What is an Agape year?

Agape Year is an eight month long missional gap year for recent high school graduates based in Pittsburgh, PA. The goal of Agape year is to see young adults anchored in:

·       A Story to Believe In

·       A Family to Belong To

·       A Kingdom to Build Up

Everything we do during our four months studying and serving in Pittsburgh, our two months learning from the Anglican Church in Thailand, and our two months of sharing with churches across the US moves to the beat of that drum. Where do we see ourselves in the narrative of Scripture? What does it look like to belong to something bigger than myself? What are we supposed to do about the brokenness we see all around us?

This year’s Agape Year cohort is two people strong. Tessa hails from Massachusetts and Kieran from Florida. Kieran was super excited to share some of his story:

Hello, I’m Kieran Caspian Kirby, I’m one of the two Agape Year fellows for the 2018-2019 year. I come all the way from Gainesville, Florida, my hometown, where I’ve lived in the same house for as long as I can remember. I have a wonderful loving family who brought me up in the Anglican church, and I’ve spent my entire life considering myself a Christian. In 2015, I was confirmed by Neil Lebhar, Bishop of the Gulf Atlantic Diocese, and my life was forever changed by Christ, and confirmed for Christ. When Bishop Neil prayed over me on confirmation day, the Holy Spirit spoke through him, and he prophesied that I was going to be a “storyteller for God.”

In 2016, I went to the New Wineskins youth retreat called “Re:mix.” On the retreat, I had a woman I did not know come up to me, and she told me “from the moment you walked in, I got this feeling that you’re going to be a storyteller for God.” If I didn’t know before, I certainly knew then that my life purpose was going to be telling stories to share my faith. Re:mix was also the first place that I heard about Agape Year. I felt a strong calling to the idea of a gap year mission, and in the fall of 2017, I applied and got accepted for the journey.

Since my confirmation, I’ve realized how true the “storyteller for God” label is for me. Throughout high school, I gave many talks at the Anglican youth event “Dynamos,” where I often shared personal stories to relate to the topic. I also shared some stories with my non-Christian friends at school along the way, as a way to reach out to them. Even now at Agape Year, I find myself retelling a story from one of my Dynamos talks in a Bible study with the homeless. That particular moment to me serves as a confirmation that I’m in exactly the right place, and doing what I’ve been called to do.

In the month that I’ve spent at Agape Year so far, I’ve realized that there are still a lot of areas where I am being challenged and stretched. The places in which I’m ministering to elementary and middle school youth are particularly stretching, as I mostly have experience working with my peers. Also, I work best with a predictable schedule and I know that our two months teaching English as a Second Language in Thailand will require a lot of adaptability! With that in mind, a goal for me this year is to build my ability to work with younger kids, to be flexible, and to be open to areas where God wants to move in my life that are brought out by my time in Agape Year. I’m also striving to build a firm relationship with God--one in which I can talk to him, and I can listen for him--that I can maintain after this year is over.

If anyone who is reading this is in high school and thinking of a doing a gap year, I cannot recommend Agape Year enough. I’m only a month in, but the director’s Nathan and Erika Twichell are extremely supportive and spirit-led, making this a very safe and encouraging place to grow your faith. Thank you for your time, and God bless.

For more information about Agape Year check out agapeyear.org or contact the co-directors Nate and Erika Twichell at erikatwichell@sams-usa.org



How Welcoming are We, Really?

Although the worldwide Anglican church is predominantly composed of people of color, that certainly isn’t the picture most of us see in our youth groups. But it is clear from Scripture that the Kingdom is multicultural, (cf.Rev. 7.9), so reaching out across ethnic boundaries is an important part of being the Church. I spoke recently with Jaharia Filmore,  the Assistant Director of Earthen Vessels Outreach. EVO is the mission and outreach arm of Seeds of Hope Anglican Church in Pittsburgh, which was planted by the Rev. Dr. John Paul Chaney and his wife Marilyn. The parish is a small multicultural, multigenerational congregation, but has accomplished big things through their nonprofit arm. EVO provides essential services, such as after school programming and a summer day camp, to about 150 youth each year. I asked Jaharia, who is African American, to talk with me briefly about how we can make our youth groups friendly to people of color.

T: What are some practical steps we can take to make sure our youth group is welcoming to all people?

J: Generally, you need to listen to the kids when they come in the door. Don’t make assumptions, ask them what they want and need, they will tell you! More specifically to make it welcoming for people of color, bring a person of color onto your leadership team.

T: But since most of the leadership in Anglican churches is white, how do we do that?

J: You can find great volunteers from all over the world through ChristianVolunteering.org, but also, reach out to local colleges and ask them if students could volunteer at your church.  You can also contact a predominantly black church in your area and see if you could volunteer for them, and start building relationships with people of color that way. EVO has done that, we help provide meals for kids in partnership with Mt. Ararat, a large church in our area.

T: What are some cultural blind spots you have seen working in a predominantly white church?

J: Throw out your assumptions  about people that are based on their skin color or economic status. There seems to be this unconscious belief that people of color are “broken” and need to be fixed…more broken than just being sinners in need of grace, more broken than Caucasians.  If we can get past this misconception,  and know that we are all human beings who need the same things, it will help people of color feel more comfortable, and keep them coming back. 

T: What are some absolute No-no’s when trying to welcome people of color?

J: Don’t try and appropriate the culture-like using urban slang…don’t…just don’t do that...Just be yourself!

For more information about Seeds of Hope or EVO, visit: www.evo-pgh.org

By The Rev. Canon Tracey Russell, Pittsburgh


Youth Ministry isn’t where all the action is—and that’s a good thing!

“My heart was filled with joy.”

“I realized I don’t have to try and measure up anymore.”

“I met God in the Bible like never before.”


Hearing student testimonies is a highlight of any youth pastor’s year. They confirm that the ministry is fulfilling its purpose: by God’s grace working through hours and hours of prayer, teaching, worship, and fellowship—students are actually meeting the Lord! But what made hearing these particular testimonies so special was that they had almost nothing to do our youth ministry. They didn’t come after a winter retreat or a mission trip or youth conference—they came after Holy Week where students worshiped the crucified and risen Lord in a congregational setting with no youth-specific elements. I couldn’t be more thrilled and excited that our ministry is on the right path.


Without a doubt, the clearest and most troubling criticism of youth group is simply, it doesn’t work. As students graduate from high school, they also graduate from the church. Many of the students who are only engaged in youth ministry will leave the church during college. But I’m confident that our students will buck the trend because they’re not just connected to youth group, but they’re also deeply connected to the larger church.


This year, I watched Holy Week through the eyes of my students. Holy Week is a big deal at Church of the Resurrection. Good Friday service turns into a healing prayer service that lasts over three hours and students process to a full-size cross with their families to kneel, pray, and weep. On Holy Saturday, the Great Vigil of Easter begins with two hours of dramatic presentations of selected vigil readings through theater, dance, and even hip-hop. Over thirty students performed in these dramatic retellings alongside adults from the congregation. The Vigil continues all-night with a different preacher and worship band leading each hour’s reading. For the second year, we had a youth hour led entirely by high school students. It is a powerful experience to see the next generation stepping into the good works which God has prepared for them to do (Eph 2:10). Finally, the Easter sunrise service has every seat filled. When the acclamation goes out—Christ is Risen!—students, children, adults, and even clergy pour out of their seats to sing and dance in the aisles.


“The pastoral itch to be where the action is should be resisted,” says Eugene Peterson. This is true for youth ministry—and especially for Anglican youth ministry. The real “action” is where God’s presence meets the congregation gathered as one. It’s where the sacraments are received after hearing the Word preached. My youth ministry is essential, but only as a complement to Sunday mornings.


Two Wednesdays after Holy Week (because that kind of pilgrimage requires a week to recover!), our students gathered for a special “Easter Feaster” party. We hung brightly colored streamers, served snacks, and set up crock pots filled with nacho cheese and hot fudge for dipping. Why the festivity? Because it’s Easter and Christ is risen, indeed! Alleluia! But we also gathered to worship and share testimonies. Student small groups had no trouble coming up with words to describe their experiences during Holy Week. When I asked them to be brave and share with everyone using a microphone, one after another offered beautiful testimonies before their peers. This is a picture of what I’m talking about—our youth ministry complemented the work of the larger church by giving students a place to process their spiritual experiences with Christian friends and caring adults. This partnership between Sunday morning and Wednesday night gives me confidence that our students are developing a relationship with Jesus and his Church that will last a lifetime.

By Will Chester, Youth Pastor Church of the Resurrection, Wheaton, IL

Why Youth Ministry in 2018 Needs a Reformation

An excellent article written by a fellow Anglican...

A year of remembering the Protestant Reformation in 2017 provided an ideal opportunity to reflect on how this theological revolution 500 years ago informs our modern vision for youth ministry.

In the past decade, youth ministry scholars and leaders have exposed a theological crisis in the spiritual lives of young people. Various studies, particularly the National Study of Youth and Religion (NSYR) and the College Transition Project, found that what American churched kids believe about Christianity is hardly Christian.

Christian Smith described the religious beliefs of teenagers as “moralistic therapeutic deism.” Kids basically understand Christianity to be rules-based behavior modification intended to enhance self-esteem and personal happiness. They view God more as a cosmic ambulance service who keeps to himself, not a living and sovereign Lord.

The diagnosis of the problem was expansive, thorough, and invaluable. Yet clear, developed theological direction was largely absent in response. To be sure, some general encouragements to be more Christ-centered followed; through the Sticky Faith project, for example, Chap Clark and Kara Powell offered one of the best contributions in their writing on a “sticky gospel,” which encouraged grace-based messages to kids.

Read the rest here

Social media: Yea or Nay? Four things to consider:

Social media: Yay or Nay? Four things to consider:

By James Syrow

The church has much ground to make up in understanding our culture and making an impact for the Gospel. Here are some thoughts to consider:

1.      Don’t Judge Social Media

 This may be a hard point to accept, but it unequivocally deserves to be the first. We live in an age of transition, where fundamental social structures seem to morph and transition into something different and unaccounted-for. Too often people condemn the unusual for the dangerous. Believe it or not, I too once saw social media as dangerous and of more social harm than good. That is, until I was made to realize that change in itself has no moral weight. Our ‘age of transition’ is exactly like the era of the Reformation when Martin Luther ushered in Modernity with his ‘war of pamphlets’, and his aggressive use of social (printed) media to disrupt the genteel world of the hand-written codex. Our age of transition is no different from the era of idyllic 18th century farmers being made obsolete by the grimy and clangy world of the Industrial Revolution. Those who preferred to ‘live in the past’, in 1517, or in 1849, or in any ‘age of transition’, were quickly made obsolete, while those who embraced the ‘urgency of now’ became the leaders in the new age. That isn’t to say that modernity is a moral good; progress is not always good, and therefore our task must be to fully engage the era we live in, dispense with nostalgia, and sanctify the levers which move today’s culture by harnessing them to the right, instead of the wrong, purposes.

2.      There Is Nothing New Under The Sun.

 We think the world is developing some new paradigms that will alter the way humanity functions. We once had our morning newspaper, our radio, but then the television killed the radio, and the Internet killed the television, so now in this strange new world, we may be grudgingly forced to accept the Internet, but that doesn’t mean we have to like it, right? And yet consider the recent Internet statistics which show that one form of Internet media (podcasts) is rapidly taking people’s attention away from Youtube and other video platforms. What are podcasts (online audio), if not “radio”? So believe it or not, “radio” is defeating “television”; far from dead, it is in fact becoming a dominant medium for 2018, 2019, and 2020. But wasn’t “radio killed by television” decades ago? Yes, but then it was reborn in a new form, and now “television is being killed by radio”. What are Youtube and Netflix if not the ABC and NBC of the new era? And finally, consider an intelligent, highprofile, famous blog: will you deny that it is no different from the (printed) Newsweeks of yesterday? You see, as the world gets more ‘advanced’, it doesn’t change much at all. We, human beings, still, and always have, consume three simple and elemental forms of content: Visual, Audio, and Written. How those forms are expressed may change, but the basic patterns of human nature can never change ‘for something new’. Therefore have no fear, for nothing is different; it is just in a different place.

3.      Social Media Is "Old-Fashioned".

What is the bakers dozen? It is a concept from centuries ago, when you knew everyone who lived in your village; when you went to the donut shop, the baker would know you personally, and if you bought the twelve donuts, he would throw in an extra for free. Why? Because in that tightly-knit world, he’d want you to think of him more fondly than of his competitors. Why did the baker’s dozen go out of fashion? Because mammoth corporations like Walmart Corp., and Sears Corp, and Dunkin Donuts Corp, came along in the rapidly industrialized 20th Century. It didn’t matter if you thought well of your donut shop, because it had the lowest prices, and put everyone else out of business. As villages died and the world became urban, we lost the personal connection with each other. You may bewail ‘the death of the village’, but I guarantee that when you ‘get on social media’ you will most likely follow the game plan of the impersonal mega-corporations, assaulting your audience with cold impersonal ‘ads’: come to my event, give to my cause, like what I say. However, remember that “Nothing Is New Under The Sun” (point #2 above). In the hyper-industrialized and hyper-connected world of today, we are reverting to very old social patterns. The world is becoming a village once again. Your audience are no longer the silent faceless industrial masses they were before to Walmart Corp. or to Dunkin Donuts Corp. You once again know, today, the name and the face of everyone who interacts with you and your church, your school, or your ministry; and giving them your baker’s dozen will differentiate you from all the others who still treat them coldly and impersonally. Kindness has never been more “in fashion”!

4.      Know Your Platforms.

Finally, where do you go? In brief: wherever you want! In the past, becoming a radio star, opening your television studio, or becoming a world-famous writer, was practically impossible. The gatekeepers that watched over those platforms were implacable. The infrastructure of a TV studio, or a radio show, or a world-wide newspaper/magazine, cost a veritable fortune. Today, and I wish you’d take it as literally as I mean it, the cost of starting your TV studio is free. If you want to start a world-wide newspaper/magazine, then God be with you; for it is free. Should you wish to be a Radio mogul, the cost of entry is: you’ve guessed it, free. What platform you choose today resides solely within your desires, your personality, and how you prefer to express yourself. If you don’t like to be a tv/radio/writer, then just engage with your audience, baking them a baker’s dozen of your time, attention, and bringing them value and joy on Facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram. If you aren’t comfortable with video cameras but have a great voice, then consider starting a podcast, and building for it a community on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram. If you are a great writer, then you should have an exceptional blog; also consider blogging on Facebook, for people read what others write, and the “sharing” abilities allow more people to encounter your content. If you want to achieve the most notoriety, then video will always be king: formulate a “TV show” and start filming yourself with your phone (the most inexpensive “tv studio” on the planet!). Posting your work on Youtube and Facebook Watch, and promote them (with old-fashioned kindness, point #3 above), on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


James Syrow runs a Christian media ministry in Philadelphia.

Great Teaching for your students to listen to!

Jaquelle Crowe, author of "This Changes Everything: How The Gospel Transforms The Teen Years" spoke at the fall middle school retreat in the Diocese of South Carolina. Her excellent messages have been posted HERE.  Youth leaders concluded that she was one of the most amazing speakers we have had visit our diocese and that she had a great impact on their students.

6331 Jaquelle34.jpg



Why Youth Ministry Can’t Function Like Little League

Cameron Cole, founder of the Rooted Conference, wrote this excellent article for Crossway.

Historically, youth ministry has had too small of a role in the life of the church. There’s been too small a conceptualization of what a youth ministry is supposed to be. In the past, it has been a pastor in the church who is dedicated to this small segment—they tend to the teenagers, they invest in them, and that’s all they do.

But in reality a youth minister needs to be... Read the rest here 


An Important Read

Every Youth Minister needs to be prepared to teach and field questions about sexuality and what the Bible actually teaches.  It’s vital to know how to respond to the common arguments made for a view other than the orthodox Christian perspective. Tim Keller did a great review of the other point of views in an article here.  He also wrote a review a few years ago on two excellent books (by Hill and Allberry) that might be the easiest reads for a busy youth minister to digest and be able to speak from. Not everyone has the time to read Robert Gagnon’s works on the subject of homosexuality.  However, another short read would be Kevin DeYoung’s “What Does The Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality?” Regardless, anyone working with students today needs to be fully informed on these matters. The worst thing we can do to our students is not educate them in a way that will hold up when they encounter another point of view. Keller’s article is incredibly helpful because it specifically addresses the most common arguments for Christians accepting a new standard.

Growing as a Speaker

Back in October the President of Young Anglicans Project had the privilege of leading a workshop on speaking.  It is now online at Rooted 

How do we improve our communication of the gospel and the truths of God’s word? Effective speaking is about both the content and how we communicate that content. How do we shake off bad speaking habits and develop skills to captivate an audience? How do we make our teaching memorable and immediately applicable? Can we communicate in a way that glorifies God more than drawing attention to ourselves? Applying lessons learned during 30 years of full-time youth ministry (in several very different contexts), this workshop challenges and encourages listeners to become more effective communicators.

Some Thoughts on 13 Reasons Why

by Andrew Unger

This is probably not the first time you've heard someone mention the Netflix show 13 Reasons Why.  The show is about a teenager girl (Hannah Baker) who killed herself, leaving behind tapes giving reasons why she made the decision to end her life. Each tape is about  a particular person, and something that they did to contribute to Hannah's misery.

Instead of trying to offer a review or a recommendation on the series, I thought I would share a few points that I've noticed as I've been reading up on the series, and a couple of resources that give some helpful perspective.

[In case you are concerned about this sort of thing, there are probably spoilers in what comes next]

The show has some really graphic content

There are a number of scenes that are difficult to watch, including two rape scenes, and a scene in which Hannah kills herself by cutting her wrists in a bathtub, among other depictions of violence and sexual assault. There is a very good reason that it is rated TV-MA.

This show's impact is significant because of the popularity of Netflix.

Netflix is available on almost any device that connects to the internet, and many teenagers already watch a lot of Netflix already. I think that its popularity has been boosted by its distribution channel. I think comparisons to other popular teen movies and shows should take this into consideration.

The show's creators made an effort not to downplay the gravity of the issues brought up in the show.

They intended to show Hannah killing herself in a way that discouraged suicide. Drinking, substance abuse, and assault are all portrayed in the series, but they aren't celebrated. 

The show's creators might not have been successful in giving a helpful portrayal of difficult teenage issues.

A number of mental health groups have issued cautions about the show (here's some from the National Association of School Psychologists). In particular, many experts have talked about how on screen suicides often have a contagion effect, particularly for those who are already struggling with thoughts of suicide. To that end, it is not advisable for anyone dealing with serious depression or thoughts of suicide to watch this show.

Because of the sheer number of serious issues that come up in the show, it can provide a real opportunity to talk with adolescents about matters of mental health, suicide, or bullying.

You can talk about whether or not what's in the show reflects the reality of your student's experience, or about how characters might have acted differently or made positive changes.

The show displays a significant gap between adults (even concerned adults) and teenagers.

Chap Clark, in his book Hurt, writes a lot about how adolescents feel abandoned by older generations. It is on full display in 13 Reasons Why, which portrays well intentioned parents and teachers who either can't be trusted or aren't trusted with the problems in the lives of the students in the show. Because of this, one of the most important things we (as adults interested in caring for teenagers) can do is to listen, and help students know that they can trust caring adults in their lives.

One significant point of action that is crucial for all of us to hear (but especially good for adolescents) that comes out of the show is this:

If you or someone you know is struggling with serious crisis, get help. There are some helpful links at 13reasonswhy.info. Please take comments about suicide seriously, and get help.

You can read some good talking points from suicide prevention organizations here,
There are some theological points to consider (from a Rector in Georgia) here.

Are Youth Pastors An Endangered Species?

I stopped by Rob’s office on my way back from teaching a seminar at our camp.  Rob has been doing full time youth ministry in our diocese longer than the 15
years I have been in SC. In those years he has served just two churches.  Rob is a prime example of the longevity I have emphasized during my time here.  We need youth m
inistry folks to stay in one church for a while.  By “while” I mean 5 years at least. The 18 month statistic people bat around about how long the average youth pastor lasts is really about bad hiring. My predecessors taught churches how to hire the right folks, so the 18 month stat is not common here.  What I railed against in my early years here were what I call the “3 and outs”. These are folks that would do three or four years and move on - either to greener pastures or to seminary to get ordained. It delights me to see that we’ve had a good many long term youth ministers in our diocese.
Yet I arrived at Rob’s office and the title next to the door caused me to pause. Actually there were two titles, one made me chuckle as it was a bit of humor and the other was official.  The official title that he now works under is “Family Pastor”. Yet Rob is still the youth minister for the church. This is a growing trend in our diocese.  Folks who have been traditional youth pastors working primarily with middle and high school students are taking on a role that either includes young adults or adds the dimension of families and possibly children. We have several churches where someone started in children’s ministry and added youth and families and oversee a team who do the direct youth ministry.  Either way, the traditional youth pastor who worked only with teens seems to be a less frequent reality. What changed? I think there are several factors in play here.

1. Economic realities meant rethinking staffing at churches.

In the first several years of my work in SC, I did a lot of recruiting of potential Youth Ministers for our churches. We then started training our own through an apprenticeship program. However, when the economy tanked, two things happened.  One was that we had to phase out apprentice training due to budget cuts.  The other was that anyone holding a full time youth pastor job held on. It was h
ard to change jobs when the housing market had dropped.  Simply put, it was not a season to be job changing. In fact, several smaller churches eliminated the positions from their budgets once the youth minister left. Fast forward several years and we start seeing some movement among our youth ministers.  Positions opened up and we found ourselves struggling to find qualified candidates. I started asking around of people I know across the country and no one seemed to know where to find good candidates. I contacted an old acquaintance who teaches youth ministry at a college in NY to get his take on things.  He shared that there are about 100 Christian Colleges/Universities that have youth min degree programs.  Some (I suspect many actually) are now re-named Youth & Family Studies.  He also said his graduates are getting scooped u
p quickly.

2. An intergenerational shift has caused churches to restructure staffing.

I was not surprised by the trend toward Youth & Family Studies.  Several of our churches have changed from a full time youth pastor to this newer position. Some have a staff person over children, youth, and college and or families. Fewer churches are seeking the standard youth pastor who ministers to middle and h
igh school teens. Rob’s new role comes from such restructuring.  The other churches I mentioned already have done similar. We have a few youth ministers who wear multiple hats, which is part an economic decision and in part an attempt to connect the generations.  Over the past decade we have seen the Holy Spirit move among our churches towards more intergenerational ministry. The potential is great for long term effective ministry to youth and families by people who stay a good while. It actually looks like a role that a person can flourish in for longer than the average youth pastor’s tenure. It may or may not mean a pay increase but often raises the appreciation and support of the congregation.

3. Long term viability for a traditional youth minister is diminishing.

In our context, there has been an increase in what some call “clericalism”. We celebrate those who get ordained and put on the collar. It’s wonderful to celebrate God calling people to ordination, but we rarely celebrate a call to full time lay ministry. This leaves two realities.  One is the diminished felt value of traditional youth ministers, the other is economic.  Our full time lay youth ministers have generally not seen salaries rise in the past decade. For a bunch of those years, no one in the church was seeing pay increases.  However, as a youth pastor raises a family it becomes increasingly difficult to make ends meet.  So we see them struggle financially while at the same time feeling under appreciated.  Most of them know they have the skill set to get ordained and lead a congregation, so the natural thing to do is move on to ordained ministry.  A few years of seminary and their salary increases dramatically along with their status in the church. We have plenty of clergy in our diocese who are former youth ministers.  Some of them simply saw God calling them to a wider ministry. Others saw their career track as terminal and needed to shift or get out of ministry entirely. We don’t want churches to view youth ministry as a stepping stone to ordination. It does not serve the church well for people to come in and do youth ministry for a few years and then jump on the ordination track. An intergenerational position may alleviate the difficulty of being undervalued and underpaid. It’s also helped churches to shift their ministry focus in to that of connecting the generations.

So, where does that leave us for finding the traditional youth minister? By that I mean the guy or gal devoted to focusing on the spiritual needs of teens?  There remains a need in our larger churches for full time people to do this work and in larger congregations these folks need to be experienced. Are youth pastors becoming an endangered species?  If so, the only solution that I can think of is for larger churches to run apprenticeship programs that train and prepare younger men and women to step into these roles. If the need in other churches are people who work with multiple generations, we need to train those who are called to that ministry and celebrate their calling as well.

How to Survive and Thrive In Your First Youth Ministry Job

A new post on Rootedministry.com

There is nothing quite like being young, idealistic, and naive. Let’s be real; this is a fair way to describe most people in their first full-time job out of college (especially when it’s in their intended career). Despite the number of grey hairs on my head, I have rather vivid memories of my first few years as the youth director in a large church. They’re vivid because I was really out of my league as an inexperienced youth minister in a very large church – and I knew it. What church with more than 5,000 members hires a rookie straight out of college, when they could have hired a veteran of at least five years? By God’s grace and design, this church did, and I was the beneficiary. My first year saw many days wondering if I would survive, yet I ultimately served there for nearly ten years.

Given my rookie status, that first year I discovered several keys to getting off to a solid start. Some I accomplished better than others, and experienced the results of that. The following are five suggestions of how we survive and thrive in our first few years.

Read the rest here

Fruit that helps v. fruit that harms

From Ken Moser at https://kmoserblog.wordpress.com

I hope we are in agreement that the most important aim in youth ministry is fruit—real, solid, true fruit. In youth ministry this can be seen in a number of ways: love, discipleship, conversion, the development of long-term followers of Jesus, the list goes on and on.

However, there is another list of fruit that I must warn you is unhelpful. The trouble with this kind of fruit is that it looks so tasty and tempting. This is the “fruit” of numbers. Numbers are so intoxicating and attractive. Think about it, would you visit a youth ministry of 12 youth or 42 youth to observe and learn from? Most would pick the latter. Bigger is seen to be better in our churches and in our youth ministry. I must warn you that we must be very careful about seeking to plant and grow a crop of harmful fruit. This is a crop that, while it may appear tasty, will leave a very sour taste in your mouth.

Let’s consider an obvious example, you work for a church that expects you to “put something on” each Friday night for the local youth in the area. You know the drill; it is the usual assortment of games with a short message about Christ, followed by a snack. This has been the tree planted by of youth ministry all over the Western World. Well, imagine that you are running this program and you have a good number of youth showing up. Everyone is happy and your job is secure. Now think about what happens if the kids stop coming. They get bored, they grow up, they move on, who knows why … the numbers simply dry up.

Suddenly the “fruit” (that is, kids coming and having a good time) is gone. What happens next? Does the church decide that it is time to plant another tree? Nope, they decide to get rid of the farmer and bring one in who can raise up more of this Friday night fun fruit. Many, many youth leaders have felt the bad taste of a plant that they never should have planted and certainly should not have tended.

This fruit demands that the farmer keep producing the same results, numbers. Is this the picture of a healthy youth ministry? A youth ministry that is built on Biblical foundations? If you are this farmer, there is reason for you to have some degree of fear as this fickle fruit (numbers, especially numbers due to a social program) is not one that will “keep you healthy on the inside”. It is time to cut that tree down and sow a new crop.

Remember, we must aim for a garden that produces true fruit. And, one that doesn’t eventually devour the gardener.

Colossians 1:9-11

Anglican youth Ministers gather at Rooted 2016

Young Anglicans Project is sponsoring a gathering of youth ministers (full or part time) at the Rooted Conference in 2016 (like we did in 2015). We will spend a day and a half before the conference together and then experience the Rooted Conference.  Rooted was started by Anglicans but now draws a variety of folks who all are seeking a more intimate conference experience that goes deeper than the standard youth ministry conferences out there. Info is due out this week about our gathering.  Meanwhile, see what the conference is about at rooted ministry.com

Back in 2010 our founder, Frank Limehouse, came up with the idea to have a youth ministry conference entirely focused on the Gospel after reading Christless Christianity by Michael Horton. He declared that no segment of the church lacked the message of the crucified Christ more than youth ministry. Rev. Limehouse determined that we should have a conference focused on the Gospel in youth ministry alone, and resolved to book Michael Horton — the authorial inspiration for Rooted — for that very first conference. We failed to get him. 

“Back where it all begins” is where we arrive for Rooted 2016. Michael Horton will serve as our keynote. The Gospel as the core of youth ministry, as always, will serve as the axis of this conference. 

This year, we focus on reconciliation. We will look at how this theme of salvation relates to our students and to the hearts of youth pastors who desperately need the comfort of God’s grace. 

We come with modest expectations. The only thing we promise is the most comforting, encouraging youth ministry conference you will ever experience. And that’s not an empty promise. In our closing survey, 98.7% of our 250 attendees at 2015 conference said that Rooted was the best youth ministry conference they had ever attended. (Yes, that's a literal statistic.)

Come see for yourself. We aim to encourage, equip, and educate you on more effective, Gospel-centered youth ministry. Sign up for Rooted today. 

To learn more about gospel centered youth ministry, check out more articles and podcasts from Rooted's youth ministry blog.


Advancing Grace-Driven Youth Ministry

Reaching The Unreached

Are you aware that the largest unreached people group on earth consists of preteens, teens, and twenties?  We are used to thinking about unreached people groups in geographic terms, but now that half the world’s population is under the age of 25, we are faced with a demographic as the largest mission field. This group is between the age of 10 and 30 years old. Think about that for a moment.  Our mission focus should no longer be looking at continents or countries but specifically young people! It only makes sense that when we plan our missions both domestic and abroad, we consider the reality that the largest unreached group is youth and young adults.  Thinking domestically now, did you know that more than one third of the millennial generation is not affiliated with any religion at all? Most of the millennial generation are currently college age or in their twenties. 

What happens when entire generations are lost? We read in Judges chapter 2 about the death of Joshua and subsequently the passing of those who served under his leadership. We suddenly come to a profound statement in verse 10. “There arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work he had done for Israel” We have a generation that has arisen where vast numbers do not know the Lord or the things he has done!

How is this unreached generation unique? Chap Clark, professor at Fuller Seminary and head of the Fuller Youth Institute believes that the defining issue of adolescents today is systemic abandonment. By that he means the systems that youth grow up within such as schools, sports, clubs, and family are no longer working together to serve them. Each system that a young person experiences has it’s own set of expectations to live up to, and at times that is at the expense of the needs of the student. This lack of cooperative work has left teens feeling abandoned to understand the world and navigate it. The end result is that all youth can now be considered “at risk”. And this generation is trying to grow up in the most confusing world we could imagine. It’s a world where truth is up for grabs, honesty is a notion from the past, and integrity is a foreign concept. Things once considered wrong are now admired and even celebrated. Further, it’s a world where relationships are more virtual than real, leaving a hunger for more and a profound sense of abandonment. We think today’s youth are the most connected generation via social media and smart phones, but those connections are a facade. Contrary to what many adults think, teens want relationships with adults who care about them.

So, not only are we looking at a massively unreached generation, but one that feels abandoned as well.  The good news is that we have what they need! The question is, are we willing to reach out and share it? The proclamation of the gospel is not only essential it is timely. The gospel introduces young people to a God who will not abandon them! 85% of people who make a decision for Christ do so by the age of 18. That makes this unreached generation a ripe harvest field! What Clark’s research tells us is that today’s teens and young adults need deep and significant relationships with people from other generations. Notice the word relationships here.  This is not about programs! Today’s teens have been entertained to death. They have more programs available to them than any generation before. They hunger for real relationships, a sense of belonging, and for truth. What we need to do is reach out, care for them, and there is one more vital element.

A recent study by The American Bible Society revealed that among teens that attend church at least once a month, 96% of them want to read the Bible more often.  Did you hear that?  96% of teens that are at least loosely involved in the church want to read the Bible more often. So, what we need to do is reach out, care for them, and open the Bible with them! This generation of young people wants something they can believe in. They are not looking for programs or institutions. They seek people who will share Jesus with them and walk with them into a faith that is authentic and transforms lives. Studying scripture with young people is how we can share the gospel and introduce them to the God who loves them and will never leave them.

Any Christian adult is capable of ministering to younger generations. We merely need to build relationships and study scripture together. If your church does not have a ministry to youth because there is only one or two teens in the church, you can change that simply by engaging those students with regular time in the Bible with another person. It’s about relationships and God’s word. Together we can engage every generation and we can reach the world’s largest unreached people group.

How To Survive And Thrive In Your First Youth Ministry Job

There is nothing quite like being young, idealistic, and naive.  Let’s face it, this is a fair way to describe most people in their first full time job out of college (or at least when it’s in their intended career path).  Despite the number of grey hairs on my head, I have a rather vivid memory at times of my first few years as a youth director in a large church. It’s vivid in part because I was rather out of my league and I knew it. What 5000+ member church hires a rookie straight out of college when they could hire a veteran of at least five years? By God’s grace and design, this one did and I was the beneficiary.  But now I am wandering off track and what I really want to accomplish here is to offer some suggestions of how we survive and thrive in these first few years. I am not sure they are in order of importance, but rather the order that they came to mind.

First, read every good book on youth ministry that you can.  Few people have the luxury of a youth ministry degree (and I suspect it’s not really as beneficial as people believe) and so you are learning on the job.  If you are not reading at least one youth ministry book per month, I’d say you are in danger. I would add to that reading books on leadership.  Ask your supervisor and Senior pastor (if they are not the same person) to recommend leadership books to you.  My Senior pastor was fond of books by Max Dupree and I learned a lot from them. It’s wise to understand leadership in the same way that your current leaders understand it. In doing this reading, remember that it’s for the development of your ability to lead students.  So, don’t hesitate to include it in your daily office time. Too often we don’t think reading books is legitimate time spent in the office, but it is!  Two things will emerge from reading books on youth ministry and leadership.  One is a vision for what you intend to see happen.  The other is a strategy to accomplish that vision. Without vision and strategy you are dead in the water!

Second, find a mentor or two and meet with them regularly. When you meet, ask lots of questions and bounce things off of them.  I had a unique situation in that a former Young Life Area Director was on our staff heading up young adult ministry.  I found myself in his office often and was able to call him at times just to say “here is my situation, what do I do?” He was more than eager to pour into me.  I am not sure if he was just flattered by the opportunity or saw it as a chance to shape someone, but that did not matter.  He was there for me.  I also had a YFC director who attended our church and headed up a ministry that was vastly different from mine.  Our conversations were incredible because he understood my situation well and he was many years older than I (and wiser).

Third, find out what your church leaders are excited about and figure out how it relates to your ministry.  You need to be on the same page as the church leaders and what they are excited about should excite you.  So if it’s evangelism and outreach, start figuring out how to do that with students.  If it’s missions, direct some of your energy to youth missions. Your supervisor and the leadership of the church will be a lot more excited about you if they see that you are engaged in the things they are most passionate about.

Fourth, learn what the expectations of you are and work to fulfill them. In my first position, the church’s real desire was to see numerical growth.  I had to make that a priority, and given my own conscience, I had to do that without sacrificing substance. We periodically created events to draw large numbers that I could report at staff meetings.  I also reported on deeper growth taking place in the lives of students. If you are not meeting expectations, there is no reason that the church will keep you around. If you are not pursuing what the church leaders are excited about, you will soon be looking for a new job.

Finally, build strong relationships with key leaders in your church. Let them hear from you personally about your vision for the youth ministry and passion for students. Solicit their feedback on it as well. It may be that they already hear from your boss about what a great job you are doing, but that cannot be assumed! The elders, board or vestry members need to hear from you personally and unless you regularly get to report directly to them, you will need to make an extra effort to connect. I have met too many youth ministers who lost jobs because the top leadership group in the church did not see their effectiveness or relevance despite the pastor’s support. In the Anglican Church, the Rector is the only one who really needs to believe in you, but as soon as he is gone, the vestry will cut your job if they don’t see your importance. In other denominations the pastor does not have that power to keep staff regardless of what the board thinks. So, set up some lunch or breakfast meetings and share your vision and passion with the key leaders of the church

How to make youth group amazing

Our friends down under (think Aussies) have this great website where there are fantastic resources added all the time.  One article on the front page at the moment is titled "How To Make Youth Group Amazing" and is written for students.  Here is the scoop...

Youth group can be an absolute blast and you can experience many things you would never experience anywhere else. But what happens when the newness and excitement of youth group experiences run out? Will you stick around or will boredom set in and you will look to move on to something else?

Here are some ways to make the most of your time in youth group.

Invest in relationships

Relationships are key for youth group but can also destroy youth groups. If your relationships are only focused on yourself and how you are perceived, you will get bored or look to replace some relationships with people who will make you look good. What if the goal of your relationships was in word and action to help move others closer to Jesus and you surrounded yourself with those who wanted the same for you?

Don’t see it as entertainment

If you go and watch and expect to be entertained, you begin to create a very dangerous culture. You are expecting the church to provide a constant stream of entertainment for you. That is not the job of the church. The church is to help you grow closer to Jesus Christ. Youth groups will often use catchy songs and fun games, but these are to help you draw nearer to Christ.


Don’t just watch church happen, help make church happen! Do something that is sacrificial for you, that will benefit others. Find a way within the group and church to pour into the lives of others.

Prioritise youth group

Life is busy, really busy! Sports schedules, homework, jobs, and school all have very demanding time requirements. It is very easy to lose the value of going to youth group because everything else wants your presence! It is important to learn to discipline yourself, including your schedule. If you fail to discipline your schedule you begin setting life habits that will be much harder to change when you get older. If you start practicing good habits now, it will be much easier to maintain good habits than to break bad habits.

Do you see a common theme here? We need to start making youth group less about us and more about what we can do for the Kingdom of God. Youth group can be a great tool to draw people in but as with all things, it can be a great distraction to those who use it only for selfish gain.

Discover more great articles at Fervr.net

Hey Kids, You're Being Lied to About Sex

(originally posted at http://rootedministry.com)

Dear Teenagers,

I am thirty-five years old, and I have worked with young people for the last seventeen years, as a youth pastor, teacher, and coach. I have been married for almost eight years and have had three children. From my fellow married adults, who have garnered some wisdom from life experience and who care about your welfare, allow me to let you in on a little secret: you’re being lied to about sex. You live in a world that is selling a giant, heaping load of bull when it comes to sexuality. 

The first lie goes something like this: sex is the greatest thing on the planet! Sex will change your life. Sex will heal you. Sex will fix your problems with self-esteem. Your problems with loneliness will disappear when you have sex.

Pop icon Hozier articulates this lie very well. He equates sex to a worship experience in his song, “Take Me to Church,” where he says he, “worships in the bedroom.” He essentially says sex constitutes the ultimate experience on earth. 

I can remember when I was a teenager, asking my newlywed older friend, “How’s sex?”  He said, “Nice.”

Nice? That’s all? I was outraged. 

After eight years of marriage, I can say that sex is a really great blessing to enjoy with your spouse, but it will not fix any of your problems. It’s an awesome thing, no doubt. However, if you have sex one night, your insecurities, anxieties, and loneliness will be there to greet you when you step out of bed the next morning. Only God himself can fix your problems by his grace, in relationship with Him and through meaningful relationships with others.

The second lie you will be told both implicitly and directly: sexual repression is unhealthy and will harm you. This idea flows from the idea that sex is a natural appetite, like your need for food, water, and air. If repressed, psychological and physical damage will occur. Therefore, you must find regular outlets for sexual activity, exploration, and expression.

Sadly, a great deal of pseudo-science undergirds this lie. I am not a psychologist and have not read the entire corpus of clinical studies on sexual repression.  However, from the research I have done, I struggled to find a study that linked depression, anxiety, or suicide to a lack of sexual activity.  Meanwhile, Dr. Miriam Grossman’s book, Unprotected, examines the mental health damage done to college students through sexual promiscuity. Grossman calls out colleges for failing to educate students on the potential problems that “sexually-liberated” behavior brings.

In one section of the book, Grossman berates the destructive encouragement, delivered by a Columbia University publication, for students to pursue sexual exploration:

I want to understand how in the face of national pandemics of herpes and HPV these health “experts” can advise a high school senior who already had three boyfriends to continue to experiment and explore her sexuality, claiming that doing so will “only add to her future well-being and peace of mind.” Exactly what study, I’d like to know, demonstrated that. And to the freshman who is wondering whether to loser her virginity to a boy she’s know only three weeks, “Alice” says: three days, three weeks, three months, three years? There’s no right time to have your first intercourse.

Lastly, you are being told the lie that sex is something that you deserve to have on your terms. You are the master of your body. You are the master of your life. Therefore, you make the rules, and you set the standards.  

Nothing sells this more insidiously than pornography. Porn says, “You want sexual pleasure? Pull it up on your phone, and within minutes an attractive person has undressed for you. You can have this however you like it.” Porn tells the lie that sex is all about you and your wants. Other people are objects in this arena. 

Porn is an obvious liar, but many people and media will communicate something along these lines in a subtler manner. The message will be that you can have sex now or later. You can do it as a teenager or wait until marriage. What’s important is that you are the one calling the shots and being true to yourself, because it’s your life and your choice. 

Here’s the problem: you don’t just belong to yourself. You belong to God. You belong to those around you. You belong to society. That means that your actions have consequences that extend far beyond your own life. When you operate selfishly in this area, people get hurt, including you. 

Let me close this letter up by telling you some things that are true: God gave you sex as a gift because he likes you. He gave it to you because he is on your side. Mankind did not invent sex: God did. As the designer, He established universal standards of best practice (like “don’t have sex outside of marriage” and “walk away from porn”) that apply to everyone. Because God designed sex, you should listen to Him. Because He deeply cares for you, then you should trust Him. When He says wait until marriage, it’s not to be a buzz-kill or a jerk: it’s because he’s a really good (perfect, in fact) parent. 

Let me tell you one more truth: you are going to make mistakes – big ones – when it comes to sexuality. We all do. Whether it’s a regrettable decision, an embarrassing urge, a porn addiction, or crossing the same line you swore you never would over and over again. It’s going to happen. There is one person who will not judge you when you fall: Jesus. 

Finally, if nothing else, hear this comforting truth:

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. (1 John 2: 1-2)

Cameron Cole is the chairman of Rooted: Advancing Grace-Driven Ministry and serves as the director of youth ministries at the Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham, AL.

Check more articles from Rooted's youth ministry blog. 

Notes From The Tilt-A-Whirl

Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl, a film by N.D. Wilson, is an amazing resource for both high school and college ministries. In an hour-long cinematic video presentation, Wilson poetically explores a variety of questions, offering thoughts that are deeply theological and thoroughly Biblical. He blends poetry, philosophy, theology, and rhetoric to paint imaginative word pictures - all while speaking in settings that are visually powerful. The film comes across as both conversational and artistic. The DVD is broken up into chapters that are best used one at a time in youth group or small group settings. A discussion guide is also available online for download. Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl will intellectually challenge your high school students. I've shown it to hundreds of students and watched their minds be blown by the depth and passion within it.

Here is the publisher's description: 

 An Idea Film. A Bookumentary. A cinematic treatment of a worldview. A poet live in concert. A motion picture sermon. VH1 Storytellers meets Planet Earth. In this unusual but fascinating film sequence, best-selling author N.D. Wilson gives an emotional and intellectual tour of life in this world and the final chapter that is death. Everything before and after and in between is a series of miracles--some of which are encouraging, others disturbing and uncomfortable.