5 Facts You Need To Know About American Families by Dale Hudson


Nic at Night classic re-runs no longer represent the American family.  In 1960, 37% of households included a married couple raising their own children.  Today, only 16% of households look like that.

As you strive to reach the modern family, here are 5 facts to keep in mind.

1.  Adults are delaying marriage.  The median age for marriage is now 29 for men and 27 for women.  In 1960, 65% of people ages 18 to 32 were married.  In 2013, only 26% of people ages 18 to 32 were married.

2.  Children.  In 1960, women ages 15 to 24 accounted for 40% of mothers with infants.  In 2011, women ages 15 to 24 only accounted for 22% of mothers with infants.  The average mother today has 1.9 children.  In 1960, the average mother had 3.7 children.

3.  Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender parents.  37% of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender adults have had a child at some point in their lives.  48% of LGBT women under the age of 50 have a child under the age of 10.  20% of LGBT men under the age of 50 have a child under the age of 10. 

4. Family structures.  44% of young people ages 18 to 29 have a step sibling.  This is compared to 23% of people ages 50 to 64 and only 16% of those 65 and older who have a step sibling.  Unmarried mothers account for 41% of births compared to only 5% in 1960.  72% of births to black women are to unmarried mothers, 53% for Hispanic mothers and 29% for white mothers.

5. Family diversity.  15% of all new marriages in the U.S. are between spouses of a different race or ethnicity.  This is compared to 7% in 1980.  Hispanics (26%) and Asians (28%) are the most likely to marriage outside their ethnicity.

What does these trends mean for ministries who are striving to reach families?  How can be relevant for today’s families?

Be a place where families can belong before they believe.  Families walking in your doors will not be coming from a traditional Christian background.  They need space to explore and check out what it means to follow Christ before committing.  They need a place that will welcome them right where they are and patiently walk forward with them.

Reflect the diversity of your community.  Churches that want to reach a diverse community must be diverse.  Churches that limit themselves to one particular demographic will be very limited on how many people they can reach.

Be prepared to minister to families with non-traditional structures.  Single parents.  Same sex households, cohabiting parents, grandparents raising children, blended families, etc.

Families are changing.  Are you prepared to reach them?


Rules for Social Media, Created by Kids by Deborah Heitner


The challenge of growing up in the digital age is perfectly epitomized by the bikini rule.

“You can post a bikini or bathing suit picture only if you are with your siblings or your family in the picture,” said one middle-school girl who was participating in a focus group on digital media. In other words, don’t try too hard to be sexy and you’ll be O.K. in the eyes of your peers.

By high school, the rules change. At that stage, a bikini picture often is acceptable, even considered “body positive” in some circles.

As an educational consultant, I lead workshops on digital media at schools around the country, giving me an unusual glimpse into the hidden world of middle and high school students. While parents sometimes impose rules for using social media on their kids, the most important rules are those that children create for themselves.

And these often unspoken rules can be dizzying.

Girls want to be sexy, but not too sexy. Be careful which vacation photos you share so you don’t seem to brag. It’s O.K. to post photos from a fun event, but not too many.

In one focus group I held recently with seventh-grade girls in an affluent suburb, all of the girls were avid Instagram and Snapchat users. It was clear that they understood the dynamics of presenting a persona through the images they posted. It was also clear that they had a definite set of rules about pictures.

Aware of their privileged socioeconomic status, they talked about how it would not be O.K. to share vacation pictures of a fancy hotel, using the example of a classmate who had violated this rule. Like many unspoken social codes, this one became vivid to these girls upon its violation.

As part of a school project the girl had displayed pictures from her vacation at a foreign resort. Her classmates considered it an immature form of “bragging,” and said other kids had gone on even “better trips” or lived in “amazing houses” but “knew better” than to post about it.

The same girls identified another peer as “too sexual,” a judgment some parents even encouraged. A few said their moms did not want them to hang out with a particular girl because she “acts too sexy.” One of the girls expressed this sentiment in a group text that included the peer in question, leading to hurt feelings and conflicts.

Middle school can be an especially complicated time for girls. They are experimenting with social identity, even as their always-on digital world intensifies the scrutiny. Many want to be seen as pretty (even sexy, in some ways), but also as innocent and as “nice.” This is an impossible balancing act. Parents can help by suggesting more empowering alternatives to posting bathing suit pictures.

Another group of seventh graders (of mixed gender and in a different community) told me the rules regarding how many pictures to post from an event. There was a sense of what was acceptable and what was not. Posting one to three images was fine, they said, but all agreed it was “obnoxious” to “blow up people’s phones” with a huge stream of images from a party or event.

These kinds of images can lead to feelings of exclusion as well. Imagine watching a party unfold, in real time, on Snapchat or Instagram, when you aren’t there. The experience can be absolutely devastating to tween and teenage children. When I asked these seventh graders about it, they said that it happened all the time, and that it can be hard to deal with.

With their lives constantly on display, it’s a challenge for even well-intentioned tweens to avoid making others feel excluded. The “rule” was that it is “better not to lie or make excuses” if you are with one friend and another friend wants to hang out. Better to be honest and say, “I have plans,” than to lie and say, “I have too much homework,” then take a risk when sharing images of yourself out with friends later.

Parents often feel as if their children’s smartphones are portals to another world — one that they know little to nothing about. A study released last month found that fewer than half of the parents surveyed regularly discussed social media content with their tween and teenage children.

But parents need to know that their child’s peers have created their own set of rules for social media, and that they should ask their kids about them. What are you “allowed” to post, and what seems to be off-limits? Are the rules the same for boys and girls? Why or why not? Can you show me an example of a “good” post, or a “bad” one? Does social media ever stress you out (and can you give yourself a break)? How can kids in your group make group texts or social media nicer for everyone?

In a study published last summer, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that the pleasure centers in teenagers’ brains respond to the reward of getting “likes” on Instagram exactly as they do to thoughts of sex or money. And just as parents try to teach children self-control around those enticements, they must also talk to them about not falling victim to behavior they will regret when craving those “likes.”

As parents, we don’t want our kids to make a big mistake online: writing something mean in a group text, posting a too-sexy picture or forwarding one of someone else. According to a Pew Research Center survey, 24 percent of teenagers are online “almost constantly,” so it’s essential that they know how to handle themselves there.

Getting your children to articulate the unspoken rules can be the first step in helping them be more understanding of their peers. When we observe our children harshly judging others who have a different sensibility about the use of social media, they need us to set aside our judgments about their world, and help them cultivate empathy for one another.


Teens Can Be Cooler Online by Mark Gregston


Online networking sites offer teens a place to post videos, music, images, comments, thoughts, and wallpaper in any form they want. They can express whatever they want to whomever they want. They can invite people into their “home,” and limit who enters their “home.” They present themselves as they want to be presented. They form groups, develop a base of friends, and find things in common with complete strangers.

I’ve never met a young person who does not want to “be cool” in the eyes of their peers. Wanting to “be somebody,” wanting to be accepted and loved are normal feelings and that’s why teens often exaggerate online. Catching someone’s eye, hoping for value among their friends, and finding acceptance amidst peers is paramount. They want to be seen as having it all together, and that they’ve accomplished something. They want others to “sing their praises” and to be revered by their peers.

Teens want the same kind of validation that you and I want. The problem? Adults are able to show success and significance in ways teens cannot. We adults find significance mainly through our work. We display to others our worth and value through the toys we own and the places that we travel. We find acceptance through family, grand kids, or even our pets. Life is fulfilling, and our years of intentional living show that we’ve arrived. Why, even my GPS system tells me daily, that “I have arrived.”

Teens, on the other hand, usually don’t purchase their own cars, and they do not yet have careers. They lack experience in relationships, and do not have kids or grandkids. Their toys usually come from their family, and they cannot travel without Mom and Dad. They have not collected much, or done much, and the teen years are not really their best years. They have earned very little, and most of what they own is given to them — usually in excess.

Most teens long for the same things that I long for — purpose, acceptance and significance. Until they learn a little, live a little, and blow out a few more candles, the Internet is one place to give voice to their longings.

Most teens don’t have a house. They don’t have a spouse. But they do have a mouse.

The Internet gives your teen massive opportunities for social networking and interaction.

The question that you must be concerned about is whether or not the image your kids project online will cause some problems or possibly damage their relationships. Understand that teens embellish their image and seek to “look cool,” not only online, but in every aspect of their life. They can get away with more embellishment on the Internet, however.

Do teens exaggerate things about themselves? Of course they exaggerate; they are teens!

It can become a bigger problem if your teen’s online presentation becomes negative or inappropriate — if they are threatening or saying inappropriate things about others. If that happens, it is time for correction, and more training before they are allowed online again. Teach them that some of the things they say online cannot be taken back. Kids often miss the fact that the Internet is a place where you cannot always get rid of something once it is placed out there for the world to see. Photos and comments on the Internet are much like tattoos: you cannot easily get rid of something that you once thought was a cool idea.

Will your teen’s online exaggeration always cause him problems? No, not always, but sometimes it can. Should you be concerned? Of course. So, be sure to keep an eye on his use of the Internet, and demand to know how your teen presents himself online. Tell him you’ll be regularly visiting the pages where he is posting content. If he balks, then it’s time to consider shutting down the Internet.

Should you eliminate Internet social networking altogether? Don’t go overboard, but there may be times when it would be appropriate to limit or eliminate access to social networking sites if your teenager is not using them wisely or is participating in things online you don’t approve of. But, again, you’ll never know unless you regularly visit the sites your teenager is visiting and reading his online posts.


For Teens, ‘It’s A Mall World’ No Longer by Aaron Paquette


The recently concluded holiday season was a brutal one for brick-and-mortar retailers. Consumer spending didn’t materialize the way department-store chains were hoping, and the repercussions have been swift and harsh. Macy’s announced it was closing 68 stores and cutting 6,200 jobs, sending its stock down 14% the next day. Kohl’s reported disappointing holiday sales and lowered its 2017 outlook, causing its stock to plunge 19%. Sears, meanwhile, announced the closure of 41 Sears stores and 109 Kmarts.

Clearly, the migration away from stores and toward online shopping seems only to be hastening. While major retailers typically report increasing online sales, for most of them, it’s not enough to offset declines in their bread-and-butter, brick-and-mortar business. Even the best-established brands like Walmart and Target are merely treading water, while others like Sears are rapidly facing an existential crisis. What does this mean for teens and the brands that sell to them?

  • The mall as we know it is gone. For the last three generations, teen life was centered on malls. As Myles Udland recently explored in Yahoo Finance, mall life was depicted in movies (“Mean Girls,” “Mallrats”) as a place where teens could taste that first bit of freedom in an environment that was still fairly structured and safe. Now that anchor tenants such as Macy’s and Sears are going away, so is that mall experience. Already the classic indoor malls of the 1970s and 1980s are being converted to outdoor “entertainment and lifestyle centers.” And with other demographic changes afoot, some of these projects are aimed more at tourists, upper-income adults and families than at teens. With the rise of social media, teens have “virtual” meeting places that didn’t exist a decade or two ago, but these still don’t replace physical meeting spots for face time, hanging together, first dates, first purchase decisions, etc. Besides Snapchat and Instagram, what will replace malls as these meeting spots?
  • Entertainment and experiential destinations rule. Now that teens (and Americans of all ages) are buying less “stuff” in-person, the burden of anchoring malls and providing “safe space” to teens falls to restaurants, movie theaters, gaming establishments, and other venues that provide an experience that can’t be replicated online. This is perhaps part of the reason the “escape room” has become such a hot trend … it just isn’t the same escaping an online venue, and it forces people to meet up in person, work together and communicate to accomplish a task. Look for more such businesses to anchor malls and draw teens, especially with the rise of virtual reality. Mall-based businesses can offer spa-like pampering; style and fashion consulting and makeovers; trials of new products and services; athletic endeavors like rock-climbing; and even visiting, exploring and competing in awesome new worlds with virtual and augmented reality.
  • The first “teen Amazon” wins. Remarkably, consumers are buying an increasing amount of “stuff” online; teens are at the vanguard of online/mobile usage; they tend to like branded environments that speak uniquely to them; and yet nobody has offered one in a big way. My prediction is that either (a) Amazon will develop a sub-brand aimed at teens (similar to how the Zappos brand is targeted at shoe buyers), or (b) another deep-pocketed retail or tech company (Walmart? Google? Apple?) will launch a Millennial-focused, online-only service that will revolutionize retail for those under 35.

Imagine a fun, easy-to-use, fully mobile-enabled service with great content, recommendations, tips from YouTube personalities, ways to be social with your friends, ways to become friends with tastemakers and those who share your taste, tools to post content and co-create new looks, and a marketplace where young fashionistas can easily create and sell their new lines. The first service to fully capitalize on this opportunity has the potential to own its category just as much as Facebook, Uber and Airbnb own theirs.

Despite the impending demise of the department store (and the malls anchored by them), opportunities abound for teen-focused retail, and the brands innovative enough to explore them.


New School vs. Old School Discipleship by Doug Franklin


Everyone likes the feel of new school discipleship.

We go to a great, high-energy Christian conference with awesome group worship, listen to a speaker connect to our hearts for 20 minutes, and pull the loose change from our pockets to support the battle against some form of  injustice happening thousands of miles away. Students come back from the conference, raving about how “awesome” it was. Numbers are high, and all seems good—until we realize our community is a mile wide and only an inch deep.

The trouble with new school discipleship is that it’s based on emotions. We feel connected to God through overwhelming worship. But when life becomes difficult, our good feelings fade, and we realize that we don’t actually know the God we felt so close to.

Traditional discipleship, while it may feel rather old school, is the only path to greater depth for us and for our students.

Meeting face-to-face, talking repeatedly about a sin that we can’t shake, forgiving others, giving sacrificially, being held accountable for our actions—these things are far from trendy. And they will certainly take more time than we have to offer. It’s no secret that youth workers, volunteers, and students are all busy, but no app or new trend is a substitute for iron sharpening iron.

It’s no secret that youth workers, volunteers, and students are all busy, but no app or new trend is a substitute for iron sharpening iron.

Old school discipleship requires mature believers willing to share their lives with immature believers. We have to get to know people and build trust in order to challenge each other. Just about anyone can read a bullet-point list of questions to a group of students, but real discipleship happens when leaders challenge students to go deeper and both experience and extend God’s grace.

This year will you sacrifice the energy to train mature disciple-making disciples? Can you give up the time you’ve learned to save? Can you sacrifice the high numbers and invest in a small group of disciples who will last? Revive old school discipleship, and you and your students will rediscover something deeper that will persevere through good times and bad.


5 Ways to Help Teenagers Live Out God’s Purposes by Rick Warren


The most fundamental question that teenagers in your community will ever wrestle with is, “Why am I here?”

Unlike past generations, teens today aren’t looking for the meaning of life. Instead, they’re searching for meaning in life, a purpose for living, something that makes their lives worth living.

The fact is they’re seeking the very thing for which God made them, and that’s why it’s important that you consistently teach teens about their purpose in life.

The Bible teaches that God made everyone—even teenagers—with a purpose.

For instance, in Colossians we’re told, “For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible…everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him”(Colossians 1:16 MSG).

Do you think you would see a difference in the life of your teenage son or daughter if he or she felt truly and wholly accepted by God? What if they understood—deeply—that they belonged to the family of God? Or that the hand of God will guide them—deliberately—throughout life?

How do you think your teens would react if they discovered that God created them for a specific mission in life, and he’s ready for them to start on that mission right now, regardless of their age?

Frankly, all of this is true, but I think we often lose focus of this as we face the day-to-day challenges of ministering to teens in the 21st century. Yet, the Bible teaches that God had five purposes in mind when he made each one of us. Discovering and living these purposes is the single most important thing any of us can ever do, and as pastors, teaching these five purposes to our teens is foundational to truly training them in the ways of the Lord.

Teenagers were created by God to fulfill these five purposes:

1. Every teenager was planned for God’s pleasure

Can you imagine how different teenagers would be if they really, truly believed that God made them for his own joy. It is such an important truth to tell teens that the first purpose for living is this: You were planned for God’s pleasure.

Revelation 4:11 says, “You are worthy, O Lord our God, to receive glory and honor and power. For you created all things, and they exist because you created what you pleased”(NLT).

Yet, most teenagers struggle with love and acceptance. We need to build into their lives the precious knowledge that they were created as an object of God’s love. And our kids need to know that there is nothing—absolutely nothing—that can stop God from loving them. He loves and accepts teenagers, regardless of piercings and tattoos, exactly as they are.

2. Every teenager was formed for God’s family

Teenagers search for a group where they can belong, a place where they can feel accepted. And I believe they do this because God created each one of us with a longing for belonging.

He gave us this longing because his second purpose in creating us was for us to become a member of his family. Ephesians 1:5 teaches us, “His unchanging plan has always been to adopt us into his own family” (TLB).

Teens might wonder if some of their friendships will survive a single summer. Yet, God’s family—and our relationship with believers—is going to extend for eternity. We need to teach our teens that the Christian life is not just a matter of believing; it’s also about belonging. God didn’t create us just to be believers; we’re also made to be belongers to the family of God.

3. Every teenager was created to be like Christ

God created each one of us to be like Christ, and we call that discipleship. God made us to transform us into the likeness of his son, Jesus Christ.

As we’ve often heard from evangelists: There isn’t—and never was—a Plan B in God’s design. You need to convey to your teens the sense that they were not an accident. Your teens’ births and families are all part of God’s original plan. Even if there were mistakes in the past, God works all things out for those who call upon him and are called according to his purpose.

God is still working the same plan he’s always had from the very beginning of time.

As pastors, God’s plan needs to become our plan—immediately. Our goal needs to be to help our teenagers become more and more like Christ. Part of the process is helping them understand how God is going to take them through everything Jesus went through—including loneliness, temptation, unpopularity, criticism and more. Only then can they truly become like him.

Looking over that list, it sounds like Jesus lived the American teenage experience. Yet, often when our teens experience these circumstances, we do everything we can to fix the problem, without taking the time to determine if this is something meant to make our teen more Christ-like.

Helping our teens see their problems from God’s perspective will help them submit to his sovereign hand as he works to make them more like Christ.

4. Every teenager is shaped for service

God created each of us to serve him, and in the church, we call that ministry. Ephesians 2:10 teaches, “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago” (NLT).

Every Christian is created to serve, and that means teens are called to ministry, created for ministry, saved for ministry, and uniquely gifted for ministry. The Bible makes it very clear that every Christian is a minister, regardless of age.

We need to teach our teens that they need not wait until they get older before they jump into ministry. The God of the universe shaped them to serve, and they can start right now.

And the earlier your teen starts, the sooner God’s fourth purpose for his or her life—Christ-like service—will develop deep within.

5. Every teenager was made for mission

Do you think your teen would be encouraged to know that God created him or her for a specific mission here on Earth?

Jesus said in John 17:18, “[Father], in the same way that you gave me a mission in the world, I give them a mission in the world” (MSG).

Every believer needs a ministry to believers, and a mission to unbelievers. Teens can do both, serving believers and evangelizing unbelievers. In fact, you might even involve entire families as you all go on a mission trip together or in reaching their neighborhood for Christ.

Studies show most people who come to Christ—at least in the United States—come to him before they turn 18. Other studies show people are far more receptive to hearing the Gospel from a friend than a stranger. This combination gives Christian teenagers an incredible opportunity for ministry and mission.


Six Traits That Shape Students in Our Society by Tim Elmore


My children are both young adults, in their twenties. They have grown up in a world almost altogether different than the one I grew up in—fifty years ago. We were talking recently about the “norms” for their peers in society today. My conclusion? We are moving from the “information age” to the “intelligence age” where our appliances and devices may be smarter than we are.

I wonder if we are ready for it.

Noting how contemporary society was shaping our young in both positive and negative ways, anthropologist Margaret Mead began to travel to places like Samoa and New Guinea. She visited different cultures on asearch: “I have tried to answer the question which sent me to Samoa: Are the disturbances which vex our adolescents due to the nature of adolescence itself or to the civilization? Under different conditions does adolescence present a different picture?”

One Huge Discovery

Interestingly, Mead discovered one significant difference within developing nations.

“With the exception of a few cases, adolescence represented no period of crisis or stress, but was instead an orderly developing of a set of slowly maturing interests and activities. The girls’ minds were perplexed by no conflicts, troubled by no philosophical queries, beset by no remote ambitions.”

Wait. Did she say she didn’t see any stress in those teens’ lives?

Yep. That’s what she said. Now, obviously, we might argue that because teens in Samoa or New Guinea are not exposed to a broader world, they’ve not seen anything that could expand them further. Perhaps they would like our high tech, high speed, high volume world if they were only exposed to it.

That is my point precisely. The exposure our students gain is both good news and bad news. Exposure to “more” is broadening to them, but it’s also a source of stress. Mead writes, “A society which is clamoring for choice, which is filled with many articulate groups, each urging its own brand of salvation, its own variety of economic philosophy, will give each new generation no peace until all have chosen or gone under, unable to bear the conditions of choice.”

Six Traits in Our Society and What They Produce

Below, I’ve ventured to list the pros and cons of six traits of our post-modern culture. Let me recommend you use these lists as a discussion starter on your campus:

Societal Trait Pros Cons
Pluralism Tolerance. Since kids are exposed to a variety of world views they are more open minded. Too often, kids fail to develop critical thinking skills to evaluate their own working philosophy or worldview.
Multiculturalism Exposure to others who are different, as our country is more diverse than ever before. Racism, in a growing world full of people unlike them, some can withdraw and develop fears about diverse ethnicities.
Materialism Higher standards of living, as products and services are accessible to more people. Entitlement among all age groups as people feel they deserve only the best products and services available.
Relativism Less dogmatism about issues that are not black and white. We recognize many areas are “gray.” Inability to see that some issues and values are black and white. Morality can become “elastic” based on opinion or convenience.
Progressivism Savvy mindsets. Youth are comfortable and familiar with adapting to new technology. Frequently, students can develop addictions to their portable devices and require new iterations of technology to be satisfied.
Pragmatism They are much more practical and realistic than Millennials were at their age. Few are idealists anymore. They’ve witnessed a sour economy and live in a day of uncertainty, complexity, and skepticism. Innocence dies fast.

Here’s a thought. What if you discussed this list of “pros” and “cons” with your colleagues or even your students? Do they see them too? What would they add to the list? Then, what if you talked about what could be done to address the negative consequences of these traits?


Every Opportunity to Preach the Gospel is an Opportunity to Believe the Gospel by Michael Kelley

One translation of Philemon 1:6 reads like this:

“I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.”

How interesting. Paul doesn’t pray that his readers might be active in preaching the gospel so that others will be converted. Nor does he pray that they’re active so that the gospel can go forth to the nations. He might well have done so, and no doubt he did on other occasions, but specifically here the apostle points us to a personal benefit that comes when we are active in speaking the words of the gospel to others. When we speak the gospel we have a more and more full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.

You might say, then, that preaching the gospel in all the ways we do so is not only for the benefit of those we are speaking to, but also for the good of our own souls. It seems that every opportunity to preach the gospel is also an opportunity to believe the gospel.

Perhaps a few scenarios might help in understanding how that works.

1. Preach (and believe) the gospel with the lost.

The gospel is the message that we can be saved from the righteous and just punishment of God for our sins because of Christ’s death in our place. This is the core of what we must speak to those who are lost in order that they might be saved. Sometimes that preaching looks like preaching – as in a congregation. Other times it looks like speaking the words of the gospel to a friend or neighbor who is not a believer. But in either case, the gospel must be declared.

But in that declaration there is an opportunity for us to believe it once again. That happens when we know there is no logical reason for the person we are talking to to believe something as outlandish as what we are saying is true: I’m really deserving of eternal punishment? There really was a Jesus who died in my place? My greatest need is to be at peace with God? It’s crazy talk. But as we are declaring this message that is indeed foolishness to those that are perishing, it’s an opportunity for us to be reminded that this message has power. Indeed, the only reason we actually believe it ourselves is because of the Holy Spirit, who is still blowing like the wind wherever He wishes.

2. Preach (and believe) the gospel when you’re wronged.

How do you preach the gospel when you’re wronged? It’s through forgiving and receiving the one who has wronged you. It’s through not responding in kind, with the same hateful venom they spewed at you. It’s through kindness and grace, modeled by Jesus who even though we were His enemies nevertheless died for us. We preach and validate the truth of God’s grace in Christ when we don’t hold out grace for someone else.

But as we display the gospel to those who wrong us, it’s also an opportunity for us to believe it even more deeply ourselves. We do that by reminding ourselves that our true worth is not measured by a single person’s opinion of us but rather by the death of Jesus. We do that by drinking deeply of the truth that we are fully loved and accepted in Christ, never to be rejected again. And when we experience rejection and accusation and hatred from others, it’s another chance to return to the core truth that we are the loved and safe children of God.

3. Preach (and believe) the gospel when you give.

Giving is not the gospel, but giving is compelled by the gospel. That means giving time, money, energy, prayer – it means sacrificing for the sake of God’s kingdom and other people. When we give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, but joyfully, we are shining the same sacrificial attitude that Jesus had who, though He was rich in every way, became poor for our sake. Our sacrifice of time, talent, energy or whatever is another tangible proof that the gospel is actually real. It’s so real, in fact, that we would happily not pursue our own comfort but instead give for the sake of someone else.

But there are those thoughts that still creep into our minds and doubts that slink into our hearts when we give: Am I going to have enough? Will I be too tired? How much will it really hurt? This is an opportunity for us to believe the gospel because the gospel reminds us that we are rich in Christ. We have every spiritual blessing in the heavens, and not one will ever be lessened. Not only that, but the gospel shows us that we have the kind of Father who knows and delights in giving us what we need. He will not fail to give us the daily bread, and therefore we are free to give to others.

Preach the gospel in word and deed. Preach, and as you do, feel the double blessing of believing it all over again.


Things Your Best Leaders Do by Justin Knowles


The other day someone asked me what I think makes some of the best leaders. Here is what I wrote down and I won’t lie, I forget some of these things and this is a great reminder for myself.

The best leaders:

Are students, not know it alls. They are in groups to learn themselves not try to convince students they know everything. When they are leading a Bible study they are open to learning and are on a journey with students. Groups that grow together, stay together.

Spark conversations, not dominate them. The soul job of a leader in a small group is to get students talking about their faith. The best leaders are the ones who know how to ask good questions to get students talking. Jesus was the best at asking questions and leaders need to follow that example. Poor leaders think this is the time for them to shine and let the students know how “theological” they are. If they want to talk, they shouldn’t be leaders.

Don’t have a “perfect” Instagram life. What I mean by this is for most people, they post the “highlights” of their life making it all good and no bad. The best leaders let students in on their dirt too. They are real, open and authentic with their life and faith because when leaders are, students will start to be real, open and authentic with their lives too.

Listen well. We always think that we need to say the right thing when in reality, students want someone who will just and listen and be present with them. Does this mean we don’t say anything at all? No. It just means we be a place were students know they will be heard. The best leaders are the ones who listen intentionally.

Want to multiply. The best leaders want their group to grow. They want to create a culture of inviting friends. The best leaders want to take on new leaders to train them up on how to create a learning, authentic, inviting culture that they would then go out and start their own group…multiplying themselves.

Not all your leaders will be these but even if you get a few of them to start, you will see your culture begin to shift over time. Find them, love them and multiply them because the best leaders create more “best” leaders.


5 Symptoms of an Unhealthy Prayer Life by Matt Erickson


Many of us have a hard time maintaining a vibrant prayer life.

Even when we manage to set aside time to pray, we can still feel like we’re not doing it right:

  • Our minds drift, distracted by worries and a never-ending To-Do list.
  • Our time with God doesn’t always feel relational.
  • We get the sense we’re doing a lot of talking, but not much listening.
  • We might even feel a vague sense of unworthiness, knowing there are areas of our lives where we’re coming up short and imagining God will want us to focus on those very areas.

Obstacles to a Healthy Prayer Life

Priscilla Shirer understands the challenges of prayer, but believes it is the only way we can experience lasting victory in the Christian life.

“The fact is this: Unless prayer is a vital and thriving part of your life, you will never achieve spiritual victory,” she said.

Here are five signs of an unhealthy prayer life.

1. You are too busy for prayer.

From the moment we wake, we are bombarded with tasks that have to happen: everyday burdens that steal away our attention and effort from things that truly matter.

“It’s hurried and our prayers are vague,” Priscilla said. “I’ve begun the discipline of writing down my prayers and posting them. Not only so that I won’t forget to pray, but also because it helps me to be more specific, targeted and strategic in my prayers.”

Try carving out a time in your day where you can relax from the necessities of life and focus on opening your heart to God in prayer. Before you entire this time with God, write down your thoughts in detail and share them with Him.

2. You are distracted.

Your smartphone buzzes. Probably a new email. You hear a crash in the kitchen—it sounds like broken glass. Then …

We are distracted now more than ever. And these seemingly innocent diversions have a negative effect on our communication with God.

Just as writing down our prayers can help us stay more focused, writing down our distracting thoughts can actually help us get them out of our minds, so we can return to praying.

“When something comes to your mind that threatens to take you off course—stop and write it down, or type into your smartphone,” Priscilla said. “This way you can feel confident that you won’t forget about it. Then, get back to the task at hand—prayer. Your list will be there, waiting for you when you are finished.”

3. Your prayers are comfortable.

We live in a culture of comfort where spiritual complacency is a hindrance to prayer, godly living and the advance of the Kingdom. Because of this culture, we have to continually assess where we are. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Where am I spiritually?
  • How does my prayer life reflect my relationship with God?
  • What is the focus of my prayer life?

First Peter 5:8 is a wake-up call: “Be serious! Be alert! Your adversary the Devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour.”

“The enemy celebrates lethargic Christian living,” Priscilla said. “When we’re yielding to our appetites without putting up much, if any, resistance, he can basically go unchecked, wreaking havoc in the lives of God’s children. Ultimately, he can hamstring the church from achieving the purposes of God.”

4. You are easily discouraged by God’s answers.

“Sometimes waiting on God can be some of the hardest times in our lives,” Priscilla said. “If we will continue to press in, we will find that the journey, that season of stillness and silence, allows us to have more communion and fellowship with God then we would have, had God given us an answer quickly. He is working behind the scenes, not only in our circumstances, but also in our own hearts.”

Waiting is hard. If God answers your prayers with silence, a “No” or a “Not now,” remember that He is always working on your behalf.

5. Your prayer life doesn’t match your public life.

We need to be living with integrity, though not perfection, if we’re to have a vibrant, effective prayer life.

“A key to a successful prayer life is to make sure that we are actually living a life that is in alignment with our prayers,” Priscilla said. “God is not a genie in a bottle who answers whatever our requests are, no matter how we’re living. The prayers of a righteous person are the ones that are powerful and effective.”

“Prayer is not just for fighting spiritual battles,” she said. “Prayer is for knowing God and relating to Him in all of life.”