7 Reasons I Ask Students to Evaluate My Messages

I meet with a group of young men and women on Friday’s to evaluate the previous weeks message and to help prepare the message for the coming week. It’s a tedious process in that it takes more time preparing an element of the message with this group than it would in isolation. But I’m convinced that this practice is good for the students on the team as well as for me.

seven reasons

I’ve run into a little bit of push-back on the first element of what we do, which is evaluate the previous week. Some folks in ministry are of the mindset that sermons are not to be evaluated. I disagree, but I understand the sentiment. To be clear, I do not ask the students to judge the content of the scripture, but the content of the entire message and how effective the message was at explaining the scripture. I don’t ask them to judge the movement of the Holy Spirit, but I do ask them to judge me. I ask them things like, “Was I knowledgeable about what was being presented?” “Was the message biblical?” “What was the main point of the message?” etc. This evaluation is really helpful. Here are seven reasons why.

It demonstrates to the students what to look for in a well presented biblical message. Most of the students who gather with me are there to learn how to prepare messages. By evaluating me, through a template of questions they learn what area’s of preparation are important and where they are exhibited in the delivery of a message. These questions then become a preparation guide for when they are ready to deliver their own biblical message.

It prepares the students to be evaluated. The students that evaluate me will also be sharing biblical messages at some point and will themselves be evaluated. By having a standard evaluation process in place they are prepared to be graded on the human aspect of delivery in the same way that I expect to be graded. I can truly evaluate them without having to maneuver on a scale of positives and negatives. They will stand or fall in each category according to their presentation, not my over-sensitivity to their feelings.

It keeps me accountable. I picked or allowed the questions on the weekly evaluation based on aspects of human delivery that every speaker needs to be accountable for. Who tells the pastor that his message wasn’t biblical, or that he filled 3/4 of his time with personal stories, or that he skipped application, or that he missed the gospel? If he doesn’t train his people to expect the right things and gives them a structure and freedom to approach him it will never happen. In the last few weeks I’ve heard sermons/ podcasts where the pastor labored over “extra-biblical” points and preached from word’s not really present in the passage. Those pastors would have benefited from genuine feedback earlier in their ministry to keep them on point, as it was they seemed smooth enough in their delivery that most folks didn’t notice that what they heard was just an opinion passed off as biblical knowledge.

It helps me see how my student leaders think. On the evaluations they share tons of relevant information. I find out which illustrations were clarifying and which ones were confusing. I learned through this process that my students really benefited from hearing my personal stories of struggle and victory in Jesus as I had been applying these truths to my life. Putting a greater value on these illustrations where applicable has made me a better communicator and more approachable by the entire group. I noticed after a shift in my teaching style that students began approaching me anonymously after each message about issues in their life. My ability to pastor students through the struggles they were facing dramatically increased because they saw me as someone who had flaws, but found the solution.

It Creates Better Message Hearers. When students on my team evaluate a message they begin to re-process the message over again. They think through the entirety of the message a few days after the fact and review the specific applications, challenges, etc. By this time they have had an opportunity to react to the message. This raises the bar of expectation. If the message was clear and there was a response needed, how have they responded? This creates an accountability loop for them. They now have to think about the message longer than the original 30 minutes in which they heard it and the Holy Spirit often takes what was said on a Wednesday and replays it in their hearts on a Friday so that the effect of dwelling on the message is greater than if they had not given it a thought beyond Wednesday.

It Demonstrates That I Have Room to Improve. I think it is fair to say that I want to offer God my best. If he has called me to be a communicator then I want to be the best communicator that I can possibly be. I want people to understand His Word. So I diligently study the scriptures, I diligently study those I present to, and I diligently study the effect of God’s word on their life through my preaching. The Holy Spirit can always take the worst sermon and make something great out of it, I would also like to think that He will work on me too through His word and His people.

It Teaches Students to Work. Far too many ministers rely on the Holy Spirit to bail them out of a lack of preparation. This overly mystical view of God misses the point that He calls and equips people for the work of ministry. That ministry, especially in the case of teaching and preaching requires prayer and preparation. Again, I’m not asking students to evaluate God’s Word, or the Work of the Holy Spirit, I’m asking them to evaluate my preparation and presentation. I’m modeling part of the work of ministry.

In our model students evaluate messages I teach. We work together on messages that I will teach. We work together on messages the student will teach. The students teach messages and are evaluated by the group. They get more practical hands on training on how to present a message than I ever got in any of my seminary classes on sermon preparation.

Don’t Give Up On Andy!

I’ve had a few experiences with “tough-to-love” students recently in various venues. Whenever a kid like this enters your midst, there is often pressure from leaders and students to “do something.” Mostly they are aggravated by how the “tough-to-love” student is behaving.  I thought I would share how one of my youth pastors growing up “dealt” with one of the “tough-to-love” kids in our youth group.  We’ll call him Andy (I changed his name to protect his identity).

Andy was one of those kids who was difficult to deal with in our student ministry. His parents were both committed Christians and you could tell that he had read a great portion of the Bible. This is normally a great thing, but you have to know Andy. Andy was a skeptic and more often than not when the youth pastor opened up the floor for discussion Andy would inevitably point out a flaw in the youth pastor’s message (like he said “Noah” when he meant “Moses” etc.) or he would rebut what the youth pastor had said with his own take on various passages of scripture. To be clear, Andy was a know-it-all and he knew a great deal, but he didn’t know Jesus. (Later Andy’s youth pastor would say, “I prepared the youth lessons and then I went back again to see what Andy might say so I could be prepared.”)

Andy also used to like to play games and pranks while the youth group was meeting. His youth group met in the church’s old sanctuary. Andy would often get dropped off early for church and slip into the baptistery or side door entrance. He would wait until the worship music had started and he would poke his head out and make funny faces at the group behind the youth pastor’s back. Andy was a clown.

Andy also hung out with the “wrong” crowd at school and would often drink on the weekends and even throughout the week.  Actually, because Andy had some influence and aggressively recruited others to his lifestyle, it’s probably more accurate to say that Andy “was” the wrong crowd. Andy wasn’t just a social drinker, he drank alone on many occasions, Andy was a teenage alcoholic and on a few occasions he showed up to his youth group buzzed. Andy was a drunk.

I guess there are lots of ways to deal with a kid like Andy. You could kick him out. You could tell him not to come back. You talk to him in a condescending way. You could do your best to make him feel uncomfortable so he will leave on his own… Or you could do what David our youth pastor did. Since David was one of my mentors growing up I have a little more insight into how he handled the situation than most.

Every week that David saw Andy at church he would say, “Hey Andy I’m so glad you made it tonight!” (and he meant it). David invited Andy into a special discipleship group that met in his home on a week night throughout the summer and was genuinely pleased when he showed up. David prayed for Andy (I know this because I was there on more than one occasion where I heard him). David talked with Andy’s mom about how to best love and encourage him. David encouraged some of the kids in the youth group to reach out to Andy. Some of these were even the kids that Andy made fun of at school.

The summer that David hosted the bible study at his home we all began to see a change starting to take place in Andy. At the end of the summer just before Andy and his family moved off you could tell that he was different. He stopped drinking (this was in large part because his dad caught him), he started a prayer group at church, and he went to all his friends and told them he had changed.

Even though he moved, Andy kept up with David and the youth group through regular mail (this is back before e-mail, text messaging, facebook, etc.). He graduated high school and went on to college to become a youth pastor. He went through a few more “tough-to-love” stages. He was a hypocrite and a self-righteous Pharisee… but at the age of 24 years old Andy finally met Jesus in a real and life changing way. I know this because… you see, I’m Andy.

I am the man I am today in part because of the attitude of my youth pastor and a friend (that I persecuted mercilessly). They weren’t willing to give up on me or just consider me an nuisance. They loved me and demonstrated Christ’s love for me in their actions and attitudes.

Romans 5:7-8 ESV  For one will scarcely die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die–  (8)  but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

I didn’t know the depth of this verse as a tough-to-love kid until I saw it in my Youth Pastor, David and my friend Brett (who I used to make fun of incessantly). They loved me in Christ when I gave them every reason not to love me.

Teenagers and the Gospel

teenagers and the gospelWelcome to this series on teenagers. The goal of this blog series is to help parents and youth workers to understand the general changes and issues that teenagers are facing. Sometimes a little knowledge can go a long way in helping to develop a proactive game plan for parenting, teaching, and shepherding students.

These are general observations gleaned from over fifteen years experience in youth ministry. Nothing in this series is ground breaking, earth shattering, or even new. Hopefully these basic observations will give you the insight, perspective, and perhaps empathy for the teens in your life. Of course the ultimate goal is to learn how to best take the gospel and apply it to the teenagers in our lives. This series is mostly to help you understand the world of being a teenager. To this end I hope the entire series proves helpful

We’ll be taking everything in bite size chunks. So buckle up and hold on to something, we are about to reenter the teenage world armed with the gospel.

Teenagers are Changing (Literally!)

Teenagers are emerging adults. This isn’t an overnight process. They are in a constant state of transition from childish dependence on others to adult like independence. One moment they may surprise you with their ability to give selflessly to others, the next moment they can throw an emotional tantrum and break down because mom asked them to take out the trash. They really do have a foot in both worlds. It is fair to expect your teen to be more responsible, but don’t assume it will happen without a few setbacks along the way. 

When a set back occurs, take it in stride, gently help refocus your child’s attention on becoming responsible. Be sure to take time to praise the positive strides you see your child making. Genuine praise and encouragement for being responsible will motivate your child to become even more responsible. If we’re not careful we can fall into a pattern of discouragement by only noticing the set backs and it’s easy to deflate your child’s motivation toward responsibility.

Teenage bodies are also growing and developing into adult bodies. Your teenager will most likely hit growth spurts. Not only will they get taller, but thanks to puberty their bodies will take on a more manly or womanly shape. It is important to keep in mind that mature physical appearance doesn’t mean that your teenager is grown up mentally as well. Many teenagers are children in grown up bodies. Just because they look grown up, doesn’t mean that they are.

Your child may be taller than you, but they still take their cues from you on how to handle the various situations life throws their way. They may not be asking for advice because they feel a pressure to figure things out on their own. A wise parent will make the extra effort to be available for their child to talk. Sometimes talking works best in a shoulder-to-shoulder situation or in the midst of an activity rather than an intense face to face sit down. As a parent it might be wise to schedule a regular time with your child each week to participate in an activity you both enjoy. My dad was always great about taking my brother and I to play tennis, fishing, look for fossils or arrowheads, and a host of other activities we enjoyed. Later in life these times fueled great shoulder to shoulder conversations on the ride home that helped both my brother and I process life.

Each of these posts will end with a Challenge. This is a way to take the post beyond just information and allow the information to impact the way you interact with the teenagers in your life. Obviously the applications will be different according to your relationship with teenagers. Much of this is geared towards parents but will have some application with youth workers as well.

Challenge: Write down the name of the teens you have in your life (if you have a bunch then you might want to spread this over a few days). Take time to pray for them. Thank God that he has placed them in your life and ask Him to help you be sensitive to their needs as they mature. Ask God to give you wisdom in your relationship with them.

  • Write down all the ways that you see your teen becoming more responsible. Think of appropriate ways to encourage your teen when you see them following through on this type of behavior
  • Now Write down areas of responsibility that you they still need to work through. Current frustrations, etc. Pray over these issues and have a game plan in place to encourage the snot out of your kid when they step up to the task.
  • Think of ways to challenge your child to be more responsible.
  • Pray that God would protect your child from people who would want to take advantage of them.

If you don’t already have a regularly scheduled time to hang out with your child start working on a plan to get some shoulder to shoulder time in on an activity. Think of something that will be fun for the both of you and work at it until you find something that sticks. You’ll be surprised at how much this regular interaction will open the doors for authentic communication down the road.

In the coming days and weeks we’ll be looking at teenage grumpiness, technology, identity, forgetfulness, and more!

“The Chase” By Jerry Bridges

The Chase: Pursuing Holiness in Your Everyday Life by Jerry Bridges with Jay and Jen Howver is the student version of Jerry Bridges more popular book The Pursuit of HolinessThe Chase is much shorter and many of the illustrations are formatted more for teens (example: playing video games, etc.).  And in most cases where the scriptures are referenced, the Message is quoted.

Overall I was a bit puzzled by the book.  Most teenagers I know who are wanting to dig into this type of study wouldn’t have a problem digging into the Pursuit of Holiness.  Beyond the cover art and title, the  chase isn’t reformatted enough to make it appeal to a broader young adult audience.

That being said, I still really like the book and wish a discussion guide had been posted in the back.  I can see a great value to leading a group of young adults through this book.  It still stands as a fantastic study on God’s holiness and our sanctification.  I highly recommend it to student pastors and college pastors all around as a fantastic study worth putting in the hands of some of your students who are seeking to grow in Christ.  The retail price is $9.99 (Paperback), and is available around the web in places like  Amazon.com . I gave it FOUR stars

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from NavPress as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Transforming Grace by Jerry Bridges (a Reveiw)

I intentionally took a while to read Transforming Grace so I wouldn’t pass over anything too lightly.  There is a danger in reading a book like Transforming Grace, in that experienced Christians feel that they are beyond the meat of the message.  There may be a sense of, “been there, done that.” And to be honest the book doesn’t set out with any new truths (given the nature of the book, I wouldn’t expect it too). But there is a great value for mature Christians in reading Transforming Grace.  While the truths are not new, they are still truths.  While Jerry may belabor a few points, they are worth belaboring.

In Transforming Grace: Living Confidently in God’s Unfailing Love Jerry does an excellent job in cutting the meat and  doctrine of transforming grace into palatable and bite sized portions while maintaining an emphasis on the work of Christ.  It’s a great read for new believers.  Mr. Bridges has a knack for taking difficult topics and presenting them in an easy to understand fashion.  Transforming Grace is also a great read for mature believers as well.  The doctrine of grace is one that should never get old or tired.  None of us are past grace.  All of us have a proclivity to default to a works based system of favor with God.  Believers come into a right relationship with God by faith, through the work of Christ, which is undeserved on our part, and indeed a gift of God’s grace.

There is also a companion Discussion Guide for Transforming Grace.  It takes one or two chapters at a time and provides details and discussion points.  The Discussion Guide seems like it would work well in a small group Bible study or book club.  Reader’s interested in the topic of transforming grace may also want to check out John Piper’s book Future Grace.

If you are looking to learn more about God’s grace in the life of a believer, this book is for you.  I highly recommend this book to believers new and old.  The retail price is $14.99 (Paperback), and is available at a discount at  Amazon.com for $10.19.  The Study Guide is also available on Amazon.com for $9.99. I gave it five stars.

The Fruitful Life by Jerry Bridges (a Review)

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from NavPress as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Do They Run When They See You Coming (Book Review)

I had a chance to read Do They Run When They See You Coming?: Reaching Out to Unchurched Teenagers (affiliate link) by Jonathan McKee this weekend. It was a great read full of practical insights and wisdom on reaching out to unchurched teens. Its well written, easy to read on non-threatening to people who struggle to read.

The first half of the book is great and you can tell that McKee is writing about his passion (reaching unchurched teenagers). It is full of pithy one-liners that are pregnant with meaning and carry the message of the chapter well beyond the initial reading. In the chapter entitled, “Youth Ministry in one word,” McKee states, “We don’t need to bring people to Christ; we need to bring Christ to them.” In the chapter with the same title as the book, he sums up Jesus’ message to the woman at the well, “I don’t care where you have been, I care where you are going.”

The later half of the book is more technical and will seem very familiar to those who have been around the student ministry world for any length of time. Though the second half is technical, it is practical and will serve as a great refresher for veteran youth pastors as well as a primer for volunteer workers and those who are new to the world of student ministry.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is seriously looking to reach out to unchurched teenagers in today’s culture. The book is both passionate and practical, I just wish it had been around in the late 90’s when I began working with students. I would have learned quicker some of the lessons I have had to learn through experience.

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of If you are interested in purchasing a copy of Do They Run When They See You Coming?: Reaching Out to Unchurched Teenagers (affiliate link) the retail price is $9.99 (paperback), and is worth every penny. I purchased my copy at Amazon.com (affiliate link) in the used section for about $5.00. I gave it five stars.