Is Your Ministry Just A Game?

By | entertainment, focus, games, invitation, message, ministry health, MINISTRY HEALTH, relationships
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When I started out in youth ministry I was a little bit of a one man show.  I did have volunteers; however, I didn’t utilize them in the way one should.  In result I was responsible for small group questions, a message and planning an activity for the group.  More times than not the activity was a fun, silly game that I would look up on some youth ministry website.  On top of each game I gave out prizes.  There were gift cards, candy, and some CD’s.  It was exhausting.  It was also addictive because it appeared that the teens loved them; however, it wasn’t really bringing them into a deeper relationship with Christ.

The fear of not having any entertainment is that teens will find church boring; therefore, never come back. While there is some truth to this, the answer lies in turning entertainment into engagement.  To do this you need to focus on:

  • The Relationships – If a teen connects with another teen, or an adult in your ministry the chances of them opening up are higher than if they just sit in a chair.  How you conduct and cultivate relationships in your ministry are important.  That means creating opportunities like small groups, and having people greet teens at the door.  To engage in a relationship with Christ, a teen needs to engage in a relationship with someone who knows him.
  • The Message – Whether you are giving a talk or running an activity the message has to be clear.  The reason why so many teens feel bored at church is because they aren’t drawn in by what you are saying. Doesn’t matter how much scripture you use, if you don’t practice your delivery they’ll cut you off.  While content is so important, the context in which you speak or deliver the Gospel is essential.
  • The Invite – Most times the reason a teen won’t come back is because no one invited them back.  They might have seen your ministry as a one night event.  They might have enjoyed themselves; however, feel like they need to be invited back to belong.  Don’t be afraid to invite your teens back each week by following up with an email, contacting them on Facebook or announcing it at the end of your ministry.

There is nothing wrong with having games in your ministry as long as they aren’t the foundation to your engagement.  Games can break the ice; however, if you want teens to go deeper it’s all about relationships, your message and inviting them to follow you.  When your ministry relies on pure entertainment one day you will lose out and lose out big.  To really build an engaging; yet, Christ centered ministry you need to focus on content, context, and relationships.  Not only will teens come back, but they will bring their friends as well.

Do you think games play a role in your ministry? Why or why not? 

The Most Important Part Of Networking

By | networking, Relational Ministry, relationships
Courtesy of photosteve101/Creative Commons License

This week I’ll be out in Colorado at a youth ministry gathering.  It’s something I look forward to because it’s a chance to pow wow with like minded youth ministers.  When I get back I’ll be hosting a local gathering of youth ministers.  This is just another way of connecting with the men and women serving in the trenches around me.

Not sure if you are connected to a network, if you aren’t you should be.  Connecting in networks is important for youth ministers.  It’s what helps you realize you aren’t alone, it’s a great way of sharing ideas and collaborating on projects.  Even though the benefits are great, there is one that stands above the rest.  What is that?
BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS – And to build the relationship you need to:

  • Start Out With A Simple Invite – The feeling is to create an event where youth ministers mingle and do something profoundly deep.  The reality is that your first interaction should be simple.  Whether it’s one on one or as a group, just invite them over, order food and talk.
  • Make It Relational – Again there does not have to be a purpose as to why you all gather.  Just make it about getting to know them and them getting to know you.  You’ll want to keep it simple ; however, prepare with some icebreaker questions.  By building relationships you can begin to build trust.  That’s the most important goal in networking.
  • Be Sure To Stay In Touch – One way to keep the relationship strong is by maintaining touch.  At your first face to face interaction exchange emails and follow one another on Twitter.  Touch base from time to time and  make sure you don’t find yourself saying, “Hey, it’s been a while, let’s get together soon.”

Networking isn’t rocket science; however, it can be intimidating.  You are putting yourself out there; however, if you keep it focused on the relationship you will be successful.  After all no one wants to go through the trenches alone. Build the trust, build the camaraderie and grow stronger in what you do.

How do you network with others?

Get The Ball Rolling In Small Groups

By | authentic, conversation, conversation starter, Relational Ministry, relationships, smal groups, Systems and Structures, SYSTEMS AND STRUCTURES
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I’ll never forget my first small group experience.  I was leading a group of sixth grade students and didn’t know exactly what to do.  I had the set of questions in front of me that would guide me. However, I wasn’t entirely sure how to use them to formulate life changing conversation.  So I decided to go off script and ask them a question from the heart.  I said, “How old do you think I am?”

Their answers ranged from 35 to 50.  I was only 24.  At that moment I knew that leading a small group of middle school students wasn’t going to be as fluid as I thought.
For many of you and your ministers leading a small group for the first time can be intimidating.  Even if you’ve lead groups for years, if you have a new crop of students breaking the ice can feel like punching through a concrete wall with your fist.  Before you panic, it’s important to realize that leading a group is a slow growing process.  To get to the point where the group is having deep conversations takes times.  That’s why to get the conversation rolling you need to:

  • Share Yourself – Teens need to know if they can trust you and that will happen as they get to know you.  Share a little bit about yourself, who you are, what you do and what you were like when you were there age.  Don’t show off, just be authentic and matter of fact.  Prepare what you are going to say and allow them to ask questions after you are done.  Follow up with saying, “That’s me and I look forward to get to know you.”
  • Ask Simple Questions – If you are writing the questions for your leaders it’s always best to start off the year with simple questions.  If the questions are simple the teens will be more inclined to answer them.  You want to set your group up for success because early on no one wants to sound stupid in front of their peers.  Make sure you use questions that everyone can discuss.
  • Let Them Talk – Sometimes you need to break the ice by letting the teenagers lead the discussion.  In the first couple of gatherings your goal should be to get everyone comfortable with one another.  That might mean talking about school, football or Angry Birds.  Try to guide the conversation so that you avoid gossip and slander; however, let them talk.
  • Embrace The Silence – If there is silence, embrace it because everyone is a little hesitant to make the first move.  If you constantly fill that silence by trying to dominate the conversation you just might shut down any potential sharing.  While you don’t want the whole 30 minutes to an hour to be utter silence, make sure you don’t rush to speak. Just remember to give it time.
  • Set Expectations – Make sure you let the group know the purpose of your small group.  For many of them they are there because a parent or a friend invited them to join.  They might expect it to be fun; however, they probably won’t expect it to be a place of safety, challenge and growth.  Give them rules and a vision for what this group will do for them and their faith.
Those first few weeks of small group are a challenge; however, once you are in them for a year or so it’s amazing to see the growth.  Small group leading takes persistence and the ability to allow the Holy Spirit to lead.  That’s why it’s important to start and end every group with a prayer.  Let God co lead alongside of you.
How do you get the ball rolling in small group conversation?

Why You Will Scar Your Teens

By | relationships, scars, spiritual health, SPIRITUAL HEALTH, teens, wounds
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Creative Commons License

Growing up I was a retreat junky.  Basically, if there was a retreat happening at my church or a friend’s church, I went on it.  And, if I was eligible I would apply (and most times) make the leadership team.  It was a rush, something I wanted, it was the way I experienced youth ministry.

Then in my senior I got what felt like a low blow.  I was told that I would not be on the leadership team of my church for the next retreat.  It was to be my last retreat in high school, so I was upset and needed to know why I wasn’t being chosen.  The youth minister told me, that because of my family situation that she felt that, “I was not emotionally stable to lead.”  Ouch, it hurt.  That decision hurt so much that I seriously considered leaving the church all together.

When I became a youth minister I told myself that I never wanted to do that to another teen.  But, as hard as I try I know that scarring a teen is inevitable.  One day I might say or do something that’s going to hurt them.  My hope is it’s not anything too deep, that they would question their faith.
No one in youth ministry wants to scar a teen; however, because of our human nature we are at risk of doing it all the time.  Why?  Because we are human and we are susceptible to pride, carelessness, and a lack of focus.  To avoid the deep wounds we nee to make sure we discipline with love, communicate clearly and show transparency, especially in these scar prone areas:

  • Canceling A One On One – Believe it or not that teen wants to meet with you, even if it was your idea.  If you have to cancel on a teen make sure you have a plan to follow up with them right away.  If it’s because of an emergency make sure the next time you see them that you have a clear and honest explanation of what happened.  Lastly, don’t make canceling on them a habit.
  • Firing Them From Ministry – A teen who is asked to step down from a leadership role will feel like they are being asked to leave the church.  To combat this feeling make sure their parent (Or small group leader) is there to affirm your caring love and knock down anything the teen might misinterpret.  Doesn’t matter the reason for why you are asking them to leave, just make sure it doesn’t come off you want them to stop following Christ.
  • Being Human – Whether you like it or not you are a role model in faith to these students.  You might be the primary link between them and Christ; therefore, seeing your sinful nature will cut them deep.  Don’t be afraid to share your humanity by being honest and authentic in your conversations.  Don’t feel like you have to always have the answer and embrace when you are wrong.  By being real with them, they’ll be more likely to give you grace when you need it.
  • Joking Around – If you are like me then you can go too far with the teasing and joking around.  Maybe you know some insider information about a student that if revealed, even in a joking manner, will cut them like a knife.  You want to be fun in their presence; however, at what costs will you go to make sure others are laughing?  If you hurt the teens with your jokes, then all you are to them is a bully.
Again, there are many ways (Intentionally and Unintentionally) we can scar a teen in our own ministry.  The goal is to make sure that you own up to your mistakes and pour into them with love and humility.  If you can do that then you are not only providing an environment that cares for them; but, a picture of how their Heavenly Father works in their life.
How else can a teen be scarred in youth ministry?  Is it possible to avoid this? 

5 Steps To Resolving Conflict

By | conflict, ministry health, relationships, spiritual health, SPIRITUAL HEALTH, tension
Courtesy of daniellelorenz/Creative Commons License

Is there someone who is no longer a part of your life and you don’t know why?  I’ve got a few; however, the one that sticks out to me the most is one of my roommates from college.  We were tight our first three years of college and then something happened.  Once in a while we’ll catch up with one another; however, the relationship is not what it was, it’s hard.  I can’t pin point where it went wrong; but, from what I gathered it was a bunch of little things that built up over time.  A chasm formed in the relationship and then it was over.

Whether you are aware of it or not there are incidences (large and small) occurring in your professional and personal relationships that if not addressed will one day create a problem.  Maybe it’s with a coworker, a parent, a teen, your pastor or maybe it’s at home with your spouse.  Again, if these incidences aren’t approached properly the gap in your relationship will grow and send you down the wrong path.  To avoid these gaps you need to take the following steps:

  • Step 1 – Seek Counsel: Run your emotions and thoughts by people you trust to point you in the right direction. Allow others to give you insight and hold you accountable.
  • Step 2 – Give Yourself A Moment: Before we step in we need to take a step back.  Emotions can narrow our focus which can be dangerous if we focus on the wrong thing.  The person who has wronged us might not have meant it; however, your anger might cover it.  Take a moment to breathe.
  • Step 3 – Lean In: It’s important to keep short accounts of the conflicts you face, because the more you let something fester the worse it will become.  I know I just said to take a step back, but don’t let it be for too long.  Leaning in means you are ready to face the situation with a clear and open mind.
  • Step 4 – Communicate Both Ways: Share your thoughts and feelings with I statements.  If you put the problem on them, they’ll only get defensive.  Make sure they are understanding what you are saying by giving them the time to ask questions, share their perspective and repeat what they are hearing you say.  Communication will not only bridge the gap, but build the trust that was lost between you.
  • Step 5 – Follow Up And Check In: Depending on the situation you will want to check-in down the road to make sure everything is cool.  As quickly as you will want to resolve the issue, you want to be aware that others heal at different rates.  Don’t dismiss the issue just because you are over it, make sure both parties are on the same page.

No one likes conflict, especially when it gets personal; however, it’s something we all need to address.  Keeping short accounts, and communicating with one another assures an issue doesn’t go unnoticed.  How much time you spend on each step will depend on the severity of the issue.  To figure that out you need to make sure you RELY ON GOD.  Seek His wisdom and He will provide.

How do you resolve conflict?

3 Strategies To Break The Ice With New Students

By | ice breaker, Relational Ministry, relationships
Courtesy of Niko Herlin/Creative Commons License

A few months ago a fellow youth worker, with Juvenile Justice Ministry, recruited me to mentor youth at the local juvenile detention center.  Each week I go there to sit down and just talk, listen and mentor young men who are in an unknown season of life.
First time I walked in I had no idea with what I was supposed to say or do.  Granted my friend had assigned me to one particular individual giving me some back story and common ground; however, it was still intimidating.  I didn’t know what I was going to say and I wasn’t sure where to start the conversation.
You don’t need to be in prison ministry to know that breaking the ice a teenager can be intimidating.  Like a first date you dread the silence; however, you don’t want to sound stupid.  Doesn’t matter if you are mentoring one on one or leading a small group, you want meaningful and deep conversations; however, to get there you need to overcome that first obstacle:


So, to help you break the ice, I have three strategies to get the conversation rolling:

  • TIP #1 – Pick The Right Environment

Granted you might not always have control over the environment in which you meet; however, if you do, pick a place where you know you will be comfortable.  Conversations are especially awkward when both parties are unsure of themselves.  So what makes you most comfortable?  Is it a coffee house, diner, the church?  

    • TIP #2 – Have Something Tangible

    Now when I’m meeting with a teen for the first time I bring with me a set of Uno cards.  It’s a game most people aren’t opposed to and it creates a fallback discussion.  Sometimes we need the tangible to help with the intangible.  It could be anything from a deck of cards, to a frisbee or football.  If you can’t think of an activity consider meeting at an eatery where food can be the focus. 

      • TIP #3 – Bring A Third Wheel

      If you know someone who knows the teen you are meeting with, don’t be afraid to bring them along.  This does two things, it gives you both common ground and secondly it gives you validity.  If the teen you are meeting with trusts the person you’ve brought along, then you can be trusted too.  It can be an adult or a teen, just make sure it’s someone you can count on to bridge the gaps.

        Starting out in a relationship is always difficult.  Granted there might be times you just hit it off; however, don’t be afraid of silence or bad questions.  You don’t know them, they don’t know you but God has brought you together for a reason.  Lean in and engage.

        How do you break the ice with teenagers?

        Your Most Important Relationships: Part 1 The Pastor

        By | Most Important Relationship Blog Series, pastor, relationships, respect
        Courtesy of francisco_osorio/Creative Commons License

        The relationships we have in ministry will inspire, challenge, shape and even hurt us.  Some of those relationships we think will last forever while others will just be a moment in time.  I’ve decided to write a series of posts that talk about the most important relationships we have in ministry.  Today I want to talk to you about the pastor because it’s the most important one you have inside of your church, so how’s it going?  How’s the relationship you have with your pastor?
        Are you both on good terms?  Are you buddy buddy or do you avoid one another at all costs?  No matter how difficult the relationship is between you and your pastor it needs to be healthy or else you both will really struggle in ministry.  If you and that pastor aren’t clicking it will be extremely difficult for you to lead a youth ministry and take on the day to day challenges.  So what does a healthy relationship between you and the pastor look like? There needs to be:

        • Public Praise And Support: You might want to bash your pastor publicly because he has made you upset.  He’s ruining your job and you just can’t work with him.  All that will do is cause frustration and send you down a path of burn out.  While your pastor should publicly support you, you need to do the same.  If he isn’t doing it, do it first, set the precedent and he will see that you are trustworthy and loyal.  If you do disagree with how he is leading seek some one you trust to hear you out and hold you accountable to bring it to your pastor.  The more you can hold each other up in public the more trust you will build between the two of you.  
        • Recognizing Each Other’s Humanity: He’s your pastor but he is also human.  There are times when you will want to hold him to the highest expectations; however, that might just be setting him up to fail.  You should expect more from him because of his leadership position, you just can’t expect him to be perfect.  A great pastor is someone who will accept your mishaps and failures.  As youth pastors we need to do the same by honoring their leadership even when they fail.
        • Open And Honest Communication: When you mess up or make mistakes the tendency is to hide it from the pastor.  Maybe it’s because of the reaction he gave last time; however, there is no excuse to lie or mislead.  If you want your pastor to be honest with you when he messes up then he has to be able to expect the same.  Clear and open communication is key to a successful relationship and that includes being brutally honest at times.
        • Respect For Each Other’s Differences: As a youth minister in a Catholic church the life that I live is very different from my pastor’s (I’m married with a kid, he’s not).  Because of this difference there can be challenges in how we communicate.  Maybe you are in a different denomination; however, my bet is that most of you are very different from your pastor.  Maybe your all business and he’s all play.  You might have a knack for technology while he doesn’t own a television.  Embrace those differences and don’t be afraid to let him into your world while getting to know his.  It will create compassion and understanding especially when times are tense.

        I’m not sure where you are in the relationship with your pastor; however, I’m willing to bet you’ve experienced times of pressure, tension and frustration.  And that can be normal.  A healthy relationship isn’t always daisies and rainbows, there will be blood, sweat and tears.  To form a healthy relationship it takes both parties to lean in, serve and love one another.  When you can show leadership respect by serving up, you not only set a good example but you honor the person God has put in leadership ahead of you.

        If you are in a situation where you and your pastor just don’t work well together you might need to make the hard decision of staying or going.  In this case seek accountability and guidance from an objective and trusted source.

        How is your relationship with the pastor?

        Your Most Important Relationships: Introduction

        By | children's ministry, ministers, Most Important Relationship Blog Series, parents, pastor, relationships, spouse, teens, youth ministers
        Courtesy of iMorpheus/Creative Commons License

        The relationships we have in ministry will inspire, challenge, shape and even hurt us.  Some of those relationships we think will last forever while others will just be a moment in time.  Recently I’ve been thinking about the people who have come in and out of my life.  The ones who I’ve known since I’ve started this journey and the ones I’ve met along the way.  People have either pushed me to be better or dragged me down; however, it’s all been a part of God’s plan to make me the disciple I am today.
        As youth ministers our job is all about relationships.  Even if you are in a small town, in a small church you are surrounded by people who your serve, work alongside of you, challenge and help you to grow.  And as many as there are I want to look at 8 of them over the next 8 posts (I post Mon-Thurs).  My hope is that you can grab a deeper appreciation as to why God has put them in your life and how they can help you be the best youth minister possible.  This is who came to mind:

        • Pastor: Your pastor is your boss, your leader and possibly your mentor.  This relationship is the most important one you have inside the church building because if it isn’t healthy then you will be facing a nearly impossible journey.
        • Spouse: Not all of us are called to marriage; however, for those of us who are, we know this is our most important relationship outside the church.  Without the loving support, understanding and challenges of a spouse we’ll struggle to maintain balance.
        • Teenagers: This is who you feel God has called you to serve.  A relationship with them means a look at your past, and a search for their future.  A healthy relationship with them will always show you what the church can and will be.
        • Parents: This is one of the more difficult relationships because like you they are emotionally invested in their teens.  Even more than mentoring teens we are called to partner with parents, it’s just not always clear what that means.
        • Ministers: They are your ministry’s hands and feet.  They look to take your goals and plans and run with them.  They serve not only for their love of God but because they see you as a leader.  The struggle is to figure out what a professional volunteer team looks like.
        • Children’s Director:  One of the biggest investments you need to make in your job is in the children’s ministry.  If it isn’t healthy then you will always face an uphill battle.  Working side by side with this person will help you plan for your future.
        • The Youth Worker Down The Road: Networking is a key to your longevity.  I guarantee any problem you will ever face one of them has seen before.  By partnering with the guy/girl down the road you gain accountability and support in what you do.
        • God: This is the most important relationship overall.  Just because you do ministry doesn’t mean you are always connected to Jesus Christ.  Although He is last on this list He needs to be the relationship you put first because without Him you have nothing.  How do you separate worship and work to really go deeper in your relationship with God?  That’s something we all struggle with.

        I could go on with the list, after all the relationship we have with the Maintenance Person/Building Superintendent, Financier, elders/parish council, etc. are right up there, but then there would be no end to this discussion.  So over the next two weeks, I hope to share with you how these relationships have impacted my ministry and how they can impact yours for the better.  Be sure to check back in.

        What other relationships would you add to the list?

        Eliminate Distractions From Your Workday

        By | distractions, environments, habits, relationships
        Courtesy of Rd. Vortex/
        Creative Commons License

        Last week I did not have a single minute of home Internet access.  It was painful; yet, refreshing at the same time.  I found myself concentrating more on my writing, reading, working out and hang time with family. It’s not that I completely neglect them when the wifi is running strong, it just tends to be a distraction.
        When you eliminate distractions you become more productive in your day.  In fact you have to wonder whether those 50 plus hours you work is because of the amount on your to do list or because you are constantly distracted.  Is it even possible to be 100% focused, 100% of the time?  No, because there are some distractions you can’t control, some interruptions that need to happen in your life.  But, some are controllable, even in these areas:

        • Habitual – Maybe you have a habit of checking your email, Twitter, voicemail or Facebook every 2 minutes.  Maybe you constantly reach for that donut, or cup of coffee to mix things up.  Your habits whether intentionally good or bad could be unnecessary if they are pulling you away from your work, family or God.  By recognizing these habits you can create a schedule to your day where you can focus on what’s important, build margin for unexpected and expected interruptions.  
        • Environmental – If your door is open, it means come on in.  Headphones on might mean don’t disturb me.  A dirty desk is filled with eye candy and having two screens in front of you means sharing your time.  What surrounds you and is happening around you will affect your productivity.  Organizing your desk and office in certain ways will help you create a more focused environment.
        • Relational – This is the hardest area to eliminate distractions because you do not want to appear rude.  To avoid unnecessary distractions you need to set clear boundaries.  If someone is meeting with you, let others know if they can walk in.  If your writing a message and can’t be disturbed, don’t be afraid to give the heads up.  The best way to deal with relational distractions is by communicating with the people who work around you.

        Distractions will happen.  In fact I’m willing to bet you had a few while reading this post.  Some of them are out of your control; but, not all of them.  You can no longer afford to make them an excuse to your productivity; therefore, be proactive with your habits, environments and relationships.

        How do you eliminate distractions?

        Do You Force Jesus Into The Conversation?

        By | conversation starter, engaging students, ministry health, Relational Ministry, relationships, teens
        Courtesy of Search Engine People Blog/
        Creative Commons License
        Had lunch with a former student the other day.  It was a good time, we just chatted.  He told me what was going on in his life, how he enjoyed the job he had just started working and we ate burritos.  It’s funny because it was definitely the most relaxing one on one I’ve had with a student in a long time.  At first I couldn’t figure out why and then I realized I was just letting it happen.  The conversation just flowed, no agenda, just a chance to relax and catch up.
        There are times I find myself trying to force Jesus into the conversation.  It might sound funny, but when ever you force a conversation it’s like mixing oil and water.  But, there have been those times meeting with a student and I would hear them say something, and immediately I would tell myself, “If I don’t talk to them about their relationship with God, then I’m failing them as a youth minister, right?”  But when I do that, all I’m really accomplishing is something similar to what author Jon Acuff calls a Jesus Juke.  

        “the Jesus Juke is when someone takes what is clearly a joke filled conversation and completely reverses direction into something serious and holy.”

        Granted the conversation could be serious; however, if I move from conversation mode into preaching mode, I can be counterproductive.  So how does it happen?  It’s usually due to the fact that you are:

        • Not Listening – Sometimes teens just want to share what’s going on in their life and they don’t need/want God’s wisdom, what they need/want is Jesus’ listening ear.  A teen might be venting, sorting things out and all they need to know is that someone cares.  When you don’t listen and just give advice you can give off the impression that you care more about hearing yourself than them. 
        • Taken AbackYou are surprised, and overwhelmed.  Instead of allowing the moment to fold out, pilot mode kicks in and you start speaking Christianese.  It’s like you have the right intentions; however, your actions don’t match up.  Big words emerge from your lips as you speak and you wonder, “Does any of this make sense?” Sometimes the best response is none at all.  When tension hits the tendency is to run and hide; however, you just need to lean in and trust God.  Let Him guide you through the silence and awkwardness.  
        • Emotionally Triggered – Something sets you off and you feel like you have to get a point across.  Maybe they are getting something off their ches, that triggers a memory, an insecurity or a judgment.  Instead of allowing them to flesh it out, you judge them and get on your soap box about how they immediately need Jesus.  There is a time to preach and one on one mentoring isn’t really that time.  Emotions are healthy; however, if we are driven by them we can make it about us and not Christ.

        I’m not saying you shouldn’t talk to your teens about Jesus outside of small groups and church.  You just need to recognize the situation God has placed you in and the role he wants you to embrace.  Build the relationship, bring Christ in not just with your words but with your actions.  What that means is sharing His love by listening, sitting still and leaning into the tension.  When the time is right God will give you the words, after all hasn’t He before?

        How else do we Jesus Juke our teens?