The Hardest part of Change

Change is never easy.      change

Organizationally we are in the middle of a HUGE strategic change. After 44 years as a non-profit, Youth Dynamics (YD) is reorganizing in order to maximize our Kingdom Impact. It’s been almost 2 years since we started the process, and I believe we have just passed the tipping point. Change is imminent.

Personally, after 47 years of eating pizza, I started working out for the first time since High School. I completed p90x this summer and 30 days ago just began a a new workout program called Body Beast.

With all this change happening in different areas of my life this year, I’m discovering a few things about CHANGE that I thought I should share.

1. Deciding to CHANGE was the hardest part

When I made the decision to start p90x I had gotten to the point in my life where I was completely fed up with things the way they were. I was overweight, I didn’t like how I looked, almost to the point of being disgusted with myself. With my organization, coming to the conclusion that our mission was being compromised by things staying the way they were was critical. I had to get to the point that I could not live with things remaining the same, knowing that a change would make a difference in thousands of teenagers lives. And then I had to convince my organization of the same. Organizational change is more difficult than making a personal change, but both begin with you deciding that change needs to happen.

2. Change doesn’t happen as quickly as I’d like

In my exercise programs, you only take your measurements every 30 days. I was so excited for my first measurement in p90x, I felt so strong, so healthy. I was excited to finally quantify the results. Day 30 came, we took my measurements… and to my great surprise there was not much measurable change. I was so disappointed. I was eating healthy, I had worked out 30 days straight. Where was this change I was promised? Then my 21 yr old coach said something profound to me.

“Just keep doing the work, the results will take care of themselves.”

I had to trust the process. We say it all the time in YD. Do the work. Trust the process. I couldn’t quantify the results yet, but I knew I was in the middle of a massive change. And sure enough, it wasn’t long after that the weight started peeling off. Yesterday was my 30th day of this new exercise program, Body Beast; and the same thing happened after taking my measurements. I have some tangible results, but not near what my expectations were. But after my success of completing p90x I now know this is normal and I am not nearly as disappointed. I will keep doing the work, and let the results take care of themselves.

3. For me the hardest part of change happens way before the battle even starts.

I expect change to be hard work. I expect there to be obstacles. But in my life, the battle is won at the beginning. Deciding I need to change, then determining what changes need to be made are the biggest obstacles to me making a change. But once I lock onto something, I will see it through to completion. And there will be tearing of flesh to get me to change course.

How about you? Is there a change that needs to happen in your life? What part of the process is most difficult for you?


Read more about my change in my blogpost -“I need a new mirror – Youth Ministry made me Fat”.


I just previewed the Son of God Movie


So can I be brutally honest? I hate most Christian movies. They’re cheesy, the story lines are predictable and the acting in mediocre at best. So when I got invited to preview the Son of God movie, to say I was skeptical would be an understatement. I went in a skeptic, I walked out a fan. The Son of God was the best movie about Christ since The Passion, and not nearly as violent. At 2:45 minutes, it is long, but doesn’t drag. I thought the writers did a good job of portraying the culture and the setting that first century Jews found themselves in under occupation of Rome, and showing the tension between the Jewish religious leaders and their Roman rulers. For purists, there are inaccuracies and artistic licence taken in a few places, but nothing that I can’t live with, and in some places it really helps the story. For instance, I really enjoyed the role of Nicodemus inserted into the narrative, and his perspective is one that many unchurched viewers will resonate with. As a Christ-follower, I will not be ashamed to take any of my unchurched friends to this movie, which is saying something. Plan on getting dessert or something after the movie, so you can take full advantage of the inevitable questions that will come up. If you are a youth worker, I would encourage your small group leaders to take their groups, even purchase the tickets if necessary. People are not going to drop to their knees at the conclusion of this movie, but the Son of God movie can be a fantastic tool in the hands of a missional Christ-follower. Don’t miss this rare opportunity as a Christ-follower to utilize good media in our mission. To quote Peter near the end of the movie… “We’ve got work to do.”



Leader: After the Big Event “Watch What you Say!”


You’ve been planning and talking about this big event for months. Now it’s finally over and someone asks you “So how did it go?”

You have two choices:
Option 1) Tell them about a problem and what didn’t go well or
Option 2) tell them a story of success tied to the event. It sounds so simple, but listen to yourself and you’ll be surprised how often you choose Option One and tell people “It went good, but…” The problem is when you choose Option One, you’ve just made that problem the story that circulates. “It was a great fundraiser, but it went really long and we fell short of our goal.” Or, “It was a great retreat but Johnny got hurt.” This story then becomes what those people share with others when asked… “Hey do you know how the fundraiser went?”

Instead you should almost always choose Option Two. What if instead of sharing the problems, you instead chose to share a story of life change that was connected to the event?

So instead you might say something like: “The fundraiser was fantastic. “This teenage girl talked about when she was incarcerated and how the program changed her life… It was amazing!”

How much better to have that become the story that circulates by word of mouth? When that happens, it tells people what you value. When you say… “The fundraiser was just okay. We only had 46 people there and barely raised $3,700.” You are telling people how you evaluate success. In other words, you are telling people not enough people came and not enough money was raised. They think to themselves, “I’m glad I didn’t go and waste my evening.” Instead you want them to think “Wow, I would have loved to have heard that; I need to make sure I don’t miss out next time.”

When I was a youth pastor I used to hate it when after a big retreat or missions trip my senior pastor would stop me in the hall… “Hey, how did it go?” Did anybody get hurt? Did you make budget?” That made me feel like that the bottom line was the only thing that he really cared about, (which I knew wasn’t true). So after a few years I figured something out. On our our way back from the retreat I would find a kid story from the event. I would then I’d send out an email to the rest of the staff talking about the story of life change. I’d also tell all my leaders who went to share this story when they were asked how the event went. This created such a positive buzz about the event. We learned to help shape the story that was told. Before I started doing that, a kid might get hurt and that became all anyone talked about after the retreat and it would totally hijack the attention away from all the amazing positive stuff that happened.

It’s not manipulation, it’s simply being intentional about your words. The stories you share become the narrative that people repeat. Make sure the story that’s told, is the one you want.


Leader: Are you coasting?


“Mailing it in” is what we used to call it in sports. Its the term you use when you get to the place in your life where you’ve done all this before, and honestly you’re bored. You’ve stopped pushing, you’ve stopped growing, you’re leaning hard on your vast experience, and you’re not giving it your best. You’ve starting repeating old messages, not prepping like you used to. You’ve begun a new habit of leaving a little early from work, and you’ve started coming in late. You’re basically going through the motions. You’ve stopped dreaming. You’re clocking in and clocking out. What used to be a dream job, had become just a job. It’s a horrible place to be in life, but especially sinful in a ministry context. Remember what it was like to be nervous to stand in front of a group of kids and deliver a message? Remember when you led your first parents meeting and the feeling you had in the pit of your stomach that someone was gonna figure out that you didn’t know what the crap you were doing? What happened to that? You used to dream about God doing stuff, but reality has sucked the life out of you. You no longer have any dreams. You’re mailing it in.

As a veteran youth worker I’ve been there a time or two. It’s natural to get comfortable with things after you do them over and over. And it’s okay to not get as nervous as you used to. But you must fight the urge to let lethargy creep in as you gain experience. It will lull you to sleep like anesthesia. And your people will follow.

I remember when our youth ministry had grown to a place where it needed another level of leadership. I had some very talented youth workers that were trained up and ready to take over both the Middle School and High School programs. I wasn’t really ready to let go, but they were chomping at the bit, young bucks with talent, energy and passion. I knew as a leader, I needed to step aside and let them run. So I added an extra layer of leadership, and put each of them in charge of Middle School and High School respectively, and I oversaw the vision, mission, direction of the whole thing. My mistake was not holding onto any direct contact work with teenagers. I didn’t mandate that I speak every month. I started snowboarding more. I let the youth workers dream about the youth ministry, and I started dreaming about fresh powder. My create energy and passion migrated to this new area, while my heart for youth ministry languished. I got bored with my job. Something else had captured my heart. Here I was at a megachurch, one of the most influential churches in the Northwest, and I was bored.

By the time I realized my mistake, it was too late. I had given the keys to the car away to the new youth guys, and there was no taking them back. And after several conversations with my boss and Sr. Pastor, who were both close friends of mine, with tears in our eyes, we realized that I needed to move on. I resigned, and started the process of dreaming again. I left the comfort of the big church with the nice salary and good benefits and started over.

It was terrifying. I had to ask the question, “What would I want to do if I could do anything?” I had to reengage my heart and connect it to my mission again. While it was scary and uncertain, it was exhilarating at the same time. We are not designed to mail it in. We are designed for greatness, to achieve more than what we thought we could. We were created to chase dreams, God’s dreams, to grow and develop, to do hard things.

If your heart has become disconnected from your job, you owe it to God, to your people, to your family… Most of all you owe it to yourself, to re-engage. Start the process today.

Your life depends on it. You were not created to mail in a mediocre existence.
You were designed to dream God dreams. Get to it.


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…


The “Be-With” Factor

How many pancakes does it take to make a disciple?

How many pancakes does it take to make a disciple?

A few years ago I was taking a bunch of Middle School boys to play Laser-tag.  As we exited I-90 we came upon a homeless man at the stoplight.  The boys were in a goofy mood like teenage boys are apt to do at times.  One of the boys asked if he could “give the guy a toothpick,” since his sign said “Anything will help.”  The boys were all laughing as we pulled up next to him, and I seized the teachable moment.  I rolled down the window and said, “Hey, I don’t have any cash, but I’ll buy you lunch at Dick’s if you’re hungry.”  His eyes got as wide as saucers as he vigorously shook his head, “yes, please!”  We pulled into the parking lot and I walked over and shook his hand and asked him what he wanted.  “Just a hamburger would be great.”  We ordered our food plus an extra hamburger, shake and fries for our new friend.  The boy who had originally made the toothpick offer was the first to volunteer to take the man his food. The man was very appreciative and we talked for a brief moment before we hopped back in the car. As we started down the road I asked the question, “Why did we do that?” I let them kick it around a bit before landing on the passage in Matthew 24 where Jesus tells us to take care of the poor.  “I was hungry and you fed me…”

As parents and youth workers we must always be on the lookout for teachable moments… they are easily missed. Boys especially are active learners and retain lessons longer when they are brought into the real world. But often we are too hurried to notice those moments and they quickly pass us by, a missed opportunity.  Often times we think of discipleship as a Sunday School class or something similar. But life transfer does not happen in a class. How did Jesus disciple his boys?? Mark 3 says: “After spending the night in prayer he chose those he wanted to “BE WITH’ him.”  Ministry of presence.

As parents and youth workers alike, our greatest desire is to pass on our faith to our kids.  It’s not rocket science; and it’s not as complex as we often make it. To effectively mentor or disciple a student we simply must “BE WITH” them.

We only have a few short years with our children and the rest of our lives to work. The greatest gift we can give teenagers is to “BE WITH” them.

As youth workers many of us have been lulled to sleep by the siren song of technology, incorrectly believing that if we put on a more relevant service with flashy video and a hot band that we will change more kids lives.  It’s not true.

There is no replacement for quantity time.  Not quality time, QUANTITY.

Flashy services aren’t inherently wrong, but they are not the end in itself… they must be the means to an end… which is simply this:


Jesus modeled for us his method of discipleship.  How did he transfer his values to a ragtag group of teenage boys??  He simply hung out with them.  As youth workers or parents our goal must be the same.  To walk the road of life with our kids and to look for teachable moments where they watch us live out our Christian faith.

I heard Jeannie Mayo once say…. “Whoever spends the most time with a teenager… wins.”  

And that’s the truth whether you’re a parent or a youth worker.

 For more on this topic read Bo Boshers book, “The Be-With Factor.” Zondervan.

Why aren’t there any HS Seniors in the Youth Group?

grad ballonsAre you asking yourself this question as graduation season is in full swing? Where are all the HS Seniors? Why don’t we have any upperclassmen in our youth ministry? It’s a legitimate question to ask if yours are absent.  It’s not just that they get girlfriends, jobs and driver’s licenses. There are other reasons our HS Seniors have left the building.

Here are a few diagnostic questions to ask yourself:

1. Have you involved Upperclassmen in the leadership of your Youth Ministry?

Is it realistic to think that kids are going to come into your youth ministry at 11 or 12 and sit and watch for 7 years? Upperclassmen must be involved in leadership to stay engaged or youth group gets old for them. Youth Ministries that unlock this key will find that students who take ownership of the youth group, will grow faster personally and help the group grow as well. High School’s trust upperclassmen with leadership. Are you secure enough in your leadership to do this? Or do you want to do everything yourself? You say its about quality control, but what if it’s just about control?  Do we want a student’s greatest leadership challenges to come only from their coach or their teacher?

2. Have you been in your church for less than 3-4 years?

Youth Pastors in transition are one of the most common reason that youth ministries don’t have upperclassmen in them. When a new youth pastor comes, it’s easy for the older students to disconnect. It’s nothing personal, you just aren’t their youth pastor. Their’s just left. Meanwhile, the middle schoolers who felt second class to the old youth pastor, often seize the opportunity to have a youth pastor of their own. These 7th and 8th graders will be the nucleus around which your youth ministry legacy will be built. If you stick around 4+ years, it’ likely they will as well.

3. Is it possible that they might not need your youth group to be spiritually healthy?

It almost seems sacrilegious to say it, but is it possible that all teenagers need to come to your youth group to be spiritually healthy?  Do you believe that? If so, you are mistaken. I remember when I came to grips with this thought years ago, that every kid may not need my youth ministry to grow mature in their faith. It was a hard pill to swallow. But strong families, private schools, para-church youth ministries, serving opportunities, even being involved in the main congregation can provide fantastic opportunities for teenagers to find community, accountability and spiritual growth. Do not try to guilt those teens into coming back to youth group, rather try to discover what they are missing, and fill in the gaps. Maybe they have enough big group stuff but are lacking accountability. Maybe they would like to be in a small group with you and a few of their friends, or simply meet with you for coffee occasionally. Yes, culture has changed the youth ministry game in our country. People are busier than ever, and there is nothing busier than a High School senior. My wife and I have one of our own graduating next week. He is one of the more mature spiritual kids I’ve known, and I’ve watched him slowly disconnect with his high school youth group, and the youth pastor he loves, as he moves to the next phase of his life. And it’s normal stage of adolescent development…

1 Corinthians 13:11 (NIV) When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.


Youth Dynamics – Scholarship Video

Take 3 min to watch this and help a teenager. Other than a missions trip, nothing in my 28 years of youth ministry has as much impact on a teenagers life as an extended adventure trip in the wilderness!

Click to Donate

Youth Dynamics Infographic

Youth Dynamics Infographic

Here is a brand new infographic with some very interesting stats about teens. Did anything surprise you? Help YD with their scholarship campaign to get 2500 teens in need on adventures this summer.

Pregnant for 2 yrs? You gotta be kidding me.

A few years ago I had a kid from one of my old youth groups track me down through social media. “Hey Mark, this is James, can I buy you a cup of coffee?” I remembered James well. His single mom had drug him to youth group and church every week when he was a teenager. He had a tear drop tattoo near his eye, and fashioned himself as a tough kid. He went with me to Mexico on a missions trip once. He played bass in our little band. I remember the day he brought a huge bag of weed down to the church during lunch because the school was doing locker searches next door. I helped him get rid of it. And no, we didn’t smoke it. 🙂 I hadn’t seen or heard from James for a dozen years. “Sure I’ll let you buy me a cup,” I told him. So, the very next morning he drove 5 hours so that he could talk with me. As we sat down, He began to share his story, “I was a punk a** kid in High School. I only came to youth group because I had to. I’ve been in and out of jail for the last 12 years. I have 3 kids from 2 ladies. I was addicted to drugs. But I want you to know that I’m clean now. I’m in AA. I’m playing on the worship team for 2 churches. And I love Jesus. I felt like I needed to track you down and tell you thanks. Thanks for loving on me when I was a punk, and didn’t want to hear it. Thanks for not giving up on me.”

We talked for a while more, and when we were finished, I gave him a big hug and he drove the 5 hrs home. I haven’t seen him since.

One of the blessings of being in Youth Ministry for over 25 yrs is that stuff like this happens to me every now and again. The problem is it doesn’t happen until years after the fact. Its easy as a youth worker to get frustrated because you don’t see the results you were hoping to see. You wanted to change the world, but nothing seems to change except you. You’re tired and disillusioned, and for good reason, it’s a tough job. The average youth worker only stays 3.9 yrs in this carreer field. And it’s too bad, because the chances are you’re doing a fantastic job, but you won’t know it for years. Galatians 6:9 comes to mind, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (NIV)

The gestation period for a rabbit is 31 days, for a cat it’s 63 days. Horses are 330 days, and elephants are an unbelievable 616 days. Can you imagine being pregnant for almost 2 years before finally giving birth?

The gestation period of faith in teenagers is unpredictable and varies from kid to kid. Don’t give up. Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean God isn’t doing something in their life.
Their faith may be germinating somewhere there under the surface.

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