It’s Time to Develop a Game Plan by Janet Denison

I went to church with my mom recently and thought the pastor did a beautiful job addressing the recent Supreme Court decision.  Ellis Orosco spoke of his time in high school, playing wide receiver on the football team.  Success in that position, he said, meant “keeping my eye on the ball.”   He compared the recent Supreme Court decision to a “bleacher fight” in the stadium as opposed to the “real game.”  Ellis told his congregation that “the game” was winning souls for Christ and those on the team needed to stay on the field if they wanted to win.  He told the congregation that recent news could cause the Church to “take their eye off of the ball” and possibly lead them to that fight under the bleachers. The congregation and I applauded Pastor Ellis’s focus. 

It’s time to get back into the game.  I often quote 2 Chronicles 7:14 when I’m speaking.  The verse: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”  I usually say, “the key to that verse is found in the first three words – If MY people.”  The morality of our nation and the blessings of God are dependent upon the actions of God’s people, not those on the other team.

God’s “team” has been involved too often in the bleacher fights, instead of playing the game on the field.  It is easier to pick the smaller battles when we think we have already lost the big game anyway.  It was good to be reminded that regardless of the score, the team belongs on the field, doing their best to win the game – until the final buzzer sounds.

Our job today, tomorrow and every day that is to come, is to take the love of Christ and his gospel message to a lonely world that feels unloved by most.  Our testimony is important and the answer to the immorality in our culture will be found in proving that God’s word is always true.  God always blesses his people when they are blessable.  Those blessings are the powerful proof that God exists.  Our words should honor and glorify our great God, who hears our prayers, forgives our sin and heals our land. 

So, it is time to launch our own campaign in a world that needs to remember there is a God who loves everyone and has offered every sinner salvation through faith in his Son.  We will see our world begin to change when we see Christians leaving the bleacher fights and returning to the playing field.  But every team needs a game plan, a campaign.

The word campaign means “an organized course of action to achieve a particular goal.”  Campaign when used as a verb means “to work in an organized and active way toward a particular goal, typically a political or social one.”  Christians need to get organized again and develop a winning strategy.

The first strategy probably involves recognizing the flat-screen voices in our homes that teach messages opposed to God’s word.  Satan has always been subtle, entertaining, convincing and able to speak just enough truth to influence and convince. 

For example, my generation allowed programming into our home that showed and romanticized sex outside of marriage.  Most of the children grew up to have sex before marriage, even if raised as “church-goers” with Christian principles.  The television normalized the sin and children accepted what they saw in the programs they watched with their parents.  Now, sex outside of marriage is not only considered normal, it is actually endorsed.  Most of our young people believe they should live together so that they can know whether that person is whom they want to marry.  

The standard for sex outside of marriage changed in one generation.  The ads on our televisions, the programs that are available for my children to watch with their children will normalize homosexuality now and will teach our grandchildren to believe that people should have sex with whomever they want to, regardless of their gender.  

The score would indicate that we, as Christians, are so far behind we are going to lose the game.  Except for one thing; I’ve just described the bleacher fights – not the game.  Our Bibles are full of stories of people who were transformed by the love and salvation of faith.  In fact, that is every Christian’s story.  The book of Revelation assures Christians that we will be in the final game and when it is over, we will be crowned the champions.

The question today is this:  Are you fighting under the bleachers or are you playing the game on the field?


Teens in a Performance Driven Culture by Mark Gregston


We live in a performance driven culture. Remember when baseball and football were sports you played in the empty sandlot at the end of the street? Nowadays, parents spend thousands of dollars to make sure even their middle-school kids have all the right equipment and privatized training to be bigger, faster and stronger. A high school diploma used to be enough to ensure you a decent job. And if you went on to a trade school and learned a skill like welding or mechanics, you were guaranteed a solid career. Kids today are taking college visits in junior high! And to be competitive in our current job market a Masters degree is almost becoming a requirement!

And TV and the movies don’t help either. Often, what our kids pick up from the media is that to be loved and to lead a satisfying life they have to be rich, famous and constantly on the go. Not only is this idea wrong, it’s also unhealthy!

You can see the effect this performance driven culture has on teens when you step into the world of social media. Hop onto Facebook on a random Thursday, and you see friends and acquaintances reporting on what they’re doing, where they’ve been, who they’re hanging out with and what they know. Teens use photo-sharing apps like Instagram to display pictures of themselves with nice clothes, nice cars, nice vacations, and nice and notable friends. It’s a highly competitive digital world, in which our kids feel the pressure to “perform” as well, or better, than the other kids they see. For some teens, the number of comments or “likes” they get on their posts translates into how loved, appreciated and valued they feel.

Of course, moms and dads don’t want this performance attitude to permeate their own relationship with their kids. Ask any parent up front, and we’ll tell you that we want to show our children unconditional love. We don’t want our teens to feel they have to perform in order to win our affection. But sometimes the way we communicate with them says the exact opposite. When our teens exhibit bad behavior or don’t live up to our expectations, we may pull away from them, express our disappointment, or punish them by withholding time or attention. Yet, when our son or daughter excels or accomplishes something noteworthy, we heap praise, tell them how proud we are of them, and how much we care. This almost subconscious reinforcement that achievements bring love, and mistakes bring rejection, further drills into our teens this need to perform. And the more they operate in this mindset, the more struggles they will experience in life.

So what are some of the lies our teens are hearing that we need to combat?

Performance Driven Lies

In today’s culture, teens are hearing that people will only love them if they perform up to a certain high standard. Approval and accolades will be theirs when they are running on all cylinders. But should there be a drop in their performance, teens believe that others’ affections will correspondingly plummet. It’s one reason guys are conditioned not to show weakness, and to display the bravado of power and strength. It’s one reason young ladies develop eating disorders, or turn into mean girls and try to cut other people down. In a performance-driven world, teens are being conditioned to be tough guys and drama queens.

The second lie teens are buying into is that if they make a mistake, no one will love them. It’s what leads many teens to act dishonestly or in secret. They’re worried that if anyone finds out about who they really are, or what they’ve done, they’ll lose the relationship. Recently, I had a past student of Heartlight call me from college. He wanted to tell me he was sorry for a mistake he had made that semester. At first I was taken aback. I wondered why he was telling me this. He told me, “I didn’t want to lose your friendship over this.” Even a college-age kid believed that a bad decision means loss of relationship. I had to remind this young man that there was nothing he could do that would make me love him more and nothing he could to do to make me love him less.

Lastly, the lie of performance-driven culture says that we are valuable in our good years, but not valuable in our bad years. Teens think that if they’re behaving properly they have more worth to parents and family than when they are misbehaving. But I believe in the sanctity of life in all stages. An unborn baby is just as valuable and worthy of love as that bratty 14-year-old or that Rhodes Scholar student!

With so many lies, untruths and misrepresentations flying around, how can we combat these performance-driven myths? Let me share a few options.

Relationally Driven Truth

Communicate love in various ways when your teen does something bad. This is not a recommendation to gloss over the mistake, or forgo the due consequences. But in the midst of the punishment, verbalize your love to your child. Let him know that his behavior doesn’t negate your relationship with him. Give her a hug. Share an encouraging word. Be creative about how you relay your care and compassion to your son or daughter, even when they blow it.

Also, allow your teen to make mistakes without shaming him or her. I’m sure you’ve seen or read articles about parents punishing their children by having them hold signs proclaiming their guilt in front of busy streets, or posting pictures and humiliating them on social media. I understand the motivation behind those methods, but shaming kids is never a good solution. All it does is reinforce their own insecurity and push them deeper into performance-driven behavior. When our toddler falls off their tricycle, we don’t run up and point and let them know what a stupid mistake it was to keel over. No, as parents we come alongside, brush the child off, and put them back on the bike. We have to treat our teens the same way. When our son or daughter blows it, we don’t pile on the guilt and shame. We brush them off and encourage them to keep going and try again.

It can help for teens to hear about mom and dad’s mistakes. I know it might be uncomfortable, but be honest about the times you’ve blown it. Those stories let teens know that if mom and dad made mistakes, and still turned out all right, then maybe they don’t have to be perfect either. Some of the most powerful words you can tell your teen is “I’m sorry.” If you’ve never heard your teenager ask for forgiveness or admit when they were wrong, maybe it’s because they’ve never heard it from you!

Mom and dad; let your kids have their own opinions. You don’t have to be correcting your teen 24/7. Let some discussions simply be about communicating. There may be times when you have to share the truth with your kids, but most of the time conversations should revolve around getting to know your son or daughter as a person. Ask them what they enjoy, and why they enjoy it. Don’t tear them down. They are already facing pressure to like the “right” things from all of their peers; home should be a safe place for them to relax and be who they are.

Lastly, affirm your teen’s value regularly. Let your child know they have intrinsic worth. Value is inherent in who they are as God’s creations, not in what they do. Whether she can flip around on a balance beam, or would rather spend time scrap-booking, remind your teen that she is precious to you. Whether your son’s gift is throwing a football down the field, or belching the ABCs, let him know he is worth your time. Show your kids that you appreciate them for who they are, and you’ll destroy that performance-driven mentality and foster a healthy teenager.

Encourage your kids to be themselves. Show interest in them for who they are, not what they do. And don’t wait until your kids are adults to unveil your flaws, mistakes and inadequacies.  It will draw them to you and it will cause teens to relax.  Plus, they will see your successes and understand that it’s possible to have a good life even when they’ve messed up. Yes, there are consequences for behavior.  Yes, you need to set standards for your kids.  But when you allow them the opportunity to see into your own life and recognize that you don’t have to perform to be loved, you will give them the hope they need to keep striving for the best.


Small Groups ≠ Discipleship by Doug Franklin


When I ask youth workers what discipleship strategy they’re using, nine out of ten tell me, “Small groups.” But small groups are not a strategy. A discipleship strategy is a plan in which a mature believer walks with an immature believer through biblical truth, challenging the immature believer to live a new way. The goal is to grow newer believers to maturity so they can start walking with younger disciples. In other words, be a disciple, make a disciple.

So does this type of relational discipleship happen in your small groups? For small groups to foster discipleship, leaders must have the following:

1. Students who want to be discipled.
Just because a student shows up to small group, that doesn’t mean they want to grow in their relationship with Christ. I have seen how many students act in small groups. In many cases, I don’t think they have any idea why they are there. But you can’t be a disciple without wanting to be a disciple.

When was the last time a student came up to you and asked, “Can you help me be a disciple of Christ?” I will write more about this in the coming week, but we have a discipleship desire problem, and no one I know is addressing it. If your students don’t want to be disciples, why are you putting them in small groups? We must awaken our students to discipleship. They don’t know what it is, and they don’t know what it looks like. We need to rethink what we are teaching about being a follower of Christ.

2.  A core biblical teaching plan.
Youth ministry teaching plans seem to be driven by the wind. We talk about identity one week and purity the next. We throw in a few Old Testament character studies and Francis Chan’s latest book. While these are all good studies, somehow we forgot about salvation, justification, and sanctification. Many students are graduating out of youth ministry without ever learning the core truths of the gospel.

Put together a thorough Bible study plan for your small groups. Be honest with yourself—if you don’t know how to do this, ask someone to disciple you in this area for the next few months. This could make all the difference as your students enter college.

3. A disciple tracking system.
Your small group leaders need to know where your students are spiritually. Please note that I didn’t say, “Your small group leaders need to know if they have good kids in their group.” Tracking student spiritual growth is possible if you have a relationship with them and know what to look for. A disciple tracking system starts with you asking how God is working in and through students. The answer to these questions will give you a good idea of where students are on their spiritual journeys.

This is hard work. It takes a great deal of time, but that is what discipleship is all about. We have taken too many shortcuts for too long. We can do the hard work of real discipleship or we can continue to play at discipleship in our small groups.


Inside the mind of a teenager: A parent’s guide by Tanith Carey

The Teenage brain explained: A new book gives parents insight into the brain of the teenager and five ways to save the relationship with their children


There isn’t a parent with a teenager who hasn’t been told ‘You’re ruining my life’ or ‘I hate you’ at some point. But if that’s not bad enough, their behaviour can get even worse if we fail to understand the brain changes triggering these outbursts. A major new study, just published by Berlin’s Max Planck Institute, is the latest to find that teenagers go through the same rewiring between the age of 13 and 17 as they did when they were toddlers. Second time around however, when they match you for size and are using much more colourful language, it can be much harder to handle.

As a parenting author, looking at the bigger picture of children’s mental health, I know we can also end up losing our connection with our teens when they need us most. So if you want to know what NOT to do, here’s five sure-fire ways to salvaging your relationship with your teen, and make this period even more turbulent.

Continue reading


A Model For Coaches To Connect With Millennials by Tim Elmore


When Jim Tomsula took over as head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, one of the first questions he got from journalists was about his stance on social media. His reply:

“I don’t like it at all. I don’t know anything about it. I don’t do it. I don’t use it.”

Within a month, however, Coach Tomsula had a change of heart because he wanted to be relevant to his new team. The Wall Street Journal posted an article about how the 49ers were making adjustments on their coaching style to connect with Millennial players. Fans are reacting with mixed reviews, but the changes are real. The team’s staff is inspired by the same challenge employers all over America are dealing with: hiring young professionals who feel more at home with an iPhone than a:

  • Chalkboard with X’s and O’s
  • Profit and Loss statement
  • Textbook full of math equations

Most Millennials are now in their twenties, a fact the 49ers team understands fully, as their average player age is 25.2 years old. These guys are young and want to text, tweet, and post an occasional picture on Instagram.

So what is the San Francisco franchise doing differently?

Another shift implemented involves sending electronic alerts that players can access on their tablet or smart phone (instead of the usual printed schedule). A few coaches were hesitant about this move at first. Missing a meeting is a serious offense, and a system that’s vulnerable to technological glitches could allow an athlete to miss one. After a few weeks, however, that concern has proven to be groundless. The technology is not only working, it’s the very language of Generation iY, who check their phones for a text faster than they would a piece of paper or even an email.

While the change has invited all kinds of “armchair quarterbacks” to claim the 49ers have given in to the wimpy, media-crazed youth culture, I want to offer a different angle. While I agree that young professionals will need to learn to sit still for longer than 30 minutes and break free from the tether of their smart phone, I think coaches should approach their jobs like a missionary.

The Coach as a Missionary 

Do you know any missionaries? If not, let me simply define them as pioneers who leave their comfort zone, enter a different culture, and learn the language and customs in order to reach people with their message. Missionaries must literally study the culture and learn its values so that they can add value to it.


All the missionaries I know who’ve brought about social change in a needy culture knew they must first learn before they can lead. The 49ers have determined to approach their jobs that way. They are trying to connect with a population that has different values, customs and language. So, those coaches are learning and earning the right to lead at the heart level. Let me offer four realities to consider:

  1. You are in a cross-culture relationship with your younger athletes.

As a coach, you will likely feel you’re connecting with a very different population as you lead your young athletes. Don’t fight it—face it. Find out who they are and what they value so you can lead them into a better future. Just like you must work harder to connect with someone from a foreign culture, so it is with these athletes.

  1. To reach them, understand their culture and customs.

Make learning your first order of business. As a coach, do you have a coachable spirit? Are you willing to flex on your methods in order to communicate with them? You don’t have become like them—simply learn about their world of visuals and connecting. Relevant coaches use what is cultural to say what is timeless.

  1. At that point, you can speak their language and earn their trust.

Once you’ve done your homework, you’ll naturally communicate that you’ve tried to step into their world. Again, your goal isn’t to imitate, but initiate. That’s the leader’s job. Over time, players will see you asking questions and speaking their language. This speaks volumes because true leadership operates on the basis of trust.

  1. Finally, you can bring about the changes that will benefit them.

I know a missionary who had to learn a village’s customs before he could even tell them he was there to dig wells and provide them with clean water. Once he did this, they became friends, not foes. One by one, you’ll ultimately win over your athletes to listen and follow your lead as you offer different perspectives and methods.

But we must start where they are, in order to lead them to where they must go.

According to the Times article, Coach Tomsula attends a weekly meeting to learn about new apps and technology that his players likely use. “The 49ers’ video department briefs him on how to use technology. This is all in an effort to not curtail the use of technology but ‘to make sure you can utilize it and make it a good thing.’”

As coaches and staff have learned more about the topic, they met to discuss potential changes. They have even made discoveries like:

  • Long, uninterrupted meetings are counterproductive. Make them shorter.
  • Communicating through paper is cumbersome. Engage digital channels of communication.
  • Long teachings about game plans can fail to get through the filter. Use visuals.
  • One-way lectures don’t work. Make meetings interactive.

My questions for you are:

  • Are you willing to learn before you lead your players?
  • How much change are you willing to adapt to in order to connect?
  • Will you work harder to reach your first-year players like a missionary?


The 4 Things Your Students Absolutely Want by Tyson Howells


It is so simple, yet so hard.

I remember being a young youth worker trying to figure it out.  I would ask the same question over and over again.  But I could never figure it out.

What do these students want?

Not what they want if I asked the majority of them.  Not what pop culture tells me ALL the students are after  — 0r even what the hippest youth ministry is saying what students want.

Deep down in our students’ souls what do they crave from us?

I think there are four things that students want.  They might not be able to articulate it, but this is what they want.  I haven’t come up with this list from years of research.  I am not lifting this from some great youth ministry book.  These come from my experience and conversations.

  1. Who Will Be There?

This is the bread and butter of youth ministry.  Students want relationships.  They want to build relationships with their peers.  Students also want to build relationships with leaders and mentors.

I can count on 1 hand how often a student from my ministry has mentioned a sermon I preached or a slick brochure I have put together.  However, I have had countless conversations about all of the relational touch points I have had with students.

  1. What Are We Doing?

Simply put your students want to have fun.  But let me make this clear.  Fun does not mean money spent.  You do not need a hollywood budget to have a fun ministry.

Can students fool around?  Do they laugh a lot?  Do they laugh at you a lot?  If there is not a lot of laughter in your ministry you are missing a key component of what students want.

  1. I Have To Do What? 

I failed at this as a young youth pastor.  I didn’t want to chase away students.  I went easy on them.  This is a mistake.

Students want to be challenged.  They want to be called to something bigger then they are.  What are you challenging them in?

If you want to see this in action read the gospels.  Jesus was the master of challenging people.  He was constantly calling them to things bigger then themselves.

  1. Can I Be Myself? 

There’s a million things going on inside that teenagers brain and body.  The youth ministry MUST be a safe place for them.

  • A place where they can be themselves and not be made fun of.
  • A place where they are not the brunt of jokes.
  • A place where they know what is expected of them.
  • A place where they can bring friends and know what they are bringing their friends to.

In short, students want your youth ministry to be safe.

Is this an exhaustive list?  Not at all.  But I do think this is a good starting point.

How about you; what would you add to the list?


4 Easy Ways To Build Relationships With Kids by Dale Hudson


What keeps kids coming back to church?  What makes the biggest impact in a kid’s life?  What is the key to helping disciple kids?


Building relationships with the kids God has called you to reach is one of the most important things you can do.  Here’s 4 easy ways.

1. Say “Hi!” 
This may sound simple, but it’s effective.  There are kids who go through an entire service without a single adult speaking to them.

This is especially true for kids who are quiet.  You know…the kid who sits alone or is out on the edge of the group.  Just a friendly “hi” can make a difference.

2. Talk with them.  Talk to kids about their world.  What’s their favorite movie?  What did they do this week?  How’s school going?  What’s their favorite sport’s team?  What’s going on in their life?

3. Get involved in their activities.
Rather than standing in the back texting before service,  get involved and play games with kids, do activities with kids, etc.  Don’t just watch kids have fun, have fun with them.  When you take an interest in their activities, you’ll make a connection with them.

4. Become real.  When you talk with kids and get involved in their lives, you become a real person that they will look up to and care about.  You become not just a “teacher” …but a friend.  Kids will listen to someone who is their friend.  Kids will participate with someone who is their friend.  Kids will come back to church to see someone who is their friend.

It’s not about cool buildings…it’s not about big budgets…it’s not about great programming…it’s not about awesome videos…it’s about relationships.


How to Preach Like Jesus by Rick Warren

Part One – Start with People


There has never been a more appealing and interesting preacher than Jesus. Why not model him?

Jesus’ preaching attracted enormous crowds, and the Bible often records the positive reactions of those crowds to his teaching.

  • Matthew 7:28 – “… the crowds were amazed at his teaching.”
  • Matthew 22:33 (TLB) – “… the crowds were profoundly impressed.”
  • Mark 11:18 (TLB) – “… people were so enthusiastic about Jesus’ teaching.”
  • Mark 12:37 (NASB) – “The great crowd enjoyed listening to Him.”

These crowds had never heard anyone speak to them the way Jesus did. They were spellbound by his delivery.  Continue reading


Teaching Students About Sin by Leneita Fix


Yesterday, I was having a conversation with a student that was really fascinating. She made the statement, “I feel like adults always feel like they need to tell teens the same thing. They tell us about how we can’t ever do anything so bad that God won’t love us. Yet, I don’t feel like anyone really wants to talk about the real issue. I get that forgiveness covers the horrible stuff, but that doesn’t keep me from doing things wrong. What if you are a pretty good kid that just messes up all the time?”

Wouldn’t it be nice if sinning was simple? I mean we grab our “Tin o’ Sin” and pop the top. Drink it down and “it feels so good to be so bad.” Well-sinning is pretty easy. I mean we…I..do it ALL THE TIME. I have messed up many times since simply awaking a few hours ago.

The “yes” or “no” issues laid out in the WORD for us those are uncomplicated…

1. Don’t murder anyone.

2. Don’t have any Gods before the one true God.

3. Don’t get drunk.

It starts with the 10 and then we can peer around the scriptures for the “do’s” and “don’t’s” of life.

HOWEVER…what about all the grey areas? I think my conversation made me realize just how much our students struggle to understand how to live for the Lord. There are so many things that are left to interpretation. Another student said to me, “Sometimes I really struggle feeling connected to God, it’s hard to seek Him.”

I wish there were “quick fixes” to the problems. YET- Sometimes I struggle too. Am I sinning or not? I have learned that when youth are asking these types of questions they are making some important decisions on who they will follow.

A better question that fits all of the above would be:

“What can I get away with?”

Many of us have a tendency to see the Lord as some little god that we need to appease. If I do this and that, you won’t be angry with me and life will be peachy. No matter how much we try to tell our youth that living for the Lord comes from a place of knowing Him  they still just want to just have a check list of how to make Him happy. Don’t we all at times?

When these “sin” questions come up I believe we need to keep a couple of things in mind:

Is there a clear answer?

I don’t think students always understand really the idea of sin. It’s about missing the mark in following Christ. Jesus nailed our sin to the cross but that doesn’t stop us from being human. Since sin has not been wiped out from the earth yet, it’s still here. We can choose to be a part of it. When it comes to students, they are looking for concrete ways to just get through life. You want to get to the foundational issue. There are some issues that are clear in the Bible. A family member tried to tell me that following Buddha and Jesus was the same thing. No, when Jesus tells us He is the way, the truth and the life and no one can come to the Father except through Him, that is clear. Other issues take our consideration. Don’t get drunk may seem clear, but some will tell you that means they can’t ever sip alcohol while others have no problem getting tipsy. Is the question really about drinking (it could be) or is it about wanting to live life their own way? This is when we move to deeper more foundational ideas that help us to look at our motives.

Where is the heart?

What’s the rationale behind “keep the Lord happy”? If the condition of the heart is “Will this get me in trouble?” then they are probably not putting Jesus first. More accurately they probably do not understand they belong to Him. Their heart is more about trying to keep bad stuff from happening so they can live how they want. We can never “please” God. You’ve heard that none of us are righteous not one, right? No, when we come to be humbled by his unfailing love then we WANT to be his. Do they want to release control to the Lord or would they rather hold on to the life they have been living? This is the deepest question and probably the hardest for a teen. Was this the innocent question of a new believer navigating fresh waters? OR, was this the heart of rebellion that really wants life their own way? Help them to see where their heart is.

What is the Lord really asking?

Is he that proverbial “kill joy,” trying to make our lives miserable? Nope. He is not out to be the destroyer of all things that we enjoy. He wants all of us. All of our love. Every corner of our being to be in full relationship with him. Does anything- or this thing they are asking- hold them back from that in any way?

Sin is a sticky issue and the reality is that it separates us from the Lord, whether it’s big or small. The question we must all ask is really, “Do I want to be far away or close to God?”

When I feel far, did God move or did I?

I think it’s a question we all need to ask in our own hearts.