The New Normal by Max Lucado


See if the following sounds familiar:

  • The definition of truth is: “Whatever is most expedient at the moment.”
  • Christians are relegated to the outer margin of society.
  • Marriage is defined according to personal preference.
  • No sexual act is taboo or off-limits.
  • Immorality has seeped into the church.

Sound familiar? If you’ve been reading the news, it does. If you’ve been reading the Bible, it does as well. These phrases portray every culture in which the New Testament church began. Ephesus, famous for her temple orgies. Corinth, a seedbed of immorality. Rome, no friend to the church. The Christian movement was birthed in a maternity ward of contrarian beliefs.


Is the church returning to its birthplace? The move to redefine marriage is the most recent of a string of events that suggest we are entering a new normal. If so, here is the good news: the Bible was written for times like these. The church flourishes in times like these.  Scripture exists to help the church thrive as citizens of heaven and strangers and exiles on earth.

In such times, our call is clear:

“Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God. That energy is God’s energy, an energy deep within you, God himself willing and working at what will give him the most pleasure. Do everything readily and cheerfully—no bickering, no second-guessing allowed! Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God. Carry the light-giving Message into the night…” (Philippians 2:12-15 MSG)

In changing times, hold to the unchanging hand of God. Embrace what is true. Anchor to what is right. Set your heart on heaven. And have faith. The Lord who began the church will sustain it.


A Better Answer to “How Are You?”  by Rick Lawrence


Of all the ways we excel at wasting things in our culture, we are at our wasted worst when it comes to our words. Because we don’t know any better, we substitute hollow banter for meaningful seed-planting. Continue reading


7 Characteristics of Effective Small Groups  by Brendt Blanks


I love the role I get to play in leading my 11th grade girls in a discipleship small group every Sunday night. (I’ve been with them since they were in 7th grade.) It’s been a blessing to see the girls growing so passionate about their faith life. Having run groups for years in a clinical setting as a licensed counselor, many of the characteristics of running a successful discipleship group are quite similar.

Yet, there are some that are unique to leading students in meaningful spiritual growth.

Here are seven characteristics of running an effective small group (I’d love to hear your thoughts on any characteristics you have found to be effective): Continue reading


How to Effectively Reach and Retain Millennials  by Ed Stetzer


We identified characteristics of churches that were engaging young adults by reaching and keeping them as part of the church. Here are three significant ways in which churches can effectively reach and retain Millennials.

Young adults often desired a different kind of leadership, one that is more open and transparent.

1. Be Contemporary and Culturally Engaged

The first clear pattern among churches that are reaching young adults is that they tend to be more contemporary. They are engaged with culture and are aware of societal trends, helping young adults think through their context with discerning, biblical eyes.

While some in the younger generation are moving toward liturgical churches, the overall trend is young adults being reached by contemporary churches, and though there are always counter trends and exceptions, that’s the general rule. I know the fact I list this will bother some, but it’s just a statistical reality.

(I should add that “adding a smoke machine,” doth not a young adult magnet make, but that is for another post.)

2. Be Authentic

The second feature of churches who are effectively reaching Millennials is authenticity, a characteristic that many of those Millennials felt was not as present in churches of the Baby Boomer era. Young adults often desired a different kind of leadership, one that is more open and transparent. They often preferred preaching from weakness and sharing struggles of life and faith, approaches that pastors were taught not to do in generations past.

Many Millennials are searching for a safe place where pastors, leaders, and others share their own struggles and everyone can share their sinful issues without being ostracized. Authentically sharing without condemnation is a significant point of connection with young adults.

3. Care for the Hurting

Young adults want to serve their neighbor locally, nationally, and globally.

Thirdly, churches that are engaging Millennials are often known for caring for the marginalized, the hurting, and the outcasts. These churches are focused on reaching others in need.

Some call it the Bono-ization of our culture, a term coined after humanitarian efforts led by Bono, the lead singer of U2.

Yet, I think this focus among young adults is a good thing and is a rediscovering of the totality of the mission Jesus gave us. Young adults want to serve their neighbor locally, nationally, and globally.

Where Do We Start?

There is no one Millennial. No one can say, “This is what Millennials think” or “All Millennials are this.”

One of the best ways to find out how to reach Millennials is to get to know them. Talk with those in their twenties and early thirties. Discover their likes and dislikes. Ask for their input. Actually befriend them.

Chris Martin, my blog guy and a Millennial himself, has a blog completely devoted to understanding, reaching, and serving Millennials. It would be worth a look.

Also, Thom Rainer and Jess Rainer‘s book The Millennials is a great resource to check out for some helpful statistics and other information.

Long story short, being effective at reaching and keeping Millennials doesn’t have much to do with being a “young, cool, hip church.” It has more to do with fostering relationships between young adults and older adults who care about them, listen to them, and, as a result, minister together with them.


Are You Over-Spotting Your Students by Shane Stacey


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

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

A spotter can fail in two major ways: 

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

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


Sowing in the Soil of Doubt by Danielle Rhodes

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


Five Ways Leaders Must Guard Their Minds by Rick Warren


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

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

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

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


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


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

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

It is not.

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

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


20 Quick Tips for Small Group Leadership  by Ron Powell


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

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


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

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

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

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

What’s In a Name

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

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

Here are some practical tips on learning names:

  1. Quickly and Often

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

  1. Selfies for a Good Cause

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

  1. Hector = Nector

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

  1. Story Time

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

  1. Help Me God!

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

  1. Pen is Mightier

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

  1. Test Time

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

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