goodbetterbestI have a bias regarding the content I’m about to share with you.

The truth is that you do, too.

My bias isn’t that I write for this blog, which in turn tracks back to Simply Youth Ministry and Group Publishing. It would lame for me to just tell you what I think I’m supposed to write here versus what I really think about anything. I’d hoped by now you’d see that coming and know better from me and any of the other diligent writers here. We’re here to encourage and serve you through thoughts, questions, stories and more.

youthgroupMy bias… is that I want what’s best for the students our church serves.
My bias… is that I want our youth workers to feel equipped with content so they can be more relationally freed up to invest into students.

With me so far?

Ready to own a bias of your own?

It’s why I’m telling you to go check out Simply Youth Group right now.

SYGLogoI first dove into the content in the spring after picking up a free DVD at the Simply Youth Ministry Conference. It was in beta-mode at the time, and yet still was a fine product that we immediately took advantage of in our church. The games and videos all complemented each other well, which further drove home whatever point we were trying to glean that day.

That’s just it, though – there was more than one fixed idea we hoped the students would grasp. While Simply Youth Group competently offers a biblical takeaway with each lesson (which addresses at least one of nine essential faith questions), its main offering is the “inquiry-based learning” approach. In short, it’s your personal on-ramp to Jesus-Centered Youth Ministry as you pose questions to your students just like Christ did.

Again, let me confess one more bias.

I write curriculum throughout the year, be it in-house for our church’s ministries or for publication. Not only do I have a critical eye for what we’ll use with our tweens and teens, but I’m likewise aware of my own limitations as a writer/creator. The resources provided in Simply Youth Group (for about $10 a week) are beyond what I can produce on my own. I’d guess you might feel likewise, even if you have the skills but prep time always seems to be an issue each week for you or your adult volunteers.

sygCurious? Interested? Try the free trial for a month.

Disagree? Have questions? Feel free to share your comments.

While you’re at it, feel free to share your bias and what you’re looking for to serve your students and leaders.

overachievers-hateI have been teaching/speaking for a couple decades now, and I am still growing. While I have not figured out how to give a perfect talk week after week, I do have a list of misses to avoid when teaching. Here are 4 areas that might seem obvious but aren’t. We might get caught in the moment, rely too heavily on our skills, or think we are doing a better job than we are. A sad truth is, students don’t often complain about these things…they just vote with their feet. How are you doing in these 4 areas?

4 Things Kids Hate About Your Teaching:

Too Long
Here’s one piece of teaching advice I received years ago, “Brandon, if you end early it doesn’t matter how bad your message was, they will love you.” While I don’t think this is a teaching rule to live by, I understand what he was trying to communicate.
• I am trying to build trust with parents, getting out 10 to 20 minutes late works against that.
• I would rather have students get one or two points they understand than sit through a long talk and remember nothing.
• Short attention spans…enough said.
• We are gathering to make Jesus known, not to show off amazing speaking skills.

Suggestion: Get an app like SpeakerClock or T-Zero. You could also have a clock visible to the speaker, I like having one of these in the celling.

Too Boring
I am not one who pushes entertainment of edification, but let’s not use discipleship as an excuse to communicate without creativity. I have heard too many teachers say something to the effect, “It is God’s word, that should be enough.” I know God’s word does not need my creative touch to be better at communicating its truth. Jesus was perfect and gave the best illustrations. That being said, I do not expect teens to love God’s word as much as I do.

In a college class on teaching, we were discussing the “Learning Pyramid” and how lecture style was the least popular/effective form of communication for learning and retention. A classmate abruptly said to the professor, “If it’s the least helpful, why is it the only way you teach?” The teacher responded, “This is not a class of practice. It is a class of delivering information.” (That professor is no longer there).

Suggestion: If you have a hard time coming up with interesting stories and illustration get help. Read more (books, blogs, news, etc), start collecting compelling stories in an app like Evernote and tag each story. Try illustration books, videos, and websites like these.

Too Much Rambling
Ever go off on a rabbit trail? You’re talking and you feel like you are saying something, but you have left your message for another topic. Maybe you are just talking, and you don’t know why or what you are saying. I often write out my talks. This does two main things: it keeps me focused (no rambling), and it helps with time. If I only say what is on my script, I am not going to turn a 30-minute message into a 50-minute talk.

Suggestion: I like writing my talk with MS Word on my Mac, saving it to Dropbox, and opening it on my iPad with iAnnotate. Play with the font size on your document before you send it to your iPad, you want to be able to see it without squinting and losing your place. Be careful, the downside to a script is you are tempted to read. Know your message well enough that you are not tethered to your iPad and that you are not awkwardly reading word for word.

Too Unconnected
What does this have to do with my life? Here is a blurb from the post The Problem With Youth Talks by Rick Lawrence (read the whole post here):

Learning loses its value the farther away it gets from practical life application. My least favorite (but often used) teaching strategy is when speakers pelt people with broad imperatives (“We all should be praying more”) that are divorced from the practical “hooks” that would help people take the first steps toward change and growth. You are the bridge between “what/why” and “how.” Applicable is determined by the people we’re leading, not by us. Lots of times we assume what we’re offering is applicable because it’s applicable to us. The question is: What’s applicable to the people I’m leading?

Adult Leaders: Development: Speaking to Teenagers - Speaking to Teenagers: Physical
Suggestions: #1 Get to SYMC and dive into Rick’s workshop, “Jesus Centered Youth Ministry.” Come hungry, leave full! #2 Check out Speaking to Teenagers: How to Think About, Create, and Deliver Effective Messages by Doug Fields and Duffy Robbins. It is not a thin book but it is filled with decades of youth ministry teaching experience.

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?


Gay + Agenda?

 —  January 29, 2014 — 18 Comments

(Before you read any further, pray. Please do. This topic is less about what you already think and more about us digging deeper to what we have missed. Maybe we can listen to God on this and let Him have the most important word on this. Deal?)


Once upon a time in Christianity, there was a phrase that began to float around: “Gay agenda.”

gayagendaIt gained steam quickly. People who felt uncomfortable with even the word “gay” in conversation had something to hang onto that they could talk about. After all, it did seem like there was a deliberate effort by someone – let’s call that person “Hollywood” – to get a certain way of thinking into culture, households and the next generation with greater intensity. Christians felt like they had language to defend something that felt under attack.

The backlash was comical.

I mean that literally. Stand-up comics from George Carlin to Ellen Degeneres were among many who retorted back, almost making the phrase “gay agenda” its own punchline – as if a group of people met on a regular basis to make plans against the heterosexual world. The absurdity of the extremes they proposed softened things quite a bit. Pretty soon sitcoms were featuring major characters who were overtly homosexual, and we got used to the idea of them not going away… from one show to anotherfrom one character to another.

Lately, it’s become an anthem.

Again, I mean that literally. Glee is, well… quite gleeful on this. Popular songs that are repeated day-in and day-out on iPods and smartphones are full of lyrics that shred anyone who would stand against “homosexuality and happiness,” especially if you think God is involved on your side of the fence.

“The right-wing conservatives think it’s a decision / And you can be cured with some treatment and religion / Man-made rewiring of a predisposition / Playing God, aw nah here we go / America the brave still fears what we don’t know / And God loves all his children, is somehow forgotten / But we paraphrase a book written 3500 years ago.” – Macklemore

Some worried if young kids would catch on.

It’s understandable if you toss in an endorsement from Toy Story’s Woody, change the orientation of a Disney female character, and create new books for children on how this is more common than you think… and you have the ingredients for your answer.

1390925823_good-luck-charlie-lesbians-lgSo.. should we be surprised at the two headlines this week around this subject matter?

  • Good Luck Charlie introduced Disney’s first same-sex couple. According to Miley Cyrus (I can’t believe I just wrote that), “I commend Disney for making this step into the light of this generation. They control…so much of what kids think! Life isn’t bright sets & wardrobe & kids becoming superstars! This is INSPIRING.”
  • The Grammy’s hosted a mass wedding of couples from all orientations. 34 couples, gay and straight, exchanged rings and said, “I do.” It was officiated by Queen Latifah (although I’m not sure she’s actual royalty, wink-wink). The audience gave it a standing ovation. Others pushed back in other ways, tweeting “Why can’t the event just be about the music? So tired of political and social messages being infused into everything” or “I don’t care if they are gay or straight this is wrong. Quit shoving your leftist agenda down my throat. Enough is enough.”Christian singer Natalie Grant even came under some accusational fire for leaving the show early.

It’s not just the Grammy’s. It’s not just Good Luck Charlie. It’s not the next thing GLAAD will demand (you might want to read about it).

It’s not even the Super Bowl, where allegedly Bruno Mars will officiate an LGBT friendly ceremony while he sings “Marry You.” (That’s a joke, by the way – but not everyone knew that and the unbelievable-yet-somehow-believable rumor has gone viral.)

This isn’t a quiet topic, is it?

We’re not being given the chance to “get around to this,” are we? We’re having it placed in front of us, one awards show after another… one sitcom after another… one school group after another.

999da4b1dReady for the Olympics?

Again, I mean that literally… does Bob Costas have plans for a featurette I might want to know about as I watch snowboarding with my kids?

But now I also mean the “Olympics” figuratively… or rather, theologically.

You have been invited to take part in an Olympic-level calling to share Jesus Christ with the world. To “make disciples of all nations,” according to someone who is actual Royalty.

  • Will you instead be passive, assuming it will go away?
  • Will you instead be political, whichever way that is?
  • Will you instead begin sentences on this topic with, “Well, I just think…” or “Well, I just feel…” – instead of taking people to someplace deeper than thoughts and feelings?


Can we somehow foster a Jesus-centered conversation here?

We have a role in this, don’t we? Do you think it’s merely a squeek… or a roar?

The reality is that whatever is happening in one moment isn’t static. Someone is always pushing for change, and when culture hands a majority of microphones over to artists and musicians (people, who by definition, push the envelope for the sake of their craft), should we be surprised at how things develop?

Another factor is the accusation that Christians seem to care about this more than they should. It’s a fair challenge for some, but… on the other hand… maybe some Christians are coming across a little louder because it feels like someone else starting shouting and we need to speak up more than we normally would to compensate in the conversation.

The other thing is this isn’t just “an issue” or a “topic.” Very real people (many of whom I consider friends) have personal reasons why they’re engaged in this from whatever side they’re engaged in.

So again, can we move off of our sides on this and come around the Cross of Christ together?

  • Would you agree or disagree that there seems to be an increasing amount of strategy on how often this is coming up?
    (Note: According to LGBT advocate GLAAD, there are more gays represented in TV scenarios than actually play out in real life. It’s causing Americans to assume that 25% of Americans are gay, when the actual number is between 2.2% to 3.4%)
  • Would you agree or disagree that it’s hard to listen to God on this and personally opt for how you “think” or “feel” on this?
  • Would you agree or disagree that it’s possible to somehow find a Jesus-Centered style approach on how we proceed?

Again, pray…

and then let God speak in you and through you.

“For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” (2 Timothy 4:3)

Just saw that Rick Lawrence released a 30-minute training workshop called Jesus-Centered Living. It is some good stuff and might be something you can use with your team and/or for your own personal development.