Tag Archives: Youth Ministry

Think like a Youth Pastor

It’s good to be your own target audience.

I am currently striving to market these custom LIFE Group shirts to youth pastors and group leaders who will be attending the massive 6000 person conference.  I need to understand their perspective.  I need to think like a youth pastor…..

Actually, that shouldn’t be all that difficult, as I peer up from my computer screen to see various junior high centric games, odd costumes, event posters, and countless shirts that remind me of my current position as youth pastor of Chippewa Alliance Church, a position I’ve held for 8 years now!

I am striving to make the often arduous task of getting custom shirts for groups a painless, easy affordable process.  Thus I’ve created various design templates and mockups of all difference genres and styles that will hopefully appeal to youth groups from the Pacific Northwest to the Heartland of America to the East Coast and everywhere in between.  It is incredibly simple to plug a name, church logo or anything else into the design!

I’ve wracked my brain for weeks, doing hours of research concerning design trends, apparel options and custom logo work.  I’m trying to prepare myself for the deluge of youth groups clamoring for unique shirts that will enhance their identity and become a keepsake of a fun filled journey that they will remember for years to come.

I know that youth pastors need an easy process when it comes to getting shirts (they are already pulled in too many different directions, T-shirt aesthetics should not have to be one of them).  They don’t want their kids to be embarrassed of the shirts that they order.  They want options and the ability to add their unique elements to the apparel.

They’ll have to see these shirts for years to come as their leaders and students wear them to youth group, retreats and all nighters (and eventually have them sewed into quilts reminding them of those wonderful high school years).

They might as well be really, really cool!

Awake FinalAwake

A Plethora of Shirt Options

I’ve realized through my interaction with those taking their students to LIFE that there has arisen a misconception concerning the LIFE Merchandise (that will be sold physically in the store in Kansas City) and the custom shirts that LIFEMERCH is designing and printing for groups.  Many people believe that everything I’ve produced will only be available in the actual store, however that is not the case.

I had to find a way to convey that “Custom Group Shirts” means that I can create anything for the various groups headed to the LIFE Conference in July, it’s just a matter of preference for the leader as to what they want their shirt to look like.  It’s incredibly easy to make the name of the group stand or to make “LIFE 2016”  the focal point.   It all becomes a question of taste and desired outcome.

Thus I polled a few Facebook Youth Pastor Groups to find some current, catchy youth group names circulating through the broader spectrum of Christianity today. I then spent quite a bit of time doing potential mock ups with those designs to show the varying styles that we can tap.  I was trying to give a clear visual indication of the versatility that LIFEMERCH is capable of.

Hopefully this time investment pays off and the group leaders see the great shirts that their youth groups could be wearing to LIFE!

The enormity of the LIFEMERCH project is daunting….

6000 people at a conference with wildly varied tastes, differing backgrounds and sky high expectations of what the apparel ought to be.  There is an excitement buzzing around the project, many friends and leaders sending appreciated well wishes and encouraging words.

There is a pressure to deliver that builds day after day.

For the past few months I have been churning out designs (56 to this date), striving to find which firecrackers will go off and which ones will be smoldering duds.  I believe that I am finding my way, narrowing my search and refining my style through this process.

July has never seemed so close in January.   Seven months out I feel as if I am running out of time; the clock is ticking, hours chiming away as I struggle against sleep, entrenched in the earliest moments of the day and the quietest times of the night.

The potential behind this endeavor is staggering, the hours toiling away at a project of this magnitude have flown by and the dreams are unfolding.  Through the research and demand I have found myself growing as an artist, striving to work outside of my comfort zone, searching for a way to appeal to the vast majority instead of a solid niche (while still making all of the varied demographics happy).

It’s January, but July is coming.

Vertical LinesSpaceship without number


237 kids.

I run this unmanageably large youth event each year that continues to grow more sizable, encompassing students from all different walks of life, communities and contexts.

The event is an all nighter, running 12 hours, from 8pm-8am Friday into Saturday morning. We pack the kids into Buses, head off to Cosmic Bowling, then have a massive lock in at the church, filled with caffeine, video games, billiards and various other eclectic elements.

For the 8th year in a row everybody from our youth ministry comes out for it and they bring a friend. Kids mark the date on their calendars 6 months in advance, parents plan vacations and birthday parties around it. The excitement is electrifying and inspiring.

237 is the highest total that we’ve ever had at any single church event. Breaking records, making connections, seeking to do good in the lives of students and our community.

All night, among the mass of humanity (and distinct smell of what we call “Teen Spirit” I couldn’t shake a feeling of incompletion.

There was a void.

Despite the 237 I was haunted by the few who were not there. Faces missing from among the numbers.

I just kept replaying all the names of the kids who should have been there in my head, wondering why they weren’t present. Some of the explanations could have ranged from normative teenage apathy to the downright nefarious.

I am well aware of my psychosis and insatiable nature; yet I still wonder; is this how Jesus feels?

Being a shepherd, having 99 sheep yet obsessing over that one lost one; the one whose absence could be attributed to apostasy.

I know how a shepherd feels, sitting among the safe masses, yet wondering about that lost lamb out there isolated, alone and tired.

There are ravenous wolves outside, salivating at the mere thought of tender lamb-flesh.



You ARE what you Fantasize About

In October we put the Masks on. Young and old alike slip into different costumes and attires, some more ornate than others yet all with the intent of becoming somebody who we are not for a brief moment of frivolity and escape. We laugh and giggle as we attend the parties, walk the streets and revel in the differentness of the moment. We get to be somebody else for a few seconds, appearing as another of our own choosing.

What if we weren’t becoming somebody else? What if we were more accurately expressing who we really are? What if the mask we put on was more of a complex portal peering into who we truly wanted to be?

I think back to my early Halloween costumes. Various super heroes, each year’s get up determined by the stage I was in and the feeble materials I could weave together to construct my disguise. I remember a year that I dressed up as Zorro, wearing a black garbage bag as a cape and my father’s black cowboy hat. I painted on a massive mustache and wrapped a piece of cloth around my head with two poorly placed eye holes cut into it (I could barely see out of that thing). I grabbed my plastic sword in my right hand and giant eagle bag in the left as I rushed out of the house to trick or treat in the cold of October (finding out that garbage bags do very little to insulate oneself against Western PA’s frigidity).

As I grew older, during tumultuous teenage years I would brandish a brown trench coat of my father’s, tie a piece of fabric around my head pushing the bowl cut flowing locks out of my eyes and carried a bo-staff I had broken off from the big sycamore in the front yard. I had whittled away at it with my pen knife making it as straight as I could, covering it with black electrical tape. A few playing cards later and I would be Gambit of the 90’s X-Men fame.

As I look back on those costumes I realize that they said something about my heart at the time; a thermometer dipped into my psyche. When I was very young I wanted to be a dashing hero, potent and wise, saving the day and disappearing into the night.  I was not very brave, in fact I was downright cowardly, I dreamt of being the opposite. During my tumultuous teenage years I wanted to be a smooth talking ladies man who was charming and confident. The mere thought of talking to girls put my stomach into knots, the acne, braces, thick rimmed glasses and deep lack of anything that resembled self esteem or confidence constantly reminded me I was indeed nothing like Remy LeBeau.

Gambit David

I desperately desired to be these symbols as I was hilariously lacking their attributes. On lonely bus rides to and from my prison known as school I would imagine myself to be these heroes, decimating my foes, winning the woman and righting all of the perceived wrongs in my tiny little world.

I believe on a heart level, what we dress up as, what we fantasize about is more real to who we are than almost any other factor. Consider how limited we all are by our genetics, environment and resources. Would Bruce Wayne be Batman if he wasn’t a Billionaire son of an ambitious doctor, who experienced the death of his parents at an early age? Who would Peter Parker be if he were not bitten by a radioactive spider? Even to some extent who would Peyton Manning be if he were not Archie Manning’s offspring, growing up immersed in every element of football. There is a sense of fate and destiny in all of those stories, fixed outcomes that many of us just don’t have the gifting to achieve.

But we can do anything in our minds. Any. Thing.

In our fantasy worlds we can be anybody we want to be, that is why it’s is so appealing. We can get utterly lost in it, burning through hours playing role playing games, reading comics and watching movies. But does that make it any less “real.”

There becomes this expectation that during our culture’s month long celebration of Halloween (or all year long at Comic Book Conventions) you can dress up as anything and it really has no bearings on who you are, you’re just having a little bit of fun. That is why if you head to a costume shop of any kind you will be assaulted by all of the sexy outfits that exist. Sexy Nurse, sexy fox, sexy cow, sexy serial killer……

There is a desire to be sexually adventurous at least for one night, at one event. It really doesn’t mean anything does it?

People think that they are dressing up as somebody who they are not; yet in reality they are probably showing us more of their true selves more than they realize. Just the selves they would be if it weren’t for those pesky societal norms and moral expectations levied against us.

It becomes scary when our true selves become obsessed with the dark, with vengeance with killing maiming and devouring (most of our first person shooter game). Let’s be honest our fantasies can take us to some chilling places. If I were to plug a flashdrive into your brain, download the content for a day and upload it to Vimeo (let’s be honest, there’s not way we’d get that stuff past Youtube’s filters) how would that make you feel?

Ask Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold if their fantasies ever became realities. Don’t know those names? Does the word “Columbine” stir up any memories?

Chilling thought huh?

From my understanding of Scripture, when Jesus tells us if we lust after a woman we are committing adultery with her in our hearts, or when we hate our brother we are guilty of murdering him he is not merely making life harder on us; heaping more archaic rules on our weary shoulders. Jesus is pulling back the veil and showing us the reality of the human soul. He is showing us that our true selves is that which we fantasize about, that which we would do if only we had the resources or if nobody else was looking.

No affair starts without a fantasy, no murder without hate. It doesn’t have to go that far to define us. May our heroes be true, may our true selves seek to do good. May the intent of our hearts be to strengthen and protect.

It says much of us if when we desire to be Spider-man giving it all, Superman swooping in and Captain American standing up for what he believes in.

God looks at the heart.

Our Masks are portals into our soul.

I Don’t Love Beaver Falls


I came to the realization today that I don’t love Beaver Falls as many of my fellow Geneva Alums, or community activists do. Please don’t get me wrong, I like Beaver Falls a whole bunch and I root for her success daily. Here are a few reasons 1. I as an American, like underdog/success stories 2. I have a vested interest in Beaver Falls, due to the fact that I live here; I want to see her do very well. I want to see more jobs, social equality, racial reconciliation and spiritual transformation for the home of the Fightin’ Tigers. I’m just not sure that I could say that I love Beaver Falls as many others do.

An occurrence that I have seen among many from my peer group and beyond is a deep spiritual/economic patriotism for this particular city/school district. I have heard many disparaging statements about people who chose to move their families out of the area for the “greener pastures” of the sprawling suburban landscapes of Chippewa or Brighton Township. Many people I know have been deeply criticized for not “buying downtown” more often. I for one eat at Athens because they have great Gyros, I get my car worked on at Bender’s because they find ways to get my struggling Subaru to pass inspection and I buy obscene amounts of youth group pizza from Jimmy at Pizza Joes because he treats me right. However, I buy most of my groceries at Chippewa Giant Eagle and eat at Chippewa Applebees every Thursday with my students. My bank is in Chippewa and sometimes I even go to Chippewa Walmart. I go where I like to go; I support the establishments that offer the best services regardless of location.

I’ve even witnessed people getting shamed because they rooted for Aliquippa over Beaver Falls in the local football game. This argument is hilarious due to the fact that the communities the teams represent are almost mirror images of each other. Just for the record I rooted for BF in that game, I can’t stand the Quips football team; they are too good too often and they beat me all four years in High School when I played for Center back in the early 2000’s. My senior year a sophomore Darrelle Revis ran me over on his way to a fourth touchdown. I hate Quip football.

I’m trying to find in Scripture where Jesus was deeply, spiritually committed to one specific regional area over the other ones. Did Jesus get mad at people who didn’t buy their fish from the Zebedee and Sons Fishing Company or those who earned enough money to move to Jerusalem so that their children could receive a better rabbinic education?

It seems that every time a violent act occurs in town people react in polarizing fashions on social media and otherwise. I hear statements along the lines of “that’s it, I am selling this house and getting out of here, moving to the country” or “sacrifices must be made for the good of the community, everybody must stay put and invest in the people to show them that violence isn’t the answer.” I understand and agree with both arguments to an large extent. Personally I know that the question of staying or leaving is a very tough one. I grew up on a farm and at times I ardently desire to be reunited with the sprawling fields and pastures of semi-rural life.

On a Sunday morning at 9am about 3 years ago I heard gunfire on my street. I ran upstairs to access a higher vantage point and saw a man wearing a white shirt, shooting a gun in the air. I saw a tiny red dot around his neck that grew larger and larger until it soaked his entire garb in crimson. I called 911 to frantically reported a shooting as I was simultaneously huddling my wife and newborn baby into a corner of the bedroom, trying to avoid a stray bullet.

A half an hour later as I was at my church preaching, my hands were shaking, my voice quivering. Every time I closed my eyes I could see the crimson stain expanding.

I also called 911 after I saw the aftereffects of a woman being assaulted by a large man who punched through the window of a car to try and strangle her. There was blood and glass all over the sidewalk in front of my house when the police arrived.

I was attacked by an unchained pit bull while walking home from Pizza Joes with my 2 year old son on my shoulders and my wife by my side. The owner just laughed when as he lethargically yelled for the attack dog to saunter back inside his apartment. When I drive past that road to this day my son says “Bad Dog.”

I still live here, yet I won’t judge anybody who wants to leave.

I understand being passionate about regions, towns and cities. For quite some time Enon Valley had been laid on my heart because of the high volume of youth group students that were attending from that area. I’ll admit that when one of my former students was kidnapped, tortured and afterwards eventually “hung himself” (I still believe he was murdered) in a barn months later, I lost hope in the collective redemption of towns.

I still believe in the redemption of people no matter what town they live in.

I believe that we need to be creative, that we must be united and that economics and social issues need be addressed, however if I were on the Titanic I wouldn’t be the guy trying to figure out how to save the ship (not my giftedness) but I would probably be the pastor in the water praying with those who don’t know Jesus as the cold icy depths send both of us into the presence of the Almighty.

You Quit


I’ve become the old hand in youth ministry in my local context. At age 30, having been in full time youth ministry for the past 7 years I’ve become the seasoned vet, the father figure, the sage-like rock of knowledge. This has all happened at 30. Looking around I would wager that it has very little to do with my skills, giftedness or intelligence and much more to do with all of the holes and voids left by all the people who have left over the years.

This breaks my heart.

I remember being young, getting ready to go to college for youth ministry, talking about changing the world for Jesus. We had big plans. We were going to be different than our predecessors; we were going to aggressively further the Kingdom no matter what….

And then almost everybody quit.

There were various reasons that this happened. Some of them seemed good, logical and fair, others were downright tragic, sinful and abhorrent. Regardless of the why, I am left standing in a world full of gaps, plugging holes with rookies and newbies, trying to keep this thing afloat.

My mind constantly travels back to a scene from the acclaimed graphic novel, “Watchmen” where two heroes are talking, one of them, Rorschach a hardened, angry hero who has never given up his pursuit of justice (albeit flagrant vigilantism) and the retired Nite-Owl who has distanced himself from crime fighting to take up a life of comfort and conformity (to be fair, the government told the heroes that they had to cease and desist, not unlike the mandate that will most likely come down against Christian ministries in the next 20-30 years).

The paths of these two cross again due to the death of one of their mutual associates. Nite-Owl nervously asks Rorschach “Whatever happened to those times?” The answer the retiree receives shakes him to his core.

“You Quit.”

Rorschach disappears into the night as he strives to make a difference in this chaotic world.

If I’m honest, this is how I feel most of the time. As a grizzled, bitter hero who never gave up the childhood ideals that we could bring about change, that we could make a difference. There have been trails, sacrifices being made; I’ve made some ludicrous decisions that have allowed me to stay in ministry of some sort and I’m crazy enough to wonder why other people refuse to do likewise.

If you know anything about Rorschach, he’s anything but a well adjusted balanced individual. But he never gave up. There’s something deeply admirable, noble and true to his character.

I have heard people say “Ministry was for a season” “God will raise up other leaders” “Some programs just have to die” and to be honest I get sick to my stomach when I hear those things.

Maybe God wants you to fight. Or maybe I’m crazy.

I’ll just disappear into the shadows and let you reminisce about the “Good Old Days” while I go try to change the world, even if it’s impossible, even if it kills me.

This is probably how Elijah felt most days.