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…]

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?

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…]

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.)

Can you help me?

Friends, a quick question for you. This Friday, I’m leading a 2-hour session on How to Lead Small Groups Like Jesus.  If you read our series on small groups (click here for a quick review), would you answer two questions for me?  This will really help me in my preparation for Friday!

#1) What was most helpful to you?  This could be an idea, a post, a paradigm shift, or a strategy.  I’d love to know what made a difference for you.

#2) What was missing?  What do you wish we had covered that we didn’t?  This could be a lingering question you have, or something you’ve learned that we missed.  I’d love to hear about the ‘holes’ in our conversation together.

Feel free to say as much or little as you wish.  Even a sentence or two will really help me!  Please leave your comments here, on the blog, so we can all discuss together.  Thanks!

(Getting this by email?  Click here to leave a comment!)

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…]

7 Simple Tricks Every Small Group Leader Should Know

We know that Jesus shared His most important truths in Small Groups. We’ve talked about 2 Essential Ways to Know if Your Small Group is Effective. We looked at the Teaching Secret of Jesus, and the Small Group Power Tool Every Small Group Leader Should Use. But, maybe you’re wondering, “What about the basics? What about the times I just can’t get my students to talk, or they’re so out of control we can’t focus on anything?”


Small Groups, Youth Ministry, Student Ministry, uthmin, stumin

(Photo by led_head101at Creative Commons) 

I don’t pretend to have all the answers to the small group problems we face. But here are 7 tricks every small group leader should know:
[Read more…]

Why We Changed How We Do Small Groups

This is a guest post by Jeremy Mavis. Jeremy is a fantastic pastor to children and middle school students, and a personal friend (he was even in my wedding!). I encourage you to read his blog at and follow him on Twitter. Enjoy!

Photo by waitscm at Creative Commons

Photo by waitscm at Creative Commons

By all accounts we were doing well. Most would call our middle school ministry successful. The preceding 8 years our group averaged 65 students each Wednesday night (and we live in a small, rural town). Many were consistent and faithful. We had a handful of outreach events throughout the year which got new students connected. Students were enjoying themselves. Each week there was an intentional effort to teach biblical content, not necessarily topical and relevant content (like dating, peer pressure, etc.), but those issues came to bear when we came across them biblically. We also played lots of dodgeball, which middle school students love (especially boys), while most of the girls talked and socialized on the sidelines of the gym.

So if things were seemingly going well, why was I so frustrated and bummed?

[Read more…]

The Small Group Power Tool Every Small Group Leader Should Use

It pains my masculinity to say this, but I don’t own any power tools. I have no cordless drill for putting things together. No sawzall for taking them apart. No table saw or chop saw or skill saw. Just a well used hand drill, a craftsman hand saw, and lots of elbow grease.

(Photo by Toolstop at Creative Commons)(Photo by Toolstop at Creative Commons)

I used to have power tools. I had a cordless drill, a skill saw, and even a table saw someone had given me. But the electricity is different here in Europe, so my power tools don’t work. I’m back to the basics.

I hurt myself a lot less with hand tools. There are less close calls, less chances of cutting off a finger, and less mis-cuts and mistakes.

There is less risk.

I also get a lot less done.

And there are certain things only a power tool can do.
[Read more…]

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