Archives For November 2012


A few weeks ago we had a huge competition between the classes of HSM. Whomever brought the most canned foods to services over 3 weeks would get to write and record an anthem for their grade and then shoot a video for it.

Our freshmen class won and this is their video! Enjoy!


I got the following question in an email the other day and I thought I would turn my response into a post. Thought it was a great question.

What is your philosophy on the question entertainment vs teaching? How could you combine those two things?

As the weekend coordinator, I love to make sure everything flows together nicely, but I love to make sure our students are not sitting there bored out fo their minds while they are learning about who Jesus is. I completely agree with you in the fact that our churches are competing against the world for attention and creativity. So truly believe that our churches should be more creative than Disney or Apple or Pixar, and use our gifts that God has given us to glorify Him through our services for our students. I believe we are creative because our God is the most Creative. With that said, there is a fine line between completely leaning on the idea of entertainment and teaching.

When I look at programming our services with our team, we make sure that everything we do is intentional. What I mean by that is that we do not do anything just to do it or because we can because it would be fun or funny or entertaining. We look at our overall message of the weekend, whomever is teaching and look at their points that they are trying to let our students leave with and we will program around that first. It can be really easy to come up with a fun video or game and then have the message go around it, but we really try hard and are intentional to make sure whatever we do in services point to whatever the message we are trying to have our students walk out with. So as long as a game or a video has something to do with that direction of the message, we will go ahead and plan it out and have it in our service, and we want to do it well so that it will be engaging to our students. We want to be intentional for the reasons we do add something into services to help point them to the message, even if it just loosely connects to it.

We love to have fun and our team is super creative, so we put out some pretty fun and entertaining things during our services. We just make sure that entertainment is not the end all in why we do what we do. Like I said above, we want to expose students to the Gospel, and playing games or having funny videos can be a great way to soften a students heart for church if they can have fun while learning about Jesus.

Here are some links to videos of some of the fun, creative, entertaining things we have done in our services to point students to points in our messages:

Hopefully these sort of give you an idea of how we incorporate entertainment and teaching within our services. We like to have fun. We think church should not be boring because Jesus was not boring. We love coming up with creative things and even have creative team meetings that involved our staff, volunteers and students who help come up with creative ideas for services. You can check out those meetings here:

I just wanted to try something last week to see what sort of response I would get.

Last week wrote 7 hand written letters to 7 the junior guys in my small group. I hand wrote them in a page in my personal journal, talking about how proud I am of them, loving seeing them grow in Christ, and talk about some personal stuff going on in their lives and that I was praying for them, and then sent them out. I waited to see what the response would be. I mean, these were 16/17 year old guys, tough guys. How would they respond to a little hand written note?

I waited a few days and then all of the sudden I started to get text after text from the guys in my group about how awesome it was to get a hand written note and they never get them anymore. Some said it mean so much to them that I would stop and write something to encourage them, even though I just saw them a few nights before at church. I even had a mom tell me that her son has it hanging up in his bathroom because it mean so much to him and it encouraged him. I was blown away.

There are a few things I can pull from this little experiment that I need to remember:

  • Communicating through social media (texting, Facebook, etc.) is convenient, but hand written, personal notes mean way more than a quick text or Facebook message.
  • Students take note that you cared about them enough to stop in the craziness of the week and hand write something to them. Hand writing notes takes WAY longer than shooting over an email, but it is WAY worth it.
  • Students could never have too much encouragement. To know an adult is thinking about them, praying for them, and encouraging them to keep walking in faith, they can have the confidence they need in Christ to do amazing things.
  • It is not hard to do. It’s actually really easy and is something I should be doing every single week.

This is my goal. To keep up with this experiment until it becomes a normal weekly thing to write at least one note to a student and send it to them during the week.

The other day the HSM staff had a spiritual retreat day. This is a day in which our entire staff does not go into the office but instead we spend the entire day on our own reading and studying the Bible or any other books we want to which help us grow spiritually. There is no real structure, but our only restrictions are we take it seriously and we refrain rom social media and distractions as much as possible (which if you don’t do this regularly, you and your team should, its awesome). It is a great day to get away from the ministry norm and focus on you and God for an entire day with no distractions.

I started off my day in a Seattle’s Best Coffee place, which is weird for me because I’m a Starbuck’s junky, but I wanted to go to a place which was different to study and get out of my routine. I sat down, and I just was not feeling it. There was just something about the place that didn’t seem “right”. After some thinking, I realized it was the atmosphere. Nothing about it said, “This is a place to come hang and do work.” It was uncomfortable really. I realized I didn’t only like Starbucks for its coffee but I also loved it for the atmosphere they provide in the store to make you feel like you are supposed to be there and hang out for a while. So I left and went to a Starbucks to resume my day of Spiritual Retreat.

As I was driving to the Starbucks in which I usually post up at, the thought hit me, “Atmosphere makes a huge difference. In coffee places and in student ministries.” There is a reason why student flock to the Starbucks around their schools, because they feel like they are supposed to be there because the atmosphere tells them so. Same goes with our groups, the moment a new student walks through the door they will note the atmosphere around them and within seconds determine if they are “supposed” to be there or not. If Starbucks is intentional about creating an atmosphere then why shouldn’t we be doing the same thing? We are offering something way more important than coffee so we need to have the most inviting atmosphere which blows any organization out of the water.

When it comes to the weekends for HSM, our room is not the most inviting room to walk into as a newbie. It’s big, it’s crowded, and it’s designed to fit a ton of people in a small space. Outside is a narrow hallway which funnels right into the HSM Theater, again scary for a new person. But its how we make it look and feel out there, little subtle signs of invitation which makes you feel like it’s a place to hang out and feel welcomed. We have couches, coffee, chairs, music, leaders out talking to students, students welcoming students as they walk in, I myself stand right in the entry way to say hi or high five every student who walks in the doors. I can say our team tries our best to be intentional with atmosphere and making it feel welcome.

If someone does not FEEL the welcome the chances of them coming back is slim. Atmosphere makes a HUGE difference.

Some questions and suggestions when it comes to atmosphere at your group:

  • Go into a Starbucks (or some other place that makes you feel like you want to hang out there) and take note. The furniture is set up in a specific way for a reason. Take note.
  • Are you as intentional with your atmosphere as businesses are?
  • What music are you playing? Are you playing your favorite music, or your student’s favorite music? Music makes the MOOD.
  • Have you ever really looked at your meeting place as an “inviting” environment? Maybe you need to have a friend or even ask a new student how you can better the atmosphere as a first timer.

These are just some thoughts I am wrestling with and thinking through as well. Feel free to add anything or any other questions you might have so we al can figure this out together.


*There are some atmosphere related posts on new students, welcoming, greeting, etc. below:

2 Minute Greeting, How to Make a New or Outcast Student Feel Welcomed

OBEY! I don’t know about you, but when I hear that word at first, I cringe a little bit. Do what you tell me to do? Come on. But this word is essential to our faith as Christians. This word is more than just do what your parents tell you to do, it is more than a list of commands, it’s even more than a popular clothing brand, it is a word which is the essence of the Christian faith.

Obedience is defined as “dutifully complying with the commands, orders, or instructions of one in authority.” Even looking at this definition from the dictionary, we can see how this word fits right into the biblical definition God lays out for us. “Dutifully” means we are responsible to obey God, just as Jesus fulfilled His duty of dying on the cross for us. “Commands, orders, or instructions” refers to the Bible and all of the teachings God has laid out for us in this amazing book. “One authority” is God Himself whose authority overrides anything else in this world. For the Christian, obedience means complying with everything God has commanded because it is our duty to do so.

There is a difference in straight up obeying and the spirit of obedience.  If your parents gave you a list of things to obey and do and you just get it done because you have to do it, your relationship with your parents would seem like a burden because they just tell you to do certain things and if you don’t obey you will be in trouble. If you are obedient to them because you love and respect them and trust they know what is best for you then your relationship with them would be much closer because you obey them because you WANT to. Same with God, if you were to look at obedience like a list of things to get done because you HAVE to do them, of course you are going to resist it and think it is a burden. When you have the mind set of of love and respect for God, and have the spirit of obedience, you obey because you WANT to our of love for Him.

Because of Jesus, all of the Old Testament Laws and rules were fulfilled. Jesus calls all of us to a new law to abide to. A law He summed up in two commandments. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the prophets hang on these two commandments’” (Matthew 22:36-40).

We are not going to do this perfectly. We are imperfect people. But if we love God, we will obey Him to the best of our ability and have the desire to do so our lives will be evidence of that desire. When we love God and obey Him we naturally have love for one another. Obedience is commanded by God, it is a must, but not only because it glorifies Him, because His commands are best for us to follow. Obedience brings joy, comfort and peace in a world where such things are hard to find, mainly due to disobedience and rejection of God and His Word.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9-“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

John 15:14- “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (Jesus’ speaking)

Galatians 5:13-14- For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

John 14:23-24- Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and make Our abode with him. “He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me.

Ask yourself:

  • Am I obeying God? What has He prompted me to do that I have not yet done?
  • What are things in my life that I have not listened to God about?
  • Have I even been open to what God has to say about my life?

Today, pray:

  • That God will give you the spirit of obedience.
  • That you will serve and obey Him because you want to out of love.
  • Others will see love pouring out of you because of your obedience to Him.
  • For God to reveal anything in your life that He has called for you to do but you have not been obedient with.
  • That you do those things He commanded for you to do.


Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and everyone is going to be writing about how thankful we should e or about how culture has taught us to buy more and more things with all of the Black Friday sales going on. People will be with their families which some will be thankful for and some will be thankful when they leave, but I would like to take a minute and just reflect on some scripture on thankfulness.

Just stop for one second, pause, and thank God for everything…yes everything, because He has given all to you, even the “bad” because all can be used for His glory. Take that second to thank Him and then read and reflect on these verses.

I hope you all have an amazing Thanksgiving with your friends and family and I’ll see you back on here next week:

Psalm 30:11-12 (NAS) Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing; Thou hast loosed my sackcloth and girded me with gladness; That [my] soul may sing praise to Thee, and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to Thee forever. 

Psalm 69:30 (NAS) I will praise the name of God with song, And shall magnify Him with thanksgiving

Psalm 100:4 (RSV) Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him, bless his name!

Psalm 70:4 (NAS)Let all who seek Thee rejoice and be glad in Thee; And let those who love Thy salvation say continually, “Let God be magnified

Jonah 2:9 But I will sacrifice to You With the voice of thanksgiving That which I have vowed I will pay Salvation is from the LORD.”

Colossians 3:15 (NAS) And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. 

Colossians 4:2 (NAS) Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving

Timothy 2:1 (RSV) First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men 

1 Timothy 4:4-5 (NAS) For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer 

1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NAS) in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Is your heart thankful this week?

You think it sometimes, I just said it.

I do not really know how else to say it, but sometimes the only way to describe how we feel about some students: “You’re being a butt-head”. We love them to death. We pour our lives out to them and for them. We want nothing more to see them grow in their faith and walk closer with Jesus but their choices and attitude show otherwise. It can be tough because you know they have the capability to do amazing things but for some reason, they are doing dumb things, and as youth workers it breaks our hearts.

I just talked with a mom this week who’s son I am really close to and she was venting to me about how she wants her son to love Jesus so much and that he was doing so good in his walk with Jesus and then in one weekend everything changed and he made some pretty bold, not so smart moves and is slowly going down hill. She asked me if I can non chalantly spark up conversation with him and see what is going on in his life, which for me (I thought) would be no problem because we have done this numerous times while hanging out getting coffee or food. We have had a great, open, talks about anything and everything relationship. So I called him to see if he wanted to hang out and instead of jumping at the chance (like he normally does) he was short and rude with me and brushed me off. I tried to hang out with him a few more time and again, brushed off and more bad decisions.

So what do you do? What can you do? What do you do when your heart breaks for a student who has so much potential and they are not going that way at all? How can you minister to them even if they are pushing you away?

  • Dont stop trying– We might seem annoying, but it’s important for them to know you have not forgotten about them. If they don’t show up for a while or are out of communication, a simple text, voicemail, or note will let them know you are still there for them and they will know this. We never want the reason for them not coming back is because they felt we as their leader forgot about them when they were far away.
  • Dont stop praying– This sounds simple but it can get lost in the everyday business or ministry. Even just letting them know you are praying for them, and then actually pray for them will go further than you can ever imagine. Maybe God will work on their heart and prompt them to talk to you.
  • Talk to their friends– If they wont talk to you, they talk to friends. For the student above, I went to one of his best friends in our group and asked him to minister to him because he would not meet with me, and it seems to be working. (I only did this because I knew this student was mature enough to do this. Make sure that student wont do more damage than not).
  • Wait for them to come back– You can’t do much to help someone who does not want to be helped. So we wait. Like the prodigal son, we wait until they return and when they do, no matter how far they stepped away and what they did, you welcome them back with open arms and love on them. Hopefully they do come back, if not, repeat steps 1-3.

What are some other ways in which you communicate to students who all of the sudden want nothing to do with you or our group?

Grace Speaks Louder

November 19, 2012 — Leave a comment

Romans 5:20b-21- “But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

This verse has been haunting me all this week. I say haunting because when I think about it, I think about how bad I have been at this idea of extending grace more than being upset when someone sins continually against me. That is such a foreign thing for us because the normal reaction when people keep sinning against you and hurting you is to get angrier and more upset when they do so.

“But were sin increased, grace increased all the more”, what a thought. I realized we are extended this grace every single day in our lives from God. We sin every single day and instead of getting more and more mad every day, God extends more and more grace to us every single day because of His love for us. This is the greatness of His love for us.

Have you ever seen someone just have a peace about them when they are going through difficult times with difficult people? You ever wonder how or why they seem to have this peace about them? I believe it is because they understand this verse and live it. This is what makes them different, this is what makes them stand out and this is why people want to know why.

Sometimes the best witnessing tool is not our words, but how we deal with and handle things in grace. The more issues, the more grace. It stand out and shouts to the people around you what God does with us every single day. People respond to that. People notice that. People want that grace and to know where it comes from.

If we were to model this grace, I wonder what our lives would show for it. Probably would be pretty amazing. This is my prayer from now on.

Have you ever been in a teaching funk?  Most teachers have, and it feels like I’m in one now! I love teaching God’s word and I am fortunate enough to be the primary teacher in our Jr. High ministry.  Like most Pastors, I am critical of my own teaching; not because I want to be perfect- there was only one guy that was perfect, Jesus, and we don’t need another.  I am critical because I really love what I am teaching and I know I am not teaching moral living or the thoughts of a good teacher.  I am teaching lessons from God himself.  His eternal plan for a fallen world is one that we need to share, not keep quiet or be jealous over- like Jonah.  God’s word is serious, life-changing stuff.  It is not a joke, it is not a part time thing, and it is not a stepping stone to something better.  Taking on the role of teacher is something that we will be judged very harshly on.  Instead of running from that truth, I press into it in order to improve.  You may be same as me, always striving to get better and connect the truth of Jesus to people.

Because of the funk I am in right now, I am looking at thirteen different things to help get me out of it.

  1. Admit you have a problem.  Well, maybe it’s not a problem, but if you are feeling like you’re in a struggling season, talk to some one about it.  Talk to your supervisor, other pastors in town, or people that you network with and have community with. Don’t sit in your office and stress over it, but instead reach out to others who can encourage you and help.
  2. Mentors.  Do you have one?  Do you have someone who has gone through the same things as you?  This is not just a teaching thing, this is a leader thing.  Every good leader has to be mentored by someone with more time, experience, and wisdom.
  3. Time alone with God.  Are you getting filled up or are you just pouring out into others?  Are you connecting with your Savior or just teaching about Him?  This may sound like a soft question, but it’s not.  If you’re not with God, then you can’t know God.  If you don’t know Him, you can’t teach others about Him. You can fake it for awhile, but that will eventually fail.
  4. Content.  Do you believe in what you are teaching?  Whether it be curriculum that you are teaching, or following the church teaching schedule.  Are you being told what to write or writing your own content?  Think over if you’re having a writers block or if you need better prep.  In the end, if you don’t believe in the content than something needs to change
  5. Prayer and Fasting.  When was the last time you did this?  Take a day and worry about one thing- connecting with Jesus. Go to Jesus in a few different ways and really connect with His heart as your God, His heart for you as a teacher, and as His son or daughter.
  6. Read a book.  Someone suggested that I read a book on teaching, I have to be honest- I have been in the same books for a while, and I haven’t read anything new. I am going to get a new book this week to read from a different voice.  Great idea and one we don’t think of that often.
  7. Take a break.  If you have the ability to take a few weeks off of teaching to re-focus, get your passion back in some ways, get your head and heart right with God, then do it!  Some love being the upfront guy too much to take a break, but unless you have people you are equipping to be a great teachers too, you are not doing the best for your ministry
  8. Your writing process.  How are you writing and preparing for a lesson?  Do you use an outline that you learned in college?  Did you steal the style of a pastor you like? Really think over the process that you use, how you write, and where you could tweak it to get new outcomes.
  9. In a routine.  There are good routines and there are bad ones- ones that limit you, hold you back and squelch creativity.  These are routines that you may want to re-think.  Ask around for what works for other pastors and see if you can make some changes to your own routine.  There is NOTHING wrong with a good routine, but when you are shackled by it, then it’s time to re-assess
  10. Try something new.  Maybe for you, trying something new means getting off of the stage and breaking that barrier.  Maybe you will pull some students in to share their testimony and let students hear from other students.  Whatever it is, try something different.  Shake it up, and see new results.
  11. Trust in the Holy Spirit.  When you are down on yourself know this, the Holy Spirit will move.  Anything that our students get out of our lessons is because the Holy Spirit is at work, so take heart! Our best prepared lessons can fall on deaf ears, and the Holy Spirit can use our worst prepared messages for amazing things.
  12. Ask others.  Record your lessons, and ask others listen and give you feedback.  Invite them to your room when you are teaching so they can give great feedback too.  Don’t feel it’s week to ask others, don’t think that they are really thinking in their mind how much better they are than you, because they won’t be.  Just get others who are willing to hear and speak quality into your life.
  13. Don’t compare. When I was at Catalyst West, Jon Acuff said “Don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle”.  I get the opportunity to work at a great influential church with many world class pastors and teachers.  It makes easy to compare yourself to others, you try to do your ministry while imitating other pastor styles and try to emulate their ministry.  “Be you” is the lesson I got from Evan Gratz, one of the Pastors on staff.  Just be you.  That is a lesson that I am still learning, but I know it is one we as pastors share.  This is a little clip from Matt Chandler that really brings this point out.

I want to hear your ideas.  Connect with me and share or leave a comment at the bottom of this blog.

Teaching is important and we can all get better together.

*Justin serves as Director of Ministry, Jr. High at Mariners Church in Irvine, CA. Since starting as a high school leader at his home church eight years ago,  he hasn’t looked back. He speaks at camps and FCA meetings, writes, and is a social media fanatic. He lives and breathes Jesus and the creativity that is so vital within youth ministry, with a goal of being a quality voice in the building process of the next generation.  He was born in NYC, raised in Buffalo, educated in Missouri at a small bible college, and now lives in California. You can connect with Justin on Twitter ( or on Facebook ( or follow his blog (

Student Leadership: It’s a popular buzzword in student ministry circles. Articles, books, videos, conferences and hours upon hours of seminary training have been devoted to teaching youth workers how to teach students…leadership.

Now, if you’re like me, you’ve sampled a few of those offerings, and maybe got lost in the process. Ministry suppliers like Simply Youth Ministry, LeaderTreks, and Student Leadership University have enough resources to overwhelm even the most seasoned student of leadership. The stuff is great and useful…but, they often  leave me (and my student leaders) wanting a bit more. It’s kind of like drinking one of those 8oz cans of Coke: tasty, but not satisfying.

So, I’m proposing an approach that works for our student ministry, and I think it can help yours as well. (yes, another blog entry on student leadership). This stuff isn’t original with us. We stole our framework from a great book: the Bible.

When you look at the strategy of Jesus, you find three main things he did with the disciples: He equipped. He guided. He sent. In our ministry we “theme” this process using the idea of a hunting or fishing outfitter, so our ministry is called OSM Outfitters. Here’s how it breaks down.

Equip: Throughout Jesus’s ministry, you see him training and teaching the disciples leadership principles. Think of him calming the waves and waiting for Lazarus to die before he goes to Bethany. These two episodes, among others, taught the disciples about integrating leadership and faith. In Outfitters, we do this part through guided studies and having them work alongside our adult volunteers in the student ministry and other ministries.

Guide: Jesus also gave his disciples “guided practice,” or opportunities to be a part of active ministry. Examples of this are their participation in the feeding the 5000 or their inability to cast out demons (assuming Jesus had given them the task of doing so). These were times when Jesus said, “Do X,” and then stepped back to see how they did, offering assistance where needed.

Send: Finally, Jesus gave the disciples chances to go it alone. The most obvious is when he sent out the seventy disciples to minister in the outlying towns. He gave them the chance to serve, and when they came back blown away by how God worked through them, Jesus was elated. For us, this is the fun part. We’ve had students tackle some big ministry dreams! Some failed miserably, and others succeeded, and BOTH results were learning experiences for all of our student leaders.

So, there it is. It’s nothing new or trendy, nothing super spiritual or mind-blowing. It’s just WWJD style ministry, but it has elevated those students in our student ministry who have chosen to step up to the plate and become leaders to a new level in their walk with Christ and their effectiveness for the Gospel. I think three things sum up why it’s been so successful.

1. Access: OSM Outfitters is open to anyone who is willing to make the commitments that we require of our leaders. We don’t pick them. They choose to step up. (Ownership)

2. Action: Get out of the youth room! Bible studies are great, but learning in the midst of the battle is so much more effective and life-changing. There’s a time for words. But we have to make more time for practice. We encourage our students to dream big, and we resource them to chase those God-given dreams.

3. Intentionality: Leadership development must be intentional. Just because ministry is taking place, DOES NOT mean leadership is being developed. We’ve got to figure out ways to draw the desire of leadership out in our students, and then feed that hunger. We give our students opportunities to serve alongside other leaders, observe leadership in action, and even see how poor leadership affects those who follow.

In a nutshell, that’s how we do student leadership in our student ministry, and I believe it is the best thing we do. I could go into a lot more detail, but you’re probably ready to move on to an actual Knowles blog entry. So, let me leave you with one challenge. Jesus ministry was wrapped up in two things: preaching the kingdom (Gospel) and building his church (leadership). I assume you’re doing one of those in your ministry already. Don’t you think it’s time to get serious about the other one too?

Dustin Slaton has been involved in student ministry for over ten years, and is currently Minister of Students & Recreation at First Baptist Church in Terrell, TX. He’s passionate about developing student leaders who will embrace the mission of the church and reach the lost generations. Please contact him if you’d like more info on starting your own student leadership initiative at @dustinslaton or