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…]

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…]

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…]

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…]

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.

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(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.’

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(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…]

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…]

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…]

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