What an amazing time the last 10 years have been. I want to take some time today and share why it might matter to you that I have gone from Program Director, to Executive Director, to CEO, to Founder, and finally to the first Teen Life Team member to resign.
You see, none of those roles have been easy, and my guess is there are things in your life that are not easy either. I hope that sharing from my story over the last decade will encourage you to stick with what is in front of you.
I am excited and sad about my transition away from Teen Life as Founder, but I am also thankful since I do not believe this will be my last connection to Teen Life. The reason for that is I think I will be able to use the skills I have learned at Teen Life wherever I go next, and I will use the principles that helped me learn those skills and tools to learn new, and even better ones, down the road.
That said, here is a behind the curtain look at what I have gone through since beginning Teen Life in 2008.
This job was not my first choice.
I have shared with some of you that when Teen Life started I was reluctant. It was new, I thought I still wanted to be a youth pastor, and I felt this new opportunity had been forced on me. I even went and interviewed at a couple of churches in the first 2 years we were getting started. What I can tell you nearly 10 years later is I fully believe that Teen Life was the right path for me. Not only for me but for the teenagers we have learned how to help. I believe that what changed was my ability to feel one way and act another, learning along the way how to adapt and make the necessary changes to build and grow an organization.
I feared failure was inevitable.
When we began offering groups, one school invited us onto their campus. We had an amazing opportunity to be in the classroom with students who needed our services. I knew we were making an impact and the students voiced that too. The problem was I was afraid that schools would not keep inviting us. I figured one school was kind enough to give us a try but that other schools would not be as inviting. I was very wrong, and it turns out my fear of failure was part of the problem. Not that I shouldn’t be afraid, but that if I had been more willing to try things early on we might be further down the road now. Thankfully, we have overcome that deficit, and this school year we have trained people who are working with over 1,000 students in 17 school districts and 3 states with 14 people being trained in Tennessee next week!
Trust is greater than suspicion.
I started reading a book recently that put this phrase in my mind. In Virtual Culture by Bryan Miles, he talks about how people want to be trusted. I want to be trusted, and I am sure you do too. The fact is I have learned a lot about how trust is a big part of an organization’s success. The ability to trust our volunteers is a necessary decision to help us effectively work with more students every school year. The trust that we have that schools will tell us how we are doing, along with the trust that the people I have invited to be part of the Teen Life team are going to do their job is a weight that is sometimes hard to carry. But it is worth it when you are pouring yourself into something so meaningful.
Continuing to learn is required.
Read, listen to podcasts, prioritize conferences! These things are key to successfully replenishing and expanding our thinking to progress whatever task or project we have in front of us. I have learned so much from Donald Miller, Michael Hyatt, Ken Coleman & Rory Vaden. These virtual mentors have helped me grow and develop the skills needed to create the structure that will sustain the Teen Life organization after I am gone. I wish I had been introduced to these godly, intelligent men sooner.
With those lessons in mind, I want to close my time with Teen Life with this.
Supporters and friends, there is a bright future ahead for this organization. Chris Robey, Karlie Duke, Beth Nichols & Stevie Stevens all are doing a great job and will continue to as they stay laser-focused on how to equip, encourage, and empower teenagers to live life better. Your continued support of this team, our volunteers, this organization and your local school is vital to this success. I would urge you to ramp up your support. Become a trained volunteer, tell your local school, donate through our Teen Life Gives Back fundraiser going on now, pray that we continue to provide services that teenagers need and schools can’t live without.
Thank you all for your amazing support these past 10 years. I cannot wait to see what the future holds for Teen Life!
Ricky Lewis is our Founder and former CEO and has been with Teen Life since the beginning. As a father of 7, he seeks to help parents and their kids Live Life Better.
Each year, the staff here at Teen Life go on a short planning retreat to take stock of the previous school year and make plans for the next. Our fearless leader, Ricky Lewis, always sets up a framework for the staff to work through that not only helps us look back, but also helps us to look to the future and dream a little. I always look forward to these retreats as an opportunity to sort out what we want as an organization, to take a breath, and center ourselves on our work.
This year, Ricky threw us a little curveball and asked us to take a few minutes to write down some of our big picture dreams for what we want to be doing, not only in our work lives, but in our personal lives as well. Taking the time to work through some of my true desires for work and home reminded me of another really helpful exercise I will sometimes use with the teenagers we serve in Support Groups.
As a part of our groups, I will have the students imagine what it would be like if their life story was written as a movie or tv show. In other words, if we were to watch them as a character in their own story, how much would we be interested? Would we stay to watch it until the end, or would we give up on their character?
Donald Miller has done a lot of work in the area of story and helping people understand the different narratives that can be at play as we make decisions. Part of his writing looks at characters and how they are defined. According to Miller, a good character can be described this way:
“A good character wants something and is willing to go through conflict to get it.”
So if you can think of any good character, we can identify clearly what they want and the sacrifices and struggles they go through in order to attain what they covet.
As we worked through our dream list, I found it helpful to remember what I truly desire out of this life. As one who loves and cares for teenagers, I feel compelled to do the same with them.
Too often, adults have dreams for the students they help but often do not know what they really want. If you don’t believe me, you should see the blank stares I get from teenagers when I ask them what they really want out of life. It’s not that they haven’t thought about it, but more that the adults in their lives have never asked them – or at the very least helped them think through what they want.
It is a powerful exercise to write down the things you want, even if it seems a little crazy (trust me, my list seems a little crazy). But when you write it out, you are forced to consider what needs to happen to accomplish those goals. What if we found creative, yet practical ways to help the teenagers around us to identify what they really want?
Here are some questions to ask:
– What do you want to be happening in your life around the age of 20? 30?
– If you woke up tomorrow and felt like you accomplished something significant, what would you want it to be?
– What is something you want to be different in five years?
– What is one job you would not consider to be work?
– What kind of people would be in your life if everything was good?
I’ve had some of my best conversations with teenagers talking about what they really want. It’s all really just in how you ask the questions. I know how great it feels to think a little about what I want. You get the chance to do the same. Give it a try!
Chris Robey, Teen Life’s Program Director, has worked with teens for over a decade and strives to help students see the best in themselves.
I am going to geek out a little bit for this post. The new Star Wars movie, Rogue One, is coming out as you read this, and it seemed like a great time to reflect on past movies and the scenes that stick out. I will leave most of the reflection to you but join me in reminiscing, and then if you feel so inclined, read on about how this connects to working with teenagers below my list. In my mind, they are really all equally good scenes even if all of the movies are not equally good movies. Just a warning, there are spoilers ahead, so read with caution if you haven’t seen Star Wars!
The top 25 Star Wars Movies Scenes, in my opinion and not in any particular order.
Luke’s Jedi training with Yoda. “Do or do not there is no try.”
Luke shoots the Photon missiles into the core of the Death Star and it explodes
Starkiller Base Explosion
Darth Vader tells Luke, “I am your father.”
Luke fights the Emperor (lightning fingers)
Darth Vader dies
Ray steals the Milenuum Falcon
Han Solo is frozen in carbonite
Luke fights and escapes from the Rancor
Speeder chase on Endor
C-3PO is crowned a god
Lando betrays Luke, Han and Leia
Obi-Wan is killed
Rathtars on the loose
Opening scene in Force Awakens when we meet Kylo Ren
Bar scene looking for a ride to Alderaan and first meeting of Han Solo
Luke’s finds his Aunt and Uncle dead
Anakin Pod racing
Luke sleeps in the Wampa on the frozen planet
Tripping up the AT-AT’s on Hoth
Anakin finds out his mother is dead
Luke sneaks into Jabba the Hutt’s lair to rescue Han and Leia
Luke, Han and Leia escape from Jabba’s barge and the Sarlacc
Light Saber training with the blast shield down
Luke sees the visions of Obi-Wan, his father and Yoda
If you are not a Star Wars fan, that is totally fine. For me, this was a fun exercise in remembering back over the movies and thinking about the scenes and why they might be memorable or significant.
I have been listening to Don Miller’s Story Brand podcast a lot lately. It is focused on marketing principles and those principles are drawn out of the art of storytelling, something Hollywood movies are often very good at. The amazing thing is there is life application in this process as well. I encourage you to download his free ebook on the full 7-part framework and how to tell a story. But if you just want a quick idea to of how to use this with a teenager, let me give you a couple of suggestions.
First, realize that teenagers are closer to the beginning of their story than the end or the middle. This perspective helps us as adults remember that they are still in the development and learning stages and that if we can coach them through this process they, most of the time, will learn to navigate life well.
Secondly, we all need a guide. It is really amazing how many guides Luke has from Obi-Wan to Yoda to Han Solo at times. For teenagers, they need more than one guide, and they need for those people to be willing to allow them to fail and then walk with them through that failure. This way they learn that life is not always easy and that they can overcome the difficulties if they choose to engage the right skills and resources.
Finally, recognize that there is a bigger picture going on. It’s not only about what is happening right now. There is a destination and having a clear vision for what that is helps you prioritize what’s happening right now in order to be able to arrive where you want to go. If a teenager gets too distracted by the now, they not only lose sight of the future, but all too often they give up the future they could have had for something satisfying in the moment.
How would you apply these principles and others that may be related to coaching a teen through the adolescent years to set them up for success? Let us know!
Ricky Lewis is our Executive Director and has been with us since the beginning. As a father of 4, he seeks to help parents and their kids Live Life Better.
A few years back, my wife and I were at the Storyline Conference with noted author Donald Miller. We decided to go to this conference in Nashville at what we believed was a pivotal time in our family life. I was in ministry at a congregation, and while everything was fine, I wasn’t sure what I was doing or where I was going. I enjoyed my job but didn’t see a future where I would be fulfilled and happy over the long term.
This particular conference seemed to be something that would at least help us think through these questions. The focus of the conference centered on understanding yourself as a character in your own story. We worked through our backstories and thought a lot about what we wanted.
There was one section of the conference where Miller riffed a while about relationships. During this particular section of the conference, he said something regarding relationships that has stuck with me –
“Sometimes we are just ONE good relationship away from everything being okay.”
Read that again.
One more time, now.
What a simple, yet powerful statement. These words seeped down into the recesses of my soul and found space to take root. The cost of the conference and travel to get there might have been worth it for those words.
Because the source of my discontent might not have been my job as a minister or the mission I believed in.
I was just very, very lonely.
Actually, both of us were. And, we couldn’t see much of a way out of the loneliness while being on staff at a church where there were very few families who were in our situation.
Why is this little story important, especially for those working with and loving teenagers? For my wife and I, the solution wasn’t really that profound. We needed relationships and we needed to figure out how to be in a place where we could find them. And, we did. We moved to a town and found jobs that put us in places where we could find people to live life with. We found some friends. Obviously a lot had to happen to solve our problem, but the problem itself was really simple – we needed friends.
And, Don was right. While we have our fair share of struggles and frustration in life, things are a lot better.
We were just one (or maybe more) relationship away. This made all the difference.
A Teen Lifeline support group operates on this idea. Sometimes, it’s the really simple solutions that make the biggest difference. Maybe it’s a different relationship. Or, maybe we could start doing one thing just a little differently. Then, the world opens up and we wonder what life looked like before.
Just like you and me, teenagers can get lost. And in the confusion of being lost, they lose sight of the fundamental, important things that brought joy and happiness to begin with. Our groups help students reclaim what was lost and discover what really matters. They face their problems by finding their courage and strength in themselves, others, or God. And discovering that the solution is so simple makes it so much better.
So maybe we don’t need to try and fix everything for our students, or ourselves, for that matter. Maybe instead, we help students to find the simple way that could make a huge difference.
Chris Robey, Program Director, and has worked with teens for over a decade and strives to help students see the best in themselves.