Category Archives: culture

Christian: Are You Ready For Exile Stage Two?

Some incredible insight here from Stephen Mcalpine for Australian culture. this is the world our young adults are growing up in and their peers will usher in this new exile.

Stephen McAlpine

The Western church is about to enter stage two of its exile from the mainstream culture and the public square. And it will not be an easy time.

In case you missed it, Exile Stage One began a few decades or so ago, budding in the sexual revolution of the sixties before building up a head of steam some 20 years ago. Finally some Christians sat down to talk about it 15 or so years ago, and that set the ball, and the publishing companies rolling.

For those of us in ministry who were culture watchers, Exile Stage One was a heady time.  Only we never called it Exile Stage One. We simply called it “Exile”, and poured over biblical texts such as the exilic book of Daniel and its New Testament counterpart 1Peter.  After all no one ever called World War One “World War One” before World War Two came along…

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Are we teaching young people to worship worship

family worshipWe are called to make disciples of Jesus, but are we in the church often making young people disciples to something else?

I stumbled upon this question as I pondered conversations I have been having with young adults. The conversations I have regularly revolve around the worship expression of their church. Often they talk about an inability to connect with the worship; how it doesn’t relate to their life and that it’s not helping them grow in their faith.

In the research that we conducted around young adults and the church we discovered that worship styles are quite low on the list of what young people value in a church. However, if you spend enough time around a bunch of teenage or young adult Christians you will eventually hear a conversation about the ways that they struggle to connect with worship. Bluntly, they are complaining about worship.

So here is my question.

Why are they complaining about not being able to connect with worship, rather than not being able to connect with Jesus?
And this question prompts another question.

Have we inadvertently discipled young people to worship, rather than God himself? 

The fact that there is a subtle but distinct difference between these two is the exact reason this should worry us.  We could be leading our young people astray without even knowing it.
When you hear a young person complain about the worship service that their local church provides, what you are hearing is a reflection of what we have taught them to value. So much of our conversation and focus in the church is tied up in how and when and why we worship.

When we talk about young people and the church we are usually talking about whether they come to church or not. When we talk about how we can keep young people in our church, we are usually talking about worship styles or a second service. We have taught young people that the most important thing in faith and church community is how we gather together.  So the next time you hear a young person complain about the worship service at your church, remember that you probably taught them to think that way.

When was the last time you heard complaints about the lack of bible study, small groups, mentoring relationships, or faith at home practices; instead of worship styles, songs, times and content? 

What does this tell us?  What does this teach our young people? What does this disciple them to?

If the main thing is the wrong thing there is a bigger implication as well. If we are inadvertently teaching young people that worship is the main way to connect with God and grow in faith, what happens to this young person’s faith when they come to a place where they cannot connect with worship?  I wonder if it is not always the fact that young people walk away from church because they feel they can’t connect with God. I wonder if sometimes the reason they walk away from God, is because they could not connect with church.  They had an understanding of worship that was so high that it had become the main way they understood their faith. Therefore if it failed, everything failed.

I long for the day when a young person comes and complains to me that their church is not discipling them properly. What this will tell me is that their church actually has done a good job of helping this young person understand that knowing Jesus is the main thing. If that is their complaint then the church probably has done well in discipling that young person.

What is needed here is a shift. A shift away from an understanding that expects Sunday gatherings to be the primary spiritual input into a young person’s faith, away from thinking that an hour on Sunday will form the faith of a young person.

How are we learning to walk alongside young people as they grow up in our church, to help them understand that knowing Jesus is central to faith and life?  The central expression of my faith is how I respond to the grace Jesus has so freely given to me.  How are we helping them and coaching them to develop spiritual tools that help them connect with God and hear him speak into their life in any and every situation?

How can we always be pointing young people to Jesus – and Jesus alone – and involvement in our communities as an expression of that faith relationship?

Let’s keep the main thing, the main thing.

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What the world needs more of

Found this quote in this article today. I liked it and if this strikes a chord with you, have a read of the full thing, or even just the first two paragraphs.

“Brothers and sisters in Christ, the world doesn’t need a bullshit Christian subculture. It needs the church.”

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Live like God isn’t watching

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What if as Christians we lived life more like God isn’t watching?

 

I was listening to “Can’t hold us” by Macklemore today and I heard a line that echoes a sentiment that I have heard in a hundred different songs.

 

“Raise those hands, this is our party. We came here to live life like nobody was watching.”

 

This idea of living life like no one is watching is such a captivating idea for so many people. It’s the sense of freedom to be who I want to be without the consequence of other people judging me. It’s the idea that I don’t need to be afraid of my flaws and the things that I am embarrassed of in myself because no one is watching. It’s about finding who I really am and letting it out and being proud of it.

 

As Christians we grow up with a looming sense of God watching us.  Even if it isn’t something that is preached from the front of a church, we still have a strong image of God as someone who is watching us, judging us, scrutinizing our behavior. When we do something wrong we feel like God disapproves, when we think we are being a good Christian we feel like God is more pleased with us. How much of our Christian life and conduct is lived out of a sense of God watching us – God on the outside looking down and critiquing our lives as we live them out?

 

What if we instead lived our lives like God was not watching? What if we chose not to base our decisions in life on whether God would approve or not?

 

What if our life was directed by something not outside of us, but something that was at the very core of who we are? What if our lives were not directed by a sense of God looking down on us and disapproving or approving our thoughts and actions; but instead started living out of a sense of God being the one who animates our life?

 

The One who helps us stand up and be proud of who we are. The One who gives us conviction and hope to live by. The One who makes life so beautiful and rich and diverse. The One who gives us the courage and freedom and sense of self to dance like no one is watching.

 

 

This, I think, is how God wants to be involved in our lives.

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Treat your Senior Students Differently:

In the many years I have been in ministry I have noticed that there is a definite age where youth drift away from our ministry.  For us, it’s grade 9.  By the start of grade 10 and even by the end of grade 9 we have significantly fewer people attending then in grade 8 and 7.

There is a whole bunch of reasons why this is, and I would love to hear your thoughts below. I am becoming more and more aware that the type of ministry that young and older students respond to is very different. It is a very different life stage and students are dealing with very different issues.

I found this fantastic article that outlines some thoughts about how we can treat our more senior students differently and I love all of it.

Check it out  http://www.organicstudentministry.com/?p=1107

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The Innovation of Loneliness

lonelyYou’re being lied to and you’re lonelier than you think.

I stumbled across a video today that I found fascinating and challenging. My first response was WOW!  I have heard a lot of this talk before about the impact social media is having on us, but I have never seen it quite so well presented and taken to this depth.

While I am not out to bash social media and Facebook, and I don’t think this is the right approach to take with our young people either, I think it raises some good questions we should be exploring:

  • How are we helping young people be aware of the impact social media can have on their life and their sense of self?
  • How can we help young people develop true, genuine, offline friendships and engage in significant conversation offline? A trend I see in young people I work with is that all the serious, ‘more difficult’ conversations in their life are moving online because it is seen as a safer way of having these conversations. The reality is that these young people are sabotaging their relationships because these conversations are but a shadow of what they can be. The number of times I have seen this ‘online conversation’ go wrong is staggering. How can we help young people deal with and become comfortable with the messiness of face to face conversations?
  • How can we help young people understand that the only way they will ever truly be known is by engaging in face to face relationships? The majority of conversations and communication has nothing to do with the words that you say but in how you communicate with your non-verbals and the power of simply being in someone else’s presence.
  • How can we help young people understand that being alone and being in silence and stillness is actually really important in developing their sense of self?  We keep our minds moving at a cracking pace because we want to distract ourselves from ourselves. We are afraid of what we might find (or not find) if we stop and be still and silent and alone.

What other questions do we need to be asking our young people around this video?

Here is the video:

The Innovation of Loneliness from Shimi Cohen on Vimeo.

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Why high expectations are central for an effective team

The health of a ministry will depend almost entirely on the health of the leaders of that ministry.

In youth ministry, we totally rely on volunteer leaders to keep ministries running and to make a difference in young peoples lives. There is always the tension between getting as many volunteers as we can because we always need more and getting the right people for the job. Often I see people compromise on who they let into their teams or the terms they let them in on and I see their ministry suffer for it. I have also done this a number of times.

While it is important to get the right people on your team (maybe this is another post), it is just as important to have a healthy team culture that these people enter into. A healthy team culture can straighten out a number of kinks in a person’s character or reliability. Just as a healthy person can still be dysfunctional within an unhealthy team environment, a healthy team environment will help bring out the strengths in all your leaders and help them grow in their leadership potential. So how do you grow a healthy leadership team and how do you create a healthy culture within the ministry you lead?

I have found that having high expectations of your volunteers and setting clear boundaries is one of the best practices you can have in creating a healthy leadership culture and, in turn, a healthy ministry. Now, many people shy away from this because they are scared of losing leaders but I have found the exact opposite to be true. Here are a number of reasons to set the bar high when it comes to your volunteer team:

  •  You get rid of unhealthy dysfunctional people that were bringing your ministry down. Let’s be honest, we have all had those people in our ministry and they hurt kids more than help them. They kill team moral and simply bring something unhealthy into the ministry that is hard to get rid of.
  •  You give people something to strive for. People actually want to be stretched and challenged. They want to grow. Healthy leaders are people that are looking for things that will increase  their potential and grow their skills.
  •  You communicate that this matters. How high you set the bar communicates how important this ministry is and how much it matters. I don’t know about you, but I want to be involved in things that matter and are important. I want to be involved in things that I know are going to make a difference. Asking more from your leaders communicates that this ministry matters and this, in turn, creates a greater sense of belonging to something important which then creates a greater sense of ownership and investment which creates a healthier ministry. Setting that bar low, however, does the opposite of all this. If you want a healthy ministry set the bar high.
  •  You communicate clearly. It is actually just a very practical tool to let people know where they stand and what is expected of them. What’s the time commitment? What events do they need to attend and what time do they need to turn up? What tasks do they need to do each week? This helps bring clarity and again makes it easier for them to own the role. The parents of your junior leaders will also love that they know what their children are signing up for.
  •  You avoid conflict and create accountability. All this clear communication of expectations and responsibilities cuts off so much of the nasty stuff called conflict that so many unhealthy teams are infected with. We have communicated clearly, we have set the bar high, people have signed up being clear on all this, there is much less chance for things to go awry. And if they do, you have a whole lot of stuff to fall back on. You have a signed code of conduct where the leader agreed they would not engage in this activity. This makes it much easier to have the conversation about what they got up to on the weekend or what they posted on Facebook. With high expectations and clear communication comes a high level of accountability which again grows the health of your team and the effectiveness of your ministry.

This year in our youth ministry I updated the leadership role description (yes we have one) and code of conduct (yes we have one of those too).  It is now a two page document that leaves no room for people to claim they don’t know what they are getting into and what is expected of them.  My leaders actually appreciate this as it makes things much simpler for them. The new documents we are using this year have been adapted from some material I got from the kind folks at St Hillary’s Anglican church in Kew, Melbourne. You can down load our role description below.

Next time you are starting a team, don’t settle for ‘whoever and whatever’, because you will end up with a ‘whatever’ ministry.  Set the bar high and see how your ministry flourishes.  If you don’t get any volunteers with the bar so high, maybe you weren’t supposed to do it in the first place.  Sometimes no ministry program is better than a dysfunctional, unhealthy ministry program. If you are in an existing ministry and things are really bad, then consider raising the bar in a number of increments so there isn’t too much of a culture shock. But if you’re starting out new, start high.

If you’re interested in the leadership agreement we use or would like to adapt it for your setting, you can download it here.

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Is the gospel good news anymore?

I am currently reading a book which summarizes research done into the spirituality of Australian young people. It’s called Putting Life Together by Philip Hughes. I am learning from this something I have suspected all along. I am strange, because I do not see the world as most people do. secondly i am learning that most Australian young people simply do not care for or have room in their lives for a genuine Christian faith.

This is echoed well in a great post I just read on the Average Youth Ministry blog. Check it out, a very sobering read and I believe a very real reality for those of us in youth ministry. http://www.averageyouthministry.com/2013/04/17/what-do-you-do-now-that-the-gospel-is-no-longer-good-news/

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