I read a fascinating book recently about management and performing well at your job called First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently by Marcus Buckingham.  It is written from a business perspective and is about managing people and helping them realize their full potential as employees.

If you are employed at all, it is worth reading from cover to cover, but he laid down a quote on the last page that, I feel, has implications for those of us who disciple students.  He said this,

“Don’t try to put in what was left out.  Try to draw out what was left in” (pg. 245).

So often, discipleship becomes about cramming in bits of information to students to help them know how to “be good” and “follow the rules” (don’t drink, don’t party, don’t watch rated R movies, etc.), but I have been in ministry long enough to see this form of discipleship fail.

I wonder if, instead of focusing students on what they should not do, we should draw them to their potential in the Spirit of Christ inside them. Some thoughts:

  1. Jesus did it. With those he discipled, he said very little about “following the rules,” in fact, many times he actually told them to break them.  He sent them out in pairs pronouncing the kingdom, he called him to walk on the water, he spoke at length about the Spirit who would give them power when he left.  He enabled them to focus, not on what they were doing wrong, but on what they could do so right.
  2. Those times when students don’t “follow the rules” were died for.  Our goal is not to try to turn bad people into good people, it is to try to help turn bad people into saved people.
  3. Any behavior change will likely be intrinsic. A heart in love with Jesus is the best help for students to follow the rules I have ever seen.  If people are going to change, it has got to come from the inside (a heart which has been redeemed).  Words of Paul ring a bell here, “Let us live up to what we have already attained” (Philippians 3:16).
Perhaps, our goal in discipleship should be to help people realize that a follower of Christ is less pushed by following rules and more pulled into the salvation they have already attained.

I ran across this picture of the “Perfect Employee” on Guy Kawasaki’s blog.  This guy has a, “Modern haircut with a touch of gray that boasts of knowledge and wisdom,” a, “Family picture . . . always in his front pocket,” and, my personal favorite, he, “Wins the air-guitar contest evey year at the company picnic – last year’s song: ‘Sweet Child of Mine.'”

This reminded me of a blog I read once called, “The Perfect Youth Ministry Leader” – a quiz one takes to find out if they are “An Intern” or an “Epic Legend” in youth ministry.  In this list, the youth worker must have, “. .  .the ‘side hug’ down to a science,” and have, “. . . a verse tattooed somewhere on his body (+2 points for Hebrew words).”

Satire aside, what attributes would you place on the perfect youth minister?  Here are a few that I came up with:

  1. Knows that he/she is not the Savior of students.
  2. His/Her investment in students is long-term; knowing that fruit takes a good deal time to grow.
  3. Knows that the “perfect youth worker” does not exist and he/she determines their worth based on what Christ thinks of them, not the points on the “cool scale” they can accumulate by having the proper amount of facial hair or Christian t-shirts.

In true Erwin McManus style, his book Unleashed, paints a beautiful, all be it incomplete, picture of what life as a Christian is supposed to be.  Namely, this:

. . . a life lived in the simple belief that all we are meant to do is the outflow of faith, hope, and love (pg. 12).

He relies heavily on his ethos that,

“. . .  the life you long to live is not waiting in the future; it is waiting in the inner recesses of your soul.  You don’t need to go find faith you need to unleash it.  You don’t need to go find life; you need to unleash it.  In fact, everything that is good or beautiful and true that you will spend your entire life searching for is simply waiting to be set free through a life that follows Christ with reckless abandon” (pg. 18).

If I have one criticism of the book (and, having heard McManus speak on many occasions, I would say it is not an accurate portrait of his beliefs), it would be that he seems to find this “unleashed” life in simply taking huge risks with your life in Christ; risks which take place largely outside of the community that is the Church.  In fact, I would go so far, at times, to call his deconstruction and treatment of the Church, harsh.

Aside from his individualistic approach (again, which I have only found in this book) to a faith meant to be lived out in a community, I would say his words are extremely motivational and many of them resounded in my Spirit as truths to live by (see the two quotes above for examples).

Tempered with an attitude of love towards the Bride of Christ, I recommend this book heartily to someone seeking to grow in their Christian walk.

Thank you to Book Sneeze for giving me a chance to review this book.  These opinons are my own.

Vending Machine

April 2, 2011

So often we treat God as if he is our personal vending machine.  We pray that he will bless us, give to us, do ____ for us, etc.  And, we offer up our 50 cents.

When we are “happy,” we are content with this god and we find it simple to sing songs and preach sermons about the goodness of this god.  We read verses like, “Ask and it will be given to you…,” and we shout, “Amen!”

Then it happens.  They kick you out, he leaves, it does not solve your problems, you were diagnosed with thatshe says those words.  Not only does the vending machine break, it is as if it has vaporized.

At this point, those words of Christ ring hollow; doubt creeps in.  To people here, Christ urges to keep seeking and knocking and then points to us, who love to give good gifts to our children—if we act in this way, how much more will God give good gifts to his children?

When your vending machine god breaks, remember:

  1. You are unable to count the number of good gifts from God you take for granted everyday.
  2. Perhaps you have asked for a stone or a snake and God wants to give you bread or a fish (v.9-11).
  3. Jesus is always asking, seeking and knocking for you (Revelation 3:20), he is asking you to do the same (v.12).

“Farewell Rob Bell?”

March 7, 2011

If you follow the Christian culture at all, I am sure you have seen this video or read something similar to this (a blog post which has made the insinuation that author and pastor, Rob Bell, has come out of the universalist closet and claimed there is no such thing as hell).  Several people have asked me my thoughts, here are a few of them:

  1. He is trying to sell a book – Rob Bell is a superior marketer.  I am pretty sure that at least some of this is ginned up controversy to sell more books (he is currently number 13 on Amazon and his book is not even out yet).  I will reserve my full judgment until I read it.
  2. God is bigger – God is bigger than anyone’s bad theology.  Man’s wisdom is foolishness to God; I know that I have built some of my boxes to put God in too small.  God is bigger than Rob Bell and I trust God’s influence in this world over Rob Bell’s.
  3. God is indescribable – Bell is doing what any of us can do.  He is trying to put words to an indescribable God.  Of course his words are gonna fall short.  When people start worshipping their words about God and not God, that is when they get into trouble.
  4. True victims – The true victims of this book teaser (remember, the actual book has not come out yet) are not the unsuspecting non-Christians who have read the pieces or seen this video.  Whatever Rob Bell writes, it is a shame what this book teaser has made some other Christian leaders say about a man who simply has opinions.


I recently read Reinventing Youth Ministry (Again) by Wayne Rice (co-founder of Youth Specialties and one of the true pioneers in church youth ministry today).  It has inspired several thoughts in me about student ministry from which I plan to write (the first of which can be found Here).  This quote and this list combine to make another:

God never gave to youth workers the responsibility for making disciples of other people’s kids . . . God gave that responsibility to the parents, not the local church or the youth ministry (page 24).

Rice also puts forth a pragmatic list for why the above quote is true (page 28-30):

  1. Parents love their kids more than anyone else.
  2. Parents care about their kids more than anyone else.
  3. Parents have more time with their kids than anyone else.
  4. Parents have more authority over their kids than anyone else.

We all know this to be true and student ministers should see it as one of their main jobs to encourage parents in their call to make disciples of their children.  The question is how do we do this?  Here are a few ideas I have had to encourage parents as the true student ministers:

  1. Embrace a discipleship strategy which includes parents in the discussion. I try to put into the hands of parents resources which help them progress the conversations I am having with their student.
  2. Favor parents in volunteer roles within the ministry. If I am in need of volunteers, I seek out parents of students in my group first to fill these roles.
  3. Find areas of the student ministry in which the interests of the students and parents intersect. As you seek to help students find service  roles in the youth ministry, seek students whose parents have expertise in those areas and can help their student fill those roles.  For example, if you need pictures taken, find a parent who has an interest in photography to take their son and daughter out to take them.  This gives them time together, creatively exploring how to serve the church and the ministry.

What are some methods you have used to empower parents as disciple-makers?

You Are Salt and Light

January 11, 2011

Scripture: Matthew 5:13-16

Jesus, making the announcement of the kingdom of heaven exploding on earth in the present tense, chooses to use the metaphors of salt and light to describe the disciples on the hillside and Christ followers today.

Salt is seasoning. He is calling us, not just to season this world with the good news of heaven on earth, but to be the seasoning of the good news of heaven on earth. Salt was also used for persevering meat—a great symbolism for the Christ follower acting as a check on this world, making sure it does not get too rotten.

Light is the first word spoken by God and the rest of creation could not exist without it. Christ is calling us to be light to the world. He is beginning his new creation of the world and calling us to be his light—giving shine to the kingdom of heaven in the world.

Notice here that Jesus does not say, “If you do ______ (read your Bible every day, stop sinning, go to church more, etc.), you will be salt and light.” He says you are salt and light.

We are his only plan to season/preserve and give light to the kingdom of heaven on earth and he does not have a “Plan B.”

How can you be the flavor of heaven in your world?  How will you give light to God’s kingdom today?  If you accept that you are salt and light, how does this change your perspective of who God has called you to be?

You Are Blessed

January 4, 2011

Matthew 5:1-12

The Beattitudes (Matthew 5:1-12) should not be seen as the Ten Commandments of the New Testament.  Jesus is making an announcement that the kingdom of heaven is a present reality and, therefore, we should consider ourselves “Blessed.”

He takes the first four (poor in spirit, mourners, meek and hunger and thirst for righteousness) to describe the fact that when these people are at their lowest, God is with them.  He uses the next four (merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers and persecuted) to describe what happens to a person when they respond to the overwhelming grace of Christ in their life.

Look at the identical ends of verse three and verse ten (“. . . for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”).  It is as if, instead of a ladder of steps to reach the blessings of God, he gives us a circle which starts and ends in the same place and which says that no matter what is happening to citizens of his Kingdom, God is always pouring out blessings them.

Also, take a look at the only new command that Jesus gives us in this passage in verse twelve.  He charges those who belong to the Kingdom to, “Rejoice and be glad, for great is (present tense) your reward in heaven.”  I wonder what our worlds would look like if we stopped looking at how we don’t measure up and started looking to how God is constantly blessing us and calling us to, “Rejoice and be glad.”

Where Student Ministry Fails

December 22, 2010

I just finished the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.  It is filled with stories about why successful people become successful.

Every story of success in Gladwell’s work has one thing in common.  Each of them has, when an opportunity comes, at least 10,000 hours of work in whatever field they become successful in (for instance, Bill Gates, when the personal computer craze started and the Beatles, when rock n roll emerged).

The goal of student ministry has always been to give a student a firm foundation in the Word so that when he/she graduates from high school and faces the challenges of the real world, they will not stray from Christ.  Lets us impose Gladwell’s theory of 10,000 hours equaling success to the number of hours it takes for a student to have a “firm foundation” in Christ.  If a student, from birth until eighteen, is to spends four hours at church a week (a very generous number), the number of hours they accumulate is 3744 (dreadfully short of the 10,000 required).  This leads me to several conclusions . . .

  1. It is no wonder the statistics of students falling away after high school are so high. There are all kinds of numbers for this, but I have heard it as low as 4% and as high as 12% of students who graduate from high school actually hold onto the faith.  If a church’s only offering to them is a few Bible studies a week, the student has little chance.
  2. Parents are essential. If a student’s parents are not helping to shape, mold and bring their kids up in Christ at home, away from church programs, the odds against a student are stacked against them.  The Church should encourage and empower parents as youth ministers wherever possible.
  3. The Church must encourage and teach students in how to gain insight from the Bible on their own. Leaving out the fact that the Bible is powerful and life-transforming, if we only did this to encourage them to gain more hours of experience into what it looks like to be a Christ follower, it would be worth it.
  4. Relationships which endure when a student graduates from high school will trump any Bible studies they attended. An adult who has earned the role of mentor to a student who graduates and leaves has a Kingdom responsibility to stay in that role in whatever capacity is possible.