Middle School Gatherings Part One

10994460_778993849732_4118635958539778622_nI became a Middle School pastor two years ago and it has completely changed how I look at our large group time! For a little context, I’m in a medium sized church who has its students meeting in large groups on Sunday mornings. Our middle school ministry has 6th through 8th grade students in it. The high school meets in one room and we dominate another. I’ve been in student ministry in some capacity now for nine years.

Some of this stuff is based on scientific fact and psychology and research.

Most of it is based off of assumptions and observations I had about middle school students when I was a youth pastor for 7th to 12th grade students. I knew they had shorter attention spans, higher energy, and were easily distracted. I’ve tried my best to plan to have those either work to help the lesson along or to have a plan for what to do when the expected occurs!

Let me walk you through our Sunday morning time and hope that it helps you take a closer look at what your group is doing. I’ll also share a few things I wish we did better.

Set-up Stuff Our time starts at 9:15 am, and I’m typically in the room no later than 8 am making sure last minute things are set and the stuff I put out on Friday has in fact survived the weekend. Sometimes I’ve got one of my kids with me, sometimes I don’t. They’re toddlers and have a few super fans with our students. The middle school worship band is typically practicing during this time and student volunteers show up as well. Middle school kids runs our lights, sound, and projection software. It’s awesome!

Hang Time
The first thing that happens on the schedule is hang time and I can’t stress how important this is! During this time the video game we have are going and students are in and out of the room with coffee and snacks. I’m doing my best to meet new kids and reconnect with students I haven’t seen in awhile. New kids get a coupon for a free drink to our coffee shop and an info card to fill out for me. I’ll typically pass out a few cards to other students standing around to show the new kid the coffee area downstairs. This is planned talk like crazy time. Music is playing, the band is off the stage, and everything is just waiting. Announcements typically run on the screens in the room on a loop.

Announcements/Sign-ups/Event Videos
At 9:30 am we call the students over.to grab a chair and I start off with a few announcements. If we did some awesome event the week before we show off pictures or videos from it. If sign-ups are starting, this is when we let kids know about it. Now this might seem like it’s no big deal but the point of it is to let students get settled into their chairs and transition from hanging to gathering.

This is the spot where we do some activity, game, video or illustration to get students thinking about the lesson ahead of us. I LOVE doing games where everyone plays and gets out of their chairs. This is a great time for that to happen! This Sunday we’re going to have an Easter egg hunt in our room. I’m still working on the logistics of that one… After the game is done and we get students settled back into their seats, it’s time for…

PART 2 coming soon!

We All Have Super Powers


We all have super powers!

Your words can change a student’s outlook on their entire week!
Proverbs 18:21 “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.”
How can you use your words to build up five students right now?
  • Text five students an encouraging Bible verse
  • Comment on five student’s Instagram photos and let them know you appreciate them
  • Hand write (and mail) a two line “You’re awesome because…” note to five students
  • Find out five student’s favorite snack, buy them, and give them to them during your next meeting with a post-it note of encouragement attached.
Get out there and use your super powers. Encourage a student today!

Appearance VS Reality and Student Ministry

Screen Shot 2015-01-13 at 12.40.26 PM

I just saw this video on social media and thought it had HUGE implications for student ministry (and interaction with people in general).

Check out the video below.

Things to think about after you watch this:

  • Not every student you see as “uninterested” is having a terrible time.
  • Not every student you see as “happy go lucky” is having a good time.
  • The words you use can either be used to build up or tear down.
  • Students often hide their true feelings under a facade of “just doing ok.”
  • Dogs are awesome.
What are your thoughts or feelings towards this?
What implications does this have for student ministry?
How are you going to get at the “true feelings” under the facade this week?

Who Is God?

five03What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.

A.W. Tower – The Knowledge of the Holy

I love that quote.

In fact, I love that whole book. It’s a short (but VERY heavy) read on who God is.

It’s so important that we get who God is right. Tozer goes on to say in his book that:

For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like. We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God.

I want the students I minister to thinking about God in a right way.

That’s why I wrote this small group study called “5 Awesome Things About God.”

I want students to know and understand who God is and what He is like. “5 Awesome Things About God” is a look at who God shows Himself to be in the first five chapters of Genesis.

I hope this study will be a different way to look at those chapters than we normally do, so that we can wrap our minds around who God is and what that means to us.

I end up being a pretty terrible salesman on many levels, so here’s my book in a PDF form for free.

The only thing I ask is that if you are a student pastor who wants to use this resource, let me know how it goes for your group and how I could make it better for others in the future.

Let’s get to work on thinking about who God is so we can worship the God who made us.

Click the link to download:

5 Awesome Things About God

Snapcash is a thing. So talk about it.

I have high hopes for the students I get the privilege of ministering to. I really do.
Routinely I watch them serve in amazing ways all over our church campus on a Sunday morning: in our coffee shop, in the nursery, in the parking lot, and even running the projection program, lights and sound in the middle school room.

That’s right, every student I’m bragging on is 11-14 years old.

They’re amazing.

But I really need to talk with their parents.

Not in a “Come to me office, you’re in trouble mister,” kind of way. Being a parent of three (smallish) girls has taught me a lot about how much I know about parenting teenagers.


But, being a student pastor, it’s certainly my job to ensure that parents are equipped to raise their kids well and set them up for success.

So that when an app known for:
1. Being used to send nude pics of oneself to friends/strangers
2. Leaking said nude pics to various websites and other willing participants
3. Denying that the purpose of their app is based in the idea that what is temporary doesn’t matter
Says that they are adding on a new feature that allows cash transactions between their users, I cringe. The implications of that ability to pay someone for a pic are far reaching to say the least.

So, as a student pastor, I know it’s my job to encourage parents to talk to their kids about what’s going on.

Let me be clear here to parents and students alike: I think you’re both really intelligent and capable.

But parents, I wish you would be a student of your students. As in, study what’s going on in student culture and find ways to really get “into” their world by whatever means necessary. Have conversations with your kids about what their internet habits are. Be in the know about what apps are on their phone. Don’t take a hands off approach here. There’s too much at stake.

Hear me, I’m not advocating taking away a kid’s smartphone because there’s “bad stuff out there.” That mentality leads to a life of fear and shutting kids away in their rooms with only a Bible and a TV loaded with the latest bunch of Christian movies.

But what I am saying is do what it takes to know what’s on your student’s mind, their hearts, and yes, even their phones.
And students, know this: Your parents are smarter than you give them credit for. When they set rules and boundaries for you, 99 times out of 100 they are right on target and have your best interest in mind. And that last 1 time is the time when you should do what they say out of respect, even if you think they’re way off base.

My main point here?

Parents, talk to your kids about their hearts and their habits. Find out what they are up to. Be involved in their for real lives as well as their digital lives.

And, coming from a former student who had parents and was quite capable of lying, don’t leave it at one conversation. Have conversations with your students about important things often. And sometimes, be a little pushy if you think they aren’t being 100% honest. They’ll thank you later.

Students, listen to what your parents have to say. Don’t lie to them. It’ll be better for you in the long run.

And student pastors, do your part. Inform parents of what you’re learning about student culture. Challenge students to be salt and light in a dark world.

And for the sake of everyone, don’t send money over Snapchat.

Picture credit.

Selfie: Three Week Student Series


I just uploaded a new series I did last year to my “Lessons” page. It’s free, so feel free to use it, change it up, and make it apply to your ministry! Click the picture to get the dropbox folder!

Series Overview:

Selfies are pictures taken of yourself, generally using a phone camera and then uploaded to social media. Students take these to show themselves looking their best, looking their worst, to show that they were at a location at a specific time and sometimes for no reason at all.

What this series seeks to do is give the students a snapshot of what the Bible has to say about them. When they take a selfie, they are trying to define themselves. What we want for them is to be defined by God and His standards.


  • Be a Kid (A lesson in humility)
  • Created (A lesson on what it means to be made by God)
  • Loved (A lesson about being loved by God)

Go Again

Then the Lord said to me, “Go again; show love to a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, just as the Lord loves the Israelites though they turn to other gods and love raisin cakes.”
Hosea 3:1

I’m finishing up a small group guide to Hosea and I’m just blown away by this verse.

Hosea isn’t told to go put up with his adulterous wife.

He isn’t told to break it off because it would be better for the kids to not be around their cheating mother.

He’s not even told to bring her back into her home and hold her adultery over her head for the rest of her life.

He’s told to go and love her again.

I can’t get over that this is how God loves us. We ran away from Him. We’re the ones who are far away. But instead of shame and guilt, we are given life abundantly.

What an awesome God we serve. I’m in awe of His love.

Student Ministry and Divorce: Get the story

Your students have stories about what happened to their family. They can tell you why mom and dad split up. They can tell you how weird it is living with a new brother or sister. They can tell you how they hate living out of a suitcase.

What you could easily do is go about your Sunday morning or Wednesday night and not really worry about the details. You could just be thankful that the students are here (this week at least because it’s not the week they go visit their other parent) and jump into your lesson without knowing their story.

As their minister, let me challenge you to know your student’s story.

It won’t be easy. You’ll have to make a lot of appointments with parents who may no be willing to give you the details. You’ll have to have some pretty awkward conversations with students about how they are handling the divorce, both when it happens, a year afterwards, and even six years down the road when they are still putting the pieces together about how it all works.

It’s messy business.

But if you plan on ministering to these students and their families well, you’re going to need to do some digging to get the history.
This is my challenge to you: get the story.

*This is an excerpt from my book: Student Ministry and Divorce: 4 Ways to Help Hurting Families.

Student Ministry #fail – Warm Bodies

Maybe you’ve heard the expression that all some volunteers need to be is a warm body?

Aka, someone who is actually alive.

There was a time in my ministry where I would have taken someone with a moderately lukewarm body.

I’ve never been really awesome at seeking out volunteers. I love it when I have them, but when it comes to recruiting volunteers to serve as small group leaders I really struggled early on.

And so whenever someone said they were “interested in helping with the kids” they would be given a copy of that month’s curriculum and shoved into a room of eight 7th grade boys.

Can you say “recipe for disaster?”

Your students and your church deserve your efforts in interviewing and vetting potential leaders.

Here’s what I should have done back then, and what I currently do to bring on volunteers. I wish I had a cool acronym, but IBISO isn’t actually a word. Sorry.


This is the phase where someone approaches you and says they are thinking about serving in student ministry. This could also be when you approach someone else to see if they want to begin serving because you see potential in them.

Background Check

Your church’s reputation will thank you down the road that you did this step and found out that the new person to your congregation has a history of “helping” with the student ministries of other churches. This is not an option. This is a requirement. My church takes it a step further and says that a volunteer can’t serve in any capacity until their background check has been in the church’s possession for a full two weeks.


Have a sit down interview with the potential volunteer. Ask them their testimony, their story, and why they want to serve in student ministry.  Make your expectations clear at this point. How long are you asking them to serve? In what capacity? What happens when they need to be out of town? What are the church policies? Line out your vision for the student minister here as well.

Don’t hold back. You want them to completely understand what they’re signing up for. That way you can reference this conversation later down the road if neccesary.


Set a period of time where this potential volunteer shadows another veteran for a time. Maybe it’s one month, maybe its three. You want them to be “in it” before they make their final decision and before you make yours. They may be an awesome person, who can’t connect with students whatsoever.

You also want them to see how you “do student ministry.” If they disagree with the fundamentals of something you do, having them on your team may be more harmful than helpful later on.

Having them shadow works out any of the potential kinks that may hinder their service to the ministry.


After they are done with their shadowing, have a follow-up. You may find that they are no longer willing to help out in the capacity they thought they wanted to. You may find out you don’t want them to help out. They may be better helping out with the student ministry in a way that doesn’t involve…students.

Either way, this is your chance to encourage them if you both are still good to go and give them the offer for a set time.

But This is A Lot of Work

Take it from a guy who has failed when it comes to volunteers in the past. This may seem like a lot of work. Doing it this way will save you a lot of heartache and headache down the road if your interview process can be summed up in one question: “When can you start?”

Don’t just settle for a warm body.

Do the work on the front end and you’ll find out that you have a stellar team surrounding you. It’ll be worth every minute!

Student Ministry and Divorce: The Dropping Divorce Rate

Let’s get some things settled on this topic pretty quickly. First, the divorce rate in America is not 50%. That’s an urban myth. Most people come by that stat by looking at the numbers and misreading what they mean. For example: in 1990 there were 2,443,000 marriages and 1,182,000 divorces[i]. A little math on my smart phone tells me that there were almost half as many divorces in 1990 as there were marriages.


Hold your horses.

What this table does NOT show is how many marriages existed before 1990. The only we see in this table is how many new marriages were performed. In fact, there were 54 million preexisting marriages in 1990[ii].

Yes, 1 million divorces are bad. But 1 million is not half of 54 million. That’s bad math.

And, current statistics show that divorces are slowing in recent years, not gaining speed[iii].

For another fact that’ll make your day a little brighter is that those who are active in their faith are much less likely to divorce than those who are “nominal” Christ followers.

Just because charts are cool, check this one out[i]:

Faith Affiliation, % Divorce Likelihood Reduction

Protestant – Nominal, 20%

Protestant – Conservative, -10%

Protestant – Active Conservative, -35%

Catholic, -18%

Catholic (nominal), -5%

Catholic – Active, -31%

Jewish, 39%

Jewish (nominal), 53%

Jewish – Active, -97%

This is from W. Bradford Wilcox, a leading sociologist at the University of Virginia and director of the National Marriage Project. What the numbers mean is this: A nominal protestant is 20 % MORE likely to divorce than the average American who claims no religion. However, the Conservative Protestant is 10 % less likely to get a divorce than Average Joe American. An Active Conservative is a whopping 35 % less likely to get a divorce!

So, by this data, we can actually see that being a Christian, an active one who attends church, is much less likely to get a divorce than someone who is only nominally involved or not involved at all!

So on one end, the data we’ve been told by many teachers who mean well is wrong and damaging to the cause of Christ. If it’s really true that Christians are divorcing at the same rate as the world, then Jesus doesn’t actually change many lives like He claims.

Mini rant over.

But even if the general population’s divorce rate is going down AND being active in your faith highly increases your chance of avoiding divorce, there’s still one issue that needs your thoughts:

Your students whose parents are divorced don’t care.

*This is an excerpt from my book: Student Ministry and Divorce: 4 Ways to Help Hurting Families. Continue reading