Author Archive: trinity

3 Apps Shut Down Phones


Here are 3 apps that parents can use to shut down their kid’s phones.

But should they be used and if they are going to be used how should they be used. Here’s what they are and a few thoughts on when and how to use them.



One parent writes: “With TeenSafe, I can press a simple button on my phone’s screen and I can pause my child’s access to their phone for as long as I want. No matter where my kids are, the phone won’t work. It will only make calls to me. Or the cops. I can schedule times for the phone to be out of service—during school, or dinner, or homework or when they should be sleeping. Or, when they’re being annoying. Or won’t unpack the dishwasher.”

What do you think? Do You agree?


Ignore No More

Ignore No More: Home-made app shuts down children’s phones if parents’ calls go ignored

According to Tech Trends, “to make the app work, parents would have to install the app on their smartphone and the phones of their children. When the child acts out and doesn’t pick up the phone, a parent can exert control by locking the device. This is a basically a two-step process, a parent would only need to type in their child’s name and then enter a secret password that’s at least four digits long. Once a parent does that, the phone would be automatically locked, preventing their child from going on the Internet or playing games. The only way to unlock the phone would be to call the parent.



Parental Control and Screen Time Management

Here’s what the developers say about the app:  “OurPact is a breakthrough parental control app that enables parental involvement in children’s device habits through Internet and application blocking. Our parental control solution allows parents to manage their child’s screen time at any time, and from anywhere. Enforcing bedtime, dinnertime, study time and family time throughout the day has never been easier. By pairing your family’s iPads, iPhones, and iPods to OurPact, you have the power to manage your entire family’s screen time & device use from one powerful application.

We enable parents to:

  • – Block children’s Internet
  • – Block children’s apps
  • – Schedule Internet and app use according to your child’s daily routine
  • – Establish screen-free bedtime, dinnertime, study time and family time
  • – Create custom, recurring schedules for any activity or time frame
  • – Block Internet and apps at-a-touch
  • – Manage device access on Wi-Fi and all cellular connections (3G, 4G LTE, etc.)
  • – Allow Website and App access, whenever you feel your child needs additional time
  • – Block distracting 3rd Party Apps: Block Facebook, Block SnapChat, Block Instagram, Block Twitter, etc.


Using Blocking Apps

Most teens assure parents that they would never abuse their phone privileges. Of course, that is before they get the device. Within hours of getting the phone they are loading on apps that parents may or may not approve of. Without any agreement with the parents or code of conduct usage can spiral out of control. (You’ve heard that the average screen time for a teen is 9.3 hours, right?)

One expert suggests that you get this permission from your son or daughter before the blocking app is loaded on to the device. “Definitely not behind a child’s back,” says Yalda T. Uhls, author of Media Moms and Digital Dads .“When you first give a child a phone, if you are transparent and get buy-in from the kid, I think it’s a good idea to look at their messages and shut down phone at night.”

My wife and I always made our kids agree to being able to look at the phone any time that we wanted. Our daughters knew also that if their grades slipped or they abused the phone use agreement they would have to surrender their phone for a time.

Sometimes Necessary

It is unfortunate if a teen doesn’t shut the phone down when they are supposed to. If the parent pays for the service they should have every right to take it back or shut it off if rules are not being respected. Blocking Apps are a strong indicator that many parents are frustrated and need help reign in screen time and smart phone abuse. If this is what it takes some parents should load this on when they give their son or daughter a phone

How Did We Do?


How Did We Do?

I’m sitting in Tim Hortons (one of the perks of living in Canada) and there’s a sign staring at me. It reads, “How did we do?” What an important question but one that most youth and young adult ministries never ask.

No wonder, because most churches don’t ask it either! But what an important question! If you’re not getting honest feedback from your people you are walking blind. Here are vital areas you should be getting regular feedback on. (and a quick survey that you can use!)I was surprised to see also that when I logged on to Tim Horton’s wifi, I was directed to a page that began with the same big question and an online survey “HOW DID WE DO?”

I took quick look at a dozen youth web pages and the church they are a part of and no one seems to care “how they did.” Maybe they don’t really want to know? Does your ministry provide multiple avenues for honest feed back? Or do you just deal with compliments and complaints as they come in ? It’s better to seek feedback!

Areas to consider.

Visitor Info

Whether you work with youth, young adults, or older adults you should get regular feed back. The most obvious kind of feedback is visitor details. Visitor cards or sign in from youth provides an an excellent opportunity for follow up. A phone call asking about their first impressions can be incredibly valuable to determine how visitors feel about what you provide.

Event Comment Cards

Most restaurants want to know how you liked the service, the food, the pricing, and other aspects of the dining experience. Youth or church events should include quick simple surveys with the most important evaluations questions. Like

  • Did you enjoy the event
  • Did you like the food
  • Did you meet new people
  • Would you like more information about future events

Program/ Service Feedback

For a youth program or a worship service there are some common areas to evaluate –this would be for all participants not just the new ones.


  • Were you greeted with a warm welcome
  • Did other people greet you beside designated greeters
  • Do you feel accepted by the group?


  • Did you feel the worship was heartfelt and genuine?
  • Did you feel that the group participated and enjoyed the worship?
  • Did you enjoy the worship?


  • Were the announcements interesting?
  • Did the announcements disrupt the service?
  • Did the announcements apply to you?

Teaching/ Preaching

  • I felt the teaching was relevant to my life
  • The teaching was interesting and engaging
  • It seemed people around me were listening and following along
  • I felt the teaching did not go too long

Overall experience

  • I feel good enough about this experience to invite friends
  • I look forward to coming back each week
  • I feel that this group/ church is meeting my personal / spiritual needs
  • I have a group of friends here that I look forward to seeing each week

Open Comments

Seldom will people comment but leaving a place for people to explain their choices or to provide feed back about other areas that you didn’t ask about can be very useful.

Ways to Survey

Taking time at the end of a retreat, service or an event to do a quick survey could be very useful

Having comment cards “How are we doing?” at the info desk and other areas all of the time is helpful.

Survey Monkey is an application that collects this kind of data. It could be sent out to every email address that the youth group or church has. The nice thing about this source is that the feedback is completely anonymous.

Website A button on your website to a quick online survey  -the same questions as listed above can be on the website and if done right people can fill out the survey on their phones.

Kiosk Some churches use ipads or kiosks to collect information. On the way out of Starbucks I saw one that wanted answers to just 4 questions.

Focus Group. We do a lot of these at my college. The downside is that they are not anonymous. If a neutral person, not a pastor sits a group down and gets feedback the input would be valuable.

Get Feed Back

A mirror gives us instant feedback on our appearance. Properly conducted surveys and polls can also give us needed feedback. When we see what we are doing right we can do it even better. When we see what we are doing wrong we can fix it. It will take discipline to gather the data and courage to act upon it!

Ron Powell


Ron Powell is the Director of the Youth Ministry Institute at Vanguard College. He has been involved in youth ministry for 30 years. He continues to volunteer, write, teach, and speak to parents, leaders and teens. If you would like to contact him you can email

The Wonderful, Awful Tension Of Youth Ministry



Do you ever feel the tension of what you do as a youth worker?

I feel tension when I consider the spiritual growth of my students. It’s the tension between the sense of urgency and the knowledge that discipleship is a long, slow, meandering process. I want them to know it ALL right. this. instant. But I know that’s not how faith works. We watch them take two steps forward, one step back and because we love our students we get frustrated. But I know better. I feel tension because while I want them to be living a deep faith now, I know that God is working in them daily, and that He won’t be done with them until they join Him in eternity.

I feel tension when I realistically consider the impact I have on my students. I know the importance of meaningful, non-parent adults in the lives of teenagers. Studies show that these relationships anchor teenagers to their faith. I am that adult to a group of teenagers. So are you. But I also know that I don’t have near the influence that I want. I see them for an hour or so a week if I am lucky. (Text messages are great, but they only supplement the real relationship that happens when I’m hanging out with students.) I feel such tension here. I want to have a greater impact, but my impact is limited in a sense.

I feel tension at times when I load up my family for the third or fourth time in a week to go to church. I love my church. I love our church family. I love the ministry my wife and I do with the teenagers and adults there. But I feel tension. There are some Sunday’s where I would love to not have the responsibilities that I have. Even though I know that what we are doing is what God has called us to do. There is tension.

I feel tension when I lead students to know Christ more deeply through His word. I feel the tension of knowing that many of the things I teach I still struggle with myself. I feel the tension of wanting to make God known so clearly but knowing that I am so human and I that I mess it up as often as not.

It is a beautiful, frustrating, wonderful, awful feeling.

You know why? Because the tension we feel is brought about by actually giving ourselves to the mission of God. It’s the tension of people who aren’t on the sidelines. It’s the tension of people giving it their all, falling flat on their faces, and getting up to try it one more time. 

As much as it can be a struggle at times, I’ll take it.

Where do you experience tension in your ministry life?



76 Fun Icebreaker Questions




A common scenario: A number of people are called to a function room for a meeting, since arrival no one’s made eye contact, there’s awkwardness and the silence is deafening. The meeting leader needs an effective way to get the disparate group to work comfortably and cohesively.

Icebreaker questions are a great way to do this, they can be challenging, silly, memory based or related to the reason that the meeting is being held, but what they are designed to do above all is to relax the participants, remove pre-existing tensions and encourage them to interact and positively contribute to the meeting without inhibitions.

If an attendee is terrified of looking inferior to the group then the best way for them to find calmness is to participate in a fun icebreaker in which everyone has to drop their guard, look less strained and serious and become familiar to their companions. Participants are forced to introduce themselves and interact whatever their inclination. The inspiring result is that they won’t feel the need to be the quiet nervous one in the corner any more so they’ll get more from the meeting and any activities. They’ll have had an early and quick getting-to-know-you conversation with everyone in the room.

Icebreaker questions offer flexibility and are adaptable for use with children and adolescents, for personal gatherings and for professional based scenarios and if a meeting is a religious or social organization orientated one then this can also form the basis of the icebreaker questions.


  1. Which three words describe you best?
  2. Which is your best feature?
  3. Which common saying or phrase describes you?
  4. What’s the best thing that’s happened to you this week?
  5. Who was your role model when you were a child?
  6. Who was your favorite teacher and why?
  7. What was your favorite subject at school?
  8. What did you want to be when you grew up?
  9. Why are you here today?
  10. What would be your perfect job?
  11. What is your greatest achievement?
  12. Have you ever won a trophy or medal?
  13. What is the longest word you know?
  14. Who is the most inspirational person to you?
  15. What is the best praise or advice you’ve received?
  16. Which would you prefer — three wishes over five years or one wish right now?
  17. If you could have one wish come true what would it be?
  18. Did you ever keep a New Year’s resolution?
  19. What was your favorite birthday or Christmas present?
  20. What was the worst present you’ve received?
  21. What was your favorite childhood toy?
  22. Where would you like to be in five years time?
  23. Which skill would you love to learn?
  24. Which language would you like to learn?
  25. If money was not a concern what would you do every day if you didn’t work?
  26. What’s your hidden talent?
  27. What was the funniest moment in your life?
  28. What was the most embarrassing moment in your life?
  29. Have you seen a ghost or an alien?
  30. Would you like to see into the future? Why?
  31. Would you like to be invisible for a day? Why?
  32. If you could rule the world for a day state something that you’d ban.
  33. If you had magical powers name something that you’d change.
  34. Would you rather be clever or beautiful?
  35. Would you rather be really hairy or bald?
  36. Would you like to be taller or thinner?
  37. What irritates you the most?
  38. Have you gone out with mismatched socks or shoes on?
  39. Where would you love to go on holiday?
  40. Why would you like to go to a tropical island or the Arctic more?
  41. Where would you most like to live?
  42. Which planet in the solar system would you visit?
  43. Which animal would you choose to be?
  44. If you were a flower which one would you be?
  45. If you were a tree which one would you be?
  46. Have you baked a cake, who for and was it a success?
  47. What flavor ice cream would you be?
  48. Which chocolate bar is most like you?
  49. What is your favorite food?
  50. What is your favorite drink?
  51. Would you rather be an apple or an orange?
  52. What fruit or vegetable would you be?
  53. Would you rather be a hot or a cold drink?
  54. Which task or chore is your favorite?
  55. Which task or chore is least favorite?
  56. Which office machine is your favorite?
  57. What type of car would you be?
  58. Did you ever lock your car keys in the car?
  59. Have you locked yourself out of the house?
  60. Would you rather lock yourself out of your house or your car?
  61. Have you gone in to a room and forgotten why?
  62. If you could have true love or £1 million which would you choose?
  63. What is your favorite TV show and why?
  64. What is your favorite song?
  65. What is your favorite book?
  66. What is your favorite film?
  67. What is the best chat up line you’ve heard or had said to you?
  68. Who would you like to be for a day?
  69. Who would you choose to be marooned on a desert island with?
  70. Who would play you in a film?
  71. Which famous person would you like to meet?
  72. Which famous person would you never want to meet?
  73. If you could invite five famous or noted people (past or present) to dinner who would you choose?
  74. Which time period would you visit in history?
  75. Would you prefer to visit Earth in 2100 or travel back to 1900?
  76. Which person from history would you most like to meet?

Memory games are hugely effective too, for example “I went on holiday and I took…” or “I went shopping and I bought…” Each person adds an item going around the room and the attendees try to remember everything which invariably causes laughter, improves concentration and initiates connections.

Another format for icebreaking is to tell one fact and one lie about yourself and see if the others can guess which one is true. The icebreaking question possibilities are endless and very illuminating. Need more icebreaker ideas?

Getting Students to Show Up for Your Event


By Kevin Kent

We all believe in the camps and events that we are doing, and know there is no better environment for building community and bringing energy into our ministry year. With any luck, and a bit of strategic thinking and purposeful programming afterwards, we can ride the wave of momentum for some time. But only if people show up.

I can’t tell you how many times I have envisioned and developed the most exciting and potentially world-changing event (at least that’s how I felt) just to be left in a panic about why no one was registering. I didn’t know if everyone was just waiting until the last minute to register or waiting until I decided to call everyone on my roster and remind them it’s time to sign up. Many times I would spend several hours on the phone convincing every last person that they needed to register before I lost my shirt for not hitting minimums.

Not that the phone calls were a bad thing, in fact there was a ton of great ministry within those desperate hours of calls before our most important event. But I was always left frustrated, wondering why people weren’t signing up. After all, the same event last year was a huge success! Don’t they remember that? That’s when I decided to change my thinking, instead of hoping that everyone would show up to a camp that would be the springboard of momentum for months to come. I needed to build the momentum before the event even started.

I began to realize that students don’t get excited about the doing the same thing. They won’t pull from the memory of last year’s experience because students live in the moment. They don’t always ask their friends if they are going before they sign up, and what if they do and their friend can’t go? Or what if a well-intending parent decides that everyone in their student’s circle needs to know that their kid isn’t going, so they don’t waste their one cabin request on a no-show (this has happened to me more than I’d like to admit). And lastly, students are skeptical (at least the ones at my church). Even if every event they have come to so far was off-the-chart fun, they always leave room for the thought that this one might be different.

A few years back we decided to something that changed everything for us. We take time out of our normal weekly program to focus on building momentum for our camps and events. A few times a year we have these nights that we call (insert your event or camp name here) Rally. We show highlights from the last year, play games that connect to the event, pick songs that relate to the theme, give a message or interview people, do creative spins on announcements about what’s upcoming. It’s like one big commercial. Sometimes we invite the guest speaker or band for camp to play a preview (one year our high school group had the guest speaker talk to parents and families at our main church service). We also launch our registration with the lowest price available for only 48 hours (we usually have 50-60% of our registrations come in at that Rally price). The entire night is designed around communicating the most important things to build momentum for our students. We know we have to be completely clear on these three things:

1) It’s going to be a ton of fun!

We know that students don’t care nearly as much as we do that their lives will be changed or that they will feel a deeper sense of belonging after camp. They show up for fun. They only tell their friends about it if it will be fun. And they only have a good time if it’s fun.

2) Everyone will be there!

We know we can’t deliver completely on this promise (it’s mostly out of our hands) but we can be sure that we create the illusion that “everyone” will be there. So we speak in generalities, and talk about the total number of students we are expecting. And we never ask for students to raise their hand or cheer if they plan to go, which just gives the students in the room incomplete data to form a conclusion about who will be there.

3) There are a lot of new things this year!

This is huge! The most important thing for momentum is new vision. Every year we try to bring in big change. We ask how we can get better, and what we are not doing yet? If we run out of ideas, we get really creative on this and try to find new twists on things that we’ve always done so that it feels new. Students like to know what to expect but they want it to be new, fresh, and exciting. We tell them everything; we don’t wait for a big reveal or keep some things secret. We want to build anticipation.

Although the Rally is primarily for the students, it works to get leaders on board as well. But we think that there’s something more important to communicate to leaders. We usually do this over an email just before or after the rally, and then in a meeting or personal conversations later we revisit these points. The leaders need to know that God’s going to do something big and they can’t miss it. Every leader wants to know that their investment matters and, most of all, they want to be part of something bigger than themselves. As best we can, we communicate the anticipation that God is going to show up in a big way. I think God likes to deliver on this hope, and it keeps us on our toes and helps us give Him credit. And, every leader needs to know that this is the best investment of their time with students. We tell them stats, remember past wins, dream of potential moments, and give them vision of the near future when the event is over.

Over these past few years-since we have been doing the Rallies-I have never needed to pick up the phone and beg people to show up. In fact our numbers continue to grow and our spots fill up sooner every year. And finally, the Rally helps us to have a developed plan well in advance rather than waiting until the last minute for everything. And it holds us accountable to follow through on everything we promised- that our next camp or event will be the best thing we have done yet.


Kevin is the Middle School Pastor at Lakeside Church in Folsom, CA. He has two beautiful and spirited daughters and the most amazing wife, who has served alongside him in ministry for 13 years. Kevin has a passion for doing big, innovative, and creative things in ministry. He loves to invest in his team and partner with other pastors to see lives changed with the love of Christ. Kevin is a foodie and slightly obsessed with tea. He also loves to cook, date his wife, make his daughters feel like princesses, and take his motorcycle to the racetrack. Find out more about Kevin’s ministry by visiting

Parent’s Meeting on Social Media


Here’s my outline for a parents meeting that I am doing on Friday night. I thought you may want to run a similar session for parents in your area. Use some or all of this. Make sure that you provide plenty of time for parents to interact with each other and to ask questions. Here’s the the outline and a power point you can download. 

Social Media or Anti-Social Media

Here’s a power point presentation if you are interested:


 By the end of our time together you will

  1. Be more aware of how teens are using phones, apps, other devices
  2. Recognize the problems associated with social media
  3. Respond with reasonable ground rules and expectations

 Social Media & Networking

How are teens using those devices

Student use of apps




Instagram Star  Speaks Outinstagram-star

Instagram was destroying my life Essena O’neil
-hundreds of retakes
-dangerous dieting
-retouching photos
-living for likes
-shut down account started new account to help others


More than half of the 92 percent of teenagers ages 13 to 17 who go online daily use Instagram. While young people of every generation have struggled with how to project their identities onto the greater world, teenagers of 2016 arguably have it worse. Given the pervasiveness of social media, the feedback mechanism never shuts down.


Girls have quietly repurposed the photo-sharing app into a barometer for popularity, friendship status and self-worth.” Writes, Rachel Simmonds


Face Book

  • Communication
  • Showing Interest
  • Social Comparisons
  • Identity Construction
  • Opportunities for Bullying
  • Opportunity for obsession over likes
  • FOMO –fear of missing out

Twitter     #seriously

A third (33%) of all teens use Twitter. Older teens are more likely to use the service than younger, with use rising steadily as teens age, from just 13% of 13-year-olds using the service to 28% of 14-year-olds and 43% of 17-year-olds.

The oldest girls ages 15 to 17 are the most likely to use Twitter with nearly half of them (49%) using it. 

The oldest girls ages 15 to 17 are the most likely to use Twitter with nearly half of them (49%) using it. 

 This is how teens relate to each other around celebrities, funny videos, hashtags, and interests

It can be a social media asking “This is me. What do you think of me?”

You tube endless entertainment


Apple TV



Why anonymous sites are dangerous

Mya Bianchi, a 15-year-old who attends Ionia High School in central Michigan

Phone number posted

Bullied/ harassed

Other Apps



Let’s ‘Chat’

  • What are some of the ways that you set boundaries?
  • What are some Best Practices?
  • What are some of your take-aways from what you have seen so far?


What Parents Can Do




Motivation and Opportunity

  • Some students are not motivated
  • Some students have no opportunity
  • What happens when they are motivated and have opportunity?

 Some Thoughts

  1. Model the Behaviour you want to develop.
  2. Increase Face to Face Time
  3. How can busy families increase family time ?

Reasonable Expectations

  • Create use agreement/ covenant
  • Consider a blocking app
  • Limit screen time
  • No screens in bedrooms overnight
  • No phones at dinner time
  • No phones in the car
  • Parents have all passwords
  • Parents have all permissions for apps

 The Teen World Today

  • Social media is everywhere and many teens are constantly connected
  • There are dangers for healthy development
  • Set guidelines pair Privilege with Responsibility
  • Set and Enforce Reasonable Expectations


If you would like to contact me you can email me at ron.powell@vanguardcollege .com

You are also invited to follow my blog


joy-jar-2By Taryn Seemann

Whether you’ve been in ministry two years or twenty years, we all have a tendency towards forgetfulness. It’s difficult to look back over last year or even the last month and point to specific stories of impact and transformation in the lives of our students. We know that the Lord is at work, but when ministry takes its toll, we regularly find ourselves on the verge of burnout.

I mentor three senior girls in our church’s youth ministry, and one of my girls gave me a parting gift before I left to lead mission trips in Pawleys Island this summer. She’d painted two colorful mason jars labeled “Joy Jar” and “Frustration Jar” and written this sweet note:

“As you minister to students this summer, you will surely have times of immense joy and times of great frustration. I wanted to give you a way to record those moments and be able to look back on how God is using you and how he has answered your prayers.”

My student can’t possibly know the impact of her gift to me both in terms of encouragement and exhortation. Her note expressed her care for me, and her gift allowed me to enter into the discipline of remembrance. Taking up her challenge, I sat down every other weekend with my two jars, a pen, and a pile of notecards, and I began to write. At first, it was much easier to pen my frustrations; my mind was still racing through the weeks struggles and moments of conflict. To combat this bent towards the negative, I started writing three joy cards for every one frustration card, and once I got started, the moments of joy came more readily.

I wrote down the moments where I saw students “get it” and the times when a student took a bold risk or made an important commitment or action step in their life moving forward. I even wrote down the little things that made me laugh or smile. Regardless of the kind of week I was having, these jars prompted me to seek the Lord and rejoice.

It occurred to me that this could be a useful tool for youth workers and volunteers. The time commitment is minimal, and it yields meaningful stories, encouragement, and perspective. When my friends and family ask about my summer, I can quickly articulate a story from one of my joy cards. When I’m feeling upset over not seeing growth in my students, I can be encouraged in the ways that God has used me in the past. When I find myself dwelling on circumstances that are frustrating me, I’m reminded of how God hears my prayers and is still working all things for his good.

I’d like to pass along my student’s challenge to you. Set aside a regular time in your schedule this year to record your joys and frustrations. Don’t be afraid to treat it as a discipline, and trust that the Lord will multiply your reasons for joy. You’ll find that counting joys is one of your best weapons in fighting burnout.

Youth Group Games: Headbanger Bop

This game was submitted to the collective by Dan Istvanik


Players will have to “head bang” with a balloon tied to their forehead to see how many times they can hit themselves in the head with the balloon.


  1. 2 “Punch Balloons” (balloon with rubber band)
  2. 2 Bandanas
  3. A sound system
  4. Your favorite “metal”, “hardcore” music (*Demon Hunter…)

How to Play:

Ask two volunteers to come up the front. Sting the rubber band of the balloon through their bandanas and tie them tightly around their head. (*old school Bret Michaels!). On “Go!” the music starts and players start head-banging as fast as they can to get as many “hits” in one minute. Winner is the player that has the most hits.

Swinging the balloon around the head does not count. They have to be able to create a “balloon punch” style motion




Let’s dive in and start with a brief overview of the current state of affairs related to the opioid crisis. Some of these number will shock you and some will be hard to believe. As an addiction counselor working exclusively with opioid dependent individuals I can tell you these number don’t surprise me at all. Having worked in this field for a few years now I can attest to the growing number of opioid users, especially among the populations listed below. We’ve also seen a growing number of overdose related deaths due to opioid use. To those of us working in the field, it feels like the problem is growing faster than we can treat it. If this were the Ebola virus and that was happening, we would do everything we could to contain its spread without hesitation.


Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the US, with 47,055 lethal drug overdoses in 2014. Opioid addiction is driving this epidemic, with 18,893 overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers, and 10,574 overdose deaths related to heroin in 2014. From 1999 to 2008, overdose death rates, sales and substance use disorder treatment admissions related to prescription pain relievers increased in parallel. The overdose death rate in 2008 was nearly four times the 1999 rate; sales of prescription pain relievers in 2010 were four times those in 1999; and the substance use disorder treatment admission rate in 2009 was six times the 1999 rate. In 2012, 259 million prescriptions were written for opioids, which is more than enough to give every American adult their own bottle of pills. Four in five new heroin users started out misusing prescription painkillers. As a consequence, the rate of heroin overdose deaths nearly quadrupled from 2000 to 2013. During this 14-year period, the rate of heroin overdose showed an average increase of 6% per year from 2000 to 2010, followed by a larger average increase of 37% per year from 2010 to 2013. 94% of respondents in a 2014 survey of people in treatment for opioid addiction said they chose to use heroin because prescription opioids were “far more expensive and harder to obtain.”


In 2014, 467,000 adolescents were current nonmedical users of pain reliever, with 168,000 having an addiction to prescription pain relievers. In 2014, an estimated 28,000 adolescents had used heroin in the past year, and an estimated 16,000 were current heroin users. Additionally, an estimated 18,000 adolescents had heroin a heroin use disorder in 2014. People often share their unused pain relievers, unaware of the dangers of nonmedical opioid use. Most adolescents who misuse prescription pain relievers are given them for free by a friend or relative. The prescribing rates for prescription opioids among adolescents and young adults nearly doubled from 1994 to 2007.


Opioids are a powerful class of drug that includes the illicit drug heroin as well as the licit pain relievers, such as; oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, and fentanyl.

Our brains have natural opioid receptor hardwired within it. Opioid receptors interact with nerve cells in the brain and nervous system, controlling pain and delivering pleasure. Everyone on the planet does this naturally through our endorphin system.

When we engage in pleasurable activities the brain releases these feel good chemicals (dopamine/serotonin) and we experience them as a reward. These chemicals are the drive behind every habit we have. We will almost always do what that which gives us the greatest pleasure or has the greatest potential for removing pain or discomfort. We are hedonic seeking creatures. It’s why we eat when we’re hungry, have sex when we’re horny, and take medicine when we’re sick.

Our natural endorphin system has three primary functions; stabilize mood, provide energy/motivation, and control pain. All necessary to live a functional, normal life. Opiate dependent individuals ALL report they stopped using heroin and pain pills to get high within months of starting. They report primarily using just to feel normal, just to get up and go to work, take care of the kids, and not be sick.


When we are prescribed or illicitly take opiates our brains hit the jackpot! Not only does this medication already belong in our systems, it’s much more powerful than the stuff we make naturally. If we take the medication or heroin long enough our brain, being a very efficient organ, will reduce or just stop manufacturing the naturally occurring chemicals and rely on you to provide it via drugs. It’s like the brain lays off all the workers and shuts down the factory.

Opiates are highly addictive because the chemical already belong there. The brain would fight off other foreign chemicals such as cocaine or methamphetamines because it sees them as a threat. But with opiates it just says, “Back that truck up and give me as much as you’ve got!” This is called dependency.

Unfortunately, the longer you use opiates the stronger the neural pathways get that support their use. Consequently, the lesser use natural pathways get weaker and less used neural pathways have a tendency to prune themselves to make room for more frequently used neurons/pathways. The brain, fueled by illicit or licit opiate use creates a superhighway that supports that drug use and he old, natural pathways are like rural back roads that aren’t driven anymore, overgrown and broken down. Even if you tried to take the old rural road it would be hard to traverse because of a lack of use.

So, now an individual is completely dependent on opiates and the brain structure has changed to accommodate this drug use. Paying for daily drugs gets expensive quickly as tolerance to the medication increases. This often leads a moral, kind, good person to do awful things they never imagined doing, such as stealing from grandmother, taking money from their kids piggy banks, selling the family jewelry, or robbing someone using physical force. All just to avoid feeling violently ill. All with the intent to make right as soon as they’re feeling better. But, that never comes. There’s always tomorrow and more sickness. The hole just gets deeper. Add to that the growing sense of shame, guilt, and remorse and you have a desperate, self-loathing person and the perfect antidote for feeling sick and hating yourself…use more drugs. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

If a person began using prescription pain medication and developed a dependency, it’s a short jump to heroin. Maintaining a pill addiction is very expensive and heroin is a cheaper, more powerful alternative. Once you use a needle to inject heroin, there’s no going back from there. Your life becomes a hopeless cycle of using drugs, getting high, hustling for money, getting high. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Opiate use now becomes the only way for a person to function as a human. Most of the public lacks this understanding and perpetuates the false belief that if someone really wanted it bad enough they’d just stop using. Science tells us it simply does not work that way.

Tune in to the YOUTH SPECIALTIES FACEBOOK PAGE for a Facebook Live Q+A on September 26th at 3:00pm CST. We will talk about addiction and answer questions from you regarding addiction among youth and what our ministries can do to help address this growing problem.

chrisChris Schaffner is a certified addictions counselor working with chemically dependent ’emerging adults’ and is also the founder of CONVERSATIONS ON THE FRINGE. CotF is an organization seeking creative and innovative ways to bridge the gap between the mental health community and those entities (particularly schools and churches) that serve youth in contemporary society.

Close The Door; Don’t Slam It!



businessman in blue room with doors open

You will lose your job.  Everyone does.  Some get fired. Others resign. Eventually you will lose your job by retiring. Therefore, transitioning out of a job becomes important.

But, what if you are the one providing the “opportunity for transition?” There are horror stories of people arriving for work one morning only to find out they have been laid off. Armed security watches these ex-employees as they clean out their desks into cardboard boxes. Should such harsh human resource practices be used with church employees? Some churches have answered “yes” when it comes to their youth minister.

In the name of “good business” youth ministers are sometimes asked to resign without saying, “goodbye,” to the young people to whom they were charged to develop relationships.  They are ushered out quickly without an explanation, often times to the detriment of the young people they have been serving.

Let me first offer a disclaimer. If a youth minister has done something illegal, unethical or immoral to the extent to get him or her fired from the position, then that person has lost the privilege of saying, “goodbye.” It is an easy explanation to the young people as to why that person isn’t allowed back in their lives. There is certainly a mess to clean up and broken relationships to mend. But, in these horrible instances there is direction and, more importantly closure that makes sense.



So, if a youth minister hasn’t broken the law, a moral or ethical code, then what are we talking about? I have observed this scenario way too many times. Here is how it happens.


I tell youth ministers all the time, “You get hired for who you are.  And you get fired for who you’re not.” This most often happens in the 12-18 month window after the youth minister is hired. Read more about that here. Staff and parents realize the youth minister isn’t living up to expectations. Instead of working on some compensation strategies, skill training or a realignment of expectations, staff and parents keep a running record of all the mistakes.  Instead of dealing with each issue individually, the record is cumulative, resulting usually in the proverbial straw breaking the camel’s (or, in this case, youth minister’s) back.  At 18 months the church is looking for a new person to take the job for the next 12-18 months.


Early in the 12-18 month window “The List” is given.  I wrote about The List a few years ago.  The List contains the tasks which need to be completed by the youth minister. The List always has a deadline.  The deadline is often days before a critical staffing meeting. The List usually means the youth minister is about to get fired.


If The List isn’t completed, then it is an easy decision for the church to ask for the resignation of the youth minister.  If everything on The List is completed by the youth minister then it makes for an interesting game of chicken. Rarely do churches recommit to their youth minister after the successful completion of The List. But, in these unusual instances I have seen an entire church make a dramatic positive shift. Unfortunately, it isn’t often about the tasks on The List. The church (clergy, staff or parents) just doesn’t like the youth minister.  Usually (almost always) the kids do.


At this point the church asks for the resignation of the youth minister, negotiating a severance package where the youth minister is paid for several weeks after resigning. Part of the severance agreement includes clauses that preclude the youth minister from speaking about his or her dismissal and permanently and immediately cuts off contact with the young people. If the youth minister were to break the agreement, he or she would leave needed money for personal living expenses on the table.

Youth ministers who are dismissed in this way are left to field endless text messages from youth about what happened.  They are forced to lie one text message at a time.  Of course they tell young people they chose to resign (kind of not a lie, right) and that everything will be okay.  If they told the whole truth (I was asked to resign and was told to stay away from you) they would risk not being able to eat or pay their rent. The church also isn’t offering the whole truth. Why would they? It would make them look bad.

The real victims are the young people in the youth group. From their perspective they have been abandoned by someone who recently communicated interest and love for them. Their intuition tells them there is more to the story. Instead of being given more information, they are left confused. Often youth are given an announcement and asked to move forward. There isn’t an opportunity to express feelings in these scenarios. Communicating grief or thankfulness to the youth minister is not allowed.  There is no closure, only raw feelings of hurt and abandonment.

This year I have experienced three youth ministers (with whom I am close) let go in this manner. In each instance the church plays into the role of abandoning young people and the young adults who serve them. These churches caused broken relationships and did little to heal them.



There is a better way. Fortunately, I have seen other churches do a more than admirable job of transitioning employees. It still hurts. Yet, there is closure, respect and space to grieve. Here is how it can work.


In healthy churches where an employee isn’t meeting expectations the church works way beyond the 12-18 month window (usually 3-4 years) developing the right relationship and culture.  The church acknowledges that every employee is not good at everything. Training is offered. Compensation strategies are considered and tried. The church is patient and sees itself as helping others, even staff members, to grow into who God created them to be.


There is a different list, one that directs the ministry. The deadline on the list doesn’t coincide with some ultimate staffing meeting. In fact, there are many deadlines, one for each task on the list, spread out over a reasonable amount of time. The list isn’t just for the youth minister. Other people have tasks on the list, too. The entire ministry, not just one person, is evaluated by this list.


At some point the church may determine the youth minister is not meeting expectations on a consistent basis. Or the church may need other skill sets. Or the church experienced a change in clergy leadership and the youth minister no longer fits the dynamics of the staff. All of these contribute to a well thought out decision about the direction of the ministry, often times occurring over the course of a year or longer. In these situations the church strategizes, with the input of the youth minister, on what needs to happen after the youth minister leaves the position. A plan exists.


Part of the plan includes encouraging the youth minister to begin looking for another job while still performing the duties as youth minister.  Usually a reasonable timeline is given (2-4 months). There are expectations within the timeline that, if not met, will result in immediate termination. In other words, the youth minister needs to continue to perform his or her job.  This gives the youth minister time to look for another job.  Once found, it gives time for closure with the youth group.  The church, meanwhile, can begin an informal search for a replacement, ramping up their efforts when their present youth minister announces their next job.

There is still pain in this second scenario. The youth minister’s self-esteem is damaged. The youth are sad. But, it is manageable pain which everyone can talk about.  Closure is complete. In every situation where I have seen this process happen, both the church and the youth minister have eventually (almost immediately) landed in a better place.

Why don’t churches choose this method of transitioning employees? Often times they are not aware of alternative options. In fact, some churches just make it so difficult for the youth minister to perform tasks, the youth minister gives up and resigns. This isn’t helpful either. When there is disagreement, disappointment and distress, it is very difficult for people, even church people, to determine a Christian perspective. Emotions are involved. People rely on what they have observed in secular culture. Many justify their actions as “best for the kids” without consulting the kids to see what is best for them.

Honesty, transparency and time to grieve are what is best for young people in times of transition. When 50% of our youth experience divorce causing loneliness and abandonment, why would the church abandon them one more time, divorcing them from a person who loved and cared for them without an explanation or closure?

The church needs to think about young people first. And, secondly the church needs to extend love and care to a soon-to-be former employee. This love and care needs to be tangible and real, not just empty words. In other words, a two week severance package isn’t loving if it will take two months to land another job.

You will lose your job. This is inevitable for every person. Possibly we simply take a line from Jesus and treat others as we would like to be treated.