The Culture of a Student by Chris Schaffer


The age of one-size-fits-all youth ministry is over. It has to be. We live in a dynamic time filled with beautiful diversity. This is an exciting time to be in ministry to youth. Our world is smaller than ever before. Cultures are not only clashing but blending to create new expressions of culture. In this new era of modern life (culture) context is king.

Think about your average youth group gathering.  Think about the different elements that are present in your group:

  • Countries of origin
  • Race and ethnicity
  • Religious background
  • Parenting styles that shaped them
  • Generational influences
  • Abilities and disabilities
  • Personality
  • Sexual orientation
  • Political leanings
  • Thinking styles
  • Values and beliefs
  • Style and tastes

Historically we would rush in with an attempt to connect with kids on our terms with our own personal culture leading the way (just a heads up, I’m pretty sure nobody listens to Petra anymore so don’t lead with that). In other words, just like early missionaries did, we would try to strip them of their own culture and colonize them to be, think, look, and act just like us. It’s no wonder they have gone underground.


  • Instant digital music, iPods, YouTube videos, Facebook, etc.
  • What other cultural artifacts can you think of, as it relates to contemporary youth?


  • Individualism, consumerism, instant gratification, collaborations, cause-driven, tolerance, etc.
  • What other values and assumptions can you identify that are held by youth today?
  • Where did these values and assumptions come from?


  • Jock, emo, nerds, Queen Bee, bully, outgoing, shy, obnoxious, flirty, school spirit, etc.
  • What is the current dominant personality being presented by each individual student?
  • Is there a connection between the personality and behaviors?

Often, all we see are the cultural artifacts and we base our own assumptions on these.


“When measuring your Cultural Intelligence, a few questions to ask yourself include:

  • Am I conscious of what I need to know about a culture that is unfamiliar to me?

  • Am I conscious of how my cultural background shapes the way I read the Bible?

  • Do I determine what I need to know about a culture before I interact with people from that culture?

  • Do I compare my previous ideas about a culture with what I actually experience during cross-cultural interactions?

  • Do I check for appropriate ways to talk about my faith in cross-cultural situations?”

Is it fair to expect that we should be intentionally asking ourselves these questions as it relates to working with youth today? Can you image the amazing discussions you can have with your volunteers as you wrestle with these kinds of questions?


Five Ways to Protect Students From Social Media by TIm Elmore


Best-selling author Simon Sinek was interviewed on Millennials and said something startling. According to Sinek, the use of social media has the same effect as drinking, smoking or gambling. It is addictive. The same chemical, dopamine, is released in us when we hear the ping of social media. The students we hosted in our focus groups last year agreed—they’re addicted. Interestingly, we have age restrictions on drinking, smoking and gambling—but not on social media. Anyone can use it.

So, in essence, as kids go through the stressful years of adolescence and begin relying on social media—it’s like allowing a kid the key to a bar full of alcohol and saying, “Have at it.” Social media has become such an influential factor in students’ lives so rapidly, that, by and large, we’ve not figured out how to “civilize” it yet.

Four Descriptions of Social Media’s Impact on Users

When you summarize what it does in a few phrases, social media is about:

  • Instant (There’s no delay to the reception of a message.)
  • Constant (There’s not relief from the barrage of messages.)
  • Resistant (It diminishes the development of interpersonal skills.)
  • Insistent (It coerces teens to feel they have to read and reply.)

Ironically, social media now acts like a stimulant that can actually cause depression.

“Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine recently conducted a study about the effects of social media habits on the moods of users. The research determined that the more time young adults use social media, the more likely they are to be depressed” reports Forbes.com.

The Dangers of Being an Adolescent Today

Like many others, Sinek sees the dangers of embarking on a career today—given the realities young adults face, especially because their world retards the ability to delay gratification. Growing into adulthood in a culture of “instant gratification” can sabotage us. Why? Sinek says there are two important elements most of us want that we cannot obtain immediately. They come over time:

  1. Job satisfaction. (We don’t climb the career ladder quickly. It takes time.)
  1. Strong relationships. (We must learn to cultivate healthy relationships.)

Both of these highly desired outcomes occur over time—not overnight. They develop in a “crockpot” not a “microwave.” There isn’t any instant gratification like they have been conditioned to receive. Dr. Jean Twenge (who will join us at our National Leadership Forum June 22-23, 2017), reveals that the angst we see in teens today directly parallels the introduction of social media into our daily lives. For millions of us, we cannot trust our “willpower.”

Five Guardrails to Put in Place

Over the years our society has put “guardrails” in place for other addictive habits like smoking at airports or drinking in restaurants. Let me offer a beginning to the same conversation on social media with your students or kids at home. What if you talked about this research, then established “guardrails” to ensure we all remain on the road, without veering off a cliff and damaging our lives:

1. Establish clear boundaries.

Why not construct mutual boundaries that both adults and students must maintain? It could be a boundary on hours spent on social media or where it’s OK to use it. Just like we have times and places for smoking in airports.

2. Think substitutes.

Why not create a list of items that could be used as a substitute for social media? Smokers often chew gum—why not substitute reading or board games for Instagram or Facebook? It will require creativity but it’s the best way to beat a habit.

3. Teach moderation. 

When people reach adulthood, they’re allowed to legally drink. So we often say: “There’s nothing wrong with alcohol. The problem’s too much alcohol.” What if you established a limit on hours or locations for social media?

4. Equip them for face-to-face relationships.

Addictive habits can diminish essential skills we need. Dependence on one muscle can cause others to atrophy. What if we spent time on intentional training for interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence for our students on social media?

5. Enable them to discover purpose.

Finally, the best way to overcome a bad habit is to acquire a strong sense of purpose. Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” What if we fostered conversation with students on their sense of mission in life?

Philosopher Jean de La Bruyère said, “The greatest part of humanity employs their first years in efforts to make their last years miserable.” Social media can cause a student to experience the best day or the worst day, depending on the message on their phone. We must lead them out of this emotional roller coaster and into emotional stability.


Does Your Preaching Connect? One Important Shift You Can Make by Gavin Adams

This might be the most important preaching principle I’ve learned.

Before I tell you the lesson, though, let me walk you through my process of discovery:

When I first began preaching, I took an entire manuscript on stage. It was a pastoral security blanket – except not pink and fuzzy. I tried not to read it directly, and in most cases, I was successful. But in my mind, it was good to know it was there… just in case I needed to snuggle.

Unfortunately, as I watched my messages the next day (it’s awkward, but you should do this if you don’t already!), I felt my preaching was lacking an important ingredient – CONNECTION. I was communicating all the content. I didn’t miss any stories, illustrations, points, or verses. But as I watched myself, I realized something significant:

Great content without great connection is poor communication.

And that was my problem. I communicated clear content without any relational connection, and it wasn’t working.

As I diagnosed my lack of connection, the problem became apparent:

I was more focused on WHAT I was saying than WHO was listening.

I was mentally focused on my place in the manuscript rather than on the people in the room. But, the goal of preaching is not getting through an outline, but giving people a truth they can apply. Unfortunately, my manuscript-tracking mentality was holding my focus hostage. For me to improve, the security blanket had to go!

One fateful Sunday morning, I did something huge – I walked on stage with my notes in my back pocket – and I was terrified. My little round table sat empty. Both it and I felt naked. It wasn’t my best message. It’s hard to preach terrified! But my connection to the crowd improved. The next week I left my notes in the green room. I almost puked, but I made it through. Since then, I’ve never looked back. And you know what? My connection keeps improving.

The principle is simple. I moved from being message-focused to people-focused. Sure, I still work hard on the content, but I moved my stage focus from the message to the people hearing the message. That is a game-changer.

If your preaching lacks connection, I think you can improve by making this same shift. And if this idea is both intriguing and terrifying, here are a few secrets I’ve picked up along the way:

1. Preach a journey, not an outline.

A great message takes an audience on a journey, beginning together at a point and traveling as a group to the final destination. I have found structuring my message like a journey helps me both remember the content and stay focused on the audience. A journey is simpler than an outline.Today, I only memorize exit points along the path instead of multiple paragraphs in a manuscript. This frees up mental energy to refocus on the audience.

2. Preach ONE point.

There’s nothing biblical about preaching a three-point sermon, even if your seminary tried to convince you otherwise. If you’re lucky, people will remember only one thing you say anyway, so why fight your crowd’s natural instincts? Besides, one great point is better than three alliterated sub-par points read from an outline. And … one point is easier to communicate if it’s part of the message journey (see hint 1).

3. Preach to one person in the room.

This is the best advice I ever received on connecting. Before I write a message, internalize a message, or preach a message, I ask myself, “How would I say this in my office to one friend?” I know – not earth shattering – but so helpful! Ask yourself this one question the next time you preach and see what happens to your message. If you want to connect with everyone, preach to just someone.

4. Practice your sermon … a lot.

I typically rehearse a message 3-5 times – and I only stop practicing when I feel comfortable enough with the content that I can walk on stage with my target set on the congregation. When you are worried about what to say next, it becomes impossible to focus on the people listening. I thought taking notes on stage would help relieve my worry, but it only changed the problem. I now rehearse until I can deliver the content effortlessly.

By the way – Anytime something looks effortless, you can guarantee that person spent hours and hours of effort to make it look that way!

5. Be you.

I don’t understand the preacher who has a “preaching voice” and a “normal voice.” Just be you up there. Be normal. How? Stop pretending to be someone else. That’s a good start, because you will never fully connect if you aren’t you. I work for Andy Stanley, so I stand in a GIANT preaching shadow when I preach. It’s so tempting to mimic a communicator like Andy, but mimicking Andy only takes away me, and YOU cannot connect as someone else. Borrow what works, but be you.

6. Be transparent and honest.

Few things connect better than honesty. We should be comfortable sharing our struggles (to a point, of course). We are real people, but pretending we’re not creates an obstacle to connection. People resonate and connect to other people, so be a real “people” on the stage.

I’m not a preaching expert. In fact, the more I learn, the more I realize I have left to learn! But, one thing I know for sure:

If you can’t connect, you can’t communicate.


There Things John Maxwell Looks for in Leaders by Tim Elmore


Today, I’m excited to share with you a conversation with my friend and mentor, Dr. John C. Maxwell. John Maxwell is a world-renowned leadership expert, speaker, and New York Times best-selling author of The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership.

Tim Elmore: Some people may not know that you and I shared a couple of decades together. I started as an employee in 1983 just out of college in San Diego and then later at Equip when you moved the company across the country to Atlanta, Georgia. You hired me right out of college and you took a chance on me. I believe that I owe so much of my development and productivity to your mentoring over the years. When you think about that experience and many others you had with young leaders on staff, what do you look for as you invest in young leaders? What flaws are you willing to overlook?

John Maxwell:  I look specifically for three things in young leaders. I look for them to have a desire to make a difference. If you can find some kid who’s got a great passion, they’ll really make a difference in the world. I look for that and then I look for “teachability.” If they are going to come along and want to be on the team, they have to have a real heart to learn and a desire to grow. And thirdly, I look for giftedness because leadership is influence—but leadership is influence in the area of your giftedness. You don’t influence people in areas that you are not gifted in.

We are all flawed, but there are three specific flaws of young leaders that I overlook. One is their idealism. They’re just idealistic. They just think it is going to be bigger and better than it really is. But I overlook that because I would rather have somebody that wants to win their world, than somebody that doesn’t even think they can win themselves. I overlook mistakes. We all make them. In fact, I’ve always said when you’re young you should start somewhere that’s small, so the mistakes will never be told on you. I also overlook the fact that young leaders don’t see the big picture. I believe they can’t see the big picture. It’s impossible because they lack the experience and the exposure to be able to see the big picture. So, those are the three flaws I overlook.

There are three flaws that I don’t overlook in youth, though. The first is an entitlement mindset. When I meet a young person who feels entitled, I want to tell them that there is nothing given to you in life. You have to make your own way and prove yourself. The second flaw I don’t overlook relates to breaking trust. The young person must demonstrate a sense of integrity, having the ethics or the level of trust to where you could depend on that person. The third area is if I feel they don’t value people. This is a true statement: leadership gets old real quick if you don’t value people. It is too hard unless you love people.

Tim: I think I may have had all three of these things. I was idealistic, I was not big picture minded, but you did know I loved people. You showed me what a leader looks like, and the impact it has on culture to an organization when the leader loves his or her people. That was just gigantic.

John: Absolutely. You also have to love the people that you are mentoring. You don’t mentor them for what they are going to bring to you. You mentor them for what they are going to bring to the world.

Tim: John, I have frequently used the terms, timely and timeless. Timely means I am very current; I know what is going on around me in our culture today. Timeless includes principles that are going to work whenever or wherever you live. I want you to talk about how you balance the two, because we need to keep up with the times but also have some principles to live by. Would you talk about that?

John: When I think of timeless, I think of graciously accepting all genders, all generations, at any time, regardless of culture. In talking about timeless and timely, in 1975 I came to the conclusion that everything rises and falls on leadership. It is a fact proven by history. When you get to the timely subject, I am married to principles, but I am not married to methods. What am I going to do to be timely? Well, I can be teachable. I have got to constantly ask questions to younger generations because they are the ones who are going to lead me to the water. I also think to be timely, you have to believe in the younger generation. If I believe in the younger generation, I am going to invest in the younger generation. So how do I balance the two? I think it is simple—people change, principles don’t. Trendy is for today and timeless is for every day.


The Most Common Mistakes Parent Make by Tim Elmore


Recently, I was interviewed by pediatrician Dr. Meg Meeker for her podcast. The theme was the topic of my book, Twelve Huge Mistakes Parents Can Avoid. During the course of our conversation, several concepts were discussed that I felt you’d benefit from in a blog post. I have included them here.

1. In your book: Twelve Huge Mistakes Parents Can Avoid, you talk about what we parents do that keep our kids from succeeding in life. First of all—what do you consider to be successful parenting?

To me, successful parenting is leading and developing your child so that they can function as well-adjusted adults and reach their potential. This means we must think PREPARE, not just PROTECT. Our “test” is to love them in a healthy manner, so that they can replicate that love as healthy adults themselves. How they turn out is our “report card.” (Certainly, there are unique situations with special needs kids where a different report card should be used, such as higher levels of self-regulation).

2. Parents today work harder to get parenting “right” than I’ve ever seen in 30 years. But sometimes trying so hard makes parents too “good.” You write about Mistake #1- We won’t let our kids fail. Why do they need to fail? This sounds important but from a practical standpoint, tell me specifically what parents should do to let their kids fail. Should they set them up to fail?

Today, we have a large population of parents—millions of us—who “over-function.” We’ve been so intent on nurturing the self-esteem and safety of our children that we did too much.  We didn’t want to “mess it up.” In fact, two extremes are happening in our homes today: abandonment and abundance. Adults are not present to mentor their children or they are doing too much, leaving children helpless to know how to do things for themselves. Both extremes leave the young adult ill-equipped for life after childhood.  First and foremost is: We won’t let our kids fail.

Why won’t we let them fail?

  1. We feel like WE are a failure as parents when our kids fail.
  2. We are often living out our unlived life through our children.
  3. We assume failure will damage their self-esteem.
  4. We somehow assume that good parents never allow a negative experience to happen to their child. (In actuality—negative experiences foster the most growth. If we raise kids as fragile, they’ll surely become fragile adults).

For example, I’ve seen dozens of parents at Starbucks doing their child’s homework for them. I read about one mom who tried to take a standardized test for her teenage daughter. In 2014, one in twelve Millennials brought their parent to a job interview.

So, what are some steps we can take on this issue? First, parents should not set their kid up for failure. We should never desire our kids to fail. However, most of us would admit that our greatest growth in life occurred when we failed at something. Life will provide tough times and we should not PREVENT those times. But we should PREPARE our kids for them and be there to PROCESS those tough times with them. As they mature, we should loosen the reigns and allow our kids to navigate challenging consequences.

Consider the message we send our kids when we won’t let them deal with a difficult experience: “Bless your heart. You don’t have it in you to handle this. You need me…” Instead, we should observe their growth, encouraging them to take on opportunities that will stretch them—encourage tasks that lie somewhere between STRETCHED and OVERWHELMED. Then, as they mature, its best to lead with questions not imperatives.  (Why do you think that happened? How did it make you feel? How could you have handled it differently?)

3. Mistake #3 is one I love: we prioritize happiness. Why shouldn’t raising happy kids be a parenting goal?

I’ve heard countless parents say: “I just want my children to be happy.” It’s only natural. But happiness makes a horrible goal. However, it makes a wonderful by-product. You pursue purpose and find satisfaction. Albert Einstein said: “Try not to become a person of success, but rather try to become a person of value.” When happiness is a goal—we shop for it, we date and marry for it; we try to find it in people and places that can’t provide it. Spouses can’t constantly entertain us. I remember John Maxwell’s wife, Margaret, answering a question from a spouse at a conference: “Does John make you happy?” She shocked everyone by saying, “No, he doesn’t.” Then, she proceeded to say, “I learned a long time ago that I must find a way to be happy without depending on someone else to do it for me…not even my husband. Then, I was able to expect realistic outcomes from my marriage that John could actually fulfill.” That’s brilliant.

4. Many parents realize that disciplining kids is hard—no matter what the child’s age. They know they should be consistent and make consequences stick. Why don’t they? These are two mistakes you write about. What can parents do to make consequences stick? Many feel so overwhelmed with being consistent in discipline.

Yes. Parents often return home from a busy job and they’re already exhausted. If they feel spent they often don’t feel it’s in them to level consequences because it’s WORK. Another reason we aren’t consistent is because we feel our kids need grace. After all, they are overwhelmed too. They’re stressed out. I’ve written before that stress levels in high school students today is equal to that of a psychiatric patient in 1950s.

But the truth is, consistency and steady consequences offer security to kids. Consequences are predictable in an unpredictable world. They provide boundaries in an “anything goes” world and they communicate love because you care enough to follow through. To make consequences stick, stop talking about rules and start enforcing “equations.” If they make THIS choice, there are benefits. Making THAT choice brings consequences. Life is full of equations and we must introduce them to our children early on.

5. Mistake #6 – We lie about their potential. We all see our kids through rose-colored glasses. Isn’t this a good thing? How can we be our child’s #1 fan and be realistic about their potential? What if a parent has a child that isn’t good at anything?

Every kid wants to hear Mom or Dad say they’re “awesome” early in life. But by the time they reach late elementary school and middle school, kids are comparing parents’ comments with peers and others. If Mom is the only one saying, “You’re awesome!” they begin to question our judgment. Or, they stop really believing us. I believe there is a way to affirm our children without being dishonest or exaggerating.  Hyperbole is not necessary. We’ve all watched American Idol…where a young person tries to sing and we wonder quietly, “Who are your friends?” I believe we must be honest in our praise and stop all the hyperbole. Instead, Carol Dweck reminds us to affirm variables that are in their control. Instead of saying, “You’re smart.” Say, “I love the strategy you used on that math problem.” Instead of saying: “You’re gorgeous!” Say, “I love how honest and empathetic you are with your friends. You are as beautiful on the inside as you are on the outside.”


Reaching Millennials: We Need to Check Our Attitudes Toward the Next Generation by Tiffany Deluccia


I mentor two girls from Generation Z at a local public middle school. Their teachers paired them up with me last year because they were failing the 6th grade.

Once I got to know them and the horrors of their home lives, I became much less interested in their grades than their hearts. These two were broken in ways few can comprehend. I spend the drive to their school in prayer every week, begging Jesus to give me words to say and questions to ask, and to know when to keep quiet.

Besides the emotional and physical pain they’ve experienced that I have not, they are born of a different generation than me, making it difficult to relate on a number of levels:

  • I learn about some new (read: bizarre) Internet subculture just about every week.
  • They spend their time on video games (disturbing ones, in my opinion), YouTube binges, Kik and Snapchat.
  • They have been bullied online and in person.
  • They have views on gender and sexuality I would never have expected a 12-year-old to possess, much less express.
  • One of them hates Christians — though she felt bad about saying that when she found out I am one — because her experience with some Christian family members would make you feel physically ill.

They are not like me, in the least. And yet Christ in me has found a way to connect. His words, His understanding, and His perspective are all that keeps me going to lunch each week. I am reminded of how insufficient I am each time I see them walking to meet me outside the lunchroom.

This article isn’t actually about Generation Z, though I feel deeply our churches need to be focused on them a lot more than we currently are. It’s actually about Millennials.

I’m guessing that the way I feel talking to people of Generation Z is how many senior church leaders today feel when talking to Millennials. Or reading their Facebook posts or viewing their Instagram feeds. There’s a disconnect that can be off-putting. I dislike feeling that I fundamentally don’t understand how another person sees the world. I imagine you can relate.

But here’s what I am discovering every week in a middle school guidance counselor’s office:

If we refuse to engage on a personal level with the people we go before, the people God has called us to lead, we handicap Christ’s ability to work through us. 

He is the bridge between generations. He is the wisdom for each moment, each conversation, each sermon prep session. 

It’s so much easier to read the headlines — to watch the show and allow the stereotypes to create monsters out of the people coming behind us — than it is to listen.

“Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires.”  James 1:19 NLT

If you’ve already made up your mind that Millennials’ points of view on life, politics, marriage, work and religion are completely outrageous and unfounded, you’re writing off an entire generation. Few of us are aware enough of our prejudices to even hear how we sound when we speak about the next generation. We need to invite honest feedback. It’s rarely fun to engage in conversations with people who see the world differently, but doing so makes us stronger, more compassionate, more godly people.

I write this today as a challenge to myself as much as to church leaders ahead of me on their spiritual journey:

Let’s do the hard work of opening our hearts to people we don’t understand in the generations coming after us. God will do the seemingly impossible work of creating love and understanding between us.


Will You Ever Grow-Up?: 7 Marks of Maturity by Tim Elmore


You may have noticed a paradox that exists among students today. Although there are exceptions to the rule, this generation of kids is advanced intellectually, but behind emotionally. They are missing many of the marks of maturity they should possess.From an intellectual perspective, students today have been exposed to so much more than I was growing up—and far sooner, too. They’ve consumed  information on everything from cyberspace to sexual techniques before they graduate from middle school. Everything is coming at them sooner.Sociology professor Tony Campolo said, “I am convinced we don’t live in a generation of bad kids. We live in a generation of kids who know too much too soon.”

On the other hand, students have been stunted in their emotional maturity. They seem to require more time to actually “grow up” and prepare for the responsibility that comes with adulthood. This is a result of many factors, not the least of which is well-intentioned parents who hover over their kids not allowing them to experience the pain of maturation. It’s like the child who tries to help the new butterfly break out of the cocoon, and realizes later that they have done a disservice to that butterfly. The butterfly is not strong enough to fly once it is free.

There is another reason, however, that teens struggle with maturation. Scientists are gaining new insights into remarkable changes in teenagers’ brains that may explain why the teen years are so hard on young people and their parents. From ages 11-14, kids lose some of the connections between cells in the part of their brain that enables them to think clearly and make good decisions.

Pruning the Brain

What happens is that the brain is pruning itself—going through changes that will allow a young person to move into adult life effectively. “Ineffective or weak brain connections are pruned in much the same way a gardener would prune a tree or bush, giving the plant a desired shape,” says Alison Gopnik, Professor of Child Development at UC Berkley.

“They can become paralyzed by all the content they consume.”

Adolescents who are experiencing these brain changes can react emotionally, according to Ian Campbell, a neurologist at the U.C. Davis Sleep Research Laboratory. Mood swings, uncooperative and irresponsible attitudes can all be the result of these changes occurring. Sometimes, students can’t explain why they feel the way they do. Their brain is changing from a child brain to an adult brain.

Regions that specialize in language, for example, grow rapidly until about age 13 and then stop. The frontal lobes of the brain which are responsible for high level reasoning and decision making aren’t fully mature until the early 20s, according to Deborah Yurgelun-Todd, a neuroscientist at Harvard’s Brain Imaging Center. There’s a portion of time when the child part of the brain has been pruned, but the adult portion is not fully formed. They are “in-between.” They are informed but not prepared.

The bottom line?

Students today are consuming information they aren’t completely ready to handle. The adult part of their brain is still forming and isn’t ready to apply all that our society throws at it. Their mind takes it in and files it, but their will and emotions are not prepared to act on it in a healthy way. They can become paralyzed by all the content they consume.

They want so much to be able to experience the world they’ve seen on websites or heard on podcasts, but don’t realize they are unprepared for that experience emotionally. They are truly in between a child and an adult. I believe a healthy, mature student is one who has developed intellectually, volitionally, emotionally and spiritually. I also believe there are marks we can look for, as we coach them into maturity.

Signs to Look For

So what are the marks of maturity? We all love it when we see a young person who carries themselves well and shows signs of being mature. They interact with adults in an adult manner. Those kinds of students are downright refreshing. Let me give you a list of what I consider to be the marks of maturity. At Growing Leaders we seek to build these marks in young people, ages 16-24 as we partner with schools. This certainly isn’t an exhaustive list, but it is a list of characteristics I notice in young people who are unusually mature, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. If you are a parent—this is a good list of qualities to begin developing in your child. If you are a coach, or a teacher or a dean, these are the signs we wish every student possessed when they graduate. For that matter, these are signs I wish every adult modeled for the generation coming behind them.

1. A mature person is able to keep long-term commitments.

One key signal of maturity is the ability to delay gratification. Part of this means a student is able to keep commitments even when they are no longer new or novel. They can commit to continue doing what is right even when they don’t feel like it.

2. A mature person is unshaken by flattery or criticism.

As people mature, they sooner or later understand that nothing is as good as it seems and nothing is as bad as it seems. Mature people can receive compliments or criticism without letting it ruin them or sway them into a distorted view of themselves. They are secure in their identity.

3. A mature person possesses a spirit of humility.

Humility parallels maturity. Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself. It is thinking of yourself less. Mature people aren’t consumed with drawing attention to themselves. They see how others have contributed to their success and can even sincerely give honor to their Creator who gave them the talent. This is the opposite of arrogance.

4. A mature person’s decisions are based on character not feelings.

Mature people—students or adults—live by values. They have principles that guide their decisions. They are able to progress beyond merely reacting to life’s options, and be proactive as they live their life. Their character is master over their emotions

5. A mature person expresses gratitude consistently.

I have found the more I mature, the more grateful I am, for both big and little things. Immature children presume they deserve everything good that happens to them. Mature people see the big picture and realize how good they have it, compared to most of the world’s population.

6. A mature person knows how to prioritize others before themselves.

A wise man once said: A mature person is one whose agenda revolves around others, not self. Certainly this can go to an extreme and be unhealthy, but I believe a pathway out of childishness is getting past your own desires and beginning to live to meet the needs of others less fortunate.

7. A mature person seeks wisdom before acting.

Finally, a mature person is teachable. They don’t presume they have all the answers. The wiser they get the more they realize they need more wisdom. They’re not ashamed of seeking counsel from adults (teachers, parents, coaches) or from other sources. Only the wise seek wisdom.

In my latest book, Artificial Maturity, I offer practical solutions for parents to instill the marks of maturity in their kids. Susan Peters once said, “Children have a much better chance of growing up if their parents have done so first.” Here’s to modeling and developing authentic maturity in your kids.

Based on this list, are you displaying the marks of maturity? How about your kids?


7 Ways to Make Bible Reading Fun by Ron Edmondson


A young college-aged girl told me recently that she didn’t enjoy reading her Bible and asked if there was an alternative book. Well…no! This is THE BOOK! There is no substitute. There are plenty of great Christian books, but none compare to this one.

I’ve heard similar concerns many times. The Bible intimidates many people; even those who are avid readers of other books.

I told this girl she could listen to the Bible on a CD or mp3, but I don’t think that’s the complete solution. I think we need to figure out how to enjoy reading God’s Word. Part of maturing as a believer is to fall in love with the Bible.

Here are 7 suggestions which may help:

Pray – The Bible is not like any other book. You need God’s Spirit to help you. You should always pray before and as you read it. Ask God to help you understand what you’re reading. Good news here! This appears, in my experience, to be one of God’s favorite prayers to answer.

Version – Pick a version easiest for you to understand. I would suggest you read a more literal translation primarily, but the paraphrase versions are good for casual reading. I suggest NIV or NLT for a literal but readable version; ESV or NKJV if you want a most literal translation; or for a paraphrase version, that’s extremely readable, try The Message version. I read some of each of these for my studies and fun reading.

Sharing – It brings Scripture to life when we can share it with others. Sharing your reading with your small group, a group of guys or girls at a coffee shop or a couple of people from work helps energize you for the passage. The key here is that when you talk about what you’re reading, it helps you value it more. (Read Philemon 1:6 for an example of this.)

Journaling – Writing about your time in God’s Word will help you process your thoughts and keep a record of them. It’s exciting to go back over time and remember what you read before. It fuels your enthusiasm for more.

Taking your time – I love the idea of reading the Bible through in a year. I’ve done this many times. I think it’s more important, however, that you benefit from what you’re reading. I sometimes meditate on a few versesor a story for a day. I also recommend people start with an easier book to understand and move to more difficult passages from there. The books of Matthew 1Mark 1Luke 1, or John 1 are good places to start, because they are filled with great stories of Jesus.

Clarify – It’a best to have a study Bible for this part, but there are plenty of free online tools also. Look up words you don’t understand. Learn to use Bible dictionaries and commentaries. Look up passages, which aren’t clear, cross-referencing verses with other similar verses using footnotes. For some people, having a Bible study to work through along with reading the Bible is helpful.

Relationship – The best way to fall in love with God’s Word is to get to better know it’s author. It’s cliche now, but read it as a love letter written to you. If someone writes you a love letter, you’ll read it continually until you figure out what it means, and maybe even memorize parts of it along the way. If you can’t figure out something, you’ll consult the author. Fall more in love with God and you’ll find reading the Bible much easier. You may even someday say it’s “fun”!


10 Tips for Working With Special-Needs Teenagers by John Pape

Nine years ago, my family received some crushing news. Our son Drew, who was almost 2, had a little-known genetic syndrome called 22q. It’s a micro-deletion of the 22nd chromosome (I don’t understand it, either). On the one hand, we were relieved to finally have a diagnosis that explained his missed developmental milestones. On the other hand, something was wrong, and we were devastated. (Search “22q” to learn more about our family’s struggle.)

I’ve asked God many times to heal my son. I’ve prayed and wrestled with this a lot. However, I’m blessed and even thankful for the lessons I’ve learned on this journey. They’ve helped me become a better parent and youth worker. Here are 10 tips I’d like to share:

1. Treat kids with special needs as normal whenever you can. Like most boys, Drew loves monster trucks and hates school. He isn’t the same as other kids, but who is? He can’t do everything, but he can do most things. Encourage special-needs kids to participate whenever possible.

2. Be honest when the fit isn’t good. Like most youth groups, ours can get a bit crazy. Games such as dodgeball are potentially dangerous when kids can’t protect themselves. Either have an adult sit and watch the game with a student or choose another game. For the most part, parents prefer honesty about any risks that might be involved.

3. Focus on teenagers’ strengths, not their limits. Every kid knows a lot about something. Find each young person’s specialty and let them use that knowledge and skill. For example, my son isn’t afraid to read out loud, so I call on him to read when I can.

4. View all aspects of youth group from the perspective of special-needs kids. They already feel like an inconvenience, so don’t make matters worse. For example, Tina,* a high schooler who’s in a wheelchair, couldn’t reach the snack counter in our youth room, so we made some adjustments.

5. Encourage friendship—and be a friend. Every kid needs friends. For special-needs kids, friends are tough to find. One of the coolest things I’ve seen at church was when a kid took Sam*, an autistic boy, under his wing and led him to a small group. Later I pulled that kid aside and thanked him for being a friend to Sam. Leaders need to get to know the young person, too. I struggled to befriend Sam until I found common ground with him (Pokémon Go—don’t judge!). Work to find something you both enjoy.

6. Enjoy the journey. Sam now loves coming to youth group, which is a first for him. Another first: In a reindeer race, he was pulled around the gym on a bed sheet. His team won and had a blast. Sam came to a lock-in, spending his first night away from home. He raked leaves for his first service project. That’s a lot of firsts we’ve experienced together, and we’ve enjoyed every one.

7. Realize that caring for one person communicates care to everyone. When you show students that special-needs kids are welcome and valued, you let everyone know they’re welcome and valued. Kids without special needs will realize they’ll always be accepted, no matter what they’ve done.

8. Remember that special needs mean special abilities. Recently in Sunday school, I asked kids to name a compassionate person they know. One said, “Drew Pape.” Because my son has been through a lot, he’s very kind and soft-hearted. I’d once envisioned raising an athletic super-star or an academic juggernaut, but I’m grateful for my son’s heart of gold. (I’m not sure I would’ve been able to raise such a compassionate kid without this syndrome. I might have cared too much about his athletic abilities or academic performance.)

9. Please ask. If you don’t understand a behavior or notice physical or social differences, talk to a parent. Heartfelt inquiries let people know you care. It’s better to have an awkward conversation than for a young person to be ignored or stared at. Don’t treat special-needs kids and families like the plague. Your kid won’t lose any chromosomes hanging out with my kid.

10. As a church, embrace special-needs families. At an annual checkup, the nurse/social worker encouraged our family to get involved in a faith community. “Fake it if you have to,” she said. “They’re a great support and encouragement.” For the most part, this has been true. Yet we’ve also experienced heartache. That might be one reason an estimated 80 to 90 percent of special-needs families are unchurched. (Data is tough to find. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control, 15 percent of kids ages 3 to 17 have a developmental disability. Do 15 percent of your youth group kids have special needs?)

A few more notes: Educate yourself about the condition. Search online or ask for information. Pray (for the young person, the family, schoolwork, doctor visits, and their future). Be there when you can; send a card when you can’t. If an event is being held for the condition, support or attend it.

Kids who are different shouldn’t feel unwelcome. That’s unacceptable (see Luke 14:12-14). As the body of Christ, we can do better.


Why Millennials Are Staying in the Nest by Jonathan McKee

It’s the American dream: Grow up, attend the right school, graduate…and then move into Mom’s basement! Okay, maybe that last part is the new “amended” dream.

A record number of 20-somethings are opting to live at home rather than leave the nest. Specifically, 40 percent of American Millennials (young people ages 20 to 35) currently live with their parents. By comparison, that number was 27 percent back in 1991, when I got my first apartment at age 21.

Why aren’t young adults spreading their wings?

Money Matters

At first glance, Millennials seem quite “spendy.” After all, at their age we didn’t walk into work sipping a $4 coffee and thumbing an $800 iPhone. More than 45 percent of 18- to 23-year-olds have spent more on coffee than investing in their retirement. And yes, they love their phones. Almost all young adults own smartphones, and about two-thirds subscribe to on-demand video services such as Netflix or Hulu (with many mooching off a parent’s account).

Despite studies showing that Millennials struggle to manage their finances, we “older folks” can show a little understanding.  Let’s step into their shoes for a moment (something I wish I would’ve done more as a parent)…

The Real Numbers

First, apartment rent is higher than ever. It increased 4.6 percent in 2015 alone, the biggest leap since before the recession. I know several Millennials who were on their own but recently moved back home (as “boomerang kids”) when their monthly rent went up by three digits.

Rent hikes are a drop in the bucket compared to the mountainous spikes in education costs. In 1980, the average annual cost of tuition, room, board, and fees at a four-year college was $9,438. Now it’s $23,872! That’s a 260 percent increase, and it’s staggering when compared to the 120 percent increase in all consumer items. And compared to 1980, up to 19 percent more young people are completing at least four years of college.

Higher costs mean greater debt. The average debt burden for college graduates has more than doubled within the Millennial Generation. On graduation day, members of the class of 2016 were strapped with an average of $37,172 in student loans, compared to $18,271 for the class of 2003. Most students take 10 years to pay off that debt, forking out an average of $429 monthly. (Or 7.5 years if they pay an extra $100 a month.)

Maybe that’s why more than one-third of graduates regret going to college because of the debt. In fact:

  • 49 percent believe they would have reached the same level in their career even if they hadn’t gone to college.
  • 63 percent say they’re relying on a one-off event, such as winning the lottery or getting an inheritance, to pay off student loans.

But at least this better-educated generation is earning more than their parents, right? Sadly, not much. Here’s where the numbers differ. A new analysis of Federal Reserve data claims that Millennials, with a median household income of $40,581, actually earn 20 percent less than Baby Boomers did at the same life stage. The report states, “Education does help boost incomes, but the median college-educated millennial with student debt is only earning slightly more than a Baby Boomer without a degree did in 1989.” And the median net worth of Millennials is 56 percent less than it was for Boomers.

Sounds bleak. But just a few years ago, Pew Research revealed a more optimistic picture, showing a slight increase in income by generation when using today’s dollars. It also revealed a greater disparity in income between college and high school grads. For example, in 2015 a person with a bachelor’s degree made an average of $1,980 more per month than someone with just a high school diploma. (An extra $2,000 a month sure helps pay off that college debt!)

So how are “on-their-own” Millennials paying bills? With their thumbs. When they’re on their phones, young adults aren’t just scrolling through Snapchat stories.

  • They’re thumbing rides because they don’t own cars. In fact, more than half either don’t intend to purchase a car or don’t consider that a priority. Only 15 percent of Millennials say a vehicle is really important. Another 25 percent say it’s important but not a big priority.
  • Millennials also moonlight, using their skills to earn extra money. The networking site LinkedIn says the number of young adults who freelance on the side is growing logarithmically, far faster than the number of full-time freelancers.
  • Young adults also tend to be savvy shoppers. Most shop with phone in hand, comparing prices and searching for the best deals. Millennials are actually less likely than previous generations to buy something simply because it’s convenient. Instead, they focus on value.

Keep Talking!

Parents should resist the urge to say, “When I was your age…” Because, all things being equal, you’ll also have to admit, “I made more, paid less in rent, paid less for school, and spent way more money on my car!”

Instead, engage in practical conversations (not lectures) about budgeting and spending . My dad showed me how to make a budget on a napkin. He let me choose how to spend my money, but I had to make a budget and stick with it. If I wanted to spend half my money on girls (I did), then that was my choice (a bad one). But I learned to notice what I spent.

If your kids spend too much on Starbucks, don’t forbid it; just make them track their spending. They might think twice when they sit down at month’s end and have to write “coffee, $96.”

Help your kids think about the future. If they’re in college, take them to dinner and affirm them. Share ways their hard work now will pay off later. Show them numbers from the sources above, if that helps.

If you have high schoolers or middle schoolers, still take them out to dinner and affirm them. Discuss their educational goals and provide information to guide their decisions. Show your kids charts revealing the income disparity between people who earn degrees and those who don’t.

If you have toddlers, take them to Chuck E. Cheese and jump in the ball pit together. Then, when you tuck them in at night, read books. Readers are learners, and your kids will probably want to go to college before you even bring it up.