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Help for Turbulent Teens

It’s a problem that affects millions of teenagers; likely someone you know in your own church or family. What is it? Interior angst. Loneliness. Depression. Fear. Despair. All these and more are part of the emotional roller coaster that goes with the changes and development of adolescence.

This is an age-old problem that should lead to maturity and growth. But teens today are missing key supports that made it less volatile for generations past. So says Dr. Albert Mohler in his commentary last week on a report released by the Centers for Disease Control,

The biggest alarm here has to do with the interior lives of America teenagers . …Words such as fear and despair among American teenagers should grab our attention in a hurry. The official behind the report, Dr. Jonathan Merman of the CDC, gave the bottom line in the research with remarkable clarity. He said, “An adolescent’s world can be bleak.”

…We cannot possibly redefine adolescence so that teenagers not undergo stress and strain and also both happiness and pain. … but what we can do is make certain that they never endure an experience, these trials and passages of life alone, or without the support of parents, or without their family, or without the support of the church…

To one degree or another, in any given situation, young people give evidence of a wide array of emotions: loneliness, love, sorrow, shame, regret, discouragement, gladness, awe, anger, fear, zeal, confidence, delight, pain, and praise. Too often however, these emotions are left unshaped by the reality of God and His Word. In fact, our culture encourages it: Young people are told to “follow your heart” (i.e. your subjective feelings), they are given self-esteem pep talks to alleviate shame, they are encouraged to set their delight in fleeting pleasures, they are told that they are the measure of themselves. All of this is destructive to their souls.

Instead, their feelings need to come under submission to God and His Word. Their feelings need to find their way to their Creator as they pour out their hearts to Him, humbly longing for His life-giving mercy. This is the path to everlasting joy, as well as the way to walk in it.

 In his sermon, Songs That Shape the Heart and Mind—Psalms: Thinking and Feeling with God,”, John Piper said,

One of the reasons the Psalms are deeply loved by so many Christians is that they give expression to an amazing array of emotions…

More explicitly than all the other books in the Bible, the Psalms are designed to awaken and shape our emotions in line with the instruction they give. What happens when you read and sing the Psalms the way they are intended to be read and sung is that your emotions and your mind are shaped by these psalms.

Parents and teachers have a vital opportunity and responsibility to introduce teens to the Psalms so that they might experience the Psalms’ heart- and mind-shaping power. Truth78 has developed a new curriculum for this potentially turbulent season to help churches take their teens to God’s Word, the only place where true hope and help is found. We are excited to introduce our new youth curriculum, “Pour Out Your Heart Before Him—A Study for Youth on Prayer and Praise in the Psalms,” by Sally Michael.

She writes in the preface to the study,

Though God is the Supreme Ruler of the universe, He also dwells with His people in close, intimate fellowship. What we discover through walking in relationship with God through Christ is that He understands every emotion of the human experience, so we can freely pour out our hearts to Him. He will, with Shepherd-like love, comfort and calm our troubled hearts.

The Book of Psalms was written under God’s hand by real people with real problems, who knew that the way to true soul satisfaction comes through pouring out their hearts before God, lifting their eyes to Yahweh, and opening their mouths in praise to Him. The Psalms not only reflect Israel’s story, but our story as well as we walk in a new covenant relationship with the God of Israel.

Not only does God understand every human emotion, but He also resolves every human emotion through His presence and character, making Him worthy of our heartfelt adoration and praise. He turns worry to peace, despair to hope, distress to deliverance, weariness to praise, brokenness to forgiveness, envy to contentment, and anger to justice.

The Psalms lead us to trust in the triune God, the Creator, the unchanging Source of Truth, rather than the worthless idols of the human heart. This is a God we can praise from generation to generation, as we delight in His testimonies and rest in His shepherd-care.

Pour Our Your Heart Before Him is a faithful guide for the season of change and growth that faces every teen. Whatever emotions your youth are juggling, the Psalms are a haven they can run to. Learn more about our new curriculum.

 

Ordinary Means, Extraordinary Fruit

As a Sunday school teacher, I have always approached the last weeks of the school year with mixed emotions. Was I faithful week to week in teaching God’s Word? Did my students “get it”? Do they give evidence of faith in Jesus? Have I seen any spiritual fruit? What about that child who seemed bored all year? What about the one who was often disrespectful in class? What should I have done differently?… The list of questions goes on and on. At times, it’s easy to lose heart when I don’t see spiritual fruit coming about in the manner I expect. Parents often struggle with these same questions and emotions regarding their children’s spiritual condition.

Here is a word of encouragement from our new book, Indestructible Joy for the Next Generations, for teachers and parents who long for their students and children to be vibrant and fruitful disciples of Jesus:

We do not always fully see the spiritual fruit of our endeavors in this lifetime, but we can be confident in the sovereign grace of God to accomplish His saving work in the lives of His people. When His Word goes out, it never fails to bring about His purposes. That seemingly bored little girl you teach week-by-week in Sunday school class may, by God’s grace, become a great woman of faith who dedicates her life to nurturing her family and sharing the Gospel with other women. That rebellious young boy in your own home may, by God’s grace, become a man of God who faithfully shepherds a small local church. And often it is through “ordinary” means that God brings about extraordinary fruit in the lives of children—means such as teaching children to read the Bible, memorize Scripture, pray, participate in the worship service, and to observe God’s hand in nature.

Consider one man’s testimony,

I remember reading my King James Version Bible, from age 6 or 7 every night. It was a habit I got from my parents, and my grandmother encouraged in me as well. I didn’t understand everything in it. I could follow along and make out some of the words. It was God’s Word and it was fascinating to me. I deeply treasured those words of God from a very early age.

I remember when I was 12, praying one night with my mother to trust Jesus, ask Him into my heart, have Him be my Savior. I made a profession of faith and then was baptized at First Baptist Church in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. I remember coming to Minneapolis at 13 for a Billy Graham Crusade—that would have been 1961—and going forward then as a recommitment of my life. I remember those things but now, looking back earlier in my life, I would not date my conversation to age 12 or 13 because I see evidences of regeneration—genuine saving faith—much, much earlier. I loved to sit at the piano and sing hymns. I loved to read my Bible. When I was out on the playground, riding my bike, or out playing baseball, I would be praying to God quietly during the day. I see evidences way back at a very early stage because of Christian parents who brought me up in a Christian home and brought me to Sunday School, and I’m so thankful for that heritage.

In some ways, this is a very simple, “unspectacular” testimony. A young boy brought to faith through very ordinary means: reading the Bible, encouragement from family, the teaching and preaching of the Word, praying, and singing hymns. Yet, God was pleased to do extraordinary things by His sovereign grace in this young boy’s life.

Who is the man sharing this testimony? Dr. Wayne Grudem: theologian, author, seminary professor, and defender of the Christian faith. He gave this short testimony during his address, “Teaching the Richness of the Entire Gospel,” (part 1, at our 2007 National Conference. His testimony reflects the importance of the calling given in Psalm 78:1-7. Charles Spurgeon wrote the following concerning those verses:

We will look forward to future generations, and endeavor to provide for their godly education. It is the duty of the church of God to maintain, in fullest vigor, every agency intended for the religious education of the young; to them we must look for the church of the future, and as we sow towards them so shall we reap[1].

Teachers and parents, do not grow weary in providing your students and children with the “ordinary” means of a godly education: reading and teaching from the Bible, offering godly encouragement, attending corporate worship, listening to the preached Word, praying, singing hymns, etc. Because it is through these means that God, by His sovereign grace, does extraordinary things. May we diligently “endeavor to provide for their godly education” and pray earnestly that God would bring forth extraordinary fruit in their lives, for His glory and their indestructible joy!

Order your copy of Indestructible Joy for the Next Generations, or download the free e-book, here.

[1] The Treasury of David, vol.III (New York, NY: Funk & Wagnalls, 1886), 433.

Inspiring Youth to Be Fruitful

Children Desiring God Blog // Inspiring Youth to Be Fruitful

Parents and Teachers

Here are some great quotes to read and discuss with the young adults in your life:

Be careful young people that you don’t postpone the burden and blessing of fruitfulness in your life because you use the excuse, “I am only a youth.” God said to Jeremiah, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go.” There are some younger than you that you can lead, and there are some older than you that you can serve. But do not say, “I am only a youth,” as though the only thing you are good for is watching videos and playing games, as though there in no ministry for you to do.

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What Are They Reading, Watching and Listening to?

What Are They Reading, Watching and Listening To?

Here is a simple checklist from the Teacher’s Guide for the Your Word is Truth youth curriculum with questions based on Philippians 4:8. These questions can serve as a guide in helping you discuss and evaluate books, television, movies, and music with your children and students.
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Round-Up: Encouragement for Teachers and Parents of Youth

Youth Ministry

Here is a collection of our favorite articles written in the past few years to encourage youth pastors, mentors and parents. Check out the links below for advice on partnering with parents, developing a vision for your ministry, fighting the fight of faith and planting roots of faith that will last beyond the teen years.

Youth Ministry as a Bridge

What Will Win Your Youth?

Centering Youth on the Word

A Genuine Parent and Youth Ministry Partnership

The Importance of Parents in Youth Ministry

Youth Ministry: Set Apart or A Part

Already Relevant

Abusing “Jesus Loves Me”?

We Need the Wisdom of the Past

Preparing Teens for the Great Battle

 

 

Small Group Leading 101

Small Group Leading 101

The first few weeks of a new Sunday school year can seem overwhelming, but I found several things that have helped me over the years to be well prepared and have a smooth running Sunday morning.

At the Beginning of the Year

I read the curriculum introduction and found very practical suggestions. I checked out the appendices that provided even more help. And I printed out the scope and sequence of the curriculum so that I could see where the curriculum was heading.

As I prepared for my role as small group leader it was good to remember that my job was not to re-teach the lesson that the teacher teaches but to:

  1. Guide the children
  2. Help them discover answers
  3. Bring them to application truths they have been taught
  4. Make connections with previous lessons’ themes or chronology
  5. Work on Scripture memory
  6. Pray for concerns on their hearts

…all for the purpose of their growth in Christ-likeness and the glory of God.

Small Group Leading 101

During the Week

It helps tremendously to read the Scripture text on Sunday night so my mind can mull over the next week’s lesson and ask the Lord for personal application. Reading it multiple times prior to actually looking at the lesson enables my heart to be impacted with the truth we hope to communicate to the students. Then I read the teaching material and the application section to know the content and possible applications I can help the children apply to their own lives. Looking at the student workbook (or journal) helps me know what we will work on during our small group time and how it connects with the application questions. Writing out the specific questions I want to ask the children keeps me on task. Finally, an essential part of preparation is praying for the volunteer team, students and their parents. After all, only God can change hearts and empower the ministry.

May the Lord bless your preparations and interactions with the students He has placed in your sphere of influence, for His glory and their good (and yours as well)!

Sunday Morning

I make a habit of getting to the classroom early which makes a huge difference. A great way to start the morning is to spend time in prayer as a team. Then I could look at the classroom space and think about how I might:

  1. Minimize distractions to help the kids focus
  2. Make sure all needed materials were easily accessible (Student Workbooks or Journals, crayons/markers, pencils/pens, a notebook to record prayer requests…)

This allows me to focus on the kids as soon as they show up BECAUSE…Sunday school begins when the first child arrives! Greet the children with a smile and use their names—it truly makes a difference and they notice. Engage in conversation as soon as they come in. Sit with your small group during the worship and teaching time. Model the behavior you expect. Be alert for distracting or inappropriate behavior and support the teacher by intervening if necessary. Take notes on the lesson as it is taught so you can adjust questions you have planned to line up with what has been shared.

In Your Small Group

  1. Open in prayer.
  2. Introduce new children.
  3. State your expectations (especially at the beginning of the year and as a periodic reminder).
  4. Try to involve each child as you work through what you have prepared.
  5. Work on Workbook/Journal pages. This is key to applying what they have learned.
  6. Practice the memory verse and teach age appropriate Bible skills (i.e., Books of the Bible), as time permits.
  7. Take time to pray with your group at the end of your time together and encourage children to pray aloud.
  8. Make sure to record the prayer requests and follow up later on possible answers.
  9. Thank God for His help and ask Him to work in the students’ hearts.
  10. Have students help clean up your area and be sure to send home the GIFT page for parents to review.

As a small group leader I love connecting with “my” children on a regular basis. I get to know them, hear their thoughts and learn what is important to them. I pray for them and with them about their understanding of God and the concerns on their hearts. It is a privilege and joy to be used by the Lord in their lives. May your experience be so!

 

Already Relevant

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Our young people—especially teenagers—are looking for answers. As they grow and mature, they increasingly have big questions and big concerns. They are searching for answers that make sense for both the world outside their door and their day-to-day lives. As Christian parents and teachers, we need to carefully direct them to the Bible. But there is a right way and wrong way to go about this. Consider these words by Pastor Eric McKiddie in his post “Stop Trying to Make the Bible Relevant to Teenagers”:

It’s easy to feel pressure to make the Bible seem cool and relevant to teenagers…

In my years in youth ministry, though, I’ve seen unhelpful and even harmful methods of trying to make Scripture relevant. Book publishers make Bibles look like magazines, youth workers preach a hipster Jesus, and parents confuse their child’s involvement in a fun youth group for a growing relationship with God.

Yet in our efforts to make Scripture more entertaining, we actually confirm suspicions that it is in fact boring and irrelevant. And when youth workers aren’t as cool as they think they are, their efforts end up looking cheesy, which is the last thing that will help a teenager see the Bible’s importance.

…If you want teens—whether in your home or youth group—to appreciate the Bible, the first thing you must do is trust its relevance in your own heart. That trust should come across in how you talk about what the Bible says and why it matters. Scripture testifies to its own importance for God’s people, sometimes even pointing to young people in particular (Prov. 2:1–15; Eph. 6:1–3; 2 Tim. 3:16).

Peter’s words are especially helpful: “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence” (2 Pet. 1:3). Notice that Peter writes, “all things that pertain to life and godliness.” That means stress over grades, sexual temptation, loneliness, awkwardness—and how to honor God in each of these areas. But also notice how the power for everything that pertains to life and godliness comes to us—through the knowledge of God. And how do we attain this vital knowledge? Through the Scriptures.

At CDG, we are striving to do just that in the teen years—to present our students with a vital knowledge of Scripture that explores essential doctrines of the Christian faith in a manner that not only informs the mind but also challenges the heart by paying attention to how these doctrines intersect with ALL aspects of everyday life. In other words, showing that the Bible is already, in and of itself, relevant.

There are least four ways in particular that our youth curricula does this:

  • Encouraging teachers to devote an adequate amount of time in spiritual preparation for each lesson so that he or she teaches from a heart that has been personally transformed by the truths of Scripture. It gives the teacher an opportunity to share personal insights and practical application. Students take notice of this.
  • A lesson content that provides examples of connections between Scripture texts and real-life scenarios.
  • A depth of teaching that does not shy away from difficult doctrines and topics: evil, suffering, gender issues, etc.
  • A “Small Group Application” section following each lesson with carefully crafted questions and discussion points to actively engage the students to see how the truths of Scripture apply to each of them in a very personal way.

Click on each of our youth curricula to find out more and see lesson samples.

Teach Me Your Way 
A Study for Youth on Surrender to Jesus and Submission to His Way

Abiding in Jesus
A Study for Youth on Trusting Jesus and Encouraging Others

Your Word Is Truth
A Study for Youth on Seeing All of Life Through the Truth of Scripture

Rejoicing in God’s Good Design
A Study for Youth on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

Open My Eyes
A Study for Youth on Studying the Bible

(Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

Youth Ministry as a Bridge

Youth Ministry as a Bridge

The older I get, the more concerned I have become about a growing tendency of “church flight” when our youth reach adulthood. For some young adults, this is demonstrated by their physical absence from any regular attendance in a local church. However, for many others, it is much more subtle. It is the absence of being an integral part of the ongoing community life and ministry of the local church.

Last week The Gospel Coalition had an interesting post regarding this issue—Mike McGarry’s “Youth Ministry Feeds the Church and the Family”. Here is an excerpt that really got my attention:

When teens have never experienced worship, prayer, discipleship, or fellowship within the congregation at large, why would we expect them to suddenly be pursuing full involvement in the church when they graduate?

It’s so natural to focus a youth ministry on the teenagers. Instead, youth ministry must always remember its context (the church) and build a bridge into the homes where the youth live (the family). When a teenager has a sound faith, firmly rooted in both the church and the home, he or she will be exponentially more likely to continue in the faith long after high school.

Youth ministry is temporary because adolescence is temporary. Once students graduate from high school they are no longer “ours” (as if we owned them to begin with). Teenagers are entrusted to our care for a few short years.

Youth ministry is an important arm of the church where both parents and congregation have the opportunity to co-evangelize and co-disciple, with the desire that God would draw students to himself.

Bridges are important. You can’t get over a river without one, but no one builds his home on a bridge. If a youth ministry isn’t consistently seeking to nourish a student’s faith to grow deep roots in the local church as well as at home, then the student’s faith will naturally develop around the youth ministry.

 

Editors’ note from The Gospel Coalition: This excerpt is adapted from the new book Gospel-Centered Youth Ministry: A Practical Guide, edited by Cameron Cole and Jon Nielson (TGC/Crossway, 2016).

 

 

We Need the Wisdom of the Past

We need the wisdom of the past

The title is a quote from an important article by Stephen Nichols, “Youth-Driven Culture” (posted at Ligonier Ministries). The contemporary church needs to hear his words and think deep and hard as to whether we have promoted an unhealthy and unbiblical fixation on youth in our local churches. Here is how he begins the article,

The subtle and not-so-subtle pulls of the idolization of youth manifest themselves in three areas. The first is an elevation of youth over the aged. This reverses the biblical paradigm. The second is a view of being human that values prettiness (not to be confused with beauty and aesthetics), strength, and human achievement… The third is the dominance of the market by the youth demographic. That is to say, in order to be relevant and successful, one must appeal to the youth or to youthful tastes…

The trend of exalting youth and sidelining the elderly stems from a deeper problem summed up in the expression, “Newer is better.” We celebrate the new and innovative while looking down on the past and tradition. There is a compelling vitality to youth and to new ideas, but that does not mean there is no wisdom to be found in the past. It is a sign of hubris to think one can face life without the wisdom of those who have gone before. There is something about being young that makes the young think they are immune to the mistakes or missteps of those who have gone before. We all think too highly of ourselves and our capacities. Simply put, we need the wisdom of the past and of the elderly.

Nichols then goes on to observe how this trend has manifested itself within the church,

The idolization of youth even seeps into the church. One of the ways in which we see this is in the stress on church youth groups…  Youth groups can serve a significant purpose and can be meaningful ministries. However, they can separate the youth from the other age groups in the church. The church needs to worship, learn, and pray together, old and young side by side. The culture tries to push the aged away. The church cannot afford to do that.

I would highly encourage everyone to read the entire article.

Photo courtesy of Jake Melara

A Look Inside: Open My Eyes, Part 4

Open My Eyes

Today is the final day we are taking an inside look at the themes found in Open My Eyes, our new curriculum for senior high students on studying the Bible.

  1. The need to study the Bible
  2. Understanding the genres of Biblical literature
  3. Learning inductive Bible study skills
  4. Responding to God in faith from the heart

The final five lessons of Open My Eyes focus on presenting the work of the Word in salvation and presenting the Gospel message. Students will put into practice the different inductive Bible study techniques they have learned as they look at Scripture to discover these truths.

The Word of God is effective in penetrating man’s heart and brings salvation when it is received in faith by those who have not hardened their hearts. Believers need to strive to enter God’s rest as they diligently hear, accept and respond to God’s Word.

Open My Eyes VisualAlthough we are instructed to strive to believe, John recorded the two responses people have to Jesus—acceptance or rejection. As students examine the responses of the “many”, Nicodemus, the scribes and the Pharisees, they are reminded that saving faith can only come as a result of the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing about new birth.

Open My Eyes VisualOur responses are not always what they should be, but God mercifully withholds judgment and extends His grace towards men to give them the opportunity to repent. As youth interpret the Parable of the Barren Fig Tree, they learn the difference between presumption and repentance, the purpose of God’s kindness, the consequence of a failure to repent and the righteousness of God’s judgment.

Open My Eyes VisualThe process of salvation begins with election, and moves through the Gospel call, regeneration, conversion (repentance and faith), justification and adoption. Jesus accepts all who come to him, and for those who respond to God’s call to salvation, He is at work in their lives. Students will look at the responses of the two thieves who were crucified with Jesus along with the context of the historical narrative around it.

Open My Eyes VisualThe final lesson of Open My Eyes concludes with the truth that God’s words are sweet to those who have a close relationship with Him. God’s promise of either blessing or curse in Deuteronomy 30:15-18, and the conditions for each, are illustrated as fulfilled in the life of Jeremiah and his fulfilled prophecy concerning Judah’s destruction. Through examining various texts, students are shown that God keeps His Word and that God’s Word sustains His people in the midst of difficulty and trial. Youth are encouraged to examine their heart attitude toward the Word of God.

Learn More About Open My Eyes

Open My Eyes Classroom KitBe sure to enter our contest to win a free copy of the Open My Eyes Classroom Kit. To enter, visit the contest post and leave a comment as directed.

If you would like to learn more about Open My Eyes, view the Curriculum Sample or place an order for your own copy of the study.

What are you most excited to teach the senior high students in your church about studying the Bible? Feel free to share in a comment below or ask any questions you have about Open My Eyes!

 

 

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