Tag Archives: middle school ministry campference

campference rules

each year at the Middle School Ministry Campference we frame a “how to make the most of the weekend” bit in the opening session with Camp Rules (it is a CAMPference, after all). we try to have some fun with these rules, since the tone of the event is extremely low key and laid back. i don’t think i can show them all here (there’s a bit of a “what happens in vegas stays in vegas” vibe to the campference). but here’s most of them (with some parenthetical explanations):


(this isn’t like other events. this is our tribe. this is hang-out time. this is a place to be known.)

(you have complete freedom to make this weekend whatever you need it to be.)


(leave your work at home. disconnect. be present.)

(exercise healthy skepticism.)

(people on the stage are not ‘more important’ than people in the audience. and we invite you to ‘break the plane’ and speak up from the audience.)

(we don’t care what your voice sounds like. engage full-throat mode during worship.)

(people who have been here before know: the program is good, but the best part of campference is the hanging out parts.)

(you’re loved and accepted here. lean into that. trust that.)

12 things i love about middle school ministry

a number of years ago i wrote a post listing reasons why i love middle school ministry. and recently, i re-wrote that post as a column for youthwork magazine (in the UK). here’s my list (realize that “middle school ministry” doesn’t mean anything in the UK, so i use their term “11 – 14s” or young teens instead):

IMG_386712 Things to Love About Young Teen Ministry

  1. Young teen ministry is about shaping. What an opportunity! Everything I learn about young teens continues to affirm and re-affirm that this is not merely a holding period until the good stuff of older teen work.
  2. 11 – 14s are easy to connect with. Years ago, a youth ministry mentor shared this simple observation: 11 – 14s, in their decision as to whether they’ll allow you into their lives, are only asking the question, “Do you like me?” Older teens complicate it more by adding, “Do I like you?” And university students ramp up the complexity by layering on the additional question, “Do I like what you stand for?”
  3. They’re willing to try anything. The young teen years (in a post-puberty parallel to the first few years of life) are all about discovery, or sampling. Young teens, in the earliest stages of self-conscious identity formation, want to try everything. They don’t start testing conclusions until the middle teen years. This is a wild ride of unpredictability, of course, and can feel very scattered and capricious. But there’s willingness—even desire—to try things that makes young teens prime for creative and participatory youth work.
  4. The wonder of abstract thinking. 11 – 14s are far from experienced with abstract thought. But the capacity is there (I like to think of it as God’s puberty gift). And they’re dipping their toes in the water, checking it out.
  5. The process of doubts and faith development. Tied to the development of abstract thinking, young teens are on the leading edge of stumbling onto doubts about their faith. This is a critical aspect of faith development, and should never be shamed or shut down. Wrestling with complexities is the necessary detour from childlike, inherited faith to a more robust, owned faith.
  6. They’re unpredictable. Maybe you find this frustrating, but I love it. Young teens regularly and consistently surprise me. They surprise me with their random questions. They surprise me with their hidden talents. They surprise me with their insight. They surprise me with their interpretations (often different than I expect). The unpredictability of 11 – 14s keeps young teen ministry fresh and untamed.
  7. Parents are still involved. Sure, there are plenty of older teens with involved parents. But there’s a drop-off in parent involvement throughout the teen years, as many parents retreat out of fear, exasperation, or a misguided understanding of what it means to give their teenagers independence. We know that parents have a significantly larger shaping role in the lives and faith of their teenagers than we do; so this higher level of parent involvement creates an easier path to coming alongside parents, partnering for greater impact.
  8. They have more time than older teenagers. Yes, young teens are busier than ever; but they still have more time and availability than their older peers. Mix this in with their #3 above (their willingness to try anything), and you’ve got a potent pot of “let’s do stuff!”
  9. Most are not yet jaded. 14 year-olds can start to get a little jaded (some of ‘em). Older teenagers—holy cow—can wear cynicism and “been there, done that” as comfortably as Lady Gaga wears a meat suit. But most young teens possess wonderfully low levels of cynicism, and a naiveté that looks a lot like hope.
  10. They’re passionate. I love the “all in” attitude of most 11 – 14s. It’s not only their willingness to try things (mentioned in #3 above); they’re also passionate about the things they try, the opinions they voice, the beliefs they hold. The funny thing is: they’re passionate about things that, often, they won’t be passionate about in two months or two years.
  11. They’re forgiving. When you mess up, or have an off night in your teaching, or plan a lame event, or say something dumb, young teens are quick to forgive (particularly if you ask for it). The travel time back to normal (whatever that is!) is extremely short.
  12. They’re fun! Young teens keep me feeling young (not so easy at 50 years-old). They’re playful and hilarious, goofy and unselfconscious. Young teens remind me, regularly, of what a joy-filled life should look like.

if you agree with me on at least most of these, then you need to join us at the third annual Middle School Ministry Campference. the earlybird registration price (and $50 bonus back of free stuff and campference munchies) runs out in two weeks, on june 30!


spend your budget!

wow — the fact that it’s only days from christmas doesn’t seem weird to me; but the fact that 2013 is days from ending, that’s wild to me (as it always is).

cartel storefront imageif you work in a church, this might not be the end of a budget cycle. but so many youth workers i know are in the final days of a 2013 church budget. and if that’s you, and you have a tiny stash o’ funds left, i’d like to suggest two good uses, all of which are also time-sensitive:

1. FREE SHIPPING in The Youth Cartel store on all orders of $25 or more, for the continental U.S., through tuesday, december 24 (christmas eve!). this is your chance for a win/win. we have way too much product in our “warehouse” (the shelves in adam’s garage). and, of course, you get the double-win of our awesome products AND free shipping. we’re seeing people use this opportunity to do a couple things:

  • place bulk orders on a single product (remember, any order of 20 or more copies of a single product gets a 35% discount anyhow!). yesterday, someone bought 20 copies of the “Parent Pack of Awesomeness” (all five books in the Parents Guide series). and someone else bought 40 copies of the Zombie Apocalypse Survival Guide for Teenagers, clearly getting ready for a retreat or a small group series or something.
  • or, quite a few have just used this to stock up on resources they’ve wondered about, but hadn’t gotten yet. i’m seeing lots of orders with 5 or 6 different titles, just 1 or 2 copies of each.

you don’t need a coupon or code for this deal. just have more than twenty-five bucks in your cart, and a continental U.S. address, and the shipping will automatically get cut. easy peasy, sugar-plum squeezy.

2. Event deposits. we’re offering the very best deal you can ever get on pre-registrations for our two national events, the Middle School Ministry Campference, and The Summit. in both cases, a $25 non-refundable, but fully transferable deposit now (before 2013 ends!), locks in the lowest rate, and we’ll invoice you for the balance at the end of next summer.


  • the Middle School Ministry Campference (here’s last year’s website) is a weekend-long tribal gathering for people who work with young teens. you learn a ton, but you’ll also have more fun and build more ministry friendships than any other youth ministry event you’ve ever attended (i am not exaggerating). the event is at SpringHill Camp in seymour, indiana (hour south of indy, hour north of louisville), october 10-12, 2014. and with this special pre-registration, you lock in an all-inclusive rate (really, accommodations and food included!) of $259 per person.


  • The Summit (last year’s website) is like TED for youth workers, carefully crafted to spark your imagination and get you thinking in new ways. of this year’s event, Christy B wrote “The Summit left my mind full of new ideas to connect with my students and ways to engage them in their spiritual lives. Can’t wait for next year!” we’re moving the event to nashville for 2014. november 7 and 8. and with this special pre-registration, you lock in an almost absurd rate of $109! (seriously, that’s cheap)


both of those pre-reg deals end the second before ryan seacrest says “happy new year!”

the Campference after-buzz (with photos!)

our third annual Middle School Ministry Campference was this past weekend. and it just doesn’t do it justice to say that it was a blast. there’s something so completely unique about this event and the vibe we share that makes it very, very different than other youth ministry events (even the good ones!).

as i told the group in my “camp rules” during the first session, those who have been before know that the really great breakouts and seminars and main sessions aren’t the best thing about the event. even though they’re really great, lots of youth ministry events have great breakouts and seminars and main sessions. the best part of campference is doing life together with 100+ people who love middle schoolers. it’s the long conversations around meals. it’s the laughter during breaks. it’s the 30 people running into buffalo wild wings. it’s the group of people making s’mores around the fire pit while another group are screaming their heads off on nighttime zipline runs. it’s speakers who are player/coaches, present the entire weekend and more accessible than anywhere else. it’s the slight irreverence. it’s the lack of a “plane” between “the stage” and “the audience.” it’s praying for one another.

here’s a little sampling of photos from my iphone (adam will have much more lovely photos from his good camera):

springhill camp in seymour is a very different setting for a youth ministry event, for starters. and this sort of view sure doesn’t hurt set the tone.

kurt johnston and katie edwards were our main session emcees for the 2nd year in a row, and are just such a blast.

a week out, we scrambled to organize a lip-sync competition. and it was a total win. 10 competitors gave us loads of laughs.

this moment, saturday night during free time (really, the whole event is free time!) captured some of the essence of this event for me. at one table, kenny & elle campbell were leading a discussion about marriage & ministry; and at the next table, there was a texas hold ’em game getting going.

each year we invite two keynote speakers who are a little outside the middle school ministry tribe. this year those were dave rahn and amanda drury. both were uh-maze-ing, not just in their main session talks, but in the way they were present to people all weekend long. mandy talked about the role of doubt in her main session talk, and this moment was brilliant. she used the balloons to represent doubts, and the bowling ball to represent faith. she summarized with “one grain of faith is more powerful than all the doubts in the world.”

the campference is also about relationships and friendships, new and old. this is me with tim mauriello. tim is a 40-something middle school pastor in indiana. AND, he was a junior higher in my first church!

a peek into Kurt Johnston’s morning devotions

love this little video of kurt talking about this crazy little event called the Middle School Ministry Campference. kurt helped me dream it up, and was my original sounding board when my dream of the event was just a scattered mess of vision and impulse.

and, in this video, you will catch a glimpse of the quality biblical materials kurt uses for his own devotional life.

the Campference start FIVE WEEKS FROM TODAY! this year we’re adding some awesome new speakers, and some sweet new conversation options, and a bunch of other goodies. (oh, and this week the camp approved our crazy idea of a combo zipline and paintball game during free time. they didn’t go for the combo zipline and skeet shooting, though.) but the best thing about the Campference remains the same — hanging with the middle school ministry tribe.

holy cow. it’s gonna be a blast.

super awesome videos from dan stevers (with prizes!)

more than two years ago, i blogged about my church’s uh-maze-ing video guy, dan stevers. the guy’s creativity blows my mind. but he’s also a deeply good guy, with an amazing heart for ministry. in fact, he stepped out in faith this year and stepped down from his paid role to focus more on creating video content for the global church (many of his videos are available now in spanish, chinese, and other languages). dan is also passing along what he’s learned: there’s a whole collection of free tutorials on his site.

i’ve just rarely seen such high quality work — with a HUGE variety: mini-movies, comedy, animated scripture, sermon themes. heck: i dare ya to click through to his site, watch one video, and not watch a second. it’s almost impossible (sort of like pringles).

because i believe in dan and the quality of his work, and think there are enough youth workers who could use his stuff, i want to do a little give-away contest dealio.

and i’m going big on this one: gonna give out THREE prizes, worth a total of $123!

one person will win a license for this amazing video about identity, normally 17 bucks (seriously — so good for youth ministry):

Identity from DanStevers.com on Vimeo.

another person will win a license for dan’s best-selling mini-movie, change the world, also normally 17 bucks. (you can click through to watch a preview)

then one lucky winner gets this motherload: dan’s bestsellers collection (as he says, “all killer, no filler”), which is normally 89 bucks.

and, here’s how i’m going to give these away. i know there are a TON of you who are planning on coming to The Summit or the Middle School Ministry Campference, and just haven’t bothered to register yet. i know, because you’ve told me! so: the next three people who register for either of those events win these prizes (first one gets the bestsellers collection, and the next two get the single videos). i get emails from our reg systen when someone registers, so i’ll know who you are! but you’ll have to act quickly.

and, whether or not you come to the MSMC or The Summit, check out dan’s amazing art, and think about the impact it could have in your ministry.



Hi. I’m Lenny, Marko & Adam’s summer intern. I figured I’d be making coffee and copies, turns out I have to wear this stupid dinosaur costume to work every day.

But it’ll be worth it, I’m sure.

Anyway, Marko and Adam wanted me to tell you that this Sunday is the early bird deadline for the Middle School Ministry Campference. Apparently, doing that will save you $30 per person. And that’s a lot of money in my world considering I’m living in a tent in Adam’s backyard and Marko is only paying me $50 for the whole summer.

It’ll be worth it, I’m sure.


Lenny the intern

my 7th grade guys invite you to the Campference, or at least that’s what they’re trying to do

ok, last week, adam came to my 7th grade guys small group (the guys with all the amazing and hilarious quotes that i post here from time to time). i scripted a little video that i was hoping we could shoot in one long camera shot, with each guy turning and looking at the camera when he had lines. the setting even allowed them to have the scripts in their laps, ensuring (in my mind) that this was possible.

but after about four takes, it became clear these were not, uh, shall we say, professional actors! (in their defense, the whole thing had a little vibe of “how can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat?” since we were having a pool party, and had to finish shooting this first!)

so, we regrouped, and did multiple takes of each guy’s lines, one at a time, over and over again (i often had to say the line to them many times). seriously, it was hilariously and wonderfully middle school ministry just making this thing!

the result is both a fun little promo for the middle school ministry campference, AND a glimpse at real young teens. and as a bonus: you can see me fake-reading a bible and fake-leading a small group in the background!

by the way: the early bird pricing for the campference ends in LESS THAN two weeks, on june 30 (that’s a week from saturday). the ALL-INCLUSIVE early bird rate (all-inclusive means registration, plus accommodations and all meals! seriously!) is a low, low $295 for individuals, and $270 per person for groups of 3 or more. those prices go up something like a million dollars (give or take) on july 1. so, ya know, you’ll want to act now.

the MSMC is — not exaggerating here — the coolest and most fun weekend in the year for anyone who cares about junior highers. you gotta join us. and, in case the three previous links to the website weren’t obvious enough, here’s another one.

merry year-end budget dregs deal on The Summit and the MSMC

here it is, december 19. maybe your youth ministry budget is only 1/2 over, or even 1/4 over, if your church has a fiscal year that’s different than the calendar. but most youth workers i know — if they have a budget at all — have budgets that wrap up when the father time waves goodbye and that diapered baby of a new year shows up. and my experience tells me the vast majority of youth workers, at this point in the year, fall into one of two categories:

  1. your budget is gone. done. spent. there are only dust bunnies left in that thing.
  2. you have dregs in your budget. like the last drip of coffee in the bottom of a cup, that has a few grinds in it; or like the nickel clinking around in your kid’s piggy bank. there’s not enough to go wild. you’re not even sure there’s enough to do anything with it.

if you fit #2 — we’ve got a screamin’ deal for you. you can lock in a rate cheaper than we will offer at any other time, for the Middle School Ministry Campference, or The Summit, for only twenty five bucks now. surely, your dregs can cover that.

it you fit #1, or if you’re still saying, “budget? what budget?” we have a screamin’ deal for you also! c’mon: it’s twenty-five bucks. we’ll grant you temporary spiritual permission to consider this tithing. in fact, we talked to your church budget chair, and s/he asked that you handle it this way.

but just like 2012, this super dealio ends on december 31!

The Summit 2013
November 8-9, Atlanta GA

The Summit is a 2-day youth ministry event low on hype and high on story; low on entertainment and high on flammable ideas.

Here’s a sample of feedback from this year:

“You guys nailed it… great presenters, great vibe. It was exactly what I had hoped it to be.”

“I was blown away at how each presenter brought something incredibly helpful and thought provoking!”

We’re coming back in 2013 with a brand new group of presenters. We’re hoping you’ll plan to attend.

With a $25 non-refundable deposit, you’ll get our guaranteed lowest rate of just $109. You’ll reserve your spot and won’t have to pay your balance until November, 2013!

The Summit 2013 Deposit

Middle School Ministry Campference 2013
October 11-13, Seymour IN

The campference is a 3 day gathering for youth workers who specialize in working with middle schoolers. Another thing that makes it unique is that we meet at a beautiful camp in Southern Indiana. With all-inclusive registration, once you get there we take care of the rest. (Lodging, food, activities.) There’s simply no other gathering like it anywhere.

But the Campference isn’t just a weekend full of lectures and long seminar blocks. There’s plenty of time for worship, play, and rejuvenation of your soul. It’s everything a tribal gathering should be!

With a $25 non-refundable deposit, you’ll get our guaranteed lowest rate of just $259. You’ll reserve your spot and won’t have to pay your balance until October 1st, 2013!

MSMC 2013 Deposit

NOTE: Deposits are transferable, but not refundable.
Deposit deadline for both events is December 31st, 2012

campference rants

at the middle school ministry campference last weekend, our saturday morning tribal gathering didn’t have a full-length speaker. instead, we had four 7-minute “soapbox rants,” each in response to the question, “what’s one thing you wish all middle school youth workers would start or stop.” it was quite amazing how the four of them flowed together, even though we didn’t know what each was going to say (and they hadn’t communicated with each other).

brooklyn lindsey shared a wonderfully transparent challenge to be honest about who you really are. money quote:

“Stop being someone else. It’s time to be you!”

our second rant was crowdsourced. we invited all the attendees to submit a summary of what they would rant about, then posted the submissions without names on an online survey for voting. joel daniel harris, founder of the newly launched organization TomTod (an organization attempting to come around middle schoolers with a justice/social cause dream and help them turn it into a reality) spoke to us on our need to dream. he talked about “double scope integration,” the fancy term for imagination, connecting it to our calling to exercise imagination in the overlapping spaces of our culture and the kingdom of god, which he referred to as “sacred imagination.” brilliant stuff.

adam mclane was up next. and, since adam has blogged about his rant, you can read it here. adam pushed us to think about decentralizing youth ministry in order to be more responsive to the 42.7 million teenagers in america. money quote:

We must decentralize our role, invite more adults who minister to teenagers already to the table, and multiply our effectiveness.

bringing us home was scott rubin, who — like brooklyn — pushed us with his honesty while challenging us to think about where we “put our worst foot forward.” scott (who blogged the notes from his rant here), unpacked the reality that in an age of facebook and twitter, we’re constantly thinking about how to put our best foot forward in little snippets, constantly presenting the image of ourselves that we want people to have, constantly sharing an edited 2-dimensional version of ourselves. money quote:

Not getting 100 more twitter followers by Christmas isn’t going to disqualify you from ministry.
Not having someone who knows your secret world could bring your ministry – and life – to a grinding halt one day.

great stuff. i’d encourage you to click though on adam and scott’s stuff and read more.