11.28.16

Help Parents Win With Digital Media and Their Teenagers by Brad Griffin

youthspecialties.com

If there’s anything that causes me to scratch my head routinely as a parent of adolescents, it’s technology. Digital devices, social media, constant connection—these realities present an endless barrage of decisions I’ve never had to make before as a parent. And they’re not just one-time decisions. They keep changing, cycling, and morphing at dizzying speed.

Like me, most parents of students in your ministry have wondered—and worried—about the relationship their kids have with digital technology.

And the relationships they have with each other as a result of emerging digital realities.

We worry about what they’re doing and saying and seeing online. Parents worry not only what they’re posting publicly, but also what they’re sharing privately. We’ve put these tremendously powerful technological tools in teenagers’ hands and we expect them to live up to incredibly high standards—higher standards than most adults—when it comes to how they use their devices.

BLAMING + SHAMING PARENTS—OR STUDENTS—ISN’T GETTING US ANYWHERE

The minimum age for becoming a device-carrying kid keeps dropping—now into the elementary years. It’s no longer uncommon for a fourth or fifth grader to show up in our churches with a smartphone connecting them endlessly to the world. Somewhere along the line, a parent bought that phone and agreed to pay for the data plan.

The age they gain access to social media platforms also continues to drop. Parents routinely cave and allow not just 12-year-olds, but also 9-year-olds to create accounts on Instagram and other social media that clearly hold the bar at age 13 (by law) for access.

What we may not see as leaders is that for many parents, it feels like a no-win situation. We shame parents for what they’ve given their kids, and for what they aren’t paying attention to or limiting when it comes to devices and social media.

They, in turn, shame their kids for what they’re doing—even when they don’t quite get it. Most often this turns into refrains of “Put that thing down!” and “Look up at me when I’m talking to you.”

Ultimately, parents shame themselves for not being better at all this.

It’s an ugly cycle.

A NEW WAY TO SEE DIGITAL MEDIA

Sometimes it seems as though all these devices and networks exist in between parents and their kids. And it feels out of control.

That’s what MEDIA means—“in the middle.” But media doesn’t have to be a divider in families. It has great potential to be a connector, a bridge, and a set of tools families can use to support their relationships. In other words, rather than putting media in the center, we can put relationships in the center. That’s good news parents need to hear.

In the midst of this conundrum, here’s our role as leaders: to encourage and equip parents. NOT to blame, shame, or add lots of “should” to their lists. Instead, this is one of the most incredible partnership opportunities we have as leaders.

They desperately need support and guidance. We typically know more than they do about what’s really going on in teenagers’ digital worlds.

Win-win.

Here’s one way we can help parents win when it comes to digital media in their families:

CONNECT PARENTS’ LUNCHROOM BACK THEN WITH THEIR KIDS’ LUNCHROOM TODAY

Like it or not, we can’t remove digital like a stain from young people and get them to think about media and use it like we do. That’s not the world they live in now, and it’s not the one they’re going to live in as adults. One of the biggest gifts parents can offer their kids is not to shame them for living in the only world they know.

It can be challenging growing up in a society where everything is changing at a breakneck pace, and where your parents, by default, often seem like immigrants. The last thing you need if you’re a teenager is more shame that your use of the technology available to you is repulsive.

The key shift for parents here is to help them focus not just on how they use media, but why they are so digitally connected. The how will change as fast as the next app release. The why goes much deeper.

We can help parents see that in reality, most teenagers are not addicted to MEDIA, they’re addicted to EACH OTHER. Like teenagers have always been.

Here’s one huge way that plays out on social media. Adolescents are constantly wondering, “Who am I?” They find answers in connection with others, especially peers. For a few generations now, school cafeterias have been a kind of petri dish within which young people experiment with this “work” of identity formation.

To parents and teachers, the noon break is about eating lunch. But for teens it can be the defining moment of the entire day. It’s where they can be themselves, but as people still learning who those selves are, it becomes a social laboratory. Every lunch is a kid’s opportunity to experiment, tweak the formula a bit, and get ready to test out the new version tomorrow.

The cafeteria experiment is filled not only with conversation, but also tons of non-verbal communication through students’ seating location, clothing style, what and how they eat, and how they respond to each other. Parents can appreciate this if they dig back to their own adolescent days. But some things have changed.

Parents often underappreciate how a quick scroll through social media for a teenager can be like looking around the lunchroom. Ironically, this often happens in the actual lunchroom and continues on throughout the day and late into the night.

We can help parents see that social media platforms are teenagers’ way of checking in, comparing, picking up and dropping social cues, and knowing whether they’re “okay” (at least for today). And just like the real lunchroom, sometimes they care too much.

What can we help parents do? First, help them empathize with this new reality. Social media, or for some teenagers social gaming, is one of the contexts in which their kids are working out some of the biggest questions of their lives. Once parents develop more understanding and empathy, they can take next steps like:

  • checking in about how social media is shaping friendships.
  • asking how their kids feel about the kinds of interactions they’re having online.
  • establishing mutual ground rules for how parents interact with their kids (or not) on various platforms.
  • finding and supporting offline, in-person ways for teenagers to connect with their friends in real time and space.

Ultimately, our support as ministry leaders can help families get beyond rules to relationships, walking the road of support that helps young people form healthy patterns they will ultimately carry with them into adulthood.

That’s a parenting win. That’s a ministry win.

11.28.16

What to Do When Teens say “I don’t believe in God” by Rob Petitfils

youthspecialties.com

Too often when adults dialogue with resistant teens about matters of faith, they are guided by their need to be right, rather than to be effective. If you and the teen both need to be right, then you’ll have no influence on that teen other than to reinforce their mindset that Christian adults are egotistical, narrow minded, antiquated, control freaks who really don’t care about them. 

Here are 10 tips to guide you in talking with your teen about their views on God:

  1. Don’t panic and take your time. Influencing doubting, cynical, non-believing teens is a process not an event.
  2. Validate them. It may not be OK with you for them to “not believe in God” but it needs to be OK for them. Remember, God still believes in them and wants them to believe more than you.
  3. Don’t ask leading questions—teens are smart and they know when you’re trying to lead them or trap them and they’ll resent you for it. Then they’ll resist you and those who follow you.
  4. Come from a place of genuine curiosity. When you’re genuinely curious about how a teen has come to believe what he believes, thinks what he thinks they’ll respond favorably.
  5. Allow them to save face. This is critical. So often teens remain entrenched in temporary identities because they don’t want to hear “I told you so” or other more sophisticated adult versions of that, such as a parent saying to another adult “Well, he stopped believing in God but he’s now found his way.” While that sounds innocent, it sounds condescending and patronizing. What if doubting and not believing were his way?
  6. Give up being right. Here’s my gift to you: “You’re right.” Now that is settled. When we come from a place of “But I’m right!” we’ll try too hard convince teens that we are right about something like the existence of God, one of two things is going on: 1) We really don’t believe what we claim as strongly as we claim to believe it or 2) Our ego needs to be right, it needs to win.
  7. Don’t make it about you. Allow your teen to have his own journey with God, even though it may not look like yours and even if it looks so much like yours it scares the hell out of you!
  8. Make Church attendance a part of being in your family. Just because they don’t believe doesn’t mean they get a pass from Community Worship. But you can easily help lower their resistance by saying “I know you don’t believe in God, but this is a family practice. As long as you live in our house, you’ll be a part of family practices.”
  9. Don’t make them go “talk to the priest” unless its something they are really interested in doing or have a relationship with the priest. I’m all about getting teens and clergy together for meaningful dialogue, but too often when parents do this it comes across as “We’ll see about your atheism. Father’s gonna set you straight.” And instead of being set straight, you (and now with Father or the minister’s help) have further entrenched them in their unbelief. If you know the minister or other adult well enough to know they can utilize the approach I’m suggesting, then by all means go for it!
  10. Listen. Listen. When teens resist, its usually because we haven’t listened long and/or well enough. Teens will hear you when they feel heard by you.

11.28.16

What to Do When You Bombed Sunday’s Sermon by Brandon Cox

pastors.com

Preaching, as a pastor, is hard. It’s not hard to get up and say something inspirational. It is hard to get up and rightly divide God’s Word, build a bridge from an ancient culture to our own, and then to call people to an appropriate response to God’s revealed truth consistently week after week.

On a recent Sunday, I kind of bombed. Most of the congregation probably couldn’t tell; partly because they’re so stinkin’ nice, but I knew driving home I had missed the mark. For my own benefit, and for the benefit of pastors who may read this, I wanted to use a blog post to explore where I think I went wrong.

You must understand that every pastor prepares messages a little differently. I plan a year of preaching in advance using a spreadsheet, then write an overview of each series a couple of weeks before it begins. On Sunday night, I start reading and soaking in the primary passage and theme for the following Sunday. On Tuesdays, I study hard and usually by Wednesday, I have an outline. I purposely wait until Saturday to turn it into a publicly presentable outline and slideshow so that I can meditate through it as I get it ready for others to hear.

My message that Sunday was a tough one. My goal was to explain how Jesus perfectly fulfills the responsibilities of our high priest before God – how he grants us access to God’s presence, offers himself as a payment for our sin, and prays on our behalf before the Father.

I started by mentioning the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer and then plunged into Jesus’ priestly prayer offered in the seventeenth chapter of the gospel of John. And that’s where I think I missed some marks. For example…

I failed to really explain the content of the passage well.

I was trying to cover too much ground – to preach a lengthy passage filled with details in a single sermon forced me to skip over a lot of content that was not only good, but which probably raised some good, powerful questions in the minds of my listeners.

John 17 can easily be broken into multiple parts. Jesus first prays for himself, then for his 11 remaining disciples, and then for all believers who will ever follow him in the future. The chapter should probably have been used as a three-part message series. Or, I should have used a different, shorter passage altogether for a single message, perhaps from Hebrews 7 where Jesus’ priesthood is explained a little more succinctly.

I think I probably left the congregation with a vague familiarity with Jesus’ prayer rather than an intimate awareness of its depth.

I failed to make relevant applications.

I brought out of the first portion of the passage that Jesus was asking God to use the “hour” in which he would be crucified and raised from the dead to bring glory to himself. I could have turned my attention, then, to your crucial hour of decision. But I failed to make that jump.

In the second part of the prayer, Jesus asks the Father to sanctify his disciples through his truth, his Word. He mentions “the world” 19 times in the chapter and asks God to protect us. I spent time in a bit of a rant about the problem with dividing sacred from secular and how we really ought to be sacred in the middle of the secular. It’s an okay point to make, but it’s not what my particular congregation really struggles with. I should have, instead, talked about the kinds of threats that come to our spiritual growth from the culture, and how we can root our lives in God’s Word as a primary defense.

And in the third part of the prayer, Jesus asks the Father to keep all future believers unified in love. Again, I ranted a little about how this isn’t really a call to non-denominationalism or to institutional unity, but rather to a spiritual kinship shared by all believers around the world. It would have been a great opportunity to explore the specific ways we can show love for one another within the Body of Christ. But again, I failed to make that jump.

I failed to drive home a single appeal, a single call to action.

I’m a firm believer that a simple presentation of the Gospel and an appeal to trust in Jesus ought to follow every message ever preached. But I also think every message demands its own specific call to action. I gave several on Sunday – pray for some lost people, trust that Jesus is praying for you while you hurt, and be accepting of people like a family taking in a newly adopted child.

All of those are good calls to action, but it’s always most powerful when we take the one big idea of the message and ask people to offer one response to God.

I’m not embarrassed, and I’m not beating myself up as I write this. My tendency is usually to start thinking about how I’m going to make course corrections next week, and that’s where my mind is today. This is partly because, as my wife reminded me on Sunday afternoon, nobody bats a thousand, we all experience failures and setbacks, and most importantly, God can use even the weakest of messages to work miraculous change in the hearts of people.

And that’s what happened Sunday. A man whom I deeply appreciate approached me quickly after the second service with a question. “You mean, Jesus prays for me? I’ve never heard that before…” and tears welled up in his eyes as though he’d never realized that Jesus is personally attentive to his deepest pain before. I affirmed his newly discovered understanding of Jesus’ personal compassion, then prayed with him.

It may have been a weak sermon, but it was a good day!

So what’s next? What do you do when you just didn’t preach your best message? Here’s what I like to do…

  1. Pray about it, thanking God that he is glorified in our weakness and trusting that he can still work miracles.
  2. Move on. Learn from it. Focus on next week. There are many more people to reach with God’s truth. Keep going!

This coming weekend, I can’t wait to see how God uses his Word!

11.28.16

Diagnosis: Entitlement Leads to Chronic Disappointment by Tim Elmore

Growingleaders.com

Last month, I spent time with large groups of students and faculty. One of the hot topics of conversation was the “gigantic dose of entitlement” the students felt about their lives. The teachers said it was the number one problem in their classrooms and surprisingly, the students admitted to it. In short, they felt they “deserved more.”

Then, the subject shifted to the increased sadness and depression levels students were also experiencing. Both faculty and students had much to say about that as well. I began to wonder—while there are far deeper reasons for sadness, sometimes even chemical reasons—could there be a link between entitlement and sadness?

I began to dig. And found something interesting.

recent study on entitlement, a personality trait characterized by exaggerated feelings of deservingness and superiority, connects a sense of entitlement to all sorts of negative emotions. “Entitlement may lead to chronic disappointment,” say researchers from Case Western Reserve University, “and can throw people into a ‘perpetual loop of distress.’”

A Great Reason to Fight Entitlement

Time magazine summarized the data: “The authors reached these conclusions after analyzing more than 170 academic papers, and published their results in the journal Psychological Bulletin.They found that people who possess high levels of entitlement consistently fall victim to a three-part cycle:”

  • First, they don’t always get everything they think they deserve, leaving them constantly vulnerable to unmet expectations.
  • Those unmet expectations are then perceived as injustices, leading to volatile emotions like anger and sadness.
  • Finally, to justify those emotions, entitled people reassure themselves of their own specialness. This helps them feel better temporarily, but ultimately starts the process all over again.

It’s Getting Worse

Julie Exline, PhD, a professor at Case Western Reserve, says, “This research has become increasingly important, as rates of entitlement have risen sharply in the United States in the last 50 years. At the same time, anxiety and depression rates have gone up too. These attitudes are more pervasive in our society, but it’s not like they’re making us happier.”

“Along with perpetual disappointment, the consequences of entitled behavior can also include poor relationships, interpersonal conflicts, and depression,” Exline continues. “So much of entitlement is about competition—being better or more deserving than other people,” she reported to Health.com. “It really pits you against society, and it can be very isolating.”

What’s the Prescription?

There’s no easy answer to break free from the shackles of entitlement. It’s an attitude fostered by the very culture in which we live. Just watch a commercial on TV and you’ll hear that, whatever it is, “you deserve it.” We feel entitled to better services, superior products, caring friends, great vacations, and quick and easy solutions to our problems. Oh, and lots of TLC.

After reviewing the data, however, I found a few steps we (or our students) can take to get some level of control over our sense of entitlement:

  1. Since entitlement often involves comparison to others, consider how they are just as special as you are, and they also deserve some perks. Break free from the comparison trap.
  1. Stop and reflect on your own faults and shortcomings. This reminds us of our humanity and the fact that we likely deserve both sunshine and rain.
  1. When you feel “entitled” start reflecting on what you’re grateful for. In short, think of what you currently have, instead of what you don’t have.
  1. Jot down the areas in which you feel entitled. Usually it isn’t every area but certain ones. Then, ask yourself: Why do I feel deserving in this category more than others?
  1. Discuss this research with friends, inviting them to become your personal board of directors. Ask them to hold you accountable to trade entitlement for gratitude.
  1. Remember the adage: I cannot be disillusioned unless I am first “illusioned.” Fight off all unrealistic expectations you have of life being easy or comfortable.

Now, go focus on serving others and watch that disappointment evaporate.

11.20.16

7 Unbiblical Statements Christians Believe by Shane Pruitt

relevantmagazine.com/god/7-unbiblical-statements-christians-believe#JfejVIA2E1W90zg2.99

We don’t often stop to consider the magnitude of what the Bible represents. It is literally God revealing Himself and communicating Himself to mankind in written word.

Orthodox Christianity teaches that the Bible was inspired and authored by the Holy Spirit of God using human instruments. And many Christians believe that—in its original languages of Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic—it is without error and fault.

However, there are many things that Jesus-following, Church-going, Bible-believing Christians believe that are completely unbiblical. How does this happen? Often, we’ll hear someone quote a statement that sounds nice to us, and we’ll begin repeating it as though it’s biblical truth without ever researching it in Scripture.

Several of these unbiblical statements have gained enough traction that many people believe they’re actually Bible verses. Not only are the statements unbiblical; some of them teach the opposite of what the Bible teaches.

Here are some popular unbiblical statements that Bible-loving Christians tend to believe:

1. God Helps Those Who Help Themselves

God gave us gifts and talents that we’re supposed to use, but self-reliance and self-righteousness, or the attitude of trying harder and doing better actually gets in the way of the work of God.

This statement is actually anti-Gospel. Obviously God gave us gifts and talents that we’re supposed to use, but self-reliance and self-righteousness, or the attitude of trying harder and doing better actually gets in the way of the work of God.

In reality, Jesus saves those who die to themselves: “Then Jesus told His disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me’” (Matthew 16:24).

2. God Wants Me to Be Happy

It’s a common belief that God exists to be our “personal genie” waiting to give us our every wish. It’s amazing how we will justify our sinful actions by saying, “God just wants me to be happy.”

Happiness is tied to feelings and emotions that are often based on circumstances, and those change all the time. God wants us to be obedient to Him, trust Him and know that everything He does is for our good, even if it doesn’t make us feel “happy” in that moment.

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

3. We’re All God’s Children

Although God has created everyone, not everyone relationally belongs to Him. Only those who have repented of sin, placed their faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, and possess the Holy Spirit of God inside of them can claim Him as their Father:

“But you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:15-16).

“So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ … If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:26-29, emphasis mine in both verses).

4. Cleanliness Is Next to Godliness

The people around you may appreciate you staying clean, but this is not Scripture. Parents may use this to motivate their kids to clean their rooms. However, I’d suggest using an actual biblical statement: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12). (I can’t guarantee that will make your children want to clean up either, though).

5. God Won’t Give You More Than You Can Handle

The point of living in a fallen world is not for us to try really hard to carry our heavy burden, but rather realize we can’t do it alone and surrender to God instead.

Actually, all of life is more than we can handle. The point of living in a fallen world is not for us to try really hard to carry our heavy burden, but rather realize we can’t do it alone and surrender to God instead. That’s what faith is all about.

Everything is more than I can handle, but not more than Jesus can handle: “For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself” (2 Corinthians 1:8).

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

6. Bad Things Happen to Good People

The sentiment of this makes sense, but if we follow it all the way through, the idea of a good person is very subjective. Often, we place ourselves in the judgment seat of what is good and bad, or who is good and bad.

The most popular way to make that judgment is by comparison. For example, Bob is a good guy, because he is not as bad as Sam. However, according to the Bible we’re all on equal ground because none of us is inherently good: “as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one’” (Romans 3:10).

7. When You Die, God Gains Another Angel

Plain and simple. Humans are humans, and angels are angels. This remains so even in eternity. In fact, angels are intrigued by the interaction between God and His “image-bearing” humans: “It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look” (1 Peter 1:12).

The fact that many Christians believe these unbiblical statements shows our unfortunate overall biblical illiteracy. Instead of swallowing popular statements hook-line-and-sinker, may we be like the Bereans in the Book of Acts. When they heard Paul preach, they wanted to research the Scriptures themselves to authenticate what he was saying: “They received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:10-11).

11.20.16

Post-Truth by Jim Denison
denisonforum.org

“Denzel Washington Switches to Trump, Shocks Hollywood.” This headline announced the news that the famous actor was supporting Donald Trump for president, primarily because “he’s hired more employees, more people, than anyone I know in the world.” The story was fake. Not one word of it was true. But that didn’t keep it from going viral and trending on numerous news outlets.

Here are other examples of fake news in the news:

•    Donald Trump won the popular vote.
•    The Clinton Foundation bought $137 million worth of illegal arms and ammunition.
•    An FBI agent associated with Hillary Clinton’s email leaks was found dead in a murder-suicide.
•    The Pope endorsed Donald Trump.
•    The Pope endorsed Bernie Sanders.

None of these stories is true. But they were so popular that they were picked up by news feeds on Google and Facebook, giving them even more credibility.

Welcome to the era of “post-truth.” The Oxford Dictionaries just declared this term to be their “word of the year.” According to their definition, “post-truth” is an adjective “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” Editors noted that use of the term increased by around 2,000 percent in 2016 compared to last year. They explained this spike “in the context of the EU referendum in the United Kingdom and the presidential election in the United States.”

These are challenging days for truth.

For decades, we’ve been told that truth is personal and subjective. The argument runs thus: Our minds interpret our senses, resulting in knowledge. But no two people sense the world or interpret their senses in precisely the same way. As a result, there can be no such thing as absolute truth. There’s only your truth and my truth. If “appeals to emotion and personal belief” persuade you, that’s your truth. Such appeals may be “post-truth” with regard to objective truth claims, but who are we to judge?

Many in our culture are convinced of this “post-truth” approach to the world. The consequences cross the spectrum of moral issues, from abortion to same-sex marriage to euthanasia. “You have no right to judge me” is the mantra of our day.

Of course, to claim that there is no absolute truth is to make an absolute truth claim. Such subjectivism makes moral judgments impossible: if all truth is relative, the Holocaust could be Hitler’s “truth” and 9/11 could be al-Qaeda’s “truth.”

Don’t let the “post-truth” culture deceive you: all truth is still God’s truth. Neither human nor divine nature change, making the Bible as true and authoritative today as when the Spirit first inspired its words. Our “post-truth” society may decide that the Bible is wrong on moral issues, but it’s we who are wrong. God’s word is an anvil—we don’t break its commandments; we break ourselves on them.

Where are you tempted to affirm what the Bible forbids or refuse what the Bible requires? Jesus said to his Father, “Your word is truth” (John 17:17). Do you agree with Jesus?

11.20.16

The Power of 4 Consistent Questions by Dan Colvin

leadertreks.org

Students’ lives are about as inconsistent as the weather here in Chicago. Their favorite teacher or coach leaves the school mid-way through the year. Their family dynamics shift as a result of a painful divorce, and their friendships and relationships fluctuate on an hourly basis.

In the midst of so much uncertainty, students have a desperate, but perhaps unspoken, need for consistency. This consistency needs to be present in not only our time with them, but also in our content. I’ve recently started mentoring a new student, and, bearing in mind this need for consistency, I brainstormed four simple questions to ask him each time we meet. These questions add value, designate a clear focus, and establish built-in accountability. Take a look.

Since our last meeting:

  1. What is one thing that has brought you joy?
  2. What is one thing that has frustrated or challenged you?
  3. What is one risk you have taken or something that took you outside of your comfort zone?
  4. What is one thing you’ve done to serve someone else?

Added Value
These questions add value to our meetings. They inspire my student to share stories about his life, and they keep our minds from wandering towards less important topics.

Clear Focus
They also provide a consistent focus and direction for our time together. It’s given me a way to tell my student, “This is what’s important.” It’s my hope that what’s important will become memorable, and what’s memorable will become practical and applicable and lead to lasting change in his life.

Built in Accountability
Finally, these questions have become a source of built in accountability for my student. The nature of asking a consistent set of questions holds my student accountable to living out the discipleship principles we’ve talked about. We get to celebrate his successes, and we get to assess areas where more growth is needed.

My questions provide much-needed consistency for my student. They add value to my meetings, give focus to our time, and create a space for accountability. Above all, they’ve helped me create a tailored mentoring experience for my student and be more intentional about his discipleship. Give it a try; four consistent questions could make a big difference for you, too!

If you’d like to develop your own set of questions, here are three of my recommendations.

  1. Design questions that are Story-Based. A great question will prompt a student to tell a story or share about an experience.
  2. Develop questions that are Specific. My questions encourage my student to talk about specific circumstances or specific times that they experienced certain emotions. Students tend to respond to vague questions with blank stares; they have no context from which to draw an answer. Specificity sets them up for success.
  3. Your questions should also be Goal-Driven. It’s my goal to see my student grow in service and risk taking, and my questions communicate those unique goals. They are designed to encourage my student to live out specific action steps between our meetings.

11.20.16

10 Steps That Help Athletes Deal With Conflict by Tim Elmore

growingleaders.org

In 2015, I hosted conversations with more than 300 NCAA coaches, as I traveled to universities across America. When I asked what their top challenges are with today’s student athletes, one kept popping up again and again:

The athletes’ ability to confront teammates on wrong or poor behavior.

I bet you’ve seen it too. Teammates lay plans to break a rule, but the captain is afraid to stand up to them and call them out for it. Cheating is occurring on a weekly basis, but players fear challenging their teammates on it. (After all, they’re not perfect either.) A sexual assault happens on a weekend, but no one wants to “own up” to the fact that they know what happened. So everyone stays quiet.

Why is Standing Up to Teammates Hard Today?

Confronting a friend has never been an easy task. Only the morbid actually like it. But it’s something leaders are called to do. It comes with the territory. Most coaches I know say they have very few of their student athletes who know how to do it.

But what makes this so hard? Aren’t these tough athletes?

1. We Live in a Day of Social Media.

I believe social media has created a culture of fear. Students are overly concerned with what others think about them. The band Twenty One Pilots released a song in 2015 called, “Stressed Out” that sums it up: “I was told when I get older all my fears would shrink, but now I’m insecure and I care what people think. My name’s ‘Blurryface’ and I care what you think.” Social media enables our world to constantly critique every word or thought we have.

2. We Live in a Day of Tolerance.

Kids today grow up in a pluralistic world, that’s diverse ethnically and ethically. No one feels equipped to challenge the morals or behaviors of a teammate, because they fear it looks “judgmental.” It appears narrow or prudish. Let’s face it. In society today almost anything goes, so the last thing a student wants to do is confront a peer. I’ve actually heard college students say it’s only wrong “if you’re caught.”

3. We Live in a Day of Fear and Survival.

When I ask student athletes about the difficulty of standing up to teammates on wrong choices, they usually bring up their own anxieties. Many are in survival mode. They can’t deal with anyone else’s problems, they’ve got their own to deal with. In short, too many live in fear of other people. Peer pressure is at an all-time high. When they are trying to survive the week, they have no time or energy to confront someone else.

So What Can We Do?

Coaches and athletic departments need to exegete the day we live in and respond.

As we prepare students for the prospects and predicaments of tomorrow, we cannot merely imitate or cling to the methods of the past.

I believe coaches must be intentional about developing leaders. Not just team captains but all teammates thinking like a leader. This means they see the big picture, they are clear on the goals, they inspire teammates, and they know their next steps.

As I stated above, culture drives students to be obsessed with how others feel about them—constantly checking comments, likes, views and shares. Sadly, it’s like an evaluation on their identity. Our work with students reveals an increasing number are preoccupied and obsessed with others’ opinions. It prevents healthy leadership.

It’s not just athletes either. Leagues, conferences and athletic departments must be willing to confront wrongs and make them right. Josh Brown is a recent example of this. Brown admitted to domestic abuse of his wife Molly. How will the NFL respond? The Jerry Sandusky case still lingers on some minds, as Penn State works to demonstrate to outsiders they’re both aware and addressing such issues in an ongoing way.

Steps We Can Teach to Confront a Teammate:

1. Be sure you embody the conduct you’re demanding of others.

We cannot expect student athletes to confront teammates in a healthy way if they’ve never seen a good example from us. As Mother Teresa said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

2. Reflect and work through your own anger. 

Wait long enough to become objective, but not so long that the issue feels irrelevant or tired. I try to let my initial emotion subside, then after a day, confront the person.

3. Initiate the contact. 

If something’s wrong, don’t wait for answers to surface somewhere else. Don’t blame the culprit or some other scapegoat and wait for them to make things right. Go do it. The sooner, the better. Waiting only leads to a build up of negative feelings.

4. Affirm them as you begin. 

As you sit down to talk, thank them for meeting with you and affirm what you can. By affirming them, you show that you see good qualities in them, not just wrong ones.

5. Tell them you are struggling with a problem. 

As you launch into the topic, be sure and own it; it’s your problem as much as theirs, since it involves team conduct. Don’t begin by pointing the finger at them.

6. Outline the problem; admit you may not understand all the details. 

It’s important to clarify the specifics of your dilemma. Why is it a problem? Be sure to give them the benefit of the doubt. Lay out the issue in good faith there’s a solution.

7. Share the principle that is at stake. 

Generalizations lead to even more problems. Communicate what principle may have been violated. Compromise on opinions but don’t discard your principles.

8. Encourage them to respond. 

At this point, listen well. Let them explain or clarify what happened. Take notes and work to understand their perspective. Listening earns you the right to be heard.

9. Establish forgiveness and repentance, if necessary. 

Once the dilemma is clear to both sides, choose and relay the proper response. Create a game plan for change. Invite them to help redeem what has happened.

10. Affirm your care for them as you conclude.

Whenever possible always end with words of encouragement and friendship and belief. As a leader, this is your chance to build not burn bridges.

11.14.16

The “No Show” Generation by Andy Lawrenson

leadertreks.org

From the rise of the electric guitar and Instagram to the death of the youth choir and Chubby Bunny, I have seen a lot of changes in youth ministry these past twenty-four years. Long gone are the hours I used to spend cutting out clip art and using glue to paste exciting event flyers together! I don’t tend to worry too much about these changes, but as I look at youth ministry today, I do find that one change has me completely rattled.

Just ten years ago your church could have a youth event, and students would actually show up. We announced a night with games and pizza, told students to invite their friends, and just like that we found ourselves with a youth room packed with students. Fast-forward ten years. Now when we announce a youth event and students invite their friends, they’re met with rejection, and we’re left with what feels like a failed event.

At first I thought this issue was unique to my church, but the more I talk to other youth workers, I’m learning that it’s a nation-wide trend and one that has left many of the old times scratching our heads. I can’t quite put my finger on what has happened, but I do have some theories or ideas.

Changes in schedules
Students are busier now than they were ten years ago. With Advance Placement classes and an increase in academic requirements, so much of a student’s schedule is now devoted to homework and projects designed to put them on the fast track to college scholarships. Travel sports teams and club teams have also exploded over the past several years, cutting into time that was traditionally set aside for church and youth group. Students don’t have time their schedules for youth group.

Changes in culture
We’re living in a culture that is more tolerant of a variety of lifestyles and less interested in churches that are accused of mistreating those who believe differently. When students used to ask, “What will we do?”, they now ask, “Why should I go?”. Culture has also dictated that Wednesday and Sunday nights are no longer sacred; today’s churches and youth groups now compete with dozens of sports games, academic clubs, and extracurricular activities.

Changes in family dynamics
We’re seeing a decline in parental and family involvement in the church. Families used to go to church on average 3 Sundays each month, but now it seems that many have scaled back their church attendance to once or twice a month. Attendance is dropping, and priorities are changing. For many Christian families it appears that practices that build faith have been put on the back burner to the busy schedule, sports, and academics.

With all of these changes, I find myself a fifty-year-old youth pastor trying to figure out student ministry all over again. I won’t compromise teaching God’s Word each week, and I won’t neglect setting aside opportunities for students to worship together. I will continue to teach my students how to practically apply the Bible to their lives, but I do want to make changes on my end to reflect the trends that I’m currently seeing.

Part 2, “Getting “No-Shows” to Show Up”.

In my previous post I wrote about the changing climate of youth ministry. Ten years ago it wasn’t difficult to get students to show up to an exciting youth ministry event, but now it isn’t so simple. Changes in students’ schedules, American culture, and family dynamics have made it more challenging to get students involved in our ministries.

I’m not interested in sacrificing truth or changing the priorities of my ministry, but I do want to make changes and adjustments to help me better connect with this generation of students. Here are five of my suggestions to reach a group of students that is busier and possibly less interested in the church than ever before.

Redefine Outreach
Rather than expecting students to come to us, we need to discover new ways to meet students where they are; our goal should be to get connected to a student’s community. As youth leaders and mentors, let’s devote our energy and attention towards taking a sandwich to a student’s sports practice, meeting with a student to study over a cup of coffee, or planning a small group Bible study to accommodate a sports or extracurricular activity’s schedules.

Don’t Avoid Parents
Part of our outreach also needs to be geared towards parents. We should pursue individual conversations with parents to communicate our desire to partner with them for their son or daughter’s growth and discipleship. A one-on-one conversation with a parent at a baseball game will set us up for more success than a one-time, large group parent meeting.

Remember Less is More
We’re better off taking advantage of our already scheduled times for ministry than trying to add new or extra large group weekly activities. Instead of adding events, we can use the time that we have for a variety of different purposes. Each night of youth group could take on a different focus from games to service to mission trip prep.

Invest in the Faithful
It’s important that we invest in the students who do faithfully attend youth group and measure success through discipleship rather than numbers. True disciples will multiply and reach others, and if we let discipleship take its course, we will see more and more students reached for the Kingdom.

Prioritize Student Leadership
We also need to change our thinking from a youth group for the students to a youth group by the students. Student leadership increases a students’ investment in the ministry, and when students are more invested, they are more likely to show up. We can help students get their skin in the game by letting them plan and lead outreach events, mission trips, small groups.

Times have changed. We can’t do student ministry like we did in the 80s, 90s, or even ten years ago, but by embracing some changes of our own, we can better reach this “No-Show” generation. My encouragement to you is don’t be afraid to try something new or different. If it flops, call it an experiment; if it’s successful be sure to share your idea with others.

11.14.16

Our Holiest Kids Maybe Our Hardest Challenge by Mark Penner

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They’ve heard it all before.

They’re holier than thou (and probably thine entire youth group.) Half of them have been home-schooled and they’re fluent in Hebrew. There’s nothing you can teach them because they already know everything there is to know. Leviticus is their favorite book and they have a well-articulated position on the authorship of Isaiah. It’s easy to be intimidated by these living lexicons, but the truth is that these biblical brainiacs likely represent our biggest ministry challenges –  and our most significant spiritual dividend, should we choose to invest

They may come across as arrogant and unteachable – and often that’s exactly what they are, but what we encounter at the surface doesn’t necessarily give us the whole story. I’ve got to be honest. My knee-jerk reaction to these mindlessly compliant kids has usually been to roll my eyes, avoid them and look for someone else to invest in. Someone who is actually willing to wrestle with the tough questions of faith in an authentic and transparent way. “After all,” I’ve told myself, “They don’t want or need what I have to offer.”

For a lot of these over-churched kids, faith is simply an exercise of the mind and the will.

They know all the facts and legalistically toe the line on all the rules whether they agree with them or not.  It’s sad for us to see these bright kids bored and apathetic about their walk with Jesus.  Their external behaviors seem to line up but their absence of life and passion leaves so much to be desired.

For some reason these kids have come to assume that the way to earn God’s affection is to meticulously get it all right on the outside.  Instead of a relationship expressing a deep heart of worship, they sincerely believe that God is primarily concerned with external appearances and behavioral conformity. For all they know about the Bible, it seems that they’ve missed the fact that the Good News is deeply relational.

Before we write off these apparently unmotivated law-keepers, let’s take quick look at some of the common characteristics of these kids and see if we can understand  some of the reasons their spiritual lives have been skewed this way.

APATHY

The lack of spiritual energy and direction stems from the fact that most of these kids are living a secondhand faith.  It’s not just that they haven’t made it their own yet. Instead, their parents are often intrusively downloading their own theological biases, anxieties and demands on their son or daughter. For many of these moms and dads it’s driven by fear or pride and the only way the kids can counteract the franticness of the parents’ expectations is to emotionally detach from the whole thing.

BEHAVIORAL COMPLIANCE

Many of our theological traditions define sin primarily in behavioral terms – no sex, no swearing, no smoking, and the list goes on. When that path is followed to its natural conclusion it’s not surprising that children – and eventually teenagers – will assume that by the same measure, spiritual maturity is marked by doing the right things. I understand the Scriptural call to a life of holiness, but in this distortion, holiness is a prerequisite to relationship rather than the spontaneous response of a heart deeply in love with Jesus. As long as we define repentance only in terms of turning from somethinginstead of seeing it as a rich invitation to turn to someone kids will keep believing that it’s just about doing the right thing.

CYNICISM

It means to distrust the good seen in others. Kids who have grown up in the church are often spiritually cynical because they’ve seen the gap between the talk and the walk in their friends, their parents and all to often in highly visible spiritual leaders who continue to crash and burn with uncanny regularity.  They get the unmistakable sense that faith isn’t working for anyone – that it really doesn’t impact life at a deep and meaningful level.  Even their own experience of recommitting their lives to Jesus at the retreat campfire resulted in nothing more than a two-week blip on their own spiritual trajectory.

DOUBT

Tough questions are not welcome and if they are raised they elicit pat answers and predictable clichés.  There’s no place for most of these kids to step back from their faith and wrestle with some of the mysteries of a God who doesn’t fit neatly into a box and the often cryptic book he gave us through a process that’s not easy to describe. “God said it! We believe it! That settles it! The fact is that for most of these mindlessly compliant kids it’s far from settled, but the notion of expressing doubt is so terrifying they would rather simply not think about it. These kids have been taught what to think instead of how to think.

I’ve given you A,B,C and D of the alphabet used by far too many of our kids to spell out their faith.  We could carry on and talk about Egocentrism, Fear, Grumbling, Hypocricy, Isolation, Judgmental Know-it-alls, Legalism, and More… But let me wrap it up by suggesting a few reasons why investing in these kids should be a critical ministry priority.

  • Most of the theological distortions these kids live with are not of their making. The majority of them are simply living out an adolescent version of the values they had modeled for them.
  • Failure to invest will reinforce and perpetuate a pattern that must be challenged and interrupted as a blatant distortion of the heart of the gospel before it sullies another generation
  • There is significant power in the knowledge these kids possess, so as long as we can find ways to connect their saturated heads with their dry and dusty hearts the potential for deep intimacy with Christ and rich effectiveness is immense.

Maybe it’s time for an attitude adjustment about a group of kids in our care who need to see Jesus in a whole new way.