Will Our Kids Succeed?

November 18, 2014 — 1 Comment

Recently, I read “How Children Succeed” by Paul Tough. It’s a fascinating book about the psychology and sociology behind success.  The ideas presented in the book have helped me rethink what is most important in parenting.

As a parent, I’m constantly focused on two things:  excellence in the classroom and moral character.  If I’m honest, I want “A”s and good, moral behavior.   I’m particularly vigilant about honesty. I deeply desire for my kids to grow into adults who speak the truth and easily gain trust with others. What I’m realizing, though, is that moral character is only part of the equation for successful kids.

I grew up in one of those families that is dominated by the family business. We’re a water well drilling family and have been for years. I am a 5th generation water well driller, or at least I was, until I became a student pastor.

Growing up, my father developed in me a strong work ethic. From an early age, I was expected to chip in, work hard and problem solve. I want to see these traits in my kids as well, but I’ve never been able to describe what I want with any sort of clarity until I read “How Children Succeed.” Paul Tough breaks performance character into 7 qualities.

1. Optimism


Kids who grow into successful adults tend to look on the bright side. They believe in their future and they are able to set goals and run after them. Put simply, kids who succeed believe they will succeed.

2. Zest


Life is an adventure. Kids who succeed, do so, because they bring energy and zest to the challenges and opportunities before them. Rather than becoming paralyzed with fear of the future, challenges energize successful kids and activate their inner drive.

3. Self-Control


Success often involves delayed gratification. For example, good grades usually require doing your homework before plopping down in front of the TV. For kids who grow into successful adults, learning self-control is a key ingredient.

4. Grit


I love this word. Grit is that quality that enables a person to push through. It’s when a child initially fails, but picks himself off the ground and powers through to the finish line. People with grit never give up and never quit.

5. Social Intelligence


Kids who grow into successful adults learn how to navigate society. They learn acceptable social behaviors, how to influence others, how to listen and how to engage in teams.

6. Gratitude


Gratitude is simply thankfulness for the blessings of life. Kids who learn gratitude become adults who are satisfied with what they have been given. They don’t need the next shiny thing and they are capable of staying committed to important relationships.

7. Curiosity


Curiosity has unleashed every major techological breakthrough in human history. Every significant advancement in human society has been born out of, “What if?” Children who grow into successful adults–adults who change the world for the better, are driven by curiosity. They just have to know, understand, and see what happens.


Obviously, I believe that education is important, but if the basic premise of this book is true, the character we develop in our kids is far more important than what they learn in the classroom.  How they go about education and what they do with education, as filtered by their character is what will determine success.  I’d almost go as far to say that how we play with our kids is more important than what we formally teach them and surely how we model is definitely more important that what we speak.  What are your thoughts?


Grit photo credited to filin ilia – aliyo.hu via Flickr

Self-control photo credited to Robert Plaskota via Flickr

Zest photo credited to Tambako the Jaguar via Flickr

Optimism photo credited to Quinn Dombrowski via Flickr

Curiosity photo credited to Broterham via Flickr

Thankful photo credited to MTSOfan via Flickr

Social Intelligence photo credited to Philippe Put via Flickr

Don’t Shrink God!

November 14, 2014 — Leave a comment

Here’s a teaching video we produced based on XP3‘s Ten series.  God wants to be center stage in our lives.  When we put something else in that place, life will never be everything God intended it to be.

Ten: Center Stage from Lifeline Student Ministries on Vimeo.

Is anyone else tired?  Have you noticed that ministry is exhausting?  Over the last year and a half, our church leadership has transitioned me from a high school small groups coordinator to leading our student ministry team of 13 staff.  I love my job and my team is phenomenally talented and fun.  However, the workload, responsibility and stress can be a overwhelming.  In my most tired moments, I wonder how long I can last.  Let’s be real, not many pastors are still thriving after a decade or more of ministry.  That’s why when someone who has been in the game for decades still loves ministry and leads with passion and grace, speaks about thrive in ministry for the long haul, I listen up and take notes.

Last week, our senior teaching pastor, Jeff Manion, shared a few thoughts on how to keep yourself fresh and vibrant through years and years of ministry.  He’s in his early 50s and still leading and teaching with passion.  Jeff has been leading our church for somewhere around 30 years and he has he energy of a 25 year old.  Here’s what he shared about thriving in ministry over the long-haul.


The overall image that Jeff shared was of being poured out.  In ministry, the work, the conversations, the crises, and everything else, require that we pour ourselves out on a weekly basis.  In order for us to pour ourselves out again, again and again, we need to refill ourselves.  What Jeff shared are three practices that refill.


Sometimes, Sabbath seems like one of those Old Testament laws that doesn’t apply anymore.  It was cool for Israel but this is America.  Jeff disagrees.  To him, the practice of Sabbath has been vital to his ability to stay fresh, vibrant and passionate about ministry.  Sabbath is not a day off.  It’s not a day when you exchange to-do lists.  Instead, it’s a day in which you don’t have a to-do list.  It’s not, “What do I need to do today.”  It’s, “What do I want to do today?”


Is there a day in your weekly schedule in which you simply unplug and do things that give you life?  If not, you may be in danger of pouring yourself out without a means to resupply.


I’ve blogged before about how ministry has a way of turning even the most die-hard extrovert into an introvert.  Ministry is about people, and it should always remain that way, but the truth is that when your entire world revolves around serving, listening, speaking, and helping people, you find yourself in desperate need of getting away!

I’ve heard this argument many times but Jeff put a fresh spin on it.  What he argued is that what is needed here is friends.  In ministry we have a million acquaintances but what we are desperate for are deep friendships.  One of the keys to thriving in ministry over the long haul is to identify the people in your life who are deeply enriching, life giving friends, and then organize your calendar around these life giving relationships–create space for them to grow.  Invest in the friendships that give you life.  Spend inordinate amounts of time with the people with whom you can be honest, real and raw.

When you have friendships in your life in which you can unplug, unwind and come unhinged, you are ready for ministry for the long haul.


I think Jeff’s most important statement in his conversation with us was this:  “The best thing you bring as a leader is not your talents and abilities but a relationship with God that is worth having.”  In the end, ministry is living out your relationship with God in front of and with other people.  Said another way, you can’t lead people where you haven’t been.


Sometimes it’s hard to remember that it’s all about God and our relationship with Him.  Sometimes I get so caught up in the programs, numbers, issues, crises and events that I forget that eternal life is all about “knowing Jesus.”

So, if like me, you’re experiencing a season of exhaustion, I would plead with you to make sure you are refilling and recharging by focusing on sabbath, life-giving friendships, and the relationship that matters the most.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, particularly if you’ve uncovered other ways to thrive in ministry for the long haul.


road image credited to Mark Sebastian via Flickr

bench image credited to Oliver Kendal via Flickr

Bible image credited to Ryk Neethling via Flickr

It’s getting colder, which means it’s a good season for reading!  Here’s what I’ve been up to…

100Cupboards-coverSigh…I didn’t love book.  I feel terrible saying this because I met the author at the Hutchmoot Conference and he’s really cool!  He was very engaging, the kind of guy I’d want to meet for coffee and talk life.

I picked this book up because I’ve been looking for great stories to read to my kids.  And, maybe it would have been different if I had actually read the book, but my friend Kirk and I listened to it on the way back from Nashville and we both felt confused by the storyline and under-impressed with the characters.  The story is built around an incredibly creative idea but it just didn’t work for me.  But, who knows, maybe you’d like the book.  It receives great reviews on other sites.


Novelty captures the human imagination and these guys have mastered the art of presenting ideas in a novel way.  They understand how to package an idea in such a way that it becomes utterly unforgettable.  They are wizards of story, which is probably why they’ve sold so many books.  Like their previous two titles, I couldn’t put this book down.  Honestly, I’m not sure that the book “retrained my brain” as the subtitle suggests, but I was fully engaged and learned a great deal.  I loved this book.


Recently, I asked my boss to recommend a few books on leadership and management and this is one of the books he recommended.  Peter Drucker was a legend in the realm of management and this is one of his most popular books.  It was originally written in 1967 and some of the stories and a bit of a language are outdated  but I didn’t mind because I love history.  If you lead people, this is a great book.  And, don’t be afraid of the title.  The book isn’t just for “executives.”  It’s for anyone who isn’t a manual laborer and especially for those who lead other people.

Most of us would agree that volunteers, particularly small group leaders are absolutely crucial to a strong student ministry.  A healthy, mentoring relationship with a caring adult is the one thing we can offer a student that they can’t get anywhere else.  It’s is imperative that our small group leaders are amazing!  Why is it, then, that we often invest so little in our small group leaders?  They ought to be our number one priority.

Years ago, our student ministry team stumbled upon a practice that has transformed our student ministry.  I honestly believe that our volunteer team is stronger than any I’ve seen anywhere else and our strength is built upon one simple practice that any student ministry can implement.  It’s so simple, easy and cheap that I can’t figure out why more student ministries don’t embrace it.  What is it?  Cloning.  You take your best volunteers and you simply clone them.  It’s genius!  OK, not really.  I mean that would be cool, but that’s not what I’m talking about.  Read on.

The super secret amazing practice that we stumbled upon is an hour long, weekly leader meeting, at the beginning of our programming.  Seriously, that’s it.  Every week, whether we are at one of our church campuses or in homes, the night begins with an hour long leader meeting that includes 4 components:  food, community, instructions and training.




Including our leader meeting, our typical night of high school programming lasts for 3 hours.  You can’t ask volunteers for 3 hours without feeding them!  Besides, food is always a great way to say thank-you and it is foundational for building community, which is what we’re all about.




We believe that small group leaders are at their best when they serve as a community.  Weekly leader meetings have helped us build quality community.  Here’s how it works: each volunteer is placed in a team of volunteers–usually 8-10 people.  This team always sits together at every leader meeting.  Our goal is that this team would function like a small group.  Eating a meal together every week greatly contributes to the family culture that we’re attempting to build.  We firmly believe that in order to build real community you need consistency and time.  A weekly leader meeting that includes a meal ensures that both components happen on a weekly basis..




In order for a great night of student ministry to happen, all the key players need to be on the same page.  The third component of our weekly leader meetings is instructions.  This part is easy and most student ministries already do this.  We usually take about 5 minutes to walk through the night and make sure everyone knows what to expect, the goals, and the roles they need to fill.  One important point is that all of our volunteers and staff already know what will happen before our leader meeting because they (hopefully!) read our leader blog.




In my experience, most student ministries are somewhere between poor and terrible at training their volunteers.  It’s difficult to find time and training events are often poorly attended.  What if, instead of 2 or 3 training events throughout the year, you did 30 minutes of training every week?  If your student ministry only meets during the school year, like ours, you still get 16 hours of training (32 weeks x 30 minutes of training).  And how much do you really think volunteers retain from a 1 or 2 hour training event?  Weekly 30 minute trainings are the way to go!  We love this model.

So, what do we train them on?  All kinds of stuff!  We talk about small group leading practices, our philosophy of ministry, how to handle crisis situations, how to talk about sexuality with a students, we invite our best small group leaders to share their best practices, we talk about how to partner with parents, how to do a one-on-one meeting with out being weird…basically, we train them on everything!  We find this training time to be incredibly valuable because we know that our student ministry is only as strong as our volunteers.  Let’s put it this way:  discipleship in your student ministry will only be as effective as your disciplers.


So there you have it–one practice that could transform your student ministry.  It’s all about elevating your volunteers through an intentional weekly volunteer meeting.  What do you think?



pizza image credited to rdpeyton via Flickr

Lego image credited to Nick Royer via Flickr

Chalkboard image credited to Jeff Warren via Flickr

I have this vivid memory from my childhood.  I was at a friend’s house for dinner when suddenly my friend’s dad opened up a old, boring looking, devotional book and began leading the family in a Bible study.  It was terrible.  I, along with everyone else around the table was bored to tears.  The devotional was too old for kids, my friend’s dad was clearly going through the motions, and it was obvious that everyone just wanted to leave the table.  And yet, the guy droned on for about 20 minutes.  In that moment, I vowed to never bore my kids to tears with Jesus and the Bible.  I decided that I would never lead boring family devotions…and then I had my own kids.

Fast forward a few years and now I have four kids of my own.  What I want more than anything in the world is for my kids to fall in love with Jesus–for them to understand God’s incredible, amazing, transformational love for them.  I desperately want them to understand the Bible, how it works, what it means and how it intersects with their life. My great hope is that they would join their lives with God’s mission in the world and experience life the way it was meant to be lived.

I’m realizing that in order for these dreams to come true, my wife and I have to work very hard.  Yes, God is the One who makes faith grow, but I believe we as parents have a role too.  The truth is, it takes discipline and persistence to build a worldview, particularly in a culture that’s becoming more and more opposed to a biblical worldview.

To my consternation, I’ve discovered that one of the best ways to grow faith in my kids is family devotions.  For years I fought this idea because I don’t want my kids to associate boredom with Jesus, but now I’ve realized that family devotions don’t have to suck.  There are, for example, amazing resources available.  My two favorite books happen to be by the same author, Sally Lloyd-Jones, who I was privileged to briefly meet at Hutchmoot.  You’re probably familiar with the first, The Storybook Bible.

51g1-kUM0tLI love this book!  The stories and the illustrations are fantastic for little kids.  We’ve read this through a few times at bed time with our kids.  It’s a great way to build a biblical foundation with your kids at home.  The second book is a devotional that we’ve been using at family meals.  It’s called, Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing.

617vYV9yWrL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_I’ve been very impressed with this book.  My kids love it!  I think it is more poetic that devotional, but for my family, it functions perfectly as a short devotional following our evening meal.  My kids engage with the material in a way that fills me with hope.  If you have elementary kids at home, this book might be a great fit.

Let me encourage you, if you are a parent of young children, to take advantage of your time with your kids.  It won’t be long before they stop listening to you the way they are right now.  Spoiler alert, your kid will become teenagers!  Capitalize on your time together by teaching them the Bible in a way that is fun and engages their budding faith.  These two books are great resources but let me know if you’ve discovered a resource or a practice that works well in your family.

The Danger of Shame

October 23, 2014 — Leave a comment

Here’s a teaching video we did on the danger of shame to close out our Monster series.  If my opening story doesn’t make you laugh then I quit.

Monster: Shame from Lifeline Student Ministries on Vimeo.

Planting Dormant Seeds

October 22, 2014 — Leave a comment

I recently met up with a friend from high school.  This was a guy I shared Jesus with 18 years ago.  We were juniors in high school (yes, I’m that old).  At the time, he was receptive to the Gospel and I did my best to disciple him.  He joined my church’s youth group and we even formed a little rogue small group on the side.  He was full of passion and questions.  As often happens to high school friends, we grew apart when we moved away to college.  At first we talked periodically and then lost touch for many years.

Fast forward the tape 17 years, and I found myself sitting across from this old friend at Starbucks, listening to him narrate the tale of his life.  It hasn’t been a smooth journey.  He made a mess of things–very nearly destroying his family and himself.  And yet, in the midst of his destructive behavior, he couldn’t get away from Jesus.  He couldn’t get away from the conversations we had in high school, 17 years ago.  The seeds that were planted simply wouldn’t die.

To use his own words, he wasted many years of his life running from God and living for himself, but in the end, when his eyes were finally opened to the train-wreck he was headed for, he returned to Jesus.  He confessed his betrayals and sins to his wife and friends and by grace they responded with forgiveness and accountability.  Now, a few years beyond this breaking point in his life, he is thriving in his faith.  He’s engaged with a good church and he and his wife are working through marriage counseling.  He told me that finally, after two years,  they’ve graduated to monthly sessions.

What amazed me about this story was the time it took for this prodigal to come home.  It took years for the dormant seeds that were planted to grow.  There’s a lot of life that happens over 17 years!  How often I’ve assumed that a student is done with Jesus after only one 1 or 2 years of wandering.  How many times have I been wrong?  How many times did I give up too soon?

As a student pastor, I constantly remind myself and our volunteer small group leaders that student ministry is a long-term investment.  This conversation at Starbucks was a taste of my own medicine.  We can’t predict how the words of grace that we speak, on behalf of Jesus, will play out in the lives of those we invest in.  Mentoring a teenager in faith is incredibly powerful, but we often can’t predict how long it will take for our words to take root.  In the case of my friend, it was 17 years.

I can’t help but wonder how my friend’s journey might have been different if we had stayed connected.  How much pain could have been avoided if someone had been speaking love and truth into his life during his wandering?  We must find ways to stay connected and invested in the lives of our students in life beyond high school.

Sometimes the seeds we plant will remain dormant for years, sometimes for decades, but the planting of these seeds matters.  What we as student pastors, volunteers, small group leaders, parents, teachers and mentors say and do in the lives of students is hugely important.  Don’t give up.  Don’t quit.  Never write a student off.  We never know when seeds are lying dormant, waiting for the right conditions or stresses to spring to life.


image credited to Rex Boggs via Flickr

Recently, I attended the Orange Tour at Woodside Bible Church in Troy, MI.  BTWs, if you haven’t been to the Orange Tour, it is a great one day experience.  We took our entire family ministries team and loved it!  And, Woodside Bible is a pretty cool church who I enjoy talking with because, like us, they are a large church attempting to figure out multi-sites.

Anyway, while I was at the Orange Tour, Reggie Joiner said something that has stuck with me.  When he said it, I wanted to stand up and shout, “YES!” but I didn’t because I got scared.  I didn’t come from one of those church backgrounds where people yell amen at the preacher or even clap.  We grunted or perhaps nodded.  Well, now I’m off-track.

So, let me paraphrase what Reggie said:   We, in student ministry, often get caught up in the flash and bang of programming and environment.  We focus on great videos, lighting, sound, games, and musicians.  We tend to believe that these things will attract people.

Many of us, who don’t have access to the massive budgets of mega churches, feel that we can’t compete with the larger churches.  They have their fancy youth centers, production engineers, and arena-quality auditoriums.  If the flash and bang of programming and environment is what attracts students, then smaller churches might as well close up shop, right?

But, the truth is that none of us, mega or small, can compete with what people see on TV, YouTube or the theater.  Our culture will always win in a war of technology and entertainment.  Whether you are a mega church of 20,000 or a country bumpkin church of 50, you cannot consistently beat culture in a game of who is more technologically or artistically innovative.

There is, however, one way in which culture can never beat us.  There is one thing that we provide that students cannot get anywhere else in our culture, and that is caring, spiritually mature adults who consistently love students and invest in them.  It’s all about relationships.  The vast majority of kids don’t have adults in their lives who are consistently there for them, whose motives are not exploitative in any way.  These relationships are where we can win, and this is why a small student ministry can be every bit as effective as a meg church student ministry.

Here’s how to do it:

1.  Recruit and Equip Pastors

Students have plenty of adults in their lives.  It’s not that we just need more nice adults.  What we need are pastors.  We need adults who are spiritual mature who have the capacity and desire to walk alongside students and mentor them in faith.  In our ministry, the small group leaders are the pastors.  They are the ones who shepherd the students.

To be clear, this requires and immense amount of training, community and coaching.  We imbed our small group leaders in community, train them on a bi-weekly basis and constantly meet with them for coffee along the way to encourage and guide them.  The truth is, our staff invests far more in our volunteers than our students.  This is one of the secret ingredients for growth in student ministry.

2.  Think Long-Term

The kind of shepherding relationship we’re talking about doesn’t happen overnight.  It takes years to develop.  Most students don’t have adults in their lives who are consistently there for them so it takes a long time to build trust.  We ask our middle school leaders to lead for 3 years and our high school leaders to lead for 5 (4 years in high school and 1 year beyond).  The depth of relationship we are talking about here takes a long-term investment.  You have to fight for longevity.

We’ve achieved longevity because our staff stick around forever and because we’ve created a culture in which the kind of adults who are want hate leaving.  Give your volunteers the same depth of community and shepherding that students crave.

3. Focus on the Conversation

If relationships are the one way we can beat culture every time, then our entire focus should be on the conversation.  Every event should be about groups and groups should be the focal point of all your programming.  For us, the focus isn’t worship or even the teaching.  It’s small group time.  The teaching always points to a conversation that leaders have been prepared for.  On retreats, mission trips and camps, small groups experience these things together.  It’s all about the conversation.


So, whether you are a student ministry of 10 or 10,000, relationships are where we can win.  We can offer students something incredible powerful and magnetic:  a relationship with a caring adult who loves them and wants to invest in their lives.  If you’d like to learn more on how to develop a student ministry like this.  This is the book for you:  Creating a Lead Small Culture.



photo credited to David Pacey via Flickr

Leadership and ministry require knowledge and wisdom.  Every morning I pray for wisdom because I constantly feel inadequate to lead my amazing team.  With that said, I don’t think wisdom is a passive exchange.  I don’t believe that God honors the request for wisdom without the pursuit of wisdom.  And, that’s why I read voraciously.  Wisdom is something that is developed over years.  I think it is more like the 10,000 Hours Rule that Malcolm Gladwell made famous in his book Outliers, than it is momentary infusion of insight. So, if you are in leadership or ministry…or life, I implore you to read voraciously!  Here’s what I read in September:

519GwSuqxcLOne of the best times to read is while traveling.  I read this book while flying to and from Costa Rica on a scouting trip for a summer missions location.  Osborne has a ridiculous amount of ministry experience.  One thing I appreciate is that over the years, his church has grown from small to ginormous.  Because of this, he has a good understanding of leadership and church culture in a variety of settings.

13435889I really enjoyed this book.  I was fascinated by his research into character.  Tough’s thoughts on the importance of performance character as a predictor of success has influenced my thinking a great deal.  If you have kids, this is a great book to help you think differently about training your children for success in life.

talk-like-ted-400x400-imadte4ymfsyqpymRecently, I attended an artist conference in Nashville, called Hutchmoot.  During one of the sessions, Andrew Peterson asked the audience to share with the person next to them the last book they had read for fun.  My answer was this book.  The person next to me answered, “Isn’t that a book for work or something?”  And, I said, “Yes, but I love my job and I love speaking.”  In my head I thought, “Speaking is an art too dang it!”  But, I didn’t say that because I have a measure of social awareness.

Anyway, this is a great book for those of us who speak or teach on a regular basis–in any format.  I believe there are a million reasons to think of a student ministry teaching like a TED talk.  We have much to learn from the best communicators in the world and this book is an insider’s look into the presenting philosophy of TED speakers.  Check it out.

JunkyardPlanet_Na_Cvr1Sigh…yes, I read a book about trash.  This book was amazing!  The author grew up in the US scrap industry and then spent the better part of a decade in China exploring where American trash and scrap goes.  If you’ve ever wondered where your car goes when it dies or whether that bottle of Tide you just emptied goes to heaven, this is your book.  In my opinion, this book finds a nice balance between hardcore environmentalists and heartless big business.  The truth is often in the middle.  Idealism doesn’t often work in the real world.

As Americans who often think that separating our recyclables into the correctly colored containers is an act of heroism, we need to hear the story of how these items are actually recycled.  We need to learn about these Chinese recycling centers, places so polluted that even the Chinese government, hardly a stalwart of environmentalism, has shut them down.  We owe it to the impoverished rural Chinese who are poisoned by the thousands to transform our throw away metals, electronics and plastics into new goods that we can recycle all over again.