Loved this funny video from Tesoro Owns the Weekend – their them was Jesus is With You Now. Fun stuff!
Loved this funny video from Tesoro Owns the Weekend – their them was Jesus is With You Now. Fun stuff!
Recently, my students asked if it was possible to “skip” the Easter lesson this year. “We hear the same details every year, but aren’t we always talking about Jesus?” It caused me to ask them if they understood why we talk about Christ’s death and resurrection at this time of year. They knew the facts. This led me to delve in and ask, “What does this mean to you? How has the “story” of Easter and what Jesus did changed who you are?”
This is where the conversation got sticky and uncomfortable. They wanted to gloss over hearing the “tale” again, they thought they had heard it a million times in a million ways. However, when pressed to go beyond hearing and bringing Jesus home then this was another conversation entirely.
Any of us in love with Christ understand the power of this time of year. We embrace the remembering and celebration.
Yet, How do we help others grasp what this means for them? It begins with knowing if we really know what it means for us:
Do you wonder?
Christmas and Easter should not be the only times that we pull out the good news of Christ. The tendency can be to hyper focus twice a year. Instead these are cornerstones of God’s story in our relationship. I think the reason it happens this way, is we rarely lay in wonder of what it all means. He causes reconciliation in the most broken of relationships. His birth, death and resurrection are the reason we are free to be His. Think about that baby in a stable around August. Think about the empty tomb in October. When we ponder these momentous occasions often there is nothing less that we can do than give Him away constantly.
Are you in love with Him?
I didn’t ask if you love Jesus. I asked if you were “in” love with him? Remember that first boyfriend/girlfriend? All you wanted to do was lay your head on their shoulder, hold their hand and talk to them 24 hours a day. Is this how you feel about Christ? Instead do you endure him? Do you avoid time with him because it feels cumbersome? Be honest with where you are at your relationship with your Lord. It isn’t about the fluff of that “new love.” True love is an action. It is a choice of faithfulness and a fierce tenacity to be close. The days get hard. Yet, the longer your love affair the deeper and richer it becomes. Do you need to rediscover your “first love”?
Be Still and Know He is YOUR God
When is the last time you stole away for true alone time, just you and your Savior? Do you truly know He is yours and you are His? He tells us this over and again. We are HIS child, bride, disciple, friend, servant, heir. It isn’t that we have a place we belong, we have a God to whom we are brought close. He is not a distant, cold God. Start with 5 minutes today. Then set time aside in the next week to make it longer.
Be vulnerable with the Lord. If your heart is heavy tell him. However, this day called Easter restored our relationship with the Living God. It should be an event we celebrate without ceasing. The weight of His glory should leave us speechless… always. When Jesus conquered death, it changed our relationship with God forever. Celebrate Easter now, on April 20 and everyday. What about buying that “Easter bundle” in June?
“He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins.” Ephesians 1:7
How are you celebrating Easter daily?
When we look at the Gospels we can see clearly Jesus had a small group. He had 12 disciples. Out of this group there was life change, but not only life change but world change. I am currently reading through the Gospels right now and one of the things that stands out to me about how Jesus disciples his group and others around Him was how many questions he asked. His disciples would ask Him a question and He would answer with a question. At first I thought, “How annoying?” But as I began to think about it, it is genius. Getting people to even think about the questions they ask helps to get them to the answer that they are looking for.
We disciple most like Jesus when we learn how to ask our students great questions.
I have tried this the past few weeks with my own small group. They would ask a question and then I would answer with a question back. They would get frustrated because they want the easy answer but what I found is that they would begin to verbally process through the question and they would land on the answer they were looking for. We can readily give them the quick and easy answer but they won’t truly learn. I think if we as a leaders want to try to model after Jesus and how he discipled His group, we need to make our students work towards the answers they are seeking after by asking them better questions to get them thinking about their faith in Jesus.
Learn how to ask great questions and I think we will begin to see how students learn how to follow Jesus better.
A couple of years ago I was quite discouraged with ministry. A friend of mine asked me if I had an “encouragement” file. I had no idea what they were talking about. They told me:
You know it’s a file or folder you keep with notes from students and parents that make you remember why you serve them.
Now I got even more depressed. Not only did I not have such a file, I couldn’t even make one if I wanted to. The reality was (and is) that I worked in a “type” of youth ministry that did not lend itself to garnering accolades. Even today after 22 years of family ministry in the inner city I have about 3 notes from students and none from parents.
This is when the Lord reminded me of something He had shown me years before. We all focus on the idea that the “harvest is plenty and the workers are few.” However, we forget about 1 Corinthians 3:6-9. Paul is talking.
I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow. It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow. The one who plants and the one who waters work together with the same purpose. And both will be rewarded for their own hard work. For we are both God’s workers. And you are God’s field. You are God’s building
We are farmers and that means we do more than “harvest.” Farmers prepare the soil. They dig up rocks and dirt and make hardened ground ready for the seed. They fertilize and till. Then they plant little seeds. They water and wait and wait and wait. They protect the baby plants from pests, weather, and the ”elements” that might attack them. In short there are a lot of things that happen before you ever even see a plant bloom. Farmers work with others. No one can plant a whole crop by themselves. As Paul pointed out some of us will plant, others will water, and God makes it grow. We don’t all get to collect the “fruit.” Often when we do get to be the one who “harvests” we forget the hard work of a “farmer” that came before us.
If you can put together a “file folder” like my friend said, I highly recommend it. I think it is a great idea to take time on the days we want to “quit.” However, I think we also need to start a list. When are the times you can see the ground moving in an immovable life? Just last night I had a conversation with a student who told me they are less angry than they were a year ago, and God is doing that. It isn’t a full harvest, but it’s a seedling. I need to celebrate that.
Our job as farmers is to look at every heart and believe that one day they will grow. God is making them grow. He is the only one who can do that work at all. We just have to look with his eyes. It may look like a field of dirt to the average passerby, for us we see something amazing.
How are you working as a farmer?
Last week I had a really interesting conversation with a group of freshmen. It all started with this question from one girl:
“So in church they’re always talking about asking Jesus into your heart, I’m not even sure I know what that really means.”
The rest of the group nodded in agreement. These were not “unchurched” students leading the discussion. Instead, they were youth who go to church regularly and even attend a Christian School. My first thought was who I could blame for their confusion. Then I realized the issue was not if they were being told the story of Jesus, who He is or what Salvation is all about, they knew the answers to these questions. It got me thinking about the deeper issue.
Have you ever used any of these words in your talks or Bible Studies:
Temptation. Flesh. Righteousness. Justification. Sanctification. Identity. Fellowship. Witness. Testimony. Pride. Lust. Modesty.
The problem of course is that we have an entire language we speak in our Christiandom. We expect students who have never been to church to struggle to keep up, however, the ones who have grown up in Sunday School should know this stuff.
I would contend, we don’t often stop to EXPLAIN what we MEAN when we are building the foundations of the faith. The same students who didn’t understand really what “Jesus in their heart” meant, could give me all the facts of how to come into a relationship with Christ. They knew about the crucifixion, resurrection and the implications of it all. Too often we can set it up so our students can memorize the words, without really knowing the definitions. We think Bible Stories are merely about the details of who, what, when and how. Even if we might give a description of the concept, are we pushing to help them know the application? The older they get the more they think they should “know” and the more embarrassed they become to admit they don’t. So they keep up appearances until one day the words, crash into their doubts and we wonder why some (not all) are running from God.
This is not the first time I have had a conversation like this with students. It started years ago when I was passionately preaching about the need to put Jesus first in our lives. Instead of excitement, I got a bunch of blank stares when I made the statement, “We need to die to self.” I stopped and asked:
”Who knows what that means?”
There was a lot of clamoring. A couple of people made the obligatory statement, “I know I just can’t explain it.” The reality was they had no clue. I found they had heard this idea often while no one had stopped to make sure they were “getting it.” I realized, how often do I take it one step further and ask:
What does that mean to YOU for YOU and in YOUR life?
That was the day I adopted the above questions as a part of everything I do in all of our programming. Blank stares rarely are about boredom. More often than not they come from confusion. The issue isn’t in our language, it’s that we aren’t explaining it. The freshmen I spoke with understood the concept of salvation, but what it meant to belong to Jesus was something they had never taken the time to unpack completely.
I challenge you to dig this week with your own group. Ask them if there are some words or ideas in the church or in their faith that they are afraid to admit are baffling.
Would you be willing to change the way you teach?
Do you think this is an issue or not?
In Matthew 22 Jesus sums up the whole law in what is called the “Greatest Commandment”. It’s to love your God and to love your neighbor. I love this. It’s simple, to the point and effective but not always the easiest thing to do. When I read this passage this morning it made me think about the “greatest commandment” when it comes to leading small groups for high school students and I came up with this and I think it’s simple, to the point and effective but not always the easiest thing to do:
We as leaders are to be open and honest and lead by example; are to love those are in the group even though they are messy.
When I think about it, small groups who have these two things do pretty well.
Honesty: When a leader is honest, the group is honest. When the leader is honest about their own struggles and doesn’t feel like they need to hide their struggles because they are the “leader” it benefits all. Group members are then more likely to be honest about what is going on in their lives as well. We all know that this is an open flood gate. Once one person breaks the walls the majority will follow. The leader needs to be that person. I think when a leader is honest and says, “You know what? I don’t know but I’ll find out and get back to you” about a certain topic or question speaks wonders to students rather than pretending you know everything and then give bad theology in an answer they pulled from no where in Scripture. Students need to see you are learning too but you are willing to go on that journey with them.
Love: Being a loving group is one of the most attractive things to students who are in not in one at all. To have that community where they can be honest and not be judged but be loved, forgiven and shown grace is huge. Those things are attractive to all. Who does not want to feel that? Yes, fun games, big events, great music could be attractive too but we know that those things are to funnel students to groups where they will stick because they are loved and known by leaders who are honest and are on a journey with them in their faith.
These are the greatest commandments of small groups.
23 He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” 24 So Jesus went with him.
A large crowd followed and pressed around him. 25 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. 26 She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. 27 When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” 29 Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.
30 At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”
31 “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ”
32 But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. 33 Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”
This passage brought to you by “Flexibility”.
If you are not flexible in ministry, especially ministry with students, you will break. This passage is the prefect example of how Jesus lead the way in flexibility. He was one his way to one house call when a woman in need interrupted His route by touching Him. Instead of being “too busy” Jesus saw an opportunity to care and minister. We need to do the same.
How many time have I missed out on a great conversation with a student or volunteer because I was not being flexible?
Yes we need to sometimes put our heads down and get things done but never at the cost of caring for people. Being flexible is what made Jesus attractive to the crowds and it can be a great lesson for us when we are stressed out thinking of a sermon illustration or game to play for the week. If you can’t bend a little you will break.
Be flexible this week, see what happens.
I know you know who I am talking about when I say, “That kid” in your youth ministry. Am I right? They come but you sort of don’t know why. They sit in the back, on their phone and seem to not pay attention. You are usually surrounded by the students who come all the time because they actually engage in conversation so you sped most of your time with them, not really paying attention to “That kid” who doesn’t seem to want to be there anyways. I used to (and still sometimes catch myself) do this all of the time. But I read this story about Jesus and it convicted me so I have been trying to make it a point to reach out to “that kid” because they need Jesus just as much as I do.
You know the story of Zacchaeus. The regions tax collector and was hated among the people. He was on the outside, not in the “in crowd”, not in the religious know. People knew he was there but did not engage him in conversation. Yet, he was still there and people didn’t know why. He just wanted to see Jesus. He was short so he climbed a tree to see Jesus. What Jesus did next is a lesson we all can learn in youth ministry about those kids who are “that kid” in the back and how to react to them:
Notice them.- 5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately.
Get to know them. -I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
Others have ignored them and might not get their “normal time” with you. -7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
Change happens because you show them Jesus. - 8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
We made this video a couple of years ago but it just felt right to play again this week as we kicked off the New Year talking about walking with Jesus. A fun take on the old classic poem!
As I look at my past and see all the struggles and times when I thought there was no hope, thought that it was the end, and I would never amount to anything, I see that God was there all along. He placed success within me all along, He placed success within every single person…all along!
As I mentioned last week, success is found in your heart through Jesus; it is within. When we choose to stop dwelling on gaining luxury cars and lots of cash flow, and start putting our trust and hope in God, the time will come when we start realizing there is a life outside of climbing the ladder to worldly success. This is the life God wants us to live. He wants us to seek Him in all we do! (Matthew 6:33) When we do, everything else follows.
Even after years of listening to the world beat you down, including yourself, when you listen to God’s word, you are breathing in success because in God’s word is everything you need for success, and it is sewn into your innermost being. It becomes a part of you. It manifests in your actions when you help the needy or when you choose to have ultimate trust in the Lord to supply all of your needs no matter what the circumstances may be.
But God doesn’t just stop there! He gives us visions and dreams and “equips us with all we need for doing His will.” (Hebrews 13:21) He gives us what we need to be successful in the visions He gives us. We just have to abide in Him and know that what He says is true and run with it!
The next time you think you are not successful because you don’t have the newest iphone or the biggest house, know that’s not what makes you successful. God places success within every one of us, and it can be found by listening to His word and abiding in Him.
“I am the LORD your God, who teaches you to profit, who leads you in the way you should go.” (Isaiah 48:17)
Ashley Fordinal is the Children’s Church volunteer at Family Life Church in Sulphur Springs, TX.
Yesterday I had the opportunity to talk about Relational Leadership to a group of seasoned pastors (who all oversee paid staff). While very few youth workers have the opportunity to lead a paid staff, most have the privilege of leading volunteers and can definitely set their sights on being a relational leader (all that to say—I thought of you and figured you might be able to glean something from this post).
It’s my observation that the busier the leader, the less he/she has the space to genuinely care for people they work with and their leadership slowly (and often unknowingly) morphs into a transactional leadership.
Relational leader: “I care for you as a person. I want to help you win.”
Transactional leader: “I want you to do this for me. I need to win.”
Below are some questions that might be worthy of your time and reflection. It’s my experience that a leader will tend to think a little deeper when they can slow down and make time to reflect and evaluate. I find that many church leaders are intentional about the doing (maybe even overly strategic), but they give little intentional value to the slowing down and reflecting segment that is required of good leaders.
Here are 10 questions to get you thinking about your own leadership emphasis.
1. How might I build in space for rest and reflection?
2. Is it possible to lead a ministry and create a rhythm for myself and my team that’s sustainable?
3. Am I personally leading out of having space (margin) in my life?
4. Can I be refreshed and energized at the current pace that I’m living?
5. Am I creating space for my team to love one another and consider the spiritual needs of our target audience?
6. What is required of me as a leader to help others win?
7. Can spiritual formation and leadership development go together?
8. Am I using people to get tasks accomplished or am I developing them to trust Jesus, follow Jesus, and reflect Jesus?
9. I may not be able to set the vision for the church, but I can set the values of how I’m going to treat and lead people.
10. Am I genuinely excited for the success of the leaders I oversee?
I hope you’ll find some time to honestly answer these questions and think deeply about your leadership style.
It was just a couple weeks ago – I was about to take the stage at our parent Meet ‘N Greet event for Life Groups. The energy was high and there’s always a buzz around the launch of our small groups. Right before I went on I had an incredibly difficult conversation. It was of those blow the wind-right-out-of-your-sails, painful, brought me to tears sort of moments you my have had in youth ministry. My mind raced to the implications of the conversation – the students, the leaders, the parents, the church, our ministry reputation, the cause of Christ … and then I went on stage.
No one knew what I had to carry that night, and until this blog post no one would have known and maybe would have never guessed the heavy weight that was on my shoulders.
Youth workers carry heavy things. We stand in the gap for families, we stand up for teenagers. We cling to the Lord. It isn’t the stereotypical and playful career many people wrongfully believe it is – although at times I wish it was just videogames, laser tag and pizza. In reality, at times it is heavy, gut-wrenching and painful calling.
There’s so much that could be said in this moment: encouraging your close personal walk with Jesus, making sure you have safe people for you to process with, stuff like that. But I just wanted to quick say thank you for carrying some really heavy stuff as a youth worker. Most people will never know the nitty gritty details about that rough situation in your church or even come close to feeling the weight the burdens you helped someone remove at the foot of the cross. The pressure you live under daily or the exhaustion after serving the needs of others nonstop.
Thanks for carrying people when they’re weak, thanks for serving faithfully. Thanks for lightening people’s load as you serve Jesus today.
I thought I would share quickly about a great resource we gave to all of our small group leaders this year. I used it last night in the small group I lead and it was such a great way to start off the night.
99 Questions Jesus Asked by Jason Ostrander is a great way to start off a group night. Here is a quick description of the book:
Jesus is often described as the master teacher, but when was the last time you thought of him as the master questioner or the master asker?
Veteran youth worker Jason Ostrander has combed through the pages of the Gospels in search of the most challenging, intriguing, and meaningful questions Jesus posed—and the answers behind them. The result is 99 Questions Jesus Asked, a book that will lead your students on an adventure of considering the significance of Jesus’ questions and answers to their lives today.
Teenagers will find themselves sitting on a hillside in Galilee, walking the roads of ancient Palestine, and experiencing the crowded streets of Jerusalem. They’ll discover that Jesus’ questions remain potent and relevant today, nearly two millennia after they were first asked.
Most importantly, they’ll encounter the heart of Jesus—his passion for revealed truth, fervent faith, and transformed lives.
How I used it for small group:
In the beginning of our time together we are eating, hanging out, catching up on life. It can be a struggle to go from that to right into a study. So I will be using this book to get the group in the mindset of thinking critically and thinking about Jesus. I have them pick a number between 1 and 99. Someone choices, and I will open to that question. I’ll read the quick one page section that ends with a question that Jesus asks and we spend a few minutes to talk about it. We then pray and then begin the study for that night. It was so great! It was a switch into thinking and engaging the text. I’m really excited to see where this book will lead us in some other discussions.
I would recommend you get a few books for you leaders as well. Such a great, quick, and cheap tool to make the small group experience better. Click on the picture above to check it out on Amazon.
Recently, one of my new adult leaders asked me, “Why don’t we talk about the Holy Spirit more with our high school students? It seems like we’re very focused on Jesus.”
Truthfully, this is a pretty fair assessment of my high school ministry: It is very Jesus-focused. Here’s why:
I spent the last year researching what students in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (the denomination in which I currently serve) believe about Jesus. What I learned from this national study was that 56 percent of students surveyed (all of whom were active in local congregations) either did not believe or did not know Jesus was God. Additionally, 58 percent either believed it was possible to be a Christian without believing in Jesus or didn’t know if Jesus was crucial to the Christian faith. This means that many of today’s church kids don’t know or understand why Jesus matters – to their faith or their lives.
According to Kenda Creasy Dean in Almost Christian, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD), an “alternative religious vision of divinely underwritten personal happiness and interpersonal niceness,” is quickly replacing our traditional, historical religious traditions. While the guiding beliefs of MTD involve God, Jesus is absent. As a result, Dean suggests “Christian spirituality requires a particular kind of conversation that reinforces the church’s unique understanding of who God is in Jesus Christ. To state it bluntly: Conversational Christianity requires Jesus-talk, not just God-talk.”
Since they’re still transitioning from concrete to abstract thinking, from a developmental standpoint, young teens need to hear and talk about the parts of their faith that are most concrete. What’s more concrete than Jesus?
While the Holy Spirit is an important part of the Trinity on whom we rely for guidance, wisdom, and prayer, there is something dangerous about overemphasizing the Holy Spirit to teens at the expense of Jesus. Overemphasizing the Holy Spirit often results in emotionally volatile teens having intense experiences with God, during which they “feel” his presence (ie, the Holy Spirit). This spiritual high is all fine and good until eventually, life happens and those warm, fuzzy God feelings disappear. When those feelings evaporate, so does the faith of teens taught to equate the presence of God with them.
Overemphasizing the Holy Spirit often results in teens who won’t (or can’t) make their own decisions because they’ve been taught instead to follow the guidance and promptings of the Holy Spirit. For teens who are still developing in every way, it’s far too easy to mistake friends, significant others, and even parents for the Holy Spirit. It’s far wiser to teach teens what Jesus did. Knowing what Jesus did gives teens concrete examples to follow in any situation.
Make no mistake. We talk about God and the Holy Spirit in our high school youth ministry, but not nearly to the extent we intentionally talk about Jesus.
According to theologian Carl Braaten, the Christian faith “stands or falls with what it knows about Jesus of Nazareth”. As a result, what I want my students to leave our high school ministry with is nothing more and nothing less than Jesus.
Jen Bradbury has been in youth ministry for 11 years. She’s the youth director at Faith Evangelical Lutheran Church in Glen Ellyn, IL. Her writing has appeared in YouthWorker Journal, The Christian Century, and Immerse. She blogs at ymjen.com
Working in youth ministry for 30+ years has given me a strong taste of what it’s like to feel odd. Over the years, I’ve received odd remarks, looks, and reactions for liking teenagers and caring about their lives. Some comments I’ve received:
• “You hang out with kids? What do you really do for a living?”
• “When are you going to get your own church and be a real pastor?”
• “So, you…actually spend time with teenagers? Why would you do that?”
It seems that being odd and being misunderstood is part of what men and women serving in youth ministry sign-up for when they follow God’s lead to love Him and to like teenagers. Being odd is just part of the gig.
In God’s larger kingdom too, being odd is also a part of simply following Jesus. In 1 Peter 2:11 we’re referred to as “aliens and strangers in the world.” Hmmm. We’re in good company since Jesus was odd too. In Him, God became flesh and lived among us, inviting us to embrace a foreign way of thinking; to exchange our focus from the physical to the spiritual, from the fleeting kingdoms of this world, to His everlasting Kingdom. He invites us to dance instead of walk; to be odd… simply odd.
But, this odd life is not for the sake of appearing weird. It’s not as if those of us who follow Jesus are required to wear clown suits to church. Being odd for the sake of Jesus is the highest of callings. It’s living an odd life marked by love, forgiveness, compassion, kindness, humility, and self-sacrifice.
A. W. Tozer beautifully describes this oddness:
“A real Christian is an odd number anyway. He feels supreme love for one whom he has never seen. He talks familiarly every day to someone he cannot see, expects to go to heaven on the virtue of another, empties himself in order that he might be full, admits he is wrong so he can be declared right, goes down in order to get up. He is strongest when he is weakest, richest when he is poorest, and happiest when he feels worst. He dies so he can live, forsakes in order to have, gives away so he can keep, sees the invisible, hears the inaudible, and knows that which passeth knowledge.”
As it turns out, maybe feeling odd isn’t such a bad thing. In fact, perhaps if the world does not recognize the oddness of Jesus in us, we ought to consider why.