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:

6 Reasons Why I’m Not Giving Up on Church

Let’s be honest: It’s not hard to think of reasons to walk away from this thing called ‘church.’

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

(Photo by James Preston on flickr.com)

  • Church buildings across the world stand empty–they look more like monuments than movements.
  • Local churches spend more energy arguing over the color of the carpet or the style of worship than the lost neighbor next door.
  • Those who do want to reach spiritually lost people often grow discouraged as they face slow decision-making, church politics, and 101 reasons why their ideas won’t work.
  • Young people grow frustrated as older people won’t adapt and change; older people feel ignored or threatened.

It’s tempting to leave, to give up. In a world where we can worship with Phil Wickham, study the Bible with John Piper, and give to Compassion International all from the smart phone in our pocket, why go to church? And if the church isn’t going to carry out her mission–to be the hands and feet of Jesus on this earth–why not do Jesus’ work somewhere else?

I wonder if the apostle Paul ever felt this way. [Read more…]

Do We Tell Students the Wrong Gospel?

Maybe we don’t share the gospel because we don’t know the gospel. Or, maybe we share the gospel wrong. I don’t know–I’m a long ways from being an expert on evangelism. But here’s what I have noticed–we seem to spend a lot of time and effort trying to motivate and teach people to share the gospel. And, in the process, we assume they–and we–know the gospel. But I’m not sure we do . . .

I’ve noticed that our versions of the gospel don’t seem to match the gospel that the apostles shared in the book of Acts. We emphasize different things. We leave stuff out that they say. We say stuff that they leave out. In fact, our versions of the gospel often don’t even match the gospel that Jesus tells.

I’m sure I don’t have it completely right either–it’s a work in process. But here’s my attempt at telling the gospel in a way that more closely matches the gospel told by the church’s first messengers–the apostles. Tell me what you think!

[Read more…]

What Gospel Story Do You Tell? (Help Wanted)

Friends: This one is a bit risky, I suppose. But I really want your thoughts. I’m on assignment–someone asked me to write down the gospel, for use in a youth ministry context. I’ve shared the gospel in teaching too many times to count, but I’ve never tried to write it down. It’s a challenge! What do you include, what do you leave out? How do you keep it theologically sound, without filling it with ‘Christian’ words? And don’t forget all the important elements! But, in the process, how do you make sure it’s more than words–that it’s music, story, and poetry? That it reflects the beauty of the one who lived it? Do you feel the challenge? It’s so important to get it right!

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

(Photo by bgottsab at Creative Commons)

A couple of years ago, I did one of the more interesting Bible studies I’ve ever attempted. I went through the book of Acts and tried to analyze and understand each place that they share the gospel. How did the original apostles tell the gospel in the first years after Christ’s return to heaven? I was struck–and disturbed–by the huge differences between how they told the gospel and how we typically do. I set out to try to tell the gospel story in a way that is truer to the model of the apostles.

So, here’s my attempt. I welcome any and all feedback (although I don’t promise to agree 😉 ). What’s missing? What lags? What do you really like? What would you change? Join the discussion in the comments below . . . and thank you! Your feedback is super valuable to me on this one . . .

Tonight, I want to tell you a story. It’s a story of good news and bad news, of villains and heroes, of deep questions and haunting answers. It’s a story of pain and heartache, and of final victory. It’s a story of battle and romance, of war and love. It’s an epic story, that many have heard and few truly understand. I think it’s the greatest and most powerful story I’ve ever known. In a way, it’s your story and my story. And it’s the story of the universe. [Read more…]

How To Make Sure Students Never Listen to Your Advice

People do stupid things all the time. There’s the young man who gives away his integrity by cheating on a test. There’s the young woman who tells mean stories about her ‘friends’ to look good with her other ‘friends.’ Then there’s the young man who trades his purity for a click on pornography, or the young woman who gives away her heart. And of course the big ones: alcohol, drugs, and pre-marital sex.

(Photo by LauraLewis23 at Creative Commons)

(Photo by LauraLewis23 at Creative Commons)

The question for the youth leader, of course, is how do we motivate young people to make right choices? How do we steer them away from the painful pitfalls of life and into the good plan that God has for them?

There are lots of failed strategies:
[Read more…]

12 Questions Young People are Asking–and You Should Know How to Answer

Have you ever walked away from a conversation and then thought about what you wished you had said?

Or, have you ever had a conversation scheduled, and wished you knew how it would go? Maybe you’re anticipating conflict or confrontation, and you wish you knew how the other person will respond.

Question Mark

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could know what is coming? This is especially true when sharing the gospel with someone. It would be so nice to know what their questions or objections will be … what their places of resistance or confusion will be.

Young people are asking 12 common questions today. These aren’t questions from a book. They aren’t from some smart professor at a college. These are questions that young people in Central and Eastern Europe are asking today … and perhaps young people around the world. I feature one of these questions from time-to-time on this blog.

In this talk, I intro the 12 questions material, and a basic strategy for walking with people through hard questions. If you want all of the 12 Questions material, sign up for my blog by email (on the right), and I’ll send you a free ebook with all 12 questions. Click here for a preview.

(If the audio player above doesn’t work, click here to play or download the file.)

(PS–If you enjoy this material, you might also enjoy 3 Essential Postures for Walking with Students Through Hard Questions and 5 Key Questions for Understanding the Mind of a Young Person. Or, click here for my audio page.)

3 Super-Practical Ways to Mentor Like Jesus

“He’s my mentor.”

“I want a mentor.”

“Why won’t anyone mentor me?”

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

(Original photo by FuLinHyu at Creative Commons)

We know that the younger generation longs to be mentored. And we know that Jesus commanded all believers to make disciples like He did–and that includes mentoring. But somehow, it doesn’t happen. The average mature believer in the church isn’t mentoring a younger believer. In fact, even many of us in leadership aren’t truly pouring ourselves into the next generation. It’s not for lack of good intention. It’s not because we’re willfully disobedient. So, what goes wrong? Why aren’t we living out Christ’s commission?

Maybe we don’t know how. [Read more…]

3 People You’d Never Want to Mentor–and Why Jesus Did . . .

When you hear the word “mentoring,” what do you picture? Maybe you picture a wise, savvy, seasoned leader pouring himself into a young, bright-eyed, potential-laden young person. Hungry to learn, he hangs on every word of this ministry sage, eager to immediately apply every lesson. It’s a beautiful picture–one of passing on lessons learned from one generation to the next.

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

(Photo by Andreas Øverland at Creative Commons)

Or, maybe you picture a mentoring group. Six or eight young leaders meet weekly with a veteran youth worker. Together, they study books, share stories, and learn from her years of wisdom. Their lives are forever marked by her presence and heart.

If you mention ‘mentoring’ at a youth ministry conference, you hear lots of guttural affirmations (“Mmm,” “Ahh,” and other such responses). It’s almost like we can all sense how important mentoring is, but we can’t find the words to actually describe it. And somehow, although we know it is vitally important, it never seems to go quite the way we imagined.

Maybe the wise, savvy, veteran leader doesn’t feel like he has time or resources to mentor someone younger. Or, maybe she doesn’t know how. And, often, the potential-laden young person is too arrogant or self-assured to bother with the advice of someone older. And then, there’s the questions of how and what: How do I mentor someone, and what do they need to know?

Turns out mentoring is a lot easier in our imagination than in real life.

I wonder if Jesus ever felt any of those things. I mean, can you imagine what it was like to mentor Peter, James, and John? [Read more…]

5 Can’t-Miss Lessons for Walking with People in Pain

As many of you know, this has been the hardest year of my life. I’ve lost count of the number of doctor’s visits we’ve had, but it’s well over 70. The battle with depression and discouragement has been just as real. Along the way, I’ve asked you for permission to share some of the things God is teaching me. But this post isn’t only about me–it’s about someone else who has walked in tremendous physical and emotional pain, and the things we’ve all been learning as we walk this road together. This one’s a bit longer than normal, but it comes from the gut. Thanks for letting us share some of the lessons we’ve learned . . .

(Photo by vajdic at sxc.hu)

(Photo by vajdic at sxc.hu)

It’s hard to walk with someone through times of tremendous pain. And tremendous pain is what my sister has experienced for 14 years. In 1999, she suffered a severe head injury. This led to too many problems to count–chronic, high-level pain . . . extreme fatigue . . . constant nausea and dizziness . . . loads of spinal problems . . . . Then, just as she was finally recovering, nearly 10 years later, disaster struck again. While on a work assignment in Peru, a bus she was riding got in a traffic accident. Faced again with spinal problems and a head injury, her body went into a fully reactive mode, and began to attack everything. She developed off-the-charts food allergies, and then the life-changing burden of Multiple Chemical Sensitivities. It was–and is–heart-breaking.

In the first years after her injury, she shared her world of pain with me by writing. I remember sitting at my desk in university, crying hot tears of anguish as I struggled to type a response. I remember walking the neighborhoods of NE Portland, yelling at God at the top of my lungs. The pain she has felt has been real and fresh. The questions we ask in those moments are raw and unfiltered. I was doing everything I could to understand what she was going through. She would say that I was one of the best at entering her pain with her. 

But I still I had no idea. 

And then it happened to me–to us. [Read more…]

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