There is something about teenagers that every youth worker needs to realize. This is going to happen to 100% of the students in every ministry. It is never a major surprise when it happens but often times it is tragic.
They get to old to attend youth programs.
The typical youth ministry does a pretty bad job of preparing teenagers for this, which is one of the major contributing factors to one of the most embarrassing statistics attached to youth ministry; the percentage of graduates that remain in the church. (I believe there are several contributing factors to this, not just this one)
What has been the typical response when this inevitable event occurs? If your church counts weekend attendance using more than 3 zeros you transition them on to the 18-24 year old program. If not, we either send them off to “big church” not expecting to ever see them again or we make them a volunteer leader in the youth ministry. Any of these, especially in smaller churches, have minimal rates of success (typically) and sometimes produce more problems.
Right now after celebrating another graduation season and taking a hard truthful look at our entire youth ministry I am wondering how we can do better. I have been working with teenagers for over a decade and my personal track record does not beat the average of how many of those former youth group members are actively living for and serving God. Here are a few hard questions I have asked myself.
Does relationship end at the same time as their program attendance?
The core message of the Bible is relationship; with God, with other Christians, and with the world. Even guys I have personally discipled for years I hardly ever (or never) talk to after graduation. Yes, there is a list of excuses, not to mention the list of new students that come in as the old ones graduate, but I am embarrassed to admit how bad I am at keeping in touch.
Ultimately it is not MY relationship with them that matters most, but their relationship with God. If all we have done in our four to six years with them is attaching their faith to our programs we are setting them up for failure. They need to know how to grow in their faith on their own, not just at church.
What is my real goal for them?
Is the goal of youth ministry behavior modification? For a lot of parents, church boards, and even youth workers it is. I realize how bad that sounds, but if we feel successful based on how many students are in the church’s graduating class, and how many of those are still virgins and/or don’t have a criminal record then it probably is.
Our goal for them needs to be spiritual transformation. Programs can certainly aid in that goal, but they are just a means to this goal, not the goal itself. A lot of what I see in the youth ministry world is program ideas. I need some more spiritual transformation ideas. I know how to entertain students, I am still trying to figure out more ways I can aid God in transforming them from His creation to His child. How can I help them move God from just savior to actually being their Lord? From trying so hard to blend into the world to sharing God’s heart and wanting to change the world?
Every student that I meet is going to get too old to attend our youth ministry. I don’t want to be a part of setting them up for failure any longer. Are you with me? What are some of your “spiritual transformation” ideas?
This week I wanted to share with you once again one of the defining events of my life and ministry. This was originally posted June 28th, 2011. Enjoy!
God has done a miracle!
This past week at Jr. High summer camp, God did an incredible miracle. I shared with my church the story of this miracle in the main service last Sunday, so for the details of the story I will let you hear it straight from my mouth:
The Scriptures I used in this message are:
2 Timothy 3:4-5
1 Timothy 4:12
There are two things that God has re-iterated in my mind and heart since this miracle happened.
1. I must now do what I have been telling students to do for years
I have said to students literally hundreds of times “no one can ever argue with your changed life.” I realize that some people are not going to believe that what we experienced at camp was real. but that decision by them does not change what happened or how real it was. This was the most real thing I have ever experienced in my life.
2. I am seeing what I wrote in my book actually happen
I wrote in my book that youth ministry will lead the way in changing the entire church. Not only did God do this miracle through an 8th grade boy, but during the response time on Sunday I saw teenagers who were at camp praying over adults as they accepted Christ and/or rededicated their lives to Christ. God has begun changing our church and our youth are leading the way. I am still amazed as I watch this happen in front of me. Now I just need to live out what God led me to write.
This post has been getting quite a bit of traffic lately, and I am not sure why. But, that is why I chose to share it again this week. It was originally posted July 11th, 2011.
When was the last time you thought about your own spiritual journey? If you are a Spiritual leader of any kind; a youth worker, a parent, or a believer for that matter you need to think about it.
Over the past several months of my life, I have thought a lot about my own spiritual journey. It started with my bike wreck; you can read about that here. It continued with a visit to Spokane,WA and the church I accepted Christ as my personal savior at when I was six years old.
It continued as I sought God about the youth ministry I lead, evaluate how we are doing things, and what needs to change for us to move forward. And it all seemed to culminate at Jr. High camp a few weeks ago (you can read about that here and how it affected me here).
I am sure there has been much written about spiritual journeys and the transformation process, but a summary that has helped me sort all this out is from George Barna’s recent book Maximum Faith. He summarizes it as 10 stops on the transformation journey:
Stop 1: Ignorance of and indifferent to sin
Stop 2: Aware of and indifferent to sin
Stop 3: Concerned about the implications of personal sin
Stop 4: Confess sins and ask Jesus Christ to be their savior
Stop 5: Commitment to faith activities (behavior modification)
Stop 6: Experience a prolonged period of spiritual discontent
Stop 7: Experiencing personal brokenness
Stop 8: Choosing to surrender and submit fully to God: radical dependence (Jesus becomes Lord)
Stop 9: Enjoy a profound intimacy with and love for God
Stop 10: Experience a profound compassion and love for humanity (see the world through God’s eyes)
*The parenthesis is my interpretation/summary/clarification of the stop
Where are you at on this transformation journey? Especially if you are a full time pastor, chances are you have not had to honestly answer that question in many years, maybe never. Many people never make it beyond stop 6, and during that time of spiritual discontent either leave the church completely (like after graduation) or settle back into stop 5 thinking that is all the church, and God, has to offer them. So where are you?
I can honestly tell you that God, over the past few years or so, has slung me from stop 5 to stop 9 in a whirlwind of experiences. As I reflect on all this, two key things keep popping up in my mind and heart.
I cannot lead someone where I have not been myself
Most churches (especially youth ministries) do a great job programming up to stop 5. Stop 6 through 10 become very personal and nearly impossible to program. The only way I can help anyone through those last five stops is by personal encouragement, prayer, and leading by example (sounds a lot like discipleship). If I have not gone through those stops myself, I cannot guide anyone else through them. It does not matter if that person is a teenager, my own sons, or my next door neighbor. If I have not navigated through those stops, no one I am leading will either.
I will not ask a student to do something I will not do myself
This has been one of my core values as a youth worker from day one. I tell my volunteer team this applies to everything from scrubbing a toilet on a retreat to reading my Bible daily and everything in between. We all follow what we see before what we hear, especially if you are under the age of 18. So what example are you setting? Not by what you say, teach, or preach; by what you do. Your own spiritual journey is the most important thing for you to focus on as a spiritual leader, yet the more we “do” the more we tend to neglect our own faith.
When is the last time you read the Bible just to read, not for a lesson or to prepare a message? When have you prayed for more than a few minutes and not done all the talking? When have you been in silence for more than the time it takes to go to the bathroom? When did you last fast?
1 Corinthians 11:1 (NIV) 1Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.
What example are you really setting?
A few weeks ago I accepted a new position. I am not leaving youth ministry. I am not leaving Cloverdale Church of God. I am officially venturing into the world of national level youth ministry (I’m not sure if that is actually a real thing…oh well).
Church of God has a few different teams of youth workers that work with all of the churches in our movement that have youth ministries. The youth ministry team (YMT) and the youth network team (YNT). I am now a member of the YNT.
I was offered a position on this team about three years ago and I didn’t take it. As I sought God about the opportunity and talked with those closest to me, I felt it was not something I needed to do, so I said no.
As I did exactly the same thing this time around I felt a different answer from God. And I had to answer this question from three different people, three people that know me REALLY well. They all asked me “what changed?”
Before I said yes I had to really think about this simple two word question, a lot. The answer is not nearly as simple as the question.
My circumstances have changed
My family life looks a lot different now. My wife is at a school a lot closer to our house and our boys are far more independent so it is easier when I travel. My church looks a lot different now. The past three years we have gone through a lot of change and transition; staffing, vision changes, and much more. Now the dust has settled a bit and we are moving forward again. Still a lot of work and effort left with both of these areas of my life, but very different than it was then.
My perspective has changed
After writing my book, working on more books, writing on this blog and other sites, and lots of conversations with several amazing youth workers my perspective of youth ministry and church ministry is different now than it was then. I feel like I have a lot more to contribute and offer now than I did then.
My heart has changed
God has done a lot of shaping and molding on me in the past three years. Being humbled is never fun, and no matter how I finish this sentence it will prove that He is not done. I know God is not done molding and changing my heart, but I am glad to be a few years further down this journey before doing this. My motivation for wanting to say yes is completely different this time.
I am thankful for all of these changes. But most of all I keep going back to how thankful I am for people in my life that will actually ask me questions like “what changed?” I truly am a very very blessed man.
Do you have people in your life that will ask you hard questions, and expect truthful answers? If you don’t you need them.
In my last post I talked about the reasons that led me to plan our weekend retreat the way I did. So here is what we actually did.
On Friday night I presented to the students the 10 stops on the transformation journey as given in the book Maximum Faith by George Barna. I described each one as I walked us all through the 10 stops. My suspicion, which I think did prove true, was that the majority of the students on the retreat were lingering around stop six: Spiritual discontent. I described stop 6 this way:
Stop 6 is where you start to feel like church isn’t doing it for you anymore, you start to ask some hard questions within yourself about faith and God and religion and how does it all fit in. It seems like everything you hear or experience at church you have heard before… “If this is all the church has to offer then I’m not sure I need it”
”Prolonged Period” you know what this means… that most people are in this stop for a long time. Once you are there we fight moving to the next stop, no one likes to be “broken”… Some people give up the fight and either settle into stop 5 and stay there for the rest of their life or leave the church, and maybe even their faith, all together.
During that “fight”, we tend to point a lot of fingers, pass the blame or the responsibility, and ask some really honest and really good questions.
We then watched the popular internet video “Why I Hate Religion but Love Jesus”. I then connected the video and it’s content to the transformation journey; pointing out some of the Biblical flaws in his reasoning and also confirming some of his honest and true questions. My first main point of discussion was how religion and church are not the same thing and how we need both of them to help us through this journey. Religion can only get you to stop 5, while the church has varying roles through all 10 stops.
The second point of discussion was centered around the concept of self-righteousness and how we have to be very careful not to become exactly what we are speaking out against.
I then gave a challenge for the students to honestly ask themselves and God what stop they are on and gave a challenge for the weekend based on the stops.
Saturday I did not speak at all. During chapel times I gave them a scripture to meditate on, some journal questions, and 45 minutes to go off by themselves and seek God with all their heart. We then came back together and I read aloud a narrative story based on the passage they had just read, then we sang a few worship songs. That was it. The two scriptures I used were John 7:53 – 8:11 and John 3:1-21; times Jesus dealt with religion and self-righteousness.
I was amazed at how much of the conversation during free time and fun activities was centered on the scriptures. Saturday night we sat in a circle, sang a few songs and discussed what God had done or showed them.
Several of the students literally used their free time that night to pray for each other and share their experiences further.
I feel like it was one of the more Spiritually significant weekends of my entire youth ministry career, and I basically just got out of the way and let God work. Here are two things that God taught me this weekend that I hope is helpful for you.
1. People need permission to struggle
I told the students that if they were in stop six to see it as a growth step forward, not as a bad thing. To ask God their honest questions because God is truth and truth has nothing to hide and is not scarred of their questions or struggles. Somehow we have created this facade that says everything has to be perfect all the time in the church and if we struggle something is wrong. The church doesn’t always have answers, but God does, and only He can transform someone.
2. There are more people in stop six than we realize
One of my leadership students, who is a senior in high school said to me this weekend, “people in stop six are the ones that graduate their faith, I am in stop six and I don’t want to do that.” The better we get at children’s and youth ministry the quicker these kids get to stop six. A freshman in high school also shared that he was already in stop six. The issue this presents us as youth workers is that it is nearly impossible to program brokenness. Which is exactly the challenge we face, how can we walk through stop 6 and 7 with these students? Especially if you work with Sr. highers this is a huge question you must answer. I hope we can figure it out together because I need your help with this one.
As I continue to seek God about what He wants me to do in youth ministry, I feel more and more drawn to changing the paradigm we have created. I think this is at the core of it. I think discipleship needs to be a whole lot less about us and programs and a whole lot more about them encountering God. What do you think?
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?
I have mentioned this book several times on my blog in the past, but I thought it was time to do an actual book review on it.
There have been many books that have influenced my life and ministry, this one is in the top five for sure.
I am not usually a fan of wide scale survey results, lots of statistics, and charts. I will admit I have not read much of Barna’s stuff, but the reputation that precedes him is wide scale survey results, lots of statistics, and charts which made me almost not read this book at all. But it was recommended by one of the other Pastors at my church so I decided to give it a chance. I am very glad I did.
The book is split into 3 sections. The first lays out the transformation journey and how George discovered it. The second section is a personal story of a girl named Jennifer as she goes through the stops of the transformation journey. And section 3 gives some practical ideas on how to travel the journey yourself as well as how churches can help people navigate down the road of transformation.
The book is pretty long, over 200 pages, so it definitely is one you will have to commit to reading. However, the meat of the book is in sections one and three, if you skipped section two all together it cuts out half of the length. You might enjoy the mix of journal excerpts, life stories, and personal conversations but I didn’t.
The last negative thing I have to say is there are several typos and obvious grammar mistakes in the book, which was disappointing.
This book really hit me on a personal level as well as a professional/ministry level. I think the lack of spiritual transformation is at the core of many issues and problems in our churches today, mine included. This book speaks to the problem and gives some good tips and ideas on how to better minister people toward true transformation.
He makes the point in the book, and I agree strongly, that most churches are pretty good at ministering to stops two through five. But as soon as people hit stop six the modern church basically programs them back into stop five, which is where most of our Christian population is stuck. In my current youth ministry context, I have realized I have a lot more student in stop six than I ever realized. And as a student ministry we were not doing a lot to help them continue to grow. Many of the changes we have made to our programs and structure are aimed directly at this issue. I want to be about spiritual transformation, not behavior modification. This book has helped me make some big strides toward that end.
I gave all ten stops of the transformation journey in a past post, click here if you want to read them. But don’t let that deter you from buying this book and reading it for yourself. Like I said, this is in my top five. I think it will help you too.
I came across this quote the other day, and it has made me think a lot since.
“Programs don’t change people, God does.” (Maximum Faith, Barna, pg. 190)
It has made me think a lot because a good chunk of my week is spent on making programs happen. We made some major changes to our youth ministry this fall, and over half of them were about our programs. I realize how much the success of your youth ministry is tied to our programs, not just by me but by most people in our church as well.
This quote also is a shock to my own ego, because it reminds me that the change I desire to see in students I have no control over. I can work hard and convince (or beg) students to change their behavior, but I can’t make them fall in love with God. The hard truth that we sometimes forget as youth workers, or even as Christians, is that I can’t save anyone. It has to be between them and God.
Jesus defines salvation for us in John 17:3 when he says “now this is eternal life; that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”
I can do everything in my power to introduce them to God. I can encourage them. I can lead by example and let them see my love for God. I can use programs as a tool or an aid in all this. But ultimately I can’t make them fall in love with God. The change they need in their life I can’t do for them, only God can.
I have to be reminded from time to time of this truth. If I am doing everything God has asked me to do as a youth worker, then the ultimate “success” of this youth ministry is outside my control. If I am not reminded of this, then I tend to carry too much of the burden, and focus more on the “success” I can control instead of the success God wants.
How have you defined success? Do you and God agree? What burden are you carrying that was never yours to carry?
It has been one year since I wrecked on (or should I say off) my dirt bike. If you are interested in the details of the crash check out my previous posts, but here are the quick details.
I was testing a new clutch cable, and while only wearing a helmet and no other gear I hit a pile of rocks in a vacant lot while going somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 mph. The bike landed 45 feet from the rocks. I landed on my head and finally rested on my back about 10 feet past the bike.
I broke my left arm, broke my sternum, and compressed 4 vertebra in my back. I had surgery on my arm and wore a back brace for 10 weeks as I healed.
As I look back over the past year, I can say that this event definitely has changed my life.
1. I understand pain in a whole new way
I have a pretty high pain tolerance, and the initial recovery went fine. Before my accident when I would hear people complain of chronic daily pain I thought they were crazy. I can honestly say now that I know what they mean. My arm still hurts at some point every day. My back gets sore and tired quickly. Whether you want to blame the metal that was added to my body or the that I did not do physical therapy like I should have the fact is the phrase “fully recovered” has kind of a fuzzy definition.
2. I have changed more in non-physical ways than in physical ways.
Yes I have a wicked scar on my arm now, but the biggest changes that have come from this were spiritual and emotional. I love God and my family and friends a lot different now than I did 366 days ago. I have experienced brokenness before this accident, but it means something completely different to me now. Words can not fully explain what I know to be true regarding this, so I think I will leave it at that.
This one “accident” started me down a different direction than I had ever expected to go down life’s path. Now a year later, I am glad it did. This has been a year of growth for me; as a Christ follower, as a husband, a father, a youth worker, and every other identity I could add to the list. I feel I have grown more in this past year than perhaps any other year of my life – this accident being the first of several key things that has spurred it on. My hope is every year I can look back and make the same statement; “this year was better than the one before it thanks to God.”
Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV) For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
This week I attended a conference at Group Publishing headquarters, while there Mark Devries and Jeff Dunn-Rankin talked about their book The Indispensable Youth Pastor. They had a lot of good things to talk about, but there was one session that spoke to me the most.
Mark described the concept of your emotional bus. The people on your bus are all of the voices you have picked up along life’s journey that “speak” into your life. Some of them are positive, and some of them are negative. Some of them talk louder (and influence you more) than other voices. Whenever you face a stressful time, or an important decision, or even just walk through your every day routine these people are the inner dialogue that happens within yourself. The challenge he gave us was to name all of the people on our bus, because once you acknowledge their voice you can balance their influence. The names are not significant, the opinion or perspective that comes from them, which we try to live up to, is very significant. The only rule we were given is we couldn’t put Jesus on our bus, because we would all put him on our bus (since it was a room full of youth workers that definitely would have happened).
These are the people on my bus:
An Oompa Loompa
take my commands, get it done for them just because they asked so they are pleased with me being around
I need to build and create, I have a lot of ideas trying to get out, I get bored maintaining
The rich young ruler (Luke 18)
I know I should leave stuff behind and care about God more, but I really don’t want to
forget about what anyone thinks or accomplishing anything significant and just have fun
The butler in Mr. Deeds
know it all, arrogant, sneaky, has everything figured out, and secretly wants to be in charge
Lewis or Clark
explorer, push forward, battle through the challenges, dredge through the unknown, might leave a few people behind – but it’s worth it if we reach our destination
My 2nd grade Teacher
She embarrassed me in front of the class which has made me scared to put myself out there, so when I do I tend to “over do it” with too many words or too much passion
With all of these voices going on inside my head sometimes I get pretty conflicted as I drive through life. Obviously a few of these personalities don’t agree with other people on the bus. But admitting who is on my bus will hopefully help me get a bit more sleep, because instead of ignoring them I can deal with them, maybe even just tell them to be quiet.
Who are the people on your bus? Do their “conversations” keep you up at night? Are you telling the right people to be quiet? Who do you need to ask to speak up? Who are you letting drive?