I saw a movie last night. A really good movie. A tough movie. A movie about mostly good people simply struggling to find their way.

Somehow it made me think about the “movie” of junior highers. It’s a good movie. A tough movie. A movie about mostly good people simply struggling to find their way. Here are a bunch of random thoughts that raced through my head as I drove home last night:

- I wonder if the whole “entitled generation” thing is mostly overblown? Sure, the upper middle class teenagers in our culture have had a lot of stuff handed to them, and feel entitled in lots of ways and to lots of things. But a huge percentage of our population consists of people, junior highers among them, who are hard working, tough minded folks simply trying to figure out how to make their way.

- There’s almost always a story behind the “story”. There’s a reason a student is acting out. There’s a story behind her defensive posture. There’s something below the surface that manifests in his poor grades and distant attitude.

- Family is a big part of the story. For good and for bad, families carry the majority of the influence in the lives of the junior highers in our ministries. I wonder if we sometimes, while pushing the “good” families to have more and more impact, if we forget the fact that some of our students are being impacted in devastating ways by those who should love them the most.

- Life is a journey. Sometimes we get it right and sometimes we get it wrong. And nobody has a more “up and down” record of getting things right, then wrong, then right, then wrong again than junior highers! We can help them learn how to make wise choices, but the realities of life and their immature brains often lead them to make choices they shouldn’t.

- We can’t fix every problem; even when we know how! This one is tough. But the reality is that there will be students, families and scenarios that are simply beyond your ability to fix. You may know what’s wrong, and how to help…but sometimes it won’t matter. Some students aren’t ready for help, don’t really want it, feel like they are beyond it or simply don’t know what to do with the lifeline we toss their way.

- I’m a wimp. Okay, this one has nothing to do with junior high ministry but it’s the first thought that popped into my mind as the credits began to roll, and it’s the first thing I admitted to my buddies: “Guys, one thing this movie taught me is that I’m a sissy…no matter how I act, I’m really just a wimp!” My life was a little bit of a struggle growing up, but not really. And any “toughness” I once had has been diminished by my upper middle class, Starbucks drinking, SUV driving, Orange County living, beach bumming, gym membership lifestyle. Compared to so many, my life is a picnic…all day, every day.

What’s the movie? I’m not gonna tell you because then you’ll go see it and walk away thinking, “Man, that movie had NOTHING to do with junior high ministry!” And you’d be right.

But the first person…other than my buddies or people who already know what movie I’m talking about….to correctly guess the title in the comments below will win a 5-pack of the great new book, 99 Thoughts for Junior Highers!


Just finished reading Deep & Wide by Andy Stanley – easily one of the best books for church leaders of this generation. I loved the candid discussions about the history of North Point Ministries and then a full disclosure about the how and why they do what they do at their church. It was incredible getting an inside look into their values, the vagueness of leadership and blessing that God has given to that church. Couple things really stood out to me:

  • A couple times I immediately bristled at what he wrote – then Andy promptly called me out for it in the next sentence. Loved it.
  • They don’t have it all figured out, which is true of everyone but refreshing to hear!
  • As a leader, Andy constantly stands in the tension of going where the Bible goes and stopping where it doesn’t. Not afraid to tell the truth, not afraid to back away from things we have turned into “truth”
  • The church being a movement … that is an exciting way to see it. Not a building, not people, but a movement.

The books feels like another important book for the church to process as we unapologetically seek and to save the lost. I want to create the type of church!


My One Word for 2013

 —  January 16, 2013 — 2 Comments

I reviewed the new Jon Gordon book The One Word That Will Change Your Life last week and told you I would be writing more about the one word I chose to define 2013 in another post. Here’s the word, and here’s the why:


Belief in the people who serve with me
I’m so thankful for the people I serve alongside. They are the most passionate and faithful people I know. Doesn’t matter if I’ve served with them for years or they started on the team this week. I’m reminded of that when I see them in Starbucks with their crying student, celebrating at their basketball game and cheering them on as they come up out of the water during baptism.

Belief in our church’s ministry and mission
From time to time every youth workers gets an unsettling and unshakable gut feeling- I’m not sure I believe in my church anymore. This year I want to believe more than any ever before. I want to cheer on our pastor and the leadership and what we are all about. I’m “all in” for my church.

Belief in my calling as a youth pastor and equipper
I don’t need to say ‘yes’ to every ask, it is OK to have a callingfilter and I don’t need to be ashamed of having a laser-focus in my life and calling. I’m going to choose to believe that God can use a 38-year old youth worker for another year and that my mission can focus on students and youth workers.

Belief in my role as a husband and father
I know it is important and it is one of the pillars I live my life on – but I’m not going to cheat them this year. I’m going to believe that every moment is important (because it is) and when I’m not there I’ll miss out on an important shaping moment. I’m going to love my wife and kids unashamedly, no matter what guilt will be put on me by unhealthy expectations or leadership.

What’s your One Word for 2013?



Finally finished up a book I started a couple months ago – that ever happen to you? Live to Give: Letting God Turn Your Talents Into Miracles by Austin Gutwein is a great book to challenge teenagers to rise up and make a difference in the world around them. If you’re unfamiliar with his story, Austin founded Hoops of Hope and is using his basketball skills to raise money to help needy people all over the world. This is a great book for your students, as I read it I imagined our students going through it and using the discussion questions in the back of each chapter to talk through the book over a couple of months. Good good stuff here to help them rise up, understand their purpose and make a difference.


As soon as I saw the title of the book I got excited about what I hoped was on the inside. I was hoping for a tongue-in-cheek humor book to help me laugh and love my calling to youth ministry. Well, Steve Case and the Youth Cartel did not disappoint! The Unauthorized Dictionary of Youth Ministry is one of the funnest books I’ve ever read about youth ministry. The book is good for a quick laugh – I’m not sure it is intended to be read through in one sitting (although I have to admit that’s exactly what I did! I couldn’t stop!). All in all a great book that made me laugh, wince, cry uncontrollably (OK not quite) as I walked through my youth ministry journey.

Well done … time for a YM encyclopedia next?


Just  finished up reading Greg Stier’s new book: Firing Jesus. It was a quick read (less than 2 hours) of a youth ministry fable where the youth pastor is on the chopping block after some questionable decisions in his youth ministry. The book is basically the board meeting discussions surrounding what to do with JC. I loved the book – partially because there are 3-4 really solid learnings in there and also because there were familiar echoes of my own story throughout. A good quick read from Dare 2 Share!


Five-or-so years ago I was locked in what felt like an all-out war over a dream that was in danger of dying, because a man who was much shrewder than me was bent on stopping it. One day, in my grief and fear and anger over what was about to happen, I felt God sort of “sit me down” and challenge me—it was clear that my “frontal” way of dealing with this situation was not going to work, and He was asking me if I was going to have the courage to move more shrewdly. In the nicey-nice Christian culture that is promoted and perpetuated in most churches, shrewdness is anathema—worse, it’s entirely off the radar as a spiritual practice.

So, in an uncharacteristic spirit of desperation, I asked God to teach me what I needed to know about shrewdness—and He (of course) brought me to Jesus, the source of all good things. The point of Jesus’ “Parable of the Shrewd Manager” (Luke 16:1-8) is specifically to highlight the behavior of a lazy, lying, good-for-nothing servant who has no qualities we’d want to emulate except for one: his shrewd way of saving himself from the consequences of his terrible behavior. Jesus highlights this anti-role-model for one purpose: “The people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.” Later, in preparation for sending out His disciples on their first ministry journey without Him, He tells them to take nothing with them (no clothing, money, or “insurance” of any kind)—instead, He tells them they need just two things:

1. Be as shrewd as a serpent, and

2. Be as innocent as a dove.

The word He uses here for “serpent” is the same one He uses for Satan. And the word He uses here for “dove”  is the same the Bible uses to describe the Holy Spirit. Jesus is telling His disciples to be as shrewd as Satan is, but as innocent as the Holy Spirit is. Shrewdness, then, is a way of living and relating that Jesus first modeled for us, then commanded us to do likewise.

In Shrewd: Daring to Obey the Startling Command of Jesus, I describe “shrewd” as a way of thinking and acting that Jesus long ago urged His followers to use in their uprising against the powers and ‘spiritual forces of wickedness’ of this world. Shrewd people—and Jesus is the Exemplar—first study how things work, and then leverage that knowledge to tip the balance in a favored direction. Shrewdness is the expert application of leverage—“the right force at the right time in the right place”—as The Way Things Work author David Macaulay observes. Jesus is perpetually taking what His enemies intend for evil and morphing it into good—He uses their destructive momentum against them, like a martial artist. Most Christians have a negative reaction to the word “shrewd,” but Jesus not only exemplified this way of relating to others in His redemptive mission on earth, He gave us a mandate to grow much, much more adept in our practice of it.

Because I’ve had scores of conversations with people, both young and old, about the mechanics of “innocent shrewdness,” I know people of all ages have experienced repeated failure in their frontal, conventional approaches to problems and challenges in their life. They’re frustrated and lost. And when I simply walk them through a Jesus-centered process of thinking and acting more shrewdly, it’s like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz moving from her flat, black-and-white world into the 3-D colors of Oz. The process, simply, looks like this:

• Answer the question: “What do I really want?” Jesus habitually asked an irritating question of people with obvious needs who approached Him for help: “What do you want?” (e.g., Matt. 20:32; Mark 6:22; Mark 10:36; Mark 10:51; Luke 18:41). We must know what we really want before we can truly ask in faith.

• Answer the question: “Is my ‘want’ born out of innocence? Would I feel just fine asking Jesus for this ‘want’ if I was face-to-face with Him?”

• Answer the question: “How does this (person, organization, or process) work?” Shrewd living always starts with understanding how things work—so spend five minutes brainstorming (either alone or with someone you trust) an answer to this question.

• Based on your understanding of how things work, spend five minutes brainstorming a point of leverage to go after with a “sideways” approach. Sideways means the leverage comes from an unexpected direction—you find “sideways” by experimenting with approaches that carry the force to move the situation.

• Now, try one of your options and debrief the results with someone you trust. Decide whether to continue with that option or whether to try a new approach.

• Repeat steps #3, #4, and #5 in a continuous loop—until you’ve landed on “the right force at the right time in the right place.”

Rick Lawrence is the author of dozens of books, including Shrewd: Daring to Obey the Startling Command of Jesus and Sifted: God’s Scandalous Response to Satan’s Outrageous Demand ( and He’s has been editor of Group Magazine for 25 years and is the co-leader of the Simply Youth Ministry Conference. Rick is a church leader, consultant to national research organizations and a frequent conference and workshop speaker. He and his family live in Colorado.

A friend gave me the book The Cure a couple weeks ago with a high recommendation – so I was eager to check it out since I totally trust what he points me toward. The book is super creatively designed and has almost a Pilgrim’s Progress feel to the story that is threaded through the teaching of each chapter. The short 120-page book goes after our view of God, us trying to control our sin, fighting temptation when it is too late and the masks we wear as Christians. Multiple times in the reading of the book it totally “got” me in multiple places in how I view God and attempt to walk with Him – I particularly was stuck by the chapter on how we agree to sin long before we commit it and how sharing that removes the power/grip of it. I’ll probably need to reread this one a bit more slowly again soon. So solid.