Wednesday, September 10th, 2014
When it comes to being truthful we naturally check the box that says “Always.” Why is it so important to always be truthful? Is it as simple as because it is the right thing to do? Well, yes and no. Consider four reasons to be an automatic truth teller. First, we strive to be truthful because we know that is the example of our Lord. “Let your yes be yes and your no be no” . . . Matthew 5:37. If we are to be imitators then we must tell the truth. Second, we pursue honesty in all situations because we want our witness to be above reproach 100% of the time. “So that you can remain blameless and pure among a warped and crooked generation.” Philippians 2:15. Our witness and productivity as a kingdom builder demands absolute integrity. Third, we aim for truthfulness because we are trying to set a good example for the students we lead, the parents we equip and the team we serve alongside. “The integrity of the upright shall guide them”. . . Proverbs 11:3. Fourth, we pursue honesty simply because the bible dictates that we be truthful. “Speaking the truth in love” . . . Ephesians 4:15. We should strive for character of honesty so pure that that being so seems like second nature or unnatural to do otherwise. We want to be careful not to do or say things that students recognize as less than truthful. Sometimes it is tempting to do something simply for shock-value rather than truth value. Be careful if you find yourself venturing down this road because the “shock” might be found in the pastor’s office and the “value” may be a lesson hard learned and pricy. Strive to hold yourself to the same truth standard as you do for students and volunteers. As I consider the simple Christian necessity of being a truthful person I am reminded of at least five situations when it is incredibly tempting to tell something other than or less than the truth.
- When you are about to look bad in front of the pastor and staff.
- When your integrity for telling the truth will be overshadowed by the consequences of the truth you tell.
- When someone you highly respect will probably think less of you after they hear the truth.
- When telling the truth will hurt someone you care deeply about.
- When telling the truth might lead to your being rightly or wrongly relieved of your ministry position.
From my own children to intern staff and students I have continually taught that there are three categories of lies. Consider the following and see if there be any truth to these three types of falsehoods. 1. WHOPPERS: Telling something you know is false. This is when you deliberately tell something that you know to be untrue. It could be completely fabricated, the opposite of what occurred or embellished beyond recognition. Example: Supervisor ask: Are all the chaperons on this list cleared through the required background check? Reply: Yes! (but you do not know that for certain – you only intend for each chaperon to be background checked before you leave on the trip- your hope is they will each be cleared but they are not yet cleared) 2. HALF BAKED: Telling only part of what you know to be true. This is perhaps a technical truth but because the information is incomplete the listener is led to believe something less than the truth. Anything less than the whole truth is simply not the truth. Example: Supervisor ask: Did you clean the vans after camp like the transportation policies require? Reply: Yes sir, I sure did. (but the rest of the story is that the vans were cleaned out but not until after the Sr. Adults used them.) 3. THE SOUND of SILENCE: Remaining silent when confronted with a search for the truth is equal to a lie. Keeping quiet in hope that no one will ask the right question requiring you to speak the truth has the same consequence as an outright lie. In this case, the silence leads directly to a different conclusion than if you had spoken up. When you know the truth about something and simply remain silent leading others to assume or conclude something other than the truth, it is a lie sown in silence. There is a lot of pressure to “produce” in student ministry but when it comes to being truthful about challenges, mishaps, wrong decisions or even results; there is never a good reason to be anything other than completely truthful, honest and forthright. There may be three categories of lies but there is only one category truth and He delights in lips that speak truth. “Righteous lips are the delight of a king, and he loves him who speaks what is right.” Proverbs 16:13 “Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who act faithfully are his delight.” Proverbs 12:22 “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” I John 3:18
Wednesday, August 20th, 2014
Keeping your supervisor abreast of your vision and plans can save you a lot of time and frustration. Think of the time you spend Informing and sharing as an investment account that grows over time. It may be only a duty in the beginning but eventually it grows into something worth a great deal. You not only build trust but you build a rapport and maybe even a friend.
Don’t reach too high on the ladder of expectation on this one but there are some pastors who are friends with their student minister and hold the ministry to students and the student pastor himself in high regard as he executes his ministry faithfully and professionally under the umbrella of the church.
Some student ministers and supervisors even enjoy a relationship that supersedes the ministry they share. The time and frustration you will save in the long run will far outweigh the time and energy you spend connecting with and relating it to your supervisor. When occasion arises or when you create the occasion, run your ideas by your supervisor to get input and feedback. Sure, you may get nothing but that’s ok. Maybe your supervisor is a bit out of touch or a generational leftover who identifies more with “uncle Rico” than cutting edge cultural trends but his friendship and approval can still be an asset to you.
Let me share four compelling reasons why it is worth your effort to pursue the best communication possible with your supervisor.
- Essential Chain of Command: Sharing information upstream is simply the right way of doing things. If it is not in your job description it should be. Keeping your supervisor informed is not just the right thing to do, it communicates respect, courtesy, and competence. As information flows up and down the communication chain and you do not want to be the weak link in that chain.
- Essential to Your Success: it is nearly impossible for you to be highly successful at your ministry job without your supervisor’s support. You may be good at your job. You may even possess the potential for being Moses of the youth group but without the support of your supervisor, your ministry will be less than it could be and your headaches more frequent than they need be. Our research indicates those student ministers who enjoy regular communication with their supervisor are less likely to be terminated or experience premature ministry exit. Our research also reveals that 100% of youth ministers prefer communication over termination.
- Essential for Protection: Your supervisor can not protect you from the accidents that occur in student ministry if he is not aware of what is going on. He cannot protect you from negative or ill-informed members who turn on you or share misinformation. Even if he does step up to provide a shield and buckler for your defense he may be forced to do it blindly if he is not informed. It makes him look bad if he does not know the situation so he is inclined to either throw you under the bus so you can learn a lesson in communication or defend you and risk his reputation. Without a relationship and track record of good communication and sound judgment, he is less likely to do the latter.
- Essential for Promotion: There will be many times when you will need extra promotion for a student ministry happening. Few people can speak directly to the hearts of senior adults and parents of youth like the senior pastor or administrator. And if they are not routinely seen promoting the student ministry (which would be rare) then their voice of promotion and support will be even louder among the masses. Your supervisor most likely runs in circles to which you have little access no time to cultivate so consider him to be an extension of your promotion and marketing arm.
If you are convinced of these four essentials truths, then cultivate the relationship with your supervisor. Figure out their leadership style, how they like to receive information, when they like to digest new ideas, when timing is best and worse, and how he enjoys relating to you.
”My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. 21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.” James 1:19-21
“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” Hebrews 13:17
“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. 25 For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality.” Colossians 3:23-25
Thursday, July 31st, 2014
Floodlights and Spotlights
Some students naturally shine when they walk through the door of your student room. Their personality, appearance or verbal skills make them stand out from the crowd. Others will shine through athletic or academic achievements at school or travel competition. Many students however will only shine when they have opportunity to use their gifts and talents within the student ministry platform. While this creates huge opportunity for student ministry and for the individual youth, remember one principal: Floodlights are usually better than spot lights. Let me share six benefits of floodlights over spotlights:
- Flood lights allow students to move in and out of the beams with greater anonymity. If they need the positive attention to blossom they can move to the center. If they are more inclined to serve and grow without attention they may gravitate more to the edges where light is diminished. This approach provides students with greater flexibility along with opportunity.
- Flood lights lessen the temptation to focus ministry attention on those who are natural standouts like the athlete, magnet, beauty queen, pied piper and general extrovert.
- Flood lights allow you to spread opportunity and attention more equally among youth. Giving students equal amounts of attention will not go unnoticed. Parents of students who do not naturally shine will quickly move to your corner. Students who have a low opinion of themselves will take notice and translate your deliberate strategy into authentic concern and love. Shy students will feel more comfortable, less intimidated as well as a sense of ownership in the ministry.
- Flood lights send the message to the church and community that your front door is wider than that of pop-culture, wider than that of the world with loads of acceptance, love, and support distributed with equity.
- Floodlights give the hard to love, hard to know, and hard to handle student the opportunity to move out the shadows towards the light.
- Floodlights unite students of diverse backgrounds, family systems and ethnic origins. Conversely, spot lights lend themselves to division, separation, and individualism.
As you implement your strategic student ministry vision remember to reach for your floodlight more often than your spot light, giving youth equal attention and demonstrating unconditional love. Developing a flood light ministry will not cause all students to respond, but at least it gives every student an honest shot at shining.
“And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant— these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” The Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares, “I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered.” Isaiah 56:6-8
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28
“To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law.” 1 Corinthians 9:20
Wednesday, July 16th, 2014
While the work of student ministry is serious business, you don’t want to take yourself or your circumstances too seriously for too long.
First, things never stay the same for very long so why get too accustom to it or spend too much time lamenting it. Learn from it, take a minute to study it but move on rather quickly.
Second, most student ministry mishaps are not as bad as it seems even when something is truly bad. It is simply human nature to replay the bad stuff over and over in our head but don’t let your imagination run wild with making it worse than it truly is. We also have an adversary roaming around looking for our soft spot to shoot an arrow of defeat into our armor the second we remove a piece. So never remove the protection you have by sinful conduct or dwelling on the negative. Our enemy loves to hit the replay button over and over in slow motion. In fact, he often likes to add special effects to magnify the sense of failure.
Third, nothing is ever as good as you remember. It is also our human nature to amplify our successes or listen to the voices of the cheering crowd. We allow the fan club to hold too much of our attention for too long until we believe we have what it takes to become a local church legend.
Rarely is anything exactly as you think it is because that would assume that you know everything about something or something about everything. Stupidity is thinking what you know is pretty much all there is to be known about that particular subject. If we do not steer clear of extreme highs and lows, then we fall victim to wrong thinking and practical stupidity.
The secret is to take the ministry serious without taking your ministry life too serious. If you are a serious person by nature, then you may have to work at getting jokes, giving in to humor, learning to laugh at yourself or your situation. Failure to manage your serious side can lead people to think you are acting superior, disapproving of their sense of adventure or fun. It may also cause you to miss out of the benefit of lighthearted work. Taking yourself too seriously can put a strain on relationships so lighten up and level out.
Maybe serious is not how you operate or how others would describe your personality. You are by nature the life of the party, the humorous one, or the jokester. Your struggle can be just as frustrating but for different reasons. Since student ministers are already viewed as living on the fun side of ministry-ville, some people might not take you serious enough to allow your ministry strategies to have major impact. Those in your leadership team who favor their serious side may find it challenging to convey their concern for a seriousness situation. It is important for you to strike a balance between being serious about ministry and being serious in ministry. If you can strike this necessary balance you will find the ministry, your leadership team and your mission much more enjoyable during day to day ministry life.
“A happy heart makes the face cheerful” Proverbs 15:13
“A cheerful look brings joy to the heart.” Proverbs 15:30
“Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” Proverbs 16:24
“Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. 7 In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness 8 and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.” Titus 2:6-8
Tuesday, June 17th, 2014
Every ministry must give attention to numbers. Why? Because data gives you a snap shot of where your successes and challenges are developing. You don’t have to be numbers-driven to be affected by numerical data. If your numbers go up, you feel confident. If numbers go down you start questioning the game plan. Very few ministries are impartial towards numbers. After all, coaches are judged by them, merchants succeed or fail by them, athletes are passed over or paid according to them, and pastors compliment or complain because of them. It is rare for a supervising pastor to say with a straight face that he does not care about numbers. Even when it is said, it is often out of a desire not to appear to be ruled by them or appear spiritually immature about them.
The sooner you come to terms with the fact that you are going to be judged, evaluated, complemented, compelled, compared, or competed with over numbers the sooner you can move towards a healthy respect for numbers or an immunity from number obsession.
Good data coupled with honest interpretation can result in greater effectiveness, so let me share seven positive and seven negative number points.
Positive points about ministry by the numbers.
- Numbers can provide a snapshot of our ministry.
- Numbers help determine where challenges are developing.
- Numbers help determine where successes are developing.
- Numbers can reveal the portion of the wall that needs attention.
- Numbers represent souls and souls are extremely important to God.
- Numbers allow us to measure with accuracy.
- Numbers call us to fervent prayer – either thanking God for his protection and favor or pleading with Him for it.
When are numbers negative?
- When you use them to compare your ministry to others.
- When you allow the enemy to depress you or suppress you with them.
- When you focus too much on them.
- When you allow them to determine your strategy or corrupt the vision God has given you.
- When you applaud them or yourself.
- When you beat yourself up over them.
- When you spend more time analyzing them than praying over them.
Your aim is towards balance and health. The secret is to notice without obsessing. Focus more on becoming a healthy ministry rather a bigger ministry. If you are healthy you will eventually grow. The theory of Student Ministry growth is expressed as A+H=EN>. If it is ALIVE and HEALTHY, it will EVENTUALLY and NATURALLY grow.
The responsibility for nurturing a youth group towards sustained health is just as much your responsibility is as keeping your body and mind fit for service. But patience is a continual struggle and steps towards allowing health and subsequent growth takes time. Therein lies the rub – how much time? Of course each ministry situation is different and to some degree health is dependent on the excitement, attraction and overall health of the church as a whole. Albert Einstein said “The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.” Be patient and remember that the best growth is gradual and steady and if it all happened at once you would struggle to assimilate students and families or meet their individual needs.
Numbers should be for our health and ministry benefit so keep them in perspective and remember that what you do is too vital, too important to be unduly distracted by a negative number game.
“So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace being build up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase”. Acts 9:31
“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work”. Ephesians 4:15-16
Tuesday, June 10th, 2014
Who’s job is it to research, evaluate and select bible curriculum for your student ministry? In most student ministries the youth pastor is responsible for recruiting, training and nurturing small group leaders who teach biblical truth and exhibit a Christian lifestyle. The tools you select to assist your volunteers and yourself matter a great deal. When you purchase curriculum, don’t simply use it “as is” out of the box. Instead, read through it ahead of time and tailor it according to the individual needs of your students. From the mega-ministry to the mini-mart, someone should be “proofing” what is being served up on the table of truth from the curriculum tool box. A publishing company will never know your students as well as you or your small group leaders. If you have put your curriculum under a microscope you will be well informed and able to comment on any aspect of it. In many cases it’s not so much a trust issue between you and the publishing group as it is a responsibility towards “righty diving the word of truth”. It is also your opportunity to offer customization thoughts/ideas from which your small group leaders can draw from. When you take the time to know what your volunteers are teaching the parents will appreciate it and you will be conveying to your parents important a priority the small group discipleship time is to you. It is equally important that you consider having all your small group leaders using the same curriculum. Doing this allows students to be on the same page and leads your teachers towards a standardized approach in unpacking biblical content.
Consider the FIVE “T”s when selecting curriculum.
1. THEOLOGY: Is it theologically sound? You don’t want to miss the mark on this one. You are the gatekeeper, the filter, and the watchman.
2. TOP DOWN TENETS: Does it match up with my senior pastor and his major theological tenets? While you might think this would not be an issue with selecting student ministry curriculum it can become one. Often times a Youth Minister will inherit a senior pastor or vice versa and find out later that the two are on slightly different pages regarding a couple of theology points. If you intend to remain in your position then you need to be a team player and be willing and able to allow your theology to play second fiddle to that of the senior pastor.
3. TOOLS: Does it provide volunteers with enough quality tools to promote excellence in teaching? Small group leaders must have access to quality commentary but equally beneficial and often compromised is a surfeit of ideas to get students connected, engaged and responsive during the bible lesson.
4. TEACHING: Is the content built upon solid instructional methods? The explanation, examination, and application should reflect high retention teaching methods that demonstrate a solid grasp of adolescent development?
5. TIMED OUT: Is it stimulating, attractive and current regarding culture, references and illustration? Just because curriculum is old does not mean it has and expiration date. At the same time, just because curriculum is new does not mean it has been built upon solid methods for teaching adolescents.
In most youth ministries, teaching students the bible is accomplished from two main delivery platforms: 1. The adolescent pulpit during a weekly large group gathering and 2. Small group discipleship programming like D-groups, Life groups or Connect groups.
No matter what you call your teaching or discipleship delivery system, take your responsibility for selecting curriculum seriously.
In a growing number of churches, the responsibility for selecting the primary discipleship curriculum has been removed from the privy of the student minister. Why? In many cases it is because one or more of the five T’s was not carefully considered. Don’t be a curriculum slacker who lets everyone choose what they want to use without your scrutiny. Equally important is not to jump on some new band-wagon of popular publishing without careful evaluation. Someone may be an awesome camp preacher, a great writer, or extremely creative yet completely miss the mark for developing high quality student ministry discipleship curriculum. If selecting the curriculum for building disciples is your responsibility be diligent not to fumble the ball from lack of focus or give it up through carelessness.
“Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that need not be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” II Timothy 2:15
To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it. I Corinthians 9:22-23
Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014
Every church and every student ministry has its own personality. Some are known for their friendly disposition while others are known for their generosity and big heart towards missions. Some are community minded while others appear more separated. In large ministries even grades can have distinct personality. I once had an extraordinarily large eighth grade boys group and their personality as a grade in our ministry was overwhelmingly that group of “extrovert jocks”. There were always new prospects showing up on Wednesday night because these guys were outgoing with regular opportunities to invite team-mates and school friends. Being the seniors of the middle school they wielded considerable leverage for outreach.
What type of personality does your group have? What type of personality do you want it to have? If you stick around long enough, your ministry can become more like you. Is that good or bad? Your personality will essentially rub off on the students, the leadership and parents. They become comfortable with how you manage the ministry and how you approach situations. In a productive and healthy ministry, their confidence in you goes up as does their trust in your decisions. Remember that you are modeling the ministry to students that you want your volunteers to imitate.
Have you ever wondered what personality types are most vulnerable to burn-out, firing or failure in Student Ministry? Which personality type tends to register more ministry success and health? Taken from Gary Smalley and John Trent’s personality type inventory, the four animal types (Golden Retriever, Otter, Beaver, and Lion) help point to an understanding of what personality types appear to enjoy longer ministry tenure. According to Ken Kageler’s study, the breakdown of personality types among those youth ministers who were fired or burned-out rank as follows:
32% are Otters
30% are Golden Retrievers
25% are Lions
13% are Beavers
In our own SME study of student ministers with exceptional tenure (7 years in the same church) we found the highest-ranking personality type was the Golden Retriever, which earned 43.5 percent. According to Kageler’s study, the dominant personality type among youth ministers in the United States is the Otter at 32 percent, followed by the Golden Retriever at 40 percent. Additionally, Kageler found that the personality type leading in numerical attendance growth among middle school youth belongs to Lions at 81 percent followed by Beavers at 74 percent, while high school youth returned a 69 percent for Lions and 59 percent for Otters.
Golden Retriever types are loyal, relational, calm, easy-going, dependable, quiet, objective, diplomatic, and humorous. It is not surprising that these personality traits would produce a youth minister with a propensity towards exceptional tenure. There is an 8.7 percent difference between the frontrunner, Golden Retriever, and the second place personality type, which is the Lion. The Lion likes authority, takes charge, displays great confidence, enjoys leading, and is very determined. Since there is significant difference between these two personality types, one might conclude good news for both. The positive reality is that both types have a good record in position tenure. While all personalities have success at longevity, the Golden Retrievers and Lions can take comfort in the solid longevity track record among their diverse personality types. While all four personality types are represented in our tenure study, the lowest ranking type is the Beaver. At 17.4 percent, the Beaver falls 26.1 percentage points below the dominant Golden Retriever. The results might persuade a search team who places a high priority on longevity to seek a Golden Retriever or Lion for a youth minister. On the other hand, Beavers and Otters might take note of their standing in order to be more deliberate in achieving skills or practices that may extend tenure. No matter your personality, you have the opportunity to impact many lives and enjoy a healthy productive ministry as God calls you and leads you to shepherding students. Remember, your ministry, over time and to a great extent, will become “like” you. So minister with excellence and enjoy what God will build through your efforts.
“Be ye therefore imitators of God, as beloved children;2 and walk in love, even as Christ also loved you, and gave himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for an odor of a sweet smell. Ephesians 5:1-2
“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.32 Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, 33 just asI try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved. Be imitators of me as I am of Christ.” I Corinthians 10:31-11:1
Sunday, May 25th, 2014
Guest Post By: Jarred Boyd
I think us new guys on the youth ministry scene tend to treat all those who’ve paved ways before us like Coach Brickma from Rookie of the Year (the coach in that clip, who for some unknown reason was a MLB pitching coach). There’s a fad (which I love to be a part of sometimes) that loves to bash those youth ministries and youth pastors who have gone before us. Don’t get me wrong, I love making fun of old youth ministry names like “Xtreme” (I’m looking at you dad… In his defense, it was cool at the time), and “C.I.A. – Christians In Action”. And don’t get me wrong – there were and most definitely still are some Brickmas running youth ministries all over America. But why not apply the golden rule to our forerunners, here? Let’s treat those who have gone before us the way we should treat all pioneers – by asking the question: What can we learn from their successes and failures?
** For the sake of brevity, “those who have gone before us”, aka all those youth pastors who ministered from about 2005 and back, I’m going to call “The Pavers” (open for suggestions on a better name).
I believe there are a few factors at play for WHY newbies tend to treat Pavers with a “pffff” kind of attitude:
Because many of us have risen out of the Young, Restless, Reformed Movement. The rise of neo-Calvinism, like many movements, has had its share of negative impacts as it has also had many positive impacts. Careful, theological discernment and concentration on true Gospel ministry with Christ-centered preaching has created a lot of “amens” for a lot of well supported reasons. However, it has become prominent among this conservative evangelical sub-culture to create unnecessary lines in the sand just for the sake of originality and/or argument. Just because many of the Pavers and their fellow staff members and church leaders probably got carried away with building churchy kingdoms with some legalistic foundations does not mean we go to the opposite extreme. In effect, it has become trendy to treat many Pavers like everything they did was wrong and/or anti-Gospel. This simply is not true and creates division within the universal church instead of Christ-centered, cross-generational unity. Ease up on the heat there, Rocket (Another Rookie of the Year reference).
Because many have a sour taste in their mouth from a Brickma. So you had the displeasure of sitting under the leadership of a Brickma youth pastor as a student; the guy who had no theological or professional youth ministry training, and since there was nobody else “young enough to relate to them young’ns” or willing, they called on Brickma to coach ‘em up. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Just because you had a bad experience with an untrained youth pastor when you were a student, doesn’t mean you should throw all of “those old, traditional youth ministry methods” out the window. Pump the brakes there, Scuffy McGee (and another… its just such a great movie).
Because many are badly mishandling statistics. The Lifeway study from 2007 that discovered, “70 percent of young adults ages 23-30 stopped attending church regularly for at least a year between ages 18-22”, has been vastly mishandled. This is one of several “dropout” stats from which so many youth and senior pastors have been shocked into overreactions.
It’s a freakout which has certainly increased Family Ministry advocates’ book sales. Instead of rewriting an already beautiful script, I’ll let a veteran debunk these faulty stats by turning them on their heads – actually proving there’s reason to celebrate youth ministries:
Whatever reason(s) you may have jumped on this train of critique, it’s time we stop and ask ourselves, “What can we learn from the successes and failures of the Pavers?” So, here are 6 lessons I believe we can take away from them:
1. Fun is Necessary
Let’s be honest, the Pavers were pretty creative with fun and games. The rise of PowerPoint games was genius was it not? I’ve heard statements from my generation of youth pastors like, “We don’t do games because if they are the draw for our ministry, they’ll be the anchor… and we want Christ to be the anchor.” Pardon me while I throw up. Since when did this notion that fun and games removes Christ from a ministry’s center, come about?
Elle Campbell, a blogger over at stuffyoucanuse.org and ellecampbell.org, recently wrote concerning the matter of fun, “We should be strategic about infusing our weekly environments with fun.” She gave these reasons: “Fun matters to a kid’s faith; fun matters to a kid’s relationships; fun matters to a kid’s development; fun over time equals connection; fun over time convinces kids you actually like them; fun over time makes a friendship go deeper; fun over time reconnects what has been disconnected.” (Go check the full post out here)
Students connect with fun. You can build trust through fun avenues and break walls down that would not have crumbled had there not been a sledgehammer of fun.This doesn’t mean you develop an entire youth ministry around fun and games. But it also doesn’t mean you dump fun and games completely. I’m thankful for creative Pavers who actually understood and applied this. How sad it is to develop a student ministry in the name of “creating true disciples”, that no one wants to be a part of… get your spiritual nose out of the clouds, bro.
2. Developmental Levels Matter
I’m very grateful for Pavers who are now teaching the importance of understanding adolescent developmental levels. This is essential to ministering effectively in youth ministry. All of life can be seen as a stretching or a shrinking back. Growth from one stage to the next is not automatic and certainly not directly related to age. Every teenager is working through different physical, social, emotional, and intellectual levels of life. Without a proper understanding of where they’re at in their development, we’ll be wasting time. We can take a lesson from the Pavers in understanding developmental levels to help us holistically approach discipleship to students.
“He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments”– (Psalm 78:5-7)
The Psalmist is wanting to touch the MINDS of youth – what they know, “that the next generation might know…the deeds of the Lord… the works of God.”The Psalmist is wanting to touch the HEARTS of youth – what students feel, “so that they should set their hope/trust in God.”And lastly, the Psalmist is wanting to touch the HANDS of youth – what they do, “keep his commandments.”
I pray that our generation of youth pastors will take notes from our forefathers to be learners of the adolescent developmental levels so that we can minister to the minds, hearts, and hands of youth. That is how we see faith put into action – that’s how the vets did it.
3. Putting The Right Students in Leadership Roles exemplifies Eph. 4:12
It’s downright painful to watch a student who has not been equipped for the work of a ministry, in a leadership role – doing damage to the testimony of Christ. But at least that youth pastor is trying… what’s even more painful to me is seeing a one man show youth group led by the megalomaniac youth guy who has control issues – never equipping saints to do ministry and lead out. The Pavers can teach us a lesson on equipping saints for ministry.
4. Isolation From Parents Is Necessary
Let me explain. I agree that too often, parents use youth ministries as a “spiritual drop off service”; too often, parents see youth pastors as “professionals” they pay to do the discipling. But the solution, I believe, is NOT to integrate them into every inch of your youth ministry; or just completely abandon age-segregated ministries in exchange for family ministry. Instead, let’s take a page from the Pavers’ notebook and be strategic about when and how to include parents. Adolescents benefit greatly from local church leaders’ discipleship. A students’ small group leader can reach a student in a way that a parent cannot. A youth pastor’s sermon can preach in a way that the senior pastor’s or the father’s cannot. I’m thankful for the re-emphasizing of parents being the primary disciplers of the home that has surfaced these last few years. But let’s not make Pavers the scapegoat of the broken partnership between parents and youth and children ministries. The church as a WHOLE is to blame for not partnering with parents. Senior Pastors need to be preaching it; small groups need to be discussing it; youth pastors need to be reinforcing it.
Family Ministry advocates can use their “adolescence was an invention in the 20th century” excuse all they want, but those of us in the 21st century not trying to turn the clock back are going to “understand the times” (1 Chron. 12:32). Students need a Christ-centered community to belong to that separates them from their parents for 3 hours of the week. This allows walls to break down that wouldn’t have happened if mommy was 10 feet away.
5. Emphasizing rights and wrongs created legalism
Unfortunately, there seemed to be too much of an emphasis from the Pavers on the do’s and don’ts of Christianity. The intentions were for the sake of holiness, no doubt – but what happens when we emphasize rules? Legalism. On the reverse, what happens when we emphasize grace without works? Licentiousness. The Gospel destroys both. Thankfully, this new wave of youth ministry seems to have revitalized a true Gospel focused on teaching sound doctrine. My prayer is that we don’t make the mistake of swinging that pendulum from the extreme moral right, over to the extreme reckless left. Let us teach our youth how to love the Lord their God with all their mind (KNOW), heart and soul (FEEL), and strength (DO).
6. Hand Motions to Worship Songs Were Horrible.
Thanks for that one, Pavers…
What are some other lessons this new generation of youth pastors can learn from Pavers?
Tuesday, May 20th, 2014
Make your ministry a Watchtower ministry. That can be a scary statement if you have ever had the Jehovah’s Witness pay you a house-call to leave their flagship flier the Watchtower. Of course I am not talking about a little pamphlet stuffed with well-disguised lies. I am talking about peering into the lives of students and observing their circumstances, their high times and their lows. If you have a large group, you will need to cultivate your leadership team and small group leaders to be the primary watchmen. If your group is smaller you may be the only one manning the tower at first.
Before seminary, I wanted to save some start-up money for married life. Since my degree was in Criminology, I took a job in the Florida penal system at Union Correctional facility. As an engaged single guy I signed up for every hour of overtime I could get – double shifts, holiday pay, and close-custody compensation. However there was one drawback; my extra shift was usually on tower-duty. With a standard issue 12guage shotgun and an AR15 rifle, I sat in a concrete tower overlooking the recreation yard occupied by a thousand inmates each day. The visual vantage point from a tower is tremendous. You can see trouble brewing and direct help to various areas as needed. One vigilant watchman can respond to a variety of situations.
Likewise, one committed ministry watchman can provide a tremendous amount of support to a student ministry. Give your volunteers the advantage of noticing students who might be struggling with life issues. Train volunteers not to assume struggling youth will be okay or that someone is speaking encouragement and truth into his or her situation. Train volunteers to pursue relational investment with students and engage them with genuine care and concern. Don’t get so busy that fraught students slip through the cracks or get lost in the masses.
“Then the lookout called, “O Lord, I stand continually by day on the watchtower, And I am stationed every night at my guard post.” Isaiah 21:8
“But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet to warn the people and the sword comes and takes someone’s life, that person’s life will be taken because of their sin, but I will hold the watchman accountable for their blood.’” Ezekiel 33:6
Tuesday, May 6th, 2014
When using video from a movie trailer, YouTube or other open source media, make sure you watch the WHOLE clip before incorporating it into your lesson. There are few glitches more embarrassing than a surprise on the big-screen. Never use media imaging just to appear relevant or cool. On the other hand, don’t hesitate to illustrate a message point using video or some other media source.
Modern media capability is a wonderful teaching enhancement tool but it can also make you the joke at Tuesday’s staff meeting as well as a question mark in the minds of parents. Our standard in the way we teach, preach, present, counsel and function is to live up to Philippians 4:8 – “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.“
1 Corinthians 10:31 – “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.”