Husband. Dad to 5. Student Ministry Pastor. Follower of Jesus. Yatta yatta.


This week I’ll do 5 posts on 5 recent convictions I’m reinforcing in my own life about those who work with and minister to students.

First up: encouragement is too rare… and very powerful! 

(side note: I’ll be really honest in this post.  But please hear this, I’m not fishing for an encouraging word.)

Here goes:

For the past few years I’ve had the privilege of teaching a seminar at a couple of national youth ministry conferences.  Each year, I’m asked to pitch some thoughts on seminars that might be of interest to the audience of my peers.  This last fall I pitched one to YS that I’m teaching again in a few weeks at the Simply Youth Ministry Conference called “You Suck: Enduring, Learning from, and Responding to criticism and conflict“.  I cannot begin to explain to you how refreshing this seminar was for those who attended it and how sad it was that we all have this wreckage of harsh criticism in common.

Truth is, I have a super long list of illustrations for this one. In fact, over a decade ago, after a particularly hard season in ministry, I actually went into my senior pastor’s office and resigned.  I’m in ministry today in part because he refused to accept my resignation, but I was definitely down for the count.

Student ministry can be brutally hard in certain seasons.  Ask any parent of a teen, and they’ll tell you it feels like a roller coaster of emotions and confusion. Cuz it is.  And therefore, it’s hard on everyone, including the students.  No joke… without fail, I bet any single weekend in our youth ministry, I could find you at least one teen either crying in our room or on the brink of a breakdown.  Every single Sunday.  Some Sundays, it’s more than I can bear.  I just leave and cry myself.

When I first arrived at Journey about 6 years ago, we had an 8:30 am and a 10:30 am service at church and in our high school program too. Our 8:30 was shockingly much larger than the 10:30.  So much so, that of the 15 or so students who came to the 10:30 service, about 14 looked and acted like they were forced to be there.  I used to go into the bathroom between services and look myself in the mirror and at 32 years old, psych myself up to enter the room.  I quietly called it “preaching to detention center”.  And each Sunday, after service I’d walk across the parking lot and quit… and then re-hire myself on Monday morning.

More recently, a mom came to observe our high school group on the weekend because her daughter was playing in the band.  A few days later, she sent me a very sincere and encouraging e-mail.   I decided to send it to my lead pastor as an encouragement to him, that God was working on our church campus.  He then blogged about it.  The following day, seemingly independent of that, I received 4 more affirmations.  One from a dad who sat through our weekend “sex talk” and thanked me for how I dealt with the subject.  Another parent sent me a facebook message for the same reason after hearing her kids talk about it in the car ride home.  Then another mom thanked me for a convo I had with her daughter and finally, another mom called my cell to say, “ditto 100 times over” to what the mom said in Ed’s blog post.

Super nice. Way powerful words my soul drank deeply from.

But honestly, super rare.  I seriously think this much independent encouragement in such a short window of time was a ministry first for me.

My wife and I are “joking” that it’s the calm before the storm. I must have a pile of criticism coming around the corner.

Regardless, just know this:

If you have a teen in your life, they desperately need an encouraging word from you.  Seriously, NO ONE, is regularly telling 90% of the teens around me how much they are loved.  But that’s another post.  Please, encourage a high school teen today. They already get plenty of criticism from their peers anyway. They are largely encouragement starved as a generation.

Second, if you know someone who is making a positive influence into a teen: either a parent or a teacher or a coach or a pastor or a small group leader or… you name it.  Trust me.  It’s hard. And IT’S WAY TOO RARE that anyone says “Thanks.  You are making a world of impact. Keep doing what you’re doing. We need you.”  

I can’t even begin to tell you how desperately our souls need it.


  1. “Thanks. You are making a world of impact. Keep doing what you’re doing. We need you.” Sorry, I had to borrow that, but I it fits. Please pass it on to everyone there. Thank you again. Brian Robotham, Youth leader at Eden Bible Church, Beulah Mi.

  2. Brian,

    I cannot agree with you more! Our teenagers today not only need encouragement, they CRAVE it!

    In the 28 years that I have been ministering with youth, I have never seen a time when teenagers are so fragile – a positive self esteem is rare!

    There are five words that I have found can move ANY teenager to tears of appreciation. Say these words at an appropriate time and that teenager’s self esteem will increase a hundred fold! “I AM PROUD OF YOU!” These five simple words will last a lifetime for that young person.

    Glen Mc Call
    Director of Youth Ministry
    Ridgewood, New Jersey

  3. Love it bro!
    Just sent it on to some of our pastoral staff

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