Summer Projects

If your student ministry is like ours, you have ten billion things to do this summer.  There is fall planning, mission trips, camps, recruiting, curriculum writing, students to hang out with, volunteers to care for and develop and then something called a vacation.  I don’t know what that is but I’ve heard it’s nice.

All these projects are a little overwhelming.  If you’re like me, when the list of projects eclipses 10, my brain gets overloaded and I don’t know where to start.  Then…I do nothing.

This summer we’ve implemented 2 project management tools that have changed the game.  The first is Basecamp.



I have fallen in love with Basecamp.  It is a simple, online tool that has streamlined our workflow.  You can create projects, to-do lists, to-do lists within to-do lists, due dates, and assign people to manage to-do lists.  It has a calendar tool and works well with Outlook and Gmail.  We love it.  Here’s a screen shot of our Camp Lifeline project page:


The second tool that has made our lives better this summer is Creative Boards.  I bought 3 of their boards.  One functions as a “to-do” list of all our summer projects (white are planning for the fall and red are planning for our summer camp).  The second is a “doing” board and the last is a “done” board.

Every morning our team meets for 15 minutes.  Each team member reports in on progress, what they are working on today and what they need from other team members to accomplish their task.  During their report, they move projects from the “to-do” to the “doing” board.  Here are a few pics…





Hopefully some of these ideas are helpful.  Enjoy your summer projects!

4 Things I’m Excited About

As some of you know, I recently returned from the Orange Conference in Atlanta.  This is my favorite conference in the world for student and children’s workers.  Every time I attend, I leave recharged, entertained, re-visioned and re-impassioned (I think I just made that word up).  But seriously, the Orange Conference is the best time of the year for me.  I want to tell you about 4 things I’m super excited about after attending OC15.


The First thing I excited about is the new XP3 Middle School Curriculum.  One of the areas where I have the most to learn is contextualizing curriculum in a developmentally appropriate way for middle school students.  The truth is that the middle school brain is not like a kid’s brain and it’s not like an adult’s brain.  It’s like, well…a middle school brain.

I’ve had the privilege of previewing some of the material and it’s pretty fantastic.  You can actually get it for 25% right now.  Check it out:  XP3MS



The theme of the Orange Conference this year was “It’s Just a Phase.”  The focus was on the different phases that kids walk through on their way from the crib to adulthood.  It was brilliant and I swear I didn’t cry at all thinking about my own kids growing up….not even a little.

The cool thing is that the theme is encapsulated in a new book which I absolutely love.  I’m serious.  If you are a parent, children’s worker, student ministry person or whatever, you gotta check out the It’s Just a Phase book.  It’s really great..and colorful because that’s important.

It's Just a Phase


OK, so maybe you didn’t get to go to the Orange Conference this year because you had a wedding to go to, couldn’t get off work, or maybe there was a big NASCAR race you couldn’t miss…wow, I hope that’s not the reason.  The good news is that the Orange Tour is coming.  I love the Orange Tour because it’s short and compact.  If you’re new to the Orange strategies and you’ve been hesitant to fly all the way to Atlanta and spend a week at the Orange Conference, come to the Orange Tour.  It’s only a day and you’ll experience what Orange is all about and decide whether it would be a good fit at your church.  Did I mention it’s $50 off right now?

I’m excited about the tour this year because Reggie will unpack the concepts of “It’s Just a Phase” a little more.  Also, I’ll be bringing my entire team to the Tour in Detroit so if you’re going to be there we should totally hang out!



The last thing I’m pumped about is the Orange Conference next year.  Yes, I’m already thinking about next year.  Here’s a little of what I’m excited about…

Great Communicators

Andy Stanley
Andy Stanley

Ridiculous Amounts of Fun


 Incredible Worship


Oh and a burger from this food truck…


I’m telling you, The Orange Conference is the best.  If you haven’t been, you should give it a shot next April.  And, if you’re going next year, look me up!  I’d love to hang out.

Why Great Leaders Are Like a 2 Year Old

Last week I got to be a stay at home dad with my four kids while my wife was in Florida cheering on her brother as he competed in his first Ironman.  The verdict is still out on which is harder:  an Ironman or solo-parenting 4 kids.  My hat is off to moms…that’s all I can say.

During my stint as Mr. Mom, I was reminded of a few things…

1. I’m not qualified to style my 7 year old daughter’s Rapunzel length hair.

2.  Potty training is harder than it looks.

3.  The best way to end a tantrum is to duplicate it.

4.  It’s really not that hard to eat an entire box of mac n’ cheese.

5.  2 year olds say “Cuz whhhhhy?” a lot

It is the 5th observation that has stuck with me.  My little 2 year old daughter is incredibly curious.  She wants to know everything.  How does that work?  Why do you do that?  Why is the sky blue?  Why are your teeth yellow?  Her thirst for knowledge is insatiable.  She has to know everything because she wants to be able to do everything.  She wants to do everything her big brothers and sisters do.  Her second favorite line is, “NO!  I DO IT!”  Usually, she is screaming it.  She has passion.  You have to give her that.

My point in sharing this is that I’ve noticed a striking similarity between great leaders and my 2 year old.  Great leaders, like a 2 year old, have an all-consuming vision of what they want to be, or what they want their organization to be.  This vision drives their behavior and their language.  For my daughter, it is being just like her older siblings.  She will do ANYTHING to make this possible.  For great leaders, the vision varies, but focusing on the vision is no less important.

Secondly, like a 2 year old, great leaders ask a ridiculous amount of questions.  My daughter knows she doesn’t know everything.  She unashamedly asks about everything.  Often, her questions make her sound pretty dumb, but she doesn’t care in the slightest.

“Daddy, where is Mommy?”

“She’s on an airplane.”

“Cuz whhhhhy?”

“She’s coming home.”

“Cuz whhhhhy?”

“Because she wants to see you”

“Cuz whhhhhy?”

“How about we take a break from asking questions.”

“NO!  I DO IT!”

Great leaders ask questions and genuinely listen because great leaders understand that they don’t know everything  The are inquisitive because they are so passionate about their vision.  Mediocre leaders already know.  They aren’t interested because they’ve already figured it out.  They are more interested in telling you what they already know and what you don’t know.

If you want to be a great leader, focus on clarifying your vision.  Who do you want to be?  What do you want your organization to be.  Let this vision drive you.  Secondly, ask bazillions of questions.  Never stop being inquisitive.  Never become such an expert that you already know everything.  The key to growth is constant learning and the key to constant learning is constantly asking questions.  Be like a 2 year old.



How to Take Your Student Ministry to the Next Level

If you’re like me, you’re never really satisfied.  It’s never quite good enough.  We want to be great.  We want to be part of something big.  When it comes to student ministry, we want to reach all the kids.  We want all the kids to be connected to life-changing community.  We have ever kid to have a mentor.  We want our ministry to be a powerful force for the kingdom in our communities. And so, we always ask:  What’s next?  How do we get to the next level?  How do we growth?  Become stronger?  Gain more influence?

I believe that for most of us, it comes down to one thing:  volunteers.  That’s right.  Whether you’re mega or mini, rural or urban, Methodist or Presbyterian, Sunday morning or Wednesday night, the answer most likely isn’t a better sound system, a youth building, more money, a new Mac, or believe it or not, better teaching (although that might be the second answer!)  The answer is an amazing team of volunteers.

We all know when we have a great volunteer.  They are your all-stars.  Their investment causes your student ministry to become exponentially more effective.  Their small group is the flagship of your ministry.  You wish all your other volunteers would lead and serve like they do.  In fact, you break out into a cold sweat when you think of losing them.  They are indispensable and invaluable.

These amazing volunteers are magnetic.  They are magnetic in the way they…

  • pull students deeper into the student ministry community through the way they love kids
  • pull students deeper into relationship with Jesus through the way they pursue Jesus
  • pull new volunteers into the ministry through the way they passionately share their experiences

Let’s dream for a minute.  What if, instead of having one or two of these magnetic volunteers, you had an entire team of them?  What if your entire volunteer team was a magnetic community?  How amazing would your student ministry be?

I believe this is a realistic and achievable dream.  We can and we must create a magnetic communities of volunteers.  It’s possible.  These communities are what will take our student ministries to the next level.

So, how do you build a magnetic volunteer community?  I’m glad you asked.  Stay tuned over the next  few days because I have a few ideas.

Dumb | Walk Away

Welcome to the final post of a series about the dumb stuff I’ve done in student ministry.  I hope it has been helpful.  This last post is painful for me.  Some of my posts have been humorous.  This one isn’t.  It is one of the great regrets of my life and ministry career.  My hope is that you’ll be able to avoid this mistake.

I need to tell you a story.  It’s a story that repeated itself during my first few years of ministry.  The names and situations changed but the narrative happened again and again.  I remember sitting at a coffee shop with a student as he revealed a destructive pattern in this life.  He opened up about his pain, the damage his sin was causing and the tension of the struggle.  I listened for a while and then began to share my plan for fixing the problem.  Over the next few weeks, we met three or four times.  During this time, he made no progress.  He didn’t implement any of my advice.  Then, I decided he didn’t really want to grow and change, so I stopped meeting with him because I needed to focus on students who would respond–who wanted to grow in their faith.  In other words, I wrote him off.  I walked away.

If I could only redo one thing in my ministry career it would the choice to walk away from students.  Why?  Because, at that point in my life, I completely misunderstood faith development in adolescents and what it means to be a spiritual mentor.

I want to share a couple images with you that describe the difference between how most of us assume spiritual development works in the life of a student and how it actually works in real life.  By the way, you should know that I stole this images from a breakout session at the SYMC conference back in the day.  If I remember correctly, Scott Rubin and Kurt Johnston were leading the session.

The first image describes the spiritual development trajectory we expect.  Over time, students gradually become more mature and their faith becomes deeper and more solid.  This is what we expect and what, many of us naturally believe will happen.


This second image describes what spiritual development actually looks like in the lives of most of the students we interact with.  It’s incredibly messy.

real growth

Some days they say something that makes you think they might be the next Billy Graham.  Some days they confess a porn addiction.  Some days they start a romance with another student in your ministry and everything gets awkward.  Some days their parents split up and their development goes into a free-fall (hence the line outside the box). Some days they try pot.  Some days they finally understand grace.  Some days they stop attending your youth group for months.  Some days they send you a thank you card years after leaving your ministry that makes you weep.

The truth is that discipleship is incredibly messy.   None of our growth trajectories are linear.  We’ve all been all over the map.  Why would we expect students, who are navigating the most dramatic changes a human experiences, to be any different?

If I could go back in time, I would grab my 23 year old self by the shoulders, shake myself vigorously and say, “Grace.  Patience.  Long-view.  Journey.”  Of all the mistakes and dumb things I’ve shared in this series, the one that breaks my heart is that I didn’t stay engaged with students.  I walked when I should have stepped closer.  I should have journeyed with them as they navigated painful and disorienting spaces.

I plead with you to stay engaged with your students in the mess of spiritual development.  When they blow it, speak the truth but love them.  When they do something great, celebrate them.  When they blow it again, don’t give up on them.  Don’t walk away from them.  They need you.


Walk away image credited to Manny Valdez via Flickr

Linear graph image credited to AJC via Flickr

Terrible looking scribble image credited to me