Are You Over-Spotting Your Students by Shane Stacey


When weightlifting or resistance training, the job of the spotter is simply to support the one who is training during a particular exercise, with an emphasis on allowing the participant to lift or push more than he/she could normally do safely.   

Correct spotting involves knowing when to intervene and assist with a lift, and encouraging a training partner to push beyond what they normally could without a spotter’s help.

A spotter can fail in two major ways: 

  1. Ignore the lifter. If the lifter is ignored, there is a possibility of wearing out and being crushed under the weight of the lift or at least suffering injury.
  2. Doing the work: The spotter can also fail by lifting too much of the weight off the one who is training. In the end, they do the work for the lifter. This does not allow the lifter’s muscles to grow. It also fools the lifter into thinking they are further along in their strength training than they really are.

These two errors are the same two errors that pastors, parents and leaders make in developing disciples who are engaged in making other disciples. Continue reading


Sowing in the Soil of Doubt by Danielle Rhodes

“Just have faith.” I cringe when I reflect on the number of times I’ve answered students’ questions of doubt with that seemingly harmless phrase. When broken down, I recognize the ignorance, pride, and ultimately, fear, behind those words—“Just” as if it were a simple solution, and “have faith” as if doubt and faith cannot survive within the same person. I have since realized that faith cannot exist without doubt. It would be meaningless.
We have all experienced the moment of panic when a student comes to us with doubts. Our minds race as we try to deliver a coherent answer to his or her question, “Why does God allow suffering?” “How do I know that I’m saved?” “How do I know God is real?”
These questions are inevitable, largely due to the population that we have been called to minister to. Developmentally, adolescents (approximately ages 12 to 18) are discovering their personal identities. At this age, students are exploring abstract thinking, but still striving to order their world in a way that seems logical to them. Eventually, they will learn that there are some truths that cannot be proven.
But right now, these doubts can be terrifying—for them and for us. But fear not! Doubt doesn’t have to be a dead-end. It can be a tool. Questions of doubt indicate that a student is moving away from an “inherited” religion towards a deeper personal understanding of God and faith. Doubt can be the soil from which healthy faith grows, if it’s cared for properly. Here are a few things to remember when nurturing students through questions of doubt:
1. Remind them that they are not alone.
In counseling we call this “normalizing” the feelings of doubt. Everyone has them, and they are not fatal. Thank God for “doubting” Thomas! You can find his story in John 20:26–29. Thomas, one of Jesus’ disciples, refused to believe that Jesus had risen until he saw and touched the actual nail holes in Jesus’ hands and the wound in his side. Did Jesus discard Thomas because of his doubt? Of course not! In the midst of Thomas’s unbelief, Jesus appeared to him and allowed him to investigate the truth. In the end, Thomas proclaimed of Jesus, “My Lord and my God!” His unbelief enriched and strengthened his faith. So you see, doubt is nothing to be feared, nor should it be shut down or rejected.
2. Faith and doubt are not mutually exclusive.
Students’ doubts do not make them any less “champions of the faith.” God is aware of our humanity. He knows that we cannot fully comprehend the vastness of his glory. Mark 9:14–29 tells the story of a father who begs Jesus to heal his son afflicted by an evil spirit. In verse 23, Jesus replies, “Everything is possible to one who believes.” The man responds, “I do believe, help me overcome my disbelief.” Remind your students that doubt is a normal part of the journey of faith.
3. Doubt is as much an emotional struggle as an intellectual debate.
Regardless of how it may seem on the surface, doubt is often connected to a deeper emotional distress. Students litter emotions throughout every statement they make. If you recognize the underlying emotion, you will be about to find the source of that particular doubt crisis.
I vividly recall the moments surrounding the hardest question I was ever asked. It was Thanksgiving, and I was scrambling to prepare dinner for 12 teenage boys. An outgoing 14-year-old, former gang member from Detroit invaded my culinary space and blurted out, “Why does God give some people everything and leave other people with nothing? Doesn’t he love us all?” In reality, this young man—let’s call him Lawrence—was asking, “Doesn’t God love me? Prove it.” By the world’s standards, Lawrence had nothing. He was a ward of the state. His mother was in jail, and his father no one knew where his father was. He had been bumped from foster care to detention center and back again since he was a toddler. He felt abandoned by every human he’d known. Is it surprising that he felt abandoned by God, too?
 4. Silence is not golden.
Strive to cultivate an environment of openness with the students you serve. At this stage in their faith, doubts rarely go away without being addressed. If they are left to confront their doubts along, students may end up feeling isolated and detached from a supportive faith community. Opportunities for discussion will also help normalize the struggle with doubts in their lives. I challenge youth workers to teach by example and examine, with their students, the doubts that they overcame in their own lives.
Also, remember that each question and student doesn’t fit into a prescribed box. What makes sense to one won’t make sense to another. So be creative investigating your faith together—it might even be fun.
5. Be prepared.
If there is one thing I know about teenagers, it is that they are exceptional at detecting whether or not you know what you are talking about. The best way to battle doubts is to know what is true, and you cannot know what is true unless you seek it out. God said to Jeremiah in Jeremiah 33:3, “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.”
Above all, be honest. If you don’t have an answer, don’t make one up. Use it as an opportunity to search it out with them. Use doubt as a tool to strengthen and enrich your faith and the faith of the youth around you. In addition, this will help students realize that the proper answer to doubt is not despair—it is a hunger to learn. At times, even a clear answer will not relinquish all doubt. That is the perfect opportunity to show students that faith comes from God, not from rational answers to our doubts.


Five Ways Leaders Must Guard Their Minds by Rick Warren


Leaders are readers. Leaders are learners. And leaders are definitely thinkers. Your mind is a special gift from God. It’s one of the most important tools in a leader’s arsenal. Your mind can potentially store 100 trillion thoughts, yet the average person only uses 3½ million thoughts a year. We only use about ten percent of our mental (or brain) capacity.

While our minds can be the epicenter of creative and influential leadership, our minds are also battlegrounds that must be guarded. All moral failure begins in the mind. 1 Peter 1:13 says, “Prepare your minds for action. Be self-controlled.” Notice that self-control and mental preparation go together. God says that the self-controlled person is the mentally fit person. We can love God with our minds. We’ve often talked about loving God with our hearts but God says we can love Him with our mind. I believe that God wants you to make the most of your mind. As that commercial says, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”

We battle an old sinful nature that often clouds our thinking. We live in a world that bombards us with false and counterfeit philosophies. And we have an enemy who is constantly on the prowl seeking to devour us. So how do we guard our minds well? Control what you allow in.

2 Corinthians 10:5 says, “Take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” The Bible is very specific in giving us five threats we are to guard our minds against. Share this list with your staff members and the key leaders of your church. Continue reading


Less is More: Setting boundaries for ourselves with digital media  by Art Bramford


In reviewing a lot of the existing commentary about the overuse or addiction to digital technology, I have noticed a trend. A number of ministry resources recommend retreats without digital devices. This is a good idea. Retreats without our devices help by calling attention to just how over-connected we are to digital technology in our everyday lives.

However, this does not really address the need to set healthy boundaries apart from retreats. With any other type of bad habit or addiction, you can see the flaw in the logic pretty easily: Go spend an occasional weekend without your vice of choice and then return home to it again. We accept our over-attachment to technology as an inevitable part of contemporary life.

It is not.

There is a great deal of concern over how much young people use their digital devices, but little recognition that they mirror the behaviors they see in adults. Their reasons for wanting to use technology may differ—they primarily use it for socializing, playing, exploring interests—but their overuse and failure to recognize that they should turn off their devices from time to time primarily comes from an example set by adults.[1]

Below is a list of a few possible strategies for expanding our repertoire of routine practices that model technological boundaries well. You probably shouldn’t try to adopt everything on this list, but think about how you might implement a few practices that might make your boundaries more obvious and apparent to the young people in your life. Continue reading


20 Quick Tips for Small Group Leadership  by Ron Powell


Last week, I led a small group leaders training session at an amazing youth ministry, with over 40 adult leaders and coaches. We shared back and forth and came up with some great tips. Try sharing these with your leaders. I really like 9 and 18.

  1. If you will listen to them during the week they will listen to you at the group.
  2. It’s not enough to teach them trivia. You are aiming for life change in every lesson.
  3. Connecting with you is great. Connecting them with each other is even greater.
  4. Break the prayer barrier in your group. Faith is activated as students pray out loud.
  5. Involve students in as many ways possible. Maximum involvement results in maximum life change.
  6. Pray daily for each student like you are in a fight for their soul. You are!
  7. Never ask your students to do something that you are not doing yourself.
  8. Don’t pretend to be more spiritual than you are or try come off looking more righteous than you are.
  9. Don’t be afraid of silence. Wait long before you bail them out.
  10. Imagine that you are responsible for the purity, health, and growth of their soul.
  11. Wear your love for Jesus on your sleeve.
  12. Share your faith not your doubts.
  13. Break the sound barrier early in your group. Get’m clucking like chickens if you have to.
  14. If you miss their birthday you must do the polar bear plunge of spend a 1000 years in purgatory.
  15. Respond to their texts in full sentences as soon as possible after you get them.
  16. Do an activity outside of the church once a semester.
  17. Get to know their parents. Get a home visit in if you can each year!
  18. Show as much interest in possible in what they love. Read their poems. See their drawings. Listen to their songs.
  19. Love their friends as much as you love them. When you reject their friends you reject them.
  20. Hold off on giving advice. Let them generate possible solutions for their problems.


Hey Matt, I Mean Pat, Oh Sorry It’s Bob  by Tyson Howells

I was sitting in a workshop at a Youth Specialties Conference many years ago.  Doug Fields was the speaker.  He said something that has stuck with me all of this time.

The topic was remembering students’ names.  Doug asked for everyone that is not good with remembering names to put up our hands. My hand shot up like a rocket.  Then he immediately said, “you’re not bad with names, you are just lazy

I wasn’t expecting to hear that.  I was shell-shocked.  Then I was mad.  What right does Doug Fields have to call me lazy.  Then I thought about it a little and considered maybe he might be right.

What’s In a Name

How about you?  Are you bad at remembering students names.  This is an area that I still have to work on.  And when I say work, I mean it is painful.  So much so, that I try to convince myself it is not worth doing.

This is a lie though.  One of the most personal things that a student has is their name.  If you remember their name it speaks volumes.  To be effective youth workers we must remember the names of our students.

Here are some practical tips on learning names:

  1. Quickly and Often

As soon as you meet a student for the first time say their name.  Don’t just say it once, but say it often in your conversation.  This will help your brain to associate the name with the face.  In fact it is better to over kill it a little with using their name so you can remember it.

  1. Selfies for a Good Cause

Taking pictures has never been so easy or inexpensive.  Have students write their names on a piece of paper and hold it up.  Use your smart phone and snap a picture of them.  You get all of your students to do this and now you can go through your pictures and memorize names.

  1. Hector = Nector

If all else fails give them a nickname.  The nickname can be something that is appropriate for them.  It can also just be something that sounds like their name.

  1. Story Time

A little word association can go a long way.  Who else do you know by this name?  What mental image comes to your mind when you hear this name?

  1. Help Me God!

This is important stuff.  Ask God to help you to remember.  He cares for these students more then you do.

  1. Pen is Mightier

After meeting the student write their name down in a journal, in your phone, on your hand.  Studies show that writing something down greatly helps in remembering it.

  1. Test Time

Make a game out of it.  Tell the student they can test you anytime on what their name it.  If you forget you have to give them a dollar or buy them a coke.

You might think it is not worth all of the effort to remember someone’s name.  However, I do know when a student I have only meet once or twice comes up to me and I remember their name they light up.  It also allows me to speak into their life more effectively and quickly.


The Importance of Repetition in the Bible  by Sam O’Neal


Have you noticed that the Bible often repeats itself? I have. In fact, I remember noticing as a teenager that I kept running into the same phrases, and even whole stories, as I made my way through the Scriptures. I didn’t understand why the Bible contained so many examples of repetition, but even as a young man I felt like their must be a reason for it — a purpose of some kind.

And wouldn’t you know it? I was right. (For once.)

The reality is that repetition has been a key tool used by writers and thinkers for thousands of years. Perhaps the most famous example in the past century was the“I Have a Dream” speech from Martin Luther King, Jr. Look at this excerpt to see what I mean:

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

Today, repetition is more popular than ever thanks to the rise of marketing campaigns. When I say “I’m lovin’ it” or “Just do it,” for example, you know exactly what I mean. Right? We refer to this as branding or advertising, but it’s really just a concentrated form of repetition. Hearing the same thing over and over helps you remember it and can build associations with a product or idea.

So here’s what I want you to remember from this article: Looking for repetition is a key tool for studying God’s Word. Think you can remember that? (Hint: if you make it to the end of this page, you’ll have a pretty good shot.)

As we explore the use of repetition in the Bible, we can see two distinct types of repeated text: large chunks and small chunks.

Large-Scale Repetition

There are several instances in which the Bible repeats larger chunks of text — stories, whole collections of stories, and sometimes even whole books.

Think of the four Gospels, for example: Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John. Each of these books essentially does the same thing; they all record the life, teachings, miracles, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. They are an example of repetition on a large scale. But why? Why does the New Testament contain four large books that all describe the same sequence of events?

There are several important answers, but I’ll boil things down to three key principles:

  • First, the use of repetition in the Bible usually emphasizes the importance of a person, theme, or event. This makes sense for the Gospels because the story of Jesus’ earthly ministry and mission is the most important event in the history of the world. The presence of four distinct accounts of Jesus’ life emphasizes His importance.
  • Second, the repetition of the Gospels offers greater credibility. In the ancient world, legal testimonies were considered valid if they could be substantiated by at least two or three witnesses (see Deuteronomy 19:15). By having four separate accounts written by four distinct witnesses, the Bible offers a highly reliable portrait of who Jesus was and what He did on our behalf.
  • Third, the use of repetition in the Gospels allowed the biblical authors to approach Jesus’ story from different angles and perspectives. I’ve written a separate article that explains the primary purpose and audience for each of the four Gospels. It’s a worthwhile read if you have the time.

These three principles explain most of the repeated chunks of text throughout the Bible. For example, the Ten Commandments are repeated in Exodus 20 andDeuteronomy 5 because of their critical importance to the Israelites and their understanding of God’s law. Likewise, the Old Testament repeats large portions of entire books, including the books of Kings and Chronicles. Why? Because doing so allows readers to explore the same events from two vastly different perspectives — 1 and 2 Kings were written before Israel’s exile to Babylon, while 1 and 2 Chronicles were written after the Israelites returned to their homeland.

The important thing to remember is that large portions of Scripture aren’t repeated by accident. They didn’t come about because God has a lazy streak as a writer. Rather, the Bible contains repeated chunks of text because repetition serves a purpose.

Therefore, looking for repetition is a key tool for studying God’s Word.

Small-Scale Repetition

The Bible also contains several examples of smaller repeated phrases, themes, and ideas. These smaller examples of repetition typically are typically intended to emphasize the importance of a person or an idea, or to highlight an element of character.

For example, consider this wonderful promise God declared through His servant Moses:

I will take you as My people, and I will be your God. You will know that I am Yahweh your God, who delivered you from the forced labor of the Egyptians.
Exodus 6:7

Now look at just a few of the ways that same concept is repeated throughout the Old Testament:

  • “I will keep My covenant between Me and you, and your future offspring throughout their generations, as an everlasting covenant to be your God and the God of your offspring after you” (Genesis 17:7).
  • “I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be My people” (Leviticus 26:12).
  • “I am Yahweh your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God; I am Yahweh your God” (Numbers 15:41).
  • “However, I did give them this command: Obey Me, and then I will be your God, and you will be My people” (Jeremiah 7:23).
  • “Then you will live in the land that I gave your fathers; you will be My people, and I will be your God” (Ezekiel 36:28).

God’s covenant promise to the people of Israel is a major theme in the Old Testament. Therefore, the repetition of they key phrases “I will be your God” and “You will be my people” serves to regularly highlight that vital theme.

There are also many examples throughout Scripture in which a single word is repeated in sequence. Here’s an example:

Each of the four living creatures had six wings; they were covered with eyes around and inside. Day and night they never stop, saying:

Holy, holy, holy,
Lord God, the Almighty,
who was, who is, and who is coming.
Revelation 4:8

Sure, Revelation can be a confusing book. But the reason for the repeated use of “holy” in this verse is crystal clear: God is holy, and the repeated use of the word emphasizes His holiness.

In summary, repetition has always been an important element in literature of all kinds. Therefore, looking for examples of repetition is a key tool for studying God’s Word.


 5 Ways to Connect with Millennials by Barna Group


We want to help you learn more about the next generation in order to maximize your efforts to spiritually engage them. Over years of research, one thing remains clear: the relationship between Millennials and the church is shifting.

Although this list isn’t exhaustive, here are five major themes we’ve identified from our research. Continue reading


How To Be A Better Youth Leader by Ryan Nelson


A lot of Christians think they aren’t cut out for youth ministry. But if you love Jesus and you care about kids, everything else falls into place.

In my five years working with middle school students I’ve met multiple 80 year olds who are incredible youth leaders—and it’s not for their spunky personalities and crazy dance skills. They love Jesus and they love kids. When you boil it down, that’s what really matters.

If you start with Jesus, all of the intricacies of youth leading should align conceptually, biblically, and practically. You should be able to trace everything back to Jesus.

Here are ten things every youth leader should know: Continue reading


Three Secrets Every Great Speaker Knows  by Justin Lathrop


Do you remember public speaking in school when you were growing up? Maybe there was a class specifically dedicated to it, or maybe it would just roll around every once in awhile when projects were due or presentations were required.

The words themselves, “public speaking,” seem to carry an immense amount of pressure. They connote sweaty palms, cracking voices, and hours practicing in front of the mirror.

For some people, those words are about as welcome in their lives as a spider or a confined space.

Public speaking isn’t easy, but it is necessary—especially as a pastor.

So I’ve compiled the advice I’ve heard over the years into a quick, simple list.

Here are the three things every great public speaker knows:  

1. Telling a story is the best way to engage an audience. 

Telling a story is your best bet for not only connecting to and engaging your audience, but also for ensuring they’ll retain the information you give them. For some reason, our minds are wired to remember stories more than any other method of information delivery.

We can listen to facts all day and rarely remember more than a few of them.

But when we hear a story, we absorb nuances and the details with remarkable accuracy.

When you’re preparing a speech, or a sermon, tell your audience stories. Weave your message through with anecdotes and examples, both from your own life and from the people around you. You’ll keep your audience engaged and help them remember what you told them.

2. Focus on giving a complete message, not filling the time.

Have you ever listened to a TED talk? They’re remarkable aren’t they? They’re some of the best speeches given by some of the most fascinating people and they’re only 20 minutes long. Does that seem strange to you? The most fascinating people in the world are giving a speech and yet they’re restricted to 20 minutes.

But it makes sense and here’s why:

Our attention spans max out at about 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, we have a much harder time paying attention and retaining information.

Now, I’m not suggesting that our sermons should all be cut to 20 minutes, but what if we focused on being intentional with our words and direct in our message—saying what we mean to say in the most effective way we can possibly say it?

When you’re preaching, focus on making your point—not filling the minutes. Your speech will be better, and your audience will appreciate it.

3. Tell your audience exactly what you want them to do next.

When we listen to a speech, we only retain about 30 percent of what was said. This is a combination of a limited attention span as well as the fact that we’re taking what the speaker is saying and applying the relevant parts to our lives.

So when you’re speaking or preaching, it’s important you are extremely clear about what you want your audience to do with the information you’ve given them. Don’t expect them to remember or to figure it out on their own. Tell them explicitly, and don’t be afraid to repeat it. Your clarity and repetition will help your audience remember and act on the point of your speech.

Keep practicing, trying new things, and seeking wisdom from excellent communicators. Public speaking is an art, and just like most things, you get better the more you practice.