Student leadership: not always time efficient, but always valuable

I wrote a post earlier about why we must promote student leadership. There’s a second side to this – why should we put the time and effort into training a teen to do something we could do more easily ourselves?

Let’s be honest – training up a teen leader, walking alongside them, is time (and energy) consuming. Teen leaders is that they are NEW to this whole serving/leading thing. They need more support as they work it out. They need extra encouragement, and trust, even when they make mistakes – which they will. They need someone to walk alongside them, explaining things, interpreting situations. Done well, training student leaders is a high maintenance role; if we tell them “here’s a job, it’s all yours!” and then go hands-off, we aren’t helping them at all.

Have you heard of this pattern for training leaders? Step 1: I do, you watch; Step 2: we do it together; Step 3: you do, I watch; Step 4: you do, I’m outta here. Okay, so that’s the Tanya Paraphrase, but you get the idea. The theory behind this is that we invest in training someone (which uses more time and energy) because once trained we can delegate to them and we get that time and energy back – to spend on something else. It’s about efficiency as a leader, learning to train others to do your work so you can work on something new.

The problem with this method in youth ministry (and especially in TCK ministry) is that we rarely get enough time to go through all the steps. The teens we invest in often leave before they become confident/mature enough to truly delegate to. We spend a few years training them to that point, investing more time and energy than we’d need to if we just did it ourselves, but we never get to the handover point. So why bother? Why not just do it ourselves?

Well, what is the point of our ministry to youth? Is it to run the best programs? Have the best worship? Run the best events? Or is it to disciple students?

I would rather have a lower standard of excellence in our worship times, but have them lead by students – students who are demonstrating worship to their peers, students who are being challenged to go deeper in their faith, students who are given the opportunity to discover and develop their gifts, students who are honing skills they can take wherever they go. I know my kids aren’t the most experienced leaders we have access to, but man, I would rather worship under their leadership any day. They inspire me!

I would rather spend time and effort training teens to do the various tasks required to run a big event, and mentor them through doing themselves, than run the whole show myself. When I teach teens and give them areas of responsibility, there will always be problems I have to solve (that wouldn’t have happened if I did it all myself) but that doesn’t mean it’s not better. Watching a team of 30 youth run a large retreat – seeing them get their friends involved, actively engaged in the administration, excited about finding new ways to process information, gaining a sense of ownership of the event – was far more rewarding than spending that time and effort doing it myself. My role changed from being a do-er to being a guide and problem solver.

In the long run, training these youth is not just developing them personally, but also contributing to the Church as a whole. The fellowship I attend may not receive the benefits of the training and opportunities given to these teens, but another fellowship somewhere else in the world will.

I admit, the temptation is still strong to do things myself. I truly believe, however, that letting go of something I can do in order to give that opportunity to a student is far, far more valuable. If we can walk alongside student leaders for a time, they will go out confident in their gifts and abilities, ready to serve and contribute to the Body.


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Why we MUST promote student leadership

(I was inspired to write this out after reading this post by Doug Franklin).

I am passionate about promoting student leadership. I was engaged in ministry from a young age and it had a profound effect on my faith, my personal growth, and my commitment to the Church. I believe that getting teenagers involved in doing and running ministry is one of the best things we can do for their faith journeys – for several reasons.

1) Leading makes teens active participants rather than passive observers.

A teenager can easily come to youth group, to youth service, to church, even to small group or bible study, and basically just watch. They can give an answer without going deep, they can watch what others say – and look involved. There is a big difference, however, when that teenager starts leading a small group of younger teens, or planning an event for the group, or mentoring someone, or serving on a big-church ministry team.

2) Putting a teen in a leadership role demonstrates confidence in them.

Giving teens a role shows them that we believe in them. Too often I believe that a kid is awesome without doing something practical to show them that I believe that. When I take my hands off and say “this is yours” – then walk with them through the mistakes, rather than telling them what to do – I demonstrate practically a trust in their gifts and heart.

3) Learning to lead while still young gives teens a safe place to make mistakes.

We all make mistakes. As leaders, we make bigger mistakes, at times. So many teens (especially TCKs) struggle with a fear of failure. Some kids get tied up in knots, unable to move, for fear of making the wrong choice. Giving teens leadership opportunities guarantees that they will make some mistakes, or feel they’re in over their heads. When this happens in a youth minsitry context, when youth workers are there to walk them through the situation, to help interpret it for them, they are able to learn from mistakes without being paralysed by them.

4) Serving in the Church teaches teens how to be part of the Body.

I have seen so many teens who had a solid faith in high school drift away from church in college. These were not cases of kids who never connected with faith, or kids who found the world and got rebellious, or kids who lost their self-control when they were out on their own. It’s much simpler than that. These are kids who didn’t get connected to a solid fellowship when they left home. There are many reasons that happens, but something we can do to help prevent it is to get kids involved. If a teen is serving on the worship team/sound team/projection team/greeting team/teaching Sunday school in their home church, when they leave home they know they have something to offer a church they join on their own. Keeping teens in youth-only situations where they are ministered to without being engaged in doing ministry does them a disservice when it comes time to join a church on their own – in this scenario they never learn how to be part of the Body.

It is important for teens to interact with adults on a “peer” level – as fellow servants in the ministry of the Church. I lovelovelove when I see my teens engaged in ministry teams where they are not “the youth kid” but simply part of the team, where adults in the church who aren’t their youth leaders or parents’ friends know them by name and interact with them as an equal – treating them as an adult. When these teens leave home, they will feel comfortable interacting as an independent adult in their new fellowship.


Posted by on September 12, 2011 in Leadership Development, Leading Youth


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A window into a TCK experience

I read a great post on 8Asians over the summer. The author is a TCK, and he talks about his TCK-ness being what defines his identity, rather than passport or country he lives in or accent he speaks with. It is a great window into a TCK experience – one of many different TCK experiences. Read the full article here.

Here are a few quotes from the article…

I don’t feel this sense of being torn between my Asian heritage and my American culture–I belong to both, yet feel connected to neither.

I love this. The author is comparing a difference he perceives between immigrant culture and a TCK perspective. The second-generation immigrant often struggles to find an identity that combines the culture of their parents and the culture they are living in. It seem that for some TCKs there is less of a struggle – that it is okay to be both at once. Perhaps this is because when TCKs grow up in international communities, this both-and identity is normal. Others may try to label them, but within the TCK community it is fine to claim several different cultural/geographical identities.

Here is one of the best descriptions I’ve read of the struggle to answer the seemingly simple “where are you from”:

As a Third Culture Kid, asking us “Where are you from?” usually ends up in either spouting off a mini life story and explanation, followed by an assertion that we’re not weird–or by a confused look and awkward search for words. Does it mean what my ethnicity is? Where was I born? What school did I go to? Where did I grow up? Where do I get my accent?

This is a lovely, whimsical description of a TCK world.

We didn’t know that a visa was a credit card when we came to the U.S. for college, we drunk dial friends internationally, we memorized the different time zone differences so we knew when to contact our friends, we don’t feel the need to be American or any other citizenship, and we talk about traveling to different countries like they aren’t far-off, exotic lands, but just other places that are as easily accessible as a simple bus ride to the other side of town.

When the world is home, nowhere is exotic – but there is always another corner of home to explore.

Related article: Nathaniel compares working with TCKs in Cambodia to working with Chinese-Australians in Sydney.


Posted by on September 8, 2011 in TCKs


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The Minor Prophets: conclusion

All summer we’ve been going through some of the minor prophets, in a bible study I wrote two years ago (learn more about the background of this study in the introduction). We’re going to close the series with some of the conclusion I wrote for the original study guide.

Here’s a brief look at some of the topics we’ve covered while studying these six books:


  • Pride deceives
  • The good  you DON’T do is sin
  • Deeds return on your head (the Boomerang Effect)


  • Crying out to God
  • Turning your heart toward God
  • God’s gifts satisfy fully –and more!
  • God is both Judge and Protector
  • God is present with us


  • Seek God
  • Seek God together
  • Trust God to deal with injustice
  • God is faithful when we are not
  • Serving shoulder-to-shoulder


  • When sin goes unpunished
  • Trusting God when life doesn’t go to plan
  • Watching for God’s answers
  • God’s heart for the exploited
  • Lament worship


  • Serve God first – trust Him to take care of the rest
  • Obeying (not procrastinating)
  • God’s presence makes the temple great
  • Offerings of faith
  • Tools chosen by God


  • What would your life be like without God?
  • Priest offering sacrifices
  • Breaking faith/keeping faith
  • Trusting God’s timing
  • Robbing God
  • Unity affects God

There’s a LOT packed into these six short books. One thing I love about reading the Bible is that no matter how many times I read the same book, there’s always SO MUCH MORE to learn. I discover new treasures every time as I turn my heart to God.

  1. These lists reflect some of the things that are special to me in each of these books. I encourage you to make your own list, of the things that spoke to you from each book.

I hope that you have enjoyed taking a brief look at some of the minor prophets. I pray that you have a deeper understanding of the character of God, and his passionate love you his people – his passionate love for YOU.

I also hope that you have been recording your thoughts, your insights, your questions. These are the things we need to share with each other! This is how we strengthen our faith – gathering together, sharing together.

I’m going to close with a beautiful prayer from Ephesians 3:20-21:

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

God is truly beyond comprehension, beyond imagination.

He is greater than all our wildest dreams.

I pray he will be glorified through me, through you – through us, as we continue to seek him together.

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Posted by on September 5, 2011 in Bible Resources


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Adjusting to a college roommate

Just a short post today to point you to a great article called “5 tips for surviving the worst roommate ever”  by Kristina Grappo, a TCK who recently graduated from college. It has some great advice for teens starting college and learning to adjust to living with a stranger.

Here’s her 5 tips, short-form:

  1. Always be honest.
  2. Always be willing to compromise.
  3. Don’t be afraid to get an RA involved.
  4. Don’t stoop to their level, no matter how tempting it might be.
  5. You’re in college now, so unfortunately, that means you’re an adult, and you have to act like one.

There is some great advice in here, definitely worth checking out – you may find it gives you ideas on how to counsel your teens who are just starting college. Here are a few especially good bits:

Confrontation is uncomfortable, and always a bit scary, but it’s like cleaning: if you do it a little at a time, it’s so much easier. If you wait till it’s a huge mess, then it becomes a big task that you never get around to, and then it just stresses you out.

Being an adult means dealing with your problems head on, and doing it with as little conflict as possible. One of the best things anyone can learn is confrontation is NOT conflict – it actually helps to avoid it!

Always take the high road, try to be as patient as possible (even when it might be really hard), but most of all, don’t let that weird roommate disrupt your college experience, distract you from academics and other important university activities, and ultimately destroy what is going to be a truly awesome experience. Take matters into your own hands, be proactive, and do what you need to do to make sure these four years are going to be the best of your life.

The bottom line is that these should be some of the best years of your life, but only if you make them so!!

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Posted by on September 2, 2011 in TCKs


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No Props Needed: Name Games (part 1)

It’s the start of another school year and at my church in Beijing we have a LOT of new teens in our youth groups this year. There are new grade 6 students now old enough to attend, some 7th graders who didn’t come last year, some older students who’ve decided to be more involved this year, and a bunch of families new to Beijing.

When half your group is new, learning names is a big deal – when you know others’ names it makes you feel more connected, less isolated. For the not-new students, learning the new kids’ names helps them be more inclusive, and get to know the new people faster.

With that in mind, we’ll be sharing some great name learning games that don’t require much by way of prep or props. These are the games we’re using to start off the school year in our youth groups.

The Pillow Game

When I was a student, we played this game with a rolled up newspaper. With my groups now, I use pillows. It doesn’t really matter what you use, as long as you can hit people with it without actually hurting them. Pool noodles would work well, too.  So yes, a prop is needed, but there are lots of round-the-house type options. The best thing about pillows is that you can throw them across the circle to hit your target – an additional bit of fun.

Everyone sits in a circle; one person stands in the middle with the pillow. A name is said to start things off. The person in the middle has to hit the named person with the pillow before they say another name. Then the person in the middle goes for the newly named person, who says another name. It keeps going in this fashion until the person in the middle hits a named person before they can say another person’s name. (You can’t call the name of the person in the middle). The new person stands up and the one who caught them sits in their chair – this means people change seats throughout the game so you have to remember what a person looks like, not just what part of the circle that name was! When the person in the middle catches someone, they must say a new name before sitting down – or they can get whacked back and be right back in the middle.

That’s a little confusing, with all the pronouns, so here’s how it works. Let’s say Bob is in the middle. The name “Mary” is called. Mary yells “Lily” before Bob gets to Mary. Then Bob runs toward Lily who yells “David”. David says “um um um” at which point Bob hits him with the pillow. David stands up and takes the pillow, Bob says “Peter” and sits down.

With a large group, we added a second pillow – so two people were in the middle, chasing after the one name that was called. If you have two people with the same name, the group should agree ahead of time on separate names (use a nickname, a surname, whatever you like) so that they can be distinguished. Careful, though – those nicknames can stick!


A prop is needed for this, too – just a blanket or heavy sheet/tablecloth, or something or that sort. You could use a tarp or a piece of canvass… lots of options. This game works best once the kids have had a chance to learn names first – so it’s best played after another name game or a few weeks in.

Divide the group into two teams. Two leaders hold the blanket (or whatever) between the groups so they can’t see each other. A leader counts down from 5 to 1, while the groups each choose a representative, who stands in front of the blanket. When the count gets to 1, the leaders pull down the blanket. There are two kids facing each other who must now race to say the other person’s name correctly first. The first one to guess correctly wins a point for their team.

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Posted by on August 31, 2011 in Games


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The Minor Prophets: Malachi, part 3

This is part of an on-going series on the Minor Prophets; a bible study I wrote two years ago. For more information on this study, including permission to use it for your own group, please read the introduction.

Click here to read the first part of the study of Malachi

Click here to read the second part of the study of Malachi

We continue with Section 4 – Malachi 2:17-3:5

KEY VERSE: “You have wearied the LORD with your words.” (verse 17)

We can actually WEARY God by not trusting his justice. Our complaints show a lack of trust. Also, it’s not enough to trust his ABILITY to bring justice. It’s important that I also trust his timing.

God says SOMETHING IS COMING. We might never see it fulfilled but there is a PLAN – for good, for justice, for bringing purity and true worship. Truly trusting him means trusting in his plan when things around me don’t look the way I think they’re supposed to. It means trusting that he is GOOD and that he has the POWER to do all the good things he has planned. It means trusting his TIMING – that he will do the things he has planned at precisely the right time. He is never late. (Check out II Peter 3:3-10 for more thoughts on God’s timing).

  1. What does it look like to trust God’s timing?
  2. How would your life be different if you trusted his timing more?

Section 5 – Malachi 3:6-12

KEY VERSE: “How do we rob you?’ ‘In tithes and offerings’” (verse 8)

God says if we return to him, he’ll return to us. Then he tells us HOW to return! (It’s always nice to have the instruction manual). He says it’s pretty simple, really – just stop robbing God.

Tithing is a practice of regularly, consistently, putting God first. It is a way you can concretely say that God comes first – of putting your money where your mouth is! Choosing not to tithe is withholding something from God that belongs to him. When we give freely to him, however, he is pretty good at out-giving us! It’s not just about money, either. Biblical tithing was giving to God the first portion of all your resources. Your resources might include time, money, energy, talents, skills… I believe that giving to God financially is very important, but giving him just money isn’t the heart of tithing. (Have a look at Matthew 23:23 for Jesus’ words on tithing).

  1. What is something you can give to God in a regular/consistent way in order to show that you put him first?
Section 6 – Malachi 3:13-4:6

KEY VERSE: “You have said harsh things against me” (verse 13)

God’s people were saying that there was no point serving God – it didn’t get them anywhere. When God hears their mutterings, he feels hard done by. Their words are unfair. God DOES remember those who are faithful. He sees what’s going on – he’s not blind. Whether the faithful receive immediate recompense or not, God SEES. One day we’ll see that he DOES make a distinction between men, based on their hearts and deeds. God WILL vindicate the righteous. At the very end, when everything is counted up, we will see that everything God has done has been just and fair. Every person will be given true justice. No matter what happens from now until I see him face to face, I can trust that promise.

KEY VERSE: “Then those who feared the LORD talked with each other, and the LORD listened and heard.” (verse 16)

Unity among God’s people grabs his attention. I don’t know exactly how or why, but there is something powerful about coming together to seek God. Psalm 133, Matthew 18:20 and Ephesians 4:3 are just a few places that hint at the power and importance of unity among God’s people. I tend to think about gathering together as something that’s good for us – that it helps us when we spend time together. While this is clearly true, the bible indicates that there is something more to it – that when we work together, share together, pray together, we actually affect God.

  1. Describe a time you felt discouraged in your faith – felt that your energy spent serving God was wasted.
  2. What truths about God can you use to encourage yourself in such times? Things you PERSONALLY know to be true.
  3. What does God’s promise for FAIRNESS and JUSTICE mean to you?
  4. Think of ways you gather together with other believers – talking together, praying together, seeking together.
  5. How can you stir up more of this sort of gathering (that strengthens people and affects God) in your life?
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Posted by on August 29, 2011 in Bible Resources


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