For youth group this christmas, we are asking students to look at five different characters that were in close proximity to the birth of Jesus. Although the lesson was rather simple to make, the conclusions were a little more difficult to swallow.
The Distracted: Luke 2:1-3
1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.
In the time of Jesus’ birth, God was in the process of doing the most amazing thing in all of human history. At the same time, Bethlehem was jam packed with families for the census. While there were many people in the proximity of this historic work of god, everyone seemed to miss it.
Imagine a gigantic family reunion. Everyone was busy preparing their homes for guests, buying presents for loved ones, etc. And while everyone was doing their own thing, God shows up. This kind of feels like the mall at Christmas time.
This Christmas season, What are the things that are consuming your mind, are distracting you from seeing that god is actually alive and moving in our midst?
Here are list of links of posts I have written as I have wrestled with doing ministry in a post-Christian context. Many of these posts build upon ideas and thoughts of other posts, so enjoy some of the redundancy
The Gospel story is wrapped up in the language of adoption.
We are lonely, alienated, and isolated. The gospel is the story of a loving Father who leaves the comforts of home (heaven) and runs after the lost daughter and son and invites them back home.
For the “Christian” world, there was rebellion and sin, but the process of coming back into the Christian household was a rather simple process of assimilation. There was a clear Judeo-Christian ethic that was internalized by those rebellious sons and daughters. They were rebells, but they knew what they were rebelling agains, they knew what ideal had been lost, and an invitation back into the family brought justification / forgiveness for these sins, and brought healing towards these relationships.
In a post-Christian world, the wayward and rebellious daughter and son actually have no idea that they are even wayward. They have been so far removed from the Christian story, the Christian family that they don’t even know what way is up. And while they may not be able to articulate it it, most adolescents in this context are lost. Lost in the truest sense.
How Many Hours Does the Church Get With Kids and Students?
I know that this video clip talks about children’s ministry and sunday mornings, but the message is just as clear for those who work with students. In children’s ministry the church is luck to have kids for 40 hours a year. For those of us working with students the numbers at best double.
If you include youth group, sunday school, and big church there is still no way that we are even close to having 100 hours a year of ministry with our students. And this 100 hour figure is being generous with our most committed students. No matter how you slice it, the church is lacking in the amount of face time we get with children and students. This necessarily isn’t a bad thing, unless those of us in vocational ministry think that our time with children and students is the most important and most valuable spiritual formation that happens in the life of kids.
Every week before youth group we have a half hour leader’s meeting for our volunteer youth staff. This is, by far, the most important meeting of my week. It is an opportunity for our entire staff to touch base before we jump into another night of student ministry. Over the years these meetings have taken on many different looks. But as I continue to reflect on how to make that time a win for everyone, I have landed on my three most important components to an effective leader’s meeting.
This last week I got in the mail some response cards from some of my students who went to a local summer camp. On these cards my students checked the box that they had said yes to Jesus and have made some sort of faith commitment.
In my faith tradition this encounter went something like this:
Now with every eye closed and every head bowed, I would like to give you an opportunity to respond in faith to Jesus. If you want to say yes, say this prayer with me, “Dear Lord Jesus, I know I am a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness. I believe you died for my sins and rose from the dead. I trust and follow you as my Lord and Savior. guide my life and help me do your will. In your name, Amen.”
This handful of students prayed this prayer! Praise God! Hallelujuia!!
But on closer investigation, I have realized that this prayer makes absolutely no sense in their world view!
I recently had a conversation with my seniors where the prompt was simply: “We all have hidden things that shape who we are and how we interact, here is one of those things.” In an attempt to build some true community and authentic friendship, I wanted our students to realize that the things they struggle with were the same as others.
What I thought would lean toward some confession and revealing the common teen age struggle of self image, drinking, smoking pot, etc, spiraled into a conversation about how every single one of them feel alone and isolated.
I was shocked! These are popular, good looking, fun, and social kids And every one of them felt invisible and lost. I found this video to be really helpful in putting this universal feeling of loneliness within our current social media context.
I am sure there is a thin place for the gospel to actually be good news in this new cultural reality!
As youth workers we must see our students for who they really are and what they really struggle with so we can meet them at their point of felt need with the love and grace of Jesus Christ. Because there is an answer, a solution to this universal dilemma and I am sure a big piece of this has to do with belonging and community.
This is exactly in the wheelhouse of student ministry! Student ministry models this spiritual reality: adoption into the family of God, belonging and having value, respect for each other in this family, and developing the family values of our heavenly Father.
May the Lord bless you and your ministry as you kick off this new year! May you have His eyes, words, heart as you welcome these lost and lonely students into the family of God!
It is painfully obvious that we live in a broken world. With international tragedy and chaos every night on the news, it is easy to be overwhelmed. When these tragedies occur in our own country with flooding, hurricanes, mass murders, and school shootings it gets even more painful. And when these tragedies happen locally, the pain and heart break is often too much to bear.
What do we do when someone close to us dies in a car accident? How do we handle the news of a terminal disease in a family member? What sense can we make of natural disasters that devastate entire populations? In this broken world, can we find hope for the broken hearted?
Be merciful to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and my body with grief. Psalm 31:9
While it is true that brokenness, tragedy and grief seem to be ever present in our world, there is a huge opportunity to offer hope and peace to those in the valley of the shadow of death. But if we are going to offer hope in a way that others can receive it, there are some important things we must remember:
If your calendar is anything like mine, then you know that in just a matter of days or weeks, our students go back to school. And with the start of school comes the big fall kick-off. But before we can launch our epic programs and begin our year of ministry, we must first do the next to impossible task, gather those busy and fickle students who have been spread as far as the eye can see during summer.
While summer is great on paper, it seems to be almost disastrous to they needed rhythms our students and ourselves need. Yes we have camps, special events, and more hot dogs then the doctor would like. But for as many special activities we do as a student ministry, the truth is that summer actually scatters students to their individual actives. As they seem to all be landing from their family reunions, oversees vacations, summer camps of every kind (including college essay writing camp), and jobs, it is time to begin the process of gathering them together from their individual adventures to a common and shared purpose and identity as a student ministry. I have found that this is actually much more of an art form then simply announcing a fall kick-off and everyone showing up ready to go.
Our students are fickle and more individualized then ever and summer only exasperates this ethos. But for us to be the student ministry that God has for us this school year it is time to circle the wagons and heard thee cats. Over the years I have found some helpful tricks for gathering our wandering students.
Here is my strategy to collect my busy and fickle students:
My dear friend Erik Anderson is on the home stretch of adopting a 6 year old girl from South Africa. You should totally check out his blog and read about his story. Inspiring is an understatement! (If you are feeling generous, you should also help him out financially) Ok, are you still with me, because this blog isn’t really about Erik, but in some ways it is totally about him.
First we must die to any and all forms of behavior modification:
The traditional model of discipleship as behavior modification must be replaced with a model of spiritual formation. Spiritual formation is by it’s very nature relational and implies process, and is cyclical in contrast to foundational, linear, and accomplishment versions we have today. If we can agree that behavior modification must die and want to invite this post-Christian generation to become formed spiritually, sanctified into the image of Christ, then we must start where they are, not where we want them to be. That is how we get back to adoption.
Most of us love speaking to students, sharing our wisdom, pontificating on spiritual realities and how Jesus wants to help them in their desperation. But if we are quiet for just a second and allow space for students to share what they really think, what their true convictions are, what they really think of Christianity, I think we will all be a bit surprised.
My encounter with students, my students, my friends’ students, students from all over the country is that students’ worldview, self view, and moral view is in stark difference from yours. Students know how to play ball in the adult world, they know what to say and how to get ahead in the verity of social contexts they find themselves. When they are with their parents, coaches, every different teacher, and in our student ministries, they put on different hats in order to survive / thrive in each context.
But what would happen if we took a step back and really listened, without our own agenda? What would we find?
This last week I had the privilege of sitting in on a roundtable discussion with some west coast youth pastors talking about post-christian student ministry. This conversation was facilitated by Jeremy Zach who is the XP3 Specialist for Orange. Jeremy is one of the sharpest youth workers out there, and most of that is due to the fact that he is a learner. He always wants to be stretched and grow. He strives to do his job better, and mostly he has a heart to be as effective as possible in reaching students for Jesus. And it is out of this heart that he put together a group to talk Post-Christian Ministry. The guys on this call are great youth workers and deep thinkers and you should check out their blogs and give them some push back They are: Peter Johnsen, Erik Anderson, Mike Cunningham, Ryan Reed, Looney Moore, and yours truly.
As our conference call began I realized very quickly that in a post-modern context, that is becoming more and more post-christian, our biggest challenge was trying to find common language to even begin this conversation. I knew there were questions to shape our conversations, but I was not exactly sure what questions were the right questions.
After our time, I spent some considerable time reflecting on our conversation, and reflected more about the context I find myself doing ministry, and about student ministry in general. After a little bit of wrestling, I realized that much of this conversation is us barking up the wrong tree.
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.
On February 5, 2013 the Harlem Shake went viral. As of February 14th, in a matter of 9 days, almost 40,000 spinoffs have been uploaded and have been watched over 175 million times. CRAZY!! This is the most unbelievable viral event of all time! (Facts courtesy of youtube-trends) While there have been many viral videos of note, including, but not limited to, Justin Bieber’s Baby, Friday, Call Me Maybe, Gangum Style, or Ryan Reed’s new blog, this was one of the fastest parody pileups of all time. And the best part is that your parody only has to be 30 seconds long! (Here is our below average offering)
But the total speed of this viral video has caused me to once again realize what it is that I am supposed to do. As youth workers we must understand our cultural context, that is for sure! But we must fully own the reality that we are not hip, cool, relevant, or cutting edge. At best we can simply mimic cool and funny things in our culture. At best we are simply a shadow of pop culture.
Let us not spend so much time and energy in efforts to be hip and stay up on all that is going on at the expense of doing the thing we actually are called to do! Our less hip youth ministry that actually offers friendship and belonging, where they experience forgiveness and grace, as they explore their faith will never come close the the viral explosion of the Harlem Shake.
So, make your Harlem Shake video. Post your links in the comments. Have a good laugh! But please, please, please, let us die to our desires to be hip, cool, and relevant, and let us bring to the table what popular culture wishes it could, and desperately needs!
Whatever! Everyone wants to grow their ministry and expand the kingdom of God. Some times it is true that our egos get in the way and our motives are not entirely pure. But at the end of the day, most people in student ministry are doing what they do because they love students and their hearts break for them.
Everything about the DNA of a youth worker is wrapped up in walking through life with students helping them connect to Jesus Christ. At our best moments we want as many kids to come in contact with the saving, redeeming, healing, and transforming work of Jesus Christ. Practically, this looks like trying to increase the numbers of students that can be impacted.
There Are Plenty of Short Term Options:
For better or worse, in my best moments or my worst, trying to grow numerically is always in the back of my mind. I have done pretty shameful things to try to boost my numbers. Some have worked great and others have flopped miserably. For me, any short term numerical gain always seemed to fade. There are many reasons for this short term blip. But the biggest reason is that I simply put a ton of effort into an event or two for the simple attempt to inflate my numbers.
You are probably in a better and more whole place in your walk with God and would never be so petty to try and increase your numbers for personal gain, but often I am not. Thankfully over the years God has continued to refine me and heal me as he has continued to grow my heart for students. And as He has done this, my heart to increase the size of our group has never gone away.
With the internet we now have access to thousands of clever ideas to grow our groups. Assuming our hearts are in the right place and we are striving to connect with more and more students, there are some great tricks, gimmicks, and structures that will allow you to grow your group numerically.
But most of these ideas will work in the short term, unless there is a dramatic change in systems or straight up hand of God, most groups will settle back to their average size. For me, I have found a sure fire way to grow my youth group for the long haul. It isn’t with gimmicks, it keeps my ego in check, and it actually cares for the larger church. My trick to grow our student ministry is to invest heavily in our children’s ministry!
The Best Long Term Strategy is to Invest in Children’s 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.
It is the week before Christmas and I am truly soaking of my share of Christmas fun. While I spend this week taking care of some personal business and other projects, I thought it would be fun to share with you some of my favorite posts from Christmas past. These are some of the most insightful and culturally aware posts I have ever written. Hahaha! Actually, they are just some of my faves from Christmas past.
I hope you have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Thank you for blessing me and encouraging me in my walk with Jesus, in my vocational call as a pastor, and in my pursuit to be the man, husband, and father that God has for me to be! Peace!
PS: If I am still in it, don’t forget to vote for averageyouthministry.com to be the best blog in the universe. Actually, it is just a popularity contest designed for us to milk our network, so lets see how my network does Vote: Ben Kerns – Are Bikinis Sinful.
Danny has some questions at the bottom, and if you participate in the conversation by sharing your thoughts you will be entered in a drawing to win a free Average Youth Ministry shirt! The good people at whooptee.com are giving away three shirts. If you ever have a shirt you want made or help in the design, they make great custom shirts. Check out their sight and comment away!
This was such an interesting election to say the least. Now that there has been time for me and you to collect our whits, I am left with a couple of thoughts that I think are important for the church to come to terms with. And with the church, I mean the suburban white church that I am a part of.
Here is my take away: After all the exit polls and post mortem of the election, I see the election as a choice between two cultures: The Judeo-Christian White Man vs. Those who have been wronged by that culture combined with those who feel bad for those who have been wronged. And for the first time, ever, the Judeo-Christian suburban culture has been rejected by the majority of Americans.
Before you react, think about it for a second. Think about who you voted for and what values you were choosing. Think about all the demographic information we have learned since the election. Think about who you want to cast your lot with? For the first time ever the majority cast their lot against the Judeo-Christian, suburban, middle class, married, white man. And if not him specifically, the culture he represents.
Suburban Christians have lost the Culture War: Now what?