What to Say to a Struggling Teen

sad girl

When I started out in youth ministry, I feared pastoral issues the most. I mean: what should I say to struggling teens? I was a afraid I wouldn’t have the profound wisdom they’d be looking for, or the spiritual nuggets they’d need to get through it.

As it turns out, struggling teens don’t need us to say all that much. Sure, there are times when they ask for concrete advice: Rachel, should I break up with my boyfriend or not? What do you think I should major in in college? Do you think I should stop being friends with her? And those times, I help them analyze the situation and come to the best advice. (A pro tip: ask them what they’d advise a friend in that situation…) [Read more…]

Youth Pastor Failures

young man

It’s not a topic we like to talk about: our disappointments, failures, and mistakes. As a youth pastor, we’re in the spotlight. We’re supposed to be a role model, to live a life above reproach, to be an example in everything we do.

Yet we’re also human.

We’re also sinners.

But how much space is there to be who we truly are, including our failures? [Read more…]

How to Preach on Sex, Lust, and Porn


First off, I want to applaud you for wanting to tackle sensitive issues like sex, lust, and porn. They’re tough topics to talk about in private, let alone in a sermon. So kudos to you for being willing to face the fire.

Because these topics are so difficult to get right, especially with students, I’d like to share some advice with you. [Read more…]

I Wish my Youth Pastor Knew


A new teacher in Colorado wanted to get to know her third grade students better. She knew many were from disadvantaged backgrounds, but she wanted to understand their daily struggles. So she asked them to write notes titled ‘I wish my teacher knew’.

The results were heartbreaking. [Read more…]

Youth Leaders Academy is Back!

Schaapjes twitter header

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

(cue dramatic music…)

there was a blog called Youth Leaders Academy. And now it’s back!

I started Youth Leaders Academy a couple of years back after moving to Germany and finding myself with too much time on my hands. How the times have changed! It was just before a second international move, this time from Germany to upstate New York, that I decided to transfer most of my content to the Download Youth Ministry blog. My goal was to continue blogging there. [Read more…]

Using Youth Ministry to Teach Independence to Students


We’ve been talking about independence and what we can do to raise independent kids and promote it in students. One obvious tool we can use as youth leaders, is our youth ministry.

We may complain about parents doing too much for their teens instead of letting students do it themselves, but as youth workers, we tend to make the same mistake. That’s because it’s much faster to clean up the youth room myself, than to supervise four students who take twice as long with not nearly as a good a result. Well, deal with it. The only way students can learn is by letting them do it, even if they don’t do it well at first. [Read more…]

Raising Independent Students


In a previous post, we started our discussion on raising independent kids. Much has been said about extended adolescence and the irresponsibility and dependence of this generation of young people. I think our goal is to counter that trend and stimulate independence.

Many of us may be parents as well as youth workers, but since this is a youth ministry blog and not a parenting blog, the question is how to ‘raise’ independent students. What can we as youth leaders do to promote independence in our students? [Read more…]

Raising Independent Kids (part 1)


It was a great combination of a play date for my son and a catch up with a friend for me as both our sons played with each other at McDonald’s. After an hour or so my son reported to me he was thirsty. So I gave him two dollars to buy a bottle of water at the counter. My friend looked at me in amazement. “You let him do that all by himself?”

To be honest, I never even thought about it. He’s seven by the way (my friend’s son is eight) and he didn’t hesitate going to the counting and buying that water. He brought back the change and all was well. Afterwards, my friend and I talked about this and she confessed she would not have let her son do that. I pointed out that we were in the same space (though divided by a glass wall) and that I trained my son to raise hell if someone would try to take him. She reluctantly agreed that she was maybe a bit overprotective. [Read more…]

Join the DYM Book Club


So here’s the thing: I started a book club over at the Download Youth Ministry blog over a year ago, the DYM Book Club. And even though I love reading and I devour books, I’ve been lousy at keeping that club going consistently. To give myself some extra accountability and because I really believe in inspiring each other to read great books, I’m promoting it here as well.

Every month we pick four books to read from different categories: young adult fiction, leadership, personal growth, and youth ministry. This are the choices for this month: [Read more…]

Relationships with Students are not a Job


Recently, I talked to a student who had been hurt by his youth pastor. You see, the student announced that he’d decided to attend a different church. And the youth pastor had severed all ties with him, almost instantly.

You know what the student said, how he had felt? Like a job.

He’d had a wonderful relationship with this youth pastor, which he needed because he was going through a rough period of his life. They had talked almost daily and the student had valued the help and the relationship. But theologically, there had been some issues that made him decide to switch churches. He never saw it coming, that changing churches would mean losing the relationship that meant so much to him. [Read more…]