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Building a Youth Ministry from Scratch

I’m excited about this new blog series we’ll be starting today: Building a Youth Ministry from Scratch. Recently, I had quite a few people contact me for advice on how to build a youth ministry from the ground up. I figured more people could benefit from my advice if I started blogging about this, so here we go.

Before we dig in, I want to make a few things clear. This series is not just aimed at those doing ministry in a western (Read: American) context, on the contrary. I’ve gotten many questions about starting or revitalizing a youth ministry from other parts of the world as well, for instance from South Africa, The Philippines, and India. So I will try to make my advice as broad as possible and not just focus on issues that are important to the church in North America or Europe. Continue reading Building a Youth Ministry from Scratch

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Reviving a Ministry After Moral Failure

One of my readers asked my advice on this situation: he’s a youth leader in a church with a struggling youth ministry. The main reason for the dwindling numbers is a moral failure by the previous youth pastor that led to divisions in the youth group. This new leader wants to revive the youth ministry, but how do you inspire both leaders and youth after a disastrous moral failure by a predecessor?

Obviously, this is a situation no one wants to find him or herself in. The sad reality is that youth pastors fail at times though and that someone has to pick up the pieces. So first of all, I want to applaud this new youth leaders for having the courage and the conviction to step up. It’s far easier to walk away in circumstances like this, so thank you for obeying God’s calling and leading in the midst of this. Continue reading Reviving a Ministry After Moral Failure

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Are You Passing Over the Loud Students?

I never got to play any significant role in the many school plays that I was a part of when I grew up. I was also never picked for the lead roles in the Christmas plays my church organized. As a child and a teen, that was a huge disappointment to me and I couldn’t figure out what I did wrong.

You see, I have a photographic memory so I could learn lines faster than anyone. I’m not a fabulous singer, but I could carry a tune reasonably well and I have clear voice. I have a good sense of rhythm and I could act as well as any kid. So why wasn’t I picked? Continue reading Are You Passing Over the Loud Students?

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What my All-Girls Education Taught me About Women in Leadership

I am the product of an all-girls Catholic high school.

Without a doubt, I got a good education at the all-girls Catholic high school I attended. Beyond that, though, my all-girls education gave me all sorts of leadership opportunities – opportunities that, quite honestly, I’m not sure I would have had or taken in a co-ed environment.

Surrounded by all-girls, I was taught – over and over again – that I could do anything. Because guys simply weren’t around, I was free to speak my mind, without having to worry about trying to impress them. I was encouraged to solve problems creatively and never once had to worry about mansplaining, that awkward moment when a guy tells you all about one of your own ideas or explains something to you that you already know. I was mentored and guided by other powerful women.

By the time I graduated high school, I was a confident leader convinced I could lead anyone.

Four years later, I entered professional youth ministry where as a woman, I suddenly found myself in the minority. Although I remained confident in my leadership skills and abilities, I quickly encountered others who doubted them, simply because of my gender.

At conferences, people assumed I was a volunteer, not a paid youth worker.  

On mission trips, people assumed my husband was the paid youth worker and I, the dutiful pastor’s wife.

At staff meetings, I’d regularly get mansplained.

Now, don’t get me wrong.

I’m thankful for my male colleagues. I’m thankful for the men who serve as leaders in my youth ministry. And I’m thankful for guys who work as paid youth pastors.

The Kingdom of God needs us all.

But unlike my experience of all-female leadership in high school, I’m also aware of just how lonely it can be when you’re a female in a male-dominated world.

I know how frustrating it can be to have people question your calling simply because of your gender.

I recognize how tempting it can be to try to lead like the male youth pastor down the street in order to gain the approval and acceptance of others.

Having experienced the unique challenges that come with being a woman in youth ministry, I’m super excited to be part of The Youth Cartel’s Women in Youth Ministry Campference, April 13 – 15.

At the Women in Youth Ministry Campference, we’ll gather together with other people LIKE US. We’ll link arms with women who understand us because they’ve been where we are. They know the unique joys and challenges that come with being a woman in youth ministry.

During the Campference, we’ll learn and collaborate with other women in youth ministry; laugh together and cry together; and share our deepest joys and sorrows without having to worry about being misunderstood.

Campference will provide us with what my all-girls education provided me with all those years ago: support, affirmation, guidance, and confidence. After three days together, I have no doubt we’ll leave feeling better equipped and energized to return to our ministries knowing that what we uniquely bring to them as women in youth ministry is indeed a gift.

Jen-Headshot-250x250Jen Bradbury serves as the director of youth ministry at Faith Lutheran Church in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. A veteran youth worker, Jen holds an MA in Youth Ministry Leadership from Huntington University. She’s the author of The Jesus Gap. Her writing has also appeared in YouthWorker Journal and The Christian Century, and she blogs regularly at When not doing ministry, she and her husband, Doug, can be found hiking, backpacking, and traveling with their daughter, Hope.

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Great Expectations: The Power of Managing Expectations

When we moved from The Netherlands to the south of Germany in 2010, we didn’t know what to expect with the weather. The Netherlands have a sea climate, so loads of rain and mild summers and winters. We know frost of course, there’s the famous ‘Elfstedentocht’ for instance, a 120 miles long skating tour on natural ice. But the fact that it has only been held 15 times since 1909 should give you an idea of the winters there. Continue reading Great Expectations: The Power of Managing Expectations

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It’s your fault my kid doesn’t go to church anymore!

It’s your fault my kid doesn’t go to church anymore!

Have you ever had a parent say this to you? Or something similar?

It happened to a youth pastor I know recently and his response showed such grace that I wanted to share it with you. In the last few posts we’ve talked about handling feedback in youth ministry well, even if it’s negative and hurtful feedback. This is one practical example of a youth pastor getting it right. Continue reading It’s your fault my kid doesn’t go to church anymore!

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Responding to the Hyper-Feedback Parent

If you’ve never had a hyper-feedback parent involved in your youth ministry, you’re missing out. I mean that in both a sincere and sarcastic way. Sarcastically, these parents are a thorn in the flesh, the cause of ulcers, and deepen your prayer life in all the wrong ways. Sincerely, hyper-feedback parents can sharpen the ministry, push you to grow, and provide numerous opportunities to practice humility, courage and love. Continue reading Responding to the Hyper-Feedback Parent

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Learning How Jesus Engaged Critics

Criticism can be helpful, but we can’t shut it down. In my early years of youth ministry, I learned a lot about how not to respond to criticism. Mostly through failure. I also learned that it is how we react to criticism that determines if we are going to grow as leaders and followers of Jesus. Most importantly: I learned that Jesus dealt with criticism and shows us how to deal with it today. Continue reading Learning How Jesus Engaged Critics

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The Art of Receiving Feedback in Youth Ministry

I carried a common misconception out of college into my early years of youth ministry. I assumed that since I had spent 4 whole years reading, interning, reflecting, writing and “preparing” for ministry that I was done. So when I screwed up and received feedback letting me know as much, my internal story was, “Well, I must suck at this and there is nothing I can do.”

It took me years to learn that my internal narrative was my hindrance, not my mistake or the feedback. Today, I realize that I’m always evolving and growing. When I get feedback now that I messed up something, my internal story is, “Well, I must suck at this but I don’t always have to.” Continue reading The Art of Receiving Feedback in Youth Ministry