12.26.16

Make Your Next Message Irresistible by Rob Gillen

youthspecialties.com

IN 2013 IT WAS DETERMINED THAT WE NOW HAVE AN ATTENTION SPAN OF 8 SECONDS – ONE SECOND LESS THAN THAT OF A GOLDFISH. 

Yeah. Less than a goldfish.

It can probably be blamed on modern-day cinematography and the constant changes of shots, sounds, and music. Nonetheless, it’s tough for us to pay attention to one thing for too long.

Factor in the fact that 11% of students struggle with ATTENTION DEFICIT HYPERACTIVITY DISORDER and you’ve got your work cut out for you as a youth pastor.

Here are nine speaking tips you can use to help keep your students on the edge of their seats and make your next message irresistible.

1) TELL A STORY…BUT TELL IT IN PARTS

Have you ever been watching a Netflix Series and the episode ends on a cliff-hanger? Whatever you were planning to do after the show – kiss it goodbye! You just sit there paralyzed waiting for the next episode to begin. It hurts. It hurts so good!

The next time you speak, include a great story, but don’t tell the whole story all at once. Instead, tell it in pieces, leaving the students waiting for the next “episode” – which will come later on in the message.

In Lisa Cron’s book WIRED FOR STORY, she covers the basics of storytelling. Do yourself a favor and read it. A friend recommended it to me and I couldn’t put it down. Probably because Lisa’s mastered the art of story-telling. I was hooked!

2) THE NEVER-ENDING OBJECT LESSON

Youth Pastors have been using object lessons for millennia. Jesus was the first youth pastor, and he was pro at this!

A coin? Sure thing. A tree? Why not? Wheat? That’ll work! People love object lessons.

One thing you can do to help get the most out of yours is to physically revisit the object throughout the message. Introduce your object early on and then continually pick it up. Carry it around with you. Sit it down beside you. Ignore it for a while and then bring it back into focus. Sounds simple, but with practice you can do this in a way that really pulls people in.

3) AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION PLEASE?

Remember when the conference speaker called a random attendee up on stage?

It has to be the most terrifying moment of someone’s life. They’re sitting there, casually enjoying the message, and all of a sudden the speaker points and says, “You!”

They look left, and then right, and then point at their chest and lip the word “Me?”

It may be terrifying in the moment, but if we’re honest, it’s pretty exciting. And when it’s done well, it serves a unique purpose to the message. It also creates a break and re-engages your listeners.

One time I asked a student to stand up just so I could ask her how my message was going.

She smirked, nodded and said “pretty good.” I told the crowd “Nice. I really needed some encouragement.”

4) HIT PAUSE

Sometimes we talk too much. Sometimes we talk too fast. And sometimes we need to stop talking for a moment.

The pause is the most neglected and underappreciated speaking tool.

If you’re building up to an amazing moment in your message, consider pausing for effect. This is a great time to scan the room and look into the eyes of your students. It lets them know that your pause isn’t a stumble or a mistake – it’s on purpose.

I’ve found that if I’m about to close, a good pause can pull my students in real tight.

5) USE YOUR BODY

More than half of communication is body language and that means your body is more important than your words. Your hands, feet, posture, smile, eyes, your sway, and your jump are all communication tools. How foolish if we seldom use any of them?

The next time you speak use your entire body. I’ve learned a lot watching CRAIG GROESCHEL speak. He involves his whole self in his message. I’ve even seen him dance while preaching! You wouldn’t consider all of those movements “techniques;” you’d just know that he’s super engaging!

6) USE YOUR VOICE

Don’t just use your words – use your voice! Mastering the power of voice inflection takes time and a lot of practice. Pastor and Author Max Lucado is a guru. If you listen to him closely, you’ll hear a very methodical and intentional changing of inflections when he speaks. It’s enchanting!

7) INTERRUPT YOURSELF

Have you ever heard someone passionate speak? They don’t always communicate in neat, complete, structured sentences. They might say something like “I can’t wait to start the next project because it’s…wow! I just can’t wait!” 

Give yourself permission to interrupt yourself.

Your interruption could be the perfect springboard for the middle schooler in the front row.

“Jesus knew why he was on planet earth. And he – Did you catch that! He knew his purpose! (pause for effect) That changed everything!”

We’re sometimes trying so hard to give the perfect message that we forget that we’re talking to actual human beings who have emotions and urges and really short attention spans.

Imagine you’re preaching to a room full of goldfish.

8) USE YOUR GRAPHICS

If you’re anything like me, you’re planned out, antiquated and somewhat OCD. So when I put together my message slides I tend to keep them all in the same pattern with the same fonts with the same general graphic. It’s simple, clean and organized.

It’s also predictable and pretty boring.

Instead of using one template for all of your slides, consider using 3-4 templates and mix them up. There will still be a similar look and style to your graphics, but maybe the words are on the top of the screen and then the bottom and then along the left side. It’s a subtle change, but it’s a consistent change. And change is good!

9) PREACH WITH A PARTNER

Watched any of the late night shows? Jimmy Fallon, David Letterman or Conan O’Brien? 

They all have a co-host somewhere close, just off stage. At any moment during their monologue or interviews, their co-host could chime in, even just for a moment.

It’s such a small thing, but it puts a natural break in the flow of the show and it pulls the viewer’s attention in another direction, with a different face and a different voice. Many times the host will intentionally pull them into the action, especially during a lull in the show.

Consider putting a mic on your assistant, your intern or just a random student in the crowd. During the sermon ask them what they’re thinking about a comment you made, the passage you’re exegeting or the football game on Friday night. It brings a fresh flair to your message and why not? It’s fun!


You may be thinking “Isn’t this all a bit much? Can’t I just “be myself?” 

The short answer is yes and no. You can be yourself. Just a very well-prepared version of yourself who’s willing to do anything to help students hear the Gospel.

We can’t give up now. We need to keep moving. Because if we stand still too long…

12.26.16

Gen Z (more need-to-know insight about a new generation of kids) by Dale Hudson

relevantchildrensministry.com

There are currently over 50 million kids under the age of 11 living in the United States.  They are known as Generation Z.  The latest research reveals unique characteristics of this upcoming, new generation.

Gen Z considers digital friends as being part of their social circle.  Studies show that even though they have never met 60% of their social media connections face-to-face, they consider them friends.

Speaking of friends.  Friendliness is a big characteristic of Generation Z.  93% say they would like to have a friend from a different group and 81% would like to have a friend from a different religious affiliation.

This characteristic also contributes to Generation Z’s overall feeling that social causes are very important and we should do good for others. 

Generation Z is intuitively tolerant.  Whereas previous generations were taught to be tolerant, with this generation it’s almost part of who they are.  They naturally have an authentic response of acceptance and tolerance.

Generation Z is very diverse.  Bi-racial children ages 0 to 11 new represent 17% of the total US population.  By 2019, the majority of kids 11 and under will be non-white.

Generation Z is closely tied to their grandparents. 10% of Generation Z is living with their grandparents.  Grandparents play a significant role in supporting them emotionally and financially.  30% of Boomer grandparents are funding their grandchildren’s education, vacations and after-school lessons.

Household status.  26% of kids live with just one parent and 7% live with co-habiting, non-married parents.  30% of Millennials are now parents, which has ushered in a sharp increase in stay-at-home dads (16% versus 10% 15 years ago).

Generation Z has a close connection to their parents.  Their parents view them as their best friends.  Generation Z strongly influences their parents.

Who are their role models?

  • 78% say mom
  • 58% say dad
  • 26% say grandparents
  • 19% say YouTube stars
  • 18% say teachers

What do they worry about?

  • school and getting good grades
  • their parent’s safety
  • parents losing their job and family financial situation
  • online popularity
  • appearance
  • bullying
  • school safety
  • safety issues in the world (terrorism, war, etc.)

Technology and Generation Z 

  • 40% of 3 to 11-year-olds own their own tablet
  • 17% have their own smartphone
  • maker mentality – they are not just content consumers, they are content creators (48% have done their own coding)

They are entrepreneurs.  69% say they want to start their own business.

This insight has major implications for those who are ministering to Generation Z.  I would encourage you to talk through these findings as a children’s ministry and think about how you can best reach and disciple this new generation of kids.

12.26.16

I love you, but… by John Cunningham
youthspecialties.com

“I love you, but…”

We’ve all said it. We had the best of intentions! We need to have a difficult conversation with a student, a volunteer, or a loved one, and we want to soften the blow. Maybe it’s something as simple as “I love you, but I wish you wouldn’t do this or that,” or maybe it’s as difficult as “First of all, I want you to know that I love you, but I have some bad news…”

It’s so easy to fall into the trap! We truly love our students; we laugh with them, cry with them, pray for them, teach them, learn from them, text them constantly, like their Instagram posts, go to camp with them, and some of us take our love for students to the extreme (I’m talking laying down your life, John 15:13 love here…) and agree to chaperone lock-in’s for them! Our logic is sound. We want to provide meaningful encouragement before the impending discipline and remind our students how much we care before having a difficult conversation; but when we say “but”, we counteract our intended encouragement and instead open up a box of doubt in the minds of our kids.

I used to fall victim to the “but” trap ALL. THE. TIME. Until I had an eye-opening experience with a middle school student in my ministry’s worship band.

A LESSON FROM JAMES

I was in college and interning in the student ministry at the church I grew up in. Most of my responsibilities were focused on working with our student musicians and coordinating student worship teams. Now, we all know how difficult it can be getting middle school students to do anything requiring focus and care (something about herding cats comes to mind…) and getting this group of kids to make music together was no exception. Who am I kidding… I would have been happy if I could get them all playing the same song, let alone make music! And amidst the out of tune guitars, clumsy keyboard clanks, and off key sopranos, there was a 7th-grade menace. We’ll call him James.

James was not your average jr. high tyrant. He was his own special breed. The kind of kid that keeps youth pastors like us up at night… wondering what he’ll do next, and how many phone calls we’ll have to make to parents, pastors, and law enforcement to sort it all out.

James was being especially mischievous on this particular Wednesday afternoon, and being the expert 19-year-old youth worker I was at the time, I had, of course, learned about the PCP method of disciplining students. If you’re unfamiliar with the PCP method, it stands for praise, criticism, praise, and it’s a useful tool in correcting students while finding ways to encourage them. My favorite intro to the PCP sandwich (as I sometimes call it) was, at that time, to say “I love you, but…”. Because I loved my students! What could possibly be a better way to start the conversation than that!

So. It was time to confront James on his worship band shenanigans. I had my PCP sandwich locked and loaded. I got James in my cross-hairs, and I fired out this gem: “James. I love you, but you really need to get yourself under control. I like your energy, just tone it down a bit!”

I was convinced that I had won. I had vanquished my twelve-year-old enemy, and would be feasting in the hall of expert youth pastors that night; eating a hot and ready pizza, seated on a throne made of thrift store couches, underneath a framed picture of Duffy Robbins.

I was wrong.

James turned to me and said, “you don’t mean that,” and immediately carried on with his antics. I was taken totally by surprise… completely flustered, actually! I calmly stammered through some unintelligible mumbling and carried on with rehearsal.

After our program that night, I pulled James aside and asked him what he meant when he told me that I didn’t mean what I had said to him that afternoon. James, of course, had no idea what I was talking about. So after I completely replayed the circumstances of my shameful defeat, James calmly said the following, life altering words to me:

“If you really love someone, it’s the end of the sentence.”

In that moment, I was reminded of so many things:

  1. Working with teenagers can sometimes feel like a slow descent into insanity; but they are also passionate, intelligent, image bearers of the Most High King, and they will remind you of that in heart wrecking ways when you least expect it.
  2. The love of Jesus is the end all and be all. The resurrected Christ doesn’t look on me and my brokenness and offer hollow platitudes with a “terms and conditions may apply” section attached; He binds up my wounds, He draws near to my broken heart, He rejoices with me when I rejoice and He sees me in my suffering, He redeems my soul, and He calls me child.
  3. If “I love you” means to offer my students anything less than my most sincere attempt to emulate the kind of love that Christ demonstrates to me, then it’s an empty shell that I should keep to myself.

Because of the lesson I learned from James that day, I’ve forever changed the ingredients of my PCP sandwich. I always say “ I love you. So… but, I love you.”

“I love you. So I’m not going to be ok with you treating others that way… but I love you!”

“I love you. So I’m going to have to call your parents and tell them about this… but I love you!”

“I love you. So what I have to say is going to be really difficult.…but I love you.”

I also learned that day that telling students you love them, shouldn’t be reserved for these poignant, intense moments. I love my students! I shouldn’t wait around for the right occasion to let them know it!

So this week: find a kid (maybe a kid like James), tell them you love them, and let that be the end of the sentence.

12.26.16

14 Ways to go Deeper with God by Sue Lennartson 

Children’s ministry magazine.com

Go Deeper With God! Whenever we think of spiritual growth, it seems the most likely place for such things to happen is during an extended retreat, camp, or wilderness trip, but who has time with a packed schedule and full life! These getaway experiences can only happen every now and then.

So if you long to go deeper with God, don’t pack your bags! Instead, take a look at these 14 ways to transform everyday steps to take you closer to God.

1. Start the day with prayer. Develop a daily habit of starting out with a blessing and prayer. At the beginning of the day, I use the Catholic sign of the cross as an inspiration for my daily prayer. I pray, “God, be in my head (as I touch my head), God be in my heart (as I touch my heart), God be at my left (as I touch my left shoulder), and God be at my right (as I touch my right shoulder).” Then I ask God to lead me to do his will throughout the day.

2. See God everywhere. Thank God for his glorious creation. Put yourself in a sense of worship as you behold the majesty and wonder in trees, a hawk, seasonal changes, homes, places of work, and people. Look for God’s fingerprints everywhere.

3. “Wear” God. A beaded prayer bracelet or a cross or butterfly necklace can remind you that God is with you. Seeing and feeling this jewelry can remind you of what God wants you to wear inside: compassion, kindness, forgiveness, servanthood, and love for others.

4. Hear God. Every day, listen to Christian tapes and CDs. Listen to talks by leaders who grow, stretch, teach, comfort, and redirect your life. Play devotional tapes with Scripture readings and beautiful music-in the car, at home, even at work as the climate permits. Or sing along, worship, get all revved up, cry, and praise God with worship music. While in the car, tune into a Christian radio station in your area.

5. Talk to God. Make your day an ongoing dialogue of prayer with God. Thank God and ask for help, forgiveness, insight, and wisdom. Praise God. Ask questions. Wonder aloud or silently about God. Make your journey here on earth a living, breathing, prayerful one.

6. Retreat at home. Find an area in your home to be your personal retreat area. In our four-season sunroom, I designate a chair with an ottoman as a personal retreat space. It’s my prayer chair. I keep a blanket nearby for those cool Minnesota days. I’ve placed a lamp, candle, matches, and reading glasses on a table next to the chair.

I look out into God’s creation through a window. Across the room, I’ve placed a picture of Jesus. In a basket by my chair, I have my Bible, devotional books, paper, pens, and sometimes cards and letters that I’ve received.

I try to get there as often as I can-morning, noon, or night. It’s an area that invites and calls me to come, sit, be, listen, pray, and read. Five minutes or 50 minutes-just be with the great I Am!

7. Serve others. What would the world be like if we all went about our day thinking of ways to serve those around us? Open a door, pick up something that someone has dropped, pray for someone, make a care call, allow the other person to go first, help someone lift something, guard our words, see others as God sees them, tip well, send an email prayer, share words of affirmation or thanks, listen to someone, smile, or talk to people.

Encourage other people in their relationship with God. Affirm them, pray for them, and help others grow deeper with God. Seek to walk as a humble servant to grow deeper with God.

8. Study the Bible. Place Bible verses where you’ll touch, open, or look at them. For example, insert a Scripture card in your wallet with your credit cards. On it, have a verse that you want to learn or remember.

Place Bible verses on a mirror. As you look in the mirror, read the verse and seek to mirror what the verse says. Post Scripture on your walls, on your refrigerator, in the garden, at your doorways, or on a cup, vase, or bookmark.

How about your computer mouse pad or computer screen? Intentionally place the Word of God in places where your eyes fall upon truth throughout your day. Pray that your eyes and heart will be open to see God through these Bible verses.

9. Drink an awareness of God. When you take a drink of water, think of the words of Jesus. He said that he is the Living Water and when you drink of that water, you will never thirst again.

10. Remember the Bread of Life. Whenever you bite into bread, be mindful that Jesus referred to himself as the Bread of Life. When you taste something sweet, remember how God has been there in the sweet times of life. When you taste something sour, think about difficult times in life and how God has been there with you, too.

11. Read for inspiration. Keep Christian reading materials in your briefcase, purse, glove compartment, bathroom, and on tables or a nightstand. When you rest, wait in line, or travel, you’ll have at your fingertips reading resources to help you grow deeper with God.

12. Live in God’s presence. Think about your daily activities-gardening, working on the car, painting, cooking, rocking a baby, walking, jogging, cleaning, and more. Think metaphorically. How does what I am doing remind me of God’s Word, way, life, and love? Stretch your thinking. Ask God to reveal himself to you during these activities.

13. Take a Blessing Walk. Intentionally go on a Blessing Walk into every room of your home. As you walk into each space, pray a blessing on that area and for those who live there.

At your place of employment, walk and pray for workspaces. Pray a blessing for all who work there.

Bless spaces where you live, work, and play. Bless all those who gather. As you pray for the spaces and the multitudes, focus deeply on the mind of God. Then be open to receive God’s blessings within these areas and through the people who are there.

14. Redeem the time. Be alert to God’s touch and miracle. It can move, wake, stir, influence, heal, redirect, and call to you within a second. Stay alert. God can and will get your attention and influence you in quick, brief moments of your day. Stay sharp in looking and listening for God. Lift your eyes off your daily planner and enter into your Savior’s sunrise to sunset schedule. Here, you’ll find what you’re searching for-ways to grow deeper with God and ways to move throughout your day.

God’s desire for us is to grow deeper with him. God wants a passionate relationship with us. In growing deeper with God, he will provide us with the breath and stamina to make the climb, walk the path, and experience growth. Here’s to the journey! cm

12.20.16

Gen Z… the best platform to connect with them by Dale Hudson

relevantchildrensministry.com

Gen Z.  They are the kids you are trying to connect with.  The big question is…how do you catch their attention?  Where is their attention focused?  What is the best platform to use?

A recent study gives us some answers.  In September,  a study of over 2,700 families with kids ages 12 and under was conducted.  It revealed some interesting findings.

72% of kids’ daily media viewing is from streaming services such as YouTube and Netflix.

52% of families use SVOD (streaming video on demand) as their primary source of kids’ media consumption.

61% of children prefer to watch media on their tablets, while 40% use their smartphones.

78% of families subscribe to an SVOD service, while only 72% now subscribe to a traditional television service.

Among content providers, YouTube reigns supreme.  It is the most-loved brand among kids and the most popular source of streamed content.  YouTube accounts for 24% of all streaming content with Netflix accounting for 13%.

50% of families subscribe to two or more SVOD services.

Half of parents say when they choose an app or service specifically for their children, the top feature they look for is educational content and the ability to filter content by knowledge areas.  Shows and characters their child likes comes in a close second.

Studies also show that kids are increasingly engaging in short videos, games and education content that is presented in a playful format.

What does this mean for the church?

 If we are going to effectively connect with today’s kids, then we’ve got to use a streaming video on demand platform.

The good news…it doesn’t depend on money.  Any church can make videos for kids and put them on YouTube for free.  Yes…the more creative they are, the more kids will be drawn to them.  But remember…many of the most popular video channels just feature a person talking to the camera.

Perhaps instead of spending our time creating take home papers, we should be spending our time creating 2-3 minutes lesson re-cap videos and posting them on a YouTube channel we’ve created for that purpose.

To my knowledge, the only inroad we’ve made into Netflix is Veggie Tales.  Apart from that, there is no other Christian influence that specifically targets children on that platform.  Pray with me that God will raise up more creative people who will have with the ability to connect with kids through this platform.

The floor is yours.  What are some ways you or someone you know are using the SVOD platform to connect with kids?  What are some dreams or ideas you have for doing this?  Share your thoughts with us in the comment section below.

12.20.16

Six Ways to Battle the Growing World of “Fake” by Tim Elmore

growingleaders.com

You may remember hearing about the terrifying hoax that occurred on the eve of Halloween in 1938. A radio broadcast of Orson Wells, War of the Worlds, purported that Martians had invaded earth. The program created a nationwide panic. It seemed so real; Americans believed it.

Well—it’s happening again today.

We live in a growing world of “fake.” In the words of journalists Jon Swartz and Marco della Cava, “Fake content is a genuine problem on the Internet. Between fake news that sways elections, fake apps that trick shoppers and fake book reviews that stymie sales, the web has seen a surge in fantastic, misleading and outright false messaging that threatens to make the truth hard to find.”

Welcome to the world of social media.

Why This Is a Big Deal

Perhaps folks have always been gullible to outlandish stories. They spark emotions inside listeners and perpetuate gossip. In today’s world, these stories result in “likes” and “shares” on social media outlets—without any checks or balances. News researchers have counted at least 60 sites that post fake on-line news stories with either fabrications or exaggerations that make the story incredible—without credibility.

What do we learn from this research? Well, to start with, Facebook is the number one tool for referrals of false information, accounting for nearly half of their traffic. And while adults are even vulnerable to the world of fake—I’m writing because of the danger to our students. Kids are growing up in a world where social media plays a gigantic role in how they get their information. According to a Pew Research Center Survey, nearly two of every three people receive their news from social media sources, up from about half in 2012.

While we all know you can’t trust everything you see on social media, we still get it and tend to react to it—especially young teens. According to a new study, 82% of middle school students can’t tell the difference between sponsored content and a real news article. For years, teachers have been telling students not to trust content from Wikipedia; now, it appears we must warn them about most other information sources as well. During the recent election, major news outlets were criticized for being biased and I believe the accusation may just be credible. However, I wonder if broadcast journalists tend to share opinions rather than merely reporting facts because social media has made a circus out of journalism. We all feel the need to “share the real truth of the story,” and we can’t seem to help but exaggerate. It’s ironic. Our generation—which claims to value authenticity—may be the most fake population of people to date. Just look at the adorable “selfies” we post that make us look irresistible. Never mind that we had to take 20 pictures to get the perfect shot.

Psychiatrist Keith Ablow, the author of Living the Truth: Transform Your Life Through the Power of Insight and Honesty, says our social media and gossip-obsessed culture “softened us up for fiction with little time for introspection. We’re particularly vulnerable to fake news because many of us are faking our lives on Facebook or texts or gaming, many of us are creating false narratives through fabulous exotic vacation photos, celebrity selfies and fantasy games. Our thirst for authenticity is waning.”

How Can We Help Our Students?

The problem won’t go away overnight, but I believe it’s time to address this issue with our students. Let’s prepare them to live in this artificial world as authentic people who possess a genuine and grateful spirit. Let me get you started.

1. Challenge students to be counter-cultural.

Talk to students about their value of authenticity—then challenge them to live up to it. Encourage a revolt against the “fake” world we live in, full of artificial content, fake personas and photo-shopped pictures. Dare them to initiate the honest posts they want from others; to refuse to post anything unless it’s truthful and helpful.

2. Teach them how to fact check. 

Talk to them about the volume of “fake” content on-line and challenge them to check the veracity of that content. We do this for research papers and I believe it’s time to do it with social media sources. Let’s demand legitimacy in our information. In fact, let’s teach students to consume social media messaging with a dose of skepticism.

3. Show them the dangers of “fake.”

You don’t have to look far to spot how dangerous “fake news” is today. A simple Google search will reveal stories of people who’ve lost jobs, spouses, friends, reputations and maybe even elections due to inaccurate information floating around social media. Let’s help students identify the potential damage of such content and encourage them to avoid posting anything short of the truth.

4. Discuss the use of social media.

The very nature of social media platforms—the goal—is to prioritize news that achieves the most engagement, which may just be a falsified or exaggerated story. Think about it, if your goal is to garner the most views and shares, you may do anything to get them. Social media’s bias is for shares, not truth. Teach kids to question their sources of information and recognize the true nature of social media.

5. Distinguish outlets for emotion vs. information.

I believe it’s too easy to hide behind a screen when we have an emotional message to share. Screens are appropriate for information, not emotion. Content that will elicit emotion should be shared face to face. Similarly, legitimate news sources will tend to come across different (like face to face) rather than a tabloid with all of its sensationalism.

6. Stop hiding and lying.

Lying and exaggerating have become commonplace in our world today. The average American tells four lies a day, which amounts to 1,460 lies each year. And hyperbole is everywhere; the word “awesome” has lost its meaning because we describe everything that way. Why not let our “yes” be yes and our “no” be no?

Let’s exchange fake for honesty and truth.

12.20.16

What Parents of Early Teen Boys Need to Know by Sue Shellenbarger

wsj.com

A glance into any middle-school classroom tells the tale: Boys in braces, papers spilling out of their backpacks, watch in silence as girls 6 inches taller, their homework all done, wave their hands in the air to give answers. The maturity gap between boys and girls looms largest in the early-teen years.

New research on adolescent development reveals exactly which skills develop more slowly in boys after they enter puberty, and where they surpass their female classmates.

Boys do catch up. Research shows boys’ and girls’ performance on many tasks tends to converge around age 15. But early adolescence is a critical stage when children are developing a sense of personal identity and social status. The research lends insight into the kind of support early-teen boys may need.

The Language Gap

Girls in their early teens often outpace boys’ language skills by a wide margin. When a 13-year-old girl is given a minute to name aloud as many words as she can think of that start with one letter, she’s likely to rattle off dozens of words with ease, says Frances Jensen, a professor and chair of neurology at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine.

A 13-year-old boy given the same task may struggle and fidget in silence before producing a list half as long, Dr. Jensen says. Male brain development is about two years behind girls’ at this stage, making early adolescence “a very poignant time” for many boys, she says.

Girls are faster and more accurate than boys in remembering words, according to a 2016 study of cognitive skills and brain function in 3,500 young people ages 8 to 21 by researchers at the Perelman School and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Recalling words quickly is an indicator of language and decision-making skills.

Parents may need to help shore up the confidence of boys who fall behind. If they struggle to answer a question, “parents need to be OK with silence, to give the kids a chance to respond,” says David Walsh,a Minneapolis psychologist, speaker and author of a book on teens, “Why Do They Act That Way?”

Explain to teens that everybody develops at a different rate, and encourage them to focus on their personal progress rather than comparing themselves to others, says Dr. Jensen, author of “The Teenage Brain.” Urge boys to “be better than you were last week, better this year than last and better next year than this year.”

Help boys discover and focus on their strengths, such as playing music, finishing a robotics project or driving a soccer ball down the field, says Jodi Sleeper-Triplett, an Alexandria, Va., coach trainer who helps students learn academic and life skills.

The Attention Gap

Some parents know all too well that boys are slower to develop the ability to pay close attention to whatever task is in front of them. Facing a mountain of homework, early-teen boys may procrastinate or despair, while girls on average can better focus on specifics, step-by-step.

The Philadelphia researchers found teen girls are more accurate than boys on tests of attention. Teens were asked to watch a series of line displays on a computer and press the space bar whenever the lines formed a digit or letter.

The differences hold true across cultures. A 2015 study of 4,850 adolescents from 22 countries found more girls than boys at 12 to 14 show personality traits linked to the ability to pay attention. The gap narrows by ages 15 to 17, according to the study by 49 researchers. (By age 14, more girls also show a trait linked to negative emotions and depression.)

Parents can help by monitoring daily routines, Ms. Sleeper-Triplett says. Use a light touch, asking questions in a nonjudgmental way rather than criticizing. Say to your young teen, “How might I help with your homework?” rather than, “I’ll be in up 10 minutes to check on you.”

Boys often like using digital organizing tools. Sharing a digital calendar with a parent can help a teen remember such commitments as dentist appointments. Some teens use a smartphone alarm to manage homework time, or apps such as Evernote or OneNote to capture to-do lists and reminders.

The Empathy Gap

Many parents are dismayed when their seemingly good-hearted young teen boy is heedless of another child’s emotional pain, such as in a bullying or teasing incident.

Boys are slower to sense what others are feeling by looking at facial expressions, the Philadelphia study shows. Boys also lag behind girls in a more complex process called mentalizing—figuring out what others are thinking based on the context, conversation, body language and other cues, according to a 2012 study of 49 teens led by researchers at the Yale University School of Medicine. This ability begins developing steadily in girls around age 13.

The acquisition of empathy and mentalizing skills is deeply rooted in home life. Parents who talk about their own and others’ feelings and thoughts give their children a better-than-average chance of learning to do the same, research shows.

Invite your child to describe what characters in stories or films might be thinking or feeling. Consider coaching him on what to say when he sees other students being mean, such as, “That’s not funny,” or, “Let’s leave him alone,” Dr. Walsh says.

And don’t despair if it takes a while. Mentalizing requires integrating brain regions linked to language, emotion perception and other skills, via neural connections that develop differently in boys.

12.20.16

What is Discipleship? by Michael Kelley
lifeway.com

“Born again.”

These are the words Jesus used to describe what happens when someone comes to faith. That person is truly born again–a new heart, a new family, new tastes, and new desires. But just as a new physical baby doesn’t stay a physical baby, so a spiritual baby is meant to grow and mature. This process of growth and maturity is what we mean by “discipleship.”

Sadly, though, we see in our churches, homes, workplaces, and world people who have been converted but never discipled; born again but never grown; made new but never made mature. Spiritual infancy abounds. The call of Christ is not to make converts, but to make disciples. To not only lead people to the faith that saves them, but to see to it that they grow and develop in that faith so that they, too, can help others grow and develop in their faith.

What we desperately need in the Church today is not just another program, but an overarching culture of discipleship whereby ordinary men and women see it as their responsibility to reproduce their faith in generation after generation. In order to pursue this culture of discipleship, we must know what it looks like. Here are four truths we must embrace to be people who make disciples, who make disciples.

1. Discipleship Is Progressive

“We all, with unveiled faces, are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

From the moment we are born again into new life in Christ, we are on a journey that is progressive in nature. Day by day, it is God’s intention for all Christians, regardless of their stage in life, background, or culture, to move forward in maturity and to be conformed into the image of Jesus Christ. We are not on some aimless spiritual journey, but instead on an intentional trajectory, powered by the Holy Spirit, of spiritual growth toward the likeness of Christ.

2. Discipleship Is Disciplined

“But have nothing to do with irreverent and silly myths. Rather, train yourself in godliness, for the training of the body has a limited benefit, but godliness is beneficial in every way, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:7-8).

True discipleship does not happen by accident. We must, if we are going to be serious about discipleship, commit ourselves to a disciplined kind of life. That means doing things like praying, reading and memorizing Scripture, sharing our faith, and studying God’s Word, even when we don’t feel like it. When we commit ourselves to these disciplines, we are embracing the work of the Holy Spirit in us to transform us into the image of Jesus.

3. Discipleship Is Relational

“But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into Him who is the head—Christ” (Ephesians 4:15).

The journey we are on, we are on it together. We have the privilege of playing powerful roles in the journeys of our brothers and sisters. God intends not only that we have friends among believers, but that we are actively involved with someone who is discipling us and then someone or a group of people that we are discipling. We get to gather close and help one another toward Christ.

4. Discipleship Is Replicable

“And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2).

Replication is the responsibility of every Christian. In other words, we were meant to be disciples who make disciples, who make disciples. This is the pattern that Paul laid out for Timothy and remains the pattern for all believers today.

God’s will for our lives is not only that we make converts, but that we make disciples. It’s not only that we see people born again, but that we see them matured into disciple-making Christians.

12.12.16

How to Manage Millennials On Your Staff with Mercy by Kurt Bubna

pastors.com

I’m not sure when it happened, but somewhere along the way, I became the old guy on our church staff. I don’t think of myself as old. I’m social media savvy. I text on my iPhone 7+. I don’t use it, but I even have a Snapchat account (I’m not sure why.).

Of course, I don’t wear skinny jeans, spike my hair, have a long beard, or have the coolest eyeglasses. I don’t sleep more than 6-7 hours a night. I still say “dude,” and I enjoy a mid-afternoon power nap. I also now qualify for the senior discount at a growing number of places.

Okay, at almost 60, maybe I am old, but I’m learning some things about relating to millennials. I’ll get there in a second, but let’s first attempt to describe who is what.

The generation breakdown is a bit difficult to define. In fact, the census bureau doesn’t classify the different generations except for Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964, who are roughly 52-70 years old).

The media, or some self-proclaimed pundit somewhere, have said that Gen-Xers are those born between 1965 and 1981, those who are 35-51. Millennials are typically those under 35, born between 1982 and 2004.

I’ve never been a big fan of pigeon-holing people, and there are plenty of folks who defy definition, but I recognize that some significant differences exist among these age groups.

That being said, how does a Boomer love and care for a staff comprised of some Gen-Xers and lots of Millennials?

Here are seven lessons I’m learning:

  • Be a good listener. If you’re a pastor, you’ve told couples a thousand times, “You’ll see some major improvements in your marriage if you work on your listening skills.” We all know how important this is, but we senior pastors (pun intended) have a nasty habit of liking the sound of our own voice when it comes to managing staff. However, it’s better to ask insightful and useful questions and to listen sincerely. You’ll make great headway with a Gen-Xer or Millennial who feels genuinely heard.
  • Clearly define your expectations. Listen first and listen well, but you’ll avoid a lot of frustration with everyone if you work hard to spell out what you want (or don’t want) and when you need it. Communication is a challenge when assumptions are made and ambivalence and indecision are present.
  • Pick your battles. On a regular basis, while being challenged by one of the young bucks on my staff or in other areas of my life, I’m consciously thinking, “How much does this truly matter? Is this a hill worth dying on?” Be honest. When it’s all said and done, does their way conflict with your ultimate goal? If you’ve defined the “win” (your clear expectations), it’s okay to give a lot of latitude to those doing the work. Of course, there are times when you should pull rank and say, “Thank you for your input, but this is what you’re going to do.” Just make sure those times are done in love and after you’ve listened to them well. Also, learn to under-react rather than over-react.
  • Don’t get defensive. Millennials are sometimes combative. I know that’s a generalization and not always true, but it is a common trait among the young. They rarely lack an opinion, and they often won’t back off until they feel valued and heard (review the point above about listening). Yes, it’s irritating when it seems like you aren’t being respected and your experience is being rejected or discounted as irrelevant, but take a deep breath and work hard not to be aggressive, defensive, or cynical because doing so never ends well for anyone. Remember, Millennials want to be valued (which is a good thing), and their opinions matter too.
  • Be mindful of the common ground you probably have with Millennials.Keep in mind, many Boomers (myself included) once were the arrogant, cocky, self-absorbed, know-it-alls who challenged everybody. Sooner or later, most people figure out that the generation before them weren’t all idiots and that experience actually does matter.
  • Lead by example. Words matter. Actions matter more. If you want them to work hard—then work hard. If you want them to have a servant’s heart—serve. If you want them to listen more and talk less—listen more. If you want them to learn from their elders and be teachable—you keep learning too. Being a lifelong learner isn’t easy. At my age, I’ve caught myself thinking, “I deserve a break. I shouldn’t have to work 10-12 hour days anymore. Where’s that life cruise-control button?” But relevance and respect must be earned, even if you’re old.
  • Be patient. If heading up a church staff and being the lead pastor were easy, you probably wouldn’t be needed. Believe me when I say, staff challenges are common. Put two or more humans together and some conflict is inevitable. Be patient with your young staff, and be patient with yourself.

Mistakes will happen. People will fail you, and you will fail them, but failure is always an opportunity for change and growth.

I’m thankful for the younger staff who surround me. I believe in them, and I see enormous potential for the future of the Church led by these young people. I deeply value the input and perspective of the young. In many ways, my Church is what it is because of the Millennials who contribute so much to who we are and what we do.

Sure, you and I might be old, but God’s not done with us yet. We still have the opportunity to shape the generations in our wake. Whether we do or don’t will have a lot to do with our attitude.

Enough said. Time for my nap.

12.12.16

How to Manage a Toxic Volunteer by Dale Hudson

relevantchildrensministry.com

What are some signs of a toxic volunteer?  They never have anything positive to say.  They suck the life and energy out of the room when they walk in.  They don’t just resist change…they fight against it.  They complain about everything.  You constantly having to clean up the mess they cause.  A toxic volunteer spreads dissension among other volunteers and causes damage to the entire team.  Basically, they make your life miserable as the leader.

Any names come to mind?  If not, don’t worry.  Stay in children’s ministry long enough and you will encounter a toxic volunteer.  So…what should you do when this happens?  How do you manage the toxicity?

Step One – Sit down with the person and try to find out the root cause of the toxic behavior.  What you’re seeing are the symptoms of a much deeper problem.  Find out how the person is doing.  How are things at home, at work and in their personal life?  Are they facing any problems or difficulties?  Are they struggling in any areas?

If the answer is yes, then offer to assist them.  If they accept, this opens the door for you to come alongside them and provide help through counseling, coaching and other resources.

Step Two – Ask if you can give them feedback.  In many cases, the person is oblivious to their toxic behavior.  You can’t expect a person to change if they don’t know they need to.  It is important to give them direct and honest feedback so they can understand the problem. Help them see how their behavior is impacting other volunteers and the spirit of the team.

Step Three – Give them clear steps they can take to turn things around.  Don’t stop at telling them what the issue is.  Point them to the behavior you’d like to see.  Help them develop a plan to get there.  Give them clearly defined, measurable steps they can take and set a time frame.  By doing this, you’re giving them an opportunity to have a more positive impact.

Step Four – If the person refuses your help or doesn’t show any improvement in the time frame you set for them, explain what the consequences will be if it continues.  It may mean being removed from a position of influence.  It may mean taking time off from serving until things change.  It may mean stepping down from serving completely.

Step Five – Have the courage to follow through with the consequences if there is no change.  Your prayer and hope is that God will use this to help the person change.  But not everyone will respond.  Some will be unwilling to change.  You must recognize that you are responsible to people but you are not responsible for people.  If the person is continuing to hurt the morale of the team, then the consequences must be enforced.

Step Six – Document everything.  Each step of the way, document their offenses, your conversations with them and their responses.  Put in writing their behavior, the steps you took to address it, resources and help you offered and the failure of the person to change.  It is also good to have someone else sit in with you when you meet with the person as a witness to what was said and not said.

Toxic behavior is never an easy thing to deal with, but it must be done.  If you don’t, it will spread to the rest of your team.  There’s too much at stake not to face it head on.