Tag Archives: worship

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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Why do you want young people in church?

I came across this fantastic article writem by Elizabeth Rawlings which sums up a lot of my thinking around young adult ministry and children’s ministry for that matter as well.

The piece in about kids ministry but I am a firm believer that if you dont do good kids ministry and good youth ministry it will be very hard to do good young adult ministry. I am not talking about programs here but more about the posture of the congregation.

Often I talk to people from various places who ask me how to get more young people in their church.  This article really digs into that and asks us back, why we want that to happen.  Often my responde to these people is something like, “love some 5 year olds really well and celebrate their faith and involve them in your community in significant and meaning full ways.  Then do that for 20 years.

If a community has no young people, it’s often because many years ago they decided that they did not value young people.  Not as much as other things in the church anyway.  They might have talked about wanting young people around, but when it came to making decisions, they didn’t value young people.

This article articulates very well, so many good things and is a great place to start if you are looking at growing your children’s ministry (or young adult ministry in 20 years)

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It’s not about the worship style… But it kinda is as well.

Let me say this clearly. It… is… not… about… the… worship style.

Part of my job is talking with people in churches about how to do effective ministry to young adults. In almost every conversation the assumption from the person I am talking with is that the main issue of why young adults are disengaging from church is because of the worship style.

If only it was that simple.

I would be delighted if all that we had to do as a church to keep our young people engaged in their faith and in our communities was to change a few of the songs and jazz up the liturgy a little. This would be easy. This would be simple compared to the true challenge that faces our faith communities in their struggle to stay relevant to young people.

The reality is much more complex.

Tom Rainer in his most recent podcast highlighted six keys for reaching millennials (young adults) that helps paint a more holistic picture of what is involved in effective ministry to young people.

Some highlights from the podcast include:

  • Anyone who is intentional about reaching others for Christ will reach more than those who are not. Intentionality is a must.
  • Churches need to understand that Millennials have different views than previous generations on social issues.
  • When Millennials look at a potential church, ministries and opportunities for their kids are major deciding factors.
  • If you want to reach a generation who cares about their children, the church must care about their children as well.
  • Millennials want to have intentional mentors to come along beside them.
  • Churches must offer Millennials opportunities to serve and to lead. Don’t make them “wait their turn.”
  • If your church is relying on the worship style or architecture to reach Millennials, you’re relying on the wrong thing.

 

The six keys for churches to reach Millennials are:

  1. Be intentional in engaging & understanding them

  2. Be authentic

  3. Offer ministries for their family and children

  4. Offer to mentor them

  5. Offer opportunities for them to serve and to lead

  6. Have a presence in the community

 

This shows us that what really needs to happen is not simply a change in style, but a change in attitude towards young people. Our churches can not afford to be an ‘old boys club’ where those with the most years experience get to make the decisions. Rather, they need to be a place where young people and what they bring (including their youthful optimism and naivety) is seen as a valuable gift of God to the life of the church. Where we celebrate the fact that children are present and noisy. Where we accept that they will often get things wrong and mess things up because we are simply delighted that they are involved in the life and practices of the church.

We need to be a place where we value the opinion and worldview and faith of a 6 year old, a 16 year old and a 26 year old as much as we do a 56 year old. Where we respect, value, seek to understand and celebrate the unique viewpoints and way of relating to God that each one brings.

Young adults are not looking for contemporary songs as much as they are looking for a place to serve where they can effect real change in your community, where their view actually counts for something.

I have often said, if you are not letting your young people do things in your church that upset you, you’re not letting them do enough. What I mean is that we need to give them permission to do things their way. To express their faith. And sometimes that will be something that makes us awkward or will be something we don’t agree with or think isn’t right…and this is OK.

This is how you will keep young adults in your community.

It’s not about worship styles… but then it also kind of is.

You see, if we have involved children and young people and young adults so much in our community, if we have given them responsibility and permission to effect real change, if we seek to serve and understand their faith as much as they seek to serve and understand ours, if we seek to communicate the gospel in an authentic way to their life stage and world view…

Then our worship will look different.

Not because we think this is what young adults want, but because we have integrated the place and influence of young people into our communities.

So next time you talk about how to keep young adults and young people engaged in your church community, please do not start by talking about worship style. It is not about worship style.  Please start somewhere deeper.

 

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