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Closure and Bows


Discipleship is a great catalyst for growth. It’s a process that meets someone and makes a change. One of the biggest balances to strike is the end game of discipleship.

Christmas is over, but I still remember all the presents under the tree. I could easily tell which I had wrapped from those my wife wrapped. All of hers had a bow. Some were big red ones and some were those silver ribbon-y kind. None of my presents had bows. It just never even occurred to me to finish a present topped with a bow.

Remembering those presents, I realized most of my meetings end without being wrapped up nicely. Finishing a talk or discussion with a couple of questions is actually a good practice. If you wrap things up too much, then there’s really no reason to continue thinking about what was said.

It’s uncomfortable (even jarring) for some people to be left without a clear answer to a question or three points of action they can try in response to your time together. It might be unsettling for you as well. But what really happens is a matter of trust. Do you really trust God to enter into that space? Do you trust the people you see to work out their faith when they leave?

Try this sometime. Start a conversation about something you have no specific answer ready. It doesn’t have to be about understanding the Trinity or predestination. Just try to enter a place where the answer can’t be known right then. Stay in that place. Don’t run from it. Then give some direction. You might say I think you should keep thinking about this and see where God leads you.

You will absolutely grow more in trusting God to do work outside of your influence. The people you lead will also grow more when they are forced to trust more as well.

Looking for more? Paul has written a great book on discipleship called Masterpiece: The Art of Discipling Youth. Download a free sample or purchase your copy here

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Switching Targets – Two Practices that Get Results

The daunting task of youth ministry revolves around making a change in the lives of teenagers. We all start with this goal in mind, but something usually happens along the way. Maybe we have agendas forced on us, or we get hurt and start playing it safe. Either way, grooves become worn in the road we travel in youth ministry. These habits form without our knowing and can limit our effectiveness.

While reading the Heath brother’s book Switch, I came across two great reminders for leading change in the lives of young adults. Here are two concepts that will help you limit habits and free yourself from imposed outcomes.

Decision Paralysis
I couldn’t tell you how many times as a small group leader I required students to drink from the fire hose. They would come to me with burdens, and I would give them everything I can think of to help. Too much advice, as wise as it might be, is still too much. The Heath brothers call this Decision Paralysis. Too many choices make it hard to choose a path forward.

Switch tells the story of a doctor and patient with few choices for their chronic, arthritic hip pain. When a doctor has exhausted all medications available to cure the arthritis, he begins to prepare for surgery. Just before scheduling surgery though, a new drug is discovered that might cure the patient. Many doctors (47%) will try this new drug to forego the trauma of surgery. Yet when there are two drugs left, only 28% will choose either drug over surgery.

It’s way more productive to give adolescents one clear next step and a farther reaching goal. By doing this, we provide a direction for them that can be seen and followed. They will know quickly if they are following the path and be assured of their progress.

The other idea the Heath’s write about concerns a school counselor who meets with a problem student only once every other week. She realizes her impact will be severely limited just because of the time spent with the student. She also knows that she will be equally limited by the child’s home life which she is powerless to change as well. So instead of typical therapy, where she would dig into the young boy’s past, she focuses on quick solutions to his behavior.

Studying his behavior when he doesn’t get into trouble, she develops a series of unusual questions. These questions bring all of the boy’s attention to what happens when he doesn’t get into trouble. When he doesn’t get into trouble the teacher greets him at the door, he is given clear directions that he understands and his assignments are ones that he can achieve. This information is shared with teachers who are dying for a way to calm their classrooms by changing one student’s behavior.

Guess what, it works. In youth ministry, we often focus a lot of time and energy trying to correct behavior by exploring the past. In doing that, the focus is usually on what not to do. This practice of correction has typical results. Behavior doesn’t change, but shame and feelings of inadequacy grow from the expectations of the leader.

If we switch our suggestions to repeating success, then we have a more hopeful future. Instead of telling a young man to stop looking at porn, we ask him what he would like to do instead of acting on his temptations. Or we can ask him what he does when he resists. This gives a positive view of the future rather than a disgraceful reminder of failure.

In following these two principles, a couple of side benefits have crept in. First, I don’t feel like I need to give amazing insight. I’m released from having to be the sage oracle at every meeting. Second, since these techniques center on the teen, it helps them develop problem solving skills of their own.

These ideas may be completely new to you, but I would bet that you practice some form of these ideas daily. If they are new, give them a try. If you recognize these already, let this remind you like it did me to be the change-makers we want to be.