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Dealing With Defense Mechanisms

Posted by Leneita Fix


We love a great comedian.  Why?  They usually can spit and recite life experiences we can relate to.  The wittier the better.  It's not uncommon for us to discover this same person had a difficult life they used humor to conquer. 

It's the same way with:

  • The beautiful actress we discover was bullied for being "ugly" and "fat."
  • The world famous athlete who some coach told was horrible and should give up on the sport.
  • The slew of youtube videos of XFactor, Idol and America's Got Talent auditions who are stunning singers, dancers & talents that were told they were stupid.

We feel like these people were underdogs just like us who conquered the unthinkable to get "ahead" in life.  So why is it we are shocked to discover these same people deal with insidious bouts of :

  • Depression
  • "Self-Medicating" through addictions of drugs and alcohol
  • Anger issues
  • Insecurity 

I think what we fail to see is that at some point all of these people developed a "defense mechanism" to get through life and feel like they weren't so "bad."  Think about it:

  • The awkward kid who trips over himself.... becomes the class clown.
  • The dramatic kid with the "over the top" personality can hide by being someone else on stage.
  • The too loud kid tries to say a couple of things and gets shut down so they protect themselves behind a hobby.
  • The insecure kid can control the amount of food that goes into their body,  the number of hours they work out, and the way they look.

You and I did it at some point.  We lost our innocence and started to "hide" our true selves, the same way Adam and Eve did in the Garden after their choice to rebel.  We were wounded by someone or something that told us we were "too much" or "not enough" and we decided to figure out how to get around this.  Maybe it was "positive" and we decided to throw our whole selves into learning an activity or getting better at something.  It could have been negative.  Personally, I learned how to build protective walls around my heart.  I was a compassionate kid.  This also meant I was sensitive and I cried a lot when frustrated.  I was called names because of it.  One day in 5th grade I walked into a bathroom stall and vowed I would never cry in front of another person outside my home.  I kept that promise until the Lord took hold of my life at 20.  To this day it is really easy for me to tell you an overabundance of facts about my life,  while still hiding how I truly feel about any of them.  It is one of  the many defense mechanisms I created.

The student who "drives you crazy" by taking over the conversation (every time) or being a little too intense could just be on the cusp of learning to create their own  alternate persona.  Wouldn't it be really awesome if we help students come out of these years a little less  "scathed?"  

The schools are trying with workshops about being "Uniquely You," and rallies that stress the anti-bullying campaign.  However,  when someone tells you something about you is "wrong" it weasels it's way in to your mind and heart.  It becomes the  catchy song on the radio that gets stuck in your head and you have no idea why.  You know all the lyrics and yet don't care to.  You begin to compare yourself to others and believe they are "better."  The lie that you should hide the "true you"  becomes all that rings in your ears.

Unfortunately there are side effects from these wounds that carry with us and effect us deeper than we realize.  The famous "conquered their past"  many times by becoming the best at pretending. 

Let's do these 3 quick things to actively help our students fight defenses:

1. Teach Offensive Strategies  

They don't always have to wait until someone says they're not worthy to deal with their insecurities.  Teach students how to take God's word to heart.  Help them know that God really does have a tremendous plan for them.  They need to learn how to look in the mirror and see God's reflection.

2.  Learn The Difference Between Failures And Attacks:

It is true that adveristy and failures are necessary. They teach us how to readjust and push forward. I took up distance running because I was told as an asthmatic it was a bad idea. You tell me what I "can't" do I am IN, ALL THE WAY to prove you wrong. When someone comes in to hurt you this is an attack.  This is not their fault. They need to learn the difference.

3.  Don't Go Changing

I think there has to be a way to help our students not become another version of themselves.  God comes in to mold us and make us more into His likeness. However,  CELEBRATE who God has made them to be.  Don't be vague when you tell them about what is wonderful about them.  BE SPECIFIC.  They can figure out the ways they are "too much."  They know how their rough edges annoy those around them.  What is amazing about who they are? Tell them, constantly. 

I think being aware of the defensive mechanisms we have created can help as well.  Let's remember that you don't "have to just deal" through the teen years.  You can STAND OUT not just stand aside.  Jesus wants more for all of us.  He certainly wants more for them.

How do you actively combat your students building defenses?  

What do your social media posts say about you?

Posted by Rachel Blom

I am friends with a lot of youth leaders from all over the world, the result of having done youth ministry in several countries. And it pains me to say it, but while many are a great addition to my news feed on social media sites, some posts make me go 'did you really just post that?'.

Just this week, I saw some social media updates from Christians that made me gasp. One youth pastor stated that if you objected to the free U2 album, surely you voted for Obama. I'm not sure what one has to do with the other, but can we agree that this is not wise? Yes, you have to right to your opinion, God bless the first amendment, but you do need to be aware of how this will come across. Is it really worth it to alienate people over politics?

Another Christian reposted something from a Facebook Page that had a lot of questionable content. Yes, this one post was non-offensive, but the rest sure was. And I've seen a whole bunch of peole share content from a openly anti-Christian page. Check the source of what you're liking or sharing to make sure you're not promoting stuff you don't want to be associated with.


A constant barrage of negative posts, that's something else I noticed. We all have our bad days, but if you can't share anything else but frustration and anger, it may be wise to take a social media time out.

I could go on, but I don't want to turn this into a rant. Let me mention one more thing. As youth leaders, our faith should be the number one thing in our life, right? Does your social media reflect this? I'm not saying you should only tweet Bible verses, or share inspirational memes. But if Jesus is all but absent in what you post, that does make me wonder where He really stands in your priorities...

Let me ask you a question. If I didn't know you and I were to collect everything you have posted on social media, how would you be perceived? What would I conclude about your character? Your priorities? Your faith? Just something to think about...

First 2 Years: Four Characteristics of Great Community

Posted by Colton Harker


Something I’ve really been reflecting on and thinking about recently is community, specifically, my community and what I really value about it. I came up with the top 4 things I need from community that are so important to me staying sane in ministry and in life!

Encouragement: In life and in ministry, we need someone to lift us up. We need people that know us well enough to help speak life into the parts of us that need it most. Whether it is celebrating our victories with us, or reminding us that we aren’t all that bad, we need our community to encourage us and pray for us.

Challenge: I don’t know about you guys, but I need a real kick in the butt… pretty often! One of the big perks to having intimate community is that they can see past a lot of the junk we present and know the right questions to ask… whether we want to be asked them or not! They know the goals we are setting, see the potential in us, and push us to reach it.

Empathy: When things are really going south, sometimes we need someone to just be there with us and say, “yeah, that does suck.” Having people in our lives that aren’t quick to solve, but quick to be there with us when we get that harsh parent phone email or get out of the crummy meeting your head pastor, is key. Empathy can be something that can be hard to find, but is well worth the search!

Fun: This is perhaps the least talked about trait in healthy community, yet it is so important. We need people we can laugh with, be light-hearted with, and people to goof off with. We NEED it. Without fun, we drown. The phrase, “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” has gotten a weird reputation since The Shining but it is so true! If we are all work, we become dull and ineffective. We need time to recharge, regroup, and clown around. 

What are characteristics that you value in community?

Topics: First Two Years

When I Was in High School Video

Posted by Josh Griffin

This was a fun, clever video we made for HSM Fall Kickoff services this weekend. Easily my favorite video from services as we started the school year togather. The best!


HSM Sports Minute: Episode 6

Posted by Josh Griffin

A fun video series we revived after some time off - it was a huge hit with students for Fall Kickoff weekend in the high school ministry at Saddleback Church. Loved it.


Ask About the Worst

Posted by Jen Bradbury

A few weeks ago, I sat down next to an eighth grade boy. Wanting to engage him in conversation, I asked, “How's school?”

I got a typical junior high boy answer: “Good.”

So I asked him a follow-up question. “What's been good about it?”

To which he shrugged and said, “I don't know.”


Rather than get frustrated, I switched tactics. “What's been the worst part of school so far?”

Suddenly, this boy got animated. He proceeded to describe a class he hated and the reasons behind his distaste for it.

As a veteran youth worker, I like to think that I know how to engage youth in conversation – even the silent ones. And to some extent, I do.

Yet, the reality is that a good conversation with a student – especially junior high boys – usually only happens after a great deal of persistence.

I persist because I know that eventually, I can get someone talking.

But what about new adult leaders? Will they persist through the awkwardness of a conversation in order to get to the good stuff?

Not always.

Too often, adult leaders have only the first half of my conversation with a student. They ask several questions that elicit one-word responses or even worse, a shoulder shrug. Eventually, they get frustrated and find a way to exit the conversation, often concluding that a teen has no interest in talking to them.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Teens want to talk to adults who will listen to them.

But we're not their friends, so they're not going to just open up and spill everything to us. In particular, this is true of boys, who especially in junior high tend to be less verbal than girls.

As a result, we need to teach leaders to ask good, open-ended questions in order to engage teens in meaningful conversation.

And as my earlier example shows, one of the best strategies for engaging teens is to ask them about the worst.

Tell me about the worst part of your day.

What's your least favorite class and why?

Why does this work?

Because the reality is that often, teens don't have a best part of their day – especially not on school days. They just have ordinary days, the details of which tend to blur together.

But when you ask about the worst part, teens can usually give you a concrete answer.


Because they remember that moment of their day.

They remember the unkind words they heard from a friend.

They remember the moment the teacher called on them and they didn't know the answer to her question.

They remember forgetting their homework or failing their test.

They remember being laughed at.

They remember the fight they had with their mom or their best friend.

They remember those moments, even though they're typically not the ones people ask about. So when you do, it shows that you care. As a result, youth are usually willing to trust you with their honest response. This invites you into their world and into a meaningful conversation that enables you to get to know them, their hearts, and their struggles. That, in turn, gives you the opportunity to be pastoral; To listen and to show teens love.

And that makes persisting through the awkward parts of a conversation with a teen worth every second.



New Take on HABITS: Getting Students to Grow on Their Own

Posted by Josh Griffin

We're taking a little updated angle to the original HABITS outlined in Doug Fields' best-selling book, Purpose Driven Youth Ministry. Thought I would share some of the new language we're using in helping students grow in their faith on their own:

HSM has tons of great programs and stuff to do, and we hope you take advantage of everything we have to offer. But there’s more to following Jesus than simply participating in the “stuff” HSM provides for you. Our ultimate desire is that you would begin to grow spiritually on your own… that you would develop some spiritual practices, or habits, that would become part of your lifestyle. Because following Jesus really is a lifestyle, not just a church activity!

To get you started, we’ve created some H.A.B.I.T.S.  Don’t think of them as some sort of spiritual checklist; instead just think of them as some things that can help you grow closer to Jesus Christ. Developing habits takes time, but with practice, discipline, the Holy Spirit, and a good community around you, we believe that you will not only have these H.A.B.I.T.S. down but also be able to teach them to others! 

H = Hanging out with God
Having an consistent time with God through prayer, bible reading,silence and solitude, memorizing scripture, etc. (Matt. 4:4) (1 John 5:14) HSM has the H.A.B.I.T.S. booth (full of resources), text message devotions, devotional apps, HSM weekly challenge, and so many more options! The H.A.B.I.T.S. Booth is open every weekend during services.
A = Attending Church
Commitment to the body of Christ and our church body, not just HSM (Hebrews 10:24-25) (Galatians 6:2). This is why we have Worship Together Weekend the first full weekend of each month!
B = Being Generous
Being willing to give our time, energy, gifts, and money to Jesus’ purposes  (Acts 20:35) (Luke 21:1-4) We have tithe barrels at the front of our Theater for anyone who wants to give.  Also, check out the IMPACT part of our Website to learn more about being Generous and our awesome opportunities to give!  
I = Investing in Healthy Friendships
Having accountability with the people around you who help you live and grow in your faith in Jesus Christ. (Galatians 6:1-5) (James 5:16) Check out the H.A.B.I.T.S. booth for some resources on this!
T = Telling my Story
You have an awesome story and people need to hear it!  No one’s story is boring because God does not make boring stories! (1 John 1:1-4) Questions about telling your story? Contact us today!
S = Serving Others
We all have something to give and HSM has a ton of different opportunities for you to use your gifts! (1 Peter 4:10-11) Contact us with any questions on our opportunities to serve at HSM.


How To Build Small Groups From Scratch

Posted by Justin Knowles

I don't know. I was hoping you can tell me. Coming from Saddleback HSM where small groups was a set part of the culture in the student ministry where I got to mess around with, try new things, and experiment a little bit because they already had a solid structure for small groups and a solid system for how they managed and trained volunteers. If you want to know how to run an effective small groups ministry well, go see what they do.

Now in my new position, things are rolling and are going great, but there is no small group structure at all. they have some small groups that meet, but they will be the first to tell you that they are just kind of random and no real direction. I love the fat that even there is no real structure, there are still volunteers and students who see the importance of meeting in a small group together. 

So what do you do to build a small group structure for when there is none? I'm not sure, but I'm hoping my time running the small group ministry for Saddleback HSM can help me. I just met with one of my staff members and a volunteer who has begun a small part in trying to organize what small groups we have going on now. We talked about the following things to help launch our program:

It's going to take time: The fall is already here. We are going to move forward with things already planned because there is no way to do an overhaul in time. But we can work with what we have now so next year when we focus on small groups specifically and have time to develop what we want, the current leaders will be veteran and will be able to set the tone. Building a healthy small groups structure will take time. Lots of time. Be patient and be consistant.

We set goals: If there are no goals you cannot measure if you are growing or not. What do you want to see in your small groups ministry? What are the steps you need to take to make sure you reach those goals? Make a list and start chipping away at the practical steps. If you want more volunteers, turn into a college football recruiter and seek after people. If you want to help leaders know how to lead an effective discussion, help them understand how to do so. Our goal for this year is to effectively train and care for the leaders we have now. Meaning, we want to set clear expectations, set curriculum, and have training and meetings to care for them.

Expectations of leaders: Expectations are huge. If they are a leader, do they need to be both a small group leader and be at services with you when you meet? Can you do one or the other? Are meetings mandatory? If there are clear expectations leaders will know what they are signing up for and what it is they are actually supposed to be doing when they are there (There is a really good 5 Minute Youth Minsitry video here on the site with Doug Fields and Mark Mattlock on volunteers).

Leader training: Leading a small group is more than just getting together. Sometimes most leaders think they need to be able to preach and teach for 30 minutes in a group. They get that at services. Small groups are about facilitating discussion and allowing students to answer good questions. Not everyone knows how to lead a small group. So we need to train them on how that happens. 

Systems to support groups: If a new student wants to sign up for a small group, how are they followed up with? How does someone get info about the group? How do you know what groups are available and when/where they meet? Thinking through this on the front end will help you do it effectively when it grows. 

I love trying to start things from scratch. I love the challenge. This will be a fun and long process and I'm excited to see how God will move. I believe small groups is where it is at and how students will grow an established faith where they can be real, authentic and honest with things happening in their faith and life. 

The Unusual Suspects for Teen Depression

Posted by Rachel Blom

Depression has been in the news a lot lately, especially since the tragic death of Robin Williams. I for one am glad that this devastating mental illness is no longer a taboo, but is becoming more and more accepted, if not always understood. 

A recent article in Seventeen magazine made me once again aware that there are some unusual suspects for teen depression. Too often, we think the teens who are withdrawn, on the 'outside', are the ones at risk for depression. They may be, but this article portrayed three young girls who seemed to have it all until they suddenly committed suicide. They were good students, academically succesfull, with a bright future ahead of them. Only afterwards did their family and friends find out about their secret struggles and depression.


Type A personalities are high risk for depression because of their need for perfection. One of the girls mentioned in the article was a straight A student and an acomplished athlete who was on track for some prestigious scholarships, yet she feared failing more than anything. The sheer pressure of keeping that perfect life was too much for her.

When you assess your students for possible signs of teen depression, look deeper that the perfect outside. It may be the perfect student, the popular boy or girl who has it all, who may need your help the most.


The New IMPACT Serving Wall in HSM

Posted by Josh Griffin


I posted a picture of our brand new IMPACT wall on Instagram this past week and had quite a few people asking for more details on it. Thought I would share, so here goes:

1) IMPACT is the name that encompasses all of serving in our high school ministry. When we talk about IMPACT, students know it is about getting involved and making a difference in someone's life.
2) The IMPACT wall is a way for students to see what opportunities in a self-service, low pressure way. No one mans the wall, but we try to have someone close in case they have questions.
3) The wall is divided into 3 parts - serving in HSM, serving in our church and serving around the world. All of the content under those categories can change based on new ministries, seasons and availabilty of leadership to run the groups.

We're all about getting students to serve - this is one way to show that value as well as point interested students in the right direction.


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Josh Griffin


Josh is the High School Pastor at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA. He’s the co- founder of DYM and is the father of 4 who speaks a little, writes a little, Twitters a bit, and blogs a lot.

Doug Fields

doug_fieldsDoug Fields is a 30+ year youth ministry veteran who is the Author of 50+ books, Founder of Simply Youth Ministry, Speaker, Pastor, Executive Director of the HomeWord Center for Youth & Family at Azusa Pacific University, and a Partner in DYM.

Rachel Blom


Rachel Blom is from The Netherlands originally and has youth ministry experience in several countries, both as a volunteer and on staff.

Matt McGill


Blogging with eternal wisdom. Matt McGill is the visionary behind Download Youth Ministry. He convinced his 2 friends Josh and Doug to partner with him and create this whole place.

Justin Knowles


Justin Knowles is the Lead Next Gen. Pastor of Christ's Church of the Valley in San Dimas, CA. He oversees Jr. High, High School and College ministries at the church.

Colton Harker


Blogging about his First 2 Years in Youth Ministry. Colton is just starting out in youth ministry and blogs about what he is learning along the way.

Christopher Wesley


Blogging serving at a Catholic Church. Chris Wesley has been in youth ministry for over 9 years as the Director of Student Ministry at Church of the Nativity in Maryland.

Jen Bradbury

Jen-BradburyJen Bradbury has been in youth ministry for 11 years. She's the youth director at Faith Evangelical Lutheran Church in Glen Ellyn, IL. Her writing has appeared in YouthWorker Journal, The Christian Century, and Immerse. She also blogs regularly at ymJen.com

Neely McQueen

Jen-BradburyBlogging about girls' ministry. Neely McQueen has been working with students for over 15 years. She works in Student Ministries at Overlake Christian Church in Redmond, WA.

Laneita Fix

Jen-BradburyAuthor, Speaker, Director Ministry Development for Asian Youth Ministries. Love 22 years of working with youth and equipping others in the trenches in youth ministry.

Geoff Stewart

Jen-BradburyGeoff Stewart serves the Jr/Sr High School Pastor at Peace Portal Alliance Church in Surrey B.C. and doesn't appreciate the jokes about being Canadian (unless they are funny of course).

Kara Powell

Jen-BradburyDr. Kara E. Powell is executive director of the Fuller Youth Institute and a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary. A 20- year youth ministry veteran, she speaks regularly at youth ministry conferences and is author or co-author of a number of books and volunteers in student ministry at Lake Avenue Church in Pasadena, CA.

Walt Mueller

Jen-BradburyBlogging about youth culture and current events. Dr. Walt Mueller is the founder and President of the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding, a non-profit organization serving schools, churches, and community organizations across the U.S, Canada, and worldwide in their efforts to strengthen families.

Duffy Robbins

Jen-BradburyDuffy travels the world speaking to teenagers and people who care about teenagers. Both in the classroom and in camps, conferences and seminars, he's well known for his insights, inspiration and humor.

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