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.

The Universal Church’s 2011 Resolution

I’ve been wrecked lately by statistics that are pointing to the fact that the church in America has become emaciated because the people of the church have stalled out in their spiritual growth.  Church shopping has become an event like black friday “If this one won’t give me a good deal, I’m going to that one!”  And if I hear the phrase “I’m just not getting fed at my church” one more time, I just might snap.  As I was reading my Bible last week, I came across these words that I think should be the MANTRA for the church in America:

“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed- not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence- continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”   Philippians 2:12-13

Paul is talking about something that is at the heart of a THRIVING, INFLUENTIAL church… HEALTHY GROWTH.  Paul was this church’s founder and pastor… but now he sits in prison writing to them.  He reminisces with them about all the good times of when he was with them and how they accepted the Gospel and obeyed it, but he is no longer with them.  His encouragement to them?  continue to “work out” your own salvation.  He didn’t say, “Let your pastor feed you.”  he didn’t say, “become dependent on someone else for your spiritual growth.”  He said “Take responsibility for your own spiritual health!”  God gives you the will and the power to act.  He is working “IN” you… now you go and flesh, or “work,” that out.  It’s MY responsibility to grow on my own.  I need to take responsibility for my own spiritual growth.

The church DESPERATELY needs its people to take this seriously in 2011.  Why?  because a HEALTHY church leads to a GROWING church which leads to an INFLUENTIAL church.

How can we take responsibility for our own spiritual growth?  Here are some suggestions:

1. read your Bible more this year than last year.

2. spend more time in prayer this year than last year.

3. commit to reading at least 2 books for your own personal spiritual growth this year. (that’s like reading 1 page a day.)

4. find someone to meet with consistently who will push you to grow.

Let’s make the pursuit of our own spiritual growth a HIGH PRIORITY for 2011!

my favorite student ministry moments

ask any youth pastor and they will tell you that youth ministry isn’t easy.  in fact, youth ministry can be challenging, tiring, and sometimes even feel unrewarding.  but… at the same time there are things that happen when you work with teenagers that completely overshadow and make all of the long hours and hard work TOTALLY WORTH IT!  I have a list of some of those things:

1. when a student pulls you aside before, during, or after a program to talk to you about what is going on in their life.  It means three things: 1) that they actually are paying attention to what is going on in their life, 2) they are paying attention to what you are telling them about God and what He wants for them, & 3) they trust you enough to share it with you.

2. when a student commits their life to Christ through Salvation or Baptism.  These are my absolute FAVORITE moments.  I try to remind my team that this is what it is all about.  Galatians 6:7-10

3. when I catch students being selfless by serving or being generous.  There is nothing like watching a student “Get it” and “Live it”.  last night our students took part in an annual gift drive that we do called “Christmas Families.”  we adopt families from our community who have fallen on hard times and who cannot afford to make Christmas happen for their children, and our students buy all of the christmas gifts for them.  It is so awesome to see students go after such a missional cause like this.

4. when a teenager takes interest in the spiritual lives of his/her friends.

These are just a few of my fav’s.

LESS is (more)

If clarity is the communicators trump card [click here for that post] then this should be the communicators golden rule:  Less is more.  I’m sure that you’ve either attended a conference, heard a coach, or listened to a preacher and came away asking yourself or someone else, “What did they say?”  More often than not the reason is that the communicator sinned against the rule of less is more.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked away from my own communications and said, “I spoke for 40 minutes, and I didn’t have a point.”  I probably had MANY points, but not one, singular, clear, focused main point.  I don’t know why we, as communicators, think that the more content we have, the more points we make, or the more we talk; the more we think we will be heard.  marketing people [who are way more intelligent about this stuff than I am] will tell you that a sure way to lose an audience with someone is to give them too much information.  So the next time you are going to communicate something to a group of people, give a sales pitch, or motivate a team, ask yourself 2 questions:

1) what am I trying to say? &

2) how could I say it using less, yet more effective, wording?