The night my lesson got erased & taught me something new

This post came out of a draft I wrote several weeks ago. We have the best laid plans as leaders…but what happens when things don’t go the way we thought they would? Keep reading.

I escorted a shiny new volunteer leader to my small group room tonight to sit in on my lesson hoping that she would commit to co-leading with me and falling in love with this group of girls like I had. I ran down to do a quick errand, and returned expecting that the room would be filled with eager teenaged learners. To my dismay, the volunteer said, “I think we’ve been stood-up.” What?! I’ve never had girls not show for my lifegroup! I texted to get some answers, as my ego reeled. I then quickly ushered the new volunteer to a girls group that actually showed up. I quietly returned to my empty room and had some words with God about the lesson I had worked hard to put together. Then, the door opened and one girl walked in. I was seething, and yet she had actually showed up even though she was 13 minutes late. I thought about teaching this one student, but then offered for her to sit in with another group. However, as soon as I offered that option, another set of words came out that I wasn’t expecting. “let’s go talk down in the coffee shop”, I said. As we sat at a table, she began to talk with me about dreams that I would never have heard. And while sitting at that table, I realized that God created space for that time to happen. My lifegroup lesson was not to be for a group of 10, but a group of 2. As I listened, I remembered why I had the best job in the whole world. At this point in our conversation, I received a text asking me to step into a conversation with a student who was experiencing inexplicable grief. I stepped into the conversation midway which caused me to do some catch-up, and wondered how God would prompt me to speak into this difficult moment. The leader was doing a masterful job of following The Spirit’s prompting, and she led me to share a moment from my past that paralleled some of what this young girl was experiencing. I would have missed seeing God at work in that moment too had my group shown up. Tonight, I had a plan. I prepared with that plan in mind. The plan was that this little group of awesome high school girls would show up and be transformed by our amazing last lesson on Experiencing God. But that wasn’t how tonight went. Ironically, I wasn’t supposed to teach on Experiencing God; I was supposed to do it!
God was at work tonight and it reminded me to prepare, but always be looking for how God is at work, and ditch my plans quickly if He’s not there. Thank you God for moving me out of my Lifegroup room tonight to be taught about Your activity.

So what about you? Are you writing your plans in pencil or pen? Are you able to see God when He is working? I hope this post has been encouraging for you as a leader. I hope it causes you to look at your week and ask how you’ve seen God at work in your work. If you haven’t seen Him, are there reasons that you are aware of that may “choke” the spirit’s work? Is there pride? Is there jealousy? Is there busyness? Take some time to celebrate His work in and through you and re-present your plans to Him.

Cookies: a great recipe for getting to know girls

This past Sunday two of our 8th grade girls lifegroup leaders put together a Valentine’s eve cookie party. I joined them after the damage had already begun on the kitchen table. You probably heard us sometime during the afternoon. You must have heard us, as those 12 or so 8th grade girls hit decibels that broke the sound barrier at least 5 or 6 times. You know how it goes. You start making cookies. You start giggling. You start singing, and it quickly escalates into a sound barrier breaking rendition of “I am a C. I am a C-H. I am a C-H-R-I-S-T-I-A-N.” Amazing. And I loved how not only did we make heart cookies, but we had Yoda, Bobba Fett, and a Storm trooper that showed up in our cookie tray as well. Why do we do it? Because in the margins of making cookies, we share more than a recipe. We share time. We share turns getting to hear what’s going on, or what one girls likes, or what one girl doesn’t like. We share laughter. And as a result, we’ve shared life together. Walking into that group on Wednesday night doesn’t seem like a sterile classroom anymore. There’s growth happening even more now because these two lifegroup leaders took time to bring girls to their home and make cookies for an afternoon. I love that our leaders see the importance of doing life outside of our scheduled time on Wednesday. Thanks Kathy and Debbie! And thanks to many other leaders who do this on a regular basis. I just didn’t call attention to you today. BUT it’s coming:)

TECHTALK: Distance biblestudy

This week has been a crazy one. Not only are we getting ready to have our girls retreat the week after we have our guys retreat, but we have to fit in 11 interviews for our summer interns in two weeks. On top of that we have a minister’s spiritual retreat and a discipleship retreat. WHOA-WA! But we all go through seasons like that when we feel the need…the need for speed. ūüôā (yes I’ve been watching some movies from the 90’s on the weekend) Or perhaps, we feel the need to be in four places at once. Well you can’t do that,but sometimes when you are trying to meet up with girls to plan bible studies and no one can be available at the same time for a physical meeting, you can try an alternative. I present to you Adobe Connect Web conferencing!

This Thursday, myself and 3 other girls all at different locations logged onto a customized weblink. Their video camera’s clicked on and because they aren’t exactly geeky techs like me, I used groupme to call them as a conference call and told them to turn off the volume on their computers. That way we had no echo. (If you don’t use headsets or a conference call, your program will pick up everyone’s microphones and it will echo the entire time and not allow for a meeting. Been there done that ) We met for 1.5 hours going over bible studies for Snowball. They loved it and so did I. They were still able to bethemselves on the webconference. For example, one of the girls was being cheeky and found out that when I was reading from my notes, I was not looking at them on camera. That’s when she proceeded to put a pen in her ear or be goofy. I finally realized that everytime I looked away, they would giggle. I soon found out why. Girls are girls even on web conferences. We had a great time and although it doesn’t been face-to-face, it’s a great alternative if you have to. I paid $14.99 for a month. I thought that was very reasonable.

I didn’t get to take screenshots of our meeting, but I’ll put some from the actual program. You can upload documents and girls can download from withinthe chat. You can create notes that everyone can edit. And you can share your screen with participants. If you needed to show a video or something, that would be very useful. In addition, everyone has a video pod so you can seeeveryone’s face. If you use it, let me know!

How to digitally share your favorite resources through shelfari

I’m sure it’s happened to you. It’s a Wednesday night, and a mom comes up to you wanting to know if you have a bible study for her daughter that you could recommend. Same day, (cuz you’re just really popular) a teenaged girl is wanting to find a resource to help her understand theology, and she wants to know what you recommend. Or maybe, you want to let your small group leaders see the approved curriculum you have for them to select for their groups this semester. If one or all of the above scenarios sounds familiar, you need to set up a Shelfari. It’s really easy. It’s free. Go to and begin setting up an online reference bookshelf. You can even create tags for specific people. For example, my entire bookshelf is
I just created a tagged bookshelf for some parents:
And embedded, it looks like below:

Shelfari: Book reviews on your book blogFind new books and literate friends with Shelfari, the online book club.

How to partner with parents in mentoring their daughter

Some of my very favorite people in ministry are parents I know. They are my friends and they are on “Team Amy-Jo”. ¬†They are people that I can count on to pray for me, with me, and sometimes they pray without me even knowing. These parents allow me to come alongside of them and co-minister. ¬†It’s a special bond. ¬†I get the unique vantage point of watching them love on their daughters through the teenage years, and I get to encourage both the daughter and parent as those times can sometimes be trying. ¬†I am thankful for the partnership we have. ¬†I am grateful for the friendship we have. ¬†I say this because I realized this is something I may take for granted, and something I haven’t truly spent a great deal of time talking about here. ¬†I must say that I first learned this possible partnership from when I was a teen myself. ¬†My amazing mother took the time to allow some women to come into our lives to walk alongside of us. ¬†They are my mother’s friends, and they are my mentors. ¬†Even as some moved to places like Africa or Mississippi, they remained in my life as my girl’s minister’s. ¬†Even to this day, these women hold a special place in our family. ¬†My husband affectionately calls them my Obi-wan-kenobi and my Yoda. ¬†I love you both Bonita and Robin.

Here’s what I’ve learned from them about partnering with parents to minister to girls:

1. Reinforce the values that the Godly parent is trying to encourage within the daughter. I never received mixed messages from my mentors and my mom.  They were on the same page.  It made such a difference to hear something my mom had said to me, show up naturally in conversation with my mentor.  I knew they were on the same page.

2. It’s okay to hang out together with the mom and daughter. Sometimes as a girls minister we may shy away from hanging out with students and their parents. ¬†However, if you can, try to schedule some girl time with both the daughter and the mom. ¬†It can be a healthy time of modeling a Christian friendship with the daughter. ¬†I loved hanging out with my mom and my mentors. ¬†It wasn’t often, but we would sometimes invite them over for lunch or dinner after a church event.

3. Be present, not possessive. The women that mentored me listened to what was going on in our family. They didn’t overstep their bounds and so my mother was never threatened by their presence in my life. ¬†I think that came from their ability to listen and be present without being possessive. Now don’t get me wrong, I knew I was their “girl” and I am shaped today because of their influence in my life, but they did not try to replace my mother. Instead, they worked alongside of her in a harmonious way that allowed me to see different role models during my formative years.

4. Call out the good things you see God doing in both the daughter and the mom. These women have been amazing at not only encouraging me and calling out the good things they see God doing in me, but also doing the same with my mom. ¬†I know they love us both. ¬†It was important for me especially because I had a difficult relationship with my father who didn’t really know how to use his words to encourage. ¬†To hear my mentors talk to my mom about what they saw in me was so encouraging. ¬†And to hear them say things about my mother only reinforced the value of my mom in my eyes.

There is so much more I’ve learned from the women who walked alongside of my mom and I, but these were the things that popped into my head after a long day. ¬†I hope you get to be a Robin or Bonita to a girl and her mom. ¬†It’s a forever friendship you won’t regret making.

Tough talks. Someone’s gotta do it.

Today I was reading Read Ephesians 4:12.

11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers,12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up

“Equipping” is the translation of a Greek word used in New Testament times for mending nets, setting a bone, and realizing a purpose. It means to “put right”.

As girls ministers, we have all sorts of conversations with girls and leaders. Sometimes you walk away from a conversation encouraging a girl to pursue God or to be all that God is calling her to be. Sometimes you get to help her with some faith questions. (It’s always fun when they ask about “the nephilim” in Genesis 6.) ¬†Then there are the times when you may have to confront an area of immaturity. ¬†These are not easy conversations to have. ¬†I had to have a couple of those conversations this week. ¬†And I was reminded today that I am called to those conversations too. ¬†I’m called to equip as if I were a doctor and I saw a broken bone. ¬†I would not ignore it. ¬†I would not just give pain medicine. I would need to align the bones and set it in a cast so that it mends and grows stronger. ¬†Do not be afraid of those conversations where a student may need you to speak into their life regarding various immaturities. And just like a doctor would be careful with the broken bone, we too must take special care with these students we are entering into equipping conversations with.

A long time ago, I had a group of girls that determined whenever I would say “Can we talk for a second”, that this meant they were getting ready to be disciplined. ¬† I realized it was true and something they were doing may have triggered my “equipping” mode and I didn’t set up the conversation for maximum influence. ¬†There are some things we can do to prepare for a healthy conversation with a student, just like a doctor would prepare for surgery.

1. Set up a time to talk with the girl for a later time. Sometime in the heat of the moment, we may see something that needs to be addressed and we respond right there and then. However, if we’re honest, equipping the student at that moment may not be our initial motivation and oftentimes we miss out on a unique opportunity to truly set up the optimum time to talk with that student.

2. Pray through what it is that you are getting ready to share with the student.

3. Remove the personal hurt feelings out of the conversation. You may have been hurt by the student, but remember they are a teenager. Their prefrontal cortex won’t be fully wired until they are 25. As you address the situation, your feelings expressing hurt may bring guilt and shame on a student that will erase any type of equipping. This is a delicate area which only highlights your need to listen to the Holy Spirit’s leading of what to say and what not to say.

4. Look for ways to build the student up. Your truthful encouraging words can be just like a cast in surrounding the “wound” and supporting the healing. ¬†Remember to speak His truth into the situation.

5. Write out a basic framework of where you are wanting to go with the equipping time. Example:

Heather, I’ve been observing this sarcasm in you during our student leader meetings. ¬†You are truly a hilarious person, but I wanted to talk with you about what is happening around you with our group when you begin being sarcastic during our meetings.

—share some examples of how unity has been affected.

—ask what she thinks sarcasm is intended to do? Share with her what scripture says about sarcasm.

—talk about ways to turn the sarcasm into encouragement.

—What would happen if her words were used to build people up and not tear them down?

—Share how you have seen God using her, and how working together on this area could really make a difference in the unity of our student ministry.

—Make a plan to eliminate sarcasm from the wednesday night meeting. ¬†PRAY.

Here are some areas where you may see ways to “equip” or “set right” or “mend” or “help realize a purpose”:

A student appears to have an agenda for wanting to be involved in a leadership component.

A student flakes out on their responsibilities or commitments with the student ministry.

A girl treats her church family one way, and completely disrespects her biological family.

A student hasn’t seen the way they can use their gifts to connect with service or worship.

What are some other ways you have seen reason to step in and equip?

How does this added understanding of the word “equip” help you in your role as a volunteer, mom, or girls minister?

When He prompts your heart for a bone-setting, net-mending, or purpose realizing conversation, know that He is not leaving you alone in that talk. ¬†After-all, He goes by the name “Immanuel” not just at Christmas time. ¬†“God with us”, is with us 365 days a year.

What if your Facebook account disappeared? What would you lose?

Facebook has been a helpful tool in communicating with family, friends, students, and parents. Prior to facebook, it was extremely difficult to capture photos from participants of retreats or mission trips. In fact, often you would need to have a photo event to receive copies. You wouldn’t get your photos until days, weeks, months after the event hype had passed. There was documentation lost forever because you didn’t bring your camera to an event. Now however, within minutes or hours, photos from your events are tagged on facebook. Now there are pro’s and con’s to this instant documentation, but for today’s post I want to focus on the pro’s of having all these photos instantly categorized and made available. But what happens if Mark Zuckerburg decides for some reason to commit worldwide social network suicide for everyone? What happens if someone figures out a way to break facebook and all that info is lost? Well I’m not saying that will happen but I do not put trust in putting all my digital content in one basket. That’s where SocialSafe comes in.

I paid $8 for the premium service but you can access this for free. ¬†SocialSafe has only been with me for a day but so far, it’s a great option to make sure I have my photos (both uploaded and tagged) , friends (it only copies their facebook profile pic and their name), and wall posts secure in a desktop digital journal should something ever happen to my facebook account.

Check it out and see if that something you could use as well.

GROUPME: a great way to communicate with teams of people via text

One of the ¬†things I have most enjoyed using in 2010 was this real-time group communications tool via my phone called GROUPME. ¬†It’s free and it has been amazing with many different uses. ¬†Our student ministry staff no longer uses text messaging as our means of communicating with each other because this has been so helpful. ¬†We utilize this so that instantly we all receive the message and in real time we can all view each person’s response. ¬†The downside with text messaging is even if your phone can send a message to multiple recipients, the recipients don’t know who else received the message and they can only respond back to you. ¬†With GROUPME, this is not the case. It’s like a little text conversation for a group. It has brought our team even closer as we can celebrate with each other, joke with each other, grieve with each other over bad news, pray with each other, and instantly alert each other so that no one is left out of important information. ¬†We have even used this tool with our leaders for events. ¬†For example, I’ve set up a groupme text group for a pre-teen retreat and our fall retreat. ¬†I’ve entered in all of the volunteers numbers and instantly we have communication in text that links us all together even when we are spread out across a campus. ¬†It is a time saver when we are doing cabin checks or passing out the student meds or getting bible study supplies to students. ¬†It is really handy because someone in bible study group can quickly use groupme to alert us all that a student has yet to show up. We were quickly able to identify that a cabin had overslept and missed their wake-up call instead of having to run all over campus trying to see where the group was.

You can then terminate the group at the end of retreat so that volunteers don’t get annoyed with the ongoing dialogue. ¬†The only downside is that there are only 25 people allowed to a groupme number. ¬†I had to set up 2 groups for our fall retreat. ¬†They also have a feature if you use the GROUPME iphone app to make a conference call and get everyone on the line. ¬†And now you can upload images that all the group can see and respond to. ¬†Very cool. ¬†So how do you get started? ¬†Just go to and you’re ready to start. ¬†But before you do, check out some ways we’re using groupme.

Here are some ways I think you could utilize GROUPME in your ministry to girls:

-Use GROUPME with the girls you are discipling.  Just make sure you create some digital boundaries to mute the conversation after a certain hour.  You might also want to bring in another adult onto the GROUPME just for accountability.

-Use GROUPME for a volunteer checkin with your smallgroups and for announcements for the evening or Sunday AM.

-Use GROUPME for your student staff like we have been doing.

What are some other ways you could utilize GROUPME? Share below.

Using a lead team for a girls event

One of the things that I have really enjoyed over the years is using a lead team for our girls event. I briefly mentioned it in a previous post about the prayer experience in a bag. I’ve recruited girls to serve on the lead team differently over the years. ¬†Now granted, sometimes there are groups that initially I wondered if we would ever accomplish what we were setting out to do. ¬†Sometimes I have thought that this whole lead team thing is for the birds. ¬†But I keep coming back to the end of the event and the teamwork that comes from working with other volunteers and these wonderful teen girls. So today I’m giving you some of the tips I use for putting together a lead team.

In the past, before we had a Student Lead team that served on Sunday mornings, I would ask Sunday school teachers and lifegroup leaders to submit names of girls they felt should serve on the Snowball lead team. ¬†This way, it helped keep me from appearing like I was “picking” favorites. ¬†Now we have a snowball application that we put online. ¬†We use wufoo forms and post it on a posterous site. ¬†Then we release the link to the Student Lead team and tell them they have a deadline to get their application submitted. Once it’s submitted, then they will be notified that they are on the team if they meet the necessary requirements.

I have found that it’s best to have a team of 10-12th grade girls. ¬†This year, we’re utilizing girls who have already shown a level of commitment by serving every sunday morning as a Student Peer Group table leader. ¬†That means that the girls who apply for Snowball lead team this year are weekly involved with God’s word and help to lead their peers to dig into His word on a weekly basis. ¬† As we gear up for our Snowball lead team planning event, we’ll divide up the team into 3 teams: ¬†Logistics, ¬†Worship, and Fellowship ¬† ¬†Each group will be responsible for working on a small group lesson as well.

We’ve done the brainstorming event differently as well. Sometimes we’ve spent the night in a hotel brainstorming and fellowshipping from Saturday afternoon to Sunday morning. ¬†Other times we’ve just taken a Sunday afternoon to brainstorm. It sometimes seems like it would be easier to just do it yourself, but I guarantee that in the end, it will be extremely rewarding to everyone involved if you do a little more work on the front end to release the details to teams of students. ¬†You will be amazed at what God does in and through those teams of girls. ¬†What have you seen work when you do a lead team?

Time for a girl’s activity

I walked into one of our small groups at the end of December and saw all the girls flipping through calendars and writing each other’s birthdays on the calendars. ¬†They wrote events that they were supposed to remember for the entire year. ¬†I loved what this awesome ¬†leader, Lori Beth, was doing with the girls as an end of the year activity. ¬†This would be an awesome beginning of the year activity with a group of girls you’re mentoring. ¬†Lori Beth shared with me that she had taken a passage to talk with the girls about how they spent their time. ¬†I thought she had told me she used a passage in Hosea but I can’t recall it. ¬†I would use the same activity with:

Psalm 90:12: Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

I loved how Lorie Beth  gave each of the girls a calendar to fill up with birthdays of the other girls and leaders.  In addition, you could add things to pray for, you could have the girls mark in certain things throughout the week.  You could obtain some stickers that meant a certain thing for each week and have them apply the stickers for the whole year, like a yellow star  represents when all the girls agree to pray for a certain thing in the group.

Then have them read Psalm 90:12 and talk with them about the importance of numbering our days.

  • What does numbering our days help us to do?
  • When we begin to cherish the days we have been given, how does that impact the purpose and intent of those days?
  • How should our days look different when we follow Christ with our lives?

What beginning of the year activities have you seen work?