SO MUCH MORE THAN PIZZA PARTIES

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I was excited. My wife and I were headed out for a weekend of fasting and prayer in the Columbia River Gorge, to ask God to confirm our calling to move to Europe to work with Josiah Venture. I was sure that God would speak incredible things into our lives. I was waiting for vision, inspiration, and passion for the move ahead. We got there on Thursday night, set up our camp, and began to pray and listen. Bring on the vision, I thought.

I looked over, and my wife was in tears. I wasn’t feeling too great myself. Faces of loved ones flashed through my mind. Cherished memories mixed in. These were followed by friendships, hobbies, and favorite places we would have to leave behind. No, no, no, I thought. This isn’t right. This is supposed to be a weekend of vision and excitement. This is supposed to be a weekend of passion and preparation. Maybe we’re on the “wrong channel.”

So we began to pray again. And again we began to think of cost and pain. This isn’t right, I thought. Okay, Lord, I’ll really try to listen this time. For a third time we bowed our heads and began to pray. Once again God brought to mind the things that would cost us so much if we followed him across the ocean. Hmm, I thought. Maybe God has something else in store for us this weekend.

In my last blog, I talked about how people get stuck. Students go off to university and leave their faith behind. Young leaders won’t step into the calling that God has placed on their lives because they’re afraid of the cost. One of the primary jobs of a disciple-maker is getting people unstuck. But how do we do it? How do we properly diagnose and treat a stuck student? [Read more…]

HELP! MY MINISTRY FEELS STUCK

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Ask two different people to describe Peter, and you’ll get two different responses. In Acts, we see the Peter we all long to be. When he preaches, 3,000 people respond. When he’s persecuted, he rejoices to be “counted worthy of the name of Jesus.” When God says “go,” Peter is the first to take the gospel to the Gentiles. When the early church struggles, they look to Peter to lead them.

We dream of our disciples being like Peter—dynamic communicators and bold leaders, living on mission in deep relationship with Jesus.

But rewind a few weeks and we see a different Peter. In the gospels, Peter is the deny-er. He leads the disciples into hiding and runs from suffering.

This Peter is so different from the one in Acts that it makes you wonder if they’re even related, let alone the same person. It’s like there’s a stuck version and an unstuck version. Unstuck Peter is full of faith, freedom, and fruit. Stuck Peter is faithless, fearful, and fruitless.

Have you ever noticed how many Christ-followers are stuck? [Read more…]

DISCIPLESHIP IS NOT A BUFFET!

4031771702_b04b376904_o“Do you want to hold him?” We were in the delivery room, and my son had just taken his first breaths of air and let out a good scream. At 4.5 kg (10 lbs!), he was far from fragile, but I was still nervous. I’m the youngest in my family, and I did almost no babysitting growing up. I wasn’t quite sure what to do with a newborn. In fact, I’d never even held one before.

What if I do it wrong? What if I don’t support the head? What if the nurses get mad at me? I found myself secretly waiting for the day he turns 13 when—as a veteran youth worker—I’d finally know what to do with him. (Parents of teenagers, I know you’re laughing at me right now.)

Be honest—do you know that feeling? Some of us connect better to babies. Others prefer toddlers. Still others love the middle school years or the university age. For whatever reason, these phases of life just seem easier, more fun, or more comfortable than the others.

It’s the same with spiritual children. Some find their sweet spot at the early end of the disciple-making process. Befriending seekers and sharing Christ with lost people is their best days’ work. Others find their stride in those early steps right after someone has come to faith. You love taking a new Christian and teaching her or him how to walk in the faith. Still others relish the task of leadership development and multiplication. You thrill at seeing a Christ-follower learn how to not just follow and serve Jesus, but to share his life with others through evangelism and disciple making. We each have different gifts and areas of natural focus. God wired us for those sweet spots, where our gifting and passion meet in a supernatural area of fruitfulness. [Read more…]

A SMALL SHIFT TO TURN DISCIPLES INTO DISCIPLE MAKERS

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Sometimes, small shifts change everything.

I was neck deep in student ministry. On Monday nights, I discipled a small group of guys in the Word. Tuesdays, I mentored young leaders. Wednesday nights brought basketball, then youth group. Thursdays and Fridays, I prepped for summer camps or a short-term mission trip. Sunday usually meant I was teaching the high school group, plus an afternoon mission team meeting. Summers were full of camps, interns, and student leadership teams.

Most of this routine seemed to be going well. New students were coming to Christ. Young people were maturing in their love for Jesus and his Word. Adults from the church were deeply invested in the lives of the youth. We had much to celebrate.

But one thing puzzled me. Students were becoming disciples, but they weren’t becoming disciple makers. They weren’t turning around and investing in others with the same intentionality and focus that we were investing in them. What was the problem? [Read more…]

FINDING MAGNET VOLUNTEERS: Adult Volunteers

2180506499_b80bc6e97f_o1I was 14 years old and leading the youth ministry for a church of 1,500 people. At least, that’s how it looked to the parents and youth staff. In reality I was 22, but it didn’t make much difference. I looked young, I had no “real” experience, and they weren’t sure I knew what I was doing. Have you been there?

I was especially puzzled by how to lead the team of 30 volunteer youth staff. They didn’t know anything about me. They didn’t know who I was or what I believed. I was just a baby-faced, 22-year-old kid trying to lead their youth ministry. Many were more than twice my age. Some had raised kids older than me. How was I supposed to earn their respect and allegiance?

Just last month, I was sitting in a small group of youth leaders. One of them asked, “How do I get more commitment from my volunteer staff?” It made me think back a decade to those early years of youth ministry. How do you, as a young youth leader, gain the allegiance of your youth staff? My problem wasn’t a lack of quality people—my youth staff was loaded with them. But I needed to know how to lead them, how to win their trust. That included lots of things, but none was more important than the advice of a close friend (and veteran youth leader).

“You need a magnet couple,” he said. [Read more…]

One Vital Question that will Transform Your Teaching

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You look out and see glassy eyes. Shoulders drooped. Sagging jaws. Boredom. You’re trying to speak the very words of life, the greatest story ever told, and they look, well, asleep.

Have you been there?

How does this happen? We spend hours preparing. We study the passage. We research the topic. We tell our most interesting stories. And still, we fail to see transformation. If God’s Word changes lives, why do they look so much the same?

Of course, it could be a lot of things—even things outside of our control. Maybe they stayed up too late last night. Maybe they have hard hearts. Maybe they had a fight with their best friend this morning.

But sometimes, it’s on us. Sometimes, no matter how much we study, how many stories we tell, and how many clips from YouTube we use, we fail to connect. We fail to engage. We fail to answer everyone’s most important question:  [Read more…]

Know How to Answer: “How is your religion different than mine?”

People have fought over the differences between ‘religions’ for millennia. Some of the darkest moments of human history resulted from faith wars. And those conflicts–and questions–continue today. Just yesterday, I was approached by a follower of Hare Krishna, asking for a donation to their cause. Others choose to avoid the conversation altogether, and declare that all spiritual practices are equal–and maybe even lead to the same place. How do you respond when someone asks you the difference between their religion and yours? And how do you help someone see the freeing grace of the gospel when they’re locked in something else?

Here’s my attempt at a response. What would you add? (This post is part of series: 12 Questions Young People are Asking–and You Should Know How to Answer. Click here to see the other posts in this series, including an intro.)

Similar Questions:

  • How are evangelicals different from Catholics/Orthodox?
  • Why are you so against Mary? Why can’t we pray to Mary and the saints?
  • My priest says that the Protestant church is not the real church, so what do you say?
  • Why don’t you pray to icons?
  • What the difference between Christians and Jehovah’s Witnesses?
  • What is the difference between the God of the Bible and the god of Koran?

Question Behind the Question:

How is this different than what I’ve experienced?  Are you saying my church is wrong?

Push it Personal:

What differences have you noticed?  What do you think of those differences?

Points to ponder:

  • “It sounds like you have some great questions about how your church is different than my church.  I’m not against your church; I’m just doing my best to live out what the Bible says.  Would you be interested in reading the Bible with me?”  (Focus on your similarity—the belief in the Bible—and invite them into that.)
  • “The most important thing to me is my relationship with God.  The Bible tells me that I can talk directly to him, anytime I want (Heb. 4:16).  So, I talk to God, not anyone else, because no one else is as important as God.”  (In response to a question about praying to Mary or to icons.)
  • “The most important thing for me is that I have a relationship with God only because Jesus died for my sins on the cross.  The Bible tells me that I can do absolutely nothing to earn a relationship with God (Eph 2:8-9).  That’s the most important thing for a church to teach.”  (Focusing on what our church does, not on what their church doesn’t.)

Connect with Christ:

“When Jesus died on the cross to pay for the evil things we do, He paid for everything.  Sometimes we think that we need to do something more to earn a relationship with God (like going to church, praying to Mary/icons, confession, etc.).  But, that’s like telling Jesus that what He did on the cross wasn’t good enough.  I never want to tell Him that!”

Self Story:

Story of how you chose your church, and why.

How about you? What would you add to this conversation?

Have You Seen These 4 Common Disciple-Making Mistakes?

Have you ever heard something like this:

“Try to include a balance of evangelism and discipleship in your resume—churches like that better.”

“That church is more of an evangelistic church, but we’re an equipping church.”

“If we hire you as our youth pastor, will you spend more time focused on the church kids, or on trying to reach the lost?”

“I have a new believer in my group. Do you know of any good studies on discipleship?”ID-100193456

Have you noticed this confusion over discipleship? Have you felt it yourself? One youth group teaches the Word, equips its students to serve, and offers small group opportunities for deeper study and fellowship. Are they making disciples? Another group focuses on making new disciples: evangelism. Is that supposed to be our focus? Still another group has a six-week discipleship program where new believers are trained in the basics of the faith. Is this discipleship?

What is disciple-making, really? And how do we know if we’re actually living out Christ’s commission? [Read more…]

Lead Like a Shepherd, Not Like a Sheepdog

Friends, this post marks the first of a regular contribution to Leader Treks, a student leadership development ministry using trips, innovative training, and curriculum to help students identify and develop their personal leadership skills. I recommend you check out their site, and their blog. It’s full of great stuff. And, check out my first blog on their site, here.

I was afraid I had lost the whole group. Not physically—thankfully!—but as a team. They were the most frustrating group of student leaders I’ve ever had. We were in the middle of a summer full of whitewater rafting camps and leadership training, and they were content to sit on the sidelines while others did the work of engaging, serving, and leading.ID-10099648

Again and again, I pulled them aside and challenged them to step out of their comfort zones. Again and again, I made them aware of their selfish, small-minded ways. But nothing seemed to help. We were at a stalemate. I had a mutiny on my hands. And I had no idea how to turn the ship.

Have you ever been there? Have you led a group that was derailed by a group of students who simply wouldn’t respond? Have you dug to the bottom of your “bag of tricks,” only to come up empty? [Read more…]

6 Super Practical Tricks for Getting Students to Talk

What do you do when students just won’t talk? You know the feeling–you’re leading a small group, or teaching youth group, or speaking at a camp, and you ask a question . . . and get . . . nothing. Nada. No cigar. Total silence. Some fidget, some look down, others stare at you defiantly, but no one will answer.

youth ministry, student ministry, small groups, disciple-making, discipleship, Christian, teaching

(Photo by luci on sxc.hu)

What to do? You know that Jesus spoke His most important truths using discussion. You’re committed to teaching students to think and helping them wrestle with new questions and new truths. But they simply won’t talk.

When I started in youth ministry, the entire youth group refused to talk. In fact, one of the adults told me to forget about it: “This group just won’t do discussion.” Hmm, I thought, that’s a problem. Because for me, discussion isn’t a ‘style’ choice–it’s a core value. We’ll have to change that.

But it proved much harder than I expected. Each Sunday and Wednesday, 60 High School students would sit and stare at me. A token few would engage, but that quickly grew awkward for everyone. How to get the rest of the group to talk?

Here’s what I did:

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