If you're a youth pastor or leader, how would your students respond if I asked them what the most important thing you want them to know is? There are so many important things you want to teach. So many things you want them to hear, to own, and to hang onto. But I want to suggest something to you. Just something for you to chew on. This is the single-most important thing I tell my students, and I hope every one of them knows that. It's even more important than telling them:
  • God loves you.
  • Jesus died for you.
  • You need a Savior.
  • I love you.
  • Love each other.
  • Care for the poor.
  • Share your faith.
  • [insert your favorite thing here]

Everybody feels inadequate sometimes, right? Yesterday was one of the worst days I can remember. I just couldn't shake this feeling of not being good enough. This morning, I woke up still in that rut. I wasn't reading my Bible or doing anything spiritual...I was brushing my teeth when a thought came to mind. I suddenly thought of a story from John 21. It's one of my favorites. I've blogged about this story before, about how sometimes the best miracle God does in our lives is simply that He holds us together. But this time, a different thought came to mind.

You've got to live in a cave if you are an American and don't know about the Brian Williams scandal. In all of that, there's a serious lesson to be learned for all who teach in any capacity: what you say matters. Every word has the power to destroy us if we aren't carefully and thoughtfully choosing what we say. Like many of you, I take the responsibility of teaching seriously. A few years back, I wrote down three questions I ask myself routinely as a measure of accountability and printed out them out. They hang on a bulletin board in my office as a reminder of the serious responsibility teaching is. Whether I'm teaching my youth group, preaching on a Sunday morning at FCC, or speaking to any group in any other setting, I ask these questions every single time:

“The greatest mistake we make is living in constant fear that we will make one.”  - John Maxwell

Like most driven, motivated, type-a leaders, I'm not afraid of much. I'll make decisions, I'll lead teams, I'll take risks. I don't shy away from speaking in front of crowds of any size. At the top of my bucket list is diving with Great White sharks off the southern tip of Africa, and I'm not kidding when I say I'd do it in a heartbeat. I can really only think of two things I'm afraid of. The first is (in all seriousness) Cedar Point's freakishly tall, slow-moving, unstable deathtrap they call a ferris wheel. Go get on that thing and I promise you that by the time you get to the top (which takes about 10 minutes when you account for all the time you spend sitting still while they let people on and off) you believe you're going to die. Stop judging me, it's terrifying.

The responsibility of teaching is one that should never be taken lightly. Every time I speak to or teach my students or any other group, I make the following promises:
    1. I will always be honest. I won't sugarcoat the facts or shy away from the truth. I won't attempt to present things in a false light just to avoid controversy. I won't abuse my position by twisting the truth in order to gain or profit anything. I will always be as honest and real as I possibly can.

Writer's Note: Something I'm passionate about is helping leaders last in the positions of leadership God has given them. As a young leader I've learned a few lessons the hard way and I welcome the opportunity to share my experience with others to hopefully help other young leaders avoid some of the same traps I've been caught up in. Over the next few weeks, I'm going to occasionally write for a series called "Leaders That Last" with the purpose of helping leaders last (maybe survive is a better word for some of us) through the difficulties of growing and living as an intentional leader. While this series is intended for leaders, there maybe something that's helpful to you even if you don't consider yourself to be a leader. I hope that you find something inspiring or beneficial.

 "You made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it finds its place of rest in you."

I read those words for the first time about 3 years ago. I was in the middle of probably the most physically, mentally, and spiritually exhausting season of my life and a friend recommended that I should set aside 5 minutes a day and read through Confessions of St. Augustine. That quote was on the first page of the first section, titled Confession of the Greatness of God. I kept reading, but those words echoed in my mind. At the time, I was working an average of 55-60 hours a week, balancing all the same various aspects of life that you are probably trying to balance. I was playing with fire, lingering on the edge of burnout, and I didn't even know it. All I knew was that I felt constantly tired. I felt numb; I didn't experience normal highs and lows...just a consistent state of exhaustion. My spiritual life was hanging by a thread.

To be successful, every organization, church, or business needs a clearly defined mission and vision. (Tweet this) Without defined goals, processes, and systems, nothing can be measured or evaluated. No progress can be made. The challenge for leaders young and old is not understanding the power and importance of these two vital identity components. The challenge is understanding their basic function and how they relate to each other. I often see churches that have two mission statements, but no vision. This is so common it's actually the norm. Churches have catchy, clever, and carefully crafted slogans that they call a vision but that represent little meaning to the actual operational direction. As I train our team at First Christian Church Student Ministry, and as I coach other leaders to develop and implement strategic vision within their organization, I explain these concepts in a simple, clear way. Here's what it looks like: