Prepare To Launch [part three]

A few days ago I posted parts one and two to this three part series that I taught to our church staff at Hopevale Church called “Prepare To Launch.”  This was a staff devotion to help prepare us to walk into the fall ministry season ready to lead well.  It actually came from a quiet time of reflection and journaling, where God was working on ME as a leader… but, as is often the case with most things God wants to work on me with… it was too good to just keep it to myself.  I had to share it.

Part One was all about Adopting the Right Attitude to lead.

Part Two was all about Planning with Purpose.

In Part Three I want to talk about…

3. Leading from the Inside Out.

Everything that we do as leaders in ministry should flow out of who we are in Christ.  Our quiet times should affect our public times.  God should be at work in us WAY before we ever expect that He should be at work in our ministries.  There were actually three major passages of scripture that came to mind when I thought about leading from the INSIDE out.

  • Proverbs 4:23“above all else guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”

The writer of this proverb (most likely Solomon) highlights something for us that, I think, we know to a certain degree… yet I wonder how often I take it seriously?  YOUR HEART AFFECTS EVERYTHING.  What you allow your heart to experience… what you allow your heart to attach itself to… what you keep FROM your heart, ultimately will affect who you are and what you do.  Your heart (the seat of your emotions in the Old Testament) is the WELLSPRING of your life.  It will overflow into what you do.  So it is imperative that you guard it, protect it, nurture it, allow God to fill it, and then lead from it.

  • Acts 2:42-47 – the account of the first church.

Go and read these verses in Acts.  Don’t worry… I’ll wait🙂 ……………………………………..

Okay… so that is pretty amazing, right?  (did you really read it?  If so… you should be amazed)  The first church was marked by several things that I think we, as church leaders, need to be marked by:  Amazement and wonder at what God is doing, worship, fellowship, discipleship, sacrificial giving, taking care of each other’s needs, enjoying the favor of our communities, etc…  And I loved how this account concludes about this first church… that “daily people were being added to their church and following Jesus.”  And as amazing as all of that is… it all starts with one thing… WORSHIP!  Their Worship of the Messiah caused them to do the Work of the Ministry.  YOUR WORSHIP SHOULD AFFECT YOUR WORK.  But I think a lot of us begin with WORK and then get to WORSHIP later.  This lends itself to doing something that Jesus warned us about…

  • Matthew 23:23-28 – Jesus warns the Pharisees about hypocrisy.

YUCK!  I hate that word.  HYPOCRISY.  I hate it because I know what it is like to BE it.  And I bet you do too.  This instance, however, was a very special kind of hypocrisy… it was the hypocrisy of LEADING FROM NOTHING.  When we neglect WORSHIP in our life… or when we worship the wrong things… we WORK FROM EMPTY.  There is nothing on the inside that overflows to the outside… so the external is a made up version of what we pretend is on the inside.  Jesus called that a cup with a clean exterior but filthy interior… USELESS.  He also called it a beautifully painted TOMB.  Sure, the outside looks great.. but the inside is still DEAD.  JESUS WARNS US ABOUT LEADING FROM EMPTY.  In fact, that was his MAJOR beef with the pharisees… and he had run ins with them A LOT.  But when we start with our own lives… when we WORSHIP… then work, we begin to lead from the inside out.  And that is when people find our ministries irresistible… not because we are anything… but because Jesus is EVERYTHING… and he is overflowing from the inside of us out to everyone we come in contact with.


Prepare To Launch [part two]

Two days ago I wrote PART ONE of a series of posts that I am calling “Prepare To Launch”.  This was a devotional that I taught to our staff at Hopevale Church at our monthly staff chapel as we prepare to enter the fall launch season.  Part One was all about adopting the right attitude as a ministry leader.

Today, in PART TWO I want to turn the focus to…


Being a leader means that you have to, at some point, LEAD.  And if we are going to lead our ministries well, we need to put some careful planning into them.  I’m not going to tell you HOW to plan your ministry… because every ministry is different.  I will, however, talk about a few things that EVERY leader must do to lead well that are a part of the planning process.

  • Catch & Cast God’s vision for your ministry – Genesis 41:33-40

So as Joseph stood in front of Pharaoh and interpreted his dreams for him… Joseph then did something very interesting:  He cast vision for what God wanted Pharaoh to do about it.  Leaders catch God’s vision for what needs to happen… and then they don’t just wait for someone else to figure it out.  They cast the vision.  Even if they are not the one at the top of the org chart.  Joseph didn’t say, “So, Pharaoh, what do you think we should do?  I mean, you’re the boss.”  Every leader knows that feeling , that burden that beats within you, that you MUST act… you MUST speak… you MUST cast vision.  And when you’re not the one at the top… this is a delicate dance of respect.  But as you read the story further… you realize that Pharaoh APPRECIATES Joseph’s leadership abilities.  Leaders recognize other leaders… they are not intimidated by them.  In the world of athletics: Game recognizes game.  So DREAM, PLAN, CATCH that vision, & CAST that vision no matter where you find yourself on the org chart.

  • “Nothing is impossible with God.” – Matthew 19:26

When you catch God’s vision for your ministry, there will likely be a part of it that scares you… that seems impossible.  Don’t freak out!  Pastor Steven Furtick says it like this:

“If the size of your vision for your life isn’t intimidating to you, there’s a good chance it’s insulting to God.”

“If you’re not daring to believe God for the impossible, you’re sleeping through some of the best parts of your Christian life.”

“If your problem is too big for you, it’s just the right size for God.”

Our vision for our ministry should scare us a little… otherwise we would be able to do it all by ourselves and not need God at all.  Impossible keeps us dependent on God.  And that is right where we need to be.  Jesus said this:  “with man this is impossible, but with God nothing is impossible.”

So dream big.  Pray hard.  Trust God.

  • Lead from where you are… not where you are not. 

Authenticity is HUGE as a leader.  If you do not lead from an authentic place, you will compromise your integrity… and your integrity, as a leader, affects everything and everyone you lead.

BE who God created you to be.  Don’t play the comparison game.  Don’t try to become someone else because you think that the way they do it is effective.  Odds are, they are effective because they are being who God created them to be.

And lead from where you are positionally.  Don’t buy into the lie that you’ll be a better leader once you get to the top of the org chart.  If you can’t lead from the middle of the org chart, you won’t lead from the top of it.  John Maxwell said it like this in his book 360 Leader:

“99% of all leadership occurs not from the top but from the middle of an organization.”

So plan, prepare, and lead well!!!

Prepare to Launch [part one]

One of my responsibilities, as Next Gen Pastor at my church, is to lead our staff devotional time once every 4 months or so at our monthly all-staff chapels.  So today was one of those staff chapels… and it was my turn to lead.  I was digging around for what to talk about, because leading other staff members in this way is very different than speaking to either the adults of the church or to the teenagers.  So I figured, with the fall launch of a lot of our ministry programs about a month away… this would be the perfect time to talk about preparing ourselves as leaders for that busy season right around the corner.

A lot of what I taught actually came straight out of my journal… so I was literally going through this preparation myself, first.  So I am going to write down all of what I covered today in a 3 part blog series entitled “Prepare to Launch.”  My hope and prayer is that someone out there would be able to use this to help prepare themselves also for the upcoming ministry season.

In this first post, I want to highlight…

1. Adopting the RIGHT ATTITUDE.

Attitude is HUGE in ministry.  If I, as a pastor, don’t have the RIGHT attitude walking into a new year… I am already setting myself up for failure.  In my journal I wrote down 5 areas where I needed to start adopting the right attitude for myself:

  • A Heart of a Servant – Matthew 20: 25-28

Jesus’ disciples are fighting over who is the greatest disciple.  We might think that is a ridiculous thing to bicker over… but to them, this was a big deal.  In their culture, position was EVERYTHING.  But Jesus calls them all together and says… “NOT SO WITH YOU.  If you want to be GREAT… learn to SERVE.” [my paraphrase of course]  Jesus set the tone from the beginning that his kingdom was going to be an upside down kingdom where the last will be first and the first will be last and the great will be those who serve.  This is the heart that the ministry leader must have.  Christ is the head of the church and our perfect example of how we should live and lead… and he came, not to be served, but to serve.

  • Humility – Philippians 2:1-8

I’m never going to have the heart of a servant unless I learn to be humble.  Humility is this:  “Having a CORRECT view of who I am in light of who God is and who others are around me.”  Humility is not having a LOW view of yourself… or even having a lofty view of others.  It is simply having the RIGHT view.  When I see God for who HE REALLY IS… and when I see myself for who I really am… and when I see others for who THEY REALLY ARE… it gives me the right perspective to be able to love and serve others better.  Jesus showed us that a humble heart leads to a serving heart.

  • Honor God First – Genesis 41:15-16; John 3:30

Joseph, from the Old Testament, had quite a life.  As he stood in front of Pharaoh towards the end part of his story… he was asked a question… “Can you interpret these dreams I have had.”  Joseph had come a long way.  He was the boy with the coat who was loved by his dad but hated by his brothers.  He was the boy who had 2 dreams that God gave him as well.  He was sold, bought, betrayed, imprisoned, and then he met these two guys who also had dreams, who just so happened to work for the pharaoh.  So he interpreted their dreams and said “don’t forget me.”  He forgot him.  Then Pharaoh had dreams… Enter Joseph.  Pharaoh says to him, “your reputation says you can figure this out… can you?”  In this moment Joseph has a decision to make.  He can look back over his life, see all that he has done and accomplished, remember that he is awesome at this dream stuff… and take full credit for it.  OR… he can tell Pharaoh the truth.  He chooses the latter.  He says “I can’t… but God can.”

John the Baptist famously [and rightly, might I add] said this about Jesus, “He must increase… and I must decrease.”

These are huge statements that we, as ministry leaders, need to remember:  “I can’t, but God can.”  and “He must increase, I must decrease.”  When we put God in his rightful place [out of humility]… we begin to see that it is God who is at work in us and through us.  Warren Wiersbe writes in his book, “On Being a Servant of God” that we are merely channels of God’s mighty resources… opening a way for them to be distributed to others.  When we view ourselves that way, we see that it is God who is awesome… and we are just the means to allow God to work through us to show others HIS AWESOMENESS.

  • Continually Be In Prayer – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18; Philippians 4:6-7

If you are anything like me, then you struggle in your prayer life. [just being honest]  I can’t tell you how many prayer journals I have started but not finished.  Or prayer plans that I “PLANNED” on executing… but eventually neglected.  I tell myself excuses like “I get too busy to stop and pray” or the classic “Well… God knows my heart and mind already… so it’s like I’m praying, right?”  No… no it’s not.  I’ll just be my own counselor for a second.:-/  One of the things that I KNOW I need to get better at is praying for those whom I lead (staff and volunteer) and those whom I minister to (students and adults).  Plans are great… but prayer is better.  I know I need to work on praying continually.

  • Lead Expectantly – Philippians 4:12-13 & 19

The Apostle Paul, sitting in house arrest, begins to pen down the words of a letter that he is writing to a church that he absolutely fell in love with on one of his missions trips.  It was not an easy church… in fact, maybe the reality of being in prison caused him to remember this church… because when he visited there, he was also thrown in prison with his friend Silas.  But he loved this church.  This church was humble.  This church understood the Gospel deeply.  This church was sacrificially generous toward him.  So he writes at the end of this letter the secret he has found in being content in his life:  That He can face any obstacle that life throws his way because of the strength that Christ gives him.  So he is confident in Christ.  He is also confident that God is up to something big with this church… and that God will supply their needs because of their generosity.

When we lead… we must do so with expectancy.  We must lead by saying and believing that GOD is going to show up big!  Why?  Because we have already discussed “We can’t do it, but God can!”  We need to have a holy expectation that God is going to show up in HUGE ways in our churches this year!

Adopting the RIGHT ATTITUDE is the first step in preparing to launch a new ministry season.  Tomorrow we will look at how to Plan with Purpose.

Reaching More Students…

For the past few weeks I have been trying to wrap my head around this question:  “How can our Student Ministry reach more students?”  We have several middle schools and high schools  in our area… that means that there are thousands of students in our area.  MOST of those students do not have a student ministry (or even a church… might I add) that they call theirs.  We have a larger student ministry (for our area) but are not even scratching the surface when it comes to reaching those middle school and high school students for Jesus. So this question has been nagging me over the past few years… and in an even bigger way over the last few months… “How can we reach THOSE students?”

After racking my brain to answer that question… I came up with a 4 point strategy that I think could be BIG for our ministry moving forward.  Now… these are not specific programs or events that are going to be the silver bullet in solving the mystery of getting kids to show up (that doesn’t exist… BTW)  These are general principles that I think if implemented well… could be a game changer for our ministry.  And not only will these principles help us PLAN ministry better… they will help us EVALUATE ministry better.  So… here they are:

1.  EVENTS that are FUN & FREE.

In our middle school ministry… we stumbled upon something with the rhythm of our events and the type of events that actually caused some GREAT momentum in our ministry.   The event had to fit 3 categories: 1) it had to fall in the regular rhythm of a middle schooler’s life (we picked a Sunday night because that is when they meet anyway… so it wasn’t asking another night out from a family) 2) It had to be fun (oriented toward the age group of the students) & 3) It had to be FREE.  Free events eliminate the barrier for some families and students. It is also an easier ask for a student to their friends if $$$ is not involved.  Now… It’s not free to everyone (because our budget pays for it) so we had to plan ahead in how we set up our budget for the year.  We saw how successful that strategy was for our middle school students… so this upcoming year we are going to go after our High School Ministry with the same strategy.


Almost every Sunday night during the school year we have our middle school and high school programs going on.  We have found that if we want to gain momentum with students and KEEP that momentum… then our programs need to be EXCELLENT (done very well and thought through… not thrown together) and they need to be IRRESISTIBLE.  We want our students walking away from our programs and talking about it with their friends during the week.  We want them posting pictures of it on social media.  Students talk about stuff they VALUE…  so, it goes to reason, if students aren’t talking about it or posting about it online… do they really value it?


We evaluate everything that we teach.  Two of the main questions that I ask when I evaluate my own teaching or when my interns teach are:  “Was the message engaging to middle school or high school students?” & “Was the message helpful to middle school or high school students?”  I want to know that our students LEANED IN, LISTENED INTENTLY, and LEFT WITH SOMETHING TO DO.  When we plan out what we are going to teach during a school year… we think through the same grid… but on the front end.  We ask: “what is going to engage a middle school or high school student?”,  “What do we think is important for them to learn from the scriptures this year in their lives?” & “How are these topics helpful in navigating middle school or high school life for them?”


One of the biggest things that seems to reach students is when you get them involved in a project that serves someone else.  There is just something about a serving project that is FUN and INSPIRING for a student.  They get to work side by side with their friends… and they feel like they are making a difference.  Every student wants to know that they were a part of something bigger than just themselves… and when they serve, they connect with that feeling.  This is why I like to use the word MEANINGFUL when I think about serving projects.  Because we want students to look back fondly on the times they served others and realize that God used them for something big in the life of someone else.

Those are the four strategy principles that will guide our 2016-2017 growth plan… but the biggest strategy behind all of this isn’t a strategy at all.  We are going to PRAY LIKE CRAZY!  Because it doesn’t really matter how amazing our strategies are or how well thought out our plans are… if God isn’t in it, it’s all pointless.

Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails. – Proverbs 19:21

So… What is a NEXT GEN Pastor?

For the past 14 years I have been doing something in the student ministry world.  I have been a student ministry intern, a volunteer youth pastor, a middle school ministry director, and a student ministry pastor.  Last July, I took a new step and took one foot out of the student ministry world.  I became the Next Gen Pastor at my church.  Since then, I have been asked quite a few times “What is a Next Gen Pastor?… like, what do they do?  Isn’t that just a cooler name for a youth pastor?”  Those are all great questions… except the last one.  I despise the last one🙂

So here is the best way I can explain what my role as Next Gen Pastor is.. and then I will tell you why EVERY CHURCH needs one🙂

My Role as Next Gen Pastor means:

1) Gatekeeper of the vision of the Next Gen Ministries of our church

One of my main responsibilities is to cast the vision for where we are going for the next gen ministries (children’s and students) in our church.  It’s my job to passionately care about these ministries and make sure that they are cohesively going toward the same goal.

2) Coach for the staff of the Next Gen Ministries of our church

I not only cast and maintain the vision for these areas… but I also coach and manage the leadership of these areas.  It is the role of the Next Gen Pastor to help these ministry leaders be successful in their areas of leadership.  That means meeting all together as a Next Gen team.  That means meeting with each area’s leadership team individually (children’s ministry & student ministry).  That means coaching each leader individually as well.  If you were to ask me to tell you in one word what my position was all about… I might just say “MEETINGS.”  :-)  To some people that might seem like the kiss of death… but to me, it is crucial to maintain health and success in ministry.

3) Direct Leadership over the Student Ministries of our church

This is where my specific job probably differs from other Next Gen Pastors or Family Ministry Pastors.  I still maintain the responsibility of leading our student ministry.  This is where I get to be a player/coach.  I coach the staff and interns of student ministries… but am still heavily invested in the lives of students and our small group leaders.  I regularly teach to either our middle schoolers or high schoolers on the weekends.  So I am still deeply in the trenches of ministry life… not just at the 30,000 foot level.  And I think that is important for me and for our church.

Now here is why I think EVERY CHURCH needs a Next Gen Pastor:

Every church needs this position because you need a leader who is 100% invested in the WHOLE of next gen ministries and who can see it from start (birth) to finish (college) and set a healthy direction for it.  For most smaller churches… the responsibility of this falls on either the Sr. Pastor who then manages a youth pastor and children’s director… or it falls on the children’s pastor and the student pastor to figure it out together… or, let’s just be honest, it never gets figured out and silos rule the day.  So if you want to have your church free from silos in the next gen world and not overload your Sr. Pastor (who has enough on their plate…) this is the way to go.  (or maybe I am just biased🙂 )


It was my turn to lead our all staff chapel time at Hopevale Church this past Wednesday, so I had to figure out what I thought God wanted me to share with our team.  I was reading Bill Hybels’ book AXIOM in preparation for leading my Next Gen team Tuesday and came across a chapter called We Need All of Us.  For some reason that chapter stuck out… not the content of the actual chapter (it was good… don’t get me wrong) but the concept…  the idea that ALL of us on staff play a crucial role.    So here is what I shared.  If you are on a staff at a church (no matter in what capacity) my hope is that this will be as encouraging to you as it was to me as I put it together (I probably got as much or more out of this putting it together than those I shared it with did🙂 )


No matter what role you find yourself in at the church you work at… whether you are the senior/lead pastor, youth/student pastor, administrative assistant, a receptionist, or a part time building cleaner… you have a significant and important role in accomplishing the mission of the local church where you serve.

Hopevale Church’s mission is to become “A community of grace and truth inviting people to know and follow Jesus.”  So I reminded our staff that everyone in that room… and even those who were not but served in some capacity… they all play a vital, crucial, important role in accomplishing that mission.

In 1 Cor. 12 we find these words (paraphrased): “you are the body of Christ… and each one of you is a part of it… no part can say “I don’t need you.”

It also says that “God has arranged the parts… as HE wants them to be.”

Three months into my first ministry I experienced my first disappointment in ministry… and I almost threw in the towel.  I was a middle school pastor at a small Baptist church in Indiana, and was beaming with potential and excitement.  I had graduated from college earlier that year and couldn’t believe that I was 1) working at a church (my dream job) and 2) that I was pulling down a paycheck for it. (you know… making the big bucks😉 #highroller #thatministrylife #sarcasm) I thought ministry was always going to be awesome, that people would always obey the Bible, and that teenagers would think that I was cool because I was their youth pastor (boy… do you learn the truth the hard way).  I planned an experiential prayer night for my group and thought that it was going to be well received and that they would love it.  THEY HATED IT!  I cried.  I yelled (in my apartment to myself).  I almost quit.  I was full of self doubt and self loathing… and I believed that maybe I was not supposed to do this or supposed to be a pastor.  That is why I find these words in 1 Cor. 12 so encouraging.  Every leader in the church goes through these thoughts: “What if people find out I am a fraud?”  “What if I really don’t know what I am doing?”  “What if I make mistakes?”  We all have insecurities as leaders.  And if there is someone who reads this and says “I’ve never thought that, ever!”  Then they are completely full of themselves and arrogant (and we all know what happens to the prideful… TIMBERRRRR!!!!!)  We all go through these seasons.  Isn’t it awesome to know that it isn’t US that has placed us where we are… but it is GOD that has put us exactly where HE wants us to be?



It is easy, in ministry, to elevate our WORK for God over our WORSHIP of God.

No story illustrates this reality as well as our two friends MARY and MARTHA… and what took place in their home when Jesus showed up.  MARTHA got to WORK… MARY got to WORSHIP.

Martha prioritized her WORK over her WORSHIP… and Jesus told her flat out “You are worried about many things (WORK… MINISTRY)… but only ONE THING is necessary in this moment (WORSHIP).  Mary has chosen that and it will not be taken from her.”

Jesus wanted to help Martha reprioritize her life.  He was not saying that her work wasn’t important.  He was showing her that WORK shouldn’t be priority over WORSHIP.

A few years back I got this all wrong.  I was a ministry-a-holic (still can be from time to time).  Everything in my life was ministry… to the detriment of everything else… even my relationship with Christ.  I wasn’t praying (unless it was related to ministry), I wasn’t reading my Bible or any type of devotional material (unless it was related to ministry)… my parenting suffered… my being a husband suffered… and wouldn’t you know it… my ministry suffered. (I had no idea that was happening, btw…)  Someone pointed this out in my life… and it wasn’t pretty at the time, but eventually I came to the realization that I was on the edge of burning out and it was mostly because I had prioritized WORK over WORSHIP.

I am learning (haven’t learned fully… because I still run back to this) that WHO I am in CHRIST is more important than what i DO for Christ.  MY PRIORITY NEEDS TO BE WORSHIP.


Your church not only needs all of you (everyone that works together)… but needs ALL of YOU (INDIVIDUALLY… especially you as a worshipper.)

The worst thing you could offer the church is your WORK without your WORSHIP.



It’s that simple.

Reflection = Humility (or humiliation… whichever you prefer :-) )

So for the past two days I’ve decided to read through some of my blog posts from when I first started writing this thing. I caught myself thinking two things 1) I was completely ridiculous & 2) I thought I was the STUFF in youth ministry.  Do you know what I’ve learned in the 7 years that I have lived since I started this blog?  (I was 28, BTW…)  I have learned that NOBODY cares about what you write if it isn’t helpful or useful in some way & that even though I know WAY MORE about youth ministry now than I did back then, I am coming to realize how very little I actually know.   I think that perspective begins to come with age… but I remember busting out of college thinking I knew better than every other youth pastor out there how to do this thing because I had read some books, sat in some classes, and had a few small successes under my belt.  Boy was I wrong!!!  Man… what I wouldn’t give to go back to 23-year-old Sam and say, “You think you get it… you think you know… you haven’t even scratched the surface!  Wait until your kids get to be around that age…and watch all your graphs and strategies and “this is how it theoretically should work” statements just fly out the window.”  I am learning 2 major lessons through all of this that I think are important for everyone in my type of position to learn:


Nobody likes a know it all… Especially a 20-something one who has no kids (or babies) who tries to pose to parents of teenagers like they know how to parent their kids better.  It’s annoying…  and I was that… and I apologize!  My kids have taught me more about youth ministry than my classes ever could.  I now view parents of my students as partners… not projects.  I look for ways that they can teach me about youth ministry… and not what I can teach them about parenting.

2) When I do speak… BE FULL OF GRACE & TRUTH

The words that I speak into others (students, parents, youth ministry peers) need to be edifying, building, and full of grace.  There is no place for ARROGANCE, HARSH LANGUAGE, or KNOW IT ALL ATTITUDES.  I am constantly reminding myself lately that “to win the argument but to lose the person is to LOSE.”  Paul said it this way, “Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.” Colossians 4:6

HUMILITY & GRACE go a long way!