What happens when parents and kids see youth group as simply an elective?

For the past few years it has been obvious that the culture in which we do ministry has fundamentally changed.

I know that pop culture continues to devolve into twerkfests on MTV, but that is nothing new.  What I am seeing that is new, is that the Christian adults within this culture have a totally different world view and values than those Christians that have gone before them.

There was this time in youth ministry's hay day where a youth group was made up of the kids of that particular church and their friends.  It was important for the kids to be a part of youth group, and if it wasn't important to the kids, it was at least important to the parents.  In fact, much of my early years of student ministry was bemoaning the fact that so many church kids would be forced to come to youth group and cause trouble for me and my leaders.  If I only knew how good I had it.

Now, students along with their parents see fellowship, gathered worship, church, and youth group as electives.

Our post-modern, determine your own values and reality has finally trickled its way into the local church.  Carey Nieuwhof wrote an excellent blog about the 15 characteristics of today's unchurched person.  These 15 characteristics are spot on.  But I would actually go further and say that they are not just characteristics of today's unchurched person, but of every person both in and out of the church.  And now Church, youth group, and actually any spiritual discipline are firmly on the bottom of the pecking order.  This means that if homework, sports, vacation, being tired, practice, fill in the blank don't conflict then both students and their parents might consider attending some gathered Christian event like church or youth group.

For adults, this elective version of church involvement doesn't really have any short term consequences to their faith.  Most Christian adults had some incredible experience in late high school or college and are maintaining that faith as they go through the rest of their life.  They can take months or years off of church and fellowship and still have a mostly intact faith.  While there is a ton to say about this new cultural expression of Christianity, the parents here are not my concern.  My concern is for the faith development of their kids.

These adults have had a significant faith encounter in their youth, but are not helping their own kids participate in the very activities that God used to grab a hold of their hearts when they were younger.  And unlike their parents, any significant break in community makes it next to impossible for the adolescent to ever really enter the group later.

Students are relational animals and will only participate in an environment where they have friends and feel welcomed and cared for.  

Even the least cliquey youth groups on the planet still have relationships and those relationships have history.  If a group of students spend a year doing youth group together, bible studies, go to the movies, go roller skating and skiing, and go on a mission trip together, there develops a history.  A student who chooses youth group simply as an elective and misses out on these memory making events will naturally feel on the outs, and once they feel on the outs there is little incentive for them to commit.

Add to this the fact that they culturally don't feel a need to participate, feel little guilt spiritually and see little need for a gathered experience, these poor students don't really have a chance!

For the sake of their children, adults need to model that commitment to Christian worship and fellowship is not an elective.  

This goes against every cultural trend.  But for the sake of our kids, for the sake of the students we are called to love and care for, may we help the adults in our lives go old skool in their Christian understanding.  As much as faith in Jesus is about a "personal relationship" it can only be worked out in community.  And community only happens with students through a safe environment that is authentic, consistent time together, building memories, and spurring one another on toward love and good deeds!

May we, in a loving and gracious way, sound the alarm and make the case that involvement in student ministry is not an elective course in faith development, but vital for the faith formation of our students.

Your students are not ready to live missionaly

Your students are not ready to live missionaly

I think baseball is an amazing sport. On the surface, it is a simple game, hitting and fielding. But the more you dive into the game, the more you see the deep strategy, pitch selection, and the never ending statistics. Since my dream of becoming a professional baseball player didn’t pan out, I am now putting that pressure on my son. So, this last spring we signed him up for his first season of T-ball. It is quite an entertaining sight to watch a group of 5 year olds learning the game of baseball.

The first season of T-ball is just that, learning the very basics. By the end of the season, this kids mostly know their positions, the direction to run around the bases, how to hit a ball off a T, and that is about it. But the foundation has been laid and a trajectory set for these kids to become legitimate baseball players and for my son to fulfill my dream of playing in the Bigs!

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Want to know the secret sauce so your kids will love Jesus into adulthood? #THINKORANGE

Want to know the secret sauce so your kids will love Jesus into adulthood?  #THINKORANGE

Me too!!  :)

Over the almost 20 years of doing student ministry, I have had the opportunity of being a part of a lot of student's lives.  And while I think I am an incredible youth pastor and do incredible ministry, I think there are about 5 or 6 students who are adults and who totally love Jesus where I had the honor of playing a huge role in their spiritual development through middle and high school.

There are many more students who have meandered in and out of my program during their adolescent career who are now adults and who love Jesus.  But when I look at this group of people and ask the question why they "made it" and so many other students simply fell off the rails, the answer is actually pretty simple.

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Our own rumspringa

Our own rumspringa

Rumspringa (derived form the German term “Rond Springen” or “running around”) generally refers to a period of adolescence for some members of the Amish, that begins around the age of sixteen and ends when a youth chooses baptism within the Amish church or instead leaves the community.  (wikipedia) In one of our upperclassman small groups a student made a passing comment that I have been wrestling with for the past couple of days.  She simply observed that their once full table of students during small group time has withered over the the last couple of years.  Where a once a robust small group of 15 was, now a consistent remnant of 6 remain.

As my wife and I talked, we could account for almost every student that has faded away from our student ministry.  And for almost every student there was an explanation.  Most of them were a small changes in priorities that resulted with them being less connected and ended up with them being M.I.A.

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The Value of Having a Cry Night at Camp

The Value of Having a Cry Night at Camp

I Used to be Really Frustrated by Cry Night:

A few years ago I was invited to speak at a winter camp. Unbeknownst to me, there was a fixed spiritual rhythm to their retreat.  Over this three-night winter camp hovered the expectation of increased spiritual depth, culminating with some sort of significant moment or opportunity for response. I found out about this rhythm solely by accident.

I wanted to have an opportunity for response every time we were together. I wanted each session to carry its own weight and expectation for response. I crafted each session with very unique tactile ways to respond to what the Holy Spirit was doing. And I don’t mean to boast, but these were some of the most creative and brilliant sessions I had ever put together.

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What would you do differently if you owned this reality:

What would you do differently if you owned this reality:

90% of your students are going to walk away from Christianity and the Church after High School?

There has been a lot written lately about what is going on with our students and why are they leaving the church in record numbers after they graduate from college.  It seems to me that this is a problem that has been around forever, or at least since I graduated from high school.  (Back when Pearl Jam was King!)

What would it look like if we quit wringing our hands about this awful statistic and accepted this as reality.

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Helping seniors develop a faith that is ready for college

Helping seniors develop a faith that is ready for college

Our Seniors Aren't Ready! It doesn't matter where you find yourself on the theological spectrum, there is huge concern regarding the complete abandonment of the Christian faith by our youth group students when they leave for college. There are movies like Divided, which see youth ministry as the main culprit for this loss of faith. And there are books like Sticky Faith, which want to reshape and redirect youth ministries to work more closely within the churches that fund them and alongside the parents of their community.

For as long as I can remember, there have always been an enormous exodus of students from the church the second they leave the comfort and confines of home and experience a world where there are no more boundaries, no more rules, and no more accountability to their former way of life. I find the statistics overwhelming and the actual students who choose to walk away heartbreaking. While I can not solve all the cultural or ecclesiological problems that contribute, I can be more proactive and intentional in the way I do student ministry so that my students have a fighting chance when they head off into the big, bad world.

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Retelling a lost story

Retelling a lost story

Remember This Movie: Lions and tigers and bears, ___________! If you could immediately fill in the blank, then, whether you realize it or not, you have been impacted by culture. If upon further thought, you could fill in the blank and your mind went to Dorothy and her companions walking along a yellow brick road towards Oz, then you have some context for that cultural expression. And if the conclusion of that statement causes you begin to think about your favorite scenes, smile at the munchkins, hum a song, and even have fond memories of seasons of life when you enjoyed watching the film, then you are part of the generation that has been impacted by the movie, The Wizard of Oz.

Many of us have grown up with this movie. We know the songs, we know the stories, and we know the characters. We have seen poor high school versions of this movie, and even a brave interpretation of the story by Micahel Jackson. And because this story is so ingrained in our current pop culture, there was a place for someone to come along and use that story to tell a fuller story. And that is exactly what happened in the production of Wicked.

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Are you emotionally ready for the spring drop off?

Are you emotionally ready for the spring drop off?

It is that time of year.  The most dreaded time of year, Spring!  While the weather is great, and baseball season is upon us, the lives of our students are beginning to disengage from the programmatic rhythms of youth group.  They call it senioritis, but I am still confused how a sophomore has senioritis.  The truth  is that our low stamina students are checking out of this school year.  With all of the ways that students were dialed in to their many activities early in the school year, now only one or two hold their interest.  In the case of my students that includes a spring sport and a love interest.

The truth is that there are actually ton of reasons that students begin to disengage during spring semester; some good, some dumb, but no matter why, the what is real and how we cope with it matters.  

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We are family! (Why our students need a bigger vision of their faith and the church)

We are family! (Why our students need a bigger vision of their faith and the church)

This week I am clear across the country to the University of Tennessee for our triennial youth ministry gathering, called CHIC. The acronym is not important, but what the event is, is one of the most important events I do in my student ministry. 

This conference has all the ingredients that are important for a successful and amazing youth conference: There are solid morning seminars that practically help students put feet to their faith. Then there are the over the top activities for every type of kid; including sporting tournaments, bracelet making, spray paint walls, white water rafting, hiking, choir, etc. And to top it off, a world class evening line up. This year our students get to hear from Ben Stuart Lecrae, Eugen Cho, Judy Peterson, Louie Giglio, and listen to some great artist as well, such as, Propaganda, Social Club, Rend Collective, Lecrae, and For King and Country.

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A post-Christian Gospel

A post-Christian Gospel

It is overwhelmingly obvious that the landscape in which we do ministry has changed.  The values, morals, expectations, and biblical understanding have been completely turned on its head. If we continue to do ministry the same as we have always done it, with the same assumptions then over the long haul the Church is going to find herself in trouble. 

A while agoI wrote a little about how the gospel is really not good news at all this this current generation of students.  And while many of our students "play ball" for us while they are under our supervision or while they frequent our programs, who they are in the rest of their life has little to no reflection of traditional, Judeo-Christian, ethic, values, or understanding.  If this assumption is correct then the penal-subsitutionary atonement brand of Christianity with the discipleship bench marks of shutting down sexuality or not drinking have to change.

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The secret to connect with any student

The secret to connect with any student

Who are the students you naturally connect with? Chances are they are students who share similar stories, experiences, or interests. If you expand the circle even larger, I bet that most of the people in your life are also people who share similar stories, experiences, or interests. This is just part of the human condition. 

There are people that we just naturally click with. We get used to hanging out and joking with people like us, which is great for building friendship among our peers, but means that we are a little out of practice when it comes to getting to know new people, especially people who we have nothing in common with. Because we are out of practice, it can be really intimidating to try and connect with students who are nothing like you. For me, it often feels like the less I have in common, the harder it is to connect. But I think the inverse of this rule might actually be true. The less you have in common with students, the better chance you have to make a genuine connection.

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March Madness: the top 5 reasons you should participate

March Madness: the top 5 reasons you should participate

March Madness is one of my favorite times of year. I love betting, I love being together, and I love basketball. Here is a post that seems timely every March! Whether or not you know anything about college basketball, March Madness is an amazing ministry tool. 

Now that the brackets have been chosen, it is time to round up any group you want to build some unity with and place your bets. It doesn’t matter if it is with your church staff, volunteer leaders, or small group, as long as it is a group of people that you like and you want to bond with, then this is the month for you.

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Irreducible Complexity in Student Ministry

Irreducible Complexity in Student Ministry

There are so many great things we do in student ministry.  But so much of what we do are simply add ons to what is truly the fundamental core values of student ministry.  The challenge is separate out what is the irreducible complexity in student ministry and what are simply the add ons.

Now, don't get me wrong, it is the add ons, the amenities, and the style points that are what makes your ministry uniquely yours.  These are probably what you are known for and affirmed for in your ministry.  But if we are not careful, we lose focus and make the amenities the main things.  What we really want to do is firmly understand the core values of student ministry and from that foundation we can build what every stylized and culturally appropriate ministry we have been dreaming about!

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What to do when Sunday School sucks

What to do when Sunday School sucks

Because my church is a medium sized church, Sunday School has been the bane of my existence for my entire career. 

(For my friends at large churches, you have managed to escape the hardest part of the job for most youth workers. Because our churches are not huge, we don't have critical mass of students which means we actually have to look into the cold, dead, eyes of students at 9:00 on a weekend morning.  Consider yourselves lucky!) 

For me, in my context, I have found that every 6 weeks or so I am faced with the awful reality that Sunday School sucks. And, would you have guessed, we are right on schedule. that means it is once again time to mix it up so that we can have some sort of benefit for the highest of sacred cows. 

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Grandma: a youth ministry model

Grandma: a youth ministry model

It is hard to believe that this was my first blog post of all time.  After 4 years, I think I would still agree with myself :)  Happy Thanksgiving!

This last week I had the honor of participating in Grandparents and “Special Friends Day" at a local high school.  This is an amazing Thanksgiving tradition that is a blessing to the entire school.  Grandparents, “special friends,” students and alumni all gathered for coffee and pastries in front of the school office and then headed off to the first class of the day.  The grandparents and “special friends” followed their student through their day and the alumni, who are home from college, got to go and visit their favorite teachers. 

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The Right Medicine to Cure Loneliness, Anxiety, and Depression

The Right Medicine to Cure Loneliness, Anxiety, and Depression

It seems like loneliness, anxiety, and depression are becoming hallmark issues in the lives of our students.

In every context I find myself, with every youth worker I talk to, these three issues seem to be at the top of the felt needs list among adolescents today.

I know that the reasons are varied, and the severity range is all over the board.  But what if there was a ministry solution that was actually Good News to our students who are struggling with this trifecta?

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The Most Important Thing To Do When Raising a Teenager

The Most Important Thing To Do When Raising a Teenager

I have just recently presented one of the most challenging classes eve called “Preparing to Parent your Adolescent.”

For this class I used every tool at my disposal; my 17 + years of ministry experience, access to the personal libraries of all our pastors on staff, and input from my colleagues. As I looked through over 40 years’ worth of books and resources, I landed on three that have shaped me the most and became the core of this class:

Understanding Your Young Teen, by Mark Oestreicher, Hurt, by Chap Clark and Parenting Beyond Your Capacity, by Reggie Joiner.

All three of these are must-reads for parents, youth workers, and those who interact with and love students. If you haven’t realized it yet, adolescence is a complicated and challenging process with a seemingly-unnatural amount of variables that play into the change from child to adult.

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What are the Biggest Obstacles/Sins Holding Our Students Back From Running After Jesus?

What are the Biggest Obstacles/Sins Holding Our Students Back From Running After Jesus?

I am working on a little project and would love your help.  I have been wrestling with this question:

“What are the biggest sins / obstacles holding back our students from running after Jesus?”  

At first glance, when I think of this question, I immediately go to behavior management and think that it is drinking and sex.  If our kids would just say no to the two deadly sins of student ministry, then they would have no problem running after Jesus.  But the more I drill down, the more I am convinced that there is so much more going on in the lives of our students, and even more in their hearts.

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The Fruit of Social Media

The Fruit of Social Media

I am not going to lie, I love me some Facebook.  And it turns out loving Facebook works well, because only old people are on it now.  Where there was one Facebook, there is now Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat, and the lowest form of social networking, YikYak.  The longer I work with students the more I am seeing the lasting ramifications of social networking overtaking actual human interaction, and what I see is startling.

Like all things we invest our time and effort into, there will be fruit.  If we eat right and exercise, we will be more fit.  If we practice the guitar or the keytar, you will be able to be a rock star, or at least a studio musician.  If you are in the habit of sharing life and being vulnerable with people, you will develop deep friendships, and if you actually spend time in reflective prayer, the depth of your faith and intimacy with God will deepen.  These are facts.

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