Tag Archives: discipleship

How to Get Your Kids Through Church Without Them Hating God: Part 1

On Wednesday 2nd November I attended the “how to get your kids through church without them hating God” tour organised by Rob Parsons and ‘Care for the Family’.

It was an excellent evening with lots of thought-provoking ideas. As an aside, one thing I really enjoyed what that they encouraged people to tweet comments using #GYKTC tag and it was great to interact with others in attendance and hear what they were being challenged with. A few of the older people I was with glanced at me a couple of times because I was typing away on my phone. They probably thought I was being rude but I was REALLY interacting with the talks through twitter.

I’d love to see my speakers in church using twitter to allow people to comment or ask questions during their sermons. Although, I have to wonder, how many of the church congregation i am part of have ever heard of twitter.

Anyway, let me get one with actually discussing the event.

The evening was split into three sections and each section consisted of a short video, drama and then a talk by Rob Parsons. Phatfish already provided worship at the start and the end of the evening. In this blog, I will explore section 1.

Section 1

Rob explained the four steps of faith for ‘churched’ young people:

1) experienced faith (what they see from their parents)

2) affiliated faith (from their church and peer group)

3) searching faith (where they graps the ability to question their faith and ask difficult questions)

4) owned faith (a faith they accept and own for themselves)

Rob said an interesting thing in that although we don’t think our children/ young people are listening to us, they are in fact hearing everything we have to say. A simple yet profound misunderstanding.

I wonder if you’re anything like me and you’re standing talking to a group of young people about an event coming up or something you’re asking them to do and then a few minutes later they have completely forgotten. It’s like you’re banging your head against a brick wall.  In many cases it is clear to me that they are not listening to me. By listening, I mean taking in the facts that I am presenting to them. But what they are doing is ‘hearing’ how I’m saying things. They pick up on the aggression and the frustration. They pick up on the times I am gossiping or slagging someone off and this will have a profound impact on their faith. As leaders, we need to be aware that young people are always ‘hearing’ even when they’re not listening and how we interact with them and others will shape what they think of Christianity.

Something else, he said, that struck me is that we sometimes confuse “spirituality with personality“. We assume that a christian looks and sounds like ‘this or that’. We have a fixed ‘jelly mould’ that we expect Christians to be like and when they don’t fit that mould we assume their faith isn’t growing/ isn’t strong/ isn’t there. In fact what we are looking at is their personality. All Christians are not and should not be the same and we need to get rid of the ‘christian young people’ moulds that we have in our heads. Just because a young person isn’t acting how we think a christian should does not mean they are not a christian.

This idea has profound implications for how we measure ‘christian growth’. How do we know the young people we work with are becoming more like Jesus? More Christ-like? I know I have been guilty of thinking that only those who are actively engaging at youth house groups or are volunteering to be upfront at the youth services are the ones who are ‘spiritually’ growing. But that’s just not the case!

Instead of a ‘one size fits all’ discipleship measuring tool, we need to look at each young person individually and see how each one is changing. We may see that a young person is smoking (and drinking) and think that the are not becoming more like Jesus when in actual fact they are out helping people and praying loads. We cannot measure all young people’s spiritual growth in the same way.

What do you think?


Facebook overhaul and how it affects your young people

On Thursday at the f8 conference in San Francisco, Mark Zuckerberg gave a keynote speech,highlighting the new changes that would be happening to facebook.

As a youth worker who engages young people with facebook, I thought I would give a brief summary of some of these changes and what it could mean for the young people you and I work with.

Feel free to comment and add your own thoughts to this post and the major changes that facebook are bringing in around 30th September.


Timeline is a complete overhaul of the profile page. It is, in reality, an online scrapbook of your life with the most memorable moments, photos, status updates on a one page display for everyone to see. This gives you the opportunity to present your own biography giving everyone the chance to share in your life.

Here’s what it looks like

Previously, as an ice breaker with young people, I have asked them to design a scrapbook highlighting the key moments in their life. It gets them thinking and reflecting and gives them an opportunity to share something of their life with other people. This is what Timeline is allowing people to do online. I think it’s a brilliant idea and could be used as a part of your youth club or group to bring it a bit of variety and get involved in their online world.

Saying that, like all technology, it has its downsides as well as its positives.

Facebook has always had the potential to breed narcissism. The never ending quest to be loved and accepted by showing people how great you are by showing the ‘perfect’ side of your life whilst deleting the boring or horrible stuff. I think working with young people on their timeline in a youth club setting would help kerb some of that but it is an area that youth workers need to be aware of.


Before all you could do to a video, picture, comment etc on facebook was ‘like’ it. Now with gestures you can let people know you are WATCHING a film, LISTENING to music, READING a book. This again will allow people to share their passions with one another and see that other people like their stuff as well.

On the downside, it will lead to more spam as advertisers well then be able to send you more user specific adverts. It will also mean an abundance of over-sharing but with the new ‘ticker’ feed at the right hand side, your main home page won’t be filled with all this info.


Facebook plans to take over the online media world as well and because of a number of recent partnerships, you will now be able to watch movies, listen to music and read books and newspapers without ever having to leave facebook. If a friend is doing any of the above, it will show on your ticker feed and allow you to join in the experience with them.

This offers a whole load of possibilities like having online film nights with your youth group, where you can talk and comment on what you are watching, share new music and talk about news stories with each other. This is an area I am keen to see explored with youth workers and their young people.

All in all, I think the facebook overhaul offers some great opportunities for work with young people. There are the negatives and we need to be wary of endorsing facebook to the extent that young people spend all of their time there (which they now could theoretically) but let us embrace online youth work and share our experiences together.


Are you as positive as I am about the changes or are there areas I have not given enough thought to?

Who needs a God shaped hole?

I wrote briefly about a new understanding of the god shaped hole last November. I can’t believe it’s been THAT long! Please read that before reading this.

But a couple of things have come up in the last few weeks that brought me back to thinking about it:

1) WWE wrestler, ‘The Million Dollar Man’ Ted Dibiase came and spoke at our church a couple of nights ago and spoke about the fullness that he has found in God and how that hole that he tried to fill with drugs, alcohol and women was finally filled by God.

2) I spoke with a former drug addict who spoke about the hole that was once filled by drugs is now filled by God.

I guess, for some people, there is a hole that needs to be filled. Those who were addicted to something whether it be drugs, alcohol or whatever now speak of being filled by God.

I get that.

But what about those who don’t have a God shaped hole?

I don’t believe that I ever did. What I did have ( and still do have every so often) was a need to feel loved and accepted by someone. But I would not necessarily define that as a ‘hole‘. It is more that I am not completely secure in my own identity and so I sometimes need others to affirm it.

So, my question is this. What do you tell someone who says they have everything they need (and want)? What do you say to the person who does not have that ‘god shaped hole’?

I think we can find some answers in the story of the rich young ruler in Mark 10:

 17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

   18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’[d]

 20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

 21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

 22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

 23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”

 24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is[e] to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

 26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”

 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

 28 Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!”

   29 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

This man didn’t have a ‘hole’. And Jesus didn’t try to tell him that he did have one that needed to be filled by God. Instead, Jesus told him to give up that what was most dearest to him: material goods, money.

So, back to my question. What do you tell someone who says they have everything they need (and want) and so don’t need Jesus?

Tell them, they’re right. They don’t need Jesus because Jesus shouldn’t be just another thing that we need.

You see, for me, following Jesus isn’t about filling a hole or about making my life complete. Jesus’ call to me is to give up things and to be restless and uncomfortable. Rather than find peace, I am to live in the uncertainty.

In my youth work, I need to move away from trying to sell Jesus to young people. Instead, I should be asking the young people to sell. Sell their comfortable lifestyle and their middle-class identity and pick up their cross.

Following Jesus does not make me complete. In fact, it makes me want to be incomplete.

Facebook Discipleship Research

I have been asked to do a guest lecture for a Youth Work Honours Degree course on ‘Discipleship and Facebook‘.

As I begin to research this, I want to throw out some questions that I would appreciate your comments on.

What are the positives in using facebook as a discipleship tool?

What are the negatives in using facebook as a discipleship tool?

What are the key differences between face-to-face discipleship and online discipleship?

What are the key issues with young people and facebook? (positive or negative)

Does your church/ organisation have a child protection policy when it comes to interacting with young people online?

I would appreciate your comments on any of the questions

Falling into the same old routine

Before I joined my present employment as youth worker at south beach baptist church in saltcoats, I worked part time for a small church of Scotland in Mauchline. Our Sunday night youth fellowship ground had a grand total of five young people and so I had to restructure how I ‘did’ YF.

I was brought up with the mini church service still of YF. You would have an intro/ icebreaker, followed by some songs, a short talk and then maybe a discussion group.

I knew that with the small number we had I couldn’t rely on that structure and so by default, the group became very interactive.

Skip forward 12 months. After several people’s recommendations, I’ve started reading “deep church” by Jim Belcher (a fantastic book that I would encourage you to read if you haven’t already). I was reminded of my passion for reinventing groups to make them more interactive and more young people driven and led.

But I look at the YF we run at south beach and I get a little depressed. Rather than being dynamic, its fallen back into the mini church service still where, for the majority of the time, the young people face the front and listen. Yes, they interact a little but not a huge amount.

Should YF be like this? I mean, I have issues with the way the church service is done because it is all led by a select few from the front. Christian education is reduced to listening to a talk for twenty minutes and that’s it. This isn’t how Jesus modelled discipleship but how else would you do it?

I’ve put an online questionnaire out to all of the young people to find out what they like/ don’t like about YF and what could make it better. Over the Summer, I want to come before God and hear his heart for the group. Is there a different style that would work?

What are people’s own thoughts about it? How do you guys structure your youth fellowship meetings? Is it all about the young people listening to a talk and being ‘educated’ or do you guys do something different?

Please leave your comments.

How Play-Doh inspired the Beatitudes

A few weeks ago I opened the play-doh pot with my son for the first time. There were four distinct colours: blue, red, yellow and orange.

Skip to two weeks later and there are now just three colours: yellow, orange and purple.

My son didn’t seem to realize that you shouldn’t squish blue and red together. But no matter how much I tried those two colours soon merged into purple. Didn’t he realize how you’re meant to play with play-doh? Couldn’t he see the method in my madness?

Clearly not. He just wanted to play.

The other Youth Fellowship leaders and myself decided that up until Christmas, we would look at the beatitudes with the young people. We felt this fitted well with the new ethos that was being created of an alternative, subversive and worshipping community we were trying to create.

I was leading the first week: ‘blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’.

As all good youth workers do, I searched google high and low for those who may have already attempted the beatitudes with their young people. But what I found was the same old talk and group discussion methods that I had done before. Surely there was something different that could be done? Rather than trying to keep things pretty, was there a way I could make purple?

We had been shown a video when I was at college about experiential learning. Was there away of getting the young people to experience the beatitudes rather than simply hear about them?

I came up with a plan and discussed it with the other leaders to make sure they felt it would be ok. And with God’s grace we went ahead.

Here’s what we did.

At the start of the night we took the young people into another room and split them up according to their eye colour. We had two groups. Brown eyes and everyone else. The brown eyes were the smaller group. They would be the ‘blessed’ group. The others would be the oppressed group.

We brought them all back through and made the oppressed group sit up the back on the floor. we pushed them, shouted at them and were generally mean to them. To the ‘brown eyed’ group we were the opposite. they came in and sat at the front, got juice and sweets and sat on chairs. We had a small worship time with them at the front that the oppressed group at the back couldn’t hear. they were simply told to shut up.

Next was ‘game time’. We took them all through the back but only let the brown eyed group play the game. The oppressed group had to keep quiet and watch. If any of them talked we split them up and took their phones. When  people needed to pee, we made them hold it in.

We then brought them all back together and had a short time of feedback.

I then spoke about the context of the beatitudes. In jesus’ day there were the elite and the oppressed. The blessed were those who had status, wealth and power (just like today) but Jesus came to speak to the oppressed. To tell them, “You are blessed”.

Rather than simply tell them about the context, they experienced it (albeit breifly). But it seemed to work.

Now by putting this up I’m not trying to say, “oh look at how good and great we are”. I’m really not.

But what it has caused me to do is think about how we share the good news. Do we simply tell our young people about faith or do we help them experience it?

Blessed are the Broken Hearted

“Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted”

What was Jesus on about when he said this? Has anyone ever felt blessed in the midst of agony and sorrow?

If you went up to someone who was grieving and said, “wow, you’re blessed”, you might end up on the wrong side of a fist.

So why say it?

I think there are a number of ways to look at this but remembering it must be held in the context to which it is written. It is the opener for Jesus’ sermon on the coming Kingdom and discipleship.

“Blessed are those who mourn”

the word blessed as I understand it is a state of which others would envy. It is a privileged position. Others want to be in that position.

strange when you think about it in this context.

Again, we ask, why would anyone want to be in a place of mourning?

When we mourn it demonstrates that we care about something enough that it moves us to an emotion. We have taken hold of reality. We are not hiding. We are not living on our own island. We are investing in people. We are being real. That’s a good thing.

To me sin is the breakdown of relationship. Either with ourselves, others, creation itself or God. Relationships are important. The Kingdom of God is about relationships. Bringing people together. Jesus died to free us from this breakdown. To allow us to re-enter into relationships.

If we are choosing to be disciples of the true living God then we should be about relationships. Entering into and blessing the lives of others. We wouldn’t mourn for people if we did not care about them.

The other understanding of ‘mourn’ is for those who are oppressed and marginalised. God is on the side of the poor and the oppressed. God is for them. God will one day free them. That’s a good thing also.

“For they will be comforted”

This has elements of the future tense as in “one day they will be comforted” but it can also be understood outside of a specific time.

There are also echoes of Isaiah when God said that he will comfort the oppressed and brokenhearted.


So what do we take from all of this? What are we to learn from this beattitude.

1)If we truly wish to follow God then we need to put people first.

2)we need to care about those who are oppressed and mourn for them. This is more than pity. It is a call to active participation in the restoration of people.

3)In times of distress we may be able to find comfort in the knowledge that God is for us.

Disciples or Consumers?

A question I’ve been wrestling with recently is ‘how do we make sure we are making disciples and not just people who know the ‘right’ theology’?

I know a lot of people who think they know what it means to be a Christian. They know the orthodox views and they definitely know what is not orthodox. They know they should read their bibles, pray, go to church etc but I look at them and don’t see the praxis.

Within my youth work I wonder how we know we are making followers of Jesus rather than people who are gaining more head knowledge.

Jesus didn’t seem to care too much about head knowledge and when he did it was to correct those who thought they knew it all. T

It was faith and action that defined a disciple.

Are we creating disciples or are we creating right thinking christians?

A New Way of looking at Christianity

Heard this today and had to share it: (paraphrased)

“The word Christianity does not appear in the bible. The word christian, occurs three times. The word disciple occurs 263 times. So the central driving force of the bible is not necessarily a religion or a complicated system that needs to be defended or argued for. What you find, most often is simply… ‘disciple’. Someone who is a follower, an apprentice, a student of Jesus. A learner. if you are any of these things your fundamental posture is humility, ‘I’m learning. I’m growing.’ Expectation. ‘I am assume there are a whole bunch of things I don’t know and so I’ll be learning them. And some things that I thought were true and have hung on to, I may need to let go.’ An expectation that you’ll always be encountering new things.

Are we still in that frame of mind or do we (arrogantly) think we know it all now?

It Always Seems to Be the Same

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, he pours new wine into new wineskins.” (Mark 2:21-22)

I went along to a Sunday night youth group awhile ago and what I saw saddened me. There was nothing wrong with what the youth worker was saying or how he was saying it. The problem was it looked like the youth group I used to attend when I was sixteen. That was 11 years ago. I used to take my group along to a monthly youth event and found the same thing there.

ice-breaker. ‘sung’ worship. notices. talk. ‘sung’ worship to end.

Now I’m not saying there is anything inherently wrong with any of those parts. It’s just the fact it’s always been like that. Young people are not the same people we were 11 years ago so why are we still doing things like they were. The reason people are leaving ‘traditional’ churches is because of this model of church. Rather than a place of interaction, it is often a place of passive receptiveness. A place where one person leads and everyone else listens.

All this generally creates is converts rather than disciples. People who attend meetings rather than take part. If our youth work is to become more about apprenticed lives than programmes, as Jill Rowe (Ethos development and Resourcing Director for Oasis UK) puts it, then we have to move away from this model of youth work.

The only problem is, that’s easier said than done. How do you create a youth work programme that centres on ‘discipleship’? What do we even mean by that term? Does it mean head knowledge? If our young people can roll off some bible verses and know a little about God, is that success? Or is it about the choices they make? That’s very hard to achieve one night a week.

I’m not sure what the answer is then but I know what it’s not. There’s a new monthly youth event starting in Kilmarnock in October. I’ll take my group along to the first one and pray I don’t feel like I am sixteen again.