Five Changes I Have Observed in Teen Ministry Over the Past 25 Years

I never wanted to do youth ministry. In fact, in Bible college, I used to make fun of the guys who wanted to be youth pastors as less gifted and educated than those who worked with adults. God in his infinite wisdom has provided the last laugh. In every Church I have served I have also been one of the youth group leaders and often the primary director.

Two weeks ago, I started my 25th year of working with teenagers while serving as a preacher. Through the years I have seen my share of changes. In the beginning, there was no internet. No Church had a projector in their youth room; most did not have them in their main auditorium. I used a chalkboard, relied on audio tapes, and occasionally brought in a huge box TV that weighed hundreds of pounds to play a VHS tape. Here are five of the most significant changes I have personally witnessed in teen ministry over the years.

1. No One Respects Church Functions. In the early years, the school did not schedule any events on Sunday evening, and few things were planned on Wednesday night. Our Church recently gave up trying to have anything on Wednesday night because the schedule is already full. Sunday evenings are slowing filling up with extracurricular activities. The calendar is always packed for everyone, including teens.

2. Teens Have More Access to Christian Material. Whenever I encounter a young adult who wants to grow in the Lord, I have hundreds of resources for them. I used to have to search to find Christian music. The local Christian bookstore had a room where you could listen to cassette demos to see if you liked the latest band. Now you can find hundreds of songs through different online sources. There are more books, bands, lesson material, and possibilities than ever before.

3. Pornography is Changing Everything. While there is more access to Godly material than ever before, there is also more access to evil. Kids as young as 10-12 have open access to pornography without restriction. They consume it to the point that some claim it is rewiring their brains. It has an impact on the way they view sex, marriage, the opposite sex and themselves. The impact of this surge is going to be felt for years and years to come.

4. Sports is the New Religion. People worship at the altar of sports (at least in the areas I ministered). Once school is done each day, there is an undying commitment to athletics. It consumes time, energy and money. People throw all their efforts into the making sure their kid is involved in every activity, and it supersedes anything else, especially Church.

5. Grace is Needed Now More Than Ever. Teens today seem more lost, alone, hurting, full of shame and guilt, confused and empty. Suicide and addiction are on the rise. The need for the message of Jesus is growing with every day and every school year. I continually invite adults to join with me in reaching out to this generation with the grace of Jesus. They need people who model real faith and can teach the truth.

Many things have changed, but with God’s guidance, the work of youth ministry is more important now than ever. I pray you work for God’s glory in this generation.


The Superstition of Religion

The man said he kept a cross in his pocket because “it brought him good luck.” The lady said, “Let’s say a prayer that we get lucky tonight during the raffle.” The couple started coming to Church because some bad things had happened and they “wanted to get on God’s good side.”

Over and over I meet people and hear stories that confirm faith for most people is just an extension of their superstitions. They carry a cross, make the sign of the cross, and say a quick prayer along with wearing their lucky hat and rubbing their rabbits’ foot.

Because a belief in God requires a faith in the unseen forces in the world, we tend to lump it together with other things we can’t explain. After all, who cares as long as we get what we want.

Following Jesus is not about adding another superstition to my life so that I can bring myself good fortune. Believing in Jesus is about bringing every moment in line with the life of Jesus. It is about seeking to do what he told us while following his example. Being a Christian is about surrendering my soul to Jesus as my Savior and my Lord.

God did not give you that empty parking space because you have a Jesus bumper sticker. He does not allow my team to win because I have a cross in my pocket. He doesn’t even help you find a special deal while shopping because of your religious T-shirt.

The life of a believer is not about superstition but trust. Trust that God is working when I cannot see him give me immediate rewards. Faith seeks God’s plan when I seem to have nothing good happening. A follower of Jesus does not understand their religion as a means to an end, but rather as a life to be lived.

Each day, we have the choice to walk the way of Christ or choose the superstition of religion. One will allow you to experience grace and peace and the other will leave you wanting more.

Some Lessons My Boys Are Teaching Me

As a parent, you expect to teach your children all about life, but you never know how much they will educate you. The last couple of days I have been reflecting on this summer, and the time I have spent with my boys. Three of them have been in my house all summer, and one has popped in and out for a week here and there. My time with them is winding down not only for the summer but for the rest of my life. They are growing up and moving to college and on with their life. I love my days with them, and they are teaching me a few life lessons along the way.

1. Rest. My boys know how to sleep. They sleep as long as possible in the morning. If they lie down during the day, they end up taking a nap. My life seems always to be this hurried flurry of activity, and they remind me that there is still time to rest.

2. Trust. I vaguely remember life as a teenager. Back then I had no idea about the things that occupy my mind now: stuff like insurance, taxes, mortgage and dozen other concerns. I never worried about them because I knew my parents had it all under control. My boys rarely seem concerned about anything. Then I think, why should they, I will take care of it. Oh, to trust God like a teenager trusts his parents.

3. Fun. My boys are highly involved in both basketball and football. They are pretty good athletes and enjoy winning games, but none of them acts as if this were the sum total of their existence. Sports were meant to be fun, and somehow it has been turned into work. My boys are not afraid to laugh and joke before, during and after practice. I am sure it makes all the kids who take it “serious” a little frustrated, but I don’t care. Games are games, not life. There is plenty of time to be serious as an adult.

4. Family. Twice recently I have had conversations with people about children. They complained about how difficult it is with two kids (makes me laugh) and how they will not have anymore. My wife and I had four and in retrospect I kind of wish we had more. My family brings me so much joy. Sure, there are headaches, and they are about to break me financially, but the precious moments together make it all worth it. I deeply love my family in every way. I am glad to have this time with them before they grow up.

5. Time. Ask any parent, and they will tell you how fast time flies. One day they are barely walking, the next day they are in Jr. High and before you know it you are dropping them off at college. Time is fleeting. Never put off to tomorrow what you can do today. Savor every minute you get as soon the fun is over, the family is gone, and you will long for them to lie sleeping on your couch knowing you will take care of everything.

God has given me another wonderful summer with my wife and kids. I am thankful for that time once again. This week they all head back to school, and the house will become silent with the absence of life. I breathe a sigh of relief but quietly look forward to Thanksgiving when we will all be together again.

Ways to Value People

One of the quickest ways to build a relationship with another person is to make them feel valuable. It is the way to start a new friendship or to strengthen an existing one. Whenever we treat people as special, they begin to view us as special to them. Here are a few of the ways I have experienced people showing how much they value me over the past few weeks.

1. Open Ended Meetings. Recently I have been a part of two different meetings. One of them was open-ended, and we talked for an extended length of time. The other person started our meeting by telling me they had to be someplace else in an hour. My feelings toward both were dramatically different based only on the time frame they had given me. Nothing makes someone feel more special than blocking out large sections of time.

2. Put the Phone Away. Again, I was recently meeting with someone, and in the middle of a story I was saying they picked up their phone and started typing. I stopped talking, and they said, “Keep going, I hear you.” Is it okay to say that I felt devalued? It was as if my words were just background noise to another conversation in which that person wanted to be involved.

3. Encourage Something They Enjoy. I know of a guy who continually gives away coupons. If he knows you like a steakhouse or a particular fast-food restaurant he will give you a coupon for that place when he finds one. When you know that someone has a hobby or activity they enjoy, it is always a blessing to encourage it in some way. A gift, a coupon, a gift card or something like that demonstrates that you like me beyond a handshake.

4. Ask Genuine Questions and Listen to the Response. A guy I know grabbed me and asked, “How are you doing?” I gave my typical “Fine” response. He then said, “No, how are you really doing? Is everything okay at home and work?” In a way, I can’t quite explain it broke down a wall in my mind. I stopped and began to share something that was going on in my soul. What is even more special is that he quietly listened to my answer. He asked probing questions and offered to pray for me.

5. Smile. This is so simple and yet I must remind myself to do it repeatedly. When I go to talk to someone, and their face turns to a serious or angry demeanor, then I know how that person feels about me. I like talking to people who seem genuinely happy to have a conversation. I am always filled with joy when you smile as I start talking.

Recently I have noticed these five things that people do that make me feel special. When someone does these, I recognize how my life has value to them beyond a casual acquaintance. As I have noticed each one of these the biggest question for me, “How do I make people feel by my presence?” One of my hopes as a Christian is that people are blessed by having me in their life.

Weekend Reading

Here are some of the best articles I have read over the past few weeks. I hope you enjoy them.

Maybe God Is Making You Wait Because He Wants You To Learn That There’s No Timeline For Anything In Life – A thought-provoking article that is well written.

Don’t Worry About Inviting Me – I just like this.

Does Everything Really Come Down to Sex? – This is a great blog about a topic I am not addressing in my marriage sermon series. In fact, I recommend you read her blog daily. It is great stuff.

Don’t Miss the Intimate Moments in Your Marriage

Eight areas where pastor’s wish they were better equipped. – truth

5 reasons pastors get depressed (and why they don’t talk about it) – more truth

7 Signs Your Church Is Honestly … Mediocre

What A Pastor Thinks About at the End of the Week

Tony Campolo once told about a fantastic old sermon called, “It’s Friday, but Sunday is coming.” It was based on the passion week of Jesus. On Friday Jesus hangs on a cross and dies, but on Sunday comes the resurrection. Tony tells a great story about this sermon and its simple refrain.

I suppose hearing and reading about that has burned itself indelibly in my brain. Almost every Friday throughout my ministry life I have thought at one time or another, “It’s Friday, but Sunday is coming.” My work week is done, and Sunday is a short time away. Worship will happen in a couple of days, and I will preach my latest sermon. Here are some of the thoughts that fill my mind on Friday and Saturday before the Church gathers again.

1. “God, make this sermon great.” Personally, my mind is never too far away from my sermon. I ask God to give me any last-minute ideas and illustrations. The sermon is frequently on repeat in my brain on Saturday night so that I can preach without many notes. Finally, I ask God to fill my words with his Spirit so that my thoughts can be received with the power of God.

2. What am I forgetting? Every Sunday has dozens of things going on as part of the worship. Did I get everything covered? What events or activities are going to need particular attention? What if someone forgets their time of service this weekend? I spend time walking step by step through Sunday in my mind so that I am sure we are prepared.

3. I hope people are praying. Honestly, I am usually very excited about Sunday morning worship. God has filled my heart through the week with a message I want to share, but I know it will have little impact if I do it alone. I want the Church to be praying along with me that God will move this Sunday and people will make changes in their life for him.

4. I pray that “so and so” shows up. Being a leader in a smaller Church allows me to know the needs of many of our attendees. I know who is struggling as a parent, spouse, worker, or believer. Some messages are prepared with specific people in mind. I pray they show up and hear something helpful. My prayers are also for new people to come and hear the gospel message for the first time. I am always talking to people and inviting them to Church. I know other members are asking as well. I pray that God will bring in the people who need to hear this message.

5. “Please, Lord, use this weekend for your glory.” Each week ends with the realization of how much of a mess my life and leadership are for the Lord. I am sure I could have been a better Christian, and I know I have made mistakes as a leader, but God, please use this Sunday despite me. God, I need you to show up and make all of the effort worth it. Bless the workers in every area of ministry. Take and use their lives for your glory. God, do something this Sunday that only you can do.

Today is Friday and Sunday is coming. You may not think much about that, but this is the time I place all my ministry in the hands of God. I am sure I am not the only pastor who feels this way. May God move this weekend powerfully in my life, your life and everyone who attends a worship program.

But No One Will Know How Good I Am

In Jesus most famous sermon, called the Sermon on the Mount, he challenges people to live above the level of righteousness of the religious leaders of his day. Matthew chapters five through seven records the whole sermon. Chapter six focus specifically on acts of righteousness. Jesus warns not to do out acts of righteousness before men, to be seen by them. He points to giving, prayer, and fasting.

The most religious people of his day liked to draw attention to how devout and holy they were in their actions. When the gave money to the poor, they wanted to announce it with trumpets. This might have literally happened, or it just might be an exaggeration of their behavior. He also confronts their actions when praying. At their time of prayer, they would do it on street corners and have long and showy talks with religious words. When they fasted or went without food for religious purposes, they would wear a sad face so that everyone would know what they were doing.

I am sure they could rationalize it. They talked about setting a good example for the unbelievers. I imagine discussions in which they mentioned making a difference in the world and letting people know some good news along with the all the bad. Maybe they viewed it as trying to share their faith through shining a light into the dark world. Perhaps, they wanted to distinguish themselves from the riff-raff of society and send a clear message that they were God’s people.

Jesus calls his followers to live above that type of thinking. He does not want us to display our righteousness in public; instead, he challenges us to do them in secret. He tells his disciples to give without anyone seeing, even your left hand. When we pray we are to go into a secret place. When we fast we should put on a happy face so that no one will know. Jesus wants our service to the Lord to be exclusively for the Lord.

I wonder what Jesus would say in a world of social media? Perhaps, don’t do your acts of righteousness before the camera. You do not need to share pictures about your kindness. Maybe he would say, you don’t need to post about everything you do for the God.

Yes, there is a fine line. I want to shine a light for Jesus. I want people to see my good deeds and glorify God. And there is the rub. When I share my life with the world am I seeking God’s glory, or do I want other people to know how good of a person I am?

Most of the time you have no idea about the amount of good going on in our world for the glory of God. That’s okay. God knows.