Youth Specialties Blog

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

The Truth Shall Make You Odd

By Youth Specialties on November 11 2014 | 0 Comments

The following is a repost of an article pulled out of the YS Vault and was previously published here

What characterizes Christianity in the modern world is its odd-ness. Christianity is home for people who are out of step, unfashionable, unconventional and counter-cultural. As Peter says, "strangers and aliens." 

I pastor the slowest growing church in America. We started twelve years ago with 90 members and have un-grown to 30. We’re about as far as you can get from a "user friendly" church—not because our congregation is unfriendly, but because our services are unpredictable, unpolished and inconsistent.

We’re an "odd-friendly" church, attracting unique and different followers of Christ who make every service a surprise. We refuse to edit oddness and incompetence from our services.

We believe our oddness matters.

We want our service filled with mistakes and surprises, because life is full of mistakes and surprises.

One Sunday morning, during the time for prayer requests, a member began describing the critical illness of her father. Because she was close to her father, her request for prayer was frequently interrupted by tears. Those around her reached out a hand or nodded with sadness. Some found their eyes filling with tears as well. The woman finished her request as best as she could.

Seated in the front row was Sadie—a young woman with Down’s syndrome. Sadie stood and walked up the aisle until she saw the woman in the middle of her row. Stepping over the feet of other people in the aisle, Sadie reached the woman, bent down on her knees, laid her head on the woman’s lap, and cried with her.

Sadie "inconvenienced" an entire row of people, stepped on their shoes, and forced them to make room for her … but none of us will ever forget that moment. Sadie is still teaching the rest of us what the odd compassion of Christ’s church looks like.

Someone said "you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you odd." Whoever made that statement understood what it means to be a follower of Christ. Followers of Christ are odd. Oddness is important because it’s the quality that adds color, texture, variety, and beauty to the human condition. Christ doesn’t make us the same. What He does is affirm our differentness.

Oddness is important because the most dangerous word in Western culture is "sameness." Sameness is a virus that infects members of industrialized nations and causes an allergic reaction to anyone who’s different. This virus affects the decision-making part of our brain, resulting in an obsession with making the identical choices that everyone else is making.

Sameness is a disease with disastrous consequences—differences are ignored, uniqueness is not listened to, our gifts are cancelled out, and the place where life, passion, and joy reside are snuffed out.

Sameness is the result of sin.

Sin does much more than infect us with lust and greed; it flattens the human race, franchises us, attempts to make us all homogenous. Sameness is the cemetery where our distinctiveness dies. In a sea of sameness, no one has an identity.

But Christians do have an identity. Aliens! We’re the odd ones, the strange ones, the misfits, the outsiders, the incompatibles. Oddness is a gift of God that sits dormant until God’s spirit gives it life and shape. Oddness is the consequence of following the One who made us unique, different … and in His image!

May our youth ministries be the home of oddness, the place where differentness is encouraged, where sameness is considered a sin, so that the image of our holy and odd God will be lifted up for all to see.

Next week, the National Youth Workers Convention will take over Atlanta, GA with a bunch of odd youth workers that are passionate about students finding and following Jesus. It's not too late to join us for an incredible time of prayer, encouragement, and seeking out the future of youth ministry in the midst of our differences. Check out more info at

By Youth Specialties on November 11 2014 | 0 Comments

Ministry That Launches

By Youth Specialties on November 09 2014 | 0 Comments

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

Original photo provided by NASA.

Starting Right

Wanting to equip the seniors in your ministry? Great!

Want to do so in a way that is going to help them have life long faith? Awesome!

Want to start this with your current seniors? Ummmm… Well, let’s talk about that.

I am convinced, after 16 years in youth ministry, that the best way to prepare your seniors is to prepare your sixth graders. Once students are in their junior or senior year, if you have not done the work, you will probably not see the results. 

One of the most important things that I see youth ministers forget is that the point of youth ministry is not youth ministry. The point of youth ministry is creating whole, healthy, committed, and vibrant Christian adults. Unfortunately the ghettoization of youth ministry created by the church and the consequent youth ministry sub culture have, for the past 40 years, created a bunch of youth group junkies.

Don’t hear me wrong here: I’m not blaming youth ministers. If anything, I’d blame the consumer nature of ministry in general. When we are in such a highly competitive market, which make no mistake that youth ministry is, we force youth ministers to be pushers.

For the past 30 years, most youth ministers who last for any significant amount of time at one place have learned how to get kids addicted to youth group. We know the techniques, when to do certain trips, how to manipulate emotions, and especially how to keep them coming back for more. We have to remember, and our congregations have to learn, that our calling is not to create a ghettoized junkie subculture that, as most studies have shown, has no clue how to function outside of the American youth ministry.  

Equipping Equals and Helping Them Launch Well

Our goal, much like what I believe to goal of parenting to be, is to, from the moment we get them into youth group, start the launching process. If we have the end goal of creating Christian adults and not youth group junkies then we can have no other end goal. That does not mean that we start pushing them out of the door as they are walking in, but it does mean that each of our programs, retreats, games, bible studies, and talks should have the stated or implied message that God is calling them to go. 

Go forth and make disciples.

Go forth and tell the good news to the poor, captives and blind.

Go forth and multiply.

Go forth and be not afraid.

Go forth and receive life and a life more abundant.


Our fellowship should be to teach them about community, not to ingrain them into the group.

Our retreats should teach them about the importance of Sabbath and building their own spirituality, not fabricating emotional mountaintops that they will feel guilty for not being able to achieve as adults.

Our Bible studies should challenge and equip them to think about and process their faith and the difficult questions that they cannot fathom now, not give them trite and cliché answers that will collapse when the first real adult crisis comes their way.

Our programs should stop being reactionary and start being preparatory.


I know you probably didn’t start reading this article because you wanted to think about how to launch sixth graders, so let’s get back to your 12th graders. There’s a way that we “capstone” our seniors in their last year that we have found to be really meaningful to our students, while it helps them launch successfully.

The first thing is what we expect from them. I’ve told many of my seniors over the years that I fully expect their attendance to begin to drop off, especially in their second semester of senior year. Sometimes they look at me a little shocked. Relieved, but shocked. I tell them and parents that it is really hard to try to live in two worlds.

In every other part of their lives they are grabbing ahold of what is next. They are visiting their colleges, buying sheets for their dorms, learning about their majors, meeting new roommates, and registering for classes. Sometimes we call it senioritis, but I just call it grabbing ahold of what is next, which is what they should be doing. 

The same goes for youth group. They have to start letting go, gradually. The worst thing I see youth ministers do in this scenario is to begin to guilt their seniors. We tell them that they should be leaders and step up. We, through these guilt-laden diatribes, tell them that they cannot launch, they cannot transition and therefore they cannot grab ahold of what is next. In essence, we tell them they cannot leave youth group, and they resent us for it.

Instead of doing this, give them permission to release at their own pace and let them know that you are still there and want to continue to be in relationship with them.  I have found that I see my seniors a lot more over a cup of coffee than I do at Sunday school and youth group.

The other way we help them launch is through a program we created called Exodus.  The idea of Exodus is simple: We created a monthly small group that treats them like adults and deals with and helps prepare them for what is next. We meet the first Tuesday of each month in the second semester of their senior year. We usually meet at different restaurants together and have a meal, and each month, we have a different speaker come in to have a discussion with our students.

The speakers are not usually associated with the youth ministry but are in the church.  We have a business professional come in and talk about time management; a counselor talk about making good transitions; a family psychologist talk about changing family dynamics and how to leave well; a college chaplain talk about spirituality in college. Every year, our students tell us how helpful and meaningful this is. It has become a great ministry that engages our seniors and helps empower them to make that next step into God’s future for them. 

Stephen Ingram is the Director of Student Ministries at Canterbury United Methodist Church in Birmingham, AL, a coach with Youth Ministry Architects, and author of "Hollow Faith and [extra] Ordinary Time."

By Youth Specialties on November 09 2014 | 0 Comments

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