Wanna Write A Story?

I've already asked a few of my friends for their contributions, but wanted to toss an invite to

Here's the deal....

Standard Publishing is updating/revising/re-distributing Controlled Chaos, a junior high ministry book I wrote about 8 years ago, and one thing we wanted to add was a 'Stories From The Trenches' feature. The hope is to get about 8-10 junior high pastors to write a 400-500 word true-life junior high ministry story. It can be funny, serious or ????. At the end you would just need to write a little practical application or 'takeaway'. Unfortunately I can't pay you for this, but I'd love to give you the chance to contribute if you'd like.

Length: 400-500 words
Deadline: February 15th
Send to: Kurt@saddleback.net include your name and name of your church.

You won't get your story back, and there is only room for about 10 stories. You won't get paid, but you will get your story published in a book which is kinda cool!


Well Hidden

Two weeks ago as part of our "Scarred" kick-off, we gave students the opportunity to anonymously share some of their hurts. To be honest, I went into it a little bit naively. Because our students come from upper middle-class families, are well provided for, go to great schools etc. it's dangerously easy to be lulled into thinking they don't face the same struggles other young teens do.

I was shocked back into reality as I read some of the responses. We simply asked students to write on a card:
"My Scar is _________________ and I deal with it by ______________."

The amount of kids dealing with (or not dealing with)significant emotional hurts was overwhelming. They hide it so well, but by scratching just a little below the surface we gave students the opportunity to reveal some painful truths. Plus, we were able to point kids to our fantastic 13 week program that helps students work through their hurts.

May God grant us all the ability to recognize hurting kids and the wisdom to help them navigate their pain in a way that brings healing.


Weekend Wrap Up

Lesson Topic: Week Two of our Series: SCARRED...Life Hurts; God Heals
Attendance: Average
'Fun Factor': Average
Volunteer Involvement: Average
Music: Below Average
Lesson Quality: Above Average
Length of Lesson: 25 mins
Student Response: Above Average

It was an interesting weekend for us. Bad weather, a bunch of our kids away on a missions trip, two out of our four worship songs were new (which is what contributes to the 'below average' ranking...poor participation, not poor quality), the games were sub-par etc. BUT, the lesson was amazing, we had a couple of fun videos and there was good energy. I really think the subject matter of this series is what is setting it apart from so many and why the weekends are being received so well by our kids.




Not too long ago I was asked to jot down a few simple thoughts about youth ministry volunteers; specifically what to do with them.

If you're like most people, including myself, when presented with the "What to do with volunteers" question your mind may quickly start making a list of all the "things" your volunteers can do in your ministry...the various roles, tasks etc. that need doing.

But, when I thought about it a bit longer I landed on three big-picture things professional youth workers should be doing with their volunteers. Three things that, I believe, will yield longer term fruit than simply giving them tasks.

EMPOWER: Don't just give them tasks, but empower them to own significant chunks of your ministry.

EQUIP: Empowerment is great, but not if volunteers don't feel equipped and trained to do the stuff they have been empowered to do.

ENCOURAGE: I've never lost a volunteer from my team because he/she felt too encouraged! I have, however, lost several because they felt under-appreciated.


Wanna Join Our Team?

Our junior high ministry here at Saddleback has a couple of openings for college graduates interested in a two-year internship. We've had lots of interns on our team over the past several years and I think it has always proved to be a "Win-Win".

We win because we get an additional full-time member on our team for a couple of years.
Interns win because they get invaluable experience to take with them to their next ministry setting.
We all win because we get to share life and build lasting friendships.

If you're interested email our intern director, Jana Sarti, at Janas@saddleback.net


Random Randomness

- Today I was supposed to leave for Kenya with some of our youth ministry team, my daughter and another 8th grade student. Unfortunately we decided it was best to cancel the trip due to the political unrest. The area we were to go is one of the areas most affected by the turmoil. I'm really sad because the timing seemed perfect, the team was great and I was excited to see how God was going to use us.

- Both my kids seem to really enjoy writing. My daughter has been faithfully blogging for close to a year and my 10-year-old son, Cole, just talked us into letting him begin as well. I'm interested to see if he sticks to it. So far, he's posted every day.

- If you live in Southern California or Arizona and are looking for a great event for your junior highers, I recommend Jr. High Believe that is held in Palm Springs in March. I happen to be speaking there this year so it may be the year to skip! They host numerous weekends all around the country, and really do put on a great 24-hour event for young teens. It's cheap, fun, spiritually challenging, easy and created specifically for junior high students. It may be worth considering for a future retreat.

- Relevant Books has a pretty cool little line called The Foundation of Faith series that has shortened, pocket-sized versions of some great reads. Currently I'm reading Thomas a Kempis' classic, The Imitation of Christ. Good stuff.


Weekend Wrap Up

Lesson Topic: Week One of our Series: SCARRED...Life Hurts; God Heals
Attendance: Above Average
'Fun Factor': Above Average
Volunteer Involvement: Above Average
Music: Above Average
Lesson Quality: Above Average
Length of Lesson: 26 mins
Student Response: Above Average

One of our best weekends in a really long time, but for no real particular reason. It was just one of those times when everything seemed to fall into place. Our music was tight, our games were fun, the lesson was engaging and interesting (we are teaching a three-week series on how to properly deal with hurts)....A great weekend.


Wicked Awesome

Tonight my extended family is heading to Hollywood to see Wicked. It will be the first time for most of us, but the second time for Rachel and Kayla. We decided to keep the kids out of school tomorrow, stay the night in Hollywood and have some family fun tomorrow. I'm not a huge musical fan, which combined with the fact that I don't like the Wizard of Oz makes me nervous, but everybody who has seen Wicked seems to speak really highly of it so I'm actually looking forward to seeing it for myself. At the very least it will give me some context for the songs on the soundtrack that seem to be playing in my wife's car constantly. Should be an awesome time.


Planning Retreat

As we do at this time each year, our junior high team is heading out for an overnight Summer planning retreat. We'll spend our time talking PDYM strategy and tweaking job descriptions, planning our Summer events and brainstorming teaching topics based around our Summer theme which is Full Service Summer (sorta a retro gas station/garage look).

We'll get a lot of work done, but the highlight is simply the fact that we can get away as a team to hang out.


Weekend Wrap Up

Lesson Topic: Week Two of our Series: It's Okay To Be Short
Attendance: Above Average
'Fun Factor': Average
Volunteer Involvement: Average
Music: Above Average
Lesson Quality: Above Average
Length of Lesson: 24 mins
Student Response: Average

We had a good weekend with a few fun elements. Matt Hall who just happens to be our shortest jr. high team member taught the final weekend of 'It's Okay to Be Short' and did a great job. Instead of just a band, we had an entire jr. high choir (something we do about every 6 weeks or so).

Lately we've been having a ton of first-time visitors which has been exciting to see. I'm constantly surprised by who brings friends. It's usually not the super popular core kids but the average attenders who are involved but not overly. My hunch is that our core kids are the students who have the most 'churched' friends and aren't rubbing shoulders with non-believers as much as other students are....something we need to change!


A Favor and An Opportunity!

First, the favor:
I mentioned earlier that Simply Junior High is putting together it's first-ever junior high resource catalog. They would LOVE some shots of jr. highers playing guitar hero...which I can't seem to provide. If you have any, would you be willing to email them to Natalie@simplyyouthministry.com

Now, the opportunity:
Group Publishing is getting ready to release a subscription based newsletter for junior high workers, which I think is fantastic. It's a short, 10-12 page monthly print piece. They are looking for contributors to write articles and such. I don't know how to attach a document to my blog (is that even possible?), so I'm just gonna post the information below that Group asked me to pass to folks like you.

We need your help!

We’re creating a brand-new junior high newsletter, and we’d love to add your great ideas. We’re looking for games, discussion starters, Bible studies, retreat ideas, service ideas, outreach ideas, small group ideas—whatever has worked for you in your ministry to junior highers. We only want ideas that are specific to the junior high age group.

We’re also looking for longer pieces that deal with building your volunteer team and partnering with parents—these can be as long as 400 words.

So send your ideas to sfirestone@group.com, put “Junior High Newsletter” in the subject line, and if we use it we’ll pay you $50 for the short ideas and $150 for the longer pieces.


Radioactive Homer

On Tuesday, a bunch of the junior high and high school staff went to lunch together. A few of us happened to notice that the Claw Game appeared to have a Homer Simpson doll in some sort of funky radioactive get up, and that it was easy pickins'....or so we thought.

Once we got started, we refused to quit until we had him in our hot little hands. I'm sure it ended up being the most expensive Radioactive Homer doll ever purchased.


First Impressions

If the studies are correct, that people make their minds up within the first 2-90 seconds, youth ministries have a whole lot of 'first impression' opportunities. The studies also indicate that once somebody forms an opinion, for good or for bad, based on those few initial seconds, they are unlikely to change their mind. WOW!

A few first impression opportunities in a typical junior high ministry:
- A visitor walks into your meeting room.
- A parent shows up to a parent meeting (wouldn't that be nice!).
- You make an appearance on a public school campus.
- Your ministry's website.
- Promotion Sunday

There are countless others. I'd be interested to hear what you think the top 3 'first impression' opportunities might be.


Small Group Tid-bit

Last night we had a 90 minute gathering with our small group leaders to touch base. Since we are nearing the half-way point of our small group season, it felt like a good time to remind them of a couple of basics concerning the lesson time in their groups. I shared three super basic reminders:

1) Remember, the lesson time is about them, not you.
Peer pressure, wise choices, honoring mom and dad etc. are topics I've taught dozens and dozens of times as a junior high pastor. To be honest, I'm sick of teaching this kind of stuff but it's NOT ABOUT ME! Small group isn't the time to take what you've been chewing on in your own spiritual journey and try to turn it into a junior high lesson.

2) Experiential learning is the best kind of learning.
Studies indicate that people retain about 60-70% more information when it involves some sort of hands-on, experiential learning. Avoid the temptation to simply lecture your small group for 30 minutes.

3) Mix it up!
Don't do the same stuff over and over again. utilize a wide variety of experiential learning opportunities. If your students absolutely love something, don't over-use it or else it will become old and ineffective. A 'Field Trip' lesson is amazing until you start doing field trips every week....then they lose their luster.



A quick review of three movies I've recently seen:

I Am Legend (Rated PG13).
Quick Thought: Pretty much the usual Wil Smith fare
Best Scene: The line of light slowly disappearing while the dogs wait to attack.
Review: Thumbs Up

Walk Hard (Rated R).
Quick Thought: I can confidently say it's the worst movie I've ever seen.
Best Scene: None. I'm embarrassed by the fact that I didn't walk out!
Review: Thumbs Down

No Country For Old Men (Rated R)
Quick Thought: Great story told much too slowly. Terrible ending.
Best Scene: Every Tommy Lee Jones scene
Review: Sideways thumb

Weekend Wrap Up

Lesson Topic: Week One of our Series: It's Okay To Be Short
Attendance: Above Average
'Fun Factor': Above Average
Volunteer Involvement: Average
Music: Average
Lesson Quality: Average
Length of Lesson: 22 mins
Student Response: Above Average

Our 'It's Okay To Be Short' Series is taking a look at two of the shortest books in the Bible, Philemon and 3rd John. We shortened our games, shortened our songs, shortened our announcements etc. to try to set the stage (I'm not sure students totally got the connection, but it was a fun effort...). It was our first weekend back to a 'normal' junior high program since before Christmas so that alone felt great!


90 Good Minutes

We just got out of an all staff meeting with Pastor Rick. We don't usually have staff meetings on Fridays, but since we've been a bit scattered throughout the holidays, I think he just wanted to re-connect. It was awesome. There was no agenda; we simply sang some worship songs and then Rick opened up the discussion to anything anybody wanted to talk about. For the next 90 minutes or so Rick talked off the cuff about the various topics we brought up:
- Politics
- Separation of Church and State
- Systematic Theology
- Church History
- The current situation in Kenya
- Saddleback's path into the future
- and several other topics raised by our staff

It was really good stuff...I could have sat there for another 90 minutes


Random Randomness

Lots going on in my life and in my head:

- I was really sad to see Hawaii get trampled by Georgia. Unfortunatley they proved the critics right...that maybe they simply didn't belong in a game with the big boys.

- My daughter and I head to Kenya on January 22 so obviously I'm keeping a close eye on the political unrest facing the country.

- Our high school Pastor has accepted a position at a great church in Florida. This means big changes for us as we head into a new season in our youth ministry.

- For Christmas, I bought my wife Season 3 of The Office. Man, it's funny stuff.

- Sitting in the airport right now on my way to Akron, Ohio to teach a one day college class on junior high ministry. I'll be back in my own bed by midnight tomorrow night.

- Standard Publishing has asked me to update my junior high ministry book 'Controlled Chaos'. It was written in 2000 and surprisingly there hasn't been another significant junior high ministry book released since.

- Along the same lines, GROUP Publishing is taking a bunch of my junior high ministry columns and turning them into a 'best of' book. It won't be a comprehensive look at junior high ministry, but rather a whole bunch of unrelated essays on the topic. I think the best part of this book is that they've asked Scott Rubin, the junior high Pastor at Willow Creek, to write comentary to each essay. I think this is set to release in February.

- We're getting ready to kick off a fun series in our ministry: "It's Okay To Be Short" will look at the two shortest books in the Bible.

- My wife and I were talking the the other day when the reality finally hit us that we only have about 4 years until our oldest child heads off to college; that our 'window' with her is beginning to creep shut.

- That also means I only have about 4 years until I'm in my mid forties....I guess my window is creeping shut, too!