Where I Get Inspired

I have a confession.  I’m not much of an original thinker.  Gasp!  I know.  Recently, our church leadership team took part in a 3 day strategic off-site.  One of exercises we went through was something called the Thinking Wavelength.  This revealed that I’m not an “theorist.”  I don’t invent ideas.  Rather, I’m a “finder”, which means I’m good at discovering brilliant ideas and well…stealing them.  If the Thinking Wavelength sounds interesting, check out this link.

So, why am I telling you this?  Good question!  I think a lot of ministry leaders are “finders.”  We know a good idea when we run into it.  We easily understand what will work in our context and what won’t.  But, we probably aren’t going to invent the ideas ourselves.  This means we need places where we can find the great ideas.  We need environments where we can collaborate and explore new ideas and fresh perspectives.  For me, the best place to do this has been the Orange Conference.

Every year that I attend the Orange Conference, I come away with a fresh ideas.  Honestly, this conference, and the organization behind it, reThink, have probably influenced me as a ministry leader more than anything else.  If you haven’t been to the Orange Conference, this is the year!  You should totally check it out!  Registration begins this week and the price is greatly reduced.  If you’re still not convinced, check out this video:

OC16 Promo video for OC17 site from Orange on Vimeo.

If you want to hear more about the Orange Conference, send me an email or leave a comment.   I’d love to tell you all about it.  And, if you want to give it a shot, I’ll be there!  We should totally hang out!.

How to Keep Boundaries in Ministry

This week I have the privilege of writing for the Orange Leaders blog, which is one of my favorite blogs in the world.  The post is about maintaining boundaries in ministry.  Here’s a snippet:

Real questions I’ve been asked by students and parents…

  • So, what’s your real job?
  • Umm . . . what do you actually do all day?
  • So, you just take the summer off then?
  • How was your vacation to Mexico? (It was a mission trip, you Jerky McJerkyson.)

For whatever reason, some people think that family ministries staff don’t work very hard or very often. This of course, is utter nonsense. In fact, it can be incredibly difficult to maintain appropriate boundaries in ministry. The events, problems, conversations, camps, crises, retreats and everything else happen day and night, on the weekends and always on holidays. I mean, always on holidays.

So, how do we keep ourselves from burning out? How do we maintain healthy boundaries so that our families aren’t negatively affected by our ministry? And, how in the world do we keep ourselves healthy?

You can check out the rest of the post here.

Highlights from the Orange Conference

Last week was a great week because I spent it at the Orange Conference in Atlanta.  If you are involved in student ministry or children’s ministry and you haven’t been, you really should come next year.  Here are a few highlights from last week:



One of my favorite things about the Orange Conference is hanging out with people who are passionate about the next generation and think like me.  Over the last few years, I’ve made a few great friendships through networking at Orange.  These people are invaluable when I’m feeling exhausted in ministry or when I have a crazy idea that needs perspective.


It might not sound terribly spiritual but I did enjoy making Jon Acuff laugh.  I was attending a bloggers breakfast where they served (of all things) cups of ice cream with those worthless wooden spoon thingies.  Holding one of the spoons, I turned to Acuff and said, “Hey, don’t you have a comedy bit about these things?”  He looked at me like I was a delusional fan.  I came back with, “Oh, that must be Gaffigan.”  He continued to stare.  And I clinched with, “I mean, it must at least make you feel good that I mixed you up with Gaffigan.”  He laughed heartily, sputtering, “That’s good!”  It’s the little things really.  I assure you I’m not actually a stalker.


Perhaps the best thing about the Orange Conference is that the speakers and experiences inevitably make me cry, cheer and generally get pumped.  Every year, I bank on the Orange Conference experience as an injection of inspiration.  I walk away with more passion, more focus, more drive, and more tools.  Here’s to you Orange for reminding me of my calling and for filling up my tank so I can keep running after it.


I am a reader.  It’s my primary method of learning.  The Orange staff was kind enough to give a few of us bloggers a sneak peak at their new resources.  I’m pretty stoked.  Here are a few that piqued my interest:


I mean, Tripp and Tyler, all the music, laughs for days.  I just love it.


If you missed the conference this year, FEAR NOT because the Orange Tour is coming this fall!  Check out dates and locations here.  And, if you’re thinking of attending the Detroit tour stop, DO IT!  because I’ll be there and we can hang out and stuff.

My OC16 Breakout

Hey Friends!

Perhaps you found yourself so riveted that you couldn’t take notes?  Maybe you were bored out of your skull and fell asleep?  Or, you thought: “That guy sounds hideous, I’m picking a different breakout.” Whatever happened, I’m sharing my content.

Here are the slides, handouts and documents from my Coaching the Best out of Your High School Volunteers breakout at the Orange Conference.  If you’d like to continue the conversation, send me an email.  I’d love to connect.

Here’s the handout:  Aaron Buer Breakout

The slides:  Aaron Buer Breakout Slides

Our leader blog:  lifelineparents.org

And, the expectations docs:  Resource Docs

Stay tuned.  Over the next few weeks, I’ll be blogging about these concepts, including all the genius stuff I was forced to cut out.

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.

The Conference I’ve Been Waiting For!

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of reThink and the Orange Conference.  I think it’s the best conference out there for family ministry and student ministry.  I’m particularly excited about this year because of the focus of the conference.  The theme is “It’s Just a Phase.”  I’m talking about matching our content, environments and practices to the developmental stages our kids and students are experiencing.  These are strategies that my student ministry mentor, Brian has been instrumental in pioneering.  I’m pumped to see and hear how Orange expands and develops these ideas.

The thing is, many of us in the student ministry world are considered experts in our field and we love students but let’s be real, many of us are, well…old.  At the very least, we are a lot older than the students we lead and serve.  I don’t know about you, but these days I feel like I’m engaging in cross-cultural ministry.

In addition, so much research has come out in the last few years that enlightens us to the developmental process of children and teenagers.  I know the Orangesperts have been working hard, mining the best of this research.  I feel like this year’s conference is going to be a fire hose of important and incredibly relevant information.

I have it on good authority that the crew at reThink wanted OC14 to be all about contextualizing ministry to the developmental stages of children and students but they didn’t quite feel ready, which means that the content for this year’s conference is a couple years in the making.  In other words, it’s going to be awesome!

Just a heads up, if you register by February 19, you can score a $40 price break and receive a $50 credit at the Orange Store.  Hopefully I’ll see you there!



Let’s Go to Orange!

Hey Friends!

Today is the last day of the early bird rate for the Orange Conference.  I absolutely love this organization and this conference.  I’d love for you to come this year.  Here’s a recap of my experience at Orange last spring…


Last week, I traveled to Atlanta with a few members of our Family Ministries team to join 6000 others for the Orange Conference.  As a student pastor, I’ve been to a lot of student ministry and family ministry conferences.  In my opinion, this was the best.  If you serve students or children, you need to go next year.  Here’s why.


Food Trucks

Everyone knows that the most important thing about conferences, or life for that matter is food.  Maybe I’m a little obsessed but I love great food.    Spice, flavor, combinations and ethnic touches dazzle my palate.  One of the things I love about Orange is that they bring in food trucks–seriously, one of the smartest inventions of all time.  Also, I love sitting around the table with people I care about or want to learn from, sharing a meal and talking about ministry and strategy.



Ministry is a sloppy bucket of stress.  Particularly at this time of year, we’re all slightly to moderately frazzled.


“Did you just stick your finger in an electric socket or maybe hug a nuclear warhead?”

“Nope.  Just finished small group.”


Orange brought an insane amount of comedy this year.  At times, I was crying because I was laughing so hard.  I woke in the morning with sore abs.  This may have more to do with sloth than comedy…Either way, thanks for the ab workout.



Sadly, not every work environment or church values creativity and artistic expression.  One of the things I love about reThink and the Orange Conference is a high value on creativity and art.  They understand the work it takes to write good curriculum, produce quality videos and create engaging programs.  It’s more art than science for sure.  It’s a lovely feeling to be told over and over again that the work we do matters.  Also, I saw a bunch of ideas that I’ve already begun stealing.  Don’t tell anyone.



The thing I love the most about reThink is that they elevate the local church.  They are constantly looking for ways to connect people like me with other youth workers who serve in similar contexts or think about ministry in the same ways.  Through my new friend Jeremy at reThink, I met a bunch of youth workers at Orange.  I’m pumped to engage these men and women in conversation about how exactly we do this work God has called us to.  I love collaboration.


Shared Wisdom

For me, the best moment of Orange was Andy Stanley and Reggie Joiner demonstrating how to talk to middle school students about same sex attraction.  This is obviously a conversation in which many churches have dropped the ball.  The mantra I walked away with is this:  “We believe the church should be the safest place for students experiencing same sex attraction.”  I’m in for struggling toward this goal.



I could talk strategy all night.  Specifically, I love to sit around with student ministry workers and discuss how to do what we do better.  I love to dream, evaluate, fret, deconstruct, and tinker with concepts and practices.  The Orange Conference is an excellent place to do this.



I’ll be honest, I limped into the Orange Conference this year.  It’s been a beast of a year.  I’m in a new and challenging role, we opened high school ministry on a new campus, hired 4 new staff, battled through the worst winter in recent history (which translated into numerous cancellations and a momentum free fall).  A week ago, a ll I really wanted was June because June means the ministry regular season is over.  And yet, somehow, someway, through food trucks, laughter, imparted value, collaboration, shared wisdom, and strategery sessions, I’m back in the ring itching for a fight.  I’ve fallen back in love with my work, my team and the struggle of passing on faith to the next generation.

Here’s to you reThink for an “eptastic” week.  And for the rest of you, let’s meet up in Atlanta next April.



static hair photo credited to Jeff Latimer via Flickr

Come with Me to the Orange Conference!

I want to tell you about one of my favorite things in the world:  The Orange Conference.  Over the last few years, this experience has been one of the highlights.  Ministry is exhausting.  Whether you are on staff or a volunteer, pouring your life into the next generation is exhilarating and exhausting.  The Orange Conference is one of those experiences that recharges my batteries and my passion.

Let me tell you what happens to me when I attend Orange:  I laugh hysterically.  I reconnect with God in meaningful ways.  I cry over the hurt and rejection students experience.  I think deeply over ministry strategy.  I worship without distraction.  I appreciate our volunteers in new ways.  I connect with other ministry leaders who think like me.  I eat amazing food!  I develop new friendships with student pastors all over the country.  And, most importantly, I always leave rejuvenated, recharged, reimpassioned (just made that one up), reanimated and reconnected.

Here’s a video to prove that I’m not just making stuff up.

The Orange Conference 2014: Highlights from Orange on Vimeo.

If you are a student ministry or kids ministry person, I would love for you to check out this conference.  It’s the best out there.  Registration is open and the super duper early bird price is still available until October 9.  Check it out:  The Orange Conference 2015.

How to Write Killer Curriculum

Almost every student pastor wants to be a great communicator.  For many of us, this is the #1 expectation from the churches we work for.  In my opinion, the key to a great teaching is great curriculum.  Most of the student pastors I know write their own curriculum.  I don’t think this is always a win.  Over time, I’ve learned that naturally gifted speakers are not always strong curriculum writers and the best curriculum writers are not often gifted public speakers.  My point is that just because you speak well in front of a crowd of students doesn’t mean you are a great communicator…unless you are using great curriculum.

I spent the first half of my student ministry career believing I was a strong communicator.  I wasn’t.  I was a naturally gifted speaker who taught about whatever book or section of the Bible I had just read.  In other words, I wasn’t remotely strategic.  What I’ve learned over the last 5 years is that great curriculum involves an immense amount of planning and strategy.  Here are a few thoughts on what it takes to write killer curriculum:


Rule #1 for writing killer curriculum is understanding that you’re not Andy Stanley.  I don’t know how he does it but the guy consistently comes up with the most brilliant phrasing I’ve ever seen.  He’s an absolute genius…and I’m not, and neither are you.  The smartest thing you can do as a curriculum writer is collaborate.  On our team, I usually craft the initial phrasing and we rarely use exactly what I write.  We end up using the collaborative result of our collective brainstorming.  Our team curriculum is ALWAYS better than what I write on my own.  The 13 of us together might make one Andy Stanley.  The verdict is still out.  My point is that if you want to write great curriculum, you should collaborate.


If you want to master any skill, you must learn from the best.  When it comes to curriculum, I read the best stuff I can find, simply for the purpose of learning.  Personally, I think the team at XP3 from the reThink Group creates the best student ministry curriculum available.  I’m in the habit of buying series from them either to use or learn from.  Look for the ways that great curriculum writers structure their teachings.  Pay attention to their phrasing and contextualization.  My own curriculum has improved dramatically from learning from the best..


In my early days of student ministry, I thought that the goal of a great teaching was to have a great teaching.  If someone told me I did a good job then I win!  These days, I’ve changed my focus.  The point is transformation.  I firmly believe that transformation happens when God’s truth is engaged in the context of community.  This means that the goal of a great teaching should be the conversation that follows it.  First, I believe in a ministry structure in which small groups immediately follow teaching.  Secondly, I believe that the most important question you can ask as you prepare a teaching is:  “What conversation do I want small groups to have following this teaching?”

These days, I know I nailed it when small group leaders tell me about the conversations that took place in their groups.


I’m a firm believer in clarity. Say too much your audience will remember nothing.  If your goal is transformation, the smartest thing you can do as a curriculum writer or teacher is to make one point and to make it with crystal clarity.  Here are the crucial questions every great teaching must answer:

  • What is the one thing you want to say?
  • Why does it matter?
  • What do you want your audience to do with your one thing?

If the Scripture you are teaching from says 5 things either pick 1 and run with it or create a 5 week series.  Simplify your content for the sake of clarity.


The big questions my mentor Brian always asks about my curriculum are: “Who do you want students to become?” and “Where are you taking them?”  In other words, what’s the point of your curriculum?  To speak a little Orange:  Teach with the end in mind.

Killer curriculum functions as a map that leads your students to a destination.  What is your destination?  Who do you want your students to grow into?  The best way to uncover this is to spend a few hours with a white board dreaming about what a mature graduating 8th grader or 12th grader looks like.  Once you have a solid picture then work backwards.  If your dream includes students who are passionate about evangelism then you probably need to teach about evangelism on a regular basis.

As youth workers, it isn’t enough to be good speakers.  We need to become strong communicators.  To do that, we need solid curriculum.  My advice?  Take the time to learn the art of curriculum writing.  Or, if you simply don’t have the desire or  time, use ours.  Email me and I’ll hook you up.  Or, go out and get the best curriculum available and adapt it to your setting…XP3.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on what it takes to write killer curriculum.



image credited to Jonathan Kim via Flickr