Youth Specialties Blog

#YSRealTalk: The Urban Ministry Shift

By Youth Specialties on June 22 2014 | 0 Comments

In this #YSRealTalk, Fred connects with Efrem Smith and Dean Borgman to chat about cultural shifts between urban and suburban ministry. 

Original photo by Andree Ludtke.

(Fred)  Is there a conversation that needs to take place in evangelical clusters concerning the harmonic relevance between urban and suburban ministry?  i.e Urban is the new mainstream

(Efrem) Well, it’s pretty obvious that we are in an ever-increasing multi-ethnic, multicultural, and metropolitan reality. To a large degree, the whole nation seems to be going urban or feeling the impact of urban issues, both good and bad. With this in mind, yes, urban is the new mainstream of ministry understanding and development. No longer can urban ministry be a side bar or marginalized track at a ministry, pastors, youth pastors, or church planting conference. This is a great time for rural and suburban churches to learn from both the successes and failures of the urban church and urban missional organizations.

(Dean) The Enemy, I believe, has enticed us into his “divide and conquer” strategy. We are all doing our own things. We try to copy the success of others, but we rarely collaborate. We try to teach others; we too rarely humble ourselves to learn from others. In both the urban and suburban setting, we are “silos” doing our own thing—often competing for members and finance. The Church of Christ must decide and then, sometimes painfully, practice becoming a learning community. I think urban Christians may need to initiate such learning and collaboration; the suburban church so easily slips into spasmodic paternalism. We need a big picture and grand strategy—one that is long term and persistent, one that is not just informed, but begins at the bottom of our social class system.

(Fred) Is there some unique goal (and if so, what is it) as it relates to serving in urban environments?  Terms like gentrification become popular in most resource proposals, which typically equate to “urban renewal.”  These transformations can lead to high culture, high finance, and high living.  As a matter of fact, 3 gang members shared with me last year in Oakland (during an interview) that rebuilding the landscape does not help them get closer to God…or even enter into the church walls.  What’s your response?

(Efrem) I heard a pastor once say that, “urban renewal is really urban remove ya’ll.” Gentrification simply lays the missional foundation for hipster churches, which are more about ministry to the upwardly mobile than the kind of empowerment of the urban poor that should really be going on in the city. I haven’t given up yet on the importance of Christian community development and holistic urban ministry. The challenge is, we need innovation, collaboration, and local urban churches committed to leadership empowerment. We also need a prophetic and liberating approach to ministry that evangelicals will promote and participate in which addresses systemic injustices.

(Dean) Jesus, in keeping with the whole of Scripture, was concerned with wealth and the poor—and humility… become like a child… wash one anothers’ feet. The love of the Father must motivate us; the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ must sustain us; the power of the Holy Spirit must enable us. Our Lord’s prayer (John 17) urges us toward reconciliation and unity—within the Church and with those outside. Urban (and often forgotten rural) poverty zones contain great strengths and assets for the Kingdom of God. Our challenge is to relate to them, as individuals and communities, so that we might find Christ in them, learn from them, and see the world and their needs in new ways.

If we are willing to notice, I think Pope Francis can encourage us. His example of humility, his concern for the poor, his willingness for collaborative ecumenical engagement, are lessons we can practice. I heard him imagine the other day that the Christ of Rev. 3: 20, was not only urging individuals and churches to open the door allowing Him to come in, but that Christ today might be banging from the inside our church doors, crying: “Let Me out!” Are we willing to get out of our pews, outside of our spiritual comfort zones to meet the world—to learn before we can serve?

Fred Oduyoye is the Director of Networking for Youth Specialties. After a successful corporate career, Fred was led into full-time ministry at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church in Memphis TN, where he oversaw neighborhood gang communities as the Youth Outreach Director. 

Efrem Smith is the President and CEO of World Impact. He is also an author and a itinerant Speaker with Kingdom Building Ministries.


Dean Borgman founded and directs the Center for Youth Studies, a national and global network of those interested in research of adolescence and the youth culture. His areas of expertise include urban and cross-cultural youth ministry and the changing youth culture.

By Youth Specialties on June 22 2014 | 0 Comments

Trending This Week (June 20)

By Jacob Eckeberger on June 19 2014 | 0 Comments

Every Friday we pull our favorite links from across the inter-webs. This week's trending links include a thoughtful conversation on tone deaf leadership, a forwardable post for parents about social media, another great list of 10 FREE resources from Fuller, our favorite #hashtags from the week, and plenty of fuel for your procrastination. 

Blogs From This Week

3 more veteran youth pastors shared their response in a 1Q interview to the question: "What role does race play in student ministry?" CLICK TO VIEW

Jody Livingston (@JodyLivingston) takes a look at how you can tell if your events are hurting your ministry: "Why your events may actually be hurting your ministry" CLICK TO VIEW

Blogs From Other Great Youth Workers This Week

Christena Cleveland (@CSCleve) shared a thoughtful conversation on "Tone Deaf Leadership: 3 reasons Christian leaders should especially listen to oppressed voices" CLICK TO VIEW

Adam McLane (@mclanea) wrote a great post that is easily forwardable to your parents: "When should I allow my children to get a social media account?" CLICK TO VIEW

Greg Baird (@GregBaird) looks at ways that leaders can/should care for their volunteers: "5 Responsibilites Leaders Have Toward Volunteers" CLICK TO VIEW

Greg Stier (@gregstier) has a great take on "7 ways to become an indispensable youth leader." CLICK TO VIEW

Brad Griffin (@BGriffinFYI) and the folks at Fuller put together another great list of FREE resources: "Survive The Summer Playlist: 10 Free Resources" CLICK TO VIEW

#Hashtags To Review

Here are a quick list of some of our favorite #hashtags from this week. There is a ton of great insight behind each one. We pulled the twitter searches for each hashtag and made them clickable so you can easily view and scroll through all the youth worker wisdom in 140 characters or less. 

#RZIMSI : CLICK TO VIEW - Great thoughts rolling in from the summer institute at Wheaton. 

#summitforchange : CLICK TO VIEW - Attendees at Sojourners "Summit For Change" sent out a ton of great tweets full of inspiration & passion. 

#ga221 : CLICK TO VIEW - Tweets following the Presbyterian gathering this week.

Fun Things To Fuel Your Procrastination

Robin van Persie's incredible header goal from the World Cup created inspiration for some amazing memes: CLICK TO VIEW

OK Go's new music video has 4 minutes of live optical illusions that will amaze your eyes and make your head hurt: CLICK TO VIEW

You can make a GIANT pancake in your rice cooker. You should also be prepared to take a nap after you eat it. CLICK TO VIEW

IKEA is awesome but IKEA hacks are even better. Might be some new ideas for a youth room. CLICK TO VIEW

The football of the future contains tracking devices and a radar, which is definitely cool but I don't see how it will help me win my fantasy league. CLICK TO VIEW

By Jacob Eckeberger on June 19 2014 | 0 Comments

Why Your Events May Actually Be Hurting Your Ministry

By Youth Specialties on June 17 2014 | 1 Comments

Original photo by
Seth Sawyers.

Have you ever wondered if all of these events you are doing in your youth ministry are actually accomplishing anything?

In many cases we put more effort, time, and budget toward events than any other aspect of our ministries.  Some events happen once and then we move on to the next.  Other events are reoccurring.  Some are really fun, and some...not so much. 

Whether we love them or hate them, events are a given for youth ministry.  They certainly can be a great benefit to your ministry, but they also may actually be hurting your ministry.  Here are five reasons why:

1. They are not serving a clear purpose

If you are doing events, just to do events, you are probably wasting your time. You could be wasting time that might be spent doing other things that are more effective. Every event should be supporting the vision of your ministry.  They should be supporting the characteristics you are aiming to build in your students. These can vary, but you must aim at something or you will never hit anything.

2. They are not well thought out

Events that are not well thought and planned out often accomplish very little. There is a greater danger of someone getting hurt or putting your ministry at risk. An event that is not well thought out will look disorganized and chaotic. While this may be really fun for your students, it will do very little to help earn the trust of the parents in your ministry and you will struggle to be effective.

3. They are not balanced in who they are targeting

It is not healthy for all of your events to be aimed at the students you have and never try to reach the lost. Likewise, it is not healthy for all of your events to be aimed at the lost and never work to build community in those you already have. If you are not balancing your target audience for your events you will fail to build community internally with the students you already have and you won't be able to effective reach outward to those that don't have a connection with you yet. You must take into account both types of students and find a balanced approach for your events. If you do not, you will be hurting your ministry over the long haul.

4. They are not well promoted

Even if your event ideas are amazing, no one will come if you are not promoting your events well. All the time and energy you put towards planning the event will be wasted, and yeah... that would be hurting your ministry. If you have an incredible idea for an event but don't have time to promote it, save it for when you do.

5. They are not family friendly

If your events do not take into consideration the families in your ministry they are definitely hurting your ministry. Is the event too expensive for families? How can you help relieve the financial burden for them? Are your events taking a ton of time away from families that they would be spending together otherwise? How can you rearrange the schedule to allow families to have more time to spend together? Do you have events that the whole family can attend? How can you provide avenues of conversation between parents and students about your event? If your events are hurting the family, they are most definitely hurting your ministry.

What about you?  Are you events really hurting your ministry?  What kinds of events are you doing that are healthy and helpful for your ministry?  How do you make sure your events are actually helping your ministry?

Jody Livingston is the Youth Pastor at Kennesaw First Baptist Church in Kennesaw, Georgia where he oversees Middle School and High School ministries. He has been married to his lovely life for 14 years, has four kids and drives a pretty sweet 1972 VW Beetle.  He blogs at and can be found on twitter @jodylivingston.

By Youth Specialties on June 17 2014 | 1 Comments

What Role Does Race Play in Youth Ministry?

By Jacob Eckeberger on June 15 2014 | 5 Comments

1Q interviews are when we ask multiple youth pastors the same question and share their responses. In this 1Q interview we explore the role of race in youth ministry with 3 different youth pastors.

Original photo by writRHET

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s legenday quote about Sunday morning being the most segregated time in America opened the eyes of the Church to an unfortunate racial legacy that still rings true and has a significant impact on our students today. I think that Youth Specialties and all other organizations like YS that seek to provide a guiding voice for youth workers can do a better job of talking about the significance of racial issues with our students. Of course, topics like this come with perspectives that are just as diverse as we are. So in an effort to get a snapshot of how different youth workers are approaching diversity within their ministry, I reached out to 3 veterans of youth ministry in this week's 1Q interview and asked the question: “What role does race play in youth ministry?” 

Coby Cagle Youth Pastor at Quest Church in Seattle, WA and co-founder of The College Consensus.

We need to step back from this question and talk about how one's race, ethnicity, and culture impacts how he or she reads and interprets scripture before we can address this question fully. But that discussion goes beyond the parameters of this assignment. To pastor well, we must listen well and stand in solidarity with the people God puts in our path. While there is certainly pain that my kids experience that transcends race (like the death of a loved one and breaking up with a girlfriend) much of the pain that my kids of color experience is a direct result of racially charged incidents that they experience personally and beyond. At least once a month one of my kids of color speaks about racist experiences that they personally encounter. Furthermore, when racially charged tragedies occur, like the senseless murder of Trayvon Martin, my students feel them deeply. Race is a part of our lives and thus it is a part of our conversations about how to follow Jesus.

Fred Oduyoye Director of Networks at YS and a long time veteran of urban youth ministry.

Race will continue to play a part no matter the strata, structure, or environment whereby there is an involvement of people. There will always be a tension between memory and identity. In youth ministry, it plays out in at least three areas: 1) the social context, 2) the ministry context, and 3) the leadership’s capacity to embrace the experiences relative to the cultures within their surrounding community. The ability to connect people and resources is based on the historical experiences of the youth leader. In order to transcend race matters for the liberal advancement of students, youth leaders will have to adopt similar cross-cultural spaces that their students frequent.

Irene Cho manager of the Urban Youth Ministry Certificate Program at the Fuller Youth Institute and youth ministry veteran.

I consider this an exciting time in history to be a person of color ​serving in youth ministry. As the US continues to see an increase in ethnic diversity, it is encouraging to be a voice that's invited to speak into important issues that students are discussing in their churches, schools, among their peers, and with their families. The more perspectives we invite to the discussion, the more holistic we are as the Body of Christ when sharing God's story with the world. God's story is fuller when together we study how almost every Bible hero had some kind of immigrant experience. It is fuller when we collectively wrestle with the Good Samaritan story about who our neighbor is, or Peter's vision from God showing that all people are invited to feast at the table. It is a marvelous time to celebrate with teenagers the full diversity of God's Kingdom.

By Jacob Eckeberger on June 15 2014 | 5 Comments

Trending This Week (June 13)

By Jacob Eckeberger on June 12 2014 | 0 Comments

Every Friday we pull our favorite links from across the inter-webs. This week's trending links include some really practical ways to make the most out of your summer ministry, ways to care for your interns, examing how you determine your growth, a short list of our favorite #hashtags from the week, and a Celine Dion video you'll actually enjoy mixed in with more fuel for your procrastination. 

Blogs From This Week

Josh Griffin (@JoshuaGriffin) shares 5 really practical ways to care for your summer interns: "5 Ways to Care for Your Interns" CLICK TO VIEW

We formally introduced all of you to another incredible member of the YS Team, our Director of Networks Fred Oduyoye (@FredOduyoye). Check out an interview with him: "Introducing Fred Oduyoye" CLICK TO VIEW

Derry Prenkert (@DerryPrenkert) gives a great short list of ways to make the most out of your summer camp, mission trip, or other big event: "4 Ways to Take Your Camp to the Next Level" CLICK TO VIEW

Blogs From Other Great Youth Workers This Week

Jen Bradbury (@ymjen) wrote a thought provoking piece to help change students' perspective of scripture: "How to Change Students' Relationships with the Bible" CLICK TO VIEW

Our good friend Terry Linhart (@TerryLinhart) asked great questions on how we determine our growth: "Charting Your Development" CLICK TO VIEW

Andy Blanks (@AndyBlanks) provided some great practical ideas for making the most out of summer youth ministry schedules: "Summer Youth Ministry: Grow Those Relationships" CLICK TO VIEW

I found this great post from Coy Lindsey (@CoyLindsey) with a different perspective on destructive life patterns: "Learning to Recognize God's Love Despite Destructive Patterns" CLICK TO VIEW

A bit of encouragement from Shauna Niequist (@SNiequist) for all you Dad's out there: "Dad's Aren't Dumb" CLICK TO VIEW

#Hashtags To Review

Here are a quick list of some of our favorite #hashtags from this week. There is a ton of great insight behind each one. We pulled the twitter searches for each hashtag and made them clickable so you can easily view and scroll through all the youth worker wisdom in 140 characters or less. 

#praxis14 - CLICK TO VIEW : Praxis Tulsa (@praxistulsa) was a gathering in the great state of OK that was filled with creative reflections on life, art, ministry, and scripture. 

#ctcac2014 - CLICK TO VIEW : I saw some really great ideas about new visions for ministry coming from this week's Central Tx Annual UMC Conference.

#SBC14 - CLICK TO VIEW : Tweets coming out of this year's Southern Baptist Convention in Baltimore.

Fun Things To Fuel Your Procrastination

Purin the Beagle wins all of the World Cups: "Purin the Super Beagle" CLICK TO VIEW

A guy gets trapped in the Las Vegas airport overnight and what does he do? He films a video for Celine Dion's "All By Myself"... of course! It's amazing. CLICK TO VIEW

If you love the World Cup, check out this post: "Goalposts around the world" CLICK TO VIEW

Everyone smiles when they see 1 elephant playing the piano and a 2nd elephant's backend dancing to it: "Piano Duet with Peter the Elephant" CLICK TO VIEW

Did you know that you can cook hot dogs in Pringles cans? Neither did anyone else... except this one guy. CLICK TO VIEW

By Jacob Eckeberger on June 12 2014 | 0 Comments

5 Ways to Care for Your Interns

By Josh Griffin on June 10 2014 | 0 Comments

Original photo from Dexter.

One of the big needs of an intern, really any employee honestly, is their care and intentional development. Here are some things to consider as you ask yourself what the role of your intern is on your team and how to give them the most growing and meaningful experience possible.  We tell our interns in orientation that their internship is not primarily about getting tasks done, but about God shaping them through the process.  Here are some ways that you, as you mange interns or launch an intern ministry in your youth group, can maximize your intern’s experience:

  1. Get to know their heart and hear their dreams.  Take the time (ideally, weekly!) to get to know your intern’s heart and invest in them on a personal level.  This means that you must be available to them, which takes intentionality.  They are here because they want to grow in specific areas.  Check-in on them and continually ask them what they want to learn.  Let them borrow books, point them toward a conference or podcast, develop personal goals together, or help them connect with a pastor who can pour into them over coffee.  Ask yourself, “What can I  do to help facilitate their growth?”
  2. Help them make some initial relational connections.  Sometimes, interns are overwhelmed being at our church and don’t know where to start.  Talk to them about finding a small group, going to college ministry, going to services, or meeting someone on staff for coffee once a week.  They might feel intimidated to ask a busy pastor for their time, so step in—be an advocate for your intern and help them build relationships here.
  3. Give them meaningful tasks. Interns are here to learn and lead, not to do and file. Delegating and empowering are two of our valuesalues, and we need to learn to give meaningful responsibilities to our interns.  They did not sign up to do administrative-level work.  Depending on your evaluation of their capacity, delegate purposeful tasks that will challenge them.  We all make copies and lick envelopes sometimes, but that is not the bulk of what an intern’s experience should look like here.
  4. Point them to church CLASSES, events, and trainings.  Let interns know about classes, serving opportunities, and retreats, but you can also encourage them to take advantage of all the teachings and trainings the church has to offer.  This will expose them to other ministries that they wouldn’t see otherwise and will greatly enrich their experience here.
  5. Make intern trainings a priority. Monthly intern trainings are a requirement at our church and the Internship Program, and the only time each month that interns all come together to network and receive leadership and Purpose-Driven training together. Make every opportunity available for your intern to make the trainings. They will notice the level of support to the program and to their personal experience when you make the trainings a priority for them and encourage them to be there.

Josh Griffin is the High School Pastor at Saddleback Church and is a co-founder of, a place to get trench-tested, inexpensive, downloadable youth ministry resources. Follow him @joshuagriffin.

By Josh Griffin on June 10 2014 | 0 Comments

Introducing Fred Oduyoye

By Youth Specialties on June 10 2014 | 0 Comments

You might have already seen him at NYWC 2013 or read his recent blog interview but we wanted to formally introduce you to the incredible Fred Oduyoye. (His last name is pronounced either “oh-do-yo-yay” or “oh-do-yo-awesome.”) Fred is a recent addition to the YS team but he’s a long time veteran of youth ministry with a ton of experience working with urban churches. I asked Fred for a quick interview so that you can have a look into his world and get to know him a little better. 

We know you do a lot but to help us get a quick look at your role with YS, what is your main focus?

(Fred) My focus at YS is to help youth workers find and connect with local networks through YS Networks, a new YS resource that we’re getting ready to launch. Most people today want to be connected to something. Without the benefit of a local network, youth ministry can be a lonely place. We don’t want that for any youth worker. YS has always believed that the local network is where youth workers can develop relationships, share resources, and forge partnerships. Another way I work to connect youth workers is by leading the YS Unconference and other organic settings to intentionally help leaders explore how to work together to better serve the local church. 

What is your favorite thing about working with youth workers?

(Fred) I love to see youth workers enjoying the company of others who serve in the trenches of grassroots ministry. I enjoy their faces when they’re in a relational setting and something clicks—and now they have what’s needed to transition their students to the next level. I am so excited about the opportunity to blend multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, cross-denominational entities together, in an effort to do our part to expand the capacity of serving in the Kingdom.

What are you up to when you’re not connecting with youth workers?

(Fred) I am a Trainer for the Cincinnati United Soccer Club. My passion for the game of soccer has been evident since age 8. I enjoy golfing (when I can) and watching a movie every night with an Arnold Palmer!

Fred is hard at work right now preparing for the launch of YS Networks and putting the final touches on the National Networking Day. If you'd like to be kept in the loop on both of these, you can fill out the form below and we'll shoot you an update as soon as more info is available.


By Youth Specialties on June 10 2014 | 0 Comments

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