A teacher shared this letter with me regarding one of her students. The gist of the letter talked about how the student improved in her recorder playing skills this year. Her letter said something like the following… “I put the songs in my head and they came out in my mouth! Thank you Mrs. So-and-so.”

I thought that was the perfect way to put it and got a great laugh out of it. Upon reflecting a bit I realized there was one thing missing – the heart. Music not played from the heart is lifeless, even if it is note-perfect.

That’s the way it is with God’s word too. Yes, memorize it so you can let it come out of your mouth. Share with people and pour into their lives. But don’t leave the heart out of it. That is a dangerous thing.

Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You (Psalm 119:11, NKJ).

These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me – referencing Isaiah 29:13 (Matthew 15:8, NKJ).

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Anybody else ready for school?  I think I am.  I’m getting ready to start a new school year at a new school teaching two additional grades!  I’m a little nervous but overall I’m really excited.  In preparation for our upcoming staff retreat the principal sent each teacher a puzzle piece with the following directions: “put your entire name on it using a decorative flare that reflects your personality.”

Oddly enough, I knew immediately what I was going to do.  I am going to decorate mine in camouflage.  Before you ask, no I am not in the military and I don’t do a lot of hunting.  Here is how this reflects my personality:

  • With camouflage you can blend in and be a part of everything around you.  I feel like I can do that very well.  I am a team-player and will work hard to make my team look good.
  • The other part of the camo is that it allows you to lay in wait until you need to spring into action.  When needed I am willing to spring into action and lead.  I am willing to be bold and brave as I lead the charge for a cause I believe in.

So maybe it’s a little cheesy, but it’s true.

How about you? Are you a good leader, a good follower, or both?  Who you are leading?  Who you are following?

Do you have a cause you believe in, one that you will lead the charge in and even sacrifice your life if necessary?  I do!  I love music education and believe strongly in the value of the arts.  I will go to great lengths to give our students the resources they need and the experiences they deserve.  I will work hard to make sure each student has an excellent and balanced arts education.  However, I will not die for it.  I will die for the cause of Christ.  Not only will I die for Him but I am also willing to live for Him.

How about you?  How do you fit into the puzzle?

In Part I we looked at the development of junior high and what their needs might be. In Part II we looked at underclassmen (freshmen and sophomore). In Part III we will take a look at upperclassmen and their final two years of high school.

As upperclassmen, most of the youth are preparing for college or the work force. If they aren’t – well, that’s a different story. This is the stage where they should be moving from making their faith their own to being a solid influence on others. It is not just enough to hold their own at this point. They need to have a person or a group of people that they are helping to grow spiritually.

By this point they should have a solid grasp on how to handle practical issues from a biblical perspective. They should also have a clear understanding of the nature of God and their identity in Christ. In addition, they should have a regular practice of spiritual disciplines. The issues we want to prepare them for here include apologetics, worldview issues, missions, and doctrine. If they haven’t already, these are issues that they will soon encounter at the collegiate level or in the work force.

As they are finishing up the junior and senior years, this is also a great time to reinforce all of life as worship to God. They are thinking about what they want to do for a living and what it looks like to take that next step towards adulthood. It needs to be reinforced that God is to be honored in everything we do.

And finally, this is a time to celebrate! God has done amazing things in their lives. Stand by them, encourage them, and continue to give them godly advice as they mature.

So here you have it, the development of youth from junior high through high school. Are there any glaring omissions that you can see? Anything you disagree with or would do differently?

Please feel free to leave comments!

In Part I I gave some thoughts on junior high and some possible points of concern. Now I’d like to look at underclassmen or freshmen and sophomores.

Underclassmen – This is the age where they seem to be taking more responsibility for their own faith and growth. I’ve always pushed it at an earlier age (JH) and would like to see it happen then but this is the time where everything seems to connect. Following that pattern, we start equipping and encouraging them to regularly practice spiritual disciplines such as prayer, service, Bible reading, Bible study, scripture memory, and evangelism, to name a few.

We also continue to emphasize God’s character and how it shapes our identity as followers of Christ. Looking closely at the life of Christ, we can see how Jesus lived and begin to follow that same pattern.

Here we can also start to emphasize the “put on’s” and the “put off’s” of Scripture and what it means to really live in community. As part of that we can look at the bigger story and how they are a part of it. This could take the form of an Old Testament & New Testament survey of the Bible.

This is just a draft that I’m working through so I’d love to hear your feedback on it! Next I’ll address upperclassmen.

So I’ve been trying to figure out patterns in how our youth have functioned over the past several years at church. From those patterns I’m hoping to develop a way to better prepare them spiritually.

I’ve broken the youth down into three age groups: junior high, underclassmen, and upperclassmen.

Here is what I’ve determined for Junior High:

Junior High – Need help with practical issues from a biblical perspective. This should point to a bigger view of God who is almighty, all-sufficient, and in control (among other things).

The JH’ers need help understanding insecurity, esteem, relationships, image, conflict, God-honoring character and actions, speech, reliance on God and not self, and the sin nature. This, of course, is just the short list.

It seems to me that the big focus of teaching should be on the character of God, the lives of people in the Bible and how God interacted with them. In addition, practical passages covering some of the issues mentioned above need to be addressed.

So what do you think? Any comments or suggestions?

Today I finished my tenure at Decatur Middle School, where I taught general music for nine years. I love my job! I love the relationships that have been developed with the staff. Over this period of time I have also come to realize that I love middle school students too.

What does one accumulate in nine years? A bunch of junk! However, I’m good!!! I fit it all into 7 boxes. I get home, rather proud of my 7 boxes, and tell my wife. What was her response? “So where do we put seven boxes?” Go figure, I just can’t win.

What do I do next? Honestly, I don’t know.

Fortunately, I do have a job at an elementary school but I’m not sure if I have the same passion for that age group. I anticipate trying to find another job as either a music teacher or working with a church in youth or music ministry.

Please pray for me in this time of transition.

Why is this happening?

That’s where we left it with part 1 of the post. On to part 2…

Our culture has changed and many of our methods have not. We have to take responsibility as educators and youth workers for what we need to do differently and what we need to do better. We have to take responsibility for becoming better teachers and better students.

In what areas have we become stagnant?

In what areas have we always done it that way?

In what ways are we allowing current culture to distract us from what is best for our audience?

In our changing culture everyone seems to be busier. One of the most damaging effects of busyness that I’ve seen is in the parent involvement. At such a crucial time we are seeing less and less positive modeling for our youth. Maybe some of the parents don’t know any better. Maybe some of them don’t care. Maybe some of them are doing the best they can. Maybe some of them don’t think it’s their job. Isn’t that why they pay teachers and clergy?

I am a strong advocate for families being the primary influence in the lives of their children. With that being said, when you take into account the scrutiny that schools and churches are coming under, how do you respond? It’s my belief that schools and churches will increasingly have to take on the burden and responsibility of “parenting” if we are to achieve the goals we desire. I realize this is a dangerous statement. Because it is such a dangerous statement let me reiterate – I do not think it is the responsibility of churches and schools. However, something must be done to make up the ground that is being given away.

“How do you motivate the unmotivated?” I don’t know where this comes from originally, but it is something I hear frequently at school. And that question also isolates the core issue we deal with in youth ministry.

How do we equip, inspire, or motivate students to live the truth? Admittedly, this presupposes that we are actually teaching the Truth in a way that is meaningful to our youth. My personal opinion is that we’ve done a great job with “meaningful” but we have a ways to go with “Truth.”

But anyway…

Can one “make” youth have the right heart attitude?

Can one “make” youth live out the truth they know?

Can one “make” youth care enough about church to make it a priority?

What can I do? I can only be responsible for them to the extent allowed by God. It sounds a lot like parenting, doesn’t it? It breaks my heart that I have to see them struggle to make it their own (or not).

Pray for our youth and their families like life and death depended on it – it does.

Create opportunities for meaningful relationships. Treat it like it’s important – it is.

Teach the Bible like as the ultimate source of authority – there is no other way.

Be at peace and trust that God knows what He’s doing – He does.