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Too Much Talk and Not Enough Action

Are you helping teens move beyond content into active obedience?

Blah. Blah. Blah.

Youth ministry has morphed into a never-ending conversation. Let’s face it. Those of us in youth ministry run from one meeting to the next planning, sharing, envisioning, describing—talking. If we got paid by the word, we would all be rich.

And now we have all sorts of seminars, workshops and conferences where we pay to hear others talk.

Too much talk and not enough action. I don’t think the early church was immune to this problem. First John 3:18 says, “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth” (NIV).

Door to Door

Jesus was all about action. He was always on the go serving, teaching, healing, feeding, touching and sharing. If we build our youth ministries in His image, then they’ll be active—not passive—focused on obedience and not just content.

I’ll never forget being a junior high intern 17 years ago. As the new guy on the block, I thought I’d try something different. My talk was on evangelism (no surprise!), and I finished it about 30 minutes early (big surprise!).

The handful of confused teenagers all kind of looked at each other and their watches with the “What now?” look. I seized the opportunity and said, “Now we are going to go do it!”

“Do what?” one seventh-grader asked.

“We’re going out into this neighborhood to serve people and share the gospel,” I explained.

“We can’t do that?” one teen said in fear.

“Why not?” I asked.

“This is Sunday school.”

“Well, you take field trips in school, right? Think of this as a field trip.”

So off we went door-to-door—raking leaves, cleaning up, initiating conversations, taking prayer requests, sharing Jesus. At first, the teens were terrified. But then it caught on.

By the time we headed back, a buzz had ignited among those young souls. Their Christianity was no longer a theory or a classroom situation. They had an opportunity to live it out in very tangible ways right in their church’s own backyard.

After that, Sunday school was never the same. There was always a sense that, with Jesus, anything could happen at anytime.

Walking the Walk

That’s the way church should happen every time. Look at the early church and how they did church. It wasn’t just about the meeting, so much as the mission that followed. Why do we compress all of our outreach efforts into a quarterly meeting or an annual missions trip? Maybe because we prefer a strategy that depends on words and not actions.

Now don’t get me wrong. Words are very important. Without words, our actions would be misguided and misled. But words without actions are like fire without heat—useless. Life-changing youth ministry has fire and heat, words and actions. Effective youth ministers talk the talk and walk the walk.

So why not have an application at the end of every talk you do? Your teens will soon catch on that “faith without works is dead” and that God wants us to be “doers of the Word and not hearers only.”

That’s one reason why we challenge students to call or text their unreached friends and get started immediately. We want students to experience the joy of doing what they have learned.

All talk and no action tends to turn Jack into a dull Christian.


Greg Stier is founder and president of Dare 2 Share, a ministry dedicated to mobilizing teenagers to reach their world with the good news of Jesus Christ. He is the author of multiple books and numerous resources, including Dare 2 Share: A Field Guide for Sharing Your Faith and Ministry Mutiny: A Youth Leader Fable. read more

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Salvation for a Generation


Four proven ways to establish vibrant ministries to teenagers

The church of Jesus Christ has been renowned for being an agent of rescue—rescuing cultures, people in the midst of horrific situations and generations from satanic oppression. The young generation in America today is in desperate need of rescue. As the church, we can rise up and become a source of hope instead. We have a historic opportunity to see a massive turnaround in the direction of this generation. Unfortunately, most data shows that young people are walking away from God and the church. Add to that internal struggle, as many people in church look so much like the world it's difficult to tell the difference.
For those frustrated pastors and leaders who may think there's nothing they can do to help, I'm here to tell you that you have many real teens in your community who can be forever changed by the impact of your church. I've seen this transformation. Consider these four proven initiatives that have helped churches establish vibrant ministry to teenagers. read more
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A Missing Demographic


How can your church intentionally reach and lead men?

God has a high opinion of men. That may sound presumptuous, but Scripture backs me up. He created man, so He obviously had in mind a purpose for men. And it's difficult to overlook the fact that Jesus founded the New Testament church on the hearts and minds of a handful of male apostles.
Yet according to polls conducted by Hartford's Institute of Religious Research and the Gallup Pollsters, the average church in America is comprised of only 7 to 11 percent men. What has robbed the church of its male leadership and effectual ministry?
When we attempt to answer this question, we find dozens of dynamics that researchers use to extrapolate explanations as to the various reasons why men don't see the need to be a part of a local church. One of the reasons they cite is that men feel pastors do not address "relevant" issues. read more
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Face Time


Avoid the pitfalls of electronic communication with practical action steps toward real conversation

My whole family seems to be addicted to their mobile phones and computers. How do we break this?"
I often get this question from concerned parents who, like this woman, are starting to realize that instead of having genuine, face-to-face communication, their family talks with one another and others through online chat, emails, text messages, tweets, Facebook and other social networking tools.
While there's nothing inherently wrong with using these communication avenues, we can look out for some warning signs. As leaders, it's important we're aware not only of how this issue affects our own families, but we also need to help the families in our church maintain a standard.
Communicating electronically has the benefit of expanding the ways we can talk to one another in families, but it cannot replace face-to-face communication. The danger can be that electronic communication replaces real, personal sharing and intimacy. Re-member that non-verbal communication is about 80 to 90 percent of the message. When all we send and receive from one another is a text or email, the full communication is missing. read more

The Secret Place

True revival comes from the inner room of prayer

 

The new breed of revivalist emerging in the earth must be a generation that has established a secret life with Christ. The Lord is releasing an anointing to see entire cities and nations turn to God, but that anointing can only be secured in the secret place.

There are some things you cannot get in public; you must press in for them in private. You can’t go to conferences or have anointed men and women of God lay their hands on you to get this anointing. It is an anointing that results from encountering the Anointed One in the secret place, the inner room of prayer.

Now, it’s crucial that you go to conferences and have anointed people lay their hands on you. But you won’t fully step into everything God has for you until you learn how to separate yourself to the Lord in prayer. Not one revivalist I have ever read about or met acquired his or her anointing through public gatherings. They received their anointing in the secret place of prayer. All of them have (or had) a secret life with God that, for the most part, they don’t even talk about. read more

Train Up a Child—Without Fear

Parenting should be about a heart-to-heart connection—not control

 

Our children are professional mistake makers. They are all on a learning journey. When we are afraid of their mistakes or their sins, our anxiety controls our responses to them and the spirit of fear becomes the “master teacher” in our home.

Even though 2 Timothy 1:7 clearly tells us that we have not been given a spirit of fear from God, we often partner with that spirit to train our children toward the goal of obedience and compliance.

For many, like it was for me, intimidation is our only real parenting tool. We have various levels of intimidation. We try to convey to our kids that we are in control of their lives from the time they are tiny. Once again, the problem with that lesson is that heaven is not trying to control your life. God doesn’t want to control you. read more

Spirit Wars

God wants us to know wholeness in spirit, body and soul

 

One night, exhausted from a hard week of work, I got in the bathtub to relax my tired body while my wife, Kathy, lay sick in her eighth month of pregnancy. An hour later, I started to get out of the tub. But as I stood up, an intense thought hit me: I am going to die!

The thought caused panic to rush through my whole being like stampeding cattle. My entire body trembled as my heart pounded out of my chest. Strength drained from my limbs as I fell back into the water, shouting desperately for Kathy to help me. She rushed into the bathroom where I lay helpless. I managed to mumble something about having a heart attack. She strained to help me out of the bathtub, and then she ran into the kitchen to call our family doctor.

He relayed a few questions to me and concluded that I was having a panic attack, not a heart attack. Little did I know that this was the beginning of a journey through a living hell. read more

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Let’s Get Real

Successful youth ministry is about the life-altering reality of the  gospel, not gimmicks

 

Youth ministry. The words alone are enough to strike fear in the hearts of even the most seasoned, accomplished ministry professional. They bring to mind laborious, draining efforts that don’t always have the results we want. How did it get this way? Why do church’s youth pastors tend to have such a high turnover rate? 

Out of a genuine desire to impact the next generation, many respond by trying to make church so entertaining or cool that young people will be too impressed or comfortable to walk away. So, expensive stage lights are installed and a café is set up. Nothing wrong with those things, but the problem is: When we give young people what we think they want—or even what they tell us they want—and deny them the life-altering reality of the gospel, we fail to give them the one thing they truly do want: something real. 

The few short years I’ve been blessed to serve as the director of Eagles’ Wings 9-month Internship and three-week Summer Discipleship have been a real crash course. Nothing like learning as you go! But as I have prayed, improvised and stumbled my way through, I’ve encountered some good news—actually, the Good News. read more

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For Zion’s Sake

Through worship and prayer, Christians will hear God’s heart for Israel

 

As leaders with a passion to be a part of God’s kingdom coming here on earth as it is in heaven, it is vital that we see the kingdom of God that is within us (Luke 17:21) coming as well. This happens as we come into His presence.

It’s one of the things I love about the tabernacle of David; that place where we come into His presence in worship and intercession; the flowing of harp and bowl (Rev. 5:8). 

We must become a house of prayer if we desire to see the house of prayer raised up in our generation—His kingdom coming on the earth and His kingdom coming in us. read more

Finding the Fathers

Churches need men who will mentor the next generation

 

On a recent mission trip to Sri Lanka, I had a most memorable conversation with a young man I had met more than 11 years ago. Then a 14-year-old Tamil boy, he struggled to survive amidst a bloody civil war raging a few miles from his village.

He recounted some of the most difficult times in his formative years that included living in a nation at war. He had deep appreciation for his father, a converted Hindu, who went to great lengths to protect him from the Tamil Tigers that reportedly forced families to sacrifice their sons for the cause. He recounted the indoctrination and the pressure he faced at the hands of school officials with direct ties to the Tamil Tigers on a daily basis in the classroom. 

He spoke of the Tsunami that killed nearly 20,000 people. He told of the war’s violent end that forced hundreds of thousands of people into refugee camps just a few miles outside of his village. read more

Authentic Kids-Discipleship

Raising up strong children requires transparency and authenticity


A time-worn Christian cliche’ says that family decline is the root cause of much of the devastation in the nation today. From broken families, broken children emerge to create broken communities, broken churches and even broken nations. If we are going to turn America around, we must heal our families. Our families and homes are the first school house and the first church.

When my husband talks about a spiritual reformation within our nation, I often think about the practical aspects of training the next generation. I know several strong Christian leaders whose children have wound up doing prison time or they are stuck in nonproductive jobs, or even worse: They hate the idea of being engaged in ministry. This is often because the leaders did not pass the baton on to the next generation. 

Years ago I looked at my life. I saw how wounded and dysfunctional I really was personally. Born an illegitimate child, the descendant of three generations of broken homes. Sexually abused before the age of 5 and brought up in a ghetto that led to me getting involved with drugs, alcohol and premarital sex. I even had two abortions. read more

Choosing the Right VBS for Your Church

Practical help for pastors and lay leaders in selecting the best outreach program

 

Vacation Bible School (VBS) has come a long way since 1923 when Standard Publishing produced the first printed faith-based curriculum for children, which was designed as a five-week course. Today, VBS has morphed and expanded into the largest church outreach program of the year for kids, though it only lasts a few days of their summer.

Churches nationwide gear up during the winter and spring months for the summer event by investing precious time, money and resources for a number of reasons. The most obvious one is the opportunity to reach out to the local community with the love of Christ and the message of hope. VBS is a non-threatening way for families to walk onto a church campus and experience firsthand a church’s commitment to loving and ministering to people.  

VBS also creates a great opportunity for the entire congregation to support and highlight its children’s ministry. VBS should always be a big deal. The exposure it creates for children’s ministry is invaluable.   read more

Disciples of Disney?

Why young adults need to hear a ‘better song’— biblical truths about love and marriage


I sing a lot in my sermons. I sing because students know and resonate with the songs that they have heard since they were children. In fact, young adults’ ideas about love and marriage are usually formed more by Disney movies and other media than biblical narratives. So I grab their attention by singing a familiar Disney song and then explain a better story—God’s story. Here are three lies that Disney movies tell young people.

Teens are worthy of worship by someone of the opposite sex. You know the story—it’s the all-too-familiar young romance movie. A young man becomes infatuated with the striking beauty of a young woman, going to great lengths to woo her. He will kill any dragon, trek any foreign land and embrace any hardship to be with the young lady. Once he rescues her, he sings, praises and whisks her away to a life of bliss. It’s a great story. It’s fun, exciting and pulls at our heartstrings. However, there is a problem. God is left out of the story.

Here is a better story: a God-honoring man goes to great lengths to woo the heart of a woman who fears God. Together, they honor God by serving and loving each other for the rest of their lives. These two stories have similar plots, but the difference lies in who is worthy of being worshipped. read more

Happily Ever After 101

Four ways to prepare couples for marriages that will last a lifetime

 

Having been a college/20-something pastor for the last decade, I have lived in the land of dating, engagement and wedding officiating. My weekends are regularly filled with beautiful flowers, “Here Comes the Bride” and mediocre reception musicians. Officiating weddings is fun, and a lot of energy is poured into making this a special and memorable day. But there is so much more that must be considered. Have we spent more energy pulling off a wedding and less on preparing to make a marriage last a lifetime?

I have been asked “How do I know if she is the one?” more times than I can count, taught about dating and marriage multiple times, and spent endless hours in premarital counseling. Thinking about this sacred subject has been a necessity for me. Here are a few things I have come to realize in trying to prepare young adults for marriage.

Paint a realistic picture. Marriage is a beautiful thing, designed by God. There is fulfillment and joy for two people that “submit themselves to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21). But having a great marriage takes a lot of work. When we get caught up in the enchanting imagery of Ephesians 5, we have to remember that it is an invitation to the death of self. It is easy to be a servant when people praise us for it, but the test is will we still serve when people treat us like servants? read more

Invest in Youth Workers

How to deposit the right kind of motivation into these vital ministers

Growing up, I’d often see my mom the scout leader wearing a crazy hat. It had two bills pointing in different directions, and the caption above them read: “I’m their leader. Which way did they go?” While this was a funny message as a kid, for an adult leader this poses an important question. The key to leading scouts—and volunteer youth workers—is the same: Give them motivating reasons to want to follow.

Begin with the end in mind. Developing adolescent disciples is a worthy endeavor and a wild ride. Helping youth workers remember that the goal is always to build into teens and their families the tools to be lifelong followers of Jesus is critical. Tip: Keep the goal of what the youth ministry is about short and memorable. Talk about it often. Put it in easy view 
everywhere—on shirts, banners, even pop quizzes on the ceiling. Whatever it takes.

Appreciate their contribution and investment. Caring for teens and their families has a way of sneaking into every area of a youth worker’s life. This is not just a-couple-of-hours-a-week gig for them. Honor this investment. Tip: Handwritten notes of encouragement and thanks are not only timely but also special. Anybody can write an e-mail or Facebook post, but hardly anyone gets snail mail these days; so go “old school” and use the post office. read more

Family Grieving

How to help those who have lost a loved one to suicide
Everyone can relate to difficult circumstances, especially during these economically tough days when people are losing jobs, homes and retirement savings. Divorce is on the rise, as are addictions to alcohol, drugs, gambling and sex. For millions, the emotional stress has become almost too much to bear. Yet among those suffering exists a group that actually believes the crisis is too overwhelming. Unable to cope and devoid of hope, they believe there is only one solution: suicide.
How should pastors respond to those who are suicidal or those who have lost a family member to suicide? Are you equipped with the therapeutic and supportive resources to aide parishioners who are grief-stricken? Part of your role as a pastor is to bridge the gap between emotional despair and spiritual freedom, yet that is rarely an easy task. When it comes to counseling suicidal individuals or grieving families, the work is taxing. Yet even if you lack certification or training in professional counseling, here are some key elements you can apply in helping people recover from the effects of suicide.

1. Use a team approach. You’re not a doctor, and you don’t play one on TV. Use a strength-based approach by tapping into the expertise of professional and trained individuals in the field of counseling or social work. Seek their guidance and incorporate their suggestions in the efforts to aide a grieving family. Ask them about external supports or resources that are best suited to meet the needs of the family. Some families may not be comfortable revealing their feelings to their church family, so respect their right to privacy in seeking outside support.
2. Show empathy. It’s critical that those grieving feel your sincere sensitivity, warmth and understanding. Regardless of the circumstances, refrain from making statements such as, “Didn’t he know it’s selfish to commit suicide?” or “How could she be so dumb?” There’s simply no room for this type of insensitivity. Those left behind are already confused, shocked and dazed. Help them understand that suicidal people generally want to end their suffering and pain, seek to alleviate their unendurable psychological pain, and relinquish their self-perceived reliance on others. Your compassion can help bring a sense of understanding and acceptance.
3. Be there to listen. Silence is golden, and there isn’t a better time to apply this principle than in the crucial days following such a tragic loss. Give the family space and time to work with a professional counselor and sort through the psychological and spiritual impact of their loss. In some cases, they may feel a sense of scrutiny and stigmatization. To the best of your ability, serve as a buffer from harmful remarks. Your presence as an effective listener will be pivotal throughout the entire ordeal.  
4. Ask questions. Don’t assume; ask candid and open questions. It’s easy to beat around the bush in a situation like this, but don’t let that happen. Not only will you assist the family in dealing with core issues, the questions you ask will help you ascertain vital information and give you insight into how you might prevent suicide’s devastating impact in the future.
5. Become familiar with suicide risk. You can learn about suicidal signs by attending a seminar or a suicide prevention conference. Many symptoms are easily overlooked, so take the initiative to learn more by researching online or talking to a social worker. There are also suicide hot lines available in virtually every community. Provide contact information for these in the bulletin at your church.

Devon A. Blackwood counsels at Johns Hopkins and Hope Health Systems and is president and CEO of B.W. Affiliates. He is the author of Planted By Water and is writing his third book, My Season. read more

Next-Generation Worship

How to attract—and empower—a new generation of worshippers

 


Most music has a shelf life. While there are many songs both sacred and secular that span the generations, a vast majority fades into distant memory with the years.

The same can be said of worship music. We all remember and cherish the songs that we sang in our churches when our lives were first changed by the power of God. Those songs stay with us, embedded in the story of our relationship with Jesus. But on a regular basis, new, dynamic worship songs and albums sweep through the body of Christ and again transform lives. These songs are the beauty of God’s creation responding to its Creator. read more

Building for the Future

Why personal finance must be set upon a strong foundation 

The more the economy continues to bump along, without much evidence of rebounding, the more anxious people become about the future. We don’t like uncertainty, especially financial uncertainty. Have you noticed how many people are ready for economic change? Nearly all of us! And regardless of how we’ve weathered this recessionary storm, we all have a need for a solid financial foundation.

Poor employment numbers, diminished value on investments, lost equity in real estate—these and more have pushed many of us out of our comfort zone during the last several years. This has instilled some with an urgency to find new ways of doing things and has led to some good changes. Many, though, are still looking for direction, hope and a positive outlook about the future. read more

Making Kids Church Amazing

How can your church become a child’s favorite place to go? 

A few months ago I conducted a water baptism interview in my office with a 10-year-old girl. We talked about all the reasons that Christians should be baptized, and I walked her through how and why we immerse kids and adults into the “big bath tub” and what it means.

The interview continued, and then she asked if she could share something with me. While in chapel at school a few days earlier, she said, a teacher asked the students where their favorite place was to go. One of the kids in the front of the room raised his hand and exclaimed, “Church!” Enthusiastically, the little girl in my office added, “Church is my favorite place too!” read more

Ministering Freedom

How to help people surrender their deeper issues to Jesus

Jesus came to set captives free. Whenever He taught, healed the sick, and ministered to crowds and individuals, He viewed each person as someone who was trapped and needed to be free—not as someone who was lazy and needed to try harder. The emphasis Jesus put on freedom throughout His ministry indicates just how important freedom ministry is.

Freedom ministry is far more than a one-time event; it’s a year-round, ongoing discipleship process. It engages people at an ever-deepening level and equips them to live in freedom and, ultimately, to become instruments of freedom in the lives of others. read more

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