Published: Youth Ministry Is Not Just A Stepping Stone

Yeah, so I’m pretty excited and encouraged to have had a piece about why youth ministry isn’t just a stepping stone to becoming a lead pastor published on The Gospel Coalition. I have known for a little while it was going to happen, it has just been a matter of waiting patiently. It was published a few days ago and can now be found here.

“A common misunderstanding about youth pastors is that they’re training for the higher ranking position of lead pastor. While it’s true many pastors once worked with youth, the two roles are distinct. Senior pastors who’ve previously served as youth pastors can provide encouragement and understanding. They can also channel their experience into unrealistic expectations, perhaps beginning with the refrain, “Back when I was a youth pastor . . .””

As an aside I was encouraged even further to find my piece, Redeeming Love For Run-Down Parents, was also being promoted at TGC. Unbelievable.

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You can read other articles I’ve had published elsewhere here.

Published: Redeeming Love For Run-Down Parents

I have tried my hand at writing a post for parents. Thankfully it was published on the Rooted Ministry Parents blog this week.

In the post itself I focus on how the Book of Ruth helps remind us parents that we are not the saviours of our children. It is not us parents who redeem them, it is the Lord. We can rest in the knowledge that God is working in our lives, in our parenting, and in our children. We can rest in his faithfulness, his sovereignty, and his redemption.

“Thankfully, the story of Ruth reminds us that in among all the tasks, night terrors, and tiredness, it is God who faithfully rescues our minds and hearts. Behind the daily grind of parenting there sits a God who seeks our hearts and the hearts of our children. He has his providential hand upon us, calling us into his care and comfort, and rescuing us from our own ineptitudes, sinfulness, and character flaws.”

You can read the whole thing here.

If you would like to read other articles I’ve had published elsewhere you can find them here.

Reflections On The Rooted Ministry Leadership Summit

In May just gone I had the privilege of attending a leadership summit organised by the US-based youth ministry organisation Rooted Ministry. I’ve written for their blog over the past couple of years and enjoyed many of the articles they produce. Unbelievably, I was invited to attend this small summit in Birmingham, Alabama with other 40 like-minded youth ministry practitioners.

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This summit was three days of being fed in my faith, my love for God, my love for youth ministry, my love for writing, and for ministry in general. I made some great connections and friends, and was edified by everyone I met. I saw and heard more about American Christianity and life, and I also experienced some amazing Southern hospitality and food. Incredible.

In the months since this summit I have often reflected back on what I learned and the different conversations I had. Below is an outline of some of those reflections under four distinct questions.

Where Was God?

This is always a hard question to answer, because of course, God is everywhere! But, it is always worth asking because it helps us observe and be intentional about where we believe God is impacting us. It’s the kind of question I constantly ask on short-term mission teams, and we as a youth ministry ask it at the end of each youth night. The question is worthwhile in this context too.

I believe I saw God at work in:

  • The conversations I had with the people and those I connected with. I stayed with some friends before I arrived at the summit. It was great to reconnect with them and hear about how God has been shaping them and their lives in recent years. The conversations I had with my hosts and at the social gatherings of the summit were often powerful. And also, God was at work in the small group conversations we had as our writing and speaking was critiqued by others.
  • The terrific teaching we had from pastor and preacher Robbie Holt. Robbie was from a church in South Carolina (I think!). He spoke from Genesis 27-33, the story of Isaac, Esau and Jacob. It was certainly encouraging; and in some ways was preaching I hadn’t heard in a while. The applications to church, youth, and family ministry was particularly beneficial.
  • Having a greater understanding of the vision and passion of Rooted Ministry. To hear more about the beginnings and then the hopes for the ministry, the impact it is having, was really encouraging and felt like ‘home’ in some sense. An organisation that upholds the grace of God, theological depth, and relational youth ministry.

How Was I Encouraged?

I was encouraged in ministry through:

  • Understanding more about the breadth of contexts there are in the US, but also seeing how similar some of them are to Melbourne and to me.
  • Hearing the stories, the challenges, and encouraging growth of God at work with people, youth pastors, and the ministry itself. Often it is hard to find the encouraging stories in amongst the trees, but they are always there.
  • Realising that many of the issues to church-based youth ministry and youth pastors are issues everyone has to deal with in their own contexts. Issues like human sexuality and gender, social media, biblical illiteracy, evangelism and mission, loneliness and isolation, and mental health.

What Was The Impact Of This Summit?

I think this summit will impact my future ministry in the following ways:

  • I am encouraged to be even more conscious of shaping the ministry through the Bible.
  • Thinking deeply and theologically regarding ministry shape and philosophy, including pastoral responses and issues.
  • I’ll continue to mentor younger youth pastors and emphasise the use and effectiveness of the Bible in their youth ministries.
  • This summit has put a greater urgency in the mission and evangelism aspects to youth ministry. The summit highlighted for me the importance and urgent need to think and speak in evangelistic ways in youth ministry.
  • I was also reminded of the need to gain clarity on strategy for our youth ministry and family ministries. This includes communication of that strategy, particularly to new students and families. In a world where most parents believe youth group is going to be either, (1) a saviour for their child or (2) a place where they find wholesome values that are similar to their own experience, it’s important to outline why we do what we do.

Why Was It Worthwhile?

It was worth going to this leadership summit because:

  • It helped build relationships and hear encouraging stories of other people involved in youth ministry.
  • It provided exposure to different contexts. There were youth pastors from all over the States and provided a microcosm of experiences and issues people were dealing with in their own cities and towns. The US is the largest youth ministry market in the world and as ideas on youth ministry filters down through resources coming out of the States; no doubt Australian youth ministries will be impacted by them in the future. Having a first hand experience with a number of people from different parts of the US has helped me in understanding this more.
  • It strengthened my alignment to Rooted Ministry as a youth ministry organisation. I was grateful for the grassroots type approach to the ministry that they are seeking to undertake and encourage.
  • It has made me reflect on the state of youth ministry here in Melbourne and Australia. There are very few, if any, youth ministry organisations that are solely church-based, with the similar approach to that of Rooted Ministry.

All in all this was a terrific time and a worthwhile week. It was a privilege to be invited and have the opportunity to go. I look forward to writing for them more and perhaps reflecting further in coming months. I’m very thankful for the opportunity given to me because of the generosity of Rooted Ministry, my church, and individuals too.

Published: The Public Progress of a (Youth) Pastor

While listening to a podcast of one of Alistair Begg’s conference messages I was struck by his exposition of 1 Timothy 4:12-16. In it he refers to the public nature of the ministry, and the progress seen of that ministry by the congregation. This sparked an idea about what that might look like for those of us in youth ministry. In reality it took far longer to write than I’d hoped but I think it has come out with what I wanted to say!

It was recently published at Rooted Ministry, and you can read the whole thing here.

“Through our own maturity as a believer – our persistence in relying on Jesus – and the sharpening of our ministry skills and abilities, we will find ourselves making progress. As we use these God-given gifts, skills, abilities, and aptitudes we will grow in these things, develop these things, and our progress will bear fruit in those to whom we minister to (no matter the size of the group).”

The Benefits of Short-Term Teams

Questions are raised about short-term teams all the time. As I defined in my previous post, short-term teams are:

“A group of up to a dozen Christians, spending up to three weeks, specifically exploring the idea of mission in a context that is culturally and linguistically different to their home culture.”

And even a definition like this will raise questions.

Many of these questions consistently revolve around finances, impact, development, need, politics, and church relevance. Questions like:

  • Are they worth the cost? Couldn’t the money be used elsewhere?
  • Do Westerners arriving on the shores of a developing country for a couple of weeks actually help anyone? Are these teams a modern form of colonialisation?
  • Is anything really achieved for the participants and the people in the host country by a 2-3 week stay?
  • What is the image given to people who see wealthy Western Christians coming and going from their country while they are never helped themselves?

These are good and valid questions.

I know a number of people who have seen damage done spiritually, personally, financially, culturally, and socially because of these teams. And so rightfully, questions do need to be asked of this $2 billion industry. Depending on where you come from will mean different questions.

The Benefits of The Short-Term Mission Team

In recent years there have been helpful books written, like “When Helping Hurts“, that have promoted better practices for short-term mission teams. These practices have elevated the need to think through short-term teams, not only from a participant point-of-view but for those in the country where the team is going. They have also provided helpful frameworks, and questions to ask of teams, in the areas of finance, community development, spiritualisation, evangelism, discipleship, and more.

This goes a long way in helping those of us who lead teams and involved in short-term missions to think through the issues. Sometimes there is the need for change because of this thinking and questioning. And sometimes, we may only need to shift our goals a little and see the benefits of these teams can occur from a better and more solid foundation.

Benefits Of Short-Term Teams

And while there are plenty of criticisms and plenty of questions to be asked, I believe there are also plenty of benefits. Many of these I have seen myself, for me personally and for others who have been on teams before. And I’m sure there are also plenty of others that come from short-term teams too. But in the mean time, here are 15 benefits of short-term teams.

  1. They increase mission awareness within your church.
  2. They give the church a tangible opportunity to be involved in global mission.
  3. They broaden the worldview of those who participate, and those in the congregation.
  4. They increase the participation of of church members in local mission.
  5. They help grow followers of Jesus.
  6. They open participants eyes to the needs and realities of other people in other cultures.
  7. They develop a sense of connection between church members, participants, and the missionaries visited.
  8. They encourage the ministry of the the missionaries who are visited.
  9. The provide opportunity for participants to receive training in cross-culture ministry and settings.
  10. They help people understand the nature of support-raising.
  11. They enable participants to see what the reality of missions is like on the ground.
  12. They give another person in the world the opportunity to interact with someone from another culture.
  13. They increase the passion for helping people and being a good neighbour.
  14. They provide action-reflection experiences for participants in emotional, physical, and spiritual ways.
  15. They change lives and career paths.

Each of these points could be expanded. There are no doubt others to add too. But, as I’ve said here, and previously, these benefits give good impetus for short-term teams and their value to the church.

Defining The Short-Term Mission Team

In recent years there has been much written decrying the short-term mission trip. Thankfully, there has been much written promoting healthy ways to engage in short-term mission trips too. But for a number of year now there have been a plethora of articles on the issue of short-term teams and whether they are actually beneficial to anyone.

And in many ways much of what they say is right.

Defining The Short-Term Mission Team

For over 60 years the short-term mission trip–where a gaggle of young people raise money, buy new clothes, luggage, and gifts, and spend time in a culture that is not their own, all for the sake of believing they are helping people-–has been one of the sexiest things the church has been doing.

And of course there are plenty of caveats that should be said here.

  • No doubt many people have been helped because of these trips.
  • Many who have gone on these trips have grown themselves. 
  • And, some have even turned their short-term experience into a long-term missionary career.

And that’s great.

Truly, it is. 

But knowing that over $2 billion dollars is spent on short-term teams per year, and many who go leave the experience behind them, then serious questions are worth asking.

Having been on these types of teams, helped numerous churches facilitate them, and continue to lead these teams, I still believe they are worthwhile.

I believe that with a good framework these teams can become a terrific investment for individuals, the local church, and the church-at-large.

Over the coming weeks I will be publishing a series outlining a healthy approach to short-term teams, giving adequate thought to preparation, delivery, and debrief.

But first, it is helpful to start with some definitions.

Defining The Short-Term Mission Team

Before outlining a framework it is worth defining what a short-term team is.

First, short-term teams can be defined by length.

Some organisations have teams that only last a week. Other organisations classify short-term up to two years. That’s a big difference. For the purposes of defining short-term teams in this series I think of them lasting up to three weeks in duration.

Second, short-term teams can be defined by what participants actually do.

(1) Some teams spend time linking up with another church in another city, in their home country, and do mission-type activities together.

(2) Some teams involve going to a majority world country and helping an organisation in that country by painting their building, or their church, or a local school. This is the project-type team, which spends the majority of time doing a practical project in a particular place.

(3) Some teams spend a few weeks exploring the life and culture of a different country, visiting the work that is already going on in that place. This then involves lots of observation, cultural activities, and asking key questions to workers and missionaries already there. In this team there is a recognition that 2-3 weeks in a particular country won’t make much of a difference, except for the participants themselves.

(4) And finally, some teams are ‘longer’ short-term teams whereby the participants learn the language and culture of where they are going and spend significant time in one city, connected with one or two particular ministries going on in that place.

Third, short-term teams can be defined by their destination.

If the team is going to a developing country then it is more likely to be seen as a ‘proper’ short-term team. A team visiting their own country, or at least a place with a similar culture and language, may consider themselves more a partnership team, or just a few people from a church serving in another place for a short period.

There may be other ways to define what a short-term team is, but I believe this covers most of what would be expected and understood by churches, mission groups, and other voluntourism organisations. And this leads me to define these short-term teams as:

“A group of up to a dozen Christians, spending up to three weeks, specifically exploring the idea of mission in a context that is culturally and linguistically different to their home culture.”

What about you? How would you define these short-term teams?

Having this definition will help us think through some of the benefits of these short-term teams before helping us unpack some foundational thoughts about a healthy framework for short-term missions. This is where we will turn to next in our series. I hope you will join me.

Missions Sub-Committee Approves Short-term Mission Team to Neighbours

For the last nine months Huntingdale Heights Community Church has been actively pursuing the idea that it should reach out to its neighbours. On Monday night the short-term missions sub-committee taskforce formally approved its first short-term missions team to do just that.

Missions Sub-Committee Approves Short-term Mission Team to Neighbours

Over the past three years Pastor Jeff Hines has been preaching through the book of Acts, and this has inspired a small group of eight people to consider reaching out to their local community.

One of those inspired members, Mary Michaels, brought the idea of a neighbourhood short-term mission team to the missions committee. She said, “Knowing missions is in the Bible I thought we could try something small by sending a group from our church to connect with the neighbours in our street. I’ve seen other churches go overseas and to different cities around the country but it seems obvious that we should reach out to those around us.”

After a period of visioning a sub-committee taskforce was formed to think through the process of formulating such a team and decide what they would do. David Jenkins, one of the key members of this sub-committee taskforce said, “For the last six months the committee has really narrowed down on how to best develop this trip and the team going. We have seen what other churches do and feel we could do something similar in our community, even in our street. We’d really like some of our members to connect with our neighbours, and are willing to partner with them in prayer and finances as they head off on this adventure.” Mr Jenkins explained that the team would undergo a training weekend with workshops on language and culture, team building, and gospel presentation.

The 10-day short-term mission trip is being met with much anticipation by those attending Huntingdale Heights Community Church. Gary Hopper thinks this could really spark the missions activity of the church and would like to see it occur annually going forward. He said, “It’s terrific, really terrific. To have a group of 6-8 people from our church who are willing to commit time and resource to reaching our neighbours is something of a culture shift for our church. We’re so busy these days that it is inspiring to see this small group commit 10-days to meeting our neighbours needs. This team could make such a great impact in such a short time.”

With only a month before the team heads off the last minute planning and preparations are taking place. The church is busy organising next weekend’s trivia night where it is hoping to raise the $1500 per person it needs for the trip. And some of the members of the team are buying all the essentials they need, including some new branded clothes that will allow them to fit in well with those they meet.

Of course, this trip wouldn’t have gone ahead had it not been for God working in the lives of the congregation. Josh Arden is one young adult member who has felt called by God to go on this missions trip. He explained his reasoning for doing so this way, “Listening to Pastor Jeff teach through Acts has shown me how important missions really is. I am nervous and excited about how God might change me and grow me through this trip. I look forward to meeting the neighbours of the church during this time, and hopefully helping them in various projects they need doing. I’ve been mowing the lawn for my parents for the last couple of years, I wonder if some of our neighbours would be be willing for me to do the same for them?”

Upon exiting the church building it was noted that the church’s storage room was beginning to fill with half-filled paint tins; donated by caring church members for the painting of some of the neighbours fences.


I submitted this satirical post to The Babylon Bee. It wasn’t accepted. I thought it worth publishing here. I hope you enjoyed it as much as enjoyed writing it. 

Published: Clarifying The Call Of God

‘Calling’ is one of those Christian words, used by Christian people, that is more confusing than clear. In this article for Rooted Ministry I try to unpack the meaning of calling and seek to bring helpful clarification.

“To feel called by God would be evidence that we are unique, that we are special, that we are being used for a divinely appointed task. To feel called would be proof of some sort of special anointing upon us, a special anointing that no one else would have. To feel called would mean that we have been set apart to have a significant part in the movement and growth of God’s kingdom.

To some extent all of this is true, but the trouble we run into with this thinking is that it places the emphasis on us and not God. God has called us unique, special, anointed, and called, whether we feel it or not.

We have confused feelings with calling. God’s actual calling does not always show up on a billboard, nor does it always feel right.”

You can read the whole thing here.

This article was republished at The Gospel Coalition Australia on June 27, 2018.

Test Match Youth Ministry

There can be a range of emotions for anyone involved in youth ministry. The emotional rollercoaster can, at times, be brutal.

There are the obvious highs:

  • A kid becomes a Christian
  • The night runs smoothly
  • There is a significant conversation
  • The attendance is high or growing
  • The leaders are developing
  • It was simply a fun night
  • People were connecting with one-another
  • A parent gives positive feedback on the way their child is enjoying the youth ministry

All these bring terrific intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, as well as emotional highs for any youth leader.

But, of course, the opposite is also true.

  • Criticism from a parent for failing to communicate
  • A night where everything planned goes wrong
  • When you’re the only one left to clean up and lock up the church
  • Observing that no one else is taking initiative to lead, serve, and connect with others
  • A medical emergency in the middle of the program
  • A conversation that is awkward
  • The hard slog of week in week out with hardly anyone coming along

Here you can see how disappointment and discouragement can occur. Things don’t go right or there is simply nothing to feel motivated and happy about.

Test Match Youth Ministry

The thing with the emotional rollercoaster is that it is exactly that; up and down, up and down. Riding these waves of emotions often causes increased stress and anxiety, it can become tiresome, and also lead to the seeking of more and more highs. In this way, the rollercoaster can begin to affect the way we do youth ministry.

Helpful ways to settle these emotions is to gain perspective.

Perspective is crucial to understanding the long-term stability of oneself and the ministry.

Early in youth ministry I would have been up and down most weeks because of the way the program ran, what the night consisted of, and how the students reacted to its various parts. But now, realising that this is a long-term game, I don’t get that as much. If things aren’t that great, then it’s OK, it’s one week and a crucial question at the end of a night is, “What can we learn from this?”

You see, youth ministry is like a test match.

A cricket test match.

A test match goes for five days, the players need to be patient, perform their roles, understand what they’re there for, and apply themselves in a stable and steady way.

In test match youth ministry any leader needs to do the same.

We need to understand what we’re there for, what our role is on any given night, and apply ourselves to that. This involves intentionality and being alert to what’s going on. It means we look out for other ways we can help the team. And it also means we make sure we gain perspective while we’re in a season when things don’t go so well. There’s always next week, and the week after that. It’s a long-term approach, a long-term game that requires persistence and endurance.

It’s hard to judge what I love more. Youth ministry or test match cricket. But in both I see parallels in the need to keep perspective. Make sure the long-term game is in the picture, rather than getting emotionally caught up in the short-term ups and downs.

Divine Action In Youth Ministry

One particular aspect to Andrew Root’s latest work, Faith Formation In A Secular Age, is the concept of divine action.

Divine action is God’s work in the world. It is his activity in the world through the means of the Spirit and human beings. An older generation would term this ‘God’s providence’, and Root himself uses ‘God’s transcendence’ to describe the same thing. Nevertheless, divine action is helpful in capturing the idea that God is actively at work in the world.

Divine Action In Youth Ministry

Root wants to counter the disease of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD) and believes that reaffirming the concept of divine action will do just that. MTD is the idea that God wants me to be a good person (moralistic), God is a being who should help me feel good (therapeutic), and God is a concept to decorate our lives with but isn’t an agent who really does anything (deism). Divine action, and the truth that God is at work even in the ordinary lives of middle-class Westerners, is Root’s solution to the ‘D’ in MTD.

With the loss of recognising God in our lives we are left believing that God isn’t there. We are left wondering if God is actually real, and whether he does indeed care for us.

As I finished reading this book I was also working through a teaching series on the story of Ruth. While the Lord barely makes a mention throughout the four chapters, never actively speaking himself, his handiwork is clear in the lives of the characters, Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz. If there is ever a book of the bible that teaches God’s divine action and transcendence in the lives of ordinary people then this is it.

When we turn to youth ministry I wonder whether we recognise the handiwork of God?

In all aspects of youth ministry in your church; with your students, with your families, with your leaders, God is at work. He is working in each of their lives and in the ministry-at-large.

And of course, it’s hard to see how God is working at times. It’s hard to see, in the moment, the ways God is comforting, strengthening, freeing, connecting, growing, and inspiring different people and their lives.

It is hard to see God at work when our eyes aren’t seeing it or our hearts aren’t feeling it.

How often we might doubt when someones say they think God is speaking to them? How often do we question whether someone is actually growing in their faith? How often do we feel disappointment over a poor conversation, or a seemingly poor youth night, or a rowdy couple of kids in our small group?

Yet despite this, God is often working while our limited perspective clouds our view of God’s divine action.

In this day and age of result driven, short-term, growth it’s hard to gain perspective. In this day where God is seen as a divine being who will only give happy, heart-warming therapeutic advice, it is no wonder we exclude the divine action of God in our own lives and the lives of others.

The bible promises that God is with us. And through his Spirit he continues to be at work. May we remember this in the excitement of summer camps and in the depths of winter lock-ins.

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6:)


You can read my review of Faith Formation In A Secular Age here.