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…]

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…]

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:

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…]

4 Ways Jesus Made Disciples–Which One Do You Do Best? (And Which One Are You Missing?)

“How big is your church?” “How big is your youth group?” “How big is your organization?” It’s often one of the first questions we ask to try to understand context. And, of course, it leads to lots of controversy. Should we listen to the 15,000 member mega-church pastor because the size of his church establishes his success? Or, should we listen to the pastor whose network has planted hundreds of house churches? And, most importantly, where does real disciple-making happen?

(Photo by satty4u at www.sxc.hu)

(Photo by satty4u at www.sxc.hu)

That is, after all, the goal: disciples. It was Jesus’ final command to His disciples, and it’s the churches primary responsibility. I heard Jim Brown put it this way: “BMW makes cars. Coca Cola makes soft drinks. The church makes disciples. It’s what we do.”

And we try to do it in a lot of different ways. One pastor of a large church, while teaching a class on preaching, told us his goal is always “More and better disciples. Not just more, not just better.” Others have told me that they have a ‘disciple-making church,’ focused on teaching God’s word and equipping believers. Some, however, scoff at the idea of large churches truly making disciples. “No one is actually discipled in a large group,” they say. Smaller is always better–after all, that’s what Jesus did, isn’t it?

Isn’t it?

I’ve taken a closer look at that lately. [Read more…]

Change Your Questions, Change Your Life . . .

Questions. They rattle through our heads like a string of cans tied to a scared dog’s tail, bouncing, crashing, skipping around erratically. The more noise they make the faster our mind goes . . .

What questions do you ask?

Will I have enough money in 2013 to pay my debts from 2012? Where should I go to college? Will that business deal come through this week? Will that person ever like me? What am I going to do with this medical situation?

For me right now, its
Will Liz fully recover soon? Can I learn this language, and soon? What next steps should we take in ministry, and will they work?

(Photo by photoloni at Creative Commons)

(Photo by photoloni at Creative Commons)

Questions. I wonder what questions you and I ask. And I wonder how those questions control our stress levels, our faith level, and, ultimately, our actions. What questions do you ask? [Read more…]

How Jesus Would Lead Your Small Group

What’s your dream for your small group? If you could ignore reality, what would you imagine? If everything went right and nothing ever—ever!—went wrong, what would your small group look like?

Maybe you dream of a small group where students share deeply and vulnerably from the depths of their soul.

Maybe you dream of a small group where students wrestle honestly and wisely with the deep questions of life.

Maybe you dream of a small group that is doubling in size every month because your students are so passionate about evangelism.

Maybe you wish they’d just sit still.

[Read more…]

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