Leader: When facing a fire do you add fuel or water?

Youth Leader, has this happened to you? A student comes to you with a secret.  A parent calls and is concerned about kids smoking outside the church. The pastor is angry about the mess you left in the kitchen after your event. What do you do? As a leader you carry a bucket in each hand. One bucket is full of water, the other is full of gasoline. The job of a leader is to determine which bucket to pour on each fire that arises, and to train your volunteers to do the same. Some leaders always use the same bucket. To them, every situation is an emergency, and they add fuel to every issue that arises. Other leaders try to minimize everything. They pour water on every issue that is brought to them. Both of these leaders are exercising  poor judgement. A wise leader has learned which situations need fuel and need to be ramped up and which situations need water, and need to be diffused.

Once as a youth pastor I was running a HS Camp where one of my volunteers came to me with a concern. A volunteer was seen giving an extra long hug to one of the teenage girls.

Decision: Fuel

I confronted the volunteer, without accusation, “This was seen… it is true? What is the extent of your relationship? Don’t do it again. Stay away from her.”

End result: The volunteer continued to exhibit physical behavior toward this minor. The leader was sent home from the camp and removed from leadership. It was discovered soon after that they had a sexual relationship prior to the camp.

Fuel was the correct bucket for this situation.

Most other times a hug is just a hug. How do you know when to add fuel and when to add water?

1. Fuel – Don’t ever ignore safety concerns. If someone brings you a concern regarding safety or health, treat it seriously. If after investigation you determine that the issue is overblown, then you can add water. But always err on the side of protecting students.

2. Water -In general, I pour water on issues of conflict between people, where motives are being assigned and assumptions are being made. I pour water on gossip and slander when it comes to me. I do not allow an atmosphere to be created that allows or encourages that sort of fire to smolder under the surface. Pour water on the gossip and actively engage in resolving the situation where appropriate.

3. What if I’m unsure which bucket to use? Solicit advice from an older / wiser figure in your life. This may be your pastor, or a mentor, or simply a parent you respect and trust. Ask around “Wisdom is found in many counselors.”

Part of developing as a leader is knowing which bucket to use when. To make a mistake in this area can have a high cost attached to it. Take the time to seek wisdom when you’re unsure. And maybe even when you are…



Are you in your “Sweet Spot?”

“The Sweet Spot”

If you are a baseball fan you know what “The Sweet Spot” is. It’s the fat part of the bat where you get the most “pop” if you hit the ball there. To hit the ball period is a good thing. Even the very best baseball players only get a hit once out of every three times at the plate. But if you hit the ball in the sweet spot, the ball will literally jump off the bat. It goes faster and further than hits on other parts of the bat.

In our ministry, we’ve had more than our fair share of hits over the 43 seasons that Youth Dynamics has been in existence. We strike out occasionally, but we always try to put the ball into play. Over the years our ministry has tried to reach teens in a variety of ways: Teen Moms, Native Ministry, Family Counseling, the list goes on and on. Over 10 years ago we paired our ministry down to 2 anchor branches: Communities and Adventure.

We decided that, while the other things we were doing had value, they were not what we were best at, or what God had called us to do. We often talk about our “sweet spot” as an organization. From the first moment I came to YD, I heard about this “sweet spot.” It’s simply this: taking a teenager we are in relationship with on the Communities side of our ministry, and getting them on an extended Adventure Trip.  This is where the magic happens; the “pop” off the ministry bat as it were. If you wonder where we are headed as an organization, this is it. We are trying to make this happen frequently, so that we can operate in our “sweet spot,” more often than not. It’s where our organization really leverages our unique giftings for maximum Kingdom Impact.

Have you ever wondered where you’re “sweet spot” is?  It’s worth discovering, because you’ll come alive when you do.

Discipleship – Yoda style

Now where is that parent that's been bad-mouthing you?

Obi-Wan Moder

I had a rare weekend. I was one of dozens of speakers at a conference in the Seattle area, and was able to be with both men who have influenced my youth ministry journey more than any other. Monty took me under his wing when I was a rookie in my first youth ministry tour. I was 20 and had just taken my first youth pastor job. He was the youth pastor at the big church across town and took me under his wing immediately. He not only helped me early on, but over the years has helped me survive some difficult youth ministry seasons. Monty helped me develop in my leadership capacity as a young leader, and challenges me still today as an example of a guy who NEVER mails it in. He still brings it every time. The other main mentor in my world is Bo. He has been coaching me through Lead222 over much of the last 10 yrs. He brings a football coaches mentality to our relationship. He lives out the verse in 2 Timothy 4:2 that tells us to “correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.” When I am with Bo, I feel like he grabs me by the face mask and tells me the hard stuff I need to hear. And I listen.

Bo and Monty shared the stage for a few moments to answer questions about longevity in youth ministry during the conference. And as I sat in the audience, I couldn’t help but think of what a privilege to have, not one, but both of them in my life. What kind of leader would I be today had they not taken the time to invest in me? Would I even be a leader today? Maybe, but then again maybe not. I definitely would be much lesser of a leader without their influence in my life.

It’s for this reason that I continue to invest in young leaders. I hope that I can pay it forward to help other leaders survive the difficult seasons of life. And that they in turn will invest in others, thereby continuing the legacy of investment in others over the years. It’s the charge of one of my life verses: 2 Tim 2:2. “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” This is discipleship. It’s exactly what Bo and Monty have done for me. Who do you have in your life that’s investing in you? Who are you investing in?

Seattle & Portland are less Religious than Las Vegas. The None Zone – Infographic

The NW has lots of Nones.

We created this infographic to help illustrate what’s happening in the US right now. People are disassociating with religion at an alarming rate. Read my blog post “Rise of the Nones” for more detail.


The Rise of the Nones!

Religious Adherents by County 2010

Religious Adherents by County 2010

You may not have heard of the “Nones” yet, but you will. They are a rapidly growing group in the U.S. who claim no religious preference or no religion at all. They include Atheists and Agnostics but the majority are simply those who declare they have no religion or religious affiliation. Only 8 % of the U.S. adult population in 1990, their numbers have risen steadily since to now total 20%, 46 million Americans: a flat 1 out of every 5 adults and a startling 1 of every 3 adults under the age of 30, according to a new 80 page study released yesterday (and yes I read it all!) (Oct 9, 2012) by the Pew Forum on Religion in Public Life.[i]

none chart

There are “Nones” everywhere in the Northwest especially. So many in fact, that a few years ago the Northwest was termed “The None Zone” because there are more “Nones” located here than any other region of the United States.  In fact, “by comparison, there are twice as many “Nones” in the Northwest than there are in the Bible Belt.” [ii]

Here are a few interesting facts about the Northwest according to the most comprehensive study of its kind released in May 2012 by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies (ASARB), the “2010 U.S. Religious Census: Religious Congregations & Membership Study (RCMS), gives county by county details on congregations, members, adherents and attendance for 236 different faiths groups.[iii]

  • Oregon & Washington were ranked as #44 & #45 least religious states overall.[iv]
  • Of U.S. Metro areas with over 1 million people, Portland was ranked dead last in lowest % of religious adherents, with Seattle was ranked 3rd to the bottom, with LESS religious adherents than Las Vegas, Nevada.[v]
  • In fact, out of 942 Metropolitan areas, WA & OR accounted for nearly 1/3 of the top 5% least churched metro areas in the U.S., with Oak Harbor, WA ranking 10th lowest % of religious adherents. My town of Bellingham was ranked 54th lowest. (888:942)[vi]

Preachers and pundits will be trying to determine what all this new data means, but even a cursory glance paints a picture of the Northwest as one of the most unchurched regions of the country, along with the Northeast. Researchers expect this slide towards secularization to continue as the US follows the decline of the church in Australia, Europe and Canada.

And while I may not have much hope that we can stop the slide, I do believe that what we do is making a difference, one teenager at a time. It certainly made a difference for the 500 teenagers who made a decision for Christ last year through Youth Dynamics.

Thank you for supporting the missionaries of Youth Dynamics. No question there is need for the Gospel overseas, but this is our Jerusalem, our Judea; and we are glad to be waging war here in the States for the souls of America’s teenagers. Together we are making a difference.


The NW has lots of Nones.

“Rise of the Nones!”

Open Seattle is this Saturday – today is the last day for cheap registration $25


Saturday we are part of a brand new type of Youth Ministry Conference. Here’s a big chunk about Open Seattle from Adam McLane’s blogpost last week.

What’s Open Seattle?

Open is an experiment. It’s asking the the youth ministry world the question… “What would happen if we completely flipped the script on a youth ministry training event?

  • What if a national organization gave leadership to local organizers?
  • What if front-line youth workers were favored in speaker selection over those on the speaking circuit?
  • What if we took chances instead of playing it safe on the stuff we present?
  • What if The Youth Cartel didn’t have to fly its name out front, but instead lifted up the names of its partners?
  • What if none of the speakers got paid? What if I didn’t have to get paid to help organize it… I just did it for a fair share?
  • Speaking of money, what if a local YM charity was benefited financially?
  • Heck, what if we just posted the full event budget online for anyone to see?
  • Why not record everything and then share all the sessions with the community on a central website… so no matter where you live you can have access to training resources and the freshest ideas out there on the ground?
  • What if we perfected the thing and just kind of open-sourced THE WHOLE THING so we can help people who have been to one organize one themselves?
My hope for the answer to all of those questions is… I think that the best ideas will be given a voice. My hope is that when front-line youth workers get an opportunity to share what they know and even their big, crazy ideas with a group of people just like them… that it’ll spur on more ideas and spark new innovations with the net result that we’ll reach more teenagers with the Good News.

So yes, it’s an experimental thing. Originally there was a lot of risk. It was really hard to explain the overall concept to the first few partners– Jeff at SPU, Brian Aaby at YouthMark, Mark Moder at Youth Dynamics. But as we kept talking about it this idea really took off. They made the idea even better.


I think it’s gonna be a fantastic event. I love the whole concept. If you have a team it’s a cheap local training with some great regional speakers. And I’m uber excited about my new session.

Hope to see you there.

Click for Open Seattle  – Registration & more info 


Why isn’t my small group working?

Everyone has small groups these days, but how many of them are actually working? Not that I’m a small groups guru, but I probably do have more experience than most. When I was a youth pastor at Real Life Ministries, I had 80 active small groups meeting weekly with 125 volunteer leaders in our MS/HS/Young Adult ministries. Real Life is a small groups church with over 5,000 people meeting weekly in 700 small groups. Pastor Jim Putman’s latest book  does a great job of explaining the why and the how of RLM small groups if you’re interested.

This diagnostic is not exhaustive, but if your small group is struggling, I’m guessing you have one or more of these things going on:

  1. Your group is too big. – A small group should not be 15-20 people, it should be 6-8 people. If your group is too big, it becomes just another class or small service. People should not be able to hide in a small group, it defeats the purpose.
  2. Your group’s purpose and your group’s parameters are not congruent – Speaking of purpose, what is the purpose of your small group? What are you trying to accomplish with it? If you are trying to make disciples, having a group breakout during service with visitors coming and going each week will not work, it undermines the intimacy you need for discipleship to take place. Either you need to be realistic about what you are actually trying to accomplish with the group, or you need to change one or more of your parameters: location, time, who, gender, frequency etc…
  3. You see yourself as a teacher instead of a facilitator. This is a problem with many groups. The leader spends way too much time prepping for the talk. This guarantees too much speaking from the leader and not enough group participation.  As the leader, you should not see yourself as the expert or the teacher, but rather as a facilitator. Your goal is not to give this awesome lesson with all this detail and insight, but to get participation from EVERYONE in the group. “Jon, I notice that you have been pretty quiet tonight, what do you think about this question?”
  4. You are not giving enough pastoral care outside your group time.  I think the purpose of most small groups is wrong. It’s not about creating a better delivery system for your material to be taught and for your people to learn the right stuff. That can be done in the main service and in elective classes. The purpose of most small groups should be to “create a relational environment for the purpose of discipleship.” (Putman) And if that’s the purpose, as the leader of that small group, it is your responsibility to be the primary pastoral care giver for the members of your group. You don’t have to take each one out for coffee every week, but there should be a phone call or text message, some point of connection outside the group each week. You can tell a leader who is doing it right by who the members of their group call during a crisis. If they call their small group leader instead of their pastor or youth pastor, give them an attaboy. That leader has become a shepherd and not just a teacher. They are making disciples.
  5. Small groups are not a big enough deal. Pastors come to visit Real Life to look for the secret to their success. How does a church grow from 1 small group to a church of 8000 in 10 years in a rural community? Is it their material? Is it their leaders?  There are several reasons small groups work there but one of the big ones is that it is pushed at every service, and in every department of the church. Small groups for many churches and youth groups is an appendage, an add on, a way to close the back door so that people who come get connected relationally so they don’t leave. This would almost be considered an anathema to RLM, where small groups are THE way to make disciples. I’ve heard it said from Putman dozens of times from the platform, that if RLM had to cancel the weekend service or small groups; they would cancel the weekend services hands down. In fact, they are convinced that if the economy crashed completely and they lost everything and all the pastors had to go get regular jobs; that they could continue to fulfill the mandate to go and make disciples without having weekend services. Whether you agree with that or not is a mute point, the point is that Small Groups are a Big Deal there, and if yours is just an add on, an elective, don’t be surprised if your people opt out.
  6. Lastly. If your pastor or your youth pastor is not in a small group himself and talking about his personal experiences in his messages, small groups will never become part of the culture in your congregation or youth group. Ethos leaks from the top down. If it is not a personal value to your top organizational leader, it will never become inculcated as part of your organizational culture.

I hope this helps. If you are having challenges with your small groups, keep fighting. You are fighting the right fight. DO NOT SETTLE for anything but success when it comes to discipleship.  Everything else is a waste of time, if we can’t succeed at disciple-making in the church.

What other barriers have you come across that you think would be helpful for those struggling to make small groups work?


What kind of leader are you?

Do you know an insecure leader?

Some great leaders I know...

Some great leaders I serve with…

I’m not sure what it is about ministry that attracts a certain type of leader, but it does. You’ve seen it and you’ve experienced it. There is definitely a consistent DNA pattern that runs through many leaders in the church. It’s insecurity. And it’s glaring problem in church leadership today. This holds true in Youth Ministry as well as the Senior Pastorate. Maybe it’s that Jesus gives insecure people the validation they are looking for, but whatever it is, insecurity is one of the most common personality traits I see in ministers. And it’s horrible to see and experience.

If you’ve ever been part of a congregation with an insecure leader you know what I’m talking about.

Here are some sure signs of an insecure leader:

  1. The insecure leader has very few volunteers; “no one else can do it right.” He says he is open to people volunteering, but he has nearly impossible standards for volunteering. The insecure leader loves being important, (feeling irreplaceable), and does not like to share the limelight. In contrast, it is the secure leader’s joy to train up and release others to do ministry.
  2. The insecure leader only recruits “yes men” to his board or inner circle. One of a leader’s greatest difficulties is the ability to solicit accurate assessment and garner honest feedback. The insecure leader sees the contrary voice as opposition, and will not stand for it. Conversely, the secure leader surrounds himself with wise men and women whose different voices bring balance to his blind spots. In sports, a head coach wants his assistant coaches to point out the team’s vulnerabilities. This makes the team stronger as the team can then address those weaknesses instead of foolishly overlooking them.
  3. An insecure leader cares too much about what people are saying & thinking. Constantly asking people “What do you think?” the insecure leader determines direction by getting it from others. In another expression, the insecure leader uses questioning to attempt to maintain control over the court of public opinion, “What have you heard?”  The secure leader is confident in the direction he is headed and does not lead by public opinion polls. He does not feel threatened when others do not agree. He cares about the thoughts of others, but not overly so.
  4. An insecure leader hates conflict while a secure leader almost enjoys it.  The insecure leader sees conflict as a threat to his leadership while a secure leader sees conflict as an opportunity to shape the contrary opinion or action, and bring the individual on board. For that to happen there must be discussion, the issue must surface, at times to the point of conflict for there to be resolution and incorrect thinking shaped or brought into alignment.

In my experience as a youth pastor, I have worked for both extremes:  the insecure pastor, and the very secure pastor.  It’s been said that “you learn more from a bad boss than a good one.”  And while I’m not sure that’s completely true, I certainly learned quite a bit about the type of leader I desire to be from experiencing both.  I have not always been a secure leader. But I’ve seen up close the tyranny of the insecure leader. So when conflict arises in my life, and I want to go all schoolyard on people, I pause and remind myself about the type of leader I wish to be and act accordingly, knowing that eventually my feelings will get in line.

So the question isn’t so much “What kind of leader do you work for?” It’s “What kind of leader do you want to be?” I certainly know which one I’d rather follow.


“Trying to get everyone to like you is a sign of mediocrity.”  Colin Powell

I’m a CEO. Why I volunteer.

Did you know if you put a Reese’s PB Cup on your smores it’ll rock your world? This is the night that happened for me.

It’s true. I have 50 employees in 3 states. I have millions of dollars that needs to be raised annually for the non-profit that I run. I’m married and still have a teenager at home. Fact is, I’m a busy person, and so are you.

And I volunteer every week in my church’s youth ministry, here’s why:

1. Volunteering with teens has helped me become a better parent – Being around teenagers has helped me learn how to relate to teenagers in general, how to have conversations – and learn what issues they’re dealing with. It’s also helped me learn what is normal developmentally and helps me freak out about the right things, instead of over-reacting about the wrong stuff.

2. The church needs parents in to be involved in youth ministry – I was a youth pastor for about 5 years before I had children of my own. I always thought I understood the relationship between parents and their children, but after I had my firstborn…. WHOA! I really understood it! I suddenly understood why parents freaked out about safety issues, about transportation, about who was supervising, about getting home late. I now get why some go off on coaches, and teachers, and Little League umpires, and youth pastors. Not that it make’s it okay, but I get it.

3. Teenagers need positive older male role models – this generation has been called a “fatherless generation.” Men are by-in-large gone from daily involvement in their teenager’s lives. Even the ones who have a father figure in the home, often are not engaged in relationship with them.  I used to think that my best days as a youth worker were  when I was in my early 20s; as a kind of big brother to teenagers. But now that I am the age of their parents, I am enjoying the STRONGEST platform I have ever had for youth ministry. Young men and young women alike need a responsible appropriate adult male in their world.

4. Teenagers need to see functioning marriages – Heidi & I have been married for 24 yrs. That’s like 172 in dog years. Our 17 yr. old son brings his friends over all the time.  We encourage them to stay for dinner. We invite them to watch a DVD with us. We ask them to tag along while we walk the dog. Many people want to mysticise discipleship but it’s really not that difficult and neither is youth ministry.  Teenagers need to see Godly men and women, responding to everyday situations, through the lens of the Gospel, from someone who loves them deeply.

And at the end of the day, that’s why I volunteer with teenagers in my church. As Christ followers we are to follow Christ in His mission.  In Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus commissions all would call themselves Christians to go and make disciples. You do not have to disciple teenagers. But if you call yourself a Christian, you’d better be discipling someone. I’m choosing to disciple teenagers and those who work with them. I invite you to do the same.

Think back on your life for a moment… who was it that influenced you as a teenager?

What did they do to influence you?


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