Youth Specialties Blog

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

Trending This Week (Nov 7)

By Jacob Eckeberger on November 06 2014 | 0 Comments

Every Friday we pull our favorite links from across the inter-webs. This week's trending links include how we can learn from disappointment, an interview with Taylor Swift, doing youth ministry with the most exhausted generation in history, the number one reason why teens keep their faith, and plenty of fuel for your procrastination. 

Blogs From This Week

Len Kageler wrote a great post connected to his NYWC Atlanta Seminar on "What Can Muslim Youth Work Teach Us?" - CLICK TO VIEW

Brian Aaby (@BrianAaby) shared some practical thoughts on "Assessing the Health of Your Ministry" - CLICK TO VIEW

Blogs From Other Great Youth Workers This Week

Andy Blanks (@AndyBlanks) shared some great encouragement: “How We Can Learn From Disappointment” - CLICK TO VIEW

The folks over at Fuller (@FullerFYI) pointed us toward an interesting read: "Anything That Connects: A Conversation with Taylor Swift" - CLICK TO VIEW

Aaron Helman (@AaronHelman) wrote some great thoughts in “How to do youth ministry with the most exhausted generation in history” - CLICK TO VIEW

David Briggs reminds us the incredible influence that parents have on students: “The No. 1 Reason Teens Keep the Faith as Young Adults” - CLICK TO VIEW

Indiana UMC (@inumcyouth) shared a great perspective on the important numbers in ministry: "Numbers that count" - CLICK TO VIEW

Fun Things To Fuel Your Procrastination

She really did tell him not to do it, but then he did it - CLICK TO VIEW

The best halloween costume ever - CLICK TO VIEW

A mad scientist cat goes to great lengths to be in a box - CLICK TO VIEW

Eating cereal out of a bathtub is dangerous for lots of reasons - CLICK TO VIEW

NASA wins every pumpkin carving contest ever - CLICK TO VIEW

By Jacob Eckeberger on November 06 2014 | 0 Comments

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

Page 2 of 296 pages  < 1 2 3 4 >  Last ›