One Vital Question that will Transform Your Teaching


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

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:

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…]

Lessons from a Snow Leopard

I stood there, frozen. His two, predator eyes were locked on me and my family. His long, thick tail twitched back and forth, and his body sank into a crouch. A chill ran down my spine as I saw his powerful front paws and his razor-sharp claws. The snow leopard watched me, his gaze unblinking. Death was embodied in that stare. 

(Photo by Peet van Schalkwyk at Creative Commons)

(Photo by Peet van Schalkwyk at Creative Commons)

Turning to Liz, I said, “Well, shall we keep going?” Caleb said, “See you tomorrow, snow leopards.” Bailey started to pull on the leash, and with that we continued our daily walk past the local zoo.

Here’s a simple question for us: Are we preparing our students for life in the real world, or life in the zoo?

Here’s what I mean. Maybe snow leopards in the zoo have all the perks. They never have to hunt for their food. They’re never in danger of predator or hunter. A veterinarian gives them regular checkups. They’re fat, clean, and well nourished. They haven’t a care in the world.

They’re also not really living.

[Read more…]

Dear Children’s Ministry Worker . . .

Dear Children’s Ministry Worker,

Let me say the most important thing first: You’re my hero. You’re investing your life into one of the most important age groups on the planet. Jesus loved children. We’re all called to be like children. And you spend your days investing in these precious souls who are our future—and our present. Thank you.

I’m the one who leads and loves them when they ‘graduate’ for your area of focus. Of course, the church isn’t really like a relay race—we don’t just pass on the baton and then forget about it—but I’m the one who sees them for the 6–8 years after they’ve left your care. It gives me a bit of a unique perspective as to the nature of your—and our—work.

I’m not an expert in children’s ministry, so I won’t try to offer lots of deep insight into how to do the job you love. Instead, I’ll offer some observations—some things I see—and what the implications might be …

Friends, I’m a guest poster on today. I encourage you to check out the website there. My friend, Jeremy Mavis, helps run it. Click here to read the rest of this post.

5 Keys to Understanding Faith Development in Middle School Students

As a former Middle School Pastor, I have to laugh at the antics of middle school students sometimes.  Mostly, they are a lot of fun to be around.  However, over the years I have heard things from long time youth ministry veterans that bother me like, “The problem is, they are not human yet”.  Another one I’ve heard is, “Your job is to entertain them until they get to high school, so we can have real conversations”.  God gives me the grace to ponder such thoughts without absorbing unintended condescension toward those who dedicated their lives to serve middle school students and their families.

(Photo by Thriving Ink at Creative Commons)

(Photo by Thriving Ink at Creative Commons)

When I looked beyond such over-stated view points, it causes me to ponder the ministry to which I had dedicated many years of my life.  Engaging middle school students with the gospel and the kingdom of God is no small task.  Middle school students are different from high school students, and often challenging to reach with the gospel if you do not understand them.

Here are five keys to understanding middle school students and their faith: [Read more…]

3 Essential Postures for Walking with Students Through Hard Questions

Yesterday, we looked at the cataclysmic changes that happen in a person’s thinking at about age 12. (If you missed it, click here to read it before this post.) We asked, “What are the implications for us, as leaders and parents? How do we help them walk through this cataclysmic time?” Here are three postures:
[Read more…]

5 Key Questions for Understanding the Mind of a Young Person

What if my whole family were Mormon? Would I still believe my version of Christianity is the only way to God?
Why would a good God let my friend’s dad die?
How do you know that is true?
You say God is loving, and you also say that He severely punishes sin. How does that fit together?
I know who you think I am. I know who my parents think I am. But, who am I, really?

(Photo by nasrulekram at Creative Commons)

(Photo by nasrulekram at Creative Commons)

These are all questions I was asking in High School. You probably were too. We’ve all heard these questions from teenagers, sometimes delivered with a bit of venom and the quickness of a snake strike. The adolescent heart seems to brim with questions that are aching to be asked. What is the source of this fountain of questions? And what is the best strategy for navigating this minefield?

We’ve talked about how people develop in stages, and about how young people make decisions. Today, we want to begin to understand how their entire thinking process changes—and the implications for us.
[Read more…]

Here’s One Way Young People Make Decisions–and How it Affects You

I only remember one or two real arguments with my dad, and this was one of them. As a freshman in High School, we were both adjusting to the new version of ‘me.’ I said something he didn’t like. He got frustrated, and then threatened consequences. I pushed back. It escalated. We both got angry. We spoke words in frustration. Then we both went to bed.

And so it goes, in thousands of homes around the world everyday.

What is it about teenagers that is so frustrating?!!

(Photo by mdanys at Creative Commons)

(Photo by mdanys at Creative Commons)

What is it about adults that is so frustrating?!!

Why do some parents succeed at parenting children but fail with young people? Why do others thrive?
[Read more…]

Here’s One Reason that Adults and Teenagers (Often) Don’t Understand Each Other

Jack and Jill had three wonderful children, ages 5, 8, and 11. They were wise parents, and seemed to have the magic touch of discipline and grace. Their three children were model citizens—a pleasure for teachers and peers alike.

(Photo by Ayla 87 at

(Photo by Ayla 87 at

Then something odd happened. Over the next 8 years, they lost influence with each of their children. One-by-one, their children turned a deaf ear. One of them outwardly rebelled. Another simply broke off contact. A third appeared to listen, but then didn’t do anything they said.

You’ve likely seen a similar situation play out dozens of times. Parents who seem to excel at raising younger children simply fail with teenagers. What goes wrong?
[Read more…]

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