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…]

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.

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:

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

(Photo by satty4u at

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…]

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…]

A Teaching Secret of Jesus

I was a second-year youth leader. In the midst of a study on guy/girl relationships, it was time to talk about pre-marital sex. Some students had heard 100’s of times they shouldn’t have sex outside of marriage. Others were considering the idea for the first time—and considered it laughable. The statistics weren’t in their favor. Many students have sex outside of marriage. How to help them deeply wrestle with God’s plan for sex?

Photo by Michael Cordedda at Creative Commons

Photo by Michael Cordedda at Creative Commons

I knew my goal. I wanted them to bring their hearts to the conversation and think new thoughts.  How to help them do this?

[Read more…]

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