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…]

DISCIPLESHIP IS NOT A BUFFET!

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…]

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…]

FINDING MAGNET VOLUNTEERS: Adult Volunteers

2180506499_b80bc6e97f_o1I was 14 years old and leading the youth ministry for a church of 1,500 people. At least, that’s how it looked to the parents and youth staff. In reality I was 22, but it didn’t make much difference. I looked young, I had no “real” experience, and they weren’t sure I knew what I was doing. Have you been there?

I was especially puzzled by how to lead the team of 30 volunteer youth staff. They didn’t know anything about me. They didn’t know who I was or what I believed. I was just a baby-faced, 22-year-old kid trying to lead their youth ministry. Many were more than twice my age. Some had raised kids older than me. How was I supposed to earn their respect and allegiance?

Just last month, I was sitting in a small group of youth leaders. One of them asked, “How do I get more commitment from my volunteer staff?” It made me think back a decade to those early years of youth ministry. How do you, as a young youth leader, gain the allegiance of your youth staff? My problem wasn’t a lack of quality people—my youth staff was loaded with them. But I needed to know how to lead them, how to win their trust. That included lots of things, but none was more important than the advice of a close friend (and veteran youth leader).

“You need a magnet couple,” he said. [Read more…]

Lead Like a Shepherd, Not Like a Sheepdog

Friends, this post marks the first of a regular contribution to Leader Treks, a student leadership development ministry using trips, innovative training, and curriculum to help students identify and develop their personal leadership skills. I recommend you check out their site, and their blog. It’s full of great stuff. And, check out my first blog on their site, here.

I was afraid I had lost the whole group. Not physically—thankfully!—but as a team. They were the most frustrating group of student leaders I’ve ever had. We were in the middle of a summer full of whitewater rafting camps and leadership training, and they were content to sit on the sidelines while others did the work of engaging, serving, and leading.ID-10099648

Again and again, I pulled them aside and challenged them to step out of their comfort zones. Again and again, I made them aware of their selfish, small-minded ways. But nothing seemed to help. We were at a stalemate. I had a mutiny on my hands. And I had no idea how to turn the ship.

Have you ever been there? Have you led a group that was derailed by a group of students who simply wouldn’t respond? Have you dug to the bottom of your “bag of tricks,” only to come up empty? [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 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:

Do We Tell Students the Wrong Gospel?

Maybe we don’t share the gospel because we don’t know the gospel. Or, maybe we share the gospel wrong. I don’t know–I’m a long ways from being an expert on evangelism. But here’s what I have noticed–we seem to spend a lot of time and effort trying to motivate and teach people to share the gospel. And, in the process, we assume they–and we–know the gospel. But I’m not sure we do . . .

I’ve noticed that our versions of the gospel don’t seem to match the gospel that the apostles shared in the book of Acts. We emphasize different things. We leave stuff out that they say. We say stuff that they leave out. In fact, our versions of the gospel often don’t even match the gospel that Jesus tells.

I’m sure I don’t have it completely right either–it’s a work in process. But here’s my attempt at telling the gospel in a way that more closely matches the gospel told by the church’s first messengers–the apostles. Tell me what you think!

[Read more…]

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