3 Ways to Help High School Seniors This Year

As we approach the fall, there is much that we can do to help our high school seniors transition well.  Here’s a post from earlier this summer with some ideas….


We’ve all seen the doomsday statistics about how many students are walking away from church and faith when the get into college.  If you’re like me you probably have a few names and faces that represent the numbers in those statistics.  What’s difficult is that while you’re spinning on the hamster wheel of weekly student ministry it can be difficult to think strategically about college transition.

The temptation is to become paralyzed by the hugeness of the problem.  Guilt and fear tells us that we need to restructure our entire ministry because everything we are doing apparently sucks.  This is a dirty lie.  The truth is most of what we are doing in student ministry is great for the long-term faith development of our students.  Instead of scrapping your entire structure consider tweaking your ministry.  What is one thing we can do differently to improve college transition?  Here are 3 suggestions of ways to tweak your approach to college transition.


Who am I?

Perhaps the biggest issue our students face as they graduate from our ministries is that they don’t know who they are.  They don’t have a cear picture of how God has designed them or what He might be calling them to.  Helping them make progress in this area can be a huge service to your students and maybe even save them a few thousand dollars in college tuition.

Maybe the way to tweak your ministry is to help your seniors discover a little about how God has wired them.  There is no need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to helping students understand who they are.  Currently, we are using Donald Miller’s Storyline as a template for our discussions.  Jon Acuff’s Start may be more geared for adults but it’s hilarious and insightful.  Finding Your Way is also another great resource that is specifically designed with this purpose in mind.


Senior Retreat

Maybe you don’t have time to create an additional program just for seniors but I bet you do have a weekend available somewhere during the year.  A retreat just for seniors is a great first step toward improving college transition.  It doesn’t have to be fancy.  Find a cabin or a lake house and spend the weekend helping them build a strategy for how to grow spiritually during their first year of college.  Our version of this is called Senior Sneak.  See what we did there with the two “S”s?  Genius.


Transition Mentors

Programs will never compare to relationships.  An entire year’s worth of transition curriculum isn’t worth much unless caring adults are pouring into the lives of your students.  Without mentoring relationships students will have trouble implementing the principles you are teaching.

Perhaps you’re too busy for either of my previous two suggestions.  That’s fine.  Delegate it.  Recruit other people to do it.  Find mature and caring adults who are willing to mentor students and turn them loose.  Even if you do have the time and resources to develop a college transition ministry, you should still pull in quality adults as mentors.  Inter-generational mentoring relationships are like a magic bullet against faith abandonment in college.

Faith abandonment in college is a huge problem but don’t let it paralyze you.  Instead of restructuring everything, simply take a step in the right direction.  For now, pick whatever suggestion sounds best.  If none of them sound good then invent your own.  Just take a step.






Protect Yourself From Your Own Ideas

What’s up?  I’m chilling on vacation in Northern Michigan.  Here are some thoughts from earlier this summer…


90% of my ideas are terrible.  No, for real.  They’re really bad.  What sucks is that I’m full of ideas.  I’m constantly dreaming up how to tweak or completely transform our approach to student ministry.  I generate so many bad ideas that my team often just tunes me out.  I get the courtesy, “That sounds cool” with a plastic smile.  Currently I’m doing my best to convince our team that what we need is a ginormous student building with 5 attached houses.  I’m telling you it’s the future—for so many reasons.  Someday when every church has a student building with 5 attached houses and our church missed the boat everyone will realize how innovative I am and promote me.

Here’s the thing about my ideas.  While 90% of them are terrible and following them they could lead to immediate dismissal, the loss of thousands of dollars and probable hospitalization, 10% of them are genius.  10% of my ideas could potentially change the world.  The trouble is that I can’t predict which ideas are in the 90% and which ideas are in the 10%.  You really don’t want to guess wrong because great ideas invent the Internet and bad ideas take you to a Nickleback concert.

My guess is that whether you realize it or not, you also have more bad than good ideas.  The thing is, if we could better discern the quality of our ideas we’d save ourselves and our teams a lot of grief.  Nothing is more demoralizing than when the team is chasing down an idea that everyone knows is a dead end.

The good news is that somewhere along the line I stopped implementing all of my bad ideas.  When?  What was the big moment?  It wasn’t a big moment but it was when my ideas were forced into community.  When my ideas are stuck spinning within my own head almost all of them sound fabulous.  However, when having to verbally explain and defend my ideas, 90% of them are revealed for what they are.  Dumb.  I know you’ve been there, when you realize that the words coming out of your mouth are exceeding illogical and you wish you never started talking in the first place—humbling.

Within the context of community (that is well intentioned debate over the validity of ideas) my 90% was revealed to be what they were and my life and ministry was protected from stupidity.  The unforeseen byproduct of submitting my ideas to community is that my good ideas were refined and became significantly more awesome.  “I like this idea that you call the Internets.  But what if we could connect our gaming systems and play each other?  And what if you took the “s” off it and just called it the Internet?”  GENUIS!  You might say that in the context of community my 10% became 90% better.  If you’re not strong at math I probably lost you right there.  I think I lost myself.

The point is, when you have the humility to submit your ideas to your community before implementing them you will uncover the fact that most of your ideas are terrible but a few of them are genius.  Failure is not the best way to learn.  Realizing that an idea is a failure before failing is a cleaner and less destructive way to learn.  The moral of the story is this:  if you don’t have an ideas community, get one!  Honest community will save you from your terrible ideas and help reveal and refine your great ones.

The Cost of Leadership

My boss, Brian, has a saying that goes like this:  “Leadership is a series of losses.”  Like usual, the first time I heard him say it, I had no idea what he was talking about.   But over time, I’ve come to see that he’s got a genius streak.  Let me explain.

A few months I ago I received a promotion.  I was given more oversight, more responsibility and new roles.  Of course, getting promoted is a good thing and feels very nice.  I also love the idea of providing vision and oversight to the ministry.  However, I’ve learned that promotions aren’t all smiles and sunshine.  In fact, I’ve been mourning this transition for a few weeks now.

You see, I’ve spent the last five years building things.  Some of these things I’m very proud of.  About 50 adult volunteers make our high school ministry what it is.  It’s been my privilege and responsibility to recruit, train and walk with these volunteers.  I was the one who interviewed them, chose their small group and helped them find their way in the early days of volunteering.

I care deeply about each one of them.  We’ve walked through some heavy stuff—student and family crisis, personal loss, feelings of inadequacy, and relational conflict.  I also feel a strong sense of pride in knowing that I’ve had a role in equipping them.  But, it’s no longer my role to equip them.  I am losing this role.  It’s time to hand it over to someone else.

Over the last 3 years, I’ve built a high school to college transition program that I love.  At the risk of sounding like a regular jackwagon, I’m incredibly proud of this ministry.  I love it because it’s unique and effective.  My greatest joy in ministry over the last 3 years has been watching graduates of our ministry thrive in college and adulthood.  Knowing I’ve had even a small role in their growth is very rewarding.  But, with my new position, I won’t be able to lead this program any longer.  I am losing this role.  It’s time to hand it over to someone else.

For the last 12 years, I have been leading worship in student ministries on a regular basis.  I absolutely love playing music and drawing students into the presence of God.  I can’t imagine not leading worship.  And yet, it’s no longer my job to lead.  I’m losing this role.  It’s time to hand it over to someone else.

Please understand that I’m very happy about my promotion and I’m excited and honored to lead our high school ministry.  I feel this is exactly where God wants me and I know that it’s right but I have to be honest about the cost of leadership.  It’s terribly painful to build something and then hand it over to someone else and trust them to do the work.  Leadership costs something.

Moving up in an organization always leads to greater leverage and lesser contact.  5 years ago I left behind the role of everyday contact with high school students.  It was a painful but ultimately good transition.  And now, as the leader of our high school ministry, I have been gifted with the leverage to direct the entire ministry and yet, I know I will have less contact with our students and volunteers and less contact with some of the roles and programs I have loved over the last few years.

In this way, leadership is a series of losses.  I must let go of what I love and learn to empower others to take what I have built and transform it into something that is uniquely theirs.  Have any of you had this experience?


Misunderstanding Love

In a decade of student ministry I’ve seen a lot of marriages.  To be honest, most of them aren’t very impressive.  Worse yet, many of them are on the rocks—couples staying together “for the kids” or out of religious guilt.

On top of this, we’ve all seen the statistics on divorce rates.  And, speaking as a youth pastor, there isn’t much out there that is more difficult for a kid to overcome than the divorce of her parents.  It doesn’t matter if she was 2 or is 19.  It’s terribly disorienting and leaves scars for years to come.

Sadly, there is a whole lot of bad marriage going on in our culture and in our churches.  I’m no marriage expert but I believe that the vast majority of poor marriages could be transformed into good marriages in about two weeks.  Let me explain how.


The funny thing about falling in love is that it just happens.  That’s why they call it “falling.”  It’s easy.  You don’t even have to try.  You just fall into it.

Falling in love is easy.  Staying in love is hard.  Unfortunately, most people think that the feelings associated with falling in love are what love actually is.  They aren’t.  In fact, love isn’t a feeling at all.  It’s something you do.  In the words on an old school DcTalk song, “Love is a verb.”


In John 13:34, Jesus issued his disciples a new directive.  “A new command I give you; Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.“  Jesus wasn’t asking his followers to feel anything.  He was asking them to do something.   He was asking them to love in the way that He loved—sacrificially.  In Ephesians 5, Paul called on husbands to “love your wives, just as Christ loved the church…”  Again, sacrificial love is what is being called for.

Often we hear couples on the verge of divorce say things like, “I just don’t love him anymore.”  Or, “We’ve fallen out of love.”  More than anything these statements are a misunderstanding of what love is.  Love isn’t an emotion.  Love is a choice.


One of the things I’ve learned over the 10+ years that I’ve been married is that feelings follow actions.  The feelings associated with falling in love won’t always be there in marriage but they will return regularly if you do the hard work of loving your spouse even when you don’t feel like it.

The trap that many couples fall into is refusing to love each other because they don’t feel the emotions of love.  This is a mistake because feelings follow actions.  If you wait for the feelings to return before serving your spouse you’ll probably wait forever.

If you are newly married or ever hope to be married, my prayer for you is that you’ll understand that love is action.  If you want a great marriage simply love your spouse regardless of how you feel.  It’s really as simple and difficult as that.   We have to be honest.  Marriage is hard but it’s very rewarding.

If your marriage is in trouble and you don’t feel anything remotely close to love for your spouse I would plead with you to simply do one thing over the next two weeks.  Love your spouse.  What I mean is, choose to love him.  Put her needs first.  Decide to serve him.  Take her out on a date.  Love is a verb.

In the majority of cases, expressing love to one another will transform your marriage.  It will breathe life into death and romance into boredom.  Follow the example of Jesus and love sacrificially.

Love is an action.  Instead of waiting for the emotions, simply start loving your spouse and watch what happens.

Photo Credited to lanier67

Burnout in 3 Easy Mistakes

Fresh out of college, I scored a killer job as a high school youth pastor at a church of 1,500.  I went hard.  I built an impressive senior high ministry.  Nearly everyone in the church was happy with my work.  And yet, five years later I was completely done.  Toast.  Burnt out.  How did I do it?  It really only took three mistakes…


My church hired me to do ministry, so that’s what I did.  I led worship, taught twice a week, counseled students, organized and led trips, events, and retreats and even kept the budget.  Along the way, I discovered that I’m pretty good at most of these skills.  Partly because it was the expectation of the church and partly because I’m a control freak, I continued to personally do everything for years.

I’m convinced that my biggest mistake was not empowering others to do the work of ministry.  I was terrible at developing and equipping volunteers.  My unwillingness to empower others for meaningful roles directly led to my burnout.


I came into ministry thinking that a full schedule of programs, events and trips was a sign of a healthy ministry.  I now believe the opposite.  My first student ministry consisted of three weekly programs, events twice a month, 2 retreats and 3 mission trips per year.  Maybe this would have been OK if I had delegated the leadership of a few of these elements to someone else…but I didn’t.  I planned, organized and led all of these things myself for 5 years.

Looking back I can’t believe I survived as long as I did.  I also can’t believe that someone didn’t pull me aside and say, “Slow down buckaroo!”  Either way, I kept an insane schedule for 5 years and then crashed.  I’ve learned that sustainability is a key concept for longevity.


I am convinced that many youth pastors burnout and become bitter because they mishandle conflict.

There have been times in my career in which I encountered conflict—not a shocker.  But here was my problem:    Instead of going directly to the people that I had issues with, I took my frustrations to my “bitter bubble”.  You know what I’m talking about—that safe place where you back up the dump truck of resentment and let it fly.

I felt like I was protecting work relationships and doing my church a favor by not introducing conflict but truthfully I was doing them and myself a huge disservice.

Conflict, when handled with maturity is always good.  It sharpens vision and actually builds trust and confidence.  Confrontation, handled well, is a gift that provides us with the opportunity to evaluate and grow.

Because I was afraid to handle conflict with confidence and maturity I became bitter—this is what happens in the bitter bubble.  Over time, this led to insurmountable misunderstanding and resentment that never should have existed in the first place.


So, if you want to stay in ministry for a good long while, I have 3 tips:

  1. Empower and delegate
  2. Stick to a sustainable schedule
  3. Be honest with your frustrations—do not participate in a bitter bubble!







A Dad’s Prayer

Dear Father,

May my kids never have to wonder if they are special.  Please enable me to love them so thoroughly and lavishly that they never feel the need to seek love in wrong or unhealthy places.  I pray that they would understand that they have been created beautiful, gifted and unique. 

You have repeatedly revealed to me how influential friends can be.  Please help my kids to find and choose good friends—friend who will lead them toward you instead of away.  I pray that they would find great peace and joy in friendships.  

I confess that I am particularly worried about boys.  There are so few quality boys and men in our culture.  Please bring a few good ones into my kids’ lives and protect them from the ones who would use them or lead them down destructive paths.

Wisdom is a rare commodity.  Like Solomon, I ask for it but in this case, not for me but rather for my kids.  May they become skilled in reading people’s intentions.  Give my children the ability to foresee how decisions will impact their future and may they possess the wisdom to choose the best paths.

In the midst of a busy life full of distractions, remind and help me to engage my kids.  I want to put them first.  Remind me to put down my phone and leave my work at the office.  May the way that I engage my kids always remind them of how valuable and important they are to me and by extension, You.

You have made each of my 4 kids incredibly unique. Teach me to become a student of my kids.  I want to help them discover who You have made them to be.  I want to dream for them and help them run after the purposes You have for them.  Reveal to me and then to them their passions and gifts.  I want nothing more than for my kids to live in that sweet spot of who You’ve made them to be combined with the mission You are pursuing in the world.    

I want to pray that You would keep my kid safe, but there is something I desire much more than safety.  I want their lives to matter.  Build into them a passionate and reckless faith.  Place a burning in their heart for injustice.  May the troubles of this world break their hearts to the degree that they can’t sit by and watch.  I want my kids to jump in and get messy.  And yet, my father’s heart pleads with You to protect them as they battle the injustice of this world.

Lastly, I pray that You would keep me close and devoted to my wife.  I desperately want a healthy family for my children.  I pray that our marriage would always be a source of strength and peace for my kids.  May they never have to wonder if we love each other or if we will stay together.

Your Son,


Why Happiness Doesn’t Make You Happy

We are seriously confused about happiness.  On the one hand, we have more opportunity for happiness in our society than every before.  For the most part, we can have anything we want almost anytime that we want.  And yet, our culture is seriously unhappy and discontent.  We’re never satisfied or content–with what we have, with our relationships, with achievement, with sex, basically anything.

It’s not just adults either, over the last decade that I’ve been involved in student ministry, I’ve noticed a sharp increase in students who are either depressed or very unhappy.  What’s the deal?  How can we be so unhappy when we have everything we could want or need?

I think it is because we fundamentally misunderstand happiness.  Popular psychology argues that happiness is attained when we get or achieve what we want.  Be who you want to be.  Get what you want.  Do what you want.  When you release yourself from pressures to conform and do your thing, then you’ll be happy.  Personally, I think this is a misunderstanding of human nature.  As I understand the Bible,I don’t think we shouldn’t trust our desires.

Two ancient verses from the Old Testament describe what I’m talking about:

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9)

There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death. (Proverbs 16:25)

Here’s a very basic interpretation:  Your heart is a liar and often when something seems very right it is very wrong.  In other words, contrary to popular belief, you can’t trust your gut and you shouldn’t follow your heart.  To put it bluntly, what you think will make you happy will often leave you empty or worse, break your heart.

Happiness is elusive because it moves.  Let me explain.  The year was 2002, the Xbox had just come out and I simply had to have one.  My Playstation had become utterly worthless to me.  So, I bought the Xbox and it was amazing.  Then, in 2005, Microsoft released the Xbox 360 and with one quick press announcement, my Xbox was dead to me.  I couldn’t play games on that worthless old piece of outdated technology.  I simply had to have the 360.  So, I went out and bought one and it was amazing.  And now, what will be released in a few short months?  The Xbox One.  And when I see my friends playing on it my 360 will become utterly worthless to me.

What I experienced with the Xbox applies to relationships, achievement, sex and anything else.  The girl I couldn’t break up with fast enough back in 10th grade was the same girl I just had to have 3 months earlier.  Happiness is elusive because it moves.

Here’s the truth:  constantly trying to keep yourself happy will never lead to true happiness.  You will experience flashes of happiness but then it will move.  You’ll constantly be chasing something you’ll never actually achieve.

Happiness isn’t really what you’re after anyway.  What you want is meaning.  You want to live a life that is meaningful.  Living a meaningful life unlocks joy.  Unlike happiness, joy doesn’t move because it isn’t dependent on external circumstances.

The Apostle Paul used the word “joy” constantly and he lived a pretty rough life.  He was beaten, imprisoned, stoned (from rocks not plants), shipwrecked and eventually murdered because he was a Jesus follower.  Yet, in the midst of all this pain he repeatedly wrote of being filled with joy.  How is this possible?

Paul experienced joy because he knew that he was desperately loved by his Creator and Savior.  He felt joy in the midst of abuse and pain because he knew that he was pouring his life out for something that really mattered–for something deeply meaningful.

Joy is possible when you have nothing, when you are rejected, when you are hurt and even when you are dying.  Joy is far superior to happiness.  Stop living for happiness because happiness won’t make you happy.  Give your life to something meaningful.





Introducing Our Newest LifeLine Staff

I have big news!  I am so excited to announce that we have hired Kirk Bierens as our Knapp Street High School Pastor.  I’m so pumped about this that I can barely contain myself.  Kirk and I have been friends for years.  I couldn’t be happier that he’s joining the LifeLine team.

For those of you who don’t know Kirk, I’d like to introduce you to him and share why I’m so excited that he’s joining the LifeLine team.  Here you go.


Fortunately for LifeLine, Kirk never exactly grew up.  When society told him to calm down, chill out and sit down in a lazy chair he went snowboarding.  He’s never slowed down and is still incredibly fun.  Earlier this summer, Kirk joined up as a cabin leader at Camp LifeLine and brought it strong.  His cabin was named “Kung-Fu Panda” and he showed up with a 6 ft. replica.  I’m pretty sure there was even a string that produced Jack Black’s voice attached to it.

Kung fu

After camp, when most of us were nearly in a coma, Kirk was going on about how he and his buddies were going to build a raft, float down the Grand River from Grand Rapids to Lake Michigan and then sink it in the big lake.  Who is this guy?

I love that Kirk is fun.  He’s got that crazy edge—He’ll do anything.  I’m sort of thinking of using him as a stuntman for our LifeLine videos.  I love bringing his kind of energy to the LifeLine team.  I never want to get stale or boring and I’m pretty sure Kirk is incapable of either.


the beard

Quite simply, you just have to fear the beard.  A few months ago, Kirk and his buddies registered for a trail marathon.  You have to be hard to run one of these.  It’s such a manly run that they decided to forgo shaving until after the run.  Respect.


As a friend, Kirk has always been incredibly generous to me and my family.  A few years back, my family went through what we now call “the year of poverty.”  It’s a long story but basically everything went wrong.  During this year, Kirk hooked me up with a moonlighting job in his painting business.  We painted a beauty school–no joke.  I’d work at the church until 4 or 5 and then paint with Kirk until 2am.  The thing is, I’m a terrible painter and I’m pretty sure he and his real crew had to fix my mistakes but his generosity during our time of need helped us get through a hard time.

Later that same year, he showed up at my house with a free washer and dryer that we still use.  Did I mention that he’s generous?


I love Kirk’s family.  He has one of those families that you just love to watch because their interactions are so authentic and loving.  I’ve heard him talk about the uniqueness of each of his kids and how’s he’s trying to draw out each of their passions and gifting in individualized ways.  He’s a great dad.

kirk fam 3

LifeLine is about family.  We want to resource and inspire parents toward greatness.  We recognize that we exist to partner with families.  Kirk brings a lot to the table in this area.  I know that he will be a great model and resource for the families of our Knapp Street Campus.

no beard


Kirk is not about Kirk.  I love this about him.  He once wore a simple white v-neck for about 2 years straight because he felt like fashion had become too important to him.  He just wants to follow Jesus, serve the church and his family and keep the spotlight on others. In fact, when he sees this post and how much I’ve highlighted his life and character, I’m pretty sure he’s going to want to fight me…privately, in a quiet place, because he wouldn’t want it to be a big deal.


I’ve already mentioned the life size Kung-Fu Panda.  Kirk is an artist, and a good one.  Here’s one of his paintings…yes, it’s a painting and not a photo.

kirk's painting

I’m excited to see how Kirk’s creative gifts will influence LifeLine.  And, I’m secretly hoping he’ll do a portrait of me for posterity.


Kirk is one of those rare guys who is dead serious about following Jesus.  He applied for this LifeLine job because he wanted to be obedient to how God was leading him.  A few years ago, after a deeply impactful mission trip to China, he and his family were ready to drop everything and move to China as missionaries.  And when I say ready, I mean they were inches away from moving across the globe when Molly, Kirk’s wife, became pregnant.  Change of plans.

I love that Kirk doesn’t hold anything back from Jesus.  Everything is in play.  Here’s the truth:  I want Kirk on the LifeLine team because I want my faith to look like his.  I want our students to live like Kirk does.  He follows Jesus passionately and recklessly.  He puts his time, money, talents, possessions, passions—his everything on the table.

Welcome to the team Kirk!  I’m looking forward to serving together.  Our team and ministry will be better and stronger with you on board.


What I’m Reading

I’m on vacation this week so I’ve been catching up on my favorite blogs.  Here’s a few posts that stuck out.


When it comes to youth culture, Walt Mueller is one of the best minds out there.  If you are a parent, his Center for Parent/Youth Understanding site is a great resource.  Also, I found his thoughts on the 2013 Teen Choice Awards is very insightful.


As for student ministry, Kurt Johnston at Saddleback is an absolute boss.  I love what he has to say here, especially about work-ethic among youth pastors.  This is something I’ve written about myself.  You can check out my post here.


Lastly, this post about church phrases by Chuck Bomar is fantastic.

In Case You Thought I Was Normal…

Part of what makes Camp LifeLine so outrageously fun are the program characters.  Our students love Chucky and Lucky, El Mattadore, Strawberry Sam and the rest.  If you’ve never seen these videos or characters you will think we’ve lost my minds…sorry about that.

By the way, if you knew me in high school or college, I assure you that I’m just as intelligent and popular as I was.

Camp 2013 Opener from LifeLine Student Ministries on Vimeo.

Camp LL 2013 | Wednesday Story from LifeLine Student Ministries on Vimeo.


Camp LL 2013 | Friday Story from LifeLine Student Ministries on Vimeo.