What Happens When Teens Don’t Like Jesus by Jen Bradbury
I love Jesus.

That’s probably not surprising to you. As a youth worker, I’m guessing you love Jesus, too. What’s more, I’m guessing you want the teens in your congregation to love Jesus, too. But what happens when they don’t?

Because let’s face it, there are probably teens in your ministry who don’t love Jesus… Or even like him. There may even be teens in your ministry who claim to hate Jesus. I recently found myself in a conversation with one such teen, who told me in no uncertain terms, “I hate Jesus!”

When teens make comments like those, it’s easy to react. It’s easy for our defenses to kick in. But it’s important they don’t. Instead, view bold statements like “I hate Jesus” as an invitation into a deeper conversation with teens.


Why do they hate Jesus?

Which Jesus do they hate?

Often, teens who claim to dislike or despise Jesus simply don’t know Jesus. Or they know the wrong Jesus – a Jesus who, unlike the real Jesus found in Scripture, hates certain groups of people. Truth be told, I don’t like that Jesus either. I often tell teens that and then offer to introduce them to the real Jesus found in Scripture – the one who fiercely loves people, hung out with unpopular people, and met needs whenever he saw them. That Jesus is pretty irresistible.

Sometimes, what you’ll find when you ask teens why they dislike Jesus is that they don’t actually dislike Jesus at all. Instead, they dislike the hypocritical church they’re a part of or the parent or grandparent who constantly tries to force Jesus on them. When that happens, say how sorry you are that that’s how they feel. Then ask why they think Jesus is so important to that family member. If possible, actually engage that family member in the conversation with you. As you do, invite said family member to share why Jesus matters to them. Doing so often creates greater understanding between family members.


If that’s the case, engage in ongoing conversation with the teen. Let them know there’s a place for them in your youth ministry, regardless of their questions or their feelings about Jesus. Challenge them to respectfully articulate their feelings but at the same time, to respectfully listen to those whose opinion about Jesus differs from their own. Invite them to ask questions about the Jesus they encounter… Both inside and outside the walls of your church.

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus tells his followers,

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

Jesus never shies away from the questions of someone who’s honestly seeking him. In fact, he promises that those who seek will find.


In their book, Soul Searching, based on findings from the National Study of Youth and Religion, Christian Smith and Patricia Snell conclude that religion is nothing more than a “lifestyle accessory” that is relegated to the “background” of a teen’s life. According to them, “religion is simply not important or relevant enough to everyday life to warrant any real discussion”.

That’s not true for teens who boldly say, “I hate Jesus!”

For those teens, Jesus is important enough to warrant real discussion.

May we have the courage to honor that.

So, rather than be offended by their passion, boldly engage teens in conversations that point them to the real Jesus of Scripture, trusting that when they meet the real Jesus, they, too, will find him irresistible.


How Are Digital Distractions Affecting Your Spiritual Growth? by Andy Blanks


A while ago I had the chance to lead a workshop at a youth ministry conference that looked at the effects technology has on our teenagers’ spiritual growth. We looked at both the negative effects (the obstacles) and the positive effects (the opportunity). It was a really good discussion, made all the more humorous to me, in an incredibly ironic sense, by the timely failure of some of the very technology I was trying to use to lead the workshop! Good times . . . ☺

We looked at several challenges technology presents to teenager’ growth as Christ-followers, chief among them was the idea of distraction.

Not only is this impacting our teenagers, it’s impacting us as youth workers. I know for me, it’s been a very prevalent issue in my own personal spiritual growth, and I would venture to guess in yours, too. Our constant connection to technology provides a landscape fertile for distraction. Why is this such a big deal?

I had a acquaintance of mine who used to call discipleship “the stuff of crock pots, not microwaves.” We grow in our faith when we get to know God more and better, becoming more like Him in the process. This process of growing in God comes through varying intervals of spiritual focus, time spent reading Scripture, or meditating on God, or prayer, and so on.

Our “technology at our fingertips” world works against these periods of spiritual focus.

A recent article on NBC.com looks at the results of two studies that specifically looked at the impact interruptions had on focus.

  • One study found that people who are interrupted by technology score 20 percent lower on a standard cognition test.
  • The second found that many students can’t concentrate on homework for more than two minutes without distracting themselves by using social media or writing an email.
  • A separate study done by researchers at the University of California, Irvine, shows that typical office workers only get 11 continuous minutes to work on a task before interruption.

One of the researchers in the article summarized his findings like this: “The key to transferring new information from the brain’s short-term to long-term memory is a process called ‘encoding.’ Without deep concentration, encoding is unlikely to occur.”

When we spiritualize this and apply it to knowledge of God, the application becomes clear: without deep, uninterrupted learning, knowing God is more difficult. One of the researchers said the following, in what I think is the article’s money quote:

“The digital divide is not about the gadget haves and have nots, but rather about those who can resist the constant distracting tug of technology and those who cannot.”

It think it’s important to ask ourselves, as those who play a role in leading teenagers in their own faith, how we’re doing in growing in ours.

Ask yourself, on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being “majorly affected by distraction,” and 10 being “I kick distraction’s butt,” where do you rank? 

And more importantly, what are you willing to do about it?


Great Youth Workers by Jen Bradbury


I recently spoke about The Jesus Gap. Afterward, a youth worker approached me and said, “If you’re as into discipleship as you think we ought to be, you’re probably not a very good youth worker.”

“Why?” I asked him.

In response, he said, “Because you’re probably not very fun. And if you’re not very fun, your kids probably don’t like you very much.”

According to this youth worker, fun attracts teenagers. So if you’re not fun, they won’t come.

Here’s the problem, though, or perhaps more accurately, the first of many problems: This mindset assumes the attractional model for youth ministry still works. If you build it, they will come.

The problem is, attractional ministry no longer works.

There are plenty of places – schools, clubs, extracurriculars, the park district, the YMCA – that do “fun” and entertainment far better than churches do. If those places build it, people might still come.

Not so with the church, which is no longer the center of most people’s social lives or the most important thing on their calendar.

In today’s world, the church has exactly one thing that makes it distinct from every other community organization out there: Jesus. If Jesus isn’t our focal point and reason for being, we’re missing the boat.

The second problem with this mindset is that it creates a false dichotomy. In this false dichotomy, discipling teens, having serious conversations, or talking about Jesus cannot possibly be fun.

That’s simply not true.

When teens are engaged in what they’re doing – whether it’s worshiping, talking about theology, or serving – they can (and usually are!) having fun.

The third and final problem with this mindset is the belief that “if you’re not very fun, your kids probably don’t like you very much.” The best youth workers I know are not necessarily people who teenagers would describe as fun. Sure, they have a sense of humor and know not to take themselves too seriously. But more than fun, they’re caring. They listen to teenagers. They ask questions about their lives. They show up at the things that are important to teens. They invest in teens. In the process, these youth workers unashamedly point teens to Jesus… Again and again. To them, pointing teens to Jesus is what’s most important, not being liked. They know that while fun may draw crowds, discipleship creates life-long followers of Jesus.

That is, after all, what our job as youth workers is: Disciple-making. After all, in the Great Commission, Jesus tells his followers to “Go and make disciples.”

So take heart. If you’re into discipleship, you’re not just a good youth worker, you’re a great one, faithfully doing the work God has called you to do.


How to Strengthen Your Biblical Worldview by Rick Warren


God expects you to know not only what you believe but why you believe it. And now, more than ever, our world needs Christians who can explain what they believe and whythey believe it to others. Why? Because most of the people in the world don’t have a clue as to what they really believe.

Our culture shows obvious signs that we live with a confusing hodge-podge of worldviews. Some are guided by materialism – the idea that all there is to this world is what we can see and touch. Others are dominated by hedonism – the idea that the pursuit of pleasure is higher than every other pursuit. Still others are governed by pragmatism – the idea that whatever works for you is all that matters.

So how, in a generation represented by such a confusing mix of viewpoints, do we strengthen our biblical view of the world? In at least three ways…

1. Learn the truth

Jesus concluded his most famous sermon, the Sermon on the Mount, with a story about two different men who built houses. One built his house on the shaky foundation of sand. The other built his house on the solid foundation of a rock. When the storms came along, the winds blew, the waves rose and everything crashed in, Jesus said the guy who built his house on the shaky foundation of sand watched it collapse. But the guy who built his house on the solid foundation of rock saw his house stand the test of time.

You’re going to have plenty of earthquakes in your life: financial earthquakes, spiritual earthquakes, health earthquakes, relational earthquakes, and moral earthquakes. You may have some career earthquakes and marital earthquakes too. If your foundation is not solidly built on truth that doesn’t change, you’re going to crumble.

The more we can do to get into God’s Word and to get God’s Word into the people we’re leading, the better.

2. Discern what is false

1 John 4:1 says in The Message paraphrase, Don’t believe everything you hear. Carefully weigh and examine what people tell you. Not everyone who talks about God comes from God. There are a lot of lying preachers loose in the world.

I love the Bible! Sometimes it’s just flat out in your face. It just tells it like it is. And the Bible is blunt when talking about false teaching. It gives us truth to learn and, having learned the truth, it gives us the encouragement to reject falsehood and error.

That doesn’t mean being skeptical or cynical. Cynicism is built on resentment, bitterness, and hurt. Discernment, on the other hand, is built on love and truth. So learn the truth, and then discern and reject what is false.

3. Turn from the world to the Word

The Bible says in Romans 12:2, Do not conform any longer to the pattern of thisworld. And what is the “pattern of the world?” It’s the world’s value system – materialism, hedonism, individualism, secularism. And the Bible goes on, Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of yourmind. The “renewing of your mind” has to do with changing your worldview, your belief system. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is, His good, pleasing and perfect will. God’s will for your life is good, it’s pleasing, and it’s perfect.

I love this verse in The Message paraphrase. It says Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out…. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. 

Proverbs 15:14 says, A wise person is hungry for truth while the fool feeds on trash. You’ve got two options on what to build your life on – truth or trash. What you put into your mind is what’s going to come out in your lifestyle. If you want to change your life, you’ve got to stop feeding on trash and start feeding more on truth.

Our modern 24-hour news cycle makes it appear that everything is important when it’s not. You can probably go a week or two without news and you’d still be alive. But you can’t go a couple of days without hearing from God’s truth and keep growing in spiritual maturity.

The pathway to joy is choosing to see everything from God’s perspective, and we only see things from God’s perspective when we’ve built our worldview on the truth of the Bible.


5 Questions That Could Save Your Small Group Ministry by Jon Noto

There’s no shortage of “answers” on the Internet. If you’re looking for opinions on any topic they are only a click away. However, after we wade through these so-called answers we often find ourselves scratching our heads and wondering, “Okay, so now what do Ido?”

Colin Wright once said, “Ignorance is a temporary affliction, remedied only by asking the right questions.” Sometimes answering a question yourself will take you much further than listening to someone else’s answer.

Group life ministry is one of the most contextualized ministries of the church. An offering that focuses primarily on relationship will shift from church to church. Perhaps it’s time we stopped looking for answers and started asking the right questions.

Why do you do small groups?

Have you and your leadership team ever stopped the fast pace of ministry to ask, “Why is it that we do small groups at all?” You might be surprised by some of the answers you hear. Is the answer immediately biblical? Are small groups the answer to a pressing problem? Have you just always done small groups and you were hired into the role? Whatever the response is, it will impact how you move forward.

When you’re on a trip in a place you’ve never been before, you consult the map more often. You want to make sure you make it to your destination. If your ministry is moving forward you’ll need to take a look at the desired destination often.

What have you seen God do in groups?

Sometimes we get caught in the trap of trying too much to predict what God will do in the future. Who will show up to my connection event? How will groups respond to this study? What resources will equip them the most? For a moment, think about what God has been doing already in your groups. Instead of creating some new trend in your groups you could be simply following the trend God is making. Make a list. You might be surprised that he’s moving in a different direction than you.

If Paul wrote your church a letter, what would he say?

It’s easy to read Paul’s letters and apply them to your life and church. What if Paul wrote a new letter and it was specifically addressed to your church? What would he tell you he’s thanking God for? What would he warn you about? What would he plainly speak out against?

Are you taking the right risks?

When is the last time you took a risk inventory? Grab a sheet of paper and write down every risk you’ve taken in ministry in the past 6 months. Are they purposeful? Does God direct them, or some other desire? Is your page filled up or totally blank?

The level of risk that is right for you will change from season to season and depends on many factors. However, if you take a look at this list you’ll get an idea of what’s right and wrong for you right now. This would be a great list to discuss with a mentor.

What is God calling out in you this season?

We want all of our small group leaders asking this question each ministry season so it only makes sense that we would, too. What is it that God is focusing on in your life this season?

It might be about the ministry, but frankly it might not be. Considering all the arenas of life you operate in (family, ministry, serving, friends, finances, health, etc.) what do you think has God’s attention right now? Only by asking this question and doing something with the answer can you model faith in action for your leaders.


Dealing With Our Students’ Doubts and Questions by Andy Blanks


One of the main tasks of youth workers, in my opinion, is to help play a role in leading teenagers to take more ownership of their faith. And as I speak to teenagers and youth workers about this transition to greater faith ownership, the question of doubt inevitably comes up. Often.

One of the major aspects of our teenagers owning their faith is dealing with doubts, or dealing with questions they have about God or some aspect of their faith.

Questions about the essentials of their faith, and to a lesser extent, doubts, are a healthy part of faith development. As leaders, we should encourage students to wrestle with the questions they have. Even as this might make us uneasy, it’s important to help students walk down this road.

I love this quote from Henry Drummond:

“Christ distinguished between doubt and unbelief. Doubt says, ‘I can’t believe.’ Unbelief says, ‘I won’t belief.’ Doubt is honest. Unbelief is defiant.”

Honest doubt, and honest questioning is how teenagers begin to own a faith that is theirs, not their parents’, or grandparents’, or even yours. In the past, I have told students that if they are not asking questions of their faith, they’re not trying hard enough. They’re not thinking about it enough. They’re not digging deeply enough. That’s why questioning is part of owning our faith.

But what do we do with our questions? What is the right attitude or approach toward having these questions or doubts?

Here are a few takeaways:


There are dozens of examples of people questioning or doubting God in Scripture. 100-year-old Abram questioned God’s ability to give him a son (Genesis 17:15-17). Abraham questioned God when God said He was going to destroy Sodom (Genesis 18:22-25). David questioned God dozens of times (Psalm 13:1-2; Psalm 22:1). The OT prophet Habakkuk questioned God’s goodness. John the Baptist doubted his mission and God’s call on his life (Luke 7:18-20). And you know what? God didn’t smite them. God didn’t call down fire on them. God walked with them through their doubts and questions. And in the end, their faith was strengthened.


The second way to deal with our questions comes from a guy near and dear to my heart, the great Dr. Tim Keller. Keller writes a great bit about faith and doubt. I love this quote: “A person’s faith can collapse overnight if he or she has failed over the years to listen patiently to his or her own doubts. As Christians, we should acknowledge and wrestle with our doubt. It is no longer sufficient to hold beliefs just because you inherited them.”

We have to encourage students to own their questions. To acknowledge them. To look at them from every different angle. To make it their mission to discover as much as they can about their questions until they are satisfied that they have taken it as far as they can take it. Many of our questions don’t have answers that make us feel good. But, all of our questions, all of our doubts, can be answered in God. Which leads to my next point . . .


In the end, while we can know so much about God and His ways, we will never know all of Him and His ways. That God made Himself knowable to us is amazing. But He will always remain completely unknowable. Isaiah 55:9  God says: “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Exodus 15:11   says: “Who among the gods is like you, O LORD? Who is like you— majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?

There will always be aspects of God that we can’t fully know. But in seeking to understand God and His ways, we will grow to know Him more than we can ever imagine. There is tension here, for sure. But there is assurance as well.


We may question God and we might find that the answers we find don’t solve any pain we feel or our need for nice neat resolution. But this doesn’t change who God is. We may question why God allows suffering. But we can’t deny that He is a loving God who goes to great lengths to save us. We may question God’s plan, but He is still sovereign. We may question God allowing bad things to happen to good people, but He is still compassionate. We may question why we don’t feel close to God, but it doesn’t change the fact that He is always near to us, eternally unchanging, and deeply and madly in love with each of His children. Our doubts, our questions, don’t change who God is.

The doubts and questions of our teenagers can sometimes feel big and scary. But only to us. They don’t scare God.

God welcomes the faith-insecurities of our teenagers. And once we help them see this,  we help them grow toward a faith that is more authentic.


The Millennial Factor: Why They Are Who They Are by Chap Clark


Two articles jumped out at me this week. One by Farhad Manjoo, “CORPORATE AMERICA CHASES THE MYTHICAL MILLENNIAL,” and the other by David Brooks, “INSIDE STUDENT RADICALISM.”

Brooks compared the incessant rush for “excellence” as rewarding the “meritocracy,” where college students are “stressed and exhausted,” with “a moral life that is more vehement, more strenuous than anything being offered by their elders.” The basic clash college students (e.g., Millennials) now experience is the clash of results and process, between production and purpose. Brooks concludes: “There is a vacuum at the heart of things here. The meritocracy has become amoral. We ask students to work harder and harder while providing them with less and less of an idea of how they might find a purpose in all that work.”

Manjoo asserts that “Millennials aren’t real” and that the rest of us must “break out of the stereotype.” He cites Laszlo Block, head of human resources at Google (and my niece’s boss), “Every single human being wants the same thing in the workplace — we want to be treated with respect, we want to have a sense of meaning and agency and impact, and we want our boss to just leave us alone so we can get our work done.”

In my own research and experience, I am convinced that this is a generation that has been the recipient of greater expectations while receiving less social capital to help navigate them than any in history.

That, of course, is an ambitious statement, but there is data aplenty – from Robert Putnam’s Our Kids to Charles Murray’s Coming Apart and Madeline Levine’s The Price of Privilege – that point in the same direction. Gen X-ers and Boomers at least enjoyed vestiges of days when a teacher or coach would spend an hour with a kid after school “just to talk.” Millennials have grown up having to earn their way into a meaningful relationship. If there’s one place I depart from Google’s Laszlo, I do not believe that they want to left “alone,” even when they think they do. Being micromanaged is anathema to them. They would rather be given the opportunity to try, and to risk, but they also want someone they trust to help to learn know how to be better.


  • First, don’t think “Millennials,” think “person.”
  • Second, toss out the profane labels and descriptors that separate you from them, like “entitled” and “a trophy for every kid.” Look into their eyes. Learn their name. Be a student of their perspective. Honor their gifts and calling.
  • And, above all, treat them with respect.

Previous generations were welcomed because they were part of us; they were worth the effort to equip and include them. Today kids grow up having to perform their way into blessing. This is where David Brooks and Farhad Manjoo get it right: Millennials long to be empowered and they are desperate to be valued.

Funny, they are just like us.


Snapchat Beats Instagram and Facebook as the Top Social Platform for Teens by Lauren Johnson


Snapchat’s growth as the preferred social platform for teenagers continues to outpace other social platforms, and it’s cutting into Facebook usage.

According to investment firm Piper Jaffray’s new “Taking Stock With Teens” report, 80 percent of teens use Snapchat at least once a month, up from 74 percent in the fall of 2015. While 79 percent of teenagers said that they use Instagram once a month—an increase from 76 percent one year ago—the photo-sharing app’s reach is slightly less than Snapchat.

Perhaps more interesting is Snapchat’s impact on Facebook, which has fought off reports that teens have fled the social network for cooler platforms in recent years. Piper Jaffray’s study now suggests that’s true when teenage usage for Facebook is compared to Snapchat. Just 52 percent of respondents in Piper Jaffray’s study (which includes 10,000 responses) said that they use Facebook once a month, down from 56 percent in fall 2015.

Specifically, younger teens are dropping off of Facebook, while Snapchat and Instagram are neck-and-neck for teens between the ages of 14 and 18. Among 14-year-olds, for example, 80 percent use Instagram once a month, while just less than 80 percent use Snapchat. With Facebook, roughly 30 percent of 14-year-olds use the social network each month, the lowest percentage of all age groups to use the site. A little less than 50 percent of 14-year-olds use Twitter.

With 18-year-olds, slightly more than 80 percent use Snapchat once a month while a little less than 80 percent use Instagram. Roughly 60 percent of 18-years-olds use Facebook while another 50 percent use Twitter.

Meanwhile, teens’ overall love of Twitter dipped slightly from 58 percent a year ago to 56 percent. Pinterest’s growth among teens was flat year-over-year at 25 percent while 22 percent of teenagers said that they use Google+ every month.

When asked what their favorite social platform is, 35 percent picked Snapchat, up from 17 percent in 2015. Twenty-four percent of teens selected Instagram (down from 29 percent last year), and 13 percent of respondents said Facebook and Twitter were their favorites, respectively.


5 Characteristics of Healthy Discipleship in Your Youth Ministry by Andy Blanks


The word discipleship means different things to different people. When I say discipleship in the context of this post, I’m simply talking about the process of growing to be more like Christ. Now, the process itself will differ based on your ministry context.


As you read these, ask yourself to what degree you see them in your youth ministry.

1. Gospel Focused
No matter how you teach the Bible, or what you’re teaching, it must be taught through the lens of the Gospel. When we make our Bible teaching too much about application, or cultural relevance, or entertainment, we fail students. The good news of God’s rescue plan for humanity, as fulfilled in Christ, must be the foundation of your teaching efforts.

Too often we make our Bible teaching about doing. Do this. Don’t do that. Right actions won’t make disciples. But consistently bringing our students face-to-face with the Gospel will.

2. Relationally Centered
Relationally centered as opposed to program, or event centered. Think about the relationships Jesus formed with His disciples. Life was shared. It wasn’t Jesus merely dumping information on His followers. There was real relationship. Jesus and His disciples shared life together. It was reciprocal, too. Jesus allowed His disciples choice moments to see His frustration, His concerns . . . the human side of “fully God, fully man.”

We have to embrace the relationships we have with students, not as a means to an ends. We must truly share our lives with them, just as we ask them to share their lives with us.

3. Community Oriented
Healthy discipleship is relationally centered (focus on the individual), but fully embraces the gift of community (focus on individuals). I think this is one area where youth ministers are very effective. We have some built-in advantages working with teenagers, to be sure. But, it’s still a vital component of healthy discipleship.

4. Outward Reaching
You probably already create opportunities for your youth group to serve. Maybe you do mission trips, or volunteer at a retirement home. That’s awesome. Keep doing it. But, I would encourage you to break free from the “youth group-wide,” program-centered approach, and to intentionally empower smaller groups of individual students to seek opportunities to impact their immediate world.

Leave it up to them to decide how it looks. But create the expectation that this type of outreach should be happening.

5. Multiplication Empowering
Plain and simple, if you’re doing discipleship the right way, your students will begin to desire to draw other people in. Some of these students might be fringe members of your youth group. Others will be their peers who do not have a saving relationship with Christ. Your role is to help guide and encourage your students to bring these outlying students into your community.

The “front door” of faith for this generation of young people is probably not an invitation to church. Instead, it’s an invitation to belong to a community. It’s “belonging before believing.” The logic behind this is pretty simple . . .

While a non-believer may say “no” to church based on preconceived notions or bad prior experiences, it’s much harder to say “no” to being truly accepted as a part of a community of peers who are daily living out the Christ-life. How much more authentic (and comfortable) is it for this individual to then be welcomed at your youth group when he or she already has a relationship with a group of students? It’s a paradigm shift, for sure, but one that I personally think is both true to the biblical example and where we find ourselves culturally.


Why Parent’s Priorities are Hurting Children by Tim Elmore

This article is a simple reminder of a timeless truth:

“What gets rewarded gets repeated.”

My generation placed an emphasis on several priorities that I believe have backfired on our children. While the goals were well intentioned, they unwittingly manipulated our kids to value lower priorities over higher ones and to value the end, not the means. In fact, for too many high school and college students, the end justifies the means in almost every life context. We unwittingly taught our children to push for results without valuing the process.

Allow me to offer an example.

Too many parents have decided that getting into a great college should be the number one goal of a high school student. This priority led our students to do whatever it took to please Mom and Dad. The value turned into behavior:
  1. We pushed for higher scores on standardized tests.
  2. We paid for SAT prep at a special tutoring facility
  3. We prioritized academic success over everything.

I wonder if this is a misplaced priority. Our kids observe and listen to what we value, often taking their cues from our obsession with their performance:

  1. Kids find a way to appease their parents, even if it means buying papers.
  2. They figure out how to beat the system: high grades but low retention.
  3. They play a sport even if they’d rather do something else they enjoy more.
  4. They do the extra-curricular activity but deep down are miserable.
  5. They have higher rates of plagiarism than past generations.

From what I’ve read, this seems to have been a part of the problem with the rise in both youth anxietyand school cheating. Parents demand results; kids feel angst . . . and they cheat to cope with their inabilities. It’s become epidemic in some areas. Three out of four students in America admit to cheating in order to get through college.

A Statement That Stopped Me in My Tracks

These thoughts raced through my mind recently when I saw a sign hanging in public. The quote forced me to stop and think about what’s really important in life and what sustains our civilization. It simply said:

“We need to care less about whether our children are academically gifted and more about whether they sit with the lonely kid in the cafeteria.”

I quickly sped down memory lane, trying to remember what my wife and I had said to our children as they made their way through school. We certainly encouraged them to study hard and do their very best in each class. We also encouraged them, however, to focus on behaviors and outcomes that were in their control. We taught them: “You will become what you are becoming right now.”

Displaying empathy for marginalized kids was one of those behaviors we talked about more than once. It was also something we tried to practice, both with neighbors who lived close by and taking trips to serve the homeless at Safehouse Outreach in Atlanta. My son Jonathan has always been drawn to reach out to those on the fringes who appear lonely, unpopular, or unfriended. My daughter Bethany has always stuck up for the person who appears different or quirky. Now that they’re both in their twenties, I am as proud of these predispositions as I was their good grades. Classrooms can only teach so much. These are actions that forge your character. Watching my two adult children today—I am pleased that somehow the right priorities stuck.

So, I just want to ask you: What do you emphasize in your home or school? Is it simply hard skills like math or science, or is it something they may end up needing every time they meet someone new? What message do you send them with your affirmation or criticism? Let me remind you of a timeless principle—what gets rewarded gets repeated.

What Really Matters

Deanna was a high school student who usually made good grades, but she stood out most to her teachers for her compassion. They all noticed the way she reached out to fellow students who didn’t seem to understand a subject. She consistently took time to be there for classmates who needed help, or encouragement or, perhaps, they just needed another person with whom to sit. Deanna lived to serve others.

One semester, her chemistry teacher was forced to give her a poor grade. He hated to do so, since Deanna worked harder than any student in his class. But, alas, she had earned a D, and he knew he had to grade fairly. His statement on her report card said it all. Next to the D, he wrote a note for both Deanna and her parents to see:

“We cannot all be chemists, but oh, how we would all love to be Deannas.”

Lets make sure we’re emphasizing what really matters and not misplacing our priorities.