Poke the Church

Seth Godin did not write Poke the Box with me in mind. There’s no direct reference to youth ministry or soccer or racing or my wife – or most of the other most important things in my life. He didn’t write about how I can maximize my talents or find untapped resources or build great new relationships with the next generation. He didn’t even write long chapters with well developed outlines and subheadings. He wrote crisp and active sentences and packaged them in bursts of motive thought. I’m glad I don’t lock my reading into one or two particular rabbit holes, because this way, I get to find gems like this that I’d never find digging around in my church leadership and youth ministry sandbox.

“When was the last time you did something for the first time?”

The book asks this question, then dives headlong into making the case for why I should be “inventing the status quo” (and you should be, too). Poking the box is a metaphor for trying things. It’s taking initiative. [Have you noticed that no one ever says they were “given initiative”? Initiative is not given, it’s taken.]

This is an incredible metaphor for student ministry in a couple different ways:

  1. Youth Ministry can be like the R & D department of the church. We are researching tomorrow and developing disciples who will meet the world there. Only… we’re not exactly sure what tomorrow will be so we don’t quite know what to do. So we make stuff up. We try new things. Some of those things fail. But some of them lead to revolution and transform lives. Poking the box means we aren’t afraid of the failures so much that we never kick the revolution into transformation gear.
  2. Youth Ministry has to keep poking the box or it will die. We have to keep trying things to see what happens, if only because our window of influence can be so quickly shuttered. Even if a new peer group, or a job, or a breaking family, or dad getting a job out of state doesn’t come by and close the window, most of our students will only be around us for a few years. We have to make connections with them that will lead them to connect deeply with God when they move beyond our ‘sphere’. The opportunity is brief, so we need to innovatively initiate whatever we can think of to make these connections.
  3. We can’t just keep having ideas… we need to do them. I can’t think of too many youth leaders I would not describe as creative. Our tribe seems to have quite a way of coming up with ideas. I love sitting around with a bunch of youth ministers and talking about what could be… Ideas are plentiful. But we don’t always make them happen very well. At least I don’t as well as I should.
  4. This isn’t just about youth ministry. The church needs our boxes to be poked to keep from settling into something that’s less than following Jesus. There are lots of things we can do that look pretty good and churchy, but may not have much to do with following Jesus. Why are we doing them? Youth ministry is in a prime place for asking those questions on behalf of the whole church. Go ahead and poke the church.

So, “When was the last time you did something for the first time?

As I think about my favorite moments in ministry, many of them are times when I went out on a limb and tried something new:

  • taking my flat-land farm town students straight from a week long conference in the CO mountains to a week long mission trip in the AZ desert in July
  • skipping a week of camp one summer that has been a mainstay of our youth ministry since Moses first took them there, so we could engage in a new (to them) conference
  • drawing a distance & direction out of a bag and a spinner to determine where we’d spend a week serving (144 miles to the southeast, then another couple hundred to the east)
  • booking a drama team instead of a speaker for a weekend event
  • picking myself to speak for a weekend event

What was the last new thing you tried? How did it go? Email me or use the comments section below to talk about it.

A Hunger For Depth

The fifth mark of youth ministry that I think is critical to really making a difference is helping students develop a hunger for depth in their relationship with God.

I cannot save my students. I cannot transform my students. I cannot sustain life for my students.

Since only God can be the breath of life for them, it is critical that students learn to seek deeper relationship with Him. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. It’s only a right relationship with God that can fill this life with meaning that never falls short. It’s easy in youth ministry to settle for shortcuts that give the appearance of relationship with God without really emphasizing that. But if we are going to make a difference in student ministry, we have to get behind the appearance and help students sink into the heart of God. We can’t settle.

Image via Sherolyn Newington at CreationSwap.com

We can’t settle for games and giveaways that get a lot of students to show up, but send them home with merely a fun experience.

We can’t settle for energetic music that raises hands and pulses, but does little to lift and nourish the spirit.

We can’t settle for awesome branding that clearly identifies who we are and what we’re about, but doesn’t lead people to who He is and what He is doing.

We can’t settle for a young team of Bible knowledge experts able to argue intelligently about God with their classmates, but who’ve never wrestled with God about their own faith.

We can’t settle for a tight knit community of students who love and support each other, but have missed the love and support God wants them to give to those outside that community.

We can’t settle for an emotional conversion moment that leads a kid to tears at the altar or to the baptistry, but does little to lead them to choose to follow Jesus in the practical steps of living life.

None of these things are detrimental to a healthy youth ministry, it’s just that none of these things alone are enough to really make a lasting impact in young lives. The challenge for youth leaders is that by doing those things, we can appear to have successful ministries – those things make our ministries look good to the people who ‘pay the bills’ so to speak. And when we push our students to go beyond the facade, sometimes they push back. Sometimes, they just walk away. So how do we challenge our students to seek a deep relationship with God, without pushing away students who aren’t quite ready to go all in yet?

  1. Seek depth. If your own hunger for a deep relationship with God is waning, stop whatever you can stop and reconnect with the only source of the grace you need to do ministry. Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness…
  2. Communicate expectations. Your church’s leadership, your students and their parents, and your other adult youth leaders need to know that you have this value – that you aren’t satisfied with attenders. The hope that you work toward is that your students will not just show up to whatever you planned, but that they will show up in the story He wants to write with their lives. Let your students know what you think they are capable of.
  3. Communicate God’s Word. I used to “teach lessons” or “give youth talks” but lately, I’m noticing a shift in my mentality toward teaching in youth ministry – now, I’m more likely to open the Bible and preach. It’s not that what I was doing before was wrong, but my approach is different now. I don’t try to come up with neatly packaged lessons about whatever the currently hot topic is, I want to dig through God’s Word and show my students what I find. It’s amazing how often God hits right where He needs to.
  4. Have fun. Having fun is not a sign of shallow ministry, it’s a sign of vitality. Play dodgeball sometimes, or go paint-balling. Get out of your office and sit in some kid’s game chair while he blows you away in Halo or chases you down in his favorite racing game.
  5. Seek depth. I cannot overemphasize how critical this is. A stale or shallow relationship with God is no place from which to lead. Go deep with God and let Him go deep into you… it’s the only way to sustain your ministry.


This is the 5th element of the Foundations of Youth Ministry series. Check out the other posts here and be sure to use the subscribe field at the top to get new posts via e-mail:

5 Marks of Youth Ministry That Makes a Difference

A Permanent Attitude of Worship

A Kingdom View of God’s Church

A Passion for Revealing God

A Commitment to Service as the Church

A Hunger for Depth in Relationship With God

May’s Top Posts

I wanted to share with you the top 5 posts (by visits) for the month of May here at Imminent Crash. Thanks for all your support and encouragement as I get this blog up and running and try to provide content that will be useful as youth ministries try to unleash the potential of the young church. I’m still working on the actual set up of the site and will continue tweaking in the months ahead, but hopefully everything’s been basically functional for you the bulk of the time. If you ever have any problems here, please let me know so I can get them fixed.

I’ve got a race car to get ready for tonight, so I’ll keep this short. Here are the top 5 posts from May: (which will actually be 6 because 5 & 6 were tied)

  1. 7 Things That Would Get Jesus Fired From Youth Ministry
  2. A Youth Ministry Letter For Graduates
  3. A Commitment To Serve
  4. Catalyst Dallas Reflections 1.1
  5. A Passion for Revealing God
  6. A Flak Jacket Prayer

Interesting that the top two posts should illicit either laughter, tears, or a pacemaker, while the third and fifth posts are 2 of the 5 characteristics in the foundations series. The 6th is probably the most personal, and my favorite. Hopefully the posts have been a good mix of depth and light-hearted humor.

What were your favorites? Anything from outside the list? Use the sharing buttons at the bottom or sides of each post and maybe they’ll end up on next months Top 5!

Again, thanks for reading and more importantly, thanks for doing something to strengthen the church by investing in the younger generation.