Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Family Church VS Student Ministry Pt. 3

If you missed it here is Part 1 and Part 2

 The balance:
The problem with both sides, “family church only” or “we have youth group” is that you can lean unhealthy to one extreme or the other.  The family church has the possibility, if not done right, of boring students away from their faith as well as getting the attitude of “if you aren’t a family church then your church is wrong” attitude.  I’ve even heard some say “you can’t find youth group in the Bible”.  I say you can, Jesus had the first youth group, his disciples.  If you use the New Testament as your model and only what is found in the pages of the NT then your church would meet in homes and not in huge buildings although we do see a mega church in Jerusalem in Acts as thousands were coming to Christ.

Youth groups can go to the other extreme.  Parents not involved or encouraged to disciple their teens.  Pizza parties every week with no time for worship, all games of dodge ball but no scripture being taught.  The youth group where the youth pastor is viewed by the church as more of a “cruise director” and not a shepherd.  The parents who drop their teen off at church and believe it’s the paid professional’s job to teach their teen the Bible.

We strive (we’re not perfect) to find that balance.  Students are an active part of the body of Christ at NHC.  Parents are encouraged to disciple their children.  Students have the opportunity to worship and learn with adults as well as with their peers in two different settings.  We are taking a systematic approach to discipleship, including the  parents, teaching sound doctrine and apologetics as well as incorporating times where we teach topically teaching students how Scripture can greatly impact their daily life.  We may have three events a year that are strictly times to have fun together but there is nothing sinful or Biblically wrong with that.  Our weekly student church is focused on teaching and applying the word.

Sticky Faith and the research that went into it has taught us that students are more likely to stick with their faith if they have had relationships with at least 5 adults in their church.  I’ll be honest, family church isn’t my cup of tea, but if a parent is going to take that route they need to find ways within their church to get their kids involved with other adults who can have an influence on them.  

As a parent I want my kids around other adults in church.  I’m thankful for the adults who invest into the lives of my children every Sunday.  When we have an opportunity to get involved as a family in a church outreach we do because I want my kids serving along side of other adults in the church.  I think back to Operation Backpack at the beginning of the school year, an event where our church supplies people in our community with the school supplies they need.  We turn our building into a distribution center.  My favorite pictures from that event are the ones where my child is serving along side another teen or adult in the church.  When I see my 6 year old daughter serving next to a high school science teacher and they are engaged in conversation that is encouraging to me.  The extreme and the “isolation” occurs when parents think that they and the teaching pastor are the only teaching their child needs.

So I believe that there can be a healthy balance on either side.  Both family church only, and churches with youth groups have to strive to find that healthy balance so that the spiritual impact on their children’s lives is a positive one. 

Monday, November 16, 2015

Family Church VS Student Ministry Pt. 2

You can read part 1 HERE

What we do:

Our students in middle and high school attend Sunday morning worship with the adults.   We worship together.  We aren’t “isolating them from the body of Christ”, they are the body of Christ.  We see the advantage of students worshipping in church with the adults because when they go off as adults it would be quite a shock to go from a youth group setting to “big church” cold turkey.

Our students serve the church in ministry on Sunday mornings.  You stroll into NHC on a Sunday morning and you will find middle and high school students serving along side of adults, serving coffee, teaching children, welcoming guests, helping parents check their kids into Cowabunga Cove, on the tech team, and even leading in worship in music.  So they aren’t isolated, they are integrated.  In fact NHC couldn’t accomplish the ministry we do on Sunday mornings without the ministry of the students.

We offer Student Church.  I know that this causes some in the family church movement to cringe.  We come together on Sunday evenings for 2 hours.  We have an icebreaker so students can get to know each other, some would call it “just playing a game” but their is a purpose behind it.  We have a time of singing together in worship.  We have a time of teaching where the Bible is opened and taught by a teacher/preacher.  We also have a time where students can snack and chat or play a game together, we call this fellowship.  Students building relationships with other Christian students and with caring adults is vital to their spiritual growth and accountability.  We also have a small group time where students get together with an adult leader and discuss questions pertaining to what they learned.

Parents aren’t left out of the student ministry in fact many of our youth leaders are parents of teens.  On Sunday nights during Student Church we have a small group of parents that meet together for Bible study and fellowship.  I see this time for parents to get together as super valuable and helpful for them in their parenting and discipling of their teen.  We also provide a weekly email to keep parents in the loop.  In that email there is often material, scripture or topics to help parents continue the discussion from youth group.  Often we point parents to helpful articles and resources online.  We all know that you can take a person to a buffet but you can’t make them eat.  You can provide resources for parents but that doesn’t guarantee they will take advantage of it or that they will even disciple their kids at home and as they walk through life.

Our mission trips at NHC involve adults, parents, teens and even children.  We just had a team get back from Honduras and the team included parents and their elementary age children.  We will go to Eleuthera again this spring and the team will be adults and teenagers mixed together.

Do we have events and activities?  Yes.  We strive not to fill calendars though and our events and activities have a purpose behind them when they do.  Parents’ and teens’ calendars are already filled to the max so if we do something it has a purpose of exposing students to Christianity or giving our students some needed fellowship time.  It’s good to have fun together.  We make the mistake of picturing Jesus and his disciples as always being serious and never having fun but Jesus created fun and relationships so I’m pretty sure they had times where they laughed together.

Check back in a couple of days for Family Church VS Student Ministry Pt. 3

Friday, November 13, 2015

Family Church VS Student Ministry

I hate reading long blog posts.  Sorry.  But there was no way to tackle this in a few paragraphs, so I’m going to tackle it in a few blog posts. 

The Challenge:
I was recently challenged on Instagram to watch the movie, Divided About Youth Ministry, on Youtube.  The individual who dropped this challenge on me apparently is adamant that there should be no youth ministry in the church.  So I watched the movie. 

There is a movement among some churches where there is no age division.  So everyone from baby to granny sit together in worship together.  If that’s what they feel, as a church, they are to do then that is fine.  The problem is some go overboard and believe this is what every church should do and if you aren’t doing it then you are wrong.

The basis of the movie was that youth ministry is ineffective and students are walking away from their faith when they hit college or even before.  The fix, according to the movie, is that parents be the disciplers of their children.  This, according to the movie, is accomplished by removing the youth group ( or other age/gender divided Sunday School or small groups or women’s ministry, etc.) and everyone sitting in church together. 

How does this approach make the parents the disciplers of their children?  In my opinion a teen can sit in church worship service with their parents and still not be discipled at home.  The answer to parents discipling isn’t “let’s all sit together in church” or “drop the kid off at youth group”.  The answer to parents discipling their kids is to equip and assist parents in the discipleship of their child.  

Statistics, the movie uses statistics to back up their claim that students are leaving their faith.  Yes, the stat is 4 out of 5 will leave their faith.  I would be interested to see a study done specifically among the family churches to see what their stat would be.  This statistic was not given in the movie.  I would think that among the statistic that 4 out of 5 kids walk away from their faith after high school would include students who sat in church with their parents and didn’t attend youth group either because their church had no youth ministry or they chose not to attend youth group.  I sat here and thought about the teens in the two churches I have served in who chose not to attend youth group but were in church worship with their parents on Sunday morning.  Not one of them, to my knowledge, is involved in church today. 

So students who sit with mom and dad in church and students who are actively involved in are walking away from their faith.  What could be the key then?  Could it be that discipleship at home isn’t happening in those cases?  Could be. 

A few of the flaws I found in the movie:

  • If this movement is all about the church then why did they interview para church ministry leaders?  If you go to Answers in Genesis’ website they have age divided material/resources and pages.  Don’t get me wrong.  I like Answers in Genesis and there is some good material on their website and their kids page is cool.
  • I have heard one of the prominent pastors interviewed in the movie speak on 4 different occasions.  Interestingly enough all 4 of those occasions were in youth group settings. Events where youth groups converged either for a weekend event or for an entire week of youth camp.  So the pastor must not be totally against youth ministry and must see that there is some validity in having student ministry.
  • The cutting room floor.  When showing their on the street interviews with teens and young adults they didn’t show any that were strong in their faith, or had the right answers who were actively involved, or were when they were teens, in a student ministry.  Surely there had to be some.  Just because a teen says they attended a youth group or even just because an adult attends church doesn’t mean you are going to get spot on, theologically sound, answers one hundred percent of the time.
Check back in a couple of days for part 2 of Family Church VS Student Ministry

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Student Ministry Impact Killers

The Lone Ranger - No way that one person can minister to an entire youth group, even a “small” youth group.  Jesus discipled a group of 12, I’m not Jesus so I would say that number is a bit high for me.  In our youth ministry we like the ratio of 6 students per 1 adult leader.  Spread out the ministry and your team will reach more and have an impact on more lives. 

No Vision -  Youth group is just a social gathering.  There is no reason, or master plan, for gathering the students together each week.  It is most important to remind them often of the purpose of your youth ministry and why you are on the face of this planet.  Why does your church’s youth ministry exist?  Be specific.  How do you carry out that vision?

No Ministry
- The adults faithfully minister to the students.  Adults can also end up doing all the ministry rather than teaching the students how to minister and giving them the opportunity to serve.  We need to teach students about how God has shaped them to serve each other, the church.  Give students opportunities to serve.

The Cold
- Not the common cold or even cold weather, which I despise with all that’s in me.  But the cold feeling when a student who has either never been to youth group or is returning after a long extended absence.   Cliques are normal, in my opinion, we naturally are attracted to people and groups who are like us.  The old “birds of a feather” mentality.  We need to help our students to understand what it means to make a first impression and also to extend a warm welcome to the new kid or the returning prodigal.

The Driver’s License - Let’s be honest, the reason most youth groups have an abundance of middle school students is because middle school students don’t have many options.  There are so many places they can ride to on their skate board or bicycle.  That day of freedom when the keys that open the magical world of driving are handed off is also often the day that youth group takes a back seat in the new driver’s life.  There are so many more options out there once they can drive.  We need to help students, in those years leading up to the driver’s license, see the impact they can have by driving friends with them to youth group, use their car, or momma’s SUV, as a mission tool.

The Job
- In our area this is a biggie because students get summer jobs at age 14.  We know that jobs aren’t evil.  We also know that jobs are important to a student if they want some spending cash and for the rare child who dreams of saving up money.  We need to help students learn that:

A.  You are going to work your entire life.  So don’t rush into it.

B.  McDonalds will more than likely not be your career.

C.  You can tell the manager doing the interview that you are heavily involved in your church’s youth ministry and it is important for you to now work on church days or when your youth group meets.  Student’s need to promise, and follow through, with working hard as they can when they are on the clock and faithful to be there when scheduled.

This pattern of working and missing corporate worship is something that will stick with kids into their adult years. I know that we, and I’m speaking as a parent, don’t want our children to view corporate worship as not important in life when they become adults.

The boy/girlfriend
- Can I get an “Amen”?  Not much to be said here.  We see it happen time and again.  Priorities shift.  We need to help students learn how to have healthy relationships both with friends and with God.  Passion for Jesus Christ is the flame that needs to be fanned.  If a student is passionate about Jesus they are less likely (not a guarantee) to be pulled away from fellowship by a boy/girlfriend.  We must help them learn that Jesus is to be the center of their universe because he will always be there but the boy/girlfriend won’t.

The disengaged Christian parent - This is the Christian parent who doesn’t realize, or ignores, the fact that they are responsible and will be held accountable for how they disciple their child.  Part of discipleship is training your son or daughter in the importance of corporate worship.  We need to help parents discover that the youth ministry team is here to come along side of them as they disciple their teen.  There is significant evidence that students who connect with 5 adults in their church will be more likely to continue on in their faith walk after high school.  Teach them not just about corporate worship but also, by example, show them what following Christ daily looks like.  Parents, does your teen see you with the Bible open on your lap having your daily quiet time?

This isn’t the ultimate list and I’m sure my student ministry friends can think of some more.  You can have the most awesome student worship band, the best teaching, the craziest games, the coolest events and trips and still lose the battle to one of the impact killers listed above.  So what do you do?  Focus on the faithful, focus on the students who desire a lasting, growing relationship with God.  Don’t neglect the ones who stray, reach out to them but don’t let them steal the time away you could be investing into a students(s) who wants to grow.  

The one thing I didn’t list above but has much to do with our responsibility is to plan and prep.  Make sure you are planning and preparing for each student worship gathering, don’t wing it, don’t wait until the afternoon of the gathering, don’t count on the Holy Spirit to bail you out every time for lack of preparation. 

Students will come and go.  There is no way you can 100% effectively close the back door.  Don't let students who fizzle and stray steal the joy you find in ministering to students.  Stay faithful, often you won't see the results of your efforts until the student is an adult.

Friday, October 9, 2015

"I have a great idea!"

If you have been in ministry longer than a week you have experienced the following scenario:
“Hi __________ (insert your name here), I have a great idea for the youth group (or insert your ministry here)!”  Often the idea comes from someone who has nothing to do with the student ministry of your church.  Sometimes the ideas truly are great and sometimes they are not.  Most of the time they mean well.

Regardless of who says this or if it is a great idea or not I have a few thoughts:
Opportunity to Equip 
This is an excellent opportunity to equip someone minister.  If it truly is a great idea have them submit a plan and turn them loose to lead it with your input on expectations.  Maybe the person’s small group or Sunday School class could get involved in leading the event.


Look at the Calendar

Sometimes it is a great idea but you know your community’s culture and calendar.  Would the idea actually work?  What’s happening the week before and the week after that might get in the way of people participating in the idea.

Ask the Idea Gal Some Question
How does this fit into our church’s vision and purpose?

What will this event accomplish in the lives of students and or our community?
What are your goals for this idea? 
If the idea requires money where will that money come from?

Will it Work with the Student Ministry Plan
What do you have going on this year in student ministry and how will this fit into your strategy and plan?  Sometimes great ideas are brought to you a few days or even a week or two before the event.  I often get approached from other ministries in our community inviting our youth to participate in an event and many times there is not enough time to promote it.  I received a call on a Monday inviting our youth group to an event on Wednesday.  The person even wanted me to take the time to call each student.  Poor planning = Poor Success.  I would encourage you to map our your entire year’s student ministry from messages/lessons to events and activities.

Learn to Say No
For most of us it is hard to say "No".  Too many times I agreed to do something because I didn't know how to say "No" and I ended up dreading the entire process or event.  Figure out your parameters for saying "Yes" and "No".  Is this something someone else can do?  Is it something that only you can do?  Is it part of your ministries vision and purpose?  Do you have the time to invest to make it a success?  Is it something that God wants you to do?

Be Honest with the Person:

Thanks for your input.  I don't think it is a great idea.
Here is why I don’t think it’s a great idea . . . .  Maybe you can tweak the idea and come back with a plan. 

I honestly don’t have time to plan out this great idea
We all have much on our plate and most student ministers are wearing multiple hats in their church and doing at least two different full time positions rolled into one.  So we can’t truly give student ministry 100%.   We already have messages and worship gatherings to plan as well as activities and events.  So we are busy in ministry and we have family life and a private life on top of that.

I don’t have the time to give what would take to make this a success.

Seize the opportunity to let this person take the lead in a ministry event.  Equip them to lead, that would probably be a better use of time because the more leaders the more you can accomplish.  Perhaps come up with an event form that helps give guidelines and deadlines.  (I’ll blog on this in the near future)

I won’t do well leading this because it just isn’t my passion.

BUT I can see you are passionate about this.  Can you take the lead on this one?  We all excel in areas we are passionate about.  I’m not passionate about car washes therefore I don’t do car washes.

Get ready because someone near you has an idea!

Monday, October 5, 2015

5 Things Every Adult Needs to Know About Teens

Teens need relationships with adults in their church. 

Students who had at least 5 adults investing into their lives are more likely to continue their faith walk after high school.  Too many churches hire a youth pastor and expect him or her to do all the work, all the investing, all the planning, all the teaching.  
No one person can be all of that to all the students in a church’s youth ministry.  Jesus was the son of God and he invested in twelve and then those twelve went on to invest in others.  More on this HERE.

Teens need to serve.
Teenagers who are Christ followers have spiritual gifts and those gifts are not to be kept to one’s self.  Give students opportunities to minister and serve in the church and in youth ministry.  We all know the satisfaction you feel when you take what God has given you and accomplish something, complete a task, or simply help someone.  Students have that same need.

Teens need examples.
Teenagers need to be able to look at the adults in your church and see examples of what a Christ follower looks like.  When they look do they see servants?  Do they see ministers?  Do they see missionaries?  OR do they see pew warmers?  Bench sitters?
 Do they see adults worshipping the Lord Jesus Christ in spirit and in truth?

Teens are the church.
Does the phrase, “these kids are the church of the future” drive anyone else nuts or is it just me?  If a teen has put their faith in Christ then that teen is part of the church, today, here and now.  So treat them as such.  What do you expect from the members of the church?  Put those same expectations on teenagers.  This helps them to learn how to be an active, responsible part of the church.  Let them lead!

Teens need to be “self-feeders”.

Equip students to learn how to feed themselves from God’s Word.  They won’t always be in this cozy warm incubator we call “Youth Group”.  They are going to step out into the real world and if no one has taught them how to feed themselves they will starve spiritually.  Help them learn to have a world-view that is filtered through the lens of the scripture.  Ask questions that make them think.  Give them material to use so they can have their own personal daily quiet time.  Ask them, one on one, “What was did you learn last week in your daily quiet time?”  (and be ready to share something from your own daily quiet time)  A shepherd takes the sheep to a place to feed, provides the opportunity for grazing.

The above 5 things aren’t an all inclusive list and they don’t guarantee a kid won’t walk away from their faith when they graduate.  Our responsibility is to shepherd and equip and then the choice is theirs as to what they will do with what they have been given.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Great Youth Ministers Build Relationships

I know that most youth leaders don’t want to be labeled as “great” because the majority are humble people who just want to make a difference.

  Twenty years ago I moved from a volunteer position in a little church in northern Oklahoma to being a full time youth pastor at Harmony Baptist Church in southeast Oklahoma.  I still can’t believe they hired me.  My college training was audio production.  The only experience I had was running my own business, a multitude of different jobs, and a couple of years of teaching youth Sunday School and ministering to students.

It didn’t take me long to realize that I could not teach Sunday School, Discipleship training time, and our Wednesday night youth group.  Thankfully there were some Sunday school teachers in place but I needed one more.  So I went on the hunt.  I didn’t know much back then and not many books had been written on the topic of building a team, in fact among a large portion of smaller Southern Baptist Churches the youth ministry philosophy was “hire a youth pastor and let him do all the work”. 

My strategy was simple.  Look for someone already connecting with students.  I noticed a couple after church on Sunday mornings standing and talking in the isles with other people.  Who were the other people?  Middle and high school students.  So I put my crosshairs on Greg and Kellie.  Soon they were teaching the high school Sunday School.  They also slid right into helping on Wednesday nights. 

On the job training is where they (and I for that matter) honed their youth ministry skills.  I don’t remember ever sitting in and listening to them teach Sunday school.  I don’t remember any lessons they taught.  I do remember them laughing with students, joking with students, talking with students and hanging out with students.  They invested into a small group of teenagers.  That is youth ministry!

I remember hanging out with Greg and Kellie, eating meals together both in our homes and out on the town.   I remember even fishing and camping with them by the lake in the woods behind our home.  (camp close so the ladies can drive up to the house for the facilities)  I remember taking a road trip with them to the mountains of Arkansas, and I got us lost a little as we traveled back home.  We had great times together as friends.

I love Greg and Kellie for a few reasons.  They always were a support and encouragement to me as a youth pastor.  They loved students and invested in their lives.  They are great friends.

Greg and Kellie were great youth ministers because they were investors, they invested into the lives of students. 

Yesterday my friend, Greg, went home to be with the Lord after a year long battle with cancer.  Today I’m positive he is worshipping at the feet of Jesus Christ, no more pain, perfect.  One day I will get to join him in that worship and we will look around and see the students that he and Kellie invested in worshipping along side of us.

Greg was a great youth minister.