Bob Ross Painting Night!

games, Resources, Uncategorized, youth ministry

Hi friends!

It has been a LONG TIME since I have posted, HOWEVER I did something really cool with students at our Overnighter last month, and I wanted to share it with you here!

First of all — I LOVE Overnighters, and I realize I’m overdue with an “official” post on why they are so great, and what we do at them! But the basic trick to them is this: scheduling something every hourish to keep students engaged. This year, we added “Bob Ross” hour at 2am! That’s right, 100 middle schoolers were invited to paint along to a Bob Ross Video at TWO A.M. And you know what? It was a SUCCESS!


The most important part was choosing the right video. I wanted it to be simple enough we could follow along — especially since “real” painters use a variety of brushes and paint colors. Here is the video I chose:


  • Paint Tray Palettes. You could also, of course, use paper plates — but this was a really easy way for us to issue paint to students!
  • Spatulas. We also used plastic knives too — which worked just fine.
  • Fan Brushes. This is a variety pack — the size differences did not seem to matter.
  • Acrylic paint. Bob uses oil paint, but that was not realistic when painting with students. I purchased 3 cases for around 65 paintings. We only used one, and maybe an additional white.
  • One-inch brushes. Bob uses 2-inch brushes, but since we use a very tiny canvas, this worked better for us!
  • 8×10 Canvas – This was the best bang for our buck, and worked just fine for our paintings. Each size item we purchased accompanied this size canvas perfectly.
  • Flat Brushes – I don’t think Bob actually uses anything like this, but it’s nice to have a “normal” paint brush.


  • On each table, we set up cups of water, paper towels, and extra plates so that students could use them to blend colors
  • We learned the hard way: You should also put down plastic tablecloths or butcher paper.
  • On the Palettes, we put white in the center. Then we used the rest of the colors for the other holes. The only colors you don’t need are pink and orange. We also had adults do this — it was easier to create an assembly line than have students do theirs themselves.
  • We passed out canvas and permanent markers first and told students to sign their names on the back. The canvases we used give space for students to even name their paintings!
  • I led this activity, and painted along. I would tell students to listen to Bob fully, then I’d pause it after he did something and allow students to catch up.
  • We let students “skip” painting the parts that they didn’t love. As it gets to the end and Bob starts doing the bushes and the path, it doesn’t make sense at first. This would be an awesome thing to preach on, if you have a message that evening! Sometimes you can’t see what God is doing, but if you go along with it you might get something beautiful and unexpected.

Here is a look at my painting (the best art I’ve ever done!) and a few other pictures of our activity!


I would 10/10 do again! We finished around 3am, and they were dried and ready by 7am. We had several kids get frustrated (our boys, let’s be honest) and trashed so they could play foosball or “reinterpreted” their paintings, as you can see. But overall, everyone loved the activity.

Some Fall Games I’ve been playing!

games, Ministry, youth ministry

I haven’t posted in a while; I got married last month! I’ll post some pictures soon (and I’m excited to tell you our love story).

I just wanted to pop in to share a few of the games that we have been playing in our middle school ministry this fall. They’re a little random, but a total blast. Feel free to use any of this material, including the graphics, which I created quickly in Canva.

Gobble Hobble.png

The “Gobble Hobble” is the name I gave this game in a frenzy this last Sunday morning, when everything was going wrong and I needed to come up with a quick game. I remembered playing a version of this a few years ago and wanted to give it a quick funny name. Best part: It takes 3 minutes to prep.

Choose one person (we chose 4 — one from each grade) to go out into the hall and be blindfolded by a leader. Tell the group to, together, hid a “turkey.” The “turkey” can be anything, as long as you can decipher it with a blindfold on. In a pinch, we used a basketball. Invite the blindfolded person in, and lead them to the “turkey” only using “gobbles.” The same way you’d play hot-or-cold, the closer they get to the “turkey,” the more the crowd gobbles. First person to get to the “turkey” wins. It was complicated playing with four people, because no one knew if they were correct when we were gobbling. It worked out for us, though, and we were able to play two rounds (with instructions) in less than 7 minutes. Not a bad way to start off a Sunday morning!

dice wars.pngDice Wars is another great game — otherwise known as “1 to 100.” Since we are in a multi-purpose space, sometimes we find out last-minute that we have to switch to round tables for an event right after our youth group. That’s how I came up with this game. Here are a few games — that I, truthfully, copied and pasted from the internet. There are tons more games, too!

What you need: Each player needs a piece of paper to write on. You also need one die and one pen.

How to play: Everyone sits in a circle, either around a table or on the floor. One person starts out with the pen, and the person to their left starts out with the die.

Let’s say Paul has the pen, Tasha is to his left with the die, and Adam is sitting to Tasha’s left. When the game starts, Paul starts writing legible numbers, starting with 1 and going up to 100, as fast as he can on his paper, while Tasha starts rolling the die as fast as she can, trying to roll a six. As soon as she does roll a six, she gets to grab the pen from Paul and start writing numbers on her paper, while Adam grabs the die and tries to roll a six. As soon as he does, he grabs the pen, and the person to his left starts rolling. Play proceeds around the circle like this. The next time Paul gets the pen, he starts writing where he left off. The first person to write to 100 on their paper wins.

FALL PARTY GAME.pngI love puns, and I was inspired by a Buzzfeed post to create this game. I used some from Buzzfeed, some from elsewhere.

Click here to access my link from Canva, and edit or download for yourself!


This was a game I used at the beginning of the school year, in order for students to make some new connections. It was a blast, and a traditional youth ministry favorite!

Click here to download and edit from Canva.

“The Awesome Game”

games, youth ministry

A few years ago on our mission trip, we played a game one evening called “The Awesome Game” when a different outing was cancelled. We had THE MOST HILARIOUS time, and now it has become a staple for our youth ministry on Kickoff Sunday.

Here’s what you do:

  • Type up a list of different challenges — I’ll share mine below. You want these challenges to be a mix of things. You want to do some things that cause them to get to know one another, some that give good photo or video opportunities, or some that are just OBNOXIOUS.
  • Cut up those pieces of papers, and put one copy in a gallon-sized plastic bag.
  • Split your students up into groups (we did small groups). Give each group a bag and a time limit (anywhere between 30 and 60 minutes).
  • Give some way for them to count what they’ve done — give them another bag, tell them to ball up the ones they’re done with, or put the ones they’ve done in your pocket.
  • At the end of the time, the team that has done the most wins!

Here are some examples of challenges you can place in the bag:

  • Make a two-minute video talking about your love for cheese
  • Interrupt another Small Group completing their challenge.
  • Run around for 60 seconds yelling “We won! We won!”
  • Come up with a team chant
  • Join in another Small Group completing their challenge
  • SOMETHING STINKS! Walk around the room for 60 seconds and act like you’re trying to find the smell. Get obnoxious!
  • TIME TO PROPOSE! Have two people give a two-minute proposal, with everyone else encouraging them to break up.
  • Create your own “challenge” like Ice Bucket Challenge or  KeKe Challenge. Make a one-minute video inviting people to take part in your challenge.
  • Spell out MSM (for Middle School Ministry) on the floor by laying down!
  • FORM A BAND: Sing a nursery rhyme at the top of your lungs using full air-band motions and sounds
  • Go to the Ga-Ga pits outside and play one round of Ga-Ga Ball (basically–hitting the ball and not getting hit in the feet–if you get hit, you’re out!)
  • Play Duck-Duck-Goose for 2 minutes
  • Challenge another group to a dance battle. Battle it out for two minutes, even if they don’t participate back.
  • Run up behind other players and make farting noises for an entire minute.
  • I’m not crazy–you’re crazy. Create a straight jacket that one person must wear for the remainder of the game.
  • Choose one person to stand on one foot for the remainder of the game
  • GET ON ALL FOURS! Each person choose a different farm animal and act it out for one minute.
  • MAKE A PROMO VIDEO: Choose an accent and talk about why Middle School Ministry is awesome for an entire minute.
  • Each person must do 10 jumping jacks.
  • Do a runway walk from one end of the Great Hall to another
  • Have one person pretend like they’re underwater until the next challenge is completed
  • Try to get another group to dance like robots with you.
  • Each person talk to another person on your team like they’re your celebrity crush
  • Pretend like your clothes itch. Scratch, roll on the floor…JUST GET IT OFF!
  • Run up to another group. Narrate their challenge like a Sports Announcer
  • Have everyone spin around 5 times, then walk ten steps in a straight line
  • Run up to another group and tell them “YOU MADE ME CRY” and drag it out until they ask why!
  • Choose one player to talk like a cat the rest of the morning.
  • Run up to another group and ask them if they believe in fairies until someone says yes!
  • VROOM VROOM. It’s the Indy 500! We’ll let you off with just one lap, though: run one lap around the gym.
  • 1,2,3,4, I declare a thumb war! Have a thumb wars tournament. The winner gets cheered by the rest of the group!
  • Go around the circle and say your FULL NAME–INCLUDING MIDDLE!
  • Create a new Yoga pose and give it a name! Everyone must do the yoga pose.
  • RAP TIME. One person raps while everyone else beatboxes.
  • Choose a fitness instructor–lead the group in a workout routine for an entire minute!
  • TIME FOR THE GREAT DEBATE: Debate for two minutes on whether you are pro-pickle or anti-pickle.
  • TIME TO RAGE: Run up to another group, and start a mosh pit! (for those of you youngins…that means to jump up and down, bumping into other people)
  • Pick a random object in the room and make a one-minute commercial for it.
  • Start a back-rub train: Each person must rub the shoulders of the person in front of them. Once you’ve rubbed for 30 seconds, turn around and rub the other person’s shoulders.
  • Start a conga line–take one lap together around the gym.

Here are some videos from our adventures:

Grass Eating Challenge for @ywmissions . We tag THE WORLD.

A post shared by St Luke’s Middle School Min (@stlukesmsm) on

We love Playdoh. @ywmissions

A post shared by St Luke’s Middle School Min (@stlukesmsm) on


Let me know if you try it!

Best moments from Summer 2018!

junior high ministry, youth ministry

This has been THE BEST summer of ministry I’ve ever experienced. I wanted to write a blog about one or two of my favorite moments, but found myself lost for words. So, here, in no less than 1600 words, are my favorite moments from this summer:

  1. Last summer we started a tradition that I call “Huddles with Heather.” Each Wednesday students can meet me at a local Frozen Yogurt place called Huddles, and we eat ice cream and chat. Last year we had, at the most, a dozen people. This year, we had no fewer than a dozen each week, sometimes hitting 20-25 people PLUS all the parents and students who came to hang out!
  2. Huddles was so awesome, that my summer intern and I made “Huddles with Heather” tank tops. We only printed 12, and they became the most coveted item of the summer.
  3. At Vacation Bible School, I led games for preschoolers (don’t laugh!). There was an awesome snack area for leaders to take a break in. There was a gaggle of 5th graders who were volunteering that week, and I got to know them–they were very interested in pictures of my cat. Since the fifth graders had only been in my middle school ministry two weeks, I didn’t know them super well. They came to Huddles that week, and brought friends with them. All of their friends ended up signing up for Mayhem!
  4. Each summer we do Middle School Mayhem. The following memories are from it. Watch this video to see more.
  5. There was a 5th grade girl who was crying and could not be calmed down by her fantastic student leader. I asked her what was wrong, and she said that her friend died last year, and today was his birthday. I gave her a hug as she cried, and I asked how he died. She said he committed suicide. From there, I took her into our office, and sat on the couch with her as she bawled her eyes out. She shared that he was bullied heavily, and the people who bullied him began bullying her for being sad he’s gone. She shared about the birthday party he had planned for that day, his 11th birthday. From there, I decided we’d have a birthday party. One of our leaders grabbed a piece of cake from a local place, and that student, her leader, and I had a “birthday party” in my office, huddled around a piece of chocolate cake, sharing stories and asking questions about her friend. It was one of the most holy things I’ve ever experienced. Because kids shouldn’t die that early. And we should give space for kids to grieve that stuff.
  6. There were a few 6th grade boys who LOVED our devotion times this year at Mayhem (a struggle in previous years to get kids to settle down). They wanted more than 20 minutes of quiet time so they could “meditate” after finishing their journals.
  7. I’ve been investing some time into a 6th grade girl, and she made me an entire “Photo Gallery” of different sketches of things–her Bible, our Mayhem logo, a picture of me, some words that describe me, and things like that. Then, later that week, she wrote me two notes: one that described how thankful she was for our relationship, and another expressing a really heavy prayer request because she “just wanted another person to know.” How fantastic that students can come to the church with that stuff.
  8. The Pink Team was KILLER this year. I had an entire Tribe of 7th grade girls, and gave them the color pink. They created an entire Pink cave complete with so much pink, I literally had to sit down to absorb it all. Although the girls were a little points-hungry at times, their leader kept them humble and with a positive attitude.
  9. A student leader expressed to me the week before, during set up, that she was interested in youth ministry…even middle school ministry. Somehow, through the holy spirit, we decided that she should teach during Mayhem…to over 100 people! For her first sermon! And she CRUSHED IT. Her tribe even created a poster for her, signed by everyone on the tribe, to cheer her on.
  10. Another student leader baked an entire sheet cake with his father, and brought it to Mayhem on the last day to share with his tribe. It was such a huge cake, that he was able to share it with the group. Nobody could believe that he actually made it, it was so impressive.
  11. ALL of my student leaders impressed me LEAPS AND BOUNDS THIS WEEK. Holy cow. Each one of them served at the level of an adult, with such poise an maturity.
  12. We had 3 busses try to break down on us, but not once did it ruin or plans or make us late. Praise God!
  13. This year we added “Yay Gods” and “shoutout” to our daily routine, something we do on our YouthWorks Mission Trips. The kids loved it and anticipated it each day.
  14. Each year I get rained out of the local swim park. This year we were able to book a fantastic side plan, going to a local place for bowling and laser tag. The students had a blast.
  15. With each student who “got in trouble,” we were able to preserve the relationship and adjust their experience so that they felt successful that week. Such a success and God thing.
  16. OUR ORBEEZ POOL WORKED. We had a dream of filling a swimming pool full of water beads. It definitely failed during our test period (the pool popped) but the students LOVED IT. Oh yeah, and no one threw up in the foam pit this year.
  17. Last year I had a 7th grade girl who drew me as Willy Wonka (our theme was Chocolate Factory). This year she made me a new drawing, and everyone was so excited to see her next installment. Before you know it, my office will be her official art gallery and I LOVE IT.
  18. We had two new adult leaders this year, who totally dug and understood the middle school age. One of them had a particularly tough group, but never complained, even though he was going home to two babies each night.
  19. MISSION TRIP memories to follow from here — which this year, we brought 41 students and leaders on! My first year here, I definitely brought seven. Ha!
  20. One night during small groups, I overheard a small group leader saying to a girl “own it!” I heard the girl say, “I could maybe be a pastor.” The small group leader said “don’t say maybe!” and the girl responded “i could be a pastor!” That girl then told me that she was considering ministry. On the last night of the trip, she stood in front of our entire church group and told them that she might be a pastor when she grows up!
  21. The boy who needed space to think, and stepped out of small groups time. Talking to him, I learned he’d had a rough year, and had some doubts. He was thankful that our church didn’t teach black-and-white theology. He still seemed unsettled. During the last night of the trip, he stood up and told the group that through death and heartbreak in his family, he knew he could always come back to St. Luke’s and find a home here.
  22. The siblings who never separated from each other before, but found their separate identities at the trip.
  23. The group of girls who embraced another girl, even though she kept pushing them away and attempting to be a loner.
  24. After the mission trip, I asked students to send me on Instagram stories of how their Small Group Leaders have impacted their lives. One girl messaged me, saying that her SGL influences her to consider how ministry could be a part of her vocation–making this the fourth girl of the summer, and the sixth in eight months to tell me that she’s exploring ministry vocationally!
  25. This year, I didn’t have to argue with a single kid about showering. God works in all things, big and small stinky!
  26. On the mission trip this year was an 9th grader who, in 7th grade, had to “quit” Confirmation because some things came up. I really didn’t want her to quit, because I knew she’d be separated from her friends if she repeated the year, with the kids a year younger than her. This last year she was a great Student Leader for the 7th graders, and was very nervous about going on the mission trip this summer. She reconnected easily with her 9th grade friends, and on the last night, stood them in front of the entire room and told of their loyalty and kindness.
  27. Two of our pastors are leaving the church, and taking their incoming  7th grade daughter with them. She came on the mission trip, bringing her entire entourage with them. I was concerned it might be tough, spending a “last week” with them… but the group celebrated her and her family, and as an entire group we sent this girl off with an emotional prayer. She’s going to be a cornerstone at her new church, and we’ll miss her. But it was awesome.
  28. There was another young lady, who came on this trip, but had never come to St. Luke’s before. She said to me, “Are all Methodists like this? You guys are so kind, and emotional. Lutherans aren’t like this.” I joked with her that mission trips get emotional for everyone, but she was able to pinpoint something special about our group. And I mean… they are special.

I know that as soon as I hit “publish,” there are going to be several more things that pop up in my brain. This summer has been SPECTACULAR, and if you read every word, I want to thank you for celebrating this summer with me. :)

DIY Trophies

Resources, youth ministry

This year for our annual “Confirmation Awards” (the awards I give to students who have actually completed all of their requirements), I decided to do something different and make trophies for each of the students who won!

This was such an easy DIY, and I learned some things, so here we go:


The first thing to do is collect your supplies. I went to the local Dollar Tree, where dreams are made.


I hot-glued plastic plates onto plastic cups. I decided to double up the plastic plates, because I thought it made it sturdier and matched the texture of the cups more.


Then I hot-glued the various figures on top. For some of them, I added plastic cups that I found. For the football one, I hot-glued a “gold medal” to it. For the princess one, I broke the wand in half and hot glued it to the plate.


I spray-painted them after this. I noticed it was tough getting into some of the crevices, but if I spray-painted it from the bottom first, it made it easier. ALSO: DO NOT OVER-SPRAY PAINT. It gets tacky.


Here they are! I wish I took better pictures, but this is how they ended up looking. My one regret, besides over-spray-painting, was not picking the hot glue off before I spray painted.


Seriously easy! My favorite trophies were the dinosaur ones, and the corn one.

How I Plan Curriculum

curriculum, lessons, youth ministry

One of my biggest strengths is that I am a Master Curriculum Planner. In my setting, I kind of have to be. We have a Sunday School-style program in that because we have one main hour of programming each week, and we have Confirmation smack dab in the middle of our middle school years. So, we split off into three groups: 5th & 6th grade, 7th Grade Confirmation, and 8th grade. We still have large-group teaching and small groups, but each group has their own curriculum and discussion questions… which equals a lot of work! Fortunately, I’ve had the ability to work on it one or two years at a time, and refine the previous year’s as I work on a new year.

You might be saying, “Heather, why don’t you just purchase curriculum? That’s what it’s for!” My answer: I love most purchased curriculum out there. I’m a huge fan of Orange, Sparkhouse, LIVE, Credo Confirmation, The Thread by y360, and other comprehensive curriculums.

But for us, I assessed the needs of our context and decided to do a four-year comprehensive curriculum. 5th & 6th grade rotates Old & New Testaments, 7th grade does Confirmation, and 8th grade addresses their identity through Spiritual Gifts. You can read more about how I develop a long-term curriculum by reading my article published in YouthWorker Journal.

Here is a look at the way I format curriculum over the course of 4 years:

56 Year 1 – Old Testament
56 Year 2 – New Testament
7th Grade / Confirmation
8th Grade – Spiritual Gifts

On top of Sunday mornings, we also have lots of retreats–it’s one of the hallmarks of our ministry! I typically plan the curriculum for our retreats, as well as for Middle School Mayhem, our weeklong Day Camp. Again–I could buy curriculum for these events, and I do for some retreats. But for Middle School Mayhem, I like to mimic what is happening in Vacation Bible School since it happens the same week. This year we’re branching off from VBS week, so I may have more freedom in the future.

But again…I enjoy writing curriculum and am good at it.

Today I want to share my favorite way to plan curriculum over a series.

  1. Basically, I fold a piece of paper into the number of lessons that I need.
  2. I write the things that I need to plan: Date, Title, Bottom Line, Scripture, Notes, etc.
  3. Then, I fill in the blanks. My big secret for finding scriptures that match themes is the Topical Bible.

Easy, right? Here are some examples:


This is how I planned our 8th grade year on Spiritual Gifts. I divided up the 15 gifts (from LeaderTreks) into 5 categories: Leaders, Teachers, Movers, Judgers, and & Helpers. Then I planned out some scriptures.

mayhem 2018

This is how I’m planning Mayhem for this upcoming summer! I’m drafting this on paper, then I’ll form it into a document (like the next two)

Mayhem 2015

This was our first year of creating Mayhem, a day camp, so this was my first way of formatting what I drafted on paper into a document, with additional details: like, notes and games. This year’s camp was MOUNTAIN themed!

Mayhem 2016

This year’s Mayhem was CAVE-themed. As you can see, I added “Snack” and some other categories to plan all aspects of the camp.

Hope this helps someone out there plan their pwn curriculum! For me, I always find looking at the week as one comprehensive piece and viewing its parts as part of a whole helpful. It’s allowed me to be really imaginative and thorough, whether the series has been exegetical or topical.


DIY: Giant Lite Brite

games, Resources, youth ministry

I’ve had dreams, okay?

Dreams of building a GIANT LITE BRITE for our Middle School Ministry’s NEON NIGHT.

I looked online, and I didn’t see much:

  • This really hard DIY that I don’t have the energy for
  • This really cool one used at a middle school ministry event, that would take a lot of drilling and water bottles (and we’re a green church, so that’s a no-go)
  • This Lite Brite Table that seemed cool
  • And this Lite Brite used for a stage decoration, but not for interactive play

SO. I had to do this from scratch! And it wasn’t easy. Thus begins my journey:

Step One – procure Lite Brite pegs

I found Lite Brite pegs on eBay, no where else. Not on Amazon, not on Facebook Marketplace, not on Craiglist. I figured initially that I would need 1500, but after I purchased the pegboard, I realized I needed more like 2500. It cost about $80 for all of the pegs…not a cheap venture. I also had to wait for some of the pegs to arrive (but that was no big deal – I was working in advance!)

Step Two – procure pegboard

I went to Lowes, and decided to make two 4×4 Lite Brites. I tested the pegs in the board to make sure they would fit. I realized it could work with just one peg board, but might be best with two. I thought “let’s just get this in my car first.”

It wouldn’t fit in my car. So I karate-chopped it.

Then I knew I’d need two more pieces– and I just knew they’d fit in PJ’s vehicle, since he has a crossover. I waited a week, we went to Manards and found the same 4×4 pegboard.

And it didn’t fit. So I karate-chopped it.


Step Three: Adhere pegboard with wood glue

I thought I could make it work: So I overlapped the pieces to make them strong. I used almost an entire bottle of Elmer’s Wood Glue.

But the pegs didn’t line up. I had two options:

  1. Drill each hole individually in order to get the holes to line up better
  2. Start over from scratch (yikes)
IMG_3734 (1).jpg

I called some buddies – a group of men at  our church that love doing construction projects. They took it off my hands, purchased four new pieces of pegboard, put them in their truck, told me next time to just call them, glued it together, and put studs in to keep the holes all lines up while it was drying. Bravo, men.

PS, I definitely called these men on International Women’s Day. I didn’t take it personally: The best thing a woman can do is ask for help when she’s overwhelmed. Did I mention I was fighting off a flu-like plague during all of this?

Step 4: Paint Black

It took me under two bottles of matte black spray paint to paint the peg board. I only painted one side, because… remember how I was initially ahead of the game? By this point it was the day before the event. I made sure to paint inside of the holes too to make the pegs vibrant.

Step 5: Light up

This was tricky, too: We were using the Lite Brite at our “Neon Night,” which was great, considering the pegs shined better with a blacklight. However, it still needed some bright light from the back in order to make the pegs shine bright. We were fortunate that our staff’s videographer came by, and he hooked us up with 3 lights that he uses for filming.


Thoughts for improvement:

I have a few ideas that might make it better:

  • glue a piece of black butcher paper or tissue paper between the two pegboards. This would allow it to be REALLY black in the spaces that are unused.
  • Block out the sides with blackout curtains or tablecloths. That way the light is super-contained behind the lite brite.
  • More blacklight! That would really make it special. We experimented with putting the light in front or in back.
  • Spray a clear paint over it, so that the black spray paint doesn’t transfer on our hands/clothes as we transported it. It’s too awkward to move without getting dirty.

PS – We spent about $130 total on this project. $10 per sheet of pegboard, around $15 per 500 pegs (2500 total). Affordable, but definitely an adventure! I will be thinking of ways to reuse it, for sure. 

All in all, this truly was an easy project; someone just had to be the first one to do it. You are welcome, world.

More about “Neon Night”

Neon Night consisted of many more components, including:

Last, we had a glow bar with:

Neon night is always a favorite of mine…but it is absolutely the most expensive evening of the year, and takes hours to put up. I was very fortunate to have some great volunteers, including DJ PJ, to help with all of it. Can’t wait for next year!

**By using my Amazon Affiliate Links, I will receive a small amount that helps keep my blog and Women in Youth Ministry Alive! Thanks!

Students’ Letters to Congress about School Safety

lessons, social activism, youth ministry

The other day I published a list of ideas to help talk to students about school shootings. As I stressed, I believe that the church should be a place where students feel safe–on both a physical level but also safe to have hard conversations…even about the most controversial issues.

School safety is one of those; everyone has a different idea of how to make our schools safer from mass shootings. But I know that all of us do believe that there should never be another mass shooting again…especially on a school campus.

Right now in our 8th grade class we’re talking about the spiritual gifts of prophecy, givers, and encouragement; gifts I’ve called the movers. Movers are people who speak out, who get things done, and who push for social and personal change.

At the end of each section of gifts, students have an opportunity to put those gifts into action. With recent events, I asked students to write letters to our Senators and Representatives.

I stressed repeatedly: I am not telling you what to write. I did provide a sample letter that I found online and beefed up a little. I also encouraged them to focus on one of the three main factors that people believe impact school shootings: gun laws, mental health, and general school safety. That was all I gave them.

Afterwards, I did give them some questions to process this. In truth, they didn’t have time to discuss my questions because they were so into the letter-writing and discussing their ideas for change. It was really cool to watch them think critically. Often times our kids only hear us diss our politicians, not think about how to constructively interact with them.

But the questions I gave them were about what it means to mold our politics and our faith together:

  1. How is this “speaking out?” How does this activity change your view of a “prophet?”
  2. Why is it our “Christian duty” to speak out against injustice?
  3. Why should Christians not only speak out, but also put their words into action?
  4. What else could we, as Christians, do to prevent school shootings?
  5. Often times we talk about a need for “separation between church and State.” When and why should your faith impact your political beliefs? How does your faith personally impact your political beliefs?
  6. When prophets predicted Jesus’s birth, they prophesied that Jesus would be a “great king” that would bring about “great political reform” to save them. It’s interesting that, even then, religion and politics worked together. What do you think Jesus would want to change today?
  7. (this question can get dicey, but let’s go for it) Why do you think religious people can have such different political beliefs? (be nice, don’t just blast Trump/Hillary/Bernie/Republicans/Democrats…think critically)

But onto the letters, because that’s the main reason I’m writing this post: I want to share some excerpts from the letters that these precious students wrote. I loved that our students had a range of political beliefs (I super-love that about my church), but that they were able to think really constructively and talk with one another about their differences. At the end of each teen’s letter they asked the senator/representative to write them back.

Aren’t you glad that these kids will one day rule the world? (Snapchat debaccles aside)

Here’s what they wrote:

“I am writing to you to ask that you help make school safer. I don’t know about other schools but the only form of security seems to be a police officer. I feel that we should have the type of security that airports do. Even if it will cost a little more it is worth it to keep us safe. I feel like kids should also be monitored better because the shooter in Florida had talked about it for months but no one did anything. I just feel like I should be able to feel safe while learning.”

“My friends are scared. They don’t come to school sometimes because of their fear. I am also spooked, by stomach aches and my head hurts because of it. It’s hard for me to focus and it’s hard for teachers to teach.”

“Recent events have sparked conversations on social media, at school, at church, and within my family. I recently learned something that had never occured to me before. It recently occured to me that this didn’t happen in past generations. My generation is the only generation that knows how to do a lockdown drill. I have memories from first grade of hiding in the corner of my dark classroom, being silent, and waiting until we got the all clear. A feeling of fear in my own school, a place where I should never be scared of losing my life, was planted in me at a young age. I do not feel safe in a place where I am forced to go every day. I should feel safe at school, a place I go to learn how to be functioning member of society. Giving guns to my teachers would not help that.”

“We are asking you to consider how we feel, and we are using our voices to the fullest extent that we can. We are asking you to do the same.”

“I am writing you to ask that you help make school safer. I am concerned that going to school can put my life at risk. That EVERY student at my school may be at risk of a school shooting. School should make you feel safe, not in danger.”

“I am currently aware of the political debate over gun control. I may just be a student, but I have a voice that needs to be heard. I want to speak up about my perspective on gun control. Our president believes giving more guns out to the teachers of our district can benefit our schools. I believe that there should be stricter gun laws. Putting more firearms in a harmful situation can only make it worse.”

“I hate that kindergartners have to know how to hide from a person with a gun, trying to kill them. School should be a safe and secure place where you don’t need to be afraid. Now days people can easily buy a gun as long as they have enough money. This needs to stop. I can’t imagine losing my best friend in a school shooting, or getting a call telling me there has been a shooting at my child’s school.”

“School should be a safe place to learn, not a place to question your safety.”

“I am writing to you after hearing of the shootings in Florida. Although I’ve supported Republicans all my life, I feel as though we need a flat-out ban on assault rifles. NO good comes from semi-automatic rifles. When our founding fathers wrote the second amendment, they had no army and therefore relied upon citizens to take up arms against enemies of the United States. Also they had muskets, not assault rifles back in the 1800s. We can protect ourselves without military grade assault rifles now. We also have a military to protect us, unlike back in the 1800s. We can protect ourselves with handguns, shotguns, crossbows, etc. I appreciate your help and ask that you please send me a response and maybe an autograph?”

(that one made me laugh)

“I’m already a very paranoid person and school is scary enough on its own, but with the threat of a school shooting my brain goes crazy. Columbine, Sandy Hook, and the most recent school shooting in Florida are some of the worst and most terrifying. I shouldn’t have to worry about going to school, and while I don’t believe we need to band guns I do believe we need to make a change. From my observations, some of these kids that are planning to or actually do commit these crimes are social outcasts, people who don’t know how to fit in, people who are bullied by what they believe to be “popular” people. For example in Columbine the shooters wanted revenge on their popular peers. We, the schools, need to stop talking about laptops in the lunchroom, we need to be talking about caring for people, we need to destroy the whole “I’m popular and you’re not” philosophy. Maybe then, after making these kids feel loved and helped, the problem won’t be so bad.”

Y’all… let’s do right by our kids. Let’s give them an opportunity to use their own voice, from their own perspective, to speak their own truth. For some of these kids, their truth was a little different than my own. But that’s why it’s important that I listen to them–because that’s the only way to learn from them. And I think in this situation–it’s the only way to bring about change that can positively impact their lives.

Addressing School Shootings in Youth Ministry

lessons, youth ministry

I have two major philosophies in youth ministry:

  1. The church should be the safest place in the world. Every kid has the right to have a place where they belong, where they can be themselves, where they can share their story and feel known. I work with middle schoolers because no place feels safe to this age: home can feel like a war zone, friends change more than their underwear, and the need to compete and be perfect in academia and extracurriculars is making our children anxious. Plus… their bodies are betraying them.
  2. In order for the church to be the safest place, we have to have the toughest conversations here. Conversations that are otherwise untouchable become essential to understanding our human condition and our calling as Christians.

And while I hate that I have to write a blog post about how to discuss school shootings, I do so because I recognize that (a) our kids literally don’t feel safe right now and (b) it’s our duty to make sure that students can talk about this at church.

As I process the latest school shooting, my heart is full of grief and lament. My love lost a long-time dear friend in that shooting, a man who lost his life protecting children. When I initially heard the news last Wednesday, I quickly moved on. This happens all the time. It hit me at Ash Wednesday service, when our pastor began the service with a lament. I was sitting next to two middle schoolers, and I almost felt like it was inappropriate to remind them of their reality. Isn’t that crazy? And when PJ found out his friend’s life was robbed, I still hadn’t quite connected it all. It wasn’t until Sunday, when PJ was grieving in worship and our pastor stood up and called it our Christian duty to react that I realized: I had been numb. Apathetic. And that is nothing more than pathetic. 

Today I repented of my apathy, and committed myself to doing whatever it takes to make sure that those who are grieving have the space and resources to turn their grief into holy work. And since the voices of this movement are young, I feel like it’s only appropriate that we make the church a place where students can react and take action.

Here are some ideas and resources for both discussion and action:

Tools for Discussion

Ideas for Action

  • Partner with other churches. Contact your denominational office, nearby churches, etc. to see how you can partner.
  • Partner with “March for our Lives.” More information will come out about what this looks like, but do whatever you can to make sure that your church has a presence.
  • Collect money. March for our Lives is also a great resource for that.
  • If you partner with one main local school, consider making your church a hub for the walk-out on April 20th. Definitely ask parents how they feel about this before you condone skipping school. I remember in high school we did a “walk-out” once, and most of my friends ended up rioting; so if you have a place where students can come grab snacks and hang out, then that could be helpful.
  • Pray over the names and pictures.
  • Adapt a “Safe Shooter Policy” at your church. We went through this a few years ago, and it was really difficult for me to sit through a seminar on what to do if a shooter walks into your church…but it’s important.
  • Write letters with students to local congressmen. Click here to find your representatives. You can also use the “Town Hall” feature on Facebook.
  • Research to see if there are any Town Halls, or if you can get school shootings on the agenda at your local town meeting. Show up with students.
  • Whenever you can, make sure that students are leading the efforts within the church. This is THEIR concern, let THEM tell the story from their perspective. The only way this will change is if it gets personal–and we needs kids telling adults their story.
  • Allow students to write prayers of lament.
  • Support campaigns of students as they come up with them, like this Facebook page students started or this one that killed Kmart sales of guns after Columbine.
  • Create an evening of prayer stations. Here’s one (created for All Saint’s Day, but still amazing).
  • Or these prayer stations, created for the Belgium terrorist attack.
  • Go OT and build an altar on your prayers.
  • Share this article with parents from PBS.

GAME: Mario Kart

games, youth ministry

A few years ago, PJ took me on THE MOST CREATIVE date: Mario Kart down at Fountain Square. It was so much fun–there were people in costumes, racing around in a cross between a go-cart and a tricycle. The crowd could purchase water balloons to throw at them, and it was just amazing.

PJ and I wanted to recreate this for our youth ministry, so we tested it out last year, and it was a huge success…so we did it again! Here’s the video from last years’:

Mario Kart: Invite Night edition from St. Luke’s UMC Youth on Vimeo.


  • 10 boxes total will be set up, in 2 sets of 5.
  • Under each box should be one of the following: a dodgeball (AKA a “shell), a printed out picture of a Mario Star, or a toy banana
  • Finish line with tape
  • Tape around the room to mark off the course (take a look at the video to understand how we did it!)
  • Trikes at the finish/start line (we rented ours from a local party rentals place)
  • We purchased helmets for each trike


  • Students will race the course using trikes and helmets.
  • Twice, there will be a set of 5 boxes that students MUST stop for and choose an item.
  • Shells (Dodgeballs) students take with them and may throw at another student. If hit, student must stop for ten seconds and shout ONE MISSISSIPPI…TWO MISSISSIPPI…
  • Bananas stop students suddenly for ten seconds. They must shout ONE MISSISSIPPI…TWO MISSISSIPPI…
  • Stars give STAR POWER. An adult will push a student for ten seconds, giving them a huge boost! During this 10 seconds they can’t be hit by dodgeballs.
  • First student to the finish line wins!

It’s that easy to play! We had this as part of our “Giant Games Night,” with giant Jenga, Checkers, Hungry-Hungry Hippos, Twister, Human Fooseball, and more!