Archive for the ‘creativity’ Category

instagram picOne of the best tools ever created for middle school ministry is Instagram. I realize that apps like Instagram can be cool for a couple years and then be sent off to grandma’s farm in the country where they can run and be free of all pain from their old-ness. But for right now in the present reality of middle school ministry, I believe it is the best app available. If you have even 5 students in your group who have Instagram, you should have an account specifically for your ministry. Here are just a few reasons why:

  • Middle schoolers love Instagram. I don’t think I need to explain this one, but with the explosion of the digital age, everything is in picture form. I once heard a youth pastor say that they were trying to be counter-cultural and fight against the popularity of Instagram… To which I replied, “Huh??” This isn’t a sin issue. This is a cultural engagement opportunity. I love posting pictures of our students worshipping or verses we talked about in the sermon or students simply having fun at church. When students are rushing down their photo feed, they are bombarded with negativity and judgmentalism. Then they see that one picture from the middle school ministry, and they are reminded in the middle of the day about who they are. As the church let’s offer redeeming images for students to see and celebrate.
  • Students love to see themselves in pictures. It makes me laugh everytime when we post a picture to our ministry account of nearly 300 students, and that one student will make a point to comment and say, “I see me!” I mean, honestly, we all love to see ourselves… But throw in the insecurities of the middle school age, and they love it even more. It helps give them an objective look at who they are when they’re not talking selfies.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of the screen-shot/re-post. Okay this one is simple. Remember how we used to hand out physical pieces of paper and tell students to invite their friends to an event? Now, it’s as easy as posting a graphic of an upcoming event on Instagram. Tell students – heck, even make them do it in the middle of your program – to “screen-shot” the picture of the event, then re-post it under their own account. In the span of under 5 minutes, your students just invited hundreds of their friends to your event… And more importantly, they didn’t leave any of those paper fliers crumpled up in the hallway that you’ll have to clean up later. We just did this with our big outreach event called the BASH, and over 500 students came. (We had 400 last year when we didn’t use Instagram… 25% growth is a big deal, people!)
  • Building the hype & anticipation before an event is just as important as the execution of the event. I borrowed this idea from Michael Hyatt in his book “Platform.” Instagram allows you to take sneak-peek pictures (or videos!) of something from your programming hours or even days ahead. When you do that, you begin the epic experience for the student in advance. By the time they arrive at church, they are already sold on whatever you have planned. Last year I posted a picture of Honey Boo Boo on our Instagram account and said, “What does Honey Boo Boo have to do with LIFT tomorrow? You’ll have to be here to find out.” (It was for a silly game we played). One of our students got so excited about it that he brought two friends with him. They told me that they had always thought church was just boring. Hmm…
  • It creates memories. We don’t allow our middle schoolers to bring their phones or iPods to overnight trips. But we unleash our leaders to take plenty of Instagram pictures. I love the 5 hours immediately following the end of our event when our middle schoolers rush to Instagram to like and comment on every picture we took. Many of them re-post those pictures to tell their friends about their experience as well. Creating memories is a vital piece of faith formation. Instagram just helps out a bit. (Side note: When we take pictures at overnight trips and post them to Instagram, this also creates a great opportunity for parents to feel involved and informed about what’s happening. The introduction of Instagram Video was a huge win with our parents as they got to see their kids worshipping!)

I could go on and on about the reasons I believe Instagram is a vital app for all middle school ministries. But I’ve decided to make this a multiple-part post. Stay tuned for more thoughts later this week. In the mean-time, what did I miss? Why else should a middle school youth worker use Instagram?

P.S. Want to see more ways that I use Instagram for our middle school ministry? Check out


This year we wanted to introduce some of our middle school ministry staff to the students in a fun, unique way. So we took the #Vadering fad and put a little twist on it. (If you don’t know what it is, look it up on Instagram/Twitter. Students love it.) The students got a huge kick out of this video. After we showed it, we had the whole room (300+ people) Vader each other (Vaders on the left, victims on the right) and took a picture. It was an epic middle school moment. My favorite days in middle school ministry are when I can somehow sneak Star Wars into my job.

P.S. My favorite part of the video is the surprise cameo appearance by our senior pastor, Jon Weece, at the very end. I love serving at a large church where the head guy isn’t afraid to get silly for the middle schoolers!



I received the above comment yesterday on our middle school ministry Instagram account, and it made my day. Why? Because I spend time every week trying to think of the next “crazy thing” we could do in our weekend services that could help create an environment where unchurched students feel comfortable. This past weekend it was called the “Impossible Shot,” where one-by-one students had one chance to throw a roll of toilet paper from the stage through the toilet seat (hooked to the end of a pole) in the back of the room. I strongly believe that having fun is integral to the discipleship process in middle school ministry because it brings down walls (and I’m not just talking about the literal church walls that end up with holes in them…). This comment reminded me that everything speaks in our ministry… So whether you are a youth pastor, a volunteer small group leader, or even a parent – remember that having fun with your middle school students creates memories and environments that they will want to return to and ultimately hear more about Jesus.

What’s the latest “fun” thing you’ve done with students? What fun element are you particularly proud of from your experience?

Recently I was talking to a few other friends who are doing middle school ministry, and in the midst of sharing some ideas of things we’re trying, I shared a creative idea we tried in the past several months. It worked really well for us, so I wanted to share with you all.

Before I begin, I have to confess that my inspiration came from Pinterest. There are actually amazing ideas for churches on Pinterest. I basically found a holidays page and adapted one idea into a youth ministry challenge. So before any guys start judging me (all out of fun I’m sure!), get on there and look around, and TRY not to be inspired!

LIFT Bucket ListThe idea is called the “LIFT Holiday Bucket List.” (LIFT is the name of our middle school program.) Basically, it was a fun ongoing challenge to students to complete a list of holiday activities between Thanksgiving and New Years Day. The challenges were designed for students to have fun and also to serve others. Here are a couple examples of Holiday Bucket List challenges we used:

  • Create an epic blanket fort
  • Rake the leaves or shovel snow for a neighbor
  • Have a 3-movie marathon
  • Serve a meal at a homeless shelter
  • Give a secret Christmas gift to someone
  • Create the coolest Christmas ornament
  • Scrape the ice off your parents’ car windows

This was a huge hit with students! But the most successful part of the whole challenge was the photo-sharing. We told students to take pictures as they accomplished items on the Bucket List and tag it with the hashtag #LIFTbucketlist on Instagram. If students didn’t have Instagram, they could post to our Facebook page or e-mail them to us and we would post with our @LIFTscc account. But I would venture to guess that 90% of our middle schoolers have Instagram.

On our last Sunday before Christmas, we had a pre-service and post-service slideshow of everyone who had posted a picture with #LIFTbucketlist (which was 100+ at the time). It was really cool to see students get excited about their picture on the big screen. Some of our Life Groups even accomplished bucket list items together, which created great memories!

If you want the file to our version of the Holiday Bucket List, send me an e-mail at and I’ll share it with you! Also, search Instagram for #liftbucketlist to check out a few of the pictures that were posted! (Most of the profiles are private, so you will probably only be able to see a few, but you’ll catch the drift!)

Have you tried anything like this in your ministry or with your kids? Comment with any ideas you’ve had!

What Energizes YouI’ve always been fascinated by anything that teaches me more about myself. That statement may seem a little narcissistic, but it’s still true. Whenever I learn something new about myself, it’s like the moment I put my contact lenses into my eyes in the morning – everything in life is just a little clearer.

Lately I’ve been learning more about my personality through a couple different experiences. Here are just a few of those lessons:

  • My Myers-Briggs personality type (ENFP) was described by a certain personality test as a “planner of change.” The words planner and change don’t usually go into the same sentence or phrase. And yet somehow that’s an impeccable description of how I think. I am always thinking and dreaming of new ideas and ways of doing things. It’s truly what energizes me. (The same personality test, however, described the ENFP weakness as “lack of follow through,” which is also a painful truth about me!)
  • I love thinking, talking, reading, and doing discipleship. I hear that word and my mind begins to wander. I’ve seen it done well and I’ve seen it done poorly – which probably doesn’t actually count as “doing” it if it’s done poorly, as it’s one of those things that either happens or doesn’t happen. I have two new books sitting on my desk, and both have to do with discipleship (“Multiply” by Francis Chan and “Masterpiece: The Art of Discipling Youth” by Paul Martin). I contribute a lot of this passion to one of my mentors, Alan Briggs, who once asked me a simple question, “Have you ever been discipled by someone?” My ambiguous answer to that question led me on a quest to make sure every middle schooler that comes through our ministry can answer YES to that question one day. This discussion and quest is truly what energizes me.
  • Whenever I get to be creative with a sermon or sermon series, as well as finding creative games that get middle schoolers excited about being at church, I get energized.
  • When I get to go on date nights with my beautiful wife and serve Kingdom purposes alongside each other, I get energized.
  • When I’m around other people who are just as excited as I am about middle school ministry and discipleship, I get energized.
  • When I am writing and blogging simply out of passion and excitement for the subject instead of doing it for the praise and approval of other people, I get energized. (This should also explain my absence from writing for the last couple months. After realizing I was getting sucked into the praise and approval side of blogging too much, I needed to hit pause. That doesn’t energize me in the way I want to be energized. I’d rather write for the glory of God and to inspire others in their ministry with middle schoolers than for any other reason.)

So there you go. Those are a few of the lessons I’m learning about myself. Why did I write this for a middle school ministry blog? Because every middle school youth worker, volunteer, parent, and student gets energized by different things. One of the keys to leading well is tapping into the things that energize the people you work with and leaning into it for kingdom purposes. For example, I’ve learned that the 6th grade guys in my Life Group that I co-lead still very much like things like Lego’s and being creative. So last week at Life Group I had one of the guys bring a bucket of Lego’s. To start our time I asked the guys to build something that represented or symbolized their relationship with Jesus. Every single guy had an amazing creation and description. One guy built a Lego heart that didn’t quite connect at the top because according to him, he feels close to Jesus, but there’s a gap that still needs to be filled before he thinks it will be complete. He even put a Lego spider web in the middle of the heart to signify to gap he feels. Two words: creative energy.

What energizes the specific students that you are discipling? Whether you are parenting them or pastoring them, your students have things that energize them that you can tap into for kingdom purposes.

Today during lunch my wife was watching a show called “Rachael” (or at least that’s my alibi, and I’m sticking to it). They were doing a segment where they were interviewing a family who ran a restaurant together. At one point the mother of the family started talking about their desires to expand the menu and offer new exciting options for customers. They wanted to get creative with their menu. But as she talked about their creative desires, she expressed her frustration in not ever having the time to do that while also maintaining the restaurant – you know, the cleaning, the budgeting, the customer service, the shopping for ingredients, etc.. And then she said something I don’t think I’ll ever forget:

It’s hard to think outside the box when you’re too busy building the box.

In one sentence, this woman articulated every frustration I have felt for the last several years running a middle school ministry. On one side I have a strong conviction that I need to “think outside the box” and creatively present the gospel and the truths of Scripture to engage the unique minds of my middle schoolers. Many preachers have said that it’s a sin to make the Bible boring for the listener, and I completely agree. But on the other side, I have to “build the box” with the 400 items on my To-Do list, including (but not limited to): replying to e-mails, running meetings, returning phone calls, interviewing and meeting with leaders, negotiating conflict, and on and on and on… And if I’m honest, I yield to the “other side” of the to-do list if there is ever a conflict between getting creative and gettings things done.

But then a tension begins to build. When I only focus on the to-do list and “building the box,” I start to lose my fire and passion for what I’m doing. I start going through the motions to try to meet expectations. Now, let me stop here and assert that building the box is absolutely essential. If you just sit around coming up with creative ideas without ever pulling the trigger on them, all you’re doing is day-dreaming. But, as Bill Hybels said at the Willow Creek Leader Summit this year, you and I have been called as leaders not to respond to things all day, but to move things forward. And we can’t move things forward without a little thinking outside the box.

So whether you are a youth pastor, a parent, a teacher, or volunteer, here are a few thoughts that help me to stop building the box occasionally in order to think outside the box:

  1. Get away from the box. When I am struggling to get creative with a sermon I’m preparing, I have to get away from the office. If you need WiFi, go to a coffee shop or somewhere like Panera. These places are intentionally designed with color and art to encourage the creative minds. It’s ironic, really. If I want to do something creative at church, I have to be anywhere except the church. Find a third place (home is first place, work is second place, creative space is third place).
  2. Find other people who are in a similar box. The best ideas happen in community. I get so much joy from connecting with other youth pastors and swapping ideas. You have to realize that you don’t have to come up with every creative idea on your own. Find something similar that someone else has done, adapt it for your context, and see what happens!
  3. Identify sources of inspiration. Around the student ministries office at Southland, everyone calls me “the Resource Guy.” This is simply because I do lot of research around the web to find creative ideas, and often times I find something that I’ll pass on to other people. I get inspired looking at a few different websites and blogs, such as More Than Dodgeball, Stuff You Can Use, the Source for Youth Ministry, and yes, even Pinterest. I may lose some man points on that last one, but honestly there is a lot of good youth ministry stuff on Pinterest. I have two boards on Pinterest named “Church Design” and “Youth Ministry Ideas” that I use frequently for new ideas.

If you are like me and believe that making the Bible boring for listeners is a sin, then let’s stop building the box occasionally to start thinking outside the box.

How do you start getting creative? What sources of inspiration do you use to help jump-start your creativity?

As promised, here is a weekly re-cap of my 6th grade small group. For a little bit of context, I lead over the whole middle school ministry at Southland Christian Church, but I have a huge heart for discipleship and investing in a few. So I have taken on a squirrely group of 6th grade boys with my co-leader Austin, and here is what went down last night:

Content: Last night we started the curriculum we will be working through for the first part of the school year. In the past I have written most of my own curriculum, but I have been thoroughly impressed with the Uncommon Junior High Group Study curriculum edited by Kara Powell. So we are using her Armor of God study for junior highers. I let the guys decide which book we would study, and I have to admit I wasn’t super excited about their choice. BUT after looking through it, I think the concrete language of armor will resonate with the guys’ 6th grade minds (and touch on the “manly man” theme). The first six weeks are the “Defensive Armor” listed of course in Ephesians 6:10-18. The first topic was the “Belt of Truth.” The big idea/takeaway for the guys was that the best defense against spiritual darkness is a clear understanding of what God says about himself, Jesus, salvation and life. It was a pretty abstract concept for 6th grade boys who have yet to gain the abstract learning capacity from puberty; however, this curriculum does a fantastic job of understanding developmental issues for this age group. As the night went on, we really seemed to come back to the mantra of “when in doubt about what’s true, go to the Word of God.”

Creativity: In line with the “belt of TRUTH” theme, we started with the classic icebreaker “Two Truths and a Lie.” Not only did we get to know some interesting facts about the guys. (Sidenote: One of them proudly told the group he has 3 girlfriends, but he decided to break up with two of them yesterday. Celebrate little victories, right?). We had planned another activity mid-lesson where the guys would answer true/false questions about TRUTHS by moving to the right or left side of the room (in order to get their whole body involved in the process), but they were so focused and excited about the biblical content that we didn’t need to. As a tangible takeaway for the night, I bought a belt from Goodwill for $1.50 and used a knife to carve in the words “Belt of Truth.” Then I took a marker and wrote a couple Scripture references with important truths and encouragement for the guys. Every week one of the guys will take the belt of truth home with him and either carve or write in some encouragement or verses, and then pass it on to another guy at the next small group. They seemed excited about it. We’ll see how much traction it gets.

Cool Moments: Middle schoolers constantly exceed my expectations. I had thought the abstract idea of holding on to absolute truth would be way over their heads, but they were tracking the whole time. It launched us into guys asking really deep questions like, “How do we know that our version of faith is true?” and “How do we know the book of Mormon isn’t true?” This led to some great discussion about the history of the Bible and topics like the Dead Sea Scrolls. I love their inquisitive minds. There were other innocent questions like, “How do we know which version of the Bible is true if there are so many different versions?” This led to some discussion about the original language the Bible was written in and how people might translate it differently, but the message remains the same. I love when middle schoolers ask those kinds of questions because topics like that don’t naturally come up very often. We take for granted how much they understand things like “NIV” or “NLT.”

Changes Needed: The discussion was so good, and the guys kept asking incredible questions, so we ran out of time at the end to do any kind of accountability or prayer request sharing. I’m wondering if we should move our prayer time to the beginning of our group time to highlight the importance of prayer and sharing.

It was really an encouraging night. I was reaffirmed that this is my favorite age group by far. The curiosity of a child + their emerging brains like that of an adult = great discussion.