Youth Specialties Blog

Trending This Week (Feb 27)

By Jacob Eckeberger on February 26 2015 | 0 Comments

Every week we pull our favorite links from across the inter-webs. This week's trending links include 3 ways to add creativity to your ministry, a litmus test for the health of youth ministry, student leadership basics, understanding the power of our words, and plenty of fuel for your procrastination. 

Blogs From This Week

Stephen Ingram shared "The Two Most Important Things I'm Doing in My Youth Ministry" - CLICK TO VIEW

David Olshine looks at "Helping Students Wrestle With Myster" - CLICK TO VIEW

Blogs From Other Great Youth Workers This Week

Amy Williams wrote a powerful post: “Hope Is Not Lost; The Meaning Is” - CLICK TO VIEW

Andy Blanks wrote some great ideas for creatives & non-creative types: “3 Ways To Add Creativity To Your Ministry” - CLICK TO VIEW

Jon Nielson shared this challenging post: “Does Your Youth Ministry Mess With Christ’s Bride?” - CLICK TO VIEW

Jen Bradbury gave us a look at how she chooses student leaders: “Student Leadership Basics” - CLICK TO VIEW

Joel Mayward talks about how much our words matter: “8 Cliche Youth Ministry Phrases” - CLICK TO VIEW

Fun Things To Fuel Your Procrastination

Simply delicious thoughts with Cooke Monster - CLICK TO VIEW

Cat jumps through a snowbank - CLICK TO VIEW

The Skit Guys “Meet The Sanders” - CLICK TO VIEW

The cutest 3 year old white belt - CLICK TO VIEW

For your brain power: Why does February only have 28 days? - CLICK TO VIEW

By Jacob Eckeberger on February 26 2015 | 0 Comments

Helping Students Wrestle With Mystery

By Youth Specialties on February 25 2015 | 0 Comments

How do we respond when our teens ask, “Why does the Christian faith seem so strange and tough to figure out?”

I agree that Christianity isn’t always easy to understand. There are many topics that are tough to grasp.

The Bible does not shy away from mystery.  

John, one of Jesus’ 12 followers, wrote 1, 2 and 3 John. In 1 John 1:1, we read:

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of Life.”

John is talking about God with skin on him.

Notice the words “we have seen with our eyes” and “our hands have touched” are symbols from John saying: “This God who became man, we got to hang out with him and spend time with him and watch him do miracles and see him sleep and fish and cast out evil spirits and heal people and interact with sick people and debate with the rabbi’s and religious leaders. We were with this Jesus.”

First, the Christian faith is about a real historical person, Jesus Christ.

He was a real ,living person. John is taking something that is “out there” and making it practical and real. “The life appeared; we have seen it (v 2).” John saw Jesus; he lived with Jesus for three years. Then following Jesus death and resurrection, he appeared “to all the apostles” (1 Cor.15:8).

Second, God came to the planet as a human being is a mystery.

“He came and lived in the neighborhood” (John 1:14 MSG). John became a pastor and shepherd to God’s people as he aged. In this first chapter of 1 John, we will dive more into the mystery of God becoming man and how that will help our students deal with light, darkness, sin, and forgiveness. I don’t know about you, but I love mystery movies, books, and anything that has a twist. The Christian faith would be boring without mystery. I cannot fully wrap my mind around the concept of the incarnation.

Third, John the apostle is saying that Jesus is experiential.

One of the reasons some are bored with church and Christianity is that they are dying to experience Christ, but their experience isn’t happening. That leads to frustration and sometimes depression. The good news is that God came to earth in the person of Jesus to live in our neighborhood and transform our lives from ordinary to extraordinary. This God-man can be experienced.

You can learn more about the Christian faith in my book Studies on the Go: James, 1-2 Peter and 1-3 John. I wrote the book because youth workers often lack the time or easily accessible information necessary to lead a quality Bible study, a Bible study that is memorable, and I wanted to challenge teens and young adults to engage with God’s word. Each lesson has a leader’s insight, warm-up questions, what you observed about the text, what it means for our daily lives, and how to apply it to their lives. Plus, we provide handy tips and insights on each letter to help the leader understand the richness and background of the texts.

The Bible might be a mystery story, but reading and decoding it shouldn’t be. With a few solid resources, you can help your students understand and engage with the story of Christ in a new way.

David Olshine is the Director of Youth Ministries at Columbia International University, a speaker, author, husband, and father. David wrote Studies On The Go: James, 1-2 Peter and 1-3 John with the busy youth worker in mind, who either lacks the time or the information to lead a quality Bible study. These are written for the fast-paced leader who does not skimp on depth and substance. The books of James, Peter, and John deal with real life issues and questions that are down to earth. Studies on the Go pushes teens into the text and explains how to hear God’s word on a practical level. So whether you need something for a class, youth group, or small group, this curriculum is a great resource for you! Check it out in the YS Store HERE


For a limited time we're offering a special Studies On The Go bundle that saves you 10% when you purchase all the books in the series! Add it to your shopping cart HERE!

By Youth Specialties on February 25 2015 | 0 Comments

The Two Most Important Things I’m Doing in My Youth Ministry

By Youth Specialties on February 23 2015 | 4 Comments

We are fortunate to know so many incredible youth workers that are far wiser than we are and Stephen Ingram is one of them. Enjoy his guest blog post!

I bet many, if not most, of you are reading this article looking to find a new technique, program or idea that will help grow your ministry. I want to apologize in advance if I misled you with the title. 

While these will not guarantee you greater numbers or flashier programming, I can promise you that these two practices are some of the most profound that I get to perpetuate each week in the student ministry I’m in charge of.

Hugs and High Fives

In our student ministry, we work hard to try to ingrain the practices of the greater church. We do communal prayers, say the Lord’s Prayer each worship and have the students lead most of the aspects of the service.

One day I was thinking about the Sunday morning service at our church and wondered what we could do with the passing of the peace element of the liturgy. So much of a youth service can be consumption-based where youth see the back of one another’s heads and a speaker and a screen.

The ancient tradition of the passing of the peace is not only a way to bring students deeper into an ancient practice of the church but it also reorients their consumerist tendencies of worship. It allows the students to physically interact with one another, look each other in the eye, and have a very real moment of humanity.

The problem is that in most churches, the passing of the peace is usually a quick, impersonal forced practice. Many churches practice this like it’s an obligation, shaking the hands of two to three people around them and quickly sitting down. We knew we would have to embody a new culture from the beginning if this were to be successful.

So, instead of the often cold passing of the peace, we do our version called Hugs and High Fives. We introduce it as a time to really see the people around you. We talk about it as a time to get around the room and greet each other with love. 

It is awesome.

We usually block out about five minutes for this in our order of worship. Our youth have even added another aspect to this new liturgical practice: the awkward hand hug. The always trustworthy source, Urban Dictionary, defines the hand hug as “Similar to a high five except for as soon as your palms touch, you each wrap your thumb around the other's hand.”

Here is the bottom line: There are few times in our kids lives where they are told to and given the space to warmly greet one another.

Almost nowhere in our society and even in the church are youth given the specific time to re-humanize each other with smiles, hugs, kind words, and other symbols of physical affection, and we are worse off for it.


Second on my list of the most important things I’m doing is another free and simple practice: carpool. Yep, carpool.  

Parents are busy, students are busy—heck, I’m busy—so regular face to face interaction between parents and myself is something that often occurs haphazardly in the hallways after church or when we pass each other going in and out of places like restaurants.

Now don’t get me wrong, we have our regular formal meetings for training, updates, and trip information but the time that I am made physically available to them on a regular basis is very limited. Well, it was limited.

About a year ago, we started a new morning junior high Bible study and I thought it would be a good idea to stand outside of the church in the drive through and greet them to make sure they knew where to go. It was incredible. I was able to talk to every parent whose youth came to that Bible study that morning!

So the next week I did it again—and again and again. I found the practice so helpful I began to do the same thing at our Sunday night worship service. Between these two practices, I am physically seeing, having brief conversations with, and making myself available to more than 100 parents every week! It’s incredible the information they give me, the questions they ask, the smiles and appreciation they share, and how that small moment can bring connection.

I learn about bullying and when the next baseball game is going to be. I share laughs and tears through a rolled-down car door window. I get to build up and be built up all because I take 20 minutes before two of our weekly programs and open some car doors with a smile and a greeting.

I cannot tell you how important this practice has been to the ministry that we do at my church. It is simple but profound. It’s not only good hospitality but it’s also one of the best ways I have found to de-silo the youth ministry in our church. 

I warned you that these wouldn’t be flashy, youth-group-growing practices. They are, however, two of the best things that I am able to do in the ministry I am responsible for—and the beautiful thing is, they won’t cost your ministry a dime.

Stephen Ingram is the Director of Student Ministries at Canterbury United Methodist Church in Birmingham, AL, a coach with Youth Ministry Architects, and author of "Hollow Faith and [extra] Ordinary Time."     

By Youth Specialties on February 23 2015 | 4 Comments

Trending This Week (Feb 20)

By Jacob Eckeberger on February 19 2015 | 0 Comments

Every week we pull our favorite links from across the inter-webs. This week's trending links include 4 truths when meeting with a parent, why teens should attend church-wide meetings, explaining Ash wednesday to kids, and plenty of fuel for your procrastination. 

Blogs From This Week

Brian Aaby looked back at "5 Youth Pastor What Ifs" - CLICK TO VIEW

We created a handy infographic for you: "20 Odd Lent Ideas For Your Students" - CLICK TO VIEW

Lilly Lewin created a great prayer station idea: "Lint or Lent? How to Reconnect to the Experience" - CLICK TO VIEW

Blogs From Other Great Youth Workers This Week

Jen Bradbury talks about "Why Teens Should Attend Church-Wide Meetings" - CLICK TO VIEW

Ben Fawcett shared his thoughts on how he plans to talk about the 21 Christians who were recently killed: “To Die Is Gain” - CLICK TO VIEW

Nate Stratman wrote a great post about explaining Ash Wednesday to kids: "Now Why Are These Ashes on My Head?"- CLICK TO VIEW

Kara Powell has a great post you can forward to parents: "Family Feeling Busy? Try This Question” - CLICK TO VIEW

Ryan Reed shared some great thoughts in "4 Truths When Meeting With A Parent” - CLICK TO VIEW

Fun Things To Fuel Your Procrastination

Jimmy Fallon and Taylor Swift jumbotron dancing - CLICK TO VIEW

11 epic facts about left-handed eople - CLICK TO VIEW

Weather Channel reporter flips out during cantore thundersnow - CLICK TO VIEW

Thoughts you have in line at Starbucks - CLICK TO VIEW

This is your brain on extreme weather - CLICK TO VIEW

By Jacob Eckeberger on February 19 2015 | 0 Comments

Lint or Lent? How to Reconnect to the Experience

By Youth Specialties on February 18 2015 | 0 Comments

When you hear the word Lent what comes to mind? Lint or Lent? I’ve lived where Lent was what you found in your dryer or you belly button, not a season of the church year. And I’ve lived where every fast food sign was advertising fish sandwiches as a “Lenten Special” on Fridays.

Maybe you’ve not really practiced Lent or experienced the season of Lent before. Or maybe you grew up where hearing the word Lent meant going to a lot more church services and giving up something you really liked because you were supposed to. You didn’t do it out of love or in order to draw closer to God, but just because you had to.

Lint or Lent? Consider where you are on the spectrum—and consider where you’d like to be by the time you reach Easter Sunday. The beautiful thing about Lent is that it gives us a long period of time to engage and respond to what God is up to in our lives. We have more than 40 days in the season of Lent to get our hearts and minds ready to experience the gift of the resurrection.

But too often, Lent is just a word we hear and not a practice.

How can we practice Lent this year? How can we really grow closer to God between now and Easter Sunday? To reconnect with the experience, I think we have to begin with our hearts.

And since we just had Valentine’s Day, there are lots of hearts around to remind us that our hearts need to be open and ready to receive from Jesus. How is your heart today? Anything weighing you down? Are you filled with love and expectation or is your heart feeling broken and in need of mending? Where would you like your heart to be? Where would you like your relationship with Jesus to be by the time Easter Sunday rolls around? Take some time today to be intentional with how you can fall more in love with Jesus this Lenten season.   

Here’s a prayer station idea you can do with your community, family or on your own as you begin Lent.



Large bowl of water
Basket with small sponges (enough for each person in your group)
Basket with rocks (enough for each person in your group)
Bowl of sand
Roll of paper towels


Read the following:

We have the opportunity to go on an amazing Journey with Jesus over the next 40 days. But before anyone starts a journey, they must get ready, they must prepare. How are you feeling today? How is your heart?

Is it soft like a sponge ready to absorb more of God? Is it more like a rock feeling heavy and weighted down? Is it like dry sand, a desert in need of water, in need of refreshment?

As you begin your journey, choose a symbol of where your heart is today:

SPONGE = wanting to absorb more of God

ROCK = feeling weighed down, need help

HANDFUL OF SAND = feeling dry, in need of refreshment

Put your symbol in the water, and read:

JESUS is the living water… Allow Him to refresh you! Allow Jesus to prepare your heart for the journey of Lent. Allow Him to heal you. Allow Jesus to forgive you.

He knows and loves you just as you are!

Lilly Lewin is a long time friend of YS and has spent a lot of her time curating the sanctuary spaces at NYWC. She's an author, a creater of worship spaces, and prayer experiences for churches, retreats, and various workshops. Visit her blog HERE.  

By Youth Specialties on February 18 2015 | 0 Comments

20 Odd Lent Ideas For Your Students [Infographic]

By Jacob Eckeberger on February 16 2015 | 0 Comments

The idea of giving something up for Lent might be a little intimidating for some of your students. So here are some not-so-typical ideas you can suggest and use as a conversation starter to help explain why this season is so important:

Jacob Eckeberger is the Content and Community Manager at Youth Specialties, an itinerant worship leader, the spouse of a church planter, and a long time volunteer youth worker. You can find him at

By Jacob Eckeberger on February 16 2015 | 0 Comments

5 Youth Pastor What Ifs

By Youth Specialties on February 13 2015 | 0 Comments

Original photo by Veronique Debord-Lazaro.

I’m 23 years into my vocational youth ministry adventure. My outlook on the student ministry culture certainly took on different perspectives during these years. From the rookie years to the “seasoned veteran” years (which, in youth ministry, takes place around your late 20’s), I have consistently looked back and wondered, “what if?”

I thought I’d jot a few of these “what ifs” down, perhaps just to encourage others:

1. What if I would have set a better example of peer-to-peer evangelism instead of using pastor-to-youth as my evangelism excuse? 

I likely would have discovered that students have the same insecurities and fears I had and I would have begun engaging in and then training others for real-life, relational (with words) evangelism earlier.

2. What if I would have known at an earlier stage that “youth ministry” is more than just ministry to students (rather it is student, parent, peer, etc.)?

I certainly would have had better volunteerism, more parent support and I likely would have felt more respected by the adults in the church rather than alienating others with the “I must prove myself to them” attitude I think I adopted.

3. What if I would have known that putting in more hours, working more days and trying to please as many as possible would NOT impress anyone other than myself? 

I would have likely had a better relationship with those in authority over me instead of secretly wishing that they all would notice the hours, days and efforts so that I’d get a raise, accolades or recognition.

4. What if I would have fallen in love with coffee earlier in my youth pastorate?

I’d likely be dead from caffeine overdose… or more people would know Jesus, as the coffee shop has become one of my primary peer-to-peer ministry outlets.

5. What if I recruited adults to pray with our students instead of just praying for our students? 

Disclaimer: I had many adults involved with our teens… but not nearly enough! This honestly is my #1 “what if?” And here is my answer: I believe that we’d see the national statistics of up to 80% of students leaving the church flipped. I believe that we’d see students and adults begin to understand the truth of 1 Corinthians 12–we are one body, many parts and all the parts are needed and I believe we’d see MANY more adults not intimidated by the teen population and vice-versa. I believe that our Sunday morning experience would look and feel way more familial and way more welcoming!

Honestly, most of this ties into that last one. I wish I would have had someone investing in me at a deeper level. What if someone was praying with me and not just for me? I wish something like Pray21 would have been around 15 years ago. At the risk of touting a product over blog content, I want to urge folks to check this thing out. Team students up with caring adults (even get the mentor to pay the $10 or so for both books) and get this praying with youth thing started!

Brian Aaby is the director of YS Search & Coaching, assisting churches with personnel placement and provides coaching guidance for youth leaders. Brian served for 17 years as a youth pastor and then founded and led Youthmark since 2008. Brian speaks nationally at churches, camps, conference, and events. He and his wife, Elisabeth, have three children and reside near Seattle. 

By Youth Specialties on February 13 2015 | 0 Comments

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