In the pantheon of Christmas songs, one song rises above all other songs. In this episode, Erik and Jake take a deep dive into the carol “O Holy Night.” Prepare to immerse yourselves into a wellspring of knowledge about the greatest Christmas song of all time. You can also check out Erik’s Christmas music playlist at https://blog.wearesparkhouse.org/christmas-music-playlist-all.
‘Tis the season to be jolly. But not everyone feels merry and bright this time of year. Jake and Erik have a complicated relationship with the seasons of Advent and Christmas. It’s a time of wonder and hope, but it can also be a time of heightened anxiety and depression. In this episode they offer suggestions to help overwhelmed youth ministers keep their heads above water and help busy kids stay connected. Also found in this episode: coffee puns and Lutheran college choir nerdery.
People who are called to Youth Ministry wear many different hats. We are event planners, theologians, teachers, counselors, carpool drivers, pizza-ordering experts, janitors, preachers, musicians, and role models. It’s easy for parents and church members to not fully understand the complexity of our work. Today you’ll hear a dozen youth workers answer the question, “What’s one thing you wish people understood about your job?”
What does urban youth ministry look like, and how is it different from ministry in other contexts? Jose Rodriguez and Sean Fenner, two youth workers from California who work with inner-city teens, sat down with Erik during National Youth Workers Convention to share some of the strategies they use to help urban kids in need. You’ll hear Sean and Jose discuss the joys and struggles of ministry, how to find the resources they need to reach kids, and the ways they partner with schools and other community organizations to fulfill the purposes of their ministries.
We’re coming to you live from National Youth Workers Convention in St. Louis! Erik and Carla chatted with people from all over the country during the first night of the conference. If you’re attending #NYWC18 you’ll hear from several of your fellow attendees. Listeners who aren’t at the conference will get a taste of the excitement which comes when people who are passionate about youth ministry come together for education, fellowship, and renewal. Thanks to everyone who stopped to talk with us.
This week Erik is joined by Jake Bouma to tackle the topic of prayer. They offer some ideas for how to demythologize this spiritual practice with young people. Topics include: null curriculum (8:00), “practice makes practice” (16:00), doodle prayer (19:00), acrostic prayer (21:30), Help, Thanks, Wow (24:20), and the Divine Hours (35:50).
Erik is joined by two Sparkhouse colleagues, Ben Gieseke and Kelly Bakalich, who will talk about their experiences working with kids. Ben served a couple of two-years stints in congregations while he was seminary. Kelly is a former volleyball coach and youth volunteer who led a small group in her church. Both of them discuss their motivation for getting into youth ministry, the ups and downs of church life, and what they miss most about their regular encounters with young people.
All Saints Day is a Christian festival that celebrates and honors saints living and dead, known and unknown. The saints we encounter in youth ministry are volunteers, fellow ministry colleagues, parents, and even students. They make the way a little clearer, a little easier. In this episode, Bryan and Erik lift up the saints from their ministries.
Everybody makes mistakes. However, the mistakes we make in youth ministry can sometimes feel…unique. In this special “It’s almost Halloween” episode, Bryan and Erik talk about their scariest moments in youth ministry and wonder how they still are allowed to do this job.
Youth ministry doesn’t work (or at least, doesn’t work well) with a solo, lone wolf approach. You want (need?) parents to be involved in your youth ministry. But what does that look like? How much do you collaborate? When do you take the lead? In this episode, Bryan and Erik discuss the pros and cons of having parents connected to your ministry.
Social media is everywhere, both in the lives of youth workers and in the lives of the students in their ministries. How do you navigate something that is literally everywhere? What are the best practices? What boundaries do you need to set as a youth leader? In this episode of the podcast, Bryan and Erik remember a time before social media, talk about their own practices, and discuss ways to make it an effective (and safe!) part of your youth ministry.
From job descriptions to youth ministry articles, the words “relational youth ministry” have become standard in the world of student ministry. But…what does it mean? Is it simply going to the mall, buying a hip pair of jeans and learning how to play the latest video game? And how do we relate to students, especially when most youth leaders are adults? Where are the danger zones? What are the benefits? And most importantly: is there a deeper meaning to this phrase that has become so prominent in youth ministry? In this episode, Bryan and Erik discuss about what it means to be a relational youth pastor and one of them realizes that maybe he isn’t a good youth pastor. (Spoiler: it’s Bryan)
Even if you don’t have ministerial responsibilities with young children, it’s important to know what’s happening with the toddler set in your church. How are their brains developing? What does it look like for younger children to do faith formation? How are the parents managing everything in their life? And finally, what is the church’s response and role? In this episode, Bryan and Erik are joined by Dr. Dawn Rundman, author of Little Steps, Big Faith: How the Science of Early Childhood Development Can Help You Grow Your Child’s Faith. Check the book out here: https://www.beamingbooks.com/shop/product/23763/Little-Steps-Big-Faith-How-the-Science-of-Early-Childhood-Development-Can-Help-You-Grow-Your-Child-Faith
If a youth worker has kids, eventually they will end up in youth group. How do we handle that transition? What are some ways to give your kid an opportunity to have a unique youth group experience without constantly being a hovering parent? In this episode, Bryan and Erik discuss having their kids in youth group, how to use this information to train volunteers, and remember times when they, too, were surly teenagers.
We’ve all been there. The lesson is going great and then suddenly a kid asks the sort of question that makes you want to run from the room screaming. Students ask big questions. Does that mean we have to have equally comprehensive and meaningful answers? What if we don’t know the answer? In this episode, Bryan and Erik are joined by Jeremy Steele, author of All the Best Questions (and some answers too) to talk about questions, doubt, and the power of sometimes saying, “I don’t know.” You can learn more about Jeremy’s book here: https://www.beamingbooks.com/shop/product/23286/All-the-Best-Questions-And-Some-Answers-Too
How do you choose it? How do you use it? Would it be better to just write your own? Using curriculum in youth ministry is as natural as lock-ins and lasertag, but how do you make sure your curriculum is right for your group? In this episode, Bryan and Erik talk about why curriculum matters, when it’s a road block, all while trying not to be homers for their company.
You’ve planned the perfect retreat, the sort of weekend experience that is going to change everything in the lives of your students. But then you realize…you scheduled it on the exact same weekend as the All Regional Dodgeball Competition…and nobody is coming to your retreat. What do you do? Get mad? Reschedule? Wax philosophically about the state of the church and “kids these days”? In this episode, Bryan and Erik discuss scheduling conflicts, what it means to communicate effectively, how to come alongside community and school events, and trying your best to not make youth ministry about you.
We’ve all been there before—you’ve designed a perfect lesson. Seminary is finally paying off. You’re about to make the point you’ve been building toward all lesson when you realize…nobody is engaged. They’re staring at their phones, out the window. What happened? In this episode of the podcast, Bryan and Erik are joined by special guest Sarah Logemann to discuss the idea of wonder, how to use it in your youth group, and why it’s integral to keeping students engaged in their life of faith.
Bryan and Erik are opening up the mailbag a second time! In this episode, they talk about how to expand your calling, volunteer expectation, and how to keep the main thing, the main thing, and many others.
As summer winds down, Erik and Bryan open up the mailbag to answer listener questions about attendance policies, budgeting, and building momentum between middle school and high school ministries. Thanks to everyone who reached out!
By now, you’ve probably seen a kid Flossing or doing the Best Mates dance. Maybe you’ve heard a kid talk about their recent Victory Royale. Noobs. Bandies. Squads. What is all this, you ask? Fortnite! It’s a game that has taken over the culture in many ways – in both good and not-so-good ways. In this episode, Bryan and Erik discuss what Fortnite is, how youth workers should think about it, and are joined by two very special guests.
It's summer and that means one thing--church camp! If you've spent even one summer in youth ministry, you know: church camp is a big deal. For some kids, it's chance to reconnect with far off friends. For others, it's an opportunity to grow in their faith. And for most of them, it's an unforgettable experience that lasts well into the program year. In this episode, Bryan and Erik discuss mountain top experiences, cry nights, and one of them is coming to you live! from actual confirmation camp!
Whether you’re starting a new job, or have been in your position for a few years, the importance of reliable, effective volunteers can not be overstated. But how do you find people who are called to youth ministry? How do you get them onboard? What’s the best way to empower them? And what does God have to do with all of this? In this episode, Bryan and Erik discuss how to find, train, and keep effective volunteers.
You’re done with the mission trip – or maybe it’s camp – and it was a week full of hard work, meaningful interactions, and fun. So now it’s back to the grindstone! Unless you’re planning on taking comp time. Do you take comp time? You should be taking comp time. In this episode, Bryan and Erik discuss how to determine how much time to take after a trip, the reasoning behind it, and why sabbath is necessary in youth ministry.
Youth Gathering 2018 is a wrap. Bryan interviewed a bunch of participants and leaders about what they liked, how they were impacted, and why it’s important to gather 30,000 of your closest friends every three years.
Remember the story where Jesus and the disciples play the classic youth ministry game Sardines? While youth ministry games haven’t been around that long, there’s no denying that games are baked into the DNA of youth ministry. From icebreakers and up-front games, to dodge ball and Ultimate Frisbee, youth workers have literally thousands of choices to start or end their weekly programming. In this episode, Bryan and Erik discuss the good, the bad, and the messy.
Students will always have questions about the Bible and part of our job as youth workers is to help them understand, engage, and read Scripture with a certain amount of faith, knowledge, and insight. But how do we do that well? And how do we push back against less-than-helpful theologies that come at students from celebrities, pop culture, and other places? In this episode, Bryan and Erik talk about reading the Bible with integrity, when and how to say, “I don’t know”, and both of them realize that, maybe, they’re not the best communicators.
Youth ministry is a professional position, despite the nights of laser tag and go-carts and pizza eating. And while some of us may have some inherent laser tag skills, there are many opportunities to grow as a youth worker in both the skills we employ and the knowledge we bring to our ministry. In this episode, Bryan and Erik talk about the difference between continuing education and professional development, effective ways of developing skills in ministry, and whether you can get away with taking a class in bread baking.
Starting a new job in youth ministry can be like drinking from a firehose. You’re faced with new students, new coworkers, new parishioners and – naturally – new ways to lose credit card receipts. So how do you get started in a new congregation without losing the trust of the parents and volunteers? How do you set yourself up for a long and effective ministry? In this episode, Erik interviews not-so-special guest Bryan to talk about his new church job, being bi-vocational, and all the mistakes they’ve made in previous positions.
Faith vs. Science. Creation vs. Evolution. For a while it seems that the scientific community and Christian communities have been at odds. Is that really true? Does it have to be? Young people are studying science every day in school and (hopefully) coming to church once a week. How do youth ministers engage students in conversations about science and faith without making it an either/or proposition? Dr. Andrew Root sits down with Erik to talk about his work with a Science for Youth Ministry grant, his latest book, “Exploding Stars, Dead Dinosaurs, and Zombies,” and whether or not the movie "Saved!" is as evergreen as Erik thinks it is.
Nobody wants to hear about the things they’re doing wrong. For many youth workers, that’s exactly what a performance review sounds like—a chance to get dumped on. In this episode, Bryan, Erik, and special guest, Pr. Eric Carlson, discuss why performance reviews are critical to ministry success, how to get them started in your context, and who should be doing them (hint: everyone.) Eric Carlson is Assistant to the Bishop at Southeastern Iowa Synod, ELCA.
Summer, summer, summertime! A time for water games, mission trips, and…well, pretty much anything you want to do, right? Well, maybe. Summer may be a time of decreased attendance, but that doesn’t mean it should lack the same quality and depth found during the program year. In this episode, Bryan and Erik discuss what makes a good summer ministry, how to plan it, how to mix fun and educational activities, and whether paintball should ever be on your calendar (it shouldn’t).
From graduating seniors to confirmands and the end of youth group, the final months of the youth ministry program year is full of opportunities to acknowledge and celebrate the kids in your ministry. But how do we differentiate a graduating high school senior from a kid who just finished confirmation? Can we use budget money to buy our volunteers a thank you gift? In this episode, Bryan and Erik talk about honoring students in worship, how graduation and confirmation Sunday sometimes deliver unintentional messages, and how to throw a really good end of the year party.
Bryan and Erik have heard your voices and they have responded! Yes, it’s another round of Youth Ministry Mailbag, the podcast format where we take your questions and answer them live on the Youth Ministry Podcast. What do you do about noise in worship? Should you have a job description? And is it appropriate to maintain contact with members of a church once you’ve left for a new position? In this episode, Bryan and Erik style, profile, and answer your questions to the best of their ability.
Dave Sherer is a hip hop artist known to many as AGAPE*. In this episode of the podcast, Bryan and Erik talk with Dave about the theology of mission trips, ways to prepare your group for the experience, and how to avoid some of the common mission pitfalls. Learn more about Dave’s ministry at www.hiphopoutreach.com.
Leaving a ministry position is never easy. Breaking the news to students, families, and other staff members is hard, as is the process of interviewing and starting at a new position. How we discern when it’s time to leave – what we’re being called to – is important for not only our health, but health of the congregations we’re leaving. So how do we know when it’s time to leave a church? How do we value and advocate for ourselves in the job search process? How do we sift through the various job advertisements to find one that will complement our gifts and experiences? In this episode, Bryan and Erik talk about changing roles, how to communicate openly and honestly, red flags in a job search, and one of them realizes people listen to this podcast.
Rachel Kurtz is a Minneapolis-based songwriter, performer, and recording artist. She shares personal testimonies of tragedy and triumph with a vulnerability that captivates her audience. In this episode, Rachel sits down with Erik to discuss life as a single mom, the ups and downs of being a traveling musician, and what it’s like to change direction and expand her audience in the middle of her career. Check out her latest album, “Love, Rachel Kurtz” at rachelkurtz.com.
Discipleship is a word that is often used in youth ministry circles. But what does it mean? How do we make it a part of our ministries? And how do we tap into a word that has such diversity of meaning and practice? In this episode, Bryan and Erik discuss how to get kids to take ownership of their faith, the risks involved with doing so, what a theological tool kit looks like, and – naturally –NBC’s Jesus Christ Superstar Live.
Jesus Christ Superstar is a rock opera that has inspired and excited audiences for close to fifty years. Following the passion narrative, Jesus Christ Superstar gives us an opportunity to experience that story in a different way. But what does it say to students? How can we use it in youth ministry? Should we use it in youth ministry? In this episode, Bryan and Erik talk about how Jesus Christ Superstar impacted their lives, discuss where it goes wrong theologically, and try not to act like fanboys.
Youth ministry is full of clichés, some true, some more myth than fact, and others we maybe wish weren’t as personally convicting. From Youth Group Name Acronyms (C.H.A.O.S) to Side Hugs and the phrase, “No Purpling” we have a unique (and sometimes confounding) language to describe youth ministry. In this episode, Bryan Bliss, Erik Ullestad, and special guest, Jake Bouma, discuss the Final Four of Sparkhouse’s Best (or worst?) Youth Ministry Cliché bracket, how hard it is to keep up with church credit card receipts, and why kids should S.M.Y.L.E. more. To vote on the final four: http://youth-ministry-cliches.webflow.io
Holy Week is coming. What are you going to do with your students? Whether it’s a passion play, stations of the cross, or even a 30 Hour Famine-like simulation, giving students an opportunity to understand and experience the highs and lows of the passion narrative is a fundamental part of youth ministry each year. In this episode, Bryan and Erik discuss six practical ways to help students engage with Holy Week and offer up a challenge to listeners. To submit your joke, go to: www.ympodcast.com/contact
Every youth worker has grumbled about basketball tournaments on Sunday mornings or show choir concerts on Wednesday nights. The culture no longer props up the church by encouraging people to attend worship and not scheduling anything that conflicts with church activities. As youth workers, how do we respond? Do we keep grumbling? Or do we innovate? And if we do change, does that mean basketball and church are equal? Has church become an extra-curricular activity? In this episode, Bryan and Erik talk about Gloria Lee’s article, “You Can’t Compete With Sports”, think about the practical and theological implications, and one of them gets a surprise phone call.
How do you deal with unruly students? What’s the difference between expectations and requirements? Does a kid need to go to confirmation in order to make a public declaration of faith? And what makes a youth worker, a youth worker? In this week’s special mailbag episode, Bryan and Erik answer listener questions, confront a quandary, and wonder how they survived having small children (one word: Doodlebops.)
The brokenness of the world is not hidden from our students. They see it in their communities, the schools, and in their daily lives. As youth workers, we have the opportunity to walk alongside students as they think about, talk through, and begin to understand tragedy and suffering. We offer not only an attentive ear, but also a reminder of God’s presence in the world—of the Kingdom of God. In this episode, Bryan and Erik discuss a youth worker’s role in navigating tragedy, offer tips on ways to think about that response both theologically and practically, and struggle to answer the big question: why?
All Are Welcome! Really? Often times churches fall short in their ability to truly welcome people with disabilities. What barriers exist in youth ministry for kids with physical, intellectual, or emotional disabilities? In this episode, Erik interviews Molly Beck Dean, veteran youth minister and current Director of the ELCA Youth Gathering, for an honest conversation about common misconceptions about relating to people with disabilities, offers some ideas for how congregations can be a safe and welcoming place for everyone, and discusses life as a parent of a child with Joubert Syndrome.
Every student who comes into your youth group is different and knowing these differences—knowing some of the background personality traits that may or may not affect behavior—can be an important part of youth ministry. In this episode, Bryan and Erik are joined by Carla Barnhill to discuss typical youth group kids, the higher calling of youth ministry, and who is Carla’s favorite.
There are plenty of – ahem – personalities in your youth group. Quiet kids, sporty kids, and of course the “Ooh-ooh! I know the answer, please pick me!” kid. Each comes to youth group with their own set of aspirations, insecurities, and personality quirks. But how do we make sure this socially diverse group of kids all feel engaged, welcomed, and loved? How do we balance the “too cool for youth group” student with the “excited to be here” student? In this episode, Bryan and Erik are joined by special guest, Carla Barnhill, to discuss the Enneagram personality inventory, why it is important for youth workers, and how Carla is the boss.
The Super Bowl is not a part of the liturgical year, but that doesn’t mean it can’t have an impact on your youth ministry calendar. Each year, youth workers face a question: should we have a Super Bowl party or should we have youth group? And if we do have a Super Bowl party, what makes a good one? Where are the potential moments of tension for both students and parents? And how many pizzas should I order for 15 hungry teenagers? In this episode, Bryan and Erik discuss how to throw a meaningful party, whether you need to have a spiritual component, and realize they may have alienated a potentially important podcast sponsor.
We’ve all been there before. You want to take your students on a trip that will give them life experience, provide opportunities for transformation, but need to make sure it happens for less than $250 per student. Whether it’s mission trips, church camp, or a fun ski outing—trying to fund these youth ministry staples can be a challenge. How do you do it effectively? When should you ask the parents to kick in? Students? Should the church finance these trips? And maybe most importantly: is youth ministry a never-ending capital campaign? In this episode, Bryan and Erik think about what makes fundraising necessary, moments when it shouldn’t be, and one of them admits to 15 years of consternation.
Church should be a safe place for everyone—especially children and youth. There are lots of ways to make our buildings and events safe for kids, but having a thoughtful and robust child protection policy is integral to that work. In today’s episode, Bryan and Erik will discuss what makes a good policy, how to get the conversation started in your congregations, and the inevitable gray areas that will need navigating.
With the coming of the new year, a few things are certain. Decorations need to be taken down, football games require watching, and – for some – resolutions will be made. Whether it’s to eat healthier, be present with our friends and family, or work out more, many people ring in the new year with a desire to transform empty and tired parts of their life. In this week’s episode, Bryan and Erik try to be better.
Lock-ins! You love them. You hate them. You love to hate them. Wherever you land on the topic, lock-ins have been a staple of youth ministries for decades. But what makes a meaningful experience? How do you fill those 12 hours in a way that not only encourages kids to come back, but also gives them a discipleship experience? In this episode, Bryan and Erik discuss their successes and failures, offer up some practical skills, and try to figure out exactly who is responsible for the rise of lock-ins in youth ministry.
Everybody loves Christmas music. Well, almost everybody. Whether you’re singing in a choir, shopping at the mall, or just humming along in your car—the best Christmas music can be emotional, uplifting, or nostalgic. From pop music to 4-part choral performances, there’s a song or album for everyone. In this episode, Bryan, Erik, and special guest Erin Gibbons, discuss what makes a good Christmas song, what makes a bad one, and definitively answer one of the season’s most pressing questions.
What makes a great Christmas movie? Is it the story of that one special gift? Or maybe it’s an examination of life, love, and family. And what about Jesus? Should Christmas movies be explicitly Christian? In this episode, Bryan, Erik, and special guest Andrew DeYoung discuss the best and worst Christmas movies, what is and isn’t a Christmas movie, and are confronted with a shocking revelation.
No question brings more fear into a youth worker’s heart than, “How many kids did you have in youth group last night?” For millennia (or at least the last twenty years), youth workers have struggled with how to think about numbers in youth ministry. Do they matter? Is attendance an appropriate metric for the health of a youth ministry? And of course—are 100 students better than 10? In this episode, Bryan and Erik discuss when numbers are important, how they can hurt a youth ministry, and one of them questions their integrity.
People may think youth ministry is a never-ending string of go-cart rides, laser tag battles, and games of dodgeball. (Think about how glorious that would be…) But in reality, a healthy youth ministry is filled with teaching and other discipleship activities—all of which require a solid map. As youth workers, knowing where you’re going in a lesson is invaluable. And knowing how to write an effective lesson plan will make your life as a youth worker much easier. In this episode, Bryan and Erik discuss the holy lesson plan and realize they aren’t good with metaphors. NOTES: Madeline Hunter Lesson Plan — Anticipatory Set – review previous lesson, icebreaker, visual prompt, Objective and Purpose – “today we’re going to ______”, Input – leader conveys information, Modeling – show students what you’ve just taught, Checking for Understanding – “are you with me?”, Guided Practice – students put learning into action, with supervision, Independent Practice – students put learning into action, w/o supervision, Closure – “what did you learn today?”
The National Youth Workers Convention is one of the few places where thousands of youth workers can gather and talk about the things that really matter. Namely, how can you get out of doing lock-ins...forever? In all seriousness, NYWC has been serving youth directors for decades with books, training, curriculum, and the occasional 9-square dodge ball tournaments. In this episode, Bryan interviews NYWC attendees, veteran and first-timers alike, and realizes there aren’t enough youth ministry books in the world.
The church has long used words that may or may not translate into broader culture. Relational, Missional, Fellowship (used as a verb, as in “This is some sick fellowship we’re doing!”). And any list of church words wouldn’t be complete without “attractional.” Attractional Youth Ministry is a divisive topic in student ministry circles. It’s also a bit of a Catch-22. How do we attract students to our ministry if we’re not using laser tag and worship bands? Shouldn’t the Gospel be enough of an attraction? Does every youth activity have to be punctuated with a moment of discipleship? In this episode, Hosts Bryan Bliss and Erik Ullestad talk about getting students involved in authentic and meaningful ways, while trying to figure out if “attractional” is actually a word.
From job descriptions to youth ministry articles, the words “relational youth ministry” have become standard in the world of student ministry. But…what does it mean? Is it simply going to the mall, buying a hip pair of jeans and learning how to play the latest video game? And how do we relate to students, especially when most youth leaders are adults? Where are the danger zones? What are the benefits? And most importantly: is there a deeper meaning to this phrase that has become so prominent in youth ministry? In this episode, hosts Bryan Bliss and Erik Ullestad discuss about what it means to be a relational youth pastor and one of them realizes that maybe he isn’t a good youth pastor. (Spoiler: it’s Bryan)