A Few Tips to Help Teenagers (Creatively) Build a Prayer Habit by Andy Blanks


Over the years, I’ve found it’s always been somewhat of a struggle to help students develop the discipline of consistent prayer. Helping lead teenagers to carve out the time to pray on a regular basis isn’t easy. Heck, this is an area even I struggle with, and I’m sure I’m not alone. In our fast-paced world, doing the work to build a prayer habit is a little counter-cultural.

Which makes it even more important to do what we can to help students be succesful in this area of their spiritual lives.

Over the years, I’ve found that if I can give students a “hook” of some sort, it makes it easier to help them learn how to pray. These are just a few things I’ve done (or known of others doing) that have worked for me. Maybe they will help you, as well.

Texting Students’ Names To Each Other

This one ain’t rocket science. A few years ago I had 5 guys in a group. Each guy was assigned a different day of the week, as in, “Monday is John’s day.” On Monday I’d send a text to each guy reminding him to pray for John. Then Tuesday it was the next guy’s day.

String Bracelet

Years ago, we had a student who was dealing with a significant health issue. We wanted to pray for this guy, so we tied a simple piece of thread around our wrists like a bracelet. The bracelet was to remind us to pray for this student. Just a way of reminding students to constantly be in prayer.

Texting Prayer Requests Mid-Week

Pick a day halfway between your last meeting and your next one. Send a text or Facebook message reminding guys of the prayer requests you shared in your last meeting.

Rock In Your Pocket

Yup. I said aquarium rocks, though it could be any cool looking object small enough to fit in your students’ pockets. With one group I had, I gave them all these little purplish glass-looking rocks used to put in the bottom of an aquarium. I told them to carry it in their pockets for a week. I asked them to say a prayer of some sort (prayer of praise, prayer for someone in our group, prayer for their family, etc.) every time they were aware of the rock. We didn’t do it for longer than a week, but the idea was simply to get them in the habit of praying throughout the day.

Verse Cards

I once printed off Ephesians 6:18 on a piece of cardstock. I put it on a cool background and printed it in color. We did a short discussion on the verse, then I cut the cardstock into 6 squares (one for me and each student in the group). I encouraged the guys to put the card on their rear view mirror or dashboard and when they saw it to remember to pray. Again, similar to the previous two. Just a simple visual key.

Phone Alarm

I actually haven’t done this, but have a friend who has and it seemed to work. Have students think of a time each day where they would have a few minutes to pray. Instruct them to set their phone alarms to go off at that time. Then, give them some instructions on how to pray, maybe a different emphasis each day of the week.

These are some of the more effective ways I’ve tried through the years to help students develop the habit of prayer. (I’ve tried others that didn’t work as well. Maybe that’s another blog post????)

If you have a second, share a tip or “hook” you’ve used before that’s been successful in helping students remember to be in prayer.


10 Active Indoor Games to Help Kids Workout the Squirm and Grow in Their Faith by Children’s Ministry Magazine


The cold winter months can make kids stir crazy. Stuck inside, they dream of a warmer season when they can run and play with endless energy outdoors. And then they enter your Sunday school classroom, after a week of being cooped up at school and home, with a God-given, wiggly case of the fidgets and squirms. So tap into kids’ natural energy and exuberance with these active indoor games specially designed to let kids move while teaching them more about their faith.

1. Reaching for Hearts

Use this game to teach kids how important it is to support each other as Christians trying to spread the good news about Jesus.

Bible Connect: Mark 16:15; Romans 1:16

Stuff: You’ll need candy bars and clear packing tape.

Kids love our Sunday School resources!

Play: Before kids arrive, tape candy bars onto the wall high enough so kids can’t reach them without standing on chairs.

Tell kids the object of the game is to reach the candy bars without the help of furniture or other people.

Let kids try to grab the candy bars. Once they’ve given up, have them form groups of three and work together to reach the candy bars. Two kids can form a step by locking their hands together and lifting the third person high enough to reach a candy bar for all three.

Cool Down:

Ask kids to compare their first attempt to reach the candy bars with their second. Ask: What ways do you tell your friends about your faith? Why is it important to work together and support each other as Christians? How can you support a friend this week?

2. Protect Me

This game teaches kids that it’s important to surround themselves with good influences for protection from temptation.

Bible Connect: 1 Corinthians 10:13; 2 Corinthians 6:14

Play: Ask for two volunteers-one to be the Tempted and the other the Temptor-in a group of no more than eight kids. The object of the game is to protect the Tempted, who’ll stand in the center of the group’s tight circle. The Temptor tries to tag the child in the center by reaching through the circle. Kids in the circle can maneuver to keep the Temptor out, but they must stay locked arm-in-arm. When the Tempted gets tagged, new kids get to be the Tempted and the Temptor.

Cool Down: Ask: How have you been tempted this past week? How does having Christian friends’ support help you resist temptation?

3. Snowball Fight

This game reminds kids of the power of God’s grace.

Bible Connect: Isaiah 1:18

Stuff: You’ll need newspapers, masking tape, a timer, and disposable wipes.

Play: Form two groups. Divide your classroom into two equal-sized areas with a masking tape line. Give each group an equal amount of newspaper. On your signal, let kids make newspaper “snow” balls and quickly throw them back and forth at the opposing team for two minutes. The object is to get more “snow” on the opponent’s side when time’s up.

At the end of the game, have kids collect the newspaper and place it in your church’s recycle bin. Have kids clean their hands with disposable wipes.

Cool Down:

Ask: How did your hands look after the snowball fight? How is the newspaper like sin? How are the wipes like God’s grace?

4. Sock It to Me

Just as socks protect our feet, kids will discover that God protects us.

Bible Connect: Psalm 91:14-15

Play: Ask kids to sit in a tight circle and remove their shoes. Choose two kids to be It. They’ll sit on their knees in the center of the circle. The rest of the kids forming the circle must stay seated with their feet in the center of the circle. The object of the game is for the It kids to take off the circle kids’ socks before those kids can get the It kids’ socks off.

Cool Down:

Ask: What kinds of things are you exposed to in the world? How are socks like or unlike God’s love? How does God’s love protect you from inappropriate things?

5. Belly Laugh

This silly game reminds kids that God loves a joyful heart.

Bible Connect: Psalm 9:2; Psalm 28:7

Play: Have one child lie on his or her back. Then have another child lie with his or her head on the other child’s belly. Have the remaining kids lie down with their heads resting on another child’s belly.

Choose one person to start the game by shouting, “Ha!” The next person will shout, “Ha, ha!” and each child continues to add a “ha” as they work around the group. Sooner or later the group will burst into laughter, with heads bouncing off bellies with joy.

Cool Down: Let kids take turns telling a funny story or joke. Tell kids that God wants us to experience joy every day through fun and laughter.

6. Pressure

Getting “pushed around” by others in this game lets kids think critically about peer pressure.

Bible Connect: 1 Corinthians 10:13; Ephesians 6:11

Play: Form groups of eight. Have seven kids form a close circle with their arms on each other’s shoulders. One child stands in the middle, crosses his or her arms, and tries to keep his or her feet firmly in place on the ground while the circle presses in. Kids in the circle work together to force the child to give up his or her ground. Give every child a chance to be in the middle.

Cool Down: Have kids discuss how they experience peer pressure at school. Kids can brainstorm how they can work together to tackle negative peer pressure. Talk about the importance of relying on God when the pressure is on.


3 Ways to Raise Grateful Teens by Ron Powell


Here are 3 effective ways to nurture gratitude and defeat a sense of entitlement in teens.

Before I get into what parents are doing to build gratitude look at the big benefits for our kids!

Growing Up Grateful Gives Teens Multiple Mental Health Benefits, New Research Shows

Those who became more grateful also:

  • gained 15 percent more of a sense of meaning in their life;
  • become 15 percent more satisfied with their life overall (at home, at school, with their neighborhood, with their friends and with themselves);
  • become 17 percent more happy and more hopeful about their lives;
  • experienced a 13 percent drop in negative emotions and a 15 percent drop in depressive symptoms.

And in general:

“people who practice gratitude feel considerably happier (25%) than those in a control group; they are more joyful, enthusiastic, interested, and determined.” To look at the study click here.

1. Refute Materialistic Consumer Madness

Others have blogged that “marketers want to accomplish two things with your children: Continue reading


The Under-Appreciated Value of Application in Preaching by Rick Warren


Many preachers believe the purpose of preaching is to explain the Bible, or to interpret the text, or to help people understand God’s Word. But these all fall short of what it really is.

Paul gives us God’s purpose of preaching in Ephesians 4:11-13 (NIV): “Christ gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists and some to be pastors and teachers to prepare God’s people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

Why did God give prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers? To produce Christ-like people. That’s the purpose of preaching: to help people become like Jesus. Continue reading


What’s Happening to College Students Today?

Why Students Need Authentic Leaders by Tim Elmore

growing leaders.com

I have a sad story to tell you. On January 17, 2014, a beautiful, talented student athlete at the University of Pennsylvania jumped off the top of a parking garage and killed herself. No one, not even her close family, saw this coming.

Her name was Madison Holleran. She was a freshman at Penn. Perhaps the saddest part is that she was the third of six Penn students to commit suicide within a period of just over a year.

Unfortunately, this is far from an isolated event in college life these days. Suicide “clusters” are common in the last decade. This year, Appalachian State lost at least three students; Cornell experienced six suicides; Tulane lost four students just five years ago; and five NYU students leapt to their deaths in the 2004-2005 school year.

The suicide rate among 15 to 24-year-olds in the U.S. has increased moderately but steadily since 2007. A survey of college counseling centers has found that more than half their clients have severe psychological problems, an increase of 13 percent in just two years. Anxiety and depression, in that order, are now the most common mental health diagnoses among college students, according to the Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Penn State.

So, what’s going on? Is life really that bad for these students?

Three Tangible Problems in Our Culture

Continue reading


Screen Addicts by David R. Smith

Young People and Their Mobile Devices


Hey mom and dad, which do you think is greater: the number of hours in your typical work day or the number of hours your kid interacts with media every day?

According to a new report, you’re being outdone.

Media Rules
Common Sense Media just released their latest study entitled The Common Sense Census: Media Use by Tweens and Teens. The massive research project looked at the “media activities” of more than 2,600 8-18-year-olds in America (“tweens” and “teens”) to discover how often they use media, for what purpose, and on what sort of device. Those of you who’ve been reading our Youth Culture Window articles for several years may remember a similar-sounding study produced by the Kaiser Family Foundation called the “Generation M” reports.

The full report from Common Sense is well-written, loaded with helpful info-graphics, and available online (though you may be required to complete a simple registration form). However, it’s also quite lengthy due to the vast number of metrics they studied, for instance, age, gender, socio-economic backgrounds, and much more.

So, I’ll highlight the biggest findings below, and end with a few questions that youth workers and parents should wrestle with as we help our teenagers navigate the growing influence of today’s media.

  1. Young people consume nine hours of media on any given day.
    Yep, nine (9) hours! That’s more time than most working adults put in at the office. That nine hours is filled with a combination of media activities like watching TV and online videos, listening to music, playing games on smartphones/laptops/tablets, surfing the Internet, using social media, and reading. On average, tweens had a little less screen time (4 hours and 36 minutes) than teenagers did (6 hours and 40 minutes). However, these big numbers don’t necessarily represent every single kid in every single corner of the country. For example, approximately 6% of tweens and another 6% of teens said they might not use any screen media on some days. Speaking of differences in media use….
  2. Boys and girls have very different media preferences and habits…with two exceptions.
    This is a bit of a no-brainer as there are tons of other differences between the genders, already. Some of the biggest distinctions in media use include the fact that boys really like playing console video games (think Xbox and PlayStation) and most girls don’t. But lots of girls really like reading, and boys, not so much.Of course, there are a couple of media-related things boys and girls can agree on, namely TV and music. Both genders claim to enjoy listening to music “a lot” and watching TV “every day.” As the chart shows , TV and music are the staples of young people’s media diets. This just goes to show, our kids are living in a world that’s dominated by iTunes and Netflix. And that world is always “on the go” which is why…
  3. Young people’s media use is highly mobile. Just because today’s kids are watching lots of TV and listening to lots of music doesn’t mean they’re sitting in front of a television set or stereo system. Those two elements – and plenty more – are available on mobile devices such as smartphones, tablets, handheld video game systems, and laptops. In fact, 44% of all screen time in tween and teen lives takes place on some sort of mobile device. There are lots of reasons why this is the new reality. For example, consuming media on mobile devices allows young people to get what they want on their time (for the most part). And given that most of these devices fit into a backpack – if not a pocket – it allows kids to access media on these portable screens during car rides, lunch breaks, and other times that technology couldn’t make available to their parents. Speaking of parents…
  4. Kids aren’t concerned about the amount of time they use media, but parents should be. Common Sense Media found that parents tend to be more concerned about the type of media their kids use rather than the time their kid uses media. 66% of teens and 84% of tweens said their parents had talked with them about the kind of media content they use, while just 53% of teens and 72% of tweens claimed their parents had talked with them about how much time they spend using it.

Here’s just one place where the distinction becomes important: many young people multi-task their media usage with homework. Half of teens admit to “often” or “sometime” watching TV, or using social media, or listening to music whilst doing their homework. And, most of these teens don’t think their multi-tasking is anything to be concerned about. Big shocker, right?
Nearly two-thirds of kids who multi-task their homework with media don’t think it has any impact on their academic performance. In fact, Common Sense Media discovered that 50% of kids think that listening to music may even help them work.

The jury is still out on this issue. Some research shows that it’s possible for media to accentuate kids’ studies; others warn it may detract from their academic performance.

Guiding Questions

As promised, I want to offer you just a few quick questions that will help you stay informed about kids’ media use and engage them on the subject. Here are some questions you could ask them on this important topic:

Do you think nine hours of media use per day is too much? Why or why not?

How would your life be different if you spent less time online, watching TV, playing games, etc?

Why do you think TV and music are your generation’s favorite forms of media entertainment?

What are some of the most frequent messages embedded in what you watch and listen to?

In what ways does the screen you use (phone, tablet, computer) determine your media choices?

In spite of the fact that so much media is consumed on personal mobile devices, what are some suggestions you have for helping our family use media together on a more frequent basis?

What boundaries do you need to set for yourself to help you manage your media usuage?

As an adult, what can I do to help you make solid, healthy, godly media choices?

Feel free to augment this list with your own ideas. The main thing is that we as parents and youth workers continually communicate with our kids about their media choices.



Faith: How to Ensure Kids Are Getting the Message by Jill Williams


Wonder whether kids are listening when you teach? Fear your words go in one ear and out the other? When it comes to faith, here’s how to ensure kids are getting the message.

Is your teaching in one ear and out the other? Maybe—or maybe not.

Children’s ministry looks a lot different to me now than it used to. Over the past few years my understanding of the purpose behind children’s ministry has changed — dramatically. The goals I set and the approaches I take in teaching aren’t what they used to be. And — this may make you cringe — I’m beginning to realize that no matter how well I teach a lesson, much of what I say to a child in Sunday school may actually go in one ear and out the other. But that’s not because teaching is a waste of time or kids aren’t learning. It’s because as much as the amazing truths of our faith are difficult for adults to grasp, they can be even more difficult for children.

Faith: How to Ensure Kids Are Getting the Message

If you grew up going to church, think back to your Sunday school days. Maybe you remember a handful of specific things from memorable lessons. You could probably recount some main events of the Bible. But you likely didn’t grasp the deeper truths of Christianity until you were older — things such as grace, forgiveness, and sacrifice. That’s not because your teachers weren’t effective. It’s simply because developmentally kids learn on a spectrum that begins with concrete concepts and develops into deeper understanding of abstract ones. Kids build that bridge from the concrete to the abstract over years. They do it using the tools of discovery and repetition in sync with their brain’s development.

Many of the most important concepts in God’s Word are highly abstract. So when you wonder whether kids are getting the message, they are. It’s just that kids will absorb what they can when they’re developmentally ready.

But don’t be discouraged — you have very important work to do that’s essential to all kids “getting the message” as they grow and develop. While kids may not fully grasp many of the awesome and life-changing things you tell them about Jesus until later, you have the important task of providing them the tools to help them build a framework for the faith they’ll later step into.

Examining the Framework

Christian tradition, or our statement of faith, is one basis kids can stand on as they begin their faith journey. Ironically, I’ve found this important information is often overlooked when it comes to children’s ministry because we’re home-blind to it; we tend to assume that kids will automatically absorb the basics of our faith along the way, even if they’re never directly articulated to them. These are basic truths such as, “God’s grace, not our good works, is what assures us eternal life” and “Jesus is the only way to God.” But if we fail to carefully instruct kids on the details of our beliefs, how will they fully understand what Christians really believe? And could this lack of understanding contribute to the fact that so many Christian kids grow up and leave the church when their faith is challenged?

These two questions became very real to me in conversations with college students about their experiences growing up in church. It was during these discussions that I realized people’s views of the church and of Christianity itself varied greatly — from confusion to superficial understanding to detailed comprehension. I began to wonder if we as Christian educators are missing something when it comes to teaching our kids. I wondered how we’re ensuring kids are getting the message about faith?

My curiosity led me to create the Christian Truths Survey, based on the foundational Christian beliefs of the Apostle’s Creed and on three main categories related to our faith: salvation, the Trinity, and general biblical truths (note the distinction between biblical truths and Bible trivia). I designed the survey to gain insights about 185 elementary-age churched kids’ understanding of our faith, and I enlisted the expertise of pastors and experts in children’s education and faith to build it. The questions ranged from factual questions (multiple choice and true/false), such as, “True or False: People can get to heaven by doing good things” to open-ended questions, such as, “How do we receive salvation?”

Ultimately, what began as an exercise in curiosity developed into a project with surprising results that really did change the way I think about children’s ministry. Perhaps it’ll change your views, too.

The Right Tools

Elementary-age children have the potential to hold deep conceptions of God and can have a greater personal faith than most adults assume they can, according to researchers in the International Journal for Psychology and Religious Education.

What this means is there’s not necessarily a correlation between children’s cognitive development (perception, memory, judgment, and reasoning) and their spiritual development. My survey results agree with this: There is a significant difference in how kids age 10 and older scored compared with those 9 and under when it comes to understanding the more abstract details of our faith. Older kids scored higher in my survey when it came to questions focused on salvation, the Trinity, and biblical truth. While 85 percent of 10- and 11-year-olds demonstrated understanding of these things, almost 73 percent of 8- and 9-year-olds could. Specifically, 83 percent of 10- and 11-year-olds understood salvation concepts, while 70 percent of 8- and 9-year-olds did.

* Building Faith: Much more may be going on spiritually in children than is evident on the surface. Even so, how you teach younger elementary children-and your expectations of what they can comprehend — have to be different than with older children. Research shows that older children have a grasp of facts and may be ready to go deeper with more abstract concepts. With younger kids, however, focus on stating the basic tenets of the faith again and again in different ways so kids hear repetition and a reinforcing message — or the framework.

The Right Words

I figured that many people grow up with confused understanding of biblical events and a few moral lessons as the sum of their experience of Christianity. This was for a few reasons. First, many curricula focus on teaching traits such as honesty, obedience, and love. Though God desires all of these from us, this approach seems to aim to improve children’s character rather than increase their knowledge of God. The lessons expect children to “do good” and “be good” rather than giving them a sense of their true condition and utter need for God. In addition, my discussions with peers and experts seemed to reinforce the argument that many practicing Christians may not have a concrete, accurate understanding of the basics of Christianity and are therefore more at risk of walking away from their faith. And because today’s families are more transient than past generations, kids may travel through many different children’s ministries with many different philosophies — and fewer opportunities for consistent teaching and learning that sticks.

Kids understood a lot about who God is, though they struggled most with the abstract, Trinity-focused questions. Seventy-four percent of 12-year-olds demonstrated comprehension of the Trinity, while 64 percent of younger children did. Despite lower scores on the abstract nature of God, the survey revealed a very encouraging point to note: Kids could accurately use the terminology they’d heard used to describe salvation, even if they didn’t fully grasp the meaning of the words. So for instance, they knew terms such as grace, savior, and Holy Spirit, even if they couldn’t give a textbook definition.

Building Faith: Language is a key component of our faith’s framework for children who are learning about Christianity. By providing kids with the correct language and using that language frequently, you can give them a context for concepts they’ll grow to understand later. For teachers, it’s critical to acknowledge the importance of using faith-accurate language and to use it correctly, based on Scripture and tradition.

The Right Approach

The results of the survey data confirmed for me that our role as Christian faith educators is to provide a standard for content and a language for experience. Here’s a radical idea: Children don’t have to graduate from our ministries knowing all the content of the Bible, all the events that took place. They should, however, walk away with a plum line by which to measure their growing knowledge and experience. It’s our responsibility and honor to provide them with this tool. Shifting our mindset and re-evaluating our goals and definitions of success in ministry may prove necessary. Where before we may have felt a sense of failure if kids confused the facts of Noah’s experience or thought Job was really Moses, it’s important to remember that it’s not Bible trivia we’re teaching, but Bible truths. So if kids walk away thinking, God stayed with Noah, and he’ll stay with me when I’m afraid, too, you’ve scored a major win for your ministry. Our mission is relationship with Jesus — not trivia.

Building Faith: We don’t create faith — we frame it. Don’t get me wrong; becoming a “framer” doesn’t mean lowering your standards. In fact, the opposite is true. Framing faith for the kids in your ministry means you challenge yourself to learn anew the language and truths of our faith. It means you try even harder to articulate those complex truths in a way that’s kid-friendly and biblically and theologically sound. This is a huge task — and good reason for children’s Christian educators to be some of the best-trained people of your church.

Follow these principles, and you’ll when it comes to faith, you’ll help ensure your kids are getting the message.


Wonder How to Measure Kids’ Spiritual Growth by Danielle Bell


Use these three tools to assess and understand where kids are spiritually.

Growing up as an avid soccer player, I was blessed with a high school coach who poured countless hours of drills and skills into my training time. As goalie, I was the last line of defense against the opponents’ opportunity to score. I got the tools I needed to be successful at my post from countless sweaty sessions of repetitive training before games — training that prepared me for what I’d face when practice ended and the real game began.

Shortly before our regional tournament, my coach surprised me with a new technique in his training methodology. He edited our game films and compiled a video of all the goals scored on me during the season. My coach was very thorough — so thorough that he even edited my errors in slow motion so my weaknesses and vulnerability became obvious. Though it was uncomfortable to watch myself make mistakes (especially in slow motion), I was able to dissect where I’d gone wrong and formulate a corrective approach. Together we spent hours assessing each goal and determining whether I was using the techniques I’d learned in practice.

All those pre-game drills and exercises did help prepare me for the real game, but my real growth as a competitor came during those sit-downs when my coach and I evaluated my progress and examined my weaknesses. The game film was living-color proof of the basic principles of goal-keeping I’d mastered and those I hadn’t quite grasped. I’ll never forget all the bruises, bleeding knees, and muddy jerseys that came along with goalie practice, but I know my learning curve soared when we took time to gauge my progress as a player.

In our privileged role as children’s ministers, we spend many hours in preparation and practice as we deliver lessons to kids. Our hearts are passionate about preparing these children for a lifelong walk with Jesus. But how can we know whether children truly grasp the truths we teach? How can we evaluate what makes it from practice to the field when it comes to kids’ faith? And how can we help them make progress in their faith journeys?

Spiritual Scorekeeping

“Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine. Test yourselves,” wrote Paul in 2 Corinthians 13:5-6. “Surely you know that Jesus Christ is among you; if not, you have failed the test of genuine faith. As you test yourselves, I hope you will recognize that we have not failed the test of apostolic authority.” The Corinthians had professed faith in Jesus, and Paul was challenging them to make their walk match their talk. To be effective ministers to children, we too need to consider how kids’ beliefs play out in their lives.

Matthew 5:13-16 instructs us to be salt and light in a dark world. Salt is often described as the more subtle influence — the small, daily decisions that season our life. Light is the obvious influence — our words and actions that demonstrate to the world where our allegiance lies. If you replayed the footage of your children’s daily lives, what would it reveal about the salt and light in their lives? What evidence would their words and actions give that they truly grasp the truths we teach?

A friend of mine went to church every Sunday with his grandfather. Every Sunday on the way home from church his grandfather would ask, “What did you learn today at church?” Every Sunday, my friend answered, “God hates sin.”

The lessons changed weekly, but my friend’s answer remained the same. As adults we can be so quick to accept kids’ first answers and be content with “proper” Sunday school responses that we rarely dig deeper to investigate what truths kids really understand and where they are spiritually.

Three simple tools can help you gain better understanding of where your children are spiritually: good questions, life application, and loving accountability.

Good Questions

Jesus knew how to ask good questions, and he often used questions as a way to gauge whether his followers really understood his teachings. Some examples:

  • In John 21 Jesus asks Simon Peter three times: “Do you love me?”
  • On the raging sea in Mark 4 Jesus asked, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
  • “Who do you say I am?” Jesus asked his disciples in Mark 8.

Jesus already knew their answers, but he used probing questions as a teaching tool to shed light on his followers’ beliefs. Often Jesus used a series of questions to dig into his disciples’ faith and understanding.

Good questions give you valuable insight into where kids stand spiritually; mediocre questions, on the other hand, don’t. Mediocre questions merely gauge kids’ grasp of content, but good questions help discern whether kids understand, internalize, and apply principles in their lives. Good questions require time, thought, and patience — but you’ll hit pay dirt when you gain fresh understanding about a child’s spiritual growth thanks to thoughtful questioning.

Don’t settle for pat Sunday school answers such as “God hates sin.” As vital as asking appropriate, thought-provoking questions, so is seeking meaningful and truthful answers. Ask questions to discover what kids are really learning in your class, and keep asking until you strike the core of their belief.

Try This…

For all kids:

  • What did you learn about God today?
  • How do you understand God better after today’s lesson?
  • What does this lesson teach you about Jesus Christ?
  • Tell me what the Scripture means in your own words.

For older kids:

  • What changes do you need to make in your life after hearing today’s lesson?
  • How will today’s lesson affect your day tomorrow, either at school or with your family and friends?
  • How would you explain this lesson to a friend at school this week?
  • What attitudes or actions in your life need to change to help you live out the truths in today’s lesson and Scripture?

Life Application

Good questions lead to the next tool for gauging kids’ faith: life application. When you give children practical ways to apply the truths you teach, you’ll get a better view of how their beliefs translate into actions and how they live and think. Jesus taught content, but he also wisely offered his disciples opportunities for application. Jesus’ classroom extended outside the church walls — into populated hillsides, dusty streets, ocean waves, and farther. Remember when Peter walked on water? Now that’s an unforgettable example of Jesus using application to gauge Peter’s faith.

You can’t fully determine how well your children apply what they’re learning until you see them in environments other than church. Watch how they handle relationships, temptations, conflict, and more using the spiritual truths they’ve learned. Go onto kids’ “playing field” — school lunches, sports events, or other activities outside the church — and watch them in action.

Some of the most profound experiences I’ve had watching children apply what they’ve learned have been during an annual event with our sixth-graders. Each year we ask a church member who’s lost a loved one to talk openly with kids about grief and its effect on families. Children get to ask this person any question because we want them to gain insight on how to minister to grieving families. At Christmas, we take the group of kids caroling — to the homes of church families who’ve lost loved ones.

This experience gives kids a chance to exercise the truths they’ve learned. Our initial goal was to help children learn about death and how to be prepared when confronted with it. The blessing is that adults have an opportunity to view kids’ application of what they’ve learned and gauge whether they understand the sensitivity needed in this special ministry opportunity.

Try This…

  • Don’t just teach a lesson on mercy and service and assume kids get it. Take kids to a soup kitchen and observe them in action to see whether they really grasped the lesson on service.
  • During camps, retreats, and special events, give kids role-playing situations where they have to act out and even defend their beliefs.
  • Family ministry events are a great way to get insight about kids’ faith growth as you watch them interact with their nearest and dearest.
  • Outreach events also offer windows into how kids interact with their unchurched peers.

Loving Accountability

Once children have a chance to exercise their faith, hold them accountable. Popular author Steven Covey writes, “Accountability breeds response-ability.” In other words, when you lovingly hold children accountable for living out the truths they’re learning, you help them grow into spiritually responsible people.

As a teacher and mentor, you hold considerable sway over what influences kids and how they establish values. By gently questioning them, asking for their opinions, and challenging their thinking, you’re holding them accountable for their faith growth. When kids know that their words and actions matter — especially to you — it pushes them to think through the impact of what they do. Your continued positive presence fosters good spiritual habits and builds kids’ sense of self-worth when they know you have high expectations for them and are willing to hold them accountable. Good spiritual habits that last a lifetime are the result of training and loving accountability.

Try This…

  • Take time each week to revisit the previous class lesson. Ask review questions. Inquire about kids’ weeks. Ask whether the lesson did or didn’t change their words and actions.
  • Pair children with adults in your church who’ll pray with them. The adults will act as an additional teacher and help hold children accountable for their words and actions.
  • In small groups, leaders can journal back and forth with their kids about daily events and issues. Journaling is a great opportunity for leaders to compare the topics discussed with what kids are learning.
  • Equip parents with ideas to play an active role in their children’s spiritual health.

The most productive time my coach and I spent pouring over a year’s worth of missed goals was the moment I realized I had a weak left arm. Every time the ball headed to the top left corner of the goal, I dove through the air leading with my right arm as I attempted to deflect the ball. And I came up short every time. That evaluation was critical to my growth, and ultimately it helped me overcome my weakness.

Take time in your ministry to evaluate kids’ words and actions in their “playing field.” Gauge whether they truly understand and are experiencing a growing relationship with Jesus that’s real and personal. Push them to move beyond “church answer” knowledge. These tools — good questions, life application, and loving accountability — are invaluable when it comes to determining where children are spiritually. By helping kids discover and overcome their weaknesses and vulnerabilities now, they won’t fall short later in life.


How to Get Teenagers to Read Their Bible More by Andy Blanks


I was at a youth ministry conference this weekend and was fortunate enough to lead a workshop that focused on the needs of new/young Christ-followers. The idea was to define the unique needs of those teenagers in our ministries who have either just entered into a salvation relationship with Christ, or are just realizing the call to actually follow Christ on a daily basis. We defined some of these specific needs and then asked how effective our ministries are at creating an environment where these needs are being met. It was a good, interactive discussion that I pray was beneficial for those in the room.

There was a question that came up a couple of times that stuck with me after the workshop was over. As I have these types of discussion with youth workers, it’s actually a concept that comes up all the time. The question is this . . .

How do we get teenagers to read the Bible more?

I have thought a great deal about this, and I’m convinced there isn’t a sure-fire, “try-this-five-step-method” that works. But I do think there are some important things to consider. Here are a few of them . . .

Knowing God, Part 1: We’re Framing The Question All Wrong.

“What can we do to get teenagers reading the Bible more?” I think this might be the wrong question. I think the right question may be, “What can we do to help teenagers value God more?” God must be important to our teenagers, specifically the idea of knowing God. When knowing God is important, when being close to Him matters to teenagers, the act of reading the Bible simply becomes the means by which they come to know Him. If they value God, they’ll value reading the Bible. Which leads me to the next point . . .

Knowing God, Part 2: It Doesn’t Start With Doing. It Starts With Feeling. 

I read hundreds of blog articles a week. (Or, I skim hundreds. I read a few dozen.) A few times a month I will run across an article that is titled something like this: “5 Steps To Better Bible Reading,” or “Tips To Help Your Students Read The Bible More.” The problem with these articles is that they are practice oriented. They focus on technique (“Bible study methods”) and behavior (“when to study the Bible”). Many of them are solid articles. But they assume a faulty starting point, as I alluded to earlier.

We have to change the way we teach teenagers to think about the Bible. If we teach them to see the Bible primarily as a “discipline,” or a “habit,” or even as “Bible study,” we’re missing it. We’ve forgotten that reading the Bible is relational. (We don’t talk about any other relationship in this way. You don’t develop the discipline of taking your children to see a baseball game. You do it because you love your kids. We should approach the Bible the same way.) We should strive to teach teenagers that the Bible is first-and-foremost a heart-driven, deeply personal, experiential encounter with God. We go to the Bible to engage with God, to meet God. We have to stop putting technique and behavior first, and make Bible reading about feeding our relationship with God.

Teach Teenagers To Embrace Multiple Methods Of Engaging With God’s Word

WAY too often we communicate to students that there is one way to engage with the Bible: sit down with a passage and study it as they would any other text. Inductive, exegetical Bible study. Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with teaching this method. The only problem comes when this is the ONLY way we teach teenagers to engage with the Bible. It communicates to students that the Bible is meant for primarily comprehension-based information gathering. It neglects the many experiential, heart-driven approaches to meeting God in Scripture.

    • What about praying through the Psalms as personal worship?
    • What about choosing a specific attribute of God’s and meditating on it over the course of a few days?
    • What about learning some of the different names used for God and choosing to pray to Him using a name that speaks to them personally?
    • What about creating something, ANYTHING using Scripture?
    • What about prayer journaling?

These are just a few of the many different ways to lead teenagers to engage with Scripture. They represent a varied approach to encountering God in His Word, and helps students to break free from one specific way of looking at the Bible.

Modeling A Right Attitude Toward The Bible Is Key

This almost seems like a cop-out to include this on the list. After all, you can say this about every aspect of spiritual growth. But, I think this is especially true for this discussion. Your students will pick up on whether or not you value the Bible. If you model a passion for meeting God in His Word, your students will pick up on it. This is “caught” WAY more than it is “taught.”

These are just a few of my thoughts on the subject. I want my teenagers reading the Bible more. But I know that it starts with their attitude and values toward God and His Word.


Talking ’bout My Generation by Greg Laurie


“The righteous man walks in his integrity; His children are blessed after him.”

—Proverbs 20:7

Having lived over 60 years now, I have been able to see a few generations: my grandparents’ generation, my parents’ generation, my generation, and now my children’s and grandchildren’s generations.

What happens from choices that were made decades ago can still come back to affect us—for better or worse, depending on what kind of choices they were. The choices of time are binding in eternity.

Contrast two men from the 19th century: Max Jukes and Jonathan Edwards. Continue reading