Reflect or Prep

I just finished my morning devotions, or did I just finish lesson prep? Being a youth worker, it’s so hard to have my quiet time with God and not turn it into lesson prep for my Life Group students. If I’m not careful, and I’m often not careful, God’s word doesn’t transform me, it inspires a lesson I write to teach others.

Maybe this is what Paul was talking about when he asked, “Who will rescue me from this body of death? I do what I don’t want to do, but I don’t want to do what I ought to do?” Both the misapplication of that verse and the paraphrase of it are my fault. Sorry. In this scenario, that’s how I feel, though. I really want to soak in God’s word and let it transform me. However, I have a lesson to teach on Wednesday and this is really good stuff… but it needs to be about me and God in this moment.

Do you see what I mean, though? I’m asking myself how (or if) I soak in God’s word, rather than just pass it on. I’m writing this blog post because if I’m asking myself this question, I’m guessing a lot of other ministry leaders need to do themselves this question, too.

Rather than posting 5 bullet points for how to do this, you may have already got what you needed by reading this far. I’m done. Soak it in. Thanks for reading.

The First Night

I will never forget December of my freshmen year of high school. I grew up in a Christian home and attended church every weekend and midweek every Wednesday night. However, as a teen I never enjoyed it. This is the story of the night that changed, and I changed, for good.

On a Wednesday night I walked into a new friend’s home. What I experienced next was radical to me; something that all of our students should feel. I was in the youth group of my friend’s church, but we were in her house. I was greeted with kind words, open arms, and leaders who intentionally got to know me that night.

Within twenty minutes I was braiding some girl’s hair while talking about Manchester United with the guys. I don’t know how it happened as I was an extremely shy introvert growing up, but it did. Now as I adult I look back and know what I experienced that night was the love of Jesus flowing out of his people.

That’s how our youth groups/small groups should look and feel. What if every group was a place where students felt so loved that they couldn’t help but bring their friends to group? And then what if those friends felt the love of Jesus so they became committed to followers and invited their friends?

The ripple effect of having a welcoming, friendly, family-like youth group is astonishing. It doesn’t require money or flashy programs. It just requires the love of Jesus being rooted in the hearts of students. It’s been sixteen years since that night. The small group leader  I was assigned to that night is still involved in my life! She’s one of my best friends, as is that friend who invited me to group the first night.

This leads me to two questions I hope readers will reflect on:
1. Is your youth group a place where visitors see and experience Jesus through your students?
2. If not, what needs to change?

Let’s have a conversation about this. Please leave your thoughts in the comments section. What works for you? Do you have questions about how we do Life Groups at Saddleback Church? I’d love to chat back and forth about this.

Upward Influence

As volunteer youth workers, we do our ministries a favor when we bring new ideas to the table. The caution here is to not expect our ideas to be adopted. However, if we don’t offer them, the ministry for sure won’t even consider them.

Today I decided I’m going to start challenging my students occasionally to follow through on the weekend messages. I’m going to do this by text message. Taking this a step further, I thought it would be a good idea if our High School Ministry sent out text message challenges to leaders each week so we could pass them on to students for them.

Here’s why I think this is a good idea:

  1. If the challenge comes from their Life Group leader, instead of the staff, it’s more personal
  2. Doing this draws volunteer leaders into a more central role in the ministry in the eyes of students
  3. The leaders who are relaying the messages will be more likely to become weekend leaders if we are challenging the students to take action
  4. Students will be more likely to attend weekend services when they are challenged by the weekend services

What solid ideas do you have that you could pass on to your youth ministry team? If they use them, great. If they alter them, then use the ideas, wonderful! If they don’t use them at all, at least we gave them the option. Maybe they’ll use them later. Way to be a team player!

Challenging Students

As a volunteer Life Group leader for our High School Ministry, I sent this text message to my students for two reasons:

  1. I want them to take action based on our weekend services
  2. Half of my life group students do not attend the weekend service. I want them to realize good stuff happens there. I also want them to develop a desire to get there, aside from the challenges I make during Life Group for them to check it out.

Today is the first time I sent out a message like this. My strategy going forward is to send a text out like this once a series. I don’t want the messages to go out every week or they’ll get ignored. Some weeks I’ll send out a message telling them what’s going to happen in the weekend service to entice them to show up.

As youth ministry volunteers, we need to be continually honing our strategies to reach students effectively. If we wait for the paid staff to teach us everything or to tell us what to do, our ministry isn’t firing on all cylinders.

To read more about how to be a continually more effective volunteer, download a copy of Volunteer Youth Ministry, A Roadmap for Effective Leadership









Let There Be Light

Last night while I was teaching my life group, I asked my boys a question and got absolutely no response. It was a pretty basic question. No response.

The section of the lesson was about reaching out to people around us when they’re having a bad day. I asked them, “What’s a good approach to reach out to them? Is it better to ask them about themselves or to tell them a story about yourself?” We had been talking about how Jesus reached out to the demon-possessed man in Mark 5. Jesus started by asking him what his name was.

There wasn’t a word of response to my no-brainer question.

I took a different approach that changed everything. I asked, “Has anybody ever asked you how you’re doing? As you’re telling them, they interrupt you to talk about themselves?” That changed everything! They could have talked for hours. The lifeless group of 20 freshman boys had come alive. They were angry because they were all thinking about a time that happened. They suddenly understood the point I was trying to teach. Jesus was able to reach people because he asked hurting people about themselves, and then listened to their responses. He was being the model of how he wants us to care for others.

This radical difference in the life of my students last night reminded me of an important teaching principle: Help students internalize the lesson by relating it to their personal experiences. In other words, make it about them. When they feel an emotion connected to what I’m teaching, the lesson will stick with them long after the night is over.

Don’t you love it when you see the lights go on inside their heads? Let there be light – lots and lots of light.

Curriculum is here.

Today we started what will become a huge resource for youth workers. You can now download small group curriculum from the VYM Store. This is one more step toward realizing the vision of – Helping leaders be more effective.

All curriculum that becomes available on the VYM Store will ensure that the lesson reaches one of our 5 Goals of Teaching the Bible. Doing this not only helps leaders be strategic about how they teach, but it helps students remember and live out what they learn in their time together.

5 Basic Goals Of Teaching The Bible:

1. Change their perspective
2. Help students develop a skill
3. Challenge their obedience to God
4. Facilitate a better understanding of the Bible
5. Fall more in love with their Creator

Where Do I Start Reading The Bible?

A youth ministry friend of mine sent this text message to me today:

Hi Dennis
I have a teen that’s asking me if there is a better order to read the Bible cover to cover and I wondered if you had a suggestion?

This is one of my favorite questions to get as a youth worker. It shows that a student genuinely wants to digest God’s love letter to us.

Here’s how I always answer that question:

I love that question about how to read the Bible other than in the order it’s written. I’ve answered it several times for others over the years. Here’s what I always tell students:

To know what to read in the Bible, it helps to know what’s in it and how it’s organized. It also helps to use your own interests and curiosities.

The Bible has some basic sections:

I intentionally do not reference every book. Typically, a person who asks this question is just looking for a place to start. What I share, then, is enough information to pique their curiosity and give them some places to consider starting and enough information to help them decide what comes next.

I suggest listening to the Bible, rather than reading it. They may want to follow along. The reason I suggest listening to it is their minds can imagine what they are hearing and picture it, rather than focusing on reading the words only. For me, this is a better way. For others, they may prefer to read or read along as they listen to it.

I also recommend using the New Living Translation because it’s easier to understand. That’s not a knock against any other translation or an endorsement of the NLT, it’s just my personal preference.

History of how everything got started: Genesis – Deuteronomy
– How the world began
– Where many of our basic beliefs as Christians (Jews) originated
– Where many of the instructions God gives us for living originate

– If you really want some solid wisdom for life, check out Proverbs

How God guides us back to himself to be used for his purposes
– Jonah

Worshipping God through good times and bad
– Psalms (you’re not alone)

Women in God’s plan
– Ruth, Esther

What’s the real story about Jesus
– Look at the prophesy about him – Isaiah
– Read his life story from 4 different perspectives – Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and the very beginning of Acts

How did the church begin? Why do we have it? What role does it serve?
– Acts

How do I live out the Christian life?
– Romans (Chapters 1-3 go together – read all three together, then go at your own pace for the rest of the book)
– James

Being a young leader in the church, letting the Bible be a mentor
– 1 & 2 Timothy

Hidden Figures

I saw the movie Hidden Figures tonight. I highly recommend this movie not only for you to see personally, but to use for a movie night with your students. Here are 5 reasons I suggest this:

  1. While not a central theme of the movie, the Christianity of the main characters was definitely included in the movie. There also wasn’t any objectionable content in the movie (not even implied). This movie is very clean. It’s rated PG.
  2. The quality of the production and acting was excellent. I was pulled into the movie and easily believed what I saw. There weren’t any quirks or distracting aspects of the movie that kept me from being fully attentive to what was happening in the story.
  3. There was plenty of humor, a few awww moments and enough drama/suspense. There’s something for the fan of any movie genre-lover in the audience.
  4. The message will lead students and leaders to have a great perspective on a dark time in our nation’s history.
  5. This movie perfectly illustrates how we, as Christians, can be strategic about how we overcome obstacles with our values in tact. You can use clips from this movie in future lessons to drive home this point.

Birthday Tradition For My Life Group

Repetition and caring builds positive memories. In their adult years, I want my Life Group students to look back on good times they had in high school and remember Life Group. One of the positive memories I create each year is by remembering their birthdays with the same dorky video of me making the same birthday chant. Every year each student gets a video like this by text message (click the play button on the image above). Memory made.

Transferable Principle: Memories we make for our students are breadcrumbs they can follow back to the cross when they find themselves struggling as adults.

VYM Vision

We at VYM stacked hands on our vision today. It’s all about the conversation of the community and we want you to be part of it. As a group of volunteers, we’ve benefitted from sharing with each other what we’ve learned in youth ministry over the last several years. We don’t want to limit that to our little group. We are widening the circle to include the broader community of youth workers… including you. We want to learn from you and help you benefit from what we’ve learned.

Please visit our vision page to see what all of this means and how you as a youth worker can personally benefit from it.