How to be a Small Group Guru by Kurt Johnston


Let’s spend this month talking about small groups! Small groups are nothing new, but many youth groups are just about to kick off a new season for the school year. And the beginning of a new small group run is a great time to remind yourself of some basic principles that may help get things off and running on the right foot.

Small Groups Take Big Effort!

Depending on your small group strategy, it may be the highest-maintenance thing your ministry does. Finding leaders, training leaders (and training, and training and training), assigning groups, finding host homes or ample space in the church, encouraging leaders (and encouraging and encouraging and encouraging), creating a calendar, sending out lessons, holding leaders accountable (and holding them accountable, and holding them accountable and holding them accountable), building relationships with the parents. And on and on and on. It’s tempting to wonder if all the effort is worth it. The answer, and I think most youth workers would agree, is a resounding YES!

* Small Groups Are Messy!

While it’s certainly true that some models are messier than others, small groups are messy stuff, And that’s the way it’s supposed to be! Small groups are largely about the idea of sharing life together, and life is messy.

* Small Groups Are Scary!

Sometimes because we are so convinced in the power of small groups, us youth workers forget how scary they can be. Being attacked on the church patio by an over-eager (read desperate) youth worker asking if you’d be willing to commit meeting weekly with a dozen 7th grade boys is scary to most adults. The idea of letting your teenager spend prolonged time under the influence of another adult (whom you probably don’t know very well and possibly have never met) is scary for most parents. Sitting in a circle with a group of peers wondering when you will be asked to share your deepest, darkest sin is scary to most teenagers. Of course, we’ve all learned that most of these fears are put to rest once a small group is off and running, but remember: Every year there are a whole bunch of volunteers, parents and teenagers entering the small group journey for the very first time. Acknowledge these fears instead of trying to minimize them.

* Small Groups Are Golden!

Big effort? Yep.  Messy? Check.  Scary. For sure.  But small groups are the “mother lode” of youth ministry! I’ve often said that if we were told our youth ministry could only do one thing (which would be kinda nice!), it would be small groups. Very little happens in the other areas of your youth ministry that can’t happen better in small groups. And because of this, they are well worth the effort, mess and fear that often comes with the package.

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The Bible Uncensored: How to Teach Kids by Lauren Hunter for Children’s Ministry Magazine


Should the Bible be censored for kids? Find out what experts say.

From the account of Cain murdering Abel, to David committing adultery with Bathsheba, to the woman at the well’s five husbands, to the beheading of John the Baptist, the Bible is fraught with some gruesome and disturbing accounts that expose humankind’s sinful nature. Whether it’s dodging narratives of brutal murder, rape, and incest or navigating Jesus’ crucifixion on the cross, children’s ministers face a unique challenge when it comes to knowing how to teach kids the tougher parts of the Bible.

How do we prayerfully cover all Bible stories for all ages? It’s no simple task-nor one to be taken lightly. For some, the idea of quietly censoring the Bible has its appeal. And it’s true: To a degree, simply leaving out the tough stories of the Bible would be easier.

But–and this is a big “but”–children’s ministers and experts all agree that omitting certain accounts of the Bible is a flawed approach that can result in children developing a flawed faith. So what’s the best approach to handling the racier events of the Bible? Read on to find out.

Unpack the Reality of Sin
Experts agree that we must figure out how to present all of the Bible-even the really uncomfortable parts-to kids so they learn from it. While the parts full of humanity’s sin can feel treacherous with children, shielding them from these parts may in fact shield them from the awareness of our sinful nature and our need for a Savior.

“Most of the ‘uncomfortable or censored’ content is a direct result of sin,” says Bill Emeott, lead childhood ministry specialist at LifeWay Christian Resources, “and kids need to understand what sin is and its consequences.”

We can’t teach the foundations of Christianity to children without teaching the concept of sin. Presenting the right teachings at the right time in a child’s life can provide the building blocks necessary to establish initial understanding of who God is and who we are in relation to him through Jesus. Starting with the third story in the Bible, kids need to know how Adam and Eve’s poor choice allowed sin to enter the world and separate humankind from God. It’s important to not protect kids from an early and basic understanding of sin and its gravity. This knowledge is crucial for kids to understand more about the Bible, themselves, and the world around them.

“At the same time,” Emeott notes, “it’s important to be sensitive to a child’s maturity and ability to understand the content. Whenever possible and appropriate, teaching the concepts and reality of these events is valuable-and foundational.”

Use Age-Appropriate Discretion
If you’ve ever set out to read the Bible from cover to cover, you know how overwhelming it can be to stomach all the violence. The Bible brings humans’ true sinful nature to the surface in a multitude of ways. Our challenge is to simplify-but not dumb-down-these lessons for children.

“For instance, the central story of our faith includes a guy being beaten, bloodied, and nailed to a cross,” says Mikal Keefer, senior writer for Lifetree Café (lifetreecafe.com) and a children’s ministry volunteer for more than 30 years. “Yet we find a way to share that story with everyone from young children to adults; it’s not the story-it’s the detail and method by which it’s shared.”

“I believe the entire Bible-every word-is important and good to study,” explains Jayne George, children’s ministry director for Valley Springs Presbyterian Church in Roseville, California. George has taught children and authored curriculum for more than 30 years.

“The real question is: What’s an age-appropriate way?” One tactical example is in nearly every boy’s favorite Old Testament “bad guy” story: David and Goliath. It’s a safe assumption that in virtually no children’s Bible is there mention of the end of the struggle, where David, after mortally wounding Goliath with his slingshot and stone, runs to Goliath, pulls the giant’s sword, and makes the final kill by beheading him. The complete account may be okay for older preteens, but certainly not for preschoolers or early elementary kids.

“The Bible is by nature a violent book,” Keefer continues. “Pick any child’s Bible storybook and no matter how carefully the stories are told, there’s violence lurking just around the corner.”

Often simplifying certain aspects of a story and presenting them on the child’s level is the key to making the story understandable to children. Consider the story of Noah’s Ark. It’s a treasured scene that adorns nurseries in churches and homes. What we don’t see is that once the animals are aboard the ark, a devastating flood engulfs the rest of life. We leave out certain details for the little ones.

“It’s a good idea to focus on the parts of the story that make a powerful connection with kids,” says Jody Brolsma, senior editor for Group’s vacation Bible school programs (groupvbs.com). “For example, in our Egypt VBS, we wanted to talk about Joseph being in prison for something he didn’t do. We knew that kids understand what it’s like to get blamed for something they didn’t do or even to get punished unjustly. Well, Joseph was put in prison because Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph, then claimed that he’d tried to rape her…Not exactly kid-friendly! So we had Joseph say, ‘Potiphar’s wife wanted me to be her boyfriend…and that’s not right!’ This was a simple, age-appropriate way to handle the topic, while not making it the focus of the story or an inappropriate distraction.”

Build a Simple Foundation
Consider what the key truth is that children of any age need to learn from any Bible story. Keefer asserts, “I wonder if a better question to ask-rather than ‘What stories are age-appropriate?’-might be ‘What truth does God want these children to discover from his Word?’ ”

For many, removing unnecessary and overly complicated details from stories is one tried-and-true way to get the story to the child’s level. Greg Baird is the founder of Kidmin360 (childrensministryleader.com), an organization that provides equipping and leadership development for children’s ministers. He says his trusted approach to tough biblical topics is to share the truth-without sharing all the facts.

“Keep to the truth and the essential message of the passage, but be careful not to raise disturbing and distracting elements of the story,” advises Baird. “For example, we can say that Rahab was a woman who didn’t obey God rather than that she was a prostitute. As kids get older, we share more details. In fact, later on those details sometimes lead to more relevant, life-impacting discussions.”

Children’s minister George adds that teaching young children is an organic process, meaning she inserts story details to kids’ learning as they’re appropriate to the kids’ age and development. “If I’m going to teach my child to swim, I’m not going to throw him into the deep end and hope he ‘gets it.’ I’m going to introduce him to water in an age-appropriate and organic manner. This way, children learn in non-threatening and easy ways. And that’s your goal for teaching children the Bible. By the time they get to the more difficult details and stories, there’s not trauma.”

Don’t Turn Truth Into a Fairy Tale
While simplifying biblical accounts to make them appropriate and palatable to children is beneficial, experts agree that there’s a risk of over-sanitizing the stories: The stories risk being stripped of their inherent meaning and value.

“Children’s ministers need to be willing to push the envelope a little,” says Brolsma. “Many times it feels like we’ve watered down these stories so they’re the equivalent of fairy tales in an effort to not frighten or offend. No wonder so many young adults who grew up in the church don’t believe the Bible is true. We need to be willing to help children experience God’s Word, to let the emotion and power of God’s Word take root in a child’s heart. That’s life-changing. Again, I’m not talking about showing The Passion of the Christ to a class of fourth graders, but it’s okay to talk about how painful it was for Jesus to die.”

Providing kids with just enough detail to identify and relate to the people or situations involved in the events is extremely valuable. Ask: What traits or themes do you want to teach? How do you want your children to relate their personal experience to God’s Word? And, advise our experts, don’t be lulled into sticking to the tried-and-true stories kids have heard hundreds of times.

“Why have we limited the awesomeness of God’s Word to a select number of ‘safe’ stories?” challenges Brolsma. “Recently we talked to VBS leaders about our upcoming Babylon VBS, which has the subtitle, ‘Daniel’s Courage in Captivity.’ I was astounded that a negative comment was, ‘How are you going to make the story of Daniel in the lion’s den last for five days of VBS?’ Daniel did so much more than face lions! If we could look at things through the filter of ‘what truth does God want these children to discover from his Word?’ I think we’d be shocked by the lesser-known Scriptures we could bring to life for kids.”

Build on Basics
The best course of action for children’s ministers is to start simply and build upon repeated concepts as children develop. Teaching fundamental concepts first and adding to these as maturity allows makes perfect sense.

“Children learn best when they’re allowed to build on knowledge they’ve already got,” says Emeott. “Children learn difficult concepts a little at a time and build on what they know. A first-grade teacher doesn’t start math lessons with algebra, but by the sixth grade, algebra is part of the expected teaching plan. Math starts with addition and subtraction and then kids build on those learned skills with multiplication and division. Eventually, the learner is ready for the more complicated math of algebra.”

The same theory applies with controversial concepts of the Bible. “As a child matures and grows, you can share more and more facts with deeper understanding of the events,” says Emeott. “God wants to speak anew every time you read his Word. So even in Bible stories we think we understand fully, God can reveal new and fresh truths.”

When we look at the amazing array of events in the Bible, it’s all too easy to lean toward censoring the ones that make us uncomfortable. Rather than censoring or omitting, change your frame of reference. Everything in the Bible is there for a reason; it’s up to us to seek out the ways to help kids find the meaning God has for them in his words. Rather than censor it, we can simplify concepts and de-select details so they don’t become a distraction to the understanding kids can get from the basic story. Learn to release and hold back just the right amount for the kids you minister to.

“Should we censor the Bible?” ponders Brolsma. “Of course not. But we should use wisdom as we teach God’s Word, gleaning applicable and meaningful truths from every portion of Scripture. It means we step out in faith, sharing God’s Word honestly and simply in ways that today’s kids can best understand.”


3 Things That Must be Clear Before Your Sermon is Ready to Preach by Lane Sebring


With each sermon you preach, you should be absolutely crystal clear what you want your people to take away from it. If you are murky about how they’ll be able to use your message, then you can be sure they’ll be clueless. Not to mention that they’ll pick up on your uncertainty and check out because their time is valuable and you have chosen to waste it.

As preachers who want to communicate well, clarity must be a top priority in every sermon. But it’s easy, and sometimes necessary, to focus a most of your prep time on your content and not your listeners. This makes it so crucial to think through how your listeners will receive and use your message. I want to give you three simple tests that will help you ensure that your sermon is ready to go in terms of its impact on your listeners and their ability to apply it.

This is drop-dead simple, and it’s meant to be. At this point in your prep you have already done the complicated stuff, this is the icing on the cake that helps you ensure a strong, focused delivery that accomplishes what you want. These three test did NOT originate with me. They are as standard as it gets, but so helpful. They will be another tool you can easily put to use as you prepare.

3 Things that Must be Clear Before your Sermon is Ready to Preach

What you want your listeners to KNOW (information). When you get up to preach you need to be clear about what information you want to get across. Paul, in Romans 12, says that we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. This means that the Word of God should continually be changing the way we think. Your sermon is one of the building blocks of this transformation for your people.

People can’t remember everything you say, but they can remember some of it. You should determine what is the most important thing you’re saying and ensure that you communicate it clearly. For your listeners to walk away knowing what you want them to know you must avoid information overload. One way to prevent this is to not preach too long.

Information transfer is not enough because people can know what they need to know and be completely comfortable doing nothing with it. There is more to preaching than making ideas clear which leads to the next test.

What you want your listeners to FEEL (inspiration). How will your sermon connect with people’s hearts? Think of the sermons that have had the most impact on you. You probably don’t just remember the facts that were shared, but the way you were made to feel. It wasn’t the fact but the powerful story beautifully told that truly moved you. Your listeners are the same, they want to be moved at an emotional level. They want to be inspired, to be lifted up, to be encouraged, to be challenged.

You should determine exactly how they should feel as a result of your sermon, and aim to create that feeling. For more on how to connect with the emotions and feelings of your listeners check out this post on building tension in your sermons.

What you want your listeners to DO (application). You need to put handles on your messages that people can grab onto. You need to be crystal clear what it looks like for your people to apply your message in real life. For more on how to give clear application to your messages check out this post on message objectives and desired responses.

Sermons must have all three of these elements to be effective

Information without inspiration is boring. Inspiration without application is useless. Here’s a simple equation to make sense of it all: Information + Inspiration + Application = killer sermon.


You Are Not Their Parent by Leneita Fix


For years youth leaders have been saying something that makes me cringe. It made my skin crawl even before I lived with actual teens, but now that my own children have entered youth group, it makes me want to scream. It goes something like this:

“I may not have children at home, but I’m like a parent to 50 kids in my youth ministry.”

The trouble with statements like this is that they misinterpret our role in our students’ lives. There’s no question that we guide them, teach them life skills, and comfort them when they’re upset. All too often, we are stepping into the lives of hurting students, offering a listening ear or spiritual direction. We pick up after them, remind them what an “inside voice” sounds like, and explain appropriate times to share their bodily functions—all things that go way beyond what’s listed on our job descriptions. Still, that does not make us their parent. Why?

  • We are not solely responsible for feeding, clothing, or housing any of these students.
  • We aren’t responsible for doing whatever it takes to keep them on track in school.
  • We do not get up in the middle of the night with them to deal with the stomach flu, ear infections, or coughs. We have not sat vigil beside their beds trying to get a fever under control. And we aren’t responsible for any of their medical expenses.
  • We’ve known our students for a few short years. Parents raised their kids from infancy. We didn’t teach them to walk, talk, and we definitely didn’t change their diapers.

There are obviously exceptions to some of these points. I’m certainly not saying that all parents fill all of these roles perfectly (far from it). But no matter how much time we spend with our students, at some point they leave our functions and go home to live with other people who are responsible for them in ways that we simply aren’t.

There are two major reasons we should stop pretending to be our students’ parents:

1) It takes away from their relationship with their actual parents.

Our students have a deep, heart-felt desire for the parents they live with to step up and parent them. They are longing for their home to be whole. When we take over the role of parent, the actual parents get pushed aside. We become a wedge in their relationship. The student spends more time wishing they were “out of the house” than praying for their parents or talking to them about Christ.

Of course some students have parents who don’t care about or care for them. Those are tricky situations. Earthly parents fail their children in so many ways, and that can lead to serious, long-term damage. But I have to break something to you: you aren’t the solution to those broken relationships. God is. He’s the perfect parent we all need, and you have the opportunity to point students with broken parental relationships to him.

In extreme circumstances—in cases of neglect—it becomes our responsibility to call a state agency to step in and ensure the students are taken care of. This does happen on occasion, but let’s be honest—most of our students do not fall into this category. More often, we perceive a brokenness in our students, blame the parents, and step in to save the day. Before you do that, take a second to hang up your superhero cape. You won’t need it if your primary goal is to direct students and parents into God’s healing presence.

2) It takes away from the role you should have with students.

Do your students need you to be family to them? Absolutely. They need big brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. But what they really need you to be is their pastor. That means a lot of things: you’re a leader, a mentor, a friend, a confidant. But it’s not the same as being a parent.

Just think of all the amazing opportunities you get as their youth leader instead of their parent. Many teens see their parents as corny and out of touch, or worse, as authoritarians, but you get to be a discipleship model they actually want to listen to and imitate. Students trust you with secrets and confessions that their parents may never hear. You get to lead them in a community that’s larger and more diverse than most at-home families. And your role gives you a special perspective to help strengthen the many relationships in a student’s life, especially with their actual parents.

The parents at home may not know the Lord or how to guide their children in spiritual growth. We should help with that. Parents are still the primary faith influencers of their students. When was the last time you went out of your way to get to know the parents? When was the last time you asked about their difficulties? When was the last time a parent came to you struggling to understand their teen, and you brushed them off or rolled your eyes at their incompetence? That may be the response of someone hoping to become a surrogate parent, but it’s not very pastoral.

From a parent’s perspective

Putting on my parent hat for a second, can I tell you a secret? It offends me deeply when you say, “I am just like their parent.” It makes me feel like you don’t see how hard I am trying to raise my kids and get it right.

So today, stop saying you are just like their mom or dad. You are an important part of their life. Sometimes you do parent them. Yet can we all agree that, at the end of the day, God made someone else their parent? Many parents need some encouragement to keep trying. They need to know that they don’t need to be replaced. They need to hear that their kids still need and want them.

Do we have to be in a competition? Can’t we help support our students together, each from our unique perspective? My child needs your voice and presence in their life—in addition to, not instead of, mine.


3 Ways to be Intentional in Your Youth Ministry by Matt McCage


Here are a couple of practical tips I reminded her to keep in mind when attempting to intentionally plan ahead for optimal health and longevity in ministry:

1. Carefully gauge where your students are at spiritually.
This is going to be a general assessment. Yes, every student is at a different place in their spiritual journey. However, we should be able to have a general understanding of where our students are at. We’re able to assess this by prayerfully looking at the conversations we’ve had with them, looking at some lifestyle choices they been making, and by having healthy communication with their parents.

2. Prayerfully determine where God is leading your group.
Most of us are looking for a quick-fix solution on this one. Yet nothing replaces the discovery that only comes with prayer and reflection. This is the time when God speaks to the deepest part of our hearts in showing us not just where our students are at, but where he is wanting to lead them in the next season of life.

3. Intentionally plan ahead, allowing for flexibility.
Here is where things start to get really fun. Once we know where our students are at and where God is leading them, we can intentionally plan out the teaching (shepherding) path.


The New Compartmentalization of Teenagers’ Faith by Andy Blanks


When I started doing youth and college ministry in the late 90’s, there was a lot of talk about post-modernism and its affect on young adults and faith. One of the key factors of this discussion was the tendency of many (not all) teenagers to compartmentalize their faith. The conversation centered on the collective habits of a generation (mine: Gen-X) who would take their faith on and off as the situation called for. Teenagers would show up on Sunday or Wednesday and act one way, but live lives outside of church that didn’t line up with their faith.

To be sure, the idea that people live out their faith unevenly is, in itself, nothing new. This was a lot of what Paul was talking to the Corinthians about in the first chapter of 1 Corinthians. You could even make the case that Jesus was hitting this hard in the Sermon on the Mount, and in His dialogues with the Pharisees. Inconsistent faith is part of what it means to live with a sin nature.

But what we were seeing in Gen X-ers was unique in that it was happening wholesale. This seemed to be a trend impacting a lot of Christian young people. Teenagers were attending church. Going to youth camp. Engaging in worship. But could very easily (shockingly so) set this aspect of their identities aside as they lived their Monday-Saturday lives. The issue of compartmentalization in young people was discussed in youth ministry journals, workshops, and books throughout the late 90’s and early 00’s.

So how does this set up where we find ourselves today?

I write this post as someone who is deeply engaged with teenagers, youth culture, and youth ministry. I have been working with students and student ministers day-in and day-out for the last 16 years or so. And I have noticed something in the last couple of years that I think is significant when it comes to teenagers and the compartmentalization of their faith.

I think there is a “new compartmentalism” emerging. It seems to me that the tendency for teenagers to compartmentalize their faith is as strong as it has ever been. With one important distinction: They don’t inherently grasp why this is a problem.

What I remember about the late 90s and early 00’s is that, when faced with the issue, teenagers by and large saw the problem. They understood that being a new creation in Christ, someone whose identity was wrapped up in Christ, meant that you embraced the new life and let the old life die. For good. In all areas of your life. Were they perfect? Somehow more holy than today’s teenagers? Of course not. But they seemed to understand the disparity.

Here’s what I am encountering as I disciple teenagers (including my own children), and engage with youth workers across the country. Many teenagers today live extremely compartmentalized lives. But not only do they not seem to grasp the issue with this, it almost seems like it is an ideal way to live.

Oftentimes when I point out, as I have had the occasion to often over the last couple of years, that we have to view our faith holistically, many young people get a little squirmy. To think that they would be the same person on IG, and musical.ly, and Snapchat as they are at Summer Camp or Sunday mornings . . . well, it feels like this seems odd to them. My sense is that it feels unnecessarily restrictive.


I don’t know for sure. But what I know is that the disconnect is real (at least I think it is) and it has serious implications on the faith of our young people. Our culture values authenticity in people and brands and institutions. As much as anything, we are drawn to entities whose actions line up with their stated identities. And we are repelled by those whose actions do not. My fear is that we’re seeing a new compartmentalization that puts teenagers in the position of being inauthentic in their expression of their faith. Not only does this have negative side-effects on the brand of their personal faith, but it deeply impacts their ability to lead people to meaningful faith in Christ.

To be sure, when you make critiques of any generation, you paint with a broad brush. I personally know many teenagers and young adults who live authentic, holistic faith lives. But I do believe as I survey the next-gen ministry landscape, that this is an emerging trend. I believe it’s our responsibility to call it what it is, and lead our young people to embrace a faith-life with Ephesians 5:1 as the goal for every aspect of their lives.


3 Clues to Create What Your Students Crave by Tyson Howell


Do you like sitcoms?

I wonder what it is about sitcoms that we enjoy?  Is it the humor?  Maybe it is they’re a very convenient length?

The reason may be something totally different; something very powerful for you to understand if you are in youth ministry. It is so simple you may just miss it…

Think, what most if not all sitcoms have.  Cheers had it.  Friends most definitely had it.  You can also see it in Big Bang Theory.


What are some examples or truth statements that show people want or maybe better said, crave community?

 “The search for belonging is part of what it means for humans to be created in the image of God.  People need each other.  We are relational beings.  We not only want to belong, we only come to a true understanding of who we are in our relationships with God and with other people.  We must belong to be fully alive.” Reggie McNeal in Practicing Greatness

We must belong or be part of community to be fully alive!!!  That is a bold statement.

Take the time to press the link and read these passages about Jesus.

What do you notice about Jesus in these passages?

Your students who are part of the ministry and those that need to be part of the ministry desperately need you to help them belong.  They need you to create community.

Here are 2 senses to use and one quality to measure, to get a clue about how to help build community.


Here are some important questions you need to be looking at;

  • When was the last time you looked at a student or leader openly, without judgment or expectation?
  • When was the last time you tried to look at a student with the eyes of God?
  • When was the last time you allowed someone to see you as you really are?
  • Can someone come into your youth ministry and really be seen?
  • Who might people become if every Christian they encounter beholds them with eyes of love?


Some times we get so caught up in getting stuff done that we forget to truly listen to people.

I remember a student wanting to talk to me right before a youth service was supposed to start.  He had just found out that his parents were going to get a divorce.  I quickly stopped the conversation, told him we had to start the service but we could talk afterwords.

I regret it to this day.  I should have taken the time to listen to him.  Who cares if we start 10-15 minutes late.


Your students want honesty that is not mean.  There is an art to this, but it is worth learning.  Always remember that it is not what you say but how you say it.

Never hid the truth because you are afraid of hurting a students feelings.  Instead, find ways to be truthful while still creating dignity and being loving.  Someone recently said that we are kinder then Jesus when we talk.  Jesus was very good at being honest and not mean.  Reread the story of the women at the well.


Faith: How to Ensure Kids Are Getting the Message by Jill Williams for Children’s Ministry Magazine

Wonder whether kids are listening when you teach? Fear your words go in one ear and out the other? When it comes to faith, here’s how to ensure kids are getting the message.

Is your teaching in one ear and out the other? Maybe—or maybe not.

Children’s ministry looks a lot different to me now than it used to. Over the past few years my understanding of the purpose behind children’s ministry has changed — dramatically. The goals I set and the approaches I take in teaching aren’t what they used to be. And — this may make you cringe — I’m beginning to realize that no matter how well I teach a lesson, much of what I say to a child in Sunday school may actually go in one ear and out the other. But that’s not because teaching is a waste of time or kids aren’t learning. It’s because as much as the amazing truths of our faith are difficult for adults to grasp, they can be even more difficult for children.

Faith: How to Ensure Kids Are Getting the Message

If you grew up going to church, think back to your Sunday school days. Maybe you remember a handful of specific things from memorable lessons. You could probably recount some main events of the Bible. But you likely didn’t grasp the deeper truths of Christianity until you were older — things such as grace, forgiveness, and sacrifice. That’s not because your teachers weren’t effective. It’s simply because developmentally kids learn on a spectrum that begins with concrete concepts and develops into deeper understanding of abstract ones. Kids build that bridge from the concrete to the abstract over years. They do it using the tools of discovery and repetition in sync with their brain’s development.

Many of the most important concepts in God’s Word are highly abstract. So when you wonder whether kids are getting the message, they are. It’s just that kids will absorb what they can when they’re developmentally ready.

Examining the Framework

Christian tradition, or our statement of faith, is one basis kids can stand on as they begin their faith journey. Ironically, I’ve found this important information is often overlooked when it comes to children’s ministry because we’re home-blind to it; we tend to assume that kids will automatically absorb the basics of our faith along the way, even if they’re never directly articulated to them. These are basic truths such as, “God’s grace, not our good works, is what assures us eternal life” and “Jesus is the only way to God.” But if we fail to carefully instruct kids on the details of our beliefs, how will they fully understand what Christians really believe? And could this lack of understanding contribute to the fact that so many Christian kids grow up and leave the church when their faith is challenged?

These two questions became very real to me in conversations with college students about their experiences growing up in church. It was during these discussions that I realized people’s views of the church and of Christianity itself varied greatly — from confusion to superficial understanding to detailed comprehension. I began to wonder if we as Christian educators are missing something when it comes to teaching our kids. I wondered how we’re ensuring kids are getting the message about faith?

My curiosity led me to create the Christian Truths Survey, based on the foundational Christian beliefs of the Apostle’s Creed and on three main categories related to our faith: salvation, the Trinity, and general biblical truths (note the distinction between biblical truths and Bible trivia). I designed the survey to gain insights about 185 elementary-age churched kids’ understanding of our faith, and I enlisted the expertise of pastors and experts in children’s education and faith to build it. The questions ranged from factual questions (multiple choice and true/false), such as, “True or False: People can get to heaven by doing good things” to open-ended questions, such as, “How do we receive salvation?”

The Right Tools

Elementary-age children have the potential to hold deep conceptions of God and can have a greater personal faith than most adults assume they can, according to researchers in the International Journal for Psychology and Religious Education.

What this means is there’s not necessarily a correlation between children’s cognitive development (perception, memory, judgment, and reasoning) and their spiritual development. My survey results agree with this: There is a significant difference in how kids age 10 and older scored compared with those 9 and under when it comes to understanding the more abstract details of our faith. Older kids scored higher in my survey when it came to questions focused on salvation, the Trinity, and biblical truth. While 85 percent of 10- and 11-year-olds demonstrated understanding of these things, almost 73 percent of 8- and 9-year-olds could. Specifically, 83 percent of 10- and 11-year-olds understood salvation concepts, while 70 percent of 8- and 9-year-olds did.

* Building Faith: Much more may be going on spiritually in children than is evident on the surface. Even so, how you teach younger elementary children-and your expectations of what they can comprehend — have to be different than with older children. Research shows that older children have a grasp of facts and may be ready to go deeper with more abstract concepts. With younger kids, however, focus on stating the basic tenets of the faith again and again in different ways so kids hear repetition and a reinforcing message — or the framework.

The Right Words

I figured that many people grow up with confused understanding of biblical events and a few moral lessons as the sum of their experience of Christianity. This was for a few reasons. First, many curricula focus on teaching traits such as honesty, obedience, and love. Though God desires all of these from us, this approach seems to aim to improve children’s character rather than increase their knowledge of God. The lessons expect children to “do good” and “be good” rather than giving them a sense of their true condition and utter need for God. In addition, my discussions with peers and experts seemed to reinforce the argument that many practicing Christians may not have a concrete, accurate understanding of the basics of Christianity and are therefore more at risk of walking away from their faith. And because today’s families are more transient than past generations, kids may travel through many different children’s ministries with many different philosophies — and fewer opportunities for consistent teaching and learning that sticks.

Kids understood a lot about who God is, though they struggled most with the abstract, Trinity-focused questions. Seventy-four percent of 12-year-olds demonstrated comprehension of the Trinity, while 64 percent of younger children did. Despite lower scores on the abstract nature of God, the survey revealed a very encouraging point to note: Kids could accurately use the terminology they’d heard used to describe salvation, even if they didn’t fully grasp the meaning of the words. So for instance, they knew terms such as grace, savior, and Holy Spirit, even if they couldn’t give a textbook definition.

Building Faith: Language is a key component of our faith’s framework for children who are learning about Christianity. By providing kids with the correct language and using that language frequently, you can give them a context for concepts they’ll grow to understand later. For teachers, it’s critical to acknowledge the importance of using faith-accurate language and to use it correctly, based on Scripture and tradition.

The Right Approach

The results of the survey data confirmed for me that our role as Christian faith educators is to provide a standard for content and a language for experience. Here’s a radical idea: Children don’t have to graduate from our ministries knowing all the content of the Bible, all the events that took place. They should, however, walk away with a plum line by which to measure their growing knowledge and experience. It’s our responsibility and honor to provide them with this tool. Shifting our mindset and re-evaluating our goals and definitions of success in ministry may prove necessary. Where before we may have felt a sense of failure if kids confused the facts of Noah’s experience or thought Job was really Moses, it’s important to remember that it’s not Bible trivia we’re teaching, but Bible truths. So if kids walk away thinking, God stayed with Noah, and he’ll stay with me when I’m afraid, too, you’ve scored a major win for your ministry. Our mission is relationship with Jesus — not trivia.

Building Faith: We don’t create faith — we frame it. Don’t get me wrong; becoming a “framer” doesn’t mean lowering your standards. In fact, the opposite is true. Framing faith for the kids in your ministry means you challenge yourself to learn anew the language and truths of our faith. It means you try even harder to articulate those complex truths in a way that’s kid-friendly and biblically and theologically sound. This is a huge task — and good reason for children’s Christian educators to be some of the best-trained people of your church.


7 Threats to Your Ministry—and What to Do About Them by Dale Hudson


Every ministry can be infiltrated, and every leader can become vulnerable. Here’s how to tackle the 7 most common threats to your ministry.

It’s a scary thought, especially when you consider how much effort, time, and care we put into our ministries. Infiltrated—by what? Vulnerable—to what?

The truth is, there are seven major threats to every ministry out there, biding their time, waiting to sneak in when no one is looking. So consider this your fair warning. It’s time to batten down the hatches of your ministry and prepare to use your leadership skills. Here’s how to give the boot to these threats before they ever get a toe in your ministry doorway.

Threat #1: Mr. Disunity

A lack of unity from within your team will seep in and crack apart your children’s ministry through gossip, division, backbiting, and slander. This threat is often the culprit behind church splits, “us vs. them” ministry divisions, and personal agendas that create strife.

Defeat Mr. Disunity

  • Understand-and help your team understand-that unity is key. God’s power and his blessings flow through unity. (See John 17:21, John 13:35, Psalm 133:1, and Acts 2:42-47.)
  • Set goals. Establish a common vision that people will support and rally behind.
  • Enlist core values that identify your ministry. These core values, such as friendliness and grace, will strengthen your unity and help your team know what you expect of them.
  • Model and expect direct communication. Unity doesn’t mean you agree on everything. But it does mean there’s open, direct, loving, mature communication when issues or disagreements arise.
  • Create a culture where people go to their direct leader with questions or concerns rather than having side conversations with other staff, volunteers, or parents. Lovingly confront people when they aren’t following core values.
  • Don’t tolerate or enable divisiveness, gossip, or bad attitudes. Once your team makes a decision, everyone stacks hands. If someone can’t stack hands, encourage that person to leave quietly.

Threat #2: The Abuser

The Abuser is a deadly enemy who seeks to destroy your children’s ministry through the abuse of children. He’ll not only hurt a child’s life, but also severely damage your ministry in the community.

Defeat The Abuser

  • Make safety first. Place security for kids as a top priority in your ministry; get your leaders and team on board, and publicize it.
  • Prepare. Establish secure buildings and proper plans and safety systems before something happens, not after.
  • Know who you’re dealing with. Complete a thorough screening for volunteers that includes a background check, a personal interview, reference calls, and training. Maintain the two-adult rule so no volunteer is ever alone with a child. This protects kids and also the volunteers who faithfully serve in your ministry.

Threat #3: Mrs. Inwardly Focused

This threat constantly attempts to shift your attention away from those outside the walls of your church. She’s most comfortable in a holy huddle. She can be very outspoken. You’ll hear her critiques in phrases such as, “the teaching isn’t deep enough” or “we need to care for our own rather than worrying about getting more new people in” or “I don’t care if new people like the music-it’s too loud!”

Defeat Mrs. Inwardly Focused

  • Remember what matters to Jesus. He has the world on his heart. He came to seek and save those who are lost, and your church is an avenue to achieve that. It’s not about numbers. Rather than focusing week in and week out only on the number of kids who are attending, also focus on who’s outside who could be attending your church.
  • Keep a balanced ministry. Provide pathways for kids to grow in their faith inside your program while reaching out to your community.
  • Be a hospital…not a museum. Your ministry can’t be a spiritual museum where perfect Christians are on display. It’s a hospital where the spiritually sick can come and find healing.

Threat #4: Mr. Calendar

This threat (and it may even come from you) wants to fill your ministry calendar with random events and programs. His mantra is “the busier the better.” He’s the dad who has a great idea. He’s the music group that’s going to be coming through your area. He’s that little voice in your head telling you should be doing more, more, more!

Defeat Mr. Calendar Crowder

  • Just because someone wants you to do it doesn’t mean you should. Don’t say “yes” without first seeking God in prayer, getting his confirmation, and talking with your leaders. Find your niche and do a few things well. It’s a fact: You can either do a lot of things with mediocrity or a few things with excellence. What you say “no” to is just as important as what you say “yes” to. Sometimes good ideas have to die so great ones can live.
  • Be process driven rather than program driven. Think from the perspective of “pathways to growth” rather than “quantity of programs.” Ask yourself these questions. How would the new program impact resources and staff? Is the opportunity based on the personal interest of a few or the well-being of the whole? Is it a “good” idea or a “God” idea?

Threat #5: Cousin Complacency

Cousin Complacency tends to approach you after you’ve been in ministry awhile. She lingers in familiarity. She loves to whisper, “Been there, done that, no problem” in your ear. She wants you to put the ministry on cruise control, kick back, and relax. Why strive to grow spiritually and as a leader? You’re doing just fine. No need to reach more kids and families for Jesus…just hold out until Jesus comes.

Defeat Cousin Complacency

  • Increase the time you spend with God. Your next level of ministry is waiting in your relationship with God. You’ll become a better leader on your knees.
  • Ask a trusted friend or mentor to be brutally honest with you about weak areas they see in your leadership. Debrief with this person after events and programs to look for ways to improve.
  • Constantly bring in new volunteers. New volunteers bring new energy, excitement, and passion.
  • Be a thermostat rather than a thermometer. It’s up to you to set the spiritual temperature rather than simply reflect it. Stay fired up yourself if you want to see your ministry on fire.
  • Keep sharing your vision. A vision left unfueled will go out. Constantly remind people why they’re doing the work of the ministry. State your vision clearly and repeatedly.

Threat #6: Mr. Pride

Mr. Pride’s goal is for you to stop depending on God and start depending on yourself. He wants you to believe the press and take credit for what’s happening. He wants to render you unteachable. And why wait for God’s help when you can help yourself now?

Defeat Mr. Pride

  • Remember: The way up is down. If you humble yourself, God will lift you up in his time (1 Peter 5:6). Own your mistakes and be quick to say “I’m sorry.”
  • Stay teachable. We all say we’re teachable…until there’s a lesson to be learned. Admit when you don’t understand or know something.
  • Listen a lot more than you talk. The old saying is true: God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason.
  • Ask for others’ opinions. Ask others to join in conversations and contribute. Don’t boast. Push others into the spotlight. Know that the commendations and condemnations of man will come and go. Don’t let either sway you.

Threat #7: Miss Solo Superhero

Miss Solo Superhero wants you to do ministry alone, even if it kills you. Rather than training and investing in others, Solo wants you to do everything yourself and never take a break. She’ll try to convince you to spend all your time doing, not showing. She’ll whisper in your ear that no one can do it as well or fast as you. You know Solo’s been at work when you begin to feel like a willing martyr.

Defeat Miss Solo Superhero

  • Don’t do ministry alone. Always have someone by your side who you’re investing in, mentoring, and preparing to lead.
  • Empower your team and give away ministry. You may be able to go faster alone…but you’ll always go farther together.
  • Make yourself unnecessary to the success of the ministry. Set your team up for success so they don’t rely on you.
  • Make a dream list of volunteer positions. If you could have every support role you wanted, what would it look like? Pray and invite people one-on-one to join you. Then watch God fill your list.

One or more of these threats may be breathing down your neck right now. They may even have you backed into a corner. Take heart! You can defeat them. Implement these steps and watch God bring the victory.


Harvard Prof Outlines Skills Every 18 Year Old Needs by Ron Powell


Begin with the end in mind

As we prepare our kids for the real world it is great to have some clear goals. A Harvard Prof provides a useful list of skills we should help teens develop before college or university. I think that for Christian students there are a few more that we should add to the list. Take a look at how far along your teen is…

The Harvard List

(If you would like to take a look at the original article you can find it here “What are the skills every 18-year-old needs?”  )

Here is a quick overview of the 8 –18-year-olds must be able to:

  1. talk to strangers
  2. find their way around
  3. manage their assignments, workload, and deadlines
  4. contribute to the running of a household
  5. handle interpersonal problems
  6. cope with ups and downs
  7. manage money
  8. take reasonable risks

Without unpacking each of the 8 items above, I imagine that you can see why each is so important. Young adults who do not master these skills will suffer consequences. If we constantly do these things for them or bail them out when things go wrong, we will find that they do

Other Items for Christians

For Christian young people, there are some additional items that God expects.

Every 18 year old believer should be able to:

  1. Explain why they believe in Jesus
  2. Maintain a daily routine of prayer and bible study
  3. Volunteer in the church or community at least one hour a week
  4. Practice godly discernment of media, money and lifestyle choices
  5. Give a percentage of their money regularly to God’s work in the world
  6. Participate in worship at a church each week

Many parents would be thrilled if their son or daughter would just get out of bed on Sunday to attend Church. Despite what they have taught and modeled for their teen, their son or daughter has chosen a different path. Even this is a possible outcome, I have found that working toward these goals from a young age makes them more possible.

We want to produce responsible adults. We also want to ensure that we are also making disciples as Jesus commanded us before we returned to heaven.

It is true that sometimes we have to readjust our expectations but the ideal is that by 18 years a teen will own their faith and take responsibility for serving, giving, and participating in the life of the church.

If we aim for nothing we are certain to achieve it. The same way that we stopped spoon feeding our toddlers we need to help teens to learn to develop regular spiritual disciplines.

I think the process goes something like this:

  • Do it for them and they watch
  • Do it with them
  • Let them do it and you watch
  • Let them do it and report back

Ultimately we want to see our adult children pass on their faith to their children. Aiming for responsible Christian disciplines by 18 is a great way to see that happen.