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…]

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…]

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…]

The Secret Power of Empathy

“Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way when you criticize them, you are a mile away from them and you have their shoes.”
~ Jack Handey

(Photo by elvinstar at http://www.sxc.hu/)

(Photo by elvinstar at http://www.sxc.hu/)

The power of empathy, of course, isn’t a new idea:

“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” (Steven Covey)
“Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry …” (James 1:19)
“Nature has given us two ears, two eyes, and but one tongue-to the end that we should hear and see more than we speak.” (Socrates)

Young people–perhaps more than any other age group–covet empathy. They melt when someone really listens. They bristle when we don’t. Simply put, if we listen, they listen. If we don’t, they don’t.

I can’t count the times I’ve listened to a student, empathized with a student, and cried with a student. And then they’ve said, “I’ve never talked with anyone about this before.” Not their parents. Not their teachers. Not their friend’s parents. Maybe us ‘adults’ aren’t so good at empathizing. And maybe it’s harder than it looks . . .

Why are we so afraid to show empathy to teenagers? Why do we rush to speak, to be heard, to make our opinions clear? Why don’t we truly engage? [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 Wesleyankids.org 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…]

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