Category Archives: discussion starter

Withdrawing and Holiness

While researching the work of the Holy Spirit for an upcoming high school lesson, I came across some notes from one of my college classes that caught my attention. When talking about the Holy Spirit’s work in sanctification, my notes say this:

The Old Testament saints had to use an artificial means for sanctification: withdraw fellowship from the pagans.

Obviously I had read this before, but it stood out to me today in light of some conversations I’ve had recently. Alongside this note, I wrote this:

no Holy Spirit to help overcome evil influences

(You have to forgive the bad grammar, as I was trying to take notes and pay attention to the professor.) Recently, I have had several conversations with people about what it means to live out one’s faith alongside those who do not believe. I have found that it is far easier for Christians to live in a “bubble” (surrounded by those who hold the same beliefs) than to live in the world. This mentality gets carried over into youth ministries, too.

Why do we carry this mentality with us?

  1. Do we forget we have the Holy Spirit with us?
  2. Are we not as close to God as we want people to think we are?
  3. Have we become too comfortable in the “bubble”?

As we look at Jesus’ life, we see that he spent a lot of time with those who were considered pagans. He ate with them, stayed in their homes, and listened and talked with them. Yet, one of the big reasons Jesus was able to do this was because he spent as much (if not more) time with his Father. Jesus knew the importance of connecting with God and staying connected to him. And so should we!

If withdrawing is your means of holiness, might I remind you that the Holy Spirit is in the business of helping you overcome evil influences. Might I remind myself of the same thing, too!


Life, Death, & the Uncertainty of It All

(I wrote this after a car accident took 2 young lives and severely injured a third. When something tragic happens in a small community everyone is affected and this accident was no different. Life is short and it is a precious gift. I pray this reminder might stir someone to think more about their life and strive to live it to the fullest.)

Average life expectancy is somewhere in the 70’s, with women usually living longer than men. This number has increased since the 1900’s, thanks to advancements in medicine and a better knowledge of diseases. But there is one thing to always remember when you hear about “life expectancy” – no one knows how long they will live. There is no guarantee that you will reach the age of 70, or even 10. Life is a gift, not a guarantee.

The ultimate authority on life is God, since He created it and everything, and He never told us we were guaranteed a certain number of days. In fact, in James 4:14, we read the exact opposite. “You do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” We are a mist and mists do not last long. So instead of assuming we will live to retirement in a nursing home, we need to live each day to its fullest. Do not assume you have tomorrow, because tomorrow has never been promised!

Life is a gift. Eternal life is a promise. “And this is what he (God) promised us – even eternal life.” (1 John 2:25) When a young person dies, it is easy to start blaming or questioning God. How can a loving God allow this to happen? Why didn’t God save them? What kind of God would allow such a young person to be taken from this world? Why…? These questions are understandable, but I believe they are also misguided.

I believe “bad stuff” happens because there is sin in the world, not because God is not all-loving. Nor is God surprised by a sudden and tragic death. Often, after a tragic death people wonder, “Where was God when _________ died?” God was in the same place He was when His Son died.* Although God wants the best for us and loves us more than we can imagine, He will not intervene into a situation just to save us from pain and suffering. Instead, He provides us with two things that are so much better. First, God offers us a peace that passes understanding- “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7) Second, He offers us eternal life with Him. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)

These two options are far better than anything we could ever come up with. With the promise of eternal life with God and a peace beyond understanding, you can make it through each day and experience joy, even when something awful and uncomprehensible happens. It does not mean you will understand or that you will not hurt. It only means that when we trust in God and lean on Him for guidance, He will give us comfort.

Knowing the days of our life are numbered, and God is the only One who knows that number, should cause us to determine to live each day as if it might be our last. Each day is a gift, not a promise. Every morning you wake up, thank God that you woke up with breath in your lungs. Every night when you go to bed, thank God for the day of life He gave you. When you practice this simple habit, you will start to move away from the tendency to take life for granted.

* I first heard this while reading an article Mike Yaconelli wrote for Youthworker Journal entitled “I Don’t Know” (Nov. 2001). In the article he attributes the thought to Leslie Weatherhead, a minister in London during the Second World War.

to quote someone else: N.T. Wright (faith)

“Faith can’t be forced, but unfaith can be challenged.”

taken from Simply Christian by N.T. Wright

As a youth minister, this quote challenges me to think about how I approach evangelism and discipleship. I need to be challenging the students, not trying to force them to believe what I want them to.

How does this quote affect your thoughts on reaching the lost in your community?

Miss California comments on same sex marriage

As I was checking my email I saw an article from Sunday night’s Miss USA Pageant. The headline is “Hilton, Miss California take sides on ‘Today‘”

(note to those who may not want to see a young woman in a 2 piece swimsuit – the picture that goes with the article, at the time of this writing, is of Carrie Prejean – Miss California – during the swimsuit part of the competition.)

Here is the clip:

This is an interesting article, though brief, about a part of the Miss USA competition on Sunday night. Read the article to get the story.

I think that this is the type of behavior we want our students to convey. We want students who are not afraid to stand up for what they believe, even if it might cause them trouble.

One paragraph I found particularly interesting was this one:

Hilton, who also appeared on the “Today” show Tuesday, said his question was relevant and that Prejean should have “left her politics and her religion out because Miss USA represents all Americans.”

She needed to leave “her religion” out of the pageant…but it was okay for Perez to bring his own personal beliefs into the pageant, as a judge. Does that sound contradictory to anyone else?

I am glad to hear that Prejean was willing to voice her beliefs in front of a national audience. I hope all the students in our youth ministries would be willing to do the same thing – and I hope they each get an opportunity to stand up and voice their beliefs for others to hear.

My favorite line of the whole article was this last quote from Prejean:

“It’s not about being politically correct,” she said. “For me, it’s about being biblically correct.”

(added video on 4.22.09)

Discussion Starter: Do parents talk with their kids?

According to one of the “family facts” in My Family by Kurt Johnston & Mark Oestreicher, parents do not spend much time talking with their kids.

“The number of minutes weekly that most parents spend talking with their kids: 38.”

As a parent of 3 kids under 5, I cannot imagine only talking with them for 40 minutes a week. I can’t imagine only talking with them for 40 minutes a day. Therefore, I was a little shocked at this statistic.

What do you think? Is it accurate? Why do parents not talk that much with their kids? As your child gets older, what factors affect a parent’s communication with that child?

Discussion Starter: Padded bras for preschool girls

While visiting pbsparents the other day, my wife saw an article talking about protecting your little girls from growing up too fast and avoiding a sexualized childhood. Here is an excerpt from the article:

Helen recently wrote asking me for help dealing with the aftermath of the “High School Musical” birthday party her 5-year-old daughter had recently attended. At the party, the girls dressed up in fancy clothes and were taught how to do a special [i.e., sexy] dance by the high school-aged cousin of the birthday girl. After the HS Musical cake, the girls broke the HS Musical piƱata to get their party favors — temporary tattoos of the film’s characters. The children did a special performance of the HS Musical dance when parents arrived to pick them up.

Helen’s daughter loved the party and quickly started pleading to see the HS Musical movies. On a recent trip to a mass market store, her daughter kept pointing to the movie’s products and got especially excited about the padded bra and bikini underpants set “in her size!” And she continued to practice her HS Musical dance both at home and in public places like the mall.

Here is another discussion I found on the topic.

My little girl is not even 6 months old yet, so I haven’t had to deal with any of this stuff up to this point in my parenting. But I know that day will come sooner than I expect (and even sooner if this is an actual trend taking place around the country).

What are your thoughts on this trend? Have you noticed it with any of your children? And is it anything new or has it been this way for a while?

How does this type of sexualized childhood affect a church’s children’s ministry? Should it?

You can use this article to start discussion with your students about sex, beauty, self-image, how culture affects how we see ourselves, pressure, marketing.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

5 Ways to Use the Super Bowl in Youth Ministry

Then end of the football season means the Super Bowl is almost here. And for youth ministers that can mean the potential to connect with a greater number of students. There are several things you can do within your youth ministry to connect to the Super Bowl “hype.” Take one or more of these ideas and use it within your ministry. And I’d love to hear what effect it has on your ministry.

5 ideas for using the Super Bowl in your youth ministry

1. Host a Super Bowl Party
This includes finding a house with enough room to hold the students a big enough TV for everyone to watch. Or you could hold it at church if you have the room/technology.


  • Food (I suggest pizza and chips & dip for sure)
  • TV or multiple TVs
  • Devotion or something for halftime
  • Handout, trivia questions and ideas or quiz sheet
  • prizes for winners of score contest. halftime and end of game
  • prizes for contest sheet winners
  • plastic silverware, cups, plates

2. Create your own Super Bowl Commercial Contest.
Have the students come up with a 30 second commercial that they want to air during the Super Bowl. You could either have them make up a product or use a real one. You will want to set obvious guidelines; language and such. Have them turn the commercials early enough to give you time to watch them and get them ready be viewed. My suggestion is that you watch them during halftime of the game. Plus you can put them on your group’s YouTube, Vimeo, or webpage – that way the students can watch them over and over again.

3. Discuss why the Super Bowl is such a big deal.
Take some time before the big game and talk about why this is the biggest sporting event all year.

4. Participate in the Souper Bowl outreach event.
This is a great way to raise some money and help out a local soup kitchen. Go to the website to find out more and get your students involved. Get all of your downloadable resources here that you’ll need to promote.

5. Use the commercials to start discussion on a number of topics.
After the Super Bowl, you could take a few weeks and steer some discussion to the topics brought up during the commercials. Or use the commercials as illustrations or intro material for the your messages.

How do you use the Super Bowl in your ministry? What have you done in the past? We’d love to hear some of your past highlights, please leave a comment to share with the youth ministry community.

Planned Parenthood Gift Certificates

While driving home, I heard a report about Planned Parenthood now offering gift certificates. After a little searching, I found this article from a newspaper in Indiana on the issue. I am a big fan of gift certificates, but this is a bit too far. Here is the reasoning behind them…

“People are making really tough decisions about putting gas in their car and food on their table, so we know that many women especially put healthcare at the bottom of their list to do,” said Chrystal Struben-Hall, Vice President of Planned Parenthood of Indiana.

Further down the article it mentions that the gift certificates can be used for abortions, if that is what the young lady wants to use it for. That is not the intention, but there are not restrictions on what the certificates can be used toward.

I hope this does not take off in Indiana and then to other states.

What do you think? Should it be addressed in your youth ministry? What (if anything) should the church/youth ministry do in response to these gift certificates?

Youth Pastors in a Negative Light

I’m reading through Signature Sins by Michael Mangis (a review will be posted in the future) and came to the chapter on Gender, Family and Sin when something grabbed my attention. In order to try and not lose any of the context, I’m going to post the entire paragraph, then I’ll talk about what bothered me and why.

“Several years ago my (Mangis) friend and colleague Cynthia Neal Kimball and I surveyed college women about unwanted sexual experiences. The women wrote their stories anonymously. Although we read some accounts of date rape and sexual abuse, more than half of the stores were accounts that we came to call stories of the ‘lost voice.’ The women recounted being with men who did not overpower them in any literal way yet left them feeling violated. The men in the stories were often youth pastors or other figures who held powerful roles in the women’s lives. These women wrote things such as ‘NO! was running through my mind but I just couldn’t say it till afterwards’ and ‘I couldn’t say no to a guy even thought I knew I should. I was not forced to do anything – I just didn’t have the strength to say no.’ The women seldom blamed the men or spoke of themselves as victims. Instead they described feeling confused and ashamed that they could find themselves in such a situation and not know how to get out.” (emphasis added)

I am upset with the numerous accounts (high percentage?) of unwanted sexual experiences by the women surveyed. But what bothered me more was the fact that youth pastors had a role in those stories. I am not naive about the struggle many (all?) youth pastors have to stay sexually pure. And I have heard of youth pastors who have been inappropriate with a student. It is not new to me, yet it saddens me every time I hear about it.

I hope that youth pastors would just stop this kind of stupid behavior.

This is one of the reasons why I have certain “rules” for one-on-one interaction with female students. (and if you are a female youth worker, just switch “female” for “male” in these rules)

#1. I am never alone with a female (student or adult)
#2. If I am driving students home and one is a female, she will be dropped off before the guys. (goes with #1)
#3. Always allow a female youth coach to do the counseling of female students (when it is not possible, limit discussion as much as possible and talk in a public place).

#4. I tell my wife about all conversations I have with females, there is no need for there to be any secrecy or suspicion.
#5. If my wife is not home and a female student stops by, I will either talk to them right inside and stay by the open windows or talk to them outside on the porch. (or I’ll politely tell them my wife is not home and see if they can come back at a later time)

#6. Make sure the students and adults understand your stance on this issue.

What about you? What do you do to keep yourself accountable and prevent this from happening to one of your female students?

Discussion Starter: How much is virginity worth?

I saw this article about a girl auctioning off her virginity over on The Source 4 YM’s blog. I’m still not sure what to say about this whole situation. Obviously, it makes me sad. Sad for this young woman and sad for any “man” who would be a part of this auction. It just shows that they have a strong lack of respect for women.

I think that this story can be a powerful discussion starter with your students. Here are a few thoughts on what topics you could use this story with…

– sex
– self worth
– virginity
– morals
– appropriate behavior
– greed
– college
– growing up
– decision making
– love
– value

In the end, I hope this young lady finds the love of God and learns that she doesn’t have to sell her virginity to anyone.

You can also check out Marko’s thoughts.

(gracias a Jonathan)