Every year, millions of people make New Year’s resolutions in order to better their lives, get in shape, or be more productive. They typically have something to do with achieving more and gaining better results. It makes sense. We live in a society that lives life by the numbers.
If you can bench press more than last week, you’re succeeding.
If you can do more work than yesterday, you’re succeeding.
If you make more money than last year, you’re succeeding.
We are obsessed with success. Success dominates our thinking in most facets of our lives. I mean, who wants to be a failure?
You might be ready to check out now, but hear me out. What if success wasn’t your goal this next year? What if you shifted your focus on failing? Why on earth would I even suggest this?
Because failure is the key to success.
Anyone who has ever found brilliant success in life only did so with failure, and lots of it. However, failure terrifies us. We’re afraid of what people might say, what our boss might do, or how it could affect our reputation. We allow that fear to hold back whatever is inside of us waiting to burst.
A Lesson from Hollywood
A few decades ago, a young man was eager to learn the film business. His heart was set on studying film and hopefully directing. He decided to start applying to film schools. He applied at one of the most renowned schools in that field, the University of Southern California School of Theater, Film, and Television. The first time he applied, he was rejected. Most of us would give up at this point, but he was determined. He applied again and got rejected once more. And yet, he knew he couldn’t give up, so he applied one final time. Unfortunately, he was rejected for a third time. His dream wasn’t over though. Another school finally accepted him, but he decided to drop out to simply try his hand at directing. Years later, Steven Spielberg is one of the most highly celebrated directors of this generation. He’s made countless masterpieces over his career, and it all started with failure and rejection.
Fear wasn’t dictating Spielberg’s life. Even within his career, he’s had flops. Just this past year, he directed the Disney film “The BFG” which opened to lackluster reviews and a mediocre box office performance. Did Spielberg quit though simply because this last film didn’t work for a mass audience? Nope. He presses on. In fact, he’s already got several projects in the works. Steven Spielberg gets the importance of simply trying and doing the things that he feels passionate about.
You’ve probably got a lot of ideas. Maybe you’ve kept them inside for fear of what others might think.
Maybe it’s a new event.
Maybe it’s a certain series.
Maybe it’s a new format.
Maybe it’s a new ministry all together.
Maybe it’s a book.
Maybe it’s a relationship.
Maybe it’s an idea.
Whatever it is, you’ve got something within you that the world needs.
Your students need it. You need it. You’ve got something brilliant to offer the Kingdom, but you’re holding it in, hiding it from everyone. Why?
Fear of failure
Fear of failure. We all wrestle with failure internally. We may put on a tough exterior, but a part of the human condition is to fear, and we avoid that which we are afraid of.
A few years ago, I was working out with a personal trainer. He told me to pay attention to the things I’m avoiding at the gym. For me, it’s always running. I hate how I look on the treadmill as I pant for breath. I feel like everyone is laughing at the weird way my legs move when I run. All kinds of insecurities arise when I’m facing the evil treadmill. But what’s weird is I actually love running. When I do it, I feel alive. I only avoid it because of how I’ll look to others or I’ve convinced myself I just can’t do it. I so badly don’t want to look like a failure, but the only way to get better at it is to keep running, even when I might look silly. Successful runners only got to where they’re at because of a lot of failed attempts. No one starts off running 5Ks without a lot of trying first.
A Different Kind of New Year’s Resolution
In this New Year, don’t let fear of failure hold you back from what God might be stirring in you. He wants to use you in remarkable ways, but you have to be willing to let Him. I think that starts by shifting what our goal is.
Our goal isn’t success. Success is too convoluted. There’s way too many definitions of what that is and how to achieve it. I think we should be measuring our success by how many times we fail. Failing means we’re trying. If you’re not failing, you’re not doing anything new. When you actually start doing the new thing you have stirring inside of you, you’re going to fail. And that’s okay!
Life is about failing forward. We make mistakes, pick ourselves back up, and keep pressing on. Life isn’t about comfort. It’s not about being static beings. We’ve been called to go, to move, to try.
Stop waiting for all the pieces to fall into place. You might be waiting forever. Do something today. Try something you’ve always wanted to try. You have no idea what amazing thing God has in store for you if you simply let Him use you in that new and unique way.
You see, following God is the only truly successful thing any of us can do. He doesn’t ask for perfection. He asks for us to follow as we fail over and over in life.
RYAN SCHMALL is the Student Ministries Pastor at Redding First Church of the Nazarene in Northern California. He is married to his wife Jeanette, and together they have three amazing girls. Ryan is passionate about creating experiences and environments for people to encounter God in new and unique ways. You can follow him on TWITTER or read his blog over at IAMRYANSCHMALL.TUMBLR.COM.
I hope your youth group took a few weeks off. I really do. You needed the break, your students needed the break, your volunteers needed the break, and so did your family. But now it’s time to plan for the first time you meet again in 2018. For many of you that’s either Sunday, Jan. 7th or Wednesday, Jan. 10th. Whenever you start up, I’d do it with a slow pace, especially since everyone is also starting back to school.
I’ve got a few ideas:
1) Go buy up the Christmas candy that is by now 75-90% off!
This stuff makes for great game ideas and prizes. In fact, the candy canes could be crushed up to make and sell heart-shaped peppermint bark candy for Valentine’s Day. Red/silver Hershey’s Kisses can be repackaged for V-day treat bags. Let the kids eat the green ones while they work or brainstorm ideas for marketing those at St. Patrick’s Day. Something along the lines of “Kiss me; I’m Irish!” You’ll think of a better idea!
2) Christmas Decoration Scavenger Hunt
I bet you can read right through this idea. Here’s a fun way to get the church decorations back down and in their storage tubs. Points for different things, etc., and each box/item must go past a “point judge” so that the right stuff does make it back into the right place.
Stores will GIVE you their leftover candy canes if you say it’s for a church and you promise to take them all. Come up with a list of people who blessed the youth group in 2016. Make yard signs that say, “Thanks for being a breath of fresh air for our group” or “You were really sweet to us this Christmas.” Sneak up on your benefactor’s house, stick the candy canes in the yard, leave the sign to be seen out the front door, and then “ding-dong-ditch” back into the cars for the next stop.
4) New Year’s Party stuff is 50-75% on sale by 1/1
Buy it all up, have a party and make sure there’s a chance for a devotional time that reminds students that “Old things are gone; behold, the new has come.” Give them a chance to listen to what God has in store for them in 2017.
OK, here’s my start to giving you some ideas for the first few meetings in 2017. Take these and make them better, then let me know what you came up with! I’d love to hear (and borrow!).
STEPHANIE CARO has been involved in ministry for more than thirty years. She’s the author of Thriving Youth Ministry in Smaller Churches and 99 Thoughts for the Smaller Church Youth Worker. She’s senior consultant for Ministry Architects and lives in Houston with her hubby and puppy.
We’re kind of strange. It seems to me we’re naturally inclined to exclude others until we’re told otherwise. That’s so backwards. In the 4 years I’ve been in youth ministry, one of the biggest frustrations I’ve encountered is building connections with other youth ministries in my area. I strategically try to establish relationships with other social organizations, youth ministries, schools, and non-profits. In the past, I’ve had great success in meeting these goals in every realm, except with youth ministries. This has only recently changed. Yet, I often wonder why has it taken 4 years to unify with other youth ministries, youth pastors, and the like when it only took a couple weeks to do the same with other causes? I mean, aren’t we on the same team? Don’t we desire to see students grow closer to God, together with no regard for denomination? Shouldn’t unity be a desire?
When we talk about unity, we have to focus in. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen unity been a goal, only for theological differences and denominational differences become an obstacle. In the Church universal, we are very skilled in making mountains out of molehills. So, how does unity happen? How do we navigate denominational differences to see mass amounts of students come together and seek after God? How do we reach out and build tremendous, blossoming relationships with other youth youth leaders? In my experience, here are the three things that will help you establish unity, build relationships, and ultimately see God’s purpose illuminated where you are.
Unity is a two-way street. Developing lasting unity between two people, or two entities requires that both feel and show the love. Establishing lasting unity also requires pursuit. After all, how is another youth leader going to know you want to unify with them if you don’t attempt to let them know that’s what you want? If you want unity, stop waiting for it, pursue it. Put yourself out there. Message, call, stop by announced, do something!
Allow me to clarify, by persist I don’t mean bother. Youth leaders are often busy, and sometimes rightly so. With the crazy schedules that come along with this calling, also comes the reality that we let things fall through the cracks. Unfortunately, one of the items that we forget are new connections. But, don’t let that be an excuse for not trying, or trying again. Don’t give up unless it’s blatantly clear the other party has no interest.
It took me one year to become a confident speaker. It’s taken four years to learn how to unite. Be patient with others and be patient with yourselves. You have no idea what that other youth leader or entity you’re trying to unite with is going through. Give them time, and give yourself peace, by being patient.
This isn’t all there is to building unity in ministry where you are. A lot of this is contextual. However, I believe these three concepts are pertinent to establishing and maintaining unity. In a world that divides itself, we can be the catalysts that bring unity, faith, and lasting change to a world that needs our influence desperately! If needed, here is a list of resources that can help you further:
Kane McEntire is the Youth Pastor at Asbury United Methodist Church in Wichita, Kansas. He is married to his amazing wife Leslie, and a father to his 3 kids, Talan, Kole, and Ella Mercy. He is passionate about youth, community, compassion being shown towards all, Wichita State basketball, vintage stereo equipment, and collecting vinyl records. You can connect with Kane on Facebook and Instagram.
Each year in January I choose a new word, just one word, to be my personal theme for that year. For 2017 that word was ‘yield’. And ironic as it sounds, I was kicking and screaming in protest pretty much up until midnight of Jan. 1 over that being my theme.
Because I knew it would stretch me. I knew it would push me. I knew it would painfully grow me. And I was right. What I didn’t count on was that in yielding, God would also yield blessings.
The blessings however, only came after some difficult yielding. Each month, besides small things, God seemed to ask me to yield something bigger. “Go big or go home” seemed to be His mantra. And He started off the year with a bang. In January of 2017, I sensed Him asking me to yield a part of my testimony that I had told very few people.
Now, I am very much a believer that while testimonies are powerful things and we should share our testimony, I don’t believe God requires us to share all the details or every part of our story. There are certain parts to my life’s story I will never share publicly. But in this particular instance I felt His Spirit telling me it was time to share this part because of how it had to potential to help other people.
What’s interesting is that while I yielded this part of my life to Him in January, I didn’t end up having the opportunity to share it until November. Which gave me time to process what I would say should I speak about it.
I ended up sharing this part of my story with my youth group on November 5. I started off with talking about my one word annual theme and the reason for my sharing it now since I had never shared this before. I have never experienced my teens that silent. Like EVER!
The next day a parent came up to me and while not knowing the details of what I said (we have a “safe space” rule in youth group. Unless life-threatening, what is said in YG stays in YG!) mentioned that her daughter deeply appreciated what I had to say.
While I had already come to peace with being more authentic and open about things I might prefer kept hidden, this I felt was God’s way of saying I did good and He was proud. I was just proud I kept my cookies down as my stomach was doing somersaults right before speaking. The Holy Spirit definitely gave me the words to say that night! And while I don’t have space in this blog to share that story with you, I will share it sometime in the future.
Being real. Being authentic. Being open. Kids desperately want leaders who are willing to lead through their own brokenness. To show the kids, even as leaders, they are human too. And while adult discretion is needed as to what details to include or what not to say at all, this is a wonderful avenue in helping kids reveal their own broken hearts and souls and perhaps releasing some of that emotion out into the open.
Sometimes we might as leaders, view our brokenness as something we must hide. Something we should be ashamed of. Something we shouldn’t have as part of our story. But I truly believe the best leaders learn from their brokenness and then use those lessons to help the broken around them. I pray you find the courage I was given to share some of your own story. There are so many blessings to be found when you do.
Sarah Vanderaa is currently serving as a full-time youth director in a church located in the south suburbs of Chicago. She is currently in her 11th season and is excited to see what the year will bring. On her rest days, she can often be found behind a computer writing and updating her blog, while drinking lots and lots of coffee. In between naps, she still finds time to read novels. You can connect with Sarah through her blog at UNLOCKANDRELEASE.TUMBLR.COM or her Facebook page @UNLOCKANDRELEASE
I recently had the pleasure of attending NYWC in Memphis, Tennessee, with thousands of other youth workers from around the country. We came from diverse backgrounds, countless denominations, and from many different job descriptions, but all with the same purpose: to learn how to better impact students for Christ. It is an amazing time each year to grow, network, and rejuvenate through speakers, peers, and worship. But, in addition to all of the free gifts and books I brought home, one concept has continued to work around in my brain. No matter where we serve, we must strive for pastoral, rather than theological leadership.
Our role is to help students find, follow, and be more like Jesus. We are meeting kids on a regular basis that are struggling with suicide, abuse, illegal substances, pornography, sexual identity, and so much more, not to mention they may have no idea how to pray or read the Bible. Our task is two-fold: walk them through their life issues and walk with them in their spiritual journey. While those often are connected in many ways, they each have their unique challenges. You as a youth worker, whether paid of volunteer, have to choose your approach. Here are the two potential options spelled out.
Looking at theological first, we have a method that focuses heavily on scriptural arguments. A theology first leader holds strongly to how Strong’s would conjugate that particular word in the text. There is a strict line drawn on your particular views or that of your denomination, which everyone knows. Students may feel the need to live up to your expectations, unworthy of the love of God, or alone in their fight. You however, are just trying to hold out scripture as truth and not compromise its validity and power.
The pastoral leader takes all of this into consideration. They are of course, still focused on doing ministry in the context of faith and scripture. The course that Christ set is the guiding factor in their preaching and the denominational views are followed. However, when approached with the hurt and brokenness of a student, they become pastorally compassionate. They seek to shepherd the student, hurting and rejoicing with them, seeking relational connection and change. Students under this leader will feel heard, okay to be themselves, loved by God and their leaders, and supported in their fight. You are not a rule breaker or weak leader, you are actually seeking to be Jesus to that student.
Imagine this scenario: you are on a retreat and a student makes a comment during a break in programming about their addiction to pornography. You have a choice to make as you listen. You can reply with the fact that it is immoral to engage in such practices and give them the verses to support your statement. They are on your student leader team, so you immediately kick them off because of the sin they are living in and tell them to repent and return when they have gotten it all together again. The Bible says there is no place for the sexually immoral in heaven, so you share that too. The rest of the retreat you watch them like a hawk and question them every time they pull out their phone. While a bit extreme, it is the greater side of the theological leader, and sadly examples of this sort of leadership are always around.
But what if you took the pastoral approach? While you would still want to let the student know that what they are doing is not in accordance with God’s plan, your first reaction is to listen, ask questions, and find out where they are coming from. You are concerned about their spiritual life, but also want to engage them in the context of a relationship. You don’t kick them out of leadership immediately, but begin a regular meeting and accountability with them. Only if they seem resistant to help and unrepentant do you take action. You let them know you are a safe place to talk, work things out, and vent. Above all, you care for them, knowing that, while their sin seems huge, it is still sin and can be forgiven just like any other. It is not OK, but it is definitely no TKO to your friendship.
Now imagine that instead you have a student who opens up about their sexual identity struggles, or suicidal thoughts. If you respond in the first way, you may have just cut them off from your group, from you, and potentially from the love and passion of Jesus. It is time to sit with the sinners, talk with the outcasts, and enter the homes of the forbidden. Because, to be honest, don’t we fall under those categories too? Christians today too quickly reject students for their headliner sins, creating a generation that either goes underground or swings the pendulum to the other side and finds acceptance with those outside the church. When we become pastoral in our leadership, we see the image of God in each student and help them find the grace and love of God. When I was at NYWC, I saw this in my fellow youth workers. I saw people who had a passion for students. Who had differing viewpoints on theological issues, but overrode those differences to approach ministry from a position of love and pastoral leadership. We cannot weaken the power and guidance of scripture, but does the Author of our faith promote strict criticism of those in sin, or was that the religious group he battled against?
SCOTT OSBORNE is the Student Ministries Pastor at Portage Free Methodist Church in Portage, MI. He lives with his wonderful wife and three sons and enjoys anything that gets him in the woods. He has been serving in ministry since college and is passionate about relationally engaging teens with the story of Jesus and walking with them in their journeys. You can follow him at his blog: THOUGHTSFROMAROLLYCHAIR.WORDPRESS.COM.
SUPER FUN ONE PERSON UPFRONT, SEATED GROUP GAME.
GREAT LEAD IN TO TOPICS OF “SPEECH”, “WORDS”, or “COMMUNICATION”.
• Pack of index cards
• Egg Timer or multimedia countdown clock
GAME PLAY: Quick explanation:
Teams will have to guess a word, phrase, or other assigned item that an upfront team member is mouthing by only reading their lips.
Before the Game:
Write out a variety of words, phrases, or items on your index cards
• Split the group into at least 2 teams. Consider guys vs. girls.
• Give the players the “Quick Explanation” and rules
• Start off by ask for 1 player from the first team to come to the front
• Have them face their team and show them their assignment on the card
• On “Go!” player will have 30 second to a minute to mouth the word or phrase while their team tries to guess.
• Continue the game with each team taking turns and have new upfront players each round
• Teams get 1 point for each correct guess
• Upfront players are only allowed use their mouth. They can not speak, make sounds or act out the clue.
• The guessing team only has the allowed time to guess, if they cannot guess it correctly the opposing team has 1 guess as a team to “steal” and get the point.
• Do not announce category, unless you would like. It will make it a bit more fun and difficult
Winning team is the team that has the most points at the end of the assigned rounds.
• Easy: Balloon, Watermelon, Volleyball, M&M’s, Potato Salad….
• Medium: Popular Movie Titles, Song Titles, Celebrity Names, Famous Places… (Star Wars, Mary Had a Little Lamb, Taylor Swift, Paris France)
• Hard: Popular phrases, full sentences, well-known Bible verses, …. (You can’t teach a dog new tricks, For God so loved the world…)
DAN ISTVANIKis the 5th to 8th-grade pastor at Victory Church in Lancaster, PA. He has been working in youth ministry for over 20 years serving churches in Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Virginia. Besides serving in the local church setting he is also the youth ministry content writer for Parent Ministry.Net, along with being a contributor to a variety of other great youth ministry resources like Youthworker Journal, Group Magazine, Download Youth Ministry, and more. Additional he shares daily Jr. high/middle school ministry specific resources, and hints on his own blog “The Middle Years” at WWW.MIDDLEYEARSMINISTRY.COM
If you’re the liturgical type, you know that today’s candle is not a part of Advent, but marks the beginning of a whole new season. So for the final reflection of our Advent series, let’s celebrate the end of one busy, but fruitful, ministry season and the new things it will bring in the year ahead. Use this reflection on your own, with your family, or with your youth group as a way to re-center and focus in the midst of your Christmas week.
Passage for reflection: Luke 2
(If you’re reflecting with family or youth group, you may wish to read verses 1-21 only.)
You’ve got to love those shepherds—and not just because they provide for great comedy moments in your Christmas pageant. But the shepherds in Luke’s story show the whole range of emotions on that life-changing night. First, they’re terrified. (And who wouldn’t be?). Then they head off in an excited hurry. And after their chance to worship Jesus for themselves, they can’t stop talking about it.
The characters in Luke’s story show us many ways to respond to Jesus’s presence in our lives. Angels sing. Shepherds share. Mary ponders. But all of them give thanks and tell the story in the unique and personal way God created them to.
Which one are you?
Are you a party person, reveling with the crowd like the shepherds? Or perhaps you’re more like Mary, getting on with the swaddling while pondering what God’s been doing and what it all means. The Christmas season brings many opportunities to celebrate and share, and knowing who God made you to be can help you make the most of this day. Whether you relish time together or take a little quiet time, remember that this day is for marking the moment when God showed up in our world. Do it the way He created you to.
As you light the four Advent candles and the long-awaited Christ candle, invite those present to offer words of praise and thanks for the things Jesus’ arrival has done in your own lives.
Here are three verses of a carol to get you thinking, singing, and celebrating God’s coming to earth:
Joy to the world! The Lord is come;
let earth receive her King!
Let every heart prepare him room
and heaven and nature sing.
Joy to the earth! the Savior reigns:
let men their songs employ
while fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains repeat the sounding joy.
He rules the world with truth and grace, and makes the nations prove the glories of his righteousness and wonders of his love.
– Isaac Watts
Rachel Dodd is Director of Youth Discipleship for Kent UMC in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, and an MDiv student at Fuller Theological Seminary. She and her husband Carl have been serving churches students and families in England and US for over 15 years, and have two daughters who keep life full of sparkles, adventure, and coffee.
This Advent season I’m challenging those of us in ministry to take a few minutes each week to let God work in us, so that we can create moments for Him to work in others. Use this reflection on your own, with your family, or with your youth group as a way to re-center and focus in the midst of your busy week.
Passage for reflection: Matthew 1
(If you’re reflecting with family or youth group, you may wish to start reading together from verse 18.)
Joseph is truly a fascinating character, isn’t he? He doesn’t seem to have much to say as the impossible and the miraculous unfold around him. In fact, not one of the Gospels tells us of Joseph saying anything at all.
We know that with Mary’s unexpected news he seriously considers his responsibility to honor and the tradition he had been raised in. When the angel intervenes, Joseph changes tack and obeys God without question. And when Caesar commands, he dutifully follows the law, journeying with his pregnant wife to Bethlehem despite the enormous risks.
In the story of Jesus’ birth Joseph may come off as the quiet type, yet he is given center stage as the story of God’s plan unfolds. Why? Because at every uncertain moment, where most of us would consider running away in fear, Joseph shows up. And through his persistent faithfulness, Joseph’s presence speaks to a powerful love which needs no words.
By this point in December, you’ve probably run out of wrapping paper, and it’s possible that you’ve talked so much you’re running out of words. As you prepare gifts for those you love and enact plans for those you serve, don’t forget that presence is a powerful gift in itself. This week as you gather to recognize the immanent celebration of God’s showing up in human form—His coming to be fully present with us on earth—think about how your love for God and for one another can be shown in faithfulness and persistence.
As you light the four candles for Advent this week, talk about times over the past week when you’ve felt loved, or found joy in the opportunity to show love to someone.
Here are three questions to get you thinking and talking about love:
How did Joseph show love in this story… for his family? for Mary? for God?
In what practical ways does our family/group demonstrate love for one another?
What does the name Immanuel, “God with us”, mean to you?
Three ways to share love with others this week:
Make a list of reasons you love a particular family member, and leave it in his/her Christmas stocking as a meaningful gift.
Invite someone who’s lonely to join you for Christmas dinner or for another activity you may have planned for the upcoming week.
Make a resolution to show faithfulness to someone in your life who can be hard to love sometimes. Commit your prayers and patience to them in the year ahead, and watch what God is doing in their life.
Rachel Dodd is Director of Youth Discipleship for Kent UMC in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, and an MDiv student at Fuller Theological Seminary. She and her husband Carl have been serving churches students and families in England and US for over 15 years, and have two daughters who keep life full of sparkles, adventure, and coffee.
This article originally appeared on the YM360 BLOG and thought it was so wonderful that we wanted to share it too!
The Christmas story is literally crammed full of powerful teachings. So, here are 10 takeaways that speak directly to students. Use these truths to help you come up with your own Bible Study lesson. Or use them as devotions. Or simply talk through them as a group. It’s up to you!
Here we go . . .
1. THE INCARNATION IS AWESOME
Luke 2:6-7 says, “And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” It seems this generation of teenagers places a high value on authenticity. There’s nothing more authentic than the God of the Universe taking on human form in order to perfectly save His creation from themselves. Students can know, worship, relate to God in large part because He became one of us.
2. YOU’RE NEVER TO YOUNG TO BE USED BY GOD
Luke 1:26-27 says, “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.” Mary was pretty young. Scholars’ opinions range anywhere from 13 or 14 years old to 18 or 19. The point is this: Mary was young. And God used her in a miraculous way. That’s God’s M.O. He used Mary when she was still a teenager. He uses teenagers today as vital parts of His plan to redeem humankind.
3. THE HARDER THE SITUATION, THE GREATER THE FAITH
Matthew 1:24-25 ESV says, “When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.” Joseph may be my favorite (human) character of the Christmas Narrative. What incredible faith! Everything in him said to divorce Mary (and do it quietly to protect her life . . . what love!). But Joseph showed immense faith in the Lord’s plan. Your students can benefit immensely from Joseph’s example here.
4. THE BIBLE IS A RECORD OF GOD WORKING TO ACHIEVE HIS PURPOSES
Luke 2:4-5 says, “And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.” God promised David that someone from his lineage would always be on the throne. This happened, oh, roughly half a millennia before Christ was born! Fulfilled prophecy is an incredible teaching tool to help give your students confidence in God’s powerful providence. God is at work, in history and in the lives of your students. And that’s pretty cool.
5. RESPONDING TO GOD IN OBEDIENCE ALLOWS US TO BE USED TO OUR FULLEST INTENDED PURPOSE
Luke 1:38 says, “And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.” When students feel God leading them to do something, or to take some sort of action, the right response is obedience. When they obey God, He can actually use them. If students don’t obey God’s leading, they deprive themselves of playing a greater role in God’s work. God is on mission . . . whether or not we choose to join Him is on us.
6. WE SHOULD APPROACH JESUS WITH REVERENCE AND HONOR
Luke 1:31-33 says, “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Many Christ-followers are guilty of downplaying Jesus’ majesty. This is especially true of teenagers (in many cases because they don’t know any better). While Jesus is a personal Savior, He is also King of Kings, the Son of the Most High, the Holy Ruler who sits enthroned as Lord over all nations. As we pray, as we sing, as we teach, let’s help students remember Who it is they are serving. Jesus doesn’t exist to serve us. It’s, in fact, quite the opposite.
7. THE GOSPEL IS NOT A SECRET
Luke 2:17-18 says, “And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.” The shepherds saw the Baby and immediately began to spread the word. The Gospel is by nature contagious. Your students are called to be people who openly speak to the saving grace of Christ in their life. Help equip them to do this.
8. WHEN GOD DOES AWESOME STUFF FOR US, THE PROPER RESPONSE IS PRAISE
Luke 1:46-48 says, “And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.” Mary knew God had touched her life. Her response? Unabashed, heartfelt praise. Plain and simple. When God does good for us the most perfect response is thankfulness and praise, acknowledging His favor over us.
9. GOD PLACES TREMENDOUS VALUE ON THE LOWLY AND THE LOST
Luke 2:8-9, “And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear.” Who were the first to hear publicly about the Christ child’s birth? The Roman rulers? The religious establishment? Nope. Who was it? The dudes keeping the sheep. God loves the outcasts and the low. Students who may struggle with feelings of low self worth, who look at the world around them and find themselves at the bottom of the pile, need not despair . . . they are in the right place to have God reach down and use them for powerful purposes. That’s His way.
10. JESUS IS RADICALLY DIVISIVE
Matthew 2:3 says, “When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.” Herod heard the news of the birth of a “king” and shook in his boots. So did the religious establishment. We tend to want to put Jesus in a box, to control Him, to make Him nice, and safe, and passive. This is the guy who dumped tables over in the Temple, who said in Matthew 10:34, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Jesus knew the Gospel would divide this world. It is as true today as it has always been. If your students know a Christ that is passive, and safe, and that exists primarily to meet their needs and make them comfortable, you need to help re-introduce them to the real Jesus.
I hope these help you bring the Christmas narrative to life for your students!
Merry Christmas to each of you . . .
Andy Blanks is the co-founder and Publisher for YM360. If it’s a blog post, resource, or workshop, Andy had his hands on it. Andy has been designing Bible study and discipleship resources for youth ministers since 2003. He lives in Birmingham, AL with his wonderful wife Brendt, their three daughters, and one son. He’s a pretty big fan of both the Boston Red Sox and anything involving the Auburn Tigers. When he’s not hanging out with his family or volunteering at his church’s youth ministry, you can find Andy trail running or mountain biking.
As leaders in the youth ministry, we spend much of our time during the holidays encouraging our students and the adults involved in our ministries to not lose focus on Christ during all the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season. With hectic church calendars, the sad truth is we might be more susceptible to failing to focus on Christ throughout the Christmas season. We run the risk of spending so much time seeking to lead others to celebrate Christmas that we fail to celebrate the birth of Christ ourselves. What are some ways that we can hit the pause button and intentionally focus on Christ this Christmas?
Take some time each day to read a part of the Christmas story from Scripture.
Carve time out of your schedule, perhaps during your daily devotional reading, to read about the birth of Christ. You might use an Advent or Christmas devotional to guide this reading, or you might pick passages containing Old Testament prophecies regarding Christ and New Testament accounts of His birth. Read each passage with fresh eyes, seeking to see the story from the perspective of the prophets or of one of the characters in the Christmas story. Such reading will help you maintain your focus and perhaps allow you to see aspects of the Advent you might have missed in the past.
Make a hot cup of coffee or tea and spend some time talking with God about the birth of His Son and what that means to your life.
One of the most powerful memories I have of Christmas’ past was talking with the Lord as I drank coffee late at night and looked out on a snow-kissed landscape that sparkled in the moonlight. Not that you need snow to have such a moment, but taking time to be still and have a conversation with the Father about my thankfulness for the birth of His Son made a powerful impression upon my walk with Christ. I talked with Him during that moment about how thankful I was that He sent Christ to be born to die for me. It was a time with the Father that reminded me of His sacrifice and of the fact that the manger lies in the shadow of the cross.
Make a special Christmas memory with a family member and/or a friend.
Spend some quality time with the people closest to you. Share in an event that will help you both focus on Christ. I will never forget when, as a teenager, my family attended the Allied Christmas Concert at the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in West Berlin, Germany. We listened to German, American, French, and British choirs sing their country’s carols in their native languages. That concert impressed upon me how Christ’s birth unites believers from every tribe, tongue, and nation to come and adore Jesus.
Serve someone in need with the love of Christ.
I had one stint as Santa Claus. It did not happen as an adult. As a teenager, my parents asked if I would play the role of Santa at a party for orphans in an orphanage in Germany. During the party, we talked about the birth of Christ and how he is the greatest gift ever given to humanity. We then gave gifts to the children at the orphanage. The experience reminded me how God adopts us and makes us His children through the gift of His Son.
Share the gospel with someone.
A recent study shows that around 79% of unchurched people state that no one has ever shared the story of Christ Jesus with them. Take time this Christmas season to give people an answer to the question of why Christians would celebrate the birth of a child born in a small town in Israel. Give that person the greatest gift you can share with them this Christmas season, the good news of the gospel. You will find that sharing the story of Christ will help you to focus on the impact Christ’s birth has on your life as well.
This list of ways to focus on Christmas is not an exhaustive one. Perhaps it will encourage you to think of better steps you can take to keep your focus on Christmas. Whether you follow my suggestions or create your own practices, let us not be distracted by non-essential things and focus on adoring Christ this Christmas!
Tim McKnight is the Director of the Great Commission Center and Assistant Professor of Missions and Youth Ministry at Anderson University in Anderson, SC. You can reach him on Instagram or Twitter at @drtimmcknight or Facebook at HTTPS://WWW.FACEBOOK.COM/DR.TIMOTHYRMCKNIGHT/