybe it’s a sophomore who wants to join your student leadership team. Maybe you have a small group leader who is interested in teaching from up front.

When making this assessment I often ask myself, “Is this person ready for the next step?” Lately, I’ve been thinking this is the wrong question. I don’t I need to be asking “Are they ready?”  I need to be asking, “Are they capable?”

More often than not, when God calls the a person for their next level of leadership, they are NEVER ready. In fact, UN-readiness is actually what sets a person up for transformational growth. The times when I’ve been stretched the most have been when I’ve been put into a leadership role where I wasn’t “ready”. Even roles I thought I was ready for always includes some kind of leadership challenge for which I completely unprepared. Being UNREADY means that I can’t rely on myself, I must rely on God. Being unready means that I can’t rely on old strategies, I must invent new ones. Being unready doesn’t necessarily disqualify us from leadership.

So the questions we should ask are:

  • Is this person capable for this next step in leadership?
  • Can they adapt to the new responsibilities?
  • Are their gifts in line with what is required of them?

What I love about capability is that it’s future oriented. Readiness makes an equation of past performance and uses it to predict the future. If leadership development were a car, readiness would be the brake pedal, slowing it down, and capability would be the gas pedal, speeding it up.

So think about that one person you’re considering for the next step in leadership. If you’re hesitant about it, ask yourself, “Are they capable for this next step?” If your honest answer is “yes”, then what are you waiting for? Say yes and watch them soar.

Have you ever had a student who seemed to have a transformative insight in your small group or one on one time only to see them stuck in the same pattern the next week? Maybe you’ve experienced that yourself, where you had conversation or listened to a sermon that rocked your world, but didn’t change how you lived.
Why is that? What keeps a student stuck in their ways and as a small group leader, how can you help them become “unstuck”?
Three Flawed Views of Life Transformation
Information = Transformation
This is the view that if we just get God’s truth in front of students, they’ll realize they are wrong need and make a change. While God’s truth is essential to life change, simply giving students a verse isn’t enough to make life change happen. People don’t change due to a lack of information. They need an encounter with truth that changes how they see the world (their values) and impacts their everyday lives. As a leader you can help a student by showing them the implications of that truth for their life right now.
Emotions = Transformation
This is the view that life change happens when our heart is affected by truth. Too often we think that our job is done once we’ve gotten a student to feel something powerful. We hope that they have a lightbulb moment in our small group that will lead to life change. Do we want to engage the heart and help them see core heart issues? Absolutely! The problem is that if we don’t follow up a lightbulb moment with a call to action/response, then we’re communicating that emotions are the goal. They end up getting addicted to these lightbulb moments where emotions, not life change, are the ultimate goal of the Christian life.
Doing = Transformation
This is the view that if we just get students to act the way we want them to, then the rest will follow along. So we focus on application and challenges. Do we want a practical, lived out faith? Of course we do. The problem is that our actions should come from what’s happening within. When students perform actions without the right motivation, then their relationship with God becomes an obligation and they will end up resenting God and the church.
So what do students need to become unstuck?
One way to think of life transformation is this. Students need…Truth, Tension, and A Path
Truth that confronts the way they see themselves and the God. We choose just any truth to put in front of our students. We choose the truths of God that they need right now to create a new awareness about God, themselves and their world.
Tension to experience the difference between who they are and who they want to become. We don’t resolve the internal turmoil too quickly. When we answer questions or give solutions too soon, then we miss out on our students taking ownership of the new truths they’re encountering. Tension is ESSENTIAL to ownership.
A Path to connect their actions to who God is calling them to be. As you walk with a teenager, it’s important that you connect the truth and the tension with a tangible action plan as a response. If we fail to provide a way to response, we’re missing a key part of transformation because we fail to see that truth should be lived.
Take away
1.     Which of these is the least present in your small group?
2.     Do you skip the truth and go straight for heart talk or application?
3.     Are you engaging the mind, but not the heart or hands?
4.     Is your small group all talk and no walk?
Maybe it’s time for you to shift the conversation to better set the stage for real life transformation to happen. Thanks for all you do to invest in students. It’s a thrill to be with you on this ride!

Mission – EVERY student reflecting Jesus to their WORLD

At Christ Chapel, we’ve defined our values or “Core Four” as Jesus, Community, Growth, and Mission. These are the essentials that become our target for Spiritual growth in our students. We want every student taking the next step in each of these areas so they can experience a fuller understanding of Jesus and His calling as disciples.

When it comes to MISSION a key verse comes to mind.

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere–in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8 NLT)

For me this verse becomes a way that we can understand unlocking mission in our three student ministry contexts: Fifth+Sixth (Preteen), Middle School (early adolescence) and High School (late adolescence). By building a progression into our ministry, we can help students develop a mission’s mindset in age appropriate ways.

Every Preteen needs a “Jerusalem”

To the disciples, Jerusalem meant their backyard. Jesus was challenging his followers to start making a difference where they live. In some sense, this is hardest for our students because they know people in their own hometown. There is a risk of looking different or being left out because they’re representing Christ in their schools and neighborhoods. It’s also hard because there’s no escape. You have nowhere to hide.

We start with Jerusalem because we need to know that mission isn’t an activity it’s a lifestyle. It happens in everyday ordinary situations like at lunch or on the ball field. The path to mission mindedness starts with understanding the call to “take up our cross daily” (Luke 9:23).

Ideas to activate mission in preteens:

  1. Help students define their mission field as their neighborhood, along with the names of people who live in their neighborhood.
  2. Have them brainstorm a “neighborhood needs” list with their parents and look for ways to meet those needs.
  3. Challenge them to invite one friend to church who doesn’t normally come to church.


Every Middle Schooler needs a “Judea”

When Jesus mentions Judea/Samaria, he’s expanding the disciple’s vision. In Judea/Samaria, the cities aren’t as familiar and the customs are different. Now, not only are they called to serve those they are familiar with, but God is asking them to serve those who are different and somewhat strange. This takes a different kind of risk.

For middle schoolers, it’s crucial that they learn to live outside what’s comfortable for them. Life on mission means that our eyes are open to the expanding world around us. Reaching out to their Judea will cause a middle schooler to have increased dependance on Jesus as get out of their comfort zone. Going to a Judea is about expanding one’s faith and trust in God.

Ideas to activate mission:

  1. Challenge students to take a risk by reaching out to someone who is different than them.
  2. As a small group, work with a local church ministry partner for a service day.
  3. Make “blessing bags” that they can give to homeless or needy people that they see around town (agapebags.org).


Every High Schooler needs to go to the “Ends of the Earth”

Lastly, Jesus sends his disciples to the ends of the earth. The challenge is to move from the unfamiliar to the foreign. Now they are brought to the outer limits of their abilities and must fully rely on God for strength. Going to the ends of the earth expands their view of God’s power.

High schoolers need to see a global God who is much bigger than their finite existence. Unlocking a mission mindset means that they accept their place in God’s world instead of trying to fit God into theirs. Only until they go to the ends of the earth will they see how life-giving it is to surrender their lives to God’s global mission.

Ideas to activate mission:

  1. Challenge students to sign up for a overseas mission trip or possibly a gap year doing missions work after high school.
  2. Watch a movie together that has a missions emphasis and talk about what part they can play in global missions.
  3. Find a way as a small group to partner with a foreign missionary or agency.
  4. As a group start praying for a particular country that God would expand his work in that part of the world.

We were made for mission…God’s mission. Until our students jump into that mission, they’ll be missing out on a key component of growing with God.


I know what it’s like. You’re sitting on a Friday morning beating your brain against the wall trying to come up with a creative illustration or game for Sunday. Or you’ve got retreat coming up and every idea seems to fall flat. So what do you do? Hop on the internet, jump in a forum, and ask the masses. Or maybe you grab your credit card and head to the Youth Ministry Mega Mart for some “inspiration”. I’ve been there myself. I know how hard it is to come up with quality programming week in and week out, especially when we have so many responsibilities to manage.

Everyone needs a little help when we’re stuck in a rut and we shouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel every single week. But I’m seeing a trend in youth ministry that worries me about our future. I’m seeing more and more youth workers depend on outsourced material (curriculum, games, training…etc) to do the work of ministry. Often, these “time savers” have a negative impact. Eventually we rely too much on other people’s work instead of our own.

You know if you’ve been guilty of outsourcing your ministry if you’ve…

  • Used a curriculum/talk outline without contexualizing it for your own students or internalizing the message for yourself
  • Played a purchased or “borrowed” game without testing it out
  • Asking someone to name your youth group or plan your retreat. (yes I’ve actually seen this)
  • Spent an exorbitant amount of time trolling youth ministry websites looking for “inspiration”

There is a danger to all this outsourcing. It’s making us incapable of leading ministries on our own. We become TOO dependent on other people for inspiration, which leads to shallow, generic youth ministries. We have access to such a large amount of resources that it’s just too tempting to copy and paste other people’s work into our own context. In the end, we stunt our leadership trajectory because we’ve haven’t put in the time to actually get good at the craft of student ministry.

Here are just a few dangers I see on the horizon if we continue to outsource our ministries:

  • If we rely on other people’s creativity, we’ll never learn to be creative ourselves. Really creative people will tell you that being creative is a daily discipline. There are no shortcuts. Outsourcing stunts our creative abilities.
  • If we rely on someone else’s message, our own messages will become shallow and powerless. The truly impactful talks that I have given over the years were ones that I agonized over and internalized. There was prayer and contemplation involved. When I outsource my message to someone else, I lose that part of the process and my students WILL notice the difference.
  • If we rely on someone else’s strategy, we can miss out on God’s specific vision for our ministry. Only YOU know your context. You and your leaders need to be the ones who seek God for a vision and direction that is unique to you. When you outsource your ministry vision/strategy, you’ll miss out on seeing the next adventure that God wants to take your ministry on.
  • When you rely on someone else’s work, you lose a sense of ownership and pride over your ministry. God is calling YOU to be the shepherd of your ministry. When you take someone else’s work and calling it your own, what can you be proud of? Instead, God is calling you to take personal responsibility for what he’s entrusted you.

For the record, I buy curriculum and resources all the time. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I know that when I copy and paste someone else’s work, my leadership and my students suffer. That’s why whenever I get inspired from someone else’s work, I try to adapt it and internalize it for myself.

So much in student ministry simply cannot be outsourced. Relationships, teaching, leadership care, listening to the spirit…I could go on. This way is harder, for sure, but on the other side of that wall is a ministry that is richer, deeper and one you’ll be way more proud of.

So what about you? In what ways are you in danger of outsourcing too much of your ministry? And how will you begin the process of owning your part of the process?

It seems like the month of August has become a milestone magnet for me and it always leaves me a bit reflective. These next few weeks I’ll celebrate a few August milestones that are leaving me full of praise for God’s faithfulness.

August 1998 – I left my home in California to blaze a trail in Texas. I was 18 years old and I headed off TCU. That was 18 years ago. I’m 36. The math means that I have officially lived in Texas longer than California. I never knew what my journey would be when I left the west coast. I certainly expected to return, but God had other plans. I came here not knowing a soul and God opened the doors for a ton of meaningful relationships. Added to this, I married a Texan (and my best friend) and got my start in ministry here.

August 2008 – I started on staff at CCBC. A very real part of my ministry journey was a rocky experience at another church that left me questioning my call to ministry and asking whether I was good enough. Before coming to CCBC I spent 8 months getting shot down time after time from different ministry positions. Against better judgment, CCBC leadership took a shot on me. They provided a place for my family to heal and give me the confidence to grow in ministry. I am so proud to serve at a church that gives a ton of grace while simultaneously challenges me to grow in leadership.

August 2015 – I started my journey into my role leading our student team. After another hard year (adjusting to the life with a newborn and taking care of extended family), I began to wonder what might be next for me. I certainly loved CCBC and our middle schoolers. I knew I wanted to stay in student ministry, but felt like God was challenging me to grow in my leadership capabilities. The opportunity to lead our student team is a dream come true. I get to watch a talented team of women and men chase after students. I also get to do it in a city that I love and know so well.

God’s faithfulness is so evident to me right now. I don’t deserve to be in ministry, especially for as long as I have been in it or at the church I’m at. But that’s the funny thing about grace, it’s undeserved and often much sweeter than we ever can possibly image.

If you’re in ministry wrestling with your calling or questioning God’s faithfulness, I hope my story encourages you to press on and depend on Jesus all the more. If you’re looking to check out and don’t have someone to encourage you, contact me. I’ve been where you are and I want to help you experience the joy of God’s faithfulness, too.

As I write this, our middle schoolers are having the time of their lives at camp and for the first time in nearly a decade, I’m not with them. Sending those busses away yesterday was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do in a while. Being a youth pastor at camp is one of the things I love most about the role because you build memories that last a lifetime. It’s also an opportunity for students to connect with you as their pastor.

Now that I oversee our student ministry, I get fewer of those moments. It’s not my role for students to see me as their pastor. I get to cast vision and set direction and empower our team, which is really exciting. But this week, I’m grieving the loss of those special perks of being directly over a flock of students.

But then I remind myself that I’ve been blessed beyond belief with the number of years I’ve gotten to be “the guy”. I’ve gotten to experience a treasure trove of memories seeing God work in the lives of students. I also remind myself that I’m still being true to my calling by equipping the next generation of youth workers.

At our high school camp last week I reminded one of our team (really I was trying to convince myself) that one of my primary tasks is to give ministry away to as many people as possible. I’ve got to find satisfaction knowing that I’m helping other people experience the same joys of student ministry that I’ve received all these years.

In Acts 20:35 Paul attributes the saying to Jesus, “It’s better to give than to receive.” I’m learning that there is joy in applying this to ministry leadership.

The best leaders I know seem to recede into the background while others get the credit and privileges. I want to be that kind of leader. Like a father who watches his children open presents on Christmas morning, I want to be the type of leader who finds intrinsic joy in seeing other people unwrap the gift of seeing a student come alive with the Gospel.

It’s not just leaders of staff teams that this applies to, either. We’ve all got ministry we can give away. Do you have interns? Let them have more stage time and ownership. Do you have volunteers? Let them become the pastor to their students. Students, too, let them use their gifts and abilities leading upfront.

No one likes a hoarder. Everyone loves a cheerful giver. How are you going to give ministry away this week?

In my transition over the past year to leading our student team, I’ve been stretched more than ever in my leadership. I realize that there is so much more to leading others than I ever thought. I just went through my notebook and collected some of the leadership wisdom I’ve gained. Most of these lessons have come through the direct mentoring and coaching by my Executive Pastor, Bill Egner. He’s one of the most brilliant, Godly men I know and I’m thankful for the influence he’s had on my life.

Remember that EVERYONE is a leader to SOMEONE. So we all need to get better at leadership.

Here are just a few nuggets of wisdom that I’m trying to embody in my leadership:

  1. Determine your “Why”. Why you exist will drive everything else . People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.
  2. Nothing becomes dynamic until it becomes specific. Don’t just give people a big idea, give them a real target to aim at.
  3. It’s easier to critique than create. A leader must always start with some idea/plan/strategy to get the creative juices going. You can’t design by committee.
  4. Vision leaks, you need to recast vision ALL the time.
  5. There is a difference between delegation and abdication. Delegation involves circling back and keeping people accountable.
  6. Average players want to be left alone, good players want to be coached, great players want to be told the truth.

I seriously have two pages full of these kinds of nuggets. My prayer is that for the sake of the kingdom, for the sake of my church, for the sake of our teenagers, and for the sake of my staff/volunteers I would become a better leader.

What about you? What lessons on leadership are you learning?


I’m fortunate to lead a team of talented, dedicated youth workers. I’m the oldest and most experienced team member. I’m also one of the oldest, most tenured youth workers in our city. Longevity has brought a lot of blessings to my life. I have deep relationships with other youth workers around our community. I’ve gained some wisdom through some successes and a lot of mistakes. The longevity also affords me a certain level of respect. For example is that one of my staffers likes to call me the Yoda of youth ministry. It’s probably because I’m old (in youth ministry years) and bald.

I have to admit that I love when I’m called the Yoda/expert/guru of youth ministry. It strokes my ego to know that I’m respected and that my opinions are more valid. It also isn’t true. Years in ministry doesn’t equal expertise. To be an expert means that I have to possess a “comprehensive and authoritative knowledge of or skill in a particular area.” In reality, the longer in youth ministry the less I know.

As a leader the moment I believe that I have it all figured out is the moment I become the least effective. When I am the expert I limit our team’s potential with my limitations. We can only know what I know and do what I can do. This is no good for the people I lead. It makes them dependent on me to make things happen. It makes them frustrated because their voice and ideas won’t be heard.

I’ve decided that I don’t want to be the expert any more. Instead, I want to become the most enthusiastic learner on my team. I want my passion for youth work lead to curiosity instead of arrogance. I want to let go of the “tried and true” so I can embrace the new movements of God’s Spirit.

This is REALLY hard for me to do. I like respect and recognition too much. I like feeling needed too much. But this really isn’t about me, is it? It’s about dying to myself so that God can achieve his purposes through us. Then and only then will I see the ministry to teens that I really want to see.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – John 12:24 (ESV)

This morning I attended the funeral of a former student (who’s younger brother was also in my small group as a middle schooler). Tomorrow, I’ll attend another’s wedding. Both came through my ministry over a decade ago.

As I hugged my grieving former student (whom I hadn’t seen in a long time, he’s 25 now) he mentioned how much it meant to him that I would come. It was a short interaction, maybe 2 minutes and not much time for “pastoring”, but my hope is that the impact of my presence communicated something more…that I care about him as a person and not as a project.

It was then that I was reminded that my ministry to my students begins when they age into our ministry, but it doesn’t end when they age out. I’m not called to a demographic (teenagers), but rather I’m called to people within a demographic.

At some level the teens in your ministry believe that you love them because you have to. Because it’s your job to spend time with them. They think that you only love them because of what you will get out of them (church attendance, volunteer hours, a bigger crowd). When you maintain a lasting presence in their lives (be it ever so small) it says that you loved them because your wanted to.

Even when you leave your church, your state or leave vocational youth ministry altogether the Gospel is calling you to care for people over the long haul. Your students won’t always demand it from you, but they sure will notice it when you do. Every veteran youth worker inherently knows this, and I wish every young youth worker would understand it as well.

So, my encouragement is this. To the best of your abilities, keep in touch with students who graduate from your ministry. Celebrate their weddings, pray for them when they get laid off, mourn with them, even when it’s not in your job description to do so.

That kind of presence is transformational. It communicates something about the heart of God that no sermon or retreat ever can. It says that the God of the universe pursues them with a radical love that defies logic. Presence over the long haul shows that Jesus loves them over the long haul, and every person needs to experience that kind of love.


I just dropped off 7 middle school guys at school after breakfast. I’ve been pouring into their lives, trying to help them see Jesus for a year and a half. Week in and week out I’ve been present. I wish I could say that there was a lot of evident fruit in their lives, but honestly this morning they we’re more interested in playing NBA Live on their phones than listening to me talk about owning their faith.

After 18 years in student ministry, this isn’t a new phenomenon, but that doesn’t mean I get used to the feeling of frustration. I love these guys. I want them to hunger for God and to have a “Jesus is better” perspective. I want more for their lives.

Right after this, my daily reading brought me to Luke 13:18-19.

18 Then Jesus said, “What is the Kingdom of God like? How can I illustrate it? 19 It is like a tiny mustard seed that a man planted in a garden; it grows and becomes a tree, and the birds make nests in its branches.”

Just as a seed spends a lot of time in the dirt before anything sprouts, Spiritual growth can seem dormant to an outside observer. But eventually, when the Gospel takes root, faith grows into something we can see and interact with.

This is especially true with student ministry. We want big, dramatic growth in our students. Jesus reminds us to be patient and be hopeful. There is transformation happening under the surface. You just might need to wait a while (years perhaps) before you see it. But when you do you’ll be amazed at what God has done.

So, dear youth worker, don’t lose hope that you’re not seeing the fruit you want. That mustard seed you’re looking will one day become a tree.

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