Graduation Stress and Summer Transition

It’s that time again. Summer camp, mission trip, service projects, day trips, amusement parks, concert is part of summer ministry activities. It feels like summer time flips everything upside down in youth ministry. During the summer we see the regular weekly youth gatherings become irregular as the irregular activities become the new norm.

As youth workers this means that our work and stress increases. We are trying to get in those final fundraisers (here are some tips to help with the pain of fundraising). We are getting the important communication pieces out to teens, parents and the whole church (here is a tool that can help with communication). We are trying to get parents ready (here is resource to help). And we try to balance all the change with our family and friends transitioning into a time of vacationing and relaxing.

Our stress in the midst of the summer transition gives us a common ground to relate to the teenagers we serve. Specifically the teens who are graduating and those who have friends that are graduating are transitioning into a new phase of life. All of their hopes and dreams for “after school” are no longer future possibilities but either present realities or disappointments. And those who have friends who are graduating must learn to live life without daily or weekly contact with that person. All of this can cause them stress and make them feel out of balance.

Here are some tips to support the teens graduating and the friends their leaving behind:

  1. Be Available – Let teens know that you’re available to talk. Being available lets teens know that there is someone who is thinking and caring about the transition they are going through.
  2. Be Open – Share the stress that transitions cause you and how you go about dealing with it.
  3. Make Expectations Clear – When counseling teens who are in graduation transition advise them that they need to make their expectations clear to friends and family. They should let those close to them know how much they want to talk, visit, etc. after graduation.
  4. Focus on Relationships – If teens will miss someone after the transition like a friend, teacher, coach, or small group leader emphasize the importance of that relationship. Suggest they communicate to the person or people 1) what they mean to them 2) they appreciate them.
  5. Share your tips in the comments…

Should “Bad” Kids Be Allowed in Church?

To the passionate and missionally oriented youth worker, the answer is, “No! Never! Don’t even think about banning a teen from church.” To the youth worker who is driven by God’s unrelenting love for the outcast, broken and hurting there is no possibility that our love for teens would allow us to exclude them.

But then we read an insightful comment on Mark 10:17-31 by James Smith. He explains:

Specifically, after the young ruler has announced–quite sincerely, I think–that he has kept all the commandments from his youth, Mark tells us in his typically direct language:
Jesus, looking at him, loved him…
And because he loved him, Jesus then tells the young man something that shocks and dismays him, homing in on the “one thing” that is lacking.
In an age where love is often reduced to uncritical affirmation and unprincipled embrace, we might be stopped short by a love like this–a love that is strangely willing to grieve and sadden and dismay the beloved, but is not for that reason any less loving. Indeed, it is more so, and shows up “affirmation” as a parody of agape.1

So it seems prudent that there is a tension that exists. Love doesn’t exclude while at the same time love creates boundaries for the sake of the beloved. How then do we practice this tension in youth ministry? How do we love in such a way that we are strangely willing to grieve and sadden and dismay the teens we serve? And are we ever supposed to direct this type of action at the “bad” kid?

Who put the FUN in Fundraising?

We don’t know who decided to put the word “fun” in fundraising but it was one sick joke! But for many youth workers fundraising is no fun and no joke. It is a necessity in order to raise money to pay for the youth ministry. And we typically find ourselves at some point along a spectrum of philosophies regarding fundraising in our local churches. On the one side the church views it as essential and the job of the youth leader. On the other side of the spectrum people view it as necessary and the responsibility of parents and other adults (This is youth workers preferred view.). Yet the reality is that most of us experience a view that’s between the two poles.

Here are some tips to help navigate that middle terrain.

  1. Make it Explicit: Help your adults and parents invested in the ministry to teens to articulate their feelings and views on fundraising. Work with them to set down some general guidelines (financial goals, types of fundraisers, number of fundraisers a year, duration of fundraisers, etc.). The guidelines will help so that you don’t always feel like you’re over demanding or under requesting when it comes to raising money for the youth ministry.
  2. Get Help: We suggest to get help from both adults and teens. Ask a teen and an adult to tag team the administrative work for fundraisers. It gives them time to bond and may equip the teen with new life skills.
  3. Tell Everyone: Fundraising needs to be an issue the whole church deals with because the youth ministry is not just your ministry but the ministry of the church. Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to spread the word. Tell everyone and their grandma (especially their grandma) that funding ministry to teens is the responsibility of the whole church. And don’t forget to tell them it is FUN!
  4. Types: Generally “individual-type” fundraisers make more money per person than do “group type” fundraisers (car washes, bake sales, etc.). However don’t discount the fact that a lot of “youth group” happens at these car washes and bake sales. There is something to be said about everyone working together even if you don’t make as much money as an individual fundraiser.
  5. Selling Stuff:Selling items for fundraising can cause pain emotionally and financially. Here are some tips to avoid both.
    1. Before you sell stuff in the public schools make sure that it’s OK.
    2. Only sell things that give 50% or more profit.
    3. Only sell things on consignment or that you can pre-order.
    4. Check local wholesalers for a better deal before going with fundraising companies.

[photo credit: hodgers]

Youth Worker Training from Barefoot Online



Here’s a preview of the youth ministry training that Barefoot Ministries offers through an annual subscription to With easy to use participant guides, you can train your volunteers or student leaders. If you have 1 or 100, you can provide them with the skills and knowledge they need for one low price.

Continue exploring the training by signing up for a FREE 15 day trail of Barefoot Online.

Barefoot Online Webinar | Register Today



Barefoot Online Webinar

Join us for a webinar on Nov 15, 2012 at 6:00 PM CST.

Register now!

Learn how to get the most from your Barefoot Online subscription by attending our first Barefoot Online webinar on Thursday, November 15 @ 6 pm CST.

Barefoot Ministries Manager and BFO architect Paul Sheneman will be presenting and available for Q & A’s at the end.

There is no cost for this event. In fact, just for attending, you’ll get a free copy of the ebook Dodgeball Theology: A Youth Worker’s Guide to Exploring Play and Imagination.*

* Kindle and iBook versions only

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

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October: Clip Art of the Month



What’s that, you say? You don’t use the dynamic graphic design power of clip art? Maybe it’s because you haven’t seen the cutting-edge clip art available with your Barefoot Online subscription (go to Lessons/Library/Media). Each month, we’ll highlight one of these high-quality images for your viewing pleasure.

Need that killer graphic for your fall hayride and bonfire event? You’re welcome.


As a youth ministry professor, I sometimes do consulting for churches. Often what the churches tells me goes something like this: “Our youth group just isn’t reaching students like we think they should be. What are we doing wrong?”

When I meet with the leaders of the youth ministry, invariably they are looking for a specific answer to their problem. They will show me all their programs, have me talk to the youth staff, parents, and maybe even the teenagers, and then we will all sit across the table. All eyes will peer expectantly at me, waiting for me to give them the answer they need to revitalize their ministry. They want me to tell them something like, “Well, it’s apparent that your youth room is the problem. If you will just paint it alternating stripes of neon orange and lime green, and if you will put in a kicking sound system, that should take care of your problem. You’ll soon have teenagers flocking to your church.”

The preceding may stretch the facts just a bit, but only a bit. The truth of the matter is, most of the churches are looking for quick answers to their youth ministry woes. What they aren’t looking for is what I want to help them find—a theological and biblical rationale for their youth ministry. Follow that up with a close examination of how that rationale is played out in their programs and ministries. In other words, I want them to examine why they do youth ministry. Only when they honestly confront that issue is it possible to then examine how to make the ministry more effective in reaching students for Christ.

Why is a biblical and theological rationale important to have? It is important because it allows us to shape our ministries on the very nature of the Godhead. For example, if we believe that God is love, how does our ministry reflect His love in all of its many facets? Similarly, if we believe that God is justice, how does this idea impact what we do and why we do it?

Unfortunately, far too many youth ministries practice the reverse. They allow their ministries and programs to shape what they know and teach about God. For example, one youth ministry I am familiar with routinely does a ritual hazing during its fall retreat with incoming seventh graders. The students are made to feel humiliated during this “ceremony” which officially adopts them into the group. While the youth pastor defends the practice, stating that, “It’s just a fun way to show them just how much we love them,” theologically this experience sends a distorted message to those seventh graders. “If this is love and acceptance,” they inwardly ask, “why should we be a part of it?” These students are experiencing cognitive dissonance because what they hear proclaimed—“love and community”—is not matching up with what is practiced. That is the result when we fail to start with theology and allow it to shape the ministry.

When we start with a theological and scriptural foundation, we can have assurance that what we do in ministry (our practices) appropriately reflects what we believe about God (our theological convictions) rather than just our whims, cultural trends, or the expectations of others.

Another church with which I’m familiar has chosen to allow their ministries to emerge out of their theological and scriptural understanding of God. This church, which does not have a professional youth pastor, takes seriously their theological tradition which is based on grace in its many forms—prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying. This concept of grace is married to their understanding that all people (including adolescents) are made in the image of God which gives them unconditional value.

Very few adults in the church could verbalize these concepts, but they are deeply engrained in their very being. They understand that their role is not to convert students but to faithfully proclaim the gospel, creating regular opportunities for students to encounter God’s grace, and ultimately to allow God to do the converting. After students encounter the transforming power of grace, they are shown what it means to live Christlike lives as they in turn show grace to others.

This is one congregation that takes seriously the idea that their children and adolescents are a vital part of their community of faith. Their programs and ministries affirm this by allowing the students to be equal partners in ministry. This church has built its youth ministry on a theological and scriptural foundation. As a result, their ministry to youth is both wholistic and full of integrity.

Truth be told, it’s much easier to build and run a youth ministry that is not built on a biblical and theological foundation. We can go with the latest fad, follow the recent trend, and adopt the philosophy of the current hot speaker. But doing this only ensures that our students will never gain a true understanding of God and what He wants to do in their lives. It’s playing spiritual roulette with the lives of our students, hoping that one of the things we try will eventually work. Why would any youth worker want to follow this fast paced mad gamble of faith? Who would want to found their ministry on a blown-by-the-wind philosophy, that tries to bound from mountain top to mountain top until we are exhausted?

The purpose of this article is not to call you out if you are one of those folk. Rather, it is to encourage you to begin thinking about how your theological tradition and your personal beliefs about God can and should impact your ministry. I believe that through this practice you will discover a new sense of freedom in ministry. More importantly, you will help create a ministry that is faithful to your students and God. May it be so in your ministry.

Going Deeper: If this idea is new to you, here are some ways to get started Thinking Theologically About YOUR Youth Ministry:

  • Get by yourself or with all of your youth staff in a room with a white board. Brainstorm together and write your answers on the board. Start by asking these questions: What is our theology? What do we believe about God? If our youth ministry was to reflect God’s character, what would we change? What would stay the same?
  • When you sit down at any planning meeting, always ask “What is the purpose of this event/program?” “What is the underlying theological foundation?” “What does this event teach our youth about God and community?”
  • Rediscover your own theology. Read some basic or challenging theological works (such as Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis, or The Divine Conspiracy, by Dallas Willard). As you reflect, ask yourself—how does what I am reading affect the youth ministry I am involved in?

James K. Hampton is an author, speaker and veteran youth worker who serves as Assistant Professor of Youth Ministry at Asbury Theological Seminary.


[Photo credit: matt1125]

All New Youth Worker Training

One feature of the new and improved Barefoot Online subscription (launches September 1) is the video training resource.

Here is lesson 2 from the Conflict Management series. This series will help you gain an understanding of how to successfully navigate conflict as you work with teenagers, and your counterparts in youth ministry.

With a Barefoot Online subscription you’ll have access to hundreds of training videos for you and your team including topics like:

  • Speaking with Youth
  • Advocating for Youth with Church and Family
  • Thinking Theologically about Youth Ministry
  • Retreat Planning 101
  • Social Media and Connecting with Teens

Each video will have a participants guide [download here] for groups, 1-on-1 mentoring, or through an online community.

If you sign up for a subscription by August 31st you’ll save $100!
Learn more here.