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!

Attraction vs. Discipleship: What are we Feeding our Students? (Part 2)


Everybody is doing it. Just this one time won’t hurt. Relationships solve every problem. You are #1. Popularity and power are keys to success. Music is life. Image is everything. But he loves me. We are attracted to each other in every way possible!

In a culture that is full of lies and falsities, many of our students are missing the mark of authentic discipleship! Much of our time in youth ministry is spent attracting students, yet we often find ourselves using the same tactics as SnapChat, Nike, Apple, Abercrombie, and Starbucks. The image of our ministry is everything! We want the latest and greatest of everything! We want to be in the spotlight of our schools. We want leaders to thank us and show their appreciation for us. We want our senior pastors to acknowledge our works and abilities. We want parents to see their kids are having fun and staying safe when they are with us. We want to fit in with the ‘cool kids!’ We want to be edgy with our messages and ways of communication. We want students to think we are hip before they mention our love for Jesus.

What are we feeding our students? What do they take away from their time in our ministries? What are we communicating? How are we attracting new students and connecting them into a journey with Christ?

I challenge every ministry leader, every youth pastor, every volunteer, and every parent to see their responsibility of making disciples before they ever think about creating cool ministries full of popular students! We often become disillusioned in our quest for discipleship. We trick ourselves into believing that if we attract the right students we will grow an awesome ministry. While that can be true based on numbers it does not always equate into a culture of discipleship. Here are six warning signs that can appear within a Culture of Attraction versus six key focuses we must strive towards in order to develop a Culture of Discipleship.

Here is an in-depth breakdown of the first three…

1. Emotional Rollercoaster vs. Foundation in Christ

2. Events & Programs vs. Relationships & Community

3. Elevating Self vs. Elevating God’s Voice

4. Reliance on Yourself vs. Reliance on God – It is for us easy to rely on ourselves when life is going great. We can own our success and strive to be more awesome than the person next to us. When times get tough we tend to blame God and point our finger at those around us. Within ministry, it is easy to put one’s successes and failures in the spotlight. We tend to highlight celebration stories and call out failures and mistakes. Through all of this, we become inclined to focus on the abilities of the individual instead of God’s love and abilities through the individual!

Our students need to know they cannot rely on themselves. Every time I trust myself, I fail others. As I fail others I miss the purpose God has for me. When we trust God, we will impact others, and ultimately bring honor and glory to the Father! By relying on God, we will see life in a whole new way! God is love and we tend to be full of revenge. God is patient but we want things done immediately. God is faithful even as we fail Him! Our students struggle with balance, structure, and consistency. Relying on themselves is going to lead to an unbalanced, unhealthy, inconsistent walk with Christ. As we teach our students to completely rely on the Father, they will experience life to its fullness!

5. Large Group vs. The Whole Person – Is your level of success measured by how many come to your weekly student ministry gathering or how many individuals are drastically changed for the cause of Christ? Before I continue, please understand that when we see disciples made, numerical growth will take place. But, often we see numerical growth happen without authentic discipleship occurring. We must not measure success based on the number within the large group!

For many youth pastors, much your time is spent impacting the largest amount possible at one time. In other words, we pour into our weekly gatherings to make them fun, inviting, attractive, and full of energy. Although there is nothing wrong with that at a surface level, are we missing the whole person? In other words, are we missing the individuals God has called us to directly impact? As we look at Jesus’ ministry, we see a model of ministry focused more on the 3 and 12 then on the 70, 120, and 5000. He poured into Peter, James, and John – opening his life to each of them in a very personal way. He looked at every aspect of Peter and desired to see him become whole! Peter took that example and carried into his ministry throughout Acts. Yes, there was time poured into large gatherings, but Jesus had a heart for the individual person.

As you look at your schedule, how do you break up your time? Are you spending a good portion of your time ministering to those closest to you or is all of your time eaten up by the attractional aspect of programs and events? Who are your 3 and 12? What does that relationship look like? Are you living a life worth imitating in order to create a culture of discipleship?

6. Living for the Moment vs. Living on Mission – Culture has brainwashed our students into believing the living in the moment is more important than the overall mission. In others words, the decisions you make today won’t impact your tomorrow. Have fun and enjoy every moment to its fullest. Lie! I made choices in high school that have impacted my relationships as an adult – both with positive and negative implications. Many of those were ‘in the moment’ decisions that were exciting, adventurous, and fun. I did not realize how they would impact the mission God had for me. When we live moment-to-moment we tend to struggle with boredom. I have seen so many students bounce from one ‘great’ relationship to another because they become bored with what is happening right now. This can easily transfer into ministry. I have seen so many youth leaders live in the excitement of one event or one service. When the normal routine of ministry kicks in, boredom hits. I truly believe this is why so many youth pastors bounce from one place to another or from one level of leadership to the next.

As we live on mission, the excitement of God’s calling will always get us through the difficult moments. There will always be circumstances that don’t make sense. As they times arise, are we living in the moment or living on mission for God? Is there an eternal focus and purpose driving every aspect of our ministries or are we just bouncing from one fun event to the next? As we live on mission we will experience the awesome impact a culture of discipleship can have on every moment within our ministries!

My prayer is that our time, energy, resources, and passion are poured into a culture of discipleship! Attraction is important, but seeing lives focused on a love for Christ is most important. We must be rooted in Christ, focused on relationships and community, hearing God’s voice, relying on God, compassionate for the individual person, and living on mission for God! I would love to hear how this is played out within your ministry. Where do you struggle the most? Where do you see the most success?

Healthy Balance Between Family and Work

Balance of work and familyNext to my relationship with Christ is my responsibility to my family. My God-ordained calling as a husband and father trumps my calling as a pastor. I have the greatest job in the world, but it is not comparable to the incredible opportunity I have as a father of 5 beautiful children and a husband of the coolest (and hottest) wife in the world! God has called me to pastor my home before I pastor families and students within our church.

Unfortunately, I have had to learn this (and am still learning) the hard way! Almost four years ago, one of my best friends confronted me out of love. I had become consumed with work and was running from one youth ministry event to another without spending time with my own family. I was so wrapped up in doing God’s work, that I missed being the husband and father my family needed. Following one of our biggest youth events of the year, I was faced with the reality that I had failed my wife and kids – not the most comforting emotion to work through!

God is constantly reminding me what it means to be the pastor of my own home! Let me share 4 keys to creating a healthy balance between family and ministry.

1. Be Present – It is easy to be physically present without being emotionally or mentally present. Our devices and gadgets make it simple for us to be somewhere without actually being present. Our kids need more than a physical presence. They desire us to be actively involved in every aspect of their lives, even if they say otherwise. They need our emotional, relational, and spiritual encouragement. At the same time, I understand that our jobs need us to be present. As a pastor, my presence is often required at odd hours of the day and week. In order to create a healthy balance, we must be intentional with our time, striving to be emotionally, mentally, relationally, and spiritually present at all times!

2. Develop a System of Accountability – We cannot get through life on our own strength. We must give people access to our lives, enabling them to challenge us when necessary. Whether it be in a one-on-one or small group setting, we all need a ‘check up from the neck up’ every once in a while. If the quality time with my family diminishes because I am consumed with my pastoral responsibilities, I need to know there is somebody who is willing to challenge me out of love. I understand we all go through extremely busy phases at work and at home, but neither should overshadow the other for a long period of time. Accountability is a huge key to developing a healthy balance between family and work.

3. Be Honest – Some of the hardest conversations I have ever had with my wife and children were in regards to my pride and selfishness getting in the way of the growth of our family. Our kids need to hear that we are not perfect and that we don’t always have all of the answers. They need to hear us admit we are wrong, apologetic, and seeking forgiveness. I often try to defend myself instead of allowing God to break my pride. In the long run, the health of our family will drastically increase when we admit we messed up and are honest about our failures. There is nothing natural about us apologizing to our kids. It takes major steps of humility. Too often we shove our mistakes under the rug, but we are so quick to call out the mistakes of others. We must dig deep into God’s grace and realize our kids to need to see us vulnerable and broken.

4. Live a Life Worth Imitating – In I Corinthians 11:1, Paul says, ‘Imitate me, just as I imitate Christ.’ My desire is to be the Christ-like parent that I would want for my grandkids and the Godly husband I would want my boys to be for their future wife. I also pray those around me see Biblical character and integrity shine through my work ethic and leadership skills. When we prioritize our lives around a relationship with Christ, others will see the incredible impact we have on our families and workplaces. In a world full of poor role models, we must step up and live lives worth imitating for the cause of Christ!

We cannot take the responsibilities God has blessed us with lightly. We must understand the importance of creating a healthy balance between family and work. But we also need to know that, as much as we would love to be, we are not perfect. It is in these moments, we must fall flat on our faces and beg God to pick us up, humble us, and mold us how He desires us to be! It is only through His strength and love that we can experience a healthy balance between family and work!