Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Re-Thinking Mission in Youth Ministry

posted by Scot McKnight

Through a variety of influences I have renewed my own commitment to the utter significance of youth ministry today — and I mean by that from junior high until adulthood (and that might mean 12 to 30!). Our future churches are rooted in what happens in the next decade with this age group. I have asked a dynamic young youth minister, Chris Folmsbee, to guide us in some conversations about youth ministry. And I’m urging you to join us in this conversation. Today Chris helps us think about “mission” — and he’s got a thoroughly up-to-date approach to mission.

ChrisFolmsbee.jpgI’m certain that many of the people engaged in youth ministry think
regularly about the mission and work before them.  Our unsettled
culture and its itinerant nature require ongoing strategic thought and
practice. 

In order to avoid being characterized by what Nietzsche referred to as
the “fundamental form of stupidity” (forgetting what you were trying to
do in the first place), I am sure that many of today’s youth ministers
have a variety of mechanisms to keep the mission of their
ministry somewhere on the dashboard in bold, bright font. They are reminding
themselves just what they are meaning to accomplish. 

I’m wondering, however, just what the thing we are “trying to do in the
first place” is, exactly. What is our mission?
  It appears that the mission of most youth
ministries just might be as unsettled and itinerant as the culture to
which it is attempting to impart the great good news.  



My recent experience has led me to believe that we are in many ways “on hold” between a season of deconstruction (with a residual number of feelings including angst, ambiguity and hesitation) and a future season of renovation that I hope will largely be comprised of a new commitment to a narrative approach to ministry that will result in a greater devotion to God’s mission.
 
Specifically, I’m hopeful that many of us who’ve been longing for a fresh wave of thought and practice to emerge might sincerely consider what Chris Wright in his book,The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative
, refers to as our mission. There, Wright defines it as “our committed participation as God’s people, at God’s invitation and command, in God’s own mission within the history of God’s world for the redemption of God’s creation” (page23). Perhaps this ought to be the bold, bright font placed strategically on our dashboard as the thing we are “trying to do in the first place.”

So I am curious to know: have we forgotten what we are “trying to do in the first place?”  Am I the only one feeling like we are on hold?  Is the pendulum swinging from deconstruction to construction?  As we move towards a fresh wave of thought and practice, will the “committed participation as God’s people, at God’s invitation and command, in God’s own mission within the history of God’s world for the redemption of God’s creation” be the mission that we embrace?  As it relates to youth ministry, what will be the strategic ways we embody the gospel in an unsettled and itinerant culture?



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Cobus

posted March 5, 2009 at 8:22 am


Amen! We tend to get stuck on getting them into church again, experiencing angst at the fact that the culture is shifting, and de-church is becoming the norm. We need to get them out in the world again (and not with the primary purpose of getting others into the church).



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RJS

posted March 5, 2009 at 8:44 am


Cobus,
Mission is critical – because we are not here to sit and be entertained waiting for the end of the world. But de-church cannot be the norm – and the idea that it is, is a tool of Satan.
We cannot be the people of God without intentional and committed involvement with the body of Christ – the church. We cannot be the body without corporate worship of God and commitment to his people. Rethink how this is carried out, good we need to do it. Think that it is possible to be Christian without it – dead wrong. And it cannot be be “virtual church” – it must be involvement with an embodied fellowship community.



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matt huett

posted March 5, 2009 at 8:55 am


I, too, feel as though we are on hold. I believe much of this feeling has to do with the nature of transitional ministry. As a youth/college pastor in a somewhat traditional setting, my fear is that once we have helped our tweens/teens/twenty-somethings connect with God’s mission both on a large/small and inward/outward scale we will have no where to send them. Therefore,I must take into account not only their current formation but their next destination as well. With this said, however, I believe that there is a groundswell happening and that we are, indeed, nearing a tipping point in regards to having a truly missional youth culture in our churches. After all, much of youth ministry is helping students come to the realization that it’s not all about them.



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Phil Niemi

posted March 5, 2009 at 8:55 am


Chris,
As youth pastor (small group of about 30 students), I agree. I heard you speak in NYWC in Cincinnati a few years back. As being a shaper of wider youth ministry (shaping pastors and larger group, etc.), are you yet experience change within the youth ministries that you participate in, and are you witnessing ministries with great focus.
For the past two years I have tried to remain focused on calling students too a relationship with Christ that is rooted in something similar to the Jesus Creed, our denomination calls it GC2 (great commission, great commandment). In other words if our activities don’t promote a relationship with Christ that involves growing and discipling in Christ through loving God and other, I shouldn’t be doing it. Very hard to put into practice.
What I find most difficult is that some of our “super Christian kids” just want spoon feeding, lots of spoon feeding. They’ll go to Christian things 3-4 nights a week (I offer 1-2 max), but balk at learning to feed themselves and develop a relationship with God on their own.
What are your thoughts?



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Joey

posted March 5, 2009 at 9:12 am


I’ve recently been going through a few issues within my ministry that I’m sure are not unique to my context and situation but that pull this conversation to the forefront of my mind and heart. Our church is relatively small but sitting on the cusp of numerical growth. Everybody here wants to see more people coming. The assumption is, of course, that if more people come through our doors more people will hear the Gospel and if more people hear the Gospel then more people will embody missio dei. I run a youth ministry that is slightly atypical. The majority of our high school students are troubled youth so I’ve intentionally worked hard to create an environment where these students can encounter Jesus and what it means to die to themselves and pick up their cross. I thank God every day for the fruit we’ve seen but this means that we aren’t highly programmed, and aren’t really attractive to certain groups of people, especially parents with even tempered children who are well behaved. It would be a disservice to many of these teenagers to program the hell out of the ministry in the hopes that more might come. Our middle school ministry is quite different. We see growth regularly and the students tend to have less social and behavioral problems. I say all of this to point out that it isn’t always possible to shape a ministry towards God’s mission and appease a church. I had a confrontation with a parent the other night who didn’t think I was hosting enough programs for new high schoolers to attend. Somehow the church needs to be educated on what God’s kingdom looks like, how God’s kingdom spreads, and what type of people/commitments make up God’s kingdom. I heard Francis Chan say that he started reshaping his church towards this and lost a lot of dear friends in the process. How can our youth ministries, and even our churches, begin to look more like yeast and less like pre-packaged programs to attract people to a cheap form of grace?
Sorry, this was all written in process-mode.



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LutheranChik

posted March 5, 2009 at 9:26 am


In our parish, a big problem I see is lack of parental support for youth ministry. I don’t mean moms not willing to bake cupcakes for the confirmation class summer-camp fund. I mean parents in general not making the spiritual formation of their children a priority in their family life. I honestly don’t get this. When I was a kid, my parents made it clear that they felt they had an important vocation from God Godsself to grow me into a decent, faith-ful person in the context of the Christian faith community. What happened to that conviction? I mean, we’re now, like two or three generations removed from that proactive understanding of the parental role.



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Susan

posted March 5, 2009 at 9:35 am


Great comments! It is a difficult time because the groups can be so mixed – the troubled teens and the homeschool ones in the same group. What knowledge is “age-appropriate” for group may never be for the other and that’s not a bad thing. And yet, we must still find a way to reveal the necessity of the gospel for daily life for each. My choice – to go to the heart of the matter because, as they say, it’s always a matter of the heart. If each group can see their heart attitudes then they will see scripture as applicable to daily life – the rest should come naturally.
Scott, I am looking for a scientist that Ted says frequents your blog. I think the initials for one of the comments belong to her but there is no hyperlink to follow. Might you put us in touch? I also am a believing scientist and could use a bit of help with an evolutionist on my own blog. Thanks!



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Lori

posted March 5, 2009 at 9:58 am


My high-school aged daughter has had the opportunity to hook up with youth programs at churches at my home and her dad’s home. My observation is that her discipleship has blossomed at her dad’s church because it is a small church and close relationships are formed in such a way that the children in the church are being nurtured to go out into the world and serve in Jesus’ name.
Prime example: my daughter went on a mission trip to Guatemala with a Christian social-action group last year. An athiest and a Buddhist were a part of the group and my daughter, who is a healthy disciple of Jesus, has maintained contact with them. It is through relationships over time that the truth of God’s love for an individual can take hold in that individual’s life. Because of the mentoring relationships at her home church, my daughter understands that concept and is willing to call an athiest or a Buddhist ‘friend’ for the sake of Jesus.
My daughter was turned off by the youth group at the big box church near my home because of the shallow social stratification among the females. She also found the youth group at my church to be too dry; it focuses too much on learning to define oneself as a member of the denomination and not enough on mentoring discipleship relationships with Jesus.
My daughter isn’t alone in her drive to act out the love of Jesus by going into the world, literally, and walking with people in their daily lives for awhile. There are many just like her.
I think ‘programs’ are for the schools; small groups focusing on mentoring relationships in the tradition of Jesus, the Master Rabbi, could be the way to go for our youth.



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Brian

posted March 5, 2009 at 11:04 am


I am a youth director at a church outside of st louis. I have been wrestling with the goal and methodology of youth ministry for the last 6 years I’ve been in it.
This morning and last night I have had some thoughts that challenge my approach. Typically we take the student out of the family unit and focus only on the student. In reality, we try to create a new family unit with the youth pastor and youth leaders.
I think this approach is fails to capture the potential. I am still tinkering with my thoughts, if I can use the word tinkering. But what if instead of seeking to focus on the student apart from the family unit, the youth pastor and leaders focused on the student and the family unit. We will never reach our redemptive potential apart from ministering to the whole family. Imagine the multiplying effect of a youth ministry that does engage the student, disciples…etc. But does so while knowing that it must engage the whole family. That seeks to equip, encourage and challenge Fathers and Mothers not as a second task, but as mission critical for the whole family being rooted for a lifetime of living as a disciple.
Nothing new under the sun. But we really need to ask difficult questions since youth ministry in this form has not been around long enough for us to fully know the positive and negative results.
Thank you Chris for the work you have done. I was apart of a conference you spoke at and appreciate you.



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Phil Niemi

posted March 5, 2009 at 11:30 am


Brian,
You may want to consider the book “Faith at Home” or “Building a Faith at home church”, I’ve found it helpful. We still generally put the youth demographic together, but occasionally or regularly allow parent and multigenerational interaction in service. It’s important for church youth to be discipled by their parents, however, not church youth need us specifically.
Phil



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Barb

posted March 5, 2009 at 12:26 pm


This is the topic I’m most passionate about. here are my quick thoughts (laced with venting).
1. the next generations are not waiting around for us to get our act together–they will move out and do whatever they do–we have a very short window to influence.
2. don’t spoon feed–toss in some meat. look at the curriculim your local High School requires (tough stuff)–challenge their minds.
3. let them ASK questions and listen to them. Don’t give any pat answers.
Lutheranchik,
your church sounds like mine–my daughter, now a college frosh, says I MADE her go to youth group. Most families seem to want to PROTECT their darlings from youth group (they have homework, games, need sleep etc.)
4. put your money where your mouth is–my church hired and then laid off the youth director in about 1 1/2 years–still claiming that we value youth ministry. they didn’t understand that the director was not just a program coordinator but the “pastor” to youth. That’s hard for parent volunteers to be.



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Joseph

posted March 5, 2009 at 1:05 pm


I was so proud of my daughter for rejecting the invites of one of her fundamentalist friends to join their youth group.
It’s a very wealthy church, perhaps one of the largest in the state, and when she saw the cappuccino maker and the other fancy facilities, she never went back.
She actually prefers the youth group of the church her parents attend, which is so poor that the youth don’t even have a dedicated room to meet in. All the money gets spent on feeding the homeless and small things like that.
She does come home upset because the friend now tells her she’s a bad Christian.
I had church used as a weapon on me when I was a child, so I didn’t enter one for over 20 years. And now that I do, I would never ever ever force her to attend.
Because she might end up like her friend, judgmental and arrogant in her theology.
I think one thing left out of all these motherhood-and-apple pie discussions of youth groups is the brainwashing (and I choose that word deliberately) that goes on.
A youth group that teaches it’s youth to believe that they have the only way to the truth and that that kids in other denominations might end up in hell is worse than no youth group at all.



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Wes Ellis

posted March 5, 2009 at 1:06 pm


I am a Youth Pastor in Ramona, California and I tend to agree with you. I think Christopher Wright?s ?mission? statement hits the nail on the head. The themes he draws out as well as N.T. Wright?s ideas about being ?image bearers? have become the mantra of our Youth Ministry and I am excited about the student?s response thus far. But in our church I think we?re still catching up with everybody else. I think our church is having a unique experience to those of our surrounding church youth ministries. Deconstruction hasn?t happened here because, frankly, prior to my coming here there?s been very little construction at all. We?re still just trying to establish the basics, like what?s youth group about anyway? and, isn?t 30 minutes a little bit long for Bible study? (this is parents, mostly, not students). My particular experience, though, is an anomaly. Overall, your judgment of culture is right on.
I think we?re re-establishing what we are “trying to do in the first place.” You?re not the only one who feels like we?re on hold. The pendulum may be swinging but there needs to be proactive response if we really want to see that happen. I think Chris Wright?s (as an example) ideas will be embraced in the more main-stream setting (though that worries me because it may cheapen the whole idea when the suburban-mega-church gets their dirty little fingers on it). When it comes to your last question about embodiment, I?m reminded of a quote I read in a book called Option for the Poor in Christian Theology (get it, read it) We just have to experiment and ?even if that experiment seemed to have failed, it was an experiment worth failing; therefore it is an experiment worth repeating until it bears the fruit?? (Aloysius Pieris in Daniel G. Groody?s, The Option for the Poor in Christian Theology, p.274.). The Kingdom of God starts small? don?t be afraid of failure.
Keep these Y-Min posts comin?!



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Brian McLaughlin

posted March 5, 2009 at 1:18 pm


Chris – Good post. I’d modify one of your sentences to this: “It appears that the mission of most youth ministries just might be as unsettled and itinerant as the church of which it is a part.” It is not only that youth ministry has lost its mission, it is that the church at large has. This is why missional thinkers, such as CJHWright, are so helpful.
Of course, we should blame ourselves. Youth ministry has been caught up in the pre-packaged, latest-and-greatest-you-must-do-this-to-be-relevant mentality for years. This is found in our books and our conferences. In fact, youth ministry in the last 2 decades has probably led the larger church in this arena.
So I’m a little concerned about being “on hold” and waiting for the next “strategy.” I agree with you that we need to listen to Wright and others and refocus on mission. However, If we are to learn anything from the missional folks it is that the manner in which we get back on mission is completely contextual. Therefore, local youth ministries don’t need to be “on hold.” Prayerfully discern what God is doing in your context and go!! I realize this sounds simplistic, but we’ve muddled up youth ministry for too long. I, for one, am not waiting for a future season of renovation, I’m trying to bring the future to my youth ministry today. It may look different than every other youth ministry in the country but that is okay because I have a unique context.



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MarkE

posted March 5, 2009 at 2:04 pm


In our case, there were competing missions. Those with the power in big church implicitly saw the youth ministry as a program that supports big church. Parents go where their kids want to participate in the youth program.
Can you have it both ways?



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RJS

posted March 5, 2009 at 2:10 pm


MarkE – How is this a competing mission? I wouldn’t want to go to a church where my kids were bored, unengaged, and babysat.



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Henry Zonio

posted March 5, 2009 at 2:26 pm


It is great to see this kind of post and the thinking that is going on in younger areas of ministry, but I would like to push the challenge even futher that we really need to be considering even younger than junior high (12 years old). What are we doing to engage that 9 year old whose spiritual framework is solidifying… 3 years before junior high! What are we doing leading up to that?
Also, thinking needs to go into how children’s and youth ministries go beyond simply thinking about family ministry and how these ministries fit into the emerging missional converstatins that are happening like those with The Origins Project. How are ministries cross-pollinating to create missional communities that work within their individual contexts? What does an overall ethos of children’s minsitry or youth ministry look like that can fit into a variety of values? I’m trying to work through what that might look like from the children’s ministry side of things.
I’m glad to see the wrestly happening in youth ministry. I don’t honestsly see that wrestling happening in children and family ministries… something that goes beyond the rhetoric of “parents are the primary spiritual teachers” and “partnering with parents”…



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AHH

posted March 5, 2009 at 2:49 pm


Susan @7, RJS is almost certainly who you want, but I’m another scientist relatively new to this blog so also feel free to contact me (at the address you can find on the site that should show up with this post). The “Course” linked there will give you an overview of my thinking about such things.



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Barb

posted March 5, 2009 at 3:01 pm


I believe the mission of the big church IS the next generation(s)–depending on how old you are there are more! I have not found this an easy idea to sell in my own church. I still believe the prevailing attitude is still “let’s have a youth ministry as part of our sales package, and lets make sure it doesn’t mess anything up.”



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Peggy

posted March 5, 2009 at 3:23 pm


Thanks for this post…I’m right there with you!
However, I was in a conversation the other day about these kinds of things and suggested that perhaps it is not that we are on hold — which suggests that we are not doing anything at all — but that we are “orbiting” — which gives the appearance of movement, but it stuck going around in circles because there is not enough thrust to break out of the gravity of whatever we’re orbiting around.
For me, this sums up what is too often happening. Our groups are orbiting around a larger church mission that is not “missional” at all. It is encouraging to see that there are a growing number of folks who are allowing the Spirit to “boost” them and empower them to break out of orbit and blast off.
And I also agree that the primary responsibility for discipling our children lies with us (assuming that we are disciples of Christ ourselves). Let us give the mentors something with which to work — and remove the block of parents who are not involved or supportive.
…it is so much easier for my 13 year old to go off and talk Bible study than it is for him to love his younger brothers. I am the one who much mentor there, seeking to help him apply what he’s learning at youth group.



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LutheranChik

posted March 5, 2009 at 4:07 pm


Here’s a story problem for all of you, LOL:
My small, decidedly non-affluent rural ELCA congregation’s youth groups fluctuate in size greatly from year to year. (Totally unlike the large and relatively unchanging Baby Boomer Sunday School/catechism class/youth group of my own salad days back in the 60′s and 70′s.) Right now we have four girls in confirmation class, which intersects with perhaps three more kids to make up our “youth group.” We have about four or five “tweens” not quite confirmation-class age, waiting in the wings. And despite our having a healthy male-female ratio among our churchgoers, the youth group is almost entirely female…boys seem to disappear from church at puberty, even when their dads are active, even though our pastor has an easygoing manner and “manly-man” pastimes that make him accessible to guys in our largely blue-collar community. (He jokes about his active and popular “driveway ministry,” very often done while he’s welding or tinkering with cars in his garage.)
Our youth group is in hiatus — they always get jazzed at our synodical youth conventions and summer camps, but have a hard time keeping up the momentum throughout the year. Our confirmation class is doing some interesting stuff — one afternoon a week they’re going through class, but they’re also spending one afternoon a week with our venerable church quilting group, learning how to quilt and hearing stories about the history of our faith community from the matriarchs. (In the past our pastor has taken confirmation kids on pastoral visits; has taken them on road trips to places like the Church of the Saviour in DC; has had them sign up to help members of the congregation with chores; has had them create chancel plays…every year it’s something different.) One area of major resistance/pushback is worship leadership — the kids will acolyte, but most balk at anything else, and all of them, even the high school drama major, absolutely refuse to lector, lead prayers or even work on doing a youth service once in awhile.
My feeling, as a disinterested/interested party (I’m a rostered lay minister whose interests and skill set frankly lie elsewhere than in youth ministry) is that we’re kind of on the right track in getting the kids involved with other groups in church, mingling with other generations and working on projects, like the quilts, that help other people. I think we need more of that. I think we also need to be sensitive to the very real, damaging financial, health and other family pressures on these kids. I think that helping these young people grow into the role of “wounded healers” is a wonderful goal. But I’m wondering what ideas the rest of you have.



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MarkE

posted March 5, 2009 at 4:18 pm


RJS:
If your youth program is discipleship focused, rather than “fun” focused (although the two are not mutually exclusive), some of the youth will not want to participate. Some parents don’t like it if their youth does not want to go to youth because it is not fun/social/programmed enough for them. When the goal becomes to make the youth attractive enough for the most youth, regardless of their level of commitment to discipleship, it can become a competing goal.
People have their own ideas about what constitutes a good church or youth program, which may not entirely synch with a discipleship mission. The question is how much freedom does a youth pastor have to keep the primary focus on discipleship, when the kids of some of the parents in big church don’t “like” youth.



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Jim Martin

posted March 5, 2009 at 5:16 pm


Chris-
A great post and the beginning of an important conversation. I really like the way you began this.
(Scot–Thanks for this important series. Glad you are doing this.)



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Aaron

posted March 5, 2009 at 6:34 pm


I fee like the biggest battle is for our teenage boys. The girls in our youth group for the most part are engaged, are growing on their own, serve on missions trips and are just much more spiritually motivated than our boys. (there are exceptions obviously) but our boys seem to be just bored with life, and seem pretty uninterested with whatever you challenge them with – video games seem to be more attractive than much else. Does anyone else see this?



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a different Chris

posted March 5, 2009 at 7:52 pm


There are two observations that I really appreciated in this post. 1) Chris rightly understands that with a prolonged life comes a prolonged adolescence and the entrance into adulthood is far more complicated when youth ministry began (arguably, 60 years ago – see Robert Weber’s The Young Evangelical). 2) When describing a Missional Theology, Chris does not describe the activity of a youth group, he describes the calling of the Church. Here is where Chris really gets it absolutely right.
So many struggles have been addressed above. And I have experienced many of the frustrations stated about in my work. So what I am about to say, I say with as much sympathy as I can give. If your youth are separated from the rest of the church, then it won’t matter what your mission statement is. They will never feel at home in their tradition. This brings to the real problem. For many churches youth don’t feel welcomed because they aren’t.
For far to long, churches have been focused and concerned about how big their youth groups are, so they create fun and “trendy” groups where the gospel is only sort of preached. They become more like clubs rather than centers of generosity, love, and peace inspired and sustained by the life of Jesus and the movements of the Holy Spirit. And in churches that are “thriving” with overly zealot and righteous super christian teens, there is no humility.
What the church needs (and fortunately Jesus compels us to this reality) is a deep and clear tie to the poor and the broken. Here is where the most work is needed. Fortunately, and unfortunately, for youth workers, teens tend to be very broken. And this is where a congregations heart can break and really get it. If you are having problems getting parents involved or you are trying to figure out how to create intergenerational gatherings, have one of your students talk about the daily struggles they face. Have them share and have the congregation listen.
This is the mission of the youth worker, to remind the church that the purpose of the Church is not raise the next generation of Christians. The purpose of the Church is to be Christian to all of its christians and to every person created by our God.



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chris folmsbee

posted March 5, 2009 at 10:03 pm


Love the comments! Some really good thoughts here. Thanks for engaging in the conversation. I’m looking forward to where these occasional posts on youth ministry take us all.
Some quick thoughts/responses…
Phil (Comment # 4): I think the way that we educate students is in need of serious renovation. There will be a post or two on this over the next few months but in short, I think that we need to move away from a teacher-centered model of educating our students and move toward a more student-centered (think: applied learning, David Kolb) approach that helps students (from a much earlier age) begin to develop a rhythm of learning that is built around the needs/learning styles of the student and not the preferences and skills of the teacher. A helpful tool here would be Michael Novelli’s recent book called, Shaped by the Story. I think what he has to offer is tremendously helpful.
LutheranChik (Comment # 6): I am sure there are a bunch of parents who have never had the ‘conviction’ or have lost it over the years. However, I’d like to think that much of what you callthe removal of the “proactive understanding of the parental role” has to do with an overall misunderstanding or an uniformed reality of what postmodern students are all about. I think parents are just as unsure about how to reach their own kids these days as we are about why they are not. Perhaps we might better serve our faith communities through educating our parents of the rising generations traits, characteristics, etc. I’m not sure the best way to recommend as so much of it is contextual, and we haven’t figured it out at my church but we do recognize that some of the problem might lie in our commitment/ability to better inform parents of how to effectively reach their children.
Brian (Comment # 14): You are spot on. Cultural context is critical. I’d love to know in what ways you are regularly understanding your cultural/ministry context. How are you continuing to discover the uniqueness of your particular context?
Henry (Comment # 17): I love that you are thinking holistically about this! I have also grown tired of the rhetoric. Can anyone help answer Henry’s questions of…How are ministries cross-pollinating to create missional communities that work within their individual contexts? What does an overall ethos of children’s minsitry or youth ministry look like that can fit into a variety of values?



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labtrout

posted March 5, 2009 at 10:38 pm


I work for a youth ministry, para church, if you want want that type of label that has been doing ministry the same way for about 70 years. Now it might be a little different than most of the previous comments, because it seems as if most of the people above seem to be involved in youth groups attached to a church. So my question is are we talking about “what is our mission?” as it relates to church kids (students tagging along with there parents) or kids that our lost and rarely if ever have attended church. I deal largely with the latter, therefore deconstruction isn’t as big of an issue. I can’t imagine the frustration of helping a teen deconstruct what they’ve been taught by goofy churches and parents…….sounds like an extremely tough job and my hat goes off to those trying to figure this out.



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Susan

posted March 5, 2009 at 11:39 pm


AHH – thanks. I sent an email your way.



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Brian McLaughlin

posted March 6, 2009 at 1:48 pm


Chris, I’m not doing anything special or unique. Every year God gives me a different group of students due to graduation, moves, new students, etc. Therefore, every year I need to determine something about the group God has given me and how this group should be used to fulfill God’s mission in our community. This yearly analysis helps determine what we teach, how we teach, where we serve, how we serve, etc, etc.
For example, this year I had a big crop of 6th graders. I wanted to begin the year on a foundation of community so we did a lot of studying and praying on the one anothers and what it means to live in community. We’ve also ramped up our service to each other and our greater community to help live this out. So far its been a great year. Who knows what next year will bring…
I appreciate all the conferences and books on youth ministry that are out there, but I rarely attend and rarely read them. There is too much generalization going on. Some of it is surely helpful but nothing is more important than getting to know the students God has given us and the community God has placed us in. That is why I challenge people to not be on hold for a new strategy, just prayerfully discern where God has you and go. It is sloppy and confusing and learn as you go, but it sure is fun.



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Derek Swanson

posted March 8, 2009 at 2:22 pm


I love the question that Chris is asking, “As it relates to youth ministry, what will be the strategic ways we embody the gospel in an unsettled and itinerant culture?”
In our Youth ministry we have faced big time growth (numbers-wise, not spiritually) in Middle School and there’s more coming down the line. And with that we have been operating with “old wine skins”, which are beginning to burst. Recently we have started to evaluate our Confirmation programing on Wednesdays in order to provide “new wine skins” for the youth to grow spiritually.
The questions we keep on asking are “What’s the purpose?”, “Is this putting the students first?”, and “Are we letting God shape what we do, not the parents or the church schedule or the little ‘ol church ladies who want tradition for the sake of tradition?”
It’s a difficult process (there are a lot of emotional sacred cows), but I think it will refine not only what we do on Wednesdays, but refine our staffs connection to God.
Thanks Scot and Chris, can’t wait for more.



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Karissa

posted March 9, 2009 at 2:04 pm


A Different Chris,
Thanks so much for your post. I really resonated with your comments. Specifically, “If your youth are separated from the rest of the church, then it won’t matter what your mission statement is. They will never feel at home in their tradition. This brings to the real problem. For many churches youth don’t feel welcomed because they aren’t.”
I’m 21/2 years into leading a youth ministry at a mid-size church in Southern California, and I had a really rocky start. When I started I came into a broken ministry where I was asked to make changes in order to restore and heal what was there. The small number of students that remained were at church for entertainment, not to encounter Jesus. Essentially, I was starting from scratch. Because of this, I spent months praying and asking God what our ministry should look like. What would be best for our students and families at our church? What I heard was that our students need to be integrated into the larger church body. If students are going to stick around when youth group is over, then they need to feel connected to our “adult ministries,” and this needs to happen before they graduate. Our students are the church now and it’s time that we start to treat them that way. We decided that our older High Schoolers (10-12 grade) would participate in the main church services on Sunday mornings. We still have a High School ministry that meets during the week. The church leadership was supportive of the change, but there were a handful of families that really made my life miserable for a couple of months. The change was really hard, and I came back to God on numerous occasions to ask him if he was sure this was the way to go. He didn’t change his mind, although there were moments when I wanted to change my mind. I really understood why many youth pastors don’t stick around at the same church for very long.
It’s now been almost two years since we removed our Sunday morning High School program (we still have a High School ministry on Sunday nights,)and only in the last 6-8 months have I been able to see tangible fruit in our student’s lives. I’ve seen first hand that we can’t “microwave” spiritual growth in our students. True discipleship takes time; it doesn’t happen over night. We still have a lot to discern and pray about. We are still struggling to create an awareness among our adults that our students are important, needed, and gifted and able to serve. God is still making changes to our ministry and my heart, there are still areas where my heart feels discontent with the norm, and I’m continually asking God how to give my students the opportunity to encounter his presence. I guess the point is that while God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, our ministry context is constantly changing. We have to remain conscious of those changes.



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plymouthrock!

posted March 10, 2009 at 12:19 am


I am not a youth minister in the traditional sense, yet I would humbly submit I have 19 years of experience in youth ministry. I have six children ages 9 to 19 years. My wife and I continue to home educate all of our children, except our oldest who is a junior a Cedarville University.
I have vigorously supported traditional youth ministries in the past with my time and finances. I believe I understand the desire and heart of those who go into traditional youth ministry; they look around at the contemporary Western youth culture and see young people falling victim to so many things which God would not have desired the people of His Kingdom. I submit for your consideration the paradigm used by most in youth ministry have been to heavily affected by Greek philosophy and not enough by the philosophy of the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures of the Bible.
Consider the following ideas, which I believe, come from a Biblical philosophical approach. First, youth ministers in the Bible were called parents. The Hebrew Scriptures teach that it was the responsibility of parents to teach the children about life and YHWH as they walked along through life. While we see that by the First Century children went off to rabbinical schools, I submit this was more due to Greek and Roman influence on the people of God, who honored God with their lips but their hearts we far from Him. Second, the prophets Malachi and John both announce reform for the people of God in the Kingdom, which God would bring about through Israel?s messiah. They both (Malachi 4.5-6 and Luke 1.17) indicate the reform would start in the hearts of the people. Reform stated with parents turning their hearts to their children and children turning their hearts to parents. Finally, I submit God mutigenerational plan for the growth of the kingdom starts in the home and expands form there. Barna Institute research indicates that only 1% of Western Christians think of family as a priority for the Church.
I suggest the mission of the contemporary youth minister would be one of turning the hearts of young people from the guidance of their peers to the guidance of their parents. Teaching young people the meaning of living by the first command with a promise should become a priority. Those young people who do not have parents to turn their hearts need to me mentored by older members of the church (Titus 2.1-10). This of course requires that the parents and older members of the church be trained to live out these lifestyles giving up some of themselves for the sake of the next generation of God?s people. Therefore, this requires part of the mission of the church to include training adults how to train children. Solomon said that a wise man leaves an inheritance for his children?s children. I submit the best inheritance we can give our grandchildren is Godly parents.



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plymouthrock!

posted March 10, 2009 at 12:27 am


Comment #32 can be read in its entirety from the original author(with commentary) at the following blog:
http://blog.planetpreterist.com/index.php?itemid=2278



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