set_apartA lot of Christians think they aren’t cut out for youth ministry. But if you love Jesus and you care about kids, everything else falls into place.

In my five years working with middle school students I’ve met multiple 80 year olds who are incredible youth leaders—and it’s not for their spunky personalities and crazy dance skills. They love Jesus and they love kids. When you boil it down, that’s what really matters.

If you start with Jesus, all of the intricacies of youth leading should align conceptually, biblically, and practically. You should be able to trace everything back to Jesus.

Here are ten things every youth leader should know:

1. Have a purpose for everything

Let’s be honest. From the outside looking in, there’s a lot of weird stuff that happens at youth groups. Beach ball ballet, cricket-spitting contests, fruit baseball, and an endless list of games, skits, and programs that don’t seem to make any sense at all. But if you know the purpose behind each component, then even the goofy and weird parts make sense.

Some games give lonely, left out, or neglected kids the chance to be noticed, cheered, and celebrated. Other games force kids to work together—regardless of who they’re friends with at school. Wacky leader skits can create laughter, break down walls, and show kids that there is a childlike joy in everyone. For leaders, those same activities can offer an opportunity to step out of their own comfort zone and put kids before themselves.

I’ve worked with leaders who refused to put themselves in front of kids and be goofy alongside them because “it wasn’t their gifting.” It’s definitely important to recognize what you’re good at and what you’re not good at (so you know how you’re best suited to serve your team), but if we understand the why behind each aspect of youth group, it becomes a lot less about us and a lot more about the kids, Jesus, and the ways we let God use us.

2. Humble yourself

The more cool, holy, or amazing you present yourself, the more distant kids will feel from you. And if you’re also the person who happens to be proclaiming the gospel and sharing about Jesus, do the math. Leaders should show kids that Jesus meets them right where they are, loves them as they are, and desires to be a part of their lives right now—not once they become as cool, holy, and amazing as their leaders.

You were a kid once. If you’re made of flesh and blood, you probably sinned once, too. It’s not always best to share all the details of your sin without a relational foundation, but the more vulnerable you are with kids, the more likely they are to share the sin in their lives too. If we hide, so do they.

Humility isn’t just important for our relationships with kids. If you serve in a youth ministry, chances are good that you work with a team of volunteers.

Serving in ministry together is a surprisingly dangerous opportunity for selfishness to creep into our lives. It’s easy to feel like by being on the team we are fulfilling our duties, checking the box, or doing our time. But if you’ve committed to being a part of the team, share the load. Don’t dump everything onto one person—especially not the person giving the message. If someone else on your team is directly communicating the gospel, help that leader give kids their best by allowing them to focus on preparing their message.

3. Seek the kids in the corners

No matter how awesome your youth group is, there will always be kids in the corners. The ones who show up because their parents made them come, or a cute boy or girl is there too. They think the games are dumb and the leaders are weird. Or maybe they just want everyone else to think they’re too cool to be there. Either way, God has brought them to your youth group, and he’s entrusted them to you for an hour or two each week.

Sometimes kids genuinely aren’t interested in what’s going on, and you can’t and shouldn’t force them to join in. But sometimes kids stand in the corners to see if anyone will notice. If a kid without friends comes to youth group, where he/she doesn’t have friends, how do you make the body of Christ look different than school? Involve them. Love them. Imitate God’s relentless pursuit of their hearts.

4. Share the joy of the gospel

The gospel isn’t boring. A lot of kids think it is, because their only exposure to it is from reading a translation of a 2,000-year-old book, or listening to messages crafted for adults. Jim Rayburn, founder of Young Life (a youth ministry designed for kids who don’t go to church), once said “It’s a sin to bore a kid with the gospel.” Whether or not you agree with Rayburn, Christians can’t overlook the potential damage of presenting the most exciting truth in the history of the world as stale, old, and irrelevant. The Bible is living and active (Hebrews 4:12), and there are countless ways to show kids that the life and truth it contains is applicable to their lives today.

5. Know your kids

Knowing your kids means more than just knowing who they are. It means knowing how they will respond to different situations, and preparing your events with them in mind. Some kids love being the center of attention, and some kids fall apart when you put them in front of a group. It’s important to give kids equal opportunity to shine, but the risk of humiliating a kid or making them feel alone and outcast is not worth the potential reward of making them feel adored. If a kid is checking out your youth group for the first time and you’ve never had any interaction with them, you might want to be careful about throwing them into a game that requires them to be outgoing and comfortable in front of everyone.

It’s also important to know where your kids are at spiritually. This doesn’t mean you should ask every kid who comes through the door, “Do you believe in Jesus?” Those conversations should happen, but not before you develop a relationship with them and earn the right to ask those deeply intimate questions. There are countless reasons why a kid might walk in through the doors of your youth ministry, and a lot of them aren’t Jesus (at least, not from the kid’s perspective). Over-spiritualizing a kid’s experience can actually prevent them from having a spiritual experience. St. Francis of Assisi is often attributed with saying, “Preach the gospel always, and if necessary, use words.” Youth ministry is an excellent context to practice reflecting Christ through the way you love and live.

6. Don’t embarrass kids*

Kids live in constant fear of humiliation. The last place they should have to live out their worst nightmares is at youth group—where they are also learning that they are loved and valued by God.

*See #5 and #1. If you know a kid well enough and you’re confident that their class-clown spirit will allow them to embrace and appreciate the experience, and the embarrassment serves a purpose, mild embarrassment may be acceptable.

7. Meet parents

You could be the nicest, most caring and trustworthy person on the planet, but if parents don’t know you, how can you expect them to trust you with their kids? Building a relationship with parents is especially important for middle school and elementary school ministries, where kids are fully dependent on their parents to even be able to show up at your events. Sometimes meeting parents is effortless because they actively seek out the leaders who work with their kids. Other times, meeting parents takes work. Even if they don’t care who you are or who their kids hang out with, it will always be worth it to you in your ministry to get to know the people who have raised the kids God has placed at your feet. When kids leave, walk them out to whoever picks them up. Better yet, offer to give them a ride, and use it as an opportunity to introduce yourself to their parents. Don’t let the inside of the church be the only place your life overlaps with your kids’.

8. Put your relationship with Jesus first

This may seem selfish in a way, but the reality is, the more we put Jesus first, the more we love those around us. When you put your relationship with Jesus first, the purpose and significance of everything you do and say to others is amplified, not reduced.

Phrases like, “You can only lead someone as far as you’ve gone” may be cliché, but they still carry weight. If you aren’t pursuing your own relationship with Jesus, how can you honestly encourage kids that it’s important to their faith? If you aren’t reading your Bible, praying, and surrounding yourself with Christians who are wiser than yourself, you aren’t offering your best to your ministry, your kids, or God. These are your tools of the trade, and if you aren’t using your tools, how can you do your job?

9. Honor your commitment

Hopefully getting involved with a youth group wasn’t just a passing fancy you had in church one day. Stepping into ministry of any kind is something that should be prayerfully considered, discussed with God and with wise people in your life, and surrounded with spiritual preparation. If you’ve committed to leading kids at your church or through another ministry, honor God, your kids, and the leaders on your team by being trustworthy, accountable, and invested in the work you are doing together.

Today’s kids have been dubbed “the fatherless generation.” Youth leaders can’t abandon them too. Leaving ministry should be considered just as carefully and prayerfully as entering it.

10. Get a mentor

One of the biggest dangers facing people in ministry is burnout. It’s easy to be excited about something when you first get going, but after a couple years, or a decade, how do you stay excited? And more importantly, how do you draw from your experience while still treating each experience and each kid as something entirely new and wonderful? The key is having a mentor.

If you are constantly pouring into the lives of kids and nobody is pouring into you, sooner or later you’re going to feel empty. Whether that mentor is a pastor, a more experienced leader, or a wise friend from church, you need somebody who can offer you fresh perspective, hold you accountable, pray for you, love you, and inspire you to keep going (Hebrews 10:24).

What else do you think youth leaders should know? Tell us in the comments!

* * *

Faithlife makes it easy to stay connected to your ministry team. Stay organized with a convenient calendar. Create and share prayer lists, documents, newsletters, and more. Bring your community with you using an intuitive mobile app. Study the Word together with over 50 reading plans and interactive community notes. You can even tell Faithlife to email your team when someone shares something important. Join Faithlife today, and experience a better church communication tool.

CD_SocialShare_600x600Want to have honest conversations about the things that matter most? Check out The Internet is full of places to have discussions about anything you can imagine. If you have an opinion about something, there’s a place for you to share it.

But sometimes it’s hard to decide where it’s appropriate to share your thoughts. Discussions related to religion often attract hateful, personal attacks when people can hide behind anonymity. Christian Discourse is creating a healthy environment for Christians to share thoughts, collect opinions, and have conversations about theology, culture, the Bible, and life.

When you want to know what other Christians think, post a question and see what thoughts arise from within the body of Christ. Or, jump into a conversation that’s already taking place. You can even find food for thought as you engage in conversations with your friends and family. Explore controversial topics without creating controversy. Whatever your conversational needs, Christian Discourse is a great place to gather perspectives.

Healthy conversations with real people

Creating Christian community with strangers on the Internet is tough. You are communicating with real people. It’s easy to forget that they’re real when their online ID is fake. Anonymous profiles don’t foster authentic, healthy conversations. That’s why people who post to Christian Discourse create profiles that include their names, and the community can determine if a post is appropriate for a conversation between believers.

Christian Discourse also allows you to interact with others on a more personal level. Say you find someone who’s theology particularly aligns with yours, or, someone who provides exactly the answers you need. If you like the way someone thinks, you can keep learning from them! Click their profile, and see what other discussions they’ve contributed to. Christian Discourse is neatly organized and easy to navigate, so you can journey between conversations in the way that makes the most sense to you.

Join the conversation today.

3 Benefits of Audio Bibles

lexham-english-bible-audio-new-testamentTaking time to read and reflect on the Bible is imperative to growing in your faith. Audio Bibles can be used to fill our lives with even more with Scripture, and give us fresh perspectives on the Bible.

Here are three benefits of using an audio Bible:

1. Listen while you drive

Whether it’s your daily commute to work or a road trip with your family, audio Bibles let you engage Scripture without taking your eyes off the road. Press play on an audio Bible and seek peace in the Word (especially during that unexpected traffic jam.) The Lexham English Bible Audio New Testament comes with a CD of MP3 files—load the MP3 files onto your mobile or music device, or simply play the CD in your car stereo.

2. Engage in auditory learning

We all have different learning styles. If you connect and learn by listening, audio Bibles are a great way to study and memorize Scripture. Even if you learn visually or kinesthetically, engaging in auditory learning every so often is a refreshing way to connect to the Word.

3. Change up the way you study the Bible

Breaking your Bible study routine can reveal new perspectives within Scripture. Try reading along to an audio Bible and take in the Word by listening and reading simultaneously. Play a passage you’ve read before and see what new insights you gain from just listening.

Don’t have an audio Bible? Get one!

The Lexham English Bible was created by the world’s leading Bible software developers to give readers a clear and literal look at the Bible. The LEB closely follows the original language of the Bible while remaining readable in contemporary English. If you use the Faithlife Study Bible app, you’ve already experienced the LEB translation—the Faithlife Study Bible comes loaded with the LEB text. Get the LEB audio and start listening to the Word of God today!

If you like the convenience of the Faithlife Study Bible app, you’ll enjoy how simple it is to take the LEB Audio New Testament on the go. Simply load the MP3 files from the CD onto your choice of mobile and music devices, and you’re set to listen to the New Testament.

Get the LEB Audio New Testament for $7.00!

Get 4 Free Books When You Pre-Order Not Your Average Bible Study!

not-your-average-bible-study-series3I’m the general editor of Faithlife Study Bible and the coauthor of Connect the Testaments: A Daily Devotional. I’ve been working on a new Bible study series to help you see how the Bible’s story is your story. The Not Your Average Bible Study Series automatically works in your Faithlife Study Bible application—it’s designed with you in mind. The Not Your Average Bible Study Series empowers you to:

  • Understand the ancient context of the Bible.
  • Ask the same questions scholars ask.
  • Apply the Bible to your life, each step along the way.
  • See the biblical story as part of your own story.

Pre-order the series to take advantage of this special offer:

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Pre-order the Not Your Average Bible Study Series between now and July 31 and get four volumes for free! If you order before July 31, the entire 12 volume collection is yours for $19.95—less than $2 per volume. As the series nears completion, the price gets closer to regular pricing—so to get the best deal, pre-order soon!

People loved it, so we made it even better

Most of these unique Bible studies first appeared in Bible Study Magazine. I regularly receive kind emails about how these studies help people get deeper into the Word, study the Bible better, and apply the Word to their life. That’s why we made these studies into books—so even more people can experience better Bible study. These books include interactive answer boxes, prayer prompts, and insightful questions. Each one explores how the biblical story is our story. The Not Your Average Bible Study Series is designed for both individual and group use. So tell your friends—don’t settle for average Bible study.

Pre-order the Not Your Average Bible Study Series today to get the best price and four free volumes! Feel free to email your questions directly to me:

Love Is Patient, Love Is Kind

1 Corinthians 13 is one of the most publicized passages in Scripture. If you’ve been to a wedding this year, chances are you’ve heard it recited recently. 1 Corinthians 13:1–13 is a powerful depiction of the significance of love, and the qualities love possesses.

Now, you can experience this passage in a whole new way. Encourage your friends with this visual representation of biblical love:

Warm videos, uplifting music, and beautiful art are great tools to help us process and reflect on Scripture. If you want to go even deeper, search a passage in the Faithlife Study Bible, and you’ll find three layers of notes to help you get more from each verse.

Let’s see what the FSB has to offer us about 1 Corinthians 13:1–8.

Without any context, we know that a clanging cymbal is just noise by itself—it’s only a piece of the song. The video and the passage itself allows us to take a moment to reflect on phrases like this, but when you add the FSB, you add a whole new dimension to your study. In this case, you learn that “People used cymbals to worship Dionysus, the god of wine. Paul mentions the “clashing cymbal” to suggest that spiritual gifts without love make the Corinthians’ worship no different from the pagans’.”

The FSB also helps us see the connections between each passage. When Paul says, “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” in 1 Corinthians 13:3, the FSB reminds us that this verse echoes Jesus’ command to the rich young man in Matthew 19:21 and Luke 18:22. In Acts 2:45, we see early Christians selling their property to meet the physical needs of those around them. Paul often vocalized the importance of helping the poor (Galatians 2:10).

These things were important to Paul, but without love (which the FSB defines here as “a genuine and selfless concern for the well-being of others”) these pursuits are meaningless.

The Faithlife Study Bible has over a dozen more separate notes just on these eight verses. For more food for thought as you study Scripture, download the FSB for free, and start taking your Bible study deeper today.

What passage would you like to see a video of next? Tell us in the comments!

stress-111426_640The Bible doesn’t promise us that life with Jesus is easier. The difference is that when life gets hard, we have somewhere to turn for strength, courage, hope, and peace.

Here are seven passages to keep handy when facing crises:

1. James 1:2–4

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

The Bible tells us to remain joyful not because we know what happens next, but because we know the end. We will be stronger when we reach the other side. Each trial is an opportunity to step closer to perfection—complete and utter dependence on and trust in God.

Bonus verse: Romans 8:28.

2. Matthew 11:28–30

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

When asked what the greatest commandment of the law is, Jesus said: one, love God, and two, love others. He continued, “On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:36–40). When we focus on what really matters to God, it simplifies our lives. Jesus cut through hundreds of Jewish laws to reveal that they could all be reduced to these two simple commands. When life feels complicated and heavy, Jesus says, “Come to me” so he can lighten the load.

3. Philippians 4:6–7

“. . . do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

The peace of God doesn’t make sense. The NIV translation says it “transcends all understanding.” It’s beyond, higher than, out of reach of all understanding. We can be calm in the midst of complete chaos when we have that peace—and it protects us. Jesus guards our hearts against anxiety and stress by filling us with a peace that the world can’t understand (because it doesn’t come from this world).

4. 1 Corinthians 10:13

“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

Sin wants to hide. It wants to bury itself in our hearts and make us feel alone in our temptation. Your life is unique—the temptation you face is not. The world is full of brothers and sisters in Christ who share in your struggles with sin. Fight it together, and most importantly, invite God into the struggle. The way out may not always be easy, but God promises it will always be there.

5. Hebrews 2:18

“For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”

Jesus never sinned. When we hear that, sometimes it’s easy to feel like we have to hide our sin from him—like he doesn’t know what it’s like to be a sinful, broken human being. Make no mistake—Jesus suffered when he was tempted. He knows how you feel when you’re torn between your desire to do what’s right and the sinful desires in your heart (Romans 7:15). Because he can identify with your pain, he can help you.

6. Psalm 23:1–6

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

“You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the lord

Sheep trust their shepherd. Experience and the surrounding flock tell the sheep that wherever the shepherd leads, they will be provided for. Even as the valley gets dark, rocky, and difficult, the sheep trust the shepherd to lead them out of it. For me, this passage is a reminder that even when I have no idea what’s going on or where my life is going, God is in charge, and I can trust him.

7. Matthew 6:25–34

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

Verse 27 really puts things in perspective: “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” In other words, what do you gain by being anxious? Food and clothing are valid concerns. God knows you need them. But he doesn’t want you to be anxious about them. Anxiety is an internal state of being, and it doesn’t change our external circumstances. See Philippians 4:6–7, and let God replace that anxiety with peace, trusting that God knows your needs.

For biblical insight into suffering, crises, and pain, check out these great resources:

What verses do you turn to when times are tough? Share with us in the comments!