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!


forward slide loop pic.001


Starting April 12 in Ignite (high school ministry at Hopevale Church) we are looking into the future of where God is leading us in the area of serving.  FORWARD is a strategic serving endeavor where we will INTENTIONALLY identify some SMALL STEPS FORWARD and some BIG STEPS FORWARD that our students can take to begin a life of CONTRIBUTING instead of just CONSUMING… of SERVING instead of just SITTING.  The idea of FORWARD was birthed out of a study that I was doing in the book of Philippians.  In chapter 3, Paul starts naming off some of his past achievements… things that would bring his resume to the top of the pile in any company or church… but then he says this:

“I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done.”  Paul’s pursuit of Jesus Christ… and where Jesus was leading him was of MORE VALUE to him than what he had done in the past and where he had been.  Later on he says these words, “I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection.  But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me.  No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing:  Forgetting the past and looking FORWARD to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.”

Paul is convinced that the best days of following Jesus are still ahead of him… are still FORWARD.  The goal that we, as followers of Jesus, strive towards is becoming like the one we follow.  And there is this quote that I can’t shake: We are never more like Christ than when we are serving.  Jesus said, “I did not come to be served, but to serve and give my life as a ransom for many.”   I am convinced that the best days for our high school ministry are ahead of us.  We’ve done some pretty great things in the name of Jesus… but I believe that Jesus is calling us to GREATER things in the future.  He is calling us FORWARD.

We’re Back!!!

Okay… It’s been a while since I wrote anything on any format.  Ministry gets pretty busy over the winter months and my energy for writing gets put into other endeavors.  But now it is time to do a re-launch of sorts.  I’m not promising what everyone else who writes these posts promises (more and frequent content) because I can’t make that promise.  What I can say is that I am beginning to write again and want to share some things that I am learning and growing in.

There are some big changes coming for me in my ministry world this summer… and I am very excited about them.  Starting in July I will be overseeing not only Student Ministries at Hopevale Church, but I will also be overseeing our Children’s Ministries and the staff that lead those areas.  I won’t be a traditional “Family Pastor” because my main focus will still be working in Student Ministry with our High School students… But I will be coaching our children’s ministry team with vision and strategic leadership to set them up to win in their ministries.  I believe my unofficial/official title will be Next Generation Ministries Pastor.  So what does that mean for the content on this blog? Probably nothing… because the focus of this blog has always been life, family, youth ministry, & leadership.  I can’t wait to see what God has in store for this next stage in my ministry life… but I’m going to have to until July 1 (that’s when this officially starts).:-)  So stay tuned… more content is coming soon.

Soul Care

So after all the drama that has gone down with Mark Driscoll lately (accusations, stepping aside for a while, and ultimately stepping down from his church) I started thinking about church leadership and soul care.  Mostly because pastors spend so much time pouring into the lives and souls of other people… but don’t often spend time allowing God to refresh their soul.  I am kicking off a series at Hopevale Church this sunday called “Rhythm” that is all about this concept.  More + Faster does not = HEALTHY.  But that often is our solution… especially as leaders.  We often skip the one thing that helps us grow to try and figure out the 30 things that help others grow… ultimately cutting off the root of any growth for anyone.  But the longer I have been in ministry… the more this reality sinks in: HEALTHY THINGS GROW… and HEALTH STARTS WITH ME. If I am not spiritually healthy, I can’t lead others to be spiritually healthy.  Oh, I can say all the right things, but I can’t authentically lead someone there.  So I am committing myself to some healthy leadership practices of the soul:

1. Spend Quality Time with God Every Day

2. Make Time in My Schedule for Significant Relationships

3. Sit & Serve (make sure that my work for God does not exceed my worship of God)

4. Say NO to More NOISE and More CLUTTER.

5. Develop a Rhythm Strategy.

I’ll write more on these 5 practices this week… but the bottom line is this: HEALTHY THINGS GROW… and HEALTH STARTS WITH ME.