4 Thoughts As I Exit Teen Life

4 Thoughts As I Exit Teen Life

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.

Worry Is The Answer

Worry Is The Answer

Do you worry? I do.

Is your goal to remove all of the worry in your life? It has been mine for most of my life.

I still distinctly remember the fear and worry in college of not knowing what was next. I even remember telling people closest to me, “I wish God would send a postcard with instructions so I know I’m making the right choice.” First, there was a flaw in my thinking that the choice was about what I should do rather than who I am. A lesson I have learned from many respected mentors and leaders like John Maxwell, Michael Hyatt, and others.

In our world today, there is a lot of talk about removing barriers, stress, anxiety and roadblocks. While this is often necessary, when it becomes our full focus and effort, we can lose an opportunity to understand where to find answers by moving too quickly past a learning opportunity.

No doubt this is not a new idea. I am sure it has formed out of the reading and listening I have done, especially the past 5 years. By listening to other successful people, new ideas come to light and clarity is gained. That being the case, this time it was a conversation with my 10 year old that brought the important piece to the surface.

I get to take my son to school daily. This is some great time spent together that I am thankful for. This particular day, I asked him two questions I ask two or three times a week.

“What are you looking forward to at school today?”

“What are you worried about today?”

This time he had a specific thing he was worried about. The elementary spelling bee was coming, and he had been invited to participate and was tasked with studying the word list. His worry was that he was not going to do well during the event because he had not been studying. Without really thinking I said, “You don’t have to worry about that. If you haven’t been studying, you won’t do well. So no need to worry, you already know.” This may sound harsh, but he understood what I meant as I went on to explain that if he isn’t studying, he should expect to not do well. But also that if he is worried and knows studying could help, he can choose. He can either not study and expect to not do well or study and be proud he did his best no matter what happens at the Bee. Either way, the worry is dealt with and not just ignored.

I think the lesson here is that we want to remove worry or ignore it, but it is possible that the worry may be revealing some useful information that could help us move to the next level.

So here are my suggestions for dealing with worry in your life and mine, not just removing it.

  1. Listen to the worry. Don’t dismiss it too quickly. You may miss an important indication that leads you to just the right answer you are looking for.
  2. Seek others’ input. We all need people around us to help us in life, especially through difficult times. Find a trusted advisor or mentor and confide in them what is worrying you and see if they can help you gain some clarity about the direction you need to head.
  3. Don’t let the worry turn into fear. I cannot count the number of things I have missed out on because I let worry turn into fear and defeat me from accomplishing something before I even started. I am working hard to reduce the number of times this happens in my life, and I hope you will too.
  4. Make a plan to process the worry. Maybe have a dedicated journal or app to record what is worrying you, and then spend time processing what you might be able to learn from the worry.
  5. Don’t hesitate to ignore worry when it isn’t helpful. Even though there are times this mentality can be helpful, we face a lot of worry in life, and the reality that much of it is not worth our attention is worth recognizing. So when you worry about things out of your control or that are unrealistic, simply say to yourself, “I’m choosing to worry about the things that matter.”

I’ll leave you with this. My son did participate in the spelling bee and he did pretty good, too. He actually did really good! He placed 3rd! Out of nearly 40 students in grades 3-5 at his school, he had the courage, stamina and focus to spell words I’ve never heard of correctly. Was it my comment that made the difference? Probably not as much as I would like to think, but the principle and mental perspective to think differently about what he needed to do, I hope, was helpful.


So what in your life have you ignored or tried to remove that could actually have some benefit or provide you with some insight as to how to take your next step and maybe even what that step should be? Let us know!

Ricky Lewis is our CEO and has been with us since the beginning. As a father of 7, he seeks to help parents and their kids Live Life Better.
Generosity Changes Everything

Generosity Changes Everything

I recently finished a business book, which not to brag, is a pretty big deal for me. Just finishing a book, not the business part. But the fact it was a business book is important and has my mind spinning about how I interact with people and help our readers interact with teenagers. The book, Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi, is essentially a networking book. While that sounds stale and uninspiring, the motivating force behind his book and world class networking skills is what has got my head spinning – generosity.

Now, I’m probably a few weeks late on the generosity post, but this goes way farther than presents. Ferrazzi posits any relationship and connected group of relationships (a network in this case) is best when done from a standpoint of generosity. That is, when seeking out a new relationship or even finding someone who can help you must start with what you can do for them. This seems upside down (which as I’m getting older seems to be where all of the good stuff is), but it makes a lot of sense. If I’m seeking out someone who can be of help to me, I will likely get that help much more freely if I have something to offer them – especially when it comes to people of influence. Everyone is wanting something from them, but if you have something you can offer them that is helpful and timely, they might choose you to build a relationship.

Reading this book also got me thinking about another highly influential book in my library – Hurt: Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers. Dr. Chap Clark did a research study at a large California high school to get a reading on teen culture as well as how they interact with adults. The book is stunning because it paints a rather grim picture of adolescents really being on their own when it comes to adults. What Clark dubbed “The World Beneath” encapsulates a hidden subculture of teenage life where teens live and function without the help and guidance of loving adults. 

So, why are there no adults? Dr. Clark theorizes that since the mid 1960’s, adults have increasingly withdrawn from teenagers and become more protective of what they have. Institutions like public schools, civic organizations, and even churches have become adult institutions that teenagers have to exist within. Fewer and fewer adults interact with teenagers for the joy of doing so. For Dr. Clark, a lot of adults have trouble relating to teenagers in a way that is not corrective or directive.

There is a lot more to this book than what I am describing, but suffice to say it made an impact on how I interact with teenagers. I want to be someone who a teenager can see as a safe place to talk, think, explore. I try my best to help them think and encourage them to make a good decision based upon what they know. I don’t walk in their shoes. I don’t know what they go through. But, I can help them think.

And that brings be back around to the generosity stuff. I believe if we start from a stance of generosity when we work with teenagers, our relationships will be so much more robust. But, we need to think a little more about what they need. And, that is where this generosity stuff gets good. If we are willing to give of our time, our resources, our experiences, and our people, what an amazing impact we could have. If we were generous with patience and grace (both of which teenagers need in abundance), we would stand out as someone who could be trusted.

You see, teenagers need more than your advice and direction. They need your generosity. What would it look like to be more generous with a teenager in your life?

(Another great resource on generosity can be found in a recent Michael Hyatt podcast found here.)

Chris Robey, Teen Life’s COO, has worked with teens for over a decade and strives to help students see the best in themselves.
Motivation Monday: The Road to Positivity

Motivation Monday: The Road to Positivity

We are only weeks away from our 7th annual TL5K, and 1 week from the Kick Off Event!

Have you ever felt like nothing you did was right? Like each mistake led to 10 more? Have you decided to stop trying because it wouldn’t make a difference anyways?

Unfortunately, we see this hopelessness in the lives of the teenagers we work with way too often. It is difficult to speak truth and encouragement without being another voice of disappointment and judgement. The great thing about Teen Lifeline Support Groups is that we can have honest and difficult conversations while encouraging them to make their own decisions. Ricky, our Executive Director, was able to have one of these conversations. While that teenager you are talking to might not turn their life around within a day, week, or month, by opening doors and introducing positive steps, we are setting them on course to make a lasting change for the better!

In one of my earlier groups, I had a great conversation with a student, but I hope I handled it differently than most people would have. I’ll tell you how it went and let you decide.


The goal of the lesson this day was to discuss the type of coping skills students choose. Out of that, we talked about the positive or negative effects of their chosen method.


Drugs=negative/illegal/addiction; Exercise=positive/healthy/community


As we discussed the different choices students were making, marijuana came up several times. Obviously, we talked about the negative consequences of this such as being illegal, gateway drug, long term effects, etc.. But mainly illegal. One of the students spoke up and said that all I was doing was telling him the same things his parents have told him since he started smoking pot at age 8! I responded that was not my intention. I could tell him that all day but until he found a reason not to smoke, it wouldn’t matter. The principle I was trying to relate was that real change can not happen until the person needing to change takes ownership, in this case finding a reason to not smoke pot. Behind this conversation for me was knowing that people are typically motivated intrinsically or extrinsically as Lucille Zimmerman writes in her post on Michael Hyatt’s blog.


After a few minutes, one student spoke up and shared that his girlfriend being pregnant could be a good reason to stop. I enthusiastically responded, “Yes!”, that is exactly what we are looking for. What is it that is going to make it worth it…to him?


The fact that it is illegal hadn’t stopped him yet, but my hope is that enough conversations like this just might. Not because of my ability to tell him what to do, but because he is thinking through what he really wants out of life and how the choices he makes impact his future.


This is what we encourage all of our facilitators to do, open the door, join in a conversation, empower students to think about and make their own positive decisions.

If you would like to help Teen Lifeline by fundraising for our 7th annual #TL5K, please join our free Kick Off Dinner on March 1st! Get more information about the Kick Off Event here.


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.
The Power of Your Words

The Power of Your Words

Have you ever had that one person that you just really don’t like? There isn’t always good reason, but when their name is brought up, you inwardly roll your eyes and try your best to hide those negative impulses? That’s not just me…right?

Recently, I realized that I had developed an incredibly strong opinion about a person without even knowing them personally – let’s call him Max. Through other people’s opinions, I began to see Max as selfish, moody and disrespectful. What’s even worse is that I didn’t realize my bias until someone else’s opinion began to change my mind!

Once again, without any personal interaction, I created an opinion in my head based on how someone talked about Max; however, this new influencer had the opposite effect. Where I used to roll my eyes when his name was brought up, suddenly, I found myself defending his decisions and giving him the benefit of the doubt when he made mistakes. After spending time with one of Max’s best friends, I stopped treating Max like he had personally wronged me (which he hadn’t), I began to see him as a likable, funny person who needed a little grace, just like the rest of us.

All because of one opinion.

You might be asking – what did they say? How can a few words change your opinion so quickly? And that’s just it – it really didn’t take much. His friend didn’t bribe me or make up stories about his heroic efforts on the weekends, they simply spoke kindly about Max. In every word, every description and even through their tone, I could tell that they genuinely believed the best about Max. There was a reason that they were friends, and it made me want to be his friend, too!

Michael Hyatt just wrote a blog about the importance of affirming your spouse, and after my experience with Max, I am a firm believer in the power of your words and their ability to shape someone’s opinion.

If it is important to lift up, encourage and affirm your spouse, it should be just as important to do the same for your kids (especially your teenagers)! Here are a few reasons why it is crucial to speak positively about teens:


Your words will shape the opinions of others. 

As parents, teachers, youth ministers, coaches and mentors, we need to check what words and stories are coming out of our mouths. Especially when you are talking to people who do not personally know that teenager, there is no excuse for gossiping and spreading negative opinions about a student. When all you do is vent to friends or other parents, you are only giving them a glimpse into the most negative aspects of that teen.

How are they supposed to overcome that difficult teacher or the task of making good friends when everyone already has negative, preconceived notions about who they are and what their priorities are. Give them a chance to make friends or enemies based on their own interactions, instead of the thoughtless words of an angry, frustrated adult. Choose to say kind and positive things more often than telling negative stories.

Give your friends, their teachers and other adults a reason to like your teenager.


Your words will shape your own opinion.

When you say positive things about that teenager, you will start to notice more positive things to say. Instead of jumping to the worst possible conclusion, tell others how much they are trying. Tell that story about how sweet they were when their little sister was crying (you don’t have to mention that they caused the crying in the first place). Focus on the things they are great at – whether that is school, band, being a good teammate, or helping around the house.

If you get in the habit of bragging on your kids, students and players, you might find that you have more reasons to brag on them than you originally thought. Just like your words can change the opinions of others, they can also influence your own patience and treatment of teens.

Give yourself a reason to like that teenager.


Your words will shape their opinion.

I will never forget the times that my parents bragged about me to their friends, or the time I overheard my youth minster telling someone he wanted his daughter to grow up and be like me. I can remember thinking, “If they think that of me, I need to keep going and prove them right!”

You know that warm, fuzzy feeling when you know someone is proud of you? Can you imagine what teenagers would act like if they got that feeling often – weekly, even daily?

Tell that teenager that you are proud of them. Write it in a note. Say it out loud. Tell everyone you know how great they are. Use your words to empower and encourage your teenager to act, think and live better.

Give teenagers a reason to like themselves.


I DARE YOU – take this next week and consciously look for positive things to say about the teenagers in your life. If a negative thought or word comes up, immediately think of two positive things to replace it with.

Let us know how this experiment goes and if it changed the way you or others fell about teens. Help combat the negativity that is too often involved with these teenage years.


Karlie Duke was in one of Teen Lifeline’s original support groups and now is our Communications Director. She is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories.