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?
I have found myself using this phrase and talking about it a few times in the last week, so I want to share this with you. This post was originally posted August 19th, 2011.
There is a phrase I have used since day one as a full time youth worker.
“Never ask a student to do something you aren’t willing to do yourself.”
This is a concept that I have tried hard to live by. It is a concept I have tried hard to instill into my volunteer youth staff. It is a concept I hope the students at our church see modeled. During the process of becoming a youth staff member we discuss this concept. I have always said “this applies to everything we do, from doing daily devotions to scrubbing a toilet on a retreat to playing a gross nasty game, don’t ask them to do it if you wont do it.”
Over my many years of serving teenagers, there have been few times I have struggled to live up to this concept. But on our recent mission trip toPuerto Rico, it happened. Jobs were being delegated out at our dorm facility when the next job offered was guys toilet duty. I looked at the other two guys still left to get a job, and they looked at me. Before I really knew what was happening, I heard the words come out of my mouth; “I will do it.”
I grabbed the cleaning supplies offered, and the rubber gloves, and headed off to my doom. As I went from stall to stall, scrubbing away at all eight toilets and four urinals, I kept thinking over and over again in my mind “never ask a student to do something you aren’t willing to do yourself.” (I also repeated the name of the cleaner over and over again, “fabuloso”, just because it was fun to say.)
I see two major reasons why this concept needs to be forefront in the mind of every youth worker.
1. It is the Biblical standard of leadership
Jesus certainly led this way. He asked the disciples to feed the 5,000 before he did it himself. He sent them off to cast out demons and do miracles only after they watched Him do it. He asked Peter, James, and John to pray in the garden of Gethsemane while he himself prayed. The apostle Paul instructed the people of Corinth to “follow my example as I follow the example of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1)
2. People (especially teenagers) can easily spot a fake
No one likes to be dictated to. Don’t delve out all the cleaning jobs then sit down and drink coffee. No one likes a hypocrite. If you expect students to turn off their cell phones during an event, you better not get a text message half way through your message. (that one was kind of a confession for me…) No one likes to be tortured. If you force a student to eat a live gold fish in the name of entertainment, keep room in your own belly for one. Almost everyone learns by example. If you teach a lesson on ACTS prayer, close that meeting by praying Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication more sincerely than ever before.
As I reflect on this concept, I don’t remember who instilled it in me or who I stole it from. I do know that living out this concept has been one of the keys to my success. I had to live up to my own words a few weeks ago by cleaning toilets, and I am completely O.K. with it. Are you living up to your own words? I hope so.
The Easter season is here. In just a few weeks many of our churches and youth ministries will have extra people and events as we celebrate this religious holiday. With all of the candy and bunnys and egg hunts it is easy to forget that Easter is first and foremost a religious holiday. Truthfully it is the most important holiday for the Christian faith, because without Easter even Christmas wouldn’t have much significance.
I encourage you to not let this holiday pass without taking some time to teach teenagers about the importance of Easter. The entire Bible is centered on Jesus’ death and resurrection, so devote some (or even a lot) of your teaching plan to it.
My friends over at youth ministry 360 have just launched another round of free resources, just in time for Easter. They’re giving away three different Easter Bible study lessons, PLUS a set of 10-day Easter devotions for your students. It’s solid stuff that will help your teenagers prepare their hearts and minds for Easter. Easter is such a powerful time for Christ-followers. These tools will help you lead students to both reflect on and celebrate Christ’s death and resurrection.
To download these free resources, head on over to the ym360 Easter Vault at https://youthministry360.com/blog/youthministry360-easter-vault.
And if for any reason you need help or have questions, their team is great about helping out. They have helped me out a ton, so go check it out.
All of our large group teaching for the entire month of March is focused on Easter. And for the first time ever, we are not doing any youth ministry programs on Easter Sunday. Instead we are encouraging our students to go to the main service with their families. I am curious to know what you do different or special in your ministry for Easter, so please leave a comment and share.
Use these resources if they fit for you. If not, then use or write whatever does fit for you and your church and your ministry. But don’t let the most important holiday of the year go unnoticed.
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?
I have talked about my book Flimsy Ministry quite a bit on here. It has been out for four months, and sales have been alright thus far, but slower than I had hoped. God is my marketing guy and I am relying on Him to lead me on how to market the book and to lead you to buy it and tell your friends about it. Here is my humble attempt at a promotion video.
Please share the video as you feel led and see fit.
You can click here to read reviews on Amazon and buy your copy
And please click here to like the Flimsy Ministry page on Facebook
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.
The ministries I have been involved with have done all three of these on different years. At my church we have landed on doing something part of the night – mainly because the spiritual part of the event is over by midnight, and parents/leaders prefer this format. (I think the students do too but won’t admit to it)
I am curious about the reasons behind your decision, please write in the comments why you do something all night, part of the night, or nothing at all. Happy New Year!
I suggest reading this book. If you are a youth worker your first reaction might be exactly like mine–”I don’t need to read this book, I am already doing this.” If that is your attitude, then you, like me would be wrong. Yes, passing the baton of faith to the next generation is likely part of (or is) your job description, but it is not as simple and easily done as we all wish it was.
In this book, Andy does a great job of showing how intentional and personal this process must be for it to be successful. There is plenty of evidence within the current youth ministry landscape and the Church as a whole to show we are not doing as good of a job as we could be. Andy does not present a new program to fix this problem which I really appreciate. This is not a program problem and therefore cannot be fixed with a program.
I loved the Biblical examples Andy used to show a successful baton pass and a definite baton drop. He then goes into a practical 3 part strategy toward spiritual formation using the acronym GETS IT. Godly Example, Training in Scripture, and Intentional Time.
This strategy is one the body of Christ needs to embrace no matter what your role of leadership is, from youth worker to parent to mature Christian. This is not something that can be left to the hired hand, but one that every Christian needs to participate in.
Whether you are a youth worker or not, I recommend you pick up this book. Click here to read more reviews and/or to purchase your copy.
This is a fun contest for the youth ministry blogging world. As I have looked through and read several of the posts on this year’s list I am amazed at how much wisdom, encouragement, and training is available for FREE! This list is packed full of amazing people and great writers, from hugely published people to writing rookies this list covers the entire spectrum.
Some of the people on this list I consider good friends, and many others I have never met, but I have enjoyed reading through these posts. I have not read them all yet, but I plan to. I encourage you to click here and read these great posts along with me.
Once you read through them, make sure you vote for your favorite, the first round of voting ends December 11th. Yes, I somehow made this list (thank you to whoever nominated me!), but vote for your favorite, even if it isn’t mine.
Click here to vote!
The post I was nominated for is Do What You Did at First
If for some unforeseen reason I make it to the next round, I will let you know…but no matter what go and cast your vote and invite your friends to do the same!