07.25.16

Navigating Rocky Relationships with Volunteers by Dan Chapin

youthspecialties.com/blog/navigating-rocky-relationships-with-volunteers/

“THAT’S A STUPID IDEA!”

My leaders and I were in the middle of a brainstorming session about what theme to choose for an event. I wish I could say that this was the first time this person had said something hurtful to me or to another volunteer, but it wasn’t.

In most cases, the relationships you have with your volunteers are only going to be as healthy as you want them to be. Don’t be the leader who thinks that if you just hang on for one more year, the volunteer will leave and you won’t have to work with that person anymore. Here are some things I’ve learned from navigating rocky relationships with volunteers:

  1. BE STRONG AND COURAGEOUS.

If you want to have healthy relationships with your volunteers, you have to have the courage to step into the discomfort. If you aren’t willing to be uncomfortable, you’ll never be able to face tough conversations.

  1. BE PROACTIVE.

Address issues with your leaders early on—don’t wait for them to get their stuff together, and don’t wait for them to feel guilty and come to you. Address any hurtful behavior or comments—even if it seems small. Unaddressed hurtful comments will lead to more hurtful comments. To let little comments go is to invite bigger hurt later. Be proactive and address those little comments before they become a big mess for you.

  1. BE CALM.

“He isn’t going to kill me.” This is a phrase I tell myself when I’m in the middle of a heated conversation. “He isn’t coming at me with a knife—I will survive this.” Our bodies have a natural fight-or-flight reaction when we’re faced with tough conversations. This is what causes our heart rates to increase, our foreheads to sweet, and our thinking to slow down. Our bodies think we’re in danger, so they send signals that say, “Prepare for attack!” If you can tell yourself that the person confronting you isn’t going to kill you, you can calm your nerves and put a heated conversation into perspective. (If a volunteer actually does come at you with a knife, you should put that fight-or-flight response to use and run—or use your mad Assassin’s Creed skills.)

  1. MODEL FORGIVENESS AND REPENTANCE.

“I’m sorry for what I did—there’s no excuse. Is there anything I can do to make this right?” When you know you have hurt someone, don’t wait for that person to say something first. Tell them you’re sorry, and ask for forgiveness. If you take that first step, it will go a long way toward healing the relationship. And when your volunteers see you model repentance, they’re more likely to walk it out themselves. Remember, once you’ve said you’re sorry and have received forgiveness, you must begin the hard work of trying not to make the same mistake again.

  1. BE A GOOD LISTENER.

When you have a rocky relationship with a volunteer, it can be easy to ignore what that person says because all you can hear in your mind is his or her last hurtful comment. Learn to really listen so that your volunteers know they’re being heard. Try to value your volunteers’ opinions, because if you don’t, you risk even rockier relationships.

Keep in mind how your treatment of volunteers affects your students. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35 NIV).

Are you marked by the radical love of Jesus? 

Do your students know that you love those who are tough to love? 

Disciples of Christ are marked by how they love others when it’s hard.

07.25.16

Good News About Growing Up by Tom Bergler

youthspecialties.com

I have some good news for you.  Jesus wants to help us all grow up.  But for many, that might not sound so good. Greeting cards bear messages like “Growing old is inevitable, growing up is optional.” One woman in her forties, unprompted, declared to me, “Of course, I’m never going to grow up.”  T-shirts bear the slogan “Immature: a word boring people use to describe fun people.”  Try asking a room full of college students to raise their hands if they think they are adults.  They won’t know what to do.   Adulthood and maturity have a bad reputation.

WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH YOUTH MINISTRY?

A few years ago I asked a group of freshmen college students in one of my classes, “What are some of the traits of spiritual maturity?  What does a mature Christian look like?”  The students did not like these questions and pushed back with comments like these: “I don’t think we ever arrive in our spiritual growth.”: “We’re not supposed to judge one another”; “No one is perfect”; and “We can’t be holy in this life.”  These students had grown up in church and attended good youth ministries.  But those ministries had – I hope unintentionally — taught them that spiritual maturity was an invisible, unattainable level of holiness or even perfection, something that could only be achieved in heaven.

The problem is, that just isn’t true.  Spiritual maturity is not only fully attainable in this life, it is to be expected in the normal course of Christian growth.  It’s not just for spiritual all stars.  It’s available to all of us.  And that is really good news.  In fact, it’s part of THE Good News, the Gospel – at least the apostle Paul thought so.  Don’t believe me?  Let’s take a quick walk through Philippians 3, a passage in which Paul starts by talking about the Good News of the free gift of salvation and ends by talking about maturity.

Paul starts by warning us in the strongest terms about anyone who tries to make us think we need to earn our salvation, “Look out for the dogs, look out for the evil-workers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh” (Philippians 3:2, NRSV).  Paul had in mind here those who were requiring Gentile Christians to become Jews in order to be saved. To drive home his point, Paul lists his own spiritual credentials, “circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless” (v. 5-6). But, probably to the great surprise of his readers, Paul says all of that is nothing to him – like inedible table scraps to be thrown into the street for stray dogs (v. 7-8).

WHY DID PAUL RENOUNCE HIS GREATEST SPIRITUAL CREDENTIALS?

Not because he thought living a holy life was worthless or unattainable.  Just the opposite.  He rejected human attainment because he was captured by the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” and desperately wanted to “gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ” (v. 8-9). But Paul’s righteousness in Christ was not passive.  The more he got to know Jesus, the more he wanted to know him and to run harder and harder after him: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death . . . forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus” (v. 10-14).   He claimed that he had not “already obtained” this complete union with Jesus and denied that he was “perfect” (v. 12).

So far this sounds a bit like what my students said, “we never arrive”; “We can’t be holy in this life”: “Nobody’s perfect.” But then Paul says something surprising, “Let those of us who are mature be thus minded” (v. 15).  Paul assumes that at least some of his readers are already mature, so they will agree with his teaching about the Gospel.  And whatever “mature” means, it can’t mean “perfect” or already having reached the goal of fully knowing Christ and becoming fully like him.  We can see from this entire passage that a mature disciple knows Jesus personally and understands the Gospel well enough to avoid both works righteousness and complacency.  The Good News is that Jesus saves us despite our failures.  The Even Better News is that Jesus does not leave us stuck in our sinfulness.  He transforms us in relationship with him by the power of his death and resurrection.

According to Paul, spiritual maturity is not only attainable in this life, it is a necessary and normal part of becoming Gospel people, people who are consumed by the reality of Christ’s death and resurrection.  Spiritually mature people are better at receiving God’s grace to become more and more like Jesus.  They are free and eager to run hard after Jesus because they have tasted how surpassingly wonderful it is to know him.  American Christians like to say, “it’s not a religion; it’s a relationship.”  And so it is.  But it is the kind of relationship with Jesus that transforms us and makes us spiritually mature.  So what are we teaching young people about the Gospel and spiritual maturity, about what to expect in that “relationship with Jesus” that we want them to have?  Do they know why it is Good News that Jesus wants to help them grow up to spiritual maturity? Spiritual maturity is not “arriving”; it’s launching into a deeper, more powerful relationship with Jesus than ever before.

07.25.16

Unchurched, Not Unreachable by Eric Metaxas

breakpoint.org

We’ve all heard the statistics about the growth of the religiously unaffiliated in America—the sociologists call them the “nones”—those who don’t belong to any church or denomination. We’ve seen the effects of a secular worldview displacing America’s Judeo-Christian consensus, with the decline of religious liberty, respect for life, and marriage. On top of all this, some of the churches best known for doing evangelism are declining, with fewer and fewer of their members sharing the good news of Jesus. In our guts we can feel the cultural ground moving beneath our feet, and it’s unnerving.

It’s no wonder that evangelizing our unchurched neighbors can seem like a daunting task. More and more of them are downright hostile to the things of faith, right? Wrong!

That’s not my opinion—it’s straight from a new online survey of 2,000 unchurched Americans from LifeWay Research and the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. The survey reports that nearly four in five of those who haven’t been to church in the last six months—except for weddings and funerals—say they don’t mind talking about faith if it’s really important to a friend. Not only that, but 47 percent say they will discuss religion freely if the subject comes up. Nearly another third say they’ll listen without responding. Remember, we’re only talking here about people who don’t go to church!

Unfortunately, even tragically, only a third say someone has actually bothered to explain why they should be a Christian. “Unchurched folks are not being overwhelmed by Christians talking about their faith,” says Scott McConnell, who’s the executive director of Lifeway Research. “If faith is important to you, then your friends will be interested in hearing about it.”

What else did the survey find? While only 35 percent say they would attend a worship service at a friend’s invitation, that’s still a big number. Also, 62 percent say they would attend a church meeting about neighborhood safety, 51 percent would participate in a community service event, 46 percent would take part in a sports or exercise program, 45 percent would go to a concert, 45 percent would show up for a neighborhood get-together, 25 percent would go to a recovery group, and 24 percent would go to a seminar on a spiritual topic … at a church. While we’d like for these interest numbers to be much higher, that’s still a lot to work with.

But we have to face the fact that most people are not sitting around waiting for our four-point gospel outlines. We’re going to have to be both creative and patient. According to the survey, a full 43 percent say they never wonder if they’ll get to heaven after they die; one in five can’t remember the last time they thought about it. On the plus side, however, 70 percent agree “there is an ultimate purpose and plan for every person’s life,” and 57 percent say that finding “their deeper purpose” is “a major priority.”

Friends, we’ve said this before, but if we really want our unchurched neighbors to receive Christ by faith—or even go to church with us—we’re going to have to get personal. Only about 20 percent say they would accept an invitation to attend a service from a church member at their door, a TV commercial, a postcard, or an ad on Facebook. But by contrast, 51 percent said that a personal invitation from a friend or family member might get them to go.

There’s a lot more statistical cud to chew on in this survey by Lifeway Research and the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism, so come to BreakPoint.org. We’ll link you to it so you can read it yourself and share it with your pastor and small group—and we hope you will.

Let us not forget the centrality of the Gospel in the life of the church, and in the life of your unchurched neighbors, whether they know it or not. As David Shibley says in his great new book on evangelism, Entrusted, “The screaming need in our day is to again make Jesus Christ and His gospel paramount.”

Amen to that!

07.25.16

Helping Teenagers Live Out God’s Purposes by Rick Warren

pastors.com

The most fundamental question that teenagers in your community will ever wrestle with is, “Why am I here?”

Unlike past generations, teens today aren’t looking for the meaning of life. Instead, they’re searching for meaning in life, a purpose for living, something that makes their lives worth living.

The fact is they’re seeking the very thing for which God made them, and that’s why it’s important you consistently teach teens about their purpose in life.

The Bible teaches that God made everyone – even teenagers – with a purpose.

For instance, in Colossians we’re told, “For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible … everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him”(Colossians 1:16 MSG).

Do you think you would see a difference in the life of your teenage son or daughter if he or she felt truly and wholly accepted by God? What if they understood – deeply – that they belonged to the family of God? Or that the hand of God will guide them – deliberately – throughout life?

How do you think your teens would react if they discovered that God created them for a specific mission in life, and he’s ready for them to start on that mission right now, regardless of their age?

Frankly, all of this is true, but I think we often lose focus of this as we face the day-to-day challenges of ministering to teens in the 21st century. Yet, the Bible teaches that God had 5 purposes in mind when he made each one of us. Discovering and living these purposes is the single most important thing any of us can ever do, and as pastors, teaching these 5 purposes to our teens is foundational to truly training them in the ways of the Lord.

Teenagers were created by God to fulfill these 5 purposes:

1. Every teenager was planned for God’s pleasure

Can you imagine how different teenagers would be if they really, truly believed that God made them for his own joy. It is such an important truth to tell teens that the first purpose for living is this: You were planned for God’s pleasure.

Revelation 4:11 says, “You are worthy, O Lord our God, to receive glory and honor and power. For you created all things, and they exist because you created what you pleased”(NLT).

Yet, most teenagers struggle with love and acceptance. We need to build into their lives the precious knowledge that they were created as an object of God’s love. And our kids need to know that there is nothing – absolutely nothing – that can stop God from loving them. He loves and accepts teenagers, regardless of piercings and tattoos, exactly as they are.

2. Every teenager was formed for God’s family

Teenagers search for a group where they can belong, a place where they can feel accepted. And I believe they do this because God created each one of us with a longing for belonging.

He gave us this longing because his second purpose in creating us was for us to become a member of his family. Ephesians 1:5 teaches us, “His unchanging plan has always been to adopt us into his own family.” (TLB)

Teens might wonder if some of their friendships will survive a single summer. Yet, God’s family – and our relationship with believers – is going to extend for eternity. We need to teach our teens that the Christian life is not just a matter of believing; it’s also about belonging. God didn’t create us just to be believers; we’re also made to be belongers to the family of God.

3. Every teenager was created to be like Christ

God created each one of us to be like Christ, and we call that discipleship. God made us to transform us into the likeness of his son, Jesus Christ.

As we’ve often heard from evangelists: There isn’t – and never was – a Plan B in God’s design. You need to convey to your teens the sense that they were not an accident. Your teens’ births and families are all part of God’s original plan. Even if there were mistakes in the past, God works all things out for those who call upon him and are called according to his purpose.

God is still working the same plan he’s always had from the very beginning of time.

As pastors, God’s plan needs to become our plan – immediately. Our goal needs to be to help our teenagers become more and more like Christ. Part of the process is helping them understand how God is going to take them through everything Jesus went through – including loneliness, temptation, unpopularity, criticism, and more. Only then can they truly become like him.

Looking over that list, it sounds like Jesus lived the American teenage experience. Yet, often when our teens experience these circumstances, we do everything we can to fix the problem, without taking the time to determine if this is something meant to make our teen more Christ-like.

Helping our teens see their problems from God’s perspective will help them submit to his sovereign hand as he works to make them more like Christ.

4. Every teenager is shaped for service

God created each of us to serve him, and in the church, we call that ministry. Ephesians 2:10 teaches, “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago” (NLT).

Every Christian is created to serve, and that means teens are called to ministry, created for ministry, saved for ministry, and uniquely gifted for ministry. The Bible makes it very clear that every Christian is a minister, regardless of age.

We need to teach our teens that they need not wait until they get older before they jump into ministry. The God of the universe shaped them to serve, and they can start right now.

And the earlier your teen starts, the sooner God’s fourth purpose for his or her life – Christ-like service – will develop deep within.

5. Every teenager was made for mission

Do you think your teen would be encouraged to know that God created him or her for a specific mission here on Earth?

Jesus said in John 17:18, “[Father], in the same way that you gave me a mission in the world, I give them a mission in the world” (MSG).

Every believer needs a ministry to believers, and a mission to unbelievers. Teens can do both, serving believers and evangelizing unbelievers. In fact, you might even involve entire families as you all go on a mission trip together or in reaching their neighborhood for Christ.

Studies show most people who come to Christ – at least in the United States – come to him before they turn 18. Other studies show people are far more receptive to hearing the Gospel from a friend than a stranger. This combination gives Christian teenagers an incredible opportunity for ministry and mission.

07.18.16

Don’t Practice Helicopter Discipleship by Andy Blanks

youthministry360.com

A while ago I was teaching our 7th grade a Bible study lesson from Matthew’s account of Jesus sending out the 12. I was caught by this one verse, a sentence Jesus spoke to His disciples before sending them out to practically apply some of what they had been learning and observing.

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.”—Matthew 10:16

I was struck with a thought that I think has some significant implications for us as we think about our youth ministry and our discipleship efforts. Here’s why . . .

I think the same cultural influences that have given rise to “helicopter parents” have given rise to “helicopter discipleship.”

We know what “helicopter parents” are. (Heck, you may be one yourself.) These are the parents who hover over their children, correcting their mistakes, smoothing out their paths for them, keeping things good, and safe, and happy. This isn’t the place to discuss or debate the whys or the how’s of this brand of parenting that is so predominant today. But, I think we’re seeing the same tendencies in our ministries.

The same influences that have lead parents to create cocoons of exclusively positive feelings, emotions, and experiences for our children lead us to similar practices in how we structure our youth ministries. And let’s be clear: these motives come from a good place. We naturally don’t take joy out of seeing the teenagers we care about fail, or be wrong, or be uncomfortable.

But in our zeal to take care of them, we isolate them. We keep the life of a Christ-follower safe and sanitary. I don’t know that we do it on purpose, or always knowingly, but we do it.

And by doing this, we fail.

Listen, I love to build-up the teenagers I minister to. I want to see them succeed. I want them to be safe, comfortable, and happy, both in life and in their spiritual development. I don’t want to see them ostracized or picked on for their faith, or for taking a stand.

I don’t want them to experience those things . . . And that is precisely the problem. See, I know that risk, and failure, and discomfort are an inherent part of living the Gospel. How do I know this? Jesus said so.

. . . like sheep among wolves . . .

Jesus, the very one who created the disciples, who cared deeply for them, who knew them in their mother’s womb, who saw the entire span of their lives before they were even a thought . . . this Jesus looked at these men and said I’m about to put you in harm’s way. Sheep among wolves. What a vivid picture of the perilous predicament living our faith will often put us in!

Why would Jesus do this? Simple: Jesus knew that test and trial are the incubators of real discipleship.

If you ask me, my hunch is that “helicopter discipleship” is one of the many factors that contributes to teenagers leaving the church in young adulthood. I believe that for many of them, faith has never been anything more than ideas, in part because we as a Church (I’m including their parents here) are unwilling to intentionally create or tacitly allow situations that makes them rub their beliefs up against the world in a high-stakes environment. Because we’re scared life may be uncomfortable for them if we do.

Jesus knows a little more about disciple-making. And this wasn’t a concern of His.

What do you think?

07.18.16

Drunkorexia: When College Students Eat Less So They Can Drink More by Traci Pederson

psychcentral.com

A researcher at the University of Houston has been examining a growing trend among college students known as “drunkorexia.” This non-medical term refers to the combination of drinking alcohol and engaging in diet-related behaviors such as food restriction, excessive exercising, or bingeing and purging.

For these students, the purpose of restricting food intake while drinking is often to allow more calories for alcohol and/or to allow alcohol to enter the bloodstream more quickly.

“Drunkorexia refers to a complex pattern of drinking-related behaviors that take place before, during, and after a drinking event,” explained Dipali V. Rinker, a research assistant professor in the department of psychology at the University of Houston.

“College students appear to engage in these behaviors to increase alcohol effects or reduce alcohol-related calories by engaging in bulimic-type or diet/exercising/calorie/restricted eating behaviors.”

The findings were presented at the 39th Annual Research Society on Alcoholism in New Orleans.

Rinker said her research is designed to flesh out the definition of drunkorexia as well as identify different types of “drunkorexic” behaviors. She added that these types of behaviors may result in a number of problems.

“Potential outcomes may include less inhibition that could lead to more negative alcohol-related consequences,” she said. “Additionally, restricting caloric intake to those from alcohol could lead to vitamin depletion, as it may keep the individual from eating more nutrient-dense foods.”

Although the study showed some gender differences in drinking habits, the association between gender and drunkorexia is a complex one, she noted.

“While it is clear that college women who drink more are more likely than men to engage in bulimic-type behaviors, and with greater frequency, and to experience more alcohol-related problems as a result of these behaviors, there were no gender differences for engaging in drunkorexia to increase the effects of alcohol or engaging in bulimic-type behaviors to compensate for alcohol-related calories,” said Rinker.

She went on to report that in some cases, men were more likely to engage in bulimic-type and diet/exercising/calorie-restricted eating behaviors to reduce alcohol-related calories. She added that more research is necessary to gain a better understanding of these differences.

“It is important to realize that, in addition to the amount and/or frequency of alcohol consumption, the manner in which college students drink puts them at greatest risk for experiencing problems,” emphasized Rinker.

“Students who engage in compensatory dieting/exercise behaviors before, during, or after a drinking event to either increase the effects of alcohol or reduce alcohol calories by either engaging in bulimic-type or extreme dieting, exercise, or restrictive behaviors — such as skipping meals — are putting themselves at risk for serious negative consequences related to alcohol use,” said Rinker.

Furthermore, in order to reduce health problems associated with drinking, students should stay well-hydrated and not drink on an empty stomach. They should also eat healthy food and exercise, particularly on days they are drinking.

07.18.16

What’s Up With The Pokemon Rage? by Tim Elmore

growingleaders.com

I have a question for you. Over the last seven days, did you catch Pikachu? How about Squirtle? Or Zubat? No? Well, neither did I.

But it was impossible to miss the newest rage among teens and young adults.

You’ve likely heard or seen the obsession over “Pokemon Go.” A new iteration of the 1990’s Nintendo game was just released on July 6th in the U.S. It’s quickly taking the world over.

Just ask a twenty something.

Both of my kids, ages 28 and 24 are playing, among many of their colleagues and friends, who have jobs and/or attend college. They stop in the middle of their day or after hours at night and just…start playing the game. Within a week of it’s release, more than 5 million people had downloaded the app. Inside and outside. The new iteration has captured the attention of young adults all over, leading Pokemon Go’s servers to crash more than once over the last few days.

To make sure you’re up on this new fad, I thought I’d fill you in on “Pokemon Go,” so you can advise the young adults in your world about its pros and the cons.

In case, “Pokemon Go” is news to you, here is the premise for the game:

  1. As a start, it uses the real world for the game. You enter through an app, and use a GPS system to find those little Pokemon critters. They can be found all over: in parks, restaurants, stores, etc. That’s right. They’re fictional characters that you find in a real location. The goal is to find and catch as many as possible. Nintendo calls it “Augmented Reality.”
  1. It expands the experience far beyond the first Pokemon game, which was bound by a screen and console. Originally, it was played on a Nintendo Gameboy. And while you can certainly play this new version inside, on TV, it’s limitless if you have a smart phone. My son found some critters in our living room, and outside in our front lawn. He also found one in the Popeye’s parking lot.
  1. Players keep score. The more you catch, the more you can move on to new levels. You want to evolve the Pokemon just like in the original, but now through an app on your phone…and all around your world. So, the game combines the real world with a fun fantasy world, and creates a new version of a scavenger hunt. Maybe that’s just it—it’s a new scavenger hunt for a digital generation.

Here’s why “Pokemon Go” became hot in less than one week:

The new Pokemon game basically “gamifies” your life. Whatever you do and wherever you go, you can be playing a game amidst all the activities of your day.

You can easily spot other people playing the game as you go about your day. My son and daughter were out playing and saw a car full of other young adults waving their phones at them—communicating they were playing too.

There are three different teams. You join one of them and then fight for and compete in a gym controlled by one of the teams. You pull for your team and try to push the other teams out of the “gym.” You build a communal identity with your team of people from all over the world.

The theme is just like the original game that came out 20 years ago: “You Gotta Catch ‘Em All.” The slogan was for the TV show, the Nintendo game, and the card game. Now—you have to travel the whole world to catch them all. It fosters a real kind of travel and discovery for the more serious player.

The Dangers? 

Players can become so consumed, they forget basics, like looking up before crossing the street. The game can be so preoccupying that one player, Mike Schultz, had an accident on his skateboard because he’d spotted a Pokemon and couldn’t stop quickly enough. Some have had car accidents. Others have been injured walking, or jogging. Sadly, because everyone can see where Pokemon are located, players can be lured into the woods (where a Pokemon character is) and robbed or mugged. Sound ridiculous? It’s already happened. Young players have been injured and have lost money because they unwittingly walked into a trap. Remind your students:

  • Don’t get so caught up in the game that you neglect basic safety.
  • Don’t go out in a dark wooded area alone playing the game.
  • Don’t stare at your phone during a Pokemon hunt while driving.

The Positives? 

The game is so enthralling because it positions the original game, once limited to a TV, and becomes an expansion of a player’s horizons. It pushes players outside into the world around them. It’s a new social medium, offering exercise and insights about landmarks, historical sites and news to learn wherever you go. This electronic game is actually fostering people to get to know each other and even get exercise in the process! Some are planning road trips around the game. Remind your students:

  • If you play, do it outside and try expanding your current horizons.
  • If you play, do it with friends, where you can have each other’s backs.
  • If you play, meet new people who share similar interests.

The game actually imagines a new world…

I believe the creators of Pokemon Go had a goal. They imagine a new world where electronic games are played but do not necessarily foster a sedentary lifestyle: “It’s 2020. Pokemon go has been out for four years. There are hundreds of gyms all over the world. Laziness is at an all time low. Presidential candidates are chosen via Pokemon battles. Healthcare is free. More jobs have opened up. Scientists are creating actual Pokemon. Everyone is happy. It’s a new era.”

Maybe not all of that is the world we’d imagine for ourselves, but the point remains. Let’s guide young players to leverage this game to achieve redemptive goals.

07.18.16

Talking to Kids About Tragedy by Janet Denison

christianparenting.org

We all want to protect our children from the things they hear in the news. We want them to feel like tragedy couldn’t happen to them, because we, as parents, will protect them. The problem with assuring your children that they are safe is not the whole truth. You will do your best to keep them safe, but sometimes tragedy happens anyway.

There are some practical, but honest ways to speak to our kids about the events in the news, like the recent shootings in Dallas.

  • Limit the amount of news your children are exposed to. Even very young children are able to understand what they see and hear, before they are able to process things out loud. If your child can’t talk about the bad news, it is best if they are not exposed to that news. For older toddlers and young children, they will absorb your reactions more powerfully than they will hear the words. We can’t assure our children that they are safe, when they see our tears and fears. The honest answer is that we will do our best to protect them. They can do their best to listen and obey so we can protect them, and we will do our best to be watchful and careful with their lives.
  • Difficult news and difficult times can become some of our most teachable moments. You can shield your children’s eyes from an animal that has been run over in the street, or you can use that moment to talk to your kids about how important it is for them to hold your hand, or look both ways, or be careful when they ride their bicycles. You can teach them that God has given humans a higher ability to make choices and think, so we would have the ability to stay safe.
  • We can’t teach our children that nothing bad will ever happen to them. That is what they want to hear, that is the assurance we want to give, but it just isn’t truth. Bad things do happen to people sometimes, because other people make wrong choices. Kids know this is true at a very young age. Our children, can be hurt by other children, who throw a toy or choose to bite, shove and hit. Our kids know that there are car accidents, sickness and pain in the world. Think about the five-year-old, sitting in church, and hearing a sermon the Sunday after 9/11 or after the Dallas shooting. We can’t teach them that bad things will never happen, but we can teach them that we are there to protect them, and so is God. We can teach them to pray and ask God to keep them safe and help them to make right choices. We can’t teach them, however, that God will keep others from making wrong choices. Sometimes, we have to trust Romans 8:28 and trust God to make bad times, better.
  • We can teach our children that their prayers will make a difference. Children feel helpless during times of tragedy. Even older children struggle with knowing what to think and especially what to say. Teenagers need to talk, but might not want to sound fearful or unsure. Sometimes a teenager will pray to God about things they don’t know how to talk about with others. Help your children, regardless of age, to know that there is great power in praying for others and in praying for themselves. If they have prayed, they have done something to make it better. Then, teach them to look for ways God would use them to make things better.
  • Have important conversations with your kids about issues like racism. Teach them that everyone has the ability to live an honorable life, but things improve until people do. Expose your children to news and current events, depending on their age, so that you can have those teachable moments. We are always a generation away from improving. Find ways to help your child play with and enjoy children from every race and background. Your child will be greatly blessed if they learn to appreciate and enjoy the uniqueness of every person they meet. If your child is leading a narrow, small life—broaden their horizons. We aren’t protecting our kids if they grow up in a bubble—we are simply limiting their lives to our choices and sometimes to our prejudices.
  • Finally, think seriously about your own attitudes, thoughts, words and actions. Most of what our children learn and are led to believe comes from watching their parents. We can’t ignore the difficult moments and trust our children will figure things out for themselves. Our kids are watching us, and will probably grow up to think like us. We can confess our weaknesses and give them the ability to do a better job than any generation before them.

Pray for the wisdom to raise your children to be stronger and more righteous than we have been. That is the direction our culture should be growing. If God has blessed you with children, He has blessed you with possibilities and potential to change the world. Pray and do everything you can to honor God’s purpose with your parenting.

07.11.16

When Students Disappoint Us and When We Disappoint Our Students by Jay Higham
youthspecialties.com

Has it happened to you?

A student seems to have it all together: He or she gets good grades, is active in school clubs and sports, and regularly participates in youth group. This student even shared his or her testimony at the last retreat. This is a student who makes you proud to be a youth worker. But then it happens.

What’s itIt is some kind of mistake. It doesn’t really matter what the mistake is—suddenly, your student has disappointed you.

Disappointment doesn’t only happen when the “star” students fall—other students will disappoint you as well. I know, because it’s happened to me. Students don’t show up when they promise to. They forget about important ministry events. You find out that they lied to you about something. They change their plans at the last minute because a better invitation comes along.

So what do you do when students disappoint you?

When it comes to disappointment, I try to remember three things:

1. DISAPPOINTMENT IS INEVITABLE.

At some point, you will experience disappointment. Even Jesus knew disappointment! Peter denied him, James and John wanted to call fire from heaven, and Jesus shared his final meal with the one who would betray him—he had to have felt disappointment, because he was just as much human as he was God.

Your students will disappoint you, because they’re human, just as you are. They make mistakes, just like you do. They forget, just like you do. They say things they don’t mean, just like you do. It will happen more than once. Unfortunately, it’s part of our DNA. We mess up, and that leads to disappointment.

2. GRACE. FORGIVENESS. LOVE.

When students disappoint you, offer grace, forgiveness, and love.

Show them grace. As a believer, you know the benefit of the grace that has been shown to you. Grace gives you hope. Grace is the gift of reconciliation between what’s pure and what’s fallen. It’s what leads to forgiveness and love. And it’s given freely—you don’t need to earn it.

Forgive them. Regardless of what they’ve done, forgive them completely. Don’t bring it up again. I’ve always loved the scene in the movie The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when EDMUND IS REUNITED WITH HIS SIBLINGS.

Aslan comes up behind Edmund and says to Peter, Susan, and Lucy, “What’s done is done. There is no need to speak to Edmond about what has passed.” Forgiveness is choosing to let it go and never bring it up again.

Love them. That scene in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe continues: Aslan walks away and Edmund stands before his brother and sisters with an uncomfortable look of shame, guilt, and embarrassment on his face. It’s awkward, but only for a moment, because Lucy lunges forward and embraces her brother. Her love for him allows her to quickly move away from judgment.

3. LEARN FROM THE DISAPPOINTMENT

As with everything you experience in life and in ministry, there’s an opportunity to learn something from disappointment. In the moment you might feel frustration, sadness, hurt, or even anger, but in the experience there will be a lesson for you. Learn from it. Let it help you the next time you find yourself in a similar circumstance.

It would be great if we could walk through our seasons of ministry with no one ever letting us down, but that’s not realistic. Disappointment will come. But keep these three thoughts in mind, and maybe it will be a little easier to deal with disappointment the next time it happens. Reach out to the students who disappoint you. Share with them how you feel about what happened. Don’t shame them. If the offense is something significant, they may already feel the weight of their actions. Choose to be like Jesus, and love them where they are.

When We Disappoint Our Students

As I was thinking about the experiences I’ve had with students, I found myself also thinking about the times when I disappointed some of my students. Yeah, it’s happened.

Like I shared in the earlier article, disappointment happens, and not just with our students. We can be just as disappointing. After all, at times we’re just adult versions of our teenagers. We make mistake just like they do. Thus, we can fall victim of disappointment.

I know we try our very hardest to keep every promise, grant every wish, and be all things to all students, but the reality is, at some point we’re going to slip up and someone is going to be disappointed by what we do or do not do. So what can you do when you find yourself in a situation where you have disappointed a student (or two, or three…)

1. OWN IT.

I have found it most helpful when I know that I’ve made a mistake to simply own it. Admit. Make it yours. acknowledge it. You messed up. But so does everyone else. The difference comes when you ‘fess up and deal with it. Nothing good ever comes from ignoring it or blaming someone else. In fact, I think it actually helps to build a strong idea of integrity when we humble ourselves and own our mistakes.

2. APOLOGIZE.

I can be stubborn when it comes to somethings. But when I know I am the one at fault, I know it’s my responsibility to say I’m sorry. When you know that you have let a student or even a parent down, for one reason or another, apologize to them. Let them know that you are aware from what happen, and that you are truly sorry for disappointing them.

3. NO EXCUSES.

Be honest with them. If you forgot to do something, then say that you forgot. Sure it’s lame and maybe you shouldn’t have forgotten, but you did. So don’t make up some crazy excuse that you were busy rescuing some neighbors cat from a tree and it slipped your mind. No, you forgot. Be honest with them and let them know the truth.

4. AVOID PROMISED THAT YOU KNOW YOU CAN’T KEEP.

Have you ever been in that situation where a student asks you to do something, and you know you can’t, but you don’t want to disappoint them by saying no? Warning!! Don’t make the promises or say yes to things that you know you probably can’t fulfill. Doing so only sets you up for failure and a great disappointment. It would be better to be honest from the beginning instead of creating false hope.

5. LEARN FROM YOUR MISTAKES.

Okay, disappointment happens. Students disappoint their youth leaders. Youth leaders will disappoint their students. But if we learn from our mistakes and disappointments, it might help us to avoid those mistakes and disappointments in the future. Whether it was a promise or an oversight, recognize what it was that you did or didn’t do and make a note to be aware of that same thing in the future.

There is no magic formula to prevent disappointment. Disappointment is usually linked to the expectations that either we create or others project upon us. When those expectations aren’t met, disappoint ensues. It happens. But I do think that if we are aware of how we deal with disappointment, we will learn how to handle it better in the future.

As you think about disappointment as it relates to you as a youth worker, realize that at some point you too will let someone down. But how you conduct yourself in the moment will have a great impact on both the situation and the relationship.

07.11.16

When Kids Are Cutting by Jim Murphy

youthspecialties.com
This information is not a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment. 

I’ve been in youth ministry for more than 20 years and have come to realize that there is no end to the steady stream of kids who experience deep pain in their lives and resort to cutting (and other destructive behaviors) as a means of coping. Every time I talk with a young boy or girl who is cutting, I am overwhelmed with empathy for them and the pain they experience in life.

Here’s what I’ve learned about it and what to do when kids are cutting. Cutting is the most common form of self-injurious behavior. It is not to be confused with attempted suicide. It is a way many people, especially young teens, cope with deeply intense and traumatic emotional pain or pressure (abuse, relationship problems, severe anxieties, etc.). For some, the pain of cutting temporarily relieves or distracts them from the constant presence of the emotional pain. For others, it is a way of expressing feelings of deep anger, rage, desperation, emptiness. etc. In some cases, the teen has been so overpowered by trauma that they feel emotionally numb to all other feelings and the pain of cutting is the only feeling that they have that lets them know they are “alive.”

Unfortunately, it is a dangerous, compulsive behavior that can become addictive, can lead to severe infections, permanent scarring, nerve damage, and even unintended fatal bleeding. Teens who cut have not developed the coping skills necessary to deal with the intense emotions they are experiencing. Or, perhaps, the coping skills they have developed are simply overpowered by the severity of the situation. Because cutting is so deeply related to larger, deeper, more intense emotional realities and is so addictive, professional therapeutic help is most effective.

If you are encountering teens who cut and are at a loss for what to do, here are a few steps that I practice.

1. AFFIRM THEM FOR TALKING ABOUT IT.

The hardest step for most teens who cut is the first step…talking about it. You absolutely must affirm them for courageously taking this first step. It’s the right thing to do. It’s the healthy thing to do. It’s the biggest most important step to getting better.

2. LOVE THEM UNCONDITIONALLY.

Resist the urge to be judgmental about why they cut. Don’t even question their intentions for talking with you about it. Even if you’re weirded out by it…even if you think they’re just seeking attention…take it seriously and love them unconditionally. Unfortunately, their reality is far too often one where love and acceptance is conditional or even absent.

3. ASK LOTS OF QUESTIONS.

Before you start giving advice; even before you start preaching Christ…ask them lots of questions. You must first seek to understand them. Let them tell their story. Ask about their cuts. Where? How many times? How deep? How often? Ask about the feelings they get when they cut. Ask about the feelings they get that make them want to cut. Ask about the situations, thoughts, or memories that lead to those feelings. Ask about how they feel about themselves after they cut. Ask them who else knows? Do their parents know? What do they say about it? Do any friends know? What do they say about it? Ask if they have talked with a counselor about it and if they’re getting any help with it.

4. INFORM THEIR PARENTS.

If it was your child that was hurting themselves like this, you’d want to know. Right? You must inform parents within 24 hours of discovering it. You have an ethical and a legal obligation to let them know. You are at risk of a law suit and losing your job if you don’t. Besides, good youth ministry is not working with kids to the exclusion of parents. It’s working in partnership with parents and supporting them for what’s best for their child.

5. REFER TO A PROFESSIONAL THERAPIST OR SCHOOL COUNSELOR.

You’re probably not a professional therapist. You might be really good with people but you don’t have the training needed to handle this type of thing. So don’t fool yourself and think that you alone can help this teen. Encourage the parent to find professional help for their teen whether its through a local therapist or a counselor at school.

6. LEAD THEM INTO A RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS.

This is what you are trained to do. If they don’t already know Jesus, help them understand that Christ knows their pain and can provide the strength they need to cope. Explain that by putting our trust in Jesus, he gives us his Holy Spirit to live within us. When we fill our thoughts with his thoughts and listen to the Holy Spirit’s guidance, he can change the way we think and feel about ourselves and help us find better ways to cope with the pain we experience in life.

7. REMIND THEM OVER AND OVER OF THEIR IDENTITY IN CHRIST.

If they do know Jesus, help them understand their identity in Christ. I find myself repeating phrases such as, “You are not what others say you are. You are not defined by what they think of you. Your worth and value in life is not dependent on what your mom or dad say about you, what kids at school say about you, what you hear yourself saying about yourself or what you see in the mirror.” I also speak things like “When you hear yourself saying that you’re not wanted, you’re not loved, you’re too fat, you’re not pretty, [etc.] … that’s Satan lying to you, deceiving you, trying to get you down. He’s trying to trap you in these lies so that you’ll cut again. Because of what Christ has done in you, you are not controlled by Satan. You are not controlled nor defined by the lies he feeds you.” Furthermore, I remind him or her of the statements we make over and over at church, “Only God can define who you are. You are a Chosen, and Changed, Child of God. Loved, wanted, and needed.” “God has given me a new identity. I will search for it no where else.” As their pastor, you must constantly remind them of who they are in Christ, how much he loves them, and how he is helping them (by leading them to talk with you, by giving them the church or their small group and youth leaders, by guiding their thoughts, etc.).

8. TREAT CUTTING LIKE AN ADDICTION

Because it is compulsive, addictive behavior, they need to see a counselor to overcome it. Your role is to check in with them, hold them accountable, or connect them with another adult or small group leader who can. Ask them if they have access to razors, knives, etc. at home. Encourage them to get rid of anything that they can use to hurt themselves. Encourage the parents to go through their home and do the same.

9. HELP THEM FIND BETTER WAYS OF COPING.

One thing the therapist will be doing is helping the teen find other more productive ways of coping with their feelings such as the following.

  • Carving in wood allows them to cut as hard and deeply as they want, exerting the same pressure, without causing any damage to themselves.
  • For some, wearing a rubber band to snap themselves when they feel the urge to cut can be helpful. It’s still a kind of self-injury but it can be helpful as a transitional replacement.
  • Writing in a journal is a healthy way to express feelings. Even people in the bible did that. Look at Lamentations and many of the Psalms!
  • Calling a friend, trusted adult, youth leader, or pastor in the moment of urge can also be helpful.
  •  Taking a cold shower, or putting ice on your arm can be helpful

As a pastor, I like to add the skill of Listening Prayer and the three R’s

  • Relax – when you begin to feel anxious, overwhelmed, or the urge to cut, breath deep, inhale, exhale and relax your shoulders.
  • Release – hold each worry, feeling, concern, anxiety, problem, whatever, in your fists with the finger sides down facing the floor. Squeeze each one tight then open your hands to let them fall to the floor as if you’re dropping them at the foot of the Cross. Repeat this for each one and as often as necessary.
  • Receive – after you’ve released each one to Jesus, open your hands and turn them palms up facing the sky. Cry out to God for help. Ask him to speak truth to you. Let your heart be filled with his love. Listen to what he might say to you through whatever positive thoughts, truths, and scriptures, come into your mind. Let him replace your feelings of anxiety with feelings of peace, rest, confidence, and his loving presence.

10. DON’T FORGET ABOUT IT AND MOVE ON. STICK WITH THEM.

For many teens, the urge to cut doesn’t just go away over night. For some it takes months of intentional effort to overcome it. For others it can take two to three years of intense counseling and discipleship to get to the bottom of it all. Keep up with their progress, check in with them often. Surround them with healthy people who love Jesus and will love them. It’s a long road to walk but it’s the journey to which you have been called.