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A couple of weeks ago I turned to find my 6th grade daughter with her fingers in her ears as I answered the question of one of my students in our small group. We were having a night, well actually a series, on “the talk.” It had turned into an eight week series, on “Marriage, Dating and Sex.” This particular night there were a lot of questions about all things “sex.” My daughter was responding by hiding. I, however, was not phased by her reaction as there was a part of me that wanted to handle the conversation the same way.

Let’s face it. We can’t all be Craig Gross, founder of XXXchurch.com and author of several Simply titles on the topic of sex. For some of us, this topic is entirely uncomfortable. Even if you think you have a handle on it, chances are there is going to be something at some point that makes you squirm. No, not about what the Bible says, that part it relatively easy to navigate. We want our students to have “God’s best,” and that’s why we know we need to discuss it. Yet, when the questions come it can be down right scary. (Believe me, I have had some really truly “special” topics come my way.) Sometimes I think they ask just to see if they can shock us. Other times they really want to ask someone they trust.

It’s not a question of, “Do we have the sex talk?” It’s more. When it all goes awkward, what do we do?

Communicate With Parents:

Before you head into these waters of this particular topic, make sure parents know the dates you will be talking “sex” especially. On the one hand, some may decide they don’t want their child as a part of the topic and that is their choice. Make sure you let them know that you are not going to replace them in any way. This is an additional place to have these conversations. After the difficult conversations, let them know an example of some things that you talked about. Avoid reporting things like, “Your child asked this.”  Instead, say something like, “These were some of the questions that were asked, and this is how we responded.” I can only imagine my 6th grader coming home to tell me she spent an hour with her fingers in her ears. I wouldn’t know what to think.

Don’t Be Afraid To Blush:

I tell students when we start on the topic of sex that I won’t know all the answers. I will blush, and I might stammer a little. I have been married 16 years and sometimes this still makes me blush. I let them know that giggles are alright. We laugh when we don’t know what else to say. We aren’t going to get out of control, and we aren’t going to ask things that are totally outlandish just to see if that will make me squirm. I will attempt to answer anything, but it has to be a “real” pondering.

What Have YOU Done?

Inevitably our students want to know OUR story. It is really up to you, in what you want to tell them. I do think what they are looking for is, “Have you ever struggled with your body wanting something it can’t have right now?”  If you have a “sorted” past, they will want ALL the details. DON’T. It’s not the point. I highly recommend in these situations using the phrase, “There are some decisions I wish I had made differently.”

Don’t Forget Marriage:

Our society today does a miserable job of showing God’s picture for marriage. In television, movies, magazines, music and just about everywhere else, sex is an action of only the body. Marriage in our society seems broken. Many of our students are growing up with bad or even NO representatives of what a marriage grounded in Christ looks like. In answering these questions, don’t ever forget to start with God’s best plan in mind. It’s not about purity- then dating and finally marriage. Marriage was the plan from the Garden. Help them see that.

I once had a student say to me, “I could never talk to my parents about this stuff so I have to go to my friends.” When I suggested maybe his friends were not always the best source for information, he balked then followed with, “I guess sometimes I do need to hear from another adult.” Our students sometimes need us to be a voice they trust no matter if we blush…just not with our fingers in our ears.

How do you navigate these “blush worthy” conversations?

Leneita / @leneitafix

lego_movie619

There’s nothing more American than LEGOs…

which actually are from Denmark…

so never mind that.

It’s wild how many people have been looking forward to the LEGO Movie – not just kids, but teenagers, parents, grandparents and more. The movie “clicks” – not just on the level you hope for, but with some extra layers of insight that give you plenty to talk about. It’s an easy enough movie to just go and see with your youth group.

What if you built on that, though?

legomovieyouthgroup

For example, our Middle School ministry met together at our local theater on the movie’s opening night. Afterward, we sat down over some pizza and talked about the movie’s plot. Without spoiling it for you, the basic concept is “Emmet,” a random construction character/mini-fig you might find in a LEGO set spontaneously becomes a part of a major quest. It involves some Matrix-like revolutionaries and “master builders” who think he’s “the Special.” When it appears he isn’t that person of influence, everyone wants to bail on him.

What tween or teen can’t relate to that?

The movie offers its own satire, along the way dropping appropriate jokes for all ages and several hidden gems that only adults might get. Along the way, we learn what the movie is really about – something I won’t spoil for you here.

Here are some questions that you can easily talk over as you’re yapping with your students in the car ride or over pizza:

  • Basic open-ended question: What did you like about the movie? Any surprises?
  • Who were some of your favorite characters? What about them did you like most?
  • If you could be an actual LEGO character for a day in the LEGO universe (or make up your own character), what pieces or special components would you have?
  • Could you relate at all to Emmet? In what ways does life seem sort of “ordinary?” Could you ever see yourself getting swept up into something “special?”
  • What are some things Emmet did to try to impress others? Have you ever done something to impress another person?
  • Emmet said, “When you told me I was important and special, that was the first time anybody had ever told me that.” Who is someone in your life who needs to hear this kind of encouragement from you today? Do you want to be encouraged right now by us?
  • One of the characters says that when it comes to Emmet’s ideas that the villains end up overlooking him because “they’re so dumb that no one expects them to work.” Do you think God uses ordinary people the same way?
  • The characters talk about their perspective of something else that’s out there – “the man upstairs.” What do you think people think of “the man upstairs” (God) in our world?
  • Imagine that God was to whisper something to you today – what might He tell you is “special” about you?

There are also a number of religious themes that the movie explores, as summarized by an article on the Huffington Post.

Did you see the movie? Any plans to?

What might be some other good takeaways? 



yellow door

Last night in my student small group we had an interesting discussion.  It was about the reality of a place called “Heaven” and the “other place” called Hell.

Everyone in my group agreed that they didn’t want to spend an eternity in a fiery pit separated from God.

As we dug deeper into the questions of “what it will really be like when we die,” one girl threw out this statement, “I think Heaven is going to be boring. What are we going to even DO all day? Isn’t it pain that pushes us to be better and try harder? If that’s missing how will we know what success is?”

Then someone else admitted something profound.  “I know it’s supposed to be comforting to know that God has my future all planned out, but honestly, it sounds a little creepy.  Does this mean here on earth I just am His puppet, and then I go to heaven where we are all robots?”

I was glad at the vulnerable honesty of my students.  What they are really asking is this:

“If I let God have total control of EVERYTHING in my life, does this mean I get nothing out of it?”

How much of our experience here in “this world” is spent striving?  We want better. We want more. We think  “achieving” success, however we define it, is what’s important.  In our heart of hearts isn’t this a fear many of us Christ followers have?

Even for the most confident, “Godly” people here on this planet there is a nagging at our soul.  We grapple with indecision, insecurity, selfishness and whether we admit it or not “caring” a little too much what others think of us.  No matter how hard we try to find our identity in the Lord something seems to be missing. It’s like looking in a cracked mirror.  Even when our lives are redeemed we live in this “Fallen world.”

So what if it’s about this?  What if we approach this familiar question from a different perspective?

We let Jesus have it all NOW, because then we get a glimpse of what it will feel like to “let go” and “be ourselves.”  It was always meant to be about a relationship.  Heaven is about FINALLY hitting a point where we get to just be who we were always meant to be.  It’s not about holding our head high and ignoring the “Haters.”  Instead, all of the ache of what we’re “not” will fade away. We get to be the Creator’s Created, fully accepted, each with a part to play for all of time. In short- “You were made for so much more than this. “  Don’t we all want to know we have a bigger part to play?

Now THAT answer seemed to hit a cord with all of us. It’s about Him because He is For US…

How would you handle this “Heaven” and “Future” question?  I would love to hear your thoughts!

- Leneita

@leneitafix

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?

questionofthedayToday’s question of the day (answer this of yourself, and I’ll try to do the same):

“What do the patterns in my life reveal when I take an honest look at them?”

Consider:

  • Who/what you tend to elevate up via promotion.
  • Who/what you tend to slam down via conversation.
  • Who/what you tend to resource into via finances.
  • Who/what you tend to latch onto via identity.

Maybe the things that come out of us have more to do with what’s in us?

“For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” (Luke 6:45b)



question markCompanies and organizations often do “exit interviews” and they do so for many different reasons.  But the biggest one is that they get really honest answers.  They do this so they can learn, become better at what they do and more faithfully care for their employees.

I think student ministry pastors need to do this too.  Asking graduated seniors the following questions can help you become better at what you do, be more in tune with the actual needs of your students and provide a natural way for you to give a few things for them to think about as they move onto the next stage of education.  But mostly it’s about asking them questions and keeping your ears open.

Here are 10 questions to ask graduated seniors:

  1. What is one thing you would NOT want to see changed in our ministry?
  2. If you were me, what two things would you do differently in our ministry?
  3. What questions are you thinking through right now? (note: this is a good one to ask because it can clue you into which questions you should answer for the next years seniors!)
  4. What do you think the biggest need is of the students in our ministry?
  5. What aspect of our ministry do you think is the most effective in helping students grow in their faith?  Why that one?  Anything we can do better?
  6. What do you think the students at (name school here) want the most out of life?  What is a way that our ministry can meet/address that desire?
  7. What was it that helped you best connect in our ministry?
  8. Do you feel like you were invested in the way you expect churches to invest in people?  What could we do better?
  9. Was there anything in our ministry that made you feel uncomfortable or discouraged?
  10. Do you feel like you were encouraged in our ministry?  If so, what did you find to be most encouraging?

Senior Pastor questionsA healthy relationship with your senior pastor is a core part of a healthy youth ministry.

It doesn’t matter if your church is large, medium, small or a start-up – your roles can powerfully complement each other if you each discern how to powerfully compliment each other.

A lot gets in the way of that, and it isn’t just about ego or insecurities. Sometimes you both become so busy that a disconnect happens over time. The good news is you can nurture something healthier, starting today.

Here are four questions you need to ask your senior pastor to get the ball rolling:

    • “How often do you want to meet, and what for?”

      In one church I served in, my senior pastor wanted to meet each week so we could synergize our efforts together. It was full of great encouragement and brainstorming. I instigated that pattern in the next church I served in, only that senior pastor found it annoying to meet every week. It ultimately degraded our relationship as he assumed I didn’t know how to do my job and needed extensive coaching. Make sure you both know how often you need to meet and what the purpose of that time will be.

    • “Do you need a safe place to just vent?” 

      When I made the transition to become a senior pastor, I suddenly became aware of perspective I was clueless about as a youth worker. This space is too small to list it all, but I will simply say that it adds up and isn’t always something you can debrief with your spouse about. Offer your senior pastor the chance to dump out what they’re sorting out, be it as a spiritual leader, parent, organizational boss or a human being. Honor that with confidentially and prayers.

    • “How can I serve you this week?”

      You’ll likely be surprised by the answers you hear and don’t hear to this question. As I asked this of my senior pastors I’d sometimes get a quick response, such as “I really need someone to teach this class for me. Can you do it?” Other times I had to pull out something of them by saying, “It seems like you and your wife haven’t had a date night in ages. Can I watch your kids on Friday so you can go out?”

    • “Who can I confront or encourage to help you out?”

      This may be the most awkward question you ask, but it can be the most therapeutic. Your senior pastor has a network of relationships that are similar-yet-larger than yours. You can help pour water on flames that need to be put out and gasoline on the fires that need to grow. Be willing to confront a critic or help spur on the most recent volunteer.

This is obviously not a comprehensive list, but maybe it gets you started. It also helps you better live out Hebrews 13:7: “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.”

What are some questions you’ve identified that we all need to be asking?