Category Archives: Youth Ministry

Stop Doing Ministry To Young People

0020.community hand imageI don’t like having things done to me. Like my dentist who wants to drill into my teeth with the most annoying sounding drill ever created. Or my physio always wants to cause me pain, always assuring me that I will feel more sore tomorrow. And while we have high levels of appreciation for them, no one likes going to the hospital and having all sorts of things done to them by nurses and doctors. Having things done to you is generally not a positive experience.

I find it fascinating to hear so often that such and such a church has a ministry to youth and young adults. Or how I often hear people talk about the ministry they are involved in to young people.

While people may not mean much by this type of language, it is actually very telling. It shows that young people are not very important to you. This type of understanding and language actually communicates disconnection. It is something you do “to” them over “there” so you can come back over “here” and get on with your life or get on with the other ministry of the church.

It is a way of thinking that removes young people from where they should be in our lives and in our communities and puts them in a place where we can do things to them and then let them go. We can have a certain amount of detachment from them. We don’t have to get to involved in their life and things don’t get too messy. We have clear boundaries of when we invest and when we care and how much we expose ourselves to them, and when that time is up, we can go back to how we like it, where things are easy and safe.

If your church is doing ministry to young people, it could be possible that you are missing the point.

Wouldn’t it sound strange if we talked about Jesus doing ministry to his disciples. Or even talked about Jesus running a program to grow his disciples in their faith.

If Jesus ministered to his disciples the way that we do much of our ministry to young people, I’m not sure how long this whole Christian thing would have lasted.

What Jesus models to us (and even more powerfully, what God models to us in Jesus) is incarnation. A coming and being with. A taking up residence in our world and in our lives. A coming alongside of and living with. A oneness, a unity. It was messy and frustrating (Matt 15:16) and discouraging and exciting (Matt 11:4-6). But it birthed the kingdom of God in the disciples.

If you or your church wants to be most effective in ministry to young people, it does not need a program. It cannot afford to do ministry to them. What it needs is a willingness to open up the life of the church and the lives of the individuals in the church to the messiness that is young people.

If you’re a parent, you understand that having children around is messy and frustrating and exciting. That there are moments of despair and grief and moments of pride and joy. But you gladly go through it all because you want your children to thrive in life.

Our churches need to recapture the understanding that it is our responsibility to adopt the young people in our church into our spiritual families and live with all the mess that comes with this. Anything less is not true discipleship. It is about giving them space, and permission and a voice in our community just like we would our own children in our homes. It’s about nurturing their gifts and talents and potential and doing everything we can to help them succeed. It’s about sacrifice and laying down our life so that our children have the best chance of thriving in faith and life.

David Sawler in his book, ‘Before they say goodbye’, says

“A church will only experience long term growth when it lays down its life to reach, disciple, and parent its own young…. When it does what Jesus did for the disciples.”

Whatever opinions or arguments you have about how important the traditions and rituals in your church are, nothing can ever be more important than the young people in your church and in your community. This is your first and most important priority as a church. If we as a church can’t do this well, then I think there is not much else in the great commission we can do well either.

It is time for the faith of our young to become a focus of our communities. Does this mean we neglect the elderly and only do worship and sermons for kids, youth and young adults? No. It means that we understand that God’s church is best expressed as a family who loves and serves each other and invites each other into their lives as an act of discipleship. We grow an understanding that the prayer of a 6 year old boy is just as powerful and nourishing for the community as the prayer of the 60 year old elder.

This means as a church we equip the entire family to fulfil its mission to be the body of Christ. We call and equip those more mature in our community to live a life that does not do ministry to young people, that does not get involved in a program with young people. Instead we call and equip them to live lives that invite young people into their homes and their families and their joys and their struggles and their faith. That helps young people encounter the embodied and alive Christ in the lives of each other.

This is the type of life I believe Jesus called us to when he called us to make disciples. He called us into the mess of life, and he called us to invite others into that mess as well, so that we could see together all the strange and amazing and ordinary and joyful ways that he turns up every day.

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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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The danger of affirming words

1337706956_WordsAre our encouraging words harming the teenagers under our care?

 In my last post I talked about the important role our words of affirmation play in the development of the teenagers in our care. I talked about how young people have too many voices speaking into their lives and how we need to provide a more impacting voice that speaks a deeper truth.

 But was I wrong?

 In “The Godbearing Life – the art of soul-tending for youth ministry” Kenda Creasy Dean & Ron Foster (p.65) talk about the dangers of affirmation. When comparing our affirmation to the story of the angel Gabriel coming to Mary to announce her role in the incarnation of Christ in Luke 1:28, they say that

 “The danger comes when we stop with Gabriel’s opening line (greetings, you who are highly favoured) and fail to deliver God’s message in full. Right on the heels of God’s affirmation comes God’s invitation and expectation. Despite all the positive messages we send to our youth, affirmation without invitation or expectation subtly tells teenagers “We don’t really expect much of you or ourselves because God loves us no matter what”. In the face of abject rejection, anonymity, and powerlessness our words “you’re great”, “you’re special”, “you can do anything” ring hollow to suffering youth who simply conclude ‘grown-ups lie’.”

 How often have you been guilty of this: affirming a young person with hollow words, without following through with invitation and expectation to live out the affirming reality we see in them?

 When we fail to follow through with our affirmation, we run the danger of falling into a ministry of feeding a young person’s narcissism. We build up their ego without building their character. We give them lots of fluff about how great they are without actually helping them to live out that greatness and help them see it for themselves.

 

If all we give teenagers are nice words of encouragement, are we actually setting them up for a fall? 

 But it’s more than that as well.

 God created the young people under your care for more than feeling good about themselves and having a good self esteem. He created them to accomplish great things. He calls them into his ongoing redemption of the world.

 If we simply encourage teens and help them see the potential that is in them but don’t direct that potential with an invitation and a challenge, we leave open the possibility that this potential be directed in any manner of ways, sometimes with dire consequences.

 God created us for a reason, there is intention in his creation of young people. There is an invitation in knowing Christ, an expectation to live out – in all its fullness – who God made us to be. If we encourage kids without inviting them into this new way of living, we are simply setting them up with over-inflated egos that will either be expended in selfish and hurtful ways or, even worse, never really amount to anything, which will render our words empty.

 

How can you not only speak new life, but also invite young people to live this new life?

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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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IF YOU’RE HAPPY & YOU KNOW IT…WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?

smiley-faceI stumbled upon this great article today about happiness and our cultures endless pursuit of it. As Christians we have this idea that Gods goal for our lives is for us to be happy so we think that if we are not happy that God doesn’t love us, or care for us, or is just getting it wrong. This is even more true among young Christians who for some reason have this idea that being a Christian is about God making life good and making them happy.  then when life gets hard they fall away from faith cause God apparently failed.

we need to arrest this idea in our young people and give them a more biblical idea of life trusting Jesus.

here is a link to a great article that talks about this

here is a link to a small group study we did at youth last term on this.  (it’s full of stack of questions and bible verses so feel free to chop and change and delete.

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Aussie teens value prayer over drugs and alcohol… just

159064_prayerAustralian teenagers value shopping over prayer…and prayer only just wins out over drugs and alcohol.

If you’re working with young people in the church in any way, shape or form, gaining insight into the spiritual lives of the people you are working with is invaluable. While there are many studies done in America on the spirituality of young people that is very useful and insightful for us in Australia, it is often hard to come across research that speaks into the spiritual life of Australian teens.

That is why Putting Life Together: Findings from Australian Youth Spirituality Research by Philip Hughes is such a valuable piece of research. It gives a great insight into the spiritual culture of Australian teens and what you find will be very sobering.

This book woke me up to the reality of the culture we are working in and as a youth worker – who also works within a school – this is a stark reminder of what teens actually think.

One table in particular (table 6) asked teens to rank the importance of various means to peace and happiness. Here is the ranking of what 13-24 year olds said:

  1. Listening to music
  2. Working or study
  3. Being close to nature: by the sea or in the bush
  4. Being creative artistically (like painting or craft)
  5. Shopping
  6. Prayer or meditation
  7. Drinking alcohol or taking recreational drugs

What smacked me in the face with these results were that young people find peace and happiness through prayer only slightly more than they do through drinking alcohol and taking drugs (and the difference was very slim), and they find peace and happiness through prayer less than they do through shopping.

The average young person in Australia will turn to almost everything else to find peace and happiness than they will to prayer and to God, and only just a little more than they would to drugs and alcohol.

WHAT THIS TELLS ME

  • The young people I am trying to talk to about Jesus simply do not care. Jesus doesn’t even register on their radar most of the time as a legitimate focus for their lives.
  • I am strange. The priorities of my life and what I value are way out of sync with those of young Australians. This is ok, but I need to be aware of this as I talk to and interact with young people.
  • When it comes to youth nights, and I get up and talk about spending time with God and the role that God plays in our lives – to a room that is half full of Christian kids and half full of non-Christian kids – I need to remember how far away from caring half the room is.
  • In trying to share the gospel with young people, I need to first remember that they really don’t care about spiritual things and remember all the other things in their life that are more important.
  • I really need to be aware of what I communicate about spiritual things like a healthy prayer life. Do I send a message that it is something you do because you’re a Christian? Or is it something you do because it’s connecting to a relational God that will change your life? Maybe teens don’t care for prayer because they don’t see that it makes any difference.

It’s important for us to remember and understand the young person we are talking to when conveying the gospel. Next time I stand up in Chapel at school and talk about prayer, I need to remember how very little the majority of people I’m talking to see prayer as something legitimate and important in their life. How do we communicate the life-changing message of God’s saving grace in a way that connects and actually registers? How can God become central to these young lives? How we communicate is key to this.

And just to drive it home even more: this research was predominantly conducted in Christian and Catholic schools.

What would the results look like for the general public?

What do these results tell you?

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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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Speaking words of life

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We just ran our annual youth camp around the key theme of identity. This is such a huge topic for young people and something we feel we needed to speak into with the truth of Jesus. One very powerful activity we did as part of our worship night was to speak words of life and a new identity in Jesus over each of the students.

The leaders had been praying for the students all week and discerning what they felt God wanted to say to them concerning who they really were, their true identity in jesus and how God saw them. These words, phrases, and bible passages were then written onto a small mirror and given to each student by their small group leader as the leader spoke these words of life over them and prayer for them.

We had a number of students reflect on this activity as a highlight for camp and some said that they had never had someone say stuff like that to them before.

It was great to be a part of, but also saddening to hear that some students had never had words of life and affirmation in who they are and can be in Christ, spoken over them.

This is one of the key gifts we have as people involved in ministry to young people, we have the honor to be able to speak a new identity in to young people’s lives. Help them see their life and world as a bigger and brighter place. It is our job to release them into the potential God has for them, and to help them see themselves the way God does.

There are two ways you can do this.

1. Organise a little something where you formally speak words of life into each young person in your care. This might be in small groups with their leaders. I might be something you do on your own. This depends on your setting. But make it a big event where you give each young person a new identity and affirm who they are in Christ.

2. Set yourself a weekly challenge to find opportunities to speak words of life into the young people you regularly come into contact with. Just pull them aside and tell them that you really want to encourage them with who you see God has created them to be.

The power that these words can have in a young persons life will be immeasurable. These are things that will stick with them for years. If your really praying about it and discerning Gods voice for these young people, you will be speaking truth that will cut to their core and make a bigger impact then you could even imagine.

Lets do a little life bringing together.

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