What will student ministry look like in an increasingly post-Christian context?

Our culture is changing, shouldn't our ministries adapt as well?One of the areas of passion for me is contextualization. As our context becomes more and more post-Christian, I am realizing that the way forward is going to be complex and challenging. Because of this a couple of the youth pastors in my network whom I love and respect decided that we should host an event to wrestle through some of these issues.

We genuinely believe that the the community of youth workers in our context will have a much better shot finding a way forward than a book by an author from a totally different context or by the oner person with the biggest personality and loudest voice pushing their agenda.

In October we are going to take a big swing and gather our peeps from the Bay Area for this conversation. If you call the Bay Area home, would you consider coming? If you consider me a friend, would you come as a personal favor :) If you are no where near us, please pray for us and feel free to chime in!

Over the next week I am going to expand some of my thoughts regarding the changing culture and the need for a changing picture to communicate the Gospel with students who live in an increasingly post-Christian context.

Below is our events page. Check it out, sign up, and join the conversation.

Bay Area Youth Ministry Forum

You are invited to be a part of a day long discussion on the present and future of youth ministry. Your voice and experience is needed to wrestle with and understand the complexity of our context.

We live in an increasingly post-christian, entitled, and hyper-scheduled culture. At the same time, we are called by God and by the church to present the gospel to this next generation. But where is the thin place the gospel can truly enter into this worldview?

The world our students live in is dramatically changing. It is vital for those who are called to reach students to understand these shifts and adjust accordingly. We want to spend the day wrestling with two questions:

1) What is the crisis in these students lives that the gospel solves? In general, for our parents, the crisis was one of rebellion and the solution was justification. Our crisis is one of brokenness and the solution is redemption. For our students???

2) How do we structure a program within the church to that meets the real needs of students and satisfies the expectations of our church leadership?

We are glad to have Mark Oestreicher join us as our facilitator in this forum. Mark has over 30 years of experience and has been a part of all the major conversations regarding youth ministry for the last decade. He is an expert on culture, adolescent development, and church systems. time with him alone will make this forum worthy your while.

Would you consider bringing your expertise of our culture and context to the table as we work together to answer these important questions?

Important Information: Who: Youth workers who do ministry within the context of the local church in the bay area. Where: BayMarin Community Church 150 N. San Pedro Rd. San Rafael, CA 94903 When: Saturday October 6. 9am - 4:00. Optional dinner and drinks with Mark afterwards. Cost: $59 early bird registration. $69 after August . Lunch is included. Scholarships available. Tickets: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/232816

As you register, we would love for you to post an article to the blog jacobswell.me on anything and everything regarding the complexity of issues surrounding these questions.

Coming May 3rd, 2013 Youth Ministry Justice Conference. Now that you are home from your Spring Break Mission Trip, how do we bring what we learned back home to our everyday lives at school, our community and world? What does it look like for our students to live a life of service and justice? This event will be for youth workers and students.

Does a changing culture require a different slant on the gospel? Part 2: The Present

Don't forget to read part 1: the past. Justification for our rebellion used to work. There was a time in our not so distant past where the gospel of justification as the good news for our rebellion was a compelling and effective strategy in connecting people to Jesus. For the better part of 50 years this was the staple of evangelical christianity.

But as the children of the boomers grew up, many noticed that this gospel of defining sin as rebellion and missing the mark simply lead to a legalistic gospel of sin management. If we are rebels and Jesus now saves us from the consequences of our sin, then sanctification was getting on board with "Christian Culture," locking down those crazy behaviors and being nice. (I know this is a very simplistic assessment, but I will take my angsty straw-man and jump in line with my fellow Gen Xers who began to tell a subtly different, yet much more culturally relevant version of the gospel for this new generation.)

Many Gen Xers who saw the white washed lives and big box churches offering a simple gospel which appeared to simply offer fire insurance, were longing for a more transformational story that wasn't so binary in its approach. In or our, secular or sacred. There had to be a broader and more compelling story.

And sure enough, pioneers such as Brian McLaren, Tim Keller, and Rob Bell (just to name a few of the superstars) began to paint a picture of the gospel that was truly good news for the Gen Xers and beyond.

Part 2) The Present Where the gospel used to be the good news of justification for our rebellion, there has now become a new crises that is in need of good news. For many Gen Xers, their story has been one of destruction. But it isn't the sort of destruction that is caused by rebellion, it is the kind of destruction that is the fruit of rebellion.

As a side note: This is not to say that all boomers were rebels or all Xers were wrecked. But it has become the common narrative of the generation.

For many Gen Xers, there is a genuine feeling of brokenness. There was once something that was good, and then through sin, death and destruction came to be. And since brokenness is the crisis, the good news is that through Jesus Christ we are healed and redeemed.

The death and destruction that has marred our lives and relationships does not have to be the end. Jesus comes and offers us transformation and healing to make the wrongs right.

I love the Gospel of healing and redemption! This narrative is so prevalent that it is like the air we breathe. We are all about the redemptive story. We love that God has made the world good, and sin entered the world through Adam and with sin came death and brokenness. Then God began his redemptive work through the Jewish people and ultimately through Jesus Christ. And in him our wounds our healed.

Instead of God simply annihilating the entire world because of their rebellion, many Xers see that God is redeeming creation and inviting he redeemed people to be part of the process. This is partly why social justice is such a significant part of our story. Christians are not passive people simply trying to get people from hell to heaven. We are a redeemed people participating in the ever expanding Kingdom of God.

This is my context, my peeps. I get that things used be good, and now they suck! And Jesus takes my brokenness and heals it, redeems it. This is the good news!

Yes the 4 Laws still work, but work differently: As you may have read from my other posts, here and here I am all about alter calls, all about presenting the gospel. But what has changed is the definition of sin when presenting the gospel. Now sin is our brokenness not our rebellion, and the gospel is healing and redemption instead of justification. No matter how we tweak the definitions, there is still a world in desperate need of Jesus and we are invited by faith to respond.

Sin used to be seen as missing the mark, rebellion, behaviors that deserve punishment. But in our current context this definition has transitioned to mean broken. We are sinful / broken and that brokenness severs our relationship with God.

It is Jesus who offers healing and redemption through Jesus Christ. It is a gospel, it is a gospel that requires a response. What has changed is our understanding of what the crisis it. For most "younger adults" we get that the crisis has transitioned from rebellion to brokenness.

I hope that this makes some sense and gives you a little more grace for the generation that has come before and understand the gospel in a different way that you do. And in the same way, can you even get your head around that our students have a different world view and a different crisis they are facing.

Can you get your head around that our students don't think they are broken? This version of the gospel is a home run for people in their 20's -40's. But I am noticing a challenging new trend. This new trend is that among our students there is now no more self reflection, no more brokenness.

As you interact with your students you are probably as horrified as I am that they have absolutely no understanding of sin. They live in an amoral culture and if there is no defined morality, how can they be rebells, how can they miss the mark. This trend has been happening for quite some time. But what has taken me back is that this current group of students don't even see themselves as broken.

Go to youtube and watch Lady GaGa's video, Born This Way. Now I get that she is weird and that many students would not admit to being inline with her. But as you talk with them and truly listen, you will see that this song is actually their world view.

Our students are beautiful and unique. Whatever we might classify as sin or brokenness they actually classify as badges of honor that simply make them more beautiful and unique. When they give their testimonies, have you noticed that the almost always talk about having no regrets and that all their experiences have simply shaped them into the person they are today.

While we might get that our students are rebellious and broken, I am trying to argue that our students don't see that. It is like arguing that a 19 year old college freshman boy is sleeping with everyone on his dorm because he is truly lonely, insecure, and trying to fill some God shaped hole with the wrong thing. While those may be deep inner longings, his felt need is that he is actually just horny. We know there is a sin problem, but unless we can tap into their felt crisis, there is little to no chance of the gospel truly being good news to this current generation. (wasn't that a colorful example)

I know you are probably disagreeing with me. But imagine trying to have the conversation with your parents or grandparents about the redemptive story we are called into. If they have any old skool, evangelical roots, they think we have gone soft because we are all about the journey and not getting people saved! This current generation has transitioned the gospel focus, why can't it transition again?

Where do we go from here? In part 3, I will simply share some of the thoughts I have been wrestling with regarding what the good news might be for these increasingly post-christian students. For us in the Bay Area, there is no more common story or ethic to aspire to, so justification for their rebellion is out. There is also little memory of the good that used to exist before the crap storm came so healing from brokenness is out. What is the felt need, the crisis that Jesus Christ can be good news to?

This solution is going to take much more than my little brain. Us youth workers are on the front lines of a whole new worldview and together we may tap into something revolutionary as we strive to share the good news of Jesus Christ with our students.

What are your thoughts?

Want to join a conversation that is wrestling with this changing reality? Mark your calendar and save October 5, 2012. Click HERE for more information.

Does a changing culture require a different slant on the gospel? Part 1: The Past

The Gospel is Dynamic One of the most amazing things about the gospel of Jesus Christ is that it has proven to be good news to every culture, in every time, and in every context. If you think about it, this is an amazing feat for any religion, and Christianity has done just that.

Christianity is not based on national identity or cultural mandates. It is a religion that offers good news to everyone. As you study how this has worked itself out, you notice that the gospel story has subtle to gigantic differences as you compare what was emphasized in differing Christian communities such as pre-Constantine Mediterranean, to the hight of Papal authority in the middle ages, to the reformation. And this is just the western branch of Christendom.

How much more diverse does the gospel look when you compare the differences from they hyper-spirituality of the Congo to the liberation theology in Central America. The underground churches in China have an expression of the gospel that is very different than the Conservative religious right of the United States.

Once we recognize that the gospel is a dynamic story that has flexibility to truly speak good news to the thin places of need in a culture, we can begin to think more creatively about what is the crisis our students are facing and what is the good news that addresses it.

Part 1) The Past But in order to figure out where we are, it is important to look back into our history and see some of the major cultural shifts and the church's response to it before we can move forward. For our purposes, the furthest back we need to go is for our modern memory, the gospel that has shaped for many of the boomers who are now in positions of power and leadership in the church. This is the Billy Graham Gospel.

Billy Graham and Bill Bright were among the leaders of pioneering a gospel story that was simple, clear, and straight to the point. It truly was good news for a generation of people who had grown up with a religious world view but had now clear path to connect the dots towards a regenerated life in Christ. They were rebellious and needed justification from consequences of their sin.

The gospel was a simple outline summing up the 4 main themes in scripture. These 4 themes came to be known as the 4 laws. The premies of them was rooted in foundational logic and a common understanding of truth. The introduction of the 4 laws says, "Just as there are physical laws that govern the universe, so there are spiritual laws that govern our relationship with God."

The Gospel as the 4 Laws Then will clarity and simplicity, the 4 laws can be presented: Law 1: God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. Law 2: Man is sinful and separated from GOd, so we cannot know Him personally or experience His love. Law 3: Jesus Christ is God's only provision for man's sin. Through Him alone we can know God personally and experience God's love. Law 4: We must individually receive Jesu Christ as Savior and Lord; then we can know God personally and experience His love.

Why were they so effective? This version of the Gospel was highly effective and brought about a significant revival in the 70's. It is the version of the gospel that is still most closely associated with evangelical Christianity. Even through these 4 laws are not clearly stated by Jesus as how to enter into His Kingdom, it has been the gospel that the church has relied on here in Northern America for the better part of 60 years.

But have you ever stopped to think about why was this version of the gospel so effective? What was the crisis that these laws were good news in fixing?

Think about the post World War II context with its rigid social rules and norms. Think of Leave it to Beaver. Everything was made right and had order and rules. The Judeo-Christian story was part of the culture and the Church as still the center of social and cultural life in the community. Sermons were even printed in the New York Times every Sunday.

With this emphasis on religion and order as cultural values, the crisis became one of rebellion. Many of us have heard the definition of sin as missing the mark. This is an important illustration in a culture that has a common understanding of order and law and could agree with what missing the mark meant.

As the chaos of the 60's erupted with its emphasis on rebellion and freedom, it made sense that there has now become an established thin place to communicate the gospel. Many of the boomers grew up with structure, order, and rules. When they exchanged that for rebellion, there were earthly consequences that followed. But because there was a common set of rules and norms it was easy to find a place for the gospel to be shared.

There was a common understanding of God. There was a common understanding and experience of rebellion and the consequences of that rebellion. And now there was a gospel that covered sin and washed away the consequences of that rebellion, and that was the person of Jesus Christ.

Why has this gospel become less effective? This gospel that used to have the power to fill stadiums with thousands of people coming forward, this gospel that used to be shared with just about any stranger on the street with a high chance for success, seems to have less and less impact, has lost some of its umph.

We no longer have a common Judeo-Christian culture with shared values, laws and rules. If you don't believe me, as any teenager an ethical question and you will quickly see that there is no truth with a capital T, but only situation ethics with the foundation built on minimizing their consequences. With little common agreement on the nature of truth, the nature of God and the nature of sin, the 4 spiritual laws don't answer any of the key questions being asked or solve any of the felt crises.

Because the gospel is dynamic and malleable to every cultural context, I think the gospel of the 4 spiritual laws with the emphasis on justification as the good news for our rebellion is fading in exchange for a gospel that is more relevant in addressing our current generation's crisis.

Where do we go from here? In part 2 we will take a look at what the emerging leaders have brought to the table and the transition in our understanding of the gospel. We have gone from a gospel of justification to one of healing. Where the crisis was rebellion and the good news justification, current thinkers like Tim Keller are clarifying a new gospel where the crisis is brokenness and the good news is healing power of Jesus Christ!

Want to join a conversation that is wrestling with this changing reality? Mark your calendar and save October 5, 2012. Click HERE for more information.

Why social justice should not be the focus or goal of student ministry.

This post was originally posted on youthworkerjournal.com According to the California Teacher’s Association website, generation Z is the generation that “while they may be named for the last letter of the alphabet, they’ll soon be at the forefront of solving the worst environmental, social and economic problems in history.”[i] This generation, born in the mid 90’s, or current middle and high school students, are supposed to be the ones that fix all our problems. This is the generation that will recognize the damage we have done to the planet and to each other and rise up and fix it. This is a perspective by many secular leaders, and is a calling that Christian and non-Christian kids are trying to live into. With social action being all the rage right now the church has been able to find common purpose with our culture to expand God’s Kingdom.

But is social action and world change really the goal of the youth worker? Is mobilizing an army of young people to enact lasting social change what we are called to do?

Justice is part of the calling of all Christians.

Throughout the Old and New Testaments we get the picture that a true and whole faith cannot escape the call for God’s people to live into their faith and be about God’s heart for our broken world. In the book of Micah, when God’s people had all their great religious practices, the prophet makes it very clear that the application of their faith was in doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God. We cannot love God on one hand and stand by while the poor are being oppressed. James says a similar thing in his book as he declares that faith without works is dead. Our faith shows itself in the way we live it out. True religion is caring for widows and orphans.

It is encouraging to see our culture have a heightened awareness and call for justice. To move past compassion ministries and work toward fixing the systems that keep people in systemic poverty is a mighty task. This is also one of the tasks of the Church. Christians in power must use their power to stand up for those without it. This desire for justice is also the desire of our culture. Civil rights, worker’s rights, going green, fair trade; these are cultural desires that are good and can easily be partnered with because it is also the heart of God.

Justice is about POWER, and our students don't really have any.

The problem with calling students to social action and justice ministry is that these terms are too vague and tend to be just a feel good sport dealing with ideas and concepts that have no real touch points for them. In our area, students love wearing Toms shoes, drinking fair trade coffee, drinking Ethos water, boycotting Wal-Mart, and shopping at American Apparel. These are the markers of students who “care” and who are “making a difference.” In many cases these are token gestures that carry zero weight into other and all areas of their lives. This is because justice and lasting social change is a job for people with power. Students have no real power to stop hunger, make fair trade happen, stand up for homeless rights, or racial discrimination. It is people with real power who can transform unjust systems, not students with too much disposable income.

Thankfully God has already been calling people and organizations to work for justice and for social change. God has called people of power and influence. God has collected money and resources. And God has been and will continue to enact lasting influence in the specific places those people are called. And because justice is the heart of God and should be our heart’s also, we have the opportunity to partner with organizations that are doing great work and will continue to do great work. International Justice Mission, World Vision, and our Community Food Bank, are three places where our students get to work alongside people who are enacting social change we have chosen to partner with. And because these organizations are established and here for the long haul, any involvement we have with them strengthens their ministry and does in fact help enact social change.

When we took students to Mexico for our annual mission trip we worked really hard to retrain our students’ thinking. We are not the great white church who is going to help the poor Mexican church and change the lives and community with our week of good works and testimonies. Rather we were invited to partner with what God is already doing. God was already at work in the community where we served. God was already using people to transform that community. We simply got the pleasure of working alongside our sisters and brothers in Christ, encouraging one another as they worked toward lasting social change.

Justice for our students must happen on their campus.

Social action and Justice that students can fight for is the injustice that happens on their campuses every day. They can use their social power to stand up for the little guy, to confront bullies, and to speak up and for those who are marginalized on their campus. This kind of social justice and social action actually costs students something real, their social status. If our focus was to have students work toward social change and justice, their campus needs to be the laboratory for their faith to take action. Their campus is where they are to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with their God. Their campus is where their faith must be lived out in action.

So is social action and justice is our calling? I would argue that the answer is no. It is the fruit of our calling, but should not be the focus. We are called by God to make disciples. We have been called by God to walk with students through this short season of their lives and to partner with God to help solidify and own their faith, and to begin to discern their unique calling. And like good missionaries we will use any and all places, stories, and values where our cultural values and desires match the values and desires of God. Some people call this a thin place, a place where the veil between the sacred and secular is especially thin. Right now, social action and justice get to be that place where we can partner with culture and use it as a common story with our cultural context as a compelling way to tell the Gospel Story.

Christians have done this from the beginning. In the book of Acts we see Stephen use Old Testament history to communicate the Gospel to his Jewish audience. Paul uses a local poet and an unknown alter on Mars Hill to communicate a knowable God. In recent history, Josh McDowell used the power of logic and reason, when logic and reason were king to communicate that we don’t have a blind faith, but a reasonable faith. Even Audio Adrenaline made an impact and used the growing place for music and Rock ‘N Roll to highlight that Jesus came to give us an abundant life and Christianity is not a boring, saying no to everything fun, sort of religion. And now in our current context, social action and justice is the thin place. It is the place where cultural values touch our spiritual values and we can use that as a place to communicate the gospel of a God who sees and loves the poor and oppressed, and calls his people to do the same.

Just like in the past, the thin place is not the Goal. Old Testament history, local poets and artists, logic and reason, Christian music, and even social action is not the goal. The goal is for students to give their hearts to Jesus Christ and experience personal transformation and to live into their unique calling. For students to do this, they need to be a part of a ministry and a church that provides a well balanced diet of teaching, experiences, community and action.

Service projects and mission trips are a vital part of the youth ministry diet. They are an important part, but only a part. These trips and opportunities provide experiences for students to explore their calling as God’s people and solidify their faith as their own. The body of Christ is made up of many different parts and students need to see a vital Christian life lived out in many arenas. Vital faith is lived out in normal jobs like the ones many of our volunteer staff have, it is lived out as missions, overseas and local, it is lived out in activism, it is lived out in compassion ministries, and it is lived out in vacation bible school. A vital faith that is lived out in action happens in whatever context God places us. Exposing students to the many different ways vital faith is lived out is a tool to achieve the goal of helping students have a true and vital faith that is lived out in the unique way God has made them and called them.

It is great that students want to be a part of something bigger than themselves, to be about saving the planet, stopping injustice, and we need to celebrate these values because they are the cultural values that align with our Christian values. But unless hearts are yielded to Christ and transformed by Him, then the result is still dead faith. Social action and world change are real places we can use to present a Gospel that is powerful and relevant. A holistic Gospel that not only causes lasting transformation personally, but locally and globally.

[i] http://www.cta.org/Professional-Development/Publications/Educator-Feb-10/Meet-Generation-Z.aspx


The easiest way to be just 6 months behind the most popular music:


Part of being a good youth worker is understanding the world our students live in.

A major part of their world is music.  If your kids are anything like mine they would swear that they hate pop music.  They like some weird indie music that no one has heard of.  But the truth is that the most popular music out there is music that they know, it is music that both instructs and reflects their lives, and even more importantly, it is the music that plays the sound track of their adolescence.

I think understanding pop culture and having your hand on the pulse of the music that is shaping their story is one of the easiest ways to connect with students and draw out their stories.  As I get older, I almost gave up completely on trying to keep up.  It is just too hard and takes too much time.  And plus I would lie to myself and say that students only need adults to love them.  But part of loving them, is understanding the world in which they inhabit.

Don't let being old and uncool be an excuse for not being aware of pop culture.

It is true that being old and being naturally not cool, can be two death nails in being a youth worker.  But it doesn't have to be.  I have written before the 10 easy ways to stay hip and relevant.  This is a list that all of us can do and do well and takes minimal time and effort.

Also, I know that there are huge advocates for ditching the pop music scene and swim in the Christian Music scene.  While there are plenty of good reasons for this, one reason to understand pop music and to capitalize on ints influence is to use pop music to be the soundtrack of their youth ministry lives as well.  I defend this argument is advocating the important place for pop music and dance parties as part of the youth ministry diet.

With all that being said, pop music is powerful and it is important for us as youth workers to be up with what is out there.  There are plenty of resources, plenty of ways to keep an eye on the charts.  But I have finally landed on the best resource out there, the one that cuts through all the clutter and single-handedly makes clear what truly is pop music, the music that all our students are aware of, know the words to, and are the sound track of their lives.  By using this resource we can take that same music and make it the sound track of their youth ministry lives as well!

So what is this resource you speak of?

Ok, are you ready?  Don't judge me, it is Kidz Bop! Don't try playing the latest Kidz Bop for your students, but you can use their play list to at least be aware of what is out there.  Then let the conversations, music video lessons, and party remixes begin!

Good luck cultural crusaders!

What resources do you use to stay hip and relevant?  Us old guys need all the help we can get!

PS: It was almost 6 months to the day when Justin Bieber released the youtube video at the top of the page which launched Carly Rae Jepsen's career to when Kidz Bop 22 was released.

Helping your kids thrive at youth group

shutterstock_76832221Dear Parents, It is hard to believe that summer is rapidly ending and just as fast the ramp up to school, sports, and other activities. If your family is anything like mine, then you probably feel pretty frazzled and wondering what happened to the summer. All of the intentional things we wanted to do as a family seemed to got lost in the shuffle of vacations, travel, and activities with friends. It seems that every season brings with it its own unique challenges as we try to grow in our love and trust of Jesus.

But thankfully with the change of seasons comes an other gracious opportunity for a fresh start, and many of us need another reboot. For our family we are already locking down some of the extra activities, rediscovering family dinners, and jumping back in to the community and life of the church.

As you begin to think about the transitions ahead for your child and all the intentional work you are about to do in the next two weeks to get them set up for a successful school year I wanted to leave you with a thought.

It is obvious that you value school being a success for your child. You go clothes shopping so they will survive socially and because they are growing up and maturing and need clothes that will allow their outside lives to match their inside lives. You will be buying new school supplies because academics is important an a good start means good grades, and good grades opens all sorts of doors for the future.

And for you parents who have children entering middle school or high school for the first time, you will go to the campus early, scope it out, find the classrooms so your child will feel comfortable with their new surrounding.

We work really hard to make our children’s academic and social careers a success. We spend countless hours being anxious about their success and failures in these areas. As I look in the mirror, I need to be once again reminded that above their social success, their sporting success and even their academic success needs to be their success in faith.

Unlike those other areas, our children will get absolutely zero help and support from the people around them at school. And it is for this reason that I, as a parent, and you as a parent, must be just as much if not more proactive in helping our children find success in our community of faith here at MCC and in their personal walk with Jesus.

We can not be passive or think others will carry the ball for us. It is on us as parents if our kids are going to land at MCC and land in the student ministry.

Think of the strategy you use when your child gets a teacher they don’t like or the push back you get when they don’t want to wake up for school. Those complaints don’t matter because school is a non-negotiable.  Imagine the different kind of conversations you would be having with your children, the different battles you would have, the conversations that you would no longer entertain.  Imagine if your child's spiritual development and community were a non-negotiable.

If the parents of MCC had this mindset for our student ministry program we would have a base of 45 middle schoolers and 60 high schoolers. That is not even counting friends and new people. Think of the impact we can have for Christ in the lives of your child and their friends if we really get after it this fall!

Ok, enough preaching :) We have a month until fall kick off. Let’s get our heads n the game and encourage each other towards a life in Christ that is the smell of perfume to our kids and to this world.


Going deeper with "Zombies Are Among Us."


It is a great article.  I was invited to write a follow up post for their online journal.  Here is the "going deeper" post featured on immersejournal.com. Last year the play Wicked rolled through our town. It is an amazing and clever musical about all the unseen parts of the Wizard of Oz. Growing up, the Wizard of Oz was one of our family’s staple movies, and because of that, I am well versed in the story, the characters and the songs of this old movie, so I was able to fully enjoy the clever inferences and humor Wicked uses.

I found it interesting that, while many of our students went to see the musical and enjoyed it as a play, they had almost zero understanding of the backstory of the Wizard of Oz. Because the musical was produced so well, anyone would enjoy it. But only those with a firm understanding of the original story would enjoy the depth and complexity and wit of the musical.

When I think of trying to communicate the gospel to our students, I often reflect on some conversations I had with my students about the play Wicked. The more I try to be clever, artistic and rely on inference to communicate the spiritual realities found in Scripture, the more I find that my students are lost.

Our students have fewer and fewer touch points with biblical stories and Judeo-Christian ethics and morals and therefore need fresh stories that point clearly to Scripture in order to make the gospel more understandable to this increasingly post-Christian generation. 

I once heard a story about some missionaries who entered an area where the gospel had never been preached. The local people raised and sacrificed pigs as part of their worship practice. The missionaries were excited to see that the idea of sacrifice was already part of their culture. But while “Jesus, the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,” is a meaningful statement for those who understand the backstory of Scripture, sacrifice, Passover and the atonement, it’s meaningless in a culture that sacrifices pigs and has no understanding or knowledge of goats or lambs. In a bold and scandalous move, these missionaries chose to use the unclean animal, the pig, as the foundation to point this culture toward Jesus. The translation became a culturally significant, “Behold, Jesus, the Pig of God.”

As our cultural context becomes increasingly post Christian, we too must become cross-cultural missionaries and find relevant translations and applications to help our students understand the spiritual realities presented in Scripture. Tripp Fuller’s article might be one of the best representations of this need. His article “Zombies Are Among Us” offers a relevant paradigm in which to communicate the spiritual realities of sin and death.

Zombies make sense to students, and Tripp was able to engage his group in deep conversation as they drew parallel after parallel of how we are like zombies. Tripp’s article was so compelling that I tried with my students.  And sure enough, the conversation was rich and meaningful, and it allowed all of us to wrestle with the impact and consequences of sin and the solution God has provided for it through Jesus.

Those of us who continue to work with students are finding that we can’t simply rely on classical biblical illustrations and stories to communicate biblical truth. We must continually seek those thin places in our culture where we can point to the spiritual truths we find in Scripture so Jesus Christ can truly be good news to this new generation.

Since our students have little biblical background to draw on, we need to have many different stories and strategies to communicate the gospel.  The apostle Paul is amazing at this. In one context he uses the entire history of Israel (Acts 13:13-39); in another he performs a miracle (Acts 19:11); in still another he uses a secular poet to point to the things of God (Acts 17:22-24).

The truth is, simply talking about zombies to gain street cred or as a clever hook is a cheap way to approach ministry. Being culturally relevant is far more than having a faux hawk and knowing who Miike Snow is. It means we understand culture well enough to find those places where pop culture reveals a deeper spiritual reality and allows students an engaging way to enter the gospel story.

Karl Barth said, “We must hold the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.” While it may be true that no one reads newspapers anymore, the principle still holds true. We must be firmly planted in Scripture and in culture so we can present the gospel always.

When we use stories that matter and make sense in the lives of our students, they have a much better chance of connecting the dots to see how the greater gospel story matters and makes sense to them in their real lives.  Whether it is zombies, the Avengers, Harry Potter, Coldplay or even Justin Bieber, your students have stories that engage them and shape them. It is on us to seek out and use these hooks to help them understand and participate in the gospel.

So, where are the thin places in culture where you can find common ground with culture and Scripture so students can engage Scripture in a way that is meaningful to them?  

The hidden dangers of short term missions


This article was published at youthworkerjournal.com  

It is once again time to start gearing up our annual mission trips.  There are so many great options out there.  Some are as close as an urban setting, some are in rural and isolated contexts, and some are international ranging in proximity to Mexico all the way to Thailand or Africa.  One of the key considerations when planning a mission trip with students has to be assessing the potential dangers of the context we will be traveling to.

Our church has changed our context for short term missions several times depending on concerns for danger.  We have taken into consideration the violence in an urban setting or an outbreak of hepatitis within the street community.  We have wrestled with the potential danger of crossing a drug warfare zone in the boarder towns of Mexico.  Add to the danger of the location transportation and housing, and we start to realize that a mission trip for students is a costly and dangerous endeavor.

As someone who thinks that short term mission trips is the bread and butter of student ministry, I have come to the conclusion that these potential dangers are part of the process of helping students (and parents) to live outside their comfort zone.  And taking our students and putting them in a totally foreign and partially dangerous context softens their hearts and opens their eyes to see the working of God in new and fresh ways.

But after leading dozens of trips over the years, I am starting to realize that while the surface dangers are real and must be taken seriously, there is actually a bigger danger that is hidden lurking just below the surface.  This danger is cementing in our students a false view of missions and of themselves.

Every year we ask students to fill out an application.  One of the questions has something to do with why they want to participate in this trip.  And with almost 100% unanimity the answer is “we want to help those less fortunate than ourselves.”  Don’t get me wrong, this is an awesome value, it is a value that is at the heart of the Christian faith.  Those of us with power and resources are to care for the orphan and the widow, for the poor and oppressed.

However, when we unintentionally frame missions as us, wealthy suburbanites, helping those poor people, we continue to instill in our students that they have their acts together and are “above” others.  I am not saying that the suburban church is the problem, or that we need to beat down our own context or culture and make students feel awful for the blessings and resources they have.  The suburban culture is just that, a culture.  But when we engage in missions we must consider and celebrate the culture in which we are going to.  We have to help students see that we are guests in another culture, not superior to those we visiting.

Our students are naturally self-absorbed and limited in their worldview.  And when we set up our trips as us coming to save the day, their foundational worldview doesn’t have the chance to be challenged.  And this is the true danger of student ministry short term missions.  We take one of the most significant spiritual experiences of their high school carriers and actually solidify some of the worst of suburban thinking.  Missions is not suburban kids with their wealth and privilege helping the poor.  This is the danger in compassion ministries.

One of the best books I have read on mission for those of us leading trips from a suburban context is When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself by Brian Fikkert.  This book is a must read for anyone leading a trip.  My biggest take a way from my read of the book is that we must change our view of wealth and poverty.  All of us are wealthy in some ways and poor in others.  The challenge is to identify the ways in which we are wealthy and the ways in which we are poor.  Once we have done this, then we can come into any context, specifically impoverished ones, and easily become partners who share resources.  We then have a real chance for cultural exchange, instead of seeing ourselves as superiors above the poor people we help.

As the fundraising, logistics and training for our annual short term trips are gearing up.  There are many practical dangers we must take into account.  But it takes intentional work and training to breakthrough and breakdown the traditional mindset of many suburban students, and leaders.  Here are four values to consider as you plan your short term missions trip this year:

1)   Short term missions is about recognizing that God is already at work wherever it is we are going. The God we serve, so loves the entire world.  And the place that we will be heading off to for our short term missions trip is already loved by God and God already has people in place doing great ministry there.  This immediately takes the focus off of us and what we bring, and opens our eyes to the spiritual reality that God is alive and at work long before we showed up.

2)  Short term missions is about partnering not helping. We now have the privilege of coming alongside the people who God has called to love that community for the long haul.  And when we see our role as partners there becomes an exchange of blessings that occurs, we become givers and receivers, rather then saviors.  For this to be successful we must find organizations that are not only established and committed to that particular community, but organizations that we can trust.  The more you trust an organization, the more you can truly partner and celebrate all that God has done before you got there, is doing while you are there, and will continue to do when you leave.

3)  Short term missions is about student development. There is little long term benefit our students can bring to mission field.  We are only there for a week and often have little knowledge of the culture and language.  At best we are a blessing to the organization / missionaries we partner with.  Because that is the case, we get to use this experience to shape and transform the students we are called to be missionaries to.  And that means that we must help shape this trip in a way that broadens their view of ministry, not affirm their privileged world view.  Their spiritual health and development is our chief concern.

If we are taking students on short term mission trip we must clarify what we are doing.  It is true that many of us come from churches with significant resources and we want to partner with the heart of God in doing ministries of compassion.  But we cannot solidify the thinking that financial resources are the definition of God’s blessings.  Wealth does not put us a superiors.  We can not let our students live into this false and dangerous reality.

Our task in short term missions is to help our students understand how big God’s heart is for the world, to partner with those who are already there, and to be a blessing for the short time our paths cross.  We all have wealth and we all have poverty.  By helping our students identify and articulate where they are wealthy and where they are poor allows them to truly be partners in ministry and cultural exchange.

The Hunger Games: There is no there, there


In case you have been living under a rock, this weekend is the world wide premiere of The Hunger Games. The hype and buildup for this movie is overwhelming. Every magazine, every episode of Entertainment Tonight, and every conversation among our students is about this movie. I am hoping that this trilogy out shines Twilight :) Because of all they hype and excitement, many Christians are trying to peer in to the depths of these books and movie to find some special touch-point we can use to connect this story to the gospel. And if we can't find some way to use this to translate towards the gospel, at least it should give us some amazing insight into the hearts and minds of our students.

In this story there are themes of love and survival, political oppression and exploitation. Many are pointing out that this movie continues to affirm the social awareness and activism among our students, and the abandonment they feel from our society at large. Our students are in total survival mode and only have themselves to depend on. And to tell you the truth, I was hoping that many of my peers were right in their high view of our students social and political passions, and their angst towards the oppressive and alienating culture of adults. But the more I have spent time talking with my students about these books and the upcoming movie, I have come to the reality that there is no there, there.

The Hunger Games is a great story:

The reason for the popularity of this series is not because of the social and political backdrop, or the identification of the desperate plight of their peers, but simply because it is a great story! The Hunger Games' main characters are teenagers and they are fighting for their lives in brutal and graphic fashion. As a teenager it is incredibly easy to identify with the characters and therefore join in for the emotional rollercoaster of this story.

As an adult and, truthfully, a late adopter to this mayhem, I really enjoyed reading The Hunger Games. It only took three days on vacation to consume the first volume. I found myself captivated by the story and rooting for Katniss to survive and kick butt. Upon reflection, I would have liked to have spent more time hating the backdrop culture and oppressive regime that uses the Hunger Games to keep their thumb on the districts. But the truth is I just enjoyed the story.

If I had to talk about the deeper issues for an english class it would make for great discussion. And I think the same is true for our students. If they had to think more deeply about it, they could identify the other themes and players in this story. But what has captivated them, what has caused them to read through all three books in no time at all, and what is making them eagerly anticipating the movie's premiere, is simply that it is an amazing story!

We need to tell better stories:

Instead of piggy backing on social phenomena like The Hunger Games in order to link the gospel to culture, maybe we just simply need to tell better stories ourselves. Most people, especially students, love good entertainment. Haven't you noticed that great music, movies, and books always rise to the top. And The Hunger Games is great entertainment. What is too bad, is that so little Christian entertainment and story telling rises to the level of excellent. We have the best story at our finger tips, a story full of sex, violence, social and political corruption, amazing heroics, and redemption for the hugest failures, and so much more.

I think it was a Young Life guy who said, "It is a sin to bore kids with the gospel." We have an opportunity to share with students the greatest drama the world has ever heard. And what is even more amazing, we have an opportunity to invite students to actually participate in the story.

I was blown away when I heard some of my students talking about joining Harry Potter's online school and they were anxiously anticipating what house they would be directed to. Students want great stories. Students want to be caught up in great stories, and many of our students live in false realities attempting to transfer these fictional stories into real life. (team Edward) Why not recommit to make the gospel story compelling enough to captivate our students, and to captivate them in such a way that they will long to be part of the story. And fun entertainment like The Hunger Games, gets to be just fun.

We are hitting the gospel story hard this week in youth group and Sunday School. And after church on sunday we are hitting the movie theater to catch The Hunger Games for the second time! Happy Hunting!



Conflicting truths as we navigate the changes in student ministry

Teenagers hands playing tug-of-war with used rope

There are two competing truths that are attempting to live together in the youth ministry world. Truth 1) The process of adolescence is lengthening. In the 1950’s, most sociologists agreed that by the time someone was 16 they had completed the process of individuation. And in the 70’s it was around 18, then in the 90’s it was the early 20’s,and now its believed to be the late 20’s. Chap Clark has done a ton of work in helping youth workers and parents understand this process. Even TIME magazine is on board with this truth.

Truth 2) Students today are so over having youth ministry be fun and light. They are ready for deep theologyemerging worship practicesjustice ministry, and being missional.

As I have been trying to bridge the gap of these two truths, I have been coming up short. Over the past year or so I have been intentionally wrestling with these competing truths, and I keep coming to an un-politically correct conclusion: I firmly agree that while adolescence is lengthening, students are not developmentally prepared or ready for some of the deeper things of christianity.

(If your interested in how I came to this conclusion, I wrote about it here)

Because youth workers are doing youth ministry longer, it makes sense that we have our spiritual growth overflow into the heart of our ministry. But as the developmental gap widens, we have to be so much more thoughtful and aware of differentiating our issues and growing edge with those of our students.

Which leaves me wondering: Where are the books that actually equip those of us in the field who work with middle school and high school students that address this phenomena on the front end?

Because, if this lengthening is real, then the implication is not just that students are behaving like adolescents well into their 20’s. It also means that current high school students are behaving and processing the world the same way middle schoolers were just 10 years earlier. This truth leaves me with some unresolved questions:

If that is true, then shouldn’t high school ministry today look more similar to jr high ministry of 10 years ago, opposed to looking more like college ministry?

If this is where our high schoolers are at, what in the world are we supposed to do with our middle schoolers?

How do we walk with students who are engaged in and exposed to very adult material and are even less able to process these experiences because they are even more developmentally delayed then we are aware of?

Are you noticing this in your ministries?

Student ministry is changing at break-neck speeds because students are becoming more and more complex. They are exposed to more complex and adult issues at a time in their lives when they are becoming less developmentally prepared to deal with them. While this is very overwhelming, I am committed to figuring it out. I want to walk well with students through this crazy season of their lives. I so want God to use my feeble efforts to be part of the redeeming process, and not be the part that needs to be redeemed. Thankfully, no matter what, God uses all of it (the good, the bad, and the ugly), as part of his authoring and perfecting of their faith. Thanks be to God!

I have recently been invited to be a regular contributor at youthmin.org.  It is a great group of people who are trying to mix up the conversation regarding student ministry.  If you don't already read them, I highly recommend it.  Have a great day!

How Orange has changed our Children's Ministry and our church:

Think Orange

One of the best decisions I have ever made in student ministry is to become good friends and colleagues with the children's ministry director.   Here at Marin Covenant Church I am honored to lead a great team and that team is spearheaded by Stacie Mancini.  As we wrap up Orange Week, I asked Stacie if she would reflect on how going Orange has changed our children's ministry, our church, and our team.  Here are her thoughts: Our Children’s Ministry went Orange last summer. And I am so glad we did. We had been writing our own curriculum and had found a rhythm that was working for us. And everything was going fine…I just felt like we were missing something. Orange’s appeal is evident when you first see their dynamic presentation. I wanted the clever, fun and engaging multi-media curriculum for our kids. But even more than that I wanted what Orange offered for our families. After implementing Orange I see how much we have truly gained.

Orange synchronizes the light of the church with the love of family. It has helped us articulate our vision, hopes and prayers for the families we shepherd. Parents are understanding that the spiritual growth of their children is something we get to work on together, and that assertion has catapulted our ministry into a whole new world of partnership with parents. By clearly stating we are working with the same strategy towards the same goal, we have been united in a way that feels more tangible. Parents seem more open to sharing what is happening with their kids, and because of that we feel more connected to them. We have been given a bigger window to speak into their lives.

With Orange we are able to provide awesome resources for parents. Parents now have incredible tools to truly engage their children. By watching each month’s virtue or perusing the weekly overview, parents can be on board with what their kids are learning. The questions they are given really work to start natural conversation. Another benefit of Orange is that we can easily encourage parents with excellent parenting podcasts, videos, articles and book suggestions. These resources have grown our children’s team and by simply suggesting resources to parents it has given us more credibility.

Orange is easy to teach. Even people who feel awkward around children can get past themselves to engage kids with Orange. Small group activities are designed to encourage relationships and build trust, allowing teachers to speak into children’s lives easier. It has been a subtle shift, but I see that teachers feel more connected to their kids by how they talk about them. And our wonderful kids are more transparent and engaged and with each other and their teachers.

There has also been a noticeable change in the young family core group in our church. They are reading Reggie Joiner’s book, “Parenting Beyond Your Capacity”. They seem to be embracing the idea of community not just for their sake, but also for their child’s as well. Volunteering and getting to know their peer’s children has value to them. Families want community, and are more open and invested than in the past. The vibe in this small community is evidence of the impact of Orange.

They say change is never easy. But what I love is that change can bring enthusiasm and a fresh sense of purpose. In our case going Orange brought both of those and a lot more. And believe it or not…going Orange truly was easy!

If you are unfamiliar with Orange, I would encourage you to check it out.  They are an amazing resource for youth workers and for families.  I can not wait to get out to Atlanta for the annual convention.  I hope you consider coming along.   Sign up this week and save some money.  No matter if you are an Orange Kool-Aid drinker like me or not, communicating with parents is a no-brainer and a must.


An easy way to score huge points with parents!


I started youth ministry back when mailing flyers with clip art out of a book was the best and most effective way to communicate with parents.  As I grew in skills I began to make calendars on Microsoft Publisher and would occasionally send out letters to parents to promote special events like a trip to Mexico or a parent meeting. Because this was the time that formed my communication world view, I came late to embracing all the technology available to me to communicate to parents and to students.  This is my excuse.  What is yours?

I am shocked at how many of my youth worker friends do not have regular communication with parents.  In an age of technology, email, databases, etc, communicating regularly with parents is the number one way to score big points for you and your ministry.

Perception is Reality

The biggest gripe I hear from parents is that they don’t know what is going on.  As a youth worker who is a great planner, this excuse chafed on me big time.  All the information for events would be in the bulletin, on the quarterly calendar, on the website, and sent home on flyers.  But with all of these outlets, parents still managed to miss what was going on in our ministry and the details about events.   And the biggest bummer is that perception is reality.  So if it was perceived that the information was unclear, then it was.

How parents perceive your organizational and communication skills is the true test of how you are doing in these two categories.  We cannot be scared of this feedback.  Instead, we must embrace it and address it.  Here is how my team did it.

Email Parents Once A Week

Like I said at the start, this is easy.  It is not rocket science  If you already do this, then good job, quit reading, and check out one of my fellow Orange bloggers.  If you aren’t, SHAME ON YOU!!  This is a must, and a huge win for you and your ministry.

In our weekly emails we :

·      Get to share the vision and purpose of our group.

·      Encourage parents to love their kids.

·      Encourage parents to pray for me and for our ministry.

·      Empower parents to take away excuses for their kids to miss youth group or events.

·      Share resources that they may find helpful.

·      Share stories of how God is at work in our ministry.

·      Communicate upcoming lessons for both follow-up and open dialogue in case it gets a little spicy.

·      Highlight upcoming events and communicate details.

·      Remind parents of RSVP dates and links so they can sign up right there on the spot.

·      Provide an easy way for parents to get a hold of me, because my email is always in their inbox somewhere.

·      Give the impression that I am easily accessible.

·      Become a weekly reminder that their church has a youth pastor and a youth program that is worthy of their consideration.

Logistically, this can be a challenge.  This is how we did it:

We spent a lot of hours contacting every parent in our youth ministry’s database and added a field for parents’ email.  This is a long and awful task.  But once this is done, the maintenance is super easy.

Now, whenever a new person comes to youth group we collect their contact information.  But we added a step where we mail home a letter to their parents explaining what their kid showed up at, explaining our youth ministry, who I am, and how to contact me.  We also invite the parents to share their contact information with us so they can stay in the loop with our weekly emails.

We have been going at this strong for several years now and the response has been amazing.  I have not heard one complaint about communication or about the lack of information regarding an event.  Parents can simply look in their inbox to find everything they need to know.  The only down side is that all of our parents know I am a horrible speller and have no sense of grammar.  (Just like my fellow blog readers.)  And like I said before, if you already send out these emails, you should have stopped reading 300 words ago.

Why is this post part of Orange week?

The Orange philosophy has solidified my conviction that parents must be partners in student ministry.  I have spent many years being scared and intimidated by parents.  Truthfully, I still am.  But by keeping them in the loop, respecting their rightful place in the lives of their own kids, and inviting a partnership with them has opened up conversation, deepened trust, and made for some of the most fruitful seasons of ministry ever.

If you are unfamiliar with Orange, I would encourage you to check it out.  They are an amazing resource for youth workers and for families.  I can not wait to get out to Atlanta for the annual convention.  I hope you consider coming along.   Sign up this week and save some money.  No matter if you are an Orange Kool-Aid drinker like me or not, communicating with parents is a no-brainer and a must.

This is how a technological newbie does his communication.  How do you do it?  What templates, software or programs do you use?

You can do anything! SNL's crystal clear exegesis of our student's world view


Saturday Night Live recently did an amazing skit which highlights a huge cultural shift happening among our students. You can do anything! Our students are firmly living within the hay-day of the self-esteem movement and we are starting to see the some of the ramifications. I don't really have any commentary, because SNL provided it. The challenge is for us to find the thin places within this culture to help our students see their failure, brokenness, and their need for Jesus, especially since, failure, brokenness, and sin are words with zero meaning for them.



Book Review: You Lost Me

you lost me

I recently read David Kinnaman’s newest book, You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving the Church and Rethinking Faith.  If you work with young people or young adults, are one, or know any, then this book is for you! David Kinnaman is no slouch in his thinking or writing.  Everything he says is documented by statistics and anecdotes, and is confirmed by the real-world interactions of the reader.  In this book, Kinnaman makes a very compelling argument that the ways in which young adults view faith is undergoing a seismic transition.

Another Book Dedicated to the Evils of the Suburban Church?

There have been plenty of books, documentaries, articles, and conversations about what is happening to young people when they graduate from high school, because the evidence is clear that a huge percentage of them walk out the doors of their church or youth group, never to return again.  This is an overwhelming and complex problem; some the best minds are only now starting to scratch its surface.  And Kinnaman is one of the best thinkers when it comes to understanding these cultural shifts.

I am not going to lie to you; I had trouble getting through the first section of his book.  I began reading it through the lens of a follow-up to his book UnChristian, a continued piling on of the atrocities the suburban church has committed against Christendom.  In fact, in most of the books, articles, and documentaries that are looking into this problem lay the blame firmly on the suburban church.

As someone who is called to the suburban church and who loves the institutional church with all his heart, using the suburban church as a simplistic straw man begins to chafe!  I am not saying the suburban church is perfect or that there are not problems that need to be addressed, but I think the problems and the solutions are incredibly complex and have more to do with our quickly changing cultural context than the evils of attractional youth ministry.

All that is to say, as I began this book and had to wade through more and more anecdotal stories of people who have left the church for a variety of reasons, I became frustrated and almost quit reading.  But to my surprise, Kinnaman does not highlight a wound and come up with superficial solutions.  He not only captures the heart of our culture and its problems with Christianity and with the Church, but he also brilliantly outlines a way forward.

The World Has Changed!

Anyone who thinks that we still live in a “Christian” culture where the church has power and influence in our society as a whole is living in the dark.  When the church had a prominent place, we could wield our power and influence in all sorts of ways.  And the truth is, many of the ways the church did use its power and influence were harmful in the long term.

Kinnaman highlights six ways in which the church and even Christianity are disconnected from the culture of young adults.  His research has shown that these young adults see the church as: overprotective, shallow, anti-science, repressive, exclusive, and doubtless.  While most people could simply highlight these issues and look down their noses at the silly church, Kinnaman actually proposes a way forward.

His chapter on the disconnect between the church and the culture of young adults relating to the repressive views of sex and sexuality is worth the entire cost of the book.   You can begin to see that the conflict between the church’s views of purity and abstinence are directly in conflict with the lengthening of time people, including Christians, are taking to settle down and married.  Individualism is becoming the core value, and when marriage, sex, and sexuality are seen through that lens there is bound to be conflict and tension with the traditional church.

What I appreciated most about this book, is that Kinnaman doesn’t just simply fillet the church by highlighting these disconnections.  He actually begins to put together a plan for the church to move forward.  But now, as the church wrestles with how to address the clear issues post-Christians have with the church, it is clear that the way forward is going to be incredibly complex.

Christian leaders for this next generation will have to be deep thinkers as they wrestle with the complexities and nuance of the faith and how it relates to people who have no felt needs for the authority of the church in their individualized world view.   Christian leaders are also going to have to be connected to the Holy Spirit, seeking His wisdom and discernment.  There are no simple solutions, and every story is different.  Somehow we must regain the heart of Christ and once again value humility and patience as we walk with people who are nomads, prodigals, and even exiles in their walk with God.

Thank you David for a compelling book.  May the church take it to heart as we strive to share the Good News of Jesus to an increasingly foreign culture.


This review was also featured at jacobswell.me and youthmin.org


can grace be an entitlement? what the 99% says about our students' worldview:


This post was featured on jacobswell.me.

I have found the occupy protests of the last few months to be very interesting on a number of different fronts. I have read just about everything there is to read on these protests and listened to all the commentary, and I have come to the conclusion that this protest is less about the 99% vs the 1%, and more about a clash in worldviews.

No matter your political persuasion or even your opinion of these protests, it seems to me, that at the core of the issue is one of entitlements and rights. What are we entitled to? As Americans? As Humans?

A scary new frontier:

We are living in a culture that is in massive transition. The students I work with have a world view that is completely egocentric and expect to have certain things given to them. What is amazing to me, is that there used to be a time when people had desires and dreams and then worked hard to get there. But now, no matter the amount of effort put in, the dreams are expected to be fulfilled.

The political and social implications for this are great and many others will wrestle with them. What I am wrestling with is, can grace still be grace if it is an entitlement.

Grace in its very nature is a gift that isn't deserved. Back in the old skool days of theology there was an understanding that we are sinful, depraved, broken, and the only thing we deserved was wrath and punishment. Now there is no sin or brokenness. These things that used to be classified this way are simply parts of our life that add character and personality.

Set up for disappointment:

We are now entitled to God's love, God's blessing, God's never ending goodness and fortune. And when God doesn't show up the way we expect him to, we protest! For we are the 99%, the entitled class. This explains some of the fickleness we see in our students and in their understanding of life and faith.

Because so many in this new worldview expect goodness, blessing and fortune as the starting point, as an entitlement, the only place to go from here is envy and disappointment. Envy, traditionally, one of the seven deadly sins, is now seen as a virtue. The remedy for envy is thanksgiving. But we can only get to a place of thanksgiving if we flip our understanding of entitalment.

Thanksgiving is the remedy for Envy:

We are entitled to nothing. We are lost people, trapped in sin and selfishness. And it is at just the right time that Jesus came and rescued us, extended grace towards us and blesses us with salvation, identity, and purpose. These are not entitlements, but gifts. And when we can understand that for ourselves, and help our students understand that, we will be living once again in an orthodox faith, a faith that is centered on the grace of God through Jesus Christ, not on the selfish protests of an entitled people.

With an entitlement worldview taking over at such a rapid pace, it is even that much more important for us to communicate the gospel clearly, to hold on to our orthodox theology, and be as creative as possible to help a generation understand what they are truly entitled to, and the unexpected grace that was extended to them and us.

justin bieber: celebrating the wrong love on his new album

Justin Bieber

The most popular album among our students right now is Justin Bieber's latest record, Under the Mistletoe. It is the most popular album in my family as well. After listening to it for almost a week straight, I have come to a couple of conclusions: I Am Still a Big JB Fan: As with everything, I am a total late adopter when it comes to pop culture. I couldn't even name a Justin Bieber song until I ended up buying the movie on a whim and as a joke. But when it turned out I couldn't return the movie, I figured I would watch it. For the next 90 minutes I sat in awe of a youth group kid who went after it and made it big.

Every character in the film was somebody I could relate to. After doing student ministry for so long, I have come to be able to empathize with the single mom, the involved grand parent, the dream for something better. And then when once it happened, it was amazing. I have to confess, I even cried during the movie.

Now, don't get me wrong, I am not a sap and I wasn't born yesterday. I am fully aware how produced he, his image, and that movie are. But at the end of the day he is still a youth group kid who made it. And he is someone most of my students connect with and want to be part of.

Even with a paternity suit pending, I am a fan!

I Am So Thankful To Be Old and Married: The one constant theme that runs through all of Justin's music is his overwhelming passion for the ladies. It is overwhelming how much love can ooze out of one man, let alone one kid. Under The Mistletoe is all of his former musical efforts to express love combined and then some. Seriously, this kid has passion and the ladies soak it up.

Track after track, JB expresses the kind of love that would make Ryan Gosling from the Notebook feel like a heard-hearted bitter man. As I listen through the CD I realized how thankful I am to my wife and for putting up with me and my total lack of romance. Even through I think his passion is over the top and kind of gives me a headache, I do want to live more and more into that passion for my own wife.

I probably won't be facebooking or twittering Katie anytime soon, and thankfully our love songs don't revolve around negotiating a curfew with our parents, but in honor of Justin Bieber, I will be adding some mistletoe to the house this Christmas season.

Christmas, as in Celebrating Christ's Birth, is Officially Dead On a more serious note, this new album makes for some intereting commentary on our cultures continued grab-bag of religions and worldviews. I don't mean to be dramatic or imply that the sky is falling. People could be making this argument for years. As someone who is fully comfortable in reality television and pop culture news, something felt different about this Christmas album than the gazillions before it.

Whether it is true or not, Justin has been portrayed as a good Christian kid and the spiritual part of his life was highlighted on his tour to help us good Christian folk buy in. (Just like we did with Britney before him) What struck a strange nerve in me was not his overly romantic lyrics or his celebration of Santa Clause. What made me think that this was some sort of watershed CD was the way in which the Christmas themes, particularly the Christian themes, were intertwined seamlessly, even when the images were opposed to each other.

In the song, Mistletoe, Justin sings a beautiful song about love and making out. But then in the middle he throws in Christian imagery to express his love for his girlfriend. Not Christmas imagery, but Christian imagery. "The wise men followed the star, the way I followed my heart, and led me to a miracle."

I could be wrong, but this is the first time, or at least the most famous time ,to lower Christian images and use them as illustrations to paint a picture of teenage love.

The strangest song on the CD is when Justin sings as the Little Drummer Boy. The original song which is a precious song about a little boy who doesn't have great gifts to bring, like the wise men, will offer his simple gift of his only talent on his only possession in honor and deference to the new born King.

The song begins well with Justin singing beautifully, but then all of the sudden, with zero recognition of what was just sung, Justin and Busta go off on how great they, how tight he is, he's about to go psycho! At the end of the day they bring it all together to celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa by participating in a can drive.

I know none of this is new or shocking. But since this CD is taking over my life, I needed some outlet to process some of my thoughts. As I have asked around, it turns out no one shares them with me. I guess we live in a world that is more than ever jumbled and amoral. We believe a smorgasbord of ideas to create our own theology, and at the end of the day give a can to a can drive and feel pretty good about ourselves.

As I lean into Christmas this year, I will be enjoying this CD, but even more so, I will be actually enjoying the real reason for Christmas, the birth of the true King, the true Savior of the World, and not just the author of Love, but of Love incarnate.

bringing back kumbaya


This last month I had the pleasure of meeting up with my fellow youth workers for a retreat to provide some connection, rest, inspiration, and fun before we jump into this next season of ministry. On of my dear friends and one of the most creative people I know in ministry, Lisa Holmlund, invited our group into an old skool liturgy she does with her students. At the very end of our retreat we all grouped up in a circle, arms on shoulders, swaying back and forth singing our gusts out to The Benediction by Timothy James Meaney. A flood of warm fuzzies overwhelmed me as we obnoxiously sang this song that communicated our heart for each other, was incredibly cheesy, and worked to remind me of a more simple time in life and ministry when things like this were the norm.

But why should us old youth workers be the only ones with these kind of memories and warm fuzzies? Maybe I 'm robbing our students of a significant point of connection and memory by always striving to be hip and relevant. Maybe what they need is a little old skool singing in a circle, celebrating our common unity and hope in Jesus, as we solidify this memory through contact and song.

So, I've decided to jump in with both feet. I am going to burn up what little political capital I have with my students and make them do this thing that is totally foreign to them, but I think, also needed. And for the whole year we are going to end our youth group every week joined together singing and laughing as we proclaim God's goodness and faithfulness for us and to us.

This year, instead of bringing sexy back, I am bringing back kumbaya.

My friends, may you grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior. My friends, may you grow in grace and in the knowledge of Jesus Christ.

To God be the glory, now and forever, now and forever Amen!

I pray tonight, if we learned from one another, may we glorify Him. And if the Lord should bring us back together, may we be in His arms 'til then.


Developing a ministry plan part 3 : A youth group that rocks!

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part 1 : a solid ministry modelpart 2 : purposeful events

Your Youth Group Says It All:

For as solid as your ministry model and philosophy are, and for all the amazing events you have put on your calendar to wow kids and impress parents, what actually happens at youth group matters most.  What happens during the hour and a half of youth group says everything about you and your ministry plan.  It communicates to your staff, your parents, and your students what your ministry is all about.  The liturgy of the evening, the way it is led, who's up front or if there even is an up front, where people sit if they sit at all, what you sing, and what you teach, no matter how you teach it--all communicate your ministry plan.  If that's the case, then pause for a minute and think about what your youth group time says about your ministry model or philosophy.

In my 15 years of running youth groups I've tried just about everything.  There have been seasons where I have:

  • Met in my living room with my entire youth group of 5 for dinner and Bible Study.
  • Played guitar and led worship, have had students lead worship, and have had no singing worship at all.
  • Bribed kids to come and bring friends by offering big prizes.  (I still do this one)
  • Set up and played huge all campus games and relays.
  • Duct-taped kids to walls.
  • Lit hundreds of candles for a quiet and reflective prayer experience (and fire hazard).
  • Scrapped all my plans and packed kids up in cars for ice cream and for impromptu service opportunities.
  • Used bull horns to command attention on big game nights.
  • Sent kids home for being rude and obnoxious.
  • Wondered what I was going to teach on 20 min before kids have shown up.

Why Do We Do What We Do?

For most of my ministry career, I've found myself going from the latest idea or fad to the next for a variety of reasons.  Sometimes I stole ideas online because I was tired of having a youth group of 5 people and was willing to try anything get more kids to come.  Other times I stole ideas online because I was at the end of my rope with how selfish and self-absorbed my kids were and wanted to give them an experience to shake them up a bit.   And there have been seasons where I have stolen ideas online because I was simply bored with youth group and wanted to mix things up.

It is an interesting exercise to reflect on why we do what we do on a particular youth group night.  For me, most of what I've done was predetermined for me.  The people before me did it a certain way and everyone seemed to like that model just fine, so why rock the boat?  For what wasn’t already laid out by my predecessor, I simply reflected back to what worked for me when I was in youth group. Somehow between those two poles, I found a rhythm to my youth group nights that worked for me.

A Disciplined Approach To Youth Group:

But what if what you and I do on a youth group night was not decided by our predecessor, or by our past histories, or by the latest fad, or by the hot thing online?  What would happen if what we choose to do during our youth group nights is born out of an intentional ministry plan based on a solid model or philosophy?

This is the hard work I did several years ago, and I was surprised by where I landed.  Before I share with you where I ended up, there are a couple of disclaimers.  First, each one of us is unique and made with different ideas, personalities, and passions.  Second, on top of this reality, we are all called to totally different and unique contexts.  Because of this, what works for me may not work for you.  Nevertheless, I thought I would simply share my journey with the hopes of A) making you feel better about your ministry and more importantly, B) encouraging you to wrestle through this process yourself.

As I've shared with you in the other two sections, I have landed on a model of ministry that is built upon The Celtic Way Of Evangelism.   The basic gist of this book is that when doing ministry in a post-Christian context, it is impossible and counter-productive to build a movement by having people first conform to a belief, then live lives that are integretous with that belief, allowing them to fully belong to a community.  Rather, from the very beginning, we allow people to belong to our community no matter who they are or what they believe or how they live.  As members of our community, we explore together what it means to believe and to work out this belief as they become all that Christ has for them to be.

This paradigm of Belong, Belief, and Become now shapes the how, what and whys of youth group.  The funny thing is that most of what we do looks exactly like most other youth groups.  (Solomon was right in that there is nothing new under the sun.) But even though the parts may be similar, they all play into and build momentum toward our overall goal of helping students in our post-Christian context become all that Christ intends for them to be.

Is that the Celtic Way of Youth Group or A Flashback to 1990?

With all the high minded, philosophical discussion surrounding what we do at youth group, when it comes to actually putting together our midweek youth group, it is easy to mistake our deep and relevant ministry for one that has gone back as we rock out to Audio A!

Because our first order of business at youth group is to create community and a sense of belonging, everything we do is done to collect students, get them to interact, break down barriers, build memories, and share lives.  I wish there were better ways to accomplish this, but what I have found to work is what has worked for over 30 years in youth ministries all over the country.  We have FUN!

As cool and sophisticated as students may come off, I 've found that they are still kids.  We can’t let their false persona cause us to question ourselves or our ministry.  Our cool kids need to remember that they are kids, that there is fun to be had, that there are friendships to be made, and there are even things to be learned.  When we give them the social power to control a room we shrink our ministries and cater to their natural self-absorption, giving them zero tools to learn to connect with people different than themselves.

When you bust out the big games, messy games, competitive games, you allow students to be true to their developmental phase.  They have to be adults all the rest of the time, so at youth group they get to be kids again.  Games break down barriers and get kids to interact.  The more kids interact, the more opportunities they have to realize there are other kids at youth group that they can connect with.  Games break the awkwardness at the beginning of youth group and make a defined place and roll for kids to live into.  As fun as these games are, their purpose is to foster a sense of belonging.  At no time in the hour or two I have them at youth group do I want kids to feel isolated or invisible.  No matter who they are, when they come to youth group, they are family, they belong!

We do more big games than any other youth worker I know, but the unique way that God made me is that I love to have fun, so fun is what we are going to do.

Choosing Curriculum That Jives With Your Plan:

Besides having fun, we also squeeze in funny videos, announcements, and a time to welcome new people.  After the fun and mayhem portion of youth group is over we transition, rather awkwardly sometimes, into a time of worship.  Or students lead it and do a great job.  I have gone back and forth on whether or not to have singing worship be a part of our youth group rhythm.  In this season I have students and leaders who are passionate about it and who do a fantastic job leading it.  This helps tell our unique youth group story.  We all belong, we all use our gifts as we become all that God has us to be.  Worship for us is a time when we reflect on who God is and what we believe as we make space for him to shape us into who we are becoming.

After singing worship we have a lesson, talk, sermon, whatever you call someone teaching for 20 minutes, from a passage of scripture.  For 20 minutes, once a week, we work through a curriculum that helps us work out our ministry plan.  The curriculum that is chosen is not haphazard or dictated by what I happen to be learning this week.  It has been carefully and prayerfully put together a year in advance.  This work has been done because for as seriously as we take the Belong part of youth group, we take the Believe part even more seriously.

We only have limited time with our students, so what we communicate with them is of utmost importance.  The lessons themselves tell the story of how we belong, what we believe, and who we are to become.  It is an annual rhythm that works hand in hand with the scholastic calendar and our calendar of events.  Every summer I reexamine the curriculum choice of the last year and build on it to develop a curriculum plan for the upcoming year.

You might think that planning out youth group talks a year in advance hinders the work of the Holy Spirit, but I have found the opposite to be true.  The amount of spiritual work that goes into a yearly calendar is difficult and challenging.  And once it is done, there is huge freedom in it.  Plus, have you noticed that every school and institution that has things to teach has a prescribed curriculum? Maybe there is something to learn from them J

Because we all know that listening to lecture-style sermons doesn’t do a very good job of helping information stick long enough to transform, we use these sermons as launching pads for our small groups.  In our ministry we have age- and gender-specific small groups that meet every youth group to process the information, wrestle with the concepts, and attempt to put them into practice.

By the end of a youth group night, our dream is that every student feels like they belong and are part of our family, are introduced to a biblical truth or belief, and are encouraged to wrestle with it as they become all that God has for them to be.

Like I said before, this is just how we have chosen to work it out in our unique context with our unique mix of students and staff.  What do you do in your context?  How is your youth ministry run?  What do you do for curriculum?

Appendix: Our Curriculum For the Year

It probably isn’t helpful for you at all, but it is a discipline of mine to get it out there.  These lessons work with our ministry plan and are designed to communicate why we belong, what we believe, and who we are to become.  Here is what we are teaching for the next year during our midweek youth group.  These are just the lesson titles.  If you would like more detail, just let me know.  If you have better ideas, please help me out and hook me up!

Sept 7: Open House

Sept 14 : I have huge value

Sept 21 : I have huge brokenness

Sept 28 : There is a huge solution

Oct 5 : A huge invitation

Oct 12 : A new world view

Oct 19 : Eat the Word

Oct 26 : Phil 1

Nov 2 : Phil 2

Nov 9: Phil 3

Nov 16 : Phil 4

Nov 30 : Operation Andrew (invite a friend night) Best Gift Ever!

Dec 7: Christmas Party

Jan 4 : Having integrity

Jan 11 : Peer pressure

Jan 18 : Following through

Jan 25 : Lying / Cheating

Feb 1 : Drugs (Pot)

Feb 8 : Dating

Feb 15 : Sex

Feb 29 : How to engage culture

Mar 7 : Music

Mar 14 : Internet

Mar 21 : Movies

Mar 28 : Hot Topic Night

April 4 : Worship Night

April 20 : What is the Good News

April 25 : Good news for you

May 2 : Good news for the world

May 9 : How to share Good News

May 16 : Outreach Night

May 23 : Softball Party

May 30 : Small Group Dinner

The End!



developing a ministry plan part 2: purposeful events

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Coming up with a philosophy or model for ministry is the easy part in developing a ministry plan.  Whether it is intuitive or researched, most of the youth workers I know have a school of ministry that they subscribe to.  But often, when you take a closer look at what actually happens throughout the calendar year of their student ministry, the events seem to tell a different story.

Certain events seem to populate just about every youth ministry calendar.  While many of the reasons to do certain events are good and even noble, rarely do they originate through the prism of a ministry model.  It doesn’t matter if you are a cell-based ministry, attractional, missional, purpose-driven or what, you most likely have some combination of these events on your calendar:

  • Retreats
  • Movie Nights
  • Scavenger Hunts
  • Lock-Ins
  • Service Projects
  • Mission Trips
  • Senior Celebrations
  • BBQ’s
  • Pool / Lake Parties
  • Camping Trips
  • Road Trips
  • Christian Concerts
  • Christian Rallies
  • See You At The Pole
  • Something really creative that you are proud of that only you do and won’t share with others ;)
These events are staples because they are effective.  And most of us can find some way to fit each of these events into our model.  But instead of starting with the events, to be the most effective, we need to start with our plan.

Developing a solid ministry plan means that we have to be proactive and intentional with the events we choose to do.  There are a million great ideas, as well as some sacred cows, that all come into play when we put our calendar together.  The trick is to pick events that make sense within our model of ministry, our context for ministry, and our unique passions.  In order to pull this off we need to fly back up to 30,000 feet and get some clarity regarding the model or philosophy of ministry we are trying to pull off.  Then when we have some of this clarity, we fly back down to 10,000 feet, get a clean piece of paper and get to work.

Plan a Year Out:

We all have different ways in which we do this work. The way that it happens is not important; what is important is that we actually do the hard work of mapping out our year ahead of time.  No matter what your church’s expectation are of you and your calendar of events, it is important that you are clear about what kind of ministry you want to do, and then plan to do it.

Sidebar:  If you have not gotten into the rhythm of planning your ministry calendar out a year in advance, then you are diluting the effectiveness and potential impact of your ministry.

By planning a year ahead of time you have the ability to craft a story, to paint a picture, to walk down a specific road; choose the illustration you like best. The point is that a full-year calendar allows you to choose events for specific reason to accomplish specific purposes.  You’re now in the driver's seat; you can space out events appropriately, have your events build on themselves and on your curriculum, and make sense within the overall direction in which you’re leading the ministry.

The difficult part is choosing which events to do and when to do them.  Before I say yes to an event it must pass three tests: it must be consistent with my model, my context, and my passion.  If it makes it through these three tests then it has a shot at making my yearly calendar.

Plan Events That Are Consistent With Your Model:

You have a ministry model  or philosophy that works for you and you are proud of.  If you really believe in this model of ministry then it is important to have the events that you plan be consistent with it.  When we simply talk about our model of ministry but continue doing the sacred cows we dilute our message.

For me, I’ve landed on The Celtic Way of Evangelism model of ministry.  This means that the three main thrusts of my ministry are Belong, Believe, and Become.  As I create a yearly calendar I want to make sure the events I choose fall closely within one of these three categories.  Once I have chosen events for this model, I like to see how I can make each event build upon the last as we spiral downward and then outward.  My team and I gather and create an inviting community, while we communicate what we believe and attempt to live it out within our youth group and with them, out into our community.

Plan Events That Are Consistent With Your Context:

Every context is unique and therefore must be taken into consideration as the calendar is put together.  Being urban, rural, or suburban dramatically changes the type of events you can even choose to do.  Add to the mix the socio-economic factors of your peeps and the options dwindle further.  What about the church you work for and their values?  Considering the trajectory of the church should impact the events you choose to do as well.  Even more specifically, you must consider the importance of athletics, scholastics, work, disposable income, disposable time.  All these factors create filters through which you must sift all the possible events to get to the ones that will be most effective with the unique group of students in your unique church, in your unique town.

This is why some events are so popular in some contexts and an anathema in others.  I have had plenty of calendar years where I have not been as smart or purposeful.  I can't even count the amount of events that have bombed or backfired: providing Halloween alternatives to families who don’t need one, camping with kids who hate being dirty, an expensive road-trip with kids who had no disposable income, a mission trip during football season... the list goes on.

Instead of doing the events that you like best, you have to do some hard work and think about who your people are and provide events that meet their needs.  It is like that book, The 5 Love Languages.  We naturally love others in our own language, but a good relationship considers how others receive love, and loves them that way.  The same is true with our events.  You do the events that meet your specific students where they are at.

Plan Events That Are Consistent With Your Passion:

You are fearfully and wonderfully made.  You have been called by God to your particular context to do ministry.  God did not call me to your ministry, he called you.  You, with all your complexity, history, gifts, talents, and passions are who He desires to minister in the lives of your specific students.

It doesn’t matter what your particular slant is, whether it is worship, service, discipleship, the poor, missions.  There is no way you can focus on it all.  Instead of chipping away at the surface of a million different parts of the Christian life, focus mainly on the things you are already passionate about.  If you do events that others are passionate about but are simply a duty for you, your kids are the ones who lose out.  Do what you love, and do it well. When you do what you are passionate about, your students will be inspired and follow.

The trick here is to also make space for students to find the things they are passionate about and empower them to to live into them.   Modeling this yourself gives you freedom to be all God created you to be, as well as freeing your students to be all that God has made them to be.

Plus, when you pick events that you are excited and passionate about, you will enjoy your time so much more!  Your events will bring you life and increase your passion for Jesus and for your students.  Ministry should be fun and life-giving, so make sure the events you choose do that for you, and that will trickle down to your students.

My Calendar of Purposeful Events:

If you have never done this before, go to Staple’s and buy a scholastic year at a glance wall calendar and a variety pack of stickies.  Have each color represent a purpose for an event, then put all the events you want to do or have scheduled to do on the appropriate colored sticky.  Once you have done this, start placing them on your calendar.  Very soon you will be able to tell how balanced your ministry is. You’ll begin to see holes in some areas and over-saturation in others.  As you wrestle with, pray through, and fiddle with these like crazy, soon you will have put together a yearly calendar of events that are purposeful and add momentum to your already great ministry model.

For me, the events that have passed the tests of model, context, and passion are as follows:

  • BELONG : Fall Kick Off (A huge party to welcome everyone back on our first night of youth group)
  • BELONG : Disneyland Road Trip
  • BECOME : Hamilton Elementary School Service Project
  • BELONG : Turkey Dinner
  • BELONG : Christmas Party
  • BELIEVE : Winter Camp
  • BELIEVE : Movie Night (Unpacking a popular movie through a Christian worldview)
  • BECOME : Gift Of Love (Partnership with other local churches to bless our city)
  • BECOME : Urban Mission Trip
  • BELONG : Softball BBQ
  • BELONG, BELIEVE, BECOME : Senior Sunday

As you can see, for my ministry, events are “Belong” heavy.  But since identity formation and lack of community are contextually relevant for my area and for my students’ developmental state, I think that Belonging is an good place to land.  You will also notice not many events that focus on “Believe”.  This is because my ministry events are intended to be memory-makers, community-developers, and places to put faith into action. To accomplish this, Becoming and Belonging events work best.  Since this is the case, I focus the curriculum during mid-week youth group and Sunday school examining what we “Believe”, so then we can go out and become all that God has for us.

This is how my team and I do it, how we come up with the calendar that we are putting out for this upcoming year.  What is your process?  What are your sacred cows?  What events do you do and why?  Would you be willing to share your secret event?

Appendix : Sacred Cows

When we show up in a new context there are certain events that carry significant weight and history with that group, and there are events that we bring with us that carry significant weight and history with us as well.  We call these events “sacred cows.” We normally only consider events we want to kill but will cost us too much politically sacred cows, and rarely do we recognize our own cows that might need to be killed.

We must be aware that we have just as many if not more sacred cows as the churches we serve.  We must be very careful which ones we kill and when we kill them.  The more time we spend intentionally developing a ministry plan and making sure our events our purposeful and fit within that plan, the clearer it will become to us, our team, our parents, and our students why we do the events we do and have said good bye to others.

part 3 : a youth group that rocks!

developing a ministry plan part 1: a solid ministry model

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What Is Your Ministry Model? I remember meeting with one of my interns at the end of her first week on the job. After attending the fall kick-off to our youth ministry year, she commented that our youth ministry was obviously a big, fun / Young Life model of student ministry. I was intrigued by the quick classification of my ministry by someone who had just shown up on the scene.

One of the things a B.A. in Youth Ministry provides for future interns and youth workers is a solid philosophy. And not just a solid philosophy, but a solid model of ministry. The problem is that, while developing a philosophy and model in a classroom, there is little space to consider other vital factors when determining which models to employ. One thing that actually being a youth worker does is find the sweet spot where the philosophy and your unique context meet, allowing you to accomplish solid ministry.

Ministry is not done in a vacuum or a classroom. It is done in an earthy context, full of complexity. Because we are are uniquely made, we all have different gifts, different abilities, different passions. When we combine our complex being with a very specific context we are at the beginning place of determining a ministry philosophy and model.

I hate to break it to you, but there is no perfect model of ministry. Even what we consider the most solid and most biblical models out there are really our own interpretation of our favorite passages of scripture and our determining how to live out these favorites scriptures in our specific context.

Have you ever considered that there are so many differing opinions on models, philosophies and methodologies of ministry because there are so many different people doing ministry? Of course we should be well read and know what's out there, not in order to determine  the purest   methodologies, but to find the ones that best jive with who we were created to be and the place of ministry to which we're called.

How Are You Wired? It is the most common idea found in scripture, and yet one we often overlook. It can be found in both 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12. It is the idea that we are the body of Christ. This is a no-brainer.  Christ is the head and we all are different parts, none receiving any more glory than the other, all working together to accomplish the will of the head, Jesus Christ.

Yet the second we start to talk about ministry and models and philosophy this solid teaching of scripture gets thrown out. All of a sudden we must all be certain parts of the body. Every church, every ministry must be about worship, discipleship, justice, missions, youth... you name it.

Instead of banging our heads against the wall, trying to live into a model of ministry that isn't quite "us",  or worse--being self righteous about the way we have been made, insisting that the part of the body of Christ we occupy is somehow better and more spiritual than the one someone else occupies--have you ever considered that there are a wide variety of churches, worship styles, youth ministries and youth ministry styles because we are all so different, and we all express our faith and the call God has put on our lives differently?

Where Do You Do Ministry? Understanding the unique way you have been made by God, with all your unique passions and abilities, is still only half the answer. The second half of the answer is realizing that you have been called to be a cross-cultural missionary. You, being fully you, must realize that the church you work at and the town you live in are your context for mission. If you just show up, taking all of who you are and drop it on your church or your context, it may get real ugly real fast.

To illustrate this point, think of all the times you have heard the glory stories of youth workers being fired. "We are such bad-asses because we are sticking to our guns and convictions, and our dumb church boards just don't love Jesus like we do." For the most part this is garbage. You have been called by God, to bring all of who you are to a context. And the sweet spot of ministry is taking all of who you are and finding the thin places in your church and town where your unique call meshes with your context.

This is challenging work. There is a reason why missionaries are trained for years before they head out to the field. We are to be just as savvy. Unfortunately, my context is totally different than your context, and the way God made me is totally different than the way God made you. So the only way this works is by humbly searching the Heart of God, inviting true community in to help us discern what we are hearing, and finding colleagues who will encourage us along the way.

We youth workers are in dire need of those colleagues, who will hold a mirror up to us and our ministries, ask the hard questions, celebrate our victories and comfort us in our defeats. Youth ministry is not for the lazy; there is hard work to be done, and most of it needs to be done before we even have our first youth group.

Where I Land: I recognize that there are many models and philosophies of youth ministry out there. I would love to know where you have landed and what seems to work for you in the context to which God has called you.

For me, I live in a county that is fully post-Christian. There is no common Christian understanding or story. On an average Sunday morning, about 2% of our county ends up in church. Most churches in our area are in the 75-100 person range. Because of these factors, our students face some interesting issues.

There is no Christian subculture where I live. No Christian radio or bookstores, no Christian clubs on campus and, besides Switchfoot, my students would be hard pressed to name one Christian artist.

Because of the way that God has made me, and the context in which I find myself, I have discovered a resource that has put words and structure to many of the things I had been doing and feeling in ministry. While the book is over ten years old now, it couldn't be more relevant for my context. It is called, The Celtic Way of Evangelism.

The simple model in this book is that evangelism in a pre-Christian context, (which also works for a post-Christian one), can not be done on the foundational assumptions of a Christian context. For evangelism to work in a place where there are little-to-no touch points to the Gospel and the Christian life, we must reverse our old pattern.

Instead of getting people to believe in the Gospel, then having their lives be sanctified and match their faith, so that they would then be welcomed into community, we must turn that around. The Celtic Way of Evangelism says that we invite everyone and anyone into our uniquely Christian community, and that they belong no matter what they believe or how they behave. As they begin to belong we work out what they believe, and then we can help them have their lives and faith match up.

For the next few posts I am going to share how this model of ministry gets worked out in an average youth ministry in our particular context. Next week I thought I would share how this model impacts and directs what events we choose to do as a ministry, and the week after that share our curriculum for the year to see how this model impacts what and when we teach what we teach.

As I said before, this isn't the right or biblical or only way to do ministry. It is the way that works for the unique way God has made me, and with the unique church God has called me, in the unique context in which we live. Please, please, please, share how you live out your calling in your context in your model, events, and lessons for your student ministry.

May God be gracious with us as we reengage our context as cross cultural missionaries and develop our ministry plan for this upcoming year!

Developing a Ministry Plan Part 2: Purposeful Events