Group Identity Crisis


When working in community coalitions we must be united in our efforts. These groups are made up of agencies and individuals that share similar goals, but still hold onto their unique systems, procedures, or niche in the industry. Yet, each organization is not the puzzle unto themselves, but merely a piece of a bigger puzzle that we need one another to be a part of.  Here are a few ways that we have been able to clarify our group identity, create cohesion, build momentum and impact the lives of youth in our community:

Clarify the Win

Many of these coalitions are struggling with group identity. They ask themselves: who are we and why are we meeting? One of the first steps then is to clarify the win. We re-evaluate our mission and vision. Personally, I love the simplicity of a Vision Frame. Many churches use this model, however, I have found it useful in other organizations, non-profits, youth programs, youth councils and coalitions. We go through what the vision of the group is, and we word our mission in a way that allows us to take steps to meet that vision. For instance, one of the coalitions vision is to see youth free from substance abuse. Therefore, this particular groups mission is to inform and equip community organizations, schools and parents about resources in the community to help young people struggle with substance use. We can then create measures and strategies to help us know if what we are doing is actually working. The values of the vision frame help us maintain our group identity and guides the action steps and decisions that we make. For example, one of our values is youth voice. We then make sure that we have a young person at the table to help inform decisions and any publications we produce. Through this process, we have been able to quickly build group cohesion, come up with action steps

Just Hit Something

I used to coach football for middle schoolers. As they were just learning the fundamentals of the game there would be times when mistakes were made, assignments got messed up, or they would just look puzzled. As we corrected the mistakes and made progress towards to everyone being on the same page, I would give the players some advice. I would say, “when in doubt, hit something, and hit it hard.” These groups would do the same thing, puzzled glances, unsure of action steps and hesitation that stopped the group from the work we were supposed to do. I suggested that we just hit something, and hit it hard. At the same work group, our mission was to inform the community about resources to help adolescents with substance use. I suggest we start with a community guide to available resources. We all pooled together to talk about what resources are available, the steps parents would take to get help, conversation starters and contact information for agencies. The plan is to distribute it to schools, our individual organizations, and programs that work with youth in our county.

From these things, people have said we have made more progress in a month then in two years. It happened because we were able to step back, clarify the win for the group, find ways to work together in what unites us, and we decided to take action, even if it was a small thing.



Most youth programs have a major event sometime throughout the year. Maybe it is a Fall Weekend, a fundraiser dinner, a conference, a big training or a week long Summer Camp. These experiences are often the pinnacle of the year for volunteers, staff and the youth you work with. It is ‘THE’ event you want youth to attend. Youth leave these events charged up, equipped, and ready for what is next. Yet, programs often fall short in the follow-up. The momentum of these “mountain-top” experiences can do amazing things for your group if you allow them too. Here are a few ideas to keep the momentum going and leverage them in your programs.

Post Event Meetings should be scheduled even before you host you big event. These events help youth continue to form the connections they made at camp, at the conference, or when you went somewhere for the weekend. Challenge them on what they learned while away and what they are doing with the new information. Make sure to invite ALL youth, not just those who were able to attend your event. Make it a celebration!

In leverage the “mountain top” experience you can use it to help recruit new youth and build some hype and energy around your program. Get on social media and like all of the youths videos and pictures of them at camp. Use it to build conversations, tag new youth, and even as promotions. Have a contest for the best recap video, and use that video to promote camp for the next year. That video can also go to youth who were not able to attend and families so that they can stay in the loop.

Using the momentum of these BIG events can also help you to create some changes. We were able to create camp as a “vision” of what we want regular meetings to be. Coming off a first camp with youth, we were able to shift some culture things that needed to change based off the trust, fun, and relationships that were built at camp. Using this trust to make a shift in culture with the positive things in mind can be a great strategy.

Post-event strategies are vital to continue with the momentum and energy created during your event.  Don’t miss the opportunity to connect with youth, families, volunteers and staff to bring the energy of these BIG experiences into the daily grind of your programs.

Losing the Battle


Are you willing to lose a battle to win the war?

This thought recently came to me when talking with a room full of probation officers. They were upset that their youth weren’t engaging with community programs. I asked them how these conversations go, how these programs get selected and I asked them about youth themselves. The current process is a P.O. would select a program they felt fit the youth and tell the youth to attend. For me, this current process is losing the battle and the war for the hearts of our young people.

Breaking down the situation I encouraged them to define the win, which was to get young people connected to a positive community program. This is the goal, this is the win.  We began a conversation that would empower youth to select programs that played to their strengths and brainstormed strategies for the P.O’s to be more than just P.O.s but positive adults in the lives of these youth to encourage them and even attend programs with them.

What the P.O.’s would have to lose something: their feeling of control.

Are we willing to lose the battle of control over young people, in order to empower them to make decisions that align with the values in which we teach them, in order to win the war. Can we set aside the secondary, and focus on the primary.

Somewhere you are struggling with coercing a young person; struggling to engage them in the program, to change a behavior, or to eat their vegetables. What would it look like to empower them to make a decision, to offer a third option, to teach them the value and the end goal of the decision-making process. When we can empower youth to make their own decisions we communicate that we trust them and believe in them.

Fear is a Liar


I still think there is a possibility that there is a shark in any swimming pool I go into. There is this small nervousness of going in the deep end and not being able to touch bottom. This past weekend I was able to help a friends son swim around for the first time in the deep end. There was a lot of nervousness and fear but we took steps towards the ultimate goal. He swam around in a float, walked around the edge, hung onto me as I waded in the deep end, practice floating, and swam back and forth in the shallow end without touching the bottom. By the end, he swam in the deep end  and was jumping off the diving board with no fear!

Over the years, we have seen an increase in youth who are worried, anxious and fearful of the world around them. As adults we get to help youth to deal with and overcome these paralyzing emotions. Here are some ideas that have help me work with youth to overcome fears and worries.

I try to take their fears seriously, even if they aren’t that serious. By validating their fear, you are able to acknowledge it and begin the process to move past it.

Communicate with youth about when you were able to overcome your fears and the result.

Take baby steps and don’t push them past their comfort level. Create a strategy together of what those steps look like.

Be close to them as they work through their own worries. We all are capable of pushing past our comfort zones when we know someone bigger has our back.

You may even be in a season of worry and fear. Who can you connect with to help you overcome those feelings?



When we connect relationally with youth, we get a first row seat to some of the anxiety that fills their lives.  By being equipped to have a conversation with youth you can really help them get the help them overcome fears.

Ask youth some of these questions to process their anxiety:

When do you feel anxious? What happens and what do you feel?

Do you notice any patterns of triggers that make you anxious?

When you are most anxious, how does that impact your mood, activities and relationships?

Do you have any coping strategies for your anxiety? When does the feeling of anxiousness subside?

If you could handle your anxiety better, what do you think your life would look like?

Through these questions you can help youth to do a variety of things. You can start to watch out for triggers in their lives, and develop strategies to avoid them. Help youth to challenge the negative thoughts and beliefs by being a supportive person for them, give them reassurance about their strengths and abilities. Be patient, dealing with fears and anxiety can be a process. Make sure to connect with parents and have youth talk to them about their anxiety. Encourage youth to see a licensed therapist if you see signs of extreme and irrational worry, physical tension (like unexplained headaches) and if you notice an excessive need for reassurance during particular moments.

Stay informed about what anxiety looks like for youth, examine your programs for potential triggers (like calling up the new kid to the front), and help connect them to community resources if appropriate.

Flying with the Helicopter


When talking about the challenges of working with youth, it amazes me how often it is not the youth or their problems that are most often brought up, it is their parents. It can be tough trying to work with youth in any context when there is an overbearing parent. Yet, despite frustrations, there is a lot you can learn from these parents.

  1. When talking with parents that can be overbearing I try to get to the root of the complaints or the situation. For instance, if a parent is talking about all the risks, liabilities and issues that can come up with youth ministry I get a sense that safety is a big value for them. I then say something like “I get the sense that the safety of the youth is a big deal for you, I hope you know we don’t take safety lightly.” I then can show them some of the areas and procedures that demonstrate that and inquire about what solutions they could think of. If you don’t have some of those procedures and systems in place, it is a legitimate ask for you as a leader to have.
  2. For me, I can easily get frustrated when people come to me laying out all the wrongs and problems of the group without balancing it out with what is working. I often take these conversations and navigate them into a place that is solution focused, and challenge those people giving criticisms to offer solutions too. Then, I empower them to think through how to implement their solutions and go for it.
  3. Often, overbearing parents have a heart of gold. They want what is best for you, their kids, and the group. Legitimize their voice in the process and don’t shut them out because you feel annoyed in the moment. What these parents have to say is important, they see things differently than you do and by finding solutions you can help other parents of the group build more trust with the programs.
  4. There is a no one more influential in a kids life than their parents. Don’t forget that. Look for ways to partners together to improve systems, safety and remove barriers in the programs you run.
  5. Sometimes, those overbearing parents become volunteer leaders simply because they don’t want to leave their child. Talk to them about a boundary and inquire what they are going through as a parent. Remember, we aren’t just working for the betterment of youth, but for the families as a whole.

Building rapport with parents in essential to running any youth program. Learn how to communicate and speak to the issues and priorities that they put value too. You will have a better group for it.




Coming into a ministry as the new leader can be tough. There are various expectations, concerns, and procedures to learn, not to mention all the names of the people involved in the group. As I have recently found myself being the new lead for a youth program, here are a few steps that have helped me to navigate the transition.

Being in the position only a couple weeks, I have tried to hear the wisdom from the leaders who have been there longer than I have. I want to honor their commitment and time by not rushing in and making it all about me. They know the youth best, have taken years to foster amazing relationships and know what works and doesn’t. I am in the process still of having meetings with them all just to pick their brains, hear their hearts and talk about the next season. Empowering leaders to take ownership of the group, honor them by listening, and create a conversation of what is next.

There have been a few events already where there are a ton of families, adults, and youth. Coming in, I have fought for my time to spend it with the youth. The first few months I have devoted to simply build relationships with these youth. There is a student leadership team and I am usually asking them a bunch of questions, laughing with them, trying to give them more responsibility and buying them a slice of pizza. Don’t get too caught up in the procedures and systems that you forget to actually spend time with the youth.

I am also spending the first few months intentionally starting small. There are a ton of amazing things happening and there are some things that could be improved on. I hope that by looking at small tweaks that will have big pay offs I can start to build more trust over time. If this is day one for you, don’t go nuts and feel like you need to scrap everything and start new. From my experience this usually ends badly. Remember, build up relationships, build up trust, create a vision together and leaders will walk with you into fresh ideas you may bring to the table.

If it is day one for you somewhere, congrats! If you have been in the same place for awhile, how can you begin to look at your program with fresh eyes? Get a mercenary to come evaluate your program or follow other programs on social media to get some of the best ideas!




For several years now we have been attending Orange Conference. Every year it allows us to hear new innovative ideas, meet new people and get refreshed to go back and impact our communities. This year was different for me though. Coming back home it was tough. I had all these awesome ideas and left Orange inspired. On the drive home, there is this spot that I see and since I was a little kid it always marked that I was home. This year, I panicked. All these thoughts of doubt, dread, and the feeling of being isolated started to creep in. I started to process all that was going on and decided to come up with some ideas to keep me motivated after Orange Conference.

One of the things that I did to stay accountable and start to look at ways to implement what I had learned into my work with youth was simply to talk to friends. I love being able to connect with old friends from Orange and making sure I touch base with them afterwards helps me to stay motivated. We talk about different situations, ideas and I can share about new ways to help youth. There is a sense of accountability that forms when I can reach out to community of people that I trust

I don’t always have the answers though so I have been committed to reach out to Orange Specialists. This group of people get it and want to use their knowledge, resources and expertise to help you out. From touching base with rural strategy to urban strategy to all age groups, reaching out to Orange Specialists has given me a new way to move forward.

I have also decided to attend Orange Tour. Sometimes, it is tough to actually get to go to Orange Conference. With Orange Tour the party comes to you. I am excited to go this year, get refreshed and find out what people are doing in my region to impact youth and communities. Check out more about Orange Tour here. 

If you are having trouble staying motivated or feel isolated in the work that you’re doing, then find your tribe. Find the people that are working with a similar goal in mind and have the same passion as you. The impact you can have collectively is more than you can do alone.

Working with Self-Care


As leaders we often get caught up in looking out for other people, we truly forget to look out for ourselves. Even typing that last sentence I felt weird making the statement to look out for yourself. It really is important though. Getting pulled in so many directions it is easy to get overwhelmed, feel burdened and lose sight of the work we do. For me, when this happens I usually end up getting super anxious and then lazy; as if what I am about to do won’t have any impact. What do you do for self-care to help you refocus and get in the game? Here are some ideas that I try to use


Every week, usually on Sunday nights, I set up a few goals for the week. I hit the big events that I need to crush, but also remind myself to get in the gym, read more, or create goals to positive habits. For instance, this week I have a goal to get in the gym four times. This helps me know that I need to do it four times, but that I won’t beat myself up one morning for sleeping in (like this morning). I have the rest of the week to make up for it and can plan accordingly. What goals are you currently working on? Make sure they simply aren’t work related, but related to your personal wellness, growth and your relationships.

To Do Lists

Sometimes I just make to-do lists for the sake of making a list. I love being able to sense that I actually accomplished something when I can cross it off the list. Even if one of the items was to “cross off an item on the list.” The sense of accomplishment helps me to build momentum through the day and tackle some projects, break down big things into small tasks, and allows me to visualize my work so I can stay on track better. Personally, my confidence is tied into a sense of accomplishment. To-do lists are a great representation of this, and can even be tied into your goals. At the end of a day, even when I feel like I haven’t done anything, I can look back and say that I had a really productive day and it was a step in the process.


I am a highly relational person, so one of the best things for me to do when feeling anxious or overwhelmed is to call a friend. This helps me to vent, process information, hear what they are doing and even get some external motivation. I can be my own worst critic. It takes the perspective of others to help push me through some hurdles.

Treat Yo’ Self

This is probably my favorite self-care strategy. Treat yo’ self is simply based around rewarding yourself for what you do. For me, I set up my work time into 30 minute increments, with a 5 minute treat yo’ self time to be on social media, play a game, or look up how the Quantum Realm will be used to defeat Thanos. Seriously, this has helped me to be a better worker, learner, and feel better. Sometimes, I treat myself with a milkshake, or a new outfit for bigger moments. In college, I saw post about someone who put a gummy bear on every page of their book to help motivate them to read more. Whatever it takes! Use these rewards to help motivate you, change your attitude and stay focused.

Practice Gratitude

This is tough for me. Gratitude doesn’t come naturally, cynicism does. I have to intentionally look for ways to show gratitude. Usually, this looks happens at the end of the day as I journal. I take inventory of my day and write down three things I am grateful for. Other times, this looks like a note to my wife or a text to a friend. For me, practicing gratitude has helped me to take a realistic look about the situations I am in and lessens the weight that I can feel.

Working with youth can be tough at times. It can feel like a pebble in the ocean, but what we do does matter. By thinking about self-care as you work you can be better reminded of the impact you make on the lives of others.


Day 2 is all wrapped up and it was great day of learning and processing all the challenging topics and new ideas that speakers presented. Yesterday started with a main session with some great ideas and quotes from Doug Fields and Andy Stanley with an entire day of workshops. I have posted notes to these workshops and my favorite quotes from the main session below. We love podcasting with our friends at YMSidekick and you can find our breakdown of the day here.

Main Session 2

Doug Fields

We can do more together when we recognize we can’t get there on our own

“We is greater than I” (better together) WE>I

We have created in ourselves, Consciously or unconsciously, the role of individual ministry leader

There will be no statues built in your honor. Great leaders don’t do it alone.


I need you here.

Culture doesn’t change because we desire it to change. It changes when the organization is transformed. The culture reflects the reality of the people working together every day. Transform it by relying on each other.

Andy Stanley

We can do more together, when we lead the church to stay focused on what matters

IF we get the “one” part right, everything changes… because once upon a time ONE, Won.

when we function as one, the world can change.

Oneness –We will be united on that, Jesus is the christ, son of the living God, Messiah, and if you stay focused on that, that will drive and move you forward. This is a common denominator and we have common ground. It should galvanize our passion, and our passion for what one another is doing.

He prayed for our oneness, our unity: John 17

Unity is mission critical, if we are not one we will not win.

Disunity disrupts the mission

Imagine a world where people were skeptical of what we believe, but envious of how we treat one another

Be the Bridge – Latasha Morrison

The Grown-ups Guide to Teenage Humans – Josh Shipp

Partnering With Parents in The CityDr. Deborah Tillman

The last day of Orange is coming up and is full of expectation. Check back later to see how Orange Conference 2018 wraps up.