Youth Specialties Blog

What Can Muslim Youth Work Teach Us?

By Youth Specialties on November 04 2014 | 0 Comments

We are excited to share this post from Len Kageler, who is one of our NYWC speakers and we're thrilled to have him with us at NYWC Atlanta for 3 seminars

Original photo by Gisella Klein.

Don’t immediately throw stones at me when I say this, but I think the rise of Muslim youth work in the United States (that is, youth work done by Muslims for Muslims) might be a very good thing for the Christian church, the Christian family, and the Christian youth group.

Before I launch into the why behind that statement, let’s clear something up: I realize it’s easy to get tense when the subject of Islam is raised, so it can be helpful to put things in perspective first. Most of us are aware that Episcopalians don’t do Christianity the same way Southern Baptists do, and Lutherans don’t do Christianity the same way Pentecostals do. The same principle applies to Islam. Muslims are divided by theology, culture, and history, just like Christians are, and only a tiny fraction of Muslims have radical aspirations.

Make sense? Okay, good. Now, back to why the rise of Muslim youth work could be good for the Christian church. There are about 1900 mosques in the United States. Many of us see a mosque on the way to work every day. Some of us have a mega-Mosque across the street from our church or the main school our youth attend. I’ve looked at all 1900 of these Mosques (via, read their websites, and observed if they have a youth ministry (about 18 percent of them do). I’ve also interviewed the main Muslim national youth work leaders (and those in Canada and the United Kingdom.)

If the youth group has a website, I’ve studied it—and it’s very interesting stuff to say the least! Muslim youth work is organized very much like Christian youth work. It’s mosque-based. There are regional organizations that provide camps and leadership training. There are national organizations that host large-scale, Muslim youth rallies and vocational youth work training.

In my interviews with Muslim youth work leaders, I noticed some parallels to the work we do. One important Christian-Muslim youth work commonality that wasn’t surprising to me is that Muslim youth workers love youth. And Muslim parents love their kids and want them to maintain their Muslim faith in a country in which they are a microscopic religious minority.

What shocked me, however, as I got better acquainted with Muslim youth workers in these interviews, is that Muslim youth workers face many of the frustrations and hardships as Christian youth workers. They face struggles like:

1) Persecution.

Many Muslim parents don’t want their grown kids to be paid youth workers. Many adults in the typical Mosque see youth work as superfluous. One leader told me that just recently he was explaining youth work to some adults in his mosque and one of them looked him and said, disparagingly, “Youth work… you look so much smarter than that!” Over the years I (and my youth ministry students here at Nyack College) have received very similar, negative comments, all of which seem to call into question the vocational choice of youth work.

2) “Above them” leaders don’t “get” youth work.

I heard heartfelt frustration in words like, “I can’t stand most of the sheikhs and imams around here. They have no concept of how vital it is to reach young people… we’re going to lose youth if we don’t provide for them!” How many times have we heard the same kind of angst among Christian youth workers many times when their pastors, or the elders, or whoever, can’t understand why youth work is important?

3) Lack of resources.

One leader told me, “Oh, you Christians have it so good I’m sure… you have all the money you need, right?” I laughed out loud at his comment, and then we laughed together at the challenge of resourcing youth ministry.  

So back to my original question...

How can the rise of Muslim youth work actually be a good thing?

It’s going to force us to be clear about what we believe about Jesus. Credible research shows that nearly half the youth in evangelical churches, and their parents, do not believe that Jesus is the only way to God and salvation. They believe Jesus is good for us, but “… my Muslim friend in biology class (or on the one on our soccer team) can’t possibly be going to hell. She/he is so nice!”

Now we have to figure out how we can help our own youth believe John 14:6 (“….no man comes to the Father but by me”) actually means what it says. We’ll be talking about this, as well as some ways to connect with Muslims, in my Atlanta session of the National Youth Workers Convention, What We Can Learn from Muslim Youth Ministry, and you can come to the theology track session titled “Making Disciples of Whom? Christology and Youth Ministry,” where we have a conversation about why Jesus is the only way.

Len Kageler has a long and positive track record in working in church-based student ministry. Len is professor of youth and family studies at Nyack College. His many books include Youth Ministry in a Multifaith Society: Forming Christian Identity Among Skeptics, Syncretists, and Sincere Believers of Other Faith, and The Volunteers Field Guide to Youth Ministry. 

It's not too late to join us at NYWC Atlanta and hear Len share in his 3 seminars

By Youth Specialties on November 04 2014 | 0 Comments

Assessing the Health of Your Ministry

By Jacob Eckeberger on November 02 2014 | 0 Comments

On the Idea Lab stage at NYWC in Sacramento, I had the pleasure of interviewing our very own Brian Aaby who serves as the director of YS Search and YS Coaching. Brian took a few minutes to share some key ways to assess the health of your ministry and some insight for those more difficult times that will help keep your goals in perspective. Check out the audio from the interview below:

If you don't have time to listen to the full interview, here is a quick look at the key ideas that Brian expands on:

     - Don’t do ministry on your own and don’t trust yourself to be your own litmus test for the health of your ministry.

     - God designed us to be in relationship, but when we have hierarchy, that can get in the way.

     - Get involved with networks.

     - If you're a volunteer, make sure you're talking with others that are in similar positions to help give you another perspective. 

     - Just because a parent says, “you’re not spending enough time with MY kid” doesn’t mean you’re not spending enough time with THE kids.

     - Sometimes we aren’t the personality that should reach every student, that’s why we bring in volunteers. 

     - Have a philosophy of ministry that everyone agrees on. 

If you'll be joining us at NYWC Atlanta, we'll be offering FREE 40-minute Coaching appointments with our YS Coaches at convention. CLICK HERE to grab all the info and sign-up for a spot!

Brian Aaby is the director of YS Search & Coaching, assisting churches with personnel placement and provides coaching guidance for youth leaders. Brian served 17 years as a youth pastor and then founded and led Youthmark since 2008. Brian speaks nationally at churches, camps, conference, and events. He and his wife, Elisabeth, have three children and reside near Seattle. 


Brian will be teaching "Leaving Well: Leading through or preparing for new leadership" at NYWC Atlanta. There's still time to join us! Visit for more info...

By Jacob Eckeberger on November 02 2014 | 0 Comments

Trending This Week (Oct 31)

By Jacob Eckeberger on October 30 2014 | 0 Comments

Every Friday we pull our favorite links from across the inter-webs. This week's trending links include some ideas for ministering to changing families, encouragement for parents, a reminder about keeping our commitments, a message for struggling youth ministers, and plenty of fuel for your procrastination. 

Blogs From This Week

Archie Honrado (@ArchieHonrado) wrote from his perspective on "Contemplative Prayer" - CLICK TO VIEW

Joe Garrison (@JoeGGarrison) shared some practical ways for "Encouraging Students to Know and Share Their Personal Faith Story" - CLICK TO VIEW

Blogs From Other Great Youth Workers This Week

Jason Sansbury (@JasonSansbury) and Sara Palm co-authored a great post on "Ministering to Changing Families" - CLICK TO VIEW

Kami Gilmour (@KamiGilmour) wrote a great forwardable post for the parents of your students: "The Parenting Secret I Learned at a Parent Teacher Conference" - CLICK TO VIEW

Michael Hyatt (@MichaelHyatt) shared a great reminder of why it's important to follow through on your commitments: "Why Keeping Your Commitments is Critical to Your Influence" - CLICK TO VIEW

John Pond over at Rooted Ministry (@rootedministry) wrote this encouraging post: "5 Things to Say to Parents Who Feel Helpless" - CLICK TO VIEW

Andy Blanks (@AndyBlanks) passed along more encouragement if you find yourself struggling right now: "A Brief Message To Youth Ministers Who Are Struggling" - CLICK TO VIEW

Fun Things To Fuel Your Procrastination

Jim Carrey spoofs Matthew McConaughey’s Lincoln car commercial - CLICK TO VIEW

OK Go kills it with another amazing music video - CLICK TO VIEW

The Skit Guys share a very scary laugh - CLICK TO VIEW

Guy Fieri Eating in Slow Motion to “Killing Me Softly” - CLICK TO VIEW

‘Age of Ultron’ Trailer, Celine Dion Edition: “My Ultron Will Go On” - CLICK TO VIEW

By Jacob Eckeberger on October 30 2014 | 0 Comments

Contemplative Prayer

By Youth Specialties on October 28 2014 | 0 Comments

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

We're grateful for the original pic from MTSOFan.

At my first National Youth Workers Convention more than a decade ago, I was overwhelmed at the vast array of resources I saw at the convention lobby, books stacked up on top of each other looking like a Tower of Babel painting from an illustrated Bible. The Exhibit Hall was like a market except the exhibitors politely haggled their ideas unlike the medina hagglers in Casablanca (plus they give you free samples and you can maybe win a raffle prize—I didn’t). But, most of the freebies I received from different youth ministries were left untouched in my office.

What I did take away happened in a restful, contemplative mini-retreat in one of the afternoon workshop sessions.

It was more my style, something similar to what we were doing in our home youth group. Over the years, that more minimalist approach has continued to evolve as I explore and study the Christian contemplative spiritual practices.

What seemed like a lack of resources at my church growing up formed in me, albeit unintentionally, a pseudo-desert spirituality (if you can call it that). What then seemed like doing “nothing” was actually doing a great thing. It was minimalist, a “less is more” approach.

The mindset was that where there is less, there is more; where there is none, there is some.

The philosophy embraced the idea that whatever is in front of us is what we have and this is what we use. It was an inexhaustible and sustainable spirituality practice.

These contemplative, minimalist practices mirror the early Christians who fled to the desert hoping to escape the decadence and temptations of the city and be holy. They soon found out that they brought the city with them. Because escape was trickier than they imagined, they learned contemplative prayer practices like Prayer of the Heart and the Jesus Prayer to counter temptations that started in their thoughts. They tried to practice the presence of Jesus in whatever they were doing.

Imagine the boredom and dread the desert can bring and then picture the minds of young people today in the desert of existential dread without any tools to cope, without contemplative prayer practices that are powerful enough to fight the enemy. That dread would be able to grow in the emptiness of the soul. Students without these prayer tools are much more likely to succumb to spiritual ailments like acedia, ennui, depression, and suicide.

This pseudo-desert spirituality can be appealing for our youth today because its contemplative practices enable us to face the daily existential dread. When give them the right tools, we can teach them that wherever they are, they can find God—because wherever they are, God is. In a desert of the mind, they can find rest in God.

We need to train our youth today in the prayer tools that the early sesert fathers and monks used. Contemplative, apophatic prayers (wordless prayer) is beyond imagination, beyond words and beyond imagery. If we are to disciple our youth in off-beat, charismatic monastics, we need to go beyond the early contemplative prayer practices. We need to use lectio divina, centering prayer, prayer of examen, just to name to a few. As youth pastors, we need to cultivate the artist, mystic, curator, docent, guide, and soul companion in our students


Archie Honrado has been serving NYWC for the last nine years as a spiritual director, prayer chapel curator, and guide for the city prayer walks, and was a member of the YS Soul Shaper Board. Archie's ecumenical background gives him a distinct perspective on 21st century spirituality in North America. Archie has been a member of Youth With a Mission since 1984, and is currently a spiritual director for Urban Youth Workers Institute in Los Angeles. 

At NYWC Atlanta, Archie will be leading a guided city prayer walk, a discussion on praying with Victor Hugo and Les Miserables, and praying with Vincent Van Gogh. There's still time to join us! Visit for more info.

By Youth Specialties on October 28 2014 | 0 Comments

Encouraging Students to Know and Share Their Personal Faith Story

By Youth Specialties on October 26 2014 | 2 Comments

We are thankful to have been introduced to so many incredible youth workers that lead students to find and follow Jesus. The post below is by one of those youth workers, Joe Garrison.

We are grateful for the original pic from Alexandre Dulaunoy.

Often people wonder, and even stress over, the question of, “How do I make disciples of Jesus Christ?” It can be a daunting question for many believers and can often be paralyzing to a teenager charged with the task of making disciples in his or her school. The good news (ha, Jesus joke) is that it is NOT THAT HARD. All you have to do is simply know your Personal Faith Story.

Everyone has a personal faith story. At one point you didn’t know Jesus, something happened that introduced you to Jesus, then you were different. It’s really that simple. For some people the story is, “I was driving my car 100 miles per hour, wrecked, flipped it 10 times, my life went in to a downward spiral, I got addicted to ‘skittles’ and met Jesus when I OD’d and walked toward the white light.” For others of us the story is, “I grew up in church, met Jesus early on and have been trying to live for him ever since.”

Both stories are important and effective.

Over the last couple of years a friend introduced Steph (our Director of Student Ministries) and me to the T4T (training for trainers) disciple making process. While we don’t use the full process we do use three simple questions it provides to assist and encourage students to know, and share, their personal faith story. Although, sometimes it can be difficult for us to verbalize our story in a concise and effective way. We encourage students to be able to share their personal faith story in 2-4 minutes when the opportunity presents itself. We do this by asking students to be able to answer these three questions…

1. What was your life like before you trusted in Jesus?

2. What happened that led you to trust in Jesus?

3. How is your life different now that you have placed your trust in Jesus?

The idea is that students would be authentic and sincere in answering these questions as well as be able to talk about them passionately. If your life wasn’t a train wreck before you knew Jesus, don’t act like it was to impress someone. On the other end, don’t act like your life is perfect now that you know Jesus, it’s not.

Peter tells us to “always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in YOU” (1 Peter 3:15-16). Peter isn’t telling you to give a reason SOMEONE ELSE should believe in Jesus. He is telling you to give a reason why YOU believe in Jesus. If Jesus has truly changed your life then that will be enough for Him to use to change someone else’s life.

Help students to know their personal faith stories. Help them be able to share it briefly, concisely, and passionately. The Holy Spirit will do the rest and they will be sharing their stories with their friends and peers within their schools before you know it!

Joe Garrison is the Assistant Director of Student Ministries at Castleton UMC and blogs at You can find him on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook



Youth Specialties’ student discipleship event, PlanetWisdom, will also be helping students share (and go deeper in) their own faith. Check out to learn more.

By Youth Specialties on October 26 2014 | 2 Comments

Trending This Week (Oct 24)

By Jacob Eckeberger on October 23 2014 | 0 Comments

Every Friday we pull our favorite links from across the inter-webs. This week's trending links include a discussion about mentoring across genders, an interview with Andrew Root about his latest book "Bonhoeffer as Youth Worker", three thoughts on kids and conversion, we share one of our favorite hashtags from this last week, and plenty of fuel for your procrastination.

Blogs From This Week

Coby Cagle (@CobyCagle) passed along some great mission trip insight: "Questions That Will Help You Plan A Mission Trip" - CLICK TO VIEW

Jared Kirkwood (@JaredKirkwood) wrote a great companion post for his NYWC seminar: "Four Steps to Intentionally Develop Volunteer Leaders" - CLICK TO VIEW


Blogs From Other Great Youth Workers This Week

Brooklyn Lindsey (@BrooklynLindsey) shared some thoughts on mentoring across genders - CLICK TO VIEW

Arni Zachariassen from Theologues (@theologues) shared a great interview with Andrew Root about his new book: "Bonhoeffer as Youth Worker: A Theological Vision for Discipleship and Life Together" - CLICK TO VIEW

The folks at Next Generation Journal (@NxtGenJournal) wrote this thought provoking post: "Can Kids REALLY Leave the Faith After High School? 3 Thoughts On Kids and Conversion" - CLICK TO VIEW

Terry Linhart (@TerryLinhart) pointed us to this great reminder for anyone in any form of leadership: "Leaders Focus Relentlessly" - CLICK TO VIEW

CPYU (@CPYU) passed along a look at how students are effected by a lack of sleep: "Hard Lesson in Sleep for Teenagers" - CLICK TO VIEW

#Hashtag To Review

Here's one of our favorite #hashtags from this week. There is a ton of great insight behind each tweet. We pulled the twitter search and made it clickable so you can easily view and scroll through all the youth worker wisdom in 140 characters or less. 

#AYME - CLICK TO VIEW : The Association of Youth Ministry Educators gathered last weekend and there was crazy amounts of wisdom flowing from that hashtag.

Fun Things To Fuel Your Procrastination

Steve Taylor pays people to listen to his music and most of them like it… sort of - CLICK TO VIEW

There’s a kickstarter for the worlds first actual hoverboard - CLICK TO VIEW

LEGO The Hobbit in 72 seconds - CLICK TO VIEW

The simulator game “I Am Bread” is proof that there is a point when you need to stop playing video games and go outside - CLICK TO VIEW

IKEA’s Halloween commercial is pretty awesome and cute - CLICK TO VIEW

By Jacob Eckeberger on October 23 2014 | 0 Comments

Four Steps to Intentionally Develop Volunteer Leaders

By Youth Specialties on October 21 2014 | 0 Comments

Jared Kirkwood taught a great seminar at NYWC Sacramento called "The Farm League: Intentionally Developing Leaders" (check out the audio for it HERE) and he wrote the following post as a quick-look at some of the ideas he covered.

We are grateful for the original pic from Drew Herron.

I spent my high school years in Las Vegas. One of the unique things about that city is that it doesn’t have a professional sports team. So, being the avid baseball fans that my friends and I were, we were forced to root for the Las Vegas Stars (now the 51s). While the minor league’s level of play was not nearly that of MLB, the games taught me a lot about the intentional development of people because the Stars were a feeder team to the Dodgers and Diamondbacks. At every game, my friends and I felt like we were on the front edge of someone’s career!

The kind of development that I observed from the Stars has stuck with me, and in my current youth ministry calling, I wonder: When we consider the great vision and mission of the church, why would we consider our opportunity to develop volunteers any different?

Volunteer leader development does not happen by accident. We must intentionally develop the key leaders that God has placed in our midst to give ourselves the best chance at making an impact in our cities, local schools, or neighborhoods in the name of Jesus. We must coach, mentor, and develop our volunteer “teammates” in a strategic way.

With that in mind, I’ve come up with a way to think about building our teams, in 4 simple steps: identify, discover, equip and empower.


The battle is won or lost in the selection process. This means if you identify the best people, the rest of the journey is an absolute joy to watch as volunteers step into the calling God has placed on their lives. If you’re less tuned in to the people you choose, there is a good chance that you will be exhausted and the rest of your team will be dragged down with them.

But who are the “right” volunteers for you? They’re called by God, fit your church and team, and will live out your church’s values.


There is nothing greater than serving God out of our gifts and passion. When you’re looking for the best volunteers for your ministry, take time in the interview to ask them, “When you wake up in the morning, what gets you excited? When you lie awake at night, what are you dissatisfied with? And what life experiences have made you who you are today?”

Great leaders call others to serve from their identity in Christ, one that has been formed from their gifts, passion, and life experience. When we pause to look for this kind of self-awareness, we not only gain lifelong volunteers, but we also create a ministry where exponential life change is taking place.


In order for your volunteers to do what you need them to do, what do they need to know and who do you need them to be? Clearly there is a skill and task conversation that needs to take place, but I am more interested in equipping our volunteers to be core contributors to the culture we’re creating in student ministries. Leadership is doing and being, so we must teach our teams to live out our cultural values on a daily basis.

Simply put: The culture you create with your volunteer team will overflow into your student’s lives.


The difficult task of releasing ministry to key volunteers brings out our greatest fear: If I let go, I won’t be needed anymore. This scarcity mindset will drastically limit the amount of life change your ministry will see. If you have adequately walked the long, relational road of volunteer leader development, releasing the ministry to your team is the greatest gift you could ever give them.


Here are some practical steps to help you in each component.

Identify: Memorize your vision, mission, and values so that you know a key volunteer when you see them. Create a recruitment strategy to reach new people beyond your network.

Discover: Sit down with each of your current volunteer team members and ask the questions listed above. Watch how they light up at the interest you are taking in them. Now, how can you tap into that passion for the ministry?

Equip: List out the skills necessary for a leader to be on your team and then the culture you hope to create in your ministry. What culture are you creating and allowing?

Empower: Who are the 1 or 2 people on your team who you could hand over significant pieces of the ministry to right now? What’s stopping you?

The healthiest version of your youth ministry is one that can thrive beyond you. This process of leader development about recognizing that our ministry is not built on us, but on the team Jesus has called for such a time as this. Leadership is people development. When we choose to intentionally develop our volunteers, we will see significant impact in the people we serve.

What are you doing to ensure life-changing ministry is taking place through your volunteers long after you are gone?

Jared Kirkwood has been in full-time youth ministry for 10 years and is the high school pastor at Mariners Church in Irvine, CA. He holds a Master’s of the Arts in Global Leadership from Fuller Seminary, teaches about leadership wherever he can, and oversees the program development of the Mariners Church Leadership Pipeline. Check out more of his blog posts at and download the audio from his NYWC Seminar, "The Farm League: Intentionally Developing Leaders" HERE.


 Hear more speakers just like Jared at the National Youth Workers Convention in Atlanta! There's still time to join us!



By Youth Specialties on October 21 2014 | 0 Comments

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