Youth Specialties Blog

Thank You Youth Leaders

By Jacob Eckeberger on November 26 2014 | 1 Comments

There couldn't have been a better way for us to start Thanksgiving week than with our NYWC family in Atlanta. It was such an incredible time connecting with each other, catching up on life, and finding encouragement and inspiration for the next year of ministry.

We were reminded once again how thankful we are for youth leaders. Every moment you spend caring for students makes a difference. The energy you pour into building relationships creates a safe place for God to speak to students and for them to respond. All the lock-ins, the retreats, late-night ice cream runs, sleepless weeks of camp, and the emotion-filled times of being with students in the most difficult moments of life are all a part of something amazing... God illuminating the hearts and minds of students who will change the world.

That's why youth leaders are our heroes. What you do matters and we can't thank you enough. 

Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at YS!

By Jacob Eckeberger on November 26 2014 | 1 Comments

Stuff to Help You Catch Up

By Jacob Eckeberger on November 24 2014 | 0 Comments

Original photo by Ginny

We had a BLAST with you at NYWC in Atlanta last week! Since you took the time to hang out with us, we asked our good friends at Download Youth Ministry if they had some resources that might help you get caught up this week. They put together over $50 worth of awesome stuff FREE for you to use! Check them out...

By Jacob Eckeberger on November 24 2014 | 0 Comments

Trending This Week (Nov 21)

By Jacob Eckeberger on November 20 2014 | 0 Comments

Every Friday we pull our favorite links from across the inter-webs. This week's trending links include a reminder to have real-life conversations with students, embracing our students' brokenness, addressing the pride in our ministry, thoughts on why you would stay at a church, and plenty of fuel for your procrastination. 

Blogs From This Week

Mark Matlock (@MarkMatlock) shares a "Theological Understanding For Youth Ministry" - CLICK TO VIEW

Beth Slevcove talks about the importance of spiritual direction: "Why Spiritual Direction?" - CLICK TO VIEW

3 incredible youth workers share their Favorite Advent Ideas - CLICK TO VIEW

Blogs From Other Great Youth Workers This Week

Amy Jacober (@AmyJacober) reminds us about building relationships in person: "Turn It Off and Have a Real Conversation" - CLICK TO VIEW

Andy Blanks (@AndyBlanks) wrote a great post on "Embracing Our Students' Brokenness" - CLICK TO VIEW

Joe Garrison (@JoeGGarrison) talked about "The Pride in our Ministry" CLICK TO VIEW 

Jen Bradbury (@ymjen) offers her thoughtful perspective on being committed to your church: "Why'd You Stay?" - CLICK TO VIEW

Brooklyn Lindsey (@BrooklynLindsey) shared a great post on "How Spiritual Formation Leads Teens To Christ Caues" - CLICK TO VEW

Hashtags To Follow

This week is the National Youth Workers Convention in Atlanta, GA. Catch up on all the youth ministry wisdom in a convenient 140 characters by following the hashtag #NYWC - CLICK TO VIEW

Fun Things To Fuel Your Procrastination

It might be fake, but it’s still funny… Church band guitarist flips out during a song - CLICK TO VIEW

Kids get covered in paint and try to deny it - CLICK TO VIEW

A tiny hamster having a tiny Thanksgiving - CLICK TO VIEW

"I’m All About That Baste” a Thanksgiving parody - CLICK TO VIEW

How to not pronounce Worcestershire sauce - CLICK TO VIEW

By Jacob Eckeberger on November 20 2014 | 0 Comments

1Q interview: Your Favorite Advent Ideas

By Jacob Eckeberger on November 18 2014 | 0 Comments

1Q interviews are when we ask multiple youth pastors the same question and share their response. This particular 1Q interview is all about teaching students about Advent.

Original photo provided by tinkerlog.

Seasons like Advent are filled with opportunities for students to interact with scripture in unique ways. But sometimes we need some new ideas. I reached out to three incredible youth workers to see if they would share some of their favorite Advent ideas and we got some great stuff...

Stephanie Caro has been involved in ministry for more than 30+ years. She’s the senior consultant for Ministry Architects and the director of their Small Church division.

"Do we HAVE to do that dumb Advent wreath candle lighting thing every year? No one gets the reading right and they let the little kid light the candle. That never goes well." - a real conversation with one of my students. The beautiful concept of a journey of waiting seemed lost on my students. So...I decided to come at it from a more literal approach. We created four street lamps and placed them down the center aisle of the church. At the end of the aisle was the empty manger with the fifth and final lamp. Each week, the group walked down the aisle together to light another lamp as the weeks went by. The built in anticipation of slowly edging closer to the King's baby bed was palpable. Everyone still talks about it!

Jody Livingston is the Youth Pastor at Kennesaw First Baptist Church in Kennesaw, Georgia where he oversees Middle School and High School ministries.

I love things that are interactive, tangible, and force students to stop and process. Some of the most effective ways we've seen this is by using station based times of worship. We've used stations that include, guided journaling, prayer, Bible reading, simple crafts, dry erase or chalk boards, music, and whatever else we could think of. The most effective times have been when we set the tone early, asking students to remove their shoes as they enter, and send them into the room in smaller numbers. Once they are finished we ask them to find a spot and spend time reflecting and praying. We generally finish out the night as a large group with a time singing and prayer after everyone has finished. These are without question some of my favorite times of worship with our students.

Charles Rikard is the Student and College Pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Nacogdoches, TX.

For the advent season, we spend about four weeks with our students developing the Christmas story from Isaiah 55 and the Gospels. Our goal is to help students understand the characters involved in the story of Christ's birth, as well as the weight of His coming into the world as a man.  To top off Advent for us, we celebrate with an Outreach event that allows us to clearly present the love of God to students and parents.  We also ask our students to be in prayer during the month of December, praying everyday for Christ to be made evident in friends, family, and our community.


If you're looking for even more great Advent ideas, check out our Uthmin Hacks pinterest board HERE.

By Jacob Eckeberger on November 18 2014 | 0 Comments

Why Spiritual Direction?

By Youth Specialties on November 16 2014 | 0 Comments

We are excited to share this post from Beth Slevcove, who is one of our NYWC spiritual directors and we're thrilled to have her guiding more prayer experiences at NYWC Atlanta

Original photo from Tau Zero.

When I first heard the term “spiritual direction,” I thought, “I don’t need anyone to be directing my spirit other than the Holy Spirit!” That, of course, is true, but I hadn’t grown up with the term or with the chance to understand this ministry. I assumed, like the term seems to imply, spiritual direction meant talking about “spiritual” things to a person who is going to direct me (or, in other words, tell me what I should be doing in light of the “spiritual” things I have shared). Maybe this makes sense for Catholic monks and nuns, I reasoned, but not for me.

That was 20 years ago. Since then, the term has become much more prevalent in Protestant circles, and for the last 15 years, I’ve gotten to watch the evolution first hand as I’ve sat behind a table at the NYWC with a large “Spiritual Direction Sign-Ups” sign.

Now when people stop by our table, I hear things like:

“I don’t have anyone I can talk to about what is really going on.”

“I teach others to make time to nurture their spiritual lives, but I feel guilty that I don’t do it myself.”

Or simply, “I’ve heard this is a good thing—I think I’ll try it out.”

This is progress! And, the opportunity to try out spiritual direction at NYWC is unique. Youth Specialties is the only ministry of its kind to provide spiritual directors free of charge to conference attendees, and thanks to Mark Yaconelli, the son of YS founder Mike Yaconelli, YS has done so long before most people had heard of spiritual direction. Providing spiritual directors is not “cost effective” for YS—it’s part of their commitment to deeply tend to the people they serve. In fact, many organizations now use YS as a model for how spiritual direction as a ministry can bloom in a large convention setting.

As people in ministry, we rarely get a chance to stop and listen to the story of God unfolding in our own hearts and circumstances.

Ministry, be it paid or volunteer, is wrought with difficulties as we try to live out our journeys of faith in the public eye. Where do we turn when we are too tired to pray, too overwhelmed by our responsibilities, or when we’re trapped in sin patterns and addiction? What do we do when we find ourselves in some crisis of faith, no longer believing that God is a good God who will provide for us and protect us or our loved ones in the ways we once believed? If we are committed to live the Christian life, we WILL experience crisis of faith. How can we savor the deep whispers of the Spirit when we have so many things going on?

Spiritual direction provides us space to hit the pause button from time to time and reflect in a way that seeks an awareness of God’s presence and provision in the midst of beautiful (and difficult) times. We have to find ways to stay connected to God and to ourselves—and not the selves we want to present to the world, but the selves that get exhausted and deeply hurt, the selves that get angry and lustful and anxious and, at the very same time, desire to do the right thing and love the ones we’re with. I can think of no more helpful ministry than spiritual direction to provide the kind of connection, reflection and groundedness we need.

All the spiritual directors at YS are trained to NOT solve, fix, and offer answers, but instead to notice, ask questions, and listen with you for how God might be present in your life. The meetings are always confidential, so what are you waiting for? Spending one hour with a spiritual director at NYWC might be the best thing you’ve done for yourself in a very long time, and one way to love the One you’re with.

Beth Slevcove has served as a spiritual director for the past 16 years, primarily working with people in ministry. She served as the director of spiritual formation for Youth Specialties and holds advanced degrees in theology and education. She is an oblate at a Benedictine monastery and runs a surf company based on saving the endangered Tijuana Surf Monkey. Beth can often be found in the ocean, making tent forts with her little ones, or at a local coffee house where she is writing a book on grief for IVP. You can contact her directly via email at


If you're still thinking about joining us for NYWC Atlanta, there is still time! Don't miss out!

By Youth Specialties on November 16 2014 | 0 Comments

Theological Understanding for Youth Ministry

By Mark Matlock on November 16 2014 | 1 Comments

The following is a linked post from our good friends at We're proud to call Youth Worker Journal the official magazine of YS!

Original photo provided by Marc Wathieu.

Prior to considering myself a youth minister, I always felt those who served teens were different than other ministers, probably because their theology always was being tested and shaped by the practice of working daily with adolescents. For those who actually work with youth, there is no ivory tower (or cubicle!) that will withstand the BS detector of an adolescent.

While I've always revered the authentic lives of youth ministers, many times we live in duplicity of our application of theology to our practice of youth ministry. When it comes to how we think about the role of youth ministry in the church, we often allow tactics, strategies and models to trump our theological understanding of the church.

Whether consciously and/or deliberately, we all act according to our theological mind—or worse—we claim to believe one way and act another. This is why I believe the apostle Paul encouraged us to "work out our salvation with fear and trembling." Imagine all the new realities early Christians faced. Believers were under a new covenant in the resurrected Christ, experiencing the filling of the Spirit, and Gentiles coming to faith in considerable numbers. Theology was powerfully coming into conflict with practice. Most of the epistles would not have been written if not for this struggle. It should not surprise us that we still wrestle with theology and practice to this day.

At a forum on the Future of Youth Ministry at Southwestern Seminary, I saw the first real need for theologically informed youth ministry. One presenter that day, a biblical literalist (which is quite different than one who believes in the Bible's infallibility), was making the case that youth ministry did not appear in Scripture and thus was a manmade creation that threatened the fabric of the family and faith. I almost laughed during the presentation. The theological framework was less based on Scripture and more a reaction to the current mores of culture (a similar trap liberal theology fell to in responding to modernity). What stunned me further was the crowd, many who were graduate students, who clearly were being won over to this presenter's position.

Was he right?

Was youth ministry harming the family and ultimately the faith of young people?

I began a theological journey to discover my ecclesiology and understanding of the family in the context of the church. If youth ministry was to survive this reactionary, consumer-driven trend by the church to accommodate and cater to the family, we needed a theological understanding about what youth ministry's role is in the church to help teenagers find and follow Jesus.

In an age when we are focusing more on family in church, I began to realize that this emphasis could weaken the position of the church in filling the call of Christ in our world. It's a subtle but insidious drift that weakens the body of Christ and makes the aim of youth ministry harder to discern.

This is a reduction of my work, but a search of Scripture landed on these 10 theological premises:

     1. At creation, the family is identified as a basic unit of a larger unified society to live harmoniously, accomplishing God's purpose on earth. (Gen. 1:28-292:18).

     2. Sin disrupted family relationships, mission and unity (Gen. 3:4-8).

     3. A nation based on a family of origin was birthed from Abraham to be a people covenanted with God for the benefit of all mankind and through which would be born the Messiah or Savior for all mankind. (Gen. 12:1-3Matt. 1:1Rom. 9:6-8).

     4. Families that were part of this ethnic group/nation were given special instructions. Family is secondary to membership in the nation of Israel, not primary (Deut. 6John 8:39-47).

     5. Jesus said His Gospel would separate family and that alignment with Him was considered greater than allegiance to family. (Matt. 8:2210:34-3712:48-50).

Read numbers 6-10 and the rest of the article over at Youth Worker Journal's site HERE

You'll hear more from Mark Matlock as he opens up NYWC Atlanta talking about 5 Reasons The Church Needs Youth Ministry. It's not too late to join us in Atlanta!

By Mark Matlock on November 16 2014 | 1 Comments

Trending This Week (Nov 14)

By Jacob Eckeberger on November 13 2014 | 0 Comments

Every Friday we pull our favorite links from across the inter-webs. This week's trending links include thoughts on media messages, steps to improve the environment of your youth ministry, helping students engage their cities, caring for those around us, and plenty of fuel for your procrastination.

Blogs From This Week

Stephen Ingram (@StephenLIngram) helps us see the big picture of transitioning students out of youth ministry: "Ministry That Launches" - CLICK TO VIEW

We shared some of Mike Yaconelli's encouragement for all youth workers on the sacredness of our differences: "The Truth Shall Make You Odd" - CLICK TO VIEW

Blogs From Other Great Youth Workers This Week

CPYU (@CPYU) Evaluating media messages this week's: "Youth Culture Today" - CLICK TO VIEW

Chris Wesley (@ChrisRWesley) wrote a great post for Download Youth Ministry on ministry environments: "4 Steps to Improve Your Youth Ministry's Environment" - CLICK TO VIEW

Fuller Youth Institute (@FullerFYI) shared a great thought on "Helping Students Engage Their Cities" - CLICK TO VIEW

Terry Linhart (@TerryLinhart) wrote some challenging words about caring for those around us: "The Way to Matter" - CLICK TO VIEW

Jen Bradbury (@ymjen) has a thought about which might be better for your teaching: "Which is Better: Breadth or Depth" - CLICK TO VIEW

Fun Things To Fuel Your Procrastination

The Skit Guys (@SkitGuys) share about what it means to be full on Thanksgiving - CLICK TO VIEW

Kids react to old cameras - CLICK TO VIEW

Crazy GoPro footage from the front lines of wildfires - CLICK TO VIEW

Amazing Archery Trick Shots - CLICK TO VIEW

Steven Colbert sounds off on Doritos-flavored Mountain Dew - CLICK TO VIEW

By Jacob Eckeberger on November 13 2014 | 0 Comments

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