“If you want to build ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” Antoine de Saint Exupery, “Make Me A Boat” (and found in “Summoned to Lead” by Leonard Sweet).

If you want to build a top-notch youth ministry, you MUST lead in this way. You must find others who are willing to lead, yes. But you must be able to lead in such a way that isn’t simply about task this task that, but about listening to their heart beat and dream for why they do what they do.

In other words, listen.

Often times, the three greatest words of a youth ministry leader is: “I hear you.”

Adults who volunteer in a ministry program don’t simply want to be told what to do; they want to actively participate. They want to be heard.

If I’m leading a youth ministry and not taking time to listen to the dreams, visions, and desires of those around me, forget it. This ministry won’t be successful.

Are you listening to the voices around you? Are you telling them what to do or listening to their yearnings for the vast and endless sea of possibility?

It’s the greatest gift you can give your volunteer leaders.


Small Groups and Saying Yes to Christ.

On October 13th, we are undertaking two significant events. First, we are forming small groups. This is a massive, chaotic undertaking (initially) that is incredibly vital to Junior High students.

This year, we are experimenting by making small groups optional. Here’s the hope: Students will take ownership of their own faith development rather than being forced to attend. I believe this could be an essential catalyst to faith development.

On the same night, we are presenting a “Yes” message. This is a message and night specifically designed to encourage students to make that first step towards accepting Jesus Christ as Lord. It’s a monumental moment in life.

In other words, we are praying for October 13.

Whether you do small groups or have “Yes” nights, the question is: Are you doing something to further the faith development of students OTHER THAN theological knowledge or silly games?

Give students opportunities to take ownership, to take action, to make decisions on their own that actually mean something.

Here’s what I’m praying for: 100 students to say Yes. 250 to join small groups. And 400 by the end of the year.

As Steven Furtick said, When God’s super meets our natural, sparks will fly.

As a youth leader, are you providing excellent, natural ways for students to move forward in faith? And are you praying diligently for God to do the impossible?

Finding Rest in Jesus

Posted: October 1, 2010 in Jesus, Junior High Students

What does it mean to find rest in Jesus?

In Matthew 11:28: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Junior High students couldn’t possibly understand rest, could they? Leaders and parents of Junior High students couldn’t possibly come to a Junior High programming night and find rest, could they?

Yes and yes.

In an era where students participate on three baseball teams in the same summer; where students go from piano lessons to soccer practice to doing homework at 9:00 pm; where students must balance a rocky family life with a rocky school social network; where students are being pushed to do more and more in the name of “growth”; where leaders and parents are serving as bus drivers every night of the week to bus their children and their friends around from place to place — parents, leaders, and students are tired.

But they all can find rest.

Rest is definitely found in taking naps, slowing down, and finding time to chill.

That’s a part of it.

Ultimately, however, rest is found in Jesus. Here’s what that means.

When you just slop around from mindless, busy activity to mindless, busy activity, you’re going to be tired. You’re going to be weary.

But when you do so in the name of Jesus — when you serve places that fulfill a greater purpose — when you keep your perspective on who and the why more than the how and the what — when you come serve at a Junior High programming night, with all the chaos and energy, and connect with that one lonely student who is suffering — you find rest. Real, authentic rest.

See, here’s what students and leaders and parents of Junior High students need to know.

Rest will NOT be found in activity.

Rest will be found in Jesus-centered activity. Rest will be found in purpose, in mission, in a higher calling.

Rest is not found in sleeping (although that helps and is very Godly, in my opinion). Rest is found in serving God.

How will Junior High students ever find rest?

1. Attending church and junior high ministry

2. Inviting their friends and making it a community event where they can connect with their “family.”

3. Making a connection with an adult who loves them and loves God.

May we all find true, authentic rest — in Jesus!

“It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” Ephesians 4:11-13

We take this job description very seriously.

Let me emphasize: Very, very seriously.

Youth Ministry too often succumb to a “do-it-all-yourself” leader. I know plenty of youth leaders who lead worship, lead the volunteers, give the message, plan the game, prep the room, design small groups, and update all communication every single week. By themselves.

Trust me, I know people like this. I (John) even did this for a short time in life.

Eagle Brook Church (the church we work at) highly values people serving in a crucial ministry leadership position as a necessary opportunity to grow in faith. We take seriously the idea that there is no such thing as “full-time ministry” – let alone “part-time ministry.” Meaning, when a person gives their life to Christ, they’ve signed up for “full-time ministry” in their lives. One of the ways people live this out is by serving at their church.

Therefore, my primary job description at Eagle Brook as a Junior High pastor is “to prepare God’s people for works of service.”


My job is to call people into a deeper service and leadership positions. This leads to growth across the board. For them. For me. For the Kingdom. For the church. For the ministry.

It’s one thing to know this concept theoretically; it’s another to put it into practice.

For all youth ministry workers out there, here are some practical ideas:

1. Develop a theology of service, commitment to your church, and ministry. Spread the vision everywhere.

2. Create real job descriptions for volunteers.

3. Create an organizational chart. Start simple.

4. Find real challenges for people to deal with. Don’t just give them to do tasky, mundane activities.

5. Train and empower. Train and empower. Train and empower. Over and over and over again.

6. At Eagle Brook, we have 4 Tiers of volunteer leaders. Each tier requires more sacrifice, more time, and more demand (if you’re interested…)

* Tier 1 are new believers or seekers. People who want to get involved but maybe haven’t said Yes to Christ.

* Tier 2 are volunteers who serve in positions, but not in lead or coach positions. Meaning, they serve on a team. They may be a small group leader, a greeter, an usher, or a coffee shop volunteer. However, they are NOT leading other volunteers.

* Tier 3 are volunteers who high-level leadership positions. These leaders have served and grown in tier 2 and now lead other volunteers. Much of the leadership goes from staff to coach or team lead (tier 3) to tiers 1 & 2.

* Tier 4 is the highest level of volunteer. Basically, staff, just not paid. A high level of trust is given to tier 4 volunteers.

7. Create an ethos. People WANT to give their lives to something greater than themselves. Don’t assume people feel like it’s a hindrance to be asked to serve.

I’m learning myself on how to live out Ephesians 4:11-13. I’m not perfect (or even close).

What I do know is this: If you hope to build a successful, growing youth ministry, you will need to take this job description very, very seriously.

How are you living this out as a youth leader?

Welcome! Dave Schussman and I (John Alexander) are beginning a blog about the world of Junior High youth ministry for a number of reasons.

1. We are both Junior High pastors.

2. We work at Eagle Brook Church, one of the largest, most innovative churches in the country.

3. Number 2 only matters because this provides us with a large, cutting edge resource to write from.

4. We are passionate about Junior High (or Middle School – depends what part of the country you are from!) students.

5. We desire to see Junior High ministries thrive across the country.

6. We know it is helpful for other people to provide insight into successes and failures to engage or avoid.

7. We want to learn from others.

8. We want to share some insights from great thinkers in our world.

9. We want to be a resource that specifically targets Junior High youth ministry leaders.

10. We’re awesome? (No just kidding. We couldn’t think of a number 10).

With that being said, look for this blog to provide a window into our world, what we are learning, what we are doing, what is working and what isn’t, junior high ministry in general, and general youth ministry thoughts.

Welcome and enjoy!