Now I Know

by Tim Ryan
Director of Junior High Ministries
West Shore Evangelical Free Church

The following is an excerpt from our Winter 2016 Magazine. To view the whole magazine, click here.

I was blessed with the opportunity to take a group of senior high student mentors and special needs students to the Fruitland Special Needs Serve in July. As a youth pastor, I’ve had many opportunities to take students on mission trips, but I’ve never experienced anything quite like a Special Needs Serve!

First, we experienced the embrace of the entire church family. I was personally blown away by the commitment to the success of the week by a large portion of the church body. They had thought of every little detail and were so sensitive to the needs of the visiting team members throughout the week. As I talked with one of the host church volunteers, I discovered that he and his wife had taken the entire week off from work so they and their two girls could serve our team through transportation, meal preparation, small group lessons and more!

As the week progressed, it became apparent that many others in that small church had made tremendous sacrifices to make it all happen. Everyone on our team felt cared for—as if we were visiting family for the entire week! This was evident when Adam, one of my students, was referring to the hosts as brother, sister, mom and dad!

The host team also did a phenomenal job finding worksites that were very meaningful; yet adaptable to special needs team members. It was a joy to watch special needs students and their student peer mentors working side-by-side helping ministries do the work of Jesus’ hands and feet. In some cases, that meant sorting and prepping eyeglasses and hygiene supplies for shipment around the world. In other cases, it meant preparing fresh produce and packaged foods for distribution in the community. In every case, we were blessed to learn more about the agencies we worked with and the impact they make for God’s Kingdom.

On our last night, our site leader asked the peer mentors to finish the statement, “I used to think ______, but now I know _______” (regarding students with special needs). The answers that my students gave to that one question alone spoke volumes to just how deeply God used the week of Serve to stretch and grow their faith. One student related how previously she thought that students with special needs couldn’t really fully understand God or worship him in a deep or meaningful way. Now, as a result of her special needs Serve experience, she knows that students with special needs are blessed by God to connect with him directly without many of the self-conscious barriers that she came to recognize in her own relationship with God.

Toward the end of the long van ride home, I asked the students about next year. Every single one expressed a desire to do it again if they have the opportunity!

Trendy Teens (Part 2 of 2)

Continued from last week’s Trendy Teens (Part 1 of 2):

Another key way to engage with students is to control our atmosphere! While none of us can always control every situation and decision our teens make, we can control the atmosphere in our homes and church youth groups, and atmosphere is everything!

In Jim Burns book, Teen-ology he says; “While no home is perfect, and you will experience conflict with your teens – Here’s the deal: I don’t think we should solely blame our kids for the chaos in the home. Their “job” as teenagers is bound to cause some chaos and conflict. They are experimenting with behaviors, challenging authority, and generally doing things to mess up any positive atmosphere around them. Your job in the home is to set a tone and atmosphere that is more conductive to a better environment in the family. (It’s not going to be easy). If your family is living at too fast of a pace, or if your own life is filled with chaos and conflict, don’t expect your teens to set a positive atmosphere in your home. And don’t expect communication to be all that good either. It’s back to the intentional parenting of teens by staying calm, working a plan, and getting as emotionally healthy as YOU possibly can. To set a better atmosphere you will need to 1) be intentional 2) sometimes have to decide when certain behaviors and choices are just not worth a battle. (If your children see you as constantly nagging or criticizing them, don’t expect them to enjoy hanging out with you).”

Research is still showing that parents are the biggest influence in their teen’s life. Parents have the opportunity to make the biggest impact in their teen’s decisions. While we as adults can’t always control the decisions teens make regarding drug use, sex and friend choices, we can control the way we engage with the culture around us. We have power, through the Holy Spirit, to help our teens to be rooted and established in love, and not rooted in the popular trends all around them. It is messy work, but our teens are too important to ignore. Engage in their world and remind them of “real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of”.

Trendy Teens (Part 1 of 2)

Looking back on the trendy fashion, music and entertainment from the 60’s and beyond, one common thread remains; it was the teens that were the “trend-setters.” If we look at the current trends in music, technology and entertainment, it is teens that are still influencing trends today. Therefore, as loving, caring, faith-filled adults, how should we respond to cultural trends from a Christian perspective?

Let’s first look at how Jesus interacted with and responded to culture. I love the way Brian Housman describes the way Jesus interacted with the culture around him in his book Engaging Your Teen’s World. He writes, “Jesus came to heal and renew what sin has infected – by revelation and instruction he (Jesus) reattaches the soul to God the source of its being and goodness and restores it to the right order of love.” Notice those verbs; Renew, Reattaches, Restores. He doesn’t ignore, or respond in panic or fear.

Unlike Jesus, our first response is too often to reject or ignore tough questions and hard battles. However the best way to deal with issues of culture (music, tech, entertainment) is to engage!

Look at the story in John 10:6-10 where Jesus is the Good Shepherd. The Message says it like this; Jesus told this simple story, but they (the disciples) had no idea what he was talking about. So he tried again. “I’ll be explicit, then. I am the Gate for the sheep. All those others are up to no good—sheep stealers, every one of them. But the sheep didn’t listen to them. I am the Gate. Anyone who goes through me will be cared for—will freely go in and out, and find pasture. A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.”

“Will freely go in and out”—Notice Jesus doesn’t lock up the sheep. Dead bolt the gate shut! Keep the sheep completely sheltered, in hiding. John Rosemond, that man who coined the phrase “helicopter parent” says this; “Too many parents are ultimately carrying the burdens of their teen’s problems on their own shoulders. No teen will become a responsible adult if their parents carry the load for them. It’s not healthy for either party!”

So then, how do we engage without taking on our kid’s burdens? Whatever you do, don’t stay silent. Silence will often lead teens to jump to feeling of shame! Things so terrible we dare not mention them. When we try to engage, too often we ask simple (yes or no) questions. Then we’re surprised or disappointed when all we get is a simple yes/no/fine answer. Instead, begin your questions with phrases such as, “What do you think about…” or “How do you feel about…” These are open-ended questions, and can be quite helpful. Try them. They work!

To be continued…

Fall “Faces of ThereforeGo” Part 2

The following is an excerpt from the ThereforeGo Fall Magazine. To read more, click here.

Zan Ingalls

Q. What do you do to stay relevant to youth?

A. Having three children, ages 20, 18 and 15, keeps me relevant. I get to learn the lingo of the day. Also, working at a juvenile detention center with ages 13-19 gives me a definite inside scoop. I listen to their music and watch their shows and have open, candid dialogue with them. I intentionally ask them questions about why they do what they do, why they think like they think and what their motivation is. I have literally asked them what I can do to impact their peers. Their responses have shaped how I deal with the youth of the day.

Q. I never leave for youth group without my _____

A. ability to be flexible. I plan what I am going to say, and in some cases send the “planned” talk ahead. Sometimes what I’ve planned gives way to what God plans. In youth ministry (and ministry in general), nothing can shock you!

Q. What resource has inspired you for ministry lately?

A. Purpose Driven Youth Ministry and Soaring with Eagles have inspired me. These books have blessed me to open my mind and perspective as to how to be a blessing to this generation.

Q. What do you do in your free time?

A. I like bowling, playing in the water (beach or pool), roller coaster rides, spending time with family, watching a good movie, cooking and trying new restaurants with Liane. I have also written two books and am working on a third.

Q. Where would you like to travel someday?

A. I would love to go to Africa.

Devin and Gaby Mulder

Q. If your students described you in five words or less, what would they say?

A. That’s easy! “Devin and Gaby are crazy!” We hear this just about every week, but they continue to come and bring their friends, so we assume it’s a positive thing.

Q. What do you do in your free time?

A. In the little free time we have, I love to sew clothes for myself and Devin engineers tall bikes (a double-frame bike that sits five feet tall).

Q. What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done for a youth group fundraiser?

A. Our craziest youth ministry fundraiser is the Chili Cook-Off Dinner and Auction, which raises funds for sending kids to Serve. Directing 40+ teens while trying to put on a nice dinner for the congregation usually feels like being at a zoo where they’ve opened all the cages! Even in the chaos, it ends up being one of the best fundraisers of the year and the teens always work really hard to make the event a hit.

Q. Where would you like to travel someday?

A. We’ve both had the privilege of traveling around the world, so our next dream visit would be to Nepal. It sounds a little cliché right now since everyone is going to help with earthquake trauma (which is totally valid), but Devin’s best friend has taken several mission trips there and is now moving to Nepal long term. We want to plan a trip to witness the seeds he has sown in that country.

Q. What is one website you visit every day?

A. If I’m being totally honest, Pinterest has me tied around its finger. I’ll usually look at Pinterest more often than my emails. Devin enjoys passing time with a good laugh, so he usually watches comedic videos on YouTube.

Fall “Faces of ThereforeGo” Part 1

The following is an excerpt from the ThereforeGo Fall Magazine. To read more, click here.

Brian Bierenga

Q. What’s your favorite place to meet with students, and why?

A. Starbucks – because the students enjoy it and I’m a sucker for earning those “stars”.

Q. What do you do to stay relevant to youth?

A. It’s all about relationship. While I appreciate the “heart” behind this question and understand that it’s a common question among youth workers, I find it a little strange. I have two kids of my own, ages 7 and 9, and I would find it strange it someone asked me how I remain relevant to them. Although there’s always room for improvement, I think most parents would say they’re able to connect well with their own kids because they’re in relationship with them. The same applies with my students; I aim to always be in relationship with them as if they were my own kids so that the connection happens naturally.

Q. I never leave for youth group without my ____

A. CB radios for the vans because they’re tons of fun. And a can of Febreze to secretly freshen up the guys’ stinky laundry piles while they’re away on free time.

Q. What resource has inspired you for ministry lately?

A. I regularly listen to the “Defining Moments” leadership podcasts from Willow Creek when I run. I’m also enjoying the book Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmull (head of Pixar and Disney animation) much more than I thought I would. In addition to some great Pixar stories, Ed has great ideas on intentionally creating the culture you want among your team.

Q. What do you do in your free time?

A. I enjoy time with my kids, running, cooking or working on my yard or car. I don’t sit still very well.

John Bijl

Q. Where could we find you at 10:00 AM on a Saturday morning?

A. I would either be grocery shopping with my wife, doing weekend chores around the house or having breakfast at a local restaurant. I love going out for breakfast.

Q. What’s your favorite place to meet with students, and why?

A. I love to meet at local coffee shops because I love the atmosphere in these places and even though coffee shops can be busy, it is still a great place to relax and get to know where the students are at.

Q. I never leave for youth group without my _____

A. iPad, which has all of my notes for announcements as well as my Bible. Once, I did leave it in the youth room while I got something from my office and I came back to a series of “selfies” some of the students had done in the five minutes I was gone.

Q. What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done for a youth group fundraiser?

A. We did an 80’s themed dessert night where the other leaders and I lip synced to a mash up of 80’s tunes. I was lip syncing Corey Hart’s “Sunglasses at Night”, and yes, there is a video of it.

Q. What is one website you visit every day?

A. I usually go to flipbook to read up on men’s health, health food or photography.

The Promise of Serve Projects

The following is a piece by Jason Leif, originally written for The Twelve.

At the institution where I teach I’ve come to be known as the “guy who hates serve projects.” This comes from my ineffective attempts to carefully critique all of the money and time that go into these projects, as well as the terrible theology that is often used to justify them. As much as I would try to tell people that I don’t hate them and that I believe they can be important transformative experiences—the label has stuck. I stand by my critique, and I’m not the only one who feels this way. Over the past ten years or so there have been a number of people who have articulated the problems with these projects much better than I can.

St Pauls Indian Mission Door

This morning, however, I’m getting ready to lead my second serve project in as many years. Tomorrow young people from Canada and the U.S. will gather in a small church in Sergeant Bluff, Iowa for a week of worship, fellowship, and work. We call it Prairie Serve. The idea came to me a few years ago when I was having a conversation with someone about the issues facing rural America. Look at a map of the most economically impoverished parts of the United States and you’ll see they are not in urban areas; they are in rural areas. Arizona, New Mexico, and South Dakota are all lit up on these maps…the one I was looking at was a dark blue. These are the places Native Americans inhabit—the reservations as they are called. This week a group of young people will be working with Pastor Lowell from the Winnebago Reformed Church painting houses, doing yard work, demolishing dilapidated structures, and meeting new people. But that’s not why we go.

Inside St Pauls Indian Mission

The reason I started this serve project is because I want young people to encounter the diversity that lives right in their own back yard. As a planning team we try to make sure that we deal with the messiah complex right away. We’re not “saving” anyone by painting houses or mowing a lawn; in fact I’m not sure the work we do matters all that much in the end. But we are meeting our neighbor; we are putting ourselves in a place where we encounter the other…where we encounter difference. My hope for this project is not that these young people will think they are bringing God to the Native people or the Lao people, but that the Native people and the Lao people will open up an encounter of God for us—that we will come to see how God is at work in ways we could never imagine.


Country Road and Field

So that’s why I’m helping to lead a serve project this week. Sure there will be time for silliness, time for play and time for eating good food, but this will all take place within the context of a time of being opened up to encounter our neighbor in ways that crack open our own religious and cultural worldview. In teaching VBS to Lao kids, in attending the annual Winnebago Pow Wow, and in painting a house for a young family in need, these young people will be opening themselves up to encounter the God who in Jesus Christ has promised to come to us in ways we never expect. That’s my hope for this week, and that’s why I love serve projects.

Seven Changes that Affect Every Generation

If you were born before 1980, I’m sure you’ve noticed an interesting trend: it seems that every generation of adults looks at the newest batch of kids and is sure they are the worst bunch of rebels our world has ever seen. Thousands of years ago, Socrates wrote of the misguided youth in Greece and was sure they were “good for nothing”. He actually wrote that kids in his day were:

  • Lazy
  • Disrespectful
  • Lacking in responsibility

Doesn’t that sound strangely familiar?

I’ve noticed something else as I’ve studied today’s newest batch of students, the ones I call Generation iY. (They’re the kids born since 1990 — the second half of Generation Y — that some sociologists believe are the first portion of Generation Z.) What I’ve noticed is that we adults, on some levels, are guilty of the same negative elements we point out in them.

With each generation, changes take place. There are patterns to be observed that leaders should take note of today. For instance, I have noticed…

  1. With each new generation, time becomes more valuable.
  2. With each new generation, expectations of convenience and service rise.
  3. With each new generation, the demand for work to have meaning intensifies.
  4. With each new generation, the hunger for options grows.
  5. With each new generation, the sense of entitlement increases.
  6. With each new generation, the need for speed and space goes up.
  7. With each new generation, the desire for customization expands.


By knowing these realities, we can take a step forward in mentoring students. And let’s face it: the newest technologies (and the conveniences that come with them) affect all of us, not just the kids. This has always been true. When we were growing up, our parents, teachers and coaches often called uslazy slackers.

The key is to understand the current reality students face and ask: What life skills are they missing?Then, we must search out an activity to prescribe that will enable them to develop these timeless qualities they’ll need in life and in leadership. Sometimes the answer to both can be quite simple.

One Simple Secret a Mother and Her Daughter Discovered

For example, a couple of months ago, I posted a blog about how many in the emerging generation of students lacked ambition, discipline and, in fact, were moving back home after finishing school with no plan for the future. One woman replied and told me her daughter was a “case study” on what I had just written about. Her daughter often slept in late and had no passion for anything.

In the blog, I suggested we must introduce activities that will cultivate timeless virtues in young people—then watch what happens. I just received an update from this woman:

Months ago, I responded to your blog in respect to my 25-year old daughter who was sleeping until noon. After reading your blog today, I thought I’d share the hobby she has taken up that has really helped her: sewing. (Yes, you read that word correctly). It has many of the attributes that you mentioned about sports—you must slowly keep working on the process; you must keep learning and getting better. Each week, you can see progress on the specific project you’re working on when you sew. It requires much preparation and planning; it is a lot of tedious work; it usually includes mistakes that you must re-do. But the process pays off in the end. As a seamstress, you eventually get to see a finished product. My daughter is getting much enjoyment from sewing and has quit watching so much TV. She is also getting to bed earlier and getting up earlier. Thanks for your blogs. I gave her a Habitudes book as a graduation present this year.

A Diagnosis and a Prescription

Can you see what happened? All that this young adult needed was an exercise that would engage her. When she found it, her discipline, ambition, passion and emotional maturity began developing. It required more than an angry parent, more than a lecture, more than added house rules. It required a diagnosis and a prescription. Once again, we must ask ourselves:

  • What are the missing life skills in our young people?
  • What are some engaging activities that would build those life skills?

I have a “heads up” for you that might represent some good news.

In two months, we’ll be releasing an updated version of my book Generation iY: Our Last Chance to Save Their Future (5th Anniversary Edition). The book contains current research and updated case studies on the newest students on your campus, at your workplace, on your team, or even in your home. I talk about these trends and what we can do about them as adults. I also include diagnoses and prescriptions for how we can better engage this emerging generation.

Let me ask you: Have you noticed these trends above? What have you done to build timeless qualities in students, athletes, young employees, or your own kids?

Find out how adults can equip young people to lead us into the future in our best-selling book Generation iY: Our Last Chance to Save Their Future.

Order Today

Generation iY helps adults:

  • Guide unprepared adolescents and at-risk kids to productive adulthood
  • Correct crippling parenting styles
  • Repair damage from (unintentional) lies we’ve told kids
  • Guide young people toward real success instead of superficial “self-esteem”
  • Adopt education strategies that engage (instead of bore) an “I” generation
  • Employ their strengths and work with their weaknesses on the job

Earning the Right to be Heard by Students

The following is a piece from Growing Leaders, by Tim Elmore. To view the original post, click here.

Last year, the results of a Harris Poll were released on the subject of respect. In this first-of-its-kind survey, a Harris Poll asked 2,250 adults to compare their memories of “school dynamics” when they were students with today’s school dynamics. The percentage of respondents who agreed with the statement “students respect teachers” dropped from 79% to 31%. (Interestingly, the findings on students’ respect for teachers are nearly identical for adults who are parents of school-aged children and those who aren’t.) It was a huge drop. Still another big drop, however, was this: respondents’ views of the percentage of parents who respect teachers, which has plummeted from 91% to 49%.

Wow. Whatever happened to respect?

As I interact with both faculty and administrators, I commonly hear this complaint: kids and parents just don’t respect the school system anymore. This may sound like hyperbole, but it’s how so many educators feel. These statistics don’t surprise Arnold Fege, president of Public Advocacy for Kids, a Washington, D.C.-based group focused on education and child-advocacy policy. According to USA Today, he’s noticed “a lack of respect for public education over the years,” whether the issue is testing, teacher evaluations or school choice. “I think the community really feels that they’ve lost control of a large part of the institutions that are important to their life,” Fege says.

Forget the Badge for a Moment

So how does a teacher, staff member, coach or administrator get respect back, without resorting to force or leveraging their authority? Good question. Respect is a delicate quality that cannot be forced or feigned. It’s rarely real when it is demanded. It’s a matter of the heart. Generally, if you want the heart of a student—you have to earn it.

Some faculty might say, “Well, they should listen and respect me because I’m the teacher!” That’s absolutely true. Unfortunately, we live in a day where many children have never learned to respect those in authority, so we must build that respect in a different way. While your position may deserve it, simply demanding it tends to backfire. At best, you get behavior modification, but you don’t get genuinefollow-ship. Remember the obstinate kid who was told to sit down and be quiet in the back of the classroom? He insisted on standing up and talking. When the teacher finally got him to sit, he replied, “I may be sitting on the outside, but I’m still standing on the inside.”

This anecdote illustrates what I am talking about. If we really want more than mere behavior modification — if we want true respect — we must remember that it’s earned. May I suggest you forget your “badge” for a moment? Instead of demanding your students listen and submit, what if you earned the right to be followed?

Five Axioms I Practice to Gain Respect

The following statements are principles I embrace to gain respect from students:

Axiom One:
Youth do not have the innate need to get their way. They do have the innate need to be heard. We gain respect as a response to showing respect.

Axiom Two:
When we listen, we genuinely show respect for a student. We elicit transparency, and over time, a reciprocal response from them toward you.

Axiom Three:
When we ask questions, we authentically demonstrate we care. We gain credibility. They begin to believe us and take our leadership seriously.

Axiom Four:
When we do both of the above, we authentically earn the right to speak. Although our words may be no different than the past, students now listen.

Axiom Five:
When we ask for feedback, we once again encourage the same response from them. This builds bridges of relationship that can bear the weight of truth. Even hard truth.

Jim Forleder is the principal of Lincoln High School in Walla Walla, Washington. When he took over, he heard the school was known for student detentions and suspensions. Disciplinary actions were high, as students frequently showed no respect for teachers. Jim decided he needed to try a new approach to discipline.

So the next time a student dropped an F-Bomb in class and was sent to his office for punishment, he tried the axioms above. He sat down with the teen offender, and instead of jumping into a recitation of how the student had violated school policy, he quietly sat for a moment, then leaned forward and looked into the eyes of the young man. Then, he gently spoke: “What just happened in that classroom doesn’t sound like you. You’re capable of better conduct than that. Is there something going on in your life that I don’t know about? Something at home with family, or in your personal relationships?”

Jim reported that most of the time, that’s all it took to begin a transparent conversation. In nearly every case, the offender would pause, then break down and talk about how his dad had just left… or how mom was suffering from drug abuse… or how his family couldn’t pay the rent… or how he’d just lost his brother in an accident. The floodgates opened, and Jim was able to address the real need. Along the way, he’d talk over the offense and the changes that needed to happen. Ironically, he said that it frequently wasn’t necessary. The majority of the time, the student would return to class and apologize, without being told to do so. School suspensions dropped 85% at Lincoln High School.

What’s our take away? Until our school systems figure out how to regain the respect of students, or until parents decide they’ll teach their children how to respect authority, let me suggest we forget trying to force it and begin trying to earn it.

Rebuilders of Almost Anything

Are we, as the North American Church, living in sin by spending so much time trying to keep our kids moral and safe? Or are we equipping and mobilizing our youth to live for something that is worth Jesus dying for?

Youth/Family Pastor and Youth Unlimited Mission Director Jerry Meadows shares a journey through questions on how we help students live on mission for Christ everyday.

For a free E-book on teaching students about missional living, click here. To hear further conversation by church leaders on this topic and others including when pastors aren’t missional enough and moralistic therapeutic deism, click here or watch the video below.

Go Do Something

I was almost 20 years old when it came to me. I was not in church, youth group or doing any “holy” activity. I was sitting in my Jeep Cherokee outside of the garage where I worked, looking at a tall brick building with chipped paint and a flock of noisy seagulls arguing on the roof. I was terribly unhappy, but I didn’t have a clear picture of what to do. So I did nothing. For years. Until that summer morning where it came to me as clear as crystal: “Go do something.” That was it.

I thought maybe God wanted me to go do something in “ministry” but I didn’t know what that meant or where to begin. Here is the process I used to help guide my decision. Maybe it will help you too.

  1. I spoke with people who were wise and knew me well to help me identify what I was good at.
    I heard a lot of different things, but the common theme was that I should be doing something helping people. It seemed that perhaps a career in the ministry was for me. As you listen to what the wise people in your life are telling you, make sure you are asking the question, “How will I bring God’s grace into this area of the world?” If you do this, you will always be doing God’s will.
  2. I used my common sense and began looking for colleges that could prepare me for ministry and fit my other needs as well. Your preparation may or may not include college, but it will certainly include learning. Whether it is an apprenticeship, an entry-level job or an internship, you will be learning. When looking for your place to prepare, be intentional about ensuring you have a network of Christians to help you integrate what you are learning with a Christian worldview. A church, a small group or a Christian college are all great ways to develop that network.
  3. I began to make my plans for how to go about preparing, and I prayed this prayer (and meant it with my whole heart):

God, I want to please you more than anything. I think these steps make sense for me. If you have different plans, I will follow them willingly. If this is the wrong step, make it plain to me in a way I will understand.

Your heavenly father will not reject your earnest prayer to follow his will. He loves you too much.

  1. I took the steps to begin my training and trusted God.

I can’t guarantee that the first draft of your plan is an inflexible roadmap going to where you will end up. It certainly wasn’t for me. Please remember that God is faithful and will not, under any circumstances, by any means, ever abandon you. He loves you too much. But don’t just wait. Go do something.

If you would like to have a conversation with Luke, feel free to email him at and the two of you can chat about life, calling and different ways to prepare.

My 51 – Menno, South Dakota Community

Three years ago I came to the small town of Menno, South Dakota to serve as pastor of Grace Lutheran Church (NALC/LCMC). It was the first time I had ever heard of this “thing” called Serve. Our town has a population of 608 and five (yes, count them: FIVE) churches. Our churches are Immanuel Lutheran Church (LCMS), Peace Christian Reformed Church, Salem Reformed Church (CCCC), Zion Reformed Church (RCUS) and Grace Lutheran Church, where I currently serve.

For a number of years now, youth from all five of these churches have attended Serve in various locations, from Platte, South Dakota to Newark, New Jersey to Houston, Texas and everywhere in between. I had the privilege of attending as a leader in 2013. Our group went to Houston, Texas, and one of the messages I heard there was that the youth were to take what they had learned from their experience with Serve and to put into action locally. In other words, Serve is not just one week in a place away from home. Serve is also about the other 51 weeks throughout the year.

Some of our other adult leaders who have been active with Serve took that call seriously, and with many brilliant minds TUG was born. TUG stands for Teens United in God. This August will be our third year of TUG. We begin on Friday evening and throughout all day Saturday. The kids do not get to sleep in on Saturday morning. They come early. We eat together. And then we go into our community of 608 people and we work. Last year we helped with cleaning up a rural cemetery and repainting the picnic shelter located there. Another group repainted the dugout shelters at our local softball field. Another group repainted a very large building located on our main street in town. And another group did clean-up and painting at our local park. The kids of Menno, South Dakota and surrounding towns were so diligent in their work, they finished early, so another group repainted a garage (albeit small) in an hour and a half!!


When the kids are finished with a long day of working, it does not stop there. We get together and we worship and sing. We are reminded of why we are doing what we are doing in the first place. God has called us to live out our lives pleasing to him, and because of the gracious gift he has given to us in Jesus Christ, serving our community is the least we can do.

In addition to the kids volunteering, we need many adults to help out. We had entire families helping us that day. This year, we have had people asking what projects the kids are doing for TUG. We now have other groups in town giving donations for TUG.

The local people are looking forward to seeing all the kids and adults out working in the community.

As a pastor of a small town, I cannot even begin to say how proud I am of this community. It is a community filled with faith in Jesus Christ. Yes, we do have residents who do not attend church, who do not believe that God is almighty and loves them so much he would give the greatest sacrifice of all. And it is because of that, that my hope and my prayer is that these kids and their families can be witnesses to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The Chicago Covenant

On April 22, in Chicago, IL, 24 Christian Reformed youth workers and denominational staff came together to strategize and strengthen student discipleship within the context of local congregations. Those attending were a great representation of the countless committed and passionate youth workers found in Christian Reformed congregations across Canada and the United States, and Youth Unlimited was blessed to play a role in supporting this gathering.

Following the 3-day gathering, this group assembled a document they entitled “The Chicago Covenant”. This brief document included; a vision for student discipleship, a call for support from denominational leadership and ministries like Youth Unlimited, a commitment to strengthen their congregational efforts and a commitment to pray and support the broader Christian Reformed church efforts.

At the June 2015 Christian Reformed Synod, Syd Hielema, Director of the Christian Reformed Faith Formation Ministries, will present the work of those 24 youth workers. Syd and those youth workers would like to invite anyone from the Christian Reformed Church who can agree with what’s in the covenant to join them by signing it. You can view the Chicago Covenant here and sign by clicking here. The hope is to have nearly 1,000 signatures before Syd presents it at Synod in June.

Youth Unlimited has had the joy of serving Christian Reformed congregations for decades and we eagerly sign it and welcome our friends to do so as well!

For questions and comments regarding The Chicago Covenant, please contact Syd Hielema at