Don't cancel Sunday School

0617schoolprayer_full_600 Ever since my first day in student ministry, my number one goal has been to cancel Sunday School.  I mean, come on, everyone knows that Sunday school is the dumbest ministry model on the planet.  It is awful on just about every level.  9:00 on a Sunday morning is the absolute worst time in the entire world for any sort of ministry, especially to adolescents.  We try and try and try to make this hour of spiritual formation relevant and matter to a group of kids who could actually care less.  But it seems as much as we try to put a nail in the coffin of this antiquated mode of ministry, I could never muster the political capitol to pull it off.  That is, until the perfect storm of events allowed me to do just that.

This last spring we had to move our entire church off our main campus to a hotel ball room while we underwent some construction and renovations.  We went from two services with spiritual formation and student Sunday school during the first gathering, to a situation where we were only going to have one service.  The best part is that I didn't even have a choice.  There were logistically not enough rooms to do church, children's ministry and Sunday School for students.

When I was approached with this dilemma, I hung my head in grief and said that I would, reluctantly, take one for the team and cancel Sunday School.  On the inside, I was freaking out!  It just happened.  My dream for almost 20 years became a reality and it actually gained me political points instead of costing every point I have ever earned.

And I have to tell you, those first few months of not having Sunday School was a dream come true.  There was no more Sunday morning anxiety or dread for having to face a room full of apathetic and judgmental kids.  No more dealing with the zero feedback on the incredible curriculum I have put together for the morning.  Yes, my only responsibility was to simply glad-hand students and their parents as they walked past to their seats, and again as they left.  I WAS FREE!!

BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR:

Soon after this switch I started to notice a little bit of a culture change within our student ministry.  At first I didn't pay much attention to it because I was too busy celebrating the success of canceling the worst form of ministry ever created.  But as the months wore on, I started to have this awful suspicion, that Sunday school actually did matter to the spiritual and relational fabric of our student ministry and of the students themselves.

You see, with no common place for students to meet, hang out, or land, they simply gravitated to their one or two friends and would sit with them and them alone in big church.  While it was a good thing to have them in church, the large community feel of our student ministry was replaced with tiny clusters of friendships.  For those most committed kids with the strongest friendships, this change didn't matter in the slightest.  But for the 80% of kids who were not as connected, they were lost and began to vote with their feet by simply no longer attending big church and this even spilled into our mid week youth group.

SUNDAY SCHOOL WORKS, JUST NOT HOW WE THOUGHT:

What I realized is that Sunday School was not about spiritual formation and communicating some biblical truths to our kids while there parents are at church.  When you think that it is, you too will come to loath Sunday School and the apathy that is on prominent display.

But the truth is, Sunday School is actually a community building event that uses biblical truths as the excuse to be together.  Now, don't get me wrong, we teach great things in our Sunday School and any student who is paying attention is getting top notch content.  However, the truth of the truth is that what makes Sunday School valuable is that there is not a place for students to gather during one of our services.

Our most committed kids, their friends, fringe kids, visiting families' kids, and whoever doesn't fit into a category now has a place to land.  They have a place where they will be greeted and engaged by me, by my staff, by other adults and by their peers  They are no longer part of the crowd in big church forced to sit with their parents and feel unseen as other students sit together and laugh.  They have a place.

A QUICK DISCLAIMER:

Even though I am flip about the content of Sunday school, I do so to make a point.  The point is simply that community building is far more significant to spiritual formation than biblical truths taught in a Sunday School environment.  And even though I am flip about students attending big church, I firmly believe that when students have a strong sense of community, then attendance at big church will become more desirable, attendance at Sunday school and youth group will be more desirable.  For it is the accumulation of all these formation experiences combined with a strong sense of community, spiral formation will occur.

What do you think?

community: we build it for others but not for ourselves.

friendship

This post was featured on youthmin.org. This is a great new blog by Benjamin Read and his peeps that is loaded with great content and opportunities for connection. Check it out and try one of these tweet chats. (I am still trying to figure it out)

Why is it so hard for youth workers to be in community with our peers? Oh, I know, because we don’t have peers. Our world consists of the students we work with and their parents. We are consumed with our calling to students, so we spend the majority of our time and energy loving on, thinking about, praying for teenagers. This lifestyle is great for our job but lousy for our social life.

We have strange hours; after school and evenings are prime time. We wear strange clothes, getting away with wearing the clothes we wore in college to the office and priding ourselves on our lack of “dress” clothes. And we are the lost demographic in the church, where are the 20 to 30 year olds in the church?

This combination makes having community seem impossible.

Except in college towns and big cities, there is a gigantic hole in church demographics where the 20 to 30 year olds should be. They must all still be in college towns or big cities, because they are not in suburbia, the place that hires most mid 20’s youth workers. This awful truth makes finding community extremely difficult, especially for those youth workers coming out of an amazing college community experience. This lack of peers makes it easy for us to throw ourselves wholly into our jobs and focus our attention mostly on building community among our students. But when the time comes that we desire to build community with other adults, we have some challenges to overcome.

The hours we keep are the exact opposite of our peers in the working world. Most people with salaried positions work 9-5 and have every night open and every weekend is a two day break. How odd is it to have to plan two weeks out to find an open night to hang out and catch a movie? How sad is it to miss out on camping trips and mini vacations because you have to be back for sunday morning? If you throw a spouse in the mix the times to develop community get even smaller. Add kids, you can forget about it.

I used to take pride in owning one pair of kakis and two ties. But what I am noticing is that my lack of sophistication in my clothing has crept into my self image. By dressing the part of a man child I find that I have a hard time connecting with young professionals in my area. Without even realizing it, I have self-selected myself out of some “community” because that community didn’t fit my mental image of myself. The problem is that while high school students never change,(they are always high school students), I am changing. I am getting older, and building friendships with my peers is getting harder and harder.

So what are youth workers to do? While it seems like a no brainer that we should be in community, we have to come to terms with the awful truth that the decks are stacked against us in this area. So if we are going to pull it off it is going to take some intentional effort.

Without adult community similar to above, we wither and die. So how do we get it:

1) Other youth workers. We are strange people with strange hours. Why not connect with like minded people and live life with them. Some of my best friends are and have been fellow youth workers from local and denominational networks.

2) Enjoy old people. While they aren’t as hip as you and they go to bed too early, there is something freeing about being friends with people who are in a different life stage as you. You don’t have to impress them, in fact you won’t. But you will bless them with fun and laughter as you receive love and wisdom.

3) Relax, community takes time. Real relationships with adults takes time. The adult world is not like college. We don’t live our entire lives on the same floor of a dorm. We have jobs and families.  To get the amount of hours in to build genuine friendship and community takes years. But if you stick with it, the depth of community can be so sweet.

Since the time it takes to build friendships with adults is often longer than the average stint for a youth worker, it might be time to consider dropping some deep roots and sticking around for a while longer.

Our entire jobs are centered around building strong community with and for our students. We just need to begin to practice what we preach.

Do you have Community where you are at? What have you done to find community?

Get naked!

Intimacy, authentic, community.  These are my favorite buzz words around the church these days.  They are the things that all of us long for, but few of us really live into.  Sure, we all have friends and people to do things with, and many of us have people who we can share some deeper parts of our lives with.  But few, if any of us, have people who we are willing to bear it all in front of.

At a recent conference, we broke into small groups and were asked to share some of things God was doing in our lives.  In the limited time I found my self struggling to get deeper than in an inch below the surface.  After I was done sharing and before we prayed, a good friend of mine said she had a word for me.  GET NAKED!

It is so easy for me to live on the surface and to become someone who love tasks and accolades for my performance.  But in all of us there is a deep current that flows below the surface.  This is our true self.  It is not about what we do, but about who we are.  And when we live in community, this is the person we are invited to share.

I spent the night wrestling with what it might mean for me to get naked.  I found myself going through a common process that helps me get from hidden to known, from brokenness to healing, from defending my ego to resting in identity.

  1. React:  Get pissed! Something, anything can set me off.  If my first reaction is anger or bitterness then I know something is up.  I heard a speaker who set me off after just one sentence.  It is so easy to belittle that person, to get angry and to start tearing them down.  (in my mind of course)  But the awful truth is that what is going on actually has nothing to do with the speaker, a boss, a friend, or (insert person here _______)  Anger and bitterness is just the symptom of a deeper problem.
  2. Wrestle: What is this all about? This is the defining question.  What is my anger or bitterness really about.  These emotions are easy, figuring out their root cause is the challenge.  Changing our stance from pointing the finger at someone else and exploring the deeper issue is the beginning of figuring out what is up with our deeper selves.  It is the recognition that our clothes are dirty and we need to take them off.
  3. Reveal: The true area of hurt and brokenness. I love the reacting piece of this process and am actually pretty good at it.  I am slowly getting more and more comfortable with the wrestling piece.  But the part that is really challenging is the reveal piece.  After wrestling with why I was so offended at our speaker I realized that he just happened to hit a nerve.  And the truth was he exposed emotions that I don’t like to deal with.  My feelings were hurt and my ego was bruised by some things that happened earlier that week and the speaker just set me off.
  4. Rest: This is me . . . I thought just identifying the deeper issues was a huge success.  But I found that sharing my true self, my dark, egotistical, broken, sinful side with someone is where I found true freedom.  What a gift it is to bear it all and still be loved and cared for.  When someone else knows those dark and broken places, then we can stop putting so much energy into pretending and covering up and we get to rest.  Rest in true community.

It is so hard to get naked.  But until we are willing to trust others with the core of who we are, we will forever be spinning our wheels, attempting to cover and hide our nakedness with our ever changing clothes.  It is a lie from the pit of hell that people won’t love us if they knew who we really are.  At some point we need to have people in our lives who we can stop pretending with and who we can take off our pride and our ego, and reveal our true selves, in all our broken glory.  Then we will be truly free to live into the whole people God has created us to be.

Who are those people in your life?  Where do you find them?

community: we build it for others, but not for ourselves.

why is it so hard for youth workers to be in community with our peers?  oh, i know, because we don’t have peers.  our world consists of the students we work with and their parents.  we are consumed with our calling to students, so we spend the majority of our time and energy loving on, thinking about, praying for teenagers.  this is great for our job, but lousy for our social life.

we have strange hours, after school and evenings are prime time.  we wear strange clothes, getting away with wearing the clothes we wore in college to the office and priding ourselves on our lack of “dress” clothes.  and we are the lost demographic in the church, where are the 20 to 30 year olds in the church?

this combination makes having community seem impossible.

except in college towns and big cities, there is a gigantic hole in church demographics where the 20 to 30 year olds should be.  they must all still be in college towns or big cities, because they are not in suburbia, the place that hires most mid 20’s youth workers.  this awful truth makes finding community extremely difficult, especially for those youth workers coming out of an amazing college community experience.  this lack of peers makes it easy for us to throw ourselves wholly into our jobs and focus our attention on building community among our students.  but when the time comes that we desire to build community with other adults we have some challenges to overcome.

the hours we keep are the exact opposite of our peers in the working world.  most people with salaried positions work 9-5 and have every night open and every weekend is a two day break.  how old is it to have to plan two weeks out to find an open night to hang out and catch a movie?  how sad is it to miss out on camping trips and mini vacations because you have to back for sunday morning?  if you throw a spouse in the mix the times to develop community get even smaller.  add kids, forget about it.

i used to take pride in owning one pair of kakis and two ties.  but what i am noticing is that my lack of sophistication in my clothing has crept into my self image.  by dressing the part of a man child i find that i have a hard time connecting with young professionals in my area.  without even realizing it, i have self-selected out of some community because that community didn’t fit my mental image of myself.  the problem is that while high school students never change, they are always high school students, i am changing.  i am getting older and building friendships with my peers is getting harder and harder.

so what are youth workers to do?  adam mclane wrote a challenging blog about being emotionally healthy  and part of the solution was making sure we have community with other adults.  while this seems like a no brainer, we have to come to terms with the awful truth that the decks are stacked against us in this area.  so if we are going to pull it off it is going to take some intentional effort.

without adult community we wither and die.  so how do we get it:

  1. other youth workers. we are strange people with strange hours.  why not connect with like minded people and live life with them.  some of my best friends are and have been fellow youth workers from local and denominational networks.
  2. enjoy old people. while they aren’t as hip as you and go to bed too early, there is something freeing about being friends with people who are in a different life stage as you.  you don’t have to impress them, in fact you won’t.  but you will bless them with fun and laughter as you receive love and wisdom.
  3. take your time. real relationships with adults takes time.  the adult world is not like college.  we don’t live our entire lives on the same floor of a dorm.  we have jobs and families.  so to get the amount of hours in to build genuine friendship and community takes years.  but if you stick with it, the depth of community can be so sweet.  since the time it takes to build friendships with adults is often longer than the average stint for a youth worker, it might be time to consider dropping some deep roots and sticking around for a while longer.

our entire jobs are centered around building strong community with and for our students.  we just need to begin to practice what we preach.