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 🙂 )


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.

Ministry Season Evaluation

So today is the last day of school for students in our area.  It marks another year of youth ministry that has come and gone.  One of the questions I had early on in my student ministry career was “How do I know if I’m doing well or being successful with this ministry as it’s pastor?”  That question led me to develop a year end evaluation that either I or another leader in my ministry could walk through that would help measure it’s/my effectiveness and give me benchmarks and goals for the future.  Learning to measure my ministry has tremendously helped me manage it and lead it better.  “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”    Over the years that evaluation has changed and morphed into what I use today not only for my personal ministry assessment, but for those I oversee and their ministries as well.  I thought, “Why not pass that along to anyone else who might be able to use it to help them grow and get better at what they do?”  So here it is 🙂  Click on the link for the PDF.

Year End Evaluation_High School

Developing Systems in Student Ministry: A MUST HAVE

One of the big things that I have learned in my leadership development over the years is that it isn’t good enough to say something and hope it happens… or say something over and over again and hope it happens either.  What I have learned is that the most successful youth ministries, organizations, etc… Say what they value, and then reinforce what they value through SYSTEMS.


organization: “We love leadership development”

random observer: “Oh really?  How many leaders have you developed?”

organization: “Well… we haven’t developed any yet on purpose”

random observer: “So… would it be fair to say then that you love the IDEA of leadership development?” 🙂

Ideas without systems are just good ideas… and they don’t usually go anywhere on purpose.  It is usually easy to spot an organization, youth ministry, etc… that struggles with systems.  How?  Just follow the word trail.  How many ideas actually are implemented and effective for the long haul?

When it comes to student ministry, we could probably name off multiple things that need systems in order for them to run effectively… but I want to concentrate on putting systems with what we have identified as organizational values.  I’ll share with you what Hopevale Student Ministries’ 4 main values are and the systems we put into place to make sure that EVERYONE in our ministry knows these are big values for us:

VALUE #1: Relationship Evangelism  

SYSTEM: INVEST, INFORM, INVITE  (we strategically throughout the year have events and nights that we call INVEST nights.  We use this hashtag on our twitter and facebook posts when it makes sense to.  We teach on it almost every year… and it comes up a lot even in talks that aren’t completely about it.  We had cards printed at the beginning of this year where students wrote down names of friends that they were going to pray about going through this process with.  If you are going to call this a value… you have to have a system to back it up.)

VALUE #2: Large group Learning  

SYSTEM: SUNDAY NIGHT PROGRAMMING (this one kind of speaks for itself.  We stole Northpoint Church’s verbage with our programming and systematized how we program.  We want every night to be APPEALING, ENGAGING, & HELPFUL.)

VALUE #3: Small group Discipleship  

SYSTEM: COMMUNITY GROUPS (we identified that students (people) grow best in the context of mentors and peers… so we made our main growth engine reflect that.  We recruit and train great mentors for students and have at least 2 mentors per group (gender and grade specific).  We take the time to train and develop these leaders (although we could always do a better job) and we also have accountability and celebration in place to help them feel that what they are doing matters.  One main thing we are starting next year to get even better at this is developing group leader coaches who can consistently be in the lives of group leaders for care and mentoring.  If we say that we value this and think it is the best engine for discipleship… we need it for our leaders too.)

VALUE #4: Missional Serving  

SYSTEM: CRASH MONTHS, OUTREACH OPPORTUNITIES (we adopted the “crash” mentality. (crash is a group of rhinos)  we decided that if we could get everyone in our ministry to focus all of their energy toward a project… we could do some awesome things.  So we have dedicated a month the past 2 years to putting rocket fuel into this value and giving students BIG opportunities to serve.  Our strategy involves local organizations that they can serve at, country wide serving opportunities, and overseas mission endeavors.  Then we use these months to promo other serving opportunities throughout the year.

That is how we do it… it is A way, not THE way.  The most important thing is that you put SYSTEMS to what you value so that your values don’t get lumped in with just another thing that is said and never accomplished.

So… what are some of the systems you have wrapped around your values?


THE Key to Communication: OVER COMMUNICATE

I’ve been focusing on a few BIG DEAL leadership things in student ministry that will help you take your ministry and teams to the next level over the last few weeks: 1) building and maintaining cohesive teams, 2) creating organizational clarity… and today I want to focus on how you can get that clarity to STICK.  What I have learned over the years from both reading and personal experience is that my success in ministry will only be as good as my ability to communicate… especially when it comes to organizational clarity.

I’ve been leaning heavily on Patrick Lencioni’s book “The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive” during these last few posts… and this one especially because I LOVED the content in it.  He wrote that, when it comes to communicating in an organization, OVER COMMUNICATING is the KEY.  And he gave 4 ways to over communicate:

4 WAYS to ensure GREAT communication:

1. Repetition – It isn’t good enough to say something one time.  You and I both wish that we could just say something once and the people who heard it would follow it to a “T”… but we also know that never happens.  What being a parent of multiple children has taught me, in regards to communication, is that I need to repeat myself over and over and over again… and just when I start feeling sick of saying it, they are just beginning to get it.  

2. Simplicity – It’s not enough, either, to say something a bunch of times.   You need to make sure that WHAT you say can be easily understood, interpreted, and passed on without confusion.  I love to look at anything I am about to say/write and say to myself K.I.S.S.   “Keep It Simple… Sam!”  

3. Multiple Mediums – The beauty of living today is that we have dozens of ways to get information and communication into the hands of those who need it.  We have email, physical mail, texting, phone calls, facebook, twitter, blogging, facetime, skype, and the list goes on!  We need to view these things for what they are, a way to dispense the information we want to get out to those we want to get it to.  Use as many mediums as you can to communicate.  

4. Cascading Messages – We also need to remember that, even though we are the main leader, we don’t need to do all the communicating to everyone.  The best way to get information out to those who need it is to ingrain it into your leadership team… and then task them with the responsibility of communicating down the chain of command.  This helps in multiple ways: 1) you’re not the only one communicating, 2) you can evaluate how well your team understands what they are communicating 3) you are building into your leaders by tasking them to lead with something big.  

One of our main jobs in student ministry is communicating well with those we lead and work alongside… And the KEY to communicating well is OVER COMMUNICATION.

Organizational Clarity and Why it Matters in Student Minisry

I’m going to throw out two words that, I have to admit, are pretty loaded.  But take a good, long look at each and then think about your leadership team you have created… which one defines your team at this moment: CLARITY or CONFUSION?

The reason that these are loaded words is because, if we were honest, we would have to answer that question with a “It depends…” answer.  What are we clear on?  What are we confused on?   There could be A LOT of different results based on a lot of different situations.

But what about when it comes to the MAIN ORGANIZATIONAL side of things?  When it comes to WHO you are, WHY you exist, WHAT you do… which word describes your team?  CLARITY or CONFUSION?

One reason that teams do not succeed is because there is confusion amongst the team members over the who, why, and what.  You may have the world’s best purpose or mission statement, a great, focused set of values, and laser-like vision… but if your team is not 100% clear on these and fully bought into them, then organizational confusion will set in.

Have you ever had a parent come up to you or one of your team and offer a “suggestion”?  You know, one of those “Have you guys ever thought about…” or “At our last church we did ____________, what about doing something like that?”  We all have had that happen.  How do you make the decision on whether you even entertain those questions?  Without organizational clarity, those “suggestions” can become defining of you, your ministry, and your leadership [and not in a good way].  Organizational clarity allows you and your team to have a consistent answer when approached with those suggestions.  You’ll know when to entertain and use those suggestions, and when to dismiss them.  And dismissing them doesn’t become a personal thing… it’s an organizational thing.  We can say NO with confidence because that isn’t WHO we are, WHY we exist, or WHAT we are trying to accomplish.  Without organizational clarity, we are only as good as the next suggestion we are offered.

But what if everyone on your team was 100% clear of WHO you are, WHY you exist, and WHAT you’re trying to do?  Think of how focused you would be.  Think of how easy it would be to evaluate success.  Think of how easy it would be to add or get rid of programs that don’t line up with who you are, why you exist, or what you are trying to accomplish.


1. Develop a MISSION STATEMENT, set of CORE VALUES, and a CLEAR VISION of what you want your ministry to accomplish.

2. Communicate those to your leadership team and talk through them clearly.  Get buy in from everyone on your team.

3. Once a month go back to them with your team and talk through them.  Make sure everyone is on board with where your team is heading.

4. Begin to make decisions organizationally with your MISSION, VALUES, & VISION in mind.

5. Celebrate organizational WINS… talk through OFF TRACK moments.