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.

Why You Must Invest in Fun

Something I’ve learned from my friends at Orange is that fun matters.  I used to think that fun was important because it could be used as a sort of on-ramp to the parts of student ministry that really matter.  In other words, if students have fun at our events, maybe they’ll want to go a little deeper with their faith.  But, I’ve changed my opinion about fun.  Fun isn’t important because it attracts students.  Fun is important because it connects students.  Reggie Joiner often says that fun matters because fun, over time, makes a friendship go deeper.  When we have fun with students, students realize that we actually like them.

To me, what matters most in student ministry is the relationship between a student and an adult mentor (usually a small group leader).  Every kid deserves an adult in their life who shows up consistently simply because they care.  Every kid deserves an adult who will listen.  Every kid needs an adult who will act as a guide–to show them what it looks like to follow Jesus.

What I’ve discovered is that fun accelerates this process.  The mentor/student relationship is built upon trust and friendship.  Fun together is like oxygen to this fire.  Laughter is even better.  This is why we invest an incredible amount of time and resources in having fun.  To an outsider, this may appear to be a poor investment, but we have learned that investing in fun is investing in the student/mentor relationship and the truth is, when it comes to student ministry, there is nothing more worthy of investment than this relationship.

And so, fun matters.  Fun over time makes connections.  Fun over time makes a friendship grow deeper.  Which is why we make ridiculous videos like this one…so that students and adults can laugh together.

Toddler Justice from Lifeline Student Ministries on Vimeo.


If these ideas struck a chord with you, it’s probably time for you to come along with me to the Orange Tour or the Orange Conference.  You may just find your people.


image credited to JD Hancock via Flickr

The Magic of Collaboration

Today, I have the privilege of blogging for one of my favorite blogs:  Orange Leaders.  Here’s an excerpt:

My favorite word in the universe is collaboration. I love it. This hasn’t always been true. For years, I was a one-man show in student ministry. What changed me? Fear.

Three years ago, the pastor who had led our student ministry team for 12 years left our team to become the lead pastor at another church. I was chosen as his replacement. A ginormous multi-site student ministry. A staff team of 12. I’d never managed another person in my life. No pressure. Did I mention that my predecessor was an absolute legend in our church? I was scared to death.

Fast-forward. The student ministry didn’t crash and burn. In fact, it grew. In many ways it became stronger. How? Our team stepped up to the plate and delivered. The keyword here is “team.” I believe that my smartest all-time leadership decision was to choose we over me. You see, I’ve come to believe that we are always better than me…

Click here to read the rest off the post.

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.

Don’t Become “That” Youth Pastor

It’s Orange Conference Eve!!!  I’m so pumped for this year’s Orange Conference. I’ll be there with a few members of my team if you want to hang out.  You’ll be able to find me at the food trucks.

In honor of the Orange Conference, I’m linking to a post I wrote for the Orange Leaders blog last month.  Check it out…

Last night I had a nightmare. I was at my church campus, leading a ministry event for students but everything was wrong . . . way wrong. My hair was bleached blond, I was wearing a seashell necklace and carpenter jeans. Petra was blasting out of the PA and I was unwrapping marshmallows for an epic game of pudgy bunny. Did I mention there was no one there? Zilch! The only person there was my mom, and even she looked bored. The event was a tragic hodgepodge of irrelevance. Then I woke up…

You can read the rest of the post here.

I’m looking forward to sharing what I learn and experience at the Orange Conference with all of you very soon!

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.

Orange Books!

My friends at reThink have launched Orange Books!  I’m super pumped about this.  Many of the books by reThink authors like Reggie Joiner have deeply influenced the way I think about student ministry and family ministry as a whole.  I’m a huge fan of the Orange philosophy of ministry–it’s all about churches and families partnering together to promote and elevate spiritual growth in our kids.  I love it and we’ve done our best to implement these ideas in our church and family ministries.

You can check out their latest books at  Also, they are running a promo that runs through tomorrow in which you can score sweet prizes for buying one of their books.  You can check out the promo page here.  All the books at the site are great but If you’re looking for a recommendation for student ministry, I would tell you to read Creating a Lead Small Culture.  Here’s a little blurb about it.


Creating a Lead Small Culture from Orange on Vimeo.

Where I’m Taking My Students Next Summer

Earlier this summer, I did something rather crazy.  After a 10 day mission trip to Malawi, Africa, I flew directly down to Knoxville, Tennessee to check out a camp.  I mean, I flew from Malawi to Johannesburg to New York, ditched my team, flew to Atlanta and then on to Knoxville where my boss Brian picked me up in a rental car.  Then, we drove to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.  If you’re keeping score, that’s 15+ hours of layovers and 20+ hours of flying.  I was beyond exhausted and I’m sure I smelled beautifully.  Oh, and I’m pretty sure our team made it home safely.  I think.

Normally, after a long mission trip I fly directly home, climb into my bed and sleep for three days but I just had to get down to Tennessee to check something out.  What was that, you ask?  High School Camp.  Starting this summer, reThink started putting on their own high school camp and I just had to see it.

I was impressed.  So impressed, in fact, that I’ll definitely be bringing a coach bus or two of high school students with me down to Tennessee next year.  Here’s why:

1.  reThink gets the power of small groups.

I love reThink as an organization because they are smart and strategic.  They are driving next gen. ministry forward.  They are helping us all think better about what we do.  They understand that small groups are the backbone of student ministry so everything about High School Camp is built around small groups:  housing, meals, programs, activities, experiences, etc.  It’s the perfect camp to elevate groups and capitalize on existing relationships or, to forge new ones.

2.  The Orange Tour for free!

If you’ve never been to the Orange Conference or the Orange Tour, this is your year!  The Orange Conference is the best conference out there for student ministry and children’s ministry.  Also, if you plan to be at the Orange Tour in Troy, MI, look me up!

My favorite thing about High School Camp is that the Orange Tour is essentially built into the camp schedule.  Youth pastors and volunteers get an hour a day with Reggie Joiner.  His content in these sessions is fantastic.  I’m pumped for my volunteers to receive some of the best training out there as part of the High School Camp package.


3.  Zero Prep

We put on our own middle school camp and it is amazing.  I can say that without feeling like a bragger McBraggerson because I have very little to do with it.  Our team did an incredible job putting on the best camp I’ve ever been a part of.  With that said, we’re all in a coma now.  I don’t think we have the capacity to pull off another camp for our high school students.

The awesome thing about reThink’s High School Camp is that you show up with your students and volunteers and simply pastor them.  No prep required.  Beautiful.

4. Ginormous Water Slides

Spoiler alert:  The camp isn’t housed at a camp, it’s at a resort with ginormous water slides.  The resort also includes a huge arcade, several mini-golf courses, a mini-bowling alley, a rock climbing wall, a for reals grown up golf course, a ropes course and a million other fun elements.  Pardon my terrible photography…


5.  Dollywood

Did I mention that Dollywood is right down the road?!?  Actually, that’s probably not helpful.  My bad.

6.  Epic Lights

Maybe it was because I hadn’t slept in 2 days or that I had just returned from Africa but the light show that accompanied the large group programming blew my mind!  What I mean is that the stage and production quality was on par with what you would experience at an Arena concert.  The students were LOVING it.

7.  Professional grade communications

I’ll be honest, at first I wasn’t sure about the teaching quality because I kept falling asleep.  I assure you it wasn’t the teacher!  It was that I hadn’t slept in 30 hours and I was sitting down in a dark room.

However, I did listen to a second teaching after a good night’s sleep and it was fantastic.  reThink writes the curriculum for High School Camp (think XP3) and it is delivered by a national level speaker.  It was great, and of course, it is designed for great small group conversation.  I love this because, in the past, it has seemed like any time I take my students to a camp, I either get great music or a great speaker.  Here, both were A+.

8.  I can worship to that!

Speaking of worship, if you’ve been in church work for a while you can probably relate to how critical I am.  It’s hard for me to really engage church services without evaluating the programming or noticing what is wrong or cheesy.  It’s one of the curses of working at a church.  What I loved about High School Camp is that the quality of music and production was so phenomenal that there was nothing to complain and I could relax and just engage in worship.  Maybe now you think I’m a horrible person.  Or, if you work at a church, you probably know exactly what I’m talking about.

9.  Limitless Options

Pigeon Forge, the closest town to High School Camp is one of the strangest places I have ever been to.  There are literally limitless options for things to do…go carts, music, restaurants, giant dinosaur statues, shopping, a Titanic museum, amusement parks, theater, golf, and weird combos of all the previously listed options–think dinosaurs living on the titanic which is actually a large amusement shopping mall.  You really have to see this place to believe it.  My point is that if your group gets bored with the ridiculous amount of options at the resort, there are a bazillion things to do in Pigeon Forge.  Or, you could plan a fun excursion before or after camp.

10.  I thought the Smoky Mountains would be a lot more smoky.

I love mountains, camping, hiking, and natural beauty.  Pigeon Forge is situated in the Smoky Mountains.  First off, the scenery is amazing and secondly, if you or your group hate touristy things, there is plenty to do in the Smoky Mountains.  You could take your group camping after camp for crying out loud!

All this is to say that I’m going to High School Camp this summer.  I’m wickedly pumped about the impact the experience will have on our students and volunteers, and how easy the experience will be to plan for.  Maybe I’ll see you there.

If you ant to check it out, here’s a link to reThink’s High School Camp page.  Fear not, if everything I said about camp in Tennessee sounded terrible, they are holding camps in Florida and Texas as well.