Thursday, September 27, 2012

Book Review: You Lost Me

*There is a 43% drop off between the teen and early adult years in terms of church engagement (p. 22).

I can honestly say that in the last six years of being a youth minister, I’ve seen the cultural norms and the atmosphere of youth culture change drastically.  For example, it’s no longer the stray teen who doesn’t have their own cell phone, it’s the stray teen who doesn’t have a smart phone.  And the impact of social media on understandings of relationship has been enormous.  So, as teen (and worldwide) culture continues to evolve at a pace unlike anything the world has ever seen, how do we meet our kids where we are to love them, speak truth into their lives, and share Jesus with them?

David Kinnaman, President of the Barna Group, (somewhat) recently published a book called, You Lost Me.  Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church…And Rethinking Faith, wherein he evaluates years of research the Barna Group undertook in relation to the current population of 18-29 year olds in America (who are deemed, “mosaics”).  He identifies three realities of our current culture that have implications for any of us out there working in youth ministry (p. 21): 

1)   Teen church engagement remains robust… (while teens) are not growingup to be faithful young adult disciples of Christ. 
2)   Every story of disconnection requires a personal, tailor-made response. 
3)   The dropout problem is… a disciple-making problem.  The church is not adequately preparing the next generation to follow Christ faithfully into a rapidly changing culture.

So, this means that we must seriously reconsider how we approach youth ministry if we are no longer meeting kids where they are (since ‘where they are’ is an ever changing target).  Kinnaman uses the term ‘discontinuously different’ to describe this ‘ever changing target,’ meaning that the “cultural setting in which young people have come of age is significantly changed from what was experienced during the formative years of previous generations (p. 38).”  They have unprecedented access to information, analysis, relationships, and worldviews, they have unprecedented levels of disconnection (and feelings of alienation) from family, community, and institutions, and they have a changing spiritual narrative that includes a large skepticism of authority.  All of these factors combine to create a melding pot of relativism and poorly defined boundaries to meaning and truth.

Consider: They have been raised in a culture of tolerance, inclusiveness, diversity, and political correctness- ideals that have greatly shaped their generation.  They have a compulsion toward unity, and they prioritize (their idea of) fairness over rightness.  The majority sees the church as intolerable and exclusive.  So what now?

Kinnaman brilliantly explores some of the effects these cultural realities are having on kids’ understandings of Christianity and the church (highlighting science, sex, and doubt), and the book concludes by offering some incredibly pertinent ideas for engaging our current teens in meaningful ways in the body of Christ.  Three important things we can do to serve our kids are:

1) Rethink relationships with them (especially by fostering intergenerational relationships)

2) Rediscover vocation with them, and

3) Reprioritize wisdom with them (as information is a finger-swipe away, but the wisdom of how to interpret, understand, use, and scrutinize that information is something that comes with time through relational and process learning).

I cannot speak highly enough of this book: it is crucial for us to better understand what is happening in the minds and hearts of our younger generations, so that we may better love and serve them as the church.  This book offers an insightful and pertinent synthesis of a colossal amount of research and I recommend it to anyone working in youth ministry!

Liz Edrington previously served as a youth minister at Christ Episcopal Church in Charlottesville, VA. Liz presently is pursuing a masters in counseling at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, FL .

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Some Advice for Youth Ministers

Dave Hinkley serves as Director of Children and Youth Ministry at University Reformed Church in East Lansing, MI. He wrote this insightful article at the Gospel Coaltion blog with four valuable pieces of advice for youth pastors. (We give Dave mad props for mentioning the book of Rooted blog contributor, Brian Cosby.)

1.  Relationships matter much more than coolness.
I hope your church is past the myth that the best ministers are young and hip. The best ministers are those who love the gospel of grace and are eager for young people to love it, too. The ‘type’ of person who does that really doesn’t matter. My most effective volunteers have been old ladies, young moms and awkward post college sci-fi nerds. All cool in their own way no doubt, but none of them shop at Hot Topic. Young people’s hearts are spoken to through trust and not through coolness, so make trustworthiness your goal above “relevance”.......

Read the entire article here.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

What the Lord Taught Me at Rooted

I write from “The Left Coast” as I reflect upon how the Lord impacted me at this year’s Rooted Conference.  We are known here in Pacific Northwest for liberal viewpoints, coffee, and LOTS of rain.  But we are not known for belief in God among most of the population.  Furthermore, it is challenging here to find youth ministries where the preached word is the central focus.  Being at the conference was a refreshing change for me.  Here’s a little of what the Lord did.

1) The Lord reminded me that the proclaimed Gospel is sufficient even when parts of my ministry are deficient

The heartbeat of the conference was to celebrate and apply the redemptive realities of what Jesus did on the cross.  I got a much needed reminder that it is Christ’s life, and NOT my fruitfulness or performance in ministry, that saves me and purchases God’s affections for me.

These truths freed me to honestly assess my ministry and identify areas needing revision.  Between the messages, conversations, and gift book (Giving Up Gimmicks), God showed me areas needing attention.  To name a few: development of volunteer Staff, more structured discipleship groups, and increased focus on prayer.

But I must embrace the Gospel as I move forward here.  Even when parts are deficient (as if this would ever NOT be the case!), I am reminded that proclaiming the truths about who Jesus is and what he has done MORE than compensates for all my shortcomings!  This is because we are called to preach the word (2 Tim 4:2), for the Gospel is the power of God for salvation (Rom 1:16)!  I don’t have to rely on a ministry model, my programing, or myself, but rather on the glory of Christ as seen in the Gospel!

I’m so thankful that we are called to make much of Christ week after week (1 Cor 2:2), and that God uses His Word to bear fruit through our imperfect ministries.

2) The Lord convicted me because in light of how much He alone CAN do, and as much as I alone can NOT do; I don’t pray nearly enough!

How foolish I am tempted to be at times!  Too often I embark upon sermon preparation, conversations with students, even writing this post, without asking God for the words, the heart, or the impact I so badly want to have.  HE alone is the one to give the gift of faith.  He alone is the one to give the growth (1 Cor 3:6).  While we do the proclamation, He does the transformation (Luke 10).  I need to be far more consistent and dependent in prayer than I am.

3) The Lord renewed my heart for the lost

Traveling from Washington to Alabama was good for my soul.  Yes, it gave me time to read, to be alone, and search for good southern BBQ and sweet tea.  But something more significant happened.  I saw lots of people!  This seems obvious in airports, but it was refreshing.  I can so easily see and interact with the same people week after week, and as a result, my passion for people discretely fades.

It was good to sit next to strangers and have to trust the Lord for the words to share the Gospel.  It was good to hurt for the brokenness of others.  It was good to see people of all races.  It was good to know that though I can’t reach all these people, God can!  And he uses ministries grounded in the proclaimed Gospel to reach the world one soul at a time.

May we stay faithful to the faith once for all delivered to the saints. 

David Brashler serves as Youth Pastor at Living Water Community Church in Vancouver, WA. 

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

2012 Rooted Conference Recordings: Workshop Session #2

Part of the mission of Rooted is to consider how the Gospel practically applies in specific areas of youth ministry. Recordings from these workshops are below:

Mary Willson of First Presbyterian in Baton Rouge, LA:  
Teaching Scripture As Part of the God’s Grand Story

Mark Howard of Trinity Presbyterian in Covington, GA:  
Is Their Gospel Too Small?

Dave Wright, Youth Ministry Coordinator, Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina: 
How We Practice Ministry in Light of our Theology