I was going to start by qualifying myself by saying I’ve been in youth ministry in some capacity for nearly 20 years, but quite honestly you don’t even have to be in youth ministry for 20 minutes to relate to what I’m talking about here: Teenagers are very emotional beings. And it’s not uncommon for those emotions to get the best of them and their decision making.  I’m sure you’ve been there: it’s at the end of your weekend message, or a deep small group discussion, or the famous last night of some retreat when it happens.  The atmosphere becomes electric with emotions.  Tears start flowing, kids are embracing, it’s a seemingly supernatural event.  Our hearts want so desperately to pin it all on an Acts 2 replay of some type, but in the back of our minds we’re wondering what or who is really behind the tears, behind the decisions, behind the electricity we sense in the room.  We want so desperately to know that its 100% Spirit-driven, but we also know (because we’ve been around for 20 minutes) that emotions can play a big role in students’ decisions; whether those decisions are social, mental, academic, sexual, or even spiritual.

But before we call every “mountaintop” experience a fluke based on flimsy and fickle emotions, we need to realize that our emotions have been given to us by an emotional God who created us in His image.  Emotions aren’t bad.  Quite the opposite, really.  Emotions can be powerful and effective gauges that help us navigate spiritually.  When they’re submitted to God, emotions can help reveal our passions, our fears, and even our direction.  Rest assured, I’m certainly not vilifying emotions or their part in the spiritual lives of students we love, serve, and lead.

I simply think it’s important to keep in mind that all students (female AND male) are hardwired with emotions given to them by God.  One of our roles as youth leaders is to help them sort out what’s from God and what’s sheer emotion.  Involving our emotions in our decision-making process is so very natural, but allowing emotions to drive decisions is where we get into trouble.

Some things I’ve done to help student sort out what’s emotionalism and what’s God’s clear directive:

  • Don’t always default to the dim-lights, soft music, and eyes-closed response time at the end of a message.  It’s not that it’s a bad approach, but how hard can it be to take a stand when no one else sees it?
  • Speak clearly with students about what God’s Word is saying.  You can use sensitivity in your communication without adding fluffiness that dilutes God’s Word.
  • Give students questions to consider and/or clearly defined steps to take in the days/weeks after a spiritual decision is made.  Have these ready for students to take with them. This allows the “dust to settle” on the emotions that undoubtedly played an important role in their spiritual decision in the first place.

Let’s face it: working with students means working with people who are prone to allow emotions to rule the day.  And we don’t want to be making disciples who follow Jesus only when it “feels” right.

Jerry Varner serves as Student Discipleship Pastor in the Richmond, VA area and blogs at jerrythinks.com.  If you’re ever in the Richmond area and want to grab a burger, he’s buying.

Looking for reports, insight and observations from the Simply Youth Ministry Conference 2012? You’ve come to the right place – here’s a list of the bloggers that will be updating throughout the coming weekend. This is a first pass at the list -I’d expect to add a few dozen more. Check them out!

You coming, too? Let me know on Twitter (@joshuagriffin)and I’ll get you added right away!



Got the best email today – a youth worker name Jerry tried to get enough of 99 Thoughts for Small Group Leaders for his volunteers but couldn’t because it was temporarily sold out (!!) at Simply Youth Ministry and Amazon. Died laughing:

Hey Team!

Take a look at this picture. Study it well. When you’re ready, scroll down and keep reading.

Let me point out a few things here. First of all, let’s start with the most obvious. The book.

This is a book I want to give you as a gift. You’re on my team and I can’t tell you how much I esteem and appreciate that fact. I wish like anything that this book came along with an expensive surf-n-turf dinner but believe me, once you open the book, you’ll find that the feast is for your soul, your spirit, your mind, and your heart as a small group leader.

Next, I’d like to point out the guy on the computer screen to the far right of the picture. That’s Josh Griffin. Josh, along with Doug Fields (but mostly Josh) wrote the book. Josh is the high school ministry pastor at Saddleback Church and he wrote this book for you. His face there is on his www.morethandodgeball.com blog site. Subscribe to it.

And the email on the left of the picture above that you can’t read unless you have bionic squinting ability, is an email from Josh Griffin himself to yours truly. I had written Josh to congratulate him on the success of the book—a book that has become quite difficult to find due to high demands. Squint hard enough and you’ll see that Josh called me “friend” in his email. So, it’s official.

Which brings me to something that you can’t see in the picture above—well, not directly. In the picture, my hot hand is holding one copy of the book I want to give to all of you. Just out of camera range are 9 other copies. I have 10 total. I ordered more than that, but 10 was all the distributor had, so that’s all they sent. Here’s the snag: The phenomenally gifted team of small group leaders I lead has 23 people on it of which you are one. Those of you good at math have already figured out that 10 is less than 23. So, how do I decide which 10 leaders get the first round of books?

Do I give it to the 10 best-looking leaders? That would make for an awkward situation at our leader meeting this Sunday, wouldn’t it?

Do I give it to the leaders who have been around the longest? Maybe, but we’ve got 2 MORE new leaders joining our ranks THIS Sunday, and they’re phenomenal too!

Do I toss a coin? That wouldn’t help in this situation!

Do I take bribes? Yes, I do.

Do I have an essay contest? I think that’s far too collegiate for us.

How about a cage match to the death, until only 10 leaders remain? Yes, that’s it. That’s the answer. We will fight tooth and nail over 10 copies of Josh Griffin’s book.

Hope to see you Sunday at 1 p.m. in The Warehouse. We will wrap up around 3 p.m….well, 10 of you will.

Also, this week we unveil our new Student Leader team for the 2010-2011 year! Come gawk at them!

See you soon, my friends! You are so loved by God its beyond description, and so loved and appreciated by me.

I want to serve in this guy’s youth group. Awesome.