God is Not a Control Freak

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God’s will… What do you think of when you hear that? Typically we think of what God wants, and this leads to the question everyone is always asking…”What is God’s will for my life?”

This question was never on the forefront of my mind more than it was as my high school career neared an end. Apparently at age 16 or 17 I am already supposed to know what I want to do for the rest of my life, and as a Christian, I better make sure that whatever I land on is exactly what God wants for me. That is a lot of pressure! What if I get it wrong? What if I spend tens of thousands of dollars and four years of my life studying something that God doesn’t have in the plan? What if I end up going my entire life against God’s will? These questions plagued me so I had to begin a journey in search of God’s will. I was praying, I was asking trusted mentors, I was reading my Bible, all trying to figure out what in the world God’s will for my life was and how I find it. Then things started to pile up. God has this planned out specific will for life, so the questions started rolling in. What college does God will for me to go to? Who does God will for me to marry? What job does God will for me to take? How many kids does God will for me to have? Which house does God will for me to buy? You can see where this is going. IT NEVER STOPS! What if I get one wrong? How do I find out what God wants from me? This is so frustrating…

But then something clicked. I had a major revelation. I was going about this all wrong. As I began really searching through the Bible, I began to realize this: For every one story that I read in the Bible where God gives someone an extremely specific directive, there are countless stories where there is no specific will.

But wait you tell me…doesn’t the Bible say somewhere that God knows the plans that he has. Plans to make me prosper and bring me hope and a future? Yes. So doesn’t that mean that God has my life all mapped out? No! I will save you the rant on that. You can read more about that here.

So why do I not think God has a specific detailed will for each of us? Because I don’t think God is a control freak. That is not how his character is displayed throughout scripture. What do we see? A God who very much works in the context of people making life decisions and following their passions.

I love this quote from Donald Miller. He says, “God gave us a heart filled with desire and longing. It’s as though God sets before us a big sheet of butcher paper and hands us a box of crayons and tells us to dream.”

But weren’t there people in the Bible God had a specific will for? Of course! According to Scripture, here are some ways you can know if God has a very specific will for your life:

  1. An angel shows up and tells you that you are going to be pregnant even though you’ve never had sex.
  2. A donkey talks to you
  3. A burning bush talks to you
  4. You hear God’s audible voice and he tells you to go to Nineveh.

Do you catch my drift? When God has this crazy specific will for you, YOU’LL KNOW with no doubt. Jonah knew absolutely he was going against God’s will when he got on that boat. There was no doubt in his mind what God wanted from him.

So what about the rest of us who feel like God has not made it 100% obvious that there is a specific will? How do we know if we are doing what God wants? It’s actually pretty simple. What does Jesus say in Scripture?

In Matthew 22, Jesus is asked about the greatest commandment and he responds by saying, “Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

In Matthew 28, Jesus gives this commission “Go, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Teach them to obey everything I have commanded, and surely I will be with you always, to the end of the age.”

So as you are asking yourselves this question during whatever season of life you are in…”what is God’s will for me and how do I know if I’m doing it?” let me ask you this…

Are you loving God with your whole self and loving people selflessly? Are you making disciples? Are you baptizing people and leading them to Christ? Are you teaching them how to live like Jesus?

If you answered yes to these, guess what…YOU ARE DOING GOD’S WILL!

Unless God has made something painfully obvious to you, he really doesn’t care if you are loving God, loving people, and advancing his kingdom as a pastor in Katy Texas, an actor in LA, an accountant in New York, or anything else. He doesn’t care if you have no kids or ten. He doesn’t care if you get married when you’re 22 or 92. As Donald Miller would say, take those crayons and dream!

Now, one final note. Just because God may not care if you go to school in state or across the country, or if you study business management or education, doesn’t mean there is not a better option. God knows you best and he can see all things. Even though he is not some puppet master planning out every aspect of your life does not mean that He cannot help reveal to you which spouse or which job will work the best for you and your future, so prayerfully seek Him in the big decisions. That being said, do not let this fear of “God’s will” paralyze you. If God is going to send you a burning bush, I promise, you won’t miss it. Until then get moving, loving God, loving people, and advancing his kingdom. If you are doing that, I can guarantee God will bless it no matter where you are doing it.

8 Things to Know for Ministry from the Media Summit

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If you are in ministry and you don’t know what Mashable is, you need to learn. If we want to reach the culture around us with the message of Jesus, we need to understand that culture. Today, as millennials are continuing to take on more prominent roles in society, and Generation Z is forming their own identity, culture is changing constantly. Mashable is one of your best friends to stay updated on that change. To give you an idea of what Mashable is like, think Buzzfeed, but instead of reading about the 18 cutest cat forts you can read about the 15 Mobile Trends to Watch for in 2015 or read up on current Facebook trends. On this website you can read about the latest developments in social media, technology, business, and entertainment. This is the first place I go every Monday morning in order to be aware of all the new developments in the culture my students live in daily.

In December, Mashable held a media summit. This included some of the world’s most innovative TV Producers, authors, media moguls, news anchors and more. All of them were there to talk about what direction the future of the media industry is taking and how to best interact with our current culture. This summit can and should be extremely beneficial to us in how we work to communicate the Gospel to the current culture most effectively. Here are 8 things that stood out to me.

  1. The Importance of Storytelling

Best Quote: “Storytelling is the bedrock of all great media companies and all great brands.”

Storytelling is the essence of media and it’s what our current culture cares about. It’s why we love to binge watch tv shows on Netflix; we are captivated by innovative and well-crafted storytelling. At their core, all successful media and branding have a story. We have the greatest story ever, but how good are we at storytelling? Are you using the art of storytelling in your teaching? More importantly, are you telling stories through media. People don’t want to hear stories, people want to SEE stories. People don’t just want to hear your vision, people want to see stories of it being achieved. People want to see stories of changed lives. Stories are the things that get people fired up. Look at how well organizations like Toms or Invisible Children have done with this. They have become a successful and well established brand because of the story at the heart of what they do, and the creative ways they share it. How are you incorporating storytelling (especially through media) in your ministry?

 

  1. The Power of Simplicity

The Summit showed that the most successful media campaigns have a message that relies on simplicity. The best example of this displayed at the summit is the new campaign President Obama has helped to launch to combat sexual assault. The campaign is simply 8 characters, and just 3 words, “It’s on us”. The message is that it’s on us to stop sexual assault. This campaign has quickly gone viral. You can check out the video here

There is power in simplicity and it helps the content go viral. These were the words spoken by Jason Harris, one of the campaign’s founders. How often are we making sure we rely on simplicity when we communicate our messages, our visions, and what we are about as the Church? Simplicity makes our content more memorable and more effective.

 

  1. Reacting vs. Predicting

Best Quote: “Media: It’s not about reacting. It’s about predicting”.

 If you want your approach or your content to take off, you have to be the first to the game. The most successful media predicts what will happen or where things will go instead of reacting to them. As a Church, are you being innovative in your approach? Are you predicting issues that will arise before they happen or are you constantly reacting to them? What are some ways to predict instead of react? The Summit answered that question too.

  • Collecting Data: Mashable has hired full time data collectors just to predict the future of sharing online. This will help them stay ahead of the game. What type of data have you collected on where your church and community are headed?
  • The second can be summed up perfectly by the following quote from the summit. “The young people are telling you the future if you are willing to listen to them.”

 

  1. The Importance of Content

Best Quote: “Focus on great content. Don’t focus on a mechanism that makes your content go viral.”

Everything that has been said so far means nothing if you neglect to produce good content. It doesn’t matter how brilliantly or creatively you tell a story if the story has no content. The media that is the most successful and goes viral has the best content. However, many ignore their content and instead focus on gimmicks and distribution methods to go viral. If your media has great content, people will watch/read it. What is our focus in the church? You can have the coolest stage, the best building, the prime location, a great live streaming platform, produce high quality videos, but if your content sucks it won’t matter. Focus on making your content great before you focus on how you can make it be heard by the most people.

 

  1. Shorten Your Material

Best Quote: If it’s more than 90 seconds, it better be really (expletive removed) good.

With the amount of media consumed by our culture, you have to learn to get your message across in a short form before the viewer/listener moves on to something else. Our culture has short attention spans. It’s why instagram videos limit to 15 seconds. As they said at the Summit, short form gets the viewer in that second. This is truly the new wave of communication. ABC news is taking this head on by introducing Facecast. This is a video posted of your entire news update IN ONE MINUTE. Check it out here. As the Church, maybe we need to consider shortening our material in order to be heard. Maybe the 30-40 minute sermon isn’t going to work anymore. (Is that blasphemy?). Maybe we need cut sermons into multiple shorter sections broken up by short media pieces and music. I don’t know what the answer is, but a lot of our material is really long and not anywhere near as good as the stuff being produced under 90 seconds.

 

  1. What to do with the Women?

Best Quote: “We’ve not yet seen the Golden Age of women in leadership” 

Why is this in here? Well, this is a summit on media and culture trends. Many media leaders are women and culture is trending toward increased roles of leadership for women. Some prominent and rapidly growing churches like Willowcreek Community Church and Eastside Christian Church have already added women as elders. I’m not saying that is right and I’m not saying that is wrong. I’m not trying to stir the pot on the issue. What I am saying is that culture is elevating more and more women into high levels of leadership and if you are a church leader, you are going to have to decide how you will respond to that. Is this an issue the church needs to embrace culture on or one it needs to push against?

 

  1. Use Your Platforms

What platforms are you using to communicate your content? Is it from the stage only? Is it from Facebook only? Research is showing that people (especially young people) are on a larger variety of social media apps than ever before. Facebook has the most users, but Instagram has the most engagement, but Youtube has the most widespread usage. Only super hip people use Twitter, but it’s still out there. You never know which platform is going to get you the most traffic because the usage is constantly fluctuating. The Summit recommends that media campaigns get launched on all platforms and then you narrow the focus to the one that seems to be working best.

Another stat that should floor you: “In the evenings, the average person checks their phone EVERY 6 SECONDS!” If you have not found a way to make the content of your ministry mobile (an app, mobile giving, texting service, etc…) you are behind the game. If you didn’t read the linked article on mobile trends for 2015 at the beginning of the post, DO IT! Mobile is about to get even bigger and the Church needs to learn how to communicate through that platform.

 

  1. Know Your Audience

There were so many good quotes from this section I am just going to mostly let them speak for themselves

“Narrow down your audience and figure out what’s important to them. Remember, it’s not always about what YOU want to say.” 

“The people who are drawn to your content are the people who are going to gain something from it”

Things to consider

  • Do you know your ministry/congregation well enough to know what is going on in their lives and what they really need hear in that season? Are you only teaching on what YOU want to teach?
  • Are you satisfied with the answer you give when you ask yourself “what are people gaining from this?”

“Emotion is what drives people to take action”

“We are in an era where EVERYONE has the power to have their voice heard”

 Things to consider

  • When you know your audience and present content and an experience people will be drawn to, their emotions will be affected and it will drive them to action. Isn’t that what we ultimately hope for? That people will be moved by Jesus to the point that they act on it?
  • If we can inspire people to act, it can change the world. In the current culture of media, everyone has the ability to be heard. Imagine if the entire Church was utilizing that power.

Do you agree or disagree? Even if you didn’t watch the Summit, what other cultural and media trends do you see that need to affect how we do ministry?

“Late Adolescence” – What’s Going On?

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When I began writing this series I had one goal: to help parents understand what is going on in the development of their child IN PLAIN ENGLISH. I’ve done lots of research, read lots of books and articles and tried to present a clear and concise picture of adolescent development along with some helpful tips. As we wrap up this series we are going to look at late adolescence (ages 15-19) to see what is going on. Many parents get depressed during this stage because their child is becoming extremely independent, but actually it’s time to celebrate. Your child has left the terror state of early adolescence and is now becoming a young adult. However, don’t miss that phrase “is now becoming”.  As in, not yet completed. There is still a lot happening so, one last time, let’s talk about

WHAT’S GOING ON?!

Physically: Finally, the changes start slowing down. By this point most girls are fully developed and the late bloomers will be done developing by the end of this stage. Boys started a bit later so they will end a bit later. You may even notice that they are still gaining height, weight, muscle mass, and body hair even into their twenties. So for all of the juniors and seniors who are still toothpicks, your time will come.

Mentally: Students this age are really starting to grasp this whole “abstract thinking” thing. Now they can understand things that are symbolic or theoretical. They can make an educated guess as to how something will turn out. They can think through multiple ideas in order to arrive at a conclusion. Most of all, their thinking has become flexible. Remember in pre-adolescence how your child comes up with a thought or an idea and then it is set in stone? That is no longer the case. Now they can see that one problem may have many possible solutions. They can even do cool things like listen to multiple ideas from other people and take the best parts of each one to form a solution. With this new understanding, they will begin to test their new information against reality. This can lead to lots of dumb ideas. How many times have you asked your 16 year old boy “WHAT IN THE WORLD WERE YOU DOING?” as they are lying there with a broken arm, only to find out they saw something work on a youtube video and wanted to try it out for themselves. It can also lead to some really cool things though. Maybe they love to cook. They have multiple ideas of how to make a certain recipe taste the best. Therefore, they try all of their ideas out to see which one actually tastes and the best, and now they know. With this new testing phase, get ready to be wrong, A LOT, even when you aren’t wrong. In their mind there are so many possible solutions to every problem, so how could you have the ONE right answer? Also, a new piece has been added with this testing phase…technology. Have you ever said something to your teenager, they said “that’s not right”, you said “yes it is”, then they pull out their phone, googled it, and showed you how you were wrong. You think that’s fun? Try preaching to a room full of them. One piece of good news though: they can finally start thinking about the consequences of a decision before they make it. They just don’t a lot of times. Take advantage of these great teaching moments.

One Major note: This new thinking of testing and seeing multiple answers to one problem often applies to their spirituality. This is aided by a postmodern culture that says all beliefs are acceptable and whatever you believe works for you and whatever I believe works for me. This will be a process they go through as they are developing and testing their reality. You need to walk with them through this and help them live in the grays. God is not something they can test to determine reality. Don’t give them black and white answers for abstract concepts. They need to learn how to think through spiritual issues that don’t have concrete answers if their faith will survive without you.

Emotionally: At this stage your teenager is completing identity formation. This involves things like who are they, what will they do, and how do they fit in. They probably will have many fears of failure, and deal with unrealistically high expectations. You will also notice them distancing themselves from you as the parent. This is not because they hate you (even if they say it is) this is because they are becoming independent. Students at this age are usually VERY concerned about their appearance and their bodies. Students at this age feel an increased concern for others because they can now see from the perspective of others and feel the pain of others. Finally, let’s talk about boyfriends and girlfriends (I will do a more in depth post on this later). Your teenager will now begin to gain feelings of love and passion. Yes, I know they are only 16 and the thought of them having found their TRUE LOVE makes me roll my eyes as I write this. But it’s real to them, don’t forget that. These new feelings will add to their attraction and desire for relationships. Make sure you continue to talk to them about what healthy relationships with the opposite sex look like and don’t downplay their emotions. That is the best way for you to end up with a rebellious teen.

Socially: Your teenager is living in two worlds. One of parents and one of peers. During this time (if you haven’t already) you will begin to take a back seat in your teenager’s life to their friends. Parents, take a deep breath…your child will start to distance themselves from you. Now take another deep breath…DON’T STOP THIS FROM HAPPENING! This shift is critical in your teenager developing their identity and becoming unique and independent. It may seem like they don’t like you. It may seem like they don’t want to be around you. You won’t like it. But they are starting to become independent which is what every parent SHOULD want. You don’t want a 35 year old child with no job still living at home. If you do, come have a talk with me immediately. This is not to say your teenager should have no rules or curfews. This is not to say they don’t have to listen to you. This is not to say you should not force them to spend SOME time with the family. Those things are all good and necessary, but let them have independence too. Let them go.

Their social life is extremely important to them, and they need to learn how to develop healthy friendships. That is a necessary skill in college and in life. So let them go out with friends and do things WITHOUT YOU. Research shows that most teens this age actually place more value on their friends than their family. Their peers will have a huge influence on shaping their lives. Their friends will shape their behavior, social activities, the way they dress and many more things. That is why you should be having conversations (before this stage because now they care much less about what you think) about how to choose friends wisely and how to stand up to peer pressure. Their relationships with their friends are important and will help them develop social skills that they will need in adulthood. Their relationships with their friends also teach them not to be solely dependent on you as a parent. As much as you might disagree with me, YOU WANT THIS! Friends also add to your teen’s self-esteem and emotional security.

Spiritually: Teenagers this age finally start to get it. They begin to see the relationship aspect of following Jesus. There are three stages of spirituality teens enter through during late adolescence. It’s a bit technical but if you think about it, you probably experienced the same steps when you came to know Jesus. Remember, this is done with lots of questioning like we talked about earlier.

Stage 1 (Purgative): That’s a fancy word isn’t it? We are talking about purging or getting rid of something. At this stage a teen who wants a deeper relationship with Christ begins getting rid of the identity they had previously. They no longer view themselves (whether too positive or too negative) the way they did before. Now they think of themselves as who they are in Christ.

Stage 2 (Illuminative): All of a sudden new information comes to light in their minds. Now that they have lowered their walls of self-image and pride they see themselves as God sees them. They see that they are loved by God. Now they stop only focusing on themselves and begin to look at Christ. They now look to have a relationship with God instead of just asking him for things. They start to FEEL God, which is a very abstract concept.

Stage 3 (Unitive): Students now see themselves as one with God. They realize they must surrender control of their lives to Jesus. They start to take responsibility for their own faith and want to use their gift to help others.

IMPORTANT NOTE HERE: If you have not been doing this with them all throughout their lives, they won’t know how to do it. You should be reading the Bible with your kid(s) and doing things as a family where they use their gifts for God. That way when they get to the point where they are ready to take ownership of it, they know how to do it. Things like missions trips are great at this age, and not just the ones that we plan at church. Go out and do some things for Christ as a family.

One final thing to remember: Notice this late adolescent development stage ends around 19. That is when they are in college. It takes awhile. Therefore, when your 7th grader is not at stage 3 and still doesn’t truly understand what a relationship with Jesus actually means, be patient, it will come.

“Early Adolescence” – What’s Going On?

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So often I get asked from parents and adult volunteers, “what in the world is going on in their head?!” in regards to pre-teens and teenagers. My response is always, A WHOLE LOT! If we take some time to understand what is going on in their minds and bodies we will be so much more prepared to raise them and minister to them. This creates a tough task, as there are countless books and studies that all involve fancy scientific language. That’s why I wanted to put out this series. My goal is to cover the basics in a condensed and easy to understand fashion, so let’s continue. In this post we are looking at the early adolescent, ages 10-14, and the question I aim to answer is, of course…

WHAT’S GOING ON?

Physically: This age sees the most change physically of any of the 3 stages. Physical change starts with hormones. Your child’s brain starts to send these signals (like radio waves) to their testes or ovaries to start producing hormones. This is where the joys of parenting really take a step up. All of a sudden your child will begin to see drastic changes. Hair starts to grow in places where they haven’t had it before like the pubic area, armpits, face, and legs. Their body shape starts to take form. Boys will notice change in shoulders and muscle mass. Girls will start to develop breasts. Major spurts in height will ensue and you’ll constantly be buying new clothes because the previous ones don’t fit. Boys and girls can easily become self-conscious about these changes. Girls may feel their breasts are growing too fast or not fast enough. Guys or girls may feel they are too tall or not tall enough. Penis size is a major area of concern as that is developing. Voices are changing. Then the biggest signs come along. Girls start their period and boys begin to have wet dreams. Parents, this is why talking during that pre-adolescent phase is so important but do not sweep this one under the rug. I know it’s awkward, but someone has to address it. Kids this age need to know what they are experiencing is normal. Also, you are going to need to go over some new grooming methods that may have not been in place before. Do all of us Student Pastors a favor and talk to your early-adolescent boys about showering more often and using deodorant. They sweat more, thus they smell more. Girls and guys will need to hear about shaving. Girls especially need to be educated on feminine hygiene. Is she going to use pads or tampons? How does it get used? Talk about things like masturbation and sexual temptation. You may ask, “why put ideas into their minds they don’t know about yet?” Here’s why. If you don’t, someone else will. It might be a friend at school, a high schooler, or someone else who isn’t giving them the same teaching you would. Finally, the most important thing? NORMALIZE! They need to know they don’t need to feel self-conscious. This happens to everyone. The easiest way to normalize? Have the talks before these things begin, not after they have started. Kids who are expecting it won’t feel as embarrassed.

Mentally: Your child is starting to be able to handle abstract thought. However, they think mainly in the present. Very rarely do kids at this stage think of the results their decisions will have on the future. This will require some great teaching moments, but also some major patience on your end. When you get fed up and shout “DID YOU THINK AT ALL BEFORE YOU DID/SAID THAT?” The answer is…no. Up until this point they have concrete thinking down. Their process involves trying things out, testing them, and then making a conclusion that, to them, is set in stone. Once puberty hits, all of this changes and the world looks brand new to them because of this new concept of abstract thinking. This thinking involves things like considering the perspective of someone else, self-awareness, and paradox. They begin to realize that everything is not always black and white and it is almost as if they are processing the world all over again. Have patience with them during this time. Welcome their doubts and questions. Realize you can’t answer all of their abstract questions with black and white answers. Teach them how to live in the tension

Emotionally: Emotions are an abstract idea, therefore the range of emotions felt by the pre-adolescent are limited. This new way of thinking for the early-adolescent opens up a brand new selection of emotional options. Here’s where the problem begins. The ability to have abstract thought is a new tool they have not completely learned how to use. Therefore, they do not necessarily know how to understand and control these new feelings. Students may cry, scream, throw tantrums, or display other extreme emotions for no reason. They may not even be able to explain to you in words why they are experiencing these feelings. This can bring along with it a great fear of the unknown. Again, it is important to normalize, have patience and understanding, and help kids this age learn how to put words to the emotions they are feeling. If they say they just don’t know why they are emotional let them know “it’s ok, that is a very normal thing to experience at your age.” Also ask them questions about how they are feeling and what they are going through and teach them how to describe it with things like, “it sounds like you are feeling…” or “could it be you are experiencing…” This will help them learn how to understand what is going on in their minds.

Socially: Major social changes are starting to take place because your child now thinks about how others view them. This can make them feel awkward about themselves and their new changes, and they worry about being able to fit in. Kids who didn’t care before now wonder things like “what kinds of clothes do kid my age wear so we don’t look like little kids?” “How am I supposed to interact with my parents and friends?” “What sports and hobbies am I interested in?” and “What sub-group of culture do I fit into?” (punk, goth, sporty, preppy, hipster, etc…) You will also see their friends begin to change. This is due to their new way of thinking. New thinking equals a new thought process for picking friends. Now instead of someone automatically being a friend because they live in the same neighborhood, go to the same church, or are in the same class, they will base their friends off of those who have similar interests. Here’s the kicker though. Since they are just figuring out who they are, they are figuring out what they like to do. This means their interests are constantly changing. Therefore, you guessed it, so will their friends. Finally, friendships will look very different at this age between guys and girls. Girls will tend to form friendships that have a high level of loyalty and trust. These usually happen by them sharing experiences together and take place between 2 or 3 girls. If groups get much larger than this they collapse under the emotional weight and become overloaded with gossip and drama. Guys on the other hand tend to form friendships with larger groups over similar interests (the basketball team, the skateboarders, etc…). These groups become a foundation for their identity.

Spiritually: Spirituality is another abstract concept. Discipleship, salvation, and the trinity are all abstract. As they begin to think abstractly this becomes obvious and troubling to kids this age. They begin to question childhood beliefs they assumed were black and white that no longer make sense that way. For example, at an earlier age maybe their concrete thought led them to believe that anyone drinking alcohol at any time is always wrong. Now with this new thinking they may start to question that as they see that some people drink in moderation. These types of questions will also arise about their faith. DON’T FREAK OUT! WELCOME THESE QUESTIONS! Because after they go through this questioning they will arrive at a faith that they own. If you suppress their faith questions with shallow black and white answers, they will end up with a shallow faith that they don’t own, because they did not arrive at it.

Quick story: One of the best conversations I’ve been able to have as a Student Pastor was when a student came to me saying he was questioning this whole Jesus thing. Why was that a great day? Because of his reasoning. He said if he was going to believe it he wanted it to be a faith that he owned, and he said he realized if he believed he would have to change his life. I want a student who comes out of the questioning phase with that kind of faith.

What we need to do at church and at home: Normalize! Normalize! Normalize! By the way, did I mention we need to normalize? The one word that describes this period of life for kids is change and they need to know that is normal. Physical changes must be normalized, and we must be sure to eliminate teasing both from other students and adult leaders. As emotions rage and are constantly changing, and kids are not even always able to articulate how they are feeling or why they are feeling that way, we need to normalize that situation. As kids are developing friendships and losing friendships, we need to normalize those situations and also help them enter into healthy relationships. Most importantly, as students are beginning to question, doubt, and reevaluate their faith, we must normalize this and let them know they are not the only ones. We must work through and process these tough questions with them. The most important thing we can do strategically is to create a safe environment where the early adolescent feels they can trust the adults and other students there. This is the key to help normalize their ever-changing life.

“Pre – Adolescence” – What’s going on?

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Here at First Christian, our Children’s pastor and myself have begun a restructuring process of ministry. Youth ministry as we currently know it did not even exist until recently. We then saw a shift in the division of ministry to children’s, middle school, and high school. Now we are taking it even further. We are working on dividing up into two grade increments (1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8, and eventually 9-10, and 11-12). This idea of focused and age-appropriate ministry is pretty recent in churches and that is for a good reason. The words teenager, pre-teen, etc…did not even exist until about 50 years ago and this is because our understanding of adolescent development has come such a long way.

When I say adolescent development I am talking about the changes that the body and the brain undergo until we are a fully-developed human. This idea first came to light in the early 20th century but was viewed as only an 18 month period in the life of a child. Now it is something we realize occurs all the way into the early to mid 20s. During this time people develop an identity and independence.  However adolescent development has multiple phases and they should all affect the way we parent and the way we do ministry.

The first stage is called Pre-adolescence and usually occurs between ages 8-10. This stage is exactly what it sounds like. It’s pre “adolescent development”. It happens before the major processes really start. However, it’s so important to understand what is going on so we can prepare for what is to come. The main parts of this process involve what I like to call the PMESS (pronounce it PMS, it’ll help you remember). That stands for physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual. So when your child is in this age range, WHAT’S GOING ON? Good question.

Physically: You can expect a wide range between kids in things like height and weight. They are beginning to lose more baby teeth and their eyes are starting to finish development. You’ve probably noticed that your child is very confident in things like running, walking, and playing in general. They are starting to get the whole coordination thing down. Also at this age, girls (who develop much earlier than boys) may even experience changes associated with puberty. Make sure to talk to them about these changes so they know what to expect.

Mentally: Kids at this age are very concrete in their thinking. This means that everything is black or white, yes or no, and they have trouble understanding things like maybe, sometimes, or exceptions to the rule. You can give them any problem and they will have a solution even if it isn’t reasonable. Want to test this out? Ask your 8-10 year old what to do about world hunger, or war, or slavery and just see what they say. They think concretely at this stage and cannot process abstract ideas. They can address one problem at a time and cannot identify multiple related problems. For example, maybe the lights won’t turn on, the tv won’t work, the internet is broken, and all the refrigerated food has to be thrown out because the power is out. They have trouble realizing all the problems are related to the same issue. Likewise, they have trouble tracing backwards. If they come up with a wrong answer and you ask them to look back over the decisions they made to see which one was wrong, they will have difficulty finding it. Finally, children at this age have very short attention spans but are fascinated by the world around them and can hold in lots of information about something they like. Maybe you’ve noticed your child seems to know everything about this certain type of animal, or action figure, or whatever it may be. Use this to your advantage in teaching and introducing them to new things.

Emotionally: Children this age desire approval. They want approval from friends and siblings, and most importantly parents. Make sure you are taking time to reaffirm your child. Although they are getting closer to an age where friends’ input and approval will mean more to them, currently parents are still at the top and they will listen intently to your advice. This is the time to have talks about safety, health, avoiding certain behaviors, and even sex.

Socially: At this age children still mostly have positive relationships with friends with little trouble. They usually play with others of the same sex and have around 5 very close friends. Kids this age may be bossy with younger children and dependent on older ones. Relationships with peers are important but their relationships with adults are still most important to them. Make sure they have a good understanding of what appropriate relationships look like with adults so they are not taken advantage of.

Spiritually: Faith is found in stories that children this age hear and tell about God. They hear the stories and their concrete thinking always finds literal interpretations of these even if that is not the point. Meaning, they probably won’t understand Jesus doesn’t literally want you to gouge out your eye if it causes you to sin. The best things to go with are foundational Bible stories as well as right vs. wrong. They will take clear understanding to this with their black and white thinking.

Things to do at home and in the church: First, their physical development makes them very active. It’s important to plan time for them to be active and play games and move around with one another. It’s also important for them to experience relationships with adults, especially in a teaching setting. Since kids this age are so concrete in their thinking we need to be careful what spiritual ideas we present to them. This is an ideal time to focus on storytelling and morals and explain easy to understand concepts from these stories. They also do very well learning through activities like acting out or crafts. The most important thing is how you live and act as well. Children at this age will mainly take their cues from the examples other adults set at home and at church.


 

The R.U.L.E of Worship

NIGHTOFWORSHIP_CROWD

Worship is a subject that is tough when it comes to working with students. Most students have no concept of worship other than singing and the majority of the time it is hard enough to try and get them to do that. However, this is typically not by fault of the student. In most cases, we, as youth ministers do not have a solid theology of worship that we are promoting throughout the student ministry. I have had the opportunity in the last several places I have worked to play a large role in student worship. This has forced me to not only develop my own theology of worship, but also figure how to teach students about worship and develop a culture of worship within student ministry. Too often our view of worship is very one-dimensional so I have developed what I like to call the R.U.L.E. of worship when working with students.

Relationship (Romans 10:14)

This is the first and most important part. Worship doesn’t matter at all if there is no relationship with God involved. Often, as youth ministers, we wonder why none of our kids will participate in worship; this is the first place to look. We want our kids to sing, and lift their hands, and serve, and be expressive, but we forget how ridiculous of an expectation it is to think they will worship a God they have no relationship with. I like to use the illustration that, I might think my dad is amazing, but how can I expect you agree with me and back me up in this claim if you’ve never even met my dad. So what’s the solution? We have to reveal Christ to the students. If they get a true glimpse into who Christ is and what he has done, worship will be the natural outflow. However, an important notice on this one: IT DOESN’T HAPPEN AFTER ONE SERMON AND IT WILL TAKE A DIFFERENT AMOUNT OF TIME TO CATCH ON FOR EACH INDIVIDUAL STUDENT!

Understanding

Another thing we often overlook when working with students in worship is their basic understanding of how we worship, especially during musical worship. We want students to raise their hands, but they have no idea why we raise hands during worship. We would love to see them take on other expressions of worship but they feel uncomfortable because, again, they have no understanding of why we do these things. Here, I think it is important to find teaching times to use Scriptures to show them why we use different postures. Don’t try to do this all at once, but it is helpful to read a passage like (Psalm 28:2) before a song and explain how lifting our hands is a sign of surrender. It is also good after this developing of understanding to lead students into moments where everyone is asked to practice this posture together.

Lifestyle (Romans 12:1, John 4:23)

After working to help students develop a relationship with God and an understanding of worship, it is crucial that we also work to incorporate a lifestyle of worship in the ministry as well. This is the part where every student minister says, “Yep, I got that one” and it’s true. Most student ministers grasp a hold of the idea that worship isn’t just singing, it’s a lifestyle. However, I think we often fail in carrying that through. If this is part of our worship theology we need to live that out. This encompasses many things. For example, a major part of worship is serving. When we do things like missions trips and service projects, we need to make sure we vocalize that this is part of our worship to God. How often do we use things like eating together or even playing video games with students as teaching moments to say, this is a way we worship God. Another part that is so crucial to this aspect is our language. We say things like, “worship was really good today” “who is leading worship?” “I’m coming up to preach after the worship”. These give conflicting views to students and aid in creating the idea that worship is only the music we sing along to. I try to use phrases like, “I enjoyed musical worship today” or “Let’s continue in worship through preaching”. These help creating the idea that music is part of worship, but not the only part. This is especially important because some kids just really hate singing. When we don’t promote worship as a lifestyle, it is easy for them to get discouraged because they feel as if they cannot participate in worshiping their God.

Environment (Proverbs 20:12, 1 John 1: 1-4)

Environment is a very touchy subject. Some people like to hate on environment and act like it is wrong to focus on. Others like to make it the most important thing. I think there is a balance between the two. Environment is extremely important, but there is a reason it is the last letter in the RULE. Environment will not help anything if the other three areas are not first addressed. However, once the other areas have been addressed, environment is huge. It is the popular thought to look down upon cool stage designs, big lights, tvs, and all the like during worship as taking away from worship. This couldn’t be more wrong. We are extremely sensual beings. In fact, we have five senses: hearing, taste, touch, sight, and smell, and all of these play a part in our worship. God designed us that way. When all five of these are hit on, our worship experience reaches a completely different level. If the stage looks cool and my sight sense is engaged, but the music and vocals sound terrible, it’s hard for me to worship. If the music sounds great but we have no lights and a boring looking room, the senses God created in me are not as fully engaged in worship. If both of these things are engaged, and then I can add an experiential element to worship where students move and touch something, their worship is furthered. Likewise when we add taste (typically through communion) and then even smell (be creative in how you pull that off.). When we look at our makeup it is impossible to say that environment does not play a huge role in worship. The last thing I would say about environment is, CAN WE PLEASE STOP BEING SO SERIOUS?! For real, let’s add some fun to our worship. Do you want to see students really worship? Then maybe instead of being so dramatic and serious all the time you can have a dance party during a song, or use glow sticks, or let kids crowd surf, of whatever. Would it really kill us to worship with some laughing, and smiling, and goofing off once in awhile? Read Ecclesiastes 3:4.

Overall, I wish it were as simple as it sounds. The RULE of worship is not always linear, and many of the steps take years to achieve. However if we can focus on relationships, understanding, lifestyle, and environment, we can begin to create a culture and a theology of worship that will permeate the student ministry in which we serve.