By Doug Ranck • Free Methodist Church • Santa Barbara, California
I am blessed to live in a small coastal town just outside Santa Barbara. Weekly I pick up the little newspaper and scan to keep up with the latest news in the community. With all the recent events of fires, potential debris flows, and evacuations there has been no lack of information to be shared.
Somewhere in the middle of the paper, I encountered the headline “Childhood Adversity: A Heart Attack in the Making.” As a man now in my late 50’s, I am now a little more attuned to illnesses I naively thought only associated with older people. The words “heart attack” carry a little more weight and impact than in years past.
Couple this with a life-long career of working with children and youth and quickly this article became a compelling piece. The environment of one’s childhood and adolescence brings quality or challenge to one’s health for years to come.
In this article Maria Chesley, who is the director of the Carpinteria Children’s project in California points to the experience of her dad suffering a heart attack at the age of 39. As she connected stories of the family system suddenly this event was not such a surprise.
Pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris explains that “the repeated stress of abuse, neglect, and parents struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues has real, tangible effects on the development of the brain.” (source). Her study showed that most people have at least one Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) and twelve percent of the population now has an ACE score of four. With this score one’s risk of heart disease and cancer is doubled, the likelihood of becoming an alcoholic is increased by 700 percent and the risk of attempted suicide by 1200 percent!
Ms. Chesley adds, “Children who experience significant adversity but have a loving adult who serves as a buffer are less likely to develop an exaggerated stress response and have their future health impacted.”
Those who are younger can easily feel indestructible. There is so much of life ahead; their bones are healthy, they are physically flexible and more. Whatever beating their bodies or spirit take seems to have no relevance to the future, until they get there.
Childhood adversity does indeed have an impact on the health and well-being of an adult. Where families are broken, leaders in the church, schools, and community can fill in many of the gaps. It is no small task, but it must be a priority. Given the cultural landscape of heightened fear, wars and loss the percentage of ACE scores, it seems, will only increase.
We can be the loving adult who may not only offer a child needed safety but also help our health, through giving, in the process.
By Ken McCoy • JumpStart Ministries • Charlotte, North Carolina
I’ve been helping out with the youth ministry at a small country church near where I live. They’re a fairly-typical “church youth group” bunch – have been around each other since they were babies. Most of them go to the same school. You know the drill.
Last night, the youth meeting occurred in the middle of a raging thunderstorm – and yet we still had a bunch of kids show up, including a couple of newbies!
The meetings start off in the gym, with the guys (and some girls) shooting hoops while other kids hang out on the couches in the lobby. Then we have a gym game or two – last night we didn’t have power in the gym (because of the storm), so we played Blob Tag in the semi-darkness. Fun!
From there, the kids headed up to the youth room on the second story. They all “hit their face” to check in on the MinHub Youth app we use, and then scrambled for the few coveted couch seats available. We did some announcements, and then came time for the Bible lesson.
That’s when Tobymac showed up.
I wrote a Youth Leaders Only youth meeting guide for Toby’s very cool “I Just Need U” music video, so I wanted to field test it with this group of teenagers. I went through the “Transition” section (which does indeed follow the “Warm Up” of playing Blog Tag) and introduced the video. I encouraged the kids to pay attention for any symbolism they might notice. Then, I started the video.
And the kids talked all the way through it.
That’s not unusual behavior. Teenagers see SO many videos – probably several every day – that a music video is no big deal. Even one as engaging and excellent as this one is.
When the video ended, we had a rousing discussion about the different scenes and characters in the video and what they might represent. The group wasn’t all that experienced in finding meaning in what they watch, so I had to do some prodding to get them to think. Once they got the idea, though, they got into “reading between the lines” of the images and lyrics of the song and video.
I worked them through the three points of the Bible Study, and they really started to put two-and-two together. They could see more clearly what Toby was trying to communicate through his song and video. When I finished with the Bible study, they asked, “Can we watch it again? Now we know what to look for!” So, we showed the video again.
This time, they watched intently. They weren’t talking, laughing, or trying to crack jokes about what was on the screen – they were absorbing the images… and the message.
We finished with one question: “So what do you think Toby was trying to communicate when he lit his luggage and car on fire?” The kids caught the message – and spent a couple of minutes filling in the “My Baggage” section of the Student Guide.
Then, we went downstairs to the kitchen, where some older adults from the church had volunteered to provide food for the kids. While I was hanging out in the kitchen watching the kids get their meal, I overheard one of the adults ask a teenager, “What happened in youth group tonight?”
“Tobymac visited our group tonight!” was the response.
High school is a fun and exciting time in life. I loved my high school experience—but that’s not to say that there weren’t times along the way that were difficult.
I didn’t experience any family death, family divorce, or other major event like so many kids my age do; but there were still issues that made this special time a hard and stressful one for me.
Many factors went into keeping my faith through my high school experience. Basketball was a major part of all my high school years, and the time with friends made memories that will last forever. My relationship with God, and with the people that helped me along my way, was most important.
The people who were there for me and who cared about me helped keep my faith strong while I was going through this fun yet scary time. The only thing they wanted was for me to be successful and happy.
They showed me that only God gives happiness, and that all the material things in the world can’t give me what God offers. They let me know that being involved in ministry is very important—whether in youth group, small group, leading younger kids, or anything that involves growing spiritually.
We are all different and have other things going on in our lives, so what is right for me may not be right for everyone else. I was never pressured into being involved and leading in every single thing possible. The people in my life never made me feel that I was less of a Christian if I wasn’t at every single church event. They understood my involvement
in basketball and other activities meant that maybe youth group wasn’t the thing for me. That was why
some of my friends and I started a small group every Thursday before school. In a way, my mentors let me choose what worked for me.
Everyone needs to find his or her personal way to be connected in ministry. This is not to say that my leaders didn’t challenge me. There were many times they pointed out to me a personal issue that they saw could change or would work better. In a way, the people in my life were just looking out for me and watching what I did—making sure I was doing the right thing. I believe this was the most important thing that helped make my high school experience and life an enjoyable one.
From prom invitations to confused girlfriends to shy kids becoming the center of attention, you don’t understand how obsessed kids are with ‘Fortnite.’
By Patrick Klepek
NOTE: “Middle School” is the theme of the upcoming edition of Youth Leaders Only. We know that most of your middle school guys are playing Fortnite, and thought you’ll benefit from this fascinating article VICE Gaming Senior Reporter Patrick Klepek wrote from responses to his Tweet, “I want to hear stories about Fortnite from people who work with students, and how the game’s grown into a phenom among kids.”
Rachel is a middle school teacher in Chicago. Earlier this month, her students were restless, and she was looking for a way to focus their attention. Then, an idea: she knew the entire class was into Fortnite, the sandbox shooter from Epic Games that’s been sweeping its way through the culture the past few months, and decided to use the game in her favor. Having played Fortnite herself, she could speak their language, and made a proposal: if everyone finished their work without a single interruption, they’d hold a big discussion about Fortnite.
“You could hear a pin drop in that room,” she told me recently.
6th grade teacher Sean Irwin wasn’t as lucky. When his students got off task, he’d hear Fortnite murmurs. As part of a project to get kids thinking about careers, many listed “pro gamer” and “Twitch streamer” as legitimate possibilities. He eventually banned Fortnite talk.
(A number of people who spoke to me for this story requested only to use their first names, either as a matter of privacy or because they were not an authorized school spokesperson.)
It’s hard to tell when something moves from popular to cultural phenomenon, but it seems similar to the Ernest Hemingway quote about going bankrupt: “gradually, and then suddenly.” I knew Fortnite was officially big when my wife’s younger sister, who’s not into games, asked me if I could explain this “Fortnite” thing and why all her guy friends were playing it. How long Fortnite remains the talk of the playground is impossible to know, but the students, teachers, and parents I’ve talked to the past week said they haven’t seen something grip the children around them since Minecraft (and to a lesser extent, Five Nights at Freddy’s).
High school sophomore Bob Pentuic was like a lot of people, including yours truly: he played Fortnite when it came out, when it was being pitched as a co-op tower defense game, and fell off it immediately. But at the start of 2018, all his friends started playing. (This is right around the time Fortnite received an important console update, doubling performance.) Kids who have never picked up a controller at Bob’s school are playing Fortnite because, well—it’s what everyone else is doing. You needed to play Fortnite to remain relevant in school.
“Watching Fortnite ‘go mobile’ has allowed it to become almost invasive,” he said. “As I write this out, a table of four of my classmates are playing together on their phones.”
It’s also become part of the social fabric, one metric by which peers are judged.
“They link their wins to their social status a bit,” said Australian high school teacher Steve Lowe. “The cool kids are not necessarily the best Fortnite players, but they all know who the best ones are. Doesn’t matter how old they are, they talk about kids they wouldn’t know from a bar of soap by their wins.”
A number of teachers echoed this, observing how some of the biggest introverts are also some of the best Fortnite players in their class, and their expertise has transformed them into bonafide extroverts because everyone’s coming to them looking for advice on how to play.
“One of my shy new kids has become a walking strategy guide for the other kids,” said 5th grade Maryland teacher Nathaniel Dubya. “He loves it.”
Nathaniel knew something was up when he noticed more and more kids hanging out with a student he’d often associated with being “smart but low-self esteem and very quiet.” All of a sudden, people hung on his every word during recess and he was suddenly gaining friends.
“Turns out he is really good at Fortnite and was organizing games after school,” he said. “It was cool to see him gradually fill that leadership roll and watch how it carried over into the classroom. He’s way more involved in book discussions and puts his hand up way more often in general.”
But maybe we already have the best metric to know whether Fortnite is a phenomenon, and it has nothing to do with Twitch concurrents or YouTube views. It’s awkward prom invitations.
Photo courtesy of Josh Hart
The student being proposed to said yes, I’m told.
Young women aren’t just being pulled into Fortnite by way of prom invitations they’ll joke about 10 years from now, either. The primary demographic of shooters tends tend to be young men and boys, but phenomenons operate differently, and Fortnite is crossing traditional gender lines. I heard from plenty of parents and teachers who said their daughters were into it, and in some cases, Fortnite became the first time they’d bonded over a shared interest in games.
Taylor Kaar, for example, teaches at an all girls school in Ohio, where Fortnite is thetopic of conversation, both in terms of their own experiences playing the game and, unsurprisingly, wider complaints about how the game has utterly taken over the lives of every single boy they know. Of the 50 or so students Kaar interacts with regularly, 10 said they’d tried Fortnite at least once, while another six were playing regularly. But all 50 girls knew about the game.
“They all had stories of being ignored at parties or just hanging out cause people were playing,” said Kaar. “This isn’t a fad that they deal with tangentially, this has intruded into the very center of their lives.”
One student said it’s made the guys she regularly interacts with “less social.” Another said her boyfriend was pressured by friends to bail on a Valentine’s Day dinner so they could all play. Many more admitted to becoming familiar with the game—basic rules, strategy, popular memes—so they could participate in the daily conversations their guy friends were having.
“One of my shy new kids has become a walking strategy guide for the other kids. [Now] He’s way more involved in book discussions and puts his hand up way more often in general.”
But this collective obsession over Fortnite is a mixed bag, depending on who you talk to. One high school teacher has a student who they say is outright addicted—playing it, watching other people play it—and their grades have sharply declined. Based on what the student’s said, it appears they boot up the game the moment they’ve left school until they pass out sometime in the middle of the night. The teacher speculated a lack of structure at home has exacerbated the issue.
Another teacher I spoke to had a similar situation, but in this case, choose to invoke Fortnite as a reward for good school work. Audrey teaches Algebra to freshmen students in Oregon who were flagged in middle school as students who might have trouble getting to graduation. They’re underperforming in math, and Audrey’s there to help. These students tend to be matched together in the same class, and so the group ends up spending a lot of time with one another. They become a family.
“One of the students in the class had been dealing with some home-life situation changes,” said Audrey. “I’m talking complete inability to be awake, not really by choice but by need.”
The student’s sleep deprivation was so severe that when students were given a five-minute break between classes, he would sleep. Audrey wasn’t having any success keeping him awake. After a few months of frustration, the kid perked up during a lesson where the students vocally propose solutions to problems they’re having. His proposal was simple: if he promised to pass math this semester, she would agree to play Fortnite with him after class.
Audrey decided to one up the offer. If the student could stay awake every day, not only would she play Fortnite with him, but the class could do it together, once their final exam was over.
“We turned this deal into a big spectacle, a few students recorded it on Snapchat for proof, and we shook hands in front of our class,” she said. “In all honesty, I did not think he’d make it, but I figured if we could get a few days of him being awake, that’d be great for him.”
It worked—sort of. Though the student wasn’t able to stay awake the whole semester, there were a few weeks where he was more attentive, and his test scores shot up. During that time, other students tried to rally behind him, doing whatever they could to keep him awake.
“Although it wasn’t the result we were looking for in our handshake deal,” she said, “it was still two more weeks of learning that he has now than he had before, so I’m still calling it a win.”
It’s also lead to teachers having an opportunity to bond with their students by giving them a common language. Talking Fortnite, the teacher is no longer an uninformed authority figure.
“We’ve developed a whole slew of classroom analogies,” said middle school teacher Kelly Hart. “Med kit/chug jug: you need some help on your homework or aren’t doing your best. Solo: gotta work on your own. Pick axe: pencil. It’s insane how many of my students understand. Even the girls who don’t play know about it and will be like, ‘Dude you need to solo right now.’”
“These kids would have been used to incredulous teachers who wouldn’t be able to answer, or would respond in a tone deaf, out of touch way,” said substitute high school teacher Joshua Erhardt. “When I said that I had, and demonstrated knowledge of it and talked about it like they did, they were surprised and immediately grilled me on how many wins, what kind, where I played, etc. It’s been very helpful in establishing a relationship with the students, which in turn makes it easier for them to respect me when I ask things of them.”
“If you’ll excuse me,” said high school teacher Matthew Prather, who wrote me while four students were playing Fortnite when homework was supposed to be happening, “I think the squad in my classroom just claimed a Victory Royale and I need to go ask for building tips.”
Fortnite embedding itself into the fabric of everyday school children comes at a time when the discussion around them has been draped in tragedy and anger. On February 14, 17 students were gunned down in a shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The country’s most recent encounter with mass violence has teachers and parents on edge about what it means for a game with guns to be so prevalent in the minds of kids.
Fortnite is cartoonish and over-the-top, especially compared to the brutal, realistic, and deeply violent PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, which served as the primary influence for Fortnite’s breakout Battle Royale Mode. But Fortnite is still a game that involves players running around with guns—assault rifles, shotguns, sniper rifles—and it’s a point that hasn’t been lost on parents like Keith Krepcho, whose nine-year-old just started playing Fortnite.
Keith’s son is “very sensitive to violence,” and when Keith would be playing Battlegrounds, his son would call upstairs and ask his father to stop playing before he’d enter the room. Keith figured Fortnite would fall into a similar category, but when his son’s 11-year-old cousin and seven-year-old sister got into the game, his son decided to give the game a real try.
“He came running to me,” said Keith, “and declared that he had headshot someone who dropped a legendary assault rifle and then picked it up and ‘killed everyone.’”
It unnerved him.
“I know that they [my kids] love the cartoony look and jokey feel of the world,” he continued, “but I can’t shake that Fortnite is a headfake toward children and adults who are concerned about the games their children play. Splatoon committed fully to the idea of an all-ages shooter. The violence is bloodless and cartoony and they avoid use of gun culture terminology. Fortnite embraces and all-ages look, but then still uses real-life weaponry.”
It’s impossible to know whether Epic Games would have changed its approach toFortnite’s weaponry had they known it would have taken off with kids, but if there ever was a moment to change that, it probably would have been with the mobile version, and it didn’t happen.
“I know that they [my kids] love the cartoony look and jokey feel of the world, but I can’t shake that Fortnite is a headfake toward children and adults who are concerned about the games their children play.”
Unsurprisingly, even when kids aren’t playing Fortnite, they’re thinking about Fortnite. Arizona elementary teacher Steven watched as his 4th graders transformed the playground into a Fortnite match. Some kids dropped into battle, others commented in real-time (a la Twitch). In the middle of the battle, however, some kids began using their “guns” inappropriately, including turning around and firing into the “audience.” Steve put a stop to pretend Fortnite.
This all happened just days after the events at Parkland.
“In retrospect it was unclear whether or not these students were aware of it,” said Steve. “Not that I necessarily expect 4th graders to be. I didn’t have it in me to unpack a school shooting to kids who I’m not sure had the context, but we have established rules for improv play. One of those rules is no excessive violence.”
By nature of being a phenomenon, by being everywhere, it makes sense for some of the consequences to be unexpected and messy. And it means you end up getting stories like the the one I’m about to tell you, perhaps the most unexpected byproduct of Fortnite fever.
High school teacher Josh Hart told me Fortnite gave him a way to have his students engage with literature. Fortnite Gatsby, a student re-imagining of The Great Gatsby, became a tale of Tom and Daisy living in Snobby Shores, a notable location in Fortnite’s Battle Royale map, while Gatsby watches as 100 new “dreamers” are brought to his island by bus. And in this version, the green light Gatsby is entranced by becomes Fortnite’s ever-encroaching storm.
“The failure of the American dream was represented by the fact that only 1 of those 100 actually made it,” they said.
When I received this familiar piece from friends this morning it reminded me of the purity of the Gospel and how Jesus is what Easter is all about. Interestingly, my friends Heniek and Jagoda Markiewicz live in Warsaw, Poland. Yes, no one has impacted our entire planet like Jesus. – Allen Weed, President, interlínc
Here is a man who was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another obscure village, where He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty, and then for three years He was an itinerant preacher.
He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never owned a home. He never had a family. He never went to college. He never put his foot inside a big city. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place where He was born. He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness.
He had no credentials but Himself. He had nothing to do with this world except the naked power of His divine manhood.
While still a young man, the tide of public opinion turned against Him. His friends ran away. One of them denied Him. He was turned over to His enemies. He went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. His executioners gambled for the only piece of property He had on earth while He was dying—and that was his coat. When he was dead He was taken down and laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.
Nineteen wide centuries have come and gone and today He is the centerpiece of the human race and the leader of the column of progress.
I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, and all the navies that ever were built, and all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned, put together have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as has that One Solitary Life.
JAMES ALLAN FRANCIS, One Solitary Life, pp. 1–7 (1963)
By Ken McCoy • JumpStart Ministries • Charlotte, North Carolina • firstname.lastname@example.orgNOTE: This is an excerpt from interlinc’s resources built around the RISEN film. The excerpt does not include the Set Up ideas, the Warm Up activity, or some Transition discussion questions.
I’ve been researching and thinking about this subject in preparation for writing this all-important Easter session, and an old Gospel song popped into my mind while I was taking my shower this morning. We used to sing it in church when I was a kid. The chorus ends with, “You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart!” On Sunday nights, at the end of the chorus of the last verse, the song leader would get a twinkle in his eye and have us hold out the word “LIVES” for a long time. I guess everyone thought it was great fun. (And now, a couple of hours after taking my shower, that song is still stuck in my head!)
I always felt awkward about the apologetic of that song. Although it probably makes perfect sense to many people now that we’re in a postmodern world, it is still one of the worst arguments for the resurrection of Christ that you can make. In fact, it is probably the most-used argument leveled by skeptics against the resurrection.
We must give teenagers better answers to the “How do we know that He’s alive?” question than “He lives within my heart.” Answering this one question well will help them weather the storms of doubt that will come – especially as they move into institutions of higher learning. This session should load you up with what you need to make your Easter meeting the best one you’ve ever had!
Here are the Scripture passages that describe the resurrection. You can use them all, or choose the one that best fits your situation.
Explain that the resurrection of Jesus is an event that is reported to have happened in history. It can’t really be studied by science, since it’s not something that can be replicated in a controlled environment. That’s true of any event in the past. Science can’t prove that you had eggs for breakfast last Tuesday, or that you watched cartoons on Saturday mornings as a kid. But, events like the resurrection certainly can be subjected to historical inquiry.
Jesus’ resurrection is the central tenet of all Christianity. If it didn’t happen, then Christianity is merely another religion founded by a talented and charismatic person; a faith that helps people love and serve others. But, if it DID occur, then Jesus is way more than the founder of a religion. If He actually did rise from the dead, then what He claimed about Himself was true. If His claims of being God in human form are true, then all of life takes on a new meaning!
Since the resurrection is so vital and important, historical inquiries have been made about it ever since that fateful first Easter. Many people who do not wish Jesus’ claims to be true have developed other explanations for the reports of Jesus’ resurrection. We need to have answers for those alternate interpretations if we are to be able to have an adequate answer to the question, “How do we know He is alive?”
Here are seven alternate explanations of the resurrection, and the answer for each. These are based on the excellent work of N. T. Wright in his book, Surprised By Hope.
Resuscitation, Not Resurrection – The key argument is that someone gave Jesus a drug (maybe in the sponge of fluid given to Him on the cross) that made Him look dead, and then He revived in the tomb.Answer:Roman soldiers were very skilled at killing people, and no disciple would have mistaken a beat-up, dazed, and barely alive person to have defeated death and inaugurated the Kingdom.
Cognitive Dissonance – Sometimes, when people want so badly for something to be true but are faced with strong evidence against their hope, they ignore the facts and become even more convinced of what they “know” to be true. (“You ask me how I know He lives; He lives within my heart!”)Answer: The disciples were not expecting Jesus to be raised from the dead. With their understanding of “resurrection” at that time, they would never have imagined what really happened. Also, simply showing them the dead body would have dashed their hope. But, the tomb was empty, and the body was seen completely alive–transformed in ways we don’t really understand yet, but recognizable and alive.
Mistaken Identity – When the women went to the tomb they met someone else—maybe Jesus’ brother James, who probably looked like Him—and in the dim predawn light they mistook him for Jesus. A related “mistake” explanation is that the women went to the wrong tomb, and when they wondered where the body was taken, the gardener pointed to the correct tomb and said, “He is not here. See the place where he was lain.” But, the women misunderstood the gardener.Answer: They would have noticed soon enough that the guy they encountered wasn’t really Jesus. Then, when the mistake of tomb location was discovered, the authorities would have simply pointed out that the body was still in the cave.
Biased Reporting – Jesus only appeared to people who believed in Him, so we can’t trust what they reported.Answer: The accounts in the Bible make it clear that neither Thomas nor Paul would fall into this category. Plus, after His death all of Jesus’ followers actually believed that the party was over. Something happened that radically altered their thinking – an event that transformed them and their message. Only encountering the risen Christ can explain their sudden and unexpected change.
Message Shift – The disciples began by saying, “He will be raised,” as people had done of the martyrs, but shifted to saying, “He has been raised,” which was functionally saying the same thing.Answer: No, it is not saying the same thing.
Grief Hallucinations – Lots of people have visions of recently deceased loved ones, and this is what happened to the disciples.Answer: People back then knew all about these kinds of situations, and would described them by using phrases such as, “It’s his angel” or “It’s his spirit” or “It’s a ghost!” They would not say of these kinds of occasions, “He has been raised from the dead!” That kind of language was unknown to them until that Easter morning.
Thieves In The Night – The disciples snuck into the cemetery, silently cut the ropes and broke the Roman seals, moved the stone away from the door without making a sound, and ran off with the body—all without waking the guards.Answer: First, whether the soldiers at the tomb were Roman soldiers or Israeli Temple Guards, they would not fall asleep while on duty—doing so meant instant capital punishment. Second, the disciples, to a man, endured execution and banishment for refusing to admit their skullduggery. Third, someone—who must have been “in the know”—revealed information about the secret payment made to the guards so that they would lie about what really happened.
Introduce this movie clip by saying something like, “Now you have solid answers to alternative explanations of the resurrection. Let’s watch how the RISEN film portrays when Pilate discovers that Jesus’ body is gone from the tomb.” Show the “We Must Find The Body” movie clip.
You will want to carefully plan how you wrap up this Easter session. You’ll know best what kind of response you want to ask for from the group, and how best to ask for it. Clearly presenting the “good news” of the Gospel – Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection – should open some significant doors for conversations about salvation, confirmation of faith, rededication to living as a witness, and more! Our prayers will be with you on Easter morning, you can count on that!
Looking back, I understand that at first my reason for attending church had very little, if anything, to do with God. Instead, I believe my eldest sister puts it best; it was my own form of rebellion. In a time when I felt that my family had fallen apart, I found something that was my own, something I am sorry to say my family was unable to understand, something that I decided they would be unable to mess up. I found an activity, something that kept me busy, but soon that activity gave way to great friends, and from friends a family that at the time I believed was more stable than my own.
Regardless of the turmoil that my family faced, they had raised me to be strong and independent. Upon finding comfort in a church, I was hit by the need to truly understand, to question, to come to my own conclusions and develop a personal faith. Luckily for me the church I had found was more than willing to answer my questions; I have to say that more important than the actual youth group were the small groups within it. Based on grade and gender, we met once a week for Bible study. My group became more than a book club—I made my very best friends within this group. Each of us came from different experiences, we bounced ideas off the others, we discussed, we pried, we laughed, we cried, we confided. Together we found answers and stumbled upon more questions. We grew together and independently, finally becoming the young women we are today—able to take what we have learned and face the world.
I believe that there is more to a church than a building, more to a pastor than a man who is able to read aloud from the Bible. A church, when successful, becomes a family. For instance, I participated in a “big sister/little sister” program, but my “little sisters” went their own ways and at some point I “adopted” a younger “brother.” Even though he was two years younger than me, we got along wonderfully. The need to have someone hold
you accountable for your actions is never more prominent when trying to follow the example of Christ; yet with friends it is often far easier to justify your mistakes. I found out that with this family (and with a boy two years my younger watching my example!) there was no room for mistakes. While I might be able to justify teenage foolishness within my small group of girls facing the same issues, I cared too much for my younger brother to slip up.
I am unable to tell you what is effective for a teenage girl. I can only tell you what worked for me. Accountability, friendship, family—to make mistakes and learn from them instead of pretending they never happened at the risk of becoming a hypocrite—to realize that we are not perfect, and are not expected to be. That’s what worked for me.
By Clay Elliott • Fellowship of Christian Athletes • San Jose, California
“We must go on to other towns as well…” Mark 1:38
Every year I begin my chaplain duties for the San Jose State Baseball team with the same basic talk that goes something like this—“Hey guys, God is creative and smart. He designed all of us with three major parts—the physical (body), the intellectual (mind) and the spiritual (soul). You work hard on the first two parts, but what about the third? Leaving out this third part sells you short in reaching your God-intended potential. And God, your creative Designer, never wants that to happen. He wants you to achieve excellence, even perfection.” These guys want to be better, so they listen. I want them to be perfect, so I go and teach them.
So, how do you become a chaplain? Volunteer. Most coaches will willingly allow you to do this as long as you don’t interfere. But don’t show up only at “talk” time—be sure to go to practices, attend games and take them out to lunch when you can. The idea then is to go to them and become a part of the team.
But what if you don’t want to be a chaplain? Go and try these:
Coaching—do the same things as stated above.
Leading—start an FCA club (huddle) on a campus and help lead it. See www.fca.org to get the details.
Team Parent—get creative in serving & ministering.
The Pecking Order Athletes respect athletes. A junior high male athlete is going to admire the high school athlete. The high school athlete wants to compete at the college level and the collegiate student athlete dreams of playing professionally. This pecking order is a great tool to help present the Gospel by using the “older” to reach the “younger.” So go and create pecking order opportunities!
Some “Go” Tips
The Male Student Athlete loves:
Food: GatoradeTM, pizza, JambaTM Juice, crackers.
Girls: Don’t exploit your girls but if you want to reach the Male Student Athlete, invite the girls!
Attention: Make a video and pictures presentation, show it to the youth group, have all the athletes stand and pray for them— especially the injured athlete (and go visit him).
Fun: Videogames, paintball, scavenger hunts, etc.
Filth: He will swear and make messes.
Fans: Go cheer him on!
Officials: Just kidding, don’t even think about becoming one of these if you want to reach the Male Student Athlete!
Now, go to the Male Student Athlete’s world and minister—scatter seed, spread salt and be light! But mostly—GO!
Clay is a former Youth Pastor of 17 years and the current Bay Area Director (CA) for FCA, played five years of pro baseball in the Atlanta Braves Farm system, is married to Kelly and together they have four incredible kids.
NOTE: This is one of the articles about “Challenge of the Sexes – Ministry to Guys and Girls” to which Youth Leaders Only members have free access. To read the other articles, join YLO!
For fifteen years I competed in sports of all kinds— I was an athlete. I was also a Christian. Yet those two aspects of my life seemed far apart from each other. Sports were my life six days a week, and church was where I went on Sundays to rest my muscles. It took me years, and ultimately God calling me to a sports ministry to figure out how faith and sports can and should be integrated.
Female athletes are faced with many challenges and difficult situations. Because of such, they have a great need to be acknowledged and valued. They want to be reached out to through an understanding that you care about who they are and what they do. Here’s how:
1. Value Her as an ATHLETE
Her sport is not just a game to her; it has great significance in her life. She needs you to understand her sport, to find out what she loves about playing, and what her goals are in the arena of sport. Be her cheering section—on and off the field!
Understand that she experiences criticism daily and is judged constantly on her performance. She needs to know that you, and God, do not judge her based on her wins, losses, or accolades—but that you love her in the midst of those things. Be a great teammate. “If one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.” (1 Corinthians 12:26) God has given her athletic talents, and she needs to be encouraged to know that she is honoring God through the platform of sports.
2. Value her as a FEMALE
Communication is the key. Females can be very emotional and may not always hear exactly what you say, but they need you to say it. Share openly and honestly about your faith and what the Word of God says. Help her to understand that she is going to feel struggles and hurts through her sport experiences, and that is okay. Give her a place to share her struggles, and ask her questions about such experiences—girls love to talk! Build a trust relationship through communication.
3. She is a CHILD OF GOD
Because the female athlete is constantly critiqued and criticized, she often begins to desire that which she doesn’t have—a more athletic or attractive body, better skills, more playing time, etc. She begins to envy others. She needs to be reminded that she is God’s beautiful creation—exactly the girl He intended her to be.
While I was growing up, I needed someone in my life to value me as an athlete, and at the same time show me the importance of my faith and how it could be played out through my sports. I needed someone to share in my successes and failures while pointing me to God. You can be that person to a female athlete you know.
Note: As in most ministries, reaching the heart of the female athlete is relational. Dealing with her struggles can go very deep. Let me suggest that if you are a male youth worker and need to reach out to a struggling female athlete, find a female co-worker or volunteer to be present and involved in this relationship.
Megan is the FCA Area Representative in Portland, Oregon. She is a graduate of Montana State University-Billings, and was an NCAA Division II Basketball All-American.
By Dr. Greg Joiner • Fellowship Bible Church • Brentwood, TN • email@example.com
Out of all the camps, messages, Bible studies, and small groups I’ve been a part of, the one-on-one conversations with students that that stand out. I’m continually learning what it means to make each conversation count. This doesn’t always come naturally. Much like a fifteen-year-old learning to drive a standard transmission for the first time, conversations with young people begin awkwardly, and usually they end unexpectedly. One-word answers may easily become the norm.
Here are 3 keys I have discovered…
1. Stay Curious Many of the volunteers and parents I work with approach conversations with teenagers like opening a bag of Jolly Ranchers in a library. Some just rip the wrapper off as fast as possible to get it over with, and others unwrap it so slowly that the sound of the wrapper annoys everyone in the room. They alternate between emotionally unavailable and intrusive. We have to be aware of when it is time to engage teenagers in conversations. We sometimes fail to realize that opening up a conversation with a teenager depends on their timetable, not ours. Just because we ask great questions doesn’t mean we are free from one-word answers. We can’t force interaction, which is why it is so critical we maintain a posture of curiosity with our kids. Curiosity makes us aware of when they want to enter a conversation, not when we want to. Curiosity is patient in relationship with teenagers. It doesn’t annoy everyone in the room. Curiosity communicates care; it says, “You matter more than my agenda.” Conversations with teenagers are not often on a schedule, which is why we must be ready to engage when it happens.
We all know our kids have things they want to talk about, sometimes complex and embarrassing things that make it hard for them to come to us as parents or youth workers. Therefore, when the door is opened to their hearts, we have to be curious with them. That means putting the book down, getting off the phone, and being aware that they are trying to tell us something. It is up to us to be alert and pay attention when that moment comes. When it does, the question is whether or not we are paying attention. My friend Lloyd Shadrach once shared with me how that moment comes for him when he picks his sixteen-year-old daughter up from her work. She is often ready to engage at that time—when the door to her heart is open—and Lloyd loves being curious with her about her day at work.
How curious are we about our teenagers? Do we even know what is going on in their world? Think about it for a moment. How did we feel the last time someone was curious about some part of our day or some aspect of our life? Did we feel affirmed in those moments? In the same way, we have to be curious with our teens because curiosity really does communicate care.
The most practical way to stay curious with young people is to use the simple phrase: “tell me more.” Curiosity relieves one of the pressure to ask redundant questions like “How was your day?” and “What did you do today?” Familiarity can stifle curiosity and lead to dead-end, superfluous questions that require only one-word answers—the kind teenagers dodge like a bullet. The next time students open up to us, that is our cue to stay curious and ask questions of discovery. It only takes three words to enter their world: “Tell me more.”
2. Focus on the Person not the Problem There is a “fixer” deep inside all of us. The moment young open up to us we feel this need to “fix” things by focusing on the problem and not the person. An empathic response comes naturally when we focus on the person. Empathy is what both fuels and drives connection with young people. Here’s a great example of a mother I met recently who put this 2nd key to effective communication into practice:
I recently did some work with a group of parents and youth workers just outside of New Orleans. We were talking about empathy and practicing active listening skills. I noticed one particular mother who had teared up about halfway through the session. The dots were connecting for her as we talked about the nature of empathy and what it does for our kids. As we spent some time talking outside of the group, she shared her daughter’s struggle with migraines. Migraines are of course quite debilitating, and in her daughter’s case they occur often.
The woman was a physician in the small town where she lived, and every day people come into her office looking for her to “fix” things. Her natural response with her daughter was to try and fix the migraines. She had learned how to be present as a physician, but not as an empathetic mother. Her requires her to focus on the problem. This left her exhausted and feeling helpless. After a little conversation she decided the next time her daughter experienced a migraine she would move towards her not as a doctor but as an empathetic mother. The next morning I ran into her before our final session. She had a totally different countenance about her as she told me her daughter had come home from a weekend retreat with a migraine the previous night. She said she just held her daughter and told her she was so sorry her head was hurting. After about ten minutes her daughter said she was feeling so much better and even went back to the retreat to re-engage.
What happened was that this mother was feeling with her daughter. She fueled a connection and created a safe place for her to deal with her own physical pain. Instead of focusing on her daughter’s migraine (which is what a physician does), she focused on her daughter, thereby taking a step towards a healthy mother-daughter relationship. As you reflect back on the last conversation you had with a young person, did you focus on the person or the problem? Did you listen to all the details of the relational chaos or stress in their life, or did you listen beyond the words to what is going on inside?
3. Ask Powerful Questions Beginning conversation with questions communicates that we do not assume to understand all the answers. With questions, we demonstrate we are not stereotyping the young people with whom we speak, and we are not lumping them in with all the other kids from their generation. It is precisely at this point in the conversation that we must be keenly aware of the tendency to give more information to young people than typically they require. They need great questions to help them formulate answers on their own. Great questions tend to promote reflection more effectively than merely providing additional knowledge and expertise. We need to sharpen our ability to ask great questions of young people.
The best way to make your questions more powerful is to open them up. In other words, ask OPEN questions not closed questions.
There is a pattern that develops in our interaction with young people over time where we continually ask closed questions. A closed question is one that can simply be answered with a yes or no. The actual skill we need to develop is asking more open questions in conversation with young people. Why do I refer to this as a skill? It is because asking does not come naturally in conversation. Here are a few examples of closed questions:
Should you quit the football team?
Do you think you made the right decision?
Does your friend think the same way?
On the surface, these kinds of questions are not all that bad. In fact, they may lead to some good conversation and demonstrate genuine interest in young people’s lives. If we were to observe these three questions a little closer, however, we would notice that the “idea” behind the question is contained within the question itself. In other words, what normally happens when we ask a young person a question is that our idea, assumption, feeling, or opinion is embedded in the question. For example, in a conversation about money with a teenager, asking the question “Do you plan on borrowing money to do that?” clearly exposes the opinion that they should borrow money to do that. The answer is already embedded in the question. The first question, for example, carries the assumption that the young person should probably quit the football team, or at least quitting the team is a strong option. If we take one step back, however, we realize we are in a conversation about what to do with football in a young person’s busy life and schedule. The main idea, then, is what to do with football. How would we ask a more open question on this topic? Something like, What options do you see with football at this point? would offer more open options and possibilities. This changes the overall conversation by promoting reflection in the young person as opposed to a question that is designed to give more information.
This is also what makes a question closed and shuts down communication. Therefore, effective communication with young people is not so much the art of giving good answers as the art of asking good questions.
“RISER is the way that author Greg Joiner invites adults to take the first steps in the direction of a young person. Dr. Greg Joiner has written RISER to transform the way we communicate with our children and other young people. It all comes down to one thing. Communication. Some argue it is the bedrock of everything there is. It has been described as “the art of being understood.” The most sacred gift we offer another is the willingness and ability to gently step next to them in honest, respectful and authentic conversation. To talk. To listen. To know and be known. To engage, not as in a swordfight but in the way one would help a small child to cross a street. To be aware of entering into sacred space, where we take off our shoes approaching the holy ground of their most intimate treasure – their thoughts, their heart, their vulnerabilities and their insecurities.”