Criticism happens.

Adults nod our head at that reality, knowing that it’s just a part of life. We’re “mature” like that.

Students, on the other hand, are still wrestling with realizing this.

We can argue that they haven’t grown up yet like we have, but maybe it’s something else… maybe the reason they struggle with it is because they haven’t yet let go of the idea (like adults have) that such antagonism shouldn’t be a part of life in the first place. They’re still doing a double-take and a triple-take full of shock and awe on something we’ve closed our eyes to.

hqdefaultIt’s one of the reasons why I appreciate actor Wil Wheaton’s thoughtful answer to a young girl who spontaneously asked him a question at a Comic Con event. She wondered if he could give her advice how to respond to her peers who call her a nerd.

Take a look at Wheaton’s response, noting the way he serves her through the wording and pace he uses to speak to her:

Any takeaways? For example:

  • Notice how Wil doesn’t toss in a lot of “um’s” into his response. He was speaking from a place of conviction. How did he get there? Is this how conversations happen between you and students?
  • The audience erupted with affirmation a few times, and other times didn’t. Wheaton didn’t seemed phased (no pun intended) by whether they did or didn’t clap… he obviously wasn’t trying to get their approval but address the girl. Again, is this how you handle what students present your way or are you going for a “high five” reply that makes you look favorable/slick/hip/whatever?

What can we learn from this in the way that we serve students through everyday conversations?

speechlessLeneita Fix wrote a brilliant post on how to answer student’s questions that leave us speechless.

I added a comment there, but I thought it might be helpful to also share a slice of an email along these lines that I wrote to our youth leaders.

It’s okay if a kid says something out of the box, like “The Bible is the most violent book ever written.” One approach I’ve enjoyed is to let them dig their own hole on stuff vs me debate them right off the bat – not to bust them, but to help them figure out what they’re actually saying underneath what they’re saying. An example:

  • Student: “The Bible is the most violent book ever written.”
  • Me: “Interesting. Why would you say that?”
  • Student: “It just is.”
  • Me: “You gotta give me more than that.”
  • Student: “All those people in there died because of what they believed. Or God killed them.”
  • Me: “So… what would you die for?”
  • Student: “I don’t know. My friends, I guess.”
  • Me: “Wow. Why?”
  • Student: “They’re my friends.”
  • Me: “Do you think that’s right or wrong?”
  • Student: “There isn’t any right or wrong. Only what you feel. You can’t be sure of anything.”
  • Me: “Are you sure about that? Think about it… are you sure about how you can’t be sure of anything?”
  • Student: “Funny.”
  • Me: “Can I offer a thought?”
  • Student: “Sure.”
  • Me: “What if the Bible is the most violent book ever written. So what?”
  • Student: “Well… it shouldn’t be that way. If God is real then there shouldn’t be that kind of pain.”
  • Me: “You think He’d do something about it?”
  • Student: “Yeah.”
  • Me: “He kind of did. But He did it in a way that still involves our freewill versus Him canceling it out. It’s why Jesus came to earth and died for our sins. We talk about that around here, but let’s personalize that for a moment – do you think if you let the love of God change you that you could stop even just a sliver of the junk in this world from happening in your generation? Maybe share Jesus with others? I mean, is that even possible for you? What do you think?”

Just an example… obviously conversations can go anywhere. And it’s okay sometimes to just acknowledge a comment if you fear it will take us way off course for ten minutes.

Sometimes kids just like to stir the pot without any real desire to taste what they’re cooking up.

The thought here is to let them take on the role of guiding a conversation, like painting a picture. What you do is provide the frame – which usually involves re-framing what they think they’re saying with what they’re really saying underneath.

Have an addendum or example of your own that you could add to this conversation?

What have you learned when it comes to these types of moments?


questions 2In the past week I have had different youth ask me these questions:

  • What do I say when my parent’s tell me I’m never going to do anything with my life?
  • I think I’m gay, and my parent’s told me they don’t want me to be. What do I do?
  • Why does it seem like no matter what I do, God feels so far away?
  • My brother was in an accident. I prayed that God would save him, and he died.  Why would God do that?
  • How do I like myself? I don’t know how.

From time to time I will sit in on one of our volunteer-run small groups. The leader was doing a great job of leading a hearty discussion, until one of “those” questions came up. What surprised me slightly was that reaction was in fact not a reaction at all.  Pretending like they didn’t hear it, they let it hang in the air for a second and shifted the conversation elsewhere. Afterwards the small group leader admitted the question overwhelmed them so much they didn’t know what else to do.

These are the type of questions that intimidate even the most “seasoned” youth worker. There are elements we learn to address, but the reality is there is something deeper going on than the “surfacey” answers that we provide.  Many times it would even be easier if “one” question came at a time.  However, in the average small group questions breed more questions.

So what do we do in those moments when a question hits us in the gut?

Avoid the Jesus Juke, But Tell The Truth:

I call it the “scripture bomb.” It’s when we just fling a Bible verse at a situation and hope it helps. Sometimes it does. More often I have found the real issue is knowing how to practically apply those to your life. Tell them what Jesus is saying, but allow them to know it may not feel as simple as it sounds.

Allow Them to Feel Without Getting Stuck:

Part of adolescence is feeling and questioning deeply.  Sometimes they ask something that stirs us deeply. Why would a parent tell a child they are going to be a “nothing?”  Siding with them or placing judgment can actually fuel the already precarious fire. Instead, listen, love them, and let them get out their feelings. Try to avoid “siding” and point them to the reality that bitterness can suck the life out of us. Help them to see other perspectives that might help them to see beyond the current situation.

Allow Them to Wrestle:

Jacob wanted a blessing.  He held onto God until he had an answer.  If you don’t know the “WHY,” then tell them.  Let them know if it is something you still wonder about.  At the heart of most “Why/How could this be?” is really, “Jesus I need to know that you’re real, show me.” Be willing to help them seek God with their “whole heart,” and wrestle with Him through the situation until they find Him.

Twenty-two years into ministry and the answers to the above questions DID NOT roll off my tongue. I had to pray the Lord would give me His answers while still addressing them head on.  I also had to believe God is big enough to have the answers. Sometimes (many times) our job isn’t to have the answer at all.

How do you handle “those” questions?

From time to time I post a question that comes into the blog for YOU to answer. What advice would you give this youth pastor who is asking about youth group fun and games. I already answered him personally with a few suggestions but got his permission to share the question here, too. Hoping you could share your thoughts in the comments, too. Weigh in!

Thank you so much for what you do, I find myself coming back to MTDB again and again. I am a 43 yr old youth pastor, after doing the Big Church thing for 20 yrs God changed our direction and now we get to spend our time loving on teens. Recently our youth group flipped on us and we went from a large group of High Schoolers to a smaller group of Jr Highers.  One complaint I have heard is that we need to have more fun, so what does that mean?  Also any advice would be greatly appreciated

Thoughts? Weigh in!


From time to time I post a question that comes into the blog for YOU to answer. What advice would you give this youth pastor who is asking about teaching/discipling checkpoints in their youth ministry. Weigh in!

We have a great group of leaders, but my biggest frustration is trying to come up with ways to help grow them as leaders and move them forward in their leadership capacity.  I’ve tried several ways but just haven’t found a way that seems to “click” just right. If you wouldn’t mind sharing, what sorts of things do you guys do to help grow your leaders?  How often do you meet?  What do you talk about?  How do you grow as a team?  

What would you say? Weigh in!


From time to time I post a question that comes into the blog for YOU to answer. What advice would you give this youth pastor who is asking about teaching/discipling checkpoints in their youth ministry. Weigh in!

I have encountered over the short time I’ve been in ministry a host of students that either have gotten a dose of poor theology or have many many questions that if they are believers (which most say they are) they should have a solid grasp of…I’m not sure how you do it, nor do I think there is a cookie cutter way to do it, but I’m seeking advice on how to build our Jr. High ministry from the ground up… I am wondering if maybe I should come up with 6-7…10 things that every student must know before high school? Maybe the concepts and some insights from the book of John, and James…answer critical questions like…

  • What is salvation?
  • How are we saved?
  • Who is God?
  • What is the church?
  • What is sin?

What would you say? Weigh in!


The beauty of leading a small group is getting to see it grow throughout the years.  But, getting started can be rough especially if you have that one kid who talks and talks and talks.  At first you like him or her because they take care of the awkward silence.  You think, “Awesome, I have someone participating and I don’t have to do all the talking.”

Then, you begin to notice that they are the ONLY student talking, which prevents the other ones from chiming in.  You also begin to notice your patience wear thin because not only do they answer every question but they begin to talk for what seems like hours.  You are tempted to yell, “SHUT UP!” but common sense tells you that wouldn’t go over well.  You don’t want to lose the group; yet, avoid embarrassing the teen.  What do you do?

Meet Beforehand – Grab them before small group and be honest with them.  Let them know you appreciate their sharing; however, you want to make sure that everyone has a chance to speak.  Be prepared because they might feel a little insulted by your confrontation.  Telling them to listen more and speak less might sound like they don’t have anything wise to contribute; therefore, make a plan to follow up after group.

Sit Next To Them – By sitting next to the talkers you are able to give them physical cues if they are talking too much.  Placing a hand on their shoulder is a subtle way of interrupting them.  You can also whisper to them encouragement if they are getting anxious by letting others speak.

Assign Questions – Talkers talk because they either feel like they always have something to contribute or they are afraid of silence.  To give them an out to their urges and fears assign questions to the rest of the group.  Instead of having anyone chime in, give the first response to someone specific.

Follow Up – Either right after the group or the next day meet up with the talker to reflect on their behavior.  Affirm them with what they did well; ask them their opinion and then address where improvement is necessary.  Because the group is fresh on everyone’s mind, you can point to specific examples of when they listened and when they dominated the conversation.

Some people will be talkers for life; however, the more the group gets to know them the pressure won’t fall on you to give others a chance to speak.  The more you check-in and communicate with the talker the less you’ll have to take the steps mentioned above.  Just be persistent with reaching out and leading the group.  Again, small group dynamics is a growing process.

How do you deal with talkers?

Chris Wesley is the Director of Student Ministry at Church of the Nativity in Timonium, MD. You can read more great youth ministry articles and thoughts on his exceptional blog Marathon Youth Ministry.

From time to time I post a question that comes into the blog for YOU to answer. What advice would you give this youth pastor who is asking about traditions in their youth ministry. Weigh in!

I’m working on the curriculum for our Confirmation class and was just wondering how you handle tradition out here (like the Apostle’s Creed, Wesleyan Quadrilateral, liturgy colors….etc.). We have both a traditional and contemporary service but the majority of our students attend the contemporary service. We very rarely say the Lord’s Prayer and have never said the Apostle’s Creed (in fact I can’t remember when the last time we said it in traditional services either). Just wanted to know how you fit this into your world, at what age, or if not at all. I love the Methodist tradition and teachings of John Wesley, but I can also understand why students get bored by it, especially when they never see it actively displayed in our church.

Thoughts? Your turn!