Brains behind the Fun

#misfits, adolescent, students, Uncategorized



Orange Conference is coming!

Seriously, I look forward to this all year.  Orange definitely knows how to throw a party. There is great music, lots of fun, and ton of wisdom thrown at you.

That’s what I love about Orange. They’re smart and know what they’re talking about.

As someone who has been to countless training’s by leading experts in fields of youth and child development, education, psychology and sociology, Orange blows me away with their information. The “It’s Just a Phase” materials are an awesome resource that blends so many areas of knowledge into one place. I often find myself in a training at some other conference and I can say “I know that already.” The reason I can is because Orange has been looking at best practices and how to integrate those into their resources for years.

They are great people that want to partner with you to see kids come to know Jesus and to see your ministry flourish.  Orange is pushing the boundaries of what it means to be the church to our neighbors and to one another. The best speakers assemble at Orange conference to inspire and inform us all in the best way to walk through life with our youth. They want to see us be in the fight with them.

And it’s not too late. If you’ve never been to Orange Conference make it a priority for 2018. If you have, who can you bring with you to share the experience with? Here’s a secret you can save $70 on the conference if you sign up by December 14th.

What are you waiting for? Go! You’ll be able to take your ministry to the next level with the wisdom that gets shared at Orange Conference.


#misfits, adolescent, community, Family Ministry, purpose, students, Uncategorized


Sometimes youth simply need space to figure things out on their own. Come on, this one shouldn’t be a surprise to you. Think back to when you were a teenager. No matter how many times someone told you not to do something or warned you about the “severe consequences” of this or that, chances are you still did it.

One of the basic needs for youth is to “experiment to discover self, gain independence and to gain control over one’s life.” In other words, youth need space to try to figure out who they are.

This can be very difficult for some people, especially parents. Hopefully, a trust has been formed through giving youth the other basic needs that you can put some slack out on the reigns.  Think about it for a moment, you’ve helped give you safety and structure, given them a place to belong and helped them develop self-worth; they should be getting a great glimpse of their identity.

Youth will try to test that out. This is the experiment phase as adults we dread for our young people. They can engage in risk-taking behavior, question their faith, question authority and in their journey of self-discovery have the potential to miss the mark completely.

It takes caring adults to walk with youth in these moments. Adults who will act as waypoints when youth lose their way; to be a lighthouse calling the ships back from sea.

I love the stories I’ve heard recently about parents creating codes with their kids so the kids can have a way out of a tough situation. The teen will text their parents, older siblings, or even you, the code word and in response they would call the teen saying that they are coming to get them it is an emergency, or some other excuse. See, youth often know that they may not want to be in a situation, they need that independence to make that choice themselves, and sometimes they just need an escape plan. This plan works great because the teen has an escape but feels safe because the parents establish trust enough not to ask the teen questions and punish them. What steps can you take to help the youth around you get a sense of independence?

Hang tough as the youth who you work with are on this journey of self-discovery. Call out the greatness you see in them. Walk with them in the messes they make and help them figure out how to clean it up best. This is how teens learn to handle all the stress, poor decisions and chaos that life can throw at them. It is scary, but love them and pray like crazy.

Do Something

#misfits, adolescent, community, Family Ministry, Student Ministry, students, Uncategorized



When I talk with youth workers about how to engage youth I talk about the BIG 3. These are three questions that youth wrestle with:

  1. Who am I?
  2. Where do I belong?
  3. What am I to do?

The first question deals with identity; the second, community and the third question deals with purpose.

A basic youth need is to develop self-worth through meaningful contribution.

For youth workers that means to help youth find their voice, find their passion and get involved. Youth should find their purpose and figure out how to use that purpose in a way that is bigger than themselves.

This contribution often looks different for each youth. It is unique because of who the youth is and where they feel they want to get involved. Maybe it is a local youth council, volunteering at church or at a community center,  or being part of school activities.

Youth simply need to know that they can contribute something to the world. That who they are, and the things they can do, matters to the world around them.

Not sure how to get the ball rolling in helping youth get plugged in somewhere? Ask them some good questions, what they like to do, what are some of their talents and passions? For instance, if a young man loves basketball try to see if he could volunteer to coach young kids.

You are a great resource for youth because you are able to see some of these connections better than them and have your own social network to tap into to get them involved. As you walk with youth help them to leave a mark on the community they are a part of.



eleven dustin and mike group hug stranger things

As people there is an innate desire in us all to feel like we belong to community;  to feel like we are part of a something bigger than ourselves. People call them by different names whether it’s tribes, small groups, or clubs we all have this same need. The first basic need for youth was a feeling of safety and the presence of structure. The second tackles the desire in us all to experience belonging, to have group membership and be actively engaged there.

I think of the kids in Stranger Things that always stick together and formed bonds with one another. If you have never seen the show I suggest you watch it just to see the bond between friends. When things get scary they count on one another, they laugh with one another and they challenge one another to be better. Relationships matter and they especially matter to the youth we work with. A successful program is one where everyone belongs and they feel like they matter there.

In groups that I have been a part of that have seen this success, these programs have these things in common:

Youth Show Up for One Another

When one youth is going through a tough time, other youth rally around them for support. They go to sporting events to cheer one another on. Youth know that other members of the group are there for them and can help them when they need it.

Respect and Care for One Another

Youth demonstrate that they respect one another. They listen to others perspectives and share opinions and beliefs. They feel safe within that group to share deep things and know that other people won’t ridicule or manipulate them with that information. Sometimes, respect looks like caring for someone enough to challenge them to be better.

Celebrate One Another

Youth love to party and have fun. Youth who are feel that they belong often celebrate with one another. Whether it is a birthday party or congratulating someone on a great test score, youth look for ways to encourage and celebrate with the other people in the group.

In your programs and events take some time to think about how you can promote a sense of belonging in the youth that are present. Is there a particular youth that needs this feeling more than others? Can you set up some veteran youth to make new, and younger, youth feel welcome?





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 navigate 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.