Posted on Leave a comment

Seminars at this year’s Middle School Ministry Campference

Hey folks — we just finalized the list of seminars for this year’s Middle School Ministry Campference. As usual, it’s going to totally rock!

It’s coming up super fast (October 13 – 15), and late rates kick in this coming Sunday. So get your reg on!

Continue reading Seminars at this year’s Middle School Ministry Campference

Posted on 1 Comment

Leading Through Personal Trials

Leading Through Personal Trials

By Adam Mashni

Cartel note: Adam Mashni was one of five youth workers who gave a 5 – 7 minute ‘soapbox’ talk in the Saturday morning main session of the Middle School Ministry Campference a couple weeks ago. We loved what these people talked about, and thought they would make great blog posts for others to access their thoughts. 

On May 8, 2014 I was told I most likely had Testicular Cancer.  I went in for a referral appointment to essentially push aside any extreme worries.  Within 10 seconds the urologist said, “this doesn’t feel good.”  That night I went in for emergency surgery to remove my left testicle.  My life, everything about it, was put on pause (and I also started leaning a little…too soon?). A few days later I would find out it is indeed cancer and it had spread to my abdominal lymph nodes and my lungs.  I was to be married on August 8, 2014…so the 3 months leading up to my wedding was full of Chemo treatments and doctor appointments.

Continue reading Leading Through Personal Trials

Posted on Leave a comment

Breakout Sessions at the Middle School Ministry Campference

IMG_3087I (Marko) was chatting with a middle school pastor this past weekend. He’s bringing a group of 10 to this year’s Middle School Ministry Campference, and considering adding to that number. Some combination of people from his church have attended all four previous Campferences. He said something like, “I’ve been to all sorts of other events; but there’s just nothing like Campference. I can’t imagine being in middle school ministry and NOT attending!”

While everyone who has attended in the past knows that the secret sauce of the Campference is everything that happens in-between and around the official schedule, we’re still very intentional about bringing the best training you’ll find anywhere on our work and calling. And we’ve always been intentional about having almost completely new content every single year (rather than just repeating seminars over and over, year after year). So, not only will attendees this year get to network like crazy, have meals with speakers, and enjoy all that secret sauce, they’ll also get to choose from this mind-blowingly amazing list of breakout sessions.

a little interpretive key:
SEMINAR means 2/3 teaching and 1/3 conversation
DIALOGUE means 1/3 teaching and 2/3 conversation
ACTIVE LEARNING is a seminar where you actually DO stuff
ROOKIE means it’s a seminar or dialogue that’s ideally suited for volunteers and rookie youth workers
LATE NIGHT CONVERSATIONS are informal gatherings around a specific topic

Here’s the plan for October 9 – 11, 2015! (This is subject to change, but basically final)

Friday Evening

  1. Kurt Johnston: Surviving in the Local Church: 5 things that really don’t matter and 5 things that do. (SEMINAR)
  2. Heather Flies: Authenticity in Teaching/Sharing Your Story (ACTIVE LEARNING)
  3. Tom Shefchunas: Partnering with Parents Without Killing Yourself (SEMINAR)
  4. Mark Oestreicher: What Every MSM Volunteer Needs to Know (SEMINAR/ROOKIE)

IMG_3090Saturday Morning

  1. Scott Rubin: Critique of my JHM, by High Schoolers: the Good, the Bad, and the Frustrating (DIALOGUE)
  2. Tom Schefchunas: Youth Ministry and the Cell Phone (DIALOGUE)
  3. Gina Abbas: Growing Your Ministry By Doing Less (SEMINAR)
  4. Eric Woods: Engaging the Difficult Student (ACTIVE LEARNING)
  5. CIY JH Team: Bug Fixes and Stability Improvements for your Youth Ministry (SEMINAR)

Saturday Afternoon

  1. Elle Campbell and Tom Shefchunas: 5 Rules (and 5 Exceptions) to Teaching Middle Schoolers (SEMINAR)
  2. Alan Ramsey, Kurt Johnston, and Katie Edwards: Raising a Family in Youth Ministry (DIALOGUE)
  3. Gina Abbas: The Best Idea Wins: 20 years of collecting, copying and creating middle school programs and events (DIALOGUE/ROOKIE)
  4. Eric Woods: Why you should stop doing mission trips: Turning Teens into Missionaries Instead of Travelers (SEMINAR)

IMG_3118Sunday Morning

  1. Katie Edwards: Engaging Middle Schoolers in Leadership (SEMINAR)
  2. Kurt Johnston: Communicating to Young Teens (SEMINAR/ROOKIE)
  3. Heather Flies: Creating an Environment Where Chaos and Structure Can Coexist (SEMINAR)
  4. Kenny & Elle Campbell: Creating a Better Teaching Strategy for Middle Schoolers (SEMINAR)
  5. Alan Ramsey & Mike Sheley: Pre-Teen Ministry (SEMINAR)

Late Night Conversations

  • Gina Abbas and Heather Flies: Being a Woman on Staff with Dudes (for paid youth workers)
  • Alan Ramsey: Growing Older in MSM
  • Eric Woods: Designing Better Graphics
  • Tom Shefchunas and Tim Mauriello: Multi-Site Church MSM

Pretty amazing, huh? Check out more info here.

Posted on Leave a comment

announcing our Middle School Ministry Campference special guests

Middle School Ministry CampferenceThe Middle School Ministry Campference is a super unique youth ministry event in many ways. But most of the uniquenesses flow out of the fact that all of us – speakers, attendees, program team, that other guy – are all together in a retreat context. It’s a camp(ference); so we eat all our meals together, sleep together (well, sleep in cabins together; it’s not that kind of event!), zipline and shoot things and otherwise play together. Of course, we learn together and worship together also. But it’s the in-between times that really set this thing apart.

Most of our speakers and conversation hosts are middle school ministry practitioners. So you’ll rub shoulders and have a meal with people like Kurt Johnston, Katie Edwards, Brooklyn Lindsey, Scott Rubin, and plenty of other people who have poured their lives into this fantastic age group for a long time.

But each year we also bring two “outsiders:” two main session speakers (who will each lead seminars and/or conversations also) who are outside of our little middle school ministry niche. One of those has played a bit of a “sage” role, bringing some wisdom of years, and even the affirmation that so many junior high youth workers don’t receive from their churches. And the other special guest has been someone with some specific knowledge that we thought our tribe would benefit from. Last year, these were Tic Long and Mark Dowds.

Rahn.DaveWe’re really excited about our two special guests this year! Dr. Dave Rahn a wicked smart, but also wonderfully personal and pastoral. He’s been a youth ministry educator for a long time – teaching both undergraduate and graduate youth ministry at Huntington University. And these days, Dave’s the Senior Vice President and Chief Ministry Officer for Youth For Christ, USA. Really, there are few people in the youth ministry world with the combination of knowledge, history, and warmth that Dave brings. We’re truly honored to have him join us.

amanda-druryOur other special guest this year is Dr. Amanda Drury. Mandy has a PhD from Princeton, a bunch of experience in youth ministry, and is a new professor of youth ministry at Indiana Wesleyan University. We got to know Mandy when she spoke at our event The Summit last year (see her amazing talk here). We really liked her, and felt like she’d be a wonderful addition to the MSMC this year.

Haven’t registered yet? Get your team together and get to it. If you care about young teens, this is THE event you cannot miss!

Posted on 1 Comment

Is early onset puberty a problem?


We’ve all had early bloomers in our ministry. Maybe a middle school girl who is a foot taller than her peers. Or the occasional 7th grade boy with a scraggly ‘stache. It’s one of the fun things about working with middle schoolers, they come in all shapes and sizes! 

For years there has been an assumption that early onset puberty lead to all sorts of potential problems. Was the brain developing as fast as the body? Could a child who looked a few years older handle the social pressure that might bring on? And was developing earlier than your peers an actual problem?

Some new research in Australia is dispelling some of these assumptions. (Bear in mind that there’s not a perfect correlation between an Australian pre-teen and an American one.)

Previously, researchers thought that negative behavior associated with early puberty — such as difficulty playing with other kids and participating in normal school activities — showed up only after puberty’s onset. But the new study showed that children who later had early-onset puberty showed evidence of such problems when they were 4 or 5 years old. Boys in this group had also shown other behavior problems, such as being overactive, losing their temper and preferring to play alone from a young age.

source | study abstract

In other words, researchers are not finding a direct correlation between early onset puberty and psycho-social problems with children. Instead, they are finding that the signs were there all along. So perhaps its that adults are simply taking notice of these early birds? 

Question: Got an early bird story from your youth group? Share it in the comments.

Photo by SRV007 via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Posted on 51 Comments

Bible on iPads, iPhones and Other Devices at Youth Group


It is no surprise to our friends and co-workers that this family loves gadgets.

We are a Jesus and technology-lovin family. My husband has his Master’s in Educational Technology and I have a Master’s in Christian Education. What do you get when you combine the two? You get kids with God’s Word accessible to them on every electronic device imaginable. We’ve got the Bible on our iPads, our computers, Kindles, phones and iPods. When we leave for church I award “Mom Bucks” for Bibles and tithe. “Mom, does my Bible on my iTouch count?” asks my brown haired, blue eyed son Josh.

I reply, “It’s still God’s Word, isn’t it?” Yup. Then YES of course. But his Awana leader did not appreciate it as much.

So here is the question: Do you as youth leaders encourage your students to use their devices during service to look up scripture? I sure do. Why wouldn’t I allow kids to use the Bible on electronic devices?

This is the digital age, isn’t it? Last I checked, we have not suffered a world wide power grid blackout and gone all pre-historic like on NBC’s Revolution. Who has God’s Word with them and accessible to use at ALL times? Those students who have either gone all Book of Eli and memorized the whole thing, or those who have taken the time to install the Bible on their phones or other devices. The beloved “always attached” to a teenager cell phone– always attached Bible app as well.

Let me tell you why I support letting kids use their electronic devices at church.

  1. Brain Based Research demonstrates kids learn best when we integrate technology into the classroom. So why wouldn’t this also apply to the youth room? “Technology is valued within our culture. It is something that costs money and that bestows the power to add value. By giving students technology tools, we are implicitly giving weight to their school activities. Students are very sensitive to this message that they, and their work, are important.” – From article “The Effects of Technology on Classrooms and Students”
  2. They are on their devices anyways. You can monitor and police and take away… but that is exhausting. It’s easier to allow the devices and set some ground rules and gasp in shock… kids will usually respect the rules you set. When you show them enough trust to allow them the use of electronics, they will not want to lose the privilege.
  3. I am training for real life. Our students do not live in a bubble void of Apple products. When students leave our youth ministry they will still be bombarded with technology and the distractions there of. I would rather train and equip my kids to be able to use technology effectively in and out of the church setting. I want my own kids to acknowledge and be prepared to handle the “temptation of distraction” of the devices in their possession. Isn’t it better to be able to learn how to use technology to learn God’s Word, as opposed to sneaking it under their jackets and running off to the bathroom to text? I want my kids to know that technology IS distracting, so how do we deal with it and turn it around for our benefit instead?
  4. I want the challenge. If church is boring and kids are playing Star Wars Angry Birds during my youth talk, then I have not done my job of engaging them. Same holds true for big church. People vote with their attention. When something is captivating, interesting and well executed it commands attention. Like a movie or TV show that has won me over… I close my laptop when I am really engaged with what I am watching on TV. In church… I fiercely take notes on Evernote when it’s “that good.”
  5. It levels the playing field. Yes, I am all for Bible literacy and for knowing how to actually use a hard copy Bible. We still play the books of the Bible song in the car on the way to school, so my kids are not ignorant of such things. But we don’t teach Latin anymore either. Is the only Bible on our shelves the Latin Vulgate? We live in a new day, with the Bible available and accessible to us in so many wonderful ways. Why not embrace that reality and use it to help kids learn? Kids with learning disabilities or ADHD can often participate much more effectively when technology isn’t banned from church. Some kids learn best with a hands on hard copy edition of the Bible. Some kids (and adults) do not. Technology can help kids who struggle. Many students will track with your lesson much more efficiently and accurately than without their devices. When a brand new kid walks into church and sits at my table, I hate seeing them feel dumb when they have no idea (because they are new to church) of how to look up a Bible verse. Everyone stares at them. They shrink in their seat and fumble through the pages. Instead, I can in 30 seconds install the Bible app for them on their phone, and they can easily navigate through that. And guess what? This un-churched kid now has an easy to use Bible in their possession that didn’t cost anything from my youth budget.

When my 11 year old son got home from Awana last week, he told me that his Awana leader was not happy camper about his Bible being on the iTouch. “Mom, he sat behind me and glared over my shoulder the whole time.” As a youth leader, I make sure to applaud kids for even having the Bible on their iTouch. The bottom line is this…

Kids install what is important to them. I am thankful when God’s Word falls into the important enough to install category.

My husband who has all the research, education and 101 reasons why Josh should be allowed to bring his iTouch to Awana, took a phone call from Josh’s Awana leader last night. Being gracious, all he said was “Sure, I will make sure Josh brings his hard copy Bible next time instead.” We live in a world where old school and digital age collide, especially in a church setting. I only have ONE reason why Josh won’t be bringing his iTouch to Awana next week….

$199 is why. That’s a lot to trust an 11 year old with.

Posted on Leave a comment

Tic Long and Mark Dowds added to MSMC12 line-up

this is big news.

we’ve added two speakers to the line-up for the 2012 middle school ministry campference. but they’re more than just two interesting speakers. both of these guys will add so much to the entire experience of the weekend, well more than the 40 minutes of their main session talks (which will also be fantastic, i’m sure).

tic long, as many of you know, worked at youth specialties for something like 138 years (give or take). he was the president for eons, and completely shaped the national youth workers convention. he loves youth workers. tic can be deep and wise, like the sage that he is; and he can be playful and wonderfully juvenile, creating absurdity and fun out of thin air.

when we asked tic to come to the MSMC, we asked that, in addition to speaking, he would be an instigator, and that he would spend time sitting with youth workers. he was stoked. all that stuff is smack dab in the middle of his wheelhouse.

mark dowds is a wonderful and strange mash-up of knowledge, experience, and insight: a youth worker who raised the ire of local pastors in belfast for his successful and inventive dance club outreach to teenagers, an organizational consultant who can size a person up and identify seemingly hidden motivations and priorities in a matter of seconds, a tech entrepreneur with a yoda-like insight into how people in organizations connect with each other in spaces of meaning, a tri-athlete who runs stupid-long trail races (even after shattering his leg a year ago and being told he might not run again), and a crazy irishman who loves to push peoples’ buttons and laugh like a wildman.

like tic, mark will also be with us for the entire weekend of the MSMC. he’ll speak in a main session; but he’ll also be a roving pot-stirrer, an internal truth revealer (if you are courageous enough to know the truth about yourself), and a tribal party participant.

along with the crew of amazing middle school thinkers like kurt johnston, scott rubin, brooklyn lindsey, johnny scott, katie edwards, marko (hey, that’s me!), and others, this year’s MSMC is shaping up to be the learning party to end all learning parties. if you like middle schoolers, well, then you belong at this thing. registration is open, and we need you there october 26 – 28. your voice matters, and our tribal gathering wouldn’t quite be the same without you.