We all want to feel safe. I know people who have to pick exact seating in restaurants just to get glimpse on who walks in, just in case.  The feeling of safety is a big deal. It is one of the basic needs for all youth; the need to feel safe and have a structured environment. Who knew that youth need structure, it goes against all of our preconceived notions. We have made it seem that all teenagers are rule-breakers, risk-takers and want nothing to do with adults. We remember times when the youth we work with yell at us, fight with one another or just do risky things. What if all that negativity happened because they did not have factors in place that allowed them to feel safe and set expectations and structure?

A great way to make sure there is a sense of safety and structure is to think through and implement great systems and procedures. Think through what youth should be expecting to do at any given point in a program. Then think, how do they know they should do it? Get into a routine in the planning of group meetings and program events. The routine helps establish those expectations and answers the question, what next? Get in systems for everything you can, from attendance, to ending group, to going over guidelines. Before I start every group I start with the main tenets that I go by of safety and respect. These two are huge in keeping conversations on topic and group running smoothing. Talk through what things are appropriate and not appropriate. If something comes up you are not sure of, communicate.

Communicate expectations to everyone, often. Parents should know routines and expectation just as much as the youth. If you are having trouble with one or two youth particularly, communicate with the parents about it and try to find some solutions. Let parents know about how volunteers are trained and recruited. If you can communicate structure and expectations of a situation or event, youth rise to meet those expectations.

When there are adequate structures in place, youth know what is expected of them which helps them feel safe.


#misfits, adolescent, community, Family Ministry, life, purpose, Student Ministry, students, systems, team building, Uncategorized


As youth workers we often get the privilege of watching a youth grow over multiple years. Friends over at Orange have broken these down in what they call Phases. Each phase has unique strengths and challenges for that age group.  Youth are often asking similar questions and have similar concerns that are unique to that particular phase. Many moons ago, Dr. Gisela Konopka, helped pioneer the way for youth development and helped generate eight basic needs that all youth need to develop in a healthy way. Over the next few weeks I want to look at each of these basic needs, why they are so important and ways that you can help youth that you work with meet these needs. The eight basic needs for healthy youth development are:

  1. Feels Sense of Safety and Structure
  2. Experience active participation, group membership, and belonging.
  3. Develop self-worth through meaningful contribution
  4. Experiment to discover self, gain independence, and gain control over ones life
  5. Develop significant quality relationships with peers and at least one adult
  6. Discuss conflicting values and for their own values
  7. Feel pride of competence and mastery
  8. Expand their capacity to enjoy life and know that success is possible

Before we dive into the how we can help youth attain these important developmental needs, we should evaluate where we are currently.

First, when you think of youth development what do you think of? What does it sound and look like?  what experiences are important? What do youth value? What does it feel like? Jot some ideas down and hang it up somewhere.

When you were a youth, which of these were important to you? They all have an importance to the eight basic needs of youth.


Finally, what is your program doing right now to meet some of these needs?

When we are able to help meet the needs of our youth, we are able to better walk with them through their lives. As we look through these basic needs, we are able to improve our practices and our programs to allow for youth to have a place to belong.

Start the Conversation about Mental Health


Desperate Man Suffering Emotional Pain, Grief And Deep Depressio


Talking to teens about mental health can be awkward. There are some personal questions to ask we are not sure we would even answer and may even feel unequipped to handle such a conversation. Netflix shows like ’13 Reasons’ and ‘To The Bone’ can heighten the awareness of mental health and have brought up conversations about mental health. By no means is this blog the ultimate answer to having these conversations but should be a starting place for your organization to look at how these conversations take place and why they are so vital to the well-being of the youth that you work with.  There are a lot of great resources online to help navigate these conversations and promote mental health in the youth that you work with. Get informed, get trained and promote the mental health of youth just as you would promote other types of health. On the bottom of this post are some resources to start you off with.

Take Notice

    While it is good to talk and inform youth about general mental health, there are specific signs to look for if you feel something is going on with a youth specifically. There may be a dramatic loss of interest in things that youth were typically involved in, a loss of appetite or over eating. Feelings of being overwhelmed, stressed, feeling hopeless and alone can all be warning signs that something is up. Other things to look out for may be that they start to have trouble in school, work or having trouble thinking and with their memory. As a youth worker you are often in close proximity to the lives of the youth that you are working with. If there are dramatic changes in behavior, attitude or outlook, or even there is a major life event (major for the youth, not just from your perspective), check in with them and start a conversation.


    So you took notice that something might be off but you are not sure where to start. Simply start with the things that you have notice have changed. Their demeanor, their lack of appetite or general mood. People often drop the ball in these conversations because of stigmas related with mental illness but simply asking if they are feeling depressed, angry, unstable, suicidal may open up the conversation to find real help. Listen to the youth, no really, listen to them and what they are communicating to you. Don’t just wait for your turn to share an experience or give advice, simply listen. Ask them what they feel they need to help them get better and support them along the way. Normalize what they are going through. Youth often feel isolated and stigmatized by being “not normal,” but reassure them and walk alongside them.  Don’t minimize what they are going through. Mental illness is real and its impact is real. Don’t blame others, the youth or compare them to someone else. Keep it positive and focused on the youth at hand and what they need to get well.  Working with youth to help them share with their parents and supporting them through the conversation may be a next step if they are not your child.


    Learn about mental illness and resources out there. Point youth, and their families, to professional. Chances are you are not a licensed counselor or psychologist. Don’t pretend to be. Help parents and youth come up with a plan to see a doctor and to get help. Your job is to support the youth through this journey not to fix them.

Check up on your own mental health. Take a mental health screening. Ask yourself how you are doing lately and take an inventory of stressors and life events. Learn about personal wellness strategies for yourself and be a role model for the youth that you work with.

Teens you work with are going through a lot, understanding the impact of mental health and starting a conversation could change their life.

Talking To Teens

Talking about Mental Health

Mental Health Screening Tools

Stress Management

Wellness Tips

Party Time

#misfits, adolescent, church, community, Family Ministry, life, organizational strategy, students, Uncategorized


We all have the one type of kid we wish we could connect into our programs.

She’s the cheerleader and bible study leader, the captain of the sports team, the influencers and role models of the youth we hope to influence. They would be the core kids and the leadership team members. Just think, if we could influence the influencers, oh the possibilities.

Sometimes they come, and sometimes, they don’t.

We can get so wrapped up in these kids we forget about the ones who do come. Who show up consistently, who feel they belong, who need a connection to Jesus and to an adult that will give a crap about them.

This story popped in my mind this morning, it’s in Luke 14:15-24

In the story, a man decides to throw a dinner party. My imagination takes me to the blowout bash of the year.  The event has great party gifts, Gordon Ramsay is cooking food, Jay-Z and Beyonce are providing entertainment and there is an A list guest list.

And no one shows.

They all have something else to do, some other event, some other priority that takes their time.

When the man threw the party, he had an expectation of the type of people he wanted there, and who would come. They didn’t.

Then the invitation went you. The Misfits came. The homeless and wretched came. Those from far off came to the party.

What if you are planning events and programs for people who won’t show up? They have sports practices, school assignments, time with friends and family, and other priorities that eat at time.

What if the perspective changes? What if we send out for the Misfits and the wretched? The ones in your group who show up and need your group to connect them to Jesus, to one another and to adults who will champion for them. What if we made it a safe place for all youth to come and they don’t need to fit a certain mold or expectation we put on them.

Party with the youth who are there, celebrate with them, share your life with them, help them discover the purpose of their own life, and point them to Jesus.

Expectations and Challenges



There is a fine line between meeting a youth where they are at, accommodating their emotional and behavioral needs and challenging them to meet expectations. I’ve made mistakes of pushing too many expectations and not giving support, and the opposite of not challenging youth to strive for greater success than they could imagine.

This past week we had a youth retreat. Some of the youth needed to take frequent breaks during one of the sessions. The trouble wasn’t the breaks themselves, but during their breaks they would distract other youth and became disruptive. I needed to get these youth on board. Over time I have learned that having empathy towards youth, creating a challenge together for them to meet, supporting them in the endeavor and following up with youth is important.


Understanding, and genuinely caring, about where our youth come from, the problems they are going through and understanding where they are developmentally is important when working with youth. Norms and expectations that might fit a general age group may not fit for youth who other concerns, whether it be mental health concerns, immaturity or are simply “going through some stuff.” Building a positive relationship with these youth for who they are, understanding their story and showing up for them allows you an opportunity to go into the next phase.


I am consistently amazed at how youth step up to meet challenges. When working with youth that may not be engaging with a program or becoming disruptive give them a challenge. Maybe it is a role to play in the bigger picture, a job to help supervise or even have them create something to get other youth to come along with them. Challenge them in their ability to lead other youth, lead an activity or process their own situations. Trust them to come through for you, they will.


Support a youth in the process. Ask how you can help and what they might need. Don’t hover over them, that isn’t trust. Just give them a reminder that you’re there, ask them how they came to a solution or why they made a certain decision and help them to process it all with them. Equip them with enough resources and skills to help them succeed. Then, simply cheer them on as they meet a challenge.

Follow up

Follow up is crucial. Plan a time to talk about the entire situation, ask good questions of youth and their perspective, hear them out, talk about expectations and how praise them for how they were able to meet a challenge. Ask them what you, as the leader, could’ve done differently to help them best. The follow up helps bring closure, awareness and allows you to continue to speak into their lives.

Working with youth is always tricky. There is a need for meeting real world expectations and helping youth to figure out how to get there themselves. Explaining to youth the why of a situation, what your thought process is and giving them a say helps them to mature and learn skills along the way.


#misfits, #politics, adolescent, church, community, organizational strategy, systems, Uncategorized



There is a scene in the movie “A Beautiful Mind” that has always stuck with me.

   It is a scene where the main characters and his friends are at a bar and a group of girls walk in. They begin to apply various theories into how to approach the girls. What stuck out to me was the idea that decisions should be made for what is best for the individual and what is best for the group. It brought to my attention what I would later learn to be the concept of Win-Win strategy.

Dealing with other organizations, finding new partners and even recruiting new volunteers can be complicated. Many times there are different agendas and motives for people wanting to participate. There is also this sense of control and who has more power over the other. Everyone wants to call the shots and everyone wants what is best for their own organization. However, what is often best for one party is not best for another. In these Win-Lose, or even Lose-Lose, scenarios relationships can be broken, partnerships fail and success if often hindered.

I have tried to apply Win-Win thinking into new endeavors and partnerships that I form. This is one of the seven habits of highly effective people. Win-Win helps people and organizations to collaborate and cooperate together, instead of competing with one another.

Thinking Win-Win is often not the norm of organizations and can be tricky. There is a balancing act between being empathetic to the needs of another person and sticking to vision and mission of yourself and your organization. It often takes out of the box thinking, innovation and giving up something inconsequential for something valuable. To apply Win-Win into your interactions with others it takes a lot of maturity, integrity, and understanding of what is core to achieving the purposes of your organization.

If you are in the middle of debating new partnerships or new collaborations and you just seem to be getting stuck, start to think Win-Win. Get to the Core of your organization, your mission and values, the things that if changed would radically change the function of your group. If the partnership starts to endanger these things, they may not be a good fit. However, what are some little things that you may be able to give up in order for something new to start. Start to think Win-Win and see how new things start to flourish and partnerships begin to form.

Vlogging Week!!





We are participating with a bunch of friends in a video blogging week. This week we have Cory Sullivan talking about how to follow up with people after a key recruiting or community event. Following up is crucial to growing your influence in any ministry or program that you might run. The big idea is to think strategically before your event in order to know how to follow up after it.


Be sure to check out our friends at:


#misfits, church, community, Family Ministry, Ministry, Uncategorized


     Last week we introduced you to the book ‘Your Best Us’ by our friend Ted Lowe. This week we wanted to give you an insiders look at how the book can impact your marriage. By no means is this a cheat sheet, in the book each one of the four habits is dived into and gives tips to put them into practice and personalize your journey. Your Best Us helped us look at where we are at in our marriage and pick things to work on. These four habits help us to increase the connection we have in our marriage and we hope to point other couples to practice these habits too. 

Habit 1: Have Serious Fun

“One of the best ways to protect your marriage is to enjoy your marriage.”

     Your marriage should be fun. This habit defies some of the common barriers that stop us from having fun. In our marriage, it is busyness and exhaustion. Sometimes, we are just too tired to enjoy one another and would rather go to bed. This stops us from simply talking and connecting for the day. To practice having fun we continued our weekly tradition of Date Night. For us it is Monday night (unless talked about before hand) and we go out to eat and go do something together. It gives us our own time, allows us to talk with one another, ask each other questions and dream together.

Habit 2: Put God First

“When our connection with God is growing it postures us to love others better than we could ever love them on our own.”

     Habit 2 finds us getting back to our basics. It simply asks the question “how are you and Jesus doing?” This habit rekindles our love for God which in turn rekindles our love for our spouses. If you are finding yourself in a rut lately, start up a new reading plan, pray (pray alone or with your spouse),  or join a small group at your church. These small steps can help you discover the Us in your marriage.

Habit 3: Respect & Love

“Our spouses reveal the brokenness in us”

“hurtful words from broken people, write lies on our hearts”

     We were introduced to this idea in our pre-marital counseling. We are two broken people, with hurts, habits and hang ups, coming together in marriage. Things can get intense. From the words you use, the tone you use, or simply leaving the fridge open too long. Sometimes, we don’t think the best of our spouses. Respect & Love helps us to identify the cycle of negativity that separates us from connecting with one another. When we can identify the negative cycle, action can be taken to start working on replacing the negativity (and lies we believe about ourselves) with positive truths.

Habit 4: Practice Your Promise

“We can chose to love better.”

     Standing in front of a room of friends and family, we took vows together. It is these promises that we need to practice. This habit simply challenges us to ask the question: WHAT AM I DOING TO MAKE THIS MARRIAGE WORK? It gets us out of the victim mentality, that “woe is me,” that blames the other person. It helps us to take ownership of our promise to our spouse and to simply show up.

     It was great reading this book together and simply talking about how to become the BEST US. Go to MarriedPeople to learn about how you can empower couples and pick up your copy of “Your Best Us

Our Best Us

#misfits, Family Ministry, Uncategorized



As someone who recognizes that we are not perfect, that we deserve a second chance and should pursue our passions, I was excited to find a wife that felt the same way. My wife and I have both recognized that we want our marriage to be different than those we have seen and want to be examples to other marriages around us. Our friend Ted Lowe helped by writing a book called ‘Your Best Us.’ Ted and I were hanging out at Orange Conference this year and we started talking about marriage, millennials, and ways to impact the world. Ted challenged me to read the book, along with my wife. 

I love the idea behind ‘Your Best Us’. My wife and I have always wanted and strived to improve on the marriages we have seen, learn from both successes and failures of others, and work together in our marriage. The Best Us is unique in that it doesn’t want couples to compares themselves to some cookie-cutter image of what marriage should be like. This week and next week, we’ll talk about the book and what we have learned along the way. 

The book introduces us to Ted, his wife, and four core habits that have help Ted run successful marriage ministries and help him in his marriage to his wife. The habits of your marriage are important. A few weeks ago, my wife and I simply said we just needed to start by pausing whatever is going on to give a kind word to one another or to just do a random act of kindness for each other to help create a positive spin on our day. That simple acknowledgement that we needed to work on something together has helped us a lot. Ted writes that “your marital habits either lead to the connection, or the disconnection, of your US.”  Abbi and I both are trying to work on the habits that lead to greater connectivity between us. We love the four core habits to build of, have serious fun, love God first, love & respect and practicing our promise. The book helps you put these habits in your marriage by helping you talk about them and practice them over a week. We have learned a lot and want to share some of the things we learned along the way next week.

We want our marriage to be our story. We are excited to have started reading and talking about what good habits look like in our marriage and how to better love one another. Check out MarriedPeople for more information and head over to Orange Store to get your copy.

Don’t Forget the Parents




Parents and families are crucial.

In addressing the needs of youth, there has to be ways to support parents and families, helping them to engage in the success of their children. This looks different in every situation. There is no magic solution that covers all the situations that families face. 

The one thing that allows works is proximity and dialogue. Be close to the kids, and the families that hold them so dear. Look for needs that you can help meet.

A mom of one of the young men that I spend time with has cancer. She gets tired a lot. She takes care of him, a baby sister, works and fights off a disease. So, I take the kids out for a meal, let her get some rest or just some stuff done around the house. It is a small thing that has a big impact.

Maybe the youth has a tough time reading. How can you help the family to encourage and engage that youth in their ability to read? Can you help them with books, or show them ways to improve their reading, or simply suggesting a reading time for the kids.

We forget that the parents and families of youth we work with are also going through things. When then families are healthy, the youth are healthy.