Happy New Year

It was true for Adam, and it’s true for me: I am, until the Father breathes life into me, a man-shaped pile of earth, rich with potential, but powerless to realize it.

– Greg Paul

What a difference a breath of His Wind can make! As you step into 2013, breathe deeply from the richness of His Word and allow Him to fill you with Life.

Not just with making a living…

Not just with moving from one page of the calendar to the next…


May He fill you with real Life, where every ounce of potential is creatively sparked into action that brings hope and grace to those He wants to love through you.

2012 Favorite Books

I love to read, but if I keep all that content to myself, it just clutters up my headspace, so please allow me to start your 2013 (or end your 2012 if you read this soon enough) with a few book suggestions. A lot of what I read over the last year may not be that interesting to many of you, but I really think these 4 books are great for everyone. Do yourself a favor and read these books to start your next year – or get them right away and knock out a couple over your holiday break if you’ve got one. (The links included are affiliate links, just as a reminder, which means if you click and buy through the links to Amazon, I’ll get a little bit of a referral commission. Thank you. Let’s start with the easiest to read and go from there.)

Love Does by Bob Goff – This was probably the the most whimsical non-fiction book I’ve ever read. There’s full, abundant life on display in the stories that Goff shares about being so full of love that fears are swallowed up in action. (If a list of 4 books seems too big to tackle, start with this one.)

Eats With Sinners by Arron Chambers – This is a great book about building relationships with people who are far from Christ in ways that help them take steps to get to know Him. It’s easy for us to become insulated in our church bubble and forget to reach out with the love of Jesus to those outside the church. (You can find more of my thoughts on this book in the post from earlier this year.)

Not a Fan by Kyle Idleman – Jesus doesn’t need a cheering crowd of fans. He wants disciples. This book was a great reminder for me this year of the high stakes to which we are called. I really enjoyed going through it with a group of men that I get to be a part of each week. Jesus doesn’t just want parts of me, he wants ALL that I am. And he deserves nothing less.

Enemies of the Heart by Andy Stanley – Stanley shares some very practical ways the Bible gives us to overcome the anger, jealousy, greed, and guilt that so often plague us and wreck our hearts. If you struggle with keeping your emotions ‘under control’ this would be a great book to start helping you figure out why. Even if you don’t think you have a problem with these 4 corrosive factors in your life, I’d encourage you to read the book and help keep it that way!

Several of these books have a questions section that would make them great discussion material for your small group, family, or a couple of friends. Or maybe you want to start a book club and go through a couple of these. Take advantage of the accountability and depth that comes from reading through a book together. Feed your mind some good stuff in 2013 and become an even more effective worker in His Kingdom.

Quick Review: Enemies of the Heart

The English Standard Version’s translation of Jeremiah 17:9 puts it this way, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Last week’s shooting in CT was a sharp reminder of the depths of the depravity to which the human heart can sink. My older son prayed last night for the families in CT, and his little brother, who’d been unaware up to that point, asked what happened? After my brief explanation, he was incredulous. Who does something like that!? What’s wrong with that guy? He can already see that at the heart of someone who could do something so evil, something is wrong. Something is broken. Who can understand it?

But it doesn’t always take something that drastic to reveal the brokenness in our lives; we can see it in more mundane moments of deception, too. Our brokenness is revealed in our efforts to assuage our own feelings of guilt, or as we jealously begrudge the successes of others. It’s seen in our anger and our greed.

Enemies of the Heart cover
Breaking Free from the Four Emotions That Control You

Greed, jealousy, anger, and guilt are four of the most pervasively damaging emotions in our society today, tearing at our hearts and leaving wounds that, if left untreated, cripple us. In Enemies of the Heart (affiliate link), Andy Stanley shares a great deal of biblical wisdom for anyone seeking freedom from the control of these emotions. Each of these feelings deceptively lead us to believe that a debt is owed, either to us or by us. The problem we have is that those debts clutter our lives and dirty up our hearts with a destructive power that corrodes the very foundations of our lives. Relationships are damaged or destroyed, along with careers, friendships, and families, when these four emotions compel our behavior.

Generosity, celebration, forgiveness, and confession are the habits that Stanley suggests we need to engage as antidotes to the corrosive force of greed, jealousy, anger, and guilt. These habits release us (or those around us) from the debt dynamic that otherwise rules our relationships. It’s a dynamic that we’re not meant to live in, and when we try, life breaks down into shattered relationships.

There’s an answer to Jeremiah’s dismay at the deceitfulness of the human heart: it’s the Maker. He knows our hearts inside and out! Enemies of the Heart is a helpful reminder of how God has provided a way for us to live free from these destructive emotions and how we can achieve restoration in the broken relationships in our lives.

Why Preach in Youth Ministry?

After last week’s post regarding Better Preaching in Youth Ministry, I wondered if I might need to back up a little bit and defend the general idea of preaching in youth ministry. I mean, should we really be “preaching” to kids? They don’t respond well to lecturing, right… most kids learn better from other teaching styles… youth ministry is different than preaching ministry… you’re not really a preacher, anyway… right? Isn’t preaching too old-fashioned for a vibrant youth ministry?

lecture model
Maybe it’s time to rethink what preaching looks like…
Image via RGBStock

While each of these objections may have some merit in many cases, I think the benefits of preaching well to students far outweigh them all. Here’s why:

  1. Preaching isn’t just about passing on information, it’s about the transformation that takes place within a mind/life that has been renewed by by the Spirit of God working through His Word. This goes beyond giving a good ‘youth talk’ (which is usually just what a youth leader might call a sermon when he’s trying not to sound old) that is exciting and engaging. Good preaching (no matter what you call it) bridges the gap between the Bible & the culture in which our students live, and it helps them discover what bearing that should have on the way we live our lives.
  2. Learning style can be an issue, but the objection that students can’t learn from preaching because it’s lecture just doesn’t seem to have any teeth. When did preaching start to mean no interaction? When did a sermon become an isolated package of information that the speaker delivers then expects the hearer to do all the processing and enacting on their own? Good preaching engages more than simply ears.
  3. The bottom line for me is that, quite honestly, my students don’t need another game or activity to entertain them or even to teach them some lesson in morality. They don’t need me to make them laugh at each other to break the ice between them so they can be BFFs… AS MUCH AS they need to be drawn deeper into the heart of their Creator as they try to figure out why they were created in the first place. I know of no better way for them to be so drawn than to grab hold of the Scriptures and look deeply at the God they find there. Good preaching takes students deeper into the Word than they normally tend to go. (Great preaching will drive them to dig in on their own, as well.)

Maybe this is just a way for me to justify the way I’ve come to do things or to play to my strengths a little bit, I don’t know… A typical night with my students is focused on worship and a message. I don’t put a lot of any effort into coming up with the next, best youth group game. My students do a lot better job of entertaining each other than I ever could! But none of this means that there’s no room for fun and games in youth ministry. The room where we meet each week has old foosball, ping-pong, & pool tables, an XBox, & 9Square. We play loud music and funny videos, and the students are having a ton of fun. But I (or someone else) also preach just about every week. Our students genuinely like to come. But more importantly than that, they’re hearing something transformative when they do. And the transformation that’s taking place is not because they’ve bonded so well together or because they had a blast.

It’s because God is at work through the preaching of His Word and through a team of people who have been bound together in fellowship around the mission that we’ve found in that Word.

Better Preaching in Student Ministry

I’ve been sitting on this post for several months, ever since I watched a web conference put together by the people at Preaching Rocket about Preaching Better Sermons. The webcast re-aired again yesterday, so I thought now would be a good time to get it posted. When the youth minister starts talking about preaching, sometimes people either jump to crazy conclusions or they get a little dazed and bewildered, so let me let you in on a little secret… Youth ministers are not only called to be great at dodgeball and ordering pizza, but also (and just maybe a wee bit more importantly!) at communicating the Word of God. It’s shocking I know, but young lives shall not be transformed by deep dish pepperoni alone.

If you lead a student ministry, you need to get better at communicating God’s Word – even if you’re already pretty good at it. So here are a few thoughts for better preaching in your student ministry, gleaned from guys like Perry Noble, Jud Wilhite, & Andy Stanley (Check out more at Preaching Rocket):

Start with God and you:

When you stand in front of a room of students with a message, it isn’t just another speech club or class project for your students to listen to and critique – this is a riveting message from God who wants to impact and shape their lives. You’re certainly not qualified to carry it, but for some reason He picked you anyway and credentialed you, Himself. Find out what exactly God wants to be heard, then figure out how He can say it through you. We have to preach from the overflow of a heart that’s fully pursuing God, otherwise our own agendas and egos get in the way of His message. Preaching in student ministry isn’t a time to try to impress. It’s a time to let the Holy Spirit make an impact. The first thing you need to do in preparing to preach to students is the same thing you need to do in preparing to preach to anyone else: build a relationship with God that will fill you with a message you have to deliver. Charles Stanley says, “You can’t preach any better than you pray.”

Work on you and your message:

A clear message will flow out of a strong and healthy relationship with God. Maybe you could count on God to just strike you with inspiration and give you the message in it’s entirety every week, but there are some tools you could employ that are a whole lot more practical and consistent. (Tools that help you diligently make the most of the gifts God’s given you.) One of those is to let God use a team of people to help you shape a series of messages ahead of time and to help you pay attention to the language you use. We don’t want to water down what God actually says, but we need to be sure to explain words that only the initiated will understand. Many (maybe even most) of the students we’re talking to don’t understand the religious jargon – get rid of it or explain it well.

Make sure you’re sharing what Scripture actually says. Don’t just jump around from one passage to another to prove your point – park yourself in a passage and explain it to your students. Help them see where that passage fits into God’s bigger picture and what it has to say for their life. Don’t just try to fill an outline with supporting texts for all the points you want to make, but let the story of the Scripture be revealed in your message, then connect the concepts of that story with real life. Call for clear action that should take place in your students’ lives as a result of the message. Providing specific vehicles for your students to do what you are telling them to do will help cement the message clearly.

The first couple minutes of your message are critical. Andy Stanley talks about using this time to create tension that will engage your students in the message.

Preach Tweetably! If you can’t summarize your message succinctly and with clarity, your students probably aren’t getting a good picture of what you’re trying to say, either. They may be lost in the forest of sub-points and illustrations and not even know what you’re talking about. Make 1 point.

Build a relationship between your students and your message:

Honestly share your own story and help your students see how their stories could be similar. (Be careful to avoid using your students as your own personal confessional booth, though.) Be aware of the brokenness in your students and their world and help them find hope amidst that brokenness.

Help your students know what’s really at stake, but also don’t take yourself too seriously. This doesn’t mean you have to try to be funny, but don’t be afraid to share what you’ve learned from your mistakes. You don’t have it all figured out, so there’s no use pretending.


As I tried to pull together my notes from 3 hours of instruction, I’m realizing this sounds like a lot of barked out bullet points. There’s a lot more that could be said about just how to go about implementing some of these ideas. If there are specific parts of this post that you’d like to see fleshed out a little bit more, let me know in the comments section or via the contact page.