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Getting Your Kids To Stop Being Selfish and Take Some Initiative

There are times in your world of parenting that your kids amaze you and you can’t believe how well they can take some initiative and how eager they are to do it. But there are also times when you feel like your head is going to explode as you try and figure out how they can be so blind to the world around them and so selfish. You know those moments. There are times one of the kids takes the initiative and does something really cool for another person? Holding a door, unloading the dishwasher or eagerly willing to learn how to cut the lawn. Or there’s that other moment—you ask for a favor and instead of a willing heart and a smiling face, you are met with weeping and gnashing of teeth.

It’s literally a moment to moment thing. And it drives us crazy. What’s the secret formula? How do I get my kid to always think of others, to take the initiative to see what ought to be done, who ought to be helped out and just do? The mere thought of reminding our kids one more time to pay attention, to do the right thing, to stop being selfish just might push us over the edge. 

But they are our kids. We love them. We coach them. We find levels of patience and persistence others can only read about in fairy tales. But wouldn’t it be nice if these supernatural abilities were just a tad bit more natural? 

Here are some thoughts that might help. 

Expect the Fail and Celebrate the Win

Yes, I know. Expecting our kids to fail seems a bit harsh—maybe even mean. Hang with me for a second though. Our kids are learning. They are sinners. They are going to mess up…a lot. And that’s okay. Getting it wrong and learning is a better teacher than getting it right because you got lucky. Getting it wrong gives you the opportunity as teacher and coach to teach valuable lessons through the failure. So when they do get it right, you can celebrate the win and your kids can savor the victory. 

Teach Them to See

It’s that sin nature thing again coming back to haunt all of us. When your kid does something really dumb and you ask the all important question, “Why did you do that?” What’s their response? “I don’t know.” Such a lame response! Come on! But the truth is, they really don’t know! Because they aren’t seeing the situation—the whole world in fact—the way you do. You have to teach them how to see and what they ought to be looking for. This is where building a house that is centered on Jesus becomes really practical—teaching our kids to see what needs to be done and doing it. Teaching our kids to be Jesus-centered is, in part, teaching them to take the initiative. 

DIY Disciple-Making Moments

Building the right kind of foundation that builds a strong faith and a family centered on Jesus requires that we build the right kind of habits. And for our kids, it’s the little things of everyday life that matter most. It’s about what we see, how we respond, how we treat others, and how we show God’s love to those around us. These are simple conversations we can all have throughout our day that will continually point our kids to Jesus in a very real and tangible way. So don’t wait for the moments to come. Don’t wait for the next Sunday, the next youth group night, or small group meeting. Look into every moment and find the disciple-making lesson in it. It’s in there, I promise. 

A good coach or teacher comes to each practice or class with a plan. They know what they want to accomplish, the general idea of how that’s going to happen, and what defines success. Imagine what discipleship could look like if we approached it the same way? Getting our kids to take the initiative—to see what needs to be done and getting it done is a huge step in discovering what it means to follow Him and putting Him at the center of everything. 

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Easter is Better than Christmas…and I Can Prove It.

I sincerely believe that Easter Sunday is a better holiday than Christmas. Now before clicking on to something else because you think I am crazy, read on. If you asked your kids which holiday is better, we all know the answer. It’s Christmas ten times out of ten. After all, most of us don’t start counting down days until Easter the minute Easter is over. But, without fail I see no less than a dozen memes on social media on December 26, telling me I have only 364 shopping days left. Radio stations don’t dedicate their music to strictly Easter songs in February in anticipation of our favorite spring holiday. The trees, lights, presents, etc.—you get the idea. If it’s a popularity contest, Christmas wins every time.

But I still believe Easter is better than Christmas. Far too often as Christians we easily forget that our entire Sunday worship experience is built off the first Easter Sunday. In fact, everything we believe to be true hangs by a single thread—Easter. 

I made this claim a few years ago to my kids and explained my reasoning to them through a series of questions. Now to be clear, I do intend on Easter gaining much ground on the popularity of Christmas. I am not messing with the birth of Jesus. But I wanted to make sure that my family had the right perspective, reverence, and gratitude. If Christmas is about hope promised, Easter is about hope, fulfilled.

How this week different than every other week? 

Easter is about more than a day. It’s a week. Jesus enters his final week of ministry and his earthly life on a donkey into Jerusalem. He knows what is about to happen, but the people have it all backwards. In their minds, if he is the promised Messiah, then he is now entering the city to claim his rightful place as king over Israel and will free them from Roman bondage and the obnoxious religious restrictions of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

This is what Palm Sunday is all about, the juxtaposition of the hope and anticipation of the people and the sadness and anxiety of Jesus. Throughout the week he does anything but the expected, yet it’s all leading up to an entirely different kind of salvation. Rather than an earthly kingdom, it’s a spiritual one. Rather than saving Israel from Rome, it’s saving her from herself (as in our sins).

How is Easter Sunday different from other Sundays?

This is literally THE Sunday of all Sunday’s. Yes, even Super Bowl Sunday. Our celebration and worship every other Sunday is because of Resurrection Sunday. The people may have hoped for an earthly kind of salvation, but the resurrection of Jesus gives us an entirely new kind of hope. The death and resurrection of Jesus is the entry way for our adoption as sons and daughters of the king, the new hope of a life to come, and the endurance from the Spirit to wait for it expectantly.

Easter Sunday is the celebration of the brief moment that heaven and earth collided to provide each of us a way out from our sin and a way to be reconciled with our Creator. Death came because of Adam, so in Adam we all die. But since Christ defeated death, we can be alive in Him. 

“The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin in the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:56-57)

Why does this week become dark and sad and then end in celebration? 

On the one hand we want to remember how Israel misplaced their hope in an earthly king. Remember that God told Israel before Saul was anointed Israel’s first king, they didn’t need a king, because God would be their king. Yet they wanted one anyway. Without the full picture, Israel’s hope would continue to be misplaced and misunderstood.

On the other hand, Jesus, completely human in every way except for sin, went to cross as an innocent man to take the punishment for the sins of humanity. I don’t think, in our modern culture we reflect on the magnitude of such an act enough. I think we understand it intellectually, but we don’t let its truth affect our soul. The crucifixion, properly understood, should fundamentally change our thoughts and how we choose to live.

The week leading up to and through Good Friday should provide us the opportunity to enter that moment, to sit with Jesus at the table, eat the bread, drink the wine, betray him, abandon him, and deny him. We cannot be afraid to wrestle with the likelihood that we would have faired no better than the disciples did that night. But don’t forget, we also get to discover the empty tomb.

Why on Easter Sunday do we gather with families and eat while on other Sunday’s we don’t?

Now this one may not necessarily be true for everyone, but the idea I am getting at is community and it’s time to party. The morning has come, the tomb is empty, Jesus is alive, hope is alive, and the world is forever changed. It’s time to celebrate. So naturally, we want to celebrate with as many people as we can.

Dressing up in our Easter best, having a great big meal, enjoying family and friends—all things we do when we celebrate, and Easter Sunday should be the celebrations of celebrations.

Easter Sunday is about more than just spring, eggs, bunnies, and chocolate. It’s about the Messiah who defeated death so we could have life. It’s about the manifestation of hope. It’s literally the gospel in action. Enjoy it, participate in it, and celebrate it, because, yes, it’s better than Christmas.

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3 Keys to Helping Our Kids Understand Faith in Jesus

If you have ever tried to help a young child understand faith, then you know how difficult of a task that is. It’s not a concept that is entirely concrete–it’s a bit abstract. So it’s hard for a young mind to fully comprehend and appreciate it. It requires us to explain faith as trusting in something or someone without having all the information simply because that person or thing is trustworthy. Like I said…hard.

But what can help us is a short conversation between Jesus and two others being crucified with him that Luke records for us in his gospel. A story that contains incredible significance as to how we disciple our kids because it lays to appropriate groundwork for understanding what it means to have faith in Jesus.

The Faith of a Thief

On one side is a thief who looks at Jesus with contempt—as if this moment is proof enough that Jesus is a fraud. “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39). However, the other thief not only understands the condition of his own heart, but also recognizes Jesus as the true Messiah. And without hesitation puts his faith in him. It’s quite likely that he understood the Jewish expectation of the Messiah, caught, at least a glimpse of Jesus’ ministry, and accurately added up the evidence to conclude that Jesus was the fulfillment of God’s promise to the nation of Israel and the rest of the world. 

Although it might be easy to gloss over this moment or get caught up debating this man’s eternal future—we must not miss the gospel plain and simple hidden in this short interaction. The thief on the cross knows his sin, accepts the punishments and in asking Jesus to “remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Is both and statement of belief and a request for forgiveness. This man put his faith in the promise of God made real in Jesus. 

But here’s the thing, as parents, we can’t just meditate on these truths or admire them from afar and hope our kids just some how “get it.” We have to help them catch it, own it, and live it. So here are a few ways, as parents, can help brings the idea of faith to a whole new level of understanding and create habits that will greatly impact their walk with Jesus. 

Memorize Hebrews 11:1 to Help Frame Up Faith

I am a big fan of memory verses. Maybe I still have some Awana in my blood. When it comes to faith, Hebrews 11:1 is a no brainer. It frames up any conversation about faith perfectly. Talk about it, put it on your fridge, on your bathroom mirror, at their bedside—every place the whole family is going to see it. But here is the trick—you have to memorize it too. If you do, you will greatly increase the chances they will too. 

Look for Practical Ways to Define Faith

This is a hard concepts for young minds—it’s a little too abstract. So as adults, we have to explain it a lot and in a lot of different ways. So throughout your week, look for teachable moments to help drive home the point. Which incidentally comes from Hebrews 11:1 (see what we did there?). 

Find and Share Your Reasons For Having Faith

Remember, the thief likely had reasons. But even more than that, we are given to reasons to have faith in God’s promises all throughout Scripture. Think about Moses, Elijah, Gideon, the miracles of Jesus, and even the activity of the early church. God always shows up and shows off. So as a family, talk this week about how God has shown up in your lives and how that has grown your faith in him. 

As always, remember that disciple-making is an ongoing process and those important teachable moments often don’t coordinate with our busy schedules—nonetheless, take the time to take advantage. We only get one shot at raising our kids. 

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Our Students Are Poised to Create Change. Start With Teaching Students This…

You may have noticed that most of our youth—if not all—already know they should love others. In fact, that is one of the great things about GenZ. They have a great capacity to love others. Largely because they see people differently—better in fact. They live in a more diverse world and love it. Being so connected to the rest of the world has opened their eyes to injustice and they want desperately to right the wrongs of the world. They love the idea of being conduits of hope in the lives of others. Just imagine if we focused our energy into teaching our students to create change focused on the gospel.

As youth leaders and parents, we have to help them experience what it means reflect the love of Christ—through experience—it’s how they are wired to learn. It is what is necessary if our students are going to thrive and create change. You don’t need a new program or some complex system, you just need a few simple steps. Let me show you what I mean. 

Teaching Your Students to Pray

Zac’s dad was your typical tough guy. Never once did Zac see his dad cry, be really sad, or even really happy. Until one night, Zac had woken up only a few hours after going to bed. Needing a drink of water, he headed down the stairs to the kitchen. What he discovered would change his relationship with his father forever; and to be honest, change the trajectory of his life. 

His dad was praying. Not for himself. He wasn’t trying to wrestle through a tough situation at work or in his marriage. He was praying for everyone he knew who didn’t know Jesus. But that’s not the best part. As this man prayed, he wept. He was literally crying out to God asking for help to reach his friends who did not yet know Jesus. 

Before that moment, Zac’s exposure to prayer was limited to a few times in church, prayers before dinner and bed, and the occasional personal plea for help in a difficult situation. But in that moment, Zac saw prayer impact the posture of his father’s heart towards others. 

Jesus taught us that we should pray for our enemies and those who persecute us. We should pray for the salvation of others, pray that we don’t fall into temptation, and pray that God’s will be done. Prayer is certainly the ongoing communication with God, but it also serves as the litmus test of the true condition of our hearts. We have to get our students to move beyond the routine prayers before meals and bed, get beyond praying before taking a test, having a personal problem, or reserving it for Sundays. When we teach our students to practice the spiritual habit of prayer—for others—it will fundamentally change how they see those people, how they talk to them, and how they treat them. 

If we are teaching our students to love like Jesus, it has to begin with prayer. 

Teaching Your Students to Serve

Narcism is on the rise. Self-promotion is an art form on social media, and given the number of safe spaces, trigger warnings, and cries of victimhood on college campus around the United States, it’s easy to see just who our students are being taught to care about the most—themselves. 

Instead of being offended at nearly everything, we can teach students to intentionally seek the good for others. When I propose this idea of intentionally seeking out others, most pastors and parents jump to getting students involved in serving their community. And that is a good first step.

But I want to challenge you to go bigger. Let’s be honest, for most of us, serving total strangers—while helpful, needed, and does grow us spiritually—can only take us so far. They are strangers. We likely won’t ever see them again. Challenge your students to serve their friends, teachers, coaches, and family members. 

But how? First, start with conversations. Don’t assume your students know how to effectively communicate with another person. But teaching them how to listen, how to ask great questions, and how to express empathy will have profound impact on their relationships. 

Second, help students see what serving others as a daily habit looks like. Teaching students Christ-like love has to get beyond the bi-yearly service project. For serving to be an extension and expression of love for our neighbors, it has to become part of the rhythm of our daily routines. Maybe it’s helping clean a classroom, helping a fellow student with homework, doing the dishes at home without being asked, or just listening to someone vent about their day.

When we serve others without the interference of our narcissistic tendencies, we can forever change the course of that relationship. Thereby opening the doors for truth-driven, gospel-saturated conversations. 

The goal is to enter into a deeper conversation to build a relationship that offers hope. That kind of depth doesn’t happen by silently pouring soup into the bowl of a homeless person. 

Teaching them Confidence In Sharing The Truth

This can be where trying to love like Christ can get tricky. For many of us—students included—the minute we start talking about sharing truth, we become filled with fear and anxiety. But unless we confront and address the dangers of cultural tolerance and look out for the best interests of others, we aren’t being loving. Christ-like love is the kind of love that exposes darkness with light and exposes destructive behaviors in others. I love how Sean and Josh McDowell put it: “Truth is our best friend, and it is an inseparable part of what real love is.

While cultural tolerance may disguise itself as caring understanding, and loving, it lacks the moral authority of an authentic love that looks out for the best interest of others.” If love is going to be others-focused, then we must be able to speak truth boldly. 

This doesn’t mean pointing out every flaw, sin, or questionable behavior to everyone we meet. Unless of course you’re looking for the fastest way to be seen as a hypocrite and a self-righteous jerk. I’m guessing as a youth leader you’re not aiming to make disciples who people hate. But that’s where the fear settles in. We believe that sharing truth will actually make us appear to be unloving.

The trick is learning to ask good, thought-provoking questions rather than simply making assertions. Telling someone they are wrong sounds mean and hurtful. Asking someone why they think they’re right creates deeper conversations and builds trust. Shoving Jesus down a person’s throat is often too forceful for people to accept. But offering Jesus as the true source of hope shows them you might actually care. 

As youth leaders we need to remind students it’s never their job to save anyone. That’s God’s job, and we ought to be glad to let Him do it. Our job is love others. Pray for them. Seek them out and serve them. And share the truth of Jesus with them. Leave the rest up to the Spirit of God. We are simply joining in a conversation God is already having with that person. If our students are truly working to love others, people will begin to see them less and see Jesus more.

This article is part of my new book, Beyond the Edge of the Water: Reclaiming Biblical Discipleship for a Rising Generation. You can get more information here.

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Talking With Your Kids About Racism, Love, and The Gospel

Race dominated the news cycle for several weeks after the tragedy of George Floyd—stealing the headlines and changing the national conversation from Covid-19 to racism. A much-needed conversation, but a difficult one. We can’t avoid it. And we shouldn’t. No matter the news cycle, we need to be talking with our kids about racism, love, and the gospel.

I remember growing up learning that racism was past tense. It was something that happened, something we overcame, and anyone who still focused on skin color as a measure of value existed only on the fringe—they didn’t have a voice, and we didn’t give them one. 

But the issue of race has been thrust back into the present and not just as a part of a minor news cycle, but part of the national conversation. It’s in our places of work, our homes, and in our churches. And we should be grateful. 

However, I admit that I have largely stayed away from the conversation—mostly because I didn’t feel I had anything new to add. That was until my daughters started asking some great questions. They asked about the protests right in our own city, why people were upset, and what would happen next. But what I found most fascinating was their confusion. They could not understand why people would hate each other and treat them differently, just because they had a different skin color. 

Just imagine if we could all think this way. In fact, here is how my nine-year-old said it: 

“If people are created in God’s image, then it makes no sense for everyone to look the same. God is creative, so he needs to use lots of colors.” 

Well said baby girl, well said. 


Her comment really shouldn’t surprise us. It’s completely reflective of her generation’s demand for diversity. It’s normal and expected. But also helped me realize that these are precisely the kind of conversations we ought to be having with our kids. It’s not because it’s part of the most recent news cycle, but because how they see and treat others is central to our efforts to make them into disciples. The heart of any conversation surrounding racism goes deeper than color. It exposes a greater wound and a greater need of humanity—a deep longing for Jesus and the gospel’s power to heal all that is broken and damaged. 

Conversations about racism should be conversations about the gospel—God’s love for humanity and our mandate to reflect that love to the world. 

This is simply a lesson and a disciple-making opportunity we cannot ignore. 

But what do we talk about? 

Talk about not just what you see but how you see.

This is a more simplified truth my daughter was getting to. Treating everyone based on nothing more than what we saw in people—externally—is a terrible judge of character. This is precisely why Jesus teaches us to see beyond the external. It’s about how we see. Are we teaching our kids to see others with a biblical lens—with the eyes of Jesus? 

“If people are created in God’s image, then it makes no sense for everyone to look the same. God is creative, so he needs to use lots of colors.” 

Just watch kids on a playground. I am always amazed at how easily “best friends” are formed. Kids see the potential we often miss. What we see is a bunch of kids playing. They see the potential to make friends, have fun, and love others. So let’s help our kids establish the necessary foundation of Christ’s love that extends beyond the playground and beyond childhood. 

When your kids see or interact with people different than they are, be sure to talk about what they see—different skin color, disability, cultural traditions, etc. But also be sure to talk about how they ought to see. These are people created in God’s image—uniquely and creatively. Loving people the way God does starts with seeing people how God does. 

Talk about listening

Appreciating God’s creativity in other people and loving them the way God requires also means we have to learn to listen. Not just hear them, but really listen. As a white male with white children and an entire family full of white people, I can never fully understand what it’s like to be black. But I can listen, learn, and teach my kids to do the same. 

Listening breeds compassion, humility, and wisdom. Be quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19) and incline our hearts to understanding (Proverbs 2:2). I am convinced that so much of the strife we see in our world is from a lack of listening and, therefore, a lack of understanding. 

However, I also think it is important to note that listening does not mean complicit agreement. We can—and should in some cases—disagree. Even when we disagree, listening helps to create the necessary compassion required to walk a mile in another’s shoes. 

Talk about, learning about and appreciate other cultures and races

A big part of our homeschool curriculum is learning about different cultures. We use a book called Window on the World. It takes our kids around the world to dozens of different countries and cultures. It not only teaches them about the different people and cultures, what children like to do, what different people eat, religious traditions, and what school is like; but provides guidance in prayer and helps our kids learn how to reach people around the globe who don’t know Jesus. 

The result has been more than just knowledge and prayer opportunities. Our kids have a deeper appreciation for other cultures and even get excited when they spot those cultures in our own community. It has created an insatiable appetite for learning about people, unlike them. 

My three girls love American Girl dolls. I love watching my kids ask for American Girls’ Gabriella, Melody, Addy, Kaya, and Josefina because they are fascinated with these girls’ stories. They are determined to understand girls from different cultures, different eras, and immensely different circumstances. 

Talk about the origins of hate and God’s solution

Whether it’s my nine year old’s confusion of why racism even exists or a high school senior speaking out on social media or attending a protest, we have to continually remind our kids that racism goes far deeper than just one group fearing or hating another. The roots of racism are found in the same place as any act of evil or hatred. 

The body of Christ, ought to be the best representation of unity and equality.

It’s rooted in sin. Therefore there is no amount of protesting, no amount of legislation, no removal of statues, and no amount of reparations that can mend the wound short of the gospel. The only solution for racism is God’s solution—it’s in the gospel of Jesus. 

Hate forced its way onto humanity in the garden. With it came envy, strife, jealousy, wars, manipulation, dishonesty, and racism. The solution is found at the foot of the cross when the people of God live on mission bringing the kingdom of heaven to earth, living out our purpose and calling. The church, the body of Christ, ought to be the best representation of unity and equality. We simply don’t judge according to appearance and the world’s standards. But by one’s character and the grace of God. 

” There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28

Racism, in one form or another, will always exist—until Jesus returns. In the meantime, as disciple-makers, we have the responsibility to train our kids to work even harder to see people and treat people the way Jesus did. To love people the way Jesus does. Your conversations with your kids today will no doubt create a ripple effect in their lives and the lives they impact for generations.

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How the Simplicity of the Gospel is the Perfect Remedy for Such Complex Times

These are complicated times. And you know what we need? Simplicity. 

There’s no question our lives have been a little out of sorts lately. We have seen the articles and heard the news. We have seen the hardship of so many around us and have watched the disappointment in our kids—first school, then activities, then an abnormal summer and now massive uncertainty with the fall approaching. 

Are we going back to school? 

When? 

Are we wearing masks? 

How do I make sure my kids are safe?

Should I just homeschool? 

What about activities, sports, parks, pools, clubs, etc.?

I have seen first-hand with my own kids. Especially our 9-year old—she has taken all of this “new normal” the hardest. She even created a list the other night expressing to us why she was upset, and most of it was fear for her future! My heart just crumbled for her. So as I have been helping them cope and talking with them through all their emotions, it has made me a touch nostalgic and longing for simple life. I think we all are. 

Most who know me, know most of my daily life revolves around music. From sun up to sundown, I am blasting music. On any given day, at any given moment, our house might be blasting worship music, have classical music playing softly in the background, my kids dancing to modern hits, or my husband and I making dinner to classic rock. Naturally, Spotify has been recommending all these classic rock, happy day music to me! It has literally been singing right to my soul! Tonight, Spotify recommended Billy Joel, and I came across his song titled Honesty. 

I love Billy Joel. I have fond memories of listening to Billy Joel with my uncle in his car. But, for whatever reason, I have never heard this one. It is an interesting love song—a desperate cry for honesty in a cherished relationship. But it was the chorus that stood out to me and seems so relevant right here and right now. 

Honesty is such a lonely word

Everyone is so untrue

Honesty is hardly ever heard

And mostly what I need from you

At that moment, the song served as a reminder that although truth is sometimes hard to find, it just might be the thing we need most right now. I really believe people want truth; they are watching for it, but don’t always know where to turn or who to trust—especially our kids. 

For years this has been a growing problem, and now more than ever, it seems to be getting louder—almost shouting at us. So I can’t help but think the nostalgia of simple truth is just what we need in our homes. We need the simple reminders of a more simple time. We need the simple presence of the gospel in our everyday actions. 

As a homeschooling mom of 4, I frequently get asked—especially these days—how do I keep my kids focused on the simple, honest truth of the gospel; and teach them to share that truth with others? 

My answer is three things.

The Simplicity of Reading The Bible

Since the pandemic broke out we have been diving deeper into Scripture and into truth, so we can teach our kids not just how to be better people, know God more intimately, or follow Jesus better, but so they can learn to discern what is going on around us as disciples, so they are equipped to reach their world. 

This is the foundation of who we are as followers of Christ.

The Simplicity of Honest Conversations 

A big job of any parent is having an answer to literally every question, our kids ask—including the all-important, why? But, let’s be honest, so much of what the near future will look like about as clear as mud. Yes, our kids need reassurance, but they also need honesty and truth. Reassurance that no matter the future, you are walking with them–even when you don’t have the first clue what the future holds. But no matter the outcome, God is completely sovereign. 

This is how we reassure our kids that our commitment to relying on truth means we fully trust God.

The Simplicity of Smiles and Conversations 

It’s a wonderful new habit that I have started with my kids when we go out. Don’t go through the self-checkout line at the store. Go to a cashier and have a conversation, say their name, ask some questions, and show them a bit of Jesus—even if only for a brief moment. 

This is how we allow God to work through us by loving others. 

When we are prepared to share truth and be genuine and honest with our kids and those around us, we give the world something that it so desperately wants and needs. And while these don’t somehow magically propel us back in time to a much simpler era, they certainly help keep the simplicity of the gospel at the forefront of our minds. They serve as a periodic reminder that no matter the circumstance, God is at work—he is already on the other side, asking us to simply and honesty trust him. 

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5 Cultural Trends Impacting the Discipleship of Our Kids

The effective discipleship of our kids means they have to listen to and trust us. Pastor or parent, relational equity is non-negotiable. Creating that relationship starts with understanding how current cultural trends affect our kids and how they affect our ability to disciple them. It sure seems like a lot is spiraling out of control these days, but I wanted to drill down to just five. These, I believe, are the most significant drivers and contain the most considerable amount of influence. 

Deconstruction of History

If you’re like me, you might be wondering why in the world are we suddenly obsessed with the removal of statues with almost no regard for who these individuals were, what they did, and what the statues represent.

In part, it is a complete misunderstanding of history. But it’s also an attempt to deconstruct history. But the old adage is true, that if you don’t know your history, you are doomed to repeat it. Yet so many young Americans feel it is fundamentally necessary to not only tear down our history but actively forget it—all because they feel moving forward into the future requires the removal of the past. History is not just important. It’s critical. Even if it is ugly and we would rather forget it. That’s how we move forward. 

What does this mean for discipleship? The story of the gospel is written as a part of history. Read the Old Testament, and it won’t take long to get lost in the countless failures of God’s chosen people. The sins of the people are recorded right along with moments of perfect righteousness. Why? Because history reminds us of our victories and our failures. But most of all, it reminds us of our need for Jesus and his saving grace. 

The Obsession with Socialism 

Everyone on equal footing, free stuff for everyone, the elimination of unfair wealth, and the government taking care of us. Sounds like a good idea. I even hear many Christian students refer to Jesus as a socialist. Well, that’s just not even close to true—for a variety of reasons. And I think a plain and honest reading of the Bible ought to make that clear. 

But what sounds like a good idea, quickly leaps off a cliff to its own doom. Students believe that socialism represents some kind of utopic ideal. I dare you to name one country or culture, run by socialism, that is somehow the perfect utopia. Exactly. Not one. We should all applaud students in their desire for things like economic equality and the right to be equally educated–it shows they care about the wellbeing of others. Wouldn’t that be great? Everyone on equal footing with an equal chance to succeed. Maybe they started reading The Giver, but never got to the end. What they neglect to realize and take into consideration is that people are inherently sinful. The only utopic system is the literal kingdom of heaven. That, of course, won’t happen until Jesus comes back.

What does this mean for discipleship? Our missional mandate is not to try and attach Jesus to our idealistic notion of how culture ought to be—according to us. Instead, Jesus calls us to create a culture that best represents his kingdom. 

The Conversation Surrounding Racism

One of the things I love most about GenZ is their demand for diversity. It’s expected. Anything less is to be rejected. But it’s how we strive for that kind of diversity and equality that matters. I am always amazed at how many young Christians demand a fix for the world’s racism, but their fix never seems to include the gospel. 

We need to remind students that until Jesus returns, hate will always exist. Meaning racism will exist. No, that doesn’t mean we do nothing and just accept the status quo. It means that no policy, legislation, protest, or reform will ever be enough without the power of the gospel driving it. The only thing that removes hate is love—the love that is rooted in the gospel. 

What does this mean for discipleship? The conversation surrounding racism is critical and entirely worth engaging in. But ending racism must start with Jesus. He is our picture of love, and the only way we can truly remove the hate people can have for one another. 

Here is some help on getting conversations with your kids started

Our Inability to Disagree

Growing up, I was taught how to disagree. Many of those lessons came as a result of me being wrong, thinking I was right—only to discover otherwise. It required recurring tests of humility to learn those lessons. We had to learn not only to articulate our position well but also to listen carefully to others’ positions. It was one thing to just disagree, but an entirely different thing to understand a position we disagreed with. 

This is no longer the case. Instead of disagreeing respectfully, we just call for the “canceling” of another. It’s not disagreement, it’s disrespectfully dismissive. Our job as parents and pastors is to develop the necessary relational equity that sets the tone for constructive disagreement in your homes and churches. Because the reality is, we will disagree with our kids—a lot. The older they get, the more they begin to form their own opinions. Which is precisely what we want them to do—think on their own. But listening to and respecting the views of those we disagree with helps to better inform and form our opinions. 

The bottom line: being challenged in what we believe is a good thing. But the cultural trend of canceling another because they don’t fit in our worldview is shortsighted and, in the end, destructive. 

What does this mean for discipleship? Jesus reminds us to pray for our enemies. Paul works hard to understand and connect with the Gentiles, and Peter tells us to be completely above reproach no matter how people treat us. It’s pretty simple—following Jesus means treating others the way he would. Jesus would never have canceled anyone. 

The Virtue of Hyperbolic Positioning 

Here are some of the things I have heard recently that speak to one of the more disturbing cultural trends. 

“All cops are terrible and should be killed or at least fired.”

“All the rioters should be killed and burned.” 

“No one should celebrate the 4th of July or anything American stands for.”

Not only are these statements absolutely terrible things to say, but they are ridiculous. But these are real things that real people say. Just in recent days, there have been multiple TikTok videos featuring rhetoric along these lines. They get millions of views, drawing attention to these individuals, and giving others permission to behave in a similar fashion. We have made it a virtue to speak outlandishly for or against what we believe with little to no regard to its consequences. After all, that’s how we get the all-important likes, comments, and shares. 

This is why conversations with our kids are so meaningful. Ask them questions. Without reacting, take some time to shift through the outlandish comment, and work to get to the root of not just what they are thinking but why. 

What does this mean for discipleship? Faithful Jews in the first-century sincerely believed that Gentiles—all Gentiles, were dirty. Meaning Jews took drastic steps to avoid being defiled by them. It wasn’t until Peter received a vision that such a belief among Jewish Christians was corrected. Peter learned that all of God’s creation was to be cherished. What an incredible statement our kids can make among their peers by having a supernatural love for those that stand in complete opposition. 

Moving Forward

The bad news. You’re not going to change the course of these trends overnight—or even at all. But there is good news. You can teach your kids to see the world differently. To view it through the eyes of Jesus. When we add a biblical filter to our current cultural conditions, you will quickly see how progressive lopsided idealism quickly disintegrates. 

As followers of Christ, we have a decision to make. Either we compromise and bend a knee to culture and its demands, or we stand firm and as church body create a better culture that represents our King and his kingdom. 

Here are two other articles on the impact of culture

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What Will Discipleship at Home Look Like After COVID-19?

I feel like we are on the cusp of a post-pandemic world. We are slowly discovering what the new normal is going to look like. Each state, city, and even families are working carefully and intentionally to seek the right balance of normalcy and safety. But the closer we get to normal, the more urgent is the question of discipleship at home after COVID-19. This is certainly not some kind of switch we flip, suddenly returning to how things once were. 

A few months ago, I wrote a post about the opportunity to create a new normal, to lean into time with family, and to take advantage of the time we are given. Now there are a few new questions on the horizon that I think we need to consider before we get sideswiped when we weren’t looking. 

Discipleship During a Pandemic

So let’s recap the last few months. You’ve been at home with your kids. Whether you have realized—or taken advantage of it—or not, you have had an incredible opportunity to dig so much deeper into connecting with them and discipling them. You’ve been home, they have been home, and churches and schools were mainly relying on you as the parent to fill the role of teacher and disciple-maker. But as the pace of life slowly begins to return to some kind of normalcy, don’t think for a second things will immediately return to what once was. There is still no much unknown with the future of school and church activities. 

The longer abnormality drags on, the more convinced I am that church, youth group, and even children’s ministry will never look the same. But should it? Discipleship via Zoom can only be a temporary fix. And as I talk with parents all over, I am learning something very encouraging. The time spent at home has forced parents to engage in more focused discipleship of their kids. And little did we all realize that discipling our kids was our job all along. 

Discipleship Post-Pandemic

But there is an added layer to all of this that I believe ought to keep us entrenched in the fight to keep our kids connected to and growing in Christ. It’s the fear of the unknown—the fear of what the future holds. Our kids were already anxious before the pandemic. Students all over the country reported the highest levels of stress and anxiety seen in years, suicide rates were increasing, and depression rising. But these last few months have only added insult to injury.

It was only a few months ago, we sat in our homes wondering if and when school would reopen when we would be called back to work, and when we would wake up on Sunday and attend a church service. But now that many of us are starting to step outside more, summertime activities are resuming, churches are beginning to reopening in many places, and many are returning to work; a whole new set of questions are looming. And many of these questions are being asked by our kids. 

What’s school going to look like? 

What about sports?

Are we wearing masks? 

Will there be a second wave?

Are we going to be stuck at home again?

I’m not just talking about teens. A few days ago, my 9-year old had a minor nuclear meltdown. One of those days, she just couldn’t stop crying and pull it together. So she sat down and made a list of what was on her mind. Besides the usual childhood concerns, like her older sister acting like a parent, everything she expressed was pandemic related. Even in the midst of hope, optimism, and even excitement for some of life returning to normal, she has real fears, real concerns, and real questions about what the future holds. 

Keep Making Disciples

So as your churches, youth groups, and children’s ministries begin to return to their regularly scheduled programming, it will be easy to slip back into our old habits of letting the church do the job and support them where needed. Don’t. Our post COVID-19 discipleship at home shouldn’t be a return to comfort and ease. Now is the time to keep the discipleship moving along. Keep our heels dug in. Keep doing the devotionals, keep having the conversations, keep challenging your kids, keep praying together, worship together, and learn together. 

Your kids will need you to continue to walk this new path with them. They will need you to help them see God working through this new unknown. 

For more resources and help, take a minute, and visit our resource page. And for a free sample of my new book, click here.

Discipleship after COVID-19. Help with the discipleship of our kids

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3 Keys to Developing Stronger Faith in Your Kids at Home

The Apostle Paul once wrote, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of the gospel that brings salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:19). This is one of those verses that when I read it, I heartily agree. Of course! Paul’s not ashamed, nor am I! After all, ashamed is a really—I mean really—strong word. If I believe in Jesus, why would I be ashamed? If my kids have professed faith in Christ, been baptized, are attending church and youth group, and developing a strong faith, then why would they be ashamed? What’s there to be ashamed about? 

That is until we are confronted face-to-face with a hard reality. It’s one thing to know the truth, agree with the truth, and even love the truth; and a completely different thing to live the truth. There is not a Christian parent on the planet who doesn’t want their kids to develop a strong faith in home and in youth group.

I think it’s a safe bet that if you took a few minutes to think about it, you could come up with at least one (if not more) moments in the last week, you compromised and forgot to live out what you profess. 

Oh come on now, think about it. Maybe someone at work made a dig at evangelicals, and rather than engage, you just smiled and nodded in passive agreement. Or perhaps, a kid in your youth group (or worse your own kid) celebrated the discovery of their truth. And without ever seeing it coming, you celebrated with them. What about that family member, wrestling with sexual identity, decided to be gender fluid? Rather than engaging in the conversation, you sat in agreeable silence. 

But if you’re like me, I know what you’re thinking. “It’s just better to keep the peace.” Why risk the argument, destroy a relationship, drive a wedge between you and your student, or even lose a job? Keep the peace whenever possible. Heck, it’s even biblical. Let’s go back to Romans. Paul said, 

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” – Romans 12:18

But let’s dig a little deeper. 

Remember how Aaron handled the nation of Israel when Moses disappeared somewhere up Mount Sinai for more than a month? People thought for sure Moses was dead, and they needed to move on. Their solution: convince Aaron to “make” them a new god. I don’t have space here to dive into the full story, but if you know it, you know it didn’t go well. All because Aaron buckled under the pressure to appease the rest of the people—a sort of mob mentality. Left to their own devices, they fell victim to creating something to worship made in their image rather than the God who rescued them from the slavery and oppression of the Egyptians. Not a wise decision. 

Aaron witnessed first hand the power of God and yet very easily cracked under the cultural pressure to conform to their demands. How much easier is it for us to likewise—even more so, our kids? We don’t usually see it coming because it’s subtle at first. But before we can recognize it, we are following a version of Christianity that is likely closer to progressivism, pluralism, or even secularism. Os Guinness, in his book Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion, lays out this transformation in four stages. It originates from the difficulty of living “in the world, but not of.” It’s driven by our desire to get along, keep the peace, and remain relevant to the broader culture. For our students (and our own children), there is even an element of survival. Don’t rock the boat or risk getting tossed overboard. 

Stage 1: Assumption. Guinness, notes the slide begins “when some aspect of modern life or thought is entertained as not only significant, and therefore worthy of acknowledging, but superior to what Christians now know or do—and therefore worth assuming is true.” In other words, when the world and biblical truth stand at odds, the culture’s voice creates a new and more compelling narrative. And before we know it, the world has a new yardstick in which to measure what is right and holy rather than Scripture. 

For example, consider the growing LGBTQ movement. Instead of fighting the battle of sexual morality, the campaign was transformed into a civil rights argument. Therefore creating a different narrative, one that’s easier for a Christian to get on board with. After all, Christians would never deny one’s civil rights. This sends us down the road to stage two. 

Stage 2: Abandonment: Assuming culture is making a good argument, and creating a new norm requires the elimination of anything that contradicts the new narrative. Modern thought is intended to be enlightened, inclusive, completely tolerant, and driven by love. Yet Christians, in their pursuit of truth with courage and conviction, are branded as arrogant, exclusive, judgmental, intolerant and hate-filled because it doesn’t fit. Given a choice between the two, which would you pick? So just think about the choices our students and children are being asked to make. What they believe is directly tied to how they are treated. For many, the only option left is to let culture dictate moral norms and abandon anything that doesn’t fall in line. 

Stage 3 and 4: Adaptation and Assimilation. If the first two stages take hold, all that’s left is to follow the path we carved out by adopting modern ideologies into an ancient faith and abandoning tradition. All that’s left is to follow that path deeper and deeper into a post-Christian world. And while we weren’t looking, according to Guinness, what was once rooted in Christian tradition, “is absorbed and assimilated into the culture with no distinctive Christian remainder.” How then, do we stop false ideas from entering our churches and families? 

I know this all sounds horrible, and you’re now mad at me for making you depressed. But there’s hope. I promise. I love how Alisa Childers puts in the latest Mama Bear Apologetics book. “The gospel has already survived all these systems of thought, and it will survive progressive Christianity.” And I would add pluralism, secularism, naturalism, post-truth, post-Christian, etc. But of course, that does not mean we stand idle waiting for Jesus to rid us of all that is untrue. We are on mission and have been commissioned to share the truth at all costs. This goes for us, our churches, and, more importantly, our families. 

So Here is How We Develop Stronger Faith In Our Kids 

If you’re a pastor: How do I train my students in youth group to stick to truth? How do I, as a youth leader, speak truth without falling victim to the unfair branding of being hate-filled and intolerant? 

If you’re a parent: How do I keep my kids on the right road embracing truth while being bombarded with contradicting narratives? How do I, as a parent, not be so timid at work, in my neighborhood, and family, when an opportunity to speak truth arises? 

I do want to be clear here, there is no easy answer or simple process to follow, but I believe it starts with three things first. 


Key #1: Develop stronger faith by teaching worldviews

There is sort of an unspoken untruth infiltrating how we raise our kids. It’s the notion that we need to protect our kids from anything that might harm them, including ideas—even the really bad ideas. But the problem is, although this sounds nice, it is, in itself, a bad idea. 

Strength of faith is built by exposing our kids to a multitude of ideas and worldviews and discovering together how these ideas attempt to answer life’s most important questions—and consequently, where they fall short. 


Key #2: Develop stronger faith by helping those in your student/youth ministry, or your family recognize even the slightest detour from biblical truth.

Bad ideas need to be weeded out. Even if it sounds helpful, loving, and tolerant, the end result could be contradictory and even destructive. Bad ideas have a tendency to live dangerously close to the slippery slope. 

For example, modern culture celebrates the notion that we ought to discover our own truth. That sure sounds nice, doesn’t it? It’s repeated time and again in movies, music, talk shows, self-help books, and new age spiritual gurus with little regard for where such a ridiculous thought can lead. What if my truth dictates that I kill whomever I desire, or take what I want from anyone? What if said truth deems the physical or sexual abuse of another? It raises a simple yet important question—where does one draw the line? How far can one’s truth take them outside the cultural norm until a new norm is created? You can see where this is going. 

Giving our students a firm understanding of biblical truth and the views of opposing ideas help them clearly see when we start to get off track and make the same mistake Aaron made. That work begins by asking great questions. 


Key #3: Develop stronger faith by teaching the art of asking great questions 

I am always surprised—although I shouldn’t be—with how close-minded people can be. Even if people are not overly confident in what they believe, they often want you to think they are and therefore are quite likely to dig their heels in. Even if their ideas fail to align with reality. The only real way to break through is by asking great questions. 

The right kind of questions—not the intrusive or rude kind—are incredibly powerful. Let’s get back to Os Guinness. He gives us two reasons this is the case—questions are indirect, and involving. “A good question will never betray where it is leading to, and it is an invitation to the listener to pick it up and discover the answer for him or herself.” In other words, it helps another person discover the truth on their own terms rather than just being told they are wrong. 

From even their elementary years, our students are being exposed to far more ideas than they can process. So when we offer the Christian worldview as nothing more than just another option in the marketplace of ideas, it can easily get lost in the fray. And even when we seem committed to biblical truth, the desire to keep the peace, blend in, can easily supersede truth, creating something wholly new thing we now call Christianity. 

Don’t trade the truth of convenience. But teaching our kids to be smart and stubborn when it comes to truth will not only preserve the gospel but also move it forward and introduce others to real freedom and real hope–and in the process, kids with a strong and lasting faith. Want a good place to start? Check out our youth apologetics curriculum

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Teaching Our Kids to Look to the Gospel in the Midst of Hate

My wife told me the other day that she needs to stop watching the news and scrolling through social media. It’s too depressing and frustrating. 

Frankly, I agree. 

Whether on the streets, over social media, or even in the news—we are becoming more and more divided. Yet I keep watching. On the one hand, my heart is breaking from the hate that has begun (if not already) to boil over. But on the other hand, I’m looking for any indication of hope—any sliver of light piercing through the cracks of our broken world.  

On the day of the Space X launch, we gathered as a family around the TV to watch. It was indeed a moment worth stopping for. Not just because one of my kids is obsessed with all things space, but because historically, these kinds of events have a way of pausing the nation and uniting us—even if for only a moment. Instead, I was awakened to a much harsher reality, and at the same time caught a glimpse of that hope I was looking for.

My oldest began reading the ticker across the bottom of the screen and asking questions about George Floyd and the protests. Of course, I was glad she was asking the right questions. Still, I suddenly realized that I now had to intentionally help my kids navigate this, process this, and perhaps in some cases, be able to respond to this inside their biblical framework. 

I admit I was caught a little off guard. Aren’t we all when our kids suddenly show signs of growing up. It doesn’t matter how well prepared we think we are—we never are. So we have to learn to pivot by intently listening to our kids’ questions, respond appropriately, and lead the way in their walk with Jesus. Because their questions are critically important.

Why would people hate each other based on the way they look? 

There are two things at play in this question. First is the innocence of a child. To many kids, the sheer idea of racism is ludicrous. It’s not that they don’t see color; instead, they embrace it. What’s a world without color? 

What so many of our kids know without really knowing is that if humanity is the pinnacle of God’s creation, there is no conceivable way God would be so boring as to make everyone look alike. Our differences, according to my 9-year-old, are just an expression of God’s creativity. And just like a really colorful picture, we celebrate the beauty. 

Second is the normalcy of diversity. While so many parents and grandparents were raised in mostly homogenous communities—with socio-economic, cultural, and racial similarities—our students simply don’t see the world the way we do. And thank God for that. Diversity is more than just normal, it’s expected. 

This question, and others like it, are a chance to revisit the beauty and majesty of God’s creation. When we do, we are opening the doors for a much more in-depth and life-giving conversation. 

“Since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” Romans 1:19-20

Why can’t people just love each other? 

It’s easy to forget, easy to push aside, and easy to redefine on our own terms—but sin is a real thing. And at this moment, it’s showing its ugly face. 

Hate is easier than love. Hate takes almost no effort. It often feels justified and empowering. But it’s not. Hate tears us all down, strips us of our dignity and our hope. It’s simple, really. Hate does not help. In fact, it makes it worse. 

What I think our kids are picking up on is the world’s disenchanted view of reality. When we turn on the news, what we can see under the surface is a good and strong desire to make the world a better place—to seek justice, protect the poor and marginalized, and allow the voice of the people to be heard. But this desire and the activism it creates falls far short because we fail to see reality through the eyes of the gospel. Instead we embrace the ideologies of materialism, hedonism, and utilitarianism. It’s a false sense of reality fueled by hate, rather than genuine love fueled by the Spirit of God. 

No, I didn’t explain all of that to my kids. But here is what I did remind them. The Bible clearly teaches us as followers of Jesus to look out for the poor and oppressed, to see through our differences—whether racial, cultural, or financial—and get to the heart of a person. We are taught to love our neighbors unconditionally, pray for those who persecute us, and be such good people that it baffles others. But here’s the thing: All the good we do, is nothing short of failure without the gospel. The message of salvation through Jesus serves as the engine that drives any lasting social change. 

So how do we help fix it? It Starts with Family Ministry

There are few things I love more inside of youth culture than their willingness to dive in and effect change. But how they do that is critical and involves exploring one of the most crucial questions of the modern era for every young Christian. 

I love how Leslie Newbigin asks it. 

“What would be involved in a missionary encounter between the gospel and this whole of perceiving, thinking, and living that we call the ‘modern western culture'”? – Leslie Newbigin

The discipleship of our students needs to involve training them to build a bridge between the world as it is and the world God’s desires for us to create. It is the work of transforming culture and even creating culture, to dive into the social structure of culture so the gospel could be both reasonable and desirable. This is precisely what Jesus meant by going into all the world to make disciples and to be witnesses to ends of the earth. 

The answer to Newbigin’s question begins with teaching our students to become cultural apologists. As Paul Gould, author of Cultural Apologetics, says, it is the “work of establishing the Christian voice, conscience, and imagination within a culture so that Christianity is seen as true and satisfying.” This is the work that stands before our students.

I believe that the unrest, hate, and division we see in our world is cry for help. It’s a cry for hope. But there is no legislation, no erasure of history, or admittance of privilege that will satisfy our culture’s longing for goodness, truth, and beauty.

Only the gospel can do that. 

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Your Students Need an Intellectual Faith Too. Here’s Why…And How.

A few years ago, I met a student named Drew. He was brilliant but incredibly lazy and quite possibly a professional skeptic. He had this signature way of sitting at his desk that told a greater story than even his words could. Slumped over, head resting comfortably in his hand, doodling on his paper; there was no one more disinterested in my discussions about Jesus. But Drew wasn’t the only one. In fact, most of my students wanted little to do with learning about Jesus, God, theology, the Bible—you name it; if it had something to do with their faith, they couldn’t have cared less. Needless to say, they didn’t have much of an intellectual faith. But put that same group of students in chapel or at a retreat and you would see them hands held high, worshipping with everything they have.

I pressed on. I continued to challenge Drew and his fellow students. Some of the parents caught wind of what I was trying to do. Initially, I was relieved, hoping that if I could gain the support of parents, perhaps I could reach the students a little faster and with greater success. Nope. Parents were losing their minds. For most of them, faith was not something that ought to be driven by intellect but by emotion. They were convinced that challenging students to think about their faith would create unnecessary doubt and frustration. Intellectual engagement was much too risky. “What if God is too difficult to understand and they walk away from their faith?” These parents were following Christ and raising their sons and daughters to be disciples from a place of fear. They thought if their students’ faith would be allowed to enter and influence their secular sphere of life, it might not stand a chance.

Nearly every youth group faces the same challenge—fear that too great a challenge will drive them from Jesus rather than to Him. It comes as no surprise that there is an increasing number of students who lack even a simple understanding of the Bible. We can no longer assume students know who Moses, Abraham, Peter, and Paul are. The more post-Christian we become, the more we can’t assume students can locate Bible books, chapters, and verses. Verse memorization is a thing of the past; the character of God, forgotten; critical thinking about matters of faith, ignored. It won’t be long before youth ministry is working to reach students who have grown up in a home having never stepped into a church with very little or even no knowledge of Jesus. The solution has largely become the perpetual feeding of spiritual milk to our students. Teaching to the lowest common denominator comes with less risk—or so we have allowed ourselves to believe. 

Finding an Intelligent Faith

How can we expect students to enter a post-Christian culture without a full and mature knowledge of Jesus? How will they make mature decisions without a Christ-like mind?

I’m all for emotionally charged worship and that overwhelming feeling of the Spirit of God moving through a room; the kind that gives you goose bumps, tears in your eyes, and the undeniable need to create spiritual movement. I love being at youth conferences and witnessing firsthand Spirit-filled worship, students coming to the front to give their lives to Jesus, and tears of joy flooding a room. Worship has a way of capturing our imagination and transporting us to the throne room of God. It’s a sight that I never get tired of. But what informs that emotion? What informs the love that our students so boldly proclaim? It’s their mind and the depth of their knowledge of God. It’s easy to forget in our emotionally driven culture that there is an intellectual core to our Christian faith. It’s impossible to love God without a desire to understand more about Him. Remember that the greatest command is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Matt. 22:37, author’s emphasis).

Think about the movies your students watch, the music they listen to, their searches on the Internet, conduct at school, or even their perception of events around the world. Do they filter those things through a Christian worldview? Or do they allow them to shape their worldview? Now, think about how you approach these with your students.

As leaders of youth, we have an important decision to make. Either we ignore the cultural influences surrounding our youth and hope the emotional highs and Sunday school lessons are enough, or we stand with our students and guide them through events, music, movies, politics, and social pressures so they can meet these challenges head-on with a Christian worldview, thereby actually strengthening their faith for the continued journey ahead. The reality is our students need more than just an intelligent faith; they need a mature faith. Our students are up against secularism, skepticism, and alternative forms of spirituality, and they lack the context for how to infiltrate and transform their world with the gospel.

Adding An Emotional Faith

I didn’t give up on Drew, the class, or their parents. I’m pretty stubborn, so I dug my heels in deeper. I was convinced if I could just reach my goal, drag them through the rest of the year, they would see what I was at least trying to do. A year went by; they were still quite skeptical. Two years passed; they loosened their grip a little bit. By year three, my efforts to infuse a more intellectual faith into their already vibrant, emotionally-driven experience of Jesus began to pay off. They were getting it because they were witnessing the benefits and exponential growth in their students. The fear of what might happen to their students’ faith was overshadowed by the anticipation of what could happen through their students’ faith.

A strong intellectual faith, coupled with parents’ and students’ desire for emotional moments, became the beginning of a formula that I soon required anywhere I taught. I had four specific goals I was after to make my students more mature Christians who think “Christianly”:

  • Create a greater excitement for God and a deeper appreciation for their salvation.
  • Help students successfully deal with doubt and questions.
  • Make worship more intense and emotional.
  • Prepare students to be able to not only engage culture but transform it.

There are many ways to make this happen. But I have three that can work at dinner, in youth group, or with a small group meeting. 

Learn from Experiences 

The first practice after a Friday night football game was Saturday morning practice. The goal wasn’t to run, or hit, or go over plays. The day after practice was designed for two specific things: to lick our wounds and watch game film. We needed to rest, but more than that, we needed to see as soon as possible what we did right and what we did wrong. We learn by doing, making mistakes, and correcting those mistakes—our brains are wired that way. So when you think of experiences to grow your students into mature thinking Christians, they need the space to try, to succeed, to fail, to review how it unfolded, and learn from the experience.

Theological Training 

There is genuine excitement that comes from wrestling with God. There is a certain satisfaction that comes from a faith driven by an intense desire to understand Him. Such depth comes only from the discipline of theological study. But I can almost hear what you’re thinking. You don’t need to be a professional theologian to be a disciple. You don’t need a seminary degree or to read old, dusty books on exegetical fallacies or multi-volume commentaries—although the theology nerd in me would suggest that you do. Certainly, we cannot expect our students to dive that deep—although some will. Can they really handle such complex ideas? Yes, and they want to, because we are all theologians—because we all think about God and live accordingly. No matter what level our students enter the journey, it begins when they desire to seek a deeper understanding of who God is and what it means to put their trust in Jesus. What we think about Jesus informs how we feel about Him and how we live out that belief.

Cultivate Creativity

About ten years ago, we sounded the alarm because the Millennial generation was leaving the church in droves with no sign of return. The church tried being more relevant, created big events and the superstar youth pastor. Maybe better music would work, we thought. Or perhaps better games, and exchanging exegetical sermons for motivational speeches would do the trick. Over the last decade, none of these things has made a positive impact on discipling our students. Instead, what we discovered was that in our efforts to create specific spaces for teens—to accomplish these new-fangled goals—we siloed our youth off from the rest of the church. But what does youth leaving the church have to do with creativity?

God has gifted each of us—students included—with the ability to create. The church ought to be a place where that creativity is birthed and nurtured. But that can’t happen for students who have no place in the wide sphere of the church community because they have been separated since birth. 

Conclusion

While it certainly is not a guaranteed fix or some kind of secret formula to highly effective disciples, helping students think in Christian categories helps them to create a framework of how both sides of their brain can work in concert to best represent God and His kingdom. It helps join together creativity and logic and puts it into action. In our final chapter, we will dissect specifically how our students’ creativity can make an immediate impact in the church as well as how they interact with the world in the years to come.

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Disciple Making 101: 4 Key Practices To Start Today

When my first daughter was born, I remember thinking about discipleship. I remember thinking the path to my kids following Jesus faithfully was a simple formula of good behavior and church attendance. That was more than eleven years ago. Although my intentions were great, my methods were lacking in so many ways. Of course church fellowship is necessary. As well as manners, virtue, good behavior, and respect–all a huge part of the process. But the single greatest thing I have learned is the need for intentionality. Especially in four specific areas.

Biblical literacy

I have a couple of old Bibles sitting on a shelf in our living room. One of those Bibles is my grandfather’s. It’s marked up and falling apart, but you can feel his faith emanating off the pages. It’s one of the very few things I treasure. Also on the shelf is my first Bible. But mine is in near perfect condition. One morning, my kids were asking about why those Bibles, in particular, were sitting on the shelf, out of reach. I walked over to the shelf, took them down, and brought them to the table.

I talked about the significance of my grandfather’s Bible compared to mine. One used, the other not. I explained how my Bible was indicative of my faith growing up—in “like new” condition and never used. The truth is, I really only learned two things in Sunday school—John 3:16 and to not hit people with your Bible. I brought my Bible every week to church, I don’t remember ever cracking it open, reading passages, or asking questions. In fact, I am even willing to admit that I never read a complete book of the Bible until seminary.

My goal is to make sure my kids’ Bibles are just like my grandfather’s. Worn and tattered. Evidence of a faith well-practiced. It is my aim to talk about the Word every chance we get, encourage my kids to read—even if they don’t fully understand—ask questions and pursue more than just knowledge of the Word but of the Word Himself.

Cultural awareness

One of the joys of my ministry is that I get to meet a lot of parents. And when it comes to cultural awareness, I generally see two very different approaches. There is one kind of parent that buries their head in the sand and invites their kids to do the same. “if we ignore it, maybe it will all go away, or Jesus will just come back.” All the while never really preparing their kids for the road ahead. The other kind of parent is the one who exposes their kids to culture with almost no filter. Of course, as good Christian parents, the hope is that exposure will lead to effective evangelism. But without proper filters, sin and temptation will win almost every time.

It is our job to be the filter. To not only help our kids navigate culture but to properly interpret its message in light of a biblical framework and to respond as much like Jesus as possible. We aren’t meant to hide from culture, nor succumb to it. Instead, we ought to teach our kids how to create a better culture—one that reflects the glory and image of the Creator.

Pursuit of truth

Every time I read Genesis, I ask myself the same question, “why are lies easier to believe than truth?” Adam and Eve had the very voice of God to explain the ground rules. They had a direct line—a guaranteed blessing. Yet one word from the enemy and they fly off the rails. Big surprise, we all do the same thing.

The lies are often so loud it becomes deafening. All the more reason our homes need to be beacons of what is true. We need to be showing our kids the path that leads to truth and walking that path with them. The lies are so seductive that even when students are fully equipped, they can fall victim. Adam and Eve did. What makes us any better? Help your kids identify the lies and point them to truth and walk that struggle with them.

Living on mission

Take a minute and try something. Teach your kids to do something without actually showing them, just explaining it. Pick anything—from the simplest math skills to driving a car. Don’t show, just tell them how. See what happens. My guess is that you already know what would happen. They would fail. Yet this is precisely what we do with God’s missional mandate to the church. We want, and perhaps expect, our students to reflect Jesus in every way, to talk about him to their friends, even pursue a call to “full-time ministry.” However, we spend little to no time showing them what that looks like.

As parents, the first place our kids learn what it means to love their neighbors, to serve others, to be witnesses, and to make disciples should not be in church, mission trip, or outreach event. It should be learned as part of the family routine—as normal as eating breakfast or brushing your teeth. It’s really rather simple: Families that serve together have a greater and more lasting impact on their world.

None of these are automatic or easy. They require planning, trial and error, and persistence. Like it or not, discipling our kids is a full time calling. One that, in time, will reap greater rewards than you ever thought possible.

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What Would Happen If You Fully Invested in Your Student’s Creative Potential?…Yes They Are Creative.

During my first years of ministry, I had a bit of an attitude problem. I felt since I was pursuing a seminary degree my church should somehow automatically let me teach and preach sermons. Yeah, I was a little arrogant. I remember sitting in my pastor’s office, essentially complaining that I wasn’t getting the respect I thought I deserved. As he patiently listened, he smiled, walked over to his desk, grabbed his Bible and started thumbing through it. I didn’t pay much attention to what he was doing until he cut me off mid-sentence, handed me his Bible and said, “Read this.”

I was a seminary student, I thought, so who was he to hand me a passage of Scripture like I hadn’t heard of it? In fact, I was certain that I probably dissected the passage in Greek. But I read it anyway. I read it begrudgingly, but I read it. After I finished, we talked about it for a bit. I nodded as if I understood and appreciated the time and insight. Truth is, I left that room not fully grasping what God was trying to teach me. 

As I finished my degree and matured in ministry, I came back to the passage over and over. It haunted me. It was like God would not let me forget it until I learned the lesson I needed to learn. I caught it when I finished my first year of teaching. 

The passage is about a master who takes a journey (Matthew 25:14–30). But before he leaves, he entrusts his servants with varying amounts of his wealth to manage. Most of the servants manage what the master entrusts to them by making wise investments and getting a worthwhile return for their efforts. But one of the servants decided to do something different. Instead of investing, he buried what was entrusted to him out of fear. Naturally, when the master returns, he is thrilled with all the servants but the one. Why? Because he failed to take proper care with what he was given. It wasn’t his, but his to manage. The master not only strips the lazy servant of what little he does have but gives the others more. 

I struggled in my early days of ministry, not because I was arrogant or felt I wasn’t being respected (okay, I was, and I did), but because I didn’t have a grasp on what God had given me, how I should invest it, and how it would contribute to the kingdom. I had a hard time finding my place within the church and finding community. The struggle ended up creating unnecessary tension and resentment toward others who were serving, my pastors, and even the church as a whole. I saw no reason to invest because I had little clue as to what I could offer. 

Here’s the thing—many of our students feel the same way. But you probably do a spiritual gifts inventory or have skillfully identified the musical students, the outgoing ones, the techy ones, and the creative ones. So that’s good, right? Not quite. While those certainly help and you could add in a Meyers-Briggs personality test, a DISC assessment, or everyone’s new favorite Enneagram—none of these are getting to the root of what my pastor was trying to teach me. Of course, there is nothing wrong with having students sign-up to be greeters, leading worship in the band, or working the soundboard. In fact, there is a ton right with those things. The more you get students engaged and invested in your community, the higher degree of commitment you’re going to receive. 

But what do you do with the introverted kid, the math kid, the writer, or the computer nerd? It slips past us when we aren’t looking, but if a student can’t contribute somehow to the production of youth group time, and they don’t want to shake hands and smile at the newcomers, then we rest contently while they passively sit in a chair for the evening. For many of us, that is where our gifts assessment ends. Why concern ourselves if the student’s gift doesn’t fit into the context of youth group? 

Because if we don’t help students walk this path, they will be missing a key piece of discipleship—investment. Jesus tells the story because He knows how easy it is to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, then sit back and do nothing. It’s easy to make excuses for why we can’t evangelize, why our churches aren’t growing, and why we aren’t making a difference in our communities, schools, and families. It’s easy to be the wicked, lazy servant. I actually think, for some of us, it’s not all that difficult to sympathize with Him just a little bit. But as we work to grow our students spiritually into mature disciples, there are three truths I want to give you which will help steer us clear from the attitude and fear of the wicked lazy servant. 

Students are creative

It’s incredible to think God created each one of us uniquely in His image. When you look at the variety of personalities, gifts, and physical traits of a person, it’s hard to wrap our minds around the creativity of God. It’s not just that God is the Almighty Creator, but He is also creative. Everything you can touch, taste, smell, see, and hear, came out of the creative mind of God—from nothing. Everything we know—and the stuff we haven’t even discovered yet—originated from the divine creative mind. But there is something far too many Christians seem to forget—or perhaps never learned. 

We are co-creators with God. We have been created to create. Think about it. In the creative mind of God, He knew before the foundation of the world that humanity would need to create cities, governments, and economies. He knew there would be a need for teachers, doctors, lawyers, writers, artists, construction workers, and mathematicians. He knew humanity would invent cars, planes, computers, and the internet. And because we are created in His image, every good thing we create has a divine imprint. 

Every one of our students—whether they consider themselves creative or not—are in fact, creative. In whatever way God has gifted them, what they are passionate about, and just really good at, they have the divine mandate to use who they are in Christ to be creative. However, our students may not be keenly aware of what that could look like for them, so it’s our job as youth leaders and parents to help them discover and walk that path. 

Students have a craft

I think it’s easy to wonder just a little why the master was so upset with the last servant. He didn’t lose any money, and he gladly returned what was originally given. It’s about potential. What the master gave each servant had incredible potential. In fact, the master never intended for the servants to just maintain his wealth, the intention was to multiply it. Each of the servants held more than just the master’s wealth; they held and were given responsibility over potential wealth. So when the lazy servant buried his portion out of fear, the master actually suffered a net loss, because he lost what could have been. 

Whether you prefer to quote Voltaire or Uncle Ben Parker from Spider Man, “with great power comes great responsibility.” Our students have each been given incredible gifts with infinite potential—gifts designed to reflect the image and glory of God and further His kingdom. But if all we are recognizing are the skills of the kid who plays guitar or the one who can run the soundboard, then we are burying any potential the rest of our students would have had. 

Therefore, we have to help our students discover their creative calling and fully realize their potential to take who they are, what they love, and what they can create—and how they can uniquely point others to Christ.

They all have a canvas

God has asked all of us to be disciples by being holy and fully realizing our intended purpose as people created in His image, but we show what that looks like through what we love, what we are good at, and the people in our lives. The same is true for our students. 

If you struck up a conversation with me, it wouldn’t take long to discover that I am not a math guy. I don’t like it. I’m not good at it. For whatever reason, my brain just isn’t wired to speak that language. So as a teacher, I would often joke about math being evil. That was until a student of mine named Tony wrote a brilliant paper. In fact, it was so good that it was published in a book I had written featuring several students. He argued that there are only two things we know of considered to be necessarily existent. Which basically means, something is existent in and of itself, nothing created it. It just is. Those two things are math and God. The idea was that if math and God are existent in the same way and much of the universe we can explain using math, then perhaps math is the language of God. Well, that was enough to stop me from calling math evil, to say the least. 

It’s one thing to see the youth band’s worship leader using her life as a canvas to showcase the creative work of God Almighty. Maybe she listens to worship music, writes a few of her own songs, and even sees the deeper theology behind the music. But it’s another thing to see how Tony found a way to showcase God’s creative work through math. Tony found how math could be creative and be his canvas. 

We need more students like Tony, and we need more leaders to recognize that kind of creative ability. Instead of math, maybe it’s a knack for business, acting, history, woodworking, engineering, or even baking cookies. These are the makings of the masterpieces God is at work creating in and through your students. 

How are you helping your students fully invest in their creative potential? 

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Making Disciples Means Building Relationships

Think about the last time you had a disagreement. It could have been about sports, politics, movies, or perhaps a more personal topic—like your faith. When you left the conversation, did you feel like you managed to make your point? Did you feel like there was any kind of mutual agreement reached—even if it meant agreeing to disagree? Often our failure (or the failure of another) to see an alternative viewpoint has a lot to do with delivery. 

Several years ago, I struck up a conversation with a man preaching the gospel on a street corner in Los Angeles. I noticed him because he was doing quite a bit of yelling at people about going to hell. Yet not one person, while I stood and watched, paid any attention to him or took his materials. I asked him why he thought that was. He just shook his head and said he trusted God to turn their hearts. While I applaud his faith in God’s ability and desire to change the hearts of people, I suggested that perhaps his methods could better represent the God he wanted them to follow. 

The Apostle Peter’s first letter is addressed to Roman Christians, who were faced with some intense suffering and persecution as a result of their faith in Christ. He reminds them that even in the midst of what might look like a dire situation, how they represent Christ matters. No matter the harm a person intends, no matter what a person says about you or actions they take against you, do good and be above reproach (1 Peter 3:13-14). Because when we set Christ apart as Lord, we have nothing to fear. 

But just as our actions speak volumes about who and what we put our faith in, our words ought to give the reason behind those actions. But because both word and deed matter, how their words were expressed would matter just as much. The command is to always be prepared to give an answer—to always be ready to offer why, despite the persecution, their hopes remained in Christ (v. 15). However, doing so required supernatural levels of gentleness and respect. Doing so would prove to be the ultimate display of Christ-likeness, “so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander” (v.16). 

Our effective witness to others as followers of Christ is so much more than just communicating the gospel when given the opportunity. It’s more than just talking about Jesus and asking another person to “accept” Jesus. Effective disciple-making requires the formation of a relationship—even if that relationship is only for a small moment in time. It requires us to listen to another’s story, their concerns, objections, frustrations, and questions—and to do so with gentleness and respect. For you, it may not be a matter of solidarity in the face of persecution. It may, however, be more about giving another a reason to hear you when you do share the gospel. Peter’s words are still as relevant now as they were then. 

How we share, Christ, is just as important as what we share about him. Our gentleness and respect towards others, our insistence on listening, and persistence to create valuable relationships are critical if we hope to create the necessary inroads for the gospel. Remember, as ambassadors of Christ, you may be the only Bible a person ever reads and the only Jesus they ever meet.

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Five Questions to Keep Discipleship Fresh on Your Mind

Here we are. Still stuck at home. On the one hand, wondering when we get back to normal. On the other hand, a bit scared for what that will mean when that times comes. This house, which at one time seemed too big, now seems to be closing in on me. We homeschool, so this shouldn’t be hard right? We can still do school. The kids are always together. But over the last few weeks, I think we can all agree that this time spent at home—however necessary—is anything but easy. 

But my wife and I are resolved to use this time as best we can. We want to use this time to dial in our marriage, our relationships as a family, and how we disciple our kids. Now you might have guessed that as a homeschool family, discipleship is something that is always on our minds—that Jesus is in every bit of school. And you’d be right. We are fortunate to have curriculum that helps our kids see God in all things—math, science, reading, etc. But let me be clear, our focus on building a biblical worldview in our kids does not somehow preclude them from the temptation of sin that surrounds us everyday, all day. 

It’s there. And the longer we co-exist within these four walls, the greater the temptation. Making our efforts to use this time wisely is that much more critical–and difficult. However, about a week ago, I began to notice that conversations were getting harder to come by. I felt like I was forcing the issue and therefore forcing my kids into silence. Silence creates awkward moments, giving all the more reason to revert to what is easy—just wait until church reopens and go from there. No one likes awkward moments. Right?

But I don’t think that’s an option. Nor should it be. It’s going to be a while (more than likely) before church looks “normal”—if we can use that word. We have to consider that church may forever look different. And despite the great job many pastors and church are doing to navigate these rough and uncharted waters, families cannot—and frankly should not—solely rely on the church’s efforts. Discipling your kids is your job. Period. The church is here to help. Because it does take a village. But while we wait for the village to reconvene, discipleship continues on. You’re running point, so it’s time to start playing. 

If you’re like me, you started off with the greatest of intentions, but those intentions taper off in time. So to help you keep the conversations going, the discipleship fresh, and our eyes fixed on Jesus, here are five questions that I have been focused on with our tribe over the last several days. Read through them, then I’ll provide some ideas on how to best use them. 

What do you love the most? 

No this isn’t a trick question. Yes, my kids answered Jesus. Luckily that’s not the point. I am sure your kids already know that they should love Jesus the most. So that’s not really the conversation I think you should have. Try instead to focus on talking about the difference between loving family, objects, activities, and Jesus. What they say they love is and how their love is reflected through their actions is likely different. Help them see that. 

What distracts you from growing in your faith? 

Distractions are incredibly distracting. I know, deep right? But maybe even more so when we are bored. It is so much easier to scroll through social media, binge watch Netflix, or lose all time and space gaming, than reading the Bible, praying, and seeking out ways to love our neighbors. But the first step in overcoming such distractions is to identify them and challenge each other to do better. 

What sins are the most difficult to leave behind?

I continue to believe sin is a subject we simply don’t talk about enough. Not in a “turn or burn” sense, but openly and honestly talking about the mess sin has caused in our lives—personally and even globally. 

What does it mean to love your neighbor? 

Social (or better, physical distancing) has given us permission to ignore our neighbors. Don’t. Talk about creative ways you can be Jesus to family, friends, and neighbors while still respecting your local governments’ wishes to protect the lives of others. 

How important is your church community?

Now that we haven’t been at church for several weeks, it is interesting to talk with your kids about the impact their church community has made in their lives and helps open the conversation about why community is so important in the life of a disciple. 

I am sure there are so many more questions that could be asked. Ask those too. The point here is not to use these questions as a step by step guide for sure-fire discipleship while stuck at home. Instead, I wanted to provide a few ideas that will help get the ball rolling—a little nudge to keep us out of the rut. We take one question to ask during breakfast to get the kids thinking. We might remind them of it at some point in the day. Then at dinner, talk in a little more detail. 

Some days the questions will flop. However, other days you might find dinner takes twice as long because the conversation just keep going. It might spark an argument, tears, anxiety, or angst. That’s ok. Keep talking. Those issue will find resolution. But if nothing else, you will be showing your kids just how much you value their walk with Jesus.

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Discipleship Essentials: Using How Our Students Actually Learn To Make Disciples

I recently had lunch with a local youth pastor. He was hoping for some insight and direction for his budding youth ministry. The good news was that he was having no trouble with attendance, parent involvement, or support from senior leadership. His trouble was getting students excited about learning Scripture, actively pursuing discipleship, retaining the information, and then acting on it. He wanted more than just attenders, he wanted kids who were thinkers. Kids who could confidently put into practice what it meant to be a disciple in modern youth culture. 

If you haven’t already, you should be asking the same question. 

While the answer is a bit more complicated to address than the space I have here, it does begin with one simple and very common misunderstanding with how our students learn best. If you’re a bit older, like me, then you may have been taught that the best learning comes via our head, heart, and hands—in that order. We come to know something, that knowledge therefore changes our hearts, which of course creates changed behavior. But what if I told you that was backwards and not how we actually learn? 

Because it’s not. 

Learning that lasts is driven from experience first. Experiences are incredible teachers. It not only captivates our attention, it engages our imaginations, stirs up emotion, causes us to ask questions, and, peaks our curiosity. Experiences creates a deeper need to know. 

So here is how I suggested my pastor friend flip how he teaches his students. Begin with experience.


Learn from experiences

The first practice after a Friday night football game was Saturday morning practice. The goal wasn’t to run, or hit, or go over plays. The day after practice was designed for two specific things: to lick our wounds and watch game film. We needed to rest, but more than that, we needed to see as soon as possible what we did right and what we did wrong. We learn by doing, making mistakes, and correcting those mistakes—our brains are wired that way. So when you think of experiences to grow your students into mature thinking Christians, they need the space to try, to succeed, to fail, to review how it unfolded, and learn from the experience.

But that’s not all. Students still have to go to school, participate in sports, music, or other activities. Likely those things occur in the real world. It’s great that students can retreat back into church or amongst Christian friends for some feel-good worship and motivational teaching. But what if that time could also be used for debriefing, sharing victories, and defeats? What if students could renter their world with useful tactics? 

But this isn’t only about their experiences outside the church. As leaders and parents, we need to consider the experience inside the church as well. If you haven’t yet had a student come to you in confidence and reveal they are living a transgender lifestyle, you will, and soon. How we respond to sin is critical in crafting the kind of experience that matures their faith without compromising truth.  

Theological training

There is genuine excitement that comes from wrestling with God. There is a certain satisfaction that comes from a faith driven by an intense desire to understand Him. Such depth only comes from the discipline of theological study. But I can almost hear what you’re thinking. You don’t need to be a professional theologian to be disciple. You don’t need a seminary degree or to read old, dusty books on exegetical fallacies or multi-volume commentaries—although the theology nerd in me would suggest that you do. Certainly, we cannot expect our students to dive that deep—although some will. Can they really handle such complex ideas? Yes, and they want to, because we are all theologians—because we all think about God—and live accordingly. No matter what level our students enter the journey, it begins when they desire to seek a deeper understanding of who God is and what it means to put their trust in Jesus. What we think about Jesus informs how we feel about Him, and how we live out that belief. 

How and what our students think about God plays a critical role in their journey as a disciple. Learning to think “Christianly” enables informed Christian action. Theology sets the foundation for our desire to want to see things in a Christian way. Students’ study of theology helps them make judgments about how best to act; it encourages them to engage with the real world. In other words, theology is our discipleship in action. So don’t be fearful of introducing more complex ideas about God, salvation, theological history, and even some of the difference in theology among Christians, because we can’t imagine the deepest possible love for God without the greatest possible understanding of Him. You likely know the theological level of understanding in your students. Raise the bar. They will meet it, and in the end, thank you for it. 

Cultivate creativity 

About ten years ago, we sounded the alarm because the Millennial generation was leaving the church in droves with no sign of return. The church tried being more relevant, created big events and the superstar youth pastor. Maybe better music would work, we thought. Or perhaps better games, and exchanging exegetical sermons for motivational speeches would do the trick. Over the last decade, none of these things have made a positive impact on discipling our students. Instead, what we discovered was that in our efforts to create specific spaces for teens—to accomplish these new-fangled goals—we siloed our youth off from the rest of the church. But what does youth leaving the church have to do with creativity? 

God has gifted each of us—students included—with the ability to create. The church ought to be a place where that creativity is birthed and nurtured. But that can’t happen for students who have no place in the wide sphere of the church community because they have been separated since birth. 

Conclusion

While it certainly is not a guaranteed fix or some kind of secret formula to highly effective disciples, helping students think in Christian categories helps them to create a framework of how both sides of their brain can work in concert to best represent God and His kingdom. It helps join together creativity and logic and puts it into action.

Purchase a copy of The Truth Is and get a free downloadable sample of my new book Beyond the Edge of the Water (release date: July 7). 

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What if Our Coronavirus Self-Isolating Created a Better Normal?

When I was 13, I completed my first novel—start to finish—during an extended blackout. When I was 6, my brother and I managed to create a system of snow tunnels during one of worst snow storms I have seen in my lifetime. Family camping trips throughout my childhood are filled with memories of late night camp fires telling stories and making jokes for hours. 

Each of these moments and perhaps countless others that I can’t remember all have two important things in common. First, I didn’t go seeking them out. At first I hated the fact that the power went out for a few days. The constant snowfall created an immediate disruption in our lives and activities that neither myself or my brother was thrilled about. And despite the camping trips being a yearly activity, we approached them more out of obligation than joy—at least at first. 

The second thing each of these had in common is that I was, in the end, grateful for them. The power outage not only gave me the victory of finishing a book, it gave me a deeper desire to read and I began to write. The snow tunnel was epic—and we have the pictures to prove it. And I can still remember the stories my dad would make up around the campfire. The memories of that laughter still make me laugh more than 30 years later. 

Here’s the common thread. Moments we entered just hoping—better yet aiming—to just get through it so life can return to normal, ended up—even in small ways—changing us forever. It changed our family, our relationships, it sparked our imaginations and creativity, and it forced us to stop long enough to enjoy what was right in front of us. We learned to enjoy the moments—however they were handed to us. Each of them became a gift. 

So here we are. Learning this new thing called social distancing, working from home, kids home from school, activities cancelled, nowhere to go, with almost nothing to do. It’s enough to drive some of us crazy. When this whole virus thing began, I remember telling my wife that we just need to buckle down and get through it. I was wrong. 

What if we saw this time of unwanted change as a gift? 

How in the world could I say such a thing is a gift? People are getting sick, some are even dying. Businesses are being forced to close, people are out of a job, and the economy is teetering on the edge of collapse (ok, maybe that’s extreme). This is anything but a gift. Perhaps even a curse. But perhaps not. I get it, I’m in that same boat. Unemployed and seemingly frozen in time. But I had a friend recently remind me that God is already on the other side of all of this reminding us to trust Him. 

As a young preteen, I hated reading. But when the power blew, I grabbed a candle and started reading. After a while I got sick of reading. I would put the book down for a while, but then pick it right back up. I didn’t craft a set of goals once the power went out and purposed to finish a book. Honestly, I was just bored. So I kept reading. Until I saw how far I got and how interested and invested I became in the story. Even after power was restored days later, I continued to read and soon began to write. 

You’ve been pulled into the abnormal. Take advantage. 

Go outside and walk with your kids, play catch, and make chalk art. It’s good for you and them—body, mind, and soul. 

Build legos, play games—find ways to laugh.

Just talk. Your kids have questions about what is happening, questions about God’s role in all of this. Step into those questions. 

Read together. The Bible for sure, but other books as well. 

If you’re asked to now participate in your child’s education, find some creative ways to do it. Make learning fun. If you’re not sure how, find a homeschool family and ask. 

Get creative. Boredom has a way of fostering creativity. Use it and perhaps rediscover your imagination.

These are difficult times. Certainly more challenging than a power outage, snowstorm, or camping trip. But when you can’t change your situation, perhaps your situation can change you—for the better. Don’t put your head down and hope to just make it through, because I can guarantee that you’ll miss the adventure, the lesson, the chance at better relationships and making your kids into stronger disciples. 

We all want this virus thing to end and life to return to normal. I just hope when we return, we return to a new normal, a better normal. 

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Why Your Student’s Questions are Just as Important as the Answers

Rhett and Link Deconstruction – Part 2 (Read Part 1 Here)

Ah, questions. They are the foundation for our imagination. They beg us to explore possibility, innovation, and nearly unlimited knowledge. Parents have to carefully balance the inquisitive child asking countless questions with the annoying badgering of asking why. Teachers spend years in the classroom refining the art of asking the right kinds of questions to help students gain a deeper understanding. 

Questions are fuel for the fire. 

But I want you to stop and think for a moment and consider something. Is the same thing about questions true for adults in the church? Do questions drive our discipleship experience, how we raise our children to know Jesus and how we lead young people to a deeper faith and stronger foundation? 

Perhaps. But as I listened to Rhett and Link’s podcasts deconstructing their faith, this was a question that continued to reverberate in my mind. They both discussed in great detail the seemingly endless stream of questions that lead them down a much different path than the one they were on. Many of the same questions I had, but with wildly varying results. 

I believe this is more than just one or two podcasts. Or even about one or two popular public figures that once proclaimed to be Christian. I believe this about every kid, parent, or college student that was raised to believe in something but never taught why. 

Questions compel us to ask why. And as I have taught students over the years, if Christianity is true, then no question ought to be off-limits. That, of course, does not mean every question can be answered. But at the end of the day, we must ask ourselves which worldview has the best answers to life’s most important questions—and do those answers provide a consistent and coherent framework for reality. 

That doesn’t make the answers easy. And I believe that’s where we often go wrong—that just if we ask the question, the answer ought to be something easy to swallow. But Jesus never promises that. In fact, the reality is quite the opposite. Reality can be a jagged little pill. 

In John chapter 6, we discover that even those closest to Jesus found his teaching often strange and confusing—even to the point of people walking away. But even when Jesus asks the twelve if they want to leave too, Peter gets it exactly right. 

Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God’” (John 6:68-69).

When I was in college, my mom and I decided that I should be a mechanical engineer. I like to create things. I have a huge imagination and always need a creative outlet. This would be a great solution to my need to create, and my mom’s need to see me in a viable career. But needless to say, the math was far too tricky. No matter how hard I tried, I could not wrap my head around advanced calculus. 

Now imagine what might have happened if I continue to believe myself to be an aspiring engineer, but rejected the universal truths of calculus. It’s a ridiculous proposition because it could never happen. But so many former believers do precisely the same thing with Jesus. We assert to have the same life, the same morals, the same pursuit of beauty and goodness but refuse to credit the source—all because we asked a question and didn’t like the answer. 

Parents and pastors: Let the questions fly

Teach your kids to ask them and to never stop. But also teach them that answers are sometimes like calculus (insert subject you hate), they don’t always make perfect sense. 

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Leading Youth to Spiritual Maturity and a Strong Biblical Faith

I was once asked to find a way to quantify spiritual growth in my students. I remember thinking it was, in every way, impossible. How in the world would I measure something so personal and so specific to each person? But nevertheless, since it was part of my job and required as part of an education institution, it gave me a chance to experiment to find what worked and what didn’t. While there is no sure-fire way of measuring what works for every person in every situation, I have found incredible value in creating some kind of litmus test that helps students form a lasting and biblical faith. 

Bellow are ten questions that ought to be asked, talked about, taught about, and thoroughly thought through. I have also created pdf versions for you to download. 

1. What do they love the most

I know, this seems almost too easy. The answer is of course Jesus. But this question is really designed to get to the root of where students would rather invest the vast majority of their time, energy, and resources. Or at least their desire to. 

2. What are they focused on

This question is a bit of an extension from the first. Oftentimes, what we love most, we are focused on. However, for students, this is not always true and it’s not always true in every moment. The point here is to help them learn, as they grow older, what they love the most, ought to require to most focus. 

3. Are they willing to take risks?

There is such a thing called safetyism. It’s basically the idea the primary job of a parent is to keep our kids safe by keep a perpetual roll of bubble wrap on them for life. It’s believing the role of a parent is to clear the path of any obstacles. But following Christ requires risk. I don’t mean making rash decisions or acting recklessly. But the willingness to stand with conviction knowing that doing so is often a great risk in our modern world. 

4. How do they define sin? 

I say it a lot. But sin is a constantly moving target. It seems like at every turn there is another sinful behavior that mainstream media and pop culture are campaigning to normalize. So first, be talking about sin. The goal is to continually become more like Christ, so we have to discuss those things that hinder that goal. Second, consider what is sin to them? Don’t assume your students are on the same page as you. It’s likely they are not. 

5. Are they missional? 

Teaching students to talk about Jesus can be tricky. I wish it wasn’t, but there is no getting around it. Some think it is a gifting thing, others a tolerance thing, for some it’s simply a personality thing, and for many, it’s just not a thing at all. Yet the missional nature of the gospel is a non-negotiable. We have the good news, it’s our job to live it, proclaim it, teach it, and breathe it. But since that’s easier said than done for most teens, how much they practice missional living is indicative of two things. Their growth as disciples and our focus to coach them in it. 

6. Do they really get the idea of love? 

To love is to tolerate. To tolerate is to blindly affirm another’s personal choices. Right? Wrong? But I would bet you a steak dinner, when you talk about love—the unconditional, Bible kind—you’re thinking of the unconditional love for the sinner, Jesus eating with tax collectors, and an almost supernatural hope for literally anyone to come to Christ, But students can carry a far different view. God’s love doesn’t excuse humanity’s inherent sinful nature, yet for culture, love can mean so much more. Love unconditionally supports a person’s personal decisions as pure and holy, so long as that person is being “true to themselves.” Modern love promotes the heart’s desire in any circumstance. Yet the heart is wicked. Pay attention to how your students view the idea of love.

7. Who do they trust and rely on the most?

This is really a question of who is their tribe. Here I don’t just mean friends or family. Having a tribe is almost cult-like. It’s unwavering support for those around you—even in the face of utter stupidity, even when it doesn’t make sense to—you support the tribe. For many, this is family, but not all. Our youth find their tribe in all kinds of places—sports, academics, gaming, sex, even celebrities. Tribes provide more than a sense of community, but a sense of identity and purpose. So you should ask yourself two questions. First, think about what are your students’ tribes? Second, how is your church or home helping to be their tribe in light of all the other options? 

8. What are their reasons for believing? Or withholding belief? 

This one is simple, but so incredibly critical. By the time students enter fifth grade (age 11 or so), they should be starting to form their own reasons for believing in Jesus. Which means as parents and pastors, we need to begin exploring their questions and providing good reasoned answers. We can no longer afford to just expect students to carry their parents faith until they reach adulthood. I am convinced that by middle school most of your students have already begun to formulate their opinion on Jesus. And remember, it’s church a few hours a week versus a potential unending stream anti-Jesus rhetoric they get nearly every where else. So the simple question here is, no matter what they believe—Jesus or not—do they have a reason? 

9. How thorough is their knowledge of the Bible?

Here I am talking about more than just Bible memorization, knowing all the basic fundamental stories, and the basics about Jesus. All of it is important—especially memorizing verses, I am big fan. I am talking about the deeper, more intellectual nature of theology and biblical studies and how the Christian worldview applies to every facet of life. Among teens Christianity is often viewed as anti-intellectual and basic biblical principles don’t always apply to modern life. If we don’t show them how deep the rabbit hole goes and how that journey applies to all of life, then it just won’t apply at all. 

10. Are they pursuing a vocation they were created for? 

One my favorite things to tell parents and students is, that no matter what you do—whether you’re a stock broker on Wall street or a stock boy at Walmart, take Jesus with you. As followers of Jesus, we are wired to take our talents into the marketplace to further the Kingdom of God. For Christians, what we consider to be secular work is just as sacred and full time ministry. So ask yourself, how you are helping the youth in your life see their interests and talents as something God-given to be used for his glory.

This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but it’s a useful start in helping you pay better attention to the spiritual growth in the lives of your students.

I have also created a student version available here.

One of my responsibilities as a teacher was to oversee the spiritual growth of the entire student body. Every year, I would ask similar questions at the beginning and end of the school year of the students, parents, leaders, pastors, and myself. The wide variety of answers would help me guide students in their walk, so they could not only have a sure foundation, but to build on for a lasting faith and a prepared faith for what ever comes next. 

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Why Lent is More Than Just Giving Something Up

I wrote this blog a few years ago. Still relevant today. Enjoy.

Some habits are good. Some habits are a prison. We live in a culture that is more addicted than any generation before us. The more we have, the more opportunity we have to be addicted. So often it isn’t until we are stripped of something we have become so dependent on that we understand what it means to be dependent on Christ.

My three daughters are obsessed with American Girl dolls. They love the dolls, the books, the stories, and all the accessories. And they have certainly learned how to butter up to daddy to get the latest and greatest. To make matters worse, we once lived in Chicago and used to live in LA, home of two of the largest American Girl stores. Not just shopping, but an entire experience. But believe me, I am all for it. I love watching them learn history, geography, and letting their imaginations run wild. For the most part, it is a healthy love. But like every kid, the obsession can get you into trouble. And you guessed it. We had to take them away. And you guess it again; it was nearly the end of the world.

Although it broke my heart to have to do it, I needed my kids to see something greater. I needed them to lose something to gain something. What might seem confusing, frustrating, even unfair at times, may be the very thing we need the most. I wanted my kids to experience something far more important. 

Becoming Humbled

Track with me for a minute and let me explain. Consider Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. The Apostle Paul’s encounter with Jesus was no doubt miraculous and life changing (Acts 9:1-31). But have you ever wondered why Paul lost his vision? Initially, we can rightfully assume that Paul’s blindness is a result of having experienced the glory of God. Much like Zechariah losing his ability to speak after hearing the voice of God in the Temple (Luke 1:22). There is little doubt that Paul would have been reduced to powerlessness from such an encounter. But there is something more than just the aftershocks of a Jesus encounter. It is the loss of something to gain something.

“Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.” Acts 9:8-9

Paul lost his vision, even if only temporarily, to gain something greater. He was gaining a new worldview, a new vision, a new vocation, and mission. In fact, he was gaining Jesus himself. First he needed to be knocked of his high horse—he needed to be humbled. God needed his attention. Consequently, Paul ‘s blindness afforded him the time to think, pray, and reflect. He was given a chance to reflect on what had happened and be open to what might happen next. Paul even takes this a step further by fasting for three days. Paul depended on sight. When that was removed and in dire need, he was given a gift. The gift to be wholly dependent on Christ. 

This Season of Lent

Now I know that my removal of much-loved dolls from my daughters pales in comparison to Paul. Nor do I assume that such an act on my part will somehow create a revelatory experience of Jesus in my daughters. Although that would be cool. It does, however, do two things, which I think are crucial. The same this found in Paul’s situation. First, it removes. It removes something that is potentially sinful. American Girl dolls are not sinful in and of themselves. But the dolls may create sinful behaviors. We are called to resist the devil and flee from evil (James 4:7); we are called to put off what once was and live as children of light (Ephesians 4:17-32); and we are called to walk as Jesus did (1 John 2:6). My girls needed something potentially dangerous removed—just for a time. They needed to experience humility to make some space to experience more of Jesus. 

Second, it isn’t just removing something, which can just produce resentment. Think about what it might have been like for Paul to have gone blind, after three days get it back, and then….nothing. Or worse, just be blind for the rest of his life. Instead, Paul was God’s chosen instrument to the Gentiles (Acts 9:16-16). Paul was a new creation in Christ, endowed with a new mission, a new vocation, and a new life. I have to believe that if Jesus had not removed his sight for a time, Paul would not have been open to God’s plan and purpose for him. In a similar fashion, removing something from the kids or giving up something is only a part of the equation. While my girls wait for their beloved dolls, they are practicing what it means to be grateful. Some of their time playing is now spent drawing near to Christ. 

The season of Lent is upon us. So many churches celebrate Lent in different ways, but there is one common thread—the removal of something. Ideally, it is the removal of something causing us to stumble in our walk with Christ. These next 40 days are about cleansing ourselves of the things that turn our hearts from Jesus. But more than that it is about drawing near. It is about doing those things that provide a reconnecting. It might be as complicated and significant as Paul, and you are seeking a new mission for the kingdom. But it might be something as simple as finding a new found gratitude for what Christ has done for us. Either way, take this season of Lent to break free from the prison of those habits that ensnare us into sin and distance ourselves from Christ; and put your dependence in the only one who can provide all that we need.  

Don’t let this season of Lent pass by without teaching and engaging your students in the opportunity to draw near to God in a way that changes their lives forever. Help them discover that even when the Spirit of God seems so far away, setting our hearts and minds on Him will reveal that He has been next to you the whole time. Teach your students to go without, so that they can experience an overflowing of Christ.

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Some Helpful Take-A-Ways From Rhett and Link’s Deconstruction of Faith – Part 1

Because of the nature of my story—raised Christian, wandered from the church, and then found my way back—I am always fascinated by the journeys of others; whether they are to Christ or from him. So naturally when I heard about the Ear Biscuits Podcast with Rhett and Link I was eager to hear their story. 

But I need to be honest here. My initial thought was that I would listen to these podcasts take copious notes of each and every objection or argument, and then skillfully refute each one. I was kind of wanting to be that guy. However, I resisted the urge to pass judgement before I fully digested what these two social media icons had to say and the impact it would make among their many fans from every religious ideology. 

So after 6 hours in the car, and more than four hours of listening, listening again, I wrote down some thoughts, but not the way I had originally intended. I also imagine I’ll do multiple posts on the subject, because there is just far too much to unpack in one post.

First things first

What I want to do—after having listened—is to take a step back and talk about what I think we as devout believers, disciple-makers, apologists, pastors, parents, etc. ought to learn from their journey. I also don’t want to be dismissive. Instead, take their comments as they presented them—as a genuine experience and pursuit of truth. But to be clear, I believe their conclusions miss the mark. Nonetheless, the conversation they started is an important one. It’s a conversation the church cannot afford to ignore and a conversation families cannot pretend doesn’t exist. 

My Initial Take-a-ways. Here they are in short form. 

The importance of pursuing truth

The importance of questions

The importance of intellectual discussion

The importance of doubt

The importance of family in the discipleship process

There is just too much to think about to confine all my thoughts into one post. So I am going to break this into a post for each take-a-way. Because I think all of these are worth considering, thinking over, digesting, and seeking a real change in posture, rather than just consuming more content for the sake of interest. 

So here we go: Pursing Truth

A central claim of Christianity is that it possesses absolute truth. After all Jesus is the Truth. So anytime a person denies Jesus they are in fact denying truth. Seems simple enough. We might then conclude that Rhett and Link’s deconstruction of their faith is nothing more than exchanging truth for a lie. On the surface, that is absolutely correct. But it is still a pursuit of truth. It’s something we all want. We want to know what is true. But like any gift, the gift of holding the truth—is that it’s easy to take it for granted. And it’s easy to misunderstand why another can’t see it.

The one thing I kept hearing in both conversations was this notion that truth in the church was something assumed rather than taught. If Christianity is Truth, then we ought not fear the pursuit of it. Instead it’s a pursuit that we should embrace and celebrate; because in the end, it will lead us to Jesus—the Way, the Truth, and the Life. 

I could hear their angst, their desire to know, and in some ways their hope that the conclusions they were drawing were actually wrong. While I might argue that their selected evidence and subsequent conclusions are a little short sighted and reveal a certain level of unwillingness to faithfully follow the evidence where it leads, I sincerely appreciate their desire to find what is true.

This conversation of truth is not only critical, its also tricky. What Rhett and Link seemed to do—at least to me—was to deny the existence of absolute truth in Jesus for the uncertainty of truth as the most virtuous display of humanity. Because our world has so many different cultures, contexts, and religions, truth is just a social construct created differently by each culture, therefore explaining reality very differently, and there- fore allowing for multiple versions of truth. In other words, truth is something that ought to exist internally for each person, rather than a universal standard that stands independent of opinions and emotions.

In both podcasts, Rhett and Link asserted that there just wasn’t enough evidence pointing to Christianity as a true and coherent worldview. Because they couldn’t know with any degree of certainty, it must not be true. Yet continued to establish a new worldview based on the same moral tenants as well as an almost zen like comfort of embracing uncertainty. This is what happens when we try to create truth internally.

This is why truth is so critical in the lives of our youth. Don’t take what God has revealed in Scripture and through Jesus for granted. But teach the truth of the gospel as the best explanation for how we understand the real world, completely independent of us. It was never meant to be easy or convenient, just true. 

Here is how I said it in my last book, The Truth Is...

The Christian worldview suggests that through the Divine revelation of God in Jesus Christ, we have come to a knowledge of the truth. In other words, because of God, we can know. We can know the origin of the universe, the purpose of humanity, and the reasons for pain in our world and the solution. Christians call this truth. This truth is based on an objective standard known as God—a truth revealed by faith and strengthened by reason. We know Christianity to be true primarily by the self-authenticating witness of God’s Spirit. We show Christianity is true by presenting good arguments for its central claims. Therefore to be effective in doing apologetics, we must present rational and persuasive arguments for the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit and leave the results to God.

Steven Kozak, The Truth Is, p102
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Maybe The Most Important Conversation in Your Students’ Spiritual Transformation

The Following is an excerpt from my upcoming book: Beyond the Edge of the Water: Reclaiming Biblical Discipleship for a Rising Generation. Coming out this summer.

The nature of sin and the biblical solution to its infestation might seem, to older generations, to be entirely obvious and unnecessary to point out as a key part of being a disciple. However, when we consider the world our students are facing—one of rapidly deteriorating morality—its need is greater than ever. As youth leaders, we need to be able to move students from simply loving the idea of Jesus to deeply understanding their need for Him and the value of living the life He calls them to. Unfortunately, we have somehow allowed students to believe that forgiveness is the beginning and end of repentance and that what the Bible calls sin has to be weighed for its cultural relevancy. If our intention for them is nothing more than staying out of trouble, being a good person, and finding their true identity, then what room is left for Jesus? 

So what’s the plan? It’s simple. Talk about sin. 

Talk about sin. Because we don’t. Over the last ten years, I have lived in Detroit, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Fort Wayne, and, of course, attended different churches. In those ten years, I can count on one hand the number times any one of those churches talked about sin. Why? Because it’s easier to talk about how much Jesus loves us and the life He wants for us. It’s more attractive to focus on the good in people, rather than the bad. But here’s the thing: we aren’t good. We are dirty, filthy sinners. A former colleague of mine used to tell his students that they were both divine and disgusting. He was insistent that they understood the nature of their flesh and the spiritual battle they were in every day. 

Let’s imagine for a moment what our students might be like if we never talked about the presence of sin. Now, I’m not talking about understanding the difference between right and wrong. God has already placed in us the inherent ability to recognize that there is a difference between the two. I’m talking about the explicit understanding of the Fall, depravity, and life in the flesh. They wouldn’t have the ability to comprehend their moral inability to obey God, their inclination to self-justify, self-worship, and their natural bent toward choosing sin. Meaning for this group it would be impossible to pursue a holy lifestyle and life of discipleship; it would be impossible to please God and follow Him into the life He desires. Because such a life would be invisible, unknowable, and unreachable. 

Recognizing the lordship of Jesus and the desire to be holy means first to recognize one’s need for Jesus in the first place. If our students can’t properly recognize the presence of sin in the world and in their lives, then what need do they have for Jesus? How could they possibly call Him Lord? Sin that we refuse to recognize poisons our hearts, hinders our worship, and our ability to impact the world with the gospel. How can we proclaim a gospel that we really don’t fully accept because we don’t fully accept our sin? 

But Steve, sin is too negative, not loving enough, and our kids won’t respond. I disagree. For anyone who is discipling youth, your job is to preach the gospel and live out its truth as an example. This includes sin. Without it, why are we even talking about the gospel, or even discipleship? 

Living the life of a disciple is about a life in pursuit of holiness. 

Holiness requires the conquering of sin. 

If we have any hope students will conquer sin, we need to talk about it. 

It’s true, our students are divine—as my colleague would put it. They are incredible kids, created in the image of God, special, purposed, and capable of more than we could possibly imagine. But they are truly disgusting. They are full of sin, destined in so many ways to choose evil over good, self over others, and their way over God’s way. As leaders, we will watch, time and again, our students make decisions to willingly sin, justify it, excuse it, dismiss it, repent of it, and to our dismay, do it all over again.

However, contrary to mainstream and social media, I find that students deeply appreciate when adults stand firm on truth expressed in love toward those we disagree with or issues of sin. Culture may define tolerance as equal acceptance and validity of every individual and that no belief or behavior ought to be criticized, but true tolerance—the kind expressed by Christ Himself—is building relationships with people we disagree with. True tolerance is finding common ground without compromising convictions and allowing God’s Word to guide how we understand what is true. 

Practice it. Master it.

It will pay great dividends as you connect with your students. But doing so requires that you are the first to model it. Remember, Paul told the Philippians to model the pattern he gave them (Philippians 2:17); the writer of Hebrews gave us numerous examples to follow (Hebrews 11); Timothy was taught to serve as an example (1 Timothy 4:12–16), to name just a few. Students need to see how a life of holiness is realized in everyday situations. How they see you respond daily to life experiences and how you use the model given to us in Scripture. Living out the hope of Christ is a skill to be practiced and mastered—and, therefore, a skill to be taught. 

God’s commands for His people are not just a list of rules to follow, but the means of how to be the people He truly designed us to be. The law we discover in the Old Testament was given so that people would be aware of their sin and their need for Christ. But Jesus did not abolish the Law, suddenly giving us the freedom to act in any ridiculous way we choose. He fulfilled it. Giving us, through the Spirit, the means of living out God’s purpose and ability to conquer sin and its effects. Read the Bible from the beginning, and it won’t take very long to see how ugly sin makes things and the consequences of man’s ideas versus the blessings of God’s. Jesus’ call to live a holy life is couched in the story of redemption and His own life, death, and resurrection. Jesus repeatedly showed His disciples life’s important consequences by bringing them into situations where they could minister to the poor, the sick, and the grieving, raising their level of awareness of spiritual, physical, and emotional needs.

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Alternative Practices To Grab Your Students Attention

I am sure, like me, you have all been there. You feel like what you have to say is literally from the Spirit of God. You have prepped all week; you carefully crafted your talk, studied the text, prayed through the text, and even created some of the greatest tweetable one-liners. You are convinced that your picture with a great quote is showing up on Instagram this week. The time comes, you take the stage, and not soon after you begin your greatest message ever, you start to feel like your words are vanishing before they ever reach the ears of your students. 

Attention spans are dropping; faces are not illuminated with the Spirit of God— as you had hoped—but of that blinding glow the LED glow of their smartphone. Your point is lost, your motivation lacking, and once again the seemingly only viable solution is to cut down on the amount of teaching. Research is now showing that the attention span of the average student is actually less than that of a goldfish. And more often than not we believe that the solution is less teaching time. After all, doesn’t that make the most sense? Less attention span means I should try and say more in less time so that what students need to hear isn’t lost while distracted by the endless stream of notifications on their phones.

As disciple-makers, we are all caught in a bit of a conundrum because we feel like there are only two options. Do I run the risk of losing their attention for the sake of the message or sacrifice the message for the sake of their attention spans? It feels like either way, you lose. Because either way, you do lose. Unless of course, you modified your delivery method. The reality is that your students’ attention spans have less to do with content and duration and more to do with delivery. How we teach is just as important as what we teach—sometimes even more so.

This is precisely the challenge teachers face every day in the classroom. Imagine trying to keep the attention of students during the last hour of the day. As a teacher, I worked tirelessly to find ways that not only kept their attention but focused on coaching students to learn rather than just the successful transference of information via sound wave from mouth to ear. So I thought I would share with you what became some of my most successful tactics in the classroom and give a little insight into how I used them in ministry. 

Flipped classroom

Take what is generally done in a classroom and have students do it at home and what they would typically do at home, have them do with the teacher in the classroom. So things like a lecture or instructional time would be done online at home, and the teacher would coach students through practice work in the classroom. This is a model very similar to how coaches run a practice. It allows students to make mistakes and receive immediate feedback and correction. 

Let’s say you are aiming to teach those you lead the importance of sharing your faith and you want to provide a simple how-to along with it. That’s great. Normally, our first response is to craft a nice message with some easy points to remember and maybe a slick powerpoint presentation. Or you could flip it. Send students home with a message that taught on the importance and offered a few key pointers on how to share your faith turning your meeting time into actual hands-on practice. You could use role-playing, establish different scenarios, questions, and tackle roadblocks people may have. This allows space and time for immediate correction and encouragement and increases the chances students will take that learning forward and actually use it. 

Differentiated instruction

Teachers use a variety of instructional and assessment styles that are intended to change and adapt according to student needs and learning capabilities. So rather than just lecture at students for thirty minutes, give them a worksheet to take home and then give a quiz on the subject matter the next day, teachers choose a variety of teaching methods and present the material and then offer a more formative assessment model for student evaluation. 

When you are preparing a lesson or sermon for the week, be sure to take a step back and consider as many learning styles as you can and incorporate them into your talk, sermon, or lesson. Take the necessary time to discover how your students learn (ask them, they probably know). It takes more time and effort on your part, but well worth it when you see all of your students engaged. 

Collaborative learning

Put students into groups, give them a problem, and watch them collectively create a solution. This approached fosters creative thinking and gets students actively involved in the learning process. It eliminates the need for students to passively listen to lectures or instruction from a teacher and creates space to put new knowledge to work. 

This kind of learning works excellent in a small group setting. Give students time to explore together how to take on the challenge you gave them in a talk or sermon. It gives them the opportunity to create individualized solutions and strategies for each other collectively. For example, rather than just quietly reflecting on how to conquer sin, in a collaborative learning setting students would create a strategy together for the individual. This also opens a much larger door for prayer and accountability among the group.

Project-based learning

Giving students a project that throughout the entire process, takes them through a series of objections or milestones to complete. Project-based learning is designed to be actual hands-on training for the learner. It is a chance to engage in a task—success or fail— to learn. 

We all want those we lead to live on mission. We want them to exemplify a biblical worldview in every sphere of their lives. Yet more often than not, we give our students marching orders and can only hope they follow-through. But, if we were to think in terms of project-based learning, we force ourselves to be more intentional with what tasks we give our students as well as our expectations and follow-through. 

Now I might be able to guess what many of you are thinking—if you read this far. This is just one more thing to learn, one more thing to add into an already overcrowded day. I know, in some cases it sounds technical; and besides, teachers spend an entire career perfecting these, and for a pastor, teaching is just one part of an already overwhelming job. So here is what I would suggest: Pick one. Just pick one of these and try it. But you have to try it for a month or more. Ask some teachers in your congregation for help (they love this kind of stuff). It will undoubtedly throw your leaders off and even some of your students, but stick with it. Have reasonable expectations. At the end of the month, evaluate with your team on how they thought it went. Make adjustments or ditch it and try something else. 

Have fun, and as always we are praying for you. 

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7 Apologetic Questions Parents and Pastors Need to Be Asking Students

As a parent and youth leader, I continue to think that one of the most difficult (if not the most difficult) part of raising disciples of Jesus is bridging the gap between church, home, school, and social activities. You know the conversations. 

Me: “Hey honey, so what happened in church today?” 

Kid: “Eh, nothing much. I got a high score in Mario Cart.” 

Me: “Did you talk about Jesus?” 

Kid: “Well, duh, it was church.” 

Then I roll my eyes in exhaustion, we arrive at home, get lunch, and before long, the day is lost. What if we could have greater intentionality in how we have conversations with our kids. What if those conversations could actually help to prepare them for the road ahead—kind of an apologetics on the run. I am here to tell you that it is so entirely possible. 

I know, I am a perpetual optimist, but most parents are desperate for ways to talk to their kids about their faith, politics, daily events, and news. And if they just had a way in, a conversation starter, imagine what might happen in the lives of those students. After all, the primary disciple maker in a child’s life was designed to be a parent. We should empower them where and when we can. 

How have your beliefs changed over the last year or two?

For better or worse, it is important to get a gauge on where your students are in their journey. But don’t leave the question there. Ask why they have changed (or not changed). What factors have impacted the change? Are there any questions that remain? Often our student’s beliefs are formed from emotions. Continue to help them form what they believe and why through reason rather than emotion. 

In what ways have you struggled with your faith recently? What would your faith in Christ look like if you had all of your questions answered?

It is important to remember that we all have our doubts. However, it is more important that we learn to express those doubts. Be sure to foster the home as a safe place for students to express doubts without judgment or condemnation. Often the best way to make that happen is to express your doubt first.

How can you deal with the objections science raise in regards to religion?

Faith and science are not opposites, enemies, or even frienemies. Instead, science has the potential to give us greater faith. This volatile relationship is often perpetuated within students’ classrooms and can prove to be a constant sore spot. Ask your students to explore how they might look for evidence of God in the secular science books they use in school every day. 

What would it take? How much evidence would be enough to either believe or solidify your current belief in God?

For the last ten years or so, a common way to assert belief in God without following Jesus has been coined, Moral Therapeutic Deism. Sort of using God (or the idea of God) as the means of affirming what a “good person” is or help during hard times—a genie in a bottle so to speak. What would it take to be all in?

How would you explain or help a person struggling with pain, suffering, or the presence of evil in their lives? 

The question of evil continues to be the number one question among students—in large part because the problem of evil affects all people on all kinds of fronts. Students are dealing with so much more than most of us ever did. Not only how are they handling pain, suffering, and evil; but how are they helping others, and how do they see God in that picture?

How would you respond to those who argue that the Bible is nothing more than mythical tales with no historical value or credibility? 

I continue to tell students that I think the evidence for the New Testament is one of the most compelling evidence for Christianity. Many continue to cast the Bible aside as irrelevant and useless in our modern world. Challenge them to consider the consequences of trusting the New Testament from it being a historically accurate document as well as spiritually authoritative.

How would you steer a conversation about Jesus as a great teacher to a conversation about Jesus as the divine Son of God? 

Most people (although certainly not all) now accept Jesus as a historical figure that made a great impact on our world. To many, he is a great moral teacher or some kind of religious sage. What would it mean in their world to fully commit to the life Jesus has called them to?

Want to dive deeper and do even more for your parents? My book, The Truth Is, is available in paperback and ebook

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5 Things The Church Can Learn From Kanye (And Other High Profile Christians)

I know what you’re thinking: “wow, this guy is late to the party. This Kanye thing was last month.” And you would be right. I am a little late to the party. But hang in there with me for a minute. 

Celebrate radical transformation

We tend to be far too skeptical. If it doesn’t match our experience or expectations, we find it hard to believe. 

We all love great—miraculous, in fact—stories of people coming to faith in Jesus. But for whatever reason, when it comes to celebrities, many of us tend to sit back in our chairs and wait with eager skepticism. We wait for them mess it up–for it all to be a sham. Perhaps it’s too good to be true. Perhaps it exposes a flaw in our own faith. But I think, as a church, it is important for us to take a minute and celebrate every transformation. Whether it’s the addict that turns their life around in a Spirit empowered instant, or the perseverance of a life live in constant pursuit of Jesus. Both of these—and everything in between—is a win to be celebrated. 

Leverage your platform

There is a captive audience and a whole slew of people who wouldn’t normally listen to truth. 

Comfort seems so much more desirable. Routine and rhythm are more predictable. And it is certainly easier to only be concerned with yourself and those immediately around you. Which essentially causes the majority of us to not even consider something like a platform. That’s for authors, entertainers, and preachers, right? Nope. We all have a platform. We all have a ministry. Wherever God has placed you and whoever God has placed in your life, that is your platform. Whether 1 person, 1000 people, or 100,000 people, you have influence in someone’s life. That is your platform and you are called to use it. It means you are taking your faith from your personal private sector and making it incredibly public—precisely what Kanye did. 

Disciple the newbies

He’s not perfect. He has, and will continue to make mistakes, miscues, and create misunderstanding. He needs mentorship. Don’t we all. As a church we invest huge amounts of resources to the reaching people with the gospel. As we should. But shouldn’t we invest more into making disciples, helping people persevere, and walk the difficult road of following Jesus? 

Think about this. Companies like Comcast or AT&T spend millions of dollars on acquiring new customers. Great deals, discounts, and what seems like the greatest levels of customer service imaginable. That is until you are the customer. We all know what happens. No more deals, no more customer service—you get the idea. Don’t worry, I’m not saying the church is like Comcast! That’s just downright mean. I just think its far too easy to get focused on getting new people that we forgot about the current community. If you are truly discipling your community, there will always be a steady stream of new people coming in the doors. 

Bold proclamation

He likely has more to lose than most of us, yet he is far more bold than most of us. I get it, for some of us being bold about our faith could result in losing a job, creating tension in families, or alienating our friends. It feels like a lot to lose. I’ve been there. I lost a job once, because some of my co-workers discovered I was in seminary. They immediately perceived me as bigoted and close minded. 

Boldness is not about creating tension or animosity. It’s about standing firm in truth. This is what I think is admirable about what Kanye has done up to this point. He is doing a good job (not perfect for sure) of speaking truth despite the risk of losing some of his most loyal fan base and thus losing sales. 

Outside perspective

He has been vocal about how the church views him and his journey. We can learn a thing or two from his words. And yes, sometimes the truth is hard to swallow. It’s hard to tell if the water is dirty when you have been swimming in it for a while. We need people on the outside to tell us. The same is true of the church. Regardless if you agree or not, it’s wise of us inside the church to listen to those on the outside. Right or wrong, it’s a perspective worth listening to. 

To be clear, I would not consider myself a fan of Kanye. In fact, before his decision to follow Christ, I couldn’t have named one song. I’m more of a Needtobreathe kind of guy. Nevertheless, I am celebrating with heaven and I am incredibly hopeful and excited for what God can do through his testimony, and his willingness to share the truth with such a huge platform. Let’s rally behind him, teach him, love him, correct and rebuke when necessary, and give God the glory for it all. 

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Top 5 Posts of 2019

I don’t know about you, but I feel like 2019 was teetering on the edge of out of control—but kind of in a good way. And I have you all to thank for it—again, in a good way. Over the years I have tinkered with several blog ideas, websites, personal branding, etc. Nothing ever felt like a good fit. That is until now. This past year, I have gained more followers, had more shares, more comments, and views of my work than ever before. 

I wanted to take a minute and say thanks. Thanks for reading, commenting, and some of you, even correcting. My expectations of where is this blog would go have been surpassed in incredible ways. 

So, in the spirit of the new year and the kinds of things we all do in the new year, I wanted to reflect back on the high points of 2019. 

Here are my top 5 blogs of 2019. 

5. Five Key Factors to Spiritual Growth

4. Five Questions Every Youth Leader and Parent Should be Ready to Answer

3. Why We Ought to Reimagine Youth Ministry

2. Why Christianity Makes Sense

1. 3 Disturbing Cultural Trends Youth Pastors Need to Address

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Is A Story of a Baby in a Manger Even Necessary?

Couldn’t Jesus have made himself an adult, just like Adam? Instead, he came as God, as a baby—innocent, vulnerable, and dependent. God advances his mission not just through the divine actions of Jesus like the resurrection, but also through his humanity.

When we describe the incarnation of Jesus Christ, we are talking about the physical form of Jesus in the flesh as He was born of Mary. As the second person of the Trinity, Jesus became incredibly unique and one of a kind through His joining with humanity. It was not as if the members of the Trinity cast lots to see who would have to go to earth and save mankind. The role of Jesus within the second person of the Trinity was eternally destined to become the revelatory expression and person of the Godhead. Jesus as the Word became the ultimate expression of God, to manifest and display God in human form. This notion of God and man becoming one is best illustrated through an early Christian hymn recorded by Paul in his letter to the Philippian church.

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

 6 Who, being in very nature[a] God,
   did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7 but made himself nothing,
   taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
   being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
   he humbled himself
   and became obedient to death—
      even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
   and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
   in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
   to the glory of God the Father.
– Philippians 2:5-11

Here Jesus, although he is God, did not exploit the equality with God he already possessed. He took on the very form and nature of humanity, but without ridding himself of his divinity. However, the divine nature of Jesus was veiled by his humanity–choosing not to exercise his divine power for a time for the purpose of his kingdom mission. The humiliation of the Son of God begins with Jesus becoming man and ends with the most degrading, excruciating, painful death possible in the Greco-Roman world. Jesus underwent his death for the sake of others, living a life we cannot and bearing the punishment we deserve. 

Jesus, though born of sinful parents tainted with the sin of Adam; was conceived without sin. He was free of sin by nature and action, but also lived a normal life. He obeyed His parents, attended school, and grew in stature with God and man (Luke 2:40). Even though He did not sin, He still felt the full and normal range of human emotion.He was tempted in every way we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus was a regular guy. He went to school had a job and in time became a rabbi. The Creator of all, took on flesh in humility so that his creation might reconnect. 

He was born.

Laughed.

Cried.

Got mad.

Went to parties, ate and drank.

Got stressed.

Died.  

Why did Jesus have to come as a man to fulfill the mission of God?

Why didn’t God just make himself a physical form on earth? Certainly, there would not have been as many challenges. God would have quickly gained the attention of the entire world. People everywhere would know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the God of Israel is the one who created the universe and therefore deserves the respect and worship. Why death? Why crucifixion? Why resurrection? Why a baby? 

Instead of a big earth-shattering announcement, God comes in human flesh on a quiet night, in the middle of a chaotic world. I asked this question as a young believer, and the standard answer I got was: “Jesus came as a man, so he could identify with his creation and so that we have an example how to live.”

Yes. But there is more. 

There is fulfillment and a kingdom. 

Jesus can be seen as the second Adam; the one who accomplished everywhere Adam failed. Jesus can also be seen as the second Moses, bringing Israel into a new Exodus, one with eternal ramifications. In each of these roles, Jesus must be seen in the light of his humanity. Adam was given a mission; to rule over creation (Genesis 2:15). Adam had the freedom to rule over the entire created order. He gave names, worked the land, and did it in the presence of God. This freedom came from obedience. Obedience that included the instruction not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and instructing Eve on the necessary details.

They were tempted, and they failed. 

Adam failed to trust that his creator had a plan and knew best. He failed to put God at the center, lost his place in the kingdom and received the penalty of death. Through one man was brought condemnation and death. However, through one man was brought justification, righteousness, and life; Jesus Christ. Jesus was given a mission and similarly tempted. 

Succeeded. 

Jesus, although was God, still allowed for the ultimate purpose of God to be carried out despite the pain and humiliation. We are born with an identity of sin. Our only model is Adam and consequently faces the same fate. Yet in the humanity of Jesus we are given a new model; one of perfection—one that fulfills the goal of humanity as God intended. As followers of Christ, we look forward to the removal of Adam’s stain and a resurrection into the likeness of the perfect man Jesus Christ. The humility of Jesus coming as an infant is central to our theology and salvation. It is a fundamental piece of God’s mission of restoration and shalom. 

The celebration of the Christmas season is a celebration that we have available to us a way out of sin and its punishment. Christmas is a time to recapture God’s intention for humanity and set our sights on something far greater than any of us. A child we would come to know as King and Lord of all Creation could only accomplish all of this. 

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Teaching Your Students About Sin

The nature of sin and the biblical solution to its infestation might seem, to older generations, to be entirely obvious and unnecessary to point out as a key part of being a disciple. However, when we consider the world our students are facing—one of rapidly deteriorating morality—its need is greater than ever. As youth leaders, we need to be able to move students from simply loving the idea of Jesus to deeply understanding their need for Him and the value of living the life He calls them to. Unfortunately, we have somehow allowed students to believe that forgiveness is the beginning and end of repentance and that what the Bible calls sin has to be weighed for its cultural relevancy. If our intention for them is nothing more than staying out of trouble, being a good person, and finding their true identity, then what room is left for Jesus? 

So what’s the plan? It’s simple. Talk about sin. 

Talk about sin. Because we don’t. Over the last ten years, I have lived in Detroit, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Fort Wayne, and, of course, attended different churches. In those ten years, I can count on one hand the number times any one of those churches talked about sin. Why? Because it’s easier to talk about how much Jesus loves us and the life He wants for us. It’s more attractive to focus on the good in people, rather than the bad. But here’s the thing: we aren’t good. We are dirty, filthy sinners. A former colleague of mine used to tell his students that they were both divine and disgusting. He was insistent that they understood the nature of their flesh and the spiritual battle they were in every day. 

Let’s imagine for a moment what our students might be like if we never talked about the presence of sin. Now, I’m not talking about understanding the difference between right and wrong. God has already placed in us the inherent ability to recognize that there is a difference between the two. I’m talking about the explicit understanding of the Fall, depravity, and life in the flesh. They wouldn’t have the ability to comprehend their moral inability to obey God, their inclination to self-justify, self-worship, and their natural bent toward choosing sin. Meaning for this group it would be impossible to pursue a holy lifestyle and life of discipleship; it would be impossible to please God and follow Him into the life He desires. Because such a life would be invisible, unknowable, and unreachable. 

Recognizing the lordship of Jesus and the desire to be holy means first to recognize one’s need for Jesus in the first place. If our students can’t properly recognize the presence of sin in the world and in their lives, then what need do they have for Jesus? How could they possibly call Him Lord? Sin that we refuse to recognize poisons our hearts, hinders our worship, and our ability to impact the world with the gospel. How can we proclaim a gospel that we really don’t fully accept because we don’t fully accept our sin? 

But we can’t ignore the incredible challenge we face in our sin-erased culture. Many students, and even some parents won’t like it. You will no doubt hear comments like talking about sin is too negative, not loving enough, that kids won’t respond, and so forth. But for anyone who is discipling youth, your job is to preach the gospel and live out its truth as an example. This includes sin. Without it, why are we even talking about the gospel, or even discipleship? 

Living the life of a disciple is about a life in pursuit of holiness. 

Holiness requires the conquering of sin. 

If we have any hope students will conquer sin, we need to talk about it. 

It’s true, our students are divine—as my colleague would put it. They are incredible kids, created in the image of God, special, purposed, and capable of more than we could possibly imagine. But they are truly disgusting. They are full of sin, destined in so many ways to choose evil over good, self over others, and their way over God’s way. As leaders, we will watch, time and again, our students make decisions to willingly sin, justify it, excuse it, dismiss it, repent of it, and to our dismay, do it all over again.

However, contrary to mainstream and social media, I find that students deeply appreciate when adults stand firm on truth expressed in love toward those we disagree with or issues of sin. Culture may define tolerance as equal acceptance and validity of every individual and that no belief or behavior ought to be criticized, but true tolerance—the kind expressed by Christ Himself—is building relationships with people we disagree with. True tolerance is finding common ground without compromising convictions and allowing God’s Word to guide how we understand what is true. 

Practice it. Master it.

It will pay great dividends as you connect with your students. But doing so requires that you are the first to model it. Remember, Paul told the Philippians to model the pattern he gave them (Philippians 2:17); the writer of Hebrews gave us numerous examples to follow (Hebrews 11); Timothy was taught to serve as an example (1 Timothy 4:12–16), to name just a few. Students need to see how a life of holiness is realized in everyday situations. How they see you respond daily to life experiences and how you use the model given to us in Scripture. Living out the hope of Christ is a skill to be practiced and mastered—and, therefore, a skill to be taught. 

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5 Questions Every Youth Leader and Parent Should be Ready to Answer

When I began my teaching career I began each year asking my students to write about their reasons for believing—or in some cases, not believing—in Jesus. Basically, their biggest questions. I never expected them to really articulate much of anything. Some managed to write some great reasons, but most were left repeating phrases they heard in their elementary years in church. But I was okay with that, because that wasn’t the point. I didn’t really intend for them to write much. The point was to simply create a specific kind of culture in my classrooms. I wanted to create a culture of questions

Every one of your students have questions. There is no way around it, and there is no way of avoiding it, so please don’t. Students need to feel a part of a community and culture where questions are encouraged and answered. Keep in mind there are students who have been raised to believe that to doubt and question is to have insufficient faith. However, questions and doubts can be incredibly productive when it leads to answers and certainty. Create a culture that encourages students to ask the tough questions and then explore answers together. 

The brain of a teenager is developing incredible fast, taking in tremendous amounts of information at lightening fast speeds. The faith many of our students were introduced to in elementary school changes almost overnight as they approach middle school. Which of course creates an unending stream of questions that demands an answer. Although I don’t have the space here to provide you with every answer to every question I can think of, I created five categories of questions that I believe capture many of our students top concerns when it comes to their faith. 

Questions of Existence

It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that students may question the actual existence of God. Not necessarily on the grounds of a rational belief, but simply because the absence of a physical presence and the possible limited experience of him would create the natural questioning of whether or not God is there. These kinds of questions from students are not much more than a more sophisticated version of a young child’s inquiry of God. Depending on the development of abstract thought students at times will have difficulty wrapping their minds around the idea of God’s existence. 

The question of existence, as students get older, becomes a question of origins and explanation. If somehow I can know God is there, then I can readily explain the existence of the universe, creation, my sin and mortality, etc. If I can’t know, then I am forced to rely solely on science for answers. Which of course is not only limited in its explanation of the universe, but will result in a series of answers far different from church. So you might see where questions of existence left unanswered can created a myriad of problems in the minds of our students. This creates a critical need to address these kinds of questions head on. 

Questions of Plausibility and Reliability

There is no shortage of secular scholarship selling the notion that Jesus’ resurrection was a hoax, the Bible cannot be trusted, and the Old Testament is nothing more than mythical tellings of an ancients people’s understanding of the forces of nature. For example, Bart Ehrman, former Christian, New Testament scholar and professor at the University of North Carolina has argue extensively for many years that mainstream evangelical Christianity has Jesus all wrong. According to Ehrman, Jesus is not the Son of God, the Bible cannot be trusted as the inspired Word, and the resurrection belongs on the shelves next to other works of mythology. 

If our students don’t know any better, scholars and authors like Ehrman sound real convincing and can send even the most committed students into a faith crisis. But it doesn’t take much digging to discover that Jesus is not only a real historical figure, but there is plenty of data beyond the pages of Scripture and even other early Christian writings concerning Jesus. Similarly, what if we could know that the Bible we read is accurate and a reliable record of history and theology? It is. What if, despite the seemingly impossibility of the resurrection, the historical evidence actually showed Jesus raising from the dead three days after being put to death, was the most likely scenario? It is. 

If the Bible is going to be the ultimate source for truth in our lives and the lives of our students, then they need to be confident that what they read is actually true. Consider for moment our culture’s current moral condition. Our culture is overwhelming condoning and even celebrating sexual expression of every variety, while the Bible clearly condemns any sexual activity beyond what happens between a man and a woman inside the bond of marriage. Who are our students listening to? Even the nature of sin itself. According to the Bible, sin has tainted every last thing, especially the hearts of humanity. Yet culture, has unequivocally declared a belief in the inherent goodness of all people. Who our students believe will directly inform how they choose to live. When your students understand that what is in the Bible is a reliable source for truth, they are much more likely to live it out. 

Questions concerning pain and evil

Every time I ask students for questions about their faith. Questions about pain, evil, suffering, etc. are always at the top of the list. Apologists commonly call this the problem of evil or the problem of pain. But the questions take all kinds of forms and originate from all types of people and circumstances. 

“Why did God allow this to happen to me?”

“Why do bad things happen to good people?”

“If God exists, then how come there is so much evil in the world?”

“If God were good, then he wouldn’t allow evil to exist?”

The list seems endless. But these questions are generally either philosophical in nature or much more personal. It’s the difference between asking, “why does God allow evil?” and “why did God allow my sister to be raped?” Allow students to ask the question and you’ll quickly find a number of layers that often exist below the surface. 

Questions of pain and evil can be—and often are—incredibly personal. And whether we realized it or not, ignoring the questions sends the clear message to our students that there is no answer. Perhaps God isn’t in control after all, or worse he doesn’t care. Their solution is to find answers elsewhere because in their minds, the church has failed them. 

Maybe that slippery slope is a bit extreme. But to be sure I want to stress the importance of pastoring our students through these kinds of questions. There are good answers for why there is evil, why some people experience incredible pain and suffering while others don’t, and why God allows it all to happen. 



Questions of Truth

Every time I have the opportunity to speak to a group of students on the topic of truth, I am always surprised at how engaged they are. It’s almost as it they already know that culture is selling something they aren’t willing to buy into just yet. They want to hear more. They want to make a more informed decision. I generally walk them through what truth is, the difference between subjective and objective truth, and why relativism doesn’t work. The vast majority of students leave the room encouraged. Not only that truth exists, but that it can be known.

Questions of Depth

I had the privilege of teaching in schools that served many different denominations all at once. So at any given time, I could have a classroom with Baptists, Catholics, Lutherans, Pentecostals, Non-denominational, Church of God, Church of Christ, even the church of “I don’t really know.” I learned that what can hold up the spiritual growth of our students are the deeper theological questions. It might be as complex as trying to understand the complexity of the Trinity, the debate about if one can lose their salvation, or the hypostatic union of Jesus. They are hard to learn and even harder to teach, but absolutely cannot be ignored. 

Don’t be afraid of going deeper with your students. We will get into this much more in the next chapter, but let me make a few comments here first. Never underestimate the ability of your students to think deeper and more critically. They are taught to do in school, so when the church fails to connect a students faith with their intellect, we are devaluing and de-prioritizing their faith. We absolutely must teach our students to connect the Christian worldview with education, politics, science, and history. One of the most straight-forward ways of doing that is introducing apologetics into your ministry and home life

Moving Forward

As youth leaders, pastors, and parents it is our God-ordained responsibility to help our students see not only that there are reasons, but point them to the best possible resources. It’s critical that we continue to educate ourselves, search for the answers to our own questions and the questions of our students. I also created a apologetics curriculum you can use in youth group or at home.

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5 Ways To Appreciate Your Pastor All Year Long

It’s October, which means it’s time to show your pastor some appreciation. For most, the ministry year is just getting started, but before you know it, it’s going to be March, and your beloved pastors are going to be on the verge of a meltdown. They’re going to be tired, drained, and in desperate need of a recharge.

But here is what I say. Let’s not allow our pastors to chart that path this year. Let’s make sure that those who have chosen to dedicate their lives to growing ours to be more like Christ are adequately taken care of. It may be pastoral appreciation month, but I want to challenge all of us to take this month and create a habit of appreciation that will last all year. 

Because when our pastors are better, our churches are better, and we are all the better because of them. 

A Date Night

Because ministry is very emotionally taxing, getting the occasional recharge is critical. I had a former colleague that would often encourage his students as an act of ministry for their pastors to provide free babysitting. Date nights are great, but when you have a couple of kids that need a babysitter, date night becomes too expensive to enjoy. 

A few months ago, my wife and I really wanted a night out to try a new local restaurant (trying new foods is like our shared love language). We were hoping for a perfect night on the town, but by the time we ate dinner, grabbed a coffee, and paid the sitter, we ended up in the hole more than $200. We both felt our time and money would have been better spent on the couch binge-watching Friends…again. But we know we need to get out. We need us time (as my wife calls it). And so do your pastors. But if your pastors don’t have immediate family to watch the kids for free, it’s likely they aren’t getting out. 

Taking care of your pastors means kicking them out of the house regularly—guilt-free and without having to take out a second mortgage. 

Thank you email

This one almost seems too simple—stupid simple. But it’s absolutely effective and can mean the world. You can do this in two ways—and do both of them. Take a few minutes and craft a very simple email to your pastor thanking him. Ministry is hard. If I had to guess, nearly 50% of my graduating class from seminary is no longer in ministry. It’s high stress, low pay, and not as glamorous as some may think. Believe it or not, a thank you note of some kind, goes a long way. It’s a small gesture that can an enormous impact. But don’t stop there. 

Do the same with your pastor’s wife. Being a pastor’s wife might take an even greater toll. She’s always under the microscope and often very lonely. Send her a note as well, thanking her husband, her support, and the ministry that she provides to the church. It can be an email, a text, or a handwritten note. 

And let’s be brutally honest with ourselves. Parents can be highly over-critical, but taking a few minutes to say thank you does two really cool things. First, it strengthens the relationship, and a stronger relationship handles conflict much better. If a pastor knows that overall, you appreciate him, when there is an issue, they are far more likely to come to you and settle the matter in a very Christ-like fashion. Second, it changes your heart toward them. And a changed heart is far more gracious and forgiving. 

Prayer

I know this is a no brainer. Praying for our pastors should almost be automatic. But it’s a good to have a reminder. But take it one step further. Take the time to ask how you can pray for them—specifically. Allow your pastors to be a little vulnerable. Doing so will remind them they are not our personal spiritual and emotional dump zone. 

Several weeks ago, I was having breakfast with one of my pastors. He is an incredible listener, he’s patient, and just fun to be around. I was having a bad morning, and about midway, through my rant, I realized I was just dumping. He was, of course, happy to listen, but I found myself stopping to shift gears. I paused and said, “I’m sorry, what’s going on with you? How can I be praying for you?” That single question changed the entire dynamic of our relationship. 

Gift cards

This one is really more about understanding their love language. My students always knew of my addiction to coffee. And every so often, one of my students would drop in first thing in the morning and leave a fresh coffee on my desk. I didn’t need the coffee but knowing that my students thought of me while getting something for themselves carries a lot of weight. 

So maybe it’s gift cards for coffee, Amazon, or even Wall-Mart. Maybe it’s showing up with a coffee, Slurpee from 7-Eleven, or you found the perfect hat, t-shirt, or marvel action figure (slightly speaking for myself here). Grab it and make their day next time you see them. 

Serve and be a champion of the ministry

This one might be the most important because none of the things I have suggested above mean anything if you are not a champion of the ministry. Brag on what they are doing, how your kids are being impacted, or help invite the rest of your neighborhood. Want to go bigger? Volunteer. No matter the ministry, the location, or the experience of the pastor—everywhere I go, I hear the same thing; an urgent call for volunteers. Good pastors know they cannot do the job alone. There are no successful maverick type pastors. More than anything, they need your time. So get in there and get your hands dirty. There might be no greater sign of appreciation. 

These are my top five. But I would love to hear some of the ways you have made your pastors feel loved and appreciated all year long. What do you have?

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4 Urgent Conversations Parents and Pastors Cannot Avoid In Youth Ministry

A few weeks ago, my wife received our kids’ homeschool curriculum. It’s sort of nerdy Christmas in the Kozak house, but hey, we’re weird, and we like it. Typically, every year, my wife is incredibly excited about what the kids will be learning, the new adventures they’ll embark on, and the new things they’ll discover. Except, this year, there is one part of school creating a little apprehension and anxiety—the talk. That’s right, it’s that time for my oldest to get “the talk.” You know it’s coming when your kid starts asking questions—good questions. Despite your attempts to avoid or divert the issue, they aren’t buying it. 

After I laughed at her a little (we have three girls—and that is all her), I got to thinking about the church, youth ministry, and other conversations with our students that we actively avoid—the ones that create overwhelming amounts of anxiety. Maybe it’s not on purpose; but with massive cultural shifts, topics we aren’t familiar with, or topics we don’t think are affecting our students when in fact they are, it’s easy to let those conversations fall to the bottom of our todo list. 

I think it’s time we reprioritize our lists. Cultural trends are not swinging in our favor giving us all the more reason to immediately stop what we believe is important and address what our students are telling us is crucial to their spiritual growth. 

There are dozens of topics, but here are what I think are the top four. 

Mental Health

A few days ago, someone posted on social media that an eight grader took their own life. A youth group kid showed none of the typical signs of depression. But just like that…gone. The unfortunate reality is that stories like these are not isolated incidents or odd occurrences. We see it all the time. We should be shocked, but we’re not.

It’s nothing short of alarming to see this incredible rise in mental health issues—from depression, anxiety, high-stress levels—it’s overtaking the lives of far too many students. The CDC has recorded a rise in behavioral issues related to mental health in children as early as 3. But the percentage of young people suffering from depression and anxiety nearly doubles from the age of 11 to 12—right around the time they are entering middle school. Students are carrying smartphones regularly, schools are using technology is almost every class, and the social pressures of digital life are beginning to take hold of them. But how much worse is it when our students see incredible role models—including pastors—succumb to the lies and lose the battle. 

It’s time the church take center stage and lead the fight, the research, and the recovery. The only answer to that empty feeling of hopelessness is the hope in Christ. Imagine, if someone as close to Jesus as Jarrid Wilson was couldn’t get past the lies, how is someone who doesn’t know Jesus have any shot at beating this thing? I would love to see the church become the beacon of hope she was intended to be. It starts by entering the conversation. 

Holiness

Our students’ greatest witness of the truth of Jesus in their world is the holiness they pursue. Yet the simple truth is that we would rather not talk about it. We would much rather talk about our failures, our victimhood, and how hard life is, rather than celebrate the victories, the accomplishments, and the righteousness we achieve. It’s almost like the idea of being holy is a dreaded four-letter word.

Just think for a second. When was the last time you, or someone you know consciously bragged about being like Jesus? When was the last time you got together with some friends and actively celebrated how Christ-like you have become? Not likely all that often. We certainly don’t want to come off as self-righteous. But perhaps even more so, we really would rather not confront our sin and need of repentance. For some, we might rather ignore it, but for others, it’s far easier to outright deny it. Either way, if we are ever going to celebrate any kind of holiness, we have to first be willing to call our sin what it is—sin. And do something about it. 

But when you do, celebrate it! 

Our students’ greatest witness of the truth of Jesus in their world is the holiness they pursue.

Tribes

I don’t know a pastor or church leader who doesn’t champion small groups in some form or another. We would all agree that they are integral in making disciples at any age. As followers of Jesus, we must do life together. It’s a prerequisite for becoming a disciple. But we often forget some of the best-unintended benefits—what happens when our students gather in community—they become a tribe?

We like the word tribe in our modern circles. I have a t-shirt someone once bought me that reads, “Tribe Leader.” My wife calls our kids, her little tribe. But the word has a much greater meaning than merely a pop-culture reference. When we talk about tribes, we’re talking about a more substantial bond, a greater commitment, and stronger loyalty. Groups who exert a sort of tribalism in their behavior become so loyal and committed to the group, their cause, views, or agendas, that rational arguments to the contrary are often met with disdain or even aggression. We see this kind of behavior all the time from sports to politics. Take a few minutes and scroll through your social media feed and there’s always a few people who seem so sold out to one particular narrative there is no convincing them otherwise. Or what about the person who you have repeatedly explained the gospel to, yet short of Jesus himself they simply won’t listen. Even the Pharisees, in the face of actual, mind-blowing miracles, failed to put their faith in Christ.

There is a reason why Scripture tells us that bad company corrupts good morals. Because it does. Our students, as early as eighth grade, are forming their tribe. Whether it’s in sports, academics, or even gaming, our youth are looking for their place in culture. We need to be asking ourselves what tribes do our students belong to, who is captivating their attention, what narratives are they listening to, and who’s opinion do they trust?

Truth

I say this much too often, but it’s worth repeating. Truth matters, and it matters to our students. No matter where I travel, students are always captivated by conversations surrounding truth. Most have not fully bought into the post-truth narrative and they see right through fake news, Instagram filters, and phony pastors. They want authenticity—real people being real. It’s something they see value in that many in order generations take for granted. 

The post-truth narrative self-defeats and I think our youth can already see that—despite what they are being told. But in a world where feelings trump facts, we need to help them to develop a discerning mind—one that can follow the trail of facts rather than jumping on the bandwagon of how they feel. 

For more on the importance of truth, go here and read some of my other articles that go into greater detail. 

Discipleship is messy because it forms in relationship—and relationships are messy because people are messy. Which, of course, makes the intentionality of bringing up these topics incredibly difficult. But just because some is difficult doesn’t mean we avoid it. In fact, anything worth doing is often very difficult. 

Discipleship is messy because it forms in relationship—and relationships are messy because people are messy.

Whether it’s your youth ministry, your family, team, or classroom, these conversations (among others, I imagine) are not just meaningful, they are critical. Avoidance could result in catastrophic unintended consequences. So start having them…today. 

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Have an Idea? Here’s How to Make it Happen

So you have this great idea. You pitch it to your boss, and he loves it. You have the green light. So you return to your office thrilled and energized, ready to dig in. That is until fear, distractions, obstacles, naysayers, loss of interest, or frustration that your idea is not turning out as expected take up all your brain space. I get it, and I’m right there with you. I’m an idea guy. I love casting vision, creating something, and getting it out to people. And I have had my fair share of great ideas lost in the fray of everything else that needs to get done. But what if you could learn how to put a vision into strategy and action, launch a new initiative, and implement your idea successfully? For many leaders, ideas are not generally hard to come by, but navigating project management successfully to a perfect landing—that takes some skill and practice. Whether applied to business, ministry, or some hybrid of both, fully immersing yourself and your team into these five steps will eliminate confusion, uncertainty, and drastically reduce the chances of failure. 

Discover – Identify the needs.

Any significant event or future vision must first consider the needs of your ministry. You might hear of a great idea from another leader or read something online, but far too often we forget to take a step back and first ask what does my ministry, my business, or my tribe need. The idea might be great, but it might not be the right idea for your group, or the right time, or even the right people to implement it. 

So ask lots of questions and ask many people. Gather as much info as possible, then, before you start creating ideas, work to see how your ideas solve a problem or fill a need. Discovery is the breath that gives your vision life. Also, keep your eyes open. You never know where the next great idea is going to come from. 

Design – What is your plan?

Ideas are great. They are even better when it is the exact idea that your church needs at that moment. It feels almost prophetic, it can’t lose, and let’s be honest, you are going to look like a genius. However, you and I both know what happens next. The idea stays an idea. The energy behind the idea eventually fades, and the daily routine takes over. You think to yourself, “I’ll get to that as soon as I finish this.” It sits on a note pad or sketched out on a whiteboard until the note pad gets buried and the whiteboard space is needed for something else that demands your immediate attention. Soon the idea is lost forever. 

This happens because we don’t give our ideas legs to stand on. We don’t take the time to work out a design, a blueprint, or gameplan for how it will get done. Who is going to help? Are they onboard? What are your timeline, deadlines, and checkpoints? These are a huge piece. Even if you don’t really need a hard deadline, set it anyway. Think about when you want the entire project done and work backward. Identify smaller, more digestible deadlines. They’ll feel less daunting, and the consistent progress will keep you motivated.

Develop – What do you need to get the job done? 

This is where the real work begins. It’s all fun and games to dream and write cool stuff on whiteboards. However, the development phase is where you get to determine how all this magic happens. Ask yourself, how much money it will take, what tools do you need, people you will need, and the skills they need to possess?

However, be ready. Because this is the part where the negative naysayers come in, this is the part where you might realize that your design has to be modified or additional money raised. Use the feedback to make your design better or get more people behind the project—but don’t let it discourage or stop you. Set the deadline for completion and hit it. 

Deliver – Get it in the hands of the people

Whatever you are creating, get it in the hands of the people. It will feel so much like handing over your firstborn but do it anyway. People will love it! And yes, some will hate it. If you’re like me, you’ll even have moments of regret. Don’t. Beta testing will only make your idea stronger. 

Be sure to have a plan for distribution, for marketing, and for data collection to analyze later. Consult marketing pros and social media gurus to help make the most of your efforts. Cast a wide net, see what sticks. Do more of what works and scrap what doesn’t. You spent a ton of time building something, do everything you can to get it to the people that need it. 

Debrief – Did it work?

This is often the most overlooked part. We fail to go back and ask the tough questions. What were the successes? What were the failures and what is necessary to move forward? Consider your metrics for success. Hint: it’s not always about money. A good debrief is how we move forward, how we evolve, how we get better, stay current, and relevant. 

So what idea do you have sitting in a notebook or whiteboard that has incredible potential? Take the idea to the next level and land the project. The world needs your idea. 

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Urgent Lessons To Help Your Students Navigate The News Headlines

As the fall ministry season begins, we have media coverage of Trump, the border wall, Antifa, the Alt-Right, and the new Taylor Swift album. From the scanning of Facebook groups and various other youth ministry blogs, I know what many of you are thinking. Do I address these headlines with my students? Do I ignore them and just stick to the plan and wait for them to go away? What happens when my students ask a question? 

I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that all of this is not going away. In fact, the division, the highly politicized climate, and even the violence maybe only going to get worse. But the good news is you, as a youth leader, are well-positioned to help students wade these rough waters—so long as you are prepared. 

Now I am not going to debate the legitimacy of any one person or group, nor do I want to engage in a debate around the now whether or not Trump should be reelected. Instead, I want to talk about three things that I hope will drive conversations with your students back the basics of following Christ. Students are genuinely and rightfully concerned about how they should respond to recent events in the classroom and with friends and family. Your students most likely want to be like Jesus and respond biblically, but they often have a hard time making sense of recent events in light of biblical teaching. So rather than debating whether or not Jesus would have voted for Trump or if Jesus would rather live in a state that denies abortions, I want to dial in on getting back to the basics of discipleship. 

Have a conversation. 

Remember that conversation Jesus had with the woman at the well? That whole interaction would have been considered a scandal today—a Jewish rabbi speaking alone to a Samaritan woman. Culturally speaking, Jesus had no business even looking in that woman’s direction. Yet Jesus ends up having a simple and yet profound conversation that leads this woman to her repentance and the repentance of many she knew. Jesus broke through racial barriers and cultural norms and accepted her for who she was, but did not accept the sin she lived in. He didn’t yell at her, get into an argument, insult her, or get violent. They just talked. It is a simple formula; treating people with respect, patience, and grace, creates a space for truth to penetrate. 

We don’t always know what God is doing in the lives of others. Our hearts need to be open to hearing their stories, their struggles so that they can hear the gospel and experience its power. Jesus got through to her, not because he is Jesus, but because of how he treated her. 

Live in Truth. 

Jesus made it simple; the truth can be hard to swallow. This is even truer for your students. You may not see it, but there is an epic battle between what parents and pastor say versus what the world says. It makes me wonder if Jesus was really on to something.

“If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. However, because you do not belong to the world, but I chose you out of the world, for this reason, the world hates you. – John 15:18-19

When people saw Jesus perform all kinds of crazy miracles, they would get all jazzed up and want to follow him. Maybe not so much like disciples, but more like groupies. However, he puts most of their desires in check by laying out the true cost of discipleship. He promises sacrifice and suffering on many levels. But isn’t that one of the things that make Jesus so compelling? Regardless of how he is treated by the Sadducees and Pharisees, Jesus never waivers on truth, but also never retaliates in fear or anger.

Love. 

God is love. Love is the greatest commandment—love God and love neighbor. Love your enemies. The entire biblical story is built off of God’s love for humanity. It is not our fancy statements that win people to Christ; it is not eloquent arguments, mega-churches, or pastors that pontificate the mysteries of the gospel profoundly. It’s love. 

“I give you a new commandment—to love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. Everyone will know by this that you are my disciples—if you have love for one another.” – John 13: 34-35

Love is not compromising on truth—it is pointing people to Christ. Love is imitating Christ. 

As your students walk the halls of school this year, help to confidently and courageously engage in their classrooms, with friends, and with family. Keep it simple. Talk about what it means to love completely, without condition and without compromise. Talk about the challenges of living in truth and allow your ministry to serve as a support base for your students to gain confidence and encouragement. Finally, practice what a loving conversation about truth looks like.

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