The Innovation of Loneliness

lonelyYou’re being lied to and you’re lonelier than you think.

I stumbled across a video today that I found fascinating and challenging. My first response was WOW!  I have heard a lot of this talk before about the impact social media is having on us, but I have never seen it quite so well presented and taken to this depth.

While I am not out to bash social media and Facebook, and I don’t think this is the right approach to take with our young people either, I think it raises some good questions we should be exploring:

  • How are we helping young people be aware of the impact social media can have on their life and their sense of self?
  • How can we help young people develop true, genuine, offline friendships and engage in significant conversation offline? A trend I see in young people I work with is that all the serious, ‘more difficult’ conversations in their life are moving online because it is seen as a safer way of having these conversations. The reality is that these young people are sabotaging their relationships because these conversations are but a shadow of what they can be. The number of times I have seen this ‘online conversation’ go wrong is staggering. How can we help young people deal with and become comfortable with the messiness of face to face conversations?
  • How can we help young people understand that the only way they will ever truly be known is by engaging in face to face relationships? The majority of conversations and communication has nothing to do with the words that you say but in how you communicate with your non-verbals and the power of simply being in someone else’s presence.
  • How can we help young people understand that being alone and being in silence and stillness is actually really important in developing their sense of self?  We keep our minds moving at a cracking pace because we want to distract ourselves from ourselves. We are afraid of what we might find (or not find) if we stop and be still and silent and alone.

What other questions do we need to be asking our young people around this video?

Here is the video:

The Innovation of Loneliness from Shimi Cohen on Vimeo.

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smiley-faceI stumbled upon this great article today about happiness and our cultures endless pursuit of it. As Christians we have this idea that Gods goal for our lives is for us to be happy so we think that if we are not happy that God doesn’t love us, or care for us, or is just getting it wrong. This is even more true among young Christians who for some reason have this idea that being a Christian is about God making life good and making them happy.  then when life gets hard they fall away from faith cause God apparently failed.

we need to arrest this idea in our young people and give them a more biblical idea of life trusting Jesus.

here is a link to a great article that talks about this

here is a link to a small group study we did at youth last term on this.  (it’s full of stack of questions and bible verses so feel free to chop and change and delete.

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Aussie teens value prayer over drugs and alcohol… just

159064_prayerAustralian teenagers value shopping over prayer…and prayer only just wins out over drugs and alcohol.

If you’re working with young people in the church in any way, shape or form, gaining insight into the spiritual lives of the people you are working with is invaluable. While there are many studies done in America on the spirituality of young people that is very useful and insightful for us in Australia, it is often hard to come across research that speaks into the spiritual life of Australian teens.

That is why Putting Life Together: Findings from Australian Youth Spirituality Research by Philip Hughes is such a valuable piece of research. It gives a great insight into the spiritual culture of Australian teens and what you find will be very sobering.

This book woke me up to the reality of the culture we are working in and as a youth worker – who also works within a school – this is a stark reminder of what teens actually think.

One table in particular (table 6) asked teens to rank the importance of various means to peace and happiness. Here is the ranking of what 13-24 year olds said:

  1. Listening to music
  2. Working or study
  3. Being close to nature: by the sea or in the bush
  4. Being creative artistically (like painting or craft)
  5. Shopping
  6. Prayer or meditation
  7. Drinking alcohol or taking recreational drugs

What smacked me in the face with these results were that young people find peace and happiness through prayer only slightly more than they do through drinking alcohol and taking drugs (and the difference was very slim), and they find peace and happiness through prayer less than they do through shopping.

The average young person in Australia will turn to almost everything else to find peace and happiness than they will to prayer and to God, and only just a little more than they would to drugs and alcohol.


  • The young people I am trying to talk to about Jesus simply do not care. Jesus doesn’t even register on their radar most of the time as a legitimate focus for their lives.
  • I am strange. The priorities of my life and what I value are way out of sync with those of young Australians. This is ok, but I need to be aware of this as I talk to and interact with young people.
  • When it comes to youth nights, and I get up and talk about spending time with God and the role that God plays in our lives – to a room that is half full of Christian kids and half full of non-Christian kids – I need to remember how far away from caring half the room is.
  • In trying to share the gospel with young people, I need to first remember that they really don’t care about spiritual things and remember all the other things in their life that are more important.
  • I really need to be aware of what I communicate about spiritual things like a healthy prayer life. Do I send a message that it is something you do because you’re a Christian? Or is it something you do because it’s connecting to a relational God that will change your life? Maybe teens don’t care for prayer because they don’t see that it makes any difference.

It’s important for us to remember and understand the young person we are talking to when conveying the gospel. Next time I stand up in Chapel at school and talk about prayer, I need to remember how very little the majority of people I’m talking to see prayer as something legitimate and important in their life. How do we communicate the life-changing message of God’s saving grace in a way that connects and actually registers? How can God become central to these young lives? How we communicate is key to this.

And just to drive it home even more: this research was predominantly conducted in Christian and Catholic schools.

What would the results look like for the general public?

What do these results tell you?

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Why high expectations are central for an effective team

The health of a ministry will depend almost entirely on the health of the leaders of that ministry.

In youth ministry, we totally rely on volunteer leaders to keep ministries running and to make a difference in young peoples lives. There is always the tension between getting as many volunteers as we can because we always need more and getting the right people for the job. Often I see people compromise on who they let into their teams or the terms they let them in on and I see their ministry suffer for it. I have also done this a number of times.

While it is important to get the right people on your team (maybe this is another post), it is just as important to have a healthy team culture that these people enter into. A healthy team culture can straighten out a number of kinks in a person’s character or reliability. Just as a healthy person can still be dysfunctional within an unhealthy team environment, a healthy team environment will help bring out the strengths in all your leaders and help them grow in their leadership potential. So how do you grow a healthy leadership team and how do you create a healthy culture within the ministry you lead?

I have found that having high expectations of your volunteers and setting clear boundaries is one of the best practices you can have in creating a healthy leadership culture and, in turn, a healthy ministry. Now, many people shy away from this because they are scared of losing leaders but I have found the exact opposite to be true. Here are a number of reasons to set the bar high when it comes to your volunteer team:

  •  You get rid of unhealthy dysfunctional people that were bringing your ministry down. Let’s be honest, we have all had those people in our ministry and they hurt kids more than help them. They kill team moral and simply bring something unhealthy into the ministry that is hard to get rid of.
  •  You give people something to strive for. People actually want to be stretched and challenged. They want to grow. Healthy leaders are people that are looking for things that will increase  their potential and grow their skills.
  •  You communicate that this matters. How high you set the bar communicates how important this ministry is and how much it matters. I don’t know about you, but I want to be involved in things that matter and are important. I want to be involved in things that I know are going to make a difference. Asking more from your leaders communicates that this ministry matters and this, in turn, creates a greater sense of belonging to something important which then creates a greater sense of ownership and investment which creates a healthier ministry. Setting that bar low, however, does the opposite of all this. If you want a healthy ministry set the bar high.
  •  You communicate clearly. It is actually just a very practical tool to let people know where they stand and what is expected of them. What’s the time commitment? What events do they need to attend and what time do they need to turn up? What tasks do they need to do each week? This helps bring clarity and again makes it easier for them to own the role. The parents of your junior leaders will also love that they know what their children are signing up for.
  •  You avoid conflict and create accountability. All this clear communication of expectations and responsibilities cuts off so much of the nasty stuff called conflict that so many unhealthy teams are infected with. We have communicated clearly, we have set the bar high, people have signed up being clear on all this, there is much less chance for things to go awry. And if they do, you have a whole lot of stuff to fall back on. You have a signed code of conduct where the leader agreed they would not engage in this activity. This makes it much easier to have the conversation about what they got up to on the weekend or what they posted on Facebook. With high expectations and clear communication comes a high level of accountability which again grows the health of your team and the effectiveness of your ministry.

This year in our youth ministry I updated the leadership role description (yes we have one) and code of conduct (yes we have one of those too).  It is now a two page document that leaves no room for people to claim they don’t know what they are getting into and what is expected of them.  My leaders actually appreciate this as it makes things much simpler for them. The new documents we are using this year have been adapted from some material I got from the kind folks at St Hillary’s Anglican church in Kew, Melbourne. You can down load our role description below.

Next time you are starting a team, don’t settle for ‘whoever and whatever’, because you will end up with a ‘whatever’ ministry.  Set the bar high and see how your ministry flourishes.  If you don’t get any volunteers with the bar so high, maybe you weren’t supposed to do it in the first place.  Sometimes no ministry program is better than a dysfunctional, unhealthy ministry program. If you are in an existing ministry and things are really bad, then consider raising the bar in a number of increments so there isn’t too much of a culture shock. But if you’re starting out new, start high.

If you’re interested in the leadership agreement we use or would like to adapt it for your setting, you can download it here.

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You tube Faith talk

You tube Faith talk

The guys over at the Rethinking Youth Ministry blog are doing a great series on creating faith discussion around you tube clips. This weeks is on the meaning of life and is particularly worth sharing. There are three videos and a bunch of questions for reflection.  A whole your night or small group discussion could be done around this.

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Is the gospel good news anymore?

I am currently reading a book which summarizes research done into the spirituality of Australian young people. It’s called Putting Life Together by Philip Hughes. I am learning from this something I have suspected all along. I am strange, because I do not see the world as most people do. secondly i am learning that most Australian young people simply do not care for or have room in their lives for a genuine Christian faith.

This is echoed well in a great post I just read on the Average Youth Ministry blog. Check it out, a very sobering read and I believe a very real reality for those of us in youth ministry.

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Speaking words of life


We just ran our annual youth camp around the key theme of identity. This is such a huge topic for young people and something we feel we needed to speak into with the truth of Jesus. One very powerful activity we did as part of our worship night was to speak words of life and a new identity in Jesus over each of the students.

The leaders had been praying for the students all week and discerning what they felt God wanted to say to them concerning who they really were, their true identity in jesus and how God saw them. These words, phrases, and bible passages were then written onto a small mirror and given to each student by their small group leader as the leader spoke these words of life over them and prayer for them.

We had a number of students reflect on this activity as a highlight for camp and some said that they had never had someone say stuff like that to them before.

It was great to be a part of, but also saddening to hear that some students had never had words of life and affirmation in who they are and can be in Christ, spoken over them.

This is one of the key gifts we have as people involved in ministry to young people, we have the honor to be able to speak a new identity in to young people’s lives. Help them see their life and world as a bigger and brighter place. It is our job to release them into the potential God has for them, and to help them see themselves the way God does.

There are two ways you can do this.

1. Organise a little something where you formally speak words of life into each young person in your care. This might be in small groups with their leaders. I might be something you do on your own. This depends on your setting. But make it a big event where you give each young person a new identity and affirm who they are in Christ.

2. Set yourself a weekly challenge to find opportunities to speak words of life into the young people you regularly come into contact with. Just pull them aside and tell them that you really want to encourage them with who you see God has created them to be.

The power that these words can have in a young persons life will be immeasurable. These are things that will stick with them for years. If your really praying about it and discerning Gods voice for these young people, you will be speaking truth that will cut to their core and make a bigger impact then you could even imagine.

Lets do a little life bringing together.

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A great short video that paints a beautiful picture of the impact of the Resurrection. Share it with your youth kids sometime this week.

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The true power of the Cross: Giving students a stronger foundation


I am gaining a new understanding of the power of the cross this Easter, and it is desperately something I want to pass onto the teens in our youth ministry. Something that I believe will prevent some of them walking away from their faith.

Now, when I say “power of the cross” what do I actually mean by this loaded Christian word? It’s this strange thing that us Christian understand about good coming from suffering, about life coming from death. This is why we call it Good Friday right?

Now, this is a pretty standard line of thinking in Christian circles. “Out of the hardest of times and the greatest of sufferings God can bring life and peace and something new. This is the power of the cross. This in itself is an idea that has so much power to change us and challenge us if we were to simply sit with it and think about the implication it has in our life.

But this Easter God is taking me one step further than this. But before we go there let me just jump back to the last point.


One of the questions I hear teens express most often is this one. “Where was God when this was happening” and its cousin questions “if God loves me, why did God let this happen”. These questions get asked time and time again. I have seen teens leave our ministry and give up on their faith because of questions like this.

We need to be talking about this in your ministry, this needs to be on your radar. However this is another discussion for another post. What I really want to talk about today takes this thought a step further,  to a question gets to the heart of this topic. It confronts the deeper theology behind this conversation and maybe reveals why this conversation can sometimes be shallow and lacking in dealing with the reality of life for the teenagers we are working with?

The greater questions is


I have professed with my mouth for many years the fact that God is over everything and is in everything. God is always present. God is a part of every situation and every moment. This is the thinking that so heavily influences the understanding that God is present in my suffering, ready to do something good there.

But I am starting to see that I actually haven’t always believed that.  What I have actually believed is something different.  I have always maybe subconsciously believed that God is present in almost every part of my life, except when I am in the middle of sin. In those moments I suppose I felt like I had turned my back on God, and so God needed to wait until I was done and turned back around to him that he could come and redeem that moment. My thinking was actually that God was present in every situation in my life, except for the ones where I ignored him or turned my back or worked against his will for me. In these moments, God grace and goodness and power were not present.

However, if I truly believe that God is all powerful and all present in every moment of life. Then where is God in the middle of my sin? This is a question we need to ask ourselves and help our young people explore.

This understanding that God cannot be present in my sin is why you hear so many young people say “but God could never love me after what I have done”. I was always baffled by kids who said that because I thought “well. God just loves you, deal with it”. But now I understand. They are so caught up in their life of sin that they can’t see any way for God to be present in it because God is the opposite of Sin, and where sin is, God is not.

But if we truly believe that the earth is the lords and everything in it – Psalm 24:1

If we really believe that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God – Romans 8:28

If we really believe that God is present in every situation, willing to redeem it and grow something beautiful out of it, then we need to believe that God is present with his goodness in the middle of our sinful acts. Think about that for a while. God’s goodness and grace, present and working as you are sinning.

When you ponder on this, it is truly an incredible thought. Suddenly my sinful acts lose their power over me. They are not as strong and dark as I thought they were. Now that I understand that God is there redeeming me right in the midst of my rebellion against him, suddenly his power grows and the power of my sin weakens.

How, can we help young people break out of this understanding that God is only present in my life when I am doing good, when I have it all together and he is somewhere else when I am being Bad? This is toxic thinking and will be a shaking foundation for a young person’s faith.

How can we help them see God in the midst of their sin? Not just their suffering. How can we help them experience God right there is that moment. How can we help loosen the power of sin in their lives and reveal to them the power of God over every situation they find themselves in and the situations they create for themselves?


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Getting closer to Easter

As we get closer to Easter, is it time for us to get closer to Easter.

We can sometimes really struggle to get close to people in our lives  or certain events because getting close can be confronting.  If i get close to you, i need to share myself more with you.  i need to get vulnerable, i need to let my guard down.  Getting close to people is scary.

It’s the same with Easter.  i find it quite easy to skim over Easter with the normal christian language of Jesus dying for my sins, that we throw around so easily, and not actually stop and get close to what this means for me.

when i let myself get close to Easter, it takes on new meaning for me. it speaks in a fresh way into my life.  most of all, it confronts me. it confronts me with what was actually done for me. it confronts me with my sin. it confronts me with what has been won for me through this act of death on a cross.


I did a chapel on this today and wrote up a small group discussion for out senior youth program tonight. this resource has my notes from the school chapel service, small group discussion questions and a prayer station guide for a time of quiet Reflection time.

CLICK HERE to download it and use it in your ministry.


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