Category Archives: Praxis

Truly Authentic


When ministries talk about being authentic, it almost always centers around confessing. The connotation centers on allowing people to see your faults. Owning your faults is only one slice of the authenticity pie though.

The flip side of being authentic comes in embracing your glory. I wrote earlier how being authentic is more than being real, it’s being who you claim to be. Hopefully you claim to be more than your faults. What would be to point of living in a permanent state of struggle?

It’s hard, but important, to embrace your struggles. Owning your significance and value challenges you in an even greater way. It recognizes the divine presence in you, pointing to something beyond your control.

The struggle comes from a confusion between being and doing. Being God’s glory isn’t nearly as terrifying if it doesn’t carry the pressure of doing amazing things. Being glorious is beyond your ability. Doing divine things is too, but you probably feel pressure from yourself to do something that proves your glory.

The paradox in this is debilitating. If you claim to be God’s glory, you fear appearing arrogant. If you don’t in some way own your value in Christ, you limit yourself a one sided, unhealthy view of authenticity.

As you build communities this fall, remember, true authenticity also points to our identity in Christ. It celebrates and proclaims his presence in us. Try something different. Let someone squirm on the hook of a compliment. Look them in the eye, tell them what you see, and keep looking. If they look away, ask for eye contact. Uncomfortable, probably. Priceless, always.

Real vs Authentic


Being real with someone is an absurd idea. If you’re saying your real, chances are you’re not. It’s like saying, “Yes, I am tangible. I won’t flow through your fingers like air.” Real is defined as actually existing as a thing or occurring in fact; not imagined or supposed. Everyone is real.

So what we really mean by real is usually about honesty. Honesty isn’t really enough either though if honesty is telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. When it relies on telling everything, it’s simply impossible.

Enter authentic. This word gets thrown around too much in ministries. It has become synonymous with real, but it isn’t. Being authentic means you are what you claim to be. If you’re wearing authentic clothes, they aren’t just real, they are the brand they claim to be.

Starting my school year training leaders, I encourage them to be authentic. They can’t possibly build trust by just being real. Authenticity brings in a new level of relationship because it’s based on freedom. Leaders who are free to be themselves have built in authenticity.

My tip for leaders this week: It’s ok to be yourself.

  • If your struggling, let people know about it (limited details are ok)
  • If you don’t know the answers, say so
  • If you see something awesome in a teenager, tell them

Training Leaders to Lead


So many people are beginning their school year with leadership training. It always pays off when you invest in training leaders.

I try to meet with leaders at least a couple of times before the school meetings start. In that time, I share direction, here concerns, review last year’s issues and train in a way of leading that few get to see.

Here’s what I mean. Often leaders in student ministry are not given much direction or expectation. Some times they are just childcare, other times they resemble entertainment directors. While there is nothing wrong with filling those roles, I make a bigger ask of my leaders.

I want them to invest in people. My hope is that when they meet, they are looking at each student and seeing part of their created identity. I ask leaders to encourage, challenge, poke and prod their young adults into the person God created them to be.

My talking points are almost always the same. I broke down and wrote a book about the way I try to disciple leaders, and just I heard about a friend who led their entire leadership team through this book as a leadership retreat. Here they are my highlights for my leaders this year:

  • Commit to the process, not outcomes – Celebrate small steps as progress and let go of the idea of getting it completely right.
  • Be dynamic, not static – It’s ok to have a plan, but the plan should only serve the goal of relationships, not the other way around.
  • Strive for internal value in students, not external – Help them level out their lives by not getting caught up in approval or power struggles.
  • Give autonomy, not formulas – Help them develop finding their own solutions instead of giving specific advice.

If you are interested in more ideas to train your leaders, here are some great resources:

The War of Art – A great “secular” book that helps people resist inner condemnation.

Waking the Dead – One of my favorite books to help people see God more clearly.

Socrates Cafe – As the title suggests, this book refines meetings as discussions centered on questions.

Masterpiece the Art of Discipling Youth – My book on helping leaders help teenagers see themselves through God’s eyes.

Affect and Effect in Youth Ministry

I always get these two words mixed up. When I can keep them straight, I know that affect is generally a verb and effect is mostly a noun. These two words should get used a lot in ministry, but I hear about effect more than affect. Check out this cool video that uses wound and water to make a change.

The sound affects the water. It makes a change. What we see afterwards is the effect of the sound on the water. So what does this have to do with ministry?

A lot of ministries watch for effects. They do something and then see what happens. It’s very scientific. If the effect is good, they try to repeat it.

Someone once told me that’s like a Peanuts comic. The first frame has an arrow in the middle of a target. Next, Charlie Brown has a bow and arrow and sitting at his feet are a paint can a brush. The next frame has him painting a target around an arrow that has been shot into the ground.

Measure effect seems fine most of the time. The church knows is should be something and then measures the effectiveness afterwards. For example, you might have an event that targets outreach. After the event, you see that it didn’t really reach many people outside your normal gathering. But, you claim, it had a great effect of rallying familiar people in fellowship.

Another option is, pardon the pun, shooting for affect. Instead of looking at the outcomes, you plan for change. The change will likely be something unexpected. This switches an outcomes based focus to a process based goal. As long as you are affecting people in line with your values, you hit the target. In this way, the most important target is what you do, not the outcome.

Focusing on affect is a leap of faith. It reminds you that you can only control what you do. You can never control someone else’s response to what you do. So what you do should be in line with your faith. If you are faithful, you will always hit the mark.

Why Stories Matter

Whenever I speak, I try to make what I say memorable. There are various tools I use to make that happen, but one of the most effective is story. Watch this short (about seven and a half minutes) video to get an idea of what I mean.

What is so powerful about this video is detail. Stories give details about someone’s life that translate into ours. It takes what we know and changes it into something new. Best of all, it stories make memories.

When I talk to teenagers, I try to incorporate the elements of good stories.

  • Introduce the people in the story.
  • Tell their struggle.
  • Point to how they felt.
  • Give some measure of resolution. (or leave a cliff hanger)

All through the story, it’s the details that will make memories. Make sure you pick specifics that will stick. One liners will work for quotes. Also, a central theme that’s revisited can be effective capture that special spark in a listener.

For more about using story in your talks:

Echo the Story – Mike Novelli – A great book and workshop

Disco – Mark Yaconelli – An amazing story told at a NYWC conference


The Paradigm Shift

What makes truth stick? In youth ministry you meet with teens constantly. It might be a sermon or a small group, the context isn’t really important. All the while you’re hoping to say something that makes a difference. Something sticks and changes a student’s life.

Moments like that can be elusive. It takes more than an educational approach. Gone are the days of giving information in hopes that the receiver will do the work of applying it. Teaching has withered into an industry of information merchants. It focuses on standardized tests and the means to get the one, right answer. But that’s another post.

Even if you provide a context in your time with students, you can’t be too hopeful of saying something that sticks. Describing a situation they will encounter and giving them a pat response feels fake. Adolescents hate feeling fake.

So here’s a tool I use often. A paradigm shift sets up an assumption but gives a unexpected resolution (did you catch it in the picture above?). It often creates tension that seems like it has an obvious fix. Then, when the conclusion seems clear, the shift comes. It’s an surprising way of dealing with a problem. That change in expectation jumbles a person’s thoughts. In the reordering of those thoughts, memory markers form. That unusual outcome sticks.

All good stories use some form if the paradigm shift. But here’s a real life example. A friend of mine counsels a lot of porn addicts. When they arrive at the place that can they admit their problem, he rehearses what they already know. Porn is really bad. It destroys intimacy and causes longterm problems in relationships. It produces an emotional response based on a known lie. It promotes a myth fallacy forcing you to live in a cycle of reward and shame. The person hearing this is usually nodding at this point. Then he asks So why do you like porn so much?

Thinking of porn as something to be liked, even when it’s known to be harmful, changes the expectation. It’s usually enough to connect to the dualism needed to sustain an addiction. More work needs to happen of course, but that shift in thinking is a great way to make the truth resonate long after the words are spoken.

All people have assumptions. The paradigm shift just uses those expectations to hard wire a different possibility.

Embracing Change

I recently uprooted my family, my ministry and my life to move to a very small town in Nebraska. It’s been an adventure. All change has the opportunity, or at least potential, to do something better.

Check out this picture.

I want to openly love change like this dog loves hanging his head out the window. It lookes like shear joy. It often feels like something trying to peel back me gums from my teeth. Kind of like going to the dentist. We all love that, don’t we?

In youth ministry, we ask our students to take risks in the changes we ask of them. We ask them to become social outcasts for the faith, to risk losing friends, to wear goofy t-shirts (or wristbands). Basically, we ask a lot. Even coming to a typical youth group meeting might mean an embarrassing game or awkward moment of finding out what name is written on your back.

How about a change for us. Maybe we shouldn’t ask so much of teenagers. At least the changes we do ask for should make sense. Is it really worth the initial discomfort of entering into the youth ministry tribe? Maybe a little less chubby bunny and a little more contemplation would help.

How about a change for you. If you ask adolescents to take big risks by attending your meetings and applying what they see or hear, are you willing to make the same commitment? Are you asking them to do something you aren’t willing to do yourself?

A friend of mine recently gave me some good advice. Try something new and suck at it. Don’t get the right equipment or training. Just start doing it with the foreknowledge that it will be hard and you won’t be proud of the results. I have loved this challenge!

Change something, start with yourself.

Creativity and Youth Ministry

I was reminded of what we do in youth ministry when I watched this video.

What makes this so creative is what these guys do to a popular song. Whether you like the song is irrelevant. This version takes something popular and uses creativity to translate it.

Youth ministry translates faith into something creative that teenagers understand. The problem comes when creativity isn’t nourished. Like Adam blogged recently, programs aren’t bad unless they leave their purpose. As an organizing element, programs are great. When they are used to be lazy or hide from bringing clarity into youth ministry, they are definitely to blame for stale, boring meetings.

Understanding Trust

As someone who strives to help teenagers (and others), I constantly think about trust. Without it, my effectiveness is severely limited. Developing a relationship of trust isn’t easy. Most of the time, people don’t even understand how trust works. Look at this classic video of the trust fall.

Trust fails when it is misunderstood. In ministry, most people trust a leader to give them tools that will make them happy. Just like the trust fall, this is a misunderstanding. Spiritual direction doesn’t give itself the goal of happiness. The best I can claim is that people will be changed. Even then, that change is limited to their willingness to accept it.

I love the joke about Psychiatrists changing a light bulb. How many does it take? Just one, but the lightbulb has to want to change.

Like the joke, a person has to want to change. But for trust, they have to understand the possible results. If they don’t, then trust will be broken when their expectations aren’t met.

So when building trust, be clear about what might happen. Don’t limit expectations, but instead, open up an attitude of possibilities.

Slow Discipleship

I read a lot of people’s blogs. At least once a week, I see a three step method or new technique to do something quicker. That may work for some fields (although I’m still dubious of most), it’s the worst way to disciple a teenager. Time is the life blood of discipleship. It just can’t be rushed.

When the process of discipleship is quickened, it undermines depth in relationships. Quick doesn’t leave time to get to know someone. All the really amazing details of a person’s life get passed over in the hurry to produce a finished product.

For discipleship to work, time has to be spent. It takes time meeting with teenagers, but it also takes time away from them. Prayer is an obvious part of away time, but a little time trying to understand a person and see them from God’s perspective is vital.

Slower is better.