Youth Specialties Blog

Trending This Week (July 4)

By Jacob Eckeberger on July 03 2014 | 0 Comments

Every Friday we pull our favorite links from across the inter-webs. This week's trending links include a great "to-do" list for youth workers every Sunday, the dangers of allowing our performace in youth ministry to determine our identity, a series of posts about High School service trips, and plenty of fuel for your procrastination. 


Blogs From This Week

Neely McQueen (@NeelyM) interviews Chap Clark (@ChapClark) in a new YS Idea Lab about "The Goal of Youth Ministry" CLICK TO VIEW

Coby Cagle (@CobyCagle) wrote a great piece entitled "Fight for Sustainable Ministries, Not Self-preservation" CLICK TO VIEW

Blogs From Other Great Youth Workers This Week

Christopher Wesley (@ChrisrWesley) shared a great "to-do" list for youth workers: "7 Actions You Must Take Every Sunday" CLICK TO VIEW

A great post from Lars Rood (@LarsRood) on the dangers of allowing performance to determine identity: "Facing our Broken Ontology" CLICK TO VIEW

Pete Wilson (@PWilson) wrote a really encouraging post this week: "What You Miss When You're Afraid Of Messing Up" CLICK TO VIEW

Youthworker Journal (@YWJournal) shared a great post about students pushing the envelope for the church: "We Don't Want a Bible Study" CLICK TO VIEW

Our good friends over at Fuller Youth Institute (@FullerFYI) released a series of really great posts about High School service trips. Here's the 1st: "Navigating transitions from one experience to another" CLICK TO VIEW

Fun Things To Fuel Your Procrastination

I wish my trash naturally looked this beautiful: "Random Pile of Trash is a Stunning Portrait" CLICK TO VIEW

If you want the universe to blow your mind, check out the "Space Photo of the Day" CLICK TO VIEW

It’s actually 2 year’s old, but it’s still hilarious: "German man misinterprets the term 'party pooper'" CLICK TO VIEW

Someone changed the Wikipedia entry for U.S. Secretary of Defense to 'Tim Howard'. CLICK TO VIEW

I have no idea what he is saying or why you would need string made from plastic bottles, but I know youth workers will figure out a use for it: CLICK TO VIEW

By Jacob Eckeberger on July 03 2014 | 0 Comments

Fight for Sustainable Ministries, Not Self-Preservation

By Youth Specialties on July 01 2014 | 1 Comments

We are so fortunate to know youth workers like Coby Cagle that are doing great work in youth ministry. This is a post Coby originally shared on his blog.  

Original photo by Wolfgang Staudt.

There is a difference between striving to have a sustainable ministry and fighting to stay alive. When you act out of self-preservation you ask the wrong set of questions. At best, these are questions that are inwardly focused and shortsighted. Although longevity is not bad, your main goal should not be to help your church stay alive. Your main goal should be to be faithful to the Gospel and to join God as God ushers in God's kingdom.

What does this mean? Here are a few possibilities:

  • This may mean that you build a new church building. This may mean that you sell your church building.
  • This may mean that you hire more staff. This may mean that you cut staff.
  • This may mean that you stop pouring money into expanding your empire and start sending funds to an under-resourced church.
  • This may mean that you give away all of your resources to an emerging church so that a new ministry can flourish.*

Are you following me? Being faithful to the Gospel and joining God's mission does not mean that you last forever. It simply means you go where God calls you to go. 

While we shouldn't focus on self-preservation, we SHOULD focus on sustainability and health. Sustainable ministries don't drain the energy and resources out of our organizations and our people. I think sustainable ministries are simply good stewards of the gifts that God has given the church.

Here are a few ways to help you start thinking about building healthy ministries and not ministries that are fighting for self-preservation. This is not an exhaustive list. Comment below if you have more ideas.

Sustainable ministries emphasize health.
 Self-preservation ministries emphasize numbers.

Sustainable ministries regularly evaluate the relational, spiritual, and emotional health of their group. Ministry leaders are regularly gauging the health of the congregation. Health and numbers are not mutually exclusive. I am a part of a healthy church that is bursting at the seams. Yet, our pastors, deacons, elders, and small group leaders are engaged with almost everybody who attends the church. We spend most of our time in staff meetings either doing spiritual check-ins with one another or praying for congregants by name. It's been a blessing to spend so much time focusing on spiritual formation and health. This doesn't mean we neglect our daily tasks. We simply don't let our daily tasks consume our focus.

Sustainable ministries look to empower others.
 Self-preservation ministries try to hold on to power.

Believe it or not, you and I are not big deals. Sure, we can do some things well. But our ministries will be better if we find what is unique to our calling, do that well, and empower people to do the rest. I was recently talking with a successful lead pastor who is in his 40's. He said 10 years ago he wasn't comfortable enough in his skin to hire people who were better than him at things. Now, he proudly admits that he isn't the best speaker or administrator on staff. Not only is that good leadership, it creates space for new ideas and fresh approaches.

The reality is, none of us got to where we are because of our own power. We all stand on the backs of others who sacrificed, poured into us, loved us, mentored us, and created space for us. Now, go and do likewise.

Sustainable ministries emphasize how volunteers are doing.
 Self-preservation ministries emphasize what volunteers are doing.

Today I interviewed a high quality candidate for a youth ministry intern position. Like all people that I supervise, I told him that I am more concerned with how he is doing as a follower of Jesus, a friend, and a son than what he can do for me and "my" church. People aren't tools for you to use to build your kingdom. They are gifts that God entrusts to you to love, serve, build up, and empower. When they leave, you want them to leave better people than when they arrived.

One side effect of this kind of support and care for your employees is that they tend to feel more at ease in their position which enables them to function out of their strengths. It gives them courage to dream big and take risks. And when they fail, they know that you have their back.

Sustainable ministries think about the entire organization.
 Self-preservation ministries tend to only think about those with power.

I once served at an upper income church that was surrounded by neighborhoods that were very poor. On separate occasions I had two elders tell me that I wasn't hired to minister to "those kind of kids." They hired me to minister to "our kids." Wow! Too often I see pastors that only pursue deep relationships with people who have power and money in the church. Pastors let the bottom line sway them away from making decisions with Biblical integrity. It is wrong and unjust.

If you spend more time talking about getting better attendance to events than thinking about the needs of your community, you are fighting for self-preservation.

CLICK to visit Coby's blog and read the rest of his great post.

Coby Cagle lives with his wife and two kids in Seattle, WA. He is the Youth Pastor at Quest Church and is the Co-founder of The College Consensus. You can follow his meanderings on faith, family, and life at

By Youth Specialties on July 01 2014 | 1 Comments

The Goal of Youth Ministry

By Youth Specialties on June 30 2014 | 2 Comments

With all the changes that have taken place in youth ministry over the years, we have to continue to ask the question: What is the goal of our youth ministry and how does it affect the global Church? Neely McQueen sits down with Chap Clark in this YS Idea Lab to talk over the history of youth ministry and keeping our focus on helping students find their place in the church long after we are gone.  

If you don't have time to watch the entire YS Idea Lab, here is a quick list to give you just that top layer of goodness: 

Youth ministry emerged out of an idea that we were losing our kids and they needed a personal connection to faith within the church. Our goals become focused around them as individuals liking our programs, coming to events, and personally exhibiting an interest in faith. 


We thought that if they enjoyed what we did in our youth ministries, that it would automatically translate to them finding a place in the larger Church body. 


It created the idea that they as an individual can have the full experience of the Christian faith within their youth ministry. 


The problem became that we were so focused on the singular that students had individualistic faith experience with no connection to the rest of the church. Our focus has to shift from being just about the singular to finding a balance that also guides students into the plural, connecting their faith with the body of Christ outside of youth ministry. 


The danger of youth ministry is that we think we can create Christian community within a single demographic instead of thinking about a larger family of God, both local and historical, across all human history.


Our goal has to be leading students to find their individual faith through the process of discovering their place in that larger Christian community. Students should have that personal response within an understanding that Christianity is much bigger than them.


Are we leading students to connect their faith with both the historical and local expression of God’s people on the earth? Is our goal to get students to be Christians within our little group or are we calling students to be a part of the larger body of Christ?


But this has to be something that the entire Church takes on. It is easy for students to feel like they are cast aside and that the only way they can be a part of the bigger Church community is to assimilate, which implies that they are the ones that must change to belong. Our call as the larger Church isn't to assimilate students but to adopt students into community, which changes who we are to receive students as they are. 


If students understand that Christ wants them to be a part of His family, then they'll find a place within the body of Christ that isn't dependent on a youth worker's personal relationship with them and their faith will last long after we are gone. 

See more YS Idea Lab's in our Idea Lab List on YouTube.

By Youth Specialties on June 30 2014 | 2 Comments

Trending This Week (June 27)

By Jacob Eckeberger on June 26 2014 | 0 Comments

Every Friday we pull our favorite links from across the inter-webs. This week's trending links include a look at 5 ways to get your students talking in Bible study, how to be inclusive when new comers show up at youth group, ways to self-care on a mission trip, and plenty of fuel for your procrastination. Enjoy!

Blogs From This Week

Stephanie Riebe (@StephRiebe) shares some encouragement for those days when you feel overwhelmed with worry in youth ministry: "One of those days" CLICK TO VIEW

Fred Oduyoye (@FredOduyoye) has another great addition to the #YSRealTalk series with Efrem Smith (@EfremSmith) and Dean Borgman discussing: "The Urban Ministry Shift" CLICK TO VIEW

Blogs From Other Great Youth Workers This Week

Our good friends The Skit Guys (@SkitGuys) shared another incredible video that's worth sharing with your students: "July 4th Explained" CLICK TO VIEW

Andy Blanks (@AndyBlanks) put together a great list of ideas to spark conversations with students: "5 Thoughts On What To Do When Teenagers Won’t Respond In Your Bible Study" CLICK TO VIEW

Leneita Fix (@LeneitaFix) wrote a great piece on: "Including 'New-bies' In Your Group" CLICK TO VIEW

The YouthWorks team (@YWMissions) wrote a great post that is worth forwarding on to your adult volunteers: "Put Your Oxygen Mask On First: Self-care on a mission trip" CLICK TO VIEW 

Nate Stratman (@NateStratman) started a conversation good and worthwhile conversation about developing leaders in ministry: "Cherry Picking in Youth Ministry" CLICK TO VIEW

Fun Things To Fuel Your Procrastination

What would it look like if a football coach coached soccer? "Meet Coach Tedd Lasso" CLICK TO VIEW

Totally normal slip n slide… off a huge cliff: CLICK TO VIEW

A guy inserts his incredible dog Wally into a clip of Jurassic Park and it's just... magic: CLICK TO VIEW 

A guy convinces strangers to read fake player names from the World Cup that are actually Nicholas Cage movies: CLICK TO VIEW

This is how you recover from a bad day: "Umpire takes a foul ball to the chest... and flexes" CLICK TO VIEW

By Jacob Eckeberger on June 26 2014 | 0 Comments

One of Those Days

By Youth Specialties on June 24 2014 | 0 Comments

I'm having one of those days in student ministry where I don't have any programming responsibilities or commitments with my students today & yet I woke before the sun was up feeling a heaviness to cover them with prayer. To surrender them one by one to my Father because I feel the burden of their struggles and of being a teenager and know that there's no way I can protect them from the pain of this world. A heaviness in knowing all I can do is surrender them in prayer & strive to lead a ministry that points them to Jesus.

Days like today are an honor. Their faces fill my heart & my mind. So much to thank God for in the gift of each of them. Days like today are also hard. It's a reminder of the type of calling student ministry is and the weight of opportunity it brings to further the Kingdom.

I ended up at the gym this morning when I could no longer sleep. As soon as I climbed onto the treadmill I thought about how much I'd rather be back in bed. My God who knows every thought in my head, filled my heart in that instant with this verse: "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us." Hebrews 12:1

Student Ministry. Teenage Years. Growing nearer to Jesus. All of these wonderful and hard gifts are not a sprint. They require perseverance and prayer and surrendering. Heartache doesn't heal overnight, a close walk with the Lord doesn't happen instantly after an alter call & youth groups don't go from 50 to 500 in 3 years...and not on our own accord.

I'm thankful for the reminder on the humbling and hard days that my Father can handle it even when I get tangled up in my own sin of worry and struggle to surrender. That He's designed me for the long haul with Him and He can use a treadmill & an unexpected early morning to help remind me of His care for me and each of the students I'm so honored to know and love.

Stephanie Riebe is one of the student ministries directors at Castleton United Methodist Church in Indianapolis, Indiana. She’s in her eighth year of full-time student ministry. She loves, road trips, witnessing Jesus transform the life of teenagers, Vera Bradley, mission work, running, and coffee—and not particularly in that order. 

By Youth Specialties on June 24 2014 | 0 Comments

#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

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