Safety: The most important value of student ministry

Safety: The most important value of student ministry

The winter camp season has finally descended upon us.  With winter camp comes snow storms, icy roads, dangerous sled runs, and about 1000 other ways for our students to get wrecked!  In my few years of taking kids to winter camp I have had kids break arms, legs, collar bones, wrists, and get concussions.  I have totaled a Suburban and crashed a couple of other cars.  There are polices at our church because of me.

Let’s face it, winter camp is dangerous!  But the real question is whether or not it is too dangerous. 

A friend of mine recently told me about a conversation he had with a parent questioning his judgment driving kids to camp in the middle of an upcoming snow storm.  Somewhere in the conversation the parent said that safety was the most important thing in student ministry!

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Parents should cram religion down their kids' throats :)

Parents should cram religion down their kids' throats :)

Imagine it is 3:00 pm on the first day of school.

Your daughter or son comes home and gives you a horrible report. They didn't get the classes they wanted, one of her friends was mean to her, your son isn't in classes with any of his friends, and it turns out they aren't going to get to start their fall sport like they thought. So much disappointment all in one day.

As their parent, how do you respond? "It looks like school is going to be too difficult this year for you and I don't want you to have to experience this kind of pain and discomfort, from here on out, if you don't want to go to school or play that sport, you don't have to."

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Simple Parenting Advice: "Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself."

Ok, that isn't totally what my simple parenting advice is.  It is actually, "Check yourself before your kids actually end up like you." Over the past couple of years, I have had the opportunity to speak to MOPS (Mothers of Pre-Schoolers) groups and Parents of Teenager groups for my church as well as for some of the churches in Northern California.  Working with students and their parents for the last 15 years and then realizing how awful the challenge of parenting is as I have become one myself has made for plenty of space for spiritual growth and transformation.  Coninuting to work out my own faith development while having my own kids has proven to be quite the challenge.  So difficult, in fact, I had to write a little book to wrestle through my junk.

What I have learned is very simple.  Our kids will reflect us and our values.  Not necessarily our stated values, but our true values.  I have enjoyed pointing my fingers at the parents of my students as I have stood separate from them and their issues.  But this is no longer the case.  Now that I am a parent and I can empathize with the unending challenges and complexities of parenting, my finger is no longer pointed at those "old people" with high schoolers for kids, the finger is firmly pointed at me with my parenting advice.

Below is post I wrote for a friend's blog,, as she put together a little blog series on the spiritual formation involved in parenting. My post is the third installment of a series on children’s faith development called Vision from the Frontlines:  Voices, Experiences & Practices of Faith DevelopmentI hope you enjoy :)


There are so many things to be worried about when it comes to parenting.  And the bummer is that every year that goes by we just seem to exchange one set of concerns for new ones.  Before we realize it we have spent the better part of our parenting years worried about so many things.

Think back to when you kids were babies and the worries that consumed you.  Right now you have a whole new set of concerns, and we haven't even gotten to adolescence yet :)  With all of this worry and and never ending search for the silver bullet that will help our kids live into whatever un realistic dreams we have for them, we actually goof up the most important and most significant part in shaping our kids and the people they become.

You see, our kids almost always will always share the exact same values that you have as they arrive in adulthood.  The problem is that they will not always share your stated values, but they will always share your true values.

Kids have an amazing BS detector and will cut through all of the garbage we lay out there as priorities and values and will embrace your true values.  Since this is almost the most important case then the real issue in attempting to figure out parenting and especially faith formation in your children is for you as the parent to really sort out your own faith formation.

The truth is many of us have neglected our consistent, intimate walk with Jesus since we have had children.  Due to lack of schedule, lack of sleep, and a million other excuses our once vibrant faith has been exchanged for flannel graph versions of faith complete with cartoon bible devotionals.  

We try our best to pass on this faith by praying with our kids and reading our little story Bibles.  We get them to church as much as possible, and even take them to Vacation Bible School.  But some how in this new parental rhythm our we have become boring old Sunday School teachers and are no longer children of the Most High God, saved and sanctified, transformed and healed, given value and purpose, and a partnership with Jesus Himself to expand God's Kingdom here on Earth as it is in Heaven.

If we really want our kids to have a value for faith, and even more have a love for Jesus, then this happens first and foremost by us having our own passionate, authentic, vibrant, and transforming walk with Jesus.  This is the starting and the end of faith development for our kids.

May we never settle for the flannel graph version of faith we attempt to share with our kids and rather embrace the adventurous life of faith that we have been invited to through Jesus Christ!

The Key to Contextualization

A few weeks ago, my friend Phil and I met with Mark Oestreicher before our Bay Area Youth Forum to help us get our heads around the unique context we find ourselves in and capitalize on those uniqueness so as to have a more effective and relevant student ministry. Key to Contextualization

What MarkO pointed out is the very fine balance between one truth that every context is unique and the other which is that for the most part students are the same everywhere.  This really resonates with me.  We are all humans and we are all made in the image of God.  We all have the same longings and desires.  (N.T. Wright wrote about this in the beginning of this book Simply Christian)  But we all live in different contexts and these different contexts shape our worldview as well as our self view.  Because of this reality, the felt needs to which the Gospel can be shared will very from context to context.  Therefore, the trick is understanding the values of the context in which you live and so that you can capitalize on these values to find the "thin places" where the good news of Jesus meets people where they are at with language and stories that match their context.

This is exactly what the Apostle Paul did throughout Acts.  In Acts 13 Paul finds himself in a Jewish context and uses the rhythm of the synagogue and the story of Moses and David to find common ground with his audience as he shares about Jesus.  In Acts 17 Paul then finds himself in Athens and ditches the Moses talk and uses statues and local poetry to affirm their religious values and then presents Jesus as the revealed God made known to his creation.  (I wrote more about this here.)

The Homework we were given: 

As we were preparing for our forum and for our meeting with MarkO, MarkO gave us some homework to prepare for our time.  What he asked us to do was incredibly simple yet the results have already proven to have great impact on our ministries and have made for rich conversation for us over the last few weeks.  This was the simple assignment:

List 5-8 core values of the context in which you do ministry:

At first we simply brainstormed all the values of our context.  This list soon turned out to be a list of reasons why kids didn't come to youth group the way they had in the past.  They were a list of excuses about kids being busy and parents not valuing their children's spiritual development, etc.  But as we talked we realized that we were missing the mark.

When we reshaped it to think of 5-8 values from negatives that make our job hard to positive values which anyone at Safeway could affirm the juices really started to flow.  We chose our Safeway customer as our generic person to test our values to make sure were really coming up with positive values that our context would embrace.  The truth is that all of us think we are living out of some certain set of positive values and the same is true of the people we rub shoulders with ever day.  And with this new rubric we were able to come up with a great list.

Each value as a shadow side:

After settling in on our list we were able to see how many of these values also had a shadow side, a negative impact that seemed to crush students.  These shadow sides were the impacts that we have noticed working with our students.  But these issues were not values just the negative implications of those values.  And it was in this collection of positive values and the shadow side impact that gave us several ways for our ministries to connect in a culturally appropriate and relevant way.

There were positive values that are in line with the values of God and for those we can easily connect people in our context with our ministries.  And there were some values that have a shadow side that leave our students crushed and broken.  Because we can identify these contextually specific ways our kids are crushed and broken we can find the parts of the gospel story that are culturally appropriate dealing with the true felt needs of our students.

I think that this homework done well can become the foundation for a contextualized ministry that will find greater openness to the gospel of Jesus Christ and the expansion of his Kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven!

The cohort of rookie youth workers I am working with is doing this exact assignment and I recommend that you take a stab at is as well.  I would love to know what you came up with and hopefully we can learn from each other as we strive to be cross-cultural missionaries to the unique culture our students find themselves in.  Below is  your assignment:

Your Homework:

  1. List 5-8 core values of the context in which you do ministry
  2. What is a value or two that you can embrace because they are similar to God's values?
  3. What is the shadow side of these values that the Gospel speaks into?
  4. List the 2-3 values of your ministry
  5. How do these ministry values capitalize on the values of your context or the shadow side of them?
  6. How can you increase the overlap of values of your ministry with your context?