A Teacher’s Advice on Starting the School-Year Well


School DoorThe following is advice from my wife (a teacher at a public Middle School), with some elaboration from me (a youth pastor). Hopefully this will prove helpful for students and parents at the beginning of the school-year.

1. Be Organized
It’s the number one thing for success. Even more than being really smart! I’ve seen a lot of disorganized smart kids struggle because they didn’t keep track of projects and assignments. And I’ve seen a lot of organized kids get excellent grades because they were organized and kept on top of their work.

If there’s one piece of advice about school that I’ve learned through experience (high school, college, and grad school) it’s this… you won’t become a good student by accident. 

2. Show grace to teachers who have bad reputations
You don’t want the teachers to hold your reputation against you. Don’t do the same to them. Give them a shot… you might find out that you really get along with him/her! C

The Christian life is one filled by grace. We need to receive it. We need to give it.

If you want to be Salt & Light (Matthew 5:13-16) in your school, then treat your teachers differently than everyone else. Show them respect and give them the grace you’d like to receive.

3. It’s ok to be “the Christian kid”
Be the Christian kid. It’s only awkward if you make it that way. But if you’re confident in who you are in Christ, then own it. Be different. Sure, some people might treat you differently or give you a tough time, but most people will just accept you for who you are if you’ve accepted you for who you are.

The Apostle Paul said, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for all who believe” (Romans 1:16). Honestly: are you ashamed, or are you proud of the gospel? Do you get embarrassed when people find out you go to church and youth group? Are you ashamed of Christ, or are you living on purpose to make Christ known?

4. Learn to say “No”
You can’t do everything you want to do. The sooner you learn that, the better. You don’t need to keep playing soccer because you always have. You don’t need to join that club because all your friends are. You don’t need to take that extra AP class. You don’t need to go out with your friends to that movie.

Remember this: every time you say “Yes” to something, you’re saying “No” to something else. You cannot go to the movies and spend all your time with your friends and still have time to get that project done. You’ve put it off long enough. You need to say “No, sorry. I have a project I need to work on.”

You can only spend time once. Learn to say “No” to things because you’ve said “Yes” to more important things. Take some time to figure out what your priorities are, and then choose how to spend your time and energy.

One of our youth leaders is also a teacher, and he added a sixth word of advice:

6. Be a Leader
You can be a leader, or you can be led. Choose to be an influencer. Don’t follow the crowd.

Think about your friend groups and look around, asking, “Who’s leading who?” and “Do I want my friends leading me, or should I be leading them?”

Finally: Remember your worth comes through your identity in Christ, not by your grades or accomplishments. Work hard. Study hard. Be smart. But do those things because you’ve been accepted by God. So many teens do those things in order to prove their worth. You don’t need to do that. Live in the freedom of God’s grace, knowing that you don’t need to live under insane amounts of pressure to perform.


Secret Struggles & Building an Army

Secrets. We all have them. And we’re tempted to keep them private, hidden, concealed. Secrets feed on our fears.Help Me

“If they really knew who you are, no one would love you anymore.”
“People are going to be so disappointed in you when they find out what you’ve done.”
“Can you imagine if they could read your mind!”

There are things we struggle with in secret which consume us. And we go around, wearing our happy-mask… pretending to be ok. But we’re not ok.

When people ask how we’re doing, we tell them, “I’m fine.” But inside we’re crying out for help.

Whether your secret struggles have to do with mental health, body-image, sexual identity, abuse, addictions, pornography, or any other number of things… you do NOT need to struggle alone! Continue reading

Sex, Intimacy, & Healthy Boundaries

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be having a conversation we’ve named, “The Fireplace.” Here’s the idea: Fire in your fireplace gives light, heat, and it can even cook your food. But when the fire leaves the fireplace, you’re going to get burned. It may not burn down the house completely, but it’s going to cause damage.

Sex is like fire – when boundaries are removed, there is great potential for it to cause harm and damage.

The Fireplace Continue reading

The Role (and Danger) of Fun in Youth Ministry

In some youth ministry communities, fun and games is becoming a four-letter word: avoided, forbidden, wrong. As if fun is something that no serious youth worker would encourage.

Fun is not the enemy. I don’t know anyone who thinks it is. But I do know a lot of people who are suspicious of “too much fun.” I see this youth pastor often who is highly suspicious of ministries with “too much fun.” He makes some good points, but I often feel conflicted about whether or not I listen to him too much. There are other times when I think he’s sharing his concerns because I myself am guilty! Afterall, where exactly is that line between healthy-fun (which provides fertile ground for relationships and cultivating trust) and entertainment-driven ministry (where fun overshadows everything else you’re attempting to do). In the midst of my struggles with this youth pastor’s concerns about too much fun, I can’t just ignore him… because I see him every time I look in the mirror!

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What’s the Win?

Over the last few weeks we’ve been talking about conflict resolution and unity in youth group. The first step towards peace is to live with the desire to Glorify God, because you never know when conflict will strike. The second step is to Get the Log Out Of Your Own Eye first by prayerfully asking God to show you if you have anything you need to confess.

This week we need to honestly ask ourselves, “What’s the Win?” When you’re in a fight with someone, what do you consider a victory? Is it more important for you to be right, or for you to win back your friend? If our desire is not for peace and unity then we not peace-makers, but peace-breakers. The third step in peacemaking is to “Gently Restore.”


Matthew 18:15-17
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

FIRST: Go Alone
Just go! Maybe if you talk to the person instead of talking to everyone except him or her, then maybe you’ll find out that you misunderstood what you’re upset about. Maybe that person will realize what they did and apologize. Just go, not to accuse and win the fight, but to win back your brother/sister.

SECOND: Bring Some Trusted Friends
It’s important to remember that Jesus is giving instructions on how to deal with conflict “with a brother.” That means this is someone who considers themselves a Christian, so bringing along a few other Christian friends who are known and trusted to both of you could be really helpful. Maybe they can help you realize that you’re totally misunderstanding each other. Maybe they can help you realize that you’re both partially at fault, and you both have something to confess and apologize for? It’s important to involve some people you both know and trust who can be fair and honest in order to restore your relationship.

THIRD: Involve the Church
Now, it’s important to remember that the church was a lot smaller back then and most of them met in people’s homes. It was very personal and everyone knew everyone really really well. This doesn’t mean you should interrupt your pastor on Sunday for an “airing of grievances.” What it does mean, is if the offense is so severe that you’ve tried everything already (seeking to glorify God, getting the log out of your eye, going alone, bringing a few friends) you talk to some respected leaders in your church and ask them to help. If the Christian brother/sister still doesn’t listen and doesn’t care enough to walk towards peace with you, then there’s a real problem?

How Should We Treat NonBelievers?
If the person still doesn’t respond to your attempts for peace, that means he simply isn’t a “brother” to you anymore and you should treat him like you’d treat a nonbeliever. Keep in mind: we’re supposed to treat nonChristians with love and grace and goodness in order to win them to Christ.

What Do You Carry Into the Room?
When you enter a room, what comes with you: Peace, or Conflict?

If I asked your parents, how would they answer? What about your brother, sister, friends, teachers, etc.?

Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” That tells me that Christians need to be people of peace. If we are people who bring conflict and division, then we are not living as sons and daughters of God… and that’s a problem? Remember the power of Gospel is that “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). He didn’t wait until we earned forgiveness to offer it. Let’s receive his grace, then pass it along to others.

Think about one person who you seem to constantly have conflict with. Would you start praying tonight that God would give you peace towards him or her? I’d love to hear stories about what God does in those relationships!

The Best Leadership Lesson I’ve Ever Learned

When I was a teenager I remember hearing someone boast about how important they were at work. This person was someone I knew and looked up to since I was young, so I was really impressed. When I relayed the amazing news to my father he was less than impressed. What he said next is the single most important leadership lesson I’ve ever learned.

He simply replied, “If you’re important, you won’t need to tell anyone.”

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Dealing With Conflict

When I was in college I received a letter from another guy who lived a few rooms down from me. Although Craig and I weren’t good friends, we knew each other pretty well, which is why I was so upset about his letter. When I read it my first response was to show it to my friends and to rally the troops for war. Craig and I talked and I did my best to set him straight. Looking back on that conflict, I wonder how much my response proved him right.

It’s so much easier to completely reject or completely accept criticism than it is to figure out what nuggets of truth are mixed in with the rest. If we want to grow, we need to be willing to do the hard work of discerning what’s true from what’s not.

One of the most helpful questions to ask yourself when you’re dealing with conflict is this: “Is this conflict about my pride, or is there really something wrong that needs to be addressed?” When we’re focused on feeding our ego and protecting our pride we will only create more conflict. As we continue our series in Youth Group (United!), I want to share step one towards being a peacemaker and building a united group.


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Are You “In,” or Are You “Out?”

Have you ever played the game clumps? It’s a kids game where the game-leader calls out a number (“four!”) and everyone rushes to clump into groups of the right size. If you get left out of a group then you’re out. The game moves on for a few rounds or until there are only a few people remaining.

Doesn’t life feel like that sometimes? You’re “in,” or you’re “out.” You belong, or you don’t. The worst is when you’re surrounded by other people, but you’re really all alone. It’s a terrible feeling we’ve all experienced, and we want to make sure that no one ever feels that way at youth group.


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What Makes Porn So Harmful?

Pornography is never easy to talk about… it just makes everyone uncomfortable.

Maybe that’s because we all know that it’s wrong. Sometimes guilt is a good thing – in this case, it reminds us that we shouldn’t be doing something that we keep on doing! At the same time, let’s not allow our shame over pornography keep us from discussing a difficult topic. Instead, let us encourage one another all the more to pursue Christ, who purifies our hearts and gives us strength to resist temptation.

A lot of people might think, “What I do in private isn’t hurting anyone. Don’t tell me what to do.” That’s fine, except it’s not true. Porn causes harm. It rewires your brain and can be as addictive as heroin. It breaks relationships and changes how you view people of the other sex (whether you’re married or not, this is a very bad thing!). It can also lead to other emotional and mental problems, especially loneliness and depression. All those things aside, it is well documented that many of the women featured in pornographic videos have suffered physical and emotional abuse.

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