12.29.15

Who Do You Want Students To Become? by Andy Blanks

http://youthministry360.com/blog/who-do-you-want-teenagers-to-become/

What do you want your teenagers to become? If you could sit down with your students’ parents and shape a picture of who their child would be as he or she left your ministry and entered college, what would that picture look like?

If we think about the lives of the New Testament Christ-followers, we realize there are some characteristics we should desire to see in our students’ lives.

By no means is this a comprehensive list, but maybe just the ones that stand out the most to me. (I’m curious what characteristics you would add.)

Learners

The 12 disciples were learners. They experienced the coolest seminary in the history of the world, a three-year degree taught in Jesus’ classroom. Jesus constantly taught these guys principles of the Kingdom, then backed it up with practical application. The disciples were constantly in an environment of learning. The supernatural aspect of Scripture makes it different than learning anything else. Most people don’t read a chemistry textbook and yearn for more equations. But the more we know about God, the more we are compelled to want to know more. If students are given a knowledge of the Bible and shown how to practically demonstrate it, they will become learners who are hungry for more knowledge of God.

Teachers

Jesus’ followers were teachers. Think about it: Peter’s sermon at Pentecost; Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian; and of course, Paul and James and John’s commitment to teaching in their epistles, just to name a few. When your students take seriously the call to live out their faith, they teach their peers everyday what it looks like to follow Christ, mostly in their actions but in their words as well. The hope is that this example leads to relationships, which leads to an understanding of Scripture, which hopefully leads to a relationship with Christ. It’s all about expectations. If you believe your students can become teachers, your ministry strategy will reflect this.

Rebels

The New Testament picture of Christ-followers is one of a bold group of men and women who fully understood their identity in the face of a hostile world. These folks faced all kinds of discomfort because they rebelled from the values and expectations of their society. They chose to live by the Kingdom values taught to them by Christ. They were rebels. Your students are called to be rebels, as well. The ways of God’s Kingdom go directly against the ways of our culture in so many different aspects. If your students live as those who boldly resist the values of our society and who instead both radically pursue God’s ways and infuse the world with the hope of the Gospel, they will not only be obedient to Christ’s commands, they will draw others to God, as well.

Leaders

The Apostles were nothing if not leaders. Maybe more than anything, I want the students in my small group to become leaders. I want them to lead those around them in how they think about their future and the values they attach to things like money and career. I want them to lead others in how people should be treated, especially the sick, poor, and outcast. I want them to lead others in how to live out the ethics of God’s Kingdom. And I want them to ultimately lead others to a true understanding of what a relationship with Christ looks like.

Failures

The disciples were failures. They failed over and over again. They said dumb things, did dumb things, and didn’t do things they were supposed to do. And you know what? They failed because they were trying. They failed because they were giving it a shot. They were making it happen. And Jesus was cool with their failure. He took every single opportunity he could to use their failure to shape and mold them. He never once gave up on them. If your students aren’t failures, it’s because they aren’t trying.

Learner. Teacher. Rebel. Leader. Failure. Not a bad description of a Christ-follower.

12.29.15

The Pressures of 21st Century Parenting by Sara Walton

http://www.unlockingthebible.org/pressures-21st-century-parent/

From the first time I became a parent eight-and-a-half years ago, with three more little ones to follow, one thing has remained the same: There is immense pressure to keep up with the unrealistic and often unhealthy expectations that we, as parents, put on ourselves and feel from others. Some of these pressures have always been a part of the parenting journey, but there continues to be more and more pressure bombarding parents today.

Nine Parenting Pressures

Here are a few of the pressures I have seen in my own parenting experience, as well as those that I have observed:

1. My child must be in structured activities, early childhood education, and sports by the earliest age possible if they are going to be successful and able to keep up with other kids their age.

2. My child must be entertained at all times, especially if I need them to be quiet or want them to be happy. Entertainment might include going to the toddler movie and popcorn time at the movie theater, needing creative crafts and activities at their immediate disposal, having the latest gadget that all the kids are talking about, and being technologically savvy and entertained by the computer, TV, iPad, phone, and video games.

3. My child must be well-mannered, self-controlled, and obedient at all times in public (especially in church), or I must be doing something wrong as a parent.

4. My child must excel at something to keep up with all the other baby geniuses. Otherwise I might just have an “average” child.

5. My child will be disadvantaged if my husband and I both don’t work, in order to provide the best for them.

6. If my child isn’t reading by the age of four, I must have done something wrong (I didn’t play them music in the womb, show them Baby Einstein videos through infancy, or provide an intellectually stimulating environment for them).

7. If I have no choice but to work, I am not as good of a mom as those who stay home. Or, if I have the blessing of staying home with my children, I am not contributing or helping the family and am wasting my gifts and talents.

8. My child must begin a sport or cultural arts activity by the earliest age possible or they won’t be able to compete with their peers. He or she needs to play on a traveling team, even if requires all of our time, energy, and money, in order that we provide the best opportunities for them.

9. My child must be ________: homeschooled, in private education, or in the public school system; vaccinated or not vaccinated; fed organic food or not; the list goes on.

I think it’s safe to say that many parents today can relate to many, if not all, of these pressures. Of course, not all of these are bad within themselves (a little TV time, a library story time, a sports camp, crafts to do at home, etc.), but they can subtly plant lies in our heads and create overwhelming expectations that are not in line with what God desires for us as parents. Unfortunately, these pressures can suck the joy, contentment, simplicity, and sweetness out of raising the children we have been blessed to raise.

Serving God through Parenting

So how do we, as Christian parents, fight against all that bombards, distracts, and deceives us from honoring Christ as the central focus of our family?

But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord. (Joshua 24:15)

First, we need to ask ourselves, “Who or what am I serving?”

Am I serving Christ by the way I spend my time, money, and abilities, or am I striving to please and live up to what is acceptable and seemingly necessary in the eyes of the world? If the gospel is the central focus of our home, it will help us evaluate and bring clarity to the pressures we face with truth, rather than the cultural standard.

Second, we need to ask the Holy Spirit to help us recognize pressures we are putting on ourselves out of pride.

The reality is, if my child excels in some area, I will feel proud — partly because I am proud of them and excited for them but partly because I feel pretty good about the fact that I must have passed on some good genes or done something right to bring about such success. That’s never easy to admit but, for anyone who recognizes the sin that lurks within them, it’s not hard to see the pride that is often hiding beneath the surface.

Many pressures we face as parents have more to do with us than they do with our kids. Of course we love our children and want what is best for them, but underneath some of the choices we make, and the pressures we give into without really putting any thought into them, are driven somewhat by how it will reflect on us.

Pride, of course, is not something we deal with once and for all. It’s a battle we will wage until we are free from these fallen bodies. However, it’s critical that we recognize where we are tempted to be driven by pride in our parenting.

Are we screaming at our kids on the way to church but then smiling and speaking tenderly to them as soon as we reach the church doors? (I’ve been guilty of this!) Do you find yourself bribing your child in the grocery store, pleading with them to stop screaming so you don’t feel the shameful looks of others? (Yep, guilty of this one too!).

If I kept listing examples, I would probably be guilty of every single one of them at some point. But this is the beauty of the gospel. You and I are not perfect parents, and we never will be. But Jesus Christ lived the life we never will be able to and covered all our nasty pride with his shed blood on the cross. When we bring these things to him, in humility and repentance, he promises to forgive us, while shaping us more into his image.

As we face the inevitable pressures of parenting, the best place to start is prayer. We can ask Christ to help us see the pressures we face through his eyes, to discern what he values and, to give us wisdom and strength to make each decision for our family in a way that most honors him.

Third, we need to spend time in God’s Word everyday to know him and learn how to apply the gospel to every area of our life, including our parenting.

These truths can help us recognize ways that we are feeling pressured to live up to the world’s standards and values, rather than the Lord’s.

The grace of the gospel brings healing and hope to the weary and discouraged parent.

It can be so life-giving to be freed from the weight of these unnecessary pressures. The grace of the gospel brings healing and hope to the weary and discouraged parent who feels like they just can’t provide their child or family with what the culture deems necessary for success. It takes pressure off the family whose life choices have been limited by illness, death, an unavailable spouse, a child or parent’s disability, or poverty. But when we try to keep up with the ways of the world rather than ways of God, we will be sucked down into a never ending spiral of defeat and stress.

So let’s bring these burdens to the Word of God and be filled with his truth so that we can more easily recognize the unrealistic and unhealthy expectations that we may placing on ourselves, which God never asked us to carry.

Fourth, evaluate your priorities as a family, making a list of the goals and values that are worth pursuing.

After making a list of short and long-term family priorities, break them down into practical applications to see what areas of your parenting (as well as your own time) are currently reflecting the pursuit of those goals and values. If you find areas that are sucking time and energy out of your family or your child, then evaluate if that’s an activity worth continuing. This can be a great list to come back to and reevaluate as your children grow and family dynamics change.

Lastly, remember that each family is unique, with a different set of circumstances, challenges, and personal convictions.

There will always be a family that looks like they have it more together than yours. If your standard of success as a parent is measured by those around you, you will become either prideful, or envious, or both.

One area we will find ourselves different from other families is in our personal convictions. While biblical convictions (God’s commands that apply to all, without exception) should be unwavering in every Christian family, personal convictions will look different within each family.

A few examples would be:

  • Choosing to celebrate Halloween or not
  • How the topic of Santa Claus is handled
  • Vaccinating your child
  • The type of schooling you decide is best

If you prayerfully ask the Lord’s direction and seek wisdom from the Scriptures and other godly men and women in the process of forming the personal convictions of your family, then you can humbly be confident in those convictions, while not judging families who have chosen otherwise. This will protect you from feeling insecure and defensive when you hear someone who disagrees with you, or from pridefully assuming that you are godlier than those who hold different convictions than you. In all things, Christ should be center, not us or our children.

The second way that we will look different from other families is in the circumstances and family dynamics that we have been uniquely given.

In my family, we have been given the challenge of raising a child with special needs which has affected nearly every area of our family life. Therefore, if I take my eyes off the truth that God has ordained the specific children, dynamics, and circumstances that surround my family for his purposes, then I will be prone to self-pity, disappointment, guilt, anxiety, jealousy, fear, and discontentment.

So remember: God knows your circumstances, your children, and your unique challenges. He ordained them for his loving purposes, and he will use them in his time and way for your good and his glory. He will equip you for what he has called you to and will lead you in wisdom, truth, and grace as you grow in humility and learn to view your role as a parent through the lens of the gospel and an eternal perspective.

God Is Our Faithful Parent

Christ will be faithful to strengthen you in the fight against the unnecessary pressures of the world as you pray, grow in the truth of his Word, and rest in the confidence that you have no one to please but the One who is Lord over every parent’s decisions, failures, and successes.

But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children. (Psalm 103:17)

Praise God that he can use sinful parents to raise sinful kids in a sinful world, all the while turning sinners into saints, using us for his purposes, and bringing glory to himself.

12.29.15

Some People Skip Bible Verses by Matt Brown

http://www.thinke.org/blog/skip-bible-verses

It’s always surprising and saddening to me when people that look like they really love the Lord suddenly start talking or living in ways that are seriously contradictory to the Scripture.

Sometimes Christians get so passionate about a set of Scriptures, that they begin raising a few above, and at the expense of, the rest of the Bible. Essentially, they are picking and choosing what they like in Scripture, and they are leaving out other things God has said.

Augustine said, “If you believe what you like in the Gospel, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the Gospel you believe, but yourself.”

Here are 12 important ways we can avoid this mistake, and dedicate ourselves to following God’s Word fully:

Continue reading

12.29.15

Restate Your Church Vision Every 30 Days by Rick Warren

pastors.com/the-nehemiah-principle-vision/?mc_cid=5b0c5e0a3a&mc_eid=68542a420f

One of your most important roles as a pastor is as vision caster. Sharing the vision of your church can’t be a one-time event.

The Bible says, “If people can’t see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves.” (Proverbs 29:18, MSG)

As the leader, God has called you to help your congregation see what God is doing in your midst.

That’s why you must continually put the vision of your church before your congregation—at least every 26 days. That’s the Nehemiah Principle.

In Nehemiah’s story of rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem, halfway through the project people got discouraged and wanted to give up. Like many churches, they lost their sense of purpose and, as a result, became overwhelmed with fatigue, frustration and fear.  Nehemiah rallied the people back to work by reorganizing the project and recasting the vision.  He reminded them of the importance of their work and reassured them that God would help them fulfill his purpose (Neh. 4:6-15).

Although the wall took only 52 days to complete, the people became discouraged at the halfway point: just 26 days into the project! Nehemiah had to renew their vision.

You’ve got to do that, too. It’s amazing how quickly human beings—and churches—lose their sense of purpose and vision. Vision casting is not a task you do once and then forget about. You must continually clarify and communicate the vision of your church. This is the number one responsibility of leadership.

But I want to challenge you to take this principle even further into the life of your congregation. Don’t just regularly communicate your church’s vision. Regularly show your ministry leaders their unique contribution to that vision.  Help them see how their ministry moves the church toward its vision. People need to see the eternal significance of ministering in Jesus’ name. Vision motivates people. Guilt and pressure discourages people. Help people see they’re investing for eternity, that there’s no greater cause than the Kingdom of God.

The best kept secret in the Church is that people are dying to make a contribution with their lives. We are made for ministry! When everyone uses their unique, God-given SHAPE to make a difference for Jesus’ sake in your community, you’ll make a tangible, visible difference in your community. The church that understands this, and continually calls people to a vision where every member can express his or her uniqueness in ministry, will experience amazing vitality, health and growth.

The sleeping giant will be awakened and it will be unstoppable.

12.21.15

10 Christmas Story Takeaways Your Students Need to Know by Youth Specialties

http://youthspecialties.com/blog/10-christmas-story-takeaways-your-students-need-to-know/?cm_mid=5228756&cm_crmid=61e2ad4d-49c1-e411-81bd-000c296f8bc0&cm_medium=email

The Christmas story is literally crammed full of powerful teachings. So, here are 10 takeaways that speak directly to students. Use these truths to help you come up with your own Bible Study lesson. Or use them as devotions. Or simply talk through them as a group. It’s up to you!

Here we go . . . 

1. THE INCARNATION IS AWESOME

Luke 2:6-7 says, “And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” It seems this generation of teenagers places a high value on authenticity. There’s nothing more authentic than the God of the Universe taking on human form in order to perfectly save His creation from themselves. Students can know, worship, relate to God in large part because He became one of us.

2. YOU’RE NEVER TO YOUNG TO BE USED BY GOD

Luke 1:26-27 says, “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.” Mary was pretty young. Scholars’ opinions range anywhere from 13 or 14 years old to 18 or 19. The point is this: Mary was young. And God used her in a miraculous way. That’s God’s M.O. He used Mary when she was still a teenager. He uses teenagers today as vital parts of His plan to redeem humankind.

3. THE HARDER THE SITUATION, THE GREATER THE FAITH

Matthew 1:24-25 ESV says, “When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.” Joseph may be my favorite (human) character of the Christmas Narrative. What incredible faith! Everything in him said to divorce Mary (and do it quietly to protect her life . . . what love!). But Joseph showed immense faith in the Lord’s plan. Your students can benefit immensely from Joseph’s example here.

4. THE BIBLE IS A RECORD OF GOD WORKING TO ACHIEVE HIS PURPOSES

Luke 2:4-5 says, “And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.” God promised David that someone from his lineage would always be on the throne. This happened, oh, roughly half a millennia before Christ was born! Fulfilled prophecy is an incredible teaching tool to help give your students confidence in God’s powerful providence. God is at work, in history and in the lives of your students. And that’s pretty cool.

5. RESPONDING TO GOD IN OBEDIENCE ALLOWS US TO BE USED TO OUR FULLEST INTENDED PURPOSE

Luke 1:38 says, “And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.” When students feel God leading them to do something, or to take some sort of action, the right response is obedience. When they obey God, He can actually use them. If students don’t obey God’s leading, they deprive themselves of playing a greater role in God’s work. God is on mission . . . whether or not we choose to join Him is on us.

6. WE SHOULD APPROACH JESUS WITH REVERENCE AND HONOR

Luke 1:31-33 says, “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Many Christ-followers are guilty of downplaying Jesus’ majesty. This is especially true of teenagers (in many cases because they don’t know any better). While Jesus is a personal Savior, He is also King of Kings, the Son of the Most High, the Holy Ruler who sits enthroned as Lord over all nations. As we pray, as we sing, as we teach, let’s help students remember Who it is they are serving. Jesus doesn’t exist to serve us. It’s, in fact, quite the opposite.

7. THE GOSPEL IS NOT A SECRET

Luke 2:17-18 says, “And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.” The shepherds saw the Baby and immediately began to spread the word. The Gospel is by nature contagious. Your students are called to be people who openly speak to the saving grace of Christ in their life. Help equip them to do this.

8. WHEN GOD DOES AWESOME STUFF FOR US, THE PROPER RESPONSE IS PRAISE

Luke 1:46-48 says, “And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.” Mary knew God had touched her life. Her response? Unabashed, heartfelt praise. Plain and simple. When God does good for us the most perfect response is thankfulness and praise, acknowledging His favor over us.

9. GOD PLACES TREMENDOUS VALUE ON THE LOWLY AND THE LOST

Luke 2:8-9, “And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear.” Who were the first to hear publicly about the Christ child’s birth? The Roman rulers? The religious establishment? Nope. Who was it? The dudes keeping the sheep. God loves the outcasts and the low. Students who may struggle with feelings of low self worth, who look at the world around them and find themselves at the bottom of the pile, need not despair . . . they are in the right place to have God reach down and use them for powerful purposes. That’s His way.

10. JESUS IS RADICALLY DIVISIVE

Matthew 2:3 says, “When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.” Herod heard the news of the birth of a “king” and shook in his boots. So did the religious establishment. We tend to want to put Jesus in a box, to control Him, to make Him nice, and safe, and passive. This is the guy who dumped tables over in the Temple, who said in Matthew 10:34, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Jesus knew the Gospel would divide this world. It is as true today as it has always been. If your students know a Christ that is passive, and safe, and that exists primarily to meet their needs and make them comfortable, you need to help re-introduce them to the real Jesus.

12.21.15

Teach Youth The True Meaning of Christmas by Aaron Helman

http://ministrytoyouth.com/the-true-meaning-of-christmas-for-youth/

I’ve heard variations of the same Christmas messages over and over again. We want to keep Christ in Christmas. We want to make sure students know that Christmas isn’t the consumer experience that the marketing machine tries to tell us that it is.

But here’s the thing.

They already know that.

Anyone who’s seen a Christmas movie has heard a message about the real meaning of Christmas.

A selfish character wants a thing, goes on a magical adventure, and then learns the “true meaning of Christmas.”

It’s better to give than receive.

Christmas is about being with the people you love.

Christmas is about generosity.

It goes on and on and on like this. Positive, moral messages, that sound nice, look great in print…

…and are still totally wrong.

When you’re trying to help students understand the real meaning of Christmas, it’s not Jesus versus consumerism.

It’s Jesus versus a bunch of morally good things that are still way less than Jesus, and that’s a tougher conversation to have, because you don’t get to compare good things to bad things.

Instead, you have to compare good things to the Best Thing.

This is where Christian Smith’s moralistic therapeutic deism comes into stark contrast against the salvation power of Jesus Christ.

This season can’t be merely about the good and heart-warming things it brings; it has to be about the birth of a Savior.

So how do we teach on the TRUE meaning of Christmas?

Remember, all of those other Christmas messages – family time, generosity, thankfulness – are messages of the Bible, just not the most important message of the Bible.

Leaving Christmas with a focus on any ONE of those things would be like determining that the message of Scripture is about not coveting your neighbor’s wife.

Sure, it’s in there, but that’s not the main thing.

The single best way that I’ve found to share the Christmas story is to make sure that students know that Jesus demands to be a part of all of the other heart-warming messages of Christmas.

Generosity is good.

Generosity in Jesus’ name is better.

Family time is good.

Family time that invokes the name of Jesus is better.

Thankfulness is good.

Thankfulness to Jesus is better.

Christmas with Jesus is the best. 

Christmas without Jesus, no matter how good it is, just isn’t Christmas.

12.21.15

12 Topics Youth Ministries Avoid by Kyle Rohane

https://www.leadertreks.org/12-topics-youth-ministries-avoid-part-2/

It never fails—you’re at your favorite restaurant, and everything on the menu looks delicious. But the entre you order comes with only two side items. How can you choose from so many amazing options? And what metrics will you use to pick your top two? Flavor? Nutrition? Price? We encounter this same problem in youth ministry. There are only so many weeks in a year, so we must select which topics to cover and which to leave off our teaching schedules. Inevitably, we pass over subjects we would love to cover but can’t. This dilemma presents a powerful temptation: do we schedule precious time to cover topics that make us nervous, or do we stick to our teaching comfort zones?

We asked 12 youth ministry leaders to share the neglected topics they think students most need to hear. We avoid them for a number of reasons, but as you’ll discover, these ignored issues have the potential to show students a fuller picture of God’s love and will for their lives. As you read through each subject, ask yourself, Have I disregarded this topic in my ministry? How could my students grow if I set aside my fears and taught on this subject?

The Old Testament
Joel Mayward

In youth ministry, we often treat the Old Testament like an awkward family member at a holiday meal: even though they’re part of the family, we avoid spending too much time with them because they’re unfashionable, boring, and frequently offensive. Yet the Hebrew Scriptures compose over 75 percent of the Bible we encourage our students to study. Many youth workers avoid the Old Testament because they simply don’t understand its theology and value. We struggle to see Jesus in the purity laws, genealogies, stories of violence, and histories of kings and conquerors. Like many Christians, youth workers appreciate the familiar “Sunday School” stories and find some emotional solace in the Psalms. But what about Leviticus? Deuteronomy? First and Second Chronicles? Ezra? Habakkuk? Spending time in only the New Testament is akin to watching only the final quarter of a football game or viewing the last 30 minutes of a movie—you can’t fully appreciate the significance of the end unless you have the whole story. We need to ignite in students a passion for the Old Testament—its hard sayings, R-rated stories, and affecting poetry—in order to foster a deeper love for God’s Word. Let’s invite young people into the larger story of God, the whole narrative arc that communicates God’s gracious posture of love and justice towards his people.

Sacrifice
Brad Widstrom

“You deserve it” has become one of my most despised phrases. It permeates the TV, Internet, and radio. And yes, it has impacted the church, our youth groups, and individual Christian lives. The call of Christ to take up our cross daily, following him into a life of sacrifice (Luke 9:23), has been replaced with the pursuit of comfort, materialism, and safety. We need to instead rediscover the hard teachings of Christ, setting our hearts and minds on things above, not on earthly things (Col. 3). We can still play the egg in the armpit relay and plan the ski trip. We don’t need to ban foosball tables. Our youth rooms can still be filled with laughter, where deep relationships are built. But our study of God’s Word must go deeper, leading beyond head knowledge to life change. Our hearts need to break for what breaks the heart of Christ. Students should be encouraged to make tough decisions that will lead to changes in how they act, what they say, and where they invest their time and resources. Thoughts of what we “deserve” will then be replaced with the true joy of participating in God’s ongoing work of transformation and restoration. And we will one day hear Christ say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matt. 25:23).

Homelessness
Sandra Widstrom, Public School Educator in Jefferson County School District, Colorado

Each year I have homeless boys and girls in my fifth grade classroom. They live in motels, shelters, transitional housing, vehicles, or in a friend’s already too-small apartment. They have difficulty getting a regular bath, killing the lice, wearing clean clothes, getting enough sleep, and staying healthy. A three-meal day is possible during the week when kids eat free breakfast and lunch at school, but it is less likely on the weekends. Sometimes youth groups pitch in to help with groceries, toiletries, clothing, Thanksgiving turkeys, Christmas presents, school supplies, and serving a meal at a church or shelter. But unfortunately a commitment to these children and families is rarely sustained. Why? Most of the aforementioned “helps” are limited in time and financial investment—they’re easy to do and require no long-term commitment yet secure short-term satisfaction for the helpers. A long-term commitment requires building relationships with these families, and that necessitates an inconvenient investment of time and resources. More importantly, it requires an investment of genuine love that will support families as they rebuild their lives. Eugene Cho, in his book Overrated, warns us about being in love with change while doing little to make it happen. He challenges those who seek change—in this case, alleviating homelessness—to look in the mirror. Why do we settle for easy commitments? When we wrestle with our own motivations, we will nudge open the door toward real change.

The Intolerance of a Tolerant Society
Tim Downey

Throughout our society, a myth has emerged advocating that true tolerance consists of neutrality. The word toleratemeans “to recognize and respect (others’ beliefs, practices, etc.) without sharing them” and “to bear, or put up with (someone or something not especially liked)” (www.yourdictionary.com/tolerate#websters). Therefore, one must believe that someone is wrong in order to show tolerance toward that person. That definition has been twisted to the point that if you think, or worse, say someone is wrong, you’re called intolerant. With the twisting of thedefinition has come an increasingly intolerant society. Unfortunately, youth ministries (and churches) have been generally unsuccessful in preparing students to engage in respectful, intelligent dialogue with those with whom they disagree. By failing to prepare students in this way, youth ministries unintentionally set their students up for failure in college and the workplace. They fear reprisal for disagreeing, even in a respectful manner, with another person’s beliefs or practices. Many youth leaders are either ill equipped or unwilling to disciple their students with a sound method of biblical interpretation to engage in healthy dialogue with those whose viewpoints differ. If the church expects to “persevere under trial” (James 1:12), then it must prepare students to engage in healthy, respectful, biblically sound conversations that lead to redemption rather than division, as both Paul and Jesus practiced (Acts 17:22–34; Matt. 9:10–13).

How to Read the Bible
Danielle Rhodes

I have been going to church all my life. I participated in children’s church, youth group, and several Bible studies. My brother and I were even members of a team that would compete against students from other churches at Bible memorization. Yet I was 23, sitting in my first seminary class, when I first heard the word hermeneutics, “the theory and methodology of biblical text interpretation.” That sounds complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. Each of our students, starting in the early teens and continuing to adulthood, is in the process of taking ownership of his or her faith. This is the perfect time to get them thinking about how they read the Bible. So why don’t we? Many youth workers are thrilled to get students to open up a Bible at all. Anything beyond that seems impossible. And few of us feel confident in our ability to teach something as complicated as hermeneutics. I, for one, am no Bible scholar. I can’t teach my students everything they should know about how to read the Bible. But I can encourage them to look deeper into the text by asking a few basic questions: To whom is the author writing? Why did they write this book? How does this section fit into the larger story of Scripture? Students must learn how to read the Bible for themselves. Otherwise they will be led astray by false teachings that claim to come from Scripture. Empower your students as current and future leaders by giving them the tools they need to study the Bible and apply it to their lives.

Sexual Identity
Dan Colwin, Director of Partnerships at LeaderTreks in Carol Stream, Illinois

Sex. It’s a topic discussed in most youth ministries these days, even though it can be awkward. But when students tell us they are struggling with their sexual identities, they throw us for a loop. Why? Because talking about sexual identity can be uncomfortable, it can alienate students, and honestly the church in America seems to be divided on this issue as a whole. I also think we avoid it because it takes us deeper into the heart of God, and that can actually be a scary place if we’re used to comfort. God loves us unconditionally, but he is also holy. So the thought of telling students certain actions or even thoughts can tear them away from God is terrifying. We are afraid that calling out sin will push students away from the church, which is very possible. Yet avoiding this subject also prevents us from focusing fully on Christ. While we have all been created in the image of God, we are new creations in Jesus. In Christ, we find freedom from sin, from believing the lies of this world, and that is something every student needs to know. Our old identity, which was broken by sin, is now a new identity made whole by God’s love through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Hell
Angie Franklin, Publisher at LeaderTreks in Carol Stream, Illinois

We spend a lot of energy protecting children. The hovering parent cultural phenomenon demands that we swoop in and rewrite the script so our children won’t experience failure, pain, or fear. In some ways, it’s brilliant and effective—the monsters under your bed aren’t as scary after you’ve seen Monsters, Inc. But in other ways, it introduces all new dangers. One of those dangers is how we downplay hell. Sometimes we ignore the topic completely, and other times we redefine it using softer, cozier words to spare our students from fear. For example, we describe hell only as “separation from God.” That is certainly true, and it is the worst thing imaginable—but only to those whose daily lives lean hard into their Savior. Most students translate separation from God as “life before I prayed the prayer.” And by that measurement, it probably doesn’t seem so bad. In fact, life before following Christ may have been easier and more comfortable, so it’s no wonder students might think, What’s the big deal? Yet Jesus never softened his words about hell. He described it as a place filled with weeping and gnashing of teeth. Jesus’ description of hell is terrifying! Understanding the horror of the consequences of our rebellion against God should drive us into his arms. It should motivate us to help others find the safety in his redeeming embrace. We must not deprive our students of that knowledge and healthy fear.

Racial Issues
Leneita Fix

I live in one of the most racially, ethnically, and culturally diverse areas of the country. I’m immersed in a sea of skin shades and an ocean of cultures, yet I still struggle with questions about race. I feel entirely unqualified to lead conversations about racial issues, and I know most other youth workers do too—which is probably why so many of us avoid them. Whether we like it or not, we all carry judgments and opinions about other people. Since no one can hide the color of their skin, racial differences quickly reveal these prejudices. We use what we have seen in a movie or on the nightly news to make a mental picture of others before we’ve even met them. As followers of Jesus, we know in him we are all one (Gal. 3:23), yet we struggle to reconcile this with how we actually think and feel. And our students are no different. We must lead students in these conversations because we all (no matter our skin color or ethnicity) have misplaced opinions that affect the way we interact with people made in God’s image. Addressing racial issues with students can be the first step to genuinely tearing down walls that divide us. It’s a practical way to teach teens how to follow Christ’s command to love our neighbors as ourselves. If we keep avoiding this conversation, our fears will only increase. While it might get sticky, we have to continue talking about race if we are going to learn to love the people God loves.

The Holy Spirit
Kyle Rohane

Most evangelical churches namedrop all three members of the Trinity, but when it comes to actual teaching, the Holy Spirit is rarely mentioned. It’s no different in youth ministries. Students hear a flood of teaching about Jesus and the Father, but they’re lucky to receive a trickle about the Holy Spirit. Why is our teaching on the Trinity so lopsided? In some ways, it makes sense. The Bible is relatively quiet about the Spirit. Theologians call him the “shy” member of the Trinity because his primary role is to shine light on the Son, not on himself. But many churches don’t teach on the Spirit at all. Maybe teaching on the Spirit doesn’t feel as practical or as personal as spending time with Jesus. Maybe topics like spiritual gifts feel too controversial. Yet by avoiding the Holy Spirit entirely, we are damaging students’ view of God. According to a survey by LifeWay Research, 51 percent of American evangelicals believe the Holy Spirit is a force, not a personal being. That’s right—less than half of evangelicals believe God is who he says he is. (Jesus refers to the Spirit as a “him,” not an “it,” and calls him our “advocate.”) You don’t have to teach on the Spirit every week to offer students a basic introduction to who he is and how he works in their lives. The Holy Spirit is as divine as the Father and the Son, and he plays an active role in the spiritual growth of your students. Don’t you think it’s time they met him?

Spiritual Disciplines
Chris Maxwell

The youth pastor’s facial expression changed from his characteristic smile to a look of suspicion when he heard these two words: spiritual disciplines. I asked him why. He told me stories of legalistic requirements, boring rituals, and feelings of guilt if he didn’t pray enough. So worried about how his students would respond to the topics, he never addressed prayer, silence, contemplative worship, personal study of Scripture, or journaling. Because of his unhealthy experiences and incorrect assumptions, he and his youth had missed out on growth and development. I invited him to join me in a few spiritual practices. We approached the disciplines conversationally, biblically, historically—not as ways to score spiritual points or impress the One we follow. We spent time with Jesus by choice, not forced by rules. We entered conversations with Jesus: prayers of petition and intercession, journal entrees on letting go and moving forward, songs of praise and life. My youth pastor friend worked through his reluctance. He refused to allow inner fears to rob him of conversations with his creator. He said, “Intercession and fasting and silence aren’t so freaky after all. If I’m willing to give them a try, I want my students to give them a try.” I smiled. I had a sense Jesus was smiling too.

Work
James Racine

Work is a topic most youth pastors stay far away from. No, I am not talking about works-based salvation; I am talking about careers, jobs, and vocations. Though many youth pastors might not feel equipped to train on such a subject, my greater concern is that most youth workers fail to realize its importance. At best, one in ten students will graduate from our youth ministries and go into fulltime ministry or missions work, yet we hail these callings as the supreme vocations! In doing so, we further the notion that some people do ministry, while others pay for it. I dream of a day when churches will equip students for their future callings in the marketplace. They will empower laity to do the work of ministry in every sphere of influence and society. Evangelism will no longer be reduced to a monthly alter call at a church program or event. Discipleship will no longer be a six-week course. And work will be seen not as a necessary evil, but as a gift from God, a place in which we derive meaning, a means by which we provide goods and services to our world, and a way in which we bring glory to God!

The Cost of Discipleship
Doug Franklin

The drive to get students to come to youth group has caused us to choose between making students happy or holy. We focus first on numbers because they’re easiest to measure. It’s harder to measure transformation, so we go with what’s easier and makes more sense. This move has been subtle and gradual, and many of us don’t even realize we are watering down the truth of God’s Word. It’s all done with the goal of reaching students. We don’t challenge students to repentance; we just encourage them to cross the line of faith. Francis Chan writes, “If Jesus had a church in Simi Valley, mine would be bigger. People would leave his church to attend mine because I call for an easier commitment.” Ask yourself that same question: If Jesus had a youth group in your town, whose would be bigger, yours or his? Jesus often challenged his followers with the cost of being his disciples. Many weren’t willing to make the sacrifice. Has the challenge of spiritual maturity caused any of your students to leave the church? Are you teaching Gods word with a spoon full of sugar or with the power of the Holy Spirit?

12.21.15

3 Ways To Take Your Preaching To The Next Level by Brian Jones

http://pastors.com/3-ways-take-preaching-next-level/

One of my biggest problems in sermon writing is what people call “analysis paralysis” – I get so involved studying for a sermon that, eventually, the more I study, the worse it becomes.

1. Do a Two-Minute Warning.

To cure this I started implementing something I call my “two-minute warning.” I stole it from my high school head football coach. Our high school football team went to the state championship (mostly due to our incredible coach and not so much because of the talent on the team).

Every Thursday at the very end of practice, the night before the big game, we would do what he would call the “two minute drill.” He would line us up on our own 10-yard line and then say, “Guys, you have two minutes to put the ball in the end zone.”

As the quarterback everything came rushing together — all the adrenaline, everything we had practiced, all the tips and ideas from our coaching staff — it all collided at that moment and forced me to quickly deduce what I needed to do to put the ball in the end zone.

I do a similar thing when I study for a message. I study for 4 hours, then grab a piece of paper and say, “Okay, I’m walking to the pulpit in two minutes and I can’t take anything with me but an outline. Okay, Brian, you have two minutes to write down your message in outline form. GO!”

And then I force myself to cut through all the stuff, all the ideas, all the clutter, and get down to the heart of what I should talk about. 9.5 times out of 10 that outline becomes the actual outline I use for the message, and for the rest of the week, an additional 4 hours, I spend crafting what I decided to preach on in that two-minute drill.

2. Remember that the greatest enemy to keeping our noses to the grindstone and writing great sermons is not necessarily lack of discipline, but our next best spiritual gift.

Every pastor I know, especially me, acknowledges that the reason we don’t consistently preach great sermons is because we can’t keep our butts in the seat long enough to hear from God and think deeply.

My homiletics professors all told me this would be the case, and that to combat this we needed to develop high levels of discipline. I think they were wrong. My biggest problem isn’t that I lack discipline; it’s that God has gifted me with a few other spiritual gifts that I like using on a regular basis.

I have three spiritual gifts – leadership, teaching and evangelism. When I can’t stayed glued to the seat it’s usually because I’m drawn into leadership or evangelistic activities, not because I haven’t watched that re-run of Blacklist I DVR’d last week.

(All of this underscores why I think preaching should be taught by Senior Pastors who are actually preaching, who have to deal with all the demands of an actual church. If this were the case I think many preaching profs would cut back on the amount of unrealistic, guilt-producing advice they dispense to college kids and start dealing with real, practice, sustainable direction that works).

Therefore, in my mind, one of my keys to trying to preach good stuff is to purposely NOT spend too much time writing sermons and block out large amounts of time for my other gifts. I figured out that 8 hours a week is just about all I can do before I start climbing the walls. That gives me a good 20 hours a week for leadership, a good 10 for evangelism stuff, and another 15 or so for the miscellaneous stuff we all deal with.

3. Begin well, end well, and tell 2 good stories in between.

When I was a freshman in Bible college a family friend and mentor took me out to dinner one night at Pizza Hut. During dinner he leaned over and asked me a question that shaped how I view my preaching task.

He asked, “Brian, do you know what all great preachers have in common?” I looked at him with a blank stare. “They can all tell a story. Learn how to tell stories Brian and you’ll never have a problem keeping the good news fresh and exciting.”

Like you, over the years I’ve read all the books I was told to read on how to preach a great sermon. “Try this technique. Try this outline. Do this unique thing.”

Nothing has helped me more than John Samples’ simple advice.

Open with a great story.

Close with a great story.

Tell two great stories in between.

12.15.15

6 Traits of a Mature Disciple by Kyle Rohane

https://www.leadertreks.org/6-traits-of-a-mature-disciple/

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

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

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

A mature disciple SERVES OUT OF LOVE.

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

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

A mature disciple APPLIES GOD’S WORD.

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

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

A mature disciple JOINS IN A COMMUNITY OF FAITH.

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

A mature disciple PRAYS SELFLESSLY.

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

A mature disciple SHARES HIS OR HER FAITH STORY.

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

A mature disciple HAS A MENTOR and MENTORS OTHERS.

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

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

12.15.15

6 Questions Every Youth Ministry Should Ask Itself by Doug Franklin

https://www.leadertreks.org/6-questions-every-youth-ministry-should-ask-itself/

Evaluation is important; it’s how we grow. Evaluation is also very simple. All it takes is asking, “Is there a better way?” When we ask ourselves this question, we are just checking to see if a new idea, system, or program will help us be more effective. So if evaluation is this important and this easy, why don’t we do it more often in our youth ministries?

Here are a few reasons youth workers don’t evaluate (youth workers have made all of these statements to me in training seminars and workshops):

  • “We like the status quo. Things are going well, and we don’t need to make changes.”
  • “We don’t want to compete with other ministries by improving. In fact we think it’s more spiritual to stay the same so students will have more options.”
  • “All we need for a successful ministry is to love and accept students. In this culture, we feel like that is all we can do.”
  • “Students are under so much pressure and have so many distractions, it’s unreasonable to try to get them to do more stuff.”

We succumb to these excuses because evaluation stirs something inside of us. It makes us feel inferior and incomplete. No one wants to feel like that. That’s what turns many people off of leadership and why confidence plays such a big role in leading others. Challenge yourself—is evaluation truly unhealthy or have you rejected the idea of evaluation because of how it makes you feel?

If you’re ready to swallow some pride and give your ministry a serious evaluation, start with these six questions:

1) What do parents say is the focus of your ministry?

Whether or not parents can even answer this question will tell you a lot about your communication and vision casting. If your students’ parents don’t know your ministry’s focus, check to see if your adult volunteers know. If they can’t give you an answer, this is the first place you should start fixing things.

2) Can students tell you how to become a disciple of Christ (not just how to be saved, but the keys to living the life of a Christ-follower)?

I find that students can often tell you how to become a follower of Christ and can even share the gospel, but they don’t know what a disciple looks like after that first step. Their faith remains immature, and when they leave for college, they face all kinds of trouble. Be clear with students about how they can grow strong in Christ and his Word.

3) Can you name three students who have become followers of Christ in the past year?

When I was a youth pastor, I had many years when no students accepted Christ. But those years told me I needed to increase my focus on outreach.

4) Do we have student-initiated service taking place through the youth ministry?

There are two types of service opportunities: those where we have to chase students down to volunteer, and those that students’ initiate. The latter tend to be more effective because there’s more ownership.

5) Are adult volunteers so excited about the ministry that they are recruiting new volunteers to join the team?

The best way to find new volunteers is through your current volunteers. When an adult volunteer is having an outstanding experience, they are excited about sharing it with others. 

6) Are students who left your ministry over a year ago still following and serving Christ?

This is a hard one to answer sometimes, but if we do our job by equipping them with a solid foundation, they will continue to follow Christ with the tools and resources we have given them.

These evaluation questions are designed to give you a general idea of where you need to improve your ministry. With some of these questions, you might answer, “Got it!” For others, you may need some work. But hopefully this evaluation will help you answer the question, Is there a better way?