Thursday, May 31, 2012

Last Day to Register With Early-Bird Price!

Are you coming to Rooted August 9-11? Sign up NOW to get the Early-Bird price break!

You can access all registration details by clicking HERE. We hope to see you in August for a time to enjoy the Gospel and to consider how our ministries can be more effective in fostering mature, life-long disciples of Jesus. 

Monday, May 28, 2012

Content and Context

In offering some alternatives to the state of american youth ministry, I think it might be most helpful to get very basic so that we can focus on what is important.

Several years ago, in trying to simplify the teaching I was doing on youth ministry in a few different places, I boiled it down to two dimensions. Content and Context. So, I ran it past the excellent group of youth ministers that I work with and found agreement on the idea that this was a helpful way to think about youth ministry. I later ran across a book called Total Church in which the authors suggest that all ministry boils down to content and context. Wow! Was I on to something big? I loved how they unpacked these two dimensions from within scripture. The book goes on to detail their particular church model (house church), but I could see the application of content and context in a very different setting to my own, which was helpful.

Content is without a doubt most important. Our content is the gospel but I qualify that by saying - the gospel as we see it from Genesis to Revelation. The reason for that is to emphasize that our content is the entire word of God. This is what we teach and proclaim the gospel from. We ought to engage students in scripture, teach them how to interpret and apply it to their lives, and encounter Christ within those pages. Youth ministry with solid content should be really exciting! However, I have seen groups that do nothing but focus on content. They have no fun, no social gatherings, they miss opportunities to build deep and lasting relationships and evangelism is less common. I would describe such a ministry as one dimensional.

Context is the other dimension to ministry. Our context is community. By this I am specifically referring to the qualities of relationships built within a group. Community became something of a buzzword at one point and then took on a variety of meanings. So, I would define this context as relational, creating a sense of belonging, pursuing unity in the body (Ps 133), and helping people to learn to be the body of Christ. It must be outwardly focused to be consistent with being gospel people (rather than being a holy huddle). It should also be diverse, reflecting the local population. We are not looking for uniformity here. In this context we learn to love one another deeply. Not all students are going to become best friends but they can learn to love one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.

If these are our two dimensions of ministry, then all that we plan and do should fit into one or the other. Our time at weekly meetings should be guided by building our content and context. This means we set aside time each week to get to know each other more deeply and learn to trust one another, work together, etc. We pray together, discuss together, and generally grow together in Christ. We are no longer thinking as much about an individual faith but a community of believers, the body of Christ.

Our teaching and bible study should be helping students engage with scripture. Long ago I moved away from the traditional youth talk that consisted of my ideas supported by a few verses. I started teaching from passages, allowing God’s word to speak more directly to students. If you have not experienced the difference, you might not get what I mean here. Expounding scripture can be done in a variety of ways yet the end result is the same - people getting a clear sense of the meaning and figuring out how it applies to our lives.

So, where does “chubby bunnies” and messy games come into play? Well, I don’t think it has a place in our regular youth group meetings when we are centered around content and context. That sort of silliness gets relegated to camps, retreats, and times when we have already done a lot of teaching in the day and just want to have fun for a bit. Our weekly meetings are too precious, meaning we have such limited weekly time with students, to give away to silliness. Some of my youth ministry friends would argue that we need humor to help students drop their guard or to break the ice. I would suggest that lively interaction where students are getting to really know each other does this. If our teaching and discussions are lively and we are not inhibiting our own sense of humor, then even our content is fun and their guard is dropping.

Think about content and context next time you plan a youth group meeting or plan your calendar. If you run everything through those dimensions I believe your ministry will take on new depths. If we look at the early church in Acts 2, we can easily see they gathered around content in a context of community and the Lord added daily to their number. A group where truth is being proclaimed, lives are being changed, and people love one another deeply is the most attractive youth group we could imagine!

Dave Wright is the Coordinator for Youth Ministries in the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina.  This article is cross-posted with permission from Fusion Musing, where Dave regularly blogs.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Teaching Teenagers

Teaching teenagers is different from teaching any other age group because of the unique developmental paradigm they find themselves in – adolescence, the apex of the “already but not yet” of cognitive, spiritual, and emotional development, adults in many ways but without the wisdom of life lived. So youth ministers find themselves in a tricky spot, having students who desire depth and insight and who are bored with the fluff of weak Bible teaching, but who may or may not be ready to handle the implications of those deep doctrinal issues. These principles are helpful to guide your pursuit of biblically faithful teaching to your students.

1) Don’t take for granted what they know
The majority of our students in our youth ministry are “church kids” who grew up regularly attending church. Maybe that’s your group too. But one thing that I’ve learned that I can’t take for granted anymore is how much of the Bible they know. Here’s a website with some common Bible misquotes. It’s always a working assumption for me when I teach to assume nothing and build up from the ground floor. For a few weeks we went through a children’s story Bible to illustrate the continuous thread of Scripture and because many of them didn’t know the basics of the biblical metanarrative. When doing a series through a book/theme, always come back to the basics to reinforce the content.

2) Don’t lowball them – they’re capable of far more than the church gives them credit for.
This sounds antithetical to the previous point, but it’s really not. So many youth studies I’ve seen from a variety of publishers look and sound more like they’re designed for 3rd graders than high schoolers. Just because many Christian teenagers don’t have a broad biblical base doesn’t mean they’re not capable of handling significant issues and doctrines; they just need to be brought along with wisdom and care. The corollary to this is to expect more of students than most churches admit. I joke with our group that most adults are happy if they’re “coming to church, staying off meth, and not getting pregnant.” Don’t low-ball your students. Take them on mission trips, encourage them to invest in their schools and community, expect more than showing up for church on time and bringing their Bible. Churches, your teenagers are young adults, give them opportunity to serve and give them a big vision. Expect more from your teenagers, you would be surprised what they can do.

3) If you challenge them, they’ll rise to it
Last year we went through Ephesians with our group, and I challenged them to memorize 3:14-21. I had no idea what the response would be, and as an incentive I offered our next trip covered as part of it. After a couple weeks, several students had memorized that passage. I had told them no mistakes could be in their quote, and I only had one who had to re-do it (which he did, he wanted to nail it!). Maybe the motivation was to get a free trip, and I ended up having to find money in our budget to cover the response. But the great thing is, every one of them is still memorizing Scripture and living on mission. Later that year we took a big mission trip, and the students who went raised or worked for every penny of their trip. What are you challenging your students to accomplish? In the words of William Carey, attempt great things for God, expect great things from God.

4) Keep one theme central
You put the time in to study and prepare your message, and then you see it: the blank stare of 30 teenagers that a black hole would fear. I noticed that my messages were too much, I had several main points and couldn’t bring everything under one thesis. My goal when writing a message is to be able to sum it up with the “sermon in a sentence,” which is the distillation of the message. If I can’t, it’s too much and needs cutting.

5) Don’t be afraid to talk theology
Sometimes in student ministry we look at theology like we would a cobra, something to keep a close eye on and never get close to. But I contend that we should include but ground our ministries in theology. Not to the point where we argue over minutia and create unnecessary division, but we should seek to introduce students to the language of theology. Sadly, often we water down the content to a lowest common denominator in an attempt to attract and retain students. Then, in college a religion professor uses enough theological language to sound like an unparalleled expert, and many times the student questions the milk he was given in his church to the point they walk away from Jesus. Dig their roots deep, and equip them well: this is an eternity issue.

What other ways have you found to engage youth in learning Scripture?

Scott Douglas serves as the Minister to Youth at Westside Baptist Church in Murray, KY. Scott has a Masters in Divinity and is presently pursuing a Doctorate degree from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Rooted Conference Price Break Ends May 31!

Are you coming to Rooted August 9-11? We would love to have you for this exciting event. Please note that the price for Rooted increases on June 1. You can access all registration details by clicking HERE. We hope to see you in August for a time to enjoy the Gospel and to consider how our ministries can be more effective in fostering mature, life-long disciples of Jesus. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

We Can Do Better Than "God Loves You"

Several years ago, I noticed a student who had been consistent in Sunday school attendance had abruptly stopped coming to class. With the encouragement of his mother, the student calmly confessed his beef with Sunday school: “I’m tired of hearing ‘God loves you’ over and over again. We get the picture.”

My initial response was to liken my experience to that of Luther (obviously I was living in fantasy land) who was criticized for preaching the same message- the Gospel of grace- over and over again. His defense was that he would stop preaching the Gospel when his people actually believed it. In this same manner, we effectively have a rule in our ministry that we always mention the basic Gospel- the depth of our sin and the abundance of God’s mercy through the Cross- in every lesson of every Bible study, talk, and class. 

Upon further review, though, I started to understand and agree with the student’s critique. In a world where we love sushi, love our pet, love our newest app, love Katie Perry, love winter, love Frappuccino’s, love the Clippers, and love the smell of fallen leaves, well, love just doesn’t mean anything. To say “God loves you” parallels our feelings for the new Dorito’s shell at Taco Bell or John Mayer’s Twitter humor. 

The word love has been bastardized and marginalized to the point of meaninglessness. While admitting that no language or word can represent the bountiful, passionate love which God has for his people, one must ask which terms rescue the reality from utter banality.

Here’s a start, drawing from scripture and from terms I would rather have a person tell me than “I love you”:

God rejoices over you:  As Zephaniah says, “The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness.”

God notices you: This truth, leaning on God’s omniscient and personal nature, particularly lands with many students who experience estrangement from their parents.

God adores you: Well, it’s true.
God is crazy about you: An Anglican priest, Don Richardson, closes services by saying, “God isn’t mad at you; in fact, he’s crazy about you.”

God longs for you: This phrase may sound too romantically or sexually oriented, but the Song of Songs presents God’s love for His people as a passionate adoration likened to the longing of two people first in love.

God carries your picture in his wallet: Jerry Leachman, Washington Redskins chaplain and former YoungLife director, regularly uses this metaphorical phrase to capture the sentimental, parental love, which God maintains for his children.

God is fully pleased with you: Through the imputed righteousness of Jesus, God remains pleased with us. This blessing strikes a chord with teenagers who seem to attract the displeasure of parents, teachers, coaches, cops, friends, etc.

This catalogue is just a starting point for thinking more critically about capturing the wild love which God has for His people in a fresher, more meaningful way.

What are some terms that you use which powerfully illustrate God’s love?

Cameron Cole is the chairman of Rooted: A Theology Conference for Student Ministry and the Director of Student Ministries at the Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham, AL. He is a candidate for a Masters in Religion from Reformed Theological Seminary.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Rooted: Youth Ministry and the Gospel

Check out the 2012 Rooted Conference - "Adoption: The Beauty of Grace" - which will explore how the theological concept of Adoption speaks to this generation of teenagers.

Monday, May 14, 2012

"A Brief History of Youth Ministry" Explained

Below is the first article of a four-part series that Dave Wright has written to expand and explain the points made in "A Brief History of Youth Ministry".  Check out the other three posts here, here, and here - well worth your time!

In writing for The Gospel Coalition Blog the first in a series of articles written by several authors, I had the task given to me of providing some sort of historical overview of youth ministry as it specifically related to the series. So, I focused on a short bit of history from which I see shifts having taken place. Space did not permit really unpacking those shifts, so I thought it might be worth exploring them more and ultimately trying to provide some specifics as to what I think the solution is.

First, I pointed out that we segregated youth from the rest of the church. I think that the church in emulating parachurch youth ministries took specialization to a whole new level. While it would not be true of all churches, the trend was there. Sunday schools would have already been age oriented but when people like Mark Devries (author of Family Driven Youth Ministry) illustrated youth ministry by drawing a one eared mickey mouse (think small circle attached to a large circle), it was clear that we took segregation too far. The typical church situation was that we had set youth apart to the extent that they did very little if anything with other generations. Consider the church where Sunday School is at the same time as worship. Students grow up attending church every week but only worshipping on Christmas and Easter. Or the church that does a youth worship service to be more relevant. They figure youth would not attend anyway, so they create a service for them. Not a bad motive, but the end result is again segregation and a lack of intergenerational experiences and relationships.

Age segregated ministry is a hot topic these days. Many will argue whether or not it is a biblical practice. We saw that in the comments on TGC blog. I’m not going to dogmatically argue a position on that because I am more concerned about the practical than the ideal. Realistically, a church that is highly age segregated is not going to suddenly change if the pastor were persuaded that their practice was unbiblical. It would take a generation change to accomplish that sort of shift. A wise pastor would know that to make such a radical change would result in losing the congregation who expect the old ways. So, what is the corrective? Simply an honest assessment of where one’s church is currently at and then a strategy to move towards intergenerational ministry. The question becomes, where can we get students interacting with the rest of the church? How can we progressively make this more of a reality so that the whole church knows it needs one another?

The end result should be that students grow out of our ministries and then integrate into a church family at college or wherever they find themselves. This would reverse the stats that Lifeway proclaims about 70% leaving the church after high school and only 30% returning later.

Next up... obscuring the gospel. Stay tuned!

Dave Wright is the Coordinator for Youth Ministries in the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina.  This article is cross-posted with permission from Fusion Musing, where Dave regularly blogs.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Youth Need the Church, and the Church Needs Youth

Rooted is excited to continue our partnership with The Gospel Coalition blog for a series on the state of youth ministry during the month of April.  Thanks to Collin Hansen of TGC for permission in reprinting below (originally posted here).  Check out the other articles in this series here, hereherehere, and here.
The current generation of youth is an interesting one.
As I've worked with and studied about youth today, it seems safe to say that they are not members of the Enlightenment, nor do they hold the modern notion that Reason can lead us to all Truth that is just beyond the horizon of our current knowledge.
And yet what do they as a generation believe?
Though they are postmodern chronologically, I believe it would also be wrong to say that they are postmodern. Unlike postmoderns, they are desperate for a grand story to make sense of the world around them. They want meaning. They are desperate for a true hope.
But hope is an elusive target in the world. Many of their parents have put their hope in the economy, politics, and the military strength of America. Their children, however, see a failing economy, political unrest, and an ongoing terrorist threat. The future doesn't seem that rosy. So what's left for them to hope in if they don't have the future? The moment. And happiness is king of the moment.
Youth pursue happiness, but the means given by the world---shopping, entertainment, sex, social media---undermine the very endeavor. Pleasure is fleeting. Relations, often only surface deep, get messy quickly. Entertainment can't provide lasting satisfaction. In the end, happiness in the world is little more than momentary escape from the realities of the world.

Desperately Searching

Given the circumstances, it's no surprise that many youth are restless, insecure, jaded, and desperately searching for meaning to explain all the hurt and suffering they see around them, meaning for their very existence. Sadly, many within the church offer nothing more substantive than the vaporous teachings of the world. In some churches, "youth group" has become synonymous with over-the-top games, entertainment, and shallow teaching. They are told, yes, life here on earth is a mess, but don't worry, one day you'll die and go to heaven. There things will be right. In the meantime, want to see how many marshmallows I can stick in my mouth?
Do we really believe the faith of our youth is so pointless that the best God has for them now is a temporary escape from the world on Wednesday night and Sunday morning? This sort of ministry just reinforces a belief in the meaninglessness of this life.
Where are meaning and hope found? In Jesus.
I am firmly convinced that what today's youth need most is the gospel of Christ Jesus the Lord. He is the one in whom the fullness of God is found, and he's the one in whom we are filled (Col 2:9-10). Moreover, he is the one who gives meaning to this life.
He didn't come to escape the world but to redeem it. When you read the Gospels, you see the way in which Jesus and his kingdom brought redemption to this world by overcoming physical evil (emotional and physical sickness), metaphysical evil (Satan and the demons), and moral evil (sin).
And the amazing message of the gospel is that we are transferred into Jesus' kingdom of redemption and the forgiveness of sin (Col 1:13-14), a kingdom we pray comes "on earth as it is in heaven" (Matt 6:10). It's a kingdom of meaning for today that heals the broken and strengthens the tempted as they live in the world (but are not of the world).
This is why, then, Paul pleas for the early Christians in Colossae to "walk in [Jesus], rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving" (Col 2:7).
But the assumption Paul makes is that all Christians---including young ones---have been taught this kingdom-bringing Jesus,the Messiah as presented in the Old and New Testaments. This is the Jesus in whom youth today can truly root their faith and be fed, grown, and established.

His People, the Church

Where is Jesus found? In the worship of his people, the church. As others have said, the way we come to know Jesus is through the means he gave us: Scripture, true Christian fellowship, the sacraments, and prayer. These are the practices that by faith renew their minds in such a way that enables youth to view and live in the world with purpose and meaning as followers of Jesus. These are the practices that by faith force youth from their technologically imposed isolation, discourage their entitlement, and lead them to a spirit of humility and repentance. These are the practices that by faith expose their dependence on Jesus and remind them of their need for grace.
And these are the practices that are to define our worship as the church. Certainly, some of these practices can take place in youth-only venues, but at its heart, these are full-body practices of the corporate church: young and old worshiping together.
I love youth ministry, I really do. But the thing is, we have to be sure that we don't segregate the youth for our sake and theirs. They are part of the body of Christ too, and no part of the body can remain healthy if one of its members is cut off and put to the side. If we segregate the youth, not only do we lose all they have to teach us, but we also inadvertently teach them that the church is really only for adults---those who are married and have families of their own. And then we wonder why they don't get involved in church as college students or young singles, when in reality, we've been telling them all along that the church isn't yet for them.
My prayer is that as we minister to a generation starving for meaning, we won't lose sight of the reality that what these youth need is Jesus, and that he is most fully offered within the community of the church, of which they are a vital part.
Mark Howard is the Youth Director and Assistant to Pastor at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Covington, GA. Mark has a Masters in Theology from Wheaton College Graduate School.