So You Wanna Work at a Mega Church…

Whenever I interact with student ministry workers from other churches the inevitable question awkwardly slips out, “So…how big is your youth group?”  When I answer, some people get this wanting look in their eyes as if I am describing what it was like to eat Filet Mignon at a restaurant they’ll never be able to afford.  I know exactly what this is about.  I used to have mega-church envy myself.  Those flashing lights, the stage sets and ginormous crowds mesmerized me.  Then God smiled upon me and scored me a job at a mega-church.  At least, that’s how my thinking went at the time.  Now I understand that student ministry is student ministry and there are a fantastic and lame things about working in a small or large environment.  Here’s a little of what I’ve learned.


Working Directly With Students

As a student pastor in a smaller church I constantly interacted directly with students.  I love students.  I love learning about their world and doing my best to counsel and mentor them toward Jesus.  Working in a small church, this was my primary role.

As a student pastor in a mega-church my role changed dramatically.  My direct interactions with students dropped sharply.  I discovered that in a mega church environment students want to hang out with their small group leader instead of me.  I went from being extremely sought after to “that weird guy in the announcement videos.”


Working on a Team

In a smaller church, my student ministry staff (me and…me) always loved my ideas and were quick to support and implement them.  Sure we occasionally made bad decisions but we were able to implement our ideas quickly.

One of the first things I discovered about working within a student ministry team is that people don’t always love my ideas.  In fact, sometimes they hate them.  In a mega church with multiple staff I have to do really annoying things like defend my ideas and demonstrate why new programs or events are good ideas.  I hate this sort of thing.  When will everyone realize that I’m a genius and just blindly follow me?


Variety vs. Specialization

I get bored easily.  I love having multiple projects spinning at once so that when I lose interest in what I am doing  I can jump to another project.  As a student pastor in a smaller church, I was responsible for just about everything.  I was the teacher, strategist, planner, worship leader, mentor, volunteer coordinator…those of you who work in a smaller environment know exactly what I’m talking about.  I loved the variety.

In a large student ministry, there are experts who work in each realm of ministry and I only get to do one or two.  And by experts, I mean that they possess far more knowledge and skill than me.  I have become much more proficient in my areas of responsibility because of my work experience on a team of experts but sometimes I get bored.


The Spotlight 

In a smaller church you are “the” youth pastor or at least the middle school or high school pastor.  In other words, you are in the spotlight.  When things go well people love you.  When things go wrong you’ve got some explaining to do…at the board meeting.

As part of a student ministry team in a mega-church, the spotlight doesn’t often find me.  When things go wrong, the team often shares the blame.   Conversely, when something goes well in our ministry the person who gets credit is typically my boss.  Honestly, most people in our congregation don’t have a clue who I am.

So that’s a taste of what it’s like to work in a smaller church and a mega-church. Student ministry is student ministry.  There are pros and cons to smaller and larger environments.  Feel free to add to my list.


image credited to cubedude27

Life Lessons from 80s TV

I’ll tell you right now that TV is not what it used to be—particularly in the realm of kid’s shows.  When I was a kid in the early 80s, the TV show options for a little boy were phenomenal.  First off, The Muppet show was the best.   Need I mention Fragglerock?  Or how about the original Transformers?  There has never been a better television sound than Optimus Prime transforming.  The second best thing about the original Transformers?  There was no Megan Fox.

I also submit to you G.I. Joe.  There is no explanation needed here.  And, of course, He-Man.  “By the Power of Grey Skull!”  I wasn’t allowed to watch that one because of the magic which made it even more compelling.


All those shows were fantastic but now it’s time to enter the upper tier of 80s TV.  I would argue that the original A-Team was one of the best shows ever or how about the Thundercats—legendary.  But of course, the best animated show of the early 80s was Voltron.   OK, truthfully I’m not sure if it was the best show of the 80s but I want to make a point about community using the concept of the show.  We can finish the argument later about what was the best show.  For now, just stay with me.

Voltron, if you were born in a cave, was the combination of 5 different Lion robots.  When things escalated quickly, the 5 different robots could combine into Voltron which was, of course, the best part of every episode.

There is something that I just love about this concept.  Alone, the different robots were vulnerable and in one case, a pilot of one of the lions was killed, but combined no one could defeat Voltron.  He was a boss.


There is something about interdependence that rankles me.  I want to stand on my own two feet.  I want to be my own man and I don’t want to rely on other people.  I think it has a little to do with being a man and a lot to do with being an American.  We value fierce independence.   Needing help is a sign of weakness.

And yet, I know I have been created for community.  Community requires mutual submission.  I am made in the image of God—who exists in community.  Without interdependence I will never be the person God dreams that I could be.

I constantly feel this tension.  When I am struggling, my instincts tell me to keep it inside.  Sharing my weaknesses and needs with others feels like a trip to the dentist.  I’ve come to believe that this isn’t strength.  It’s the pull of sin.  It’s the work of darkness to keep me in a place of vulnerability to evil.  When I am alone, I am susceptible to temptation and incredible selfish.

This is the lesson of Voltron in my life.  A silly illustration I know.  And yet, when I am alone, when I refuse interdependence, I am vulnerable.  I am easily defeated.   When I submit myself to community I become stronger.  I am less vulnerable to selfishness, temptation and poor thinking.

We have been created for community.  Our instincts tell us otherwise but then again, since when has trusting our hearts been a good idea?


Actually, maybe Alf was the best show of the 80s.  Or maybe  it was Knight Rider.


image credited to Shaun Wong

The Truth About Cilantro

Recently, I was out for dinner with friends.  After hours of laughter and fun, I returned home and much to my chagrin, found a ginormous piece of green, slimy cilantro in my teeth.   I’m not talking about a speck either.  I’m talking about the entire leaf.  Immediately, my mind flashed back to all the laughter and smiles and I realized that I’d been sporting my little green friend all night.  I was mortified and quickly angry.  “Why didn’t anyone tell me!”

I submit to you that a true friend discreetly points out the cilantro with a sly finger picking motion.  This is a universal nonverbal that is understood across cultures.  Quickly and quietly make eye contact and pick at your own teeth.  Your friend will quickly realize that you are a good Samaritan attempting to rescue them from social awkwardness.   Once the picking begins you may correct your friend with a whispered “no, the left-side,” and you’re on your way.  No harm.  No foul.

But in my situation, I was left out in the cold.  I was probably the subject of concerned conversation in the car on the way home.  “Did you see Aaron’s teeth?  Does he even brush?”

Here’s the thing, I can’t see my teeth!  I’m not a girl.  I don’t carry one of those pocket mirror thingies.  I’m at the mercy of my friends to point out my blind spot.

The same reality exists in the important parts of life too.  There are aspects of life in which we have blind spots.  We’re so enamored with her that we can’t see that she might not be good for us.  We’re so obsessed with getting that thing, achievement or promotion that we can’t see how that thing, achievement or promotion is quickly becoming a god to us.  We’ve become so depressed that we can’t see the good in life through the emotional darkness and gloom.

There are times that I need you to tell me the truth.  I need you to point out the cilantro in my teeth because I can’t see it.  In the same way, I need you to tell me the true about her, that thing, or how I feel.

We need each other.  We need community because we have blind spots.  We each need people who don’t mind having that awkward conversation.  “Sorry if this is weird but you have a ginormous piece of green cilantro in your teeth and I would hate for you to laugh it up all night with that vegetation stuck in your grill.”  Or, “Sorry if this is weird, I know you really like her but I have some concerns about her character and where this is going.”

Do you have people in your life who speak the truth?  Are you open to hearing the truth?  This is community.  We were created for it and when we try to live without it we can’t grow into the people that God desires for us to be.


image credited to looseends

Don’t Be a Radagast

Sometimes it’s the details that matter.  There’s this little detail in the 2nd chapter of Genesis that reveals an important reality about being human.  In the 1st chapter, God repeats over and over, after every day of creation, that what He has made is good.  Everything is perfect and wonderful.  And then, in the next chapter we hear about something being not good.

You see, Adam had just finished naming all of the animals.  Based on how many species of animals exist, or did exist, this probably took an incredibly long time.  I love what the writer of Genesis says about this process:

“But for Adam no suitable helper was found.”

Either Adam was trying to hang out with the hippos or he noticed that every other species had a female counterpart while he was alone.  He spent a really long day or perhaps 100 years expecting to find a girl hiding behind the next tree.

Whatever the case, God made a declaration:

“It’s not good for the man to be alone.”

This has nothing to do with sin either because that comes in the next chapter.  It has to do with community.

The author of Genesis tells us that humans are created in God’s image.  This means that we reflect his nature.  God exists in relationship—Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Community is at the heart of God’s nature and therefore at the heart of what it means to be human.

We need each other.  There is something core to the nature of humanity that requires deep relationships.  When we try to go solo, we go against the nature of how things are—against the created order.

You will never be what you ought to be without community.  There is a very real sense in which ignoring this basic human will make you weird.

I love the Lord of the Rings trilogy.   The characters are incredibly fascinating.  There is a very odd character in newest Hobbit movie called Radagast the Brown.  He’s straight weird.  He travels by a rabbit pulled sleigh.  He talks to birds and dresses worse than Lady Gaga.

He’s weird because he’s been living alone in the woods for years.  He’s a hermit.  He’s ignored the pull of community and he’s ended up weird.

Don’t end up weird.  I mean that in the nicest way possible.  But there is a serious point here, you were created for relationships.  You’ll never be the person God intends for you to be if you try to go solo.  You were created in God’s image and God exists in perfect community.

If you want to grow this year, if you want to become the person God created you to be, you need to let people into your life.  You need to be honest.  You need accountability, laughter, sympathy, conflict and everything else that comes with authentic relationships.  Without these things…you’ll be a Radagast.


image from The Hobbit

Introducing the LifeLine Team

I am pumped to announce that the LifeLine Team is complete.  It took us quite a while to hire everyone but the work has been worth the effort.  Our team is set and I’m confident that God has brought us the right people.  Here’s our announcement video from this past week which unveils our team.


Announcements / September 15 & 18 from LifeLine Student Ministries on Vimeo.

The verdict is still out on the pronunciation of “Chipotle” but if you’re curious, here is what we all do:

LifeLine @ the Kentwood Campus

  • Jon VerLee, Campus Youth Pastor
  • Jason Magnusun, Middle School

LifeLine @ the Knapp Street Campus

  • Kirk Bierens, High School
  • Steve Carigon, Middle School

LifeLine @ the Cascade Campus

  • Tom Skilling, High School Groups
  • Jake Houf, Middle School Groups
  • Elisa Talmage, Female Small Groups
  • Christian Stevens, LifeLine Weekends

LifeLine Central Support

  • Al Shepard, Production
  • Molly Rayman, LifeLine Admin
  • Jon Grunden, Middle School Director
  • Aaron Buer, High School Director

Winning at Dating | Happily Married

Most people seem to think that someday they’ll end up happily married.  However, when you look around the neighborhood and think about divorce statistics, it seems that most people aren’t exactly happy in marriage.  If anything, most people are begrudgingly married or formerly married–or in some cases, both.  That doesn’t sound fun at all.

I happen to think that the way you date has a lot to do with how happily you’ll be married.  If you are smart at dating, you’ll likely be smart at marriage.  Let’s be honest, marriage isn’t rocket science.  The trouble is the habits and baggage that you bring into marriage—and there’s that whole thing of that other person and all the habits and baggage they bring into the game.

This week, I’ve been blogging about how to win at dating–self image and boundaries.  I want to end this series by talking about the end result of dating.  Specifically, how do you marry the right person?


I love the lyric of the Counting Crows song from Shrek, “We’re accidentally in love.”  That’s exactly how falling in love works.  It’s an accident.  No one can plan it.

The first thing about finding the right person that you need to understand is that it will likely start with accidentally falling in love.   Unless of course you’re some sort of all-star who has loved the same girl since Kindergarten and always known that she is the one.  If that’s you, go ahead and stop reading.


For the rest of us, you will most likely accidentally fall in love with someone that you are friends with.  In my experience, love at first sight is pretty rare.  It’s far more likely that you’ll realize one day that Jane, who you’ve been hanging out with for a few months, is very attractive and fun.  “Wait a second, I’m falling for Jane!”  Love usually requires a little time and proximity to develop.  Also, friendships provide time and space for observing a person’s true character.

Because of this, it’s important to hang out with good people.  Why?  Because you might end up married to one of them.  Life is a path.  Where you end up is directly related to the everyday decisions you make.  Choose your friends wisely.

I previously wrote about this concept here.  The idea is this:  if you want good coffee, don’t go to Denny’s


As I’ve mentioned before, many people are so desperate for attention and affection that they make terrible decisions about who to date.  Here’s the thing: dating relationships evolve.  They usually begin as fairly casual and fun and then over time they sometimes develop into something more—like a wedding.

Let me explain it this way:  I had 5 serious dating relationships in high school and college.  One of these dating relationships (by far the best one…if my wife is reading!) ended in marriage.  In an odd way, that means that each relationship stood a 20% chance of ending in marriage.  That is a little scary.

I bring this up to say that each serious dating relationship that you end up in has a decent chance of ending in marriage.  So, who you choose to date is very important.  If you don’t want to end up married to a guy who                     .  Don’t date a guy who                          .  Feel free to insert whatever deplorable thing you can’t stand in the blank.

It amazes me when people date someone they say they would never marry because they could very likely end up married to that person.  My advice, only date people who you think are marriage material.  It’s a better and safer approach to dating.


image credited to Nathalie Orengo

Winning at Dating | Boundaries

Dating without establishing boundaries is something like driving on icy mountain roads without guardrails.  It’s dangerous and rather dumb.  Most people who find themselves beyond their boundaries realize their mistake far too late because they never verbalized them in the first place.

This week I am blogging about dating—specifically, how to win at dating.  One of the smartest things you can do to win at dating is to establish and maintain boundaries in three different areas.


When it comes to boundaries, people typically talk about sex.  However, sex is not the only boundary worth talking about.  In fact, for girls in particular, crossing emotional boundaries can be just as painful as physical ones.

Women, I’ve discovered, are incredibly emotional creatures.  I’m convinced that girls experience emotions that I don’t even know about.  I only have 4 emotions—mad, love, happy and hungry.  Is hungry an emotion?  Nevermind.

Anyway, there are words and phrases that can send a girl’s heart into orbit.  Some guys know exactly what these words and phrases are and use them to get what they want.  In other cases it can be the exact opposite.  Some of us are just wired to emotionally respond in powerful ways.

The key, in dating, is to understand how we are wired and to place boundaries around emotional connectedness.  Be careful how you use the “L” word.  Be careful about making promises that you aren’t sure you can keep.  You may be playing around and the person you are dating might be dead serious.

The best approach is to be honest with each other about your expectations before things get emotionally heated.


If you’re a follower of Jesus, then there should be boundaries around your sexuality.  I happen to believe that God designed sex for marriage and any experience of sex outside of God’s design will burn you and the person you are with.

If your desire is to save your sexuality for your future spouse then you have to be clear about this with the person you are dating.  Most followers of Jesus who have premarital sex do so accidentally.  They never verbalized their boundaries.  If you don’t tell the person you are dating that you don’t want to have sex, chances are he doesn’t know.

One of the smartest things you can do is to clearly state your boundaries in the early stages of a dating relationship.  If the person you are dating doesn’t respect your boundaries and pushes you to jump the fence then dump him because if he doesn’t respect your boundaries now, he probably never will.


Speaking of respect, one of the boundaries that Christians often neglect is just that…respect.  It is heartbreaking to watch what some people put up with.  If she constantly degrades you and beats you down verbally, ditch her!  Don’t you realize how valuable you are?  If he threatens you in any way, dump him!  Don’t you know that you are a treasured daughter of the King?  You are already loved more than you can imagine.

The danger in tolerating bad treatment is that it starts to mess with you mind.  You begin to believe that you aren’t valuable and that you deserve to be treated like you are worthless.  Do not buy into this lie.

You deserve to be treated with respect.  You are created in the image of God.  You are valuable enough to God that He sacrificed His own Son to rescue you.  You need to respect yourself by demanding that the person you are dating treats you with kindness and dignity.


image credited to Arthur van Beveren

How to Win at Dating

Dating is fun.  Except when it’s not—like when your heart gets broken or when you find yourself 6 months into a relationship you never really wanted or when you’ve crossed a line you never wanted to cross and now you’re full of regret.

So, how do you win at dating?  How do you survive without scars and how do you end up happily married?  Isn’t that what dating is for anyway?  I have a few ideas.


I have a confession to make.  Sometimes, I listen to country music.  Gasp!  I know.  Sorry.  Anyway, in the rare moments that I listen to country music (like once a year, I swear!), I sometimes listen to The Band Perry.  They have a funny song called, “I’m a Keeper” in which Kimberly Perry goes on and on about how she is a keeper—she’s worth the effort.

Sadly, I don’t think many people who are dating actually believe that they are a keeper.  I believe that this is crucial component to winning at dating.  If you don’t think that you’re valuable then you’ll be willing to accept being treated in unloving and sometimes even abusive ways.  Sadly, this is an easy trap for girls to fall into—especially if you’ve had relational issues with your dad or have been mistreated by guys in the past.

I would implore you, if you are struggling in the realm of self-image and value, take some time and build your identity.  Uncover what makes you valuable.   Here is a foundation to start from:

  • God created you.  He made you exactly how you are on purpose.  The Bible describes the way He made you as “knitting you together.”  You aren’t an accident.  You aren’t a product of chance.  In fact, God considers you a prized piece of artwork.
  • God has been pursuing you since before you were born.  His ambition is to know and be known by you.  The Gospel is all about giving Himself to you.  You are precious to Him.
  • Jesus valued you enough to sacrifice Himself to restore you to Him.  There is no greater expression of love.

God considers you “a keeper.”  Start thinking of yourself as one.  If you’d like to read more about what makes you valuable check this out:


Maybe your struggle is not with self-image.  Maybe your struggle is that you know you aren’t a keeper because of how you have treated people in the past.  One of the best sermons on dating I’ve ever heard was delivered by my friend Brady Nemmers.  His central question was, “Are you the person that the person you’re looking for is looking for?”  This is an incredibly awkward question but would you marry yourself?  I mean seriously, think about your qualities and weaknesses.  Would you want to end up with you?

One of the smartest things you can do to ensure that you win at dating is grow yourself.  If your character is weak, work on it—set up boundaries.  If you need to become financially independent, work hard and live frugally.  If you need to grow your faith, join a small group and attend start pursuing God on your own.

If you know that you struggle in some of these areas find a mentor, go see a counselor, or read a book.  Become the person that the person you are looking for is looking for.


Welcome Back to LifeLine!

It’s that time of year again.  LifeLine, our student ministry, is back in action.  We had a great kickoff week with close to 700 students and over 100 volunteers.  It was an absolute riot.  Here’s the announcement video we kicked the year off with.


Lifeline Welcome from LifeLine Student Ministries on Vimeo.

Also, we’ve started something new.  We’re posting our teachings to  Here’s my first teaching of the year: