My CHAT WITH THE AUTHOR: Mike Higgs, author of "The Praying Youth Ministry: Leading & Ministering from Upper Rooms”

 Phil Miglioratti • Reimagine.Network {Archival Home of Pray.Network}



National Youth Ministry Author, Collaborator, Thought-Leader


"This book provides the inspiration for change...

As well as practical recommendations to apply right away." Debbie Bresina 

PHIL>>> Mike, you have written as a youth leader, for youth leaders, but the principles you share, the lessons you have learned, the scriptural and spiritual insights you have experienced, jump out as relevant and applicable to all church ministry leaders. Is this a fair perspective on your book?


MIKE>>> It sure is. My wife keeps reminding me of that. While my primary audience is youth workers - that has been my primary “tribe” for 45 years (I started doing youth work when I was five) a lot applies to any follower of Jesus. Especially Part One.



"Ministry re-formation is essential if we're to fulfill our mission."


PHIL>>> How does a leader begin to think about re-formation? What is the path, the questions, of rethinking how to think about ministry? 


MIKE>>> Most of us are familiar with the passage about new wine needing new wineskins, but Luke’s account makes it clear: “And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, 'The old is better’” (5:39) We all get comfortable with our ministry methodology, and often it’s hard to abandon what has seemed to work (for years, or even decades). Beginning to think about youth ministry re-formation begins with prayer. It’s not all about prayer - it’s important to understand the rapidly changing youth culture, the challenges young people face today (which are daunting) and so on. Youth ministry has always been pretty good at the Issachar anointing of “understanding the times.” (1 Chron. 12:32) but perhaps not as good as following the lead of Jehoshaphat, who clearly understood his times when opposing armies were too big and too close in 2 Chron. 20, and responded by calling for prayer and fasting. I don’t spell this out in much detail in my book, but the origins of modern youth ministry - Youth For Christ, Young Life, FCA - were birthed out of prayer. I have the biographies on my shelves that say as much. So we need to get back to that: prayer. Followed by obedience to what God has to say.



"We need more than a subtle shift to get back on God's tracks."


12426708697?profile=RESIZE_400xPHIL>>> It is easy to make a change based on a new program or someone's "successful" ministry. But you seem to be challenging us to begin with thoughtful repentance? ["A biblical definition of repentance i s to make a change of mind, heart, and action, by turning away from sin and self and returning to God." Ministry site


MIKE>>> I am not going to throw my tribe under the bus. Modern youth ministry has done some amazing things, and changed the lives of literally millions of teenagers. I am a product of modern youth ministry! But like I say in the book, there are some things that I have seen, experienced, and (unfortunately) been a part of in my youth ministry career that call for repentance. I am not the Holy Spirit; I will not call people out. But I have done, and continue to do, my fair share of repenting. I think a lifestyle of prayerful repentance is a spiritually healthy one.


I do not believe God is done with youth ministry. All one has to do is survey the contemporary youth culture and discern that young people today are as “helpless and harassed, like sheep without a shepherd” as they have ever been. So as your definition suggests, we need a repentance that is "a change of mind, heart, and action” regarding our methodology of discipling the “unreached people group” of American adolescents. The guts of youth ministry will stay the same - loving kids into the Kingdom - but the particulars regarding how to do that will change. And God is more than happy to show us what to change, and how to do it. If we will ask Him. 



Almost 20 years after authoring "Youth Ministry On Our Knees,"

I realize that my answers, while helpful, were somewhat insufficient. They did not make room for the mysteries of prayer."


PHIL>>> Mike, I am also discovering this in my ministry. Prayer strategies. Prayer resources. Prayer guides. All these have potential benefits but if they swap the mystery of God for human methodologies or gifted teachers' messages, we are depriving prayer of its power.


MIKE>>> One of the reasons I included a chapter called Quantum Jesus: Paradoxology Prayer is precisely that. The chapter has very little to do with youth ministry but a whole lot to do with the mystery of God. I plan on spending eternity plumbing the mystery of God.



“The morning I began writing this book,

God spoke to me about three different kinds of Upper Rooms.”


PHIL>>> Explain to us how "Upper Rooms" in scripture (Daniel, Last Supper, Acts) can be a template for our leading and ministering practices? 


MIKE>>>I highlight three “Upper Rooms” in Scripture. The first is the Upper Room where Jesus spent his final hours with His apostles before the Cross. John 13-17 is often referred to as the Upper Room Discourse. And while Jesus covers a lot of territory in those chapters, one can sum it up nicely in John 15:5 - “apart from Me you can do nothing.” Abiding in Christ means walking in love, which is a by-product of a lifestyle of purity and holiness.

The second Upper Room is found in Daniel 6, and has to do with his personal prayer life. He ended up napping in a den with a lion as a pillow because he would not compromise his Hebrew pattern of praying three times a day. The point is not that we need to pray three times a day (actually, we are supposed to pray without ceasing) but that we establish at the leading of the Holy Spirit a rule of life, so to speak, and stick to it - not out of religious obligation, but in order to cultivate intimacy with Jesus.

The third Upper Room is in Acts 1 and 2, and has to do with corporate prayer. Lots to say about that in the first several chapters of Acts. Remember when Jesus was asked by his followers to teach them to pray? His model with one of corporate prayer: “Our Father . . .” So, three Upper Rooms highlighting three aspects of prayer: prayer prerequisites, personal prayer, and corporate prayer.



“Jesus is what God sounds like.”


PHIL>>> This perceptive insight appears to connect prayer maturity with discipleship, a life-long connection to the mind of Christ in the scriptures...


MIKE>>> We are all supposed to hear God. Jesus said “My sheep hear my voice.” But we do so in very different ways. My wife hears God almost audibly, almost daily. Not so with me. But . . . we can ALL hear God through His Word. And Jesus is His Incarnate Word. 



“Prayer Spaces in Schools”

Turning classrooms [or Sunday School rooms] into simple, hospitable prayer spaces. 


PHIL>>> Your book is filled with creative strategies and ideas for people to experiment and experience the mysterious prayer you teach about. Please unpack how leaders can shift from directing prayer (like an orchestra leader with a script) to facilitating prayer (like a group jam session).


MIKE>>> A good youth worker probably does both - some orchestra, some jam session. Modeling prayer as a lifestyle will shift that balance in the favor of jam session. Prayer is more caught than taught; while I have read most of the best books on prayer, I was mentored and discipled by men and women who were mighty in prayer. And, I married an intercessor who has taught me much as well.



"Loving is the syntax of prayer.

To be effective pray-ers, we need to be effective lovers." Richard Foster


PHIL>>> How is love the syntax of prayer?


MIKE>>> I’m sure Richard Foster unpacks that phrase much better than I can! But to be succinct, and to paraphrase/mutilate 1 Cor. 12: "If I pray with eloquence and passion and endurance but have not love, I am wasting my breath." The best praying is motivated by love: an all-consuming love for Jesus, and an enduring love for all who are created Imago Dei - in His image.



"My life soundtrack (starts with) The Beach Boys."


PHIL>>> You know I am a Beach Boys fanaddict, especially because their music (especially their harmonics) evokes a spiritual focus when I listen. I often connect with God's Spirit when I listen. How does music impact you? How should we employ music in our ministry?


MIKE>>> My first record - a 45 - was the Beach Boys’ “I Get Around.” The point I made in the book was that most everybody has a life soundtrack. What that soundtrack was in our past is out of our control - I grew up in the 60’s, with no faith in Jesus, so was significantly influenced by the popular music of the era (Beach Boys, Beatles, Crosby, Stills and Nash, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Carole King, etc.) but we can curate what our life soundtrack is in the future. Somebody smart said that music is one of the languages of heaven. Without getting into a theology of music (perhaps my next book? Nah) music is a very big deal to God. But I don’t think we don’t have to reduce our diets to “contemporary worship” music only. Romans 12:1-2 tells me that offering my body as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, is my spiritual act of worship, not playing worship music in the background all day. That does not mean the latter is a bad thing, and I sometimes do that in my office or on a long drive. But I also play music on stringed instruments, and listen to music that stirs me spiritually. Sometimes that is what we call “worship” music today, sometimes not so much.



"New wine must be poured into new wineskins."

Luke 5:37


PHIL>>> Mike, please write a prayer we can pray seeking to become leaders who minister from Upper Rooms.


MIKE>>> Father, may Your Kingdom come and Your will be done first and foremost in our own lives. May we become men and women of prayer as a supernatural byproduct of our purity and our intimacy with Jesus. May we never forget that apart from Jesus we can do nothing, yet we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. And may our prayers, combined with our obedience, bring heaven to earth, bring a growing number of those on the earth into heaven, and hasten Christ’s return. We ask this in the name of our intercessor, Jesus, amen.


•NOTE: Please scroll to Comments for two additional youth ministry related articles from national thought-leaders•




The Praying Youth Ministry 

See it/Buy It @ PrayerShop



The Praying Youth Ministry is a clarion call to try something new with youth ministry—let it be strategized by, bathed in, and run on prayer! Written for youth pastors and leaders, The Praying Youth Ministry will inspire, challenge, and equip you first in your personal prayer life, then in how you teach your youth to experience the presence of God through prayer, and finally, in how to experience the power of prayer within your ministry as your students practice prayer together.


Mike Higgs shares out of the personal successes and failures in his 45 plus years of youth ministry. The Praying Youth Ministry is loaded with practical prayer ideas that can inspire and teach your students to pray. Plus a special section includes inspiration and ideas from 4 younger youth pastors and leaders who are doing successful youth ministry based on a foundation of prayer!


Adopt the principles of The Praying Youth Ministry and can get your ministry operating under the direction and power of the Holy Spirit!


Get Copies for Those Who Lead Youth Ministry in Your Church!



“The Praying Youth Ministry will be my go-to book for youth leaders. The style is very readable. It’s profusely biblically, and also very practical. Mike Higgs has created a gem.”
—Doug Clark, National Field Director, the National Network of Youth Ministries


“The Praying Youth Ministry is a must read for any believer concerned about the next generation on any level. Mike has legitimately made the case for a re-formation of youth ministry, beginning with a leader sincerely committing to cultivate an authentic relationship with God through prayer—and then modeling that pursuit for the young people they lead. I agree with Mike wholeheartedly that the fuel for revival is prayer. This book provides the inspiration for change, as well as practical recommendations to apply right away.”
—Debbie Bresina, President, Dare 2 Share


“Our defenses sound the alarm if told our precious youth ministries should step up prayer. ‘Why?’ we demand, and the reasons better be convincing. Alternately, someone might reassure us that our youth ministry can improve at prayer. In that case, our more relaxed, curious question is ‘how?’ Mike Higgs answers both questions with the seasoned wisdom of an original gangster in youth ministry. Youth ministry can pivot from today’s fruit-feeble, resource-rich, program-based models to centering around the living presence of Jesus Christ. (NYC youth minister Keithen Schwahn testifies about this during one heart-pumping chapter!) Higgs drew upon uncommonly cherished prayer to write these words. Profoundly simple. Deeply life-giving. Why not join our Fellowship of Facelessness? May this book provoke you to pray and obey for youth ministry’s glorious upgrade.”
—Dave Rahn, PhD, Senior Advisor, The TENx10 Collaboration


“One thing you can count on with my good friend, Mike Higgs, he lives the message of this book. He and I have walked side-by-side on the ‘youth ministry adventure’ for four decades, and early on we shared our common passion for ‘the praying youth ministry’—long before a book was in the works. We began praying together with a small group of youth leaders at a retreat in Colorado, and later we were on the National Prayer Committee together, but most importantly . . . we have shared the common vision and burden that the only way the younger generation culture will change, either in a person, youth group or church, is to experience a ‘Jesus revolution’ through in-depth, lasting, disciple-making youth ministry ignited by a ‘Pray with Passion’ fire in the hearts of pastors, parents, youth leaders and students.
—Barry St. Clair, Vice President, Global Youth Engagement, East-West


“The youth leader who wants fresh ideas to ‘get prayer going’ in a student group will be drawn to The Praying Youth Ministry. That makes sense since the book contains more immediately useable prayer ideas than any book I have seen. The ideas are valuable and worth much more than the cost of the book. Even so, these excellent ideas are not the most essential elements of this important book. Even more valuable is the attention that Mike gives to the life of the youth leader. Higgs correctly suggests that personal holiness and purity are the most important prerequisites to prevailing prayer. He then points to the powerful influence of a leader who models a lifestyle of prayer. Only when purity and modeling are in place does he focus on mobilizing prayer initiatives. Mike Higgs has coordinated more multidenominational, national prayer initiatives than almost anyone. Those of us who know him best know that public stature flows from a pure life and modeling a deep life of prayer. He was just the one to write this important book.
—Richard Ross, Ph.D., senior professor of student ministry, Southwestern Seminary


“Mike’s life and voice are the rarest of gifts to the Body of Christ. His pedigree of experience leading youth ministry locally, regionally, and nationally, is unlike anyone I’ve ever met in 30 years of leadership. His is a voice in the wilderness that needs to be heard by modern-day youth ministry practitioners. Mike is a personal mentor and when he speaks, I listen. I hope you listen carefully to the important message found within The Praying Youth Ministry.”
—Geoff Eckart, CEO, Never The Same and Claim Your Campus, Chairman of America’s National Prayer Committee


“Most of us know the future of the American church depends upon a rising generation who know how to pray. Our problem is we tend not to know how to nurture that generation. We’ve often tried the simple quick fixes. We’ve sometimes tried the intensives. And sadly, all too often the results haven’t been great. What I like about The Praying Youth Ministry is that it isn’t a quick fix. It is reflections based on 40+ years of experience. Nor is it over-intense. It is full of realism, practicality and above all, hope. It meets you and your ministry right where you are and gives pointers on how to go further on and deeper in to the Father in prayer. Refreshing, inspiring and insightful.
—Colin Piper, NxtMove/World Evangelical Alliance


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  • Guest-Post: #Rethink Youth Ministry

    "Start a Revolution"


    Guest-Post: Rethink Youth Ministry
    Guest-Post: Rethink Youth Ministry It’s time to end the “insanity” of typical youth ministry Start a revolution. Greg Stier     Someon…
  • Youth ministry is still a fairly modern development within the church. Based on my research, we have had specialized ministry to teenagers for around 150 years. Considering the church has been around for 2,000 years, youth ministry is the maturity equivalent to one of the middle schoolers in your group.

    Just like the students in your middle school ministry, we are still trying to figure out how to do life, what is acceptable, and what is off limits. We are still in the pushing-boundaries time of development. We are also in that time when some parts of our character are beginning to settle and, if we aren't careful, we might settle into the wrong habits. Similar to a 7th grader, we need to ask ourselves what we want our life (and ministry) to look like as we mature.

    So, here are five youth ministry fixtures that I believe we should not allow to settle.

    #1 Going It Alone. You Are Not Han Solo.

    If you've been in youth ministry for more than two minutes, you've already realized this truth: there are more students than you. There is a lot of work to do, and we were not made to do it alone. We must think beyond ourselves and rely on others.

    First of all, rely even more on God; you are not the Savior. Second, recruit and train more leaders; you need team. Third, get students outside your ministry and engaged in serving. Partner with other churches and ministries in your community for a greater impact. We are in this together, and together, we can actually make a difference in a generation of young people.

    #2 Ignoring Parents Equals Missed Opportunity 

    I learned early on in ministry from a great mentor that I need to work with parents. If parents truly are the primary spiritual leaders of their children, what are we doing to make sure they are prepared to do that well? The couple hours that we have with students is not enough to truly make an impact. The hours upon hours that parents have with their teen is another story. How are we partnering with parents to disciple young people?

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    #3 Thinking That Events Equal Ministry

    One of the reasons I love youth ministry is because I'm really just a big kid myself, and boy do I love a good youth ministry event! Pulling off a big event that leaves a bunch of teens saying, "That was awesome!" is a great feeling. But that's just it. It's a feeling. Events are not a bad thing, but if we are focused on that being our win, we might find ourselves feeling more like an event planner than a youth pastor.

    Instead, make sure you have a strategy for your events. What do you want students to learn when they attend the event? What's the next step they should take after the event? How are you following up with event participants? Youth ministry should not be about drawing a big crowd. Our focus must be on impacting teens so they are forever changed by the gospel.

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    #4 Overlooking Non-Inclusion and Discrimination

    We at NNYM are intent on reaching every student in every community. How are you doing that in your ministry? Do the games you play, songs you select, and illustrations you use appeal to a particular demographic but exclude others? We need to be more intentional in this area. Ask the hard questions and gain perspective. Then, implement new methods and strategies to move in the right direction.

    One way to address this is to broaden your leadership team. Get people who look different than you, speak differently, and have different backgrounds to partner with you. When students see different types of people on stage we are showing them that the Kingdom of God is much more diverse than we have previously led them to believe.

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    #5 Failing to Empower Students

    If we are going to truly make a difference in the next generation, we need to begin thinking about young people differently. It's been said many times before, but our students aren't the church of tomorrow, they are the church of today.

    So how are we helping them see themselves as the church? How are we handing them the "keys of leadership" that Kara Powell speaks about in Growing Young? Rather than just sitting in a room and talking about Jesus, how are we empowering them to ultimately bring Jesus to our broken world?

    Re-Evaluate and Re-Focus Your Youth Ministry

    It's time to evaluate, reprioritize, and allow some fixtures to die-or even be willing to kill them-to build a better foundation for our students. As youth leaders, we are called to lead. Part of leading is making difficult decisions for the benefit of those we lead. Ask God for the courage to step up.

    It's crucial to consistently evaluate how we do ministry. What is working well for us? What needs to change? What are we holding onto that really is not working?

    In my last piece I suggested that youth ministry is like that awkward middle schooler in your student group. We are still figuring out who we want to be, and how to make it work. If we aren't careful, we might settle into the wrong habits. Similar to a 7th grader, we need to ask ourselves what we want our life (and ministry) to look like as we mature.

    Here are five more youth ministry fixtures that I believe we should not allow to settle. If you missed it, be sure to read the first Five Fixtures That Need To Die.

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     #6 Don't Settle for Program-Based Ministry

    Pragmatic thinking has led many ministries to just keep doing it the same way we've always done it. And what is that way? Programs. Kyle Idelman said, "What you win them with is what you win them to." So, what are you winning students with? Is it a big program or event, or is it relationships-with God, leaders, and their peers?

    How do you want students to practice their faith long-term? If it's by attending a program, then keep going. But, if you want to train them for a life of faith, then don't let programs be your driving force. Keep programs only when it is truly the best or only option.

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    #7 Don't Flood Calendars

    I remember spending a lot of time at church events when I was a teenager. My parents were happy that I was devoting so much of my time to God, but they didn't get to see me nearly as much.

    Are we doing the same thing for students today? Are we flooding their calendars with events and expecting them to show up all the time? Are we supporting time dedicated to homework, hobbies, and time with their families? How are they supposed to spend time with others and seek opportunities to share Jesus, if we have flooded their calendars?

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     #8 Go Beyond A Youth Service

    Most of us would say our goal is to help young people build lifelong faith that impacts those around them. In line with this, major research points to elements other than youth meetings as crucial to forming committed believers among the next generation. These include serving other, small groups, and intergenerational worship.

    I'm not saying you have to kill your youth service altogether, but be willing to do it. Instead, spend more time getting young people involved in the main church worship service, serving the community and into small groups with trusted adults. Gathering students together is still important, but feel the freedom to change it up! 

    #9 Stop Last-Minute Planning

    I can't tell you how many times I've logged onto a ministry group online to find a leader asking for same-day game or sermon ideas. We have to be better. Our students and team deserve better. 

    Train yourself to think at least six months ahead at all times. Flesh out more specifics a month out, and fully plan one week ahead. This will not only leave you room to be more strategic and creative, but it will help you get others involved. Yes, it is important to leave room to make changes when the inevitable curve ball comes your way, but we have to stop winging it.

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    #10 Don't Neglect Your Own Growth

    We got into student ministry out of our love for God and passion to see youth saved. That's great! But, where are you in your own relationship with God? How much time do you focus on improving that first love (Revelation 2:4)? Don't neglect the spiritual disciplines and habits your faith needs to be steadfast. Your flesh is only so strong. You will run out of gas. You need the Holy Spirit's power!

    Spend time with God and take your day off (Sabbath) for renewal. Use the "do not disturb" function on your phone more often. Get into a discipleship relationship with a spiritual mentor. Do whatever it takes, because if you want to last in student ministry, you can't forget about yourself and your own relationship with God.

    Be The Leader Your Students Need Now

    As youth leaders, we are called to lead. Part of leading is making difficult decisions for the benefit of those we lead. Ask God for the courage to step up and make the changes He is calling you to do. If you need encouragement, we are here for you. I've said it before, and it's worth repeating: the future of youth ministry is exciting. LET'S GO!

    Steve Cullum is the Colorado State Coordinator for NNYM. He has been serving in student ministry since 1999. Steve blogs about ministry and hosts the Student Ministry Connection podcast. He also enjoys playing Nintendo, being outdoors, and watching movies.

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    Youth ministry is still a fairly modern development within the church. Just like the students in your middle school group, we are still trying to figure out how to do life, what is acceptable, and what is off limits. We are also in that time when some parts of our character are beginning to settle and, if we aren't careful, we might settle into the wrong habits. Here are five youth ministry fixtures we should not allow to settle.

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