Look Who’s Talking!

lookwhostalkingI am passionate about small groups. They are the backbone of the youth ministry that I lead. I am not personally leading one of our student small groups at the moment, but I do visit our groups each week and take time to observe and connect with our students and adult leaders. Here’s a principle that I shared with our leaders recently. I call it the “Look Who’s Talking” Principle. 

I am a teacher by gifting. I love standing in front of a group of people and communicating. But when I am leading a small group, I have to remind myself that my role is different. The primary role of a small group leader is not talker, but facilitator. The reason I love small groups is that they give us a chance to help students learn in a more effective way than simply sitting in a chair and listening to an adult talk to them. Ouch! As a teacher, that hurts just a little bit. The truth is, students learn best, not by listening to us talk to them, but through experiences, and in the small group setting, through the experience of sharing what they are processing as it pertains to the topic.

A small group leader is not primarily a sage imparting wisdom, but a miner extracting wisdom from students through asking good, open-ended questions, listens carefully, and gets students involved in the conversation. Yes, adult leaders can share insights and experiences occasionally, but that should be an exception, not the rule. When leaders do all of the talking, students are relegated to the role of passive listeners rather than active participants. As leaders we must ensure that students are engaging in the conversation through sharing their thoughts with the group and listening to their peers. If you think in terms of the old Pareto (80/20) principle, as leaders you should be doing 20% of the talking, and students should be doing 80%.

If you are a small group leader, or if you have a few leaders in your group, take some time after small group to reflect and ask if students were engaging, or if you were doing too much talking. As a principle, remember the title of the 1989 movie, “Look Who’s Talking.” If there were a video recording, or even just an audio recording of your small group meeting, whose voices would you hear? Your goal should be to ensure you hear a whole lot of students’ voices (dare I say, all of your students?) and very little of yours. It’s tough, but it’s the best thing you can do for the spiritual growth of your students.

Planning for Problems vs. A Plan for Problems

When I was in high school there was one class that I looked forward to more than any other: Gym. After lunch, it was my favorite time each day. But, if you’re one of those people (like I am) who won’t let students get away with answering, “What’s your favorite class in school?” with “Lunch” or “Gym,” then I have another answer for you. And I don’t have to think hard. My favorite class in high school was Mr. Moore’s Earth Science. Now, when I say that, please don’t jump to the conclusion that I know much about science. I don’t. What I loved about that class was that half of the time we got to go outside. We got to be in nature. And that was something I loved!

Out of that class I was chosen to be a part of a program called Down to Earth. For one week we got to leave school and go on various adventures. One day we did a low ropes course, another day we did a high ropes course, we went rappelling, and we even did free-fall rappelling off of a train track bridge. And the climax of our week was a hike into the woods, and an overnight camping trip. One of the things I learned through Down to Earth was the principle: Prepare for the worst; hope for the best. 

A number of years ago I was in my first year of ministry at a church when we went on an international mission trip. During the trip I began to hear chatter about “Drama Wednesday.” During the front end of the week, they kept saying things like, “Drama Wednesday is coming,” “You know what happens on Wednesday,” “Save it for Drama Wednesday.” And then, when Wednesday came, sure enough, there was drama. When something negative would happen, or when students would get in an argument, or when students were acting clique-y, they would just say, “Yep. It’s Drama Wednesday.” Based on past experiences, they had resigned themselves to the fact that one day on a mission trip was going to be filled with conflict. It was like they had given themselves a Hall Pass to vent and argue and gossip and gripe on Wednesdays; to get it all out of their systems so the other days would be peaceful and unified.

This was one of those ministry culture things that I knew had to change. And, of course, the way of change itself brought on more drama. But a shift in thinking and attitude was needed. In his book Boundaries for Leaders, author Henry Cloud says, “Put some boundaries on the negative thinking, and you create an environment where negativity [can] no longer live” (p. 108).

Somewhere along the line, this group of students started living with the philosophy: Prepare for the worst, and then expect it as inevitable. My task was to help them shift their mentality to the Down to Earth philosophy I had been taught: Prepare for the worst, but hope for the best. It wasn’t easy, but over the next couple of mission trips we raised the bar and eventually the culture changed significantly.

I submit that there is a big difference between planning for problems and having a plan to deal with problems. We understand that problems and challenges are inherent when humans are involved. But rather than expecting the worst as an inevitability, we believe for, pray for, work for, and expect the best. As a youth ministry, we have a philosophy of ministry that guides how we approach people and handle situations. When the best doesn’t happen, we aren’t necessarily surprised or caught off guard. We try not to freak out. Instead, we simply try to work our plan for dealing with drama and challenges as they arise in a biblically-based (Matthew 18:15-17), relationally healthy, God-honoring, restorative, redemptive way. It might seem like a subtle thing, but I believe this shift in thinking makes a big difference in the culture of our ministries.

Discussion Questions:

  • Talk about the statement: “There is a big difference between planning for problems and having a plan to deal with problems.”
  • In what ways have you set the bar too low and simply expect problems? How can you raise the bar and change your ministry culture to expecting the best?
  • What is your plan for dealing with problems in a “biblically-based (Matthew 18:15-17), relationally healthy, God-honoring, restorative, redemptive way”?
  • What is your philosophy of ministry that guides how you interact with people and handle situations? If you don’t have one, set a time to get together with your team and create one.

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How to Prepare and Share a Devotional

devotionsAs a Christian in community, there are likely to be times when you are asked to share a devotional — maybe in a small group, on a missions trip, at camp, on a retreat, etc. This can feel intimidating if you think, “Woe! I am no pastor. I could never see things in the Bible that they see, let alone share them with other people.” This thinking contains several false beliefs.

  • “I have to be a pastor.” The whole Reformation of the 1500s was to refute the thinking that only professional pastors can understand the Bible and teach people what it says. While some people have the gift of teaching and can communicate the truths of the Bible in a more effective way than others, the Bible teaches the priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:5), and that God can speak to our hearts directly, because the Holy Spirit who helps us understand God’s Word lives within each of us (John 14:26; 1 John 2:27).
  • “I have to be really smart.” Another false belief is that understanding the Bible is simply an academic exercise. The truth is that the Bible is the living Word of God (Hebrews 4:12), and understanding and applying it to our lives is a matter of the Spirit of God enabling us to do so (1 Corinthians 2:14-15).
  • “I have to be a good public speaker.” Some people are naturally wired and gifted to be communicators in front of people. Others are not. The good news is that sharing God’s Word in a devotional setting isn’t about eloquence. It’s simply about telling people what God is showing you in the Bible.

When we are living in community, it is important to share with others what we are learning. Paul told Timothy, “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2). He wrote to the Colossians, “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts” (3:16). And he said to the Corinthians, “What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up” (14:26).

So, here are some simple steps to take in preparing a devotional. Writing is important in this process. For me, I underline key words or verses in my Bible. I jot down notes, questions, thoughts, ideas, etc. as I am preparing. In the preparation process below, you will find all kinds of questions and thoughts to consider, which you should scribble down responses to.

Preparing a Devotional:

  1. Pray – Sometimes you will have a passage of Scripture assigned to you. Other times you will be given the freedom to find a passage to share. Whatever the case may be, prayer is the essential first step in prep. Thank God for the opportunity He has given you to share from His Word. Invite the Holy Spirit to lead and guide you as you prepare, and help you understand what He wants you to learn. Pray for the people you will be sharing with — that their hearts and minds will be open to receive God’s Word.
  2. Study – 2 Timothy 2:15 says, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” Once you have a passage of Scripture, ask questions about what is going on in the passage. Ask questions like, Who is writing? Who are they writing to? What was going on? Why are they concerned about this? Why do they feel this is important to share? What did these words mean to the people who read them first? During this step you are not focussed on what this means for you, you are trying to understand the context. Context is the most important thing in Bible study, because if you don’t understand the original intent of the author to the people he was actually writing to, you will misunderstand what it might mean for your life. Another good idea at this step is to look at different translations. Sometimes the way different translators interpret various words will help you get a better sense of the message.
  3. Interpret – Once you have a handle on the context, now you can ask some interpretive questions. The two main questions you want to answer here are:
    1. What does this passage tell us about God? Complete the sentence: God is …
    2. What does this passage tell us about human beings? Complete the sentence: Human beings are …
  4. Check Other Sources – At this point (not before!), it is good to see if your understanding is on track. Visit biblestudytools.com/commentaries or biblehub.com/commentaries for Free online commentaries. These are insights into the passages from scholars. You want to see if your understandings are consistent with others (there will be variations, which is fins; you just want to make sure you are not way off.) Another thing you can do here is share with a pastor or spiritual leader what you learning and ask for their feedback and insights as people who do study the Bible with regularity.
  5. One Point – What is the emphasis of the passage? You may have learned several things that are rich, but if you only have 5 minutes to tell people something you learned, what would you choose? What is the one point you want to drive home? In a devotional, your goal is not to preach a full sermon, but to give people one nugget of truth to walk away with and think about that day. What’s the BIG idea? Make it memorable. How can you say the big idea in a catchy way? Rather than saying, for example, “Jesus loved us and died on the cross for us. Because of this, we should love other people,” you could say, “Loved people love people.” It’s simple, catchy, and memorable.” Someone once said, “make it something that could go on a t-shirt.”
  6. Personal Story or Illustration – What is something you have been through, or a current event that illustrates your main point?
  7. Application – What do you want people to do to live out the main point? Give them a question or some suggestions about what they can do to live out the truth you have shared.

Sharing a Devotional:

Now your study and brainstorming is done. It’s time to bring it all together in a way that you can share with others. I would suggest that you write it out like you are speaking to people. Then, when it comes time to share, you have the option to simply read what you have written (with practice you can do this without simply staring at the paper), or you can share from an outline you have created from what you have written, which is basically bullet points to remind you what you want to share. Note: Generally speaking, one single-spaced, typed page takes about three and an half to five minutes to read out loud, so you should have about a page and a half or so for a 5 minute devotional (Hand written would be different based on your handwriting.)

A Few Tips and Reminders:

  • Know Your Audience. What are their ages? What are their interests? What similarities do you have that you can connect with them over?
  • Use a Bible translation that reads well and says things in a way that your audience can understand.
  • Be yourself. While you may be shy and speaking in front of people may not be your thing, but that doesn’t mean you have to pretend to be a loud, funny speaker. Just share like you are having a conversation with a friend at Starbucks. If you are funny, use some good, appropriate humor. If you are a good story-teller, bring us into your story. Whatever the case, be yourself.

When is comes to actually sharing your devotional, a good format to follow is Hook, Book, Look, Took (Creative Bible Teaching by Lawrence O. Richards & Gary J. Bredfeldt).

  1. Hook – A brief introduction to grab the audience’s attention. Ways you can hook people is through humor, sharing a story, or asking a question to get people thinking.
  2. Book – Share the Bible passage, briefly tell us what’s going on.
  3. Look – Help the audience understand the big idea. Tell a story, give an illustration, help people see how the passage applies to their lives.
  4. Took – How can people practically apply what you have just shared with them? What do you want people to take away? What do you want them to believe? What do you want them to think about? What do you want them to do?

Camp Stuff Week Day 1: Camp Promo Videos

Summer camps are just a couple of months away, so this week I will be posting each day about camp. Today is the promo video prepared by the camp we are taking our Shelter Rock Students to this summer, July 31-August 6.

Further the Conversation: Comment …

  • How far in advance to you start promoting camp?
  • What do you hope to communicate in a camp promo video?
  • How long should a camp promo video be?
  • Share a link to your camp promo videos. Love seeing the creativity that goes into making these.

Words are Powerful

This is fascinating. Obviously there are some things that are cause for question/skepticism, but there certainly is a fundamental truth in the beautifying affect of speaking positive words of life and the destructive nature of speaking words of negativity.