Don’t Practice Helicopter Discipleship by Andy Blanks


A while ago I was teaching our 7th grade a Bible study lesson from Matthew’s account of Jesus sending out the 12. I was caught by this one verse, a sentence Jesus spoke to His disciples before sending them out to practically apply some of what they had been learning and observing.

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.”—Matthew 10:16

I was struck with a thought that I think has some significant implications for us as we think about our youth ministry and our discipleship efforts. Here’s why . . .

I think the same cultural influences that have given rise to “helicopter parents” have given rise to “helicopter discipleship.”

We know what “helicopter parents” are. (Heck, you may be one yourself.) These are the parents who hover over their children, correcting their mistakes, smoothing out their paths for them, keeping things good, and safe, and happy. This isn’t the place to discuss or debate the whys or the how’s of this brand of parenting that is so predominant today. But, I think we’re seeing the same tendencies in our ministries.

The same influences that have lead parents to create cocoons of exclusively positive feelings, emotions, and experiences for our children lead us to similar practices in how we structure our youth ministries. And let’s be clear: these motives come from a good place. We naturally don’t take joy out of seeing the teenagers we care about fail, or be wrong, or be uncomfortable.

But in our zeal to take care of them, we isolate them. We keep the life of a Christ-follower safe and sanitary. I don’t know that we do it on purpose, or always knowingly, but we do it.

And by doing this, we fail.

Listen, I love to build-up the teenagers I minister to. I want to see them succeed. I want them to be safe, comfortable, and happy, both in life and in their spiritual development. I don’t want to see them ostracized or picked on for their faith, or for taking a stand.

I don’t want them to experience those things . . . And that is precisely the problem. See, I know that risk, and failure, and discomfort are an inherent part of living the Gospel. How do I know this? Jesus said so.

. . . like sheep among wolves . . .

Jesus, the very one who created the disciples, who cared deeply for them, who knew them in their mother’s womb, who saw the entire span of their lives before they were even a thought . . . this Jesus looked at these men and said I’m about to put you in harm’s way. Sheep among wolves. What a vivid picture of the perilous predicament living our faith will often put us in!

Why would Jesus do this? Simple: Jesus knew that test and trial are the incubators of real discipleship.

If you ask me, my hunch is that “helicopter discipleship” is one of the many factors that contributes to teenagers leaving the church in young adulthood. I believe that for many of them, faith has never been anything more than ideas, in part because we as a Church (I’m including their parents here) are unwilling to intentionally create or tacitly allow situations that makes them rub their beliefs up against the world in a high-stakes environment. Because we’re scared life may be uncomfortable for them if we do.

Jesus knows a little more about disciple-making. And this wasn’t a concern of His.

What do you think?


Drunkorexia: When College Students Eat Less So They Can Drink More by Traci Pederson


A researcher at the University of Houston has been examining a growing trend among college students known as “drunkorexia.” This non-medical term refers to the combination of drinking alcohol and engaging in diet-related behaviors such as food restriction, excessive exercising, or bingeing and purging.

For these students, the purpose of restricting food intake while drinking is often to allow more calories for alcohol and/or to allow alcohol to enter the bloodstream more quickly.

“Drunkorexia refers to a complex pattern of drinking-related behaviors that take place before, during, and after a drinking event,” explained Dipali V. Rinker, a research assistant professor in the department of psychology at the University of Houston.

“College students appear to engage in these behaviors to increase alcohol effects or reduce alcohol-related calories by engaging in bulimic-type or diet/exercising/calorie/restricted eating behaviors.”

The findings were presented at the 39th Annual Research Society on Alcoholism in New Orleans.

Rinker said her research is designed to flesh out the definition of drunkorexia as well as identify different types of “drunkorexic” behaviors. She added that these types of behaviors may result in a number of problems.

“Potential outcomes may include less inhibition that could lead to more negative alcohol-related consequences,” she said. “Additionally, restricting caloric intake to those from alcohol could lead to vitamin depletion, as it may keep the individual from eating more nutrient-dense foods.”

Although the study showed some gender differences in drinking habits, the association between gender and drunkorexia is a complex one, she noted.

“While it is clear that college women who drink more are more likely than men to engage in bulimic-type behaviors, and with greater frequency, and to experience more alcohol-related problems as a result of these behaviors, there were no gender differences for engaging in drunkorexia to increase the effects of alcohol or engaging in bulimic-type behaviors to compensate for alcohol-related calories,” said Rinker.

She went on to report that in some cases, men were more likely to engage in bulimic-type and diet/exercising/calorie-restricted eating behaviors to reduce alcohol-related calories. She added that more research is necessary to gain a better understanding of these differences.

“It is important to realize that, in addition to the amount and/or frequency of alcohol consumption, the manner in which college students drink puts them at greatest risk for experiencing problems,” emphasized Rinker.

“Students who engage in compensatory dieting/exercise behaviors before, during, or after a drinking event to either increase the effects of alcohol or reduce alcohol calories by either engaging in bulimic-type or extreme dieting, exercise, or restrictive behaviors — such as skipping meals — are putting themselves at risk for serious negative consequences related to alcohol use,” said Rinker.

Furthermore, in order to reduce health problems associated with drinking, students should stay well-hydrated and not drink on an empty stomach. They should also eat healthy food and exercise, particularly on days they are drinking.


What’s Up With The Pokemon Rage? by Tim Elmore


I have a question for you. Over the last seven days, did you catch Pikachu? How about Squirtle? Or Zubat? No? Well, neither did I.

But it was impossible to miss the newest rage among teens and young adults.

You’ve likely heard or seen the obsession over “Pokemon Go.” A new iteration of the 1990’s Nintendo game was just released on July 6th in the U.S. It’s quickly taking the world over.

Just ask a twenty something.

Both of my kids, ages 28 and 24 are playing, among many of their colleagues and friends, who have jobs and/or attend college. They stop in the middle of their day or after hours at night and just…start playing the game. Within a week of it’s release, more than 5 million people had downloaded the app. Inside and outside. The new iteration has captured the attention of young adults all over, leading Pokemon Go’s servers to crash more than once over the last few days.

To make sure you’re up on this new fad, I thought I’d fill you in on “Pokemon Go,” so you can advise the young adults in your world about its pros and the cons.

In case, “Pokemon Go” is news to you, here is the premise for the game:

  1. As a start, it uses the real world for the game. You enter through an app, and use a GPS system to find those little Pokemon critters. They can be found all over: in parks, restaurants, stores, etc. That’s right. They’re fictional characters that you find in a real location. The goal is to find and catch as many as possible. Nintendo calls it “Augmented Reality.”
  1. It expands the experience far beyond the first Pokemon game, which was bound by a screen and console. Originally, it was played on a Nintendo Gameboy. And while you can certainly play this new version inside, on TV, it’s limitless if you have a smart phone. My son found some critters in our living room, and outside in our front lawn. He also found one in the Popeye’s parking lot.
  1. Players keep score. The more you catch, the more you can move on to new levels. You want to evolve the Pokemon just like in the original, but now through an app on your phone…and all around your world. So, the game combines the real world with a fun fantasy world, and creates a new version of a scavenger hunt. Maybe that’s just it—it’s a new scavenger hunt for a digital generation.

Here’s why “Pokemon Go” became hot in less than one week:

The new Pokemon game basically “gamifies” your life. Whatever you do and wherever you go, you can be playing a game amidst all the activities of your day.

You can easily spot other people playing the game as you go about your day. My son and daughter were out playing and saw a car full of other young adults waving their phones at them—communicating they were playing too.

There are three different teams. You join one of them and then fight for and compete in a gym controlled by one of the teams. You pull for your team and try to push the other teams out of the “gym.” You build a communal identity with your team of people from all over the world.

The theme is just like the original game that came out 20 years ago: “You Gotta Catch ‘Em All.” The slogan was for the TV show, the Nintendo game, and the card game. Now—you have to travel the whole world to catch them all. It fosters a real kind of travel and discovery for the more serious player.

The Dangers? 

Players can become so consumed, they forget basics, like looking up before crossing the street. The game can be so preoccupying that one player, Mike Schultz, had an accident on his skateboard because he’d spotted a Pokemon and couldn’t stop quickly enough. Some have had car accidents. Others have been injured walking, or jogging. Sadly, because everyone can see where Pokemon are located, players can be lured into the woods (where a Pokemon character is) and robbed or mugged. Sound ridiculous? It’s already happened. Young players have been injured and have lost money because they unwittingly walked into a trap. Remind your students:

  • Don’t get so caught up in the game that you neglect basic safety.
  • Don’t go out in a dark wooded area alone playing the game.
  • Don’t stare at your phone during a Pokemon hunt while driving.

The Positives? 

The game is so enthralling because it positions the original game, once limited to a TV, and becomes an expansion of a player’s horizons. It pushes players outside into the world around them. It’s a new social medium, offering exercise and insights about landmarks, historical sites and news to learn wherever you go. This electronic game is actually fostering people to get to know each other and even get exercise in the process! Some are planning road trips around the game. Remind your students:

  • If you play, do it outside and try expanding your current horizons.
  • If you play, do it with friends, where you can have each other’s backs.
  • If you play, meet new people who share similar interests.

The game actually imagines a new world…

I believe the creators of Pokemon Go had a goal. They imagine a new world where electronic games are played but do not necessarily foster a sedentary lifestyle: “It’s 2020. Pokemon go has been out for four years. There are hundreds of gyms all over the world. Laziness is at an all time low. Presidential candidates are chosen via Pokemon battles. Healthcare is free. More jobs have opened up. Scientists are creating actual Pokemon. Everyone is happy. It’s a new era.”

Maybe not all of that is the world we’d imagine for ourselves, but the point remains. Let’s guide young players to leverage this game to achieve redemptive goals.


Talking to Kids About Tragedy by Janet Denison


We all want to protect our children from the things they hear in the news. We want them to feel like tragedy couldn’t happen to them, because we, as parents, will protect them. The problem with assuring your children that they are safe is not the whole truth. You will do your best to keep them safe, but sometimes tragedy happens anyway.

There are some practical, but honest ways to speak to our kids about the events in the news, like the recent shootings in Dallas.

  • Limit the amount of news your children are exposed to. Even very young children are able to understand what they see and hear, before they are able to process things out loud. If your child can’t talk about the bad news, it is best if they are not exposed to that news. For older toddlers and young children, they will absorb your reactions more powerfully than they will hear the words. We can’t assure our children that they are safe, when they see our tears and fears. The honest answer is that we will do our best to protect them. They can do their best to listen and obey so we can protect them, and we will do our best to be watchful and careful with their lives.
  • Difficult news and difficult times can become some of our most teachable moments. You can shield your children’s eyes from an animal that has been run over in the street, or you can use that moment to talk to your kids about how important it is for them to hold your hand, or look both ways, or be careful when they ride their bicycles. You can teach them that God has given humans a higher ability to make choices and think, so we would have the ability to stay safe.
  • We can’t teach our children that nothing bad will ever happen to them. That is what they want to hear, that is the assurance we want to give, but it just isn’t truth. Bad things do happen to people sometimes, because other people make wrong choices. Kids know this is true at a very young age. Our children, can be hurt by other children, who throw a toy or choose to bite, shove and hit. Our kids know that there are car accidents, sickness and pain in the world. Think about the five-year-old, sitting in church, and hearing a sermon the Sunday after 9/11 or after the Dallas shooting. We can’t teach them that bad things will never happen, but we can teach them that we are there to protect them, and so is God. We can teach them to pray and ask God to keep them safe and help them to make right choices. We can’t teach them, however, that God will keep others from making wrong choices. Sometimes, we have to trust Romans 8:28 and trust God to make bad times, better.
  • We can teach our children that their prayers will make a difference. Children feel helpless during times of tragedy. Even older children struggle with knowing what to think and especially what to say. Teenagers need to talk, but might not want to sound fearful or unsure. Sometimes a teenager will pray to God about things they don’t know how to talk about with others. Help your children, regardless of age, to know that there is great power in praying for others and in praying for themselves. If they have prayed, they have done something to make it better. Then, teach them to look for ways God would use them to make things better.
  • Have important conversations with your kids about issues like racism. Teach them that everyone has the ability to live an honorable life, but things improve until people do. Expose your children to news and current events, depending on their age, so that you can have those teachable moments. We are always a generation away from improving. Find ways to help your child play with and enjoy children from every race and background. Your child will be greatly blessed if they learn to appreciate and enjoy the uniqueness of every person they meet. If your child is leading a narrow, small life—broaden their horizons. We aren’t protecting our kids if they grow up in a bubble—we are simply limiting their lives to our choices and sometimes to our prejudices.
  • Finally, think seriously about your own attitudes, thoughts, words and actions. Most of what our children learn and are led to believe comes from watching their parents. We can’t ignore the difficult moments and trust our children will figure things out for themselves. Our kids are watching us, and will probably grow up to think like us. We can confess our weaknesses and give them the ability to do a better job than any generation before them.

Pray for the wisdom to raise your children to be stronger and more righteous than we have been. That is the direction our culture should be growing. If God has blessed you with children, He has blessed you with possibilities and potential to change the world. Pray and do everything you can to honor God’s purpose with your parenting.


When Students Disappoint Us and When We Disappoint Our Students by Jay Higham

Has it happened to you?

A student seems to have it all together: He or she gets good grades, is active in school clubs and sports, and regularly participates in youth group. This student even shared his or her testimony at the last retreat. This is a student who makes you proud to be a youth worker. But then it happens.

What’s itIt is some kind of mistake. It doesn’t really matter what the mistake is—suddenly, your student has disappointed you.

Disappointment doesn’t only happen when the “star” students fall—other students will disappoint you as well. I know, because it’s happened to me. Students don’t show up when they promise to. They forget about important ministry events. You find out that they lied to you about something. They change their plans at the last minute because a better invitation comes along.

So what do you do when students disappoint you?

When it comes to disappointment, I try to remember three things:


At some point, you will experience disappointment. Even Jesus knew disappointment! Peter denied him, James and John wanted to call fire from heaven, and Jesus shared his final meal with the one who would betray him—he had to have felt disappointment, because he was just as much human as he was God.

Your students will disappoint you, because they’re human, just as you are. They make mistakes, just like you do. They forget, just like you do. They say things they don’t mean, just like you do. It will happen more than once. Unfortunately, it’s part of our DNA. We mess up, and that leads to disappointment.


When students disappoint you, offer grace, forgiveness, and love.

Show them grace. As a believer, you know the benefit of the grace that has been shown to you. Grace gives you hope. Grace is the gift of reconciliation between what’s pure and what’s fallen. It’s what leads to forgiveness and love. And it’s given freely—you don’t need to earn it.

Forgive them. Regardless of what they’ve done, forgive them completely. Don’t bring it up again. I’ve always loved the scene in the movie The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when EDMUND IS REUNITED WITH HIS SIBLINGS.

Aslan comes up behind Edmund and says to Peter, Susan, and Lucy, “What’s done is done. There is no need to speak to Edmond about what has passed.” Forgiveness is choosing to let it go and never bring it up again.

Love them. That scene in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe continues: Aslan walks away and Edmund stands before his brother and sisters with an uncomfortable look of shame, guilt, and embarrassment on his face. It’s awkward, but only for a moment, because Lucy lunges forward and embraces her brother. Her love for him allows her to quickly move away from judgment.


As with everything you experience in life and in ministry, there’s an opportunity to learn something from disappointment. In the moment you might feel frustration, sadness, hurt, or even anger, but in the experience there will be a lesson for you. Learn from it. Let it help you the next time you find yourself in a similar circumstance.

It would be great if we could walk through our seasons of ministry with no one ever letting us down, but that’s not realistic. Disappointment will come. But keep these three thoughts in mind, and maybe it will be a little easier to deal with disappointment the next time it happens. Reach out to the students who disappoint you. Share with them how you feel about what happened. Don’t shame them. If the offense is something significant, they may already feel the weight of their actions. Choose to be like Jesus, and love them where they are.

When We Disappoint Our Students

As I was thinking about the experiences I’ve had with students, I found myself also thinking about the times when I disappointed some of my students. Yeah, it’s happened.

Like I shared in the earlier article, disappointment happens, and not just with our students. We can be just as disappointing. After all, at times we’re just adult versions of our teenagers. We make mistake just like they do. Thus, we can fall victim of disappointment.

I know we try our very hardest to keep every promise, grant every wish, and be all things to all students, but the reality is, at some point we’re going to slip up and someone is going to be disappointed by what we do or do not do. So what can you do when you find yourself in a situation where you have disappointed a student (or two, or three…)

1. OWN IT.

I have found it most helpful when I know that I’ve made a mistake to simply own it. Admit. Make it yours. acknowledge it. You messed up. But so does everyone else. The difference comes when you ‘fess up and deal with it. Nothing good ever comes from ignoring it or blaming someone else. In fact, I think it actually helps to build a strong idea of integrity when we humble ourselves and own our mistakes.


I can be stubborn when it comes to somethings. But when I know I am the one at fault, I know it’s my responsibility to say I’m sorry. When you know that you have let a student or even a parent down, for one reason or another, apologize to them. Let them know that you are aware from what happen, and that you are truly sorry for disappointing them.


Be honest with them. If you forgot to do something, then say that you forgot. Sure it’s lame and maybe you shouldn’t have forgotten, but you did. So don’t make up some crazy excuse that you were busy rescuing some neighbors cat from a tree and it slipped your mind. No, you forgot. Be honest with them and let them know the truth.


Have you ever been in that situation where a student asks you to do something, and you know you can’t, but you don’t want to disappoint them by saying no? Warning!! Don’t make the promises or say yes to things that you know you probably can’t fulfill. Doing so only sets you up for failure and a great disappointment. It would be better to be honest from the beginning instead of creating false hope.


Okay, disappointment happens. Students disappoint their youth leaders. Youth leaders will disappoint their students. But if we learn from our mistakes and disappointments, it might help us to avoid those mistakes and disappointments in the future. Whether it was a promise or an oversight, recognize what it was that you did or didn’t do and make a note to be aware of that same thing in the future.

There is no magic formula to prevent disappointment. Disappointment is usually linked to the expectations that either we create or others project upon us. When those expectations aren’t met, disappoint ensues. It happens. But I do think that if we are aware of how we deal with disappointment, we will learn how to handle it better in the future.

As you think about disappointment as it relates to you as a youth worker, realize that at some point you too will let someone down. But how you conduct yourself in the moment will have a great impact on both the situation and the relationship.


When Kids Are Cutting by Jim Murphy

This information is not a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment. 

I’ve been in youth ministry for more than 20 years and have come to realize that there is no end to the steady stream of kids who experience deep pain in their lives and resort to cutting (and other destructive behaviors) as a means of coping. Every time I talk with a young boy or girl who is cutting, I am overwhelmed with empathy for them and the pain they experience in life.

Here’s what I’ve learned about it and what to do when kids are cutting. Cutting is the most common form of self-injurious behavior. It is not to be confused with attempted suicide. It is a way many people, especially young teens, cope with deeply intense and traumatic emotional pain or pressure (abuse, relationship problems, severe anxieties, etc.). For some, the pain of cutting temporarily relieves or distracts them from the constant presence of the emotional pain. For others, it is a way of expressing feelings of deep anger, rage, desperation, emptiness. etc. In some cases, the teen has been so overpowered by trauma that they feel emotionally numb to all other feelings and the pain of cutting is the only feeling that they have that lets them know they are “alive.”

Unfortunately, it is a dangerous, compulsive behavior that can become addictive, can lead to severe infections, permanent scarring, nerve damage, and even unintended fatal bleeding. Teens who cut have not developed the coping skills necessary to deal with the intense emotions they are experiencing. Or, perhaps, the coping skills they have developed are simply overpowered by the severity of the situation. Because cutting is so deeply related to larger, deeper, more intense emotional realities and is so addictive, professional therapeutic help is most effective.

If you are encountering teens who cut and are at a loss for what to do, here are a few steps that I practice.


The hardest step for most teens who cut is the first step…talking about it. You absolutely must affirm them for courageously taking this first step. It’s the right thing to do. It’s the healthy thing to do. It’s the biggest most important step to getting better.


Resist the urge to be judgmental about why they cut. Don’t even question their intentions for talking with you about it. Even if you’re weirded out by it…even if you think they’re just seeking attention…take it seriously and love them unconditionally. Unfortunately, their reality is far too often one where love and acceptance is conditional or even absent.


Before you start giving advice; even before you start preaching Christ…ask them lots of questions. You must first seek to understand them. Let them tell their story. Ask about their cuts. Where? How many times? How deep? How often? Ask about the feelings they get when they cut. Ask about the feelings they get that make them want to cut. Ask about the situations, thoughts, or memories that lead to those feelings. Ask about how they feel about themselves after they cut. Ask them who else knows? Do their parents know? What do they say about it? Do any friends know? What do they say about it? Ask if they have talked with a counselor about it and if they’re getting any help with it.


If it was your child that was hurting themselves like this, you’d want to know. Right? You must inform parents within 24 hours of discovering it. You have an ethical and a legal obligation to let them know. You are at risk of a law suit and losing your job if you don’t. Besides, good youth ministry is not working with kids to the exclusion of parents. It’s working in partnership with parents and supporting them for what’s best for their child.


You’re probably not a professional therapist. You might be really good with people but you don’t have the training needed to handle this type of thing. So don’t fool yourself and think that you alone can help this teen. Encourage the parent to find professional help for their teen whether its through a local therapist or a counselor at school.


This is what you are trained to do. If they don’t already know Jesus, help them understand that Christ knows their pain and can provide the strength they need to cope. Explain that by putting our trust in Jesus, he gives us his Holy Spirit to live within us. When we fill our thoughts with his thoughts and listen to the Holy Spirit’s guidance, he can change the way we think and feel about ourselves and help us find better ways to cope with the pain we experience in life.


If they do know Jesus, help them understand their identity in Christ. I find myself repeating phrases such as, “You are not what others say you are. You are not defined by what they think of you. Your worth and value in life is not dependent on what your mom or dad say about you, what kids at school say about you, what you hear yourself saying about yourself or what you see in the mirror.” I also speak things like “When you hear yourself saying that you’re not wanted, you’re not loved, you’re too fat, you’re not pretty, [etc.] … that’s Satan lying to you, deceiving you, trying to get you down. He’s trying to trap you in these lies so that you’ll cut again. Because of what Christ has done in you, you are not controlled by Satan. You are not controlled nor defined by the lies he feeds you.” Furthermore, I remind him or her of the statements we make over and over at church, “Only God can define who you are. You are a Chosen, and Changed, Child of God. Loved, wanted, and needed.” “God has given me a new identity. I will search for it no where else.” As their pastor, you must constantly remind them of who they are in Christ, how much he loves them, and how he is helping them (by leading them to talk with you, by giving them the church or their small group and youth leaders, by guiding their thoughts, etc.).


Because it is compulsive, addictive behavior, they need to see a counselor to overcome it. Your role is to check in with them, hold them accountable, or connect them with another adult or small group leader who can. Ask them if they have access to razors, knives, etc. at home. Encourage them to get rid of anything that they can use to hurt themselves. Encourage the parents to go through their home and do the same.


One thing the therapist will be doing is helping the teen find other more productive ways of coping with their feelings such as the following.

  • Carving in wood allows them to cut as hard and deeply as they want, exerting the same pressure, without causing any damage to themselves.
  • For some, wearing a rubber band to snap themselves when they feel the urge to cut can be helpful. It’s still a kind of self-injury but it can be helpful as a transitional replacement.
  • Writing in a journal is a healthy way to express feelings. Even people in the bible did that. Look at Lamentations and many of the Psalms!
  • Calling a friend, trusted adult, youth leader, or pastor in the moment of urge can also be helpful.
  •  Taking a cold shower, or putting ice on your arm can be helpful

As a pastor, I like to add the skill of Listening Prayer and the three R’s

  • Relax – when you begin to feel anxious, overwhelmed, or the urge to cut, breath deep, inhale, exhale and relax your shoulders.
  • Release – hold each worry, feeling, concern, anxiety, problem, whatever, in your fists with the finger sides down facing the floor. Squeeze each one tight then open your hands to let them fall to the floor as if you’re dropping them at the foot of the Cross. Repeat this for each one and as often as necessary.
  • Receive – after you’ve released each one to Jesus, open your hands and turn them palms up facing the sky. Cry out to God for help. Ask him to speak truth to you. Let your heart be filled with his love. Listen to what he might say to you through whatever positive thoughts, truths, and scriptures, come into your mind. Let him replace your feelings of anxiety with feelings of peace, rest, confidence, and his loving presence.


For many teens, the urge to cut doesn’t just go away over night. For some it takes months of intentional effort to overcome it. For others it can take two to three years of intense counseling and discipleship to get to the bottom of it all. Keep up with their progress, check in with them often. Surround them with healthy people who love Jesus and will love them. It’s a long road to walk but it’s the journey to which you have been called.


Debunking our Doubts by Janet Denison


Peter hopped out of the boat and walked on the water towards Jesus. But the waves were high and it was dark in those predawn hours. Peter looked around and started to sink. “Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt” (Matthew 14:31)? If it were anyone but Jesus the answer would be, “Uh. . . have you looked around us?” Let’s be honest, it is a little easier to side with Peter on this one!

James wrote to his church saying, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways (James 1:5–8).” Is there such a thing as a single-minded man? Is there ever a prayer that God can answer, if our prayers require zero doubting?

Gideon was allowed to put out a fleece to help him with his doubts. Does that still work for us today? I’ve been teaching and studying Scripture for a long time now. I know God is real. I know the Bible is the truth. I believe God can do anything. And I also doubt sometimes. Is it realistic to think we can live and pray without doubt? Was James writing a command or just setting the standards high?

Why do we doubt the God of the universe? Why do we doubt God loves us? Why do we doubt that our prayers will be answered? The basic answer to those questions is an oxymoron. We doubt because we don’t think we are worthy and because we think we are quite capable of handling life ourselves. For example:

— Why do we doubt the God of the universe? Because a lot of scientists have some pretty good explanations for the existence of this world. Because we can create babies using test tubes and other medical procedures. Because we can control diseases with our medicines. Because God doesn’t prove himself often enough with miracles and other acts of strength.

— Why do we doubt that God loves us? Because there are floods, disease, and other hardships. Because the bad guys are allowed to do terrible things. Because we can build walls for the floods, call in rescue teams and armies, and we can figure out ways to escape or handle most of the hard stuff that comes our way. Because we think God has a right to send the floods, but we think we are right to protect ourselves from the high waters.

— Why do we doubt our prayers will be answered? Because we have prayed for things that didn’t turn out like we wanted. Because we know that there is stuff in our lives that God shouldn’t and won’t honor. Because we think we know what is best, and we pray with that attitude.

Could we look Jesus in the face and answer him if he asked, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” We have faith when we have assurance that the words of the Bible can be counted on as truth. We don’t just believe the Bible; we have a conviction, a passionate trust, that the Bible is truth.

How do we “debunk doubt?” We focus on the Bible.

— The Bible has provided wisdom for every generation, for as long as it has existed. In all the world, it is the only volume that crosses cultures, centuries, and people groups—and is truth for everyone. Is there another book that has been published forever, studied forever, and respected forever in that same way? The Bible is a miraculous compilation of thoughts and ideas, unlike anything else.

— Which part of the Bible has been proven wrong? What are the bad ideas that should be tossed out?

— Who is unable to know God if the only book they have is the Bible?

— What people groups ever followed the Bible’s laws and were ruined because they did?

How do we “debunk doubt?” We focus on Jesus.

— The disciples were walking on the road to Emmaus. The resurrected Christ appeared to them. When they doubted they were looking at Jesus, he showed them his hands and feet. He even ate fish in front of them so they wouldn’t think they were seeing a ghost. Many of those disciples gave the rest of their lives to convince the world that Jesus was the Messiah.

— The Apostle Paul met Jesus on the road to Damascus and gave up everything to serve him.

— People have been serving Jesus because they know Jesus, since those days—for much longer than 2000 years.

I sometimes doubt the reality of God when I don’t understand something or I wish something were different. I never study God’s word or walk away from spending time in his presence with doubts. I can meet God in his word every time I open the cover. How do we debunk doubt? We focus on the truth instead of the lies.

As the old hymn says, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in his wonderful face. And the things of earth (even doubts) will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace.” Those words have been true for me when I doubt. O we of little faith, when the doubts come, let’s pick up the miraculous volume of God’s word, sit down next to Jesus, and allow his Holy Spirit to teach. Conviction, assurance, peace, and a great faith will result from that choice.



6 Traits of a Mature Disciple by Kyle Rohane


Discipleship is a lifelong journey. When we hear Jesus’ Great Commission to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19), we can be tempted to think Jesus is only talking about evangelism. But Jesus doesn’t stop there; he continues, “and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (v. 20). Not only are we called to introduce people to Jesus—we’re also told to grow them toward a mature faith.

Over and over, New Testament writers stress the difference between immature and mature disciples. Paul tells the Ephesians that Christ equips his people to grow from infancy to spiritual maturity (Eph. 4:11–14). He laments that he cannot yet walk the Corinthians toward deeper elements of faith because they’re only ready for “milk to drink, not solid food” (1 Cor. 3:2). Peter encourages his readers to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18).

For ourselves and for those under our spiritual care, we cannot settle for undeveloped faith. We must encourage those in our ministries when we see signs of maturity, and we should develop those areas where their faith remains immature. So what does a mature disciple look like? Here are a few areas of maturity that we should ask God to grow in others and ourselves:

A mature disciple SERVES OUT OF LOVE.

Scripture is packed with directions for how we should treat our fellow human beings. In Zechariah 7, the prophet chastised God’s people for going through the religious motions—fasting, sacrificing, and celebrating—one minute, then treating others poorly the next. Their worship was selfish. God wanted them to “administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.”

This gets to the heart of service in a mature disciple’s life. Immature disciples may serve others when it’s convenient or when it makes them look and feel good. But mature disciples follow Jesus’ example by transforming into continuous servants. They serve others by taking God’s love for people and making it their own.

A mature disciple APPLIES GOD’S WORD.

While new disciples may start reading the Bible out of a sense of obligation, a read-it-because-that’s-what-good-Christians-do approach to Scripture rarely leads to tangible growth. Christ-followers can certainly benefit from immersing themselves regularly in God’s Word, even when they don’t really feel like it. That’s a habit worth forming. But it’s not enough. Many unbelieving Bible scholars read the Bible regularly and study it diligently but remain skeptical of its claims and unchanged by its contents.

As disciples mature, they should start taking Jesus’ words in Luke 11:28 seriously: “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” Mature disciples read the Bible less and less out of Christianly duty and more and more out of a deep love for God’s revelation. They trust it completely and let it shape their lives, just as James instructs in James 1:22: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”


The journey of discipleship should not be taken alone. The minute we are adopted as children of God, we become spiritual siblings of millions of other people who are on the same journey. Immature disciples might think they can walk the path of discipleship alone. They say things like, “My faith is between God and me. I don’t need to join a church because I get more out of alone time with God.” Yet whenever Scripture describes the life of a disciple, it’s in the context of a community of faith. Paul addresses the members of the church in Corinth as “mere infants in Christ” (1 Cor. 3:1) because there is jealousy, quarreling, and disunity among them. Mature disciples seek unity and community with other growing disciples.

A mature disciple PRAYS SELFLESSLY.

When we are still immature in our faith, our prayers sound an awful lot like a Christmas wish list. We focus on ourselves—the things we want and need. These prayers of supplication aren’t inherently bad. God is our protector and provider, and Jesus directs us to ask God for “good gifts” (Matthew 7:11). But with these simple prayers, we are only dipping our toes into the ocean of a more mature prayer life. Mature disciples use prayer to praise God for his blessings and for who he is. They thank him for his past faithfulness, ask him to bless and heal other people, and confess when they’ve disobeyed him and hurt others. In short, the prayers of a mature disciple aren’t selfish; they’re selfless.


The Good News of Jesus Christ is the greatest gift we can receive. Through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, his followers are adopted as God’s children. We are made holy, receive the Spirit, and enter into eternal loving relationship with our Lord. Immature disciples recognize these truths in their own lives. Mature disciples follow Jesus’ instruction to share his Good News with others: “Go into the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15). As mature disciples reflect on the transformation in their own lives and Jesus’ influence on their journey, they yearn for those same things in others’ lives. So they share the gospel and its influence on their story of faith with those who need to hear it most.

A mature disciple HAS A MENTOR and MENTORS OTHERS.

When you think through your own faith story, you can probably picture one or more people who took a personal interest in you, taught you the ins and outs of a life of faith, and led you down the path of discipleship. They probably had others who did the same for them. In fact, there’s a chain of disciples leading disciples that reaches all the way back to Jesus and his first 12 followers. They left behind lives of comfort and safety to become disciples of Jesus—following him, learning from him, and imitating him (Matt. 4:19–20). But from the very beginning, Jesus made it clear that their discipleship was not for their benefit alone. He called them to “fish for people,” to reach out and grow other people as followers of Christ.

As disciples grow spiritually, they should follow the disciples’ example by actively looking for a mature Christ-follower to guide them toward Christ-likeness. But that’s not all. For this chain of discipleship to continue, mature disciples should also look for less mature disciples to mentor through the highs and lows of their discipleship journey.


To Thrive Children’s Ministries Will Have to do These 3 Things by Dale Hudson


Recent years have seen a decline in church attendance in the average church in America.  There are a number of factors contributing to this, some of which are cultural shifts that can be seen in other declining institutions as well.

Many large stores are losing relevance according to Harvard Business Review.  Here are some examples.  Linens ‘n Things, Circuit City, Sports Authority and Borders have all gone bankrupt. Office Depot / Office Max is closing 400 stores this year.  Barnes and Nobles continues to struggle.  Kohl’s and Old Navy are posting negative comparable store sales.  All of these stores have something in common that should be noted.  They are big box retail stores.

People vote with their feet and pocketbooks.  And the church must take note of what families are voting for and be willing to shift accordingly.  We must remember…the message is sacred…the methods are not.  If children’s ministries want to thrive, here’s 3 things these trends are telling us we must do moving forward.

People no longer want or need to shop as anonymous costumers in large stores with large quantities of supplies stacked aisle upon aisle.  Instead they want to be able to craft their own, custom shopping experience.  This is why e-commerce and specialty stores are growing in popularity.  For e-commerce, people can select their own digital tools to easily navigate to products that are personally selected just for them.  And specialty stores can provide the superior, personalized service that big box stores cannot.

What this means for children’s ministries moving forward…

  • Anonymity must be replaced with personalization.  We must make sure every child is personally known and connected to a caring adult.
  • We must provide discipleship tools and options that allow kids to craft their own personalized discipleship pathway within defined parameters.
  • One-size-fits-all learning must be replaced with personalized learning.  The days of lecture-based learning are over.  Kids must be allowed to choose what learning styles and techniques best resonate with them.

Studies show that people are spending less on goods and more on experiences.  Millennials (who are the young parents you are trying to reach) are spending a larger proportion on travel and entertainment than previous generations.

Bottom line.  Experience drives growth.  Bass Pro Shops is a great example.  They are a big box store that is bucking the first trend mentioned and experiencing growth.  Why?  They fill their 100,000 square feet with wildlife displays, archery ranges, oversized aquariums, and marine centers so customers can try out products and sample the lifestyle it promotes.

Ikea is another example.  They use their warehouses to stage fully furnished rooms where people can experience products and get decorating ideas. Outdoor retailer REI goes even further by holding events, classes, and service projects to engage with the local communities around its stores.

What this means for children’s ministries moving forward…

  • Children’s ministries must create unique learning experiences for kids.  Kids want to experience the truth.  Here’s a quick example.  Last weekend we were teaching the kids at our church that fulfilling God’s plan for your life is not about you, but about how it will help others.  We were teaching from the life of Joseph.  God’s plan for him to become a ruler in Egypt was not so he could brag about being in charge.  It was so he could help his family and nation.  To help kids experience this truth, we gave each of them a package of Skittles candy with a note attached that said “God’s plan for your life.”  We then gave them a choice.  They could keep the candy or give it back.  If they gave it back, it would be given to children who live in a poverty stricken area of town.  The experience of this…the tension they felt…helped them experience the truth we were teaching them.  Bottom line…children’s ministries must become venues that stage immersive, memorable, share-worthy experiences. 

Large institutions that are thriving offer great prices on products that are constantly changing.  Here’s two great examples.  TJ Maxx and Marshalls.  Why?  They offer the “thrill of the hunt” for people who enjoy discovering trending products at prices well below market value.

What this means for children’s ministries moving forward…

  • Families are looking for the best value for their time.  Time is the most precious commodity today’s families have.  They will not spend it on mediocre, ho hum ministry.  They are looking for churches that can add significant value to their family.  Children’s ministries must be prepared to minister to families and make it worth their while to attend.  This includes everything from strategic spiritual growth pathways to relevant curriculum to a focused, clear vision.
  • We must keep kids and families curious.  This includes lesson cliff-hangers and changing up your order of service, programming etc, on a regular basis.  Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it grows a children’s ministry.  Families should leave excited to see what is going to happen next week at church.

One of the healthiest institutions in the country right now is Costco.  Their financial performance is stellar and customers are giving them rave reviews.  Why?   Because they are doing all 3 of the things mentioned above.  They create great shopping experiences with food concessions, gas stations, and sampling stations.  They offer great value with their prices and quality of merchandise.  And they offer great customer service.

Children’s ministries that thrive moving forward will rethink everything they do and will be willing to change as needed to meet the needs of the kids and families they are seeking to reach and disciple.


The Revolution Young Adults Need by Tim Elmore


Once in a while, a country just plain needs a revolution.

During many political or military revolutions, a segment of the country’s population become part of what’s called “the resistance.” This simply means they revolt against what’s trending in the population and become counter-cultural. My uncle first told me about the “resistance” in Nazi Germany during the dark days of World War II. Resistance can be dangerous; it can be unpopular; but . . . it also can save the day.

Today—I am challenging you to be part of the resistance against what’s happening all too frequently among our high school and college students.

The last five hundred years have changed humankind profoundly. I might argue, the last century, most profoundly. Our definitions and expectations of childhood have evolved—sometimes without our consciousness. Let me explain what I mean.

Several centuries ago, the category of childhood did not even exist. Everyone, regardless of age, were merely humans. Some were young, but no one distinguished between stages and ages. In his book The Disappearance of Childhood, Neil Postman writes that it was the invention of the printing press that introduced the idea of children and adults. Why? For the first time, people separated into two groups:
  • Those who could read.
  • Those who could not read.

Until then, both adults and children shared in the same conversations, all about local and relevant issues. There was no “baby talk,” and both kids and grown-ups wore the same kind of clothes. Both had the same level of education, which was very little, so there were few deep philosophical talks at home. It was about common sense. All ages participated in family chores and each did what they could for the whole. We were all simply people. The data shows this actually fostered maturity in children. They lived up to the norm that adults were demonstrating in the community.

With print media, understanding differed. Postman writes that childhood became a category. “Childhood became a description of a level of symbolic achievement.” In fact, adults who did not read were often referred to as intellectually “childish.”

In Children in English Societyauthors Ivy Pinchbeck and Margaret Hewitt express it this way:

“Whilst under the traditional system of apprenticeship, ‘childhood’ effectively ended at the age of seven…the effect of organized formal education was to prolong the period during which children were withheld from the demands and responsibilities of the adult world. Childhood was, in fact…emerging for the first time as a formative period of increasing significance.” 

Once reading divided us into age groups, other categorizing took place. The way we dressed children, in knickers and hats; the way we talked to them; the way we then segregated them in schools; and the information they read was all tailored for them. I want you to see—this is both good news and bad news. It was a natural evolution, but we may not have recognized the unintended consequences. We began a slow migration toward expecting less of the young than generations had earlier.

Consider life as recent as one hundred years ago:

  • Four year olds performed age-appropriate chores around the house.
  • Eight year olds were already working on the farm or property.
  • Eleven year olds were leading that work on the property.
  • Fourteen year olds were driving cars.
  • Seventeen year olds were leading armies, in WW I.
  • Nineteen year olds were getting married and having children.

I’m not suggesting we revert to this lifestyle. I’m simply saying—it is in our kids to be so much more than people who get lost on social media. We don’t expect them to have much genuine interaction with the real world. Much of their activity is virtual. After all, they’re just kids. We don’t want them to fear or fail.

The term “adolescence” was only introduced and popularized a century ago. Seeing how teen brains and hormones develop, we created a system to allow for it. We set them apart, and soon gave them their own music, clothes, vocabulary and lifestyles. This segmenting of our culture certainly helped adults understand and relate better to our young—but it didn’t always help our young develop into mature adults.

Here’s my point.

A culture that offers the young increasing information and autonomy without requiring equal accountability and responsibility produces unready adults. In fact, we should expect arrogant, entitled, and even narcissistic young people to emerge as they enter adulthood.

The adolescent brain, typically, desires further risk and challenge. This is why a boy would work a job, or become an apprentice as a young teen a century ago. The thrill an adolescent craved was met with authentic challenges. It was time to stop “sitting” so much, and start some “doing.” The primary way adolescents learn is by actually applying the information they know. Our dilemma today is—we’ve so categorized childhood, we’re afraid to allow them to interface with real issues and challenges that would engage their hearts and minds. So now, we simulate them. We offer a facsimile of the real thing. We give them virtual realities with video games. We give them virtual relationships with social media. We give them virtual connections with the Internet. We give them virtual thrills and excitement with roller coasters at theme parks. We want it all under control. Nothing risky, nothing real. It’s monitored and safe.

Sadly, too many teens experience virtual maturity.

A Manifesto

So, I am challenging you to consider this manifesto for our young:

I will stop…

  1. …assuming a teen cannot take on genuine responsibility.
  2. …under-challenging teens with facsimiles of the real world.
  3. …treating them as children and expecting immature conduct.
  4. …withholding truthful feedback even when its painful.

I will start…

  1. …expecting the best of them and trust them to excel in their gifts.
  2. …administering both rewards and consequences for their choices.
  3. …offering both autonomy and responsibility appropriate to their age.
  4. …believing in them enough to support their pursuit of a dream.

Our young are full of potential. Our world is full of problems to solve. It’s time for this revolution. Be a part of the resistance.