Saturday, October 8, 2011

Unforgettable Christlike Character: The key to successful youth ministry.

Kids, for the most part, won't remember your lessons much. Oh, one might remember something you said around the campfire if it happened to be a pivotal moment in their spiritual lives. One of my kids, now in college, recalled a weekend retreat as the funnest time of her life. Not actually a lesson. Actually a group did remember that a lesson entitled "Hippo-grits" was about hypocrites because I served them grits for a snack. They did not remember what the lesson was about.

What they all remember, however, is me and that I cared about them. In ten years how will your kids look back and remember you? Will your memory bring back warm feeling of acceptance and love or alienation and bitterness? Will they remember youth group as a place of loving support or just another thing they had to do to please someone? Will you be remembered as a person who had an authentic relationship with God or will they realize the person they remembered was just modeling surface Christianity?

How is your heart? Steve Camp has this great song called "Don't tell them Jesus loves them, till you're ready to love them too." Good song. Worth a listen. You can download it through this link.

Don't Tell Them Jesus Loves Them [Music Download]

By Steve Camp / Emi Cmg Distribution Download

Motivation to do youth ministry varies widely. Parents will often times become youth leaders out of necessity. Their kids are in the age group and no one else is stepping up. They marshal their fears and plunge in to do their duty. Their fear becomes evident as they take steps to ensure class discipline and maintain control. They get angry when kids act up. Sometimes they yell at them.

Professional youth ministers, those schooled in the art, may be motivated by nothing more than using youth ministry as a stepping stone to a senior pastor position. They design a program that displays their skill but has minimal personal relationships with the kids.

Some youth pastors who experienced an adolescence filled with aches and pains are determined to save other kids from the same fate. They would have enjoyed having someone care about them during that stage of their lives. However, their ministry might dangerously be more about meeting their own heart's desire for love than actually helping the kids. It's a short step to an improper relationship with a teen.

So what is the proper motivation for a youth leader and how do we know if we have it?

The mature Christian youth leader is deeply satisfied in their relationship with God and has no unconscious demands that the child returns their affections. An effective youth leader looks at a child and sees the enormous potential that child has to affect their relationships with sincere God-centered love. This youth pastor wants nothing more than to help that young person learn to love God and others. This motivation grows out of their own deep personal love for God.

If you are this kind of youth leader I applaud you. You will strive hard to teach your kids about God and the reasons he is worthy of their love. You will model for them a heart that is profoundly touched by the Holy Spirit. Your lessons, though they may not be remembered, will change the core of who they are. They will listen attentively because the want what you naturally display: joy, peace, patience, and love.

Effective youth ministry certainly requires accurate doctrine and sound Biblical knowledge. But it also requires a depth of maturity attained only by those who are honest with themselves. Dr. Larry Crabb, in his book Inside Out, says this requires a deep honest look inside ourselves to reveal what's really going on in our hearts.
60992: Inside OutInside Out

By Dr. Larry Crabb / NAV Press

"Why do things go so wrong when I'm trying so hard to be right?" If you've ever asked yourself this question, Crabb has a few answers. "Far too many Christians do not deal honestly with their lives. The pathway to change is more often discussed and debated than displayed." In his warm, engaging style, Crabb helps you venture inside yourself where Christ is waiting to heal, restore, and fulfill. Real wholeness and real change are possible---if you're willing to start from the inside out.
Besides the Bible, I have benefited more from this book than any other. I highly recommend every Christian who is serious about an authentic faith reads this book. You will be able to model Christlike character that is unforgettable.

Sunday, June 12, 2011


You wouldn't believe what the pastor said in his sermon today. Well, maybe you would. Everyone else seemed to be buying it just fine. I'm starting to wonder if discernment is dead in the church today. Paul foretold of this age in 2 Timothy 4:3-4 "For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths."

Discernment has been defined by some as "the ability to decide (right or wrong, true or false) concerning a testament or statement." Some have mistakenly thought that discernment is a Spiritual Gift bestowed only on chosen individuals. However, the only place discernment is mentioned in the Bible associated with Spiritual Gifts is 1 Corinthians 12:10. Here it is the "ability to distinguish between spirits (NIV)." Websters dictionary defines discernment as "showing good, or outstanding judgement and understanding."

To me, discernment is far more than an ability. Discernment must be a willingness to look deeply into a subject and make a sound judgement. The question then is, "Do Christians care enough to be willing to become good at discernment?" We see that people can be very enthusiastic about a variety of topics. Fantasy football is a good example. Participants will eagerly study and learn statistics about teams and players to create the best pseudo-football team. From my view, concerning churchgoers, I'm not seeing that kind of enthusiasm for sound doctrine these days.

Paul gives young Timothy an important directive: 2Timothy 4:5 "But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry." Are you teaching your kids to be able to discern truth from error, to be good judges, or have you rushed with the lemmings to embrace Rob Bell's heretical teachings. Are you of more noble character, willing to "examine the scriptures" to see (Acts 17:11) if what he's saying is true?

921381: You Mean That Isn"t in the Bible? 10 Popular Beliefs That Simply Aren"t TrueYou Mean That Isn't in the Bible? 10 Popular Beliefs That Simply Aren't True

Believe it or not, the saying "God helps those who help themselves" is not found in the Bible. This and several other popular beliefs that emerged out of Christian culture are examined by David Rich. Looking to the Bible, Rich explores the Scriptural basis for where these ideas began, and leads you to the true source of God's wisdom for your life.

Just as dangerous a course is to try and shield or protect our young ones from the tough questions. They will be confronted by false teachings all of their lives. "Keep your head." Work hard to reach your kids with doctrinal truths and build their faiths to withstand the tricks of the enemy. Middle school age kids are quite ready to tackle the tough stuff of faith.

Parents expect us to cover topics like sex and drugs with their kids. "Enduring hardship" might, however, include a tongue lashing from a parent for discussing death, hell, circumcision, meditation, and other religions with their kids. Teaching your kids to question what they hear can appear as though you are advocating rebellion against their parents and other authority figures. Teach my lesson, "Judging v.s. Judgmental."

409067: Who Are You to Judge? Learning to Distinguish Between Truths, Half-Truths and LiesWho Are You to Judge? Learning to Distinguish Between Truths, Half-Truths and Lies

By Erwin W. Lutzer / Moody Publishers

Making wise judgments in an anything-goes world is the Christian's mandate---and it's not easy! Lutzer chastises the church for its tolerance of secular values and lifestyles and challenges believers with their responsibility to be a force for what's right. Learn how to make godly decisions concerning doctrine, entertainment, miracles, conduct, character, and more.
If you do decide to become a discerning Christian you might bump into Biblical knowledge that actually contradicts something your senior pastor has taught. Will you dare ask him questions about it or will you keep your head down and avoid it? You could be accused of "stirring up dissension." You could loose your job if it's handled poorly. Are you noble enough to defend truth even when it's terribly unpopular? Give it some thought.

To help you teach your kids this essential faith element I have added a new page to Sunday School Lesson Connection website with three free teen Bible lessons covering Discernment, Spotting Counterfeits, and Judging

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Encourge Families and Kids to Hit the PAUSE Button.

Last week I taught a lesson a lesson to help kids when they doubt that God really exists. Unfortunately the guy who had actually expressed these doubts leaned up against the wall and promptly fell asleep. Why? He had competed in a sports event the day before in a neighboring state driving there and back in one day.

Last summer I had one of my volunteers cover a Sunday school for me. He had the kids lie down in the grass, look at the sky and think about how big God was. Most of the class, including the teacher, fell soundly asleep. Everyone actually really enjoyed the class that day.

Quite often the kids who show up for Sunday school, or "Youth Church" as we call it, look totally whipped. There is very little energy to participate in an activity let alone concentrate on the lesson. A large percentage of the kids of the church families are only frequent attendees preferring to sleep in. Some go skiing (can't blame them for that).

Being too busy is not a new issue. Feeling like we actually need to do something about it is. We've covered the subject of "systemic abandonment" before. It's the idea that kids live in a performance-based society. The only way they feel loved is by meeting someone else's expectations; their parents, coaches, teachers, even youth pastors. Kid's are willing to run at this frenetic pace because they believe that their performance is our chief concern and the way they earn love. They also begin to believe this about God. They feel they need to earn God's love and earn salvation by their Christian performance. In our rush to give our kids every opportunity we have left their hearts bereft of a love that sustains. The heartache has given rise to songs like, "Who will Love Me For Me."

Many adults, concerned with the over committed fast paced lives of our kids, quickly suggest that parents par down their kids schedules. Youth pastors will easily encourage parents to ease off on the after school activities. Unfortunately the underlying motive for the youth pastor is to increase attendance to his midweek youth group event.

In fact what is really needed is just plain "down time" with people, like their parents, who love them unconditionally. They don't need to be doing anything.

My son and I had a regular habit of camping on the weekends. There are a lot of things you can do on a camping trip. However my budget didn't allow for much. No ATV's, no dirt bikes, no boats, just resting. I'm sure that if we could have afforded the toys we would have played with the toys but we couldn't. Our camping involved good food, reading by the camp fire, an occasional hike, some fishing, and a lot of talking. It was also understood that Saturday or Sunday morning would include a time for quiet personal reflection, Bible study, and prayer. So, unintentionally on our part (or by divine design on God's part) we built relationships. Deep relationships of love, caring, and mutual respect with each other and with God.

Relationship with God is most important in our home, an attitude that was passed from parents to children. Our kids may not have gotten all the toys or opportunities the kids up the road in Aspen get but they got the "one thing" that made all the difference.

Our daughter was killed in an accident when she was fourteen. On her computer we found over thirty poems she had written to God. She'd spend many evenings in her room reading her Bible. We could hear her singing praise songs through the door. She wasn't an awesome student and didn't participate in many extracurricular activities but she had a faith that was real. We are certain she is in heaven enjoying her creator and we will see her again. We had a solid relationship of which I have no regrets.

At nineteen our son is shooting for a Masters degree. He is an awesome student and developed his own missionary job to inner city kids in Denver. (Ya, we're pretty proud of him) His relationship with God is foundational to who he is.

If, as a parent, your desire is to give your kids the best of everything carefully consider what the best actually is. Most kids do not end up as professional sports players but do carry sports related injuries to body and soul through adulthood. Some do get into excellent schools by merit or talent. The reward might be a higher paying job than I have. But what of their relationships? Have they learned what real love is? Did they get to enjoy you (you are enjoyable by the way)? Did they see you enjoying your relationship with your heavenly father? Will they learn how to love their spouse from your example?

Well, I can see that this note has taken on a definite parental tone. As a youth pastor, you might not even be a parent yet. So what can you, as a youth leader, do to help over-committed teens? Omitting your mid-week meeting might be one thing. Discuss it with the powers-that-be before shutting it down of course. Carefully consider if the benefits of attendance outweighs the negative side effects. Perhaps the time could be better spent for a "family night," a time set aside each week for families to put everything else away and play a game, watch a movie, or simply lay out under the stars. It would be good to get your master Pastor on board with the plan. He can encourage the parents to pursue a family night so the time doesn't just get swallowed into a hectic family schedule.

Take a look at "The Pause" lesson plans (shown below) from Simply Youth Ministry. These are lessons designed to help kids develop a deep relationship with God. There's a sample to download free.

The Pause [Leaders Kit] - Physical

The Pause

Generation Multitask. It's a fitting label for today's over-committed, over-entertained teenager. School, band, sports practice, work, volunteering, and hours of "screen time," all create a tremendous drain on teens' time. Where is the time for cultivating their relationship with Christ? The Pause teaches teenagers to hit pause and spend time growing their relationship with God. In today's fast paced world these are skills your students must have. The Pause, one of the 4-lesson studies in the 360 Discipleship line of curriculum, will teach students how to pray, how to memorize Scripture, and how to study specific passages of the Bible.

Check and see if the parents actually have a daily quiet-time of their own. I've heard it said that you can't lead anyone farther down the road then you've been." How are you doing with your quiet time? Do you have a love relationship with God? It's hard to model what you don't have. It might be time us, as youth leaders, to hit the pause button too.