Youth Specialties Blog

Spiritual Gardening

By Youth Specialties on September 30 2014 | 0 Comments

We are excited to share this post from Mike Langford and we're thrilled that he'll be at NYWC Sacramento

Original photo by Lisa.

According to a 2012 study by the Pew Research Forum, more people than ever in the U.S. identify with no religion. The so-called “nones” make up a fifth of the national population, and that percentage rises to one-third of adults under age 30. In other words, in this country, the chances are increasing that, after graduating high school, adolescents will also “graduate” from their faith (if they had any religious commitment to begin with).

But all is not gloom and doom. Christianity is growing rapidly in the Global South and East. South America, Africa, and parts of Asia will soon boast a majority of the world’s Christians if they do not already.

Why the disparity? Why is Christianity decreasing in the Global West, and increasing elsewhere? Some claim the answer is socio-economic, that development breeds secularism as certain needs become domesticated. Others claim that it is cultural, that the West is too focused on individualism and materialism to allow for transcendence. And I think that both of those answers hold merit. But I’d like to suggest a theological answer to this question.

The Holy Spirit.

The reason why Western youth – a microcosm of their larger culture – have less interest in Christian faith is because the God about whom they are told is uninvolved in their lives. It is a God who is distant. Predictable. Impotent. It is a God of principles and passivity rather than presence and power. In essence, it is a God who is not Holy Spirit. Meanwhile, in the non-West, Christians are very comfortable with understanding God as Holy Spirit, as a God who is radically active.

When we speak of the Holy Spirit, we are speaking of the notion that God engages us. I tell my students that when we say that God is Spirit, we are saying that “God is here doing stuff.” Breathing vitality into lifeless clay. Blowing reconciliation across dead communities. Wildly upending our expectations. Restoring lives. Restoring the cosmos. Theologically speaking, the Holy Spirit is the “connective tissue” whereby creation – including you and me – becomes bound to the source of goodness and truth and beauty and justice. The Holy Spirit binds us to Jesus, and through Jesus, to one another. Succinctly, the Holy Spirit binds us to life itself.

So what happens when adolescents are led to believe in a God who is not Holy Spirit? They imagine a God who is, bluntly, lifeless. Or at least a Life to which we have no hope of connection. So, instead, youth seek other sources of life (sometimes even through the church), none of which are enduring and some of which are damaging. By the time they graduate high school, if an adolescent has not experienced in some way the presence and power of God, they will find little use in centering their identity on being a disciple of Jesus. And I can’t blame them.

What’s the way forward?

Well, what if we took out the middle man? What if, instead of thinking of youth ministry as a place for us to teach or lead or organize for God, we thought of it as making space for adolescents to relate to the Holy Spirit? Now, I am not saying that youth ministry does not involve teaching or leading or organizing. Rather, I am saying that the purpose behind our programming becomes different. Everything we do is making room to connect adolescents to the movement of God, to God’s presence and power.

We youth ministers toil in a nursery of the Holy Spirit. We are not the gardeners (John 15:1). We are more like caretakers, custodians, making sure that the proper resources are at hand for the growth of the branches – light, space, water, nutrients. But we do not make anything grow, nor can we predict how that growth will happen, nor do we even really know what the full growth will look like. All we do is make room for the Spirit to work, put students in a position for God to breathe upon them, and then get out of the way. This realization is humbling and frustrating and freeing.

Of course, there are lots of ways for us to make this space, for us to create means by which youth can experience the movement of the Holy Spirit or realize the movement that has already happened, but that is a subject for another time. For now, let us just remember that if we want to help in the formation of generative faith in adolescents, we must help them to know God as Holy Spirit. And perhaps the very best way for that to happen is for us to know that for ourselves.

Mike Langford (Ph.D., Princeton Theological Seminary) is Assistant Professor of Theology, Discipleship, and Ministry at Seattle Pacific University and Seattle Pacific Seminary where he teaches doctrinal theology and spiritual formation and coordinates youth ministry education and training. Mike is also an ordained pastor and has been involved in youth ministry for 25 years. He lives in Seattle with his wife, Kelly, and their four kids, Hannah, Seth, Caleb, and Chloe. Hear Mike speak at NYWC Sacramento!


By Youth Specialties on September 30 2014 | 0 Comments

FREE Download from Audrey Assad

By Jacob Eckeberger on September 29 2014 | 0 Comments

Audrey Assad wanted to send out a FREE gift to all of our youth workers heading to NYWC this week and that are gearing up to hangout with her at NYWC Atlanta!

Click on the image below for a FREE download of the song "Good To Me" off her new album Death Be Not Proudcatch her on tour when she comes to your area! 

By Jacob Eckeberger on September 29 2014 | 0 Comments

25 Txt Msgs You Can Send To Your Students

By Youth Specialties on September 28 2014 | 2 Comments

Our good friend, author, and incredible youth worker Steve Case shared 25 text messages that he has sent out to his students for a bit of encouragement. He wanted to share them as a FREE resource so that you can easily copy and paste them as a text for your students. 

Here are 25 txt msgs you can copy and paste 
into your phone or group txt plan...

“Faith is not an act of intelligence. Faith is an act of imagination.” -Christopher Moore

“I hate television. I hate it as much as peanuts... but I can’t stop eating peanuts.” -Orson Welles.

“When she transformed into a butterfly, the caterpillars spoke not of her beauty but of her weirdness. They wanted her to change back... but she had wings.” -Dean Jackson

“The ‘what ifs’ and the ‘should haves’ will eat your brain like a zombie.” -John O’Holloran

“I believe in God like I believe in the sun. Not because I can see it but because I can see everything else.” -C.S. Lewis

“The purpose of education is to replace an empty mind with an open one.” -Malcolm Forbes

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose.” -Dr Seuss

“Do your little bits of good where you are. It’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” -Bishop Desmond Tutu

“Subtle is the Lord, but malicious He is not.” -Albert Einstein

“Decide what you want. Decide what you are willing to exchange for it. Then go to work.” -H.L. Hunt

“As long as people will accept junk, it will be financially profitable to dispense it.” -Dick Cavett

“Learn to accept certain impossible problems in life... then eat them for breakfast.” -Alfred Montapert

“Every thought we think is creating our future.” -Louise L. Hay

“Sometimes the most ordinary things could be made extraordinary simply by doing them with the right people.” -Charlie Brown (Charles M. Schulz)

“When you slip on a banana peel, people laugh at you. When you tell people you slipped on a banana peel, it’s your laugh.” -Nora Ephron

“When things get too complicated, sometimes it makes sense to stop and wonder: Have I asked the right question?”  -Enrico Bomberi

“Other people will try and make you miserable. Don’t help them by doing it yourself.” -Laurel Hamilton

“If you can be as prepared for tomorrow’s math test as you seem to be for the zombie apocalypse, everything will be just fine.” -Roy Brown

“Explanation separates us from astonishment.” -Eugene Lonesco

“With ordinary talent and extraordinary perseverance, all things are possible.” -Thomas Fowell Buxton

“Don’t believe everything you think.” -Eric Stricklin

“As I walked out that door I knew that if I did not leave the anger, hatred and bitterness behind... I would still be in prison.” -Nelson Mandela

“Never let your opinion become a fixed point at where you stopped thinking.” -Ernie Rennan

“If you don’t hear opportunity knocking.... build a door.” -Milton Berle

“Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind.” -Ian Maclaren

Are you looking for an easy way to text your students, parents, and volunteers? Our YS Group Txt is a resource we offer to help with that. Check it out at

By Youth Specialties on September 28 2014 | 2 Comments

The Good Lie

By Youth Specialties on September 28 2014 | 0 Comments

We are excited to share about the film The Good Liestarring Reese Witherspoon as an employment agency counselor who has been enlisted to help find work and housing for 3 of "The Lost Boys"—orphans of the brutal Civil War in Sudan that began in 1983. This proves to be no easy task, when things like straws, light switches and telephones are brand new to these incredible boys. Although Carrie Davis (Witherspoon's character) has successfully kept herself from any previous emotional entanglements, these refugees, who desperately require help navigating the 20th century and rebuilding their shattered lives, need just that. So Carrie embarks on her own unchartered territory, enlisting the help of her boss, Jack (Corey Stoll). Together, against the backdrop of their shared losses, the Lost Boys and these unlikely strangers find humor in the clash of cultures, and heartbreak as well as hope in the challenges of life in America.

This movie is an incredible opportunity to start conversations with your students about tragedy, loss, cultural differences, struggles pertaining to identity, and so much more. 

John Prendergast, founder of The Enough Project, shares his heart with our youth workers at NYWC and why this movie is so important:

(The password to watch the video above is TGL.)

This film is sure to leave a mark. Along with Witherspoon, the film stars Corey Stoll (TV's "House of Cards"); real-life Sudanese refugees Arnold Oceng (BBC's "Grange Hill") and newcomer Nyakuoth Wiel; Ger Duany ("I Heart Huckabees") and rapper Emmanuel Jal, who were both former child soldiers and lost boys; and Femi Oguns (BBC's "The Casualty"). Rounding out the cast are Sarah Baker as volunteer Pamela Lowi; Mike Pniewski as Mamere's boss; and children of real-life Sudanese refugees Peterdeng Mongok, Okwar Jale, Thon Kueth, Beng Ajuet and Kejo Jale as the younger lost boys.

Watch the official trailer below:

For ministry resources, group tickets, and more informaiton, visit


By Youth Specialties on September 28 2014 | 0 Comments

Trending This Week (Sept 26)

By Jacob Eckeberger on September 25 2014 | 0 Comments

Every Friday we pull our favorite links from across the inter-webs. This week's trending links include encouragement for when ministry gets stressful, characteristics of effective small groups, ideas to ask better questions, a short list of ministry "to-do's," and plenty of fuel for your procrastination. 

Blogs From This Week

Mark Matlock (@MarkMatlock) shares what he's most excited to be a part of at NYWC: "5 Reasons To Be Excited About NYWC" - CLICK TO VIEW

Steven Argue (@StevenArgue) puts some pressure on all of us: "It's Time to Define The Relationship With Our Emerging Adults" - CLICK TO VIEW

Blogs From Other Great Youth Workers This Week

Eric Woods (@EricDWoods) shared some encouragement: "Too much on your plate? Dear Youth Pastor, it's worth the effort" - CLICK TO VIEW

Our friends at YM360 (@YM360) wrote a great post: "7 Characteristics of Effective Small Groups" - CLICK TO VIEW

Terry Linhart (@TerryLinhart) put together a great post for anyone that leads a small group: "5 Instant Steps to Ask Better Discussion Questions" - CLICK TO VIEW

Josh Griffin (@JoshuaGriffin) reminds us all how important it is to take a breath: "Stop The Stress Before It Stops You" - CLICK TO VIEW

The good folks behind Youth Ministry Management Tools (@YMManagement) shared 5 Youth Ministry To-Do's - CLICK TO VIEW

Fun Things To Fuel Your Procrastination

The most inspirational post-game football speech ever - CLICK TO VIEW

Tommy (from The Skit Guys) takes the phrase “pray without ceasing” seriously and everyone thinks he’s hallucinating - CLICK TO VIEW

In case you need to know what animals in sweaters look like - CLICK TO VIEW

"Shake It Off" is way better as an R&B song - CLICK TO VIEW

Coolest old guy ever - CLICK TO VIEW

By Jacob Eckeberger on September 25 2014 | 0 Comments

It’s Time To Define The Relationship With Our Emerging Adults

By Youth Specialties on September 23 2014 | 2 Comments

We are excited to share this post from Steven Argue and we're thrilled that he'll be at both NYWC Sacramento and NYWC Atlanta

Original photo by Michael Mistretta.

One of the most common questions I hear from church leaders is, “What are you doing for 20-somethings in your church?” You can ask a similar question, “What are you doing for teenagers in your church?” and the question just sounds different. The difference, is that first, youth ministry has a plethora of resources and expressions that youth leaders can tap into. Second, ministry to “20-somethings” lacks definition and churches often end up defaulting to familiar youth ministry models and metrics that miss this age period and bring leaders back to that common question again.

Questions often digress to blame. A week doesn’t go by that I don’t hear or read about “young people leaving the church” or how “youth ministry has messed up our young people,” or how “liberal colleges,” “gay agendas,” absent parents, the internet, lazy Millennials, or the iPhone has made them “spiritual but not religious.” Blame even leads to abandonment where churches are giving up on the Millennial generation and setting their sights on Generation Z, as a better bet on the future.

A way forward with “20-somethings” isn’t ignorance, nor blame, and definitely not skipping over them. I believe that if we are going to take people ages 18-29 seriously, faith communities must begin with defining the relationship–a DTR.


At one time or another, you’ve probably had to do this. It’s that moment in a significant relationship when you take a moment and ask, “Who are we, together?” “How shall we relate to each other?” “What can I expect of you, and you of me?” and “Where is this thing going?” Relationships that don’t have one (or more) DTRs live in ambiguity and eventually dissolve because no one is clear as how to relate, act, or anticipate. Ambiguous relationship = break-up.

Faith communities need to have a DTR with their 20-somethings before more blame is launched or another program is created. We can spend more time reflecting on this in my YS seminars in Sacramento and Atlanta. In this brief post, I offer three things to ponder:

Let’s call those in their twenties Emerging Adults,
not 20-somethings

Realize that the ambiguity of this label isn’t a reflection of them, but the church’s lack of understanding them. I call them Emerging Adults (cf. Arnett, 2004), because it is a name of movement, grace, and purpose. Those in their twenties are emerging–still trying to figure out love, work, and belief in a world more complex than when others were their age. We can serve them by recognizing this as a significant formational time, not limbo. They are also emerging adults–there is a telos, a goal, called adulthood. Churches having a DTR with Emerging Adults means to recognize them for who they are and for the support they need as they practice becoming adults.

Is the church willing to have this kind of relationship with them? It’s the difference between good news and bad news.

Let’s commit to supporting Emerging Adults’
formation forward, not backward.

If we take time to DTR, we may recognize that much of our programming for Emerging Adults is nothing more than older-person youth group with the same music, messages and activities that have graduated from PG13 to R. When we look at this through a relational lens, however, we realize that these kind of programs fail to establish a new kind of vision for how Emerging Adults relate to their faith communities. If your Emerging Adult ministry looks like youth group, you are reinforcing the kind of relationship you want with them–adult to adolescent, which is a regressive relationship and “formation backward. Formation forward vision gives Emerging Adults opportunities to grow a self-authoring faith and contribute to and through their faith communities.

Let’s embrace all of Emerging Adults,
not just the parts we desire.

In any relationship, you can’t choose what part of a person you get. Still, it often feels like churches want Emerging Adults’ butts in the Sunday morning seats but not their hearts, their minds, their lives. The reality is this–faith communities that truly want Emerging Adults, will also want their questions that challenge the community’s assumptions, their ideas that make others uncomfortable, and their gifts that bring new light on tradition. Churches must DTR by saying to Emerging Adults, “We want you, all of you.” Anything less communicates, “We really don’t want you at all.”

It’s time to DTR with our Emerging Adults. Let’s recognize their journey to adulthood. Let’s support their formation forward. Let’s accept all of who they are.

Let’s continue to explore this in Sacramento and Atlanta! Grace and peace.

Steven Argue is a pastor and theologian in residence, serving on the Ministry Leadership Team at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, MI. He teaches youth ministry at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, and serves on the Advisory Council for the Fuller Youth Institute. He loves running, eats vegetarian, and tweets #RunningThoughts. You can hear Steven speak at both NYWC Sacramento and NYWC Atlanta.


By Youth Specialties on September 23 2014 | 2 Comments

5 Reasons To Be Excited About NYWC

By Youth Specialties on September 21 2014 | 0 Comments

Each year, thousands of youth workers from all across the country get together for these crazy gatherings called the National Youth Worker Convention. It’s a unique time for a truly unique kind of person—the youth worker. NYWC is a time when youth workers are challenged, encouraged, and supported in their ministry of leading students to find and follow Jesus. There’s plenty to be excited about and to increase that excitement, Mark Matlock, the executive director of Youth Specialties, wanted to share 5 key things that he can’t wait to be a part of at NYWC.

To learn, share, and create with like-minded people.

There are many events about leadership, but NYWC is all about youth ministry. It’s good to be with people who share a passion to help teens find and follow Jesus. Long before I was involved in leadership at YS, NYWC was an incredible time. Not only were the seminars and Big Room gatherings inspiring, but the in-between spaces also became huge moments in my life. I can remember running into Doug Fields for the first time in the hallway and in the less than five minutes we talked, his personal words led to a significant change in the direction of my life. I’m never surprised any more when I hear others share similar, unplanned, sacred moments that have taken place all throughout NYWC. Bring people together and good stuff happens.

This year, we’ll be offering three types of personal consultation for anyone interested. Youth Ministry Architects will be present to help consult with you on any issues related to the design of your youth ministry program. We have a team of spiritual directors available to work with you individually to slow down and experience God while you are at the convention. And this year we have a team of YS Coaches onsite to assist with one on one coaching for your personal development. It’s all part of your registration so take advantage of that help!

To be stretched.

I rarely come away from NYWC feeling completely validated… and that’s a good thing! There is always someone who annoys me with their perspective or their practice of youth ministry or someone who is doing a much better job than me in something. This uncomfortable feeling is why I have always loved NYWC. Whether I agree or disagree with those around me, I always feel like I’m moving forward in my own journey with Jesus and I leave the conference wanting to be different. Personally, I rarely grow without some discomfort. I know it sounds weird to have to pay money for an event and potentially feel uncomfortable, but growth just doesn’t seem to happen any other way.

The new schedule.

(Check out the new schedule for NYWC Sacramento HERE and NYWC Atlanta HERE.)

Our new schedule has given us an opportunity to create new spaces and learning environments. One of those spaces that I’m really excited about is YS Explores in Sacramento and Atlanta, which we plan to make a recurring feature at NYWC. It’s not a seminar or a Big Room, but a large gathering for the all attendees to explore a subject from multiple perspectives. This year YS will explore the idea of outreach: How do we reach teenagers who don’t know Jesus? Presenters include youth ministers doing some amazing things around the country to engage teens with Christ outside the walls of church. You’ll hear from Dave Rahn, Jeremy Del Rio, Paige Clingenpiel, Amy Williams, Greg Stier, and Brock Morgan on topics like reaching teens in crisis with Google Ad words, ministering to teens in prison, how to form school partnerships, and more. This session will give you food for thought and space to gain vision around what you can do to reach teens.

We also have several great pre-conference Intensives in Sacramento and Atlanta to go deeper in topics like youth ministry management and teens and sexual identity with experts from around the country.

The Family Rooms.

This year, we continue to build on the legacy of the Family Rooms we launched two years ago. For those who haven’t yet participated, this is a time when we gather in circles of six to learn, share, and create together. As a part of the Family Rooms in Sacramento and Atlanta this fall, we’ll be having conversations around why the church needs youth ministry. Together, we’ll share stories and insights that will help us strengthen the role of youth ministry in our churches and communities. I am very excited about this year’s conversations, so make them a priority! This is not only a time to receive, but a time to give to others as well.

Worshipping together and spending time with God.

Regardless of everything else that happens at NYWC, I walk away feeling like I have had time with God. NYWC has become so important to youth workers for their spiritual rejuvenation. Joining together and singing and praying with thousands of youth leaders does something to the soul. For me to get away, fill my tank with new ideas, and be stretched by good thinkers is all good, but (for me) spending time with God, outside my normal context, impacts me deeply. In this environment, Jesus changes me… It’s mysterious and I’m not exactly sure how, but He does.

And, with all this in mind, I am praying that your life will be changed too. I personally invite you to join us this year in either Sacramento on Oct. 2-5, 2014, or in Atlanta on Nov. 20-23, 2014.

It’s not too late to join us for NYWC. We would love to see you there and honestly, it won’t be the same without you. Visit for more info. 

By Youth Specialties on September 21 2014 | 0 Comments

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