Youth Specialties Blog

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

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

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