Fuller Youth Institute


Photo by Jason Mrachina

Today’s guest post is from Matthew Humphreys, youth pastor at Trinity Church in Salem, Oregon. Matthew is a Fuller grad and was part of a Sticky Faith Cohort in 2012.

Can parents and teenagers grow in faith together … at church?

We discovered an opportunity right under our noses to try out that idea at our church. While there are significant life stage differences between high school students and parents of adolescents, the tools that encourage spiritual growth and everyday interaction with God don’t have to be that different between the two.

It started by recognizing that one of the classes that met every Sunday morning was primarily composed of parents of adolescents. I began working together with the class leaders to equip this group with the language of Sticky Faith and to look for intentional curriculum to encourage parents’ faith development. As we reviewed curriculum options, we began to consider occasionally utilizing an approach that encouraged parallel discipleship. Parallel discipleship is when two groups are receiving similar teaching and application at the same time.

Using Fuller Youth Institute’s free Sticky Faith Every Day curriculum, our high school class and the Parents of Adolescents class gained tools for an everyday faith in parallel. As a result, parents and students were able to work collaboratively on living out the faith practices discussed in class. 

There have been times in the past when we experimented with combining our high school class with other adult classes, with mixed response from both groups. However, by engaging them in their own environment (separate from their parents), our high school students were better able to hear the material as relevant to them. In a sense, the opposite was also true as parents were better able to hear the material for themselves first and their family second. 

In my experience, sending students home with an assignment for the week requires some form of accountability if we hope anything will come of it. By teaching the series in parallel, it provided accountability for both the students and the parents, and both reported engaging the assignments. A number of parents also shared that they were more eager to talk with their kids about the material, because they knew it was similar and created some great points of conversation. Some families were actually more likely (and made more of an effort) to come during those weeks because of the engagement created by the unique approach to learning.

The series was designed to equip participants to engage in various spiritual practices that develop an everyday kind of faith. The goal of the parallel class experience was that parents and students would both choose to put into practice what they had learned, and then encourage each other through follow-up conversations and goals. It was helpful that the curriculum included handouts with simple directions for immediate application and conversation guides.

Parallel discipleship is most effective when the follow-up conversation is within 3-4 hours of the class. The high school student leaders worked hard to create an effective response, but this did not happen for parents. We learned that it is helpful to begin and/or end with both groups together so that they are able to truly catch the vision for the shared journey and have space to process together.

Have you ever tried parallel discipleship across generations? How did it go? What did you learn?

Photo by Greg Rolfes.


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This post is part of a series celebrating the release of the new Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family. We’re interviewing parents who serve, think, and write about faith, family, and ministry.

This week I’m so pleased to ask our dear FYI friend Dr. Steve Argue three questions. I’d really like to ask him about 20, but we’ll stick with three for now. Steve is a pastor and theologian in residence at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and is a Sticky Faith speaker, trainer, and our Cohort Coaching Director. Together with his wife Jen, Steve is the parent of three adolescent and emerging adult daughters.

1. Steve, now that your second daughter is in college, what has surprised you about what your kids’ transitions out of high school have been like for your family?

I often hear parents who say they are surprised that their children are so different, even though they come from the same parents! I think we’ve realized that our kids don’t come from the same parents! The “parents” of our oldest daughter are perpetual rookies at each stage of the parenting experiment. The “parents” of our second daughter are a little more seasoned and, honestly, a little more chill! As a result, our two daughters’ transitions to college were different for all of us.

The transitions have also been different in that our two college daughters went to very different schools. Kara is an art major at a Midwest Big Ten University. Elise is a biology major at a Christian liberal arts college in southern California. When we dropped Kara off for the first time, we felt completely on our own moving her in, felt like we were throwing her into the deep end, and I think we held on a little bit tighter. When we dropped Elise off, there was a day of family activities with a sending ceremony, and by the time the day was done, I was ready to go!

There was one surprise we shared with both our girls: the goodbye. Both of them, in their own ways, made it very clear when it was time for us to go. I think we’ve learned to be sensitive to that and respect the “goodbye moment.” For both, it felt wonderful and terrible all at the same time! But, we realized at this moment that we were the guests of their new homes, and were aware enough to leave on their terms.

The best advice we received was from the college president at Elise’s school. He reminded us as parents that, during these highly crucial transition times, parents tend to default to logistics–Did you pack this? Did you get that? and on and on. He reminded us that the best thing parents can do is to let the logistics go and just speak encouraging words to your child. Let your parting words over dinner or in front of the dorm be, “We believe in you; We’re proud of you; We are excited for you; You can do this; God brought you here …” I have found this advice not only brilliant for saying goodbye, but helpful for every time I interact with my daughters now. The meaningful conversations happen when we make space for them to share about what they’re learning, discovering, doubting, or believing. When they are home on breaks, we make sure we work to make this space possible. For Kara, we find this space over really good coffee. For Elise, we find this space over an adventure run.

2. Your PhD research is focused on emerging adults. How has that research shaped your own parenting?

What’s been interesting is that as I have done my research, I’ve bounced my theories off my daughters, and they’ve been able to help me articulate what I have seen, and what I may have missed! Two things stand out. First, my own research and reports we have read in the media about sexual assault have been tremendously disturbing to me as a researcher, pastor, and father of daughters. This has led to us having some important talks about sexual assault on campus, drugs and alcohol, and relationships. These have not been fearful conversations, but ones where we have talked about what it means for them to be women in society, what empowerment looks like, and how to seek wisdom as they navigate non-structured college time (some call this “night campus” or the non-classroom time when college students are making choices about friends, relationships, and free time).

My wife, Jen, is especially great at asking our daughters about their friendships–who they’re hanging out with, where they are from, what they are like. This is not helicopter parenting, because we’re not trying to control their lives. Instead, we’ve reminded our daughters that we ask questions of them because we’re interested in their lives! As our girls have realized this is true, I think they’ve become more comfortable with sharing with us. In fact, just this weekend, Jen got a text from Elise at 2:30AM saying, “This is the craziest concert I’ve ever been to!” This evokes a lot of emotions in her parents, but we’re choosing to take this as a compliment that Elise would choose to share it!

Second, I have become increasingly aware of the need for college students to “leave” as much as “connect” their faith journeys. My research has highlighted the need for college students to differentiate themselves from their familiar church experiences, parents, and adult relationships as they begin to form their own opinions about faith, life, and purpose. This does not mean they’re leaving church or foregoing the important relationships they’ve developed. It means they’re learning to relate to church, parents, and adults differently. Too often church and adults treat emerging adults at college as though they’ve never left for school, and I think this is discouraging to them. They want adults in their lives, but they don’t want to be treated like they’re still in high school. What was troubling in my research was the number of students who, therefore, had few adults to talk with about the things that were most important to them.

As a result, I’m less anxious about if my girls are connected to traditional forms of religious gatherings (church, parachurch groups) and more interested in how they are integrating their spirituality with their education, worldview, and relationships. I know that the process is important, and our role as parents is to journey close enough for them to access us along the way, but not to get in their way. When this happens, we short-circuit the process and we try to motivate our children through external influences rather than calling out their internal convictions. This is not easy! I have my own hopes, dreams, and opinions. But I’m realizing that my daughters’ journeys are helping me rethink my own assumptions.

Undergraduates whom I identified as having an “Integrating Perspective” learned to integrate their education, relationships, calling, and faith in a way that is mutually informing and holistic. Their faith is “self authored,” motivated by their own internal convictions rather than external expectations. Parents and churches have often misunderstood this process, but they must recognize that a maturing faith that lasts requires this important aspect in spiritual journey.


3. I know that one of your family mantras is “Tell me more.” Why is that so important to your family and how do you try to live that out? 

Haha! Yes. We have an art piece in our family room that says that. We don't have a TV in the family room. This is the space for conversation, not distraction (just to be clear, we have another place for the TV; we love movies). I think we need to remember as parents that the first question isn’t as important as the second or third question. A first question usually comes from our own agenda–we want information, clarity, or context. Second and third questions are responsive questions that emerge from the conversations. They show our kids how well we’re listening and really seeking to understand, rather than just interrogate.

I realized when our daughters went to college that I had to learn to talk with them differently. My job wasn’t to check up on them–Where were you last night? When did you get in? Did you finish your homework? My questions had to become ones of discoveryWhat was the best part of your week? What class is inspiring you? What do you like or not like about your professors?

Sometimes this happens through a phone call, FaceTime or face-to-face. Other times, it’s through text messages. I text my college daughters every day. I don’t expect them to text me back (we’ve talked about this). Sometimes they do. It doesn't matter. I just want them to know that we’re out there, thinking of them, cheering for them. That small connection makes our longer conversations less dramatic and more conversational. 

Maybe, for us, “Tell me more” is more of a posture than a solo question!


Photo by Lorianne DiSabato.

This guest post is by Matt Overton, Associate Pastor for Youth and Family Ministry at Columbia Presbyterian Church in Vancouver, Washington, part of the 2013 Sticky Faith Cohort. Matt is a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary and has been doing youth ministry for 15 years in California, New Jersey, and Washington State. This post has been adapted from the original, which appeared on the CPC family website in Spring 2014.


It's that time of year again. Teenagers everywhere are thinking about who they’ll ask to prom.

I remember the feeling of sitting in my room, preparing to grab the now-archaic landline phone to call THAT girl. Prom was a big deal in my community. Students often rented limos, and the venue had to be top-notch. Some students, with the financial backing of their parents, rented hotel rooms for the night. It was a bit of a spectacle.

Looking back at my own phone calls (and slightly more creative moments), those invitations pale in comparison to what I see from students in my community today.

Last spring CNN posted an article on the pressure some students feel when it comes to "promposals". It also explores the added pressure that electronic media adds to this dynamic. Try saying "No" when someone just spent four late-night hours decorating your lawn and car with all sorts of creativity. Or refusing an invite when someone just asked over the P.A. system during lunch and lined up three of their besties to help. It's liable to make a student appear heartless.

So how can parents and mentors help?

1. Help them talk about it. Teenagers are still developing at a whole bunch of different levels. But today’s teenagers in particular tend to have trouble with interpersonal communication and conflict resolution. This may be an unfortunate byproduct of their use of electronic communcation or it might be the result of our stellar parenting. They will need some listening ears and measured advice as they think through this. Trust the fact that whether your teen admits it or not, they need your input and presence. You might call and talk to another adult of influence in their life who can help them think through some of their choices.

2. The Asking. Talk them through how their method of invitation might make the other person feel. How well do they know this person? You might want to help them weigh out how much pressure a big invitation might put on the whole night. Do they really want to raise expectations? Will they have to outdo themselves the next time? Walk them through how to react if the person says "No". It's possible that too much pressure might cause the one they are asking to refuse.

3. The Rejecting. If your student is likely to be asked to prom, talk them through how to say "No" if asked by someone they truly don't want to go with. This might be especially true for your daughters. Empower them to know that they can turn someone down. Many girls feel the gender role pressure of not wanting to appear "mean". Help them push through this and be as assertive as they need to be. If they are assertive in the easy relationship stuff, then they may feel empowered in more difficult situations.

4. The “Good Enough" Proposal. One of our parents also pointed out that sometimes in "long-term" teen relationships, students are told their promposals are "not good enough.” Even in teen relationships, power dynamics and materialism are present. I have known married adults who have never learned to assert themselves when "nothing is good enough" for their spouse. It might be important to help your teen understand how to avoid being a victim or a perpetrator of the "nothing is good enough for me" scenario. You might help them avoid a life sentence of being dissatisfied with every nice thing their future spouse does, or the recipient of that dissatisfaction.

5. The Aftermath. Help your kids learn the importance of reconciliation or mending fences after the fact. It's possible that someone they ask could say yes in public only to need to say no in private later. Help your teen understand why this might be, and how to respond if it happens. Many students will do their best to dodge direct conversation with the other person if they reject a promposal or are themselves rejected. Reconciliation is an important practice in the Christian life, and generally it occurs most meaningfully when it happens face to face. Give them tips on ways to try to heal wounds. Help them hear the other person out if they have hurt somebody's feelings.

6. The Posting. Posting online is another trend attached to promposals. It might be wise to help your teen think through how they might do this without hurting a fellow friend who has not been asked or may have interests in the same person. This is fertile ground to help our students think about how to "love your neighbor." (This same advice could be applied to postings on college acceptances.)

7. Support Counterculture. Keeping things simple might also offer your students a chance to go against the grain. More often than not, the gospel calls certain values of our culture into question when most adolescents just want to blend in. Prom and "promposals" might be just the time for your teen to celebrate being different. Invite them to be different. Challenge them to find someone who is more interested in them than in the white noise of creative ideas they ripped off from a Google search! My senior year I rented a bus with 15 other couples for $10 each. It was cheaper, safer, and it was a great way to thumb our noses at the money culture of our community.

Promposals may be a hormonal hassle for most parents, but they also provide great learning opportunities and teachable moments. Promposals are not necessarily bad, but they can be tricky.

Photo by Eric.

What if I told you that there is one simple thing you, or anyone, can do to improve your health, emotional wellbeing, financial situation, and your relationships with friends, family, and co-workers?

It sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it?

It turns out this miraculous thing does exist and here it is: Be generous.

A new book by Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson titled The Paradox of Generosity: Giving We Receive, Grasping We Lose[1] confirms through an extensive research project something many Christians may already know from experience: “The one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (1 Corinthians 9:6).

Smith and Davidson’s multidisciplinary study of roughly 2,000 Americans focused on various practices of generosity and how these behaviors (e.g. volunteering, donating money, random acts of kindness) impacted people’s lives. They discovered, rather counter-intuitively, that generosity really pays off. Generous people fared better across the board: they were happier, got sick or injured less, lived with a greater sense of purpose, experienced less depression, and so on.

But there are a few caveats. Upon further investigation, Smith and Davidson found that once-and-done acts of generosity did not necessarily produce the benefits described above. Instead, their study found that truly enriching generosity is a lifestyle rather than a gesture; it is more fundamentally about our orientation towards others than about balancing a ledger of giving versus receiving. As the authors explain it:

Generosity cannot be faked in order to achieve some other, more valued, self-serving end. Generosity itself needs to be desired. The good of other people must be what we want … Generosity must be authentic. It must actually be believed and practiced as a real part of one’s life. Only then might its well-being enhancing powers kick-in.[2]

So which came first, the generosity or the benefits? Perhaps people who are already healthier, wealthier, and happier are more inclined to be generous than those who aren’t. Interestingly, Smith and Davidson build a strong argument in the book that generosity does indeed produce these benefits, rather than simply happening to appear alongside them.

During this season of Lent, many of us are focused on giving something up. While this can be a valuable practice for us personally, it often tends to be rather self-focused. Smith and Davidson’s research is a helpful reminder that perhaps we should be giving something away. Our observance of Lent provides us with a great opportunity to cultivate a spirit of generosity by building it into the daily rhythms and routines of our lives.

“Both generous and ungenerous people live lives that are less than ideal. But the generous posses an insight usually missing among the less generous. They know that they already have enough, and that clinging to what they have or clamoring for more will not bring about greater happiness. So they share some of their time, money, and care with others. They tend to see the beauty of life, the value of solidarity, and their connection to humanity. Their perspective tells them that the world, properly viewed, is a place of abundance.”[3]

In LA we're generally terrible at doing things together.

Many of us move here to stand out, to make something new and unique, to do something remarkable. So we compete. We support our own dreams/talents/ideas and strive to be exceptional, while everyone else is trying to do the exact same thing. Welcome to LA, where you can be exceptional just like everybody else.

A few years ago an organization called Plays Well With Others began to change that. They asked, “why are all these organizations competing for the same funding? Why are they overlapping their administrative costs? What if we coordinated our efforts and actually got something done around here?"

Now, a movement of pastors, church leaders, and LA-based organizations have responded to those questions by creating Together LA, a three-day conference happening this weekend in the heart of downtown Los Angeles.

Speakers like Tim Keller, Charles Blake, Dave Gibbons, Craig Gross, Mark Labberton, and Efrem Smith will be there. And we will be there too.

View the Schedule   View the Speakers   Learn More

Come engage with leaders who intimately know the depth of our dynamic city, its cultures, its challenges, and its possibilities.

From the website:

Our “City of Angels” possesses both a sense of immeasurable hope and utter brokenness.

Right now, pastors and other faith leaders are coming together behind the scenes, with love for this city, to unite people from many walks of life. But, that is only a start. We also want to inspire each community to become more than the hero in its own story. We want to connect pastors, churches, ministry leaders, and people of faith to something larger.

Join what God is already doing to transform communities in LA. A behind-the-scenes force focused on following God’s work, not leading it, could further catalyze the impact of ministry workers and church leaders all over the city.


This post is part of a series celebrating the release of the new Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family. We’re interviewing parents who serve, think, and write about faith, family, and ministry.

Our latest three-question interview is with Megan Hutchinson. Megan is a wife, mom, minister, national speaker and author. She’s been a youth minister for 20 years, including 8 years at Saddleback Church.

I have observed how strongly Adam, your husband, supports your ministry. How do you try to likewise support his ministry calling since he’s not employed in vocational ministry?

First of all, you are one hundred percent correct! If there were an Academy Award given for how Adam supports my ministry he would be the recipient of the "The Best Husband in an Outstanding Supporting Role." He's truly amazing. I can only aspire to be as encouraging and supporting as he. In sporting terms, I scored. 

Adam works at a public agency and sees his primary calling to be Jesus in the work place. His secondary passion is to help provide clean drinking water for those living without it. How do I support this? Ask questions. Ask questions. Ask questions. Not unlike many pastors, I too am a classic extrovert. My husband, on the other hand, processes things more internally. So in order for me to engage what's going on beneath the surface, I ask questions. "What conversations did you have today?" "Who did you interact with?" "What or who was difficult?"

I also think it's important for our kids to hear about his day, so about four times a week, we all ask one another, "What was your high, low, God-sighting,” and most recently suggested by our eight year old, “big prayer?" This way, we all get a birds-eye view into Dad's day at the office and how we can better support him in the workplace. We also continue to pray about opportunities to help those in developing countries and await God's timing for Adam and/or our family to serve together. 

One of your life mantras is to “Think Big”. What does that mean, and how has it impacted your parenting?

"thinkBIG" (yes, it's phonetically correct), was birthed out of a hard place. I had just graduated from Fuller, all prepped and ready for that "perfect" pastoral position, and I couldn't find the right one. It was depressing, because I knew I was called to something bigger than me. Right about that time I reached for a newspaper to read the big bold words: "think BIG" across the top. Those words hit me like a truck. It was God's way of reaching into my soul, "Megan, I have plans for you to impact my Kingdom, and my plans are exceedingly, abundantly, beyond what you could possibly imagine.” This aligned with what Paul wrote in Ephesians 3:20, and became my life mantra as a wife, a mom, minister, friend, and everything else I do. 

Dallas Willard defines discipleship as “becoming the person Jesus would become if he were you.” thinkBIG really is living Jesus out wherever you are. Here is a simple but bold prayer I wrote on how we strive to do this in our family:

Lord, give me your eyes to see with

Your ears to hear with

Your mind to think with, and 

Your heart to care.

Give me your voice to speak with—in gentle strength I'll share

Give me your hands to serve with

Your feet to move with

I anticipate your power through me to do exceedingly, abundantly, beyond!

(co-written with Carolyn Baker)

Our kids say this prayer as we drive down the hill to school or on the way to a ball game, then we sometimes share stories about how we saw Jesus that day. thinkBIG sounds insurmountable . . . it is! But thinkBIG begins with recognizing our smallness and acknowledging God’s BIG-ness through us. If my husband and I can instill in our two boys, Jack and Parker, the fact that they have a giant of a God inside of them, then they can conquer any mountain and have eyes to see the lowest of the lows.

3. You have an incredibly adventurous and playful spirit, and I know your family has lots of fun together. How do find a balance between spontaneous fun and creating some sense of structure for your family?

The scales can certainly weigh heavier on the fun side for us, that’s for sure. To help bring balance, one of our family mantras is found from an early 1800's quote by William Newham when he wrote, "Work hard—play hard.” At the start of every week, each child has a calendar where we map out homework, sports commitments, church, etc. When all this is done, we can play. But nearly every Friday you can be sure to hear rumbles of laughter and chaos as we celebrate what we call, "Fun-fun Friday!" complete with homemade pizza, board games, a warm jacuzzi and lots of friends. 

Photo by {.erika.}.

Right before the holidays, I was feeling more busy than usual. More travels. More year-end fund development tasks. More email.

So I asked all three of our kids this question: How are you feeling about my work schedule?

I was fully expecting any one of them to say that I was on too many airplanes, or they were tired of seeing me on my laptop.

Two of them said my schedule was just fine.

The third had a surprising answer—one I never would have predicted.

“I wish you didn’t have 7 am phone calls.”

As part of an 8 week task force for Fuller Seminary, I had a weekly 7-8 am phone call. It’s hard to imagine a time more inconvenient for me as a parent than Monday between 7-8 am, but because of the importance of the task force, I felt like I needed to do it.

It wasn’t the airplanes or the e.mail. It was that one hour every Monday morning. I never would have known that bothered her if I hadn’t asked.

I still did the remaining 3 Monday 7 am phone calls, but I carved out time before each call to be with our kids, especially the one who had mentioned it as problematic.

In our new Family Guide Video Curriculum, we highlight the importance of warm family relationships. More than any tip or trick, family affection and intimacy is a key factor in building long-term faith in our kids. That sort of intimacy can only happen when we have honest conversations with our kids about all sorts of topics. Even our own schedules.

When can you ask your kids how they are feeling about your schedule? Their answer might surprise you.

Photo by khoa vu.

Toward the top of the long list of things I love about being a faculty member at Fuller Seminary is what I learn from my amazing faculty colleagues. Recently, Dr. Scott Cormode, Fuller’s Hugh De Pree Professor of Leadership Development, and I were co-teaching at a Sticky Faith Cohort. When it was Scott’s turn to teach, he commented that parents can dramatically improve their parenting if they heed the wise advice of fifth grade math teachers.

I was intrigued. What was that advice?

Show your work.

In other words, parents can—and should—invite their kids into their parenting process. Not in an enmeshed, boundary-less, “Gilmore Girls” style of parenting. But in a warm, open, and conversational approach to parenting.  As we’re showcasing in our new Family Guide Video Curriculum, having warm family relationships is related to kids’ long-term faith. It’s often easier to have warm family relationships when we welcome our kids into some of our processing, or at least help them understand some of the tensions we’re experiencing as parents.

So I’ve shown my work with our kids by helping my son understand why he needs to keep his phone in our bedroom overnight, even though he complaints he “might forget it” in the morning.

When my 8 year-old said she wished I had stayed at her school party for 2 hours even though I left after only one hour, I showed my work by explaining what the sign-up had said, and that I was so sorry that I misunderstood.

While we don’t need to share all of our parenting rationale and experiences with our kids, my hunch is that part of why we feel like our kids don’t understand us is because we do little to help them do so. Parenting doesn’t have to be a covert activity.

So how do you try to “show your work” to your kids? 


Join Kara Powell and Mark Matlock, Executive Director of Youth Specialties, for a FREE LIVE WEBCAST featuring practical ideas both for parents as well as for leaders who want to partner with parents.

Mark Matlock speaks and writes for leaders, parents, and students nationwide. He's a parent of 2 teenagers himself.

We will be live February 10th, at 12:00 noon PT

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