The BEST Youth Group Game Since Mafia

MafiaIf you’ve been in youth ministry for a while, you’ve probably played the game Mafia. Mafia is a group game where students are each given one playing card, but a few of them are designated as Mafia members. The Mafia members know who each other are, but the rest of the players have to try and figure out who the Mafia members are. Through a series of rounds players are eliminated by the Mafia, and they win if they eliminate enough players or everyone else wins if they figure out who the Mafia members are.

For me, the appeal of the game lies with the moderator, who can make up elaborate stories about a person’s elimination. I LOVE to incorporate a student’s likes, dislikes, hobbies, or extracurricular activities into their elimination story.

Even though Mafia is a great game (and you should try it out with your students if you get a chance), I’ve always hated that students can be eliminated, which excludes them from the rest of the game.

The ResistanceThis is why The Resistance is such a great game!

The Resistance is a game about resistance fighters up against a powerful and corrupt government. These fearless fighters launch a series of missions to overthrow the government, but what they don’t know is that there are spies among them. The spies are trying to fail these missions, and the resistance members are trying to succeed and weed out the spies.

This game is awesome for a number of reasons:
(1) Gameplay usually only takes around 30 minutes
(2) No players are eliminated during rounds therefore no one gets left out
(3) Students who might not otherwise be friends end up joining forces to succeed or fail missions
(4) No moderator is needed so I get to play the game too!

The only critique I would give the game is that you can only have 5-10 players. But I could easily see some youth pastor stretch this game so that more can play.

If you are a youth pastor you should definitely check it out! It is pretty cheap on Amazon right now, and your students will love it. I just started playing with some of the expansion cards, and it makes the game even more intense. Enjoy!

What other games, like Mafia or The Resistance, do you play with your youth group?

When a Teenager Acts Like a Lonely Deranged Penguin

Today, I saw this video on YouTube, and it immediately made me think about teenagers.

PenguinApparently, there are times when penguins get disoriented and stray from their group. As I watched, everything in me wanted to grab that penguin and take him back to his group. I wanted to yell at the men who just stood there and let the penguin walk on into the mountains.

There are many times in our Christian walk when we go our own way. As teenagers grow and learn, parents must learn to let them make their own decisions. If they make all of the big decisions for them then they will create a more fragile adult. Learning to make decisions on your own helps shape your identity.

There are many times in youth ministry when I want to sit a student down and give them a good talking to. I see all the decisions they are making, and I know from experience that they are walking (sometimes running) toward the mountain away from the group. They are spending time with friends who are not a positive influence on them. They are working a job and earning money for the first time that they don’t have time for church/youth group. They are making sports, jobs, friends, or school more important than God. With the small amount of life experience I have, I know what it means to get your priorities messed up. I know what it means to put all of these other temporary things first and put God on hold. I know what it does to my relationship with God. It distances me. It makes me more open to being deceived.

So, what’s the answer? How do we reach students who are going away from the group?

1. Pray for Them. I know this is cliche but it’s helpful. When I spend time in prayer for my students, it gives me focus. It helps me realize that I don’t have any control over them. I can’t make them do anything. I must trust in the power of God to woo them and give them guidance.

2. Think Big Picture. No teenager will make all the right choices–it’s a part of growing up. We have to fail in order to succeed. We have to mess up in order to see more of our need for God. Every student will make mistakes (some more than others), but we can take hope that God is working in the big picture. The mistakes and achievements they make now will form them into the followers of Christ in the long run. As a youth pastor, I have just a seven year time with these students, but if I focus only on these seven years I could get depressed really fast. There is so much more growth that God has for them in the years ahead.

3. Encourage. Don’t guilt trip. When a toddler is learning to walk, you don’t get on to them when they fall down, do you? “There you go again!” “Why do I even bother?!?” Of course not! Obviously, there are times when we must discipline and instruct teenagers, but when they fail, we must focus on encouragement. “I’m sure you can do it; keep trying!” “You got this!” When they haven’t been to youth group in a while, text them with the message: “We miss you! Hope to see you soon!” “How are things going?” “Want to get lunch or coffee sometime?” Teenagers have enough guilt in their lives from other adults. Don’t add to it.

What else would you do if a teenager is acting like a lonely deranged penguin?

Jacob & Esau

I’ve never really liked the story of Jacob and Esau. I would always cringe when I read Romans 9:13:

“Just as it is written: ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.'”*

Ugh. Why would God say something like that? Isn’t God supposed to love all people? It seems like the cards are stacked against Esau…

My perspective changed greatly when I read Genesis 25-33. I guess you could say I was judging Jacob before I knew the whole story. It’s like when we meet someone, they do something rude or arrogant, and we judge their whole character based on one or two actions.

In chapter 25, we find out that Isaac and his wife Rebekah are pregnant. The LORD tells Rebekah that she will give birth to twin boys, and the older will serve the younger. This message would have been surprising to Rebekah since that is not how her culture would arrange things. The younger siblings always serve the older, and that is how it was supposed to be.

When Rebekah gives birth, Esau is born first, but Jacob comes out grabbing onto Esau’s heel. So they name him Jacob which means “he grasps the heel,” or it could also mean “supplanter.”

In that same chapter, after the boys have grown up, Esau comes home from hunting one day and is starving. Jacob offers him a bowl of stew in exchange for his birthright. Esau agrees.

Years later, when Isaac is really old and cannot see well, he tells Esau to go hunting for him so that he can bring him back some wild game. When Esau comes back, Isaac promises that he will give him his blessing. Rebekah overhears the whole thing and decides to make Jacob pretend to be Esau that he can receive the blessing. Rebekah makes up some stew (this must be some magical stew!), and has Jacob put on Esau’s clothes and goat hair (so that he will feel hairy like his brother). Isaac doesn’t believe this façade at first, but can’t ignore the stew, the smell of him, and how hairy he feels. So Isaac gives Jacob the blessing. When Esau returns, Isaac realizes his mistake, and Esau is furious.

With his parents blessing, Jacob flees to his Uncle Laban in Paddan Aram in order to find a wife. Through several years of power plays with his uncle, Jacob soon finds himself married to Leah and Rachel with 12 kids (who represent the 12 tribes of Israel). Jacob’s hard work for his uncle causes God to bless Laban. One day, Jacob wants to leave to return home. Obviously, Laban wants him to stay because Jacob’s presence has been a blessing. Through some really shady maneuvers Laban and Jacob both try to outwit one another, but the LORD continually blesses Jacob.

When Jacob returns home he realizes that Esau may still be furious, so on the way there he sends ahead gifts of flocks, herds, and camels along with servants and members of his family to ease Esau’s anger. One night, after sending everyone and everything he owned to Esau, he is spending the night by a river. In the middle of the night, a man appears and begins to wrestle with him. Jacob realizes that this man was actually the LORD so he begs the man to give a blessing, and the man renames him Israel. Israel means, “he struggles with God” or “May God prevail” or “God fights.”

Jacob had lived much of his life struggling with people and was always trying to control a situation so that he came out on top. It’s not surprising that even his family was controlling. Isaac tried to give Esau the blessing when he knew the LORD had said Esau would serve Jacob. Rebekah tried to control the situation when she set Jacob up to get the blessing instead of Esau. Esau tried to throw away his birthright for a bowl of stew. Jacob stole Esau’s birthright, pretended to be Esau, and cheated his uncle out of his herds. All of the characters were selfish, and trying to create their own destiny.

But when God renamed Jacob to Israel, he was telling him,

“Jacob, you’ve lived far too long trying to control things. Let me fight for you now.” 

We are always trying to get our way, and we will usually do anything to make it happen. Ultimately, everything we have is because of God. He blesses us and allows us to go through trials to remind us to trust in Him. There is no way that we can control God, however much we may struggle with Him. May we find our hope in the LORD who is fighting for us.

How do you try to control things? What can you let go of to allow God to fight for you?

*Although this passage could be debated and different interpretations can be viewed, I think Paul is trying to show that there are two groups of people: those who follow Christ and those who don’t. Paul is using hyperbole to distinguish Esau (those who don’t follow Christ) and Jacob (those who follow Christ).

Feast in the House of Levi

Rembrandt's Return of the Prodigal Son

Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal Son

I love a good piece of art.  Not the kind of art that is just shapes or something weird that nobody understands or people pretend to understand.  I like Rembrandt, Michelangelo, and Rublev.  But today I stumbled on another piece of art that got me thinking…

The artist’s name is Paolo Veronese, and he was an Italian Renaissance painter in the 16th century.  There is one particular painting he did called Feast in the House of Levi, and it caused a stir in Italy.  He was commissioned in 1573 to paint the Last Supper for a church in Venice, so they could display it.  But when he painted it, he took a little interpretive license and added German soldiers, dogs, cats, midgets, Huns, and drunks–all enjoying the party around Jesus and his disciples.

The Inquisition didn’t like this so they called him before the council and were baffled at why he would include such characters in a biblical scene when the gospels attest that none of these characters were present at the Last Supper.  The council asked him who he believed to be present at the Supper, and he said, “I believe that there was only Christ and His Apostles; but when I have some space left over in a picture I adorn it with figures of my own invention.”

Paolo Veronese

Paolo Veronese

Veronese had a large piece of canvas and decided to add more characters to the story.  He apologizes to the council and they command him to correct it in three months time.  He doesn’t change anything about the painting except its name, from Last Supper to Feast in the House of Levi.  He basically changes the location of the meal so that it won’t be as blasphemous.

Now, more than likely, Veronese was not thinking theologically when he painted this.  And most would agree that there were no German soldiers or Huns at the Last Supper.  But I think the ministry of Jesus gives us a glimpse that wild characters were always around him.  It’s because he surrounded himself with the least, the last, and the lost.  Everyone was welcome.

We have a problem with this, don’t we?  We have trouble swallowing the notion that these are the people that God loves.  And yet, Christ’s love and grace flooded his teaching, his miracles, his life, and his death.

There were several colleagues of C.S. Lewis who were once debating about different religions and if there was any unique belief that set Christianity apart.  Incarnation? Some argued that other religions had gods who appeared in human form.  Resurrection? Other religions seem to have accounts of return from death.  When C.S. Lewis entered the room, he asked, “What’s the rumpus about?” So they explained their debate, and Lewis simply replies, “Oh, that’s easy.  It’s grace.”

Let’s show that same grace to everyone we encounter today.  May His love and grace flood our lives and pour into others.

Wind & Spirit

Wind TurbineRecently, I’ve been reading John 3, where Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night (Nick at Night…teehee), and wants to know more about Him.  Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be born from above if he wants to be a part of the Kingdom.  Obviously, Nicodemus is confused because he takes it literally, and he already thinks he is a part of the Kingdom of God.  But Jesus explains to him that in order to be born from above you have to be given the Spirit of God, and the only way that will happen is if Nicodemus believes in Jesus just as the Israelites had to look at the snake that was lifted up in the desert (Numbers 21:4-9).  Basically, the religious leader, the one who is supposed to know all the answers, reveals that he still has a great distance to go.

But then Jesus makes this statement in verse 8:
“The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.”

The Greek word for spirit is pneuma, which can mean “wind, breath, or spirit.”  And when a word has different meanings the author uses it to his advantage to tell a better story to his audience.

And for some reason, this got me thinking about rolling the windows down in my car.  In Texas, it is usually too hot to roll your windows down.  Even if you have crappy AC in your car you use it.  This may sound funny, but anytime I roll the windows down there are couple of precautions I take.  First, I have to make sure there is nothing that can blow away.  A stray napkin could give you a hefty ticket from a Highway Patrolman if he catches it.  Second, I have to make sure there is an equal amount of pressure being blown into the car.  I didn’t notice this when I was a kid, but when you only roll one window down, the unequalized pressure can do a number on your ears.  So you have to roll just the front windows down or all of them, but never just one single window.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that pneuma means wind or spirit.  You can’t ever see the wind, and it blows where it wants.  And when I roll my windows down, I want to control it.  I don’t want it to be too strong.  I want it to be just right.

I often want the Spirit of God to move among the students I serve.  I want the Spirit of God to start a fire in their life.  I want them to follow Jesus with all their heart.  I want the Spirit to convict them of sin, to convince them to give up that “thing” or that “activity” so that they can focus on God and come to youth group.  I want them to stop working so hard to impress their friends and work to please God.

But unfortunately, I don’t want the same Spirit to convict me of sin and work in my life.  I don’t want the Spirit to change my attitude or actions.  I don’t want the Spirit to blow out things in my life that I am desperately holding onto.

But the wind blows where it wants, and the Spirit of God works how he wants.  May we try not to control the Spirit of the Living God, but allow Him to make the calls.

Are you trying to control the Spirit of God?

The Most Important Question in Youth Ministry

The more and more I do youth ministry the more I’ve come to understand the most important question we can help students answer:

Why?

QuestionWhy shouldn’t I do drugs?
Why should I go to church?
Why should I believe in God?
Why should I wait to have sex until I’m married?
Why should I make my spiritual walk a priority?

And why is “why” the most important question?  Because most students don’t know the answer.  Over the years, their parents, leaders, teachers, and coaches have skipped the hard part of answering this question and given answers like:

“Because I said so!”
“Because it is bad for you.”
“God doesn’t like it.”
“Because that’s what you’re supposed to do.”

So listen up parents, leaders, & teachers:  If you are not having conversations about the “why” then students will rarely take your advice, because there is no weight behind shallow answers.

So, let’s teach our students that they shouldn’t do drugs because it will only cause them physical, mental, and relational harm.  Ben Witherington gives a great little piece on marijuana.

Let’s remind our students that church is important because through it, God is working and moving through the world.  And church shouldn’t be an elective.  Relevant Magazine has a great piece entitled, “Yes, Millenials, You Need the Local Church.”

Let’s remind our students that union of two people during sex creates a bond that is more than physical.  Check out this piece – Abstinence-Only Sex Ed is Over.

Let’s remind our students their spiritual walk is more important than sports, video games, school, band, choir, or any other extracurricular activity.  I think Jesus makes this point in Matthew 8:18-22 quite well.

How I Got On A Gameshow

It all started last summer…

I’m a youth pastor here in Texas, and last summer I took several of my students to Student Life Camp at UTA in Arlington, TX.  During the course of the week, students were challenged to submit their youth pastor for the Youth Minister of the Day.  Well, my students thought they should make a music video about how cool I am (why would I deny them that???)  If you have the patience to withstand amateur teen filming check it out:

Let's Ask AmericaNeedless to say, I didn’t get Youth Minister of the Day (thanks Student Life).  A month later I received a really strange email from a Casting Associate from the show Let’s Ask America.  She asked if I would be interested in applying to be on the show.  At first, I thought it was a scam but then I checked out their site www.letsaskamerica.tv and realized it was legit.  I filled out the online application and the Casting Associate called me that afternoon!   She started asking me lots of questions about myself and my beard and I became very curious.  I asked her how she had heard of me, because I am definitely not famous or anything.  She explained that they often like to feature people on the show who give back to the community in one way or another, so she just googled “best youth pastor ever” and the video that my students made to get me nominated for Youth Minister of the Day popped up!

I then had an interview, was contacted over a month later and was scheduled to film an episode.  Being on the show was fun and I had a great time, but the real story behind all of this was how God worked.  God used a poorly made video (sorry youth, I love you, but you can’t read the lyrics to the music video while you’re filming the music video) to bring about this great story.  And ultimately, if my youth hadn’t made this video then I wouldn’t have been on Let’s Ask America.  I now have this great story because some teenagers loved me and wanted to give back to me (and wanted to win).  So…thank you Garrett Frazier, Robert Lichota, and Zachary Ledbetter.  Your creativity and love went a long way.

If you would like to watch a couple clips from the episode check them out:

Special thanks to Stacie South who watched my daughter while I was filming an episode in my backyard, and to Adrian Chapman who’s been working hard to get me a copy of the full episode.  Also, thanks Ryan Kiblinger for letting me borrow your tent so that I would look like a hardcore camper on tv.  Finally, thanks Olivia Stafford for giving me the chance to be on the show.  I had a great time!