Fitness Goals are like Ministry Goals

youth ministry

This is a shoutout to all my friends over at YouthPastorDiet.Com, and all youth pastors everywhere who are struggling with their goals for weight…and their ministry.

Here I am at 9 years old, about to run to first base. Good luck, little chunky Heather.

Here I am at 9 years old, about to run to first base. Good luck, little chunky Heather. Yes, I still run with my pants that high.

I have struggled with my weight all my life: I’m pretty sure I came out of the womb with a pear shape. In January, I decided that I wanted to begin running.  Now, understand how ridiculous and hilarious this is: I have never been able to run. Like, ever. Even when I played softball for 6 years, I was terrible at running. Terrible! My mom used to make fun of me and tell me that I looked like I was running with a piano on my back.

So why did I decide to run? Stink if I know. I think it’s because I knew that I wanted to exercise more and get fit.  I also have issues with migraines, and at my January doctor’s appointment I was told I’m healthy as a clam, yet my BMI is bad, like really bad.  I think it’s because I was too poor for a gym membership, and I can’t fit an exercise machine in my little car.  Running is free.  Well, after you drop $150 on a good pair of shoes, some running shorts, a good sports bra (not just for women), and a running shirt. Cool running sunglasses optional. They’re on my list.

A few months later, my miles are 3 minutes shorter; in fact, just this morning I beat my records. I’m achieving goals, setting records, yet I’m discontent because I’m not seeing it on the scale.  I thought I’d be skinnier?  I mean, let’s be honest: Wasn’t that really my goal all along?

But I’m forgetting all the little goals: That my migraines aren’t every day anymore. That before, I couldn’t exercise 2 days in a row…this week I did FIVE days in a row. FIVE!!! Yes, it hurts like you-know-what… but I’ve had worse. I’m faster, stronger, I feel better. And my confidence is great.  Those are all goals to be celebrated.

I think back to ministry (because I always ministry-juke myself):

We set goals for ministry, typically growth: And even though our existing students may be getting stronger, may be getting over bumps of junk in their life, may be becoming just brave enough to invite people… we are only focused on the quantitative growth.  And what a shame that is!

Shouldn’t we be celebrating all the little victories!  Who cares if I’m not losing inches where I want to–it’s happening!   Who cares if teens’ friends aren’t coming–at least they have the guts to ask them now!

AND–maybe we need to reevaluate our methodology.  So I’m running…what about that Chinese food I ate the other day?

But we use excuses for those things: Well, we always do Taco Tuesdays (order a Taco Salad, brosky). I have to go support their bake sale.  Well, we’re at the baseball game, so beer and frank it is.  And ladies: It’s “that time.” Yeah, well a few times I’ve beat my time on “my time” if you get my drift.

That sounds like that one excuse every youth worker loathes: “This is the way we have always done it.”

Did I make you feel bad yet?


I think I might have to go for another jog.

5 Reasons Your Ministry Needs Women Leaders @youth_min

Contributions, leadership, women, youth ministry,

Youth Ministry girl leaders

This post originally appeared here:

Your youth ministry needs women leaders.  Before we start arguing the theology of women in ministry, I want you to hear me out:  The purpose of this post is not to advocate for ordained women, or women pastors, or to argue the Pauline view of women.

The purpose of this post is to convince you why you need more women in roles of discipleship, worship, and (yes) teaching.  We need to have a spread of leaders who represent the spread of the audience in gender, color, and background.  So if your youth group is 60% female and 40% male, you should have about that amount of male/female leaders.  I empathize that it may never be perfectly that way, but you should strive for that representation.

Girls need women leaders.

Seems like a no-brainer, yes?  Young girls need to have examples of women who are leading. If we are teaching our young ladies that they need to advance the gospel, then we need to have examples of women who are actively advancing the gospel in their lives personally.  Additionally, girls desperately need to hear from a variety of women.  Girls need to see a picture of themselves in these roles so that they can do it, too.

Boys need women leaders.

For so long, we’ve been doing ministry so that boys can only lead boys, and girls can only lead girls.  However, there are wonderful things that boys need from both men and women, just as girls need both in their development.  When I began my first youth ministry position, a mother came to me and told me that her son was going to be my toughest case, because he doesn’t respect women, and that included his mother.  I remember that first night of youth group–this eighth grader challenged me with every “tough question” he could muster on women, homosexuality, and president Obama.  When I left two years later, that same mother said to me that her son not only respected women, but valued their leadership in his life.  He became more sensitive, more respectful, and even more affectionate towards his own mother.  Boys need men to mentor them, yes; yet having women as leaders will lead them to holding greater value of women.

Male leaders need women leaders.

Men and women compliment each other.  You have a variety of leaders who are more playful, some more disciplinary, some more empathetic, some more protective, some more approachable, and others more on a pedestal; not to mention the variety of skills: building sets, making snacks, teaching, discipling, etc.  Put people in their sweet spots, and play off their strengths. I serve in a ministry where the co-directors are an unrelated male and female, and it’s beautiful watching how the strengths play off of each other, and where one is weak another fills in strong.  Think about it: why does God give children both a mother and a father?  Both are beautiful and have roles that are necessary in leadership.

Women leaders need women leaders.

I will be the first to admit that I need support.  I need examples of strong women in ministry so that I can do ministry, and I definitely see the effects as I begin mentoring women in ministry.  We need discipleship and community, especially as a part of our female identity.  Personally, it can be difficult as a female in a male-dominated profession, and I crave interaction with other ladies.  So ladies, step it up! And… let’s be friends.

God needs women leaders.

God uses women for multiple tasks in the Bible, and in Acts it is said that God will use both sons and daughters to prophesy in his name.  God uses some of the most random people to accomplish His tasks, so never discredit a potential leader based on their gender, age, race, or background.  From Abel to Moses to Deborah to David to Esther to John the Baptizer to Jesus to the Woman at the Well to Paul… (anyone else out of breath?)… God has a knack of loving and using people who just don’t fit the standard mold.

Advice for Insecure Youth Workers @smarterYM

Contributions, depression, identity, leadership, smarterym, youth ministry


My latest article is on what I would redo in my first year of ministry if given the chance….. and truthfully, what I struggle with each and every day of my life.  I see a lot of youth workers within the YouthMin.Org Facebook Community struggling with this, and it has caused me to get vocal about calling out youth workers and getting them to be more secure with their selves and their ministries.

So here is my post over at SmarterYM.Com!  Read, share, and comment on it! And show Aaron some love…he’s a Cubs fan :(

Apathy is not the Problem

christianity, church, leadership, unchurched, youth ministry

Teenagers do well if they want to.  This is a “fact;” there have been many resources trying to help parents, leaders, and youth workers get their teenagers to be less apathetic.  I’ve read some of these, and agree that apathy is certainly a problem.  So, we spend week after week at the pulpits trying to inspire teenagers to commit to change.  We pour into their lives with discipleship, trying to get them to see that someone cares about them, and therefore they should care too.  Yet at the end of the day, we leaders can feel extremely empty and dry.  I know personally that I can pour out everything that I have into students and often times it dries me up emotionally, physically, spiritually.  I read articles that tell me how to motivate, but I feel like I’m doing my best job!  I’m sure everyone who reads this relates to this frustration.

So what if apathy isn’t the problem?

It’s certainly a problem; I mean, if it’s not our teenagers’ lack of motivation, what is stopping them from growing in faith?  Instead of simply trying to inspire them, what if we looked at what they’re apathetic about and encourage change in action and not in behavior?  The mentality is no longer “Teens do well if they want to,” but “Teens do well if the’re able to.”

This model was first described in the book The Explosive Child by Dr. Ross Greene.  Watch him explain more about this idea in this video.  I attended a training session on this idea this last month, and wanted to share what I learned with the youth ministry community.

Under the mentality of “Teenagers do well if they’re able to,” it’s no longer about if they want to or not.  Some teenagers want to advance the gospel but still can’t because all they’re being told is “do it” but they don’t know how.  Some teenagers want to quit a particular sin, but don’t have the tools to stop.  They want to, but can’t.  If you give them the tools, they’ll be able to.  And for those teenagers who don’t want to, even Martin Luther King couldn’t inspire that teen; but if you teach them the tools, they might change without even wanting to.  It’s like a teenager who doesn’t want to go to school–the underlying problem is they think they are stupid.  If you educate them, they can succeed anyway, even if they never wanted to. Ha! Tricksy!

This changes our roles as youth leaders drastically:  We are no longer a motivator, but an equipper.  Greene says that with the old model, our job greatly narrows what the teenager can do in their life–making them want  to do something and nothing more.  Under this new model, pastoring is not as much about transferring our desire for the gospel, but our knowledge of the gospel.  Pastoring isn’t about motivating teenagers with the best fluff and feel-good stuff you got, but about giving them the tools.  Sure, apathy is a problem.  Yes, we should definitely try to inspire and motivate our students to share the same passion as us.  Of course, there will be some teens that don’t change; this model is not the answer to all of your youth ministry problems.  If you give them the tools and they still aren’t changing, then you shouldn’t feel dry as you may have before; you’ve done your best job as a youth pastor.

What do you guys think about this model?  How do you think this may impact the way that you do ministry? I’d love to hear your thoughts!


networking, youth ministry

Instagram. I love it. Don’t you? But if you follow your teenagers on there, along with the duck faces and mirror shots, you see a whole lot of:




Teenagers scream out for affirmation, and in turn they give it to others.  Just look at how popular it is.


At first I thought this was a pretty silly idea.  Are you so desperate for people to “like” and comment your pictures, that you will use a hashtag and then like a bunch of other strangers’ stuff?

But then I realized:

  1. It achieves their goals.
  2. So it’s really not that bad of an idea.
  3. We kind of do that as  blogging youth pastors.


So what do you guys think? I’m thinking that for every like, comment, or share that I get on a post either here or on YouthMin.Org, I’m going to go to that person’s blog and show them some love too.  I blog so that people can read it and interact with me, and if someone DOES (which can be pretty rare…ha. crickets), then I want to interact with THEM.  Act out what I believe about blogging being a communal thing.


My friend Jeremy over at 78Productions started a “Commenting Army.”  I am one of about 15 bloggers who vow to read and comment every week on each other’s stuff.  You don’t have to make such a commitment  BUT I encourage you to reciprocate some of the love you receive on YOUR blog.


So what do you think?  Teenagers aren’t so crazy, huh? ;)

Why working in a group home makes me more legit for when I begin working in a church again (AKA THE LONGEST BLOG TITLE EVER)

unchurched, youth ministry

I felt insecure that working in a group home would somehow convince churches that I wasn’t a good fit there. And then I realized:

I know what it’s like to live with teenagers.

Most parents think “Oh, honey, you’re young. You don’t know what it’s like to raise children or have a teenager.”  I live in a house with 6 teenagers and their children.  And not just normal teens, but at-risk urban teens.  Teens with mouths on them and punches to match.  I not only am a mom to them, but a grandmom to their children too, as teach them how to parent.  Of course, it’s different when you raise a child from the womb and then they start lipping back.  The point is, I am not completely ignorant to parenting.

I’m great in crises.

I hate that that is something I can even “brag” about.  The old Heather would have freaked out, punched somebody in the jaw, or ran away and hid somewhere had she encountered some of the things I have.  I know what to do in a medical emergency, a case of self-harm/attempted suicide, when a teen runs away, and when teenagers are beating the snot out of each other.  And I am not only trained to deal with these situations, but I m actually fairly clear-headed in them.  I know how to make quick decisions that are also good decisions.  God has listened to my begging and has given me a great ability to discern.

I don’t sweat the small stuff.

Never again will I complain about a diplomatic deacon, a micromanaging pastor, or hovering parent.  When budget meeting goes too long, I won’t cry my eyes out about how my budget was ripped apart (well I hope…).  I have learned not to focus on the small things, but to look at the big picture.  This also crosses over to disciplinary measures–I am less about immediate consequences for the sake of consequences and more about “natural” consequences.

I rejoice in small accomplishments.

Nope, that doesn’t contradict my last point :).  When a teen apologizes or says “yes ma’am” or offers to summarize a lesson, I’m fist-pumping. So they’re not perfect? I shouldn’t expect perfection or a rockstar prayer life. They’re learning. Let’s party.

I am incredibly secure with myself.

We don’t give teenagers enough credit: they are incredibly intuitive.  They can spot out every insecure thing about yourself, and call you out on it.  After two years of being called out of my name, called out on my inconsistencies, assaulted, and cursed at nose-to-nose…I know who I am.  Of course, I’m not perfect, and I am actively working on myself in a few areas; I just don’t get torn down when I’m rejected nor am I offended easily.

I’ve learned some lessons about integrity.

In my opinion, the hardest thing about working in a group home as a live-in is maintaining integrity.  When a teenager has a funky attitude and is repeatedly disrespectful, it seems like I’m going to lose my mind some days.  But I have to remain consistent in love, faithful in giving my time, and maintain a straight face even when I’m broken on the inside.

In what ways has God prepared you for ministry in some of your other jobs?

Standards in Youth Ministry @youth_min

Contributions, leadership, youth ministry,

standards in youth ministry

This post originally appeared here:

Sometimes I feel the most humbling lessons I learn in ministry come straight from looking at what my teenagers are struggling with.  This week?

One of the things I feel like I’ve been pounding into my teenagers lately is the fact that we set extremely unrealistic standards for ourselves, standards that we don’t hold anyone else to.  Teenagers feel like they need a boyfriend/girlfriend in order to fit in, yet don’t judge a friend or even an adult leader at church for being single.  Female teenagers feel like they have to be thin in order to fit in, and male teenagers feel like they need to be built.  So I ask them, “I’m an unmarried, hefty adult.  Am I worthy of love?”  They assure me that I am.  So I ask, “Why do you hold yourself to a standard that you don’t hold me to?”  They usually take a while to chew on that before humbling.

Later, when I think and pray over these conversations, the irony hits me: In my ministry, I hold myself to standards that I don’t hold other youth ministers to.  Here are a few:

  • I expect my ministry to grow exponentially, but when another church doesn’t grow or it even loses members, I don’t think twice.  I spend nights crying over lost students in my church, but not over others.
  • I force myself to read tons and tons of books or write tons and tons of blogs, but don’t think that others need to do this.  Educationally, I hold myself to a different standard.
  • I expect all of my students to read their Bibles daily, pray, and have real relationships with Jesus.
  • I wish for my next church to be a huge church, or to become the next Josh Griffin, or to become famous in the youth ministry world (don’t lie, you want this too).  But obviously everyone can’t be famous, obviously there’s a need for small-church youth pastors, and obviously I’m not as cool as Josh Griffin.
  • Personally, I push myself further because I am a female, and I feel like I need to somehow be “better” than the males in my field, to somehow “prove” myself.
  • I set the standard that it is my responsibility alone to do these things.  With this expectation, I miss out on what my volunteers are able of doing, but more importantly forget about the work that is necessary for parents to do.

It is extremely dangerous to pressure ourselves to be perfect, when we don’t expect that out of others.  It is also incredibly egocentric. So I encourage you, fellow friends in youth ministry, to look at these standards you are holding yourself to.  Do you hold others to the same?  In the same way that a teenage girl needs to drop the ideal of a thin physique in order to be worthy, what are some standards that you need to drop in order to create a healthier ministry?

Prayer Requests from a Youth Pastor in Newtown

church, networking, prayer, youth ministry

This is copied directly from

We are all still reeling from the school shooting that happened this past weekend.  This afternoon, I had the privilege of talking with a youth pastor from Newtown, CT.  He works with children and teenagers in his community just minutes from where the shooting happened.

There was a lot that he and I talked and prayed about.  Here are a few of the prayer requests that he said that I could feel free to share.

1.  For his personal healing.  Help him find joy in suffering.

2.  Many of the families in their church were friends or associates with victims families. 

3.  That God would use this tragedy for His Glory.  Provide a spiritual awakening in the town.

4.  The town is crawling with media and it’s proving difficult to try and live any semblance of normal living.

5.  The church wants to help and is trying to find their role in the healing process.

6.  There were kids from the youth group that had recently gone off to college that had known Adam Lanza.

7.  Healing for kids and teens who are trying to reconcile so much during this time.

8.  For Christmas joy.  Newtown is a town that always makes a big deal of Christmas and many people have taken down decorations because of the guilt they feel for celebrating.

9.  How to address the youth group kids in the coming days, weeks, months.

10. Wisdom for the youth ministry network of 8 guys in the area.

I’d encourage you to take a moment to pray for these 10 requests.  Feel free to post in the comment page any encouragement that you’d like to share with him.  I’ll be emailing him this post.

If you have any comments you’d like that youth pastor to see, go to the original blog post at

Prenancy in Youth Ministry @youth_min

church, Contributions, leadership, women, youth ministry,

pregnant volunteers

This post originally appeared here:

Pregnancy in youth ministry:  Nope, I am not talking about your teenagers, I am talking about your ministers.  Starting a family is an intimidating thought to begin with, but trying to balance it with ministry is even more difficult.  Imagine being a woman in ministry: having to deal with morning sickness in Sunday School, the pregnancy leave from the ministry, the breastfeeding at church camp.  Trying to figure out the whole pregnancy thing brings so many questions, but mainly How can I do this?  

Women ministers, are you pregnant or thinking about starting a family?  While I have never been pregnant myself, I have done some research and talked with the fine ladies in our Facebook group.  Please chime in with additional advice in the comment section!

While You’re Pregnant

  • Decide how you’re going to inform your pastor, the church, and the youth group.  It is probably not the best idea to post it on Facebook and let everyone go crazy.  It will be much more professional and personal to do it in person.
  • Start preparing your volunteers to take charge of the ministry while you leave on pregnancy leave.  As the pregnancy progresses, you are going to have days where you are not going to be as reliable as you once were.  Prepare them so that if you have to leave the lesson to relieve your bursting bladder, they will be able to pick it up.
  • Make a plan with your husband.  How is this all going to look when the baby gets here?  Will one of you take a little extra time off?  What is your schedule going to look like once the baby gets here?
  • Realize that you can’t do the same activities you could before.  But just because you cannot zip-line or ski does not mean your students cannot!  There are ways for you to be able to go on trips with them without having to do the activities; and if you just can’t go, no one will blame you.  Do not feel like your level of commitment lessens—your students will understand why you do not want to tube on your pregnant belly (well, you might have to explain it to the middle school boys).

The Pregnancy Leave

  • Know your laws about maternity leaves.  Investigate what that looks like and talk to your church about how they will accommodate that.
  • Do as much preparation as you can in as much advance as you can.  Will your church hire a temporary youth minister, or will you have to equip volunteers to run the ministry while you are gone?  Whatever you choose, you will have to decide early on in your pregnancy; you do not want to have to decide these things and prepare volunteers to do your job when your hormones are raging, your back is hurting, and you feel exhausted and burned-out from a baby kicking your insides.
  • Decide your level of commitment beforehand—how involved will you be?  Will you be around and available to volunteers, or will you be strict about your maternity leave?  Will you even come near your church during this time?  You will need to decide these things.  Typically a maternity leave means “no contact,” but will that work for your ministry?  Most importantly—stick to your plan!  There will be people calling you up while you are still in the hospital unless you make it clear exactly your level of involvement during this period.
  • Do not be afraid to ask for help; you are performing life’s greatest miracle and need time to recover as well as spend time with your precious newborn.  You do not need to worry about a ministry on top of breastfeeding.  Relax and trust that everything will be fine while you’re gone.

After You’ve Returned to the Ministry

  • Realize that it will take some time to adjust, even after you return to the church.  Many women struggle with their emotions following having a baby.
  • Do not be discouraged when you find you cannot commit the same way you used to.  Fortunately you work for the church, a building full of God’s saints.  Even though the church may not always be pretty, no one can resist a baby.  No teenager will be mad because you missed the mud tug-o-war because you were taking care of your baby.  In fact, having a baby might unite your students in ways you never expected.  Realize that you have a youth group full of babysitters who will take your baby off your hands (and if not your students, their parents will be willing to help).  Every woman I have talked to has talked about how great their church was to them throughout their pregnancy and after the baby was born.  Trust that it will be fine.

Remember: You can be a minister AND a mom.  You will show your youth how to prioritize and balance God, your marriage, your new family, and your ministry.  Allow the Holy Spirit to lead your motherly senses. :)