Youth Specialties Blog

Caustic Kids

By Youth Specialties on August 24 2014 | 0 Comments

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

Original photo by Montecruz Foto.

Like most other youth workers, I’ve been burned time and again by a certain kind of kid. These kids are difficult to love. They’ve got a calloused outer shell that’s difficult to penetrate. They don’t laugh or cry. They seem to have cut themselves off from all emotion. It’s hard to read what they are feeling at any specific moment. They’ve created a protective barrier around themselves, often because of emotional pain from past experiences.

I call such hardened kids “caustic kids.” The word caustic comes from the same root as the word cauterize, a medical term that means to burn until a wound is closed off. Caustic kids are those who have burned relationships with peers and those in authority to the point where almost all their relationships have been closed off.

Why Caustic Kids Are Tough to Work With

If you’re one who shies away from kids like this, I don’t blame you. They’re hard to interact with and it’s natural to distance yourself from them—they give you lots of reasons not to like them:

- They tend to be self-centered.
- They defy you at every step, refusing to cooperate.
- They can sabotage your ministry by talking bad about you to anyone who will listen—including their parents and other kids in the group.
- They tell magnetic stories about the parties they’ve gone to, movies they’ve seen, the classes they’ve skipped, the people they’ve hurt, the guns they own, and the joyrides they’ve taken in stolen cars.
- They bring the worst kind of music along in the church bus—and then they tune out everyone as they hide behind earbuds.  
- They sneak off to smoke cigarettes… or worse.
- They’re strong-willed (just like most youth leaders!).

Why We Need to Work with Caustic Kids

Though caustic kids offer us plenty of reasons to pull in the welcome mat, there are also a few compelling reasons we must minister to them:

  1. Jesus commands us to love the unlovable. He says, “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?” (Matthew 5:46). The true test of love is loving people who don’t love back.
  2. Few adults have the maturity and perspective to love unlikable kids. Those who have this ability are rare and precious. They can literally turn a young person’s life around. We need to be those adults.
  3. Your ministry is the last hope for many caustic kids. This is the truth: Whoever values your kids most, and shows it, usually wins them over. Eugene Rivers, an inner-city pastor hoping to rescue a Boston neighborhood from drugs and poverty, tells the story of a conversation he had with a heroin dealer. The heroin dealer told Rivers his key to success was simply being there. Rivers asked, “Being there?” The drug dealer went on to explain, “When little Johnny goes to school—I am there. When little Johnny goes to the store for food, I’m there. I’m there—and you’re not. I’m there, so I win.”
  4. Beneath the hard exterior of most caustic kids is often enormous pain and frustration.
  5. Kids who love you, hug you, and hang on your every word make ministry fun. Tough kids keep you digging, praying, reading books, and sharing with other youth leaders. Basically, they keep you growing.
  6. Jesus said he came “to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). Caustic kids are as lost as they can be. Jesus once asked the scribes and Pharisees, “Suppose one of you has 100 sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the 99 in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?” (Luke 15:4).


Caustic youth require a long-term commitment and conditions might get worse before they get better. But, you really shouldn’t expect building relationships and communicating with these difficult students to be easy.

That’s why you also need the support of other adults to work successfully with caustic kids. When your efforts are continually frustrated, you may begin to lose your self-confidence and think that you’re a failure. You need people around you to show you that you’re not crazy and to encourage you in the truth that you can minister to these kids.

Finally, and most importantly, it’s essential to pray. In Mark 9:14-29, the disciples run into a situation that seems impossible. But in verse 29, Jesus reminds them that there is something they can do: “This kind can come out only by prayer.”

The hurt and hardness of caustic kids can be softened only by the tenderness of God’s Holy Spirit. And that comes by prayer. Pray that the kids in your group would experience the love and healing power of God.

Les Christie chairs the youth ministry department at William Jessup University and has spoken at each YS National Youth Workers Convention for the last 30 years. He’s also authored more than 15 books and you can hear Les speak at both NYWC Sacramento and NYWC Atlanta!



By Youth Specialties on August 24 2014 | 0 Comments

Trending This Week (Aug 22)

By Jacob Eckeberger on August 21 2014 | 0 Comments

Every Friday we pull our favorite links from across the inter-webs. This week's trending links include quick advice for how not to name a youth group, what you wish you knew about teens and digital media, tips for male pastors interacting with girls, the church's barriers to loving others, and all the fuel for your procrastination. 

Blogs From This Week

Jody Livingston (@JodyLivingston) shared a great guest post: "5 Kyes to Effective Campus Ministry" - CLICK TO VIEW

A new 1Q interview where 3 incredible youth workers respond to the question: "What practical ways do you balance family and ministry?" - CLICK TO VIEW

AFFIRM films is giving away a FREE discussion guide for the new film "The Remaining" - CLICK TO VIEW

Blogs From Other Great Youth Workers This Week

Tim Gough (@TimGoughUK) shares a great practical post: "How NOT to name your youth group" - CLICK TO VIEW

Fuller Youth Institute (@FullerFYI) had a great interview with Danah Boyd: "What you wish you knew about teens and digital media" - CLICK TO VIEW

Download Youth Ministry shared another great @DYMWebshow celebrating their 250th episode! - CLICK TO VIEW

Heather Campbell (@heatherlea17) wrote a post with good practical tips: "Tips for male pastors interacting with girls" - CLICK TO VIEW 

Relevant Magazine (@Relevantmag): "3 Barriers to the Church’s Ability to Love Others" - CLICK TO VIEW

Fun Things To Fuel Your Procrastination

Turtle VS Toy Truck - CLICK TO VIEW

Back to school parody: "Baby Got Class" - CLICK TO VIEW

Gilbert Gottfried does the speech from independence day - CLICK TO VIEW 

Bill Cosby confronts Jimmy Fallon about imitating him - CLICK TO VIEW

This commercial is so bad that it’s good - CLICK TO VIEW

By Jacob Eckeberger on August 21 2014 | 0 Comments

Discussion Guide for “The Remaining”

By Youth Specialties on August 20 2014 | 0 Comments

AFFIRM films is giving away a FREE discussion guide for the new movie The Remaining­—an action-packed supernatural thriller that addresses questions of life, love, and belief against an apocalyptic backdrop. This movie is an incredible opportunity to spark conversations with the students you’re discipling. It is slated as a horror film and engaging with the film’s content requires caution, wisdom, and discernment as you mine the depths of the film’s content. Here’s a peek at the storyline:

A group of close friends gather for a wedding, but the celebration is shattered by a series of cataclysmic events and enemies foretold by biblical end-times prophecies. The survivors face a horrifying, uncertain future as they scramble for safety, but as their world collapses around them in chaos and terror, will they choose real life through faith, or just try to survive?

You can watch the official trailer HERE.  

To go along with the film, the team behind The Remaining has put together this great discussion guidethat is exclusive to our youth workers. This FREE discussion guide includes group activities, questions about the movie storyline and characters, as well as a strong list of deeper questions that will help your students think about the application for their lives.
You can download the FREE discussion guide HERE.

By Youth Specialties on August 20 2014 | 0 Comments

1Q interview: Balancing Family & Ministry

By Jacob Eckeberger on August 19 2014 | 0 Comments

Original photo by HomespotHQ.

More and more I hear youth workers struggling with a rhythm of life that allows them to balance their family and the needs of ministry. In this 1Q interview, I asked 3 incredible youth workers to offer some practical insight by responding to this question:

"What practical ways do you balance family and ministry?"


Brandi Manes is the Director of Youth Ministries at First United Methodist Church in Dallas, TX. 

I think balance in ministry is a difficult thing to define. When my daughter was a baby, I was constantly worried about balance and I drove myself crazy! I felt guilty at work because I wasn’t with her, and I felt guilty at home because I needed to be working. I spent so much time worrying about balance that I wasn’t giving my best to any of my roles. Ministry ebbs and flows with the seasons, the days, the minutes. Family and personal time does, too. So instead of worrying about balance (and essentially adding it as one more thing on my to-do list) I have found that the key is to be fully present where I am, wherever that may be. When I’m on a mission trip with a bunch of middle school students, I am all in with the hammers and the drama and the midnight snacks. When I’m with my daughter playing the chef/superhero/swimming game she made up that day, I enthusiastically wear the hat and the cape and the flippers. Some days will be heavy on the ministry side and some days will be heavy on the family side, so in the midst of all of it I try to give myself some grace. I won’t do it perfectly. But I know that it’s good for my ministry when my personal time is fulfilling, and I know it’s good for my family for me to do a job I’m passionate about.

Matt Fogle is the Student Ministry Pastor at Eastview Christian Church in Normal, IL.

I asked a older/wiser/better looking believer that very question this past month and he said, "Balance?!? Are you kidding me? I'm just trying to keep it between the ditches!" I personally "keep it between the ditches" by setting firm sabbath days and daily habits with my family and then allow ministry to fill in the gaps. Fridays and Saturdays are my days off and my wife Jen and I call those our Fogle Family Fun days. We go with our two kids and massive dog to parks, splash pads, meals with friends, museums, etc. Playing together weekly is important to us in our rhythm as a family. One of our holy habits as a family is set bed time routines. We read the Bible, tell stories, laugh together, and then my wife and I pray before we fall asleep together. I say "no" to a lot of ministry opportunities in order to say "yes" to my family and I know looking back decades from now I won't regret that!  

Brian Aaby is the Director of YS Search and YS Coaching for Youth Specialties. 

Oh the irony of being asked this question, this week…

The question: “What practical ways do you balance family and ministry?” The confession: I thought I knew. I had the answers. I was wrong!

Just this week my wife and I had the 10 p.m. until 12:30 a.m. conversation about this very subject. In reality, the discussion itself is the answer.  We just were not on the same page… I think ministry had distracted us just enough to accidentally grab two different playbooks. Communication, which is a strong-suit in the Aaby home had become the Achilles’ heel. So, we got back to the basics, and here’s where I’ll get practical for anyone reading.

- We do a “check-in” on Sunday night. We compare schedules, talk strategies with our kids and most importantly pray together as a couple.
- Make dates a priority. I love having stuff to look forward to on the schedule, well, so do my wife and kids. So I schedule dates with each of them individually (and often).
- Where you are, be there. In order to do this (and especially for protecting family time as family time) I deleted Facebook from my iPhone, we don’t have our phones at the dinner table, etc.

Thanks for the ironically timed wake-up call. My family appreciates it! 

By Jacob Eckeberger on August 19 2014 | 0 Comments

5 Keys to Effective Campus Ministry

By Youth Specialties on August 17 2014 | 3 Comments

We are fortunate to know so many incredible youth workers that are far wiser than we are and Jody Livingston is one of them. We're excited to share this guest post from Jody

Original photo by Kevin Dooley.

Ah, the school campus. It is the ultimate aspiration of Youth Ministry.

Funny isn’t it? We spend the whole time we are in school counting the days until we get out, and now you would do almost anything to get in.

The fact is however, there is no single greater concentration of lost students anywhere other than the campus. This only helps to magnify the importance of effective campus ministry in your community.

So, how do you really do campus ministry effectively? Where do you start? Here are five keys to effective campus ministry:

Find the gatekeeper

Every School has a gatekeeper.  Generally speaking it is the first person you see when you walk into the school office. The gatekeeper controls who gets where and what goes where. You must really work to build a relationship with the gatekeeper or you will never make it past the office. Every time I go, I take something for them (Dropping of donuts, a Starbucks gift card, Pizza, etc.). It doesn’t have to be something big. Just something that says, “thank you for all you do here at this school and in this community.”

Be... dare I say professional

This should go without saying, but I see so many Youth Pastors who do not do this. Walking in arrogantly, playing the part of the “cool Youth Pastor,” in cargo shorts and a dirty t-shirt, doesn’t really say “you can trust me.”

Look like a bum, and you will be treated like a bum. I am not saying you need to go in a three piece suit either. Just brush your hair (if you have hair) and dress how you want to be treated. I also stay clear of Youth Ministry branded t-shirts, polo shirts, etc.

Be a Servant not a Salesman

Seek to serve first. And genuinely serve. Look for opportunities to serve and help. Offer to do the things no one wants to do. Do so without expectations or a sales pitch for your ministry. Every school has opportunities for you to serve. Sometimes you just have to get creative.

Many people will be somewhat skeptical and defensive toward you. Acting from a posture of humility and genuineness goes a long way in earning trust as well.

Never, ever say “no”

When the school asks for help with something, do your very best to find a way to make it happen. Those moments may be few and far between, especially in the beginning stages of your campus ministry. Allowing the school to see you meet a need, and that you are able to be trusted to actually follow through and help, goes further than you can realize.

Be consistent

Stay at it! Continue to look for opportunities to serve. Continue to build the relationship with the gatekeeper. When the Lord opens a door for other relationships, be aware and continue to build on those as well. Effective campus ministry takes a long time to build. Most Youth Pastors fail at it, because they give up too early.

What about you? What things are keeping you from doing campus ministry effectively? I would love to hear how you are doing it well also.


 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 August 17 2014 | 3 Comments

Trending This Week (Aug 15)

By Jacob Eckeberger on August 14 2014 | 0 Comments

Every Friday we pull our favorite links from across the inter-webs. This week's trending links include back to school prep, a discussion about how marketing shapes kids, another DYM Webshow, tips for recruiting volunteers, and plenty of fuel for your procrastination. 

Blogs From This Week

Tic Long discusses leadership and how Christ encourages us to lead differently: "How to Lead Well" CLICK TO VIEW

Matt Larking (@MattWLarkin) reminds us all that we should be good stewards of our time and energy: "What you are doing is NOT good!" CLICK TO VIEW

Blogs From Other Great Youth Workers This Week

Jason Sansbury (@JasonSansbury) wrote a great post with practical ways to start the school year well: "Back to School Prep" CLICK TO VIEW

Walt Mueller continues the CPYU (@CPYU) series on how marketing shapes kids: "Youth Culture Today" CLICK TO VIEW

Another great DYM Webshow (@DYMWebshow) this week: "Episode 249" CLICK TO VIEW

Awana Youth Ministry (@AwanaYM) shared a great short video with some ideas for recruiting volunteers: "Recruiting Volunteers" - CLICK TO VIEW 

Jason Carr (@MyLegacyNow) put together a short practical list for when small group doesn't go as planned: "The Recovery" - CLICK TO VIEW

Fun Things To Fuel Your Procrastination

Pained Faces Of Soloing Rockstars Make A Lot More Sense With Giant Slugs: CLICK TO VIEW

The Muppets cover Beastie Boys (sorta) and it's amazing: CLICK TO VIEW

You apparently turn into The Rock when you drink a gallon of milk: CLICK TO VIEW 

A Turkish farmer invented a robot to keep bears away from his crops... and it will haunt your dreams: CLICK TO VIEW

"Apparently" Kid get's songified: CLICK TO VIEW

By Jacob Eckeberger on August 14 2014 | 0 Comments

What you are doing is not good!

By Youth Specialties on August 12 2014 | 0 Comments

We are fortunate to know so many incredible youth workers that are far wiser than we are and Matt Larkin is one of them. We're excited to share this guest post from Matt

Original photo by Steve Day.

Years ago, I stumbled upon a verse in Exodus that impacted me more than I could have ever imagined. The verse is Exodus 18:17, when Jethro, Moses’s father-in-law, says to Moses: “What you are doing is not good.” 

A little context
At this point in Israel’s history, part of Moses’s leadership of the people included sitting to judge every dispute, major or minor, that the people had. Moses was essentially everything from the Supreme Court to small claims court for the Israelite people—until Jethro showed up on the scene. Jethro, as an onlooker, could see just how unhealthy this was for Moses, and how thin it was spreading him.

As we know, leading the people through the wilderness was no easy task. Also, the Israelites weren’t always the most agreeable folks, so there’s no telling how many disputes the people actually had. All we know is that as verse 13 tells us, “Moses sat to judge the people, and the people stood around Moses from morning till evening.”

Moses was trying to do it all. 

My Moses Experience
I was in my second year of youth ministry when I read this account, and I realized how clearly this described my situation. As a new youth worker, I believed I knew it all. I thought I was the only one in the church who knew how to connect with students, and I relished the idea of being the go-to guy in that area. I was also in a small church without a lot of volunteers to help out, and the few who would have been willing were probably turned off by my delusions of grandeur. What’s more, I had built up a pretty large and involved ministry that was quickly outgrowing my ability to run it on my own.

It was at that point in my life that I read this account and realized that what I was doing was not good. I was trying to do it all. Doing it all was way too much. The way too much was hurting me physically, mentally, and spiritually. And, it was hurting my ministry. 

Here’s the deal
You are not God. You are limited in what you can do.

You may be finding yourself in a similar situation to me. You may have delusions of grandeur, or you may simply not know when to say “no.” Or, maybe there’s something else entirely that’s driving you to the point where you’re stretched too thin. Either way, there are a couple of things that may help you get beyond your “what you are doing is not good” moment. 

1. Recognize that you need other people around you.

You may or may not be in a situation where you can get regular help in your youth ministry. But, either way, your students need other people. Also, YOU need other people! Every ministry needs input from more than one person to thrive. So, seek out others to work alongside you.

If you can’t find people to do that, seek out input from others around you. Look for ways to create intergenerational opportunities for mentoring, teaching, and fellowship. Finally, recognize the important role that parents play with their kids. It doesn’t do you or your ministry any good to try to be a one man/woman army.

2. If you don’t have enough help around you, slow down.

I know this seems almost counter-biblical. But the reality is that trying to run a ministry that’s too big for you to manage by yourself is going to put you on the fast track to burnout. And that’s not really going to help anyone—least of all, your students.

So, if you don’t have the manpower to manage the ministry you’ve built, slow down a bit. You don’t have to personally lead a lock-in every month or five Bible studies a week, to serve your students well! In fact, a lock-in every month or five Bible studies a week likely won’t serve anyone well anyway. Instead, slow down. 

The Big Lesson
Perhaps the biggest lesson of the Moses/Jethro interaction in Exodus 18 is one of stewardship. Moses was not being a good steward of the time that God had given him. It didn’t mean that what he was doing wasn’t necessary; it didn’t even mean that what was being done was bad. But it was not the best use of his time.

So, as you look at another school year, ask yourself:

Are you set up to be a good steward of the time God has given you? Or, is what you’re doing “not good”? 


Matt Larkin serves as the Coordinator of Student & Kids’ Ministries for the Advent Christian General Conference ( In that role, he serves as a resource and consultant to youth workers and college students all around the United States and globally. You can connect with Matt on Twitter via @MattWLarkin.  


By Youth Specialties on August 12 2014 | 0 Comments

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