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How Changing One Word Can Get Students to Step Up

Let’s be honest: It’s hard to find a student who wants to step up.

I’m not talking about teenagers who want a position of power. Many do, and often for the wrong reasons. I’m talking about getting students to do something that is authentic and needed, yet incredibly awkward.

Let’s use prayer as an example. You may have delivered the greatest message about Jesus teenagers will ever hear. Your youth group may be experiencing a phenomenal moment on your missions trip. Your local school’s most outspoken atheists may have just all given their lives to Jesus Christ.

Yet you know that the moment you ask, “So does anyone want to pray?” there will be an awkward pause… and one after that… and one after that. Heads will droop down. Every student will become a mannequin. They even will stop texting.

Let me say that again: They even will stop texting.

Maybe Bill Hybels said it best in his book Too Busy Not To Pray with the opening line “Prayer is an unnatural activity.” From the moment we’re born, we’re bent toward self-interest and independence. Perhaps that’s the key factor, or it could be once we’re exposed to the idea of prayer we aren’t quite sure what to do with it:

• “Should I give God my wish list, like a heavenly Santa Claus?”

• “What if I pray for something and it doesn’t happen? Does that mean I did it wrong, or that God doesn’t exist? I’m not sure I like either option. Maybe I just won’t pray.”

Again, I’m singling out prayer merely as an example. What I’m really talking about is getting students to step up in their faith.

A mentor once counseled me to not say someone’s “no” for them. It’s easy to not ask someone to do something you assume they’ll say no to. It’s why a majority of Christians don’t share Christ with others, presuming they’ll just be written off.
Sometimes we actually prod a negative answer in other people, though. When we ask if anyone “wants” to pray—or serve or lead—we’re setting people up to unconsciously say, “No, I don’t want to.”

What if you changed just one word?

• “Is anyone willing to pray?”
• “Is anyone willing to serve?”
• “Is anyone willing to lead?”

It’s amazing how that one word is a game-changer. When I hear the word “willing” I have to do a gut check on where I really am at in wanting to honor God. Even if for only a nano-second, I find myself staring at the cross of Christ versus my own wants.

Could it really be that simple? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Thank you for loving students!

0 thoughts on “How Changing One Word Can Get Students to Step Up

  1. Great, simple reminder Tony! Sometimes it is that simple. I was a communication major and it’s fascinating to me how much semantics and visual cues can influence behavior and motivate people.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • You got it. Sometimes it’s how we say what we say that helps us say what we’re saying… you know what I’m saying? 🙂

  2. So true! Thanks for sharing!

  3. I find myself struggling with getting youth to voluntarily pray every week. I will change this question to ‘willing’ and see if there is a more positive response.

    • It may take some time, but I find it’s often in the attitude of the invitation. Keep it positive and fun – I’ve found most students latch on quick.

  4. Interesting. I will give it a shot and let you know.

  5. Liz Bonsell

    I am changing my terminology starting today! Thank you! Thank you!

  6. Kevin Alston

    Simple yet great advice. I know personally that I have prayed “Lotd, I’m willing” when faced with something new or uncomfortable He was telling me to do. Will use this next week!

  7. WOW! The power of changing up one word and to not say no for people. Thanks Tony!

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How Changing One Word Can Get Student...

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