How to Write an Engaging Message for Students by Todd Jones


If you are a youth worker, and especially if you are the main youth worker, one of your biggest duties is to write and deliver the weekly lesson. Writing messages can be difficult, especially when trying to make a confusing and extremely deep book easy to understand and accessible to middle schoolers and high schoolers.

If you have been in youth ministry for any amount of time you have probably given a message that only returned blank stares, no one listened to, or was just flat out boring. You thought it was clear and engaging but apparently it wasn’t.

Don’t feel bad, I have literally given every single one of those. Especially when I was younger and just learning how to write and deliver a message. It isn’t easy and I really never had anyone sit down and teach me. You may be in the same boat or maybe you have been taught but the proof is in the pudding and those pudding-like students are giving you the response, or lack of response that tells you things need to change.

Over my years of speaking to my own youth group, at camps, chapels, retreats, and churches I have learned many things about speaking and many tips on developing an engaging message. Here are some ways you can write an engaging message for youth.


Your message needs to have structure. If you do not structure it and simply just have a pile of research then you will most likely be all over the place. You may not feel that way, but I bet some of your students do. Your message needs to not only have structure, but it also needs to have the right structure in order to engage. Here is a short and simple structure, that I did not come up with. It has been around and you may have heard it before but it will help in focusing your message and engaging the audience.


It is very simple, and they all start with H. Boom, bonus points! But really, you have to have a HOOK to get students interested. You cannot expect them to engage simply because they are present. Begin with a problem, some tension, something to get them on the edge of their seat to hook them in.

Then once they are hooked engage their HEAD. This would be the academic portion where you get to teach and explain what the Bible says. Expand their knowledge, engage their head. Next, move to engaging their HEART. Explain how the verse applies to their life. Students couldn’t  care less about some random people who lived thousands of years ago. You need to show them how it relates to the condition of their hearts and how they can change because of what they just learned. Lastly, engage their HANDS. Give them something to do! There needs to be action or the message is pointless.


One of the BEST WAYS to engage students (or adults) is to tell personal stories. Right away there is a connection that forms and they are engaged with not only what you are saying but with you personally which in turn makes them listen to what you are saying. Get rid of canned stories and give them personal stories. Life is a sermon illustration, use it.


You may have just gotten out of college or seminary and are used to listening to hours of lectures but your students are not and they don’t want to. Remember who you are talking to, middle schoolers and high schoolers do not have the attention span of adults and they do not want to sit and listen for an hour. Remember your audience and remember, shorter is always better. If you have to ask if it is too long it probably is, and I promise no one has ever gotten mad at a preacher for not preaching long enough.


We talked about this in the structure by engaging their hands but it is so important. There NEEDS to be application in your messages. Not just to students but every time you speak there needs to be application. Application can be the hardest part, it is easy to teach content but a lot more difficult to teach application. But the Bible is living and active and deals with real issues, so we NEED to teach people how to engage with it in a real way and apply it to their lives.


Selfie Generation’s Self-Image Struggle by Dale Hudson
Kids are growing up in selfie culture.  To fit in, they are expected to post a selfie before, during and after every activity.  They then watch closely for the resulting likes, thumbs-up and other ratings to tally.
It’s a great way to share experiences and memories.  The downside?  It can turn into a self-image measurement.  It affects how kids view themselves.  Recent studies show that…
  • 35 percent are worried about people tagging them in unattractive photos.
  • 27 percent feel stressed about how they look in posted photos.
  • 22 percent felt bad about themselves if their photos were ignored.

Here are a few examples of the selfie culture kids are growing up in.

The number of followers, likes, and emojis kids can collect gets competitive, with users often begging for them.  Instagram “beauty pageants” and other photo-comparison activities crop up, with losers earning a big red X on their pics.
Numerical scores display the total number of sent and received chats.  You can view your friends’ scores to keep tabs on who’s racking up the most views.
Hot or Not. This quintessential rating app lets you judge the attractiveness of others based on a series of photos, tapping either a heart sign or an X to to rank them.  Users log in to see what others think of them.
When Instagram users type “#tbh,” they’re indicating either that they want others to honestly appraise their selfies or they’re expressing their true feelings about someone else’s looks.  Examples: “#tbh am I pretty?” or “#tbh I think you’re really pretty.”  Although #tbh is usually positive, it can get negative in specific and hurtful ways, and even when it stays positive, it reinforces the idea that appearance is what matters most.
YouTube – “Am I pretty or ugly?”
Kids – mostly girls – post videos of themselves asking if other users think they’re pretty or ugly.  These videos are typically public, allowing anyone – from kids at school to random strangers – to post a comment.
Social media tools can be very influential in a kid’s view of themselves.  While it can bolster self-esteem, it can also hurt it.  It is critical that we help the selfie generation navigate through this struggle.
Help kids discover the foundation of their self-image.We must teach kids that their self-image is based not on how others see them on social media, but on how God sees them.  When we help them see that who they are in Christ is more important than what they look like, it will give them sustaining confidence, even when they get a thumbs down on social media.
Provide caring volunteer leaders.  Volunteers who care about kids have an enormous effect on them.  Challenge volunteers to invest in the kids and speak words of life and encouragement into their lives.  Of course, the primary adults who mold a child’s self-esteem is his or her parents, but kids also need another adult besides their parents to invest in them.
Teach kids to be leaders.  Kids can make a positive impact when they lead the way in posting constructive comments about others on social media.
Help them see the true picture.  Kids often compare themselves to the media images of celebrities and models.  But they may not understand that these images are often retouched and enhanced.  Yes, the people may be attractive, but it is not real life and not a standard by which they should compare themselves.
As the kids in your ministry face the challenges of growing up in a selfie generation, God wants to use you and your team to give them a true picture of who they are in Christ.


12 Preaching Tips from Charles Spurgeon by Brandon Hilgemann


Charles Spurgeon is arguably one of the greatest preachers in the history of Christianity.

  • He preached over 600 sermons before the age of 20.
  • The collection of his recorded sermons fills 63 volumes and over 20 million words, making it the largest collection of books by a single Christian author.
  • He once spoke to an audience of 23,654 without the use of a microphone or sound system.
  • He frequently preached ten times per week because he accepted so many invitations to speak.1

Spurgeon was so gifted and influential that it’s no wonder he earned the nickname of the “Prince of Preachers.”

It’s safe to say that we could all learn much about preaching from such a prolific preacher.

So here are 12 preaching tips that Charles Spurgeon taught his students:


Nothing prepares you to preach more than prayer.

“Prayer will singularly assist you in the delivery of your sermon; in fact, nothing can so gloriously fit you to preach as descending fresh from the mount of communion with God to speak with men. None are so able to plead with men as those who have been wrestling with God on their behalf.”2


The beginning of your sermon should immediately capture our attention.

“I prefer to make the introduction of my sermon very like that of the town-crier, who rings his bell and cries, ‘Oh, yes! Oh, yes! This is to give notice,’ merely to let people know that he has news for them, and wants them to listen. To do that, the introduction should have something striking in it. It is well to fire a startling shot as the signal gun to clear the decks for action.”3


It takes a higher level of preparation and discipline to say less.

“Brevity is a virtue within the reach of all of us; do not let us lose the opportunity of gaining the credit which it brings. If you ask me how you may shorten your sermons, I should say, study them better. Spend more time in the study that you may need less in the pulpit. We are generally longest when we have least to say.”4


Nobody wants to listen to a monotone preacher.

“What a pity that a man who from his heart delivered doctrines of undoubted value, in language the most appropriate, should commit ministerial suicide by harping on one string, when the Lord had given him an instrument of many strings to play upon! Alas! alas! for that dreary voice, it hummed and hummed like a mill-wheel to the same unmusical turn, whether its owner spake of heaven or hell, eternal life or everlasting wrath. It might be, by accident, a little louder or softer, according to the length of the sentence, but its tone was still the same, a dreary waste of sound, a howling wilderness of speech in which there was no possible relief, no variety, no music, nothing but horrible sameness.”5


Your life off the stage overshadows your message on it.

“We have all heard the story of the man who preached so well and lived so badly, that when he was in the pulpit everybody said he ought never to come out again, and when he was out of it they all declared he never ought to enter it again… We do not trust those persons who have two faces, nor will men believe in those whose verbal and practical testimonies are contradictory. As actions, according to the proverb, speak louder than words, so an ill life will effectually drown the voice of the most eloquent ministry.”6


Clear communication begins with clear enunciation.

“Take great care of the consonants, enunciate every one of them clearly; they are the features and expression of the words. Practice indefatigably till you give every one of the consonants its due; the vowels have a voice of their own, and therefore they can speak for themselves. In all other matters exercise a rigid discipline until you have mastered your voice, and have it in hand like a well-trained steed.”7


A pause can also snap the listener to attention.

“Know how to pause. Make a point of interjecting arousing parentheses of quietude. Speech is silver, but silence is golden when hearers are inattentive. Keep on, on, on, on, on, with commonplace matter and monotonous tone, and you are rocking the cradle, and deeper slumbers will result; give the cradle a jerk, and sleep will flee.”8


Be yourself, not a cheap imitation of somebody else.

“Your mannerism must always be your own, it must never be a polished lie, and what is the aping of gentility, the simulation of passion, the feigning of emotion, or the mimicry of another man’s mode of delivery but a practical lie.”9


Embrace the fact that each person is his or her favorite subject.

“I suggest again that in order to secure attention all through a discourse we must make the people feel that they have an interest in what we are saying to them. This is, in fact, a most essential point, because nobody sleeps while he expects to hear something to his advantage. I have heard of some very strange things, but I never did hear of a person going to sleep while a will was being read in which he expected a legacy, neither have I heard of a prisoner going to sleep while the judge was summing up, and his life was hanging in jeopardy. Self-interest quickens attention. Preach upon practical themes, pressing, present, personal matters, and you will secure an earnest hearing.”10


A good story attracts attention.

“I have often seen some poor fellow standing in the aisle at the Tabernacle. Why, he looks just like a sparrow that has got into a church, and cannot get out again! He cannot make out what sort of service it is; be begins to count how many people sit in the front row in the gallery, and all kinds of ideas pass through his mind. Now I want to attract his attention; how shall I do it? If I quote a text of Scripture, he may not know what it means, and may not be interested in it. Shall I put a bit of Latin into the sermon, or quote the original Hebrew or Greek of my text? That will not do for such a man. What shall I do? Ah! I know a story that will, I believe, just fit him.”11


Always preach the simple gospel.

“Of all I would wish to say this is the sum; my brethren, PREACH CHRIST, always and evermore. He is the whole gospel. His person, offices, and work must be our one great, all-comprehending theme. The world needs still to be told of its Savior, and of the way to reach him… We are not called to proclaim philosophy and metaphysics, but the simple gospel. Man’s fall, his need of a new birth, forgiveness through an atonement, and salvation as the result of faith, these are our battle-ax and weapons of war.”12


Even the best preachers slide into bad habits.

“Get a friend to tell you your faults, or better still, welcome an enemy who will watch you keenly and sting you savagely, What a blessing such an irritating critic will be to a wise man, what an intolerable nuisance to a fool! Correct yourself diligently and frequently, or you will fall into errors unawares, false tones will grow, and slovenly habits will form insensibly; therefore criticize yourself with unceasing care. Think nothing little by which you may be even a little more useful. But, gentlemen, never degenerate in this business into pulpit fops, who think gesture and voice to be everything.”13


5 Things You Should Know About Self Harm and 5 Things You Can Do About Self Harm by Ash Sanfilippo


When working with teens who self-harm, people often find themselves anywhere from mystified to intrigued to scared.

My hope here is to demystify self-harm a little bit, and in a subsequent post, I’ll give you some practical tips for helping students who struggle in this area.


Self-harm is a strategy people use to manage strong emotions or numbness. And for some, it works really well.

Teens who are prone to strong emotions often report a period of peace and clarity following a “cutting session.” On the other end of the spectrum, some struggle with unbearable numbness. Cutting helps them to feel alive again.

Since self-harm tends to work well to help teens feel better, they might not want to stop. They might feel like they’ve finally found an effective means of managing their feelings and be afraid to let it go.

As someone who’s never personally struggled with self-harm, that was hard for me to grasp at first. It can seem bizarre that taking a blade to your skin could change your emotional state in a positive way, but it can.

In order for us to effectively help teens work through this behavior, we must radically accept the fact that their actions make sense based on their beliefs and experiences. We must lay aside any disgust, disdain or disappointment we might be feeling and treat them with dignity and respect.

That is not to say that we affirm self-harm as good, godly or positive. But we affirm the teens in the midst of their struggle.


Perhaps because wrist cutting has been referenced as a stereotypical method of a suicide for years, many have associated self-harm with a suicide attempt. It isn’t. In fact, it can be looked at as the opposite of a suicide attempt.

People who self-harm are looking for a way to live, while people who attempt suicide are looking for a way to escape living.

That isn’t to say that people who self-harm cannot be suicidal. But the action of harming themselves isn’t an attempt to take their lives.


If you’re trying to put self-harm in a category, put it closer to substance abuse than suicide. People who have been injuring themselves for a while can be addicted to the response their body has to the harm they inflict. And like with any addiction, there is a law of diminishing returns. This means they’ll have to inflict a greater level of harm in order to get the same response from their body.

If you have a teen who is in this place, take a deep breath, you might be in for a long journey. Overcoming any addiction comes with bouts of successes and failures, self-hatred and self-righteousness, ups and downs. Remember to not tie your identity to their success. Walk alongside them as they journey toward health, but don’t ride the rollercoaster with them.


“I have a cutter in my youth group” is a nasty little phrase that we use all too often in youth ministry.

It’s false.

It’s a lie.

Our teens aren’t “cutters,” they’re humans made in God’s image. And if they’ve accepted Christ, they’re holy, perfect and blameless. Even in the very moment they’re harming themselves, they’re completely pure.

Teens soak up identifiers, hungry for labels. Let’s give them the labels God gives them and let the worldly ones fade away. The more a teen becomes immersed in the false identity of their harmful behavior, the harder it will be for them to change their course.


As youth ministers, there are certain things that can really affect how we view teens. Things like sexual experimentation, drug use, doubt, and cutting might tempt us to feel differently about certain kids.

Be encouraged, their behavior isn’t the end of the world. They’re young and sanctification takes time.

My prayer is that as you walk with teens on their journey, you are able to lead with empathy and love.

Part 2

Many of us feel confused or conflicted when working with a student who injures themselves. We want to help but don’t know where to start.

Here, I want to give you 5 Things You Can Do About Self-Harm. They’re simple, practical steps you can take with your teens.


Self-harm usually brings upheaval and stress in a teen’s life. While many feel like injuring themselves is effective, it often causes them to believe they are weird and feel different from their peers.

And parents have a really hard time when their kid is turning to self-harm. It can cause instant stress on their relationship and conflict in the home. In a panic, parents might come down hard on a teen, trying to get them to stop.

As ministers, we need to affirm our teen. Talk through their reason for hurting themselves and the benefits they’re receiving from that action. Listen and believe what they say.

Say things like:

“It seems like cutting really calms you down when you’re upset. It makes sense that you’d want to keep doing it.”

“It makes me sad that you’re hurting yourself, but I know you’re doing it to try to feel better.”

You may be the only person in their life that takes the time to affirm them rather than just address their action.

You’ll get to the part where you help them with the behavior, but if you skip this step, you’ll run the risk or reinforcing the lies they believe about themselves. Affirmation also puts you on their team, where they’ll be more willing to accept your leadership moving forward.


Anyone who works with hurting people has seen the link between self-loathing and addiction. Self-hatred is so powerful and difficult that people need to stay in a state of numbness or distraction in order to cope. For some, self-harm is their addiction of choice to soothe these feelings about themselves.

To help avoid or overcome addiction, we should always be looking for ways to show teens their value and combat self-hatred. The key is to help teens separate their actions from their value.

The argument for self-hatred typically goes something like,

“I hate myself, because I’m not skinny/cool/smart/good/holy/funny/Christian/popular enough.”  

The argument against self-hatred says,

“You may mess up. You may sin. You may fail by every worldly measure. But you’re not valuable because of what you do, you’re valuable because who you are. You are the beloved. You are a child of God. You are so valuable that God himself chose to die for you.”


Whether it’s ridding themselves of strong emotions or finding feelings after a stretch of numbness, self-harm is primarily about emotional regulation.

As ministers, we must understand that emotions are part of God’s creation and are morally neutral in nature. God gave them to us as a gift. Could you image life without them?

Helping teens experience and appreciate their feelings—rather than avoid or run from them— will go a long way in their recovery. Feelings aren’t the problem, it’s trying to get rid of them that gets them in trouble.

Many young people have a hard time understanding what they’re feeling—they just know they don’t feel good and they want it to stop.

Through meaningful questions and grace-filled conversations, we can teach teens to name their feelings and some of the reasons those feelings might be occurring.

Sometimes, emotions are very hard to experience; it can be excruciating to allow them to run their course. They won’t get it right every time. They’ll cave in and harm themselves to find relief. But over time, they can learn to make it through without hurting themselves.


As teens are learning to allow their feelings to run their course, it is helpful for them to have a plan to get through it without turning to self-injury.

Accepting a feeling doesn’t mean they have to sit and meditate on it. On the contrary, Scripture tells us to meditate on good things, not bad (Phil. 4:8).

A great and fun way to equip your student for success is to help them create a distress tolerance kit. This is simply a box full of items that will help redirect your teen’s thinking when they’re tempted to self-injure.

The items in the box are completely up to the teen, but it’s helpful for them to choose at least one item that engages each sense (sight, smell, taste, touch, hearing). This will help ground them and engage them more fully. It can also be helpful to choose items that pull teens into rational—rather than emotional—thinking. These items could be puzzles, nail polish, adult coloring books, etc.

Grabbing an old shoe box and heading to the dollar store to assemble the kit with your student is a great way to spend an afternoon.

Remember, the goal here is to equip them to tolerate the feelings, not get rid of them.

Check out THIS blog post where one person explains distress tolerance kits and shows us what she chose to put in hers.


Every student needs a team of caring adults around them, and this is especially true for those struggling with self-harm.

If possible, I would recommend connecting your teen with a therapist. It would be best if you can find a therapist that practices Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) in your area. DBT is a targeted therapy that teaches people to mindfully manage their feelings without engaging in unhealthy coping mechanisms. It has been proven to be very effective with self-harm.

Whenever possible, encourage your teen’s parents. This is hard for them and they’ll need some extra love. Most parents already have their child’s best interest in mind and want to be on their team. With your support and the right tools, they will be able to offer the care their son or daughter needs.

Walking alongside a teen who struggles with self-harm can be intense and exhausting. Building a team of adults will give you the opportunity to share the burden and the clarity to set reasonable boundaries.


The Parents Guide to Bullying


It’s estimated that approximately 10 percent of teenagers struggle with anxiety.

Kid’s today are more stressed out and more anxious than ever.  We recently had a trustee from the school board to meet with our church staff to talk about the issues facing student today in our community, and he said that students are more anxious than ever.

This was something that you can see as an issue, but not being such a big one.  In a world where we mask everything online.  We only project our best selves, teenagers are more anxiously moving through the world.

When you think about a teenagers world, you realize that there is no off switch.  They are connected 24/7.  Having that digital connection to the world fuels self doubt and anxiety.  When I was a kid, no one would bully me at home, because no matter what my room was a safe zone.  Today, kids and teenagers who have digital devices don’t have a safe space.

I came across this infographic on bullying.  It’s called, “The Parents Guide To Bullying.”  It’s worth checking out.

Here are some stats that stand out:

  • 85% of Bullying happens inside the school.  Do teachers even know it’s going on?  I am sure they are aware, but are they made aware of the issues facing the students?  This past year we had an issue with my son in his grade 1 class.  He was being called a name that made fun of his real name.  We tried to help him resolve the issue, but in the end, it was a note and conversation that helped resolve the bullying.
  • 80% of bullying acts aren’t reported to parents.  Parents have no idea what is going on.  Parents today are busy.  Usually both parents are working full time jobs, and dealing with their kids hobbies.  Parents are so busy today that they don’t realize that their kid has or is being bullied at school.
  • 43% of kids have been bullied online.  Every time that I talk with a student about their online habits, it always comes out that they have no boundaries.  Because there are no boundaries, they are exposed to bullying and other online dangers.   Parents who have teenagers were never raised in a digital world.  They need help from youth workers in their church.  This is where you can come in and help the parent understand why boundaries are a great thing for their kid.

What should we do?

  1. Help parents be present and aware of where their kid is at.  Asking the right questions and help open a dialogue.  Are they struggling at school?  Why are they reserved at home?  Why don’t they talk to those friends anymore?
  2. Help parents be an advocate at school.  I always know when a parent feels helpless with their kid at school.  It’s really easy to complain about it, but we need to help parents be advocates for their kids.  If their kid is being bullied at school this isn’t acceptable.  The teacher should be brought into the loop, and potentially the principal.
  3. Help parents set up digital boundaries at home.  We always recommend circle by disney.  It’s the best device for setting up parameters and filtering content at home or on each device.  This is the best thing on the market, and we will see more of this in the future.  You will be a hero for just sharing this device with a family (You might have to help them set it up!).


One Quality Boomers and Millennials Must Each Develop by Tim Elmore


Did you know that one of the most discussed problems in corporate America today is the relationships Baby Boomers have . . . or fail to have . . . with young Millennials? A majority of managers report feeling at odds with their more recently hired young employees.

In this post, I’d like to suggest one quality each generation should cultivate in order to succeed with the other.

Let’s Look at the Problem

Very often, a recent graduate enters his/her first career job over-qualified and over-confident. All the years in the classroom have given them an over-dose of information but an under-dose of first-hand experience.

Journalist Sylvia Ann Hewlett puts it succinctly: “Ambitious and more educated than any previous generation—61 percent of Millennials in the U.S. have attended college, compared to just 46 percent of Boomers—these young employees understandably resent being perceived as perennial interns, relegated to getting coffee and making copies.”

Consequently, they’ll often quit and opt for no job if they can’t find a job they really like. According to the Wall Street Journal, young Americans living with parents recently hit a 75-year high. Almost 40% of young adultswere living with their parents, siblings or other relatives in 2015, the largest percentage since 1940, when the Great Depression ended, according to data analysis by real estate tracker Trulia.

Both this reality and a still-sagging economy have produced a generation, at least so far, that earns less than their parents did at their age. According to research from the Equality of Opportunity Project, led by Stanford economist Raj Chetty, 91% of 30-year-olds in 1970 earned more than their parents did at the same age, adjusted for inflation. By 2014, just over 50% of 30-year-olds in the US were in a similar position.

One tangible sign of the “American Dream” is that each generation does better than the previous ones. So, this is huge. Over half of Millennials don’t earn what their parents earned at their age. At least for now, we’re going backwards.

Colleges are responding by turning to former students to boost the ranks of their graduates. In other words, since admission and graduation rates are down, why not go after dropouts? After all, if they’re unemployed or underemployed, it makes sense to try to help them finish the school they started. It’s a win/win. In many cases, many young adults are simply going back to school.

Nothing wrong with that…if that, indeed, is a step forward.

The Qualities Each Generation Must Develop

Certainly, these realities are fostered by current economic and social conditions. I wonder, however, if there’s something we all could do to improve our realities. I wonder if we could cultivate some qualities, as seasoned leaders, that will invite Millennials to flourish. Further, I wonder if the emerging generation could cultivate qualities that will make them more inviting to prospective mentors and employers.

One Quality Millennials Must Master: Humility

As I have hired hundreds of recent college graduates over my career, I’ve concluded that few qualities are more attractive than humility. Even if they’re confident about their potential, I’d prefer their work ethic and performance to communicate their brilliance, not their arrogance. Actions speak louder than words. Attitudes speak louder than words. Millennials—don’t underestimate the winsomeness of humility. Ask questions. Listen well. Develop a hungry mind. Talk about others more than yourself. Seek out good books and mentors. Show me you’re good, don’t tell me.

One Quality Established Leaders Must Master: Risk

Most places I visit, I meet experienced, veteran leaders who are afraid of letting go of their power and control. They hire young team members, because they’re cheaper perhaps, but when the bottom line is on the line, they refuse to allow Millennials to participate in decisions that matter. Often, Boomers are control freaks. It’s time we took some risks on these young employees and allowed them to experience the only thing that equips a person to really be come a leader: responsibility. That means we need to be risk-takers. Get to know them. Learn to trust them. Delegate projects and let them earn the right to be followed. Let go of your tight grip on the job and empower them to own it too.

It’s time we stop blaming the economy for all of our evils and begin connecting generations in the workplace. I believe our economy may just follow suit.


Why It’s About More Than Virginity by Jacob Soucinek


For too long, conversations around sexual purity have included virginity as the supreme example of Christian values.

Even those outside of the Christian faith have declared the same thing; writer and feminist Jessica Valenti says the church’s obsession with virginity is hurting young women.

And you know what? I agree.

Popular culture exploits a woman’s sexuality both before and after they have sex. It is a non-stop reality for almost every female in our culture. And it is modeled most in today’s pop stars.

The rise of Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus are perfect examples. Each of them used their “sexual innocence” to win over parents of pre-teen girls. In the years that followed both wrote a book about their devotion to God and to waiting until marriage to have sex. Virginity was the key for parents to label each pop star worthy of praise and thus good role models for their daughters

Unfortunately, the church has mimicked this behavior.

For too many Christian women virginity has become the answer – the moral quick fix – to their salvation. You can be vapid or even unethical, but as long as you’ve never had sex, you’re a good person worthy of praise and admiration.

We are seeing a backlash against the purity culture that many grew up with in the 90’s and early 2000’s. Most of this frustration has not been pointed toward waiting itself but rather how this message was communicated.

For Years, The Typical Messages Of Sexual Purity Were Focused On Regulating Behavior Rather Than Helping People Condition Their Heart To Truly Follow Christ. It Was More About What You Didn’t Do Than What You Could Do With Your Body And Your Mind.

Women have become the sexual gatekeepers in our church and outside of it. Often conversations on modesty have placed the emphasis on what the women wear and do rather than the entire community. Thus, women have been responsible for men’s sexual behavior.

And this is absolutely insane.

While many have rightly taught that waiting to have sex is about much more virginity, there remains a reverse message that a girl or woman who has had sex is now “damaged goods” unworthy of the pure love of a good Christian man.  The end result is a message that denies the power of God’s grace to heal, forgive and transform. And the reality of all of this is that we are all “damaged goods” in need of God’s forgiveness, whether we are virgins or not.

For too many years the church has responded to the culture’s definition of sex by saying “No!” Collectively we have failed to look at God’s definition of sex, which is intended to bring unity and oneness, and rather limited the conversation to a matter of, “How far is too far?”

Research has proven that when the commitment to wait is attached to something beyond themselves, like a desire to follow Christ, they are more likely to find success in waiting. And they are also more likely to recover well if things don’t go as planned.

That is why our identity in Jesus Christ is so important.

He makes us completely whole again so that we might fully love without shame. This is why virginity is not important, but living with sexual integrity (being wholly obedient to Jesus with our sexuality) is. In Christ the old has gone, the new has come, and we are a new creation created in Christ Jesus to give ourselves in love as He did. That is our identity. That is what really matters.

Virginity should only be the by-product of a devotion to God and His design for sex, not the identifier.


The Ugly Truth Behind Pretty Pictures by Sierra Filucci
Six ways to help your kids resist the Photoshop effect.
Walk past a supermarket checkout stand and you can’t help but see models and celebs in bikinis and slinky outfits plastered across magazine covers. Tween favorites such as Taylor Swift and Beyoncé appear all over the internet in glamorous outfits with incredible hair and makeup. And ads on billboards, buses, and subways display long-legged models selling everything from liquor to lipstick.

Kids are bombarded with images of men and women — famous or not — who look perfect. Too perfect, in fact. And that’s thanks to photo editing, which, as many of us parents know, can eliminate a model’s pimples, make a celeb’s cellulite disappear, and lengthen legs, slim waists, and erase wrinkles.

Pull Back the Curtain

But kids aren’t always so savvy. Kids who see unrealistic bodies or faces or clothing — especially on folks they admire — can feel inadequate as a result. In fact, several studies have shown that reading women’s fashion magazines or looking at images of models has a negative effect on women’s and girls’ self-esteem. Even photos of friends on Instagram or Snapchat are too perfect, thanks to flattering filters and selfie-editing tools.

That’s why it’s important to teach kids about the reality behind the images that surround them. Empowering kids to see behind the photo spreads and the advertisements can help combat the negative effects of these images.

Add Your Voice

The good news is, some kids — and even some celebrities — are talking back to the beauty and advertising industries and taking action to encourage more realistic images. Young people have asked magazines that cater to kids and teens, such as Seventeen, to do more photo spreads that don’t use Photoshop. Glamour magazine opted out of Photoshop for its February 2017 issue. Some clothing companies, such as ModCloth, have agreed to not alter the images of models they use in their ads.

Celebrities (including Zendaya and Lena Dunham) have stepped up to show a more realistic image of themselves online and in photo shoots, and in doing so they help pull back the curtain on the amount of retouching that goes on in Hollywood and beyond.

Not sure how to approach this subject with your kid? Here are some ideas:

  • Do a reality check. Make sure kids know that almost every photo in magazines and advertisements has been altered. Show examples of models and celebrities where the before and after examples are starkly different. (My Pop Studio is a great site to help kids understand what goes on behind the scenes at magazines and other media outlets.)
  • Play “spot the Photoshop.” See who can spot the retouching on any ads or photos you come across. (Search online for “Photoshop fail” and you’ll come across some amazing examples of how poorly the tool can be used.)
  • Talk about the disconnect. Plenty of celebrities have come out against being Photoshopped. Meghan Trainor explicitly calls it out in her song “All About That Bass” with the lyric “we know that s–t ain’t real.” Ask your kids why the industry insists on putting out unrealistic images (it’s usually all about the money). What would they do if they were the photo editor of a magazine? Would they airbrush the models or let their so-called imperfections shine?
  • Connect the dots. Discuss the connection between fantasy images and products being marketed. Talk about how photos are used to sell magazines, specific products, celebrities’ brands, and more.
  • Ask questions. Get kids to think about how images affect viewers (both boys and girls) and how images can distort our ideas about what’s healthy or beautiful. What would your kids say to a friend who felt bad after looking at an unrealistic image? How could you encourage them to celebrate their inner qualities? What kinds of things besides looking at magazines or celebrity blogs can you do to make yourself feel good?
  • Look for backup. Help kids locate resources to take action. Find out how to sign or start petitions. Encourage kids to speak up about these images in their classrooms, through their social networks, and among friends. (Check out our list of sites that encourage social action.)


5 Facts You Need To Know About American Families by Dale Hudson


Nic at Night classic re-runs no longer represent the American family.  In 1960, 37% of households included a married couple raising their own children.  Today, only 16% of households look like that.

As you strive to reach the modern family, here are 5 facts to keep in mind.

1.  Adults are delaying marriage.  The median age for marriage is now 29 for men and 27 for women.  In 1960, 65% of people ages 18 to 32 were married.  In 2013, only 26% of people ages 18 to 32 were married.

2.  Children.  In 1960, women ages 15 to 24 accounted for 40% of mothers with infants.  In 2011, women ages 15 to 24 only accounted for 22% of mothers with infants.  The average mother today has 1.9 children.  In 1960, the average mother had 3.7 children.

3.  Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender parents.  37% of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender adults have had a child at some point in their lives.  48% of LGBT women under the age of 50 have a child under the age of 10.  20% of LGBT men under the age of 50 have a child under the age of 10. 

4. Family structures.  44% of young people ages 18 to 29 have a step sibling.  This is compared to 23% of people ages 50 to 64 and only 16% of those 65 and older who have a step sibling.  Unmarried mothers account for 41% of births compared to only 5% in 1960.  72% of births to black women are to unmarried mothers, 53% for Hispanic mothers and 29% for white mothers.

5. Family diversity.  15% of all new marriages in the U.S. are between spouses of a different race or ethnicity.  This is compared to 7% in 1980.  Hispanics (26%) and Asians (28%) are the most likely to marriage outside their ethnicity.

What does these trends mean for ministries who are striving to reach families?  How can be relevant for today’s families?

Be a place where families can belong before they believe.  Families walking in your doors will not be coming from a traditional Christian background.  They need space to explore and check out what it means to follow Christ before committing.  They need a place that will welcome them right where they are and patiently walk forward with them.

Reflect the diversity of your community.  Churches that want to reach a diverse community must be diverse.  Churches that limit themselves to one particular demographic will be very limited on how many people they can reach.

Be prepared to minister to families with non-traditional structures.  Single parents.  Same sex households, cohabiting parents, grandparents raising children, blended families, etc.

Families are changing.  Are you prepared to reach them?


Rules for Social Media, Created by Kids by Deborah Heitner


The challenge of growing up in the digital age is perfectly epitomized by the bikini rule.

“You can post a bikini or bathing suit picture only if you are with your siblings or your family in the picture,” said one middle-school girl who was participating in a focus group on digital media. In other words, don’t try too hard to be sexy and you’ll be O.K. in the eyes of your peers.

By high school, the rules change. At that stage, a bikini picture often is acceptable, even considered “body positive” in some circles.

As an educational consultant, I lead workshops on digital media at schools around the country, giving me an unusual glimpse into the hidden world of middle and high school students. While parents sometimes impose rules for using social media on their kids, the most important rules are those that children create for themselves.

And these often unspoken rules can be dizzying.

Girls want to be sexy, but not too sexy. Be careful which vacation photos you share so you don’t seem to brag. It’s O.K. to post photos from a fun event, but not too many.

In one focus group I held recently with seventh-grade girls in an affluent suburb, all of the girls were avid Instagram and Snapchat users. It was clear that they understood the dynamics of presenting a persona through the images they posted. It was also clear that they had a definite set of rules about pictures.

Aware of their privileged socioeconomic status, they talked about how it would not be O.K. to share vacation pictures of a fancy hotel, using the example of a classmate who had violated this rule. Like many unspoken social codes, this one became vivid to these girls upon its violation.

As part of a school project the girl had displayed pictures from her vacation at a foreign resort. Her classmates considered it an immature form of “bragging,” and said other kids had gone on even “better trips” or lived in “amazing houses” but “knew better” than to post about it.

The same girls identified another peer as “too sexual,” a judgment some parents even encouraged. A few said their moms did not want them to hang out with a particular girl because she “acts too sexy.” One of the girls expressed this sentiment in a group text that included the peer in question, leading to hurt feelings and conflicts.

Middle school can be an especially complicated time for girls. They are experimenting with social identity, even as their always-on digital world intensifies the scrutiny. Many want to be seen as pretty (even sexy, in some ways), but also as innocent and as “nice.” This is an impossible balancing act. Parents can help by suggesting more empowering alternatives to posting bathing suit pictures.

Another group of seventh graders (of mixed gender and in a different community) told me the rules regarding how many pictures to post from an event. There was a sense of what was acceptable and what was not. Posting one to three images was fine, they said, but all agreed it was “obnoxious” to “blow up people’s phones” with a huge stream of images from a party or event.

These kinds of images can lead to feelings of exclusion as well. Imagine watching a party unfold, in real time, on Snapchat or Instagram, when you aren’t there. The experience can be absolutely devastating to tween and teenage children. When I asked these seventh graders about it, they said that it happened all the time, and that it can be hard to deal with.

With their lives constantly on display, it’s a challenge for even well-intentioned tweens to avoid making others feel excluded. The “rule” was that it is “better not to lie or make excuses” if you are with one friend and another friend wants to hang out. Better to be honest and say, “I have plans,” than to lie and say, “I have too much homework,” then take a risk when sharing images of yourself out with friends later.

Parents often feel as if their children’s smartphones are portals to another world — one that they know little to nothing about. A study released last month found that fewer than half of the parents surveyed regularly discussed social media content with their tween and teenage children.

But parents need to know that their child’s peers have created their own set of rules for social media, and that they should ask their kids about them. What are you “allowed” to post, and what seems to be off-limits? Are the rules the same for boys and girls? Why or why not? Can you show me an example of a “good” post, or a “bad” one? Does social media ever stress you out (and can you give yourself a break)? How can kids in your group make group texts or social media nicer for everyone?

In a study published last summer, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that the pleasure centers in teenagers’ brains respond to the reward of getting “likes” on Instagram exactly as they do to thoughts of sex or money. And just as parents try to teach children self-control around those enticements, they must also talk to them about not falling victim to behavior they will regret when craving those “likes.”

As parents, we don’t want our kids to make a big mistake online: writing something mean in a group text, posting a too-sexy picture or forwarding one of someone else. According to a Pew Research Center survey, 24 percent of teenagers are online “almost constantly,” so it’s essential that they know how to handle themselves there.

Getting your children to articulate the unspoken rules can be the first step in helping them be more understanding of their peers. When we observe our children harshly judging others who have a different sensibility about the use of social media, they need us to set aside our judgments about their world, and help them cultivate empathy for one another.