I have been thinking a lot about spiritual transformation and how that really happens lately, especially with how that effects youth ministry. This past weekend I lead our senior high students through a weekend retreat, and I felt led to do something different this year. Before I get into what we did and how it worked, let me first give you the scriptural basis.
Romans 12:2 (NIV) 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Transform, don’t conform. This verse talks about not conforming to the world, which obviously we don’t want students to do. But I also think that a lot of Christians, teenagers or not, are still just conforming; the only difference is what they are conforming to. The Christian RELIGION is about conforming your life to a new set of rules or list of do’s and don’ts. But CHRISTIANITY is supposed to be about transforming, which is rooted in relationship with Christ. Look back over the messages/teaching/Bible studies you have done in the past few months. Have you talked about relationship as much as you have talked about modifying behavior? I have challenged myself to constantly ask that question because I want to point these students toward transformation, not just conforming to a different standard. Everyone’s transformation journey starts with changing the standard we conform to, I am not saying that we don’t need religion. In fact it plays a very important part in our transformation journey, but we can’t be content with stopping there.
Colossians 2:19 (NIV) 19 He has lost connection with the Head [Christ], from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.
Only God can transform someone. Only God can make the body grow. As a youth worker and a Spiritual leader, I must realize this. It is a lot easier to program someone toward conforming than toward transforming. I must seek God on when is the right time for me to get in front and teach and when I need to get out of the way and let the Holy Spirit do the teaching.
These are the thoughts and verses that dictated our retreat this last weekend. I looked at the students that were going and where I thought they were Spiritually, and realized I needed to change my plan of attack. The weekend was awesome…and I will tell you about it in the next post!
Until then I challenge you to look at yourself and your own teaching and ask the question: Am I facilitating transformation or just conforming to a different standard?
In my last post I gave you the first two traditions that happen in our youth ministry in the month of December, if you missed those read about them here. So now for that last two:
Tradition #3 – Youth Talent Show
This tradition started a few years into my time at Cloverdale. Our church takes a break from our regular mid-week programs, basically the same break as the schools. We still do Sunday services, but children’s, youth, and adult small groups all take a break. We saw that by the Wednesday between Christmas and New Years most students are bored with break, so we decided to have them do a talent show. We have videos, lip sinks, songs, dance routines, stand up comedy, and almost anything else you can think of. Since there are no other programs going we invite the whole church to come watch. It has turned into a huge all-church event and entire families come, even if they don’t have any other connection to the students or our ministry.
Tradition #4 – New Years Eve Outreach Event
Through the year we have three or four specific “invite events”, new years eve is our biggest one and most successful one. Over the years more students have accepted Christ as their savior at this event than any others we do. Two of our current DUCS students first accepted Christ at a new years eve event. Our promotion to our regular students is literally “we want you to come, but don’t come alone. You know what the message will be so bring people that need to hear that message.” The details like location and activities change from year to year, but the purpose and the message doesn’t. Yes it is a sacrifice to never celebrate new years with my family, but the success the event has brought more than makes up for it.
We do have a few other traditions that happen throughout the year as well. I can see how these yearly events have really helped bring consistency to our calendar. But everyone knows that we hold them with an open hand. If they become ineffective or there is a viable reason to stop doing them we will. We have stopped a few traditions for these very reasons. The fine line to walk is to always make sure purpose comes before practice. If students aren’t coming to Christ through New years eve, then we will find a better way to spend our time and resources.
What are some traditions you have had to kill? What are some that are already dead but you keep doing?
I have been serving in the same church for nearly a decade. Over these years as the holiday season has come and gone we have established four yearly traditions. I believe youth ministry needs a healthy balance of “new and fresh” and traditions. But there is a danger in traditions becoming sacred cows; when they are more important than the health of the ministry. We have four traditions that all happen in the same month, and all four of them have very different purposes which is what makes them all a key part of our overall ministry picture.
Tradition #1 – Youth Staff Christmas Party
A few times a year our entire youth staff bring their significant other/spouse and hang out just for the sake of having fun. Our annual Christmas party is one of those times. We eat, we play games, they get gifts, we have a ton of fun, and the youth budget pays for all of it. The spouses are included because they make sacrifices in their lives toward our ministry so their spouse can serve. The youth staff members get a special sweatshirt (it was a coat this year) that is customized for them and they proudly wear it the rest of the year. A lot of people in our church are jealous of the gift every year, but everyone knows the commitment it takes to get one, and I am proud to honor their service in this special way. Yes it is a significant part of my budget, and it is worth every penny.
Tradition #2 – The Youth Group Christmas Celebration
The last Wednesday night before our Christmas break is always our youth group Christmas party. We combine the Jr. and Sr. high on this night, and our DUCS group (student leaders) put on a big show for everyone. They come up with the idea, they work out the details, and we go all out for the production; we even move the drum set and cage, that is real commitment! This years show I think is going to be the best ever, and seeing these student leaders rise to the occasion is such a blessing.
I am going to wait and give you the other two traditions in a later post. What traditions does your group have? How do traditions help out your ministry? How have they hindered or hurt your ministry? Have they ever become the alleged sacred cow? I will give you my answers as I conclude this topic, but I would love to learn from you as well.
Obviously the Christmas season is upon us, and with it comes some changes in our daily lives. Mainly it seems that our busyness meter gets maxed. We still have our regular lives to accomplish; work, family, church, etc. Yet we add on top of it all many special events and parties and extra shopping and family traditions and… Busyness is already at epidemic levels in our society and the holidays seem to add insult to injury.
A few days ago I blurted out a statement that I hadn’t really thought of yet:
“Isn’t it ironic that a holiday is supposed to be a chance to stop and reflect and remember, yet for most of us it just makes us busier?”
I have thought about what I said a lot more after I said it than before (this is one of my major faults I am coming to realize…). I am not against Christmas parties and family gatherings, I enjoy them all a lot. Yet I do realize that during the holiday season we are basically forced to do things we should be doing on a regular basis and don’t.
- I should shower those closest to me (like my volunteer youth staff) with praise and support and gifts.
- I should get together with friends and co-workers and family for no other reason than to have a good time.
- I should send notes and cards to most everyone I know.
- I should focus on the incredible gift I enjoy every day of a savior sent to earth for the specific purpose of dying on a cross so I can know God in a personal way.
I love the holiday season and all that comes with it, and I hope you do too. As you we both navigate through the next several weeks attending parties, traveling, shopping, and eating ourselves into oblivion I hope that it is all truly a blessing. And please don’t forget to take some extra time off and enjoy the holiday for what it was meant to be. Turn your phone off, leave the email box un-opened, push the pause button on your blog or other projects and enjoy the holiday.
But once January 2nd comes perhaps we should not just go back to “normal”, but still celebrate the life we have on a more regular basis.