5 Things Not To Do When You’re Criticized in Youth Ministry by Paul Sheneman


If you’re going to do anything of importance in the world, criticism is unavoidable. And youth ministry is important.

Shout that out loud, “YOUTH MINISTRY IS IMPORTANT!”

So you’re going to be criticized. But when you do find yourself being criticized, don’t do these things:


When you receive criticism in the midst of youth group or an event it often feels like a punch to the gut. In that moment, we often forget to breathe and take a minute to pray and process what was just said to us. I’ve been there and have burst back in the moment to “deal with the criticism.” The results can be devastating if you verbally attack the person, whether it be a student, volunteer, parent or church member.


Sometimes we lose ourselves in the midst of criticism. We’re up late checking messages and emails and we see those cutting words on the screen. We internalize them and start telling ourselves a story about how that person doesn’t know anything. In the midst of my internal stories, I can lose the fact that I’m just a person full of faults and needing to grow. In the midst of our wounded state we make the criticizer a villain and assume the place of hero. When this happens, no matter how we reply, we’ll never be able to grow because we’ve dismissed the critique.


I am the master of the redirect. It can happen so quickly in a conversation. The criticism is suggested and BOOM…“Can you believe the pastor’s sermon on Sunday morning? Lasted forever!” Or, “Man I hear you. I was just talking with my youth worker friends and all of them struggle with the same thing at their church.” The problem with redirection is the same as losing yourself. Both of them cut us off from truly hearing the criticism and the growth opportunities that could follow.


This demon haunts many of us. It is the gentle whisper after a true criticism. The whisper tells you that you suck, you’re alone, and no one can help you. I’ve experienced it late at night mulling over the conversations of my day, especially the negative ones. The way to respond is not to continue to internalize and isolate. You’ve got to stop, pray, and kill the cycle by reaching out to another person you trust, and share the criticism.


We’ve all tried new things in ministry. And some of those things have failed in big ways. I once started moving a new ministry that provided formal attire to teens who couldn’t afford it into our church. I made the relationships, held meetings, recruited people, prepared a space, all while the lead pastor was out for multiple weeks. When the pastor came back he asked if any of the other leadership approved it and the answer was, “No. But they know about it…” So I had to cut the ministry, care for some crying people, and apologize…several times. In the midst of that situation, I received A LOT of criticism. And I’d encourage you don’t respond to criticism by giving up. No matter how true the criticism. No matter how public it is. If God wants it and you’re convicted of it. Don’t give up.


Help! I Got The Wrong Kid by TIm Elmore

growing leaders.com

I recently met with a twenty-three year old who told me he’s seeing a counselor. That, in itself, wasn’t shocking. Millions of young Millennials are in therapy for various levels of anxiety, depression or addictions. What stopped me in my tracks was his reason for seeking psychological help:

“I think I got the wrong parents.”

Yes, he actually said that. While those were his own words, not his therapist’s description, it was his conclusion after eight counseling sessions. Somehow, even though he wasn’t adopted, he felt his personal temperament—his hardwiring—just didn’t match those of his mom and dad. Their personalities didn’t mesh with his. Now, he was attempting to overcome it.

For many of us, this just seems wrong. It appears even sacrilegious. Is this even possible? Some young people would say so. While similar DNA exists inside parents and children, we live in an imperfect world of disease, insecurities, deformities and brokenness—and sometimes, the personalities of mom or dad and their daughter or son just clash. Parents can give birth to a child with a temperament that doesn’t fit their leadership style. It causes mom or dad to feel guilty, to over-compensate or to give up. Sadly, both children and adults become victims. At a loss for what to do, both can assume the guilt for being wrong. Usually, both the parent and offspring feel it, but neither knows how to talk about it.

Case in Point

I write this because I’ve had three conversations recently, where this topic has surfaced. Kylie told me of constant clashes with her father, starting as a pre-teen. She concluded, “It all boiled down to this—my parents didn’t know how to talk to me.”

As a young man, Jarrod, said to me, “I love my dad, but I wish he was more intentional with me. He never pursued me, and never prepared me for manhood. It hurt because I saw him spend time with other guys my age.”

Derin summarized it briefly, saying, “I don’t think my parents even ‘get me’.”

  • From a biological perspective, it begs the question: “How could a child with the same genes as her parents seem so foreign in her ways?”
  • From a sociological perspective, it begs the question: “How can kids growing up in the same environment turn out so differently?”

What’s Missing?

As you know, this may describe not only a parent/child relationship, but any leader and follower. This can be a teacher and a student; a supervisor and a team member. In the end, we play favorites because this mismatch of personalities bullies us to avoid contrary people. Sometimes, we can send negative, even hurtful signals to a young person. Our struggle, in essence, is simply this: we don’t know how to impart to them. We feel fake, as if we’re forcing a conversation when we talk. So we avoid them. But this isn’t the answer. What are some principles, then, we can practice in this situation? Let me offer three of our Habitudes® as suggested habits and attitudes to adopt:

  1. Play Chess Not Checkers

I look back at my own childhood and believe I had the perfect parents for my personality, but my father has wondered if he failed to notice realities in my sisters’ lives as adolescents. He regrets not pursuing them in their teen years—investing in them emotionally and imparting to them relationally. The lesson for all of us? Kids are like chess pieces, not checkers pieces. The game of checkers is simple, because all the pieces look and move alike. In chess, however, to have any hope of winning the game, we must know what each piece can do and how it moves. So it is with leading kids. Growing up in the same home, the children are not all alike, and they must be led differently—based on their personality and strengths. When you’re in a strained relationship with a student, try listening first. Learn to read your kid before you lead your kid.

  1. Be a Sun, Not a Moon 

We all know the sun and moon both give us light, one during the day and one at night. The difference, of course, is this: the moon only reflects the light of the sun. The sun is the source of light. I believe this is our responsibility as adult leaders and parents. We are to act, not react. We must be the source of light and leadership for young people. They will reflect the demeanor and environment you initiate. Far too often, parents have led their children as if they were adults, giving them choices and options when they’re too young to make wise decisions. In addition, we often tend to react or reflect their demeanor, as if we’re a “moon” not a “sun.” We must assume responsibility for the health and development of the relationship, even if it’s hard. Too many parents are children living in grown-up bodies, mimicking adult lives.

We must set the example. We must model the way.

  1. Be a Gardener, Not a God 

We all know what a good gardener does. He or she prioritizes growing the plants in the garden. They water them, fertilize them, pull weeds and expose them to sunshine. That’s a job description for us as parents and leaders. We’re to emotionally nourish our students, remove harmful distractions, and expose them to mentors who are more in tune with them. We’re to simply create a healthy environment. Healthy things naturally grow. We are a gardener—not a god. We can’t control our child’s attitudes or as young adults, their actions. The “control myth” leads only to parental guilt and shame. It’s a dance. Metaphorically speaking, you and your kids are dancing, and in a dance, both people must take steps to stay aligned. For the dance to work, both parties must choose to dance collaboratively. One person, however, must take the lead. This is your role.

Dr. Jennifer Margulis writes, “It’s true that some children are harder for some adults to parent, and even to love. Some children and adults really are mismatched. It’s also true there will be times when you really don’t enjoy being with your child . . . But even though we sometimes may not like them, our job is to always love them. To learn to embrace our differences. To let our children spread their wings their own way and fly to the places they want to go. To be the steady branch they can alight on when they come home.”


Helping Our Students Navigate Their Attachment to Social Media by Harper Cossar


Teenagers really like their phones and social media. Maybe you’ve noticed. 😉

Whether it is Instagram, Facebook, or the new “social media app” du jour, teenagers are looking at screens of some type for more than 7 hours daily. That means that for the majority of time that they are awake, they are peering into some sort of device, and often while doing other things. (Research shows that when we — teens and adults alike — claim to be “multitasking” we’re really not doing anything well.) Thus, it seems that with all things we Christ-followers must face daily, social media requires wisdom, discipline and discernment, or we will turn it in to an idol.

That’s right. I said “an idol.” When God issued to Moses the Ten Commandments, He put worship of Him at the exclusion of all other gods first, because He knew that we were created for worship. Sadly, He knew that we would often turn to other “less wild lovers” (I borrow this beautiful phrase from John Eldridge and Brent Curtis from their book, The Sacred Romance: Drawing Closer to the Heart of God.) that do not demand obedience and submission, but rather provide temporary pleasure or freedom from pain and suffering.

Sounds a lot like how our students engage with social media, doesn’t it? So how should we handle social media and students’ attachment to their devices? (And if we’re honest, these same thoughts apply to many of us, too.)

Here are some thoughts:

  • It’s foolish to suggest abstinence from social media. The world is increasingly wired and digitized and it will only become more so. What’s needed is good old-fashioned manners, boundaries and etiquette. Often, when students are handed a smartphone, tablet or media player, they are not issued “rules.” When they see adults yammering away on their phones while in line at Subway, they mimic what they see. We must demand that students show us their eyes, and not the glowing reflections of a device’s light on their face. As a media scholar, it horrifies me to see someone in a darkened movie theater, presumably having paid to be there, and gazing into their 4-inch device and avoiding the 100-foot screen before them, complete with 7.1 surround sound! We need to be told to stop; be still and put down the device. Engage with your fellow man and learn to communicate the old fashioned way, by talking, listening and being able to respond. Adults, too.
  • While “limits” on daily use and exposure to social media is the primary instruction that teens receive (if any!) from their parents and teachers, it is insufficient. Students like to ask “why,” as any youth leader or parent will attest. Thus, the “why” is simple; social media is not “social” at all, it is solitary and isolating. Jesus called 12 disciples to travel, learn and live with him. He could have gone it alone, but he chose the 12 to observe His teachings, love, grace, miracles and ultimate sacrifice so that they would “go and do likewise.” We have to be “present” in order to observe the world around us. We are greatly unobservant when our attention is buried in a digital device, glowing before us and always offering us a never-ending, always “just around the bend” adventure.

There is no end to social media’s lure, so we must not journey toward it. We must choose God’s discipline, obedience and patience. The “less wild lover” of social media only responds to our input and desire; it does not teach us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love others.


7 Essentials for Growing Kids’ Faith by Tony Lane for Children’s Ministry Magazine


7 essentials for developing, enhancing, and growing kids’ faith.

I started teaching Sunday school when I was 12. That was a while ago.

Throughout my years in the classroom, I’ve always believed that children experience and know God in a personal and dynamic way. I think most of us who work with children understand the importance of God’s impact in kids’ lives. Most of us would agree that children hold a special place in God’s heart. From the first mention of kids in the Bible, it’s evident that God wants to nurture children in their faith walk.

Developing kids’ faith isn’t optional. Jesus expects us to support children and their potential for spiritual growth and maturity. As children’s ministers, our understanding of how kids’ faith is developed, enhanced, and shared is crucial. Here’s what I’ve learned about kids’ faith.

Essential #1. Kids’ faith can be crushed.

Remember when Jesus’ disciples rebuked people who were bringing children to him for blessing? When Jesus witnessed their actions, he was displeased. “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14).

Children have a right — and a natural desire — to enter into Jesus’ presence. They have a natural faith. Our job is to encourage and strengthen that faith.

“It’s important for children’s pastors to know and understand that a child’s faith is both real and fragile,” says Jack Miller, children’s pastor at Grace Point Church in Irving, Texas. “It can be developed — or destroyed.”

Careless words and behavior can crush kids’ spirits. In their innocent and childlike faith, kids often share prayer requests about their pets, toys, upcoming activities, television heroes, and family members. Wise children’s ministers will encourage their faith by praying with kids and encouraging them to believe and trust in God. Sure, a prayer request may appear to be an obvious impossibility to an adult. But God listens and responds to his kids. Be careful about not taking kids’ sincere requests seriously.

“When a child talks about a wonderful experience or incident of faith, we must believe and affirm the child,” observes Irma Hendrix, director of children’s ministry at Mt. Paran North in Atlanta. “Use Scripture to show children how God hears them and has answered. Be careful how you reply to children when their faith hasn’t yet brought the result they’ve asked for. God is always on time and never late to answer.”

Essential #2. Kids’ faith has no boundaries.

It’s a fact that faith comes by hearing and living God’s Word. Whenever we teach kids the Word and they receive it, their faith grows. Each Sunday school class, each Bible study, and each interactive experience grants children the opportunity to grow their faith. With consistent, positive experiences, it’s natural that children will want to exercise their faith, resulting in further growth. Their prayers grow stronger as they see and believe that God can do anything. Such confidence ignites powerful prayers.

“A child’s pure faith doesn’t falter,” says Rodney Ragland, children’s pastor at Christway Church in Alabama. “I had a girl in my children’s ministry who began to pray that her dad would stop smoking. This was her prayer request for six years. When she left to go to the youth ministry program, her brother took over asking for prayer for their dad. This dad has been prayed for for over eight years. He still smokes, but the children know that one day God will answer their request, and they aren’t giving up.”

Affirm kids’ faith. Teach them examples of faith in the Bible. Share personal testimonies of your faith growth. Allow children to talk about how their faith has resulted in answers to prayer. Display a chart with prayer requests and dates of answered prayer. Give kids a prayer journal to help build their faith.

Essential #3. Kids’ faith should be Bible-based.

Knowledge of God’s Word is foundational to kids’ faith. You can develop kids’ faith in healthy ways based on a solid scriptural foundation — not on man-made interpretations of the Bible.

If kids’ faith is Word-based, then teachers need to ask tough questions about what they’re teaching. Is the information scripturally based? Are all activities and plans focused on God’s Word? What media-based tools are appropriate? Media shouldn’t only be used to keep kids engaged. Any media-based tools used need to directly support kids’ faith development by having a clear link to what they’re learning in the class.

Essential #4. Kids’ faith is strengthened by relationships.

Children are an important part of the church…but many congregations haven’t realized that. Some segregate children at all times and don’t afford them the opportunity to learn from the entire faith community. Many churches want children to be still and quiet when they are part of a church service. Some churches never give kids the chance to worship with the entire church family.

However, when we segregate kids, we prevent them from learning from the older people in the church, and vice versa. When Jesus was in the temple, he was practicing the accepted method of teaching in his day by asking questions that provoked teachers to rethink their understanding of God’s Word. Jesus wasn’t asking questions just to learn their responses or obtain answers.

Children need to be involved in the overall ministry of your church. This includes worship, singing, leading praise and worship, reading the Scripture, testifying, praying, and speaking. The biblical image of God’s people includes a community of people who’ve been redeemed regardless of age, race, or socioeconomic class. We are family. Children can worship.

In an orphanage I work with in Poza Rica, Vera Cruz, Mexico, the children often lift their hands in worship and praise or dancing. When it’s time to pray, they kneel with their forehead touching the ground or by laying prostrate on the floor, face down, crying out to God. They walk by their faith, utterly depending on God. They rely on God for their daily needs. Their faith has grown exponentially as a result of seeing the hand of God working in their lives. They’ve been liberated from lives of sexual abuse, abandonment, and poverty. God’s Word has built their faith. Their community of faith, the Casa Hogar family, has been the bond that’s strengthened this faith.

My dad was a pastor. Both he and my mother believed in me. They poured into me the knowledge that God had a plan for my life, with God’s Word being a focal point in our home. They encouraged me to put my talents to work for God. I recall one Sunday morning when the church organist quit. The Sunday school superintendent had led the congregation in the children’s song “Jesus Loves Me.” Believing that this song was “too childlike” for the worship service, the organist resigned. I’d been taking organ lessons, so my dad determined that it was my turn to play. Thank God for a community of faith who understood the importance of encouraging a young man to use his God-given talent and ability! Subsequently, I started teaching children’s church at age 14 and began a junior choir at age 15.

A faith community is vital to faith development in the life of any person, but especially in a child’s life. Kids need avenues to express their faith, and such a community can provide it.

Essential #5. Kids’ faith is significantly shaped by experiences and relationships with parents.

“At the heart of our call to perpetuate faith in the lives of our children is the realization that the Great Commandment is not merely an ideal to be understood but an invitation to be experienced,” observes John Kie Vining, director of family ministries for the Church of God International Offices.

In large part, parents shape their child’s image of God by how they relate to their child. Therefore, to nurture a child who loves God, has a healthy sense of self-love, and who loves others necessitates an approach to parenting that’s grace-filled. None of us can truly love a God who is distant, disrespectful, or disappointed in us. In this manner, parents are indeed the primary disciple-makers of their children, shaping the child’s image of God, which ultimately is the foundation of children’s faith development.

Your church must do its best to strengthen relationships with families, equipping parents for their role in faith development. Before God created the church, he created the family. Your church must perceive its role to be a support and resource for families as parents endeavor to make disciples of their children. Encourage parents to model their faith in their daily living. Equip them to share God’s Word at home. Help them understand principles of child development so they know how to relate to their children in an effective way.

Wise teachers and parents understand the need for experiential learning. You can help them understand how important it is for children to experience what they learn rather than try to absorb life truths through passive learning. Parents teach their children 24/7. Birthday parties, religious celebrations, taking the Lord’s Supper, family ministry events — all these support and undergird family units and allow children opportunities to experience their faith. Only after faith has been explored and questioned can it really be developed and strengthened.

Essential #6. Kids’ faith yields results.

God values children and honors their innocence. Jesus demonstrated this when he accepted a boy’s small lunch and fed thousands.

“After a weekend Kidfest kids’ event, I had one boy, 11 years old, who said he heard from God,” says Kevin Edgington, children’s pastor at the House of Restoration Worship Center in Milford, Ohio. “He believed that God wanted him to go home and start having services for kids in his neighborhood. His family supported him and helped him begin services for kids on Saturday mornings. In just a very short time, nine children accepted Jesus as their personal Savior.”

Essential #7. Kids’ faith development impacts their eternal destiny.

The impact of building a strong faith now can result in a healthy relationship with Jesus and the church in the future. The moral development of children is complete by age nine, according to research by the Barna Institute. Nonreligious-oriented research on children’s moral and values development substantiates that the foundation for lifelong values and morals are formed during kids’ earliest years.

Every child has a place in the body of Christ. Children’s destinies await them. It’s our responsibility to help kids determine their destinies and their purposes in life. And entire faith communities must be involved in developing and nurturing children and their parents.


How to Help Kids Discern Biblical Truth by Children’s Ministry Magazine


Kids’ culture contains everything from Disney characters to Harry Potter hype. Is God’s Word being drowned out? How can we help kids discern biblical truth?

Kids all over the world are constantly pulled between traditional childhood culture and up-to-the-minute trends and fads. Fairy tales, popular movies, and fictional stories have powerful ways of illustrating specific ideologies. When kids’ culture contains everything from Aesop’s fables and classical mythology to Pokémon characters and Harry Potter hype, sometimes it feels as if God’s Word is being drowned out. Is there room for the Bible?

There’s more room than you might think. Christians often shy away from connecting Bible lessons to fairy tales or popular culture for the simple reason that we believe that the Bible is truth, while stories are only fiction. Yet throughout his ministry, Jesus used parables — fictitious stories — to explain in ways humans could understand the incomprehensible logic of heaven and the kingdom of God. While our human nature causes us to identify with the jealous older brother, Jesus’ parable about the prodigal son calls us to open our arms as the father did…and come home with humility as the son did.

The Value Of Story

Jesus could’ve instructed us about the kingdom of heaven with only commands and facts: “God values the lost,” “Forgive because you are forgiven,” and “Be prepared for my return.” But he knew the things of heaven wouldn’t make sense to human minds — Israel proved that. The Israelites forgot God’s saving hand in Egypt, quickly lost patience waiting for the Messiah, and constantly ran after other gods. Jesus knew we’d understand truths of heaven better if we could identify with a woman frantically searching for a lost coin, a servant who’d been forgiven much yet refused to forgive a little, and virgins who had (or had not) come prepared for a long wait.

The stories Jesus used had one thing that must’ve set them apart from the folk tales and oral traditions of the time. Jesus began or ended the parables he told with a statement that said, “This is the point. If you get anything out of the story, get this.”

“I tell you the truth,” he says in Matthew 24:47. “The kingdom of heaven is like…” he answers Peter in Matthew 18:23. There is truth, despite the inconsequential details of his story, and Jesus points out that truth.

Biblical truth exists even in stories and cultural tales that aren’t in the Bible because God’s truth isn’t stagnant. Our Lord still moves in our world, and even people who don’t believe in God are affected by his truth. Christians and non-Christians alike can experience humility, forgiveness, and brokenness. Something about the journey of the human race remains the same despite cultural and millennial differences. We’re still the Israelites in the desert, hoarding God’s blessings today in fear that he won’t provide tomorrow and making idols out of things that satisfy us only for the moment.

Separating Truth From Fiction

It may frighten Christian educators to hear kids say that Jonah’s big fish was just like Pinocchio’s whale or that the giant in “Jack and the Beanstalk” was the same as David’s Goliath. The perceived threat is that kids will see similarities in characters and stories and confuse fiction with biblical truth. In our ministries, we certainly want to lay the foundation of God’s Word as truth. Otherwise, what basis do kids have for understanding who God is?

During vacation Bible school, one teacher brought preschoolers to a room that was set up like the belly of Jonah’s big fish. She led them into the fish’s plastic body and recreated Jonah’s three-day experience in the fish by reading from the Bible and allowing the kids to experience the fear and adventure Jonah did. At the end, a paid child-care provider remarked, “Hey! That’s just like Pinocchio.” A lesson defeated? A blurring of truth and fiction? Perhaps, but definitely a teachable moment.

In this situation, it’s important to think about kids’ developmental stages. Kids around age 9 can begin to understand simple abstractions and are less likely to be confused by literary connections. To bridge from fiction to fact, ask kids, “How similar are the experiences of the fictional Pinocchio and the biblical Jonah? How are they different?”

However, kids under age 8 tend to think literally. You can still use hooks to introduce Bible stories, but it’s best to save abstract connections for older kids. Help kids around ages 6 to 8 make simple comparisons. Ask, “How do you think Pinocchio felt in the stomach of the whale? How would you feel if you got swallowed by a whale? Even though Pinocchio’s story is pretend, there’s a true story in the Bible about a man who was swallowed by a big fish.”

What Kids Know

It’s easy to take what kids know and help draw them closer to God because certain stories and themes are ingrained in their culture. Take for example the story “Cinderella.” Throughout the whole world, various versions of “Cinderella” share similar thematic elements. In China, there’s “Lin Lan”; in France, they have the story of “Donkeyskin.” In these stories, especially in the Grimms’ version of “Cinderella,” the story follows a plot similar to the book of Esther. Both Cinderella and Esther greatly need friends and mentors. They’re both left virtually alone and deemed culturally inferior, yet meeting their Prince Charmings dramatically redeems their situations. Each woman went from unvalued to invaluable and from ashes to glory — a vivid picture of Christ’s redemption of each one of us.

“Cinderella” can be used to introduce the Bible story of Esther and reinforce Psalm 40:2-3: “He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord.”

Literary scholars often look for the Christ figure in literature. And they find that figure in literature from cultures and countries all over the world. Why? Perhaps because writers have borrowed from the Bible. Or perhaps the very essence of our need for salvation is written into the fiber of our souls. Perhaps the gospel is written on our hearts. The point is not which came first; the point is that inherently, the story of the gospel contains something familiar, something we know we need — and it’s repeated in thousands of ways in hundreds of cultures and languages.

Fairy tales can introduce children to biblical truth just as other culturally specific media, such as books, movies, and personal stories, can contain elements useful for teaching truth. God can redeem the culture for his kingdom. Jesus used stories that first-century Christians could understand in the context of their culture, and we can do the same.

Finding The Gospel In Our Culture

Have you seen a movie lately in which one character gives up his or her very life for the sake of someone else? Do you know a story of complete forgiveness for unforgivable sins? Those are fibers in the tapestry of the gospel. The one doing the forgiving or “saving” in your story might not be the perfect Savior, but the threads of salvation and forgiveness can lead your kids into discussions of what it feels like to be forgiven and what it means to experience salvation. How can we do this?

Look for the gospel everywhere. Movies, fairy tales, cartoons, stories, and songs can contain traces of biblical truth that you can use to introduce Bible themes and stories. Tell or show the story. Let kids feel the emotions of the characters, understand the events of the story, and experience the outcome of the actions. Extract the truth. Use discussion and debriefing to help kids discover the core biblical truth in your story. Emphasize the Bible. Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed,” not the other way around. The Bible’s truth supersedes any fiction, and it’s vital that kids understand the difference. Emphasize the verse or passage that your story reinforces. Ask God to use the story to bring kids to a heightened level of spiritual understanding. Have kids look for God’s truth in their lives. Kids can identify forgiveness, faith, and kindness. Encourage them to discover God’s truth in their lives and share it with their families. The kingdom of God is here, and if we watch for it carefully, we can see God working in our lives and in the lives of others.

Making The Connection

Not all stories or movies in kids’ culture can be used in the same way to teach biblical truth. Some stories don’t directly follow the Bible but make great lead-ins for the Bible stories you’re teaching. Other stories powerfully illustrate a biblical point you want to emphasize. What’s the difference? Here are four ways to use stories to teach the Bible.

• Attention-Getters — Some stories share objects or characters with Bible stories but don’t teach the same point or have the same plot; these reappearing objects or people can introduce your Bible story. You can point out how the whale that swallows Pinocchio is similar to Jonah’s fish and how Jack and David each had a giant to defeat.

For kids ages 8 and up, use stories, movie clips, or fairy tales to introduce your Bible lesson. In the Disney movie The Jungle Book, the characters encounter an antagonist seemingly lifted straight out of the pages of Genesis. Kaa, the deceitful snake who seeks to trick Mowgli, can remind kids to watch for Satan’s deceitfulness. After showing a clip of Kaa, say, “How does Kaa try to trick Mowgli? What does it feel like when someone tries to trick you? How can you remember what’s true?” Then turn to your Bible lesson by saying, “The Jungle Book is just a story, but in the Bible, Satan disguised himself as a snake just like Kaa and deceived Adam and Eve.”

 Character-Connectors Many stories have characters similar to Bible characters who experience similar trials. Amanda Deramus, Sunday school superintendent and teacher at Central United Methodist Church in Detroit, Michigan, uses the character of Cinderella to help children who’ve never heard of King David to become familiar with him. Amanda tells kids, “David, like Cinderella, was always left behind to do the hard work. Both David and Cinderella spent their lives being overlooked and underappreciated. But God is faithful! In the end, their faithfulness made them shine, and they became the heroes of their stories. In God’s eyes, it is not the oldest, strongest, or most wealthy person but the one with the truest heart who makes the best hero.” Amanda helps kids understand David’s situation better because they connect with a similar story about someone else.

• Plot-Followers The Cinderella-Esther connection is an example of a parallel story. Similarly, the “Sleeping Beauty” (or “Briar Rose”) tale parallels the story of Abraham, Sarah, and Issac. Each set of parents wishes for a child and finally conceives after much hoping and praying. Then, although due to vastly different forces — one evil, the other good — the parents are compelled to sacrifice their children. Both sets of parents have a test of faith related to their children.

For preteens, use this type of connection to get kids to experience the feelings of the characters in the Bible story. Have kids form groups and talk about the feelings and actions of each character in the fairy tale who also parallels a character in your Bible story. Then assign each group a character in the parallel Bible story. As you read the Bible story, pause to give the groups time to respond with actions and words about the feelings their characters may’ve experienced. Since kids know the fairy tale, they should be able to follow the Bible story even if they’ve never heard it before.

• Point-Makers When guided with age-appropriate debriefing questions, kids ages 5 and up can talk about characters in stories as they explore how they might feel or what they might do in specific situations. Talking about “Hansel and Gretel” can teach kids to not be greedy. “The Red Shoes” can be a lesson about vanity. For older kids, check out the “Reel Time” and “Tuned In” sections of “Keeping Current” in Children’s Ministry Magazine for clips from recent movies and songs that you can use to teach biblical points.


Are You on the Brink of Burnout? by Children’s Ministry Magazine


Sometimes we get to the point where we just want a way out of our “ministry lives.” Burnout is real and impacts almost everyone at some point. What then?

There he sat, under a broom tree (what exactly is a broom tree, anyway?). He was beaten, battered…burned out! After all the great victories and the shining moments of faith in this man’s life, Elijah had had it. He wanted out. He couldn’t see beyond, well, the broom tree! ” ‘I have had enough, Lord,’ he said. ‘Take my life’ ” (1 Kings 19:4).

What brought Elijah to this point?

He had experienced some of the most compelling “ministry moments” described in the Bible. Remember God holding back the rain until Elijah spoke? Or God providing unlimited oil and flour for the widow? God used Elijah to raise this same woman’s son from the dead. Then after three years in the desert waiting on God, Elijah came back and went head to head with one of the most wicked kings ever to set foot on the earth — Ahab, along with his wife, Jezebel.

Finally, a stunning victory over the prophets of Baal and an Olympian effort racing down a mountain had left Elijah running for his life. The enemy, in this case primarily Queen Jezebel, had had it with Elijah, and she was out to get him. Elijah finally came to a point of giving up. “Just end it all right here, God” was his pathetic plea. He was burned out on serving the Lord.

Have you ever been there? As children’s ministry leaders, serving as paid staff or volunteers, sometimes we get to the point where we just want it all to end. We start looking for a way out of our “ministry lives.”

In spite of the victories — the child coming to Christ in our class, the teenager we invested so much in as a child who now lives a life of faith, the families we’ve been privileged to impact-our enemy (or sheer exhaustion) has caught up with us. We feel isolated, as though we’re fighting the battle alone, and we’re overwhelmed. Elijah said to God, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty… [but]I am the only one left” (1 Kings 19:10). We, like Elijah, feel we just can’t continue. We just want it all to end.

Is this how God wants us to end up? Of course not. Galatians 6:9 says, “Let us not become weary in doing good.” But how do we do that? How do we keep the discouragements from overcoming us? How do we keep from “ministering” to the point of exhaustion — physically, mentally, or both — when we sometimes are out there on our own? Let me suggest, instead of getting burned out, stay F.I.R.E.D. U.P. Here are seven ways to do that.

Focus on relationships. Relationships are what ministry is all about. First and foremost, ministry is about relationship with God. When you’re feeling a little burned out, ask yourself, “How is my relationship with God?” Are you getting necessary time in God’s Word? Are you spending time in prayer, sharing your heart and listening to God’s heart?

Are you making church attendance a priority? Too often in children’s ministry, we allow our attendance in the church service to suffer while we serve the kids. This is understandable sometimes, because serving kids often takes place while the service is going on. But you must be renewed with worship, teaching, and fellowship. Don’t skip too often.

Family relationships are another high priority. We can pour ourselves so thoroughly into our ministry that our home relationships can suffer. Your family is your first area of ministry concern and, while you might ask your family to make adjustments to accommodate your ministry to kids, don’t focus on your ministry to kids at the expense of your family.

Finally, remember that ministry to kids is all about relationships with kids. Sometimes our sense of burnout can result from focusing too much on trying to make the kids “do” what we want them to do instead of investing in helping them “be” who God wants them to be.

Identify your calling. Why are you doing what you’re doing? Is it because you’re called by God to do it, or is it because you felt sorry for someone who was desperate for a preschool Sunday school teacher? For a season you might step in and assist in an area of great need, but over the long term, you must be doing what God has called you to do or your serv­ice will surely lead to burnout.

What is a calling? It’s simply “a divine summons.” It might be something that lasts a lifetime, or it might be an “assignment” given by God for a shorter time. It’s always something you feel compelled to be part of, to accomplish, or to commit to. Not doing it leaves a sense of dissatisfaction and incompletion. To stay fresh in children’s ministry, you must have a sense of calling from God.

Recognize your gifts, abilities, and limitations. In much the same way as recognizing what God has called you to do, you must also recognize what you’re gifted at, what your past training and experiences have prepared you to do, and also what you’re not good at.

As a children’s pastor, my gifts and abilities are in the areas of administration, leading and training others, and teaching large groups of kids. What I’m not gifted at is teaching small groups of kids. If I were required to do so, I’d be burned out in a matter of weeks!

Aligning your strengths with your ministry requirements will not only help you avoid burnout, but it’ll also energize you to complete the ministry you’re called to do. First Peter 4:10 (NLT) says, “God has given gifts to each of you from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Manage them well so that God’s generosity can flow through you.”

Exercise your mind and body. Physical exercise helps in dealing with the everyday stresses of life. So have some plan to get out and exercise. Take a daily walk, visit the gym, or join the church softball team (my favorite).

Mental and emotional well-being is very important to avoiding burnout, too. Exercise your mind through reading, learning, and other mind-stimulating exercises for better emotional health that’ll allow more resiliency in everything you do. As Richard Swenson points out in his book Margin, “When we are emotionally resilient, we can confront our problems with a sense of hope and power. When our psychic reserves are depleted, however, we are seriously weakened. Emotional overload saps our strength, paralyzes our resolve, and maximizes our vulnerability.”

Develop your ministry skills. Your growth is essential to staying engaged with your ministry and avoiding burnout. Of course, you depend on God to truly accomplish his purposes in your ministry, but simply knowing how to do what you’re being asked to do relieves a great deal of stress and frustration. There are many ways to grow and develop your ministry skills, including:

• Attend a children’s ministry training event.

• Read resource books and materials on topics such as children’s ministry, communication, leadership, and personal relationships.

• Subscribe to newsletters and magazines.

• Ask a more experienced person to teach and mentor you.

• Find children’s ministry network meetings to attend and participate in.

Understand your ministry’s place. Your ministry has a tremendously important place in your life, but it isn’t the only thing to invest yourself in. Besides taking care of other responsibilities, allow time for fun, other areas of interest, and relaxation.

Architect Frank Lloyd Wright once told of an incident that had a profound influence on the rest of his life. One winter when he was 9, he walked across a snow-covered field with his reserved, no-nonsense uncle. As the two of them reached the far end of the field, his uncle stopped him. He pointed out his own tracks in the snow, straight and true, and then young Frank’s tracks meandering all over the field.

“Notice how your tracks wander aimlessly from the fence to the cattle to the woods and back again,” his uncle said. “And see how my tracks aim directly to my goal. There is an important lesson in that.” Years later the world-famous architect liked to tell how this experience had greatly contributed to his philosophy of life. “I determined right then,” he’d say, “not to miss most things in life, as my uncle had.”

Pray. When Jesus “got away from it all,” what did he do? Invariably, Jesus prayed. Praying can do everything from helping us “vent” (yes, we can share our frustrations with the Lord), to simply allowing us to sit quietly (how often does that happen?). Prayer is the instrument God provides for us to have two-way communication with the Creator of the universe, yet we neglect to pray.

God says to “pray without ceasing,” yet we often “cease to pray” when burnout nears. God wants to support us, to empower us in what he’s called us to do. Isaiah 64:4 says, “For since the world began, no ear has heard, and no eye has seen a God like you, who works for those who wait for him!” (NLT). Yes, God wants to “work for us” and one of the primary ways we can “wait for him” is through the avenue of prayer.

In the end, our friend Elijah was a burnout survivor. As he came before the Lord, God gently guided him to the next step in his ministry. In fact, God blessed Elijah with an assistant, Elisha (which is another great way to help avoid burnout-find an assistant. But that’s another article.). As you faithfully serve God in your ministry to little ones, stay F.I.R.E.D. U.P. instead of burned out.

Burnout Indications

Pay close attention to these burnout symptoms from Psalm 22.

• A Sense of Distance From God “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent” (verses 1-2).

• A Sense of Diminished Value “But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads” (verses 6-7).

• A Sense of Dissipating Energy “I am poured out like water, and my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth” (verses 14-15).

Fizzle Primers

Watch out for burnout if you have any of these contributing factors.

• A sense of too much to do

• Being ill-equipped to handle responsibilities

• Personal or family stresses

• Personality or relationship challenges

• Poor alignment of gifts and abilities

• An inability to say “no”

• Physical health challenges

• Little or no support from supervisors


Got FOMO? Practical Tips for Easing Kids’ Social Media Anxiety by Sierra Filucci


Teens text, tweet, snap, and post like crazy. In fact, about half of teens use social media every day, and for some, this means checking Instagram or Snapchat dozens (or hundreds!) of times a day. While many teens find connecting with friends online a positive experience, some just feel stressed out. This social media-specific anxiety has a name: FOMO, also known as “fear of missing out.”

FOMO can take many forms. Sometimes it’s the worry that a friend might be upset if you don’t respond to a message or post right away. It can also be feeling left out if everyone’s posting pictures of a party or event you didn’t attend (or, worse, weren’t invited to). But more generally, it’s the sense that exciting stuff is happening online constantly and if you’re not online too, you’re missing out.

While FOMO might sound like a silly acronym, it can have very un-silly consequences. Studies have found that the 24/7 nature of social media can lead to kids feeling like they need to check and respond to friends’ posts or messages constantly. As you can imagine, this can lead to poor sleep quality, anxiety, and even depression.

Parents can help. If you see your kids struggling — maybe they’re always stressed out after being on the phone or they’re staying up too late texting — step in.

Listen. It can be easy to dismiss FOMO and other social media stress as superficial, but for many tweens and teens, social media is social life. The more you show you care about how they feel, the more open they’ll be.

Don’t judge. Snapchat seems a little dumb, doesn’t it? But for tweens and teens, connecting with their peers is a normal part of child development. For you, it meant hours on the phone. For them, it means lots and lots of rainbow vomit.

Encourage their offline lives. FOMO can chip away at kids’ self-esteem, but the best defense is a strong sense of what makes kids unique, worthy, and valuable. Help kids participate in sports, clubs, drama, or volunteer work to help them weather the ups and downs of social media anxiety.

Set limits. After all the listening and validating is over, set some basic limits around when and where the phone or computer can be used. Start with turning phones off an hour before bedtime and storing them in your room to help kids resist the temptation to stay up late texting. You can suggest they tell their friends they’ll be signing off at a specific time, so they won’t be expecting a response.

Shift the focus. If kids are feeling overwhelmed by keeping up with all the social stuff online, encourage them to focus on the creative side of Instagram, for example, instead. Entering photo contests or building a portfolio can shift the focus to the positive side of social media.

Ask open-ended questions. You don’t need to solve their problems for them. But you can help them think about what is and isn’t working for them. Here are some questions to try:

● Are there any habits you might want to change? (Such as not checking your phone before bed.)

● What would happen if you turned off your phone? For an hour? A day?

● Have you thought about rewarding yourself for not checking your phone or social media for a certain amount of time? (Make a game of it!)

● What are the pros and cons of using Instagram and other social-networking apps?

● What would happen if you unfollowed or unfriended someone who was making you feel bad on social media?

● Do you notice that you have better or worse reactions to posts or messages depending on how you feel that day?


The Key to Helping Young Adults Overcome a Quarter-Life Crisis by Andrew McPeak


Today, we hear from Andrew McPeak. Andrew is a writer, curriculum designer, and speaker who has served with a number of non-profit organizations (and has spoken to thousands of Millennials) over the last 5 years. He now serves on our team at Growing Leaders. Enjoy. 

In years past Dr. Elmore has written about what psychologists, counselors, and life coaches now call the “quarter-life crisis.” It’s a term coined to reflect a difficult time of life that many past generations have faced as well. Historically, the mid-twenties are when young people might get married, start a career, have their first child, or experience their “fair share” of both success and failure. In this way, Millennials are no different from past generations. After all, every twenty-something is working to figure out who they want to be, right? There are a couple of reasons why this generation is the first to pick up a tag for this stage of life. While the problems are similar to times past, there are fewer options to get out, and their expectations for how to find success have been dead wrong.

A couple years ago my wife and I had some friends over for dinner. They were just a year younger than us, and because of that, we shared a lot of the same views on life and expectations for the future. Pretty quickly, the evening turned toward this subject, and our conversation went on for hours. We shared a common frustration with our college education, which seemed entirely disconnected from the practical characteristics that were needed for success in our careers. We each told stories of why we felt like we weren’t sure we would be able to succeed. Surprisingly, we all shared a feeling that we were relatively unprepared and somewhat told the wrong things. In recent years I’ve found that these sentiments are, in fact, backed up with sobering statistics.

There are three major shifts—and probably many smaller ones—that are causing Millennials to hit an early crisis point and stop short of their career potential.

  1. Statistics show that 44% of Millennials, the highest rate in many years, are stuck in low-wage, dead-end jobs.
  1. The average income of millennials is dropping to its lowest point since the 90s. With a record-high 23% reporting low-wage earnings (“low-wages” being defined as below $25,000 a year). Just check out this map of the average earnings of Millennials in each state.
  1. Millennials who work hard enough to get through school are now rewarded with the highest average debt in history. The Wall Street Journal reported in 2015 that the average debt for 2015 college graduates climbed to $35,000.

I don’t tell you these statistics and stories so that you will feel bad for us Millennials. Quite the opposite, actually. I have a theory about crisis, and it’s one that you—if you are over the age of 25—are pretty well acquainted with, I’ll bet. Every moment of doubt, questioning, and frustration is a golden opportunity for maturity. If it’s handled well, a crisis can be just the condition needed to motivate growth. When young people, Millennials especially, meet moments of fear and questioning, they don’t need an easier way out. No, they need us to be ready to encourage them, to push them, and to invite them to succeed.

While the statistics don’t look good for Millennials out of college, the stories beginning to emerge are amazing. There is hope for young people like me because those that face a “quarter-life” crisis, and stick it out, have created some amazing solutions to the world’s problems. One of my most favorite recent examples are these young black millennials who are committed to positively changing one of the most adverse cities in the world: Detroit. In a city that has seen more than its fair share of decline, groups of young people are finding ways to overcome—in the face of crisis. You really should read a few of their stories, if you get the chance.

The challenge to encourage—rather than ignore—is one that I often give to myself. I’m 27 now, but I still get the chance to speak with some of my younger peers, those who are just emerging from college and taking their first steps into their careers. When I speak with them, it’s hard for me not to say “get over it” when they complain, or “you haven’t seen anything yet” when they tell me about their problems. For me as a leader, and a mentor, these answers are unhelpful not because they are untrue, but because they are untimely. I am sure that, in certain moments, all of us need a kick in the pants, but for a young person in crisis, a reality check is already on the table. What your quarter-life crisis students, children, and mentees need from you is not a wake-up call, but an investment.

I was asking questions about my future about four years ago, and I reached out to an author and consultant that I really respected. I actually tweeted him, and amazingly, he responded. I drove to meet him at his office and he took me out to lunch. Those were literally the three most important pieces of pizza I’ve ever eaten. Looking back, the advice he gave me wasn’t so profound. I already knew most of what he said. What I got from him was encouragement. Someone I respected took time out of their day to talk with me. He emboldened my resolve, and told me that if I was willing to work hard, I could find success.

This is what all Millennials need from us. They need our time. They need our words of encouragement. They need us to tell them that life is sometimes hard, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. The Millennials around you, who may perhaps be in the middle of a quarter-life crisis, need you to stand in the gap with them. It’s a gap that exists between what is and what could be, and I can honestly say that I wouldn’t be writing these words today if someone hadn’t stood in the gap with me. Who needs you to stand with them?


Mentoring High-Risk Youth With Amy Williams by Jacob Eckeberger


If you don’t have time to watch the full interview, here are 4 key ideas I took from my time with Amy Williams.


Every kid is at risk of not growing into a healthy adulthood. But there’s a smaller subgroup of at-risk kids that have more difficult life situations, and those are the high-risk youth. If that subgroup doesn’t have outside influences to support them, they’re significantly less likely to grow into a healthy adulthood.


Amy explained that taking on those supportive roles will look different for every kid. Discipleship is what happens when we take on a spiritually supportive role in a kid’s life. But for those kids who don’t want to have anything to do with church, we can still provide a supportive role by mentoring them. It’s the idea that caring for the physical and emotional needs of a person could develop into opportunities to care for their spiritual needs as well. Amy says it well: “Discipleship is telling you what it means to look like Jesus. Mentoring is saying that we want to walk life with you on your journey to discover who you are . . . ”


Sometimes we feel as if kids only need to hear us say yes. We want to be supportive and active in their lives, but we can’t always say yes to the detriment of our own health and well-being. If we don’t take care of ourselves, no one else will. Amy points out that our kids are actually okay with the no. By choosing to say no to some things, we can model self-care to our students.


When we view kids as projects that need to be fixed, we create a relationship with them that’s similar to how a doctor approaches a patient. In this type of relationship, the patients—a.k.a. our students—always have to be sick, and we—the doctors—always have to be well. But when we free ourselves from that doctor/patient mindset, it creates room for the Holy Spirit to be just as alive in the hearts and minds of our students as the Holy Spirit is alive in us. Our kids don’t have to be sick to need us. We can celebrate the amazing work being done in their lives and truly be the support that they need in order to change the world around them.


10 Quick Ideas to Get Love Flowing in Your Group and                                              4 Risky Steps to go from Rejection to Acceptance by Ron Powell


It’s not enough that you love your kids.

Students will leave your group if they don’t feel loved and accepted by other students. That’s not always easy to pull off. Some students are better at making friends than others. Some students are just harder to love because of various behaviors. Unless they find a friend or a way to friend or a way to fit in they won’t last long in your group. Here are quick ways to help them get connected.

Get love flowing in the group.

–Easier said than done. Some teens aren’t on board with caring about anyone outside their friendship circle. They can become aware of the need and learn some skills that can turn this around. You can also look at some ideas for helping turn your group from a group that rejects new students to a group that accepts them gladly! (article included below)

  1. -teach on loving others the book of John and 1 John have many verses touching on this
  2. -do an exercise when teens get to feel what it is like to outside of the circle
  3. -do a small group series on including others
  4. -try case studies of students that were shunned by a group
  5. -have games and activities that require students to work together and speak with each other
  6. -have prayer times where students share needs
  7. -serve together –reaching out to others will help students feel closer to one another
  8. -have students do affirmation activities like the one where they write encouraging words about a student on a sheet taped to their back
  9. -have students write encouragement cards to each other -make sure no one is left out
  10. -leaders should connect students with similar interests outside of the youth group going to a movie together or doing an activity that they really enjoy

These are just 10 quick ideas that I’ve seen work with a lot of different youth ministries.  Try some out and let me know how they worked! What are some that have worked for you?  Continue reading