How to Process and Use Feedback by Christopher Wesley


I like to think I’m thick skinned. If someone comes to me with a comment or critique I would like to think I could take it. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

Receiving feedback is hard. It’s something we crave and it’s something we fear. Without feedback you won’t know if you are heading in the right direction. In order to receive, and use feedback effectively you need to:


The knee jerk reaction to feedback is to throw up a defense. While some feedback is criticism there is plenty that’s meant to affirm what you are doing.

Most times people will come to you wanting to see you and your ministry grow. If you constantly shoot that down then people will see you as close-minded.


The reason people will give you feedback is because they want to be heard. When you listen you give them that platform and affirm their voice.

Listening doesn’t mean you have to agree. In fact most people will just appreciate getting the opportunity to speak to you.


No matter the feedback there will always be tension. By affirming someone for sharing, no matter the context, diffuses any tension. When you affirm you communicate, “I’m open to your opinion.”


When people share with you feedback they are probably thinking, “What’s he going to do with it?” If you are people pleaser like me you’ll say anything to get them on your side.

Fight the urge to please people and just promise them that you’ll continue to process what they’ve shared. It might not give them the immediate response they desire; however, it will communicate that you are taking them seriously.


Do not process feedback on your own. Bring a comment or critique to a coworker or trusted minister. Allow them to give you insight and share a perspective you might not see. This will help you process what’s been said and decide whether or not it’s truly helpful.

You and I need feedback to grow as leaders. There will be times when we can brush it off and others when we can’t let go. Prepare for feedback by having a plan. In the end you’ll know what to use so that you can continue to improve your ministry.


2 Simple Verses: The Role of Scripture in Your Youth Ministry by Andy Blanks


It’s such a simple couple of verses, really. The first verse makes a factual (if not altogether amazing) statement, the second verse expounds on the purpose of the first. Two verses.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.–2 Timothy 3:16-17 (ESV)

. . . Words of instruction written by an old guy who had seen it all, a grizzled veteran with the scars to prove it, to a promising young leader embarking on what could have very well been the highpoint of his ministry . . . What powerful words on the role that God’s Word plays in our ministering to young people.

The question for us all is how well we are applying Paul’s words. Do we, in fact, practically utilize Scripture in this way?

Let’s take super-fast look at the specific parts of Paul’s call in order to help us answer this question . . .


Paul showed-off a bit here. This phrase “breathed out” comes from the Greek word, theopneustos. Paul basically made this word up; it doesn’t appear anywhere else in Scripture. It combines two words meaning “God” and “breathed.” Paul basically states that the words of the Bible, the words we preach, and misquote, and teach, and misapply, and lift up, and bring low . . . these are God’s words. The same God who spoke the world into existence speaks through us each time we read the Scripture.

Does the Bible (literally God’s words) have the place of priority in our ministries that it should?


When we see Jesus’ manner of leading and developing His disciples, more often than not, we see Him teaching them. There is nothing as transformative as the Word. It is God’s primary means for communicating all the wonderful things about Himself and His ways to His people. Teaching the Bible must be the basis of your discipleship efforts.

Think about this: What is your goal for your students regarding their knowledge and understanding of Scripture?


William Barclay says about this phrase: “It is not meant that the Scriptures are valuable for finding fault; what is meant is that they are valuable for convincing people of the error of their ways and for pointing them on the right path.” Hebrews 12:6 says, “the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” We must allow students to encounter the life-changing conviction (born out of love) the Bible brings. As those tasked with helping shape the spiritual lives of young people, we can’t fail to let Scripture re-direct their lives.

Do you allow Scripture to be an honest and loving source of rebuke, reproof, and redirection in your students’ lives?


How many messages do teenagers receive from the world regarding image, or truth, or their value, and so on, and so on . . . All of the theories and philosophies and messages of the world must be judged against Scripture. This is what is meant by correction.

Do you have an environment in your ministry where Scripture is upheld as the standard by which everything is measured and tested?


The Greek word we translate as “training” implies a comprehensive approach to building up the mind and character of a person. It is also translated “discipline” in other places in Scripture. The idea is that God’s Word is singularly capable of creating complete disciples of Christ, enabling and empowering them to live righteous lives . . . to live as Christ calls us to live.

What is the purpose of all this? Simple . . . That the people of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.

Isn’t this what we want for our students? Isn’t our call to give of ourselves to do our part in making disciples, teenagers who are equipped to advance God’s Kingdom here on this earth? Think of the most vibrant Christ-follower you know, the man or woman who most actively lives out their faith. The dynamic life-impact of people who are mature in their faith doesn’t happen by accident. I would be willing to guess he or she has an excellent knowledge of God and His word. And while God does communicate with us in ways other than His Word, the Scriptures are the foundation for our knowledge of Him.

Let these verses be a reminder to us all today to devote our ministries to surrounding students with God’s Word.


Generation Z: A Look at the Future by Tim Elmore


What do you make of a person who describes his or her life this way: I spend the equivalent of a full-time job on three to five screens each day. I made my best friends through Tumblr and Instagram. I binge watch YouTube and Netflix. I am not totally sure about my sexual identity. I don’t identify with an ethnic race, but with the human race. I don’t remember a world before social media.

This new breed of people makes up a population called “Generation Z.” They’re the ones following Millennials (aka Generation Y) who have dominated our culture over the last decade. They now make up the youngest and largest percentage of the workforce, and Generation Z trails right behind them. They’re the new kids on the block, the teenagers. They’ve grown up in a post-9/11 culture, filled with wars, terrorism, economic recession, racial unrest, sexual-identity expansion, and lots of uncertainty. They’re extremely post-modern. If Millennials are slackers, these new kids are hackers. They know life is hard, and they plan to make their own way. Here’s a glimpse of the contrast between Gen Y and Gen Z:

Generation Y Generation Z
Alias: Millennials or Digitals Alias: Hackers or Homelanders
Born: 1983 – 2000 Born: 2001- 2018
Grew up in a time of expansion Grew up in a time of recession
Norm for teen connection: texting Norm for teen connection: social media
First tech gadget: iPod First tech gadget: iPhone
Naive and nurtured Savvy and cynical
Facebook/Instagram Snapchat/Whispr
Goal with social media: garner shares Goal with social media: disappear
Music: Lady Gaga / Bruno Mars Music: Taylor Swift / Lorde
Style: Narcissistic, I am awesome Style: Gritty, I will survive
Perspective: Optimism Perspective: Pragmatism
Shaping events: Fall of Iron Curtain; Columbine; Dot.com era; iPod Shaping events: 9/11 terrorist attacks; economic recession; iPhone

I spoke to Hannah, a fifteen-year-old who’s in her sophomore year of high school. She is a prototype of this new mindset—and gladly embraces her “people.”

She told me, “I gave up my older brother’s optimism a long time ago. I am a realist. I am a pragmatist.” (Pretty elaborate words for a fifteen-year old, don’t you think?) “My brother did a lot of stupid things and posted a bunch of them on Facebook. Now, he can’t get a job. I guess you could say I learned from him. I mean, I don’t drink at parties because… you know… someone might post their pics of me and I’d get in trouble. Maybe lose my chance to get the job I want.”

Such is the savvy spirit of Generation Z. A report by marketing firm Sparks and Honey says, “Their cohort places heavy emphasis on being ‘mature and in control.’”

They’re hackers, figuring out what to do by watching the mistakes of others. They buckle up in the car more often than Millennials did; they don’t drink or smoke as much. And they know life is tough.

Insights to Know How to Lead Them Well

The following are thoughts that could spark conversation with your colleagues about how to lead these kids from Generation Z well:

  1. While Millennials tended to look more like Baby Boomers as teens, Generation Z tends to look more like Generation X. Not ironically, these generations are their parents. We must balance the positive and negative impact of mom and dad.
  1. While Millennials want to “stay forever young,” Generation Z wants to be mature and figure out how to succeed in life. We must capitalize on this interest to grow up and be wise. Share insights on how to save and make money, as well as plan for the future.
  1. While Millennials are optimistic, Generation Z can border on pessimistic at times. Certainly, more of them are pragmatic and realistic. We will need to offer hope and vision to a generation who grew up watching unemployment and global conflict.
  1. While Millennials were into “today” and “me,” Generation Z has learned a little about life from Millennials’ shortsidedness and are thinking about the future. We must leverage this perspective and help them think long-term and big-picture.

What do you think? Have you witnessed any of these trends in Generation Z?


Survey Finds Teens Prefer Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat for Social Networks by Deepa Seetharaman



A new survey may reignite the debate over teenagers’ use of Facebook .

In a Piper Jaffray semiannual survey of American teens, one-third described the photo-sharing app Instagram as their most important social network. Twitter finished second, named most important by 20% of respondents, followed closely by ephemeral chat app Snapchat with 19%.

Trailing all three was Facebook Inc.’s main app. Only 15% of teens in the survey said Facebook topped the list.

The results are not all bad news for Facebook – the company bought Instagram in 2012.

The question of Facebook’s relevance to teenagers has percolated since 2013, when the company told investors that use among teens had declined slightly. Teenagers’ use of Facebook hints at its ability to stay relevant as its core audience gets older. Facebook declined to comment.

The social-media findings were part of a broader survey of teens’ attitude toward consumer brands, including apparel and electronics. Piper Jaffray has commissioned the survey twice a year for 15 years.

The most recent survey included 9,400 teens ages 13 to 19, a slight majority of whom – 56% – were male. They came from households with an average income of $68,000.

The social-media results were little changed from the spring 2015 survey. Snapchat passed Facebook, as the share of teens naming it their most important network grew to 19%, from 13%. Twitter’s standing fell to 20%, from 24%.

The findings support the view that younger users are less engaged with Facebook and prefer alternate sites. As recently as fall 2012, Facebook was by far the most important social network for the teens surveyed, at 42%, followed by Twitter and Instagram. Snapchat hadn’t yet launched.

Other reports offer a different view. In a survey released this spring, Pew Research Internet Project found Facebook the site used most frequently by U.S. teens between 13 and 17. The Pew report showed 41% of those polled described Facebook as the site they use most frequently, followed by Instagram with 20% and Snapchat at 11%.

A 2013 report by Pew showed that teens were growing increasingly frustrated by the presence of adults on the site, but few teens had actually dumped Facebook.

Last summer, nearly half of 4,517 teenagers surveyed by Forrester Research Inc. about social media use said they used Facebook more than a year earlier.


Is It OK To Be Average? by Tim Elmore


Last year, a minor league manager said to me, “I can’t figure out our young ball players today. They hit .211 in single A ball, and think it’s good enough to be called up to double A.” Then, he smiled as if an epiphany had just struck him. He looked at me and said, “Maybe that’s the problem. All they’re targeting is ‘good enough.’”

Our society today unwittingly encourages our kids to simply “blend in”—to do what’s asked of you, but only what’s asked of you. In fact, we condition them to do the bare minimum requirement to get by, to look for loopholes and shortcuts.

As a result, too many of our gifted young athletes, academicians, and other performers carry this “good enough” mindset with them. They are fine with being “average.” Certainly there are exceptions, but Walt Whitman noticed the same thing in his day. He wrote:

Our leading men are not much account and never have been. But the average of the people is immense, beyond all history. Sometimes I think, in all departments, literature and art included, that will be the way our superiority will exhibit itself. We will not have great individuals or great leaders but a great average bulk, unprecedentedly great.

So, is this bad or good? What’s wrong with being average? You tell me:

Why letting others set the standard for us can prevent our growth:

Continue reading


Concerns Over Religious Freedom Have Increased in Last Three Years by Barna Group

Kim Davis, the elected clerk who recently made national headlines over her refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, has become just the latest figure in the debate over same-sex marriage and religious liberty. When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June 2015 that same-sex marriage must be made legal in all 50 states, millions of Americans were eager to know the potential impacts of the decision on religious liberty.

A new study from Barna Group reveals the tension many Americans are feeling on the topic of religious freedom. Overall, the research reveals a significant rise in Americans’ belief that religious freedom is worse today than 10 years ago (up from 33% in 2012 to 41% today). The research was conducted between August 7 and September 6, 2015, which places the findings after the Supreme Court decision and before Kim Davis was released from jail; in fact, most of the interviewing was done before the Davis story made headlines. Barna Group’s 2015 research was commissioned by Alliance Defending Freedom and the study repeated the same survey questions as Barna’s 2012 study on religious freedom. Here are some observations based on the key findings of the study:

Concerns Over Religious Freedom Have Grown Across the Board 
Concern about religious freedom in the U.S. has grown among every segment since the 2012 study. The growth from one-third of the general population (33%) expressing concern over religious freedom in 2012 to the more than four in 10 adults today (41%) is mirrored among the generations as well. Among Millennials, there’s been a nine percentage point increase in those who say that religious freedom is worse today than it was 10 years ago (25% to 34%); the increase is even more marked among Gen-Xers (29% to 42%) and Boomers (38% to 46%).

As might be expected, religious Americans are more likely to express anxiety over the state of religious freedom in the United States than other segments. Evangelicals (see the definition below in the “About the Research” section) are the group most likely to feel the squeeze on religious freedom. More than three-quarters (77%) say religious liberty is worse off today than 10 years ago, compared to six in 10 (60%) in 2012. This 2015 figure is the highest among all segments by 18 percentage points.

Evangelicals are also the group with the highest amount of concern for religious freedoms becoming more restricted in the next five years at seven in 10 (68%). These high numbers are a theme across the study, as evangelicals consistently rank the highest on almost every response. Barna’s research shows evangelicals to be the most opposed to the Supreme Court decision, so this may come as no surprise.

In addition to evangelicals, Barna studies a broader group of Christians called practicing Christians (definitions below). Even among this broader audience, more practicing Christians in 2015 than in 2012 say religious freedoms have grown worse in the past 10 years (up from 44% in 2012 to 52% today). Additionally, practicing Christians have grown more concerned since 2012 about the future of religious freedom—nearly half of them today say they are very concerned about religious freedoms becoming more restricted in the next five years (48%, up from 42% in 2012).

There is also growing concern about religious freedom among Americans of other faiths—nearly one-third today (32%) say that religious freedom has grown worse, up from just one in five (19%) in 2012; and nearly one-quarter (23%) believe that religious freedom will grow worse in the next five years (up from 15% in 2012). Even among atheists, agnostics and the religiously unaffiliated, there is an upsurge in those who believe religious freedom has grown worse in the past 10 years (23% in 2012 to 32% in 2015).

Continue reading


Beyond Pat Answers by Youth Specialties

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The youth pastor patted me on top of the head—not with tenderness, but with a dismissive, condescending motion. Tap-tap-tap. Tap-tap-tap. “Just remember,” he said, “God causes all things to work together for good. God won’t give you anything you can’t handle.”

I wiped away the tears that had started to form and forced a smile. Walking away, I thought, “Dude, you have no idea what I’m going through. I don’t even know if there is a God anymore.”

We live in a world of instant gratification. We can have almost anything we want on demand: fast food, fast Bible lessons, fast relationships—everything comes with a money-back, feel-good, thirty-minutes-or-less guarantee.

Today’s Christianity has bought into that kind of mentality, as well. Got a broken heart? Jesus can fix it. Feel overwhelmed by sadness? Cast all your cares on him. Feeling stuck between two decisions? Just trust and obey.

What are we offering our students when we give them pat answers and tired clichés? Are we teaching them that we buy into the notion of instant pleasure and quick fixes? Are we setting them up for a life of disappointment and doubt?

The pat answers given to me throughout my lifetime—particularly those I heard during my adolescent years—almost did me in. They brought guilt and shame and a sense that I was never good enough or godly enough. I struggled constantly with these quick fixes that just didn’t work for me. I’d confess, repent, and accept Jesus into my heart—I really would. And nothing would feel different. So I’d do it again, repeatedly confessing and repenting in an attempt to feel the answers that were supposed to be there. I’d pray for hours, asking Jesus into my heart again and again. Why didn’t he fix me? Why didn’t God give me strength? What was I doing wrong?

In the end, swamped with frustration and sadness, I didn’t blame God or suddenly decide it was Jesus’ fault. I blamed myself.

One of the problems with pat answers is that they’re usually taken straight from Scripture and therefore contain some element of truth—enough truth to distort and enough truth that the pat answer seems real.

We don’t offer lies to our students—we offer half-truths. We offer the resurrection without the agony of the cross. We offer the ascension without the garden of Gethsemane. And we end up with students with half-true lives—students who won’t know how to survive the difficulties they face—students with weak faith easily uprooted by winds of disappointment and doubt.

What can you do to help ground your students? How do you get beyond pat answers? Do you even want to?  Continue reading


5 Reasons to Silence Your Cell Phone by Janet Denison

Sherry Turkle holds an endowed chair at MIT and “serves as a kind of conscience for the tech world,” according to a New York Times article. Her recent book, Reclaiming Conversation, is a self-help book for people who overvalue technology and undervalue the fundamental art of meaningful conversation.

This book lists important reasons to consider quieting our technology that every spouse, parent, friend, and family member needs to pay attention to. I’m writing about this topic because I think that the conversation crisis in our culture will also dramatically impact the church. Did someone text you the plan of salvation, or did you come to know Jesus after deep and meaningful conversations?

Even as I type I am picturing a large number of cell phones that are buzzing or dinging or ringing—right now. If that just happened, look Satan in the face, tell him to flee, and keep reading.

The NYT article summarizes the conversation crisis, saying, “Our rapturous submission to digital technology has led to an atrophying of human capacities like empathy and self-­reflection, and the time has come to reassert ourselves, behave like adults and put technology in its place.”

We all know what it is like to be speaking with someone who regularly glances down at a cell phone during the conversation. We don’t mean to be rude, but what if the phone call is from…? Looking down at a cell phone says that whoever might be calling is more important than whomever you are actually with.

If you were sharing the plan of salvation with someone, would you interrupt that opportunity for a text message?  We might not ever have the opportunity to share Christ if we treat our other conversations with that person any differently.  Philippians 2:4 reads, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” When we speak with people, do they think we are more interested in them than a message on our phone?

Sherry Turkle lists five reasons why we need to carefully evaluate the impact of cell phones on our lives and our relationships, and I’ve listed some Bible verses to ponder as well. Continue reading


Helping Kids Navigate Deep Theological Waters by Youth Specialites

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As a little boy, my friend Bill was eager to learn to swim, but he was afraid to try. One day he nervously circled the pool, knowing in his heart that he could eventually be a champion swimmer, if only he were taught how to move his arms, kick his feet, and breathe in the right pattern. At the very least, he wished someone would teach him to stay afloat.

Soon his father approached, startled the boy by picking him up, and threw him into the deep end of the pool. The boy, panicking and gasping for breath, struggled to stay above water, trying to find his way to solid ground.

I doubt any of us would subscribe to this teaching method. And yet, by sending our students out of the youth group and into college, the workforce, or wherever without helping them learn to think theologically, we’re doing the same thing.

By theological thinking I mean the ability to think critically about one’s own beliefs and reflect on how the various aspects of those beliefs affect each other. It may seem like a given, but churches have a nasty habit of sending their students out unprepared, because we prefer to stick to the easy clichés of the faith (like God is good, all the time), shying away from the more difficult ones (like What do we do when it doesn’t seem like God is good?).

But the difficult aspects of faith inevitably emerge. The questions are there in everyone—this is true no matter how rock solid one’s faith life may seem on the outside. Is God real? Could a loving God allow this? Does a strictly scientific worldview preclude the existence of an omniscient God? If we send students out into the world believing that God makes everything pretty and that our faith can be summed up by a few Precious Moments cards and a list of “God incidences,” what will they do when they encounter the hard questions? Continue reading


7 Characteristics of Effective Small Groups by Brendt Blanks

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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):


Trust is the foundation of any group. Trust means being comfortable enough to be vulnerable. As one of our girls once said, “trust is like the oil that keeps things running smoothly.” Early on as a group, we would actually take the time to state aloud the fact that we trusted each other. We would regularly remind each other that there should be no hesitation about sharing information within the boundaries of our group because we knew it will stay within the group. Of course, by now, trust is well established. But growing trust is essential for any group.


Commitment is key in effective small groups. This means a commitment to your stated goals, commitment to attend, both for you and for your students, as well as a commitment to keep up with any curriculum requirements. If trust is the foundation of small groups, commitment is the glue.


Good communication practices during the week can do as much to grow your group as just about anything. The girls in my group keep me updated on prayer requests, praises, or just information they want to share with me. We do this through texts, emails, and phone calls. As a leader, you can have a huge impact in keeping communication open during the week.

Scripture Memory

This is one we honestly sort of stumbled on, but that has been really great for us. As each year progresses, we choose a verse that we’d all commit to memorizing by the next week’s meeting. It has been great accountability. But, it’s also been cool to hear how the Holy Spirit brings the verse to each of our minds during the week, how we may have shared it with others, or how it brings comfort as individuals. We all agreed it has drawn us closer to the Lord as a group.

Helping Others Together

We make it a point to assist those in need, as Scripture commands. Over the years we’ve cleaned up the litter and debris in an especially underprivileged neighborhood, made visits to a local center that houses women (and their children) who’ve struggled with addiction, and planned a Summer fund raiser where we sold friendship bracelets the girls made themselves, taking the money to give to an organization that educates HIV/AIDS infected people in Africa. Working together on these projects has brought a deeper level of connection between all of us, and given our group deeper meaning.


We put a high premium on encouragement. The girls really have grown in this area. When one of the girls shares a problem, the other girls do such a good job of listening, asking questions, and sharing their perspectives. Even though not all the problems are “solved,” our group has done a great job of offering encouragement and support.

Respect The Rules

From the beginning, we established rules for our group. Many of our “spoken” rules come out of the characteristics I’ve already mentioned. Some of the unspoken rules are respecting me as their leader, listening to me when I talk, and just being kind and considerate to each other. Rules are important. But, it’s small group not boot camp. We have a good time. And believe it or not, respect for the rules actually helps this happen.

These aren’t the only characteristics of effective small groups, but they have worked for me.