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Are we out of the woods yet?


Maybe you don’t listen to my girl T Swift’s 1989 Album as often as I do. Frankly, I find that questionable, but I try not to judge too much.

There’s this song she sings, and she asks over and over, “Are we out of the woods yet?” She asks, “Are we out of the woods yet, out of the woods yet? Are we in the clear yet, in the clear yet?

Now, I’m not the most astute at interpreting song lyrics, to be honest. My 5 year old and I were all about that bass for a hot minute before my brain picked up on what I was singing. Sometimes it takes me embarrassingly long to figure songs out. But I think I get this one. At least, I get how it speaks to me.  Taylor’s trying to gauge in her relationship if they have reached some safe space yet. Have they, “arrived” yet? Is there a level of relational intimacy that they can trust?

And basically I think about that kind of thing all the time. And isn’t that what we’re doing in youth ministry? In all ministry, really?  We’re in the business of relationships, right? We’re talking every Sunday (I really hope we are!) about a relationship- a knowing and being known- with a God who is real and who is LOVE.

And whether we are paid youth ministry staff or volunteer youth workers, we are so in the trenches of relationships. We’re doing life with hurting, broken families. Our own families are hurting and broken. WE are hurting and broken. And in individual relationships, so many of our students and our parents are asking, “Are we out of the woods yet?” Have I found safety with a friend, with a pastor, with another family yet?

That parent whose marriage is on the brink of disintegration and who has shared part of his story with you- he wants to know; are we in the clear yet? Have we reached that place in our relationship? Can he say this stuff out loud? Can he trust you, youth pastor, not to judge him or hurt him, or gossip about him with the rest of the church staff?

That middle schooler who rolled up the sleeves of her sweatshirt and showed you the long, desperate slashes on her arm? She wants to know, small group leader; are you and she in the clear yet? Can she trust you? Do you have that kind of intimacy where she can share, without you freaking out or yelling at her or judging her?

That mom whose teenage daughter won’t speak to her? The single dad who is struggling to get his son to attend your weekly youth group event? The volunteer youth worker who is battling depression? The church staff member you work with who is going through a really hard season in her marriage? They’re all asking, begging for that safe place, that safe relationship that is out of the woods.

And we in ministry have decided to live right in the middle of that.

My two cents? There’s one relationship where we’re totally out of the woods. Sunday school answer, right?  Jesus! Jesus is love, so He loves and forgives us perfectly. I am SAFE there.

But otherwise, I mean, we’re never really 100% out of the woods, are we? In life, I think most people do their best to be trustworthy, to be people of good character. In the Church, we use words like accountability, transparency, and grace. And I know in my church, people try to love each other well. People are transforming and becoming more and more like Jesus. And that is freaking amazing and beautiful and world-changing stuff.  But we blow it, of course. So we’re never totally out of the woods yet in our relationships with other people.  And that used to cause me to shut down and think, “Well, forget it. I can’t trust anyone. Definitely not the church.” Some of your students think that. Some of their parents do. Maybe you’ve thought it.

And I think we’ve got to dismantle that. I think that the trust that those parents and those students are looking for starts with us helping them see it. I think we’ve got to live lives that model trust-radical trust in God.  Friend, our lives better show that. And trust in community that is counter-cultural and makes people take notice. And really deep trust in a few that allows us to confess and share and flourish.

Here’s the thing. I feel like I’ve got two choices to make, because in every relationship I’m almost always both the truster and the trustee.  I can choose to do the hard work of developing relationships with a few people and trusting anyway (obviously, with the exception of abusive relationships). And I can choose to do the hard work of surrendering more and more of my life and self to Jesus so that I can become more like Him and thus, more trustworthy.

At least that’s what I’m learning anyway. See, trust has always been a thing for me. It’s always been a BIG, SCARY THING. But more and more it’s becoming an opportunity and an opening for me. I know that people are looking for it. They are craving those safe spaces. So let’s be honest about that!  Let’s start talking about it. How are we being people, pastors, leaders, and volunteers who are trustworthy? That’s birthed out of continual surrender to Jesus.  So how are we nurturing our own relationships with God and our trust in Him?  How are we helping students trust Jesus better? How are we providing opportunities for parents to get to know each other and start to trust each other with the difficulties of parenting? How are we harnessing the power of social media to promote trust and not hurt?

I don’t know. Maybe it’s just my thing. But 2015 is in a big way about trust for me. If that speaks to you, and you want to chat about it, email me. Better yet, if you’re a woman in youth ministry, join me at the Youth Cartel’s first Women In Youth Ministry Campference in April. We NEED events like these where we can just be- with God, together, with ourselves, and maybe start doing some of the hard work of learning to trust better.

Oh, and for what it’s worth. I googled the lyrics to, “Out of the Woods Yet.” Turns out it’s about a snowmobile accident. Yep. Really, Taylor? I kinda like my thing better. But still totally love the album, girl! Hit me up if you wanna hang when you’re in DC this summer!


About Heather:

Heather Henderson is the associate pastor at Journey’s Crossing Christian church in Germantown, Maryland and also serves actively in the youth ministry there. For two years before that, she was the associate youth pastor at the same church. If you don’t find her working or hanging out with students, you’ll find her spending time with her brilliant, kindergarten-age daughter or handsome, almost one-year old son and her husband, Devin.

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Why I’m Going to the Women in Youth Ministry Campference


I have to be 100% honest: when I first heard about this campference, I dismissed the idea of attending. I had no desire to go to a women’s conference. I’ve been to several “women-only” events in the past and tend to find myself a bit judgmental of them. They sometimes lean heavily on crafts, quiche, and talking about how great it is to be woman rather than a man. I have walked away from several feeling hungry physically, spiritually, and emotionally.

Over the years I’ve appreciated youth worker gatherings. Not only because they are fuel to my brain, but also because they’re fuel for my soul because of the relationships I have made with other regular attendees. These gatherings have turned into a meeting place of friends.

Yet, even though I love the camaraderie, the rest of the conference I catch myself trying to prove my credentials. I’d causally drop my professional position or years I have been in youth ministry as a sort of status when introducing myself. I secretly had a feeling that I need to prove to people why I belong there. No one ever asked for my resume. It sometimes was the pressure of hearing someone else’s experience level. Sometimes it was feeling out-numbered being one of the few females in the room.  Other times it was just rooted in pressure I put on myself both professionally and personally.

Recently though, I was doing some soul inventory. I had a longing for something but could not quite figure out what it was.  It wasn’t until I found myself praying aloud, “God, I need a place where I can just BE.” I desired a place I was not trying to prove myself.

At that moment, this campference re-entered my mind. I went back to the website and read the description of this event: “We may not know your name – yet – but we know you. We get you.  That’s because you’re one of us. You’re a woman in youth ministry and so are we.

That’s it!  That is what I need!


This April I am looking forward to entering a community to just BE. I am looking forward to a place where I will not have to justify who I am. I will not bring up if or how long I went to school. I will not preface a conversation with how many years of experience I have. I will just be.

Why? Because I am already gotten. I am already understood. I am already one of them.


Christina Robertson is currently the associate middle school pastor at a church in Southern California and has had a heart to serve middle school students for a number of years.  She is married and has three girls.

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The merry go round that is youth ministry


Hello. My name is Theresa Mazza and I am a Woman in Youth Ministry. (Hi Theresa).

My mind won’t shut off at night. I lay in bed awake for hours because there is so much on my list that still needs to be done.

I sneak texts and facebook posts. I can’t ignore the teenager or parent on the other end. I can answer a text while I’m cooking taco meat. No, I’m not texting a student. I’m making dinner!

My computer is a part of my body. I’ve watched countless movies with my family while answering emails, loading the youth calendar, or creating a winter retreat brochure.

Youth ministry gets more date nights with me than my husband does. Youth ministry and I go to the movies together, we go away on the weekend together, we share meals together, we worship together. All things I wish I did more of with my husband.

I am the master at the Costco run. I can load my car to the max with all things youth group, unload, set up the youth room, prep dinner for 80 (where the hell are my volunteers), print out small group sheets, plug in my mac, turn on the sound system, and start a mad round of 9 square while students arrive…all with my child on my right hip the entire time.

This is me pushing myself on the merry go round that is youth ministry. Most of it feels like utter chaos most of the time. But enough of it, enough of the time, is an absolute thrill. So see I just can’t stop pushing myself round and around and around. I’m freaking called to youth ministry and there’s nothing I can do to be uncalled. It’s not uniquely crazy because I’m a woman, but I think other woman in youth ministry can uniquely understand why I do what I do, why I am the way I am, and can identify with me, and challenge me. This is why 2015 will look very different.

After almost 20 years of youth ministry I can say that I will not be on the youth ministry merry go round alone. Me and 5 other women in youth ministry in the area where I live, have committed to stand together in prayer and friendship. The decision to make this commitment came when we all agreed on a few things: we isolate ourselves on our youth ministry island way too much, we don’t laugh enough, or go out with friends enough, and we don’t have the prayer support or accountable we so desperately need.

So this year will be different for the six of us. We will pray for each other very intentionally, we will call each other often, and meet together the way besties do. We aren’t part of a program or anything, we’re just doing it.

We’re doing it and I hope this happens…

I hope my phone rings and the person on the other end says: “Pray with me.” And in that moment because I know what she’s going through, I can go to our loving God with her and petition for her in a way that no one else could.

I hope that we end up at Starbucks, not as our second youth office, but as place of friendship where we will share stories with each other that most people don’t get (yes, we purposely lock ourselves in with middle school girls all night and don’t sleep).

I hope we inspire each other and recognize each others strengths and gifts.

I hope we trust each other. And I hope that our trust will allow us to guide each other in a loving way.

I hope we challenge each other to be better, better moms, wives, sisters, friends, and leaders of our ministries.

This year I’m locking arms with these women. Whom will you lock arms with? Maybe there are women in youth ministry in your area you could invite to spin on the merry go round with you. And maybe you could also join us at the first ever Women in Youth Ministry Campference.

TheresaAbout Theresa

Theresa is a long time youth director and youth worker currently volunteering and causing student ministry mayhem at Broomfield United Methodist Church in Broomfield Colorado. She is also a speaker, writer, mommy, wife and Outreach Director at a clean water non-profit called El Porvenir.


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Provoking the Future of Youth Ministry

MarkDeVriesHeadshotOur oldest daughter took her sweet time coming into this world.

We were in seminary (read: no money) and had scheduled to have this baby at a birthing center…with a midwife (read: 1/4 the price of the hospital).  The one caveat was that, if the baby were to come over 2 weeks late, she would have to be born in the hospital (read: cha-ching, cha-ching).

Though we were highly incentivized to see Debbie as soon as possible, she was on her own timetable.  So with 24 hours left to go, we asked the midwife, “Is there anything we can do to provoke this baby to be born?”

She smiled and said, “There’s always, um…castor oil.”

We were desperate.

Okay, Susan was desperate.

She drank the castor oil, and, believe it or not, within 24 hours, our Debbie was born under the marvelous care of a midwife (read: phew).

I’m convinced that something new has been incubating in the womb of youth ministry for a long time now.

At the Summit, I’ll be presenting my “Modest Response to the Impending Death of Youth Ministry (as we know it).  Hoping maybe to bring a little castor oil to the party…and just maybe practice a little ministry midwifery along the way.

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Deep in the Dark: Abiding During the Dark Night of the Soul

nkiru okaforI am a huge fan of TED Talks. I have listened to Brené Brown describe her “breakdown” when she discovered that the same thing she is avoiding continues to show up as the bedrock of authentic human living- vulnerability. (  She then goes on to say that her spiritual director named her breakdown a “spiritual awakening.” I am wondering around the connection between “breakdown” and “spiritual awakening.”

On a particular Sunday, I made this post on my Facebook page, “Was the writer of the Book of Ecclesiastes at the height of spiritual awakening or suffering from acute depression when he wrote the book?” This Book that seems to negate everything that human beings long for and aspire to achieve is unquestionably included in the Bible.

My questions then are many. How would a faithful youth worker know that she/he is deep in the dark? I mean that point that transcends doubt and has plunged one into the deep abyss of darkness?  Is it real? Does it have a name? How has it been described in the long years of Christian history? What could be done? Or rather, what should not be done?

These and many others are the questions I seek to engage during The Summit. I promise you that I have no answers to them. My hope is that we will be able to ask the questions and hold them together.

Until then,


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Surprising Trajectory

This is a guest post from Dave Rahn. Dave is a senior vice president at Youth for Christ overseeing all kinds of important things. But at the Campference he’ll be serving as Pastor Dave, chief listener and official stirrer of pots.


I have loved the surprising trajectory of my youth ministry career. The Lord burned a compelling Kingdom assignment into my heart while I was still in high school: share Jesus with kids who, like me, were not part of a local church and were pretty clueless about what God has in mind for us humans.

As I stepped into that calling I kept getting updates from the Lord. I was stirred to go to work on specific challenges that hindered direct ministry with un-­‐churched kids. Over the years that led me into leadership, research, writing… and 22 years as a faculty member at Huntington University.

Until July 1, 2007.

On that day I was at a Youth for Christ/Campus Life middle school camp in Seymour, Indiana. It was the first day of my newest—and most ridiculous—career transition. I left the job safety of being a tenured full professor for national leadership with the organization I began my ministry with in 1972. It seemed to be what the Lord wanted me to focus on. Honestly, it didn’t make a lot of sense.

When I’m at the Campference October 11-­‐13 I intend to spend a minute or two standing in front of the SpringHill Camp cabin I was assigned to during that week in 2007 when my pay stubs started to come from another source. That particular cabin had beds that were too short for my 6’5” frame, so I pulled my mattress onto the floor. This, of course, meant that others stepped over me all week. And the shower stall was more like a tube with a nozzle that hit me in my sternum. When I dropped the soap during my July 1st shower I had no idea how to retrieve it. There simply wasn’t room to bend over in this slim-­‐fit stall.

That’s when I started giggling. It hit me that the Lord called me to a task in the twilight of my youth ministry career that was going to be full of such indignities. If I could have named something “Isaac” I would have. Some of my YFC friends call me “Dr. Dave” but it sounds more like they’re cussing at me than paying respect.

I have loved following Jesus into questions that matter for the kids he loves. Being at Campference next month will be a sweet reminder of God’s goodness to me and I am thrilled to be there with so many heroes in ministry.

Learn more about the Campference or register here.

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the official list of breakout sessions for the Campference

Middle School Ministry CampferenceWanna see the breakout options for the 2013 Campference. I bet you do! Dang, these look fantastic, right?

MSMC13 Breakouts

Not in order yet
All are 60 minutes long

Seminars (2/3 content, 1/3 dialogue)

1. Gina Abbas, Practice or Programs: Creating space and environments for middle school students to practice their faith in real and meaningful ways

2. Mandy Drury, Speechless: The importance of testimony in teenage faith development

3. Kurt Johnston, 25 Lessons from 25 Years

4. Eric Woods, Why you should absolutely positively always say YES to your students

5. Dave Rahn, The Power of an Authentic Christ-Sharing Relationship

6. Elle & Kenny Campbell, Creating Environments Middle Schoolers Love

7. Scott Rubin, Developing a Kick Butt Volunteer Team

Conversations (1/3 content, 2/3 dialogue)

8. Gina Abbas, Women in Youth Ministry: More than the designated feminine hygiene item distributor

9. Mandy Drury, Manna: focusing on daily bread in anxious times

10. Kurt and Scott: Growing Old(er) in Middle School Ministry

11. Dave Rahn, What Would Jesus’ Relentless Focus Look Like in My Youth Ministry?

12. Adam McLane, Social Media and the Youth Worker

Rookie/Volunteer Track

13. Katie Edwards, Becoming a Freaking Awesome Volunteer, part 1

14. Katie Edwards, Becoming a Freaking Awesome Volunteer, part 2

15. Eric Woods, Sugar Free Candy Makes Kids Fart, and other lessons from camp that can transform your student community


16. Eric Woods, Flip-flops: The simple, portable low ropes course you can build and facilitate yourself

17. Elle & Kenny Campbell, Our Freshest Games and How We Play Them

18. Marko, The Easiest and Most Awesomest Interactive Lesson Plan Ever

more info here. if you’re a middle school youth worker, you really have two choices:
a. join us
b. experience a lifetime of regret

we hope you’ll choose wisely, because we like you.

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Teenagers need to use words!

amanda-druryAmanda Drury is one of our special guests at the Middle School Ministry Campference this year. She’ll be bringing a main session talk (on doubts!), and a couple seminars. One of her seminars is going to be based on her research into the importance of getting teenagers to talk about what they believe (this is also the topic she addressed in her presentation at The Summit last year). Here’s a little tease of that, straight from Mandy…


There’s an old Franciscan saying, “Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.” We Christians tend to like this saying because it keeps us actively engaged in the world. We get to physically, tangibly show people our love of God. We are not those hypocrites who simply talk the faith without walking the faith. We also like this saying because it let’s us off the hook. It leaves us with the impression, “If I just act like a person of faith, than I don’t having to actually talk about my faith.”

“Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.” Well, friends, I hate to say it, but it’s necessary. Various studies across the United States show that both teenagers, and adults for that matter, are less and less articulate about their faith. They are active participants at their youth groups, but when they are asked to speak of their faith, they are speechless. This is a problem. When someone has a hard time talking about something, that person often has a hard time believing that thing is true. If we can’t talk about our faith, we will have a hard time taking our faith seriously. When we talk about our faith, we become more faithful people.

We’re in the home stretch for the Campference. It’s just a little over a month away! Time to get registered!

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Lucas Leys: What You Can Learn From Latin American Youth Workers

Lucas Leys leads Especialidades Juveniles, the Spanish sister of Youth Specialties. He’s also the publisher for Spanish resources for HarperCollins Christian Publishing (which includes both Zondervan/Editorial Vida and Thomas Nelson/Grupo Nelson). In other words, the dude knows his stuff.

Last year at The Summit, we asked Lucas to speak to us about what we gringos can learn from Latin American youth workers. Here’s his fantastic presentation in its entirety:

Dreaming Big and Bigger
The theme for The Summit this year is ALL. Riffing off both the Shema and Jesus’ quote of it in the gospels: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” (Luke 10:27)

Each of the main sessions will have 5 to 6 presenters carefully selected for what they will bring. We’re not just inviting “good speakers” or big names; we’re choosing (and working with) presenters who will help us pull a thread through the entire event.

Session 1, on Friday evening, will focus on SOUL, the inner life of youth workers.

Session 2, on Saturday morning, is called MIND, where we’ll explore new thinking and hear ideas.

Session 3, on Saturday afternoon, will bring our attention to STRENGTH, where we’ll hear more about praxis and action.

Session 4, early Saturday evening, will offer a keynote speaker focusing on HEART to wrap things up, as well as some extended worship.

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Middle School Small Group Community Manager


Hope Community Church is a non-denominational church of 7,500 located in beautiful Raleigh, North Carolina with a vision to reach the triangle and change the world through living out it’s mission to love people where they are and encourage them to grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ. Hope has grown into a multi-site church, with a second campus located in Holly Springs about 25 minutes away from our central campus and a third campus located in Morrisville.

We are seeking a natural leader with a heart for connecting students into community, a contagious passion for recruiting and equipping volunteers, and a desire to partner with parents to influence the next generation. This role will provide direction, administration, development, communication, and leadership of middle school small groups, across all three campuses, in line with the overall mission, vision, values, and strategies of Hope Community Church. The primary goal for the Middle School Small Group Community Manager is foster growth and development in middle school students within five key areas of ministry: live what you learn, serve where you are gifted, give of your resources, share your story, and connect with others. We believe this is done through small group development, outreach, community impact, missional living, and working with parents to help them become better spiritual leaders in the home. The ideal candidate for this position should demonstrate a passion for these areas.

To apply for this position please visit

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Organization name: Hope Community Church


Location: Raleigh, NC

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