A Letter To My 22 Year Old Self

A letter to my 22 year old self.

Dear Geoff,

In 2014 you’ll be 30 years old, have an amazing wife, and have two awesome kids! You will have experienced a lay off and find yourself serving parents and students in Texas. You will have seen a lot–suicide, drug addiction, leadership conflicts, and more–in student ministry, but will have more to learn.

Why not go ahead and get a jump on things? I want you to do four things: Serve. Learn. Read. Grow.

Serve, serve, serve. Serve everywhere you get the opportunity. Lead a small group–maybe even a small group of students you wouldn’t think you would connect with. Disciple a student. Plan an event. Clean coolers, clean the bus. Ask what gaps you can fill. Serve wherever there is a need.

Learn. Learn all you can, any way you can. Set up meetings and ask questions. Learn from past experiences and best practices of veteran student pastors and volunteer leaders. Ask parents what it’s like raising a teenager today and what they need from you as a student pastor.

Read. Read often. Follow quality ministry blogs, not just student ministry blogs. Read books, again, not just books about student ministry. Don’t worry about reading what is trendy, read quality.  I am sure these (non-comprehensive) lists will change, but here’s a start…

Grow. Grow as a Christ Follower. Read and study your bible constantly, buy a journal and jot down thoughts and prayers. If you’re not growing, you won’t be going.

Grow as a man. Take responsibility. Assert independence. Leave behind the things of your childhood and college years. Step up. Lead. There will be a time where the little boy needs to sit down and the man needs to stand up.

Grow as a friend. Don’t just acquire friends; be a friend. Be loyal. Love. Give. Listen.

In 2014 you will not be where you thought you would be, but you wouldn’t have it any other way.

 
What would you say to yourself at 22?

How To Give Your Kids A Biblical Worldview In Two Easy Steps

The Barna Group defines a biblical worldview according to the beliefs that:
-Absolute moral truth exists;
-The Bible is totally accurate in all of the principles it teaches;
-Satan is a real being or force, not merely symbolic;
-A person cannot earn their way into Heaven by trying to be good or do good works;
-Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth;
-And God is the all-knowing, all-powerful creator of the world who still rules the universe       today.

How to give your kids a biblical worldview in 2 easy steps:

  1.  Run everything through the filter of scripture.

    If we value our relationship with God and scripture, then we will pass our faith down to our kids. It will become your family’s greatest heirloom, passed from generation to generation. We do this by taking advantage of informal and formal teaching moments. See another post I wrote for more on this.

    What does the bible say about:
    -Cheating
    -Friends
    -Choices
    -Marriage
    -Sex
    -Finances
    -Politics
    -Other religions

  1. Send them to the hard places to do hard things.

    I think Jesus was serious when he said that he sent us into the world (John 17.14-19) and when he told us to go and make disciples (Mattthew 28.18-20). We must remember that Jesus sends us (and our kids) into the culture, not into isolation. He sends us (and our kids) into the culture, for the culture, to redeem the culture.

    We have to send our kids to hard places and to do hard things.

    Something happens when you listen to God and go. Whether he sends us to Mexico, Egypt, Russia, across the world, across the street, or across the room. We have to go. We have to send our students to do hard things and to hard places and I believe that can be the best thing ever.

    So, maybe, our prayer for our kids should not be for their safety but for their obedience to God.

When we develop a biblical worldview in our kids and students they are better equipped to handle what life throws at them.

They begin to exchange things like:
-Lust for intimacy
-Wealth for generosity
-Job for a calling
-Fear for faith

They begin to see things beyond right here, right now. They begin to understand that they don’t take Jesus with them places, because he is already there. They begin to have a heart for the nations.

795 Weeks and Counting (Down): Leveraging Your Influence as a Parent

795 WEEKS AND COUNTING (Down): LEVERAGING YOUR INFLUENCE AS A PARENT

Do you have kids?  Are they as crazy as mine is?  My three year old little boy is….well…ALL BOY!  If it’s sports equipment or if can he manipulate it into a makeshift gun or rocket launcher he’s all about it.  Just the other day we had to take him to the doctor to get his eyebrow glued back together after splitting it open at school—he was running after a basketball and tripped over a giant rocking chair/glider.

I have just 795 weeks until he graduates from high school.  That’s it.  795.

How many weeks until your kid graduates from high school?

Time is our most valuable resource.  We are constantly giving it away, without the option of getting more back in return.  It is the definition of a non-renewable resource.  As each Sunday rolls around I lose another week. 795…794…793…792, never to get them back again.  Maybe this seems too nebulous.

Here are some alternative angles:

  • Each year as a parent—if you work full time, get eight hours of sleep per night, and do not homeschool your kids—you get 3000 hours per year with your child.  At best the church gets about 40 hours per year with your child.
  • Or, using the same math, parents get over 57 hours per week with their child, compared to the church’s 1 hour per week.

I wasn’t a math major…not even close.  In fact, I hate math with a holy passion.  Which I find ironic and humorous considering I wanted to go into financial planning.  I didn’t and you’re welcome.  And yes, I was that kid, you know the one who slept through high school geometry every single day.  Even though math never suited me, I can do this math: 3000>40 and 57>1.

This tells me that I have the greatest influence on the faith development of my child. Period.  This also tells me, that I must learn to leverage my influence for the thing that matters most.

Not far from the place where God will let Moses see the Promised Land, from atop Mount Nebo, and near the end of his life, Moses does something that sends waves throughout history.  He casts a vision for the nation of Israel—for the People of God.  In Deuteronomy 6.4-9 Moses begins by speaking to the hearts of the Israelites.  He warns them that what he is about to say will be huge…history changing, life altering, eternity impacting.  Moses also leaves no room for loopholes: Hear O Israel…not listen up moms and dads.  He addresses the whole nation of Israel.  If Moses made this speech today, I believe he would begin saying: Listen up church, this is going to be huge!

His next statement is revolutionary given the spiritual climate of the region.  He tells them that their God is true, strong, and one.  The Canaanites, the people who occupy the Promised Land, worship several wicked gods.  Least of which is Molech, whose altar was a furnace with the torso and outstretched arms of a man and the head of a bull.  Drums and flutes would play to drown out the screams of the child sacrifices made to Molech.  Canaanites had a god for amost everything.  Moses says: Our God is one.  Our God is true.  Our God is strong.  Our God is the Creator, not created.

The next statement Moses made would become one of the most recognized phrases in the entire bible: Love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.  Jesus would echo this phrase in the gospels.  Here, Moses makes a movement from the inside out with his instructions to love God with our total self.  Moses also knew, as we should recognize today that this is a big deal.  If we don’t love God with all our heart, soul, and strength, then we leave room for mixing in false gods into our worship of the true God.

Moses continues to address the church in general, and parents in particular, telling us the things he has said must to be woven into the tapestry of our lives.  The point he is making is that we should leave a lasting mark of our faith on our kids.  But here’s the kicker: what you learn in your own time with God, repeat that again and again and again to your kids.

Moses not only tells us what, but he tells us how, too.  He urges us to find the rhythm of our family, of our day.  Then to use that rhythm to strategically leverage our influence as parents as we weave faith into our every day lives.  Reggie Joiner and the guys at the Think Orange Group suggest the following rhythm:

Orange Rhythms SLIDE-2

The rhythm for my family will look different than the rhythm for your family and your rhythm will change as your kids get older.  What is the rhythm for your family?

Talk with your kids about who God is, what He does, and the difference He makes in your everyday lives as you…

  • Drive to practice
  • Watch TV
  • Do chores and yard-work
  • Eat at the table
  • Pick up your kids after school

Moses knew that for faith to be vibrant and life giving it has to infiltrate every part of our daily lives.

As a parent you have the greatest influence over the faith development of your child.  Period.  Now, we must learn to leverage that influence for the thing that matters most.

Check out these resources for faith conversations and passing down your faith to your kids:

Three Conversations Every Parent Must Have With Their Teenager

When you hear the phrase: “Family Meeting” do you get chills, do you roll your eyes, or do you hide?  Family meetings don’t always get the reaction they should.  They don’t have to be ominous and fear-laden.

I bring up family meetings because when I was growing up that was the cue for a serious conversation.  I think that there are three vital conversations that parents need to start having with their teenagers; and the younger the better.

THE SEX TALK

Dun, dun, duuuunnnn.  Sweaty palms. Cotton mouth.  Avoiding eye contact.  Stumbling over your words.  Fear. The parent feels awkward; the student feels grossed out. (I even feel a little awkward writing this.) This is how the typical sex talk begins…but it doesn’t have to be this way. Sex is a gift from God that we treat as taboo.  Let me say that again, God created sex; and what God creates is good.

Any conversation you have with your teenager about sex should begin there: Yes, God created sex, but God created sex to be shared in the context of marriage between husband and wife.  But if you wait until your child is a teenager to talk about sex you may have waited too long.  Did you know that the average age of first time exposure to pornography is 11 years old?  11. Not 18.  11.  That’s the average sixth grader.  With the onset of mobile technology what was once restricted to behind the counter at a convenience store is now in their pocket!  I would not be surprised at all if the number of younger children with smartphones increases that the average age for first time exposure to pornography becomes younger and younger.

Here’s the million dollar question: How do I talk with my teenager about sex? I think it’s vital to remember that this is more than just a conversation about sex; it’s a conversation about biblical love, making wise choices, and open communication between parents and students.  It is also not just one conversation, but the opening conversation in an ongoing dialogue between parents and teenagers.

  • Be honest.
  • Be real.
  • Listen.

Before you have the sex talk with your teenager it is wise for the parents to get together to make sure they are on the same page. You may disagree, but I believe that it is best for the same gender parent to initiate this conversation (if possible); I also think there is an appropriate time to have the opposite gender parent join the conversation as well.

Harvest USA and XXXChurch have some resources that could be very helpful.

The sex talk seems obvious, right? In theory, parents have been having this conversation with their little raging ball of hormones (teenager) for generations.  However, the next two conversations may not be as obvious, but they are nonetheless important.

THE TECH TALK
When was the last time you asked your teenager spell “kick?” Do you know what #tbt or #mcm or #wcw mean? What is an IGFollower?  What does #s4s mean?  If you’re asking any of these questions, you may have some homework to do…

If the sex talk is characterized with sweaty palms and cotton mouth, then the tech talk is marked by overwhelming confusion.  There are several social network and social media apps available for smart phones.  Here are a few off the top of my head:

I doubt many teenagers are on the last three networks.

As many as 25% of teenagers get their primary internet access via mobile device.  That means having the family computer in the living room isn’t enough. This conversation is greatly needed.  One of our obligations to teenagers is to help them navigate the digital terrain.  In a lot of ways we are like Lewis and Clark blazing a trail for others to follow on the digital landscape.

Here are someone suggestions for the tech talk:

  • Establish the desire for open communication between parents and teenagers
  • Once it goes online, it’s there forever
  • Go over the laws for your state for sexting
  •  Have a family charging station for mobile devices and tablets each night
  • Get all usernames and passwords
  • Establish criteria for the “friends” or “followers” on social networks

Do they know them?
How do they know them?
Are they friends in real life?

X3Watch

Covenant Eyes

I would have this conversation before they get their first smartphone.

The last conversation in my list is in that position intentionally.  Ideally the previous conversations would happen early on in the teen years.  But this next conversation is a sort of manufactured 21st century rite of passage.

 THE DRIVING TALK

I would guess that this is the conversation parents are most comfortable having with their teenagers.  But that doesn’t mean that it is any less significant.  There are huge ramifications for how your student drives–their lives and the lives of others are at stake.  This conversation should happen sometime between the 15th and 16th birthdays.

Here are some tips for the driving talk:

  • Driving is a privilege
  • Safe driving is an expectation
  • Don’t text and drive
  • Limit phone calls while driving
  • Text blocking apps while driving
  • Who pays for the ticket
  • Who pays for insurance increases after tickets or accidents
  • Who pays for accidents
  • Who pays for the car
  • Who pays for gas
  • How many strikes are allowed
  • How do grades impact driving privileges

Do you have older teenagers?  Have you not had these conversations yet?  It’s not too late! Carve out time this week to talk with your teenager about sex, tech, and driving.

Even though these conversations cover some serious content that can affect teens for the rest of their lives, try not to be too serious. Share some of your mistakes and funny story or two.

  • What was your first ticket for and how much did it cost you? In case you’re wondering mine was $395 for going 75 in a 60 construction zone from state trooper Billy Brown (his real name) in 2003.
  • How awkward was your first date?
  • What was the most embarrassing picture of you from high school?  Show them!

The key thing to remember in these three conversations is that you, as the parent, are trying to open–and keep open– the lines of communication with your teenager. Don’t worry about having the perfect script; just talk.  Ask questions. Listen.

Be real.

Be honest.

Listen.

Market Driven Youth Ministry by Dr. Richard Ross

The following article was originally posted on September 10, 2013 from Theological Matters, a blog of SWBTS. The article is written by Dr. Richard Ross, student ministry professor.

Teenagers and Market-Driven Ministry

Three documents have crashed into each other on my computer. Their composite message is both troubling and hopeful.

First

Christian Smith is the researcher who coined the phrase “moralistic therapeutic deism” (MTD) to describe the “faith” of most church teenagers. His seminal National Study of Youth and Religionresearch sent shock waves through the youth ministry world.

A church teenager might express MTD this way: “God exists. He is nice and wants us to be nice. He doesn’t bother me about my life. But since I’m very special, He’ll show up whenever I call. But as soon as He does something to make my life happier and easier, He goes away again—so I can live my life my way.”

Smith and his team of researchers have continued to research the students who made up the original sample. They have just completed Wave Four interviews with those subjects, who now are ages 20-24.

Last week Christian Smith emailed me with the initial results. Even with their church backgrounds, Smith found that about 90%:

  • “Know absolutely nothing about what the [churches] they grew up in believe theologically,
  • Have no understanding whatsoever of the ways that faith is not just an instrumental help but is something that might drive and transform one’s life, and
  • Think religion is totally about the basic moral orientation it gives (most of which they agree with but say they are not living by).”

He summarized by saying, “Only about 10% remain what we called ‘committed traditionalists.’” To use the vocabulary of evangelicals, that means about 10% can express their core beliefs, can lead someone else to saving faith, and embrace Christ’s mission for their lives. Ten percent!

Second

Blogger Matt Marino has generated lots of conversation with his post, What’s So Uncool about Cool Churches? Marino wrote, “What is the ‘pill’ we have overdosed on? I believe it is ‘preference.’ We have embraced the idea of market-driven youth ministry. Unfortunately, giving people what they ‘prefer’ is a road that, once you go down it, has no end. … In an effort to give people something ‘attractive’ and ‘relevant’ we embraced novel new methods in youth ministry, that 20 years later are having a powerful shaping effect on the entire church.”

Near the end of that post, Marino says, “In summary, ‘market driven’ youth ministry gave students a youth group that looks like them, does activities they prefer, sings songs they like, and preaches on subjects they are interested in. It is a ministry of preference. And, with their feet, young adults are saying ‘Bye-bye.’ What might we do instead? The opposite of giving people what they want is to give them what they need.”

Third

Writing in The Atlantic Monthly, Larry Alex Taunton summarizes a study performed by his Fixed Point Foundation. They conducted extensive interviews with collegiate members of atheist organizations that Taunton calls “the atheistic equivalent of Campus Crusade.” He found that almost all the young atheists had backgrounds in the church and in youth groups. Here are some of the conclusions of the study:

  • The mission and message of their churches was vague.
  • They felt their churches offered superficial answers to life’s difficult questions.
  • They expressed their respect for those ministers who took the Bible seriously.
  • Ages 14-17 were decisive. For most, the high school years were the time when they embraced unbelief.

Taunton wrote, “Without fail, our former church-attending students expressed [much respect] for those Christians who unashamedly embraced biblical teaching. Michael, a political science major at Dartmouth, told us that he is drawn to Christians like that, adding: ‘I really can’t consider a Christian a good, moral person if he isn’t trying to convert me.’”

Eric Metaxas adds, “Much of what passes for youth ministry these days is driven by a morbid fear of boring our young charges. As a result, a lot of time is spent trying to devise ways to entertain them. The rest of the time is spent worrying about whether the Christian message will turn kids off. But … young people, like the not-so-young, respect people with conviction—provided they know what they’re talking about.”

In the last two years I have read 60 books from the clearest thinkers in youth ministry. I have studied summaries of 14 research projects related to youth ministry. The major themes that emerge are these:

  • Teenagers are transformed primarily through their relationships with adults who themselves are deeply transformed. Teenagers begin to live for the glory of Christ as they walk beside others who live for the glory of Christ. Baptist Press editor and youth volunteer Art Toalston recently tweeted, “Even middle school boys drop their silliness and tune in when Scripture flows from our souls.”
  • Teenagers are transformed through heart connections. The stronger the relationship is between a teenager and an adult, the stronger will be the transmission of transformation.
  • Teenagers are transformed by the Spirit through the truth and power of God’s Word. Teenagers respect and are drawn toward adults who joyfully proclaim with full conviction, “Thus saith the Lord.” The youth leader who spends 15 minutes preparing his Bible talk and two hours on a creative video might actually increase attendance by reversing those time allotments.

I celebrate any church willing to spend a million dollars on a youth building. It can be a useful tool. But no one should assume that’s the key to getting teenagers willing to live or die for the cause of Christ for a lifetime. The key is:

  • Leading parents, youth ministers, and disciplers to fall more deeply in love with Christ and to transparently exude their passionate desire for His glory and the coming of His kingdom on earth. Who in your church is gathering parents and youth leaders with the specific goal of leading them into a deeper relationship and walk with King Jesus? How often do they meet?
  • To equip parents, youth ministers, and disciplers to know how to build deeper heart connections with teenagers. Busy adults can have life-on-life discipling relationships with about three teenagers. What is the adult-student ratio in your church’s Bible teaching groups? Who is regularly challenging adults to put down their lattes, leave their comfortable adult groups, and invest in the next generation?
  • To equip parents, youth ministers, and disciplers to know Scripture, assimilate Scripture, and confidently proclaim Scripture to teenagers. When your average dad pictures himself with his family and Bibles open, does he feel competent to share the Word? Who is taking the lead in equipping him for this role? When do they meet and how often?

Churches that have depressing answers to the questions above—BUT have some great facilities, programs, and trips for teenagers—should NOT expect most of their teenagers to walk in faith for a lifetime. Facilities, programs, and trips have a role and they are a helpful supplement to ministry, but they are not the core issues. If we do not shift much more of our focus to the core issues, we will continue to lose most of a generation after high school.

IT’S LIKE TNT

What is the most volatile substance in the world today? TNT (Trinitrotoluene)? Plutonium? North Korea? A teenage girl? The answer is none of these. In fact the answer might surprise you.

brain

Think about it: a raging torrent of hormones and abstract thinking are bombarding a physiologically changing brain like a blitzkrieg. It’s no wonder that the teenage brain is unstable, unpredictable, and volatile.

One of the many reasons I enjoy working with students is that they are always changing. And the most significant change going on in their rapidly growing bodies are not zits, or arm pit hair, or voice changes, or even those pleasant odors that accompany teenage boys going through puberty. The most significant change a student experiences is the one we cannot see: the brain.

If you have ever taken an intro psych class or ad psych class or watched an episode of Criminal Minds then you’ve probably heard of these two guys: Piaget and Erikson.

Piaget is known for defining Concrete vs. Abstract Thinking. Piaget claims that at the onset of puberty students shift from understanding the world in a concrete reality to that of an abstract understanding. Essentially, students begin to think about thinking.

  • They start asking what if and why might that be questions.
  • They begin the process of speculation and utilizing a third person perspective.
  • They ask questions like, “What is the meaning of life?” And the question every adult who works with students dreads: “How can I trust that God is real or that the bible is accurate?” Essentially everything about faith is abstract.

Approaching the same issue from a different angle (See the use of abstract thinking there?). Erikson claims that students are in the life-span stage of Identity vs. Identity Confusion. Beginning around the onset of puberty and lasting until the early twenties students are trying to figure out who they are and where they fit. This is a journey that they must initiate and discover at their own pace. Otherwise they will not feel like they know who they are. The hard part for parenting is not forcing the identity we desire for them on them. You know this kid. In fact, she was probably in some of your college classes. This is the girl who wanted to be an art major or teacher but caved into the pressure to be a pre-med major to take over the family practice some ambiguous day in the future. All the while never liking medicine.

Take for example a former student of mine. One year he wore a Texas A&M t-shirt and hat with Wrangler jeans and ropers (boots). After summer break he comes back dressing like a trendy/goth kid wearing dark clothing, vests, fedora style hats, and a chain wallet. That look lasted a semester and after Christmas break he was dressing differently again. Do you see what he was doing? He was trying to figure out who he was and where he belonged.

This is why so many of my current students play four or more sports per year. They fancy themselves athletes, they’re just trying to figure out are they a football, soccer, or baseball player. What are they the best at?

As if this wasn’t enough we’ve found out exponentially more about the teenage brain in the last 10-12 years than we thought we knew for the last 100 years or more. Let’s take a look at some of the new findings.

Temporal Lobe
The temporal lobe serves as the center for emotional response and interpretation. The temporal lobe is underdeveloped in teens, and significantly underdeveloped in guys. This is why when a teenage couple that is dating get into a fight the girl turns into a sobbing puddle of emotions while the guy gets on Xbox live and plays Call of Duty like nothing happened. It’s not because the guy doesn’t care, in fact he probably does; his ability to interpret and express emotions is not fully developed yet.

Frontal Lobe
Do you want to know why your student frustrates you to no end and leaves you scratching your head? Do you want to know why they do such stupid stuff? Meet the reason for your frustration: the Frontal Lobe, more specifically the Prefrontal Cortex.
The Prefrontal Cortex is responsible for:

  • Decision making
  • Organization
  • Prioritization
  • Focusing
  • Planning
  • Impulse control

Do you feel like your student is deficient in these areas? This could explain several of the stupid things I did in college (ok, so stupid is an understatement).

In relation to this, CNN published an article in October 2012 entitled: Why The Teen Brain Is Drawn To Risk. They concluded:

  • If the risk is unknown teens are more likely to engage in risky behavior.
  • If the risk is known teens are less likely to engage in risky behavior.
  • Teens seem to love the unknown.
  • It’s the opposite of what adults do: if the risks are known teens engage in risk taking less than adults; but if they are unknown teens engage in risk taking more than adults.
  • The more vague the consequence the more likely teens are to engage in risk taking.

Oh, did I mention that we now know the brain is not fully formed at age 6 like previously thought; it actually isn’t fully developed until the age of 25. And yes, this includes the Frontal and Temporal Lobes.

Neural Pathways
Neural pathways are groupings of neurons (brain cells). Now, get this: research has shown that in the 2 years or so leading up to puberty the brain goes into warp speed producing millions of new neurons. Then, when puberty goes into full swing the brain starts to kill off neurons. Weird huh? Here’s why: the brain has a use it or lose process for neurons. The neurons from the parts of the brain that are stimulated or used are kept, while the neurons from the parts of the brain that are not used or stimulated are killed off. This tells us that during the teenage years the brain is crafted and molded for how it will function in adulthood.

I want to leave you with two questions to chew on from Inside the Teenage Brain by Mark Oestreicher:

  • How can I best steward the opportunity I have to permanently shape my teenagers’ brains?
  • And more specifically, how can I best steward the opportunity I have to shape their brains for a lifetime of robust faith?