Speaking Life into Students and Young Adults: Valuable Lessons for 2 Generations

speaking-lifeOver the past 10 years, I have seen firsthand the gap between two very different generations. The ‘Millenials,’ also known as Generation Y, are those born between the early 1980’s and the late 1990’s. Generation Z are those born between the late 1990’s and the mid 2000’s. I have had the privilege of working closely with the individuals and families of these generations. Some of them I call my best friends, some my own family, some leaders, and still some students.

I have seen these generations thrive in ways nobody could ever imagine, but I have also seen them fail to live beyond the low expectations others set for them. Every generation can learn quite a bit from the generation before them. But I am not sure we have ever seen two back-to-back generations that offer as many valuable lessons for each other the way Generation Y & Z have lived out.

I have been their pastor, their leader, their friend, their brother, their counselor, their coach, and their father. I have picked them up when they have fallen. I have cried with them, laughed with them, and yes, even yelled at them. They have challenged me in ways they don’t even know, and I love challenging them in ways they sometimes can’t stand. They have lived in my house, eaten my food, sat at my dinner table, watched my children, played with my dog, and made my wife laugh so hard she peed her pants! I have poured blood, sweat, and tears into their successes and failures. I have walked them through family crises, death, defeat, victory, and success. They have prayed over me, visited my newborn children in the hospital, walked with me through my parents divorce, and given me a sense of hope when all hope seemed lost. I have traveled with them to Kenya, Haiti, Washington D.C., Phoenix, AZ, Ducktown, TN, and many places in between. I love these two generations dearly and pray many of them continually seek God’s face in every aspect of their lives!

I say all of this to reassure you that every word you are about to read is written out of a heightened love and a desire to see Generation Y & Z become the individuals God has called them to be! Based on my experience and observation here are a few life lessons Generation Y & Z can learn from each other!

Accountable Community I love hearing our Millenials share their desire for authentic community. I remember my first few years as a youth pastor. I realized right away that I was never going to be able to fake a message. My students wanted to see me living out what I was talking about before they were fully bought in. I pray today’s middle and high school students never lose sight of the importance of authentic community. At the same time, I hope they raise the bar of community to include deep accountability. Many of today’s young adults want incredible community without the accountability. My prayer is that we see a generation rise up willing to hold each other accountable to the truths of God’s Word!

Commitment to The Church – Generation Y understands what it means to serve God’s Kingdom. I could share story after story of Millenials who haven given of their time, energy, and resources to grow an area of ministry. Many times I have seen them serve up to 40 hours a week without receiving a single penny of compensation! Although at times I feel the local church has done an injustice to our twenty-something’s, I have seen many of them rise above the lack of financial compensation to see God’s Kingdom grow!

I understand that the local church has taken advantage of many Millenials, but I have also seen many of them bounce from one ministry to the next because of the struggle to commit. They get bored, lose interest, and feel like they are not accomplishing what they want to accomplish, so they simply move on. I have seen this happen in the blink of an eye, without any notice! I pray Generation Z understands the importance of committing to The Church, even if it doesn’t mean always being in the spotlight!

Passion, Passion, Passion – Have you ever heard of Passion Conference? How about the Passion Movement? Passion City Church? How about the Passion Worship Band? Every single one of these is an effort to attract the Millenials! While I do not completely agree with their motives, I cannot argue with their success. Their purpose is to unite ‘students in worship and prayer for spiritual awakening in this generation.’ They have seen over 60,000 young adults gather together under one rough!

Generation Y is extremely passionate. I have come in contact with many young adults that could turn the world upside down if they committed to it. They are gifted, talented, knowledgeable, adaptive to change, and they desire to achieve success. But many of them have become so passionate about a variety of things that they really aren’t committed to passionately changing anything. Imagine if these two generations passionately caught Jesus’ call for discipleship! I truly believe they have the voice to turn our culture upside down for the cause of Christ!

Owning your Entitlement – Yes, you read that correctly… I believe Generation Y has taught Generation Z the wrong view of entitlement. Today’s teenagers feel they deserve everything! They want life handed to them on a silver platter, alongside a gold fork and a diamond-studded knife. Let me say this… entitlement has been taught the wrong way. As Christians, we are blessed with the opportunity to experience life to its fullest, not because of who we are, but because of what Christ did for us on the cross! We are entitled to experience life with Him – as His son or daughter. Generation Y has turned that and said, ‘We are entitled to experience freedom!’ Generation Z has taken it a step further and said, ‘We are entitled to whatever we want!’ And their parents and grandparents are all sitting back saying, ‘Sonny, when I was young…’

I believe it comes down to a question of identity. Do you find your identity in friends, sports, school, culture, music, relationships, work, or in who Christ is and what He did for you on the cross? As we grow closer to Christ, we will not struggle with identity crisis. We will not become consumed with what we think we need or deserve. We will own our relationship with Christ and find ourselves entitled to His love, grace, mercy, and faithfulness!

God’s Wisdom versus Man’s Ideas – The Millenials are full of great ideas! Today’s young adults are so passionate about making a difference. They want to experience the latest and greatest idea that will draw emotion in order to create change. But I often wonder, what is the end goal? What should that change look like? Do these two generations truly understand what Jesus meant when He said, ‘Follow Me’? That was more than just a great idea. It was one of the wisest statements ever made! Jesus offered more meat in those 2 words than any butcher could handle in an entire lifetime! My kids do not need the latest and greatest idea. They need the wisdom found in the pages of Scripture. Simply put… they need the truth of God’s Word!

When it comes to wisdom, we must also be willing to trust in the advice of those older than us. Generation Y & Z must understand they are loved, not judged. Don’t take offense when one of us old geezers critiques how you live your life. We may look foolish, but many of us are fairly wise. And beyond that – we have a desire to see you succeed beyond what you can imagine! Trust us, we have been down the block a few times. We may not know what we are talking about when it comes to music or social media, but when it comes to Biblical wisdom and life experience, the older generations can teach you tons!

My heart breaks to see what many students and young adults within Generation Y & Z has to face. Several authors call this the fatherless generation. The hurt caused by broken families is immeasurable. The pain created by a lack of identity and issues of self-worth has caused suicides, school shootings, and self-harm to skyrocket. I have seen the tears, heard the horror stories, and fallen flat on my face at the feet of Jesus, begging Him to take away the pain that so many of our students and young adults bear. I have bore their pain in the midst of life’s most difficult crisis. I have stayed awake many nights revisiting conversations I have had with countless guys and girls within these two generations. My heart breaks as I watch so many of them miss out on the life Christ has called them to live.

Let me wrap up by saying this… If you are a part of either Generation Y or Z, be proud of who you are! Find your identity in an authentic relationship with Christ. Don’t listen to the statistics. Don’t allow culture to shape your generation. Don’t leave the success of God’s church in the hands of the generations after you. Take ownership of your faith and create the revolution that I know you are capable of establishing!

If you are not a part of either of these generations, what are you doing to speak words of love, wisdom, and affirmation into their lives? They are broken and in search of something. Are you encouraging them based on their identity in Christ or discouraging them because of their laundry list of identity issues? Love them. Father them. Spoil them. Invite them around your dinner table. Let them babysit your children. Give them the example that many of their parents failed to give them. Offer them the space to serve and lead. Show them Christ. Treat them to something fun and exciting. Teach them. Speak life into them. And never forget… they could be the ones taking care of you someday!

Missional Student Ministry According to Jesus

UP-IN-OUT-logoRunning from event-to-event, weekend-to-weekend can be extremely draining! Many pastors and ministry leaders face burnout and exhaustion because of the lack of vision and direction. We live lives and carry on with ministry out of what ‘looks good’ instead of what God truly desires of us. What would it look like for you to do as Jesus did and talk as Jesus talked – to live your life as He lived and to lead your ministry as He led?

3DM focuses on the Up, In, and Out lifestyle of Jesus. In other words, He prioritized His relationship with the Father, focused on creating a culture of discipleship within those closest to Him, and carried out a life of outreach and mission beyond His social comfort zone. What would it look like for us to do this within the context of our ministries?

God has been challenging me over the past few weeks to truly abide in His presence. It is not that I was completely missing the mark of His calling, but there are definitely areas that need pruning. I need the Father’s direct sunlight, while allowing the shade and comfort of the Holy Spirit to infiltrate my entire life.

Our relationship with the Father places focus on the ‘why’ behind the ‘what.’ In other words, we are able to find true purpose and meaning to our lives when we abide in His love. When we experience authentic spiritual growth, fruit will appear that we did not even think was possible.

As we look up and answer God’s calling on our lives, we must not miss the community He has placed around us. Many of the students and young adults I work with want relationships, but they don’t want commitment and accountability. In other words, they want the fun, but not the challenge; they want the fruit, but they don’t want to experience the pruning process.

God puts specific people in our lives to hold us accountable. He also places a responsibility on our shoulders to establish a culture of discipleship within our families and ministries. Are you being used by God to see lives transformed within your sphere of influence? When it comes to the impact we can have, it is not always about the large numbers. Typically, we will have far greater impact on fewer people than on large crowds. We must start small as we dream big!

As we grow closer to the Father and create a discipling culture, we will not miss the opportunity to share Christ with the masses! We will focus on the lost, spend time developing a vision for outreach, and live as the hands and feet of Jesus. We will see people as Jesus sees them, instead of how our ignorant human flesh sees them. We will be quicker to forgive and slower to lash out in anger.

Our mission must begin with a growing relationship with the Father, where we truly find ourselves abiding in His presence. As we do this, a culture of discipleship will be created, and we will ultimately live out as His hands and feet to a broken world!

One of the things that I have been specifically wrestling with is how this lays out into the vision of student ministry. I am in the process of a major project – evaluating all aspects of student ministry directly from the perspective of missional living.

I have narrowed it down to three basic questions that I am hoping to lay out over the next few weeks and months in book form.

  1. What does it look like to authentically lead students into the presence of the Father?
  2. What must happen within the four walls of our ministry in order to create a successful culture of discipleship?
  3. How can we see a true revolution take place within our communities, schools, and homes?

I would love to hear any and all feedback in regards to how you see this happening, specifically in the context of Student Ministry!

Teaching the Next Generation: 9 Concepts for Effective Communication

teaching-children-the-word-of-god-imageWhat are we communicating to our kids, students, and parents? What do we want them to walk away with each and every time they sit under our teaching? How would we define a win when it comes to our messages?

The goal when teaching is never to impress. Instead, our goal must be to connect and communicate clearly the truth contained in the pages of the Bible. When we allow our ambition to drive us to impress we often miss the goal of clarity!

Matthew 13:10-15 (The Message) – “10 The disciples came up and asked, “Why do you tell stories?” 11-15 He replied, “You’ve been given insight into God’s kingdom. You know how it works. Not everybody has this gift, this insight; it hasn’t been given to them. Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears. That’s why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight. In their present state they can stare till doomsday and not see it, listen till they’re blue in the face and not get it. I don’t want Isaiah’s forecast repeated all over again: Your ears are open but you don’t hear a thing. Your eyes are awake but you don’t see a thing.
The people are blockheads!
They stick their fingers in their ears
so they won’t have to listen;
They screw their eyes shutso they won’t have to look, so they won’t have to deal with me face-to-face and let me heal them.”

Jesus told stories to create readiness. He understood that people needed help in order to be ready to digest the truth He was teaching. Jesus understood the need to connect in order to reveal truth. Many of us who communicate need this reminder often. When we step up to speak we have to remember to put time into creating connection moments as we teach the Scripture with faithfulness.

Each of us may get anywhere from 10-30 minutes each week to communicate God’s Word to the next generation. Are we doing that in the most effective manner – in a way that is going to draw attention to who God is? Here are 9 key concepts that will lead to excellent communication…

1. God’s Word and the Holy Spirit are more powerful than you – Are you relying on your own words or God’s Word to see lives transformed? God will speak through you in ways you can never imagine! So many times I have walked away from speaking not remembering what I said. These have been the moments where God is completely speaking through me. His way with words is greater than anything we could ever say!

As you study and prepare, make sure you are not missing what God is saying. Look to His Word for the majority of your message and not culture, history, or the latest idea that may draw emotion. Rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to speak through you!

2. Keep it clear and simple – The next generation does not want deep theological messages based on the Greek text, historical documents, or the separation of modern religion. They are not concerned about dispensationalism, the difference between humanistic theology and Christlikeness, and the views of premillennialism, postmillennialism, or amillennialism.

While I believe our kids and students need to understand theology and teaching theology is very important, our messages cannot get bogged down with the theological debates that go on in the religious world every day. Our kids want to hear simple and clear truths from God’s Word that they can take and apply to their lives! What are you doing to keep your communication simple and clear?

3. Talk with, not at – Have you ever sat in a conversation in which the other person had totally disengaged? Kids feel like they get talked at all the time – lectured by their teachers, yelled at by parents and coaches, and talked down by those around them. They need to be talked with. Whether it is your physical approach or the words you use, make sure you are communicating to and with, instead of at.

For years, I refused to even stand on a stage and talk above our students. Our physical demeanor says a lot about whether or not we truly care about those we are communicating with. Kids and students need us to step down to their level and talk to them, not at them. It is the image of us getting our knees and talking with a child as opposed to standing above them and pointing our finger at them.

4. Less is more – We must make sure our message is focused on the bottom line. Cutting out material is a difficult process but less is more when you want kids to walk away with the main point. Never have a message that has ten points in it… kind of like the one I am doing right now.

Our rule with students is never go above 15-20 minutes with MS and 20-25 minutes with HS. The less application points we communicate, the better chance we have of seeing lives transformed. When we teach on multiple points, students typically walk away with nothing.

5. Be relatable and culturally relevant – This does not mean we have to strive to be as hip as possible! But it does mean, we have to communicate in a way that is going to make sense to today’s younger generation. Talking about toaster ovens and 8-track players is not very culturally relevant. But using terms that kids can relate to causes God’s Word to become more relevant to their situation and circumstance. The words we use will often determine whether or not kids see us as authentic. If we try to use big words that don’t make sense, we will lose attention. When we use language that makes sense, they will grasp the truth of God’s message!

6. Use invitation and challenge – God invited the disciples into an awesome relationship with Him. He had compassion, fed them incredible meals, traveled the world with them, and built incredible bonds with each one of them. But he also challenged the heck out of the disciples. Kids will react as we approach them with this same mindset. Don’t be afraid to open up your life – be real and authentic, while at the same time using God’s Word to challenge those around you to live as He lived and talk as He talked!

7. Think outside the box – There are many different ways of learning – audio, visual, sensory, question & answer, etc. Do not just think in the parameters of the words you use. Never limit yourself to what you have available at your fingertips! Always think outside the box when communicating God’s Word!

8. Be prepared to fail – There will definitely be times when you say something you shouldn’t say or misspeak. There have been times where I have misquoted Scripture or even somewhat taken it out of context. We have to be ready to not only accept failure, but also accept the critique of others. I have people who I go to every time I speak that evaluate every aspect of my message – stage presence, word usage, application, content, and voice influx. There are also times that we will walk away discouraged, feeling like we completely bombed the message. I have lost count of how many times that has happened to me. You will not always present things perfectly, but these are moments that God will still use and that we can grow from.

9. Never lose sight of the end goal – Our end goal must always be transformed lives. We must never lose sight of our God-given purpose – to make disciples who are making disciples! Your communication is not about you obtaining the spotlight, but about Christ shining through every word!

Connecting is not always easy work but it may just be the difference maker when it comes to people taking forward steps in their spiritual journey!