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Addressing Students’ Behavior with I-Messages

My original background is in teaching: I’m a certified teacher in Dutch history and social sciences in secondary education. When I was getting my teaching degree, we had to do several internships. And boy, did I have my work cut out for me.

Most of my classes ware great and I could work well with them. But some groups of students were really hard and I dreaded teaching them. Yet, it was often just a few kids who caused the problems and who infected the others with being disruptive, insolent, or downright rude. But I was at a loss how to handle these kids.

Until the teacher who was supervising me, sat me down and explained a very simple technique called the I-message. Nope, this had nothing to do with Apple’s I-Message, since that didn’t even exist at the time! Continue reading Addressing Students’ Behavior with I-Messages

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Teaching the Hard Stuff

What objections do your students have to the Christian faith?

If you had asked this question a decade or two ago, many objections would have had to do with ‘proving’ the Bible is true. Did Moses actually split the sea (or God through Moses)? Is the flood a metaphor or did it actually happen? How can we prove that Jesus rose from the dead? Continue reading Teaching the Hard Stuff

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How Emotions Influence Our Decisions

One of the key thoughts of my book Storify, is that we need to address not just the intellectual brain in our messages to teens, but the emotional brain as well. That’s because we make decisions not just with our minds, but with our hearts.

I came across this fascinating article in the Harvard Business review, which illustrates just how much our emotions cloud us. Here’s the gist of it: research suggests that putting users in an emotionally positive mindset improves their accuracy in interpreting data visualizations.  Continue reading How Emotions Influence Our Decisions

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Ministering from Pain

Recently, I spoke at a youth ministry conference and I shared the story of losing one of my students to suicide. My talk wasn’t about that, it was about relational communication with teens, but I had used my story with this teen as an example.

Much to my frustration however, tears welled up when I shared that he died. I had been confident that after four years I would be able to share this experience without getting emotional, but alas.

Here’s the thing, though. Many people came to me afterwards to thank me for being vulnerable and for sharing my pain with them. Because for a minute in that room, my pain over losing him was tangible as I fought back the tears—and everyone saw it.

And it was okay. Continue reading Ministering from Pain

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It’s Us Who Need To Adapt

In 2010, we moved from The Netherlands to Germany. Now, these are neighboring countries in Europe, so you’d think the differences would be small.


First of all, there’s a difference in language. In The Netherlands (also known as Holland) we speak Dutch. In Germany, they speak German. The two languages are related, meaning if you both speak slowly you can understand about half of what the other person is saying, but it’s easy to make embarrassing mistakes. One example: the German word ‘schlimm’ means ‘bad.’. The Dutch word ‘slim’ (which is pronounced almost the same way) means ‘smart’. Yeah, that’s a big difference. Continue reading It’s Us Who Need To Adapt

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Transformative Stories: Stories Change Opinions

In an article in Time Magazine, James Murdoch, CEO of 21st Century Fox, wrote about the transformative power of stories and how exposure to these transformative stories can change opinions.

He quoted some examples: how the TV series 24 exposed Americans to the idea of a black president for instance (though movies have shown this as well, notably The Fifth Element (1997), Deep Impact (1998), and 2012 (2009) and White House Down (2013)). In another example, he credits series like Modern Family with challenging conceptions about same sex families. And moving away from fiction, ISIS certainly uses stories to ‘inspire’ atrocious acts, he argues.

His point is this: stories have transformative power. Continue reading Transformative Stories: Stories Change Opinions

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Top 10 Christmas Ads to Use in Youth Ministry

There’s a rich and long tradition of wonderful Christmas ads and this year has been no exception. Some are plain old tear jerkers, some are inspiring and some touch you more profoundly than a commercial ought to be any standard. After watching a particularly strong message yesterday, I came up with the idea to make a top 10 of the best Christmas commercials ever…and how you can use these in your youth ministry. So here we go! Continue reading Top 10 Christmas Ads to Use in Youth Ministry

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Bonding Over Heartbreak, Bullying, and Poverty

One major mistake many speakers in youth ministry make, is that they focus on the content of their youth talks too much. They forget that youth won’t listen to you until they have decided you are worth listening to. And for teens to accept you as someone who is real and trustworthy, they have to see you as someone they have something in common with.

What you need is bonding. The good news is that bonding with teens is easy. The bad news is that it’s incredibly hard. Continue reading Bonding Over Heartbreak, Bullying, and Poverty

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Lay Off the Guilt

You should read the Bible every day, you know.

If you don’t invite your friends to this event, what does that say about you?

You really should come to youth group every week.

Let’s face it: if you only talk about Jesus in youth group, you may as well stop calling yourself a Christian.

Jesus doesn’t want your attention every Sunday evening. He wants your attention every day, every hour.

We’ve mastered the art of the guilt trip in youth ministry, haven’t we? We can package it like a ‘loving truth’ or ‘merely holding up a mirror’ or even a ‘Biblical confrontation’, but the fact is, that we’re dispensing guilt. And we’re really, really good at it. Continue reading Lay Off the Guilt