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!


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.

Cohesive Teams: A MUST HAVE for a healthy Student Ministry

Cohesion: the action or fact of forming a united whole.

One of the most important things as a Student Pastor (outside of Love for God, love for students, and solid Biblical content) is the art and discipline of building and maintaining cohesive leadership teams.  Like I said in a previous post… I’m going to assume that those other things are true of you (if they are not… you might want to start rethinking if student ministry is a good fit for you)… but if you are anything like I was when I started out doing this thing 13 or so years ago… this discipline does not come naturally.  But what I’ve learned over the years is that it is CRUCIAL to my leadership, it is CRUCIAL for my ministry, and it is CRUCIAL to my longevity to develop cohesive leadership teams.  Another thing that I have learned is that you can do this with or without additional hired student ministry team members.  I completely understand that not everyone (in fact, probably a majority) has the benefit of hiring team members.  This was my reality for 5 years when I started.  I would read these books about great youth ministries and come to find out that there were multiple hired youth staff at those churches… and that began to jade my perspective on team building. “Sure, you can have an awesome team environment when you get to hire your team.”  Being someone now who has two hired youth staff and 2 interns working on my team… I can say with confidence “Cohesive teams do not come from HIRING… they come from HARD WORK.”  It takes a lot of HARD WORK to build a team that is UNITED and works together as ONE… and whether you hired that team or recruited that team as volunteers… it takes the SAME AMOUNT of hard work for both to become a cohesive team.

So what do we need to start doing to develop a Cohesive Leadership Team?

1. Select your team.  (make sure they are the right fit)

2. Build TRUST.  (No trust… no unity)

3. Don’t be afraid of conflict and confrontation. (and teach your team to value it as well.)

4. Make every meeting COUNT.  (if you bore them… they won’t come)

5. CELEBRATE wins, COACH through losses, CONFRONT mediocrity.

The more you value these things… the stronger your teams will become.  The stronger your teams are, the healthier your ministry will function.

4 Things I’m “OBSESSING” over as a Student Pastor

Okay, so “OBSESSING” is a strong word.  I get it.  And it may not even be the right word to use… but after I read “The FOUR OBSESSIONS of an Extraordinary Executive” by Patrick Lencioni… I just wanted to use that word.  I don’ t know.. maybe I should be OBSESSING about these 4 disciplines, because they are CRUCIAL to building and maintaining a great student ministry.  And the beauty about these four disciplines is this: It doesn’t matter what size of youth ministry you are leading… they are important.  If you want to go deeper about these… check out the book:


Here are the 4 Disciplines of a Healthy Organization:

4 disciplines of a Healthy Organization.001

1. Build & Maintain a Cohesive Leadership Team.   The first Discipline is learning to get people around you, on your team, that will help you lead.  One of the main reasons that our ministries, businesses, etc… don’t grow is because of us.  We hinder the health of our organizations because we operate like everything rises or falls based upon our personality, knowledge, or leadership ability.  The truth of the matter is that we all have some kind of leadership cap or lid (thanks John Maxwell), and we will never be able to take our ministry beyond that lid.  We can, however, if we learn this discipline… because now we have a team helping us lead who all have different leadership lids.  Building a team is CRUCIAL in your growth as a leader, in your ministry’s growth, and will actually help you LAST as a leader.

2. Create Organizational Clarity.  Make sure that everyone on your team and in your ministry knows exactly what you are doing and why you are doing it.  It’s not enough to have a slick purpose statement or vision or values… everyone on your team needs to be clear on what they are and they need to DRIVE your team to accomplish what you have set out to accomplish in your ministry.

3. Over Communicate Organizational Clarity.  It is possible to build a great team and achieve organizational clarity… only to flounder because we forgot that we need to communicate it to those who are following.  As leaders, communication is A HUGE PRIORITY.  The reason that our plans don’t come to fruition most of the time is not because the plan was flawed… it is because we did not take the necessary step of OVER COMMUNICATING it to those who need to hear it.  Saying it once is not enough.  I loved the way he put it in the book: REPETITION, SIMPLICITY, MULTIPLE MEDIUMS, & CASCADING MESSAGES.  That is how you over communicate.

4. Reinforce Organizational Clarity through Human Systems.  It’s not just about communication… it’s about building and maintaining and reinforcing your purpose, vision, mission, values, etc… through systems that are easy to follow and that make the “WHY” relevant.  If “Discipleship through community” is a CORE VALUE of yours… it’s not enough to say it over and over again… you need to reinforce that value by putting a small group system in place that allows that value to be shown.

These 4 Disciplines seem like they should make sense… but a lot of times we forget to be OBSESSED with them, and it affects our ministry and our leadership.  What I have noticed is that student pastors who become “obsessed” with these disciplines tend to have very healthy youth ministries.  WHY?  because they have a team that is dedicated to clearly accomplish something and they over communicate what it is they are trying to accomplish using several mediums and systems.  EVERYONE KNOWS WHAT THE WIN IS!