Inviting the Outsider In by Danielle Rhodes


I was an outsider. I dreaded Wednesday nights and would do anything to get out of going to youth group (most of my attempts failed). My family had moved churches when I was a freshman in high school, and I suddenly found myself in a group of 200 strangers. I admit I could have tried a little harder. Maybe I should have made more of an effort to insert myself into the “core” group of teens. Maybe I should have endured the awkward, “Don’t I know you from somewhere?” situations. But I didn’t. Sadly, over the next four years, I never felt like I belonged in that youth ministry.

You can spot them in any group. They come in quietly, perhaps a little late, and sit alone in the back. They refuse to answer questions or volunteer for activities. And when the evening is done, they don’t linger to socialize. These students are content on the fringe, sitting on the outside looking in and never engaging in the ministry around them. Continue reading


Nothing But Parts: Kim Kardashian and the Destruction of Our Selves  by Walt Mueller


Truth be told, I spent a good portion of last week getting sad, concerned, and even angry. That’s what happens when you see things. What I saw last week was Kim Kardashian’s presentation of her self.. . more specifically, her presentation of her self as a posterior. But that photo shoot wasn’t just about Kim Kardashian. It was about our culture. . . our girls. . . and our boys.

In one sense, Kardashian is a product of years and years of our culture cultivating the belief that “you are what you look like. And, if you want to be valuable, then here’s the standard you need to meet.” So this week, that standard which is constantly morphing is all about the back side. Kim Kardashian’s choice to expose both her self and her beliefs is a reflection of who we are. But the millions of eyes that have and will land on Kardashian’s backside will be portals to hearts and minds – many of them very young and very impressionable – that will come to the conclusion that not only is this the way things are, but this is also the way things are supposed to be. In fact, hearts and minds beating with estrogen will seek to define themselves in the same way, and all of it will seem so. . . normal. And those hearts and minds beating with testosterone will be encouraged, once more, to look at and value a lady based on body rather than soul. These realities, I believe, are worthy of our sadness, grief, concern, and even anger.

As I blogged last week, Kardashian is not alone. If you question what this kind of stuff has done to us, go back and check out Adam Levine’s musical map and mirror that’s the music video known as “Animals.” Or, check out Pharrell’s “Hunter.” Or, Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines.” Or. . . well. . . you choose. It seems that we have become nothing but parts. . . with my parts driving lusty thoughts and aggressive behaviors towards your parts. . . and all that’s counts is that my parts are satisfied and happy. Who really cares about you and your parts?

All this came to a head for me on Saturday, as I traveled to speak to a group of mothers at the Unveiled conference in Philadelphia. They were there with their teenage daughters, most of those girls middle-school aged. The girls spent the day hearing from my friend Meghan Hutchinson and others, specifically hearing about the counter-cultural messages and realities of the Gospel that remind us that our identity, purpose, and healing are to be framed by the Gospel. Oh how badly we need to expose the cultural lies and reframe the conversation with the liberating message of finding our identity and seeing the identities of others NOT in our body parts and their functions, but in Jesus Christ. I spoke to the moms about how social media used destructively convinces us to see and treat our selves as objects and parts. Everyone there on Saturday. . .  EVERYONE. . . male and female, young and old alike. . . we’re all being shaped (literally) by this foolishness. Continue reading


10 Ways Gratitude Can Change Your Life & 4 Step Gratitude Plan

by Dr. Jeremy Dean


Gratitude can motivate others, increase self-control, build social ties and more…plus 4-step gratitude plan.

Gratitude is the new miracle emotion.

Although gratitude has been around for as long as human beings, it’s only recently started to get the big thumbs-up from science.

So here are 10 ways gratitude can change your life, followed by a quick 4-step plan to help maximise your own gratitude, whatever level you start from.

There’s even a trick for those suffering from ‘gratitude burnout’.

1. Happier

Gratitude is different things to different people: amongst them could be counting your blessings, savouring what life has given you, thanking someone or wondering at the natural world.

Whatever form it takes, one of the best known and most researched effects of practicing gratitude is it makes you happier.

Participants in one study were 25% happier, on average, after practicing a little gratitude over a 10-week period.

2. More satisfied

Gratitude isn’t just about feeling better, it’s also about thinking better.

In other words: it’s not just a fleeting sensation, it can also be a thought that sustains you.

That’s why people who feel more gratitude also feel more satisfied with their lives.

Gratitude better enables people to notice the things they do have, rather than mourning what’s missing.

3. Motivate others

When we say ‘thank you’ to others, it’s an expression of gratitude, but it can also act as a powerful motivator for them to help us again.

It could be as simple as sending a thank you email when someone has helped you out.

gratitude study found that a thank you email doubled the number of people willing to help in the future:

“…the effect of ‘thank you’ was quite substantial: while only 32% of participants receiving the neutral email helped with the second letter, when Eric expressed his gratitude, this went up to 66%.”

They also found that:

“…people weren’t providing more help because they felt better or it boosted their self-esteem, but because they appreciated being needed and felt more socially valued when they’d been thanked.”

4. Reduce materialism

We all need some stuff in our lives, but sometimes the desire for more things can get out of control.

And our nascent desire for stuff is heavily encouraged by society in so many ways.

Gratitude can combat materialism by helping us appreciate what we already have.

As the Greek philosopher Epicurus said:

“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”

By law, all credit cards should have this quote across the front in fluorescent pink.

5. Increase self-control

It’s not true that the emotions tend to get in the way of decision-making; that we should be ‘cold’ and ‘calculating’ to make the right choices.

Quite the reverse: the feeling of gratitude can actually help people make the right decisions.

Professor Ye Li, whose research has established a link between gratitude and self-control explains:

“Showing that emotion can foster self-control and discovering a way to reduce impatience with a simple gratitude exercise opens up tremendous possibilities for reducing a wide range of societal ills from impulse buying and insufficient saving to obesity and smoking.”

It probably works because gratitude makes us feel less selfish, which gives us more patience.

6. Enrich our children

Encouraging gratitude in children can have remarkable effects.

One study found that kids who are more grateful feel life has more meaning, get more satisfaction from life, are happier and experience less negative emotions.

Dr. Giacomo Bono, who led the study, said his findings suggested:

“…that gratitude may be strongly linked with life-skills such as cooperation, purpose, creativity and persistence and, as such, gratitude is vital resource that parents, teachers and others who work with young people should help youth build up as they grow up.

More gratitude may be precisely what our society needs to raise a generation that is ready to make a difference in the world.”

7. Improve your relationship

Being grateful to your partner for all the little kindnesses they do can make all the difference to a relationship.

Research by Dr. Sara Algoe and colleagues, found that gratitude helps to maintain intimate relationships.

Algoe said:

“Feelings of gratitude and generosity are helpful in solidifying our relationships with people we care about, and benefit to the one giving as well as the one on the receiving end.”

8. Build social ties

Just as very close intimate relationships benefit from gratitude; so do our wider ties to family and friends.

Gratitude has been linked to many positive social outcomes:

  • People who are more grateful report better relationships with their peers.
  • Gratitude enhances people’s ability to form and nurture relationships, as well as boosting how satisfied they are with them.

It really seems that gratitude has the power to deepen our connections with others.

9. Better health

Although there’s relatively little research on this, gratitude has been linked to better physical health, especially better sleep, and lower levels of stress.

Given that both stress levels and sleep are related to general physical health, this is not a surprise.

10. Resilience

Given that the world can be a nasty place, filled with nasty surprises, it’s vital to have good coping skills.

People with gratitude tend to have just that.

When faced with challenges in life, they tend to eschew denial, self-blame and substance abuse in favour of active coping, seeking support from others, positive reinterpretation and growth.

How to be grateful

Hopefully you’re convinced by now that gratitude is an emotion that’s worth cultivating.

And it is something that can be cultivated.

Studies have repeatedly shown that we can train things sometimes thought of as hard-wired or pre-set, like our gratitude, optimism and enthusiasm.

So here are a few things you can try…

1. 2-minute exercise

Think of three things that you are grateful for: that benefit you and without which your life would be poorer.

Then, if you’ve got time, you can think about the causes for these good things.

And that’s it.

Read more on this simple gratitude exercise.

2. Simple steps

Try one or more of these 10 grateful steps to happiness to take the 2-minute exercise a little further

They include keeping a gratitude journal, using your senses to notice what’s around you and even remembering bad times to help provide a realistic frame for current events.

3. Repeat and explore

Repeat any, all or none of these exercises at regular intervals.

If it’s none, because they don’t work for you, then invent your own, or reconnect with an existing way of practicing gratefulness which is personal to you.

The more you can keep at it, the more likely it is to become a habit.

4. Avoid gratitude burnout

Like everything in life, we can get fed up with gratitude after a while if it gets to samey.

Avoid gratitude burnout by remembering that all things must come to an end — enjoy them while you still can.

In one study:

“…being encouraged to think grateful thoughts was not enough to increase happiness.

What made the grateful thoughts beneficial was focusing on the imminent end of this pleasurable experience.

Thinking about endpoints as a way of stimulating gratitude can be beneficial.

Finite ends seem to inspire people to think carefully about what it is they have, because soon enough, and usually sooner than we would like to think, it will be gone.”


6 Surprising Ways Female Students Repurpose Instagram  by Ron Powell


Teens are switching to Instagram as their go to APP.

No big deal? Isn’t it just pictures? Actually it’s a lot more than that and every student knows it.

For teen girls, it means at least 6 things that I suspected but was still surprised to learn this week, when Kathy Jimenez, our graphic artist and web designer sent me this article.

 Instagram Take Over

The first thing that I learned is that instagram is by far the go to app among teensCBS reports that “In a recent  survey, analysts examined how kids’ social media preferences have changed over the last six months. They found that Instagram has become even more popular, with 76 percent of teens currently saying they use it — up 7 percent since last spring!” Continue reading


5 Essential Phrases for Every Talk to Youth by Cameron Cole


So often in youth ministry, we can make assumptions about students that either alienate part of the audience or neglect essential substance.

We assume that they know what certain words mean. We assume that they are Christians who know the gospel. We assume that they can connect the dots between the theology taught and their practical life.

When I give a talk, I try to never forget to use these five statements. Continue reading


Affirming Doubts: Helping Students Ask and Answer Tough Questions  by Derek Melleby


My wife and I led a team of college students to Thailand in June 2005. We were there to help with the rebuilding efforts after the Tsunami ripped through Southeast Asia in 2004. I had never seen devastation like this before. Our guide took us first to the place where they brought the dead bodies. A memorial signifying all of the countries that had lost people was stretched across one of the outer walls. While the team gazed at the memorial and took pictures, two new bodies were delivered by pick-up truck. Immediately, the tone and posture of the team changed, and the trip took on even deeper meaning. We were surrounded by death and destruction and our “mission” was to bring hope and light into a very dark place. This wasn’t going to be easy.

Not only did we see villages destroyed and families in pain, but we also encountered another issue that we weren’t ready for: rampant prostitution. We visited a beach resort community deemed “the pedophile capital of the world.” Men were paying thousands of dollars to have sex with children, right in our midst. I was personally solicited a number of times by men and women looking to make money. We learned of an orphanage director who was offered $50,000 or more for children age 10 or younger.

How could a place so beautiful on the outside, be so ugly on the “inside?” If God is good, why was there so much pain in the world, especially among innocent children? Where was God the day the Tsunami hit the coastline, and the countless other days that sexual “tsunamis” devastate lives of young girls?

As you can imagine, for the first few days in Thailand, having confidence, faith and trust in the God of the Bible was difficult. Sure, we had all asked the philosophical, abstract question: “How can God be good with all of the pain and suffering in the world?” We even had arrived at some satisfying answers. But our questions were asked in Bible studies in suburban Pennsylvania, not in tragedy stricken Southeast Asia, and not surrounded by this kind of intense pain and suffering. Put simply: we began to have our doubts about the God we worshipped. We voiced these doubts in our conversations, prayers and journals.

Since the leader of the team (me!) had similar feelings, space was created for students to express their thoughts and concerns. An amazing thing happened: working among the people, being honest about our doubts and experiencing everyday grace, we slowly and more convincingly clung to the promises of Scripture and the hope of the living God. God was indeed good and we were given eyes to see the fingerprints of God’s goodness even after the devastating wave of destruction. We saw it in the eyes of a grandmother who had lost her grandchildren, but faithfully attended worship each Sunday. We heard it in countless stories of families being reunited and strengthened and we watched them cling to the relationships that mattered most.

We were all changed by the experience, to be sure, but there was one change I wasn’t expecting: I learned to view doubting and even questioning God as a good and crucial aspect of discipleship. Doubt is not the antithesis to faith, but rather, having doubts and asking tough questions about God is vital to Christian maturation.

Student Gripes

Each year, I have the privilege of walking with students as they grow in faith. The college years are a time of settling in on central convictions that will give shape to students’ lives for the rest of their lives. It is during this time that students take ownership of what they believe and ask the big questions about life, the universe and everything in the context of a competitive learning community. For the first time, Christian students are forced to wrestle with tough questions and take stands for Truth. Many students cave under the pressure. Every year, I hear the following from Christian students:

“In youth group, I wasn’t supposed to ask questions, but to have faith.” I have heard countless stories of students who complain that every time they tried to ask difficult questions they were either ridiculed by their peers or reprimanded by their parents and youth pastor. They were told that their doubting and questioning was getting in the way of true faith and that God wants them to believe “blindly.” They were to take “leaps of faith” to prove their loyalty to Jesus. Not every student comes to college having had this experience, of course, but there are plenty who do.

“No one ever told me there were so many intellectual challenges to the Christian faith.” How can a good God allow suffering? How do we know that what the Bible says is true? Isn’t it arrogant to think that Jesus is the only way to God? All of the intellectual challenges to the Christian faith that students face in college are not new, but most students hear them for the first time in college, away from home, amidst academic and peer pressure. What’s more, most students have not had the opportunity to articulate their faith in their own words. The “new” challenges to the faith combined with the sometimes inadequate preparation by parents and youth workers is often too much to bear.

“If I have doubts, I must not have faith, so I can do whatever I want.” This is when it can get a bit scary. The Christian faith provides a moral code for students. When faith begins to break down, and students slowly take steps away from it, they no longer have a moral code to guide their actions. The current college experience provides students the freedom to pretty much do whatever they want. It includes a cultural landscape where almost anything is permissible and accessible. Immorality can sometimes be the norm. The excuse of questioning faith is often used to justify immoral activity. This is possible, again, because many students have been taught that having doubts and questions goes against faith. The reasoning goes like this: “I have doubts and questions about God, I must not be a Christian, why shouldn’t I get drunk and be sexually promiscuous?”

The Needed Response

This is often a very difficult and painful experience for the students, as well as for those charged with helping them through it. On the one hand, doubting and questioning can be fruitful, leading to deeper growth. On the other hand, doubting and questioning can be confusing and frustrating, and many students walk away from the faith. How can we help students during this time? Is there anything that parents and youth workers can do while their children and students wrestle with why they believe what they believe? Here are a few suggestions:

First, model a life of life-long learning. Being a disciple of Jesus means that we are forever students. Learning and growing only comes through asking good questions and searching for answers. Be open and honest about your own doubts and questions. When did God seem far from you? When was God close? What big questions did you ask when you were a young adult, trying to figure out life on your own? Explore parts of the Bible (and there are many!) where Godly people cry out to God and doubt God’s existence. Have students read the Psalms, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Job and the Prophets through this “lens” and notice how doubting and questioning is affirmed by Scripture. It is okay to take your doubts and questions directly to the throne room of God. God will hear you. God wants us to tell him what is on our hearts. And, ironically, the process itself often begins to provide us with answers (just ask Job!).

Second, create a safe place for students to ask questions and articulate their faith in their own words. I fear that this is not happening enough. While doing research for his seminal book, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, a book that explores what teens actually believe about God, sociologist Christian Smith made an interesting observation. In an interview for Books & Culture, Smith said that one of the biggest surprises of his research came from listening to the way in which students responded to his questions. Smith would ask students what they believed God was like, and hundreds of students, many from evangelical youth groups, would respond quickly: “No one ever asked me that before.” The multitude of students responding in this way shocked Smith. Does anyone care what students actually believe?

We can get caught up in simply spoon feeding students truth so much that we forget to take time to see if any of it has been chewed and digested. Maybe we are apprehensive to hear and learn that students are not believing what we think they should be (that was the primary point of Smith’s book). Students need space to be heard and to begin to put their faith into their own words. What students articulate may not be as audible as we would like. It may sound a lot like “baby talk” at first. It is crucial, however, that teenagers have a place to do this while they are surrounded by people who love them, especially before they head off to college.

Third, be patient with students who are wrestling with faith, affirm them in the struggle, but get them to see what good and honest doubting looks like. There is a difference. Doubting and questioning is not an excuse for immoral behavior. As students realize that doubting and questioning is actually part of discipleship, they should be slower to throw it all away. Hopefully, “finding themselves” may not and should not include choices that have destructive consequences. Let students know that some of the best times of growth in life come out of wrestling with God. But, there are unhealthy ways to respond to this wrestling match. Explain to students that they do not want to leave college with deep scars.

Doubt should be expected this side of the new Heavens and new Earth and we have a responsibility to be open and honest with students. In his book Doubting: Growing Through the Uncertainties of Faith, Oxford University professor Alister McGrath suggests: “Doubt is probably a permanent feature of the Christian life. It’s like some kind of spiritual growing pain. Sometimes it recedes into the background; at other times it comes to the forefront, making its presence felt with a vengeance.” The college years are a time when doubt often comes to the forefront, with a vengeance. Helping students to understand that it is a permanent feature of the Christian life is crucial. It’s not easy to walk with students through intense moments of doubting and questioning, but it is rewarding. Most students simply need to be heard, affirmed and cared for. When you approach students with this posture they often, slowly, begin to find satisfying answers and make the Christian faith their own.


What’s with all the selfies? What your teenager’s obsession might mean by Amy Peterson
Teenage behavior is often hard to understand. Here are some clues to the reasons behind all those selfies.

From Facebook to Snapchat, Instagram to Twitter, there are countless places for your teen to post her image. Some teens post everywhere with little regard for privacy. If you’re concerned your teen is quickly becoming the Internet’s biggest narcissist, it’s time to figure out the meaning behind your teenager’s selfies. Here are four possible reasons for all those carefully posed photos. Continue reading


Do Your Christian Students Know The Christ They Are Following? Angie Franklin


We have set up many systems to keep our Christian students “Christian.” You know the model students I’m talking about: They have gone to church every Sunday since they can remember (if they are especially pious, they go on Wednesday nights, too). They don’t swear. They serve in leadership at school and in the youth ministry. These students do what they’re asked and they do it happily. If you need a volunteer, they are the first to sign up. If you ask them to bring a friend to an outreach event, they will bring two.

But what happens when this Christian structure disappears? When students move out on their own or begin college, their options expand. There’s no pressure to attend church on Sunday mornings or Wednesday nights. There’s no prefab Christian community to rub shoulders with at least twice a week. No one asks them to pray before meals, and their responsible nature gets noticed by do-gooder organizations that are far from God. Continue reading


10 Ways the Enemy Gets the Upper Hand in a Church  by Chuck Lawless


Let me start this post with a clear caveat: Satan will not ultimately win as he attacks God’s church. Jesus broke the powers through His cross (Col. 2:15), and the enemy will eventually be cast into outer darkness (Rev. 20:10). In the meantime, though, the devil strategically attacks us. Consider these ways he seeks to get the “up”per hand. Continue reading


How Can I Discover God’s Will?  by Chuck Swindle


“I’m totally confused. How in the world do I find the will of God for my life?” I cannot number how many times through the years I have heard that question.

I could probably list at least ten ways that God leads His children today, but I will limit myself to the four that I think are the most significant methods of God’s leading. Continue reading