Talk about Hell – Discussion Guide

Talk about Hell

Is Hell real?  What is Hell like?  What really happens when we die?  How do I know if I’ll go to Heaven?  Is Hell like or unlike a junior high lock-in?

When your youth want to learn about Hell, prepare yourself.  Let’s face it, on some issues, take gambling or the death penalty as examples, the United Methodist Church is really clear on where it stands  (in case you’re new, we’re against them.)  Some topics are harder to find a clear UMC stance on – like Hell.

I knew I didn’t know all the answers to the questions my youth were asking.  Youth ask a lot of tough questions…and sometimes I’m still trying to figure out what I believe too.  Don’t let not knowing everything stop you from discussing important things anyway.  Allow youth to think and wrestle with tough issues with you.  The following discussion guide will get the conversation started.

Talk about Hell – A Discussion Guide (recommended for senior high)

Open with prayer.

Video background  (20 minutes)

To frame the discussion, have the youth watch three YouTube videos & jot down anything that sticks out in their minds:

Rob Bell – LOVE WINS: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.(2:57)

Francis Chan on “Erasing Hell” (9:41)

What You Don’t Want to Hear About Heaven and Hell – Mark Driscoll  (5:16)

As you can probably pick up from the videos, Rob Bell wrote his book first.  He started a lot of controversial discussion when he stated that “Love Wins,” that every single person will eventually embrace Jesus.  If God’s nature is love, how could this God of love condemn millions of non-Christian people to hell?  Bell would say no…obviously faithful Christians both agree and disagree.

Questions for youth on first video: 

In the video, Bell says, “See what we believe about heaven and hell is incredibly important because it exposes what we believe about who God is and what God is like.”

  • Is this true?  If Heaven is real, what does that say about God?
  • If Hell is real, what does that say about God?
  • What do you believe are the characteristics of God? What is God like?

On the other hand, Chan explains that while we might not want God to condemn people, God operates in a way that is beyond our understanding.  Who are we to question God’s sense of justice?

Questions for youth on second video:

Chan says, “I’m a piece of clay trying to explain to other pieces of clay what the potter is like.”

  • What characteristics of God surprise you?
  • Are there characteristics of God that you wish were different?
  • How do you learn about what God is like?

Driscoll reminds us that “there is a real hell and that it will be full.  Come to Jesus, or you’ll experience it.”  I especially like the use of the flame background on his set.  As a lifelong United Methodist, this whole fire and brimstone message is one  I am not accustomed to hearing.  Even if the Senior Pastor doesn’t preach this way, students can handle being prepared for discussions like this.  What stood out to the youth as they watched the video?

Questions for youth on third video:

  • Can God be both a God of Love and a God of Wrath?
  • Can wrath and judgement be loving?  Give an example of a punishment that is also loving.
  • Read Luke 16:19-31.  What is hell like for Lazarus?
  • What does holiness mean to you?

So where does the United Methodist Church officially weigh in on the issue of Heaven and Hell?

The basic beliefs of United Methodists can be found in the Book of Discipline in Our Doctrinal Standards and General Rules.  However, mention of “hell” and “heaven” as serious afterlife issues cannot be found in this section or any other part of the Book of Discipline.

Methodist Doctrine: The Essentials  by Ted A. Campbell says, “The Methodist Articles of Religion, following the teachings of the Reformation, rejected the medieval Catholic idea of purgatory as a place where the souls of those who have died in Christ could be aided or helped by the prayers of the living. John Wesley himself believed in an intermediate state between death and the final judgment, where those who rejected Christ would be aware of their coming doom (not yet pronounced), and believers would share in the “bosom of Abraham” or “paradise,” even continuing to grow in holiness there. This belief, however, is not formally affirmed in Methodist doctrinal standards, which reject the idea of purgatory but beyond that maintain silence on what lies between death and the last judgment.” (source:

Questions for youth:

  • Does it surprise you that the United Methodist church doesn’t have a clear stance on this?
  • Is it okay to not have all of the answers?

Closing:  At this point I like to discuss the Wesleyan concepts of prevenient, sanctifying and justifying grace – in my words.   As United Methodists, we believe God offers his grace and forgiveness to us before we even expect or know about it (prevenient grace).  Once we learn about Christ’s saving us and accept this gift of grace, we are saved.  Some believe that we were saved the moment Christ died on a cross for us.  Once we accept this grace, we begin a lifelong process of growing in our faith and growing closer to Christ-likeness.

My answers are not perfect and I believe it’s okay for the youth to know that.  We are on this journey together of trying to figure out answers to the tough questions.

Closing Prayer: Dear God, thank you for being in our discussion today.  Thank you for loving us and for saving us through your Son.  We have so many questions about what happens after we die and we don’t have all of the answers.  We ask that You guide us as we grow in our faith and learn more about your nature.  Help us to be love in the world so others can know you.  In Jesus’s name, Amen.

Be blessed,


Questions for you:

  • Have you talked about Hell/Heaven/Salvation with your students?
  • What would you add or take away in discussing Hell with your youth group?
  • What stuck out in your mind when you watched the video clips?
  • If you try this discussion with your youth group, how did it go?

7 Quick Tips to Look Like A Youth Ministry Professional


Note from Erin: I had this article published on The YouthWorker Movement website this week.  Based on the comments I received, it seems to have struck a chord with a few of my fellow youthworkers.  Just thought I’d point out that I am not saying it is RIGHT for people to judge others by outward appearance…I’m just saying that people DO make judgements by appearance and it might be helpful to consider what kind of image you are projecting at work.  Peace, Erin.


Over the next few weeks I will tackle different aspects about what it means to be a professional in the context of youth ministry. There are a lot of conflicting rules and expectations that people have of you, and I hope to provide a framework and some guidance that will allow you meet the unspoken but reasonable expectations that parents and pastors have of you, without impacting your effectiveness and personal style too greatly.

The first area I want to cover is appearance. I know you might think “you can’t judge a book by its cover.”  Well you can, and if you can’t, every one else can and does. The better rule here – if you want to quote things your mom would have said – would be this: “You never get a second chance to make a first impression,” or maybe “The clothes make the man (or woman).”

Think of what a parent or pastor would think in this scenario:

The youth worker Lyle stood up in the room of his fellow youth workers and parents and volunteers and said, “I’d like to talk about how we can make this youth ministry more respected in this church.”  Lyle was not astute enough to realize the irony of this: he asked the roomful of people this question as he stood there – unshaven, dressed in a t-shirt, flip flops, shorts, ball cap.

As you can imagine, their first thought was, Yes, Lyle, let’s talk about making a professional impression. And whatever valuable thing he was about to say, is now a “lecture” from someone who has destroyed his own credibility.

Or consider this story:

A veteran youth worker met with her Senior Pastor who said during her annual review that she should work on dressing more professionally in the office. She was furious. “I work with youth!  They don’t care that I’m wearing jeans, a t-shirt and tennis shoes – it makes me more approachable for the teens,” she argued.

Too many youth workers are starting their professional career without any thought or training on how to dress.

The truth is, you can bemoan the unfairness of being judged by what you wear as much as you want, but you will still be judged first by what you look like.  The way you dress is the way you are perceived, and whether or not you appear to be professional on the outside will make a difference in how people respect both you and your work.

But it doesn’t have to be a chore, a professional look can be comfortable, current, and still convey a sense of organization and professionalism that helps you in your ministry. If you have ever watched “What Not to Wear,” there are generally a few simple rules that can help.  Once you learn them they are not that hard to adopt.


Here are 7 Smart and Easy Tips to Make a More Professional Youth Ministry Impression:

Tip 1:  Wear clothes that fit.

Ill-fitting clothes fall into two categories – too big or too small. Wearing clothes that are either too tight or too loose can look bad.

Too big: If your clothes are big and baggy, your impression is sloppy.  Pants should fit and not hang or sag.  (The song “Lookin’ like a fool with your pants on the ground” comes to mind…) You should not be drowning in a tent of material that you call a shirt.  It’s common for people to wear baggy clothes if they are trying to hide extra weight but the end result is looking heavier.

Too small:  It’s possible that the steady youth ministry diet of pizza and soft drinks has caught up with you, and the clothes you have owned a while are getting a little snug.  Current fashion trend of super skinny jeans can also fall into the category of too small – very few body types can pull this look off successfully.

Instead of clothes that are too big or two small, wear tailored clothes that fit your current body size.  Wear a structured coat or jacket over a fitted shirt.  Consider having clothes altered to fit you properly, usually just a few dollars at a tailor.

Tip 2: Dress your age – or even older. 

Remember, you are in youth ministry to coach and minister to teens, not to be a new BFF who dresses just like them.  Even though in youth ministry we primarily minister to teenagers, we don’t have to look like a teenager to be effective ministers.  If you also want to make a more favorable impression on the parents and adults who can hire or fire you, or who you want to support your ministry, dress like an adult.  This also means sticking to classic clothes and avoiding overly trendy styles.

When we were students ourselves, we dressed for comfort with our untucked shirts and comfortable clothes.  Tired of not being taken seriously, a young youth worker friend of mine finally decided that it was “time to look like a grown up.”  For her, that meant ditching the flip flops and Mickey Mouse sweatshirt for outfits that were a little more put together.  For women, this may mean changing to coordinated outfits, adding a scarf or cardigan and wearing closed toe shoes (more on footwear below.)

For men, ditch the trendy super skinny or ripped up jeans for khakis or a clean dark wash jean that fits.  Wear a blazer or jacket.  Instead of the t-shirts you wore in college, opt for collared shirts and polos.  It helps that flannel shirts with buttons and collars are hip right now.

If you are not sure, look on Pinterest and see if there are any models wearing what you are thinking of putting together.  Here’s a pinboard just for Youth Ministry What Not to Wear ideas.

Tip 3: Save your t-shirts and sweats for working out in the gym or out in the yard. 

We all have our favorite t-shirts.  Maybe it is the shirt advertising your favorite soft drink that you got for free 10 years ago.  It’s good to have favorite things, but save your t-shirts for working out, not for work.  Instead, opt for collared shirts and khaki pants.  If you must wear a t-shirt, consider shirts made out of quality fabric in solid colors that fit correctly.

Tip 4: Take care of your clothes.

Ripped jeans and ripped up t-shirts might work if you are Adam Levine, but the rest of us need to make a tidier impression.  Go through your closet and ditch the shirts, shoes, jeans, anything with holes, rips and tears.  Get rid of clothes that have stains, or save them for mission work, but do not wear them to the office.

Keep your clothes clean and looking fresh with regular laundering, folding and hanging them up.  Having wrinkles in you clothes is something people will notice even if only on a subconscious level.

Tip 5:  Mind what’s on your feet.

Professional dress begins from the ground up.   A great rule of thumb is that professional looking shoes are rarely made out of plastic.  If you are in the habit of wearing flip-flops or similar shoes, do you realize people are getting an unprofessional impression just from the flip flop sound as you come down the hall?  Save the plastic shoes for the showers and swimming pools they were designed for originally.

I know that youth workers are historically underpaid, but a good pair of shoes is a sound way to spend your money.  Wear clean footwear without holes, supportive shoes that make running and playing more comfortable.

Tip 6:  Personal hygiene matters.

This advice is probably no different than something your mom might have told you as a kid:  If you want to make a sharp impression, keep your hair clean, teeth brushed.  Wash your hands and make sure your fingernails are well-groomed.

Men: If you are a male youthworker and feel compelled to have facial hair, that’s cool but keep it tidy.

Women: Hopefully you don’t feel compelled to have facial hair, but do take the time to fix your hair and put on a little makeup before you go to work.

Tip 7:  Consider who you might see today and dress appropriately.

In youth ministry, you will have days when you are playing with teens.  You may have plans to get messy – in these situations, wear clothes for playing and getting messy!

But on the days when you will also be speaking to the congregation, having office hours, talking to parents, or representing the church, make sure you choose to wear shoes and clothes that make a clean, professional image.

Every youth worker should have at least one professional suit or dress to wear for important occasions.  Stick with classic, basic colors and quality fabrics to make a good impression.

They say that “clothes make the man/woman.”  Is that really true?  What matters most really is what is on the inside – your brilliant mind and love for serving God and teenagers – but we can raise the bar for professionalism in youth ministry if we also dress the part.

Be blessed,




1.     Does what you wear for ministry matter?

2.     What other tips would you add to this list?

3.     Have you struggled with not being taken seriously in youth ministry?



(Stay tuned for more tips on being a professional in youth ministry.)



Book Review: Taking Theology to Youth Ministry

It’s both comforting and annoying when you read a book and get a sense that the author jumped in your head and thought your thoughts for you, but that’s how it went for me when I read Andrew Root’s new book, “Taking Theology to Youth Ministry”

If you’re not familiar with Dr. Andrew Root, well, let’s just say he’s a big theology kinda guy.  He has a PhD from Princeton Theological Seminary and is an associate professor at Luther Seminary in Minnesota.  He thinks eye-opening thoughts and says profound things about youth ministry in particular, so he’s the go-to guy about youth ministry theology…plus he’s young and cool and talks about growing up watching television.  We can relate.  I met Andy last year at the SMU Perkins School of Youth Ministry, and he was genuinely a nice guy.  But what I like best is that Andy is also a great storyteller – and that’s how this book comes across, as a great story.

“Taking Theology to Youth Ministry” explores thinking theologically about youth ministry from the approachable perspective of a youthworker named Nadia.   When I started in youth ministry, like probably most new youth workers, I didn’t really understand what the word “theology” even meant, never mind what my own personal theology of youth ministry was – so I could relate to Nadia’s journey of discovering what she believed to be the real purpose of her ministry and her role as a youth worker.  Her journey is the journey many in youth ministry travel – except that she gets past the points of frustration to true meaning and purpose.

Through Nadia’s story, the book explores what is the purpose of youth ministry.   Nadia discovers that youth ministry itself was not born out of theological needs but because our culture had segregated students into grades and age groups, so ministry began to reflect that trend.  Although there is no historical or biblical precedent for youth ministry, and even if the field has a reputation for not being serious about things, it is still a place for theology.

As youth ministry evolved into a profession, the standards for youth ministry evolved as well. As Nadia discovered, when she was a hired youth worker, people expected her to be able to explain the purpose of her ministry in a professional, purposeful way.  In my experience, the larger the church and the more professional the congregation, the more pressure there was to perform and be “successful” as a program.  Like many youth workers, I planned my programs with a popular, easy to articulate, purpose driven model.  Root says:

“Too much purpose-driven theological reflection in youth ministry has been more fodder for candy shops than dangerous wrestling, because it views theology as a bunch of biblical bullet points used to sweeten our intentions, rather than a call to examine our motives in the light of God’s judgment and grace.”

The danger of this pressure, is that it rewards having a plan or presentation of ministry without necessarily requiring deep reflection on God’s call for the ministry.

Another danger is in feeling the pressure to be “successful” as a program in order to make different camps in the church happy.  When you looked deeper, the visions for youth ministry and standards for success for the people around Nadia divided into three primary motivations: keeping kids good, involving kids in service and passing on the elements of our faith tradition to kids.  

The motivations in themselves are not bad, and being able to articulate the purpose of your ministry is a good thing.  “But maybe a problem created by this professionalization is that it encourages us to ignore our motives, as opposed to actually doing ministry from the location of our motives, from the core of our own being.  We get confused into thinking that the heart of youth ministry is organized calendars and vision statements rather than having the courage to seek to become part of God’s action in the world, which always exposes our motives.”

As I reflect on my own journey in youth ministry, I have struggled with pressure to “grow the program” and to do ministry the “right” way.  But growing numbers would never be enough and there isn’t just one right way – so many different parties bring different expectations, motivations and standards of success of failure to the table, there’s no way to make everyone happy.

“If youth ministry isn’t about keeping kids good, making them into something, or passing something on, then what is it all about?  I contend that at its core youth ministry is about participating in God’s own action.  The purpose of youth ministry is to invite both young and old to participate in God’s action.

It’s about participating in God’s own action.  I love that.  It’s exciting to think about what youth ministry would be like if we could set aside the pressure to perform and just figure out what God is calling us to do next.  Us.  With our own God-given gifts and passions being used to their fullest, instead of trying to beat ourselves up for not being enough.  There is freedom in being able to articulate your purpose as a ministry this way.  It could be, after prayer and reflection, your youth ministry takes off in a totally different direction.

There is so much more to write about in this book – and a cool part is that the appendix has discussion questions for each chapter.  It would make a great book study with fellow youth workers, parents and youth in your ministry or the rest of the church staff.   If you read the book, I’d love to hear your thoughts!  We are all in this together.


As you plan your fall programs and move forward, how will you reflect theologically about your ministry?  What difference will that make?

What does it look like in your context to participate in God’s own action? 

What standards of success or failure does your church use to measure youth ministry?


Be blessed,