Earning the Trust of Teens in Four Not So Easy Steps


One of my favorite ministries in Australia had to be a Religious Education class teaching fifth and sixth graders in a Public School.

There were numerous challenges to this ministry; The greatest challenge however was earning their trust….

I’m grateful to say by our last class (in the picture above) I had earned their trust and respect, but it was a long hard process. As a ministry to others who work with teenagers some of the most important lessons learned along the way are included in this post.

1. Be Honest: The first time we met, one of the boys asked “have you ever swore in your life?” After trying to change the subject he looked me right in the eyes and said in a very serious tone “answer the question”

Instead of trying to lie about it I confessed to using bad language a few times in my life, but confessing it to the Lord right away. His next question was “why did you do that?” and it led to a conversation about the Gospel

2. Be Answering: Teens have hundreds of questions about God and few people who will actually answer them. The Lord used a simple exercise that asked the students to write down questions they had for God to teach me this.

While most students wrote a few lines one girl started writing furiously and kept going after the others were finished. When she handed me her paper I had to take a picture of it to remind me of the need to answer their deep questions.


3. Be Effective-I don’t care how crazy a group of kids is, there will always a way to motivate them. Shouldn’t be
surprising that giving a candy bar to the best behaved student allowed me to control eight teenagers (it also worked for eighteen kindergartners by the way.) The important thing is bringing a form of structure or discipline into their lives in a way that works, since many of them don’t have it.

wpid-img_03302-2014-02-24-19-40.jpg4. Be Listening: As important as the lesson is, there were moments in class when the Lord allowed me to learn about, or minister to a students deeper need. This meant having more than one conversation with students who were no longer BFF’s and immersing myself in teen girl drama for the sake of the Gospel, it also meant helping a student who was moving to another Country and would never see her friends again understand God was still Loving.

The road to earning trust is long and hard…that’s why so many people haven’t traveled it. However if your willing to put in the hard work God will give you a powerful influence in their lives.

From Mission to Mentorship

One of the reasons I love being a missionary is its a constant adventure and anything but boring.  The moment you reach a point of success in ministry the Lord presents a new challenge or burden to pursue. While this can be a discouraging process sometimes it is an incredible blessing to know the Lord is using us for His Glory.  But it also means that missionaries are used to being pushed out of their spiritual comfort zones quite often.

Since early 2010 I have been focusing my time and energy on getting involved helping those with needs in the community of Craigieburn.  With the Lords help I am now volunteering in six (maybe seven soon) different ministries during the week.  These opportunities have allowed me to develop close relationships with those individuals and share the Gospel, as well as have many conversations about the Lord.

A part of me was satisfied with the missional form of ministry since the Gospel was shared in close relationships.  But a few weeks ago God began leading me to take the next step towards mentorship.  This is actually what most of us would view as discipleship, but mentoring or apprenticeship are words that fit the Australian culture better.

Mentorship would involve meeting one on one and using the Gospel (along with other Scriptures) to who their need of Christ.  The focus with volunteering would be on meeting their physical needs whether its having a conversation with someone who is on a Dialysis machine for more than four hours, or giving food to someone who is $800 behind on last months rent.  But mentorship goes deeper than the physical need and deals with their heart and where these individuals place their hope.

Very few people take the step from Mission to Mentorship in their relationships with the unsaved.  This is because the mentor relationship isn’t nearly as comfortable or enjoyable as the missional.  It’s easy to give them cup of coffee and have a conversation about God, but sharing the Gospel in a direct way that convicts their heart scares us.  To be honest becoming a mentor scares me as well, in fact it probably strikes fear in all of us.

That fear is what keeps most Believers (myself included) trapped in the Missional relationships that focus on friendships and showing the love of Christ instead of discipleship, which shares the message of Christ.  But we all (again myself included) must make that uncomfortable transition because its only through the Gospel and Faith in Jesus that unbelievers can be saved.  Yes the Gospel can be shared in a mission relationship, but its usually done in a non-confrontational fashion since we emphasize the love of Christ.

So how do we make this transition?  By allowing the Lord to lay a burden upon our hearts for one person who we can become a mentor to instead of a missionary.  For me that is a senior in High School name Abdul who is struggling over what to do next year in University.  I am trying to mentor him by helping with final essays and reports, giving advice about his freshman year, and sharing how God helped me as a freshman.  For you it could be neighbor, friend, co-worker, or loved one.  Whoever it is I pray that you would join me in finding one individual to make the painful transition from Mission to Mentor with, and then begin looking for others.

Because of Who He is,

John Wilburn

The Awkward Silence Message

The modern day Gospel says “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.  Therefore, follow these steps, and you can be saved. “  Meanwhile the Biblical Gospel says, “you are an enemy of God, dead in your sin, and in your present state of rebellion, you are not even able to see that you need life, much less cause yourself to come to life.  Therefore, you are radically dependent on God to do something in your life that you could never do.

Tbe  former sells books and draws crowds.  The latter saves souls.  Which is more important?

David Platt from the book Radical[1]


Last Sunday I had the opportunity to speak at my home Church in Melbourne which is normally a great experience but instead being excited I was extremely nervous.  This is because the Lord had placed one of those messages on my heart to share.  You know which ones I am talking about, the kind that are confrontational about sin, deal with a controversial subject, and made everyone really uncomfortable (especially the speaker).

Now I am aware that the Lord uses these challenging messages to convict Believers of sin and motivate growth, so they are definitely part of a healthy Church.  But to be quite honest its always easier to share an encouraging or comforting message, one that uses funny jokes or emotional stories, where transparency and Grace is displayed instead of confrontation.  Our human pride makes it far more enjoyable preaching a message that will result in handshakes or compliments rather than uncomfortable silence or people running for the door.

Unfortunately because of my sin nature it will always to preach an encouraging or funny message, but that doesn’t mean these messages are being used by God to impact lives since there is a need for comfort as well as exhortation.  The danger I sense in my life is this love for encouraging messages will lead me to preach these kinds of sermons almost exclusively.  This over time will give others a flawed view of God since His Holiness and Sovereignty aren’t seen along with Grace and Love.

The good news that God knows we struggle with sharing confrontational truth and offers the motivation that’s needed.  That encouragement comes from the fact that Jesus didn’t proclaim a comfortable or easy message.  He challenged men to leave their family, jobs, and friends.[2]  Turned to crowds who followed Him and purposely raised the level of commitment so many went home,[3] and sent men away who wanted to follow because they had selfish reasons for doing it[4].  Instead of sharing an encouraging or uplifting message Jesus seemed to focus on sending them away!  Why would He do this?  Because Christ both deserved and demanded complete commitment from those who desired to follow Him.  And this could only be accomplished by challenging and testing their faith to see who was truly committed, and which ones were just there for a free meal.

This is the same reason we have to share the uncomfortable messages with confidence.  Whether you like me preach or teach within the Church, or share the Gospel with unsaved friends we must do so.  Not because it feels good or will lead to a handshake and compliment, but because God deserves first place in our lives.  And by sharing these convicting truths in a clear way we  bring Glory to the Lord with our own actions, which in the end is greater than a handshake or compliment.

Because of Who He is,

John Wilburn


[1] Radical:  Taking Back your Faith From the American Dream, copyright 2009, Multnomoah Books

[2] Matt. 4:18-22, Matt. 9:9-13, Mark 1:16-20, Lk. 5:1-11

[3] Matt. 16:24-28, Luke 9:23-27, John 6:66

[4] Luke 9:57-61

Numbers: God Judges

Few things are more controversial for Christians or unsaved people than the Holiness of God.  It’s almost impossible to bring up the subject without experiencing anger, bitterness, criticism for not being more loving, or arguments to prove that the Lord is Loving instead of Holy.  Actually it seems as if even the word Holiness will elicit these responses and more.

There are many reasons for this, but I think the word Holiness has just gotten a bad reputation.  It makes us think about legalists who demand long lists of rules be obeyed or God will judge us, or the Christian who goes out of their way to be as separate from the world as possible because it makes them more Holy[1].   Unfortunately many remember that unloving or judgmental experience with fellow Believers, and of course the unsaved believe God is constantly looking for someone to judge.  So there is a need for us to redeem or explain the word Holiness truly means.

Few books of the Bible describe God’s judgment better than Numbers since it focuses on Israel’s failure to obey Him and their wandering in the desert.  Because of Jews unbelief what should have been an eleven day victory march to the capital of Canaan became thirty-eight years of wandering that resulted in the death of each adult in the generation.  Not a pretty story I know, but it also teaches us some important truths about the Holiness of God.

The first portion of Numbers (1:1-10:10) takes place at the foot of Mt. Sinai where Moses had just been given the law.  Since the Jews were still weak and unprepared at this point the Lord took it upon Himself to provide for their needs.  This included organizing families so that they would be ready to attack when reaching the promised land (1:1-2:34) and planning for the Tabernacle to be moved so that His presence would continually be with them (4:1-49).

Since the Jews would have to purified from sins before entering Canaan God gave Moses specific laws about cleansing during the journey (5:1-6:27).  Jehovah also commanded that sacrifices be made to purify the Tabernacle and Priests to ensure His presence (7:1-8:26) and the Passover feast was reinstituted so they could continue it in Canaan.  During the journey God guided the Israelites with a cloud during the day (Num. 9-10).

Though He provided for all of their needs the Jews refused to trust Him.  They grumbled and complained when meat couldn’t be found until the Lord gave them enough birds to eat for thirty days.  When instead of being thankful for this they still rebelled God sent a plague that killed many of them (Num. 11:33).  But instead of obeying because of this they just became more selfish, as Aaron and Miriam the siblings of Moses rebelled against his leadership (Num. 12) so God responded by giving Miriam leprosy for seven days (12:1-16).

Finally the tribes of Israel arrived to the promised land of Canaan.  But instead of entering it and obeying God they chose to stay outside the land (Num. 13) which brought a judgment from God that killed many of them (14:39-45) and cursed the others to wander in the wilderness until all adults had died.  Amazingly the Jews even after this still refused to obey the Lord but continued to rebel against the leadership of Moses (16:1-5), so God sent a sign to prove both Moses and Aaron had been chosen by Him (17:1-13).  The Lord remained faithful to the Israelites by giving them opportunities to purify their sin (Num. 19).

As you would imagine the Jews continued to complain against God when things didn’t go the way the liked which unfortunately led to the sin of Moses (20:7-13) which kept him from entering the promised land.  This was continued by Balaam the prophet who tried to curse Israel (22:1-24:25) and the immorality at Baal-Peor (25:1-8).

Thankfully the book of Numbers describes the journey back to Canaan as God provides a new leader (27:12-23), military victories (Num. 31), and settling on the other side of Jordan (Num. 32, 33:50-34:29).  So our story ends with the second generation of Jewish exiles preparing to enter the promised land.

The Holiness of God is clearly seen throughout the story of Numbers, but we also see His Grace, and Provision.  If the Lord was truly only interested in judging sin then Israel would have been destroyed before their journey even started!  But instead God gave them many chances to do the right thing before condemning His chosen people to wander the desert.  Numbers teaches us that God is indeed Holy, but He will always offer Grace and Provision or Mercy first, and after this is rejected we experience His judgment.

Because of Who He is,


[1] Here I refer to Christians who take a more Isolation style of Christianity.  I have friends who adhere to this philosophy and respect it, but am concerned about their not having unsaved friends to share the Gospel with

Is God a Legalist? Overview of Leviticus

Most of us have experienced Legalism at one time or another.  For those of you who may don’t know, it’s a philosophy of Christian growth that focuses on controlling a person’s actions with lots of rules.  While this usually leads to obedience, the legalistic philosophy creates lots of problems.  The arrogance or pride in those who do obey the rules puts people off, the controlling aspect is also frustrating, and most importantly legalism usually creates hypocrites.  By focusing only on outer works instead of an inner relationship with God Christianity becomes a list of rules that you can check off so the Lord will love you.

The book of Leviticus at first glance seems to portray God as a legalist since it’s filled with lists of laws about everything from offering sacrifices to the Lord (Lev. 1:1-7:38), to cleansing priests (Lev. 8), how priests should do their work (Lev. 10), what kind of food they could eat (Lev. 11:1-47), and how to purify themselves if they had leprosy (Lev. 14).

The second portion of Leviticus continues to give an idea of legalism by describing the judgments that would come upon sinners.  We learn how God deals with those who offer sacrifice in the wrong way (Lev. 17, 20:1-9), commit immorality (Lev. 18, 20:10-21), do the work of a priest wickedly (Lev. 21), or doesn’t bring a sacrifice to the Lord (Lev. 22:17-31).

Leviticus concludes with God demanding a high level of commitment from the Jews.  There were laws about feasts that took place during the year which were meant for thought and mediation upon their relationship with God (Lev. 23), Strict rules about taking care of the Tabernacle(Lev. 24), And ministering to the poor in their area by giving all land to God in the year of Jubilee.

After dozens of rules, Gods judgments explained in detail, and complete commitment demanded you can’t blame someone for believing that God is only interested in condemning sinners.  But there is a huge difference between Leviticus and the long list of rules legalists base their life on.

The motivation for following the many commands of legalism comes from a fear of God (the Lord will hurt me if I don’t obey) or making themselves better in the eyes of God.  The idea that if God will love us if we obey all of the rules emphasizes works instead of a true relationship with the Lord, which of course results in hypocrisy.  The theme of Leviticus is giving God first place in our lives because we have are His people.

The Jews had been chosen as the nation that would bring Jesus Christ, the Messiah into the world.  Because of that God challenged them to live in a way that was radically different than other nations.  Not to point out how holy they were, but in order to be a testimony to other nations by relying on the Lord for strength instead of themselves.  This demand for a complete commitment to Him goes much deeper than just what you should do and deals with obeying God’s Will or our own selfish desires.

This challenge didn’t end in the Old Testament but was continued by Christ who demanded a whole hearted commitment from followers[1] and rejected those who focused only on outer works while neglecting the heart relationship[2].  The Apostle Paul later makes it clear that living in wickedness would rebellion that disrespect Christ’s sacrifice on the cross[3] and clarifies that a true relationship with God that gives Him first place is more important than the works of the law [4].

Christians must live differently than the world if they want to be a strong witness for the Lord.  But this difference comes from the relationship of submission they have with God, a genuine love for Him, and a radical commitment instead of what we wear.

Grace and Peace,


[1] Lk. 9:23-26, Matt. 8:20-22, 10:37-39, Jn. 12:25-26,

[2] Matt. 23:1-7, 13-17, 23-28

[3] Rom. 6:1-2, 6-7, 11-14, 18-19

[4] Romans 2:28-29

Approval Addicts Leads to Embellished Reality

The Bible tells the story of a young man named Rehoboam who following the death of his father Solomon became King of Israel.  Shortly after coming to power the people sent another ruler Jereboam to ask that high tax laws would be changed.  Since he needed counsel Rehoboam called for Solomon’s wise men who told him to lower taxes and gain the peoples trust.  But instead of listening to officers who served for years the King obeyed his friends who advised him to make things much harder for the people. This foolish choice resulted in the people rebelling against his authority.[1]

Why would a new king listen to friends who had no experience giving guidance instead of wise men who had served for years?  Part of this is because they had a strong relationship with Reheboam, but no doubt they spent lots of time flattering the King with their words and actions.  It was an ego inflated by empty praise that chose to reject the words of wisdom.

Approval addicts are constantly looking for a feeling of happiness that comes from the love and acceptance of others.  Most of the time they take advantage of others by attracting attention and encouragement any way possible.  But they are being used more times than they realize.  The acceptance junkie is in especially serious danger of being controlled by flattery just like king Reheboam.

The flattery that approval addicts are susceptible to downplays weaknesses while extolling strengths.  It has been described as wishing, “his best would be seen than better than it is and his worst would be seen as nobler than it is.”[2]  There will always be an excuse for the wicked or foolish action, and the motivation for action absolutely had to be God honoring.  Also all successes or strengths will never be given the credit deserved.

After hearing words of praise for long enough anyone would start to believe them.  So the flattery of friends over time develops an embellished view of reality for the Approval Addict, which of course meets their desire for encouragement and encouragement from others.  This feeling of acceptance leads them to seek out more friends who will feed the embellished reality instead of what is really happening.  Soon the true friends who see the approval addict’s selfish heart and try to help have been rejected in favor of more empty praise.

Though the embellished reality keeps them from discouragement or frustration it also gives them a view of reality that’s totally false which encourages foolish action.  There is more than a spiritual blindness involved when we place the love of others above the command of God, our understanding becomes blind as well.  The addict places so much faith in that daydream or reality created in their minds that they believe it absolutely has to work out while having no real proof it will.

King Rehoboam no doubt had convinced himself that the people would respond to his higher tax program with great excitement.  But the rebellion and war that followed completely shattered his embellished reality and brought him back to the real world.  It’s true that the world flattery creates is very tempting, but we must remember that the experiences of life will show just how embellished it is.

[1] I Kings 12:1-16

[2] Pleasing People:  How not to be an Approval Junkie, Lou Priolo