02.20.17

The Most Common Mistakes Parent Make by Tim Elmore

growingleaders.com

Recently, I was interviewed by pediatrician Dr. Meg Meeker for her podcast. The theme was the topic of my book, Twelve Huge Mistakes Parents Can Avoid. During the course of our conversation, several concepts were discussed that I felt you’d benefit from in a blog post. I have included them here.

1. In your book: Twelve Huge Mistakes Parents Can Avoid, you talk about what we parents do that keep our kids from succeeding in life. First of all—what do you consider to be successful parenting?

To me, successful parenting is leading and developing your child so that they can function as well-adjusted adults and reach their potential. This means we must think PREPARE, not just PROTECT. Our “test” is to love them in a healthy manner, so that they can replicate that love as healthy adults themselves. How they turn out is our “report card.” (Certainly, there are unique situations with special needs kids where a different report card should be used, such as higher levels of self-regulation).

2. Parents today work harder to get parenting “right” than I’ve ever seen in 30 years. But sometimes trying so hard makes parents too “good.” You write about Mistake #1- We won’t let our kids fail. Why do they need to fail? This sounds important but from a practical standpoint, tell me specifically what parents should do to let their kids fail. Should they set them up to fail?

Today, we have a large population of parents—millions of us—who “over-function.” We’ve been so intent on nurturing the self-esteem and safety of our children that we did too much.  We didn’t want to “mess it up.” In fact, two extremes are happening in our homes today: abandonment and abundance. Adults are not present to mentor their children or they are doing too much, leaving children helpless to know how to do things for themselves. Both extremes leave the young adult ill-equipped for life after childhood.  First and foremost is: We won’t let our kids fail.

Why won’t we let them fail?

  1. We feel like WE are a failure as parents when our kids fail.
  2. We are often living out our unlived life through our children.
  3. We assume failure will damage their self-esteem.
  4. We somehow assume that good parents never allow a negative experience to happen to their child. (In actuality—negative experiences foster the most growth. If we raise kids as fragile, they’ll surely become fragile adults).

For example, I’ve seen dozens of parents at Starbucks doing their child’s homework for them. I read about one mom who tried to take a standardized test for her teenage daughter. In 2014, one in twelve Millennials brought their parent to a job interview.

So, what are some steps we can take on this issue? First, parents should not set their kid up for failure. We should never desire our kids to fail. However, most of us would admit that our greatest growth in life occurred when we failed at something. Life will provide tough times and we should not PREVENT those times. But we should PREPARE our kids for them and be there to PROCESS those tough times with them. As they mature, we should loosen the reigns and allow our kids to navigate challenging consequences.

Consider the message we send our kids when we won’t let them deal with a difficult experience: “Bless your heart. You don’t have it in you to handle this. You need me…” Instead, we should observe their growth, encouraging them to take on opportunities that will stretch them—encourage tasks that lie somewhere between STRETCHED and OVERWHELMED. Then, as they mature, its best to lead with questions not imperatives.  (Why do you think that happened? How did it make you feel? How could you have handled it differently?)

3. Mistake #3 is one I love: we prioritize happiness. Why shouldn’t raising happy kids be a parenting goal?

I’ve heard countless parents say: “I just want my children to be happy.” It’s only natural. But happiness makes a horrible goal. However, it makes a wonderful by-product. You pursue purpose and find satisfaction. Albert Einstein said: “Try not to become a person of success, but rather try to become a person of value.” When happiness is a goal—we shop for it, we date and marry for it; we try to find it in people and places that can’t provide it. Spouses can’t constantly entertain us. I remember John Maxwell’s wife, Margaret, answering a question from a spouse at a conference: “Does John make you happy?” She shocked everyone by saying, “No, he doesn’t.” Then, she proceeded to say, “I learned a long time ago that I must find a way to be happy without depending on someone else to do it for me…not even my husband. Then, I was able to expect realistic outcomes from my marriage that John could actually fulfill.” That’s brilliant.

4. Many parents realize that disciplining kids is hard—no matter what the child’s age. They know they should be consistent and make consequences stick. Why don’t they? These are two mistakes you write about. What can parents do to make consequences stick? Many feel so overwhelmed with being consistent in discipline.

Yes. Parents often return home from a busy job and they’re already exhausted. If they feel spent they often don’t feel it’s in them to level consequences because it’s WORK. Another reason we aren’t consistent is because we feel our kids need grace. After all, they are overwhelmed too. They’re stressed out. I’ve written before that stress levels in high school students today is equal to that of a psychiatric patient in 1950s.

But the truth is, consistency and steady consequences offer security to kids. Consequences are predictable in an unpredictable world. They provide boundaries in an “anything goes” world and they communicate love because you care enough to follow through. To make consequences stick, stop talking about rules and start enforcing “equations.” If they make THIS choice, there are benefits. Making THAT choice brings consequences. Life is full of equations and we must introduce them to our children early on.

5. Mistake #6 – We lie about their potential. We all see our kids through rose-colored glasses. Isn’t this a good thing? How can we be our child’s #1 fan and be realistic about their potential? What if a parent has a child that isn’t good at anything?

Every kid wants to hear Mom or Dad say they’re “awesome” early in life. But by the time they reach late elementary school and middle school, kids are comparing parents’ comments with peers and others. If Mom is the only one saying, “You’re awesome!” they begin to question our judgment. Or, they stop really believing us. I believe there is a way to affirm our children without being dishonest or exaggerating.  Hyperbole is not necessary. We’ve all watched American Idol…where a young person tries to sing and we wonder quietly, “Who are your friends?” I believe we must be honest in our praise and stop all the hyperbole. Instead, Carol Dweck reminds us to affirm variables that are in their control. Instead of saying, “You’re smart.” Say, “I love the strategy you used on that math problem.” Instead of saying: “You’re gorgeous!” Say, “I love how honest and empathetic you are with your friends. You are as beautiful on the inside as you are on the outside.”

02.20.17

Reaching Millennials: We Need to Check Our Attitudes Toward the Next Generation by Tiffany Deluccia

tonymorganlivecom

I mentor two girls from Generation Z at a local public middle school. Their teachers paired them up with me last year because they were failing the 6th grade.

Once I got to know them and the horrors of their home lives, I became much less interested in their grades than their hearts. These two were broken in ways few can comprehend. I spend the drive to their school in prayer every week, begging Jesus to give me words to say and questions to ask, and to know when to keep quiet.

Besides the emotional and physical pain they’ve experienced that I have not, they are born of a different generation than me, making it difficult to relate on a number of levels:

  • I learn about some new (read: bizarre) Internet subculture just about every week.
  • They spend their time on video games (disturbing ones, in my opinion), YouTube binges, Kik and Snapchat.
  • They have been bullied online and in person.
  • They have views on gender and sexuality I would never have expected a 12-year-old to possess, much less express.
  • One of them hates Christians — though she felt bad about saying that when she found out I am one — because her experience with some Christian family members would make you feel physically ill.

They are not like me, in the least. And yet Christ in me has found a way to connect. His words, His understanding, and His perspective are all that keeps me going to lunch each week. I am reminded of how insufficient I am each time I see them walking to meet me outside the lunchroom.

This article isn’t actually about Generation Z, though I feel deeply our churches need to be focused on them a lot more than we currently are. It’s actually about Millennials.

I’m guessing that the way I feel talking to people of Generation Z is how many senior church leaders today feel when talking to Millennials. Or reading their Facebook posts or viewing their Instagram feeds. There’s a disconnect that can be off-putting. I dislike feeling that I fundamentally don’t understand how another person sees the world. I imagine you can relate.

But here’s what I am discovering every week in a middle school guidance counselor’s office:

If we refuse to engage on a personal level with the people we go before, the people God has called us to lead, we handicap Christ’s ability to work through us. 

He is the bridge between generations. He is the wisdom for each moment, each conversation, each sermon prep session. 

It’s so much easier to read the headlines — to watch the show and allow the stereotypes to create monsters out of the people coming behind us — than it is to listen.


“Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires.”  James 1:19 NLT


If you’ve already made up your mind that Millennials’ points of view on life, politics, marriage, work and religion are completely outrageous and unfounded, you’re writing off an entire generation. Few of us are aware enough of our prejudices to even hear how we sound when we speak about the next generation. We need to invite honest feedback. It’s rarely fun to engage in conversations with people who see the world differently, but doing so makes us stronger, more compassionate, more godly people.

I write this today as a challenge to myself as much as to church leaders ahead of me on their spiritual journey:

Let’s do the hard work of opening our hearts to people we don’t understand in the generations coming after us. God will do the seemingly impossible work of creating love and understanding between us.

02.20.17

Will You Ever Grow-Up?: 7 Marks of Maturity by Tim Elmore

goodmenproject.com

You may have noticed a paradox that exists among students today. Although there are exceptions to the rule, this generation of kids is advanced intellectually, but behind emotionally. They are missing many of the marks of maturity they should possess.From an intellectual perspective, students today have been exposed to so much more than I was growing up—and far sooner, too. They’ve consumed  information on everything from cyberspace to sexual techniques before they graduate from middle school. Everything is coming at them sooner.Sociology professor Tony Campolo said, “I am convinced we don’t live in a generation of bad kids. We live in a generation of kids who know too much too soon.”

On the other hand, students have been stunted in their emotional maturity. They seem to require more time to actually “grow up” and prepare for the responsibility that comes with adulthood. This is a result of many factors, not the least of which is well-intentioned parents who hover over their kids not allowing them to experience the pain of maturation. It’s like the child who tries to help the new butterfly break out of the cocoon, and realizes later that they have done a disservice to that butterfly. The butterfly is not strong enough to fly once it is free.

There is another reason, however, that teens struggle with maturation. Scientists are gaining new insights into remarkable changes in teenagers’ brains that may explain why the teen years are so hard on young people and their parents. From ages 11-14, kids lose some of the connections between cells in the part of their brain that enables them to think clearly and make good decisions.

Pruning the Brain

What happens is that the brain is pruning itself—going through changes that will allow a young person to move into adult life effectively. “Ineffective or weak brain connections are pruned in much the same way a gardener would prune a tree or bush, giving the plant a desired shape,” says Alison Gopnik, Professor of Child Development at UC Berkley.

“They can become paralyzed by all the content they consume.”

Adolescents who are experiencing these brain changes can react emotionally, according to Ian Campbell, a neurologist at the U.C. Davis Sleep Research Laboratory. Mood swings, uncooperative and irresponsible attitudes can all be the result of these changes occurring. Sometimes, students can’t explain why they feel the way they do. Their brain is changing from a child brain to an adult brain.

Regions that specialize in language, for example, grow rapidly until about age 13 and then stop. The frontal lobes of the brain which are responsible for high level reasoning and decision making aren’t fully mature until the early 20s, according to Deborah Yurgelun-Todd, a neuroscientist at Harvard’s Brain Imaging Center. There’s a portion of time when the child part of the brain has been pruned, but the adult portion is not fully formed. They are “in-between.” They are informed but not prepared.

The bottom line?

Students today are consuming information they aren’t completely ready to handle. The adult part of their brain is still forming and isn’t ready to apply all that our society throws at it. Their mind takes it in and files it, but their will and emotions are not prepared to act on it in a healthy way. They can become paralyzed by all the content they consume.

They want so much to be able to experience the world they’ve seen on websites or heard on podcasts, but don’t realize they are unprepared for that experience emotionally. They are truly in between a child and an adult. I believe a healthy, mature student is one who has developed intellectually, volitionally, emotionally and spiritually. I also believe there are marks we can look for, as we coach them into maturity.

Signs to Look For

So what are the marks of maturity? We all love it when we see a young person who carries themselves well and shows signs of being mature. They interact with adults in an adult manner. Those kinds of students are downright refreshing. Let me give you a list of what I consider to be the marks of maturity. At Growing Leaders we seek to build these marks in young people, ages 16-24 as we partner with schools. This certainly isn’t an exhaustive list, but it is a list of characteristics I notice in young people who are unusually mature, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. If you are a parent—this is a good list of qualities to begin developing in your child. If you are a coach, or a teacher or a dean, these are the signs we wish every student possessed when they graduate. For that matter, these are signs I wish every adult modeled for the generation coming behind them.

1. A mature person is able to keep long-term commitments.

One key signal of maturity is the ability to delay gratification. Part of this means a student is able to keep commitments even when they are no longer new or novel. They can commit to continue doing what is right even when they don’t feel like it.

2. A mature person is unshaken by flattery or criticism.

As people mature, they sooner or later understand that nothing is as good as it seems and nothing is as bad as it seems. Mature people can receive compliments or criticism without letting it ruin them or sway them into a distorted view of themselves. They are secure in their identity.

3. A mature person possesses a spirit of humility.

Humility parallels maturity. Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself. It is thinking of yourself less. Mature people aren’t consumed with drawing attention to themselves. They see how others have contributed to their success and can even sincerely give honor to their Creator who gave them the talent. This is the opposite of arrogance.

4. A mature person’s decisions are based on character not feelings.

Mature people—students or adults—live by values. They have principles that guide their decisions. They are able to progress beyond merely reacting to life’s options, and be proactive as they live their life. Their character is master over their emotions

5. A mature person expresses gratitude consistently.

I have found the more I mature, the more grateful I am, for both big and little things. Immature children presume they deserve everything good that happens to them. Mature people see the big picture and realize how good they have it, compared to most of the world’s population.

6. A mature person knows how to prioritize others before themselves.

A wise man once said: A mature person is one whose agenda revolves around others, not self. Certainly this can go to an extreme and be unhealthy, but I believe a pathway out of childishness is getting past your own desires and beginning to live to meet the needs of others less fortunate.

7. A mature person seeks wisdom before acting.

Finally, a mature person is teachable. They don’t presume they have all the answers. The wiser they get the more they realize they need more wisdom. They’re not ashamed of seeking counsel from adults (teachers, parents, coaches) or from other sources. Only the wise seek wisdom.

In my latest book, Artificial Maturity, I offer practical solutions for parents to instill the marks of maturity in their kids. Susan Peters once said, “Children have a much better chance of growing up if their parents have done so first.” Here’s to modeling and developing authentic maturity in your kids.

Based on this list, are you displaying the marks of maturity? How about your kids?

02.20.17

7 Ways to Make Bible Reading Fun by Ron Edmondson

biblestudytools.com

A young college-aged girl told me recently that she didn’t enjoy reading her Bible and asked if there was an alternative book. Well…no! This is THE BOOK! There is no substitute. There are plenty of great Christian books, but none compare to this one.

I’ve heard similar concerns many times. The Bible intimidates many people; even those who are avid readers of other books.

I told this girl she could listen to the Bible on a CD or mp3, but I don’t think that’s the complete solution. I think we need to figure out how to enjoy reading God’s Word. Part of maturing as a believer is to fall in love with the Bible.

Here are 7 suggestions which may help:

Pray – The Bible is not like any other book. You need God’s Spirit to help you. You should always pray before and as you read it. Ask God to help you understand what you’re reading. Good news here! This appears, in my experience, to be one of God’s favorite prayers to answer.

Version – Pick a version easiest for you to understand. I would suggest you read a more literal translation primarily, but the paraphrase versions are good for casual reading. I suggest NIV or NLT for a literal but readable version; ESV or NKJV if you want a most literal translation; or for a paraphrase version, that’s extremely readable, try The Message version. I read some of each of these for my studies and fun reading.

Sharing – It brings Scripture to life when we can share it with others. Sharing your reading with your small group, a group of guys or girls at a coffee shop or a couple of people from work helps energize you for the passage. The key here is that when you talk about what you’re reading, it helps you value it more. (Read Philemon 1:6 for an example of this.)

Journaling – Writing about your time in God’s Word will help you process your thoughts and keep a record of them. It’s exciting to go back over time and remember what you read before. It fuels your enthusiasm for more.

Taking your time – I love the idea of reading the Bible through in a year. I’ve done this many times. I think it’s more important, however, that you benefit from what you’re reading. I sometimes meditate on a few versesor a story for a day. I also recommend people start with an easier book to understand and move to more difficult passages from there. The books of Matthew 1Mark 1Luke 1, or John 1 are good places to start, because they are filled with great stories of Jesus.

Clarify – It’a best to have a study Bible for this part, but there are plenty of free online tools also. Look up words you don’t understand. Learn to use Bible dictionaries and commentaries. Look up passages, which aren’t clear, cross-referencing verses with other similar verses using footnotes. For some people, having a Bible study to work through along with reading the Bible is helpful.

Relationship – The best way to fall in love with God’s Word is to get to better know it’s author. It’s cliche now, but read it as a love letter written to you. If someone writes you a love letter, you’ll read it continually until you figure out what it means, and maybe even memorize parts of it along the way. If you can’t figure out something, you’ll consult the author. Fall more in love with God and you’ll find reading the Bible much easier. You may even someday say it’s “fun”!

02.13.17

10 Tips for Working With Special-Needs Teenagers by John Pape

youthministry.com
Nine years ago, my family received some crushing news. Our son Drew, who was almost 2, had a little-known genetic syndrome called 22q. It’s a micro-deletion of the 22nd chromosome (I don’t understand it, either). On the one hand, we were relieved to finally have a diagnosis that explained his missed developmental milestones. On the other hand, something was wrong, and we were devastated. (Search “22q” to learn more about our family’s struggle.)

I’ve asked God many times to heal my son. I’ve prayed and wrestled with this a lot. However, I’m blessed and even thankful for the lessons I’ve learned on this journey. They’ve helped me become a better parent and youth worker. Here are 10 tips I’d like to share:

1. Treat kids with special needs as normal whenever you can. Like most boys, Drew loves monster trucks and hates school. He isn’t the same as other kids, but who is? He can’t do everything, but he can do most things. Encourage special-needs kids to participate whenever possible.

2. Be honest when the fit isn’t good. Like most youth groups, ours can get a bit crazy. Games such as dodgeball are potentially dangerous when kids can’t protect themselves. Either have an adult sit and watch the game with a student or choose another game. For the most part, parents prefer honesty about any risks that might be involved.

3. Focus on teenagers’ strengths, not their limits. Every kid knows a lot about something. Find each young person’s specialty and let them use that knowledge and skill. For example, my son isn’t afraid to read out loud, so I call on him to read when I can.

4. View all aspects of youth group from the perspective of special-needs kids. They already feel like an inconvenience, so don’t make matters worse. For example, Tina,* a high schooler who’s in a wheelchair, couldn’t reach the snack counter in our youth room, so we made some adjustments.

5. Encourage friendship—and be a friend. Every kid needs friends. For special-needs kids, friends are tough to find. One of the coolest things I’ve seen at church was when a kid took Sam*, an autistic boy, under his wing and led him to a small group. Later I pulled that kid aside and thanked him for being a friend to Sam. Leaders need to get to know the young person, too. I struggled to befriend Sam until I found common ground with him (Pokémon Go—don’t judge!). Work to find something you both enjoy.

6. Enjoy the journey. Sam now loves coming to youth group, which is a first for him. Another first: In a reindeer race, he was pulled around the gym on a bed sheet. His team won and had a blast. Sam came to a lock-in, spending his first night away from home. He raked leaves for his first service project. That’s a lot of firsts we’ve experienced together, and we’ve enjoyed every one.

7. Realize that caring for one person communicates care to everyone. When you show students that special-needs kids are welcome and valued, you let everyone know they’re welcome and valued. Kids without special needs will realize they’ll always be accepted, no matter what they’ve done.

8. Remember that special needs mean special abilities. Recently in Sunday school, I asked kids to name a compassionate person they know. One said, “Drew Pape.” Because my son has been through a lot, he’s very kind and soft-hearted. I’d once envisioned raising an athletic super-star or an academic juggernaut, but I’m grateful for my son’s heart of gold. (I’m not sure I would’ve been able to raise such a compassionate kid without this syndrome. I might have cared too much about his athletic abilities or academic performance.)

9. Please ask. If you don’t understand a behavior or notice physical or social differences, talk to a parent. Heartfelt inquiries let people know you care. It’s better to have an awkward conversation than for a young person to be ignored or stared at. Don’t treat special-needs kids and families like the plague. Your kid won’t lose any chromosomes hanging out with my kid.

10. As a church, embrace special-needs families. At an annual checkup, the nurse/social worker encouraged our family to get involved in a faith community. “Fake it if you have to,” she said. “They’re a great support and encouragement.” For the most part, this has been true. Yet we’ve also experienced heartache. That might be one reason an estimated 80 to 90 percent of special-needs families are unchurched. (Data is tough to find. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control, 15 percent of kids ages 3 to 17 have a developmental disability. Do 15 percent of your youth group kids have special needs?)

A few more notes: Educate yourself about the condition. Search online or ask for information. Pray (for the young person, the family, schoolwork, doctor visits, and their future). Be there when you can; send a card when you can’t. If an event is being held for the condition, support or attend it.

Kids who are different shouldn’t feel unwelcome. That’s unacceptable (see Luke 14:12-14). As the body of Christ, we can do better.

02.13.17

Why Millennials Are Staying in the Nest by Jonathan McKee

youthministry.com
It’s the American dream: Grow up, attend the right school, graduate…and then move into Mom’s basement! Okay, maybe that last part is the new “amended” dream.

A record number of 20-somethings are opting to live at home rather than leave the nest. Specifically, 40 percent of American Millennials (young people ages 20 to 35) currently live with their parents. By comparison, that number was 27 percent back in 1991, when I got my first apartment at age 21.

Why aren’t young adults spreading their wings?

Money Matters

At first glance, Millennials seem quite “spendy.” After all, at their age we didn’t walk into work sipping a $4 coffee and thumbing an $800 iPhone. More than 45 percent of 18- to 23-year-olds have spent more on coffee than investing in their retirement. And yes, they love their phones. Almost all young adults own smartphones, and about two-thirds subscribe to on-demand video services such as Netflix or Hulu (with many mooching off a parent’s account).

Despite studies showing that Millennials struggle to manage their finances, we “older folks” can show a little understanding.  Let’s step into their shoes for a moment (something I wish I would’ve done more as a parent)…

The Real Numbers

First, apartment rent is higher than ever. It increased 4.6 percent in 2015 alone, the biggest leap since before the recession. I know several Millennials who were on their own but recently moved back home (as “boomerang kids”) when their monthly rent went up by three digits.

Rent hikes are a drop in the bucket compared to the mountainous spikes in education costs. In 1980, the average annual cost of tuition, room, board, and fees at a four-year college was $9,438. Now it’s $23,872! That’s a 260 percent increase, and it’s staggering when compared to the 120 percent increase in all consumer items. And compared to 1980, up to 19 percent more young people are completing at least four years of college.

Higher costs mean greater debt. The average debt burden for college graduates has more than doubled within the Millennial Generation. On graduation day, members of the class of 2016 were strapped with an average of $37,172 in student loans, compared to $18,271 for the class of 2003. Most students take 10 years to pay off that debt, forking out an average of $429 monthly. (Or 7.5 years if they pay an extra $100 a month.)

Maybe that’s why more than one-third of graduates regret going to college because of the debt. In fact:

  • 49 percent believe they would have reached the same level in their career even if they hadn’t gone to college.
  • 63 percent say they’re relying on a one-off event, such as winning the lottery or getting an inheritance, to pay off student loans.

But at least this better-educated generation is earning more than their parents, right? Sadly, not much. Here’s where the numbers differ. A new analysis of Federal Reserve data claims that Millennials, with a median household income of $40,581, actually earn 20 percent less than Baby Boomers did at the same life stage. The report states, “Education does help boost incomes, but the median college-educated millennial with student debt is only earning slightly more than a Baby Boomer without a degree did in 1989.” And the median net worth of Millennials is 56 percent less than it was for Boomers.

Sounds bleak. But just a few years ago, Pew Research revealed a more optimistic picture, showing a slight increase in income by generation when using today’s dollars. It also revealed a greater disparity in income between college and high school grads. For example, in 2015 a person with a bachelor’s degree made an average of $1,980 more per month than someone with just a high school diploma. (An extra $2,000 a month sure helps pay off that college debt!)

So how are “on-their-own” Millennials paying bills? With their thumbs. When they’re on their phones, young adults aren’t just scrolling through Snapchat stories.

  • They’re thumbing rides because they don’t own cars. In fact, more than half either don’t intend to purchase a car or don’t consider that a priority. Only 15 percent of Millennials say a vehicle is really important. Another 25 percent say it’s important but not a big priority.
  • Millennials also moonlight, using their skills to earn extra money. The networking site LinkedIn says the number of young adults who freelance on the side is growing logarithmically, far faster than the number of full-time freelancers.
  • Young adults also tend to be savvy shoppers. Most shop with phone in hand, comparing prices and searching for the best deals. Millennials are actually less likely than previous generations to buy something simply because it’s convenient. Instead, they focus on value.

Keep Talking!

Parents should resist the urge to say, “When I was your age…” Because, all things being equal, you’ll also have to admit, “I made more, paid less in rent, paid less for school, and spent way more money on my car!”

Instead, engage in practical conversations (not lectures) about budgeting and spending . My dad showed me how to make a budget on a napkin. He let me choose how to spend my money, but I had to make a budget and stick with it. If I wanted to spend half my money on girls (I did), then that was my choice (a bad one). But I learned to notice what I spent.

If your kids spend too much on Starbucks, don’t forbid it; just make them track their spending. They might think twice when they sit down at month’s end and have to write “coffee, $96.”

Help your kids think about the future. If they’re in college, take them to dinner and affirm them. Share ways their hard work now will pay off later. Show them numbers from the sources above, if that helps.

If you have high schoolers or middle schoolers, still take them out to dinner and affirm them. Discuss their educational goals and provide information to guide their decisions. Show your kids charts revealing the income disparity between people who earn degrees and those who don’t.

If you have toddlers, take them to Chuck E. Cheese and jump in the ball pit together. Then, when you tuck them in at night, read books. Readers are learners, and your kids will probably want to go to college before you even bring it up.

02.13.17

How to Navigate the “Other Side” of Small Groups by Leneita Fix

youthministry.com
An exasperated small-group leader stopped me to chat. One of my best leaders, he was dedicated and prepared. He just wanted a quick fix to get his small group back on track.

“I’ve never experienced anything like this,” he admitted. “One guy is totally disruptive every week, and nothing I try works. The other group members are frustrated, and some have even stopped coming. I don’t know what to do.”

Unfortunately, that wasn’t my first conversation that week about what I call the “other side” of small groups. Discussions can get derailed in so many ways, and leaders need to know how to regain control.

Watch out for these five challenges:

  1. Rabbit trails and talkers—Getting off-topic may lead to deeper discussions of the heart. But sometimes students talk just for the sake of blowing up small-group time. It takes some discernment to tell the difference. If you suspect the detour is leading to a worthwhile place that interests students, then go with it. But if certain stories or movie references aren’t relevant, don’t be afraid to shut them down. It’s okay to say, “I’d love to hear more about that, so let’s talk afterward.” Then follow up and let students share when small group is over. A good rule of thumb is to set aside five minutes at the start or end of group to just chat.
  2. The “one”—Some students tend to regularly take over the conversation, making themselves the center of attention. Maybe they’re being a clown, or maybe they just keep talking over everyone else. No matter the circumstance (or the person involved), offer a gentle reminder to let others share their input. It’s always okay to redirect a student and encourage others to talk. Simply say, “I love what you have to share. Now I’d like to hear from _______.”
  3. Train wrecks—One minute you’re discussing Colossians and the next a student blurts out a seemingly unconnected personal crisis. It might be intense, such as admitting they’re cutting, or it might be a passing comment about how Mom is always drunk. The room goes silent, and no one knows what to say. That’s a great time to stop, focus, care, and pray. Move off the agenda and let the person know they matter more than the program. Depending on the topic, you may need to follow up afterward and acknowledge what was said in the moment. However you handle the situation, make sure students know they’re loved. And one caveat: If this sort of off-topic admission happens often, with the same person, it may be time to re-direct some of that energy into off-line counseling, setting a boundary simply because of the frequency.
  4. Debates—Conversations in small group can certainly get heated, whether over issues of culture or theology. Remember that healthy conflict and respectful disagreements can lead to growth, as long as you filter opinion from truth. Jesus’ words are true, while our interpretation of how to live them out can be subjective. Gently point kids back to the actual words of Scripture, especially when they take them out of context. Also, it’s okay for students to explore new thoughts, as long as they don’t attack other people. Quash any hateful words, and let students know when they’re being thoughtless or rude.
  5. Apathy, attitudes, and general grumpiness—Though we may not always see it or know it, there’s always a reason behind someone’s sour mood. It could be school, health, home, insecurity, and so on. Never take a mood at face value. Pull students aside after small group and let them know you’re willing to listen if they need that.

Navigating all these areas takes maturity, depth, and prayer. Whether you’ve been a small-group leader for a week or for decades, at times you’ll be blindsided with the “other side” of small groups. Sometimes it’s okay if you don’t get back to the plan—or don’t get to the plan at all. Just sit back and let teenagers be teenagers for a night. Occasionally going off-topic can lead to valuable insights into your students’ lives and hearts.

02.13.17

How to Embrace the Diverse Personalities in Small Groups by Tony Myles

youthministry.com
Every small group has some genuinely quirky personalities. I know because I’ve been one of them. In high school, I accepted a friend’s invitation to his youth group. Then he wanted me to check out his small group. Each member had a perceptibly unique influence on the conversation about God and life, but somehow the diversity worked.

For my part, I simply liked fitting in somewhere. It didn’t matter that we were all in different social circles at school. In the small group, we shared the common ground of discovering more about Jesus and ourselves.

Fast-forward years later, and I’ve led discussions in multiple small groups characterized by wide diversity. As I’m sure you’ve discovered:

Some personalities are easier to connect with than others. Yet all of them in combination makes a group special.

Jesus has a way of accomplishing enormous things in each group, no matter what the individual members are like.Here how “the usual suspects” in most small groups impact the life of the group, and how you can be proactive in the way you lead, given their eccentricities:

THE DOMINATOR:

These students manage to always be the center of attention. It might be a star pupil who enjoys answering questions or a comedian who keeps everyone laughing. Dominators can add life to the group, provided that other students don’t become just an audience.

  • Tip: Develop a one-on-one relationship with this student. The investment you make behind the scenes can nurture trust and teamwork, allowing this individual to contribute to the group. You may want to let a Dominator lead question time, for example.

THE SPECTATOR: 

These people usually give minimal responses, even to direct questions. Their quietness might result from profound boredom, intense interest, introversion, high intellect, or insecurity about communicating. Although Spectators may seem more like ornaments than rooted members, their presence adds a crucial ingredient in the “recipe” of the group.

  • Tip: Pass out paper and pencils, then ask kids to write their responses to certain questions. Then invite everyone (including the Spectators) to share what they wrote.

THE GLADIATOR: 

This scowling teenager always seems to be at odds with someone else. The Gladiator’s fiery attitude may trace back to something that happened in your group, at home, or at school. The challenge is to not let the tension overtake the group.

  • Tip: Remind any teenagers who are frustrated with this person that Jesus receives us as we are and leads us to transformation. Intentionally sit next to a Gladiator, and privately ask any group members who are at odds with him or her to sit farther away. (Ideally, avoid having the two people sit across from each other; the stares can increase tension.)

THE MANAGER:

Managers hate conflict and will do everything possible to avoid negative comments in the group. That means editing or repackaging people’s tougher comments, which can create feelings of resentment and eventually a reluctance to share.

  • Tip: Outside the group, affirm this person’s sensitivity to conflict and other people’s feelings. Assure the Manager that awkwardness is okay, especially if it leads to breakthroughs. If tension arises during group time, commit to join in silent prayer together (perhaps with a secret head nod). That way the Manager can be part of the solution without taking over.

THE WORKER:

These idealists are always looking for something to do. They’d rather accomplish “real” work than just have a discussion. A Worker might guilt the rest of the group into performing service projects at the expense of a study, for example.

  • Tip: Because Workers will light up when you mention a project or event, hand over the planning to them. Give Workers the responsibility of developing a special project you can do together every month or two. Knowing that’s ahead will help soften their resistance to group discussions.

THE TERMINATOR:

Some people feel the need to douse any iota of optimism, enthusiasm, or faith with excessive realism. Terminators will quickly list 10 reasons why something won’t work, but often their body language alone says it all.

  • Tip: A Terminator can identify real problems that need to be solved. Before the group studies something controversial or plans a big event, ask this person for a list of things to be aware of. Then be sure to cover those topics as a group.

THE POSER:

For an Actor, the entire world’s a stage, so you can’t tell from one moment to the next if you’re getting the genuine version. Maybe something unique is at play; for example, you’re friends with the teenager’s parents and he or she fears you’ll say something to them.

  • Tip: Introduce a journal system so students can write their private thoughts after each small-group meeting. Assure them the journals will remain private and are just a way to wrestle with thoughts and beliefs.

Not every small group includes all of these personalities. And some teenagers may play more than one role. It’s tempting to react against each person’s negative contribution to the small group, so regularly remind yourself of each trait’s advantages.

The point isn’t to label kids, but to learn about them and be more proactive in leading them. By understanding each person, you can guide the entire group into a better understanding of themselves, other people, and Jesus.

02.06.17

What to Develop When You’re Developing Your Volunteers by Matt Larkin

youthspecialties.com
There’s a lot to consider when you’re thinking about volunteer development. You want volunteers that are well-rounded. You want them to be strong spiritually and well-equipped to utilize their gifts. But to achieve that, you’ve got to have a well-rounded approach to volunteer development. So, with that in mind, here are three key areas to consider when you’re thinking about what to develop when developing your volunteers.

1. HELP THEM DEVELOP IN THEIR WALK WITH GOD

It may seem obvious, but really, the first thing that you want (and need) in a volunteer is someone who is actively pursuing growth in their walk with God. Spiritual development has got to be priority #1 when you’re working on developing your volunteers.

As such, you’ll want to be providing spiritual development resources to your volunteers. Perhaps a Bible reading plan for your volunteers is something to consider. Providing articles and resources to help them in developing their prayer life may be helpful as well. Providing them with a mechanism for spiritual accountability could also be key. The big thing, though, is ensuring your volunteers are well supported in their walk with God.

2. HELP THEM DEVELOP AS A LEADER

The second thing to consider in the development of your volunteers is providing them with the resources to develop in their role as a leader. General leadership development is an investment that will pay big dividends for your ministry. If your ministry is staffed by strong leaders who are being empowered to lead in their particular area, then your students will only benefit from it.

This means providing them with articles and resources on good leadership principles. It means providing training in areas specific to ministry leadership. It means empowering your volunteers to actually lead in the area of the ministry that God has called them to. As you do this, your role may change. But it will put you in a position where things can move much more efficiently and effectively.

3. HELP THEM DEVELOP IN THEIR UNIQUE GIFTS

Finally, when considering what to develop when developing your volunteers, you want to focus attention on helping them develop in their unique areas of giftedness. People are gifted in a variety of ways, and ministries function at their best when people are empowered to grow in their God-given areas of giftedness.

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul describes the Church as one body with many members; each with specific gifts and specific purpose. Part of the role of the church leader is to help the many members of the body to use their gifts to perform theirfunction. Helping your volunteers to learn how their gifted, and then how to use those gifts is helping them to be the unique part of the body that God has made them to be.

A WELL-OILED MACHINE (SORT OF)

While the analogy isn’t perfect, all of us want our ministries functioning like a well-oiled machine. This rarely happens in ministry, but it’s still something to shoot for. If we work to empower our volunteers spiritual, in leadership, and in their areas of giftedness, our ministries will only benefit. People who are growing in the Lord and understand (and are growing in) their role are always going to serve more effectively. While your ministry may not be a well-oiled machine, developing your leaders in these three areas will help them and your ministry become much more effective. And through those efforts, your students will receive more from the well-rounded volunteers that God has called to serve in your ministry.

02.06.17

8 Habits of Healthy Spiritual Leaders by Matt Brown

catalystleader.com

God calls, prepares and empowers spiritual leaders to lead His Church. Spiritual leadership is not a job for everybody. While every Christian is called to follow Christ wholeheartedly, and make an impact on the world around them – some are called to equip the Body of Christ as spiritual leaders.

Spiritual leadership is vitally important. People rise and fall to the level of our leadership. People are drawn into the Kingdom, and drawn into Christian service because of faithful, healthy spiritual leadership.

It is so important for those God calls to spiritual leadership to be eager to grow into everything God calls them to be.

WE ARE CALLED BY A GREAT GOD – MAY WE NEVER BE STAGNANT OR HALF-HEARTED IN THAT CALLING!

1. WALK WITH GOD

Spiritual leadership is primarily about walking with God. It is His Kingdom, and His reign that we are seeking to establish, not our own. We must keep our hearts daily submissive to His Word and rule in our lives. We should seek to know Him more, and then make Him known to those we lead.

The primary way we walk with God is through engagement with His Word: reading, meditating, applying His eternal wisdom to our daily lives of spiritual leadership.

Spiritual leaders need to seek God more than they seek ministry. Their first priority everyday should be to know God more, to follow Him more wholeheartedly, to grow in their knowledge of Him.

God may have called them to influence others for the sake of the gospel, but they know closeness to and obedience to God is the prize they are after. If Jesus isn’t the prize, you are running the wrong race.

2. TAKE IN MORE THAN YOU GIVE OUT

As spiritual leaders, we should seek inner growth of character, wisdom and obedience more than outer growth of ministry impact. Yes, we want both, but we need to watch closely that we are in the Word of God, reading good books, spending time around mentors, as well as watching the overall health of our soul, relationships and emotions more than we are giving out.

This can be tricky for Pastors who are preaching every week. Sundays come with surprising regularity. But simple ways to work toward this end would be:

  • Set time for healthy growth habits once a week
  • Plan growth time in your schedule just like you plan out your to-do list
  • Schedule another pastor to preach once or twice a month in your place to give your more time for intake than giving out.

What we don’t want as spiritual leaders is to sound like broken records. Yes, we have specific gifts we will camp on, and we drip vision continually, but God forbid we preach on the same themes week after week because we aren’t growing. This is one reason why expository preaching is so beneficial. We move beyond our personal gifting, and into God’s abundant Word which covers areas we would never think to cover.

3. SET HEALTHY MARGINS

We must realize and admit that we cannot do everything. For everything we say “yes” to, we are inadvertently saying “no” to something else. So be careful what you say “yes” to. Try to say “yes” to more of the right stuff – stuff in your strength zone, stuff that only you can do, and then either delegate to other leaders, or say “no” when appropriate.

Margin in the life of the leader allows space for creativity to flourish, thinking and decision-making to be possible, helps highlight the important over the urgent, and keeps you enjoying life and leadership over the long haul.

For some of you, you need to do way less unimportant work. For others, you just need to plan an hour or two a day where nothing is scheduled, and be mindful at how much overcrowding you are doing on your daily task list (does it overflow into all hours of the day, everyday? Are you keeping healthy expectations for how much you can accomplish each day?)

At some point, you have to happily put your unfinished work down until tomorrow, and head home to be fully present with, and fully enjoy your family.

4. ESTABLISH HEALTHY RHYTHMS

It is not good to go through life and leadership always in 5th gear. We need to be mindful of our exhaustion and motivation levels, and refill our tank with rest, connection with others, and healthy rhythms so we can be effective spiritual leadership for the long haul.

There will be seasons that are busier than others, and in those times we need to watch for and guard our rhythms (healthy habits, time with family, etc)

There will be seasons that will be slower than others, and in those moments we should not wish them by, but soak in rest to get ready for the next stage of the journey.

5. FIND HEALTHY OUTLETS FOR STRESS

We are often slow to realize we need a break, or are living at an unhealthy pace. As spiritual leaders, we need to live out what we believe and teach. This is our greatest test.

As stress builds, and work hurls at us at a consistently overwhelming pace, we can find ourselves exhausted, discouraged, not fully processing pain or rejection, and we need healthy, godly outlets for the daily stresses of spiritual leadership, otherwise we may find ourselves in unhealthy or ungodly outlets.

More than a decade ago, a pastor in Colorado told us their story about how they were running on all cylinders for an unrealistic period of time. Their spiritual tank was overflowing, but their relational, physical and emotional tanks were near empty, and this pastor found themselves secretly wanting to drive off a mountain. We must be mindful of these tanks in our lives. It is not enough to simply fill our spiritual tank – God in His Word has also called us to community, to steward our bodies, and to rest, rhythms and margin.

Exercise, vacation, true days off, processing pain in prayer, godly friends with whom we can process life and ministry, de-cluttering, simplifying life, eating healthy-nutritious food, deep breathing, drinking enough water – all of these things contribute to healthy living and healthy outlets for those in spiritual leadership. We need to come back to them often, and continually review where our soul and emotions are at.

There are times when we simply need to “endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” We can’t control everything, and life and people sometimes bring great pain. But we need God’s help and healthy outlets to endure hardship, process pain, and forgive people who hurt us.

6. ADMIT YOUR WEAKNESSES  

Most people who follow you for a given period of time already know some of your flaws and weaknesses, but it pays big dividends for a leader to admit where they fail, where they went wrong, and where they are weak.

I knew a leader in the past who was amazingly gifted, but was never willing to admit their weaknesses. They always wanted to cover up weaknesses, and wouldn’t let people in. If this leader would’ve simply admitted their flaws, and know they were loved in spite of them, they would’ve been able to build a powerful and lasting team.

When a spiritual leader apologizes, or admits their weaknesses, they gain incredible amounts of credibility with their team.

I’m a very trusting person by nature. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that just about everybody talks a big game, but spiritual leaders who want to make an impact must be people who “watch their life and doctrine carefully” and “don’t think more highly of themselves than they ought, but rather with sober judgement.”

Spiritual leadership is less about how spiritual you sound, and more about keeping your word when it hurts, doing things for people who can do nothing for you, and watching for how subtly you undermine your leadership by saying one thing and doing another. Guard yourself, and grow in Christ to become more and more a spiritual leader with true character worth following.

7. EMBODY WHAT YOU WANT PEOPLE TO DO

As a leader, you don’t coach people to go where you have not gone. You need to call people to where you are.

Dave Ferguson recently stated in the 5 Leadership Questions podcast: “If everyone else lived the way I’m living, would we accomplish the mission?” That questions burns. This means, stop just talking big, and start living big – living to the full obedience potential God has called you to as a spiritual leader.

Don’t just tell people to pray. You seek God with a new vigor.

Don’t just tell people to love their family. You grow in graciousness to yours.

Don’t just tell people to reach the world. You show hospitality to a neighbor and live out the gospel.

Don’t just tell people to give. You sacrifice something important to you, and help the poor.

Our effectiveness as spiritual leaders is intrinsically linked to embodying what we want our people to do, and then sharing our successes and failures with them. We go together or we go nowhere at all.

8. TAKE PEOPLE WITH YOU

It should go without saying, but if you are a spiritual leader, your number one priority is to take people with you, not go on a walk all by yourself.

This means you need to constantly be meeting people where they are, and doing your best to communicate with clarity the next steps to take.

You can’t be 10 steps ahead, pointing people in unrealistic directions. You need to meet people where they are, and discover the next step together. This also means people need to have buy-in. When they help write the script, they become part of the story.

Stop telling people to reach the whole world, and begin dreaming about how God could use each of you to reach one person with the gospel.

Stop telling people to pray all day, and start casting the vision to dedicate time each week to personal prayer. (After all, prayer is addicting).

Stop telling people to be missionaries on the other end of the world, and start looking across the street.

Big vision is fine, but small steps are needed. You can see your effectiveness as a spiritual leader by whether or not people are actually tracking with you. If you sense a gap here, do your best to come back and meet people where they are and help them take the next step.