Category Archives: teaching

Book Review: Nelson’s Biblical Cyclopedic Index

Thomas Nelson’s Biblical Cyclopedic Index is a great resource for anyone who wants to learn more about the Bible. From its simplistic format to its rather extensive amount of information, you will find many positives in this $20 reference book. Unlike some Biblical reference books I have on my shelf, this book is smaller than a DVD case (it is much thicker, though).

The cover claims this is the “best Bible subject index ever” and it is difficult for me to argue with that. Nelson’s Biblical Cyclopedic Index contains more than 8,000 subjects (names, places, things, concepts, events, and doctrines). On top of this vast collection of subjects, with sub-headings and a limited number of references, you will find 300 word studies. Each word study gives you the Hebrew or Greek word, a good definition, several references and the Strong’s number for that word – so you can do further study if you want.

This little book is great for anyone wanting to learn more about the Bible; from teachers to students. Nelson’s Biblical Cyclopedic Index will make a great first purchase when you begin gathering resources for deeper Bible study.

**I reviewed this book as part of the BookSneeze review program**

My advice (rating) – buy more than one and give out copies (5 out of 5)


DVD Review: Adventures in Booga Booga Land

(What follows is a review of a DVD that you might be interested in using within your children’s ministry, because it is a cartoon whose stories are based on Jesus’ parables)

Marty (a monkey) and Gerard (a giraffe) are best friends and live in Booga Booga Land. The adventures they get into are all based on Jesus’ parables, which makes this DVD more appealing to parents who want their kids to be exposed to the truth of the Bible. This particular collection has three episodes, based on the workers in the vineyard, the wise and foolish builders, and the lamp under the bowl.

I had high hopes that this would be a great DVD to use both at home and at church. And as I watched it with my children, I was surprised to see that they enjoyed it. We all laughed during the episodes, though the kids laughed at more parts than I did. In fact, they even asked to watch it again. So I can say, as a parent, that this is a DVD your children will probably enjoy. But, in terms of the connection to the parables I felt that it was either a stretch or not there at all. It was definitely a new and creative method of teaching on the parables.

I would not recommend buying this DVD, but if you can borrow it you should.

**I reviewed this book as part of the BookSneeze review program**

Teaching Tips: #1 Silence is Okay

Teaching Tip #1 – Silence is Okay
I was fresh out of Bible college, in my first youth ministry, sitting on a couch teaching high school students. I had spent hours preparing this lesson, studying the Bible, and crafting great questions to get the students talking. As I sat there going through my lesson notes, there was only one thing wrong: no one was answering. I was beginning to wonder what I had done wrong. Maybe my questions were too difficult or unclear. Maybe the students didn’t like me. As I thought through my concerns, all I could hear from them was silence. So I just kept moving. I answered the questions myself or just moved on to the next one. And when it was all over, I left feeling like I just wasted an hour of their life.

Have you ever had that same feeling?

What I have learned since then is that it was not necessarily my questions that were at fault, it was the way I was teaching. I was not allowing the students time to process the questions and formulate an answer. I assumed that silence meant they were either not interested or clueless. The silence scared me as a teacher. This fear of silence was a manifestation of my lack of confidence. Maybe you have the same fear of silence, too. If you do, let me share with you some things I have learned over the years.

Silence can mean a few things:
1. There is a fear of being wrong.
Sometimes, the students are silent after a question because they do not want to get the question wrong. School is a place with right and wrong answers and this mentality carries over into the youth ministry. As the teacher, one of your goals is to create a safe environment, where the students trust that their thoughts are valuable.

2. There answer is too personal to share with the group.
There are some questions we ask that go straight to the heart of a student. These are questions that spark life application and change. These are the questions that really affect the students. These are also the questions that need not always be answered verbally. Are you expecting a student to tell everyone else in class something that might be too personal?

3. The students do not have an answer.
Remember that time you were at a seminar and the speaker asked a question and you could not think of an answer. It happens to our students, too. Every student does not enter the room having spent the last week preparing to discuss the topic of the day. Some students enter the room with a dozen other things on their mind, all of which are competing for their attention. These mental distractions can make it difficult to quickly come up with answer, so try to remember not to rush them.

4. They are processing the question.
After you ask a question, especially an open-ended question, you need to give the students a chance to process. As the teacher, you have had days to think about the questions. The students, on the other hand, have only had seconds. You cannot expect a student to immediately answer. So stop expecting it and allow them time to think.

How to handle silence:
1. Give the students time.
After you ask a question, allow the students a few minutes to formulate their answers. One of the worst things you can do is to continually talk while you wait. You might need to offer suggestions and helps, but do not immediately start with them.

2. Pick students to answer.
If you have some questions to ask that are based off of a Scripture you will be reading, let a few students know that you will be asking them a question after the Scripture is read. This “warning” should encourage them to pay more attention to what is being read.

3. Start with questions everyone needs to answer.
This is especially helpful one of the first times the group is together, but it will help anytime. At the beginning of class, ask a couple questions that need to be answered by everyone. Do not make them too difficult or too narrow. You want the students to start thinking and to feel more comfortable talking in the group.

Do you have any other suggestions for handling silence?

Looking Back: What if there was no Easter?

The other day, I was reminded of a post from 3 years ago entitled: What if there was no Easter? As I looked over it again, I thought I would repost (slightly edited) it today. What do you think life would be like if there was no Easter? Do you think about what it was like before Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection?

For the junior high class, we wanted to go about the Easter lesson from a different POV. In preparation, I did some extra study on the Law and what life would be like under it. I, for one, am very glad we can celebrate Easter.

Throughout the class (about every 10 minutes) have the students do something routine. They will do the same thing every time. The goal is to let them gain a better understanding of what the annual sacrifices were like. They will do the same thing over and over and over and will not be able to not do it next time. Do not make it too difficult or time consuming, or you won’t have time to do the rest of the study.

We are going to be asking and answering these questions:

What if Jesus had never died on the cross?
What if Jesus had never rose from the grave?
What if we were still under the Law?
What if we choose to live under the Law instead of under Grace?

The hope is that by looking at Easter from this POV, the students will better understand the importance and magnitude of what Jesus did for us.

We’ll be looking at Gal. 2&3, Heb. 9, and some various OT passages on the Law

Every Youth Worker Needs: Less Sarcasm

(Youth ministry is not an easy ministry. And in this series, Every Youth Worker Needs:…, I want to highlight a variety of things that might make your ministry a little easier. This ongoing series will include ministry tips, book suggestions, technology helps, and many other nuggets of advice.)

If you would have known me in high school and college, you would have a hard time believing I wrote the title of this post. Allow me to explain to you, in one sentence, what I mean. I used to be extremely sarcastic. It was simply “who I was” and how I interacted with others. In fact, it was so extreme that I lost a college roommate because he thought I was too sarcastic. We had many (probably at least one a week) conversations over my use of sarcasm and his belief that I used it a little too much. I defended myself back then and despite trying to refrain around him, I did little to change my sarcastic attitude.

Then there came this point where I actually regretted who I had become. For many years, the one word that described me was “sarcastic” and sadly, this followed me into my first ministry. It was years into my ministry before I realized just how my sarcasm was negatively affecting the students and the ministry. As easy as it was for me to be sarcastic – it was pretty second nature for me – I knew I needed to put a stop to it. I don’t remember if I ever sat down with my youth ministry team, the students or the families and told them that I was going to be less sarcastic. I don’t think it was as important to tell people as it was to actually change my words and attitude. And as I changed into a less sarcastic person, I could see visible changes happening within the group.

As I changed, I saw a vanishing of the distance (caused by my sarcasm) between myself and some of the people I was trying to minister to. I wonder what “could have been” during the first two years had I learned sooner. From my experience, I have seen four negatives to using sarcasm in your youth ministry.

4 negatives to using sarcasm in youth ministry.

1. Students do not know when they can trust you.
Okay, so that might be a strong, and over-the-top statement that is not true all the time, but I think its still worth thinking about. When a student asks a question or makes a statement, are they worried about what you will say in return? The more you use sarcasm in your responses, the less students want to open their mouth and say anything. Students need to know they can trust your response to their thoughts and emotions (the stuff they say and do expresses these two) and that your response will be positive or at least neutral, not damaging.

2. Someone (usually a student) gets their feelings hurt.
Sarcasm is known for being “biting.” In my experience, any time it is used it results in hurt feelings. Its not the person using sarcasm that is hurt, nor those who hear it, but the person to whom it is directed toward. As a youth worker, more often than not, we tend to direct sarcasm at a student. And when this student laughs we think we have accomplished the exact opposite of hurt. In reality, we are only fooling ourselves. No student walks away from a sarcastic remark without feeling some level of pain, especially if they respect the person who said it.

3. It neither lifts up or encourages.
Youth ministry needs to be a safe place for students to be. When sarcasm is acceptable and prevalent within a youth ministry, it seizes to be a safe place. Throughout the Bible we are told to encourage each other and lift each other up. Sarcasm hinders us from showing the love of God to those who need it.

4. Simply put, it is cheap humor.
There is no way around this one. If you are looking for a cheap laugh, say something sarcastic. But is this what our youth ministries need? I don’t think so. If you want to be funny, put more effort into it. And remember, you do not need to get a laugh every time you talk to someone. Your ministry is about connecting students with a loving God – not making jokes or getting students to think you are funny.

There are still occasions where sarcasm flows from my lips, but it is much fewer and far between. Not to mention, it is very rarely around a student. Yet, the very fact that I still have moments of sarcastic behavior means I need to be intentional about taming my tongue (see James 3:1-12, especially v. 10). I encourage you to take sarcasm out of your talks, out of your conversations with students, and allow your words to be an encouragement to those students you are ministering to.

(Every Youth Worker Needs: A Blog Series About Things You Need in Youth Ministry)

Adding Creativity to Your Ministry

An article I wrote for a series on “Creativity in Ministry” is up on YS’s new site – which you need to check out if you haven’t already. I would love to hear what you think about the article. How have you been able to add creativity to your ministry? What tips would you offer?
Is it okay to admit that I have had “creative youth ministry” envy in the past? I hope so, because I think I just admitted it. If you have been involved with a non-megachurch size youth ministry, then I bet you know what I am talking about. You can grow envious when you see all of the creative elements being produced by bigger ministries: message graphics, logos, websites, drama, music, curriculum and videos. It can be enough to cause a youth minister to grow discontent with what his ministry is doing.

Being part of a creative youth ministry is what most new youth workers desire. Creative youth ministries (and congregations in general) are glamorized by magazines, websites, conventions and the youth ministry world. Being creative is the goal, or at least that is how it is portrayed when the pedestal of “ministry success” is placed under these ministries. And since having the most creative youth ministry garners the attention, the young youth worker seeks after the magic chalice of creativity. What usually happens is that youth worker cannot match the megachurch, so he copies or borrows the megachurches material.

Borrowing from another ministry to make your ministry look better is not the answer. This habit can lead to simply being one step behind and never fully reaching your ministry’s potential. To help the young youth worker reach a higher level of creativity, I would like to offer two pieces of advice.

Read Adding Creativity to Your Ministry in its entirety on YS’s site.

Prayer helps – to help you focus

Prayer is pretty important to a Christian. It is the avenue through which a Christian can talk directly with God (the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe) and share true emotions with the one person who had to power to really change things.

Because prayer is so important, it can be overwhelming. Students struggle to pray. Adults struggle to pray. Youth workers struggle to teach teenagers ways to pray or encourage them to start, even just for a few minutes.

Below you will find 3 prayer helps. The first 2 are methods that can be used to help a student (or anyone for that matter) focus their prayer time. The 3rd help is about focusing your prayers, but learning to focus more on other people and less on yourself when you pray.

Praise – praise God for Who He is
Intercession – praying for other people
Needs – pray specifically for needs you know about
Confession – confessing your sins
Protection – asking God for protection for those who need it

Adoration – praising God for Who He is
Confession – confessing your sins
Thanksgiving – telling God “thank you” for His blessings
Supplication – asking for “stuff” on behalf of yourself and others

me & we vs. You & them
How do you pray? Do you spend your prayer time focused on yourself and those close to you? Or is your prayer time focused more on God and others?

What ideas/helps have you used in the past? What would you suggest and add to this list?

2 Small Group Series Released – Elijah & Trusting God

I’m pretty excited about these 2 small groups. They are the first “stand-alone” small groups/lesson/curriculum material that I’ve written that’s been published in any form other than being printed from my computer. Plus, I love the fact that they have great looking covers (its a shame they are only downloadable).

If you have used these lessons, I would love to hear what you thought.

I wrote a 4 week series on Elijah and its now available for download from Simply Youth Ministry. Follow this link: Elijah Small Group Series to get more information and to download.

Lessons include:

  • Week 1 – He Was Confident in God (1 Kings 18:16-39)
  • Week 2 – He Battled Fear (1 Kings 19:1-8)
  • Week 3 – He Battled Loneliness (1 Kings 19:9-14)
  • Week 4 – He Was a Lifelong Servant (2 Kings 2:1-11)

I also wrote a 3 week series on Trusting God and its also now available for download from Simply Youth Ministry. Follow this link: Trusting God Small Group Series to get more information and to download.

Lessons include:

  • Week 1: With Your Past (1 John 4:10)
  • Week 2: In the Present (Ephesians 4:22-24)
  • Week 3: With Your Future (2 Corinthians 5:6-10)

Book Review: Speaking to Teenagers by Doug Fields and Duffy Robbins

Speaking in front of children is scary, even though they are fairly forgiving. Speaking in front of adults is nerve-racking, especially if most of them are older than you. But, speaking in front of teenagers is worse. It is like swimming with sharks, while you are covered with blood and have pieces of meat attached to your feet. At least that is how some people feel about the idea of speaking to teens. But thanks to Doug Fields and Duffy Robbins (and their book “Speaking to Teenagers: How to think about, create, and deliver effective messages“) you do not have to feel this way any longer.

Fields and Robbins combine their many years of experience with a large collection of research to provide a valuable resource to any adult wanting to communicate effectively with teens. This book is filled with humor, graphs, pictures of bridges, insight, real-life experience, and tips. Though the book flows from start to finish, it is possible to find the chapter dealing with an area of speaking where you need help and find the assistance you need to improve.

The first section covers the thinking part of the message preparation. This includes some great information on what needs to go into an effective message (like how to build the bridge from you to the students you want to reach). Although this step in message preparation might seem optional – Fields and Robbins build a convincing argument to its importance. The second section focuses on how to create a message that STICKs. Here you’ll learn the importance of Study, Thinking, Illustrating, Constructing, and Keeping focused. Finally, the last three chapters discuss how to deliver an effective message (everything from your vocal pitch and hand gestures to the set-up of the room in which you will be speaking).

This book is a must-read for anyone who speaks to teens. You will do yourself, and the students to whom you speak, a huge favor by reading and implementing the wisdom found in these pages.

My advice (rating) – go out and buy it (4 out of 5)

Learned from Twitter: week ending August 22, 2009

Gained a few more twitter gems this week. Just had to share these ones with you. Enjoy.

1. snavenel (Len Evans) shared a great link that churches need to look at.

We Love Our Youth Worker http://www.weloveouryouthwo… 7 promises churches make to ensure they properly care for their youth worker

2. pattigibbons (Patti Gibbons) will bring a smile to your face (if you’re a youth worker) with this quote from VBS.

Comment from VBS ldr after lesson on sin: “What’s not fun about a room full of pre-K & K kids and a pooping snake?”

3. giveawaylist (Big List of Giveaways) posted a giveaway that could be very useful (if you won) for some great foll0w-up material for your ministry.

New giveaway listed – check it out! : 250 5X7″ Custom Greeting Cards

4. snavenel (Len Evans) suggests all youth workers (especially those who teach) read this free e-book.

Josh Hunt is giving way a free e-book Good Questions Have Groups Talking… great tool 4 Youth & SS teachers!

5. FlowerInTheRain (Janelle Painter) offers a great piece of advice. Read and take to heart.

Slow down. From what we know, Jesus never said, “I’m sorry, I can’t help you. I need to be in Jerusalem by sundown.” Pace your life.

6. AdamLehman (Adam Lehman) shared a great moment from his ministry – a “thank you” from a student. These are the things that keep a youth worker going for months.

Got my first “thank-you-for-what-youre-doing” text from a student: “Thanks for getting people together to play xbox. It was lots of fun.”

What did you learn from Twitter this week?