Youth Discipleship and Growth Archives

For pastors and volunteers in youth ministry today, there is no glossing over the fact that many teens identify with a homosexual or bisexual lifestyle. Just a couple of decades ago, you would have been hard-pressed to find a teenager who admitted to being gay — even if they were secretly leading a homosexual lifestyle. The culture of today has changed that, yielding acceptance and support to individual sexual identity. Chances are you have gay teenagers in youth group at church. So how do you handle it?

We’ve been called to lead teenagers into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Period. The End. We all know what the Word says. Even non-Christians are aware of the Bible’s verbage concerning homosexuality. It’s wrong…no if’s, and’s or but’s. However, so is every other sin. In fact, all of us have sinned. Whether it was a homosexual lifestyle, sleeping with a significant other before marriage or holding unforgiveness in our hearts, all of us have come short of the glory of God. So what changes us? What compels us to lead a lifestyle pleasing to God?

I dare say it is the unfailing love of our savior. A savior who never condoned our sin, but instead loved us through it. He loves every person…including people who are gay. Love is a powerful thing. Love can move mountains. Most of us were changed and transformed into the new creations we are today because we had an encounter with God’s love. Gay teens need the same thing — they need to know they are loved. They need to know that someone — you — sees them for more than the sin in their lives.

In fact, gay teens may need love even more than most other kids their age. According to the Centers for Disease Control, LGBT youth are more likely than heterosexual teens to report being bullied or abusing substances. Teens who questions their sexuality are also more likely to be teased, miss school, report depression and even engage in suicidal thoughts or behaviors.

How to Minister to Gay and Lesbian Teenagers

The teen years are tumultuous and all about finding independence and identity. Teenagers are heavily influenced by the messages around them and can carry hurts and soul wounds for a lifetime. That is why finger-pointing and chastising doesn’t work and never will. Instead, a youth minister must walk the line of speaking truth into the life of a gay teenager, but doing so in love and grace.

If you need help learning how to address gay, lesbian and bisexual teens in your youth ministry, Ministering to Gay Teenagers by Shawn Harrison is an excellent resource. Available as a digital download or hard copy, this book will help you learn how to:

  • Respond when one of the students in your church youth group ‘comes out’
  • Answer the ‘tough’ questions so often ignored by the church
  • Help a teen’s family as their teen identifies with or participates in a homosexual lifestyle
  • Practically serve and minister to LGBT teens in love and truth

Youth leaders, please read this book. It will lay out the framework for ministry to gay teens and also help you learn to look beyond the surface and into the issues affecting each individual teenager’s life. As this issue becomes a growing part of today’s culture, the kids you minister to today and in the future are relying on you to learn God’s heart for LGBT teens.


Ministering to Gay Teenagers by Shawn Harrison

 

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It is that time of year again when our loyal seniors make the leap from high school into college, and we — along with parents — hope that all we have taught them over the past several years will stick with them throughout some of the most difficult and tempting years of their lives. So how can you make the transition from youth group to college as smooth as possible?

Help with the Transition to College Ministry

If your students will be attending a local community college or going straight into the workforce, try helping them connect with the college ministry leader at your church. Throw a college/senior social to help students get to know some of the college kids at your church. If your kids will be moving away, try helping them connect with a college ministry near their new college campuses.

Equip Your Students with Christian Resources for College

Chances are, you or your church performs some type of senior recognition at the end of each school year (If not, try organizing one this year). Instead of giving them a certificate or a shiny new Bible, try providing your seniors with books that are designed to help them through the difficult circumstances they may face in college. We suggest “Make College Count” although you may find other resources at your local bookstore or on Amazon. To make it personal, write a personal note of encouragement to each student to be placed on the inside cover of the book. You never know when those kind words could be just what your students need when they are in a dorm room far away from home.

Help Your Students Find Their Identities

The college years are a time of soul searching for all students. Your teenagers will begin to search within themselves for answers to life’s most important questions. They may begin searching for purpose, or may even begin questioning why they believe what they believe. This is a normal part of growing up, but you can help guide them in the right direction by encouraging your teenagers to begin determining who they really are before they exit your youth ministry. Give students your personal phone number to reach you or another youth leader any time with questions or for prayer — even after they have left your ministry.

Conclusion

Ultimately, every teenager in your youth ministry will embark on an independent journey in life. Although we wish the best, we know that everyone makes mistakes. Above all, be loving and patient with previous students throughout their college years. The Bible promises that “He who began a good work in us will be faithful to complete it!”

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Nothing will make a teenager yawn faster than hearing you ask them to turn to Leviticus. While it’s no secret that some of the oldest books of the Bible seem less exciting and make less sense to young people than Acts or Romans, those books hold a treasure of scriptures that set the foundation of our faith. So how does a youth pastor making teaching the old testament to teenagers more exciting? Even more, how do you get teenagers to start researching the scriptures themselves?

Fascinate Them

Teenagers like to be wowed. Actually, adults like to be wowed too. As humans, we love the extraordinary – especially when it unfolds right in front of our eyes. Try giving you students a handful of scientific scriptures. Ask them to determine why those scriptures are so significant to us today. For example, in Job 26, scripture says that God hung the Earth on nothing – which proves scientifically correct. But how did Job know this fact? Again, Isaiah states that the Earth is round. Students know the story of Columbus and the general belief that the Earth was flat for thousands of years after Isaiah made his statements.

Answer Their Questions

Because the Old Testament is made up of ancient scripture, many students wonder why certain scrolls made it into the Bible and others did not. What was the process for determining which scriptures were the inspired Word of God, and which ones were not? If Elijah was a man of God, why did he cause 52 boys to be mauled by bears just for calling him “baldy.” Try promoting a series on the Old Testament by encouraging students to write down their questions and put them in a box in the weeks leading up to the series. They will be more likely to show up to services if they are already interested in what you are talking about.

When in Doubt, Get Help

If you need to teach the Old Testament to your youth group, but don’t have the first clue as to where to start, consider using the Rooted youth series. It is a six-week study designed to help teenagers understand the importance of the Old Testament and what it means for us today. It answers all the tough questions for you, including why the Bible doesn’t mention dinosaurs, why the Bible isn’t just another religious book and how the Old Covenant affects our New Covenant. Even more, Rooted explains the difference between the books and divides the Old Testament in to the poetic books, the prophetic books, the Torah and the historical books. The best part? Rooted is about $29, which is less than $5 per lesson – and it’s both downloadable and available by mail. Get it here: Rooted – Old Testament – Download

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Youth Group Facebook Page Optimization

We just finished discussing in Part One of this two-part post series about how Facebook is one of the biggest tools in your youth ministry arsenal. It is a powerhouse for reaching out to students and parents – whether or not they attend your youth group. You absolutely, 100 percent need a youth group Facebook page. It gives your students a sense of community and a place online to share their experiences, youth group photos and get support from each other. But enough of why you need the page – if you’re reading part two of this series, you already have one and now you just want to know how to get your students active on the page. If you don’t have a page, visit Part One for the set-up tutorial before continuing on this page.

The first step to getting more people active on your youth group’s Facebook page is to get more people to actually like the page. You also need to retain those people and keep them active on the site. If you took our advice in section one, you were able to Create a custom Facebook page in minutes with North Social apps. This is a breeze, because it’s as simple as creating a quick landing page and incentives that gets users to like your page. However, there are more ways:

  • run a Facebook “like” competition (give away a free t-shirt randomly for every 100 likes you receive)
  • create a YouTube channel with recent messages and announcement videos. Link to your Facebook page.
  • Offer special discounts on youth group products and trips for Facebook fans only.
  • Regularly post to your youth group page’s wall about upcoming services – leave cliff hangers that they can only find out the answer to if they attend service
  • Post open questions about how the youth group is affecting your students’ lives
  • Post pictures and videos to the page frequently – tagging students and parents to get them to comment. Not only will they remain active on the page, but their friends will gain exposure to the page as well.
  • Consider running a Facebook ad for your group. Though you may not have the funds to run regular targeted ads to the youth in your community, you may be able to afford an ad for your major events, such as concerts, retreats and guest speakers.

The biggest key is consistency. As you know, consistency with your students breeds trust. The same principle applies to social media. Keep your students and parents interacting with each other regularly. Whether that means posting a daily devotional post or polling your kids about what topic they would like to discuss next in your group, just do something…and do it often.

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If you have a youth ministry, Facebook is probably one of your biggest tools for staying connected to the students you minister to. There are more than 400 million people using Facebook, and for many, it may be their first impression of your youth group. Because the world of social media is constantly evolving, it can be difficult to stay up to speed on Facebook pages, youth group fan pages and how to incorporate your ministry into the middle of it. We’re going to give you some tips for making a custom youth group Facebook page and using it to reach out to your students.

We’re breaking our youth ministry Facebook page tutorial into two parts. This first part will discuss the look of your page. After you finish reading, head over to Make a Custom Youth Group Facebook Page – Part Two, where you’ll learn how to market your page to your students, parents and the students in and around your community that you want to attract to your ministry.

If you haven’t already done so, create a Facebook page for your youth ministry at facebook.com/pages. Update your youth group’s information and add a picture to your page. At this point, you should have a basic youth group Facebook page, and your wall should be the first thing visitors see when they come to your page.

Look to the top of the page for the “edit page” feature. Click it to customize the layout of your page. It is here you can customize

  • Who is allowed to view the page
  • Who can post to it
  • Who may post pictures to your youth group page
  • Who may tag your youth group in other photos
  • And you can also determine how strong of a profanity censorship you would like on your page.

If you have a youth group Twitter account (which we highly recommend), you can link your youth group Facebook page to your Twitter under the Resources tab in the “edit page” feature.

Edit your About section to reflect the thing you want your visitors to see most. Next to your page picture, this is the most visible section of your Facebook page unless you customize it. You about section could include information about service times, an upcoming youth ministry retreat or a link to your youth group website. Make it short and sweet, and also easy read.

If you want to take your page to the next level, with impressive graphics, giant pictures announcing upcoming competitions or events, or by making an professional-looking Facebook landing page with video, polls and tons of other features, you have three options. The first – and most unlikely – is to custom code all of the effects yourself. This is extremely complicated, and the coding changes constantly, as it seems like Facebook updates itself every five minutes. The second option – and most expensive – is to hire a professional to do all the dirty work. But again, this is a large investment and will require ongoing funding to keep the site up to date.

The third option – and most economical- is to use apps to customize your youth group’s Facebook page. This is the secret of major companies and small businesses alike, and now you can harness that power in your youth group’s page. For example, you can Launch a professional Facebook page with North Social apps. It uses a whole slew of apps to customize your group’s page. Examples include apps that can customize your first impression, display a showcase of photos or videos from your last big event, take donations for your ministry, create a map to your next event, and even an app to accept volunteers for your ministry. You can also display a rotating Twitter feed right on your Facebook page.

 

Once you’ve got your Facebook page looking the way you want it to, head over to Part Two, where we’ll teach you how to optimize your Likes and expand your reach to more students in your community using social media. Again, if you are a youth minister of any size group from 2 to 2,000, and you aren’t utilizing Facebook for your ministry, you are grossly underexposing your ministry.

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So many times as youth pastors and leaders, we try so hard to balance a work and home life that should come naturally to us. We visit youth conferences, read books and try everything in our own power to connect with teens in the newest, most relavant ways, while still fiercly guarding our private life. While you seem to be doing everything right on paper, maybe your youth ministry isn’t thriving in quite the way you have envisioned it to. The problem more than likely has little to do with your cutting edge services, a disorganized youth leadership team or a sub-par youth facility. The problem is probably your accessibility to the teenagers you so desperately wish to influence with the love of God. So how do you make yourself more accessible to teens as a youth pastor, leader or mentor?

The Human Factor

Because teenagers seem to be from another planet at times, we are often guilty of trying to be too much like them in order to relate to them. Though be relative is good with moderation, it is probably one of the least successful ways to make yourself accessible to a teen in your youth group. Think of it this way – your modern and culture-sensitive services, sermons and events are great for ATTRACTING your teens to church. Unfortunately, they do little to nothing for CONNECTING with those same teens to get them to stick around.

You see, whether they act like it or not, all teenagers are human in every sense of the word. That means that like you and me, they crave love and trust in their relationships with others. They easily see through a cheesy youth pastor façade, no matter how good your intentions are. They want to know you care. They want to know they can trust you. They want to feel as if your attention is genuine, rather than a part of your job description.

So How Do You Make a Connection?

Well, how do you connect with your friends? Yes, I know that you aren’t seeking the same type of friendship with your teens as you have with the adults you spend quality time with, but the same principles apply. Try to stop viewing each teenager that walks through the door as a task or goal. While it is important to keep each teen’s best spiritual interests at heart, try just building an authentic relationship with each student with complete sincerety and candid conversations. Make each student feel comfortable, and try to avoid jumping at the chance to give instruction or tell as student what he or she “should” be doing unless asked. As you build your relationships, their hearts will open to you and be more susceptible to your wisdom in their lives.

Remember, as the old saying goes, “People don’t care what you know until they know that you care.” Try having individual conversations with your teens on a regular basis. Meet with them. This is where relativism works. If you are reaching out to a highschool football player, go watch his game and take him out for pizza afterwards. If your teens are musicians, try hanging with them in a hip coffeehouse. Open your home to junior high students to come camp out in your backyard. If you are a woman reaching out to teen girls, take a couple to get a manicure with you before their prom. Whatever you do, be actively involved in their lives, and above all, be yourself.

Remember, though we think we can change students with our infinite wisdom about adolescent volatility and our many years of experience, true and lasting change comes from the work the Holy Spirit does in each life that comes through your ministry. You simply facilitate that change by loving on the teens you are called to serve.

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Ah, Valentine’s Day. It’s the one day every 365 days that we lavish our love and affection on another person with cheesy gifts and expensive dinners. Teens buy into the hype as well, and this time of year is perfect for talking to youth about sex. We know what you’re thinking – why me? Why put you in a room full of giggly students to talk about the most uncomfortable and least talked about subject in church? Well, because it’s just that – the least talked about subject in church. And teenagers need a Godly perspective on the topic.

Teens face sexualized media, music, movies and are surrounded by hundreds of hormone-driven students everyday at school. The problem isn’t teaching them about sex, rather, it’s teaching them about God’s plan for sex in their lives. Many youth pastors choose to take the entire month of February to focus on dating, sex and purity.

Valentine’s Day Backgrounds – Download

Just this month, Youth Ministry 360 released an incredible resource for youth pastors doing just that. Instead of fumbling through a hand made series for your group, they have put together the Live Different series pack, complete with 4 weeks of lessons on sex and holiness. It comes with two media videos, parent resources to involve families in the series, male/female small group discussions, digital banners for your website or Facebook page, student handouts, PowerPoint guides and promotional art to put up in your youth room or church. Below is an excerpt from the overview of the first lesson in Live Different:

Today’s teenager lives in a hyper-sexualized society. And while sexual immorality has plagued humankind
virtually forever, we seem to be in the midst of an age where the glamorization of sex is unprecedented. Teenagers are
bombarded by messages about sex and sexual behavior. What does our culture say to teenagers about sex? Culture says
sex is part of who you are, and that a teenager’s sexuality is simply one facet of his or her identity. Culture says sexual
expression is an important aspect of being young. But most importantly, culture says that sex between two consenting
teenagers is OK, if not normal. As long as sex is not coercive, marriage, and maybe even love, doesn’t really matter. The
problem is that this flies in the face of how the Bible talks about sex and sexual expression. It’s imperative that teenagers
learn God’s intention for how they are to make choices about sex and sexuality. This first lesson in Live Different helps
students understand the biblical context for sex and its expression.


Live Different by Youth Ministry 360 Now Available

If you want to take the traditional route and create your own message or youth sermon series, check out our previous post on teaching kids about Love, Dating and Sex. In it, we tell you how to put together a series that teens will never forget.

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This movie, Furious Love, is a sequel to Finger of God. You could show it in service, or pass it on to your senior pastor. It’s powerful. Check out the trailer here:

Furious Love Official Trailer from Wanderlust Productions on Vimeo.

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Recently I came across a free website called Huddle that offers a free online workspace for managing files, tasks, calendars, and so much more. It struck me that this might serve a youth pastor very well considering his or her day to day activities and duties. The service acts as a type of “workspace” that allows you to share files, documents and calendars online (Think parental release forms, upcoming events, etc.)

Furthermore, Huddle has online storage space, whiteboards, and even allows its users to host conferences online (Think youth leader meetings, etc.) The entire system is web-based which is pretty cool too. This means no installations – just a simple log in username and password to access the system from anywhere in the world.

The site is also integrated with LinkedIn, Facebook….and yes…the mighty iPhone. To check it out, I personally signed up for a free account immediately (free for life). After doing so, the system took me to my new dashboard, as seen here:

As you can see, the dashboard is where you access whiteboards, files, calendars and notifications. The Huddle calendar is able to integrate with your OS calendar (Windows for example). You can also give others access to parts of the workspace, or lock certain documents that are not ready to be released. Upgrades are available for users who want more storage space or more work spaces. I encourage you to check it out here: Huddle Collaboration. It may be just the resource your ministry needs.


Huddle Collaboration

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If you are a youth pastor for more than five minutes, you have heard of Teen Mania Ministries,the parent ministry of Acquire the Fire. However, what many people don’t know is that Teen Mania is also the parent ministry of Global Expeditions, an organization whose mission is to go, send and fulfill the great commission.

Participate in a Youth Group Missions Trip – Anyone can do it now.

If you’ve ever participated in a missions trip, you know how life changing it can be for your youth group. Moreover, if you have ever planned a missions trip, you understand how frustrating and overwhelming the process can be. I have to give props to Global Expeditions for making the process so simple, yet focusing their mission both on the mission field AND those ministering in it. This summer, Global Expeditions will take many, many missions trips that your group could be a part of. If you cannot plan a missions trip, but have one or two teens who want to go, send them with Global Expeditions. They take “just one” all the time.

Check out the videos below and if you need more youth ministry resources, check out our resource page here.

YouTube Preview Image YouTube Preview Image YouTube Preview Image
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There are three types of youth ministries that can describe 99% of all youth groups today. Of the three, one of them has the substance to develop students that become humble servants that lead in the Kingdom of Heaven. I am a firm believer that the atmosphere of a youth ministry is directly reflective upon leadership; and too many times, us leaders rely on our own godly, yet selfish ambitions to pave the way for the next youth revival. I want to discuss the three main types of ministry, the forces that drive them, and what can be done to make each one better.

TYPE ONE:  The Babysitter’s Club

There is nothing in youth ministry that urks me more than a teenage nursery in church. Call it what you want, but these are the ministries that really have no ministry at all. The leadership serves as chaperones, the kids show up because they have to, and the best time of the year is when the group returns from Acquire the Fire, Youth Camp or some other event where someone else ministered to them. I know this sounds harsh, but I know all too well the effects (or lack there of) of this type of ministry.

The problem – Babysitter ministries do nothing to disciple their kids. They may have some cool hang out nights and go on some rockin trips, but there is no mentoring, discipling or commissioning of any type. Kids are taught that nothing is really expected of them spiritually until they are an adult. Sadly, the college years are the most trying times for a Christian to become rooted in their faith.

The solution – Form some discipleship groups. Let the kids hang around leadership one-on-one. Hold them accountable not only for sin in their lives, but also to the relationship that they desire to have with Christ. Teenagers seek truth, companionship and affirmation. They thrive on the now and can be propelled into a stronger, deeper walk with the Lord if they are pushed in a healthy way.

TYPE TWO: WE love Jesus yes we do, WE love Jesus, How about you?

I know, long subtitle…but stick with me. The typical “Type Two” group usually has a strong leader that is favored by most of the group. They have already implemented many of the discipleship classes, group trips, retreats and maybe even some outreaches. Kids enjoy bringing their friends to youth because it is fun and they are proud of the group they are a part of. These ministries usually grow fairly strong, but are often undermined by political correctness and parent/elder politics. There are boundaries as to what is expected. New youth pastors can feel accountable to the habits of youth pastors past, and often are held in a shadow of comparison, causing them to feel as though they have to “perform” well.

The problem – While soaring in the area of unity, organization and relevance, these youth ministries still lack a fire and passion that sparks revival in schools and communities. It is nothing to be ashamed of, as few youth ministries achieve such a fervor and audacity. However, it is completely attainable and should be strived for.

The solution – Teens need to be challenged. Push them to the limits by implementing a street or school witnessing program. Hold passionate prayer meetings in which the purpose is not only to pray for others, but also to soak in the presence of the Almighty God. Purposefully place them in situations that stretch them. Let them teach a Sunday School class, let them organize an outreach, let them pray for their peers one-on-one. It is this type of hands-on ministry that builds faith, confidence and passion in the hearts and minds of teenagers.

TYPE THREE: Energizer Bunnies

The Energizer Bunnies are the youth ministries that are few and far between. They are completely sustainable despite who their youth pastor is, as the youth know that their identity lies in Christ rather than a ministry. There are no expectations other than for the presence of God to show up in their services. They literally carry light into a dark world through hands-on ministry, and the countenance of the teenagers is unlike most.

Room for Improvements – No one is perfect. We all need fine tuning, tweaking and pruning to become more like Christ. These ministries should take it up a notch. Implement or refer older teens to internships. Partner with other ministries around the world and pray for each other on a regular basis (maybe via skype?). Most importantly, build relationships with other youth ministries. Set denomination and church politics aside (kids hate that stuff anyway) and let teens do what they do best: interact. Try organizing a city-wide retreat or rally that forces teens from multiple churches to come together, meet and connect. You know that dynamic you get when you come back from camp and kids are ready to take over the world? Imagine if that experience stretched beyond the borders of youth group and into other ministries around the city. Imagine for one second the impact that would have on a school of young people who are connecting, building godly relationships and holding each other accountable for their actions!

I know that not all youth ministries fall into one of these categories, and many may cross borders with traits in more than one category. In all honesty, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is finding the weaknesses and eliminating them. My goal here is not to make generalizations. Instead, it is my heart (and I imagine yours too) to see revival come to this generation. I want to see them fall relentlessly in love with their Savior, willing to follow boldly after Him.

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Part of being a youth pastor is being culturally relevant. Just like adults, teens come from all backgrounds, customs and families. Theyhave also developed all sorts of habits, insecurities and problems. I decided to throw together some tips for becoming more understanding in listening to teens talk about their problems and to also deliver messages that are more involved with their lives.

The Youth Worker’s Guide to Helping Teenagers in Crisis – Physical
Emergency Response Handbook for Youth Ministry – Download

TIP #1:  Pay attention to the signs of problems in teenagers. These can include cutting scars and marks on the arms, signs of an eating disorder, depression, poor peer skills and a bad relationship with a parent. Keep in mind that all of these issues are most often the result of a major underlying problem.

TIP #2:  Get to the underlying issue. While we should be concerned and get help for kids that demonstrate the problems signs above, they are much easier to solve if you get to the root of the problem. What is going on inside their hearts to cause them to behave this away? Do they have a sense of abandonment? rejection? Were they mistreated by a someone they trusted? Have they been verbally abused? Though you may not be able to get them to spill their guts in a 20 minute chat, eventually they will likely open up if they feel safe talking to you. Kids want to know how much you care. Take them to lunch, have them over for dinner, etc.

TIP #3:  Point them back to God. No matter how good of a counselor you are, He is THE COUNSELOR. Speak truth into their life and show them how the devil is lying to them. Give them scriptures and pray with them. Remember, if they can grasp hold of the everlasting love of the Father, they will feel liberated.

*Though you should remember that kids need to trust you, some things cannot be kept secret. If a teenager reports being treated illegally, you must handle it according to your state laws.

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