youthgroupI actually did this a year ago where I listed some things we should be talking about and discussing in our youth groups (check it out here). And wow, the response was crazy good!! So I wanted to do it again. This time I want to focus on a few topics I believe students are already talking about in other social settings, and really need to know where the church stands on these issues. So here we go:

Homosexuality - Students need to know where God stands on this issue. They need to know where their church stands on the issue. So that they can make a choice on where they stand based on the truth of God’s word. Our culture is definitely letting them know where they stand, while giving them a false view of where God stands. Right now the world is pretty split on the issue concerning it being morally wrong. And right now the media paints those who oppose it as haters and those who are for it right. Students need to know what God says about it and what their response should be.

Sin - It’s not enough to just talk about sin in passing. Students need to understand what it is and how it affected our relationship with God. A lot of times students don’t mind partaking in or excusing sin because they don’t really know a lot about it. All they know is Jesus died for their sins, but they don’t really understand why He had to die. I believe with a better understanding students will begin to mourn the sin they commit and see it for what it really is. If your students don’t understand sin, your teachings are really nothing but motivational talks. When you reference the world they picture people who don’t know Jesus as the enemy. We need to be talking about sin.

Pornography - 93% of boys and 63% of girls are exposed to porn before the age of 18.(source) And they are watching it all; from same-sex porn to child porn. It’s very assessable, and for some students they find it not even looking for it. You need to be talking about it. Here are a few suggested areas to cover.

  1. God’s view.
  2. The lie culture tells us about it.
  3. The spiritual damage it causes.
  4. The relational damage it causes.
  5. The personal damage it causes.
  6. Share some hope and help.

Grace - Here’s a topic I think we all need to be taught and reminded of. We speak about grace the same way we do sin. We talk about it in passing. Students need to know what grace is and why it exist. They need to know grace is not just something that we were given, but grace is something we need to extend to others. And it’s hard to give away something that you don’t fully understand. I believe understanding grace is understanding the cross. Sometimes it’s about getting back to the basics.

Mental illness - Only 20 percent of the children living with mental illness have been identified and receiving the healthcare they need. And over 90 percent of adolescents who commit suicide struggle with a mental disorder. We need to be a safe place to talk about topics like this. The goal is to remove the stigma that keeps students from reaching out for help. We must speak about and become educated on this topic.

Identity - This one may be a no-brainer but it has to make the list. When sin came into the world it didn’t just rob us of our relationship with God, it robbed us of our identity in God. Sin tells us we are our wants and desires. Culture has joined in on sins crusade, and the only cure is God’s word spoken boldly concerning who we are and who we belong to. It’s a huge deal that we speak on this topic.

Empathy Vs Sympathy – I believe this generation needs to know the difference between these two motives when it comes to serving. They both cause us to want to be the hands and feet of Jesus, but only one really puts you on the right path as you begin to serve and be the hands and feet of Jesus. Students need to know that the sympathy we feel should move us to empathy. Otherwise our service may do more damage than good. I believe we as believers are called.

Real Love - We take the word love and we apply it to so many things that it looses its true meaning and worth. Students need to understand what this word truly means and how it should be used and applied. Teach about it.

The Church with a capital C – It’s important that our students know that they are not just a part of the local church, but that they are a part of The Church. They need to understand that the Church is bigger than their congregation. The need to know the importance of the Church in the world and who belongs to it, since so many people are claiming to be a part of it. They even need to know the history and the future. Teach about it.

What would you add to this list?


Hope it helps,



my favorite part of being wrong is when I admit it out loud.

That may seem like the average person’s least favorite moment.

Let me explain why I feel the opposite about it.

When you’re wrong, there’s usually someone who is passionately trying to point it out to you. Perhaps they’re on a mission to highlight what is plain to them that you’ve somehow been blind to. They’re attempting to get you to be mature or responsible about something you may have been immature or shortsighted about.

This tends to amplify when they feel you wronged them.

On your end, it’s likely not easy to admit that you missed something or made another person feel awkward. This is why when you actually do own it as a genuine step of maturity to the situation or the relationship… something amazing and unexpected happens.

The other person is also now tasked to choose if they’re going to be mature or immature in response to your response.

coneofshameAgain, this individual was on a quest to point out something you missed. In doing so, they situationally claimed the high ground – perhaps for all the right reasons, or maybe for the wrong reasons. They may not have even expected you to own it.

Only… you did. They had a great point. You confessed it, along with a desire to grow.

This is where it’s revealed if that person truly is a friend who will stick with you into the next curve or simply was a critic who wanted to lay a zinger on you. You once were being small in not owning something big, and now that person has to decide what they’re going to do with your mature ability to own your immaturity.

Unfortunately, this is where many conscious accusers become unconsciously divided.

  • They have nothing new left to say… yet they don’t know what to now do with any remnants of the unspoken negativity they felt toward you seconds earlier.
  • They have nothing left to point out… yet find themselves still wanting to be a critical spirit when they generally look at you.
  • They have nothing left to get you to admit… yet find themselves wanting to become your personal “life coach” and show you other things you’ve been blind to.

I adore this moment, not because I’m waiting to see if the accuser will be hypocritical… but because what once was a one-sided pursuit in my direction gets to be a defining moment in every direction of the relationship.

Will the person who felt you were wayward choose to let it go and walk into the future with you?

(By the way – think about how you handle this when you’re the one trying to expose another person to something they’re blind to.)

Reconcile_With_One_AnotherThe reason this is a defining moment?

Because it shows what the relationship is really made of and if two Christ-followers will keep following Christ together. Jesus said in the Lord’s Prayer that we should pray for forgiveness from God that is equal to the way we’ve forgiven other people who have wronged us:

“Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12)

So the best part about being wrong?

It’s an opportunity for everyone involved to put Jesus on display in what happens next between those involved.

Then again…

I could be wrong.

Well, if you work with college-age people (or most anyone that breathes), these are “hot” topics to discuss. But they cannot and must not be dodged. For any reason. Yet, I’ve found most leaders dodge these subjects because they have questions and fears themselves. They are intimidated, at least, by the thought of leading discussions on these topics. This is just too far into the wilderness of the unknown, too deep into the chaos of more questions.

But beyond our fears, most of us can’t seem to reconcile these ideas personally. We simply can’t articulate how they fall in line with our ideas of the God we have come to love and serve. But what if understanding the larger story of scripture, who God is and what He does on an ongoing basis, actually lends to these ideas? And, what if, great exegesis (i.e. drawing truth out of scripture) and in depth theology/word study, actually leads us to conclusions that few, if any, conservative or liberal scholars have articulated up to this point?

Screen Shot 2014-11-05 at 8.52.47 AMWell, it’s of my opinion that Josh Butler articulates scriptural truth in these areas in a way that very few, if any, people have up to this point. Now, okay…I know the very idea that someone has articulated things that nobody has up to this point might be scary for some. But despite articulating unfamiliar conclusions in these areas, Josh has not only won theological awards (even from conservative seminary) for his work on these subjects, but in his book, Skeletons In God’s Closet: The Mercy of Hell, The Surprise of Judgment, The Hope of Holy War he writes with simple creativity that makes reading about these topics not only fascinating, but fun for the “average” church-goer.

There have been some books written lately on some of these subjects (especially hell), but this one lands differently in so many refreshing ways. From pastors on my staff, to friends who are theological geniuses, to my wife, to college students…everyone I know who has read this has said a very similar statement: “I’ve never thought about it like that.”

Because I know that could easily sound like a “sales pitch” for something let me bring full disclosure here: Josh IS a friend of mine and I have a ton of respect for him on a personal level. But that said, I have a lot of friends who write books…that I don’t post blogs like this for. And, to be 100% forthright here, Josh and I don’t know each other that well AND I was not asked nor am I paid to post this. I simply posted this because I mean what I’ve said. You may not agree with everything Butler writes (I’m trying to wrap my head around a few things myself), but I genuinely think this is a must read for anyone working with college-age people. No question. So, for whatever it’s worth, there you go.  Get it today. Seriously.

superbowl_snapshotHow did you spend your Super Bowl night?

It’s not uncommon for churches and youth groups to gather together for the big game. Some student ministries use it as an opportunity to serve others, while others make it a missional gathering one way or another.

This year’s game offered another opportunity… a rather unexpected one.

Putting it lightly, it wasn’t Denver’s night. That’s great news if you’re a Seattle fan, or salt-in-an-open-wound if you were cheering for the Broncos. Social media only amplified things, which may have even spilled into your party. You may have even found a tweet or two that resonated with you.


Another site captured some of the quick retorts various companies used to leverage the game’s slant in their favor.


The summary of the game on news sites took on its own slant. For example, ran the headline “Peyton Manning, Denver can’t recover from Super Bowl mistakes.”

Really? That’s a powerful statement – “can’t recover.”

Granted, it was just a sports summary. We’re used to these types of post-game comments from 24-hour news outlets looking for yet another way to spin the game.

Still, might we need to seize this as a teaching moment?

  • How many teenagers (and adults, for that matter) have had moments where everything they planned to go one way ended up going another? What does the concept of “can’t recover” say to them, even subliminally?
  • When everyone at your church-sponsored-party was laughing at the first snap of the game that went over Peyton Manning’s head, did your guests take away a message of “works” or “grace?” Did you consider the kid who was sitting there because he hates being at home where his dad constantly berates him? How about the girl who never measures up against her more poised peers? What about the grown-up who gets bullied at work for poor performance just like the old high school days?
  • As the game ended up lopsided and every camera shot of the Broncos displayed their depression, was the conversation at your party, “Must stink to be them,” or did you stop a moment and say, “Let’s pray for those guys… for their spirits… for how Monday will feel to them and their families. Sound good?”

It’s ironic – you may have preached “Come as you are. God loves you just as you are.” on Sunday morning… yet promoted “IN YOUR FACE!” on Sunday night. Sure, it’s common… but might there be something more “Jesus-centered” you can foster?

Politics aside (let me say that again – politics aside), consider a pre-game quote from President Obama: “I try to focus not on the fumbles but on the next play.”

Admittedly, I didn’t claim all of these opportunities myself.

Awesome moment after the clock expired... Broncos players joined Seahawks LB Mike Morgan for a postgame prayer before celebrations.

Awesome moment after the clock expired… Broncos players joined Seahawks LB Mike Morgan for a postgame prayer before celebrations.

That said, is there still a teaching moment for the Super Bowl that you can instill in others today?


Be reminded… following Jesus will never, ever make sense in a broken world.

Say AMEN to that, even if you want it the other way around.

As you do, listen to these insights from Frederick Buechner:

“God is the comic shepherd who gets more of a kick out of that one lost sheep once he finds it again than out of the ninety and nine who had the good sense not to get lost in the first place.

jesus with sinnersGod is the eccentric host who, when the country-club crowd all turned out to have other things more important to do that come live it up with him, goes out into the skid rows and soup kitchens and charity wards and brings home a freak show. The man with no legs who sells shoelaces at the corner. The old woman in the moth-eaten fur coat who makes her daily rounds of the garbage cans. The old wino with his pint in a brown paper bag. The pusher, the whore, the village idiot who stands at the blinker light waving his hand as the cars go by.

They are seated at the damask-laid table in the great hall. The candles are all lit and the champagne glasses filled. At a sign from the host, the musicians in their gallery strike up ‘Amazing Grace.'”

― Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale

Mondays on the SYM Today Newsletter (sign up here) will provide a focus on fueling your heart for youth ministry with encouragement from either Rick Lawrence or Jason Ostrander like Jason’s recent post on Jesus as Youth Leader.


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Only wretches need saving


If you’re not signed up for SYM Today newsletter, you missed out on opening your inbox today to “Only Wretchs Need Saving,” a devotional from Rick Lawrence about growing in gratitude for God’s amazing grace in our lives.

Why are you waiting? Just sign up! Its FREE, its useful and has a different focus each day of the week. More on Tuesdays later!

Hope everyone had an awesome weekend! Praying for you guys this week as you love students well.

– Amber

I love visting other youth groups and seeing the different ways that each of them approaches ministry and seeing the different cliques and types of students that each group attracts. In the city I work, the diversity between each of the different ministries is pretty surprising but something I love to see, that students can find a place that speaks their language, with a community they belong to and feel safe in. Each group is a reflection of the the values and style of each leader and fulfilling the purpose of reaching different students.

When I visit a new group I am always on the look out for one thing, the awkward kids. The ones that don’t fit in a lot of places, the ones that maybe don’t have tons of friends and that might look and act very differently than other students. I am not looking for the jocks, the hipsters, or any sort of “cool” kid, in fact I think most youth groups have their fair share of those students, I am looking for the complete opposite. Show me your kids that like to use the coat rack as a light saber, show me your Zacchaeus’s, those are the students to help point to a healthy community.

It’s easy to create a space where social students can be social, but creating an environment where students that don’t fit in can fit in is what it’s all about. You show me a ministry that has no awkward kids, I would be able to argue pretty quickly that, that group is not a safe place. There are students that are reminded often at school that they are different and they don’t fit in, but there is no way that the same should be said of youth group. You belong here, you are safe here, you are one of us here, you are accepted here.

Awkward kids are a sign of health, a sign of a culture of grace for students of all kinds, where young people can feel that they belong, they are safe and are accepted when in many other areas of their life they don’t experience that reality. A group that is diverse, is a group that is experiencing authentic community and youth group is a great place for that to happen.

-Geoff @geoffcstewart 

This month I got to contribute another Slant33 article on the topic of leaving a youth ministry. There are a couple of great responses to the question, wise words from Tash McGill and Ian McDonald. Here’s a clip of what I shared there as well:

Leave at the right time. It isn’t always possible, but leaving at a natural break is best. The end of summer is ideal but not always possible. But even more than leaving at the right time in the calendar, pray through leaving at the right time in the church culture as well. Stay too long after you know you’re done, and it’ll be painfully obvious. Leave too soon, and you’ll blindside people.

Make the transition short. I understand the need for a transition time to help prepare students or ensure a peaceful exchange of leadership, but there’s nothing worse than a lame duck who is out but still in. Pray through the timing of your announcement and the timing of your last day. Typically I wouldn’t put these more than a month or two apart at the most.