Thursday, March 28, 2013

Essentials in Youth Ministry: Others

We want to feel necessary.  We want to feel important.  An easy way to fill these desires as a youth worker is to make our youth ministries about us.  We even do what I just did -- call the youth group “ours” and come up with clever tricks to make the kids want to come be with us.

But it’s not really about us.  Youth ministry is about our Triune God - giving glory to the Father, in Christ, by the Spirit.  Certainly we’re actively involved in the work of God in these kids’ lives, but it’s God’s work through us - not ours in which to boast.  Ultimately, these kids are God’s. The glory is His.

What these kids really need, then, is not more of us, but more of Jesus and His grace.  Certainly they need to see more of Jesus in us and through us, but we are not the only - nor the primary - means through which the Father by the Spirit points the youth in our churches to Jesus. 

The primary means through which - by faith - the Spirit roots our youth in the grace of Jesus is Scripture, prayer, the sacraments, and fellowship with other Christians.

And the primary community through which God has ordained to practice these means is the church - the family of God.  And though we serve the church in a very unique capacity as youth ministers, we are not the fullness of the church in and of ourselves.

The youth need to see and experience God at work in others. They need to see and experience the wisdom of God through others. They need to see and experience the fellowship of God with others.

And “others” as I’m using it doesn’t refer only to other youth in the youth group.  They need to know their senior pastor(s). They need to know other parents. They need to know seniors and other adults in the congregation.

Though it has many flaws and downsides, one of the helpful correctives of postmodernism is that it reminds us that we all see things from a perspective.  This includes how we see God.  I am much too heady for my own good.  I need people in my life with passion and emotion in their worship and relationship with God.  They help me see aspects of God that I can’t on my own.

If the only picture of God that our youth see is from our preaching and teaching, then they are missing out.  Involving other adults in youth group -- or better yet, involving the youth in the fuller life of the church -- is one of the ways God uses by his Spirit to nurture our walk with him.

It might feel like a slap in the face to be told we’re not as important as we think we are, but really, this is good news.

We can’t do it all.  We can’t be all things to all people -- we aren’t meant to be.  There are kids with whom we have difficulty connecting.  But the same Spirit at work in and through us and our ministry is also at work in and through other Christians and the other ministries of the church.

If a kid doesn’t want to meet with us, maybe they will want to get together with someone else from the church.  If they don’t want to come to youth group, maybe they will want to join the choir or the praise team.  If they don’t want to come to Sunday school, maybe they will want to join an adult Bible study.

As Paul puts it in a beautiful passage on the unity of the one church in the one Spirit, “Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Ephesians 4:15-16)

The family of God is an incredible blessing for those of us who can’t do it all (which is all of us).  Let’s not neglect the body of Christ in our ministries that we might together be built up in God’s love.

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

Monday, March 25, 2013

Fear, Patience, and Prayer in Discipling Kids

Recently, I made a presentation to parents in our youth ministry, entitled, “Why Kids Abandon the Church.” Two years earlier, when I made a similar presentation, called “Grace-Driven to Postmodern Teens,” the class drew five people. Not surprisingly, this terrifying title attracted a packed room of sixty parents.

In the presentation, I explained our strategy, which has been eight years in the making, to maximize the chances that students will stick with Jesus and the church after high school. Terms, such as “theological depth,” “grace-driven,” “devotional training,” and “family discipleship” flew around the room. I routinely dropped names like Kenda Creasy Dean and Christian Jones.

While I qualified the talk with the premise that we have so little control over our children’s spiritual future- only God yields fruit- the presentation did have a “business plan” feel to it. While I stand by our strategy and commend other youth ministries to focus intentionally on fostering life-long disciples of Christ, a conversation afterwards with a young adult in the audience exposed my blind spot.

He said simply, “The thing you are missing is that after they leave home kids have to claim their faith on their own; parents cannot force that to happen.” This young man grew up in a nurturing Christian home and solid church. To my knowledge, he did not consistently seek out church or campus ministry in college. Here as a young adult he is thoughtfully considering the depth in which he may or may not follow Christ. God has brought a woman into his life, and this relationship has stimulated a fresh consideration of faith. His honesty helped me contemplate discipleship of young people with a fresher balance and with the following concepts in mind.

As much as say that God’s total sovereignty and goodness is the only hope for our children, in my flesh I believe that I have control. I think if I deliver the right messages, relate in the best manner, and orchestrate certain experiences, I can effectuate real faith in my students and in my own children. The lurking fear I have, that kids for whom I care so deeply will reject Christ and the church, only exacerbates my desire to cling to my devices.

When I survey the turning points that led to my decision to walk with Christ in college and young adulthood, all of them came places that no person, except God, could control. At the National Young Leaders Conference during my sophomore year of high school, an agnostic from Maine asked me why I was a Christian. I had no answer other than subjective experiences and the beliefs of my parents. This encounter caused me to question the veracity of Christianity. Days later, the Jehovah’s Witnesses (of all people) dropped by our house and gave us an apologetics tract. I only read the section on proofs of the resurrection and fulfillment of prophecy. This tract stimulated a season of further study, which confirmed for me that, in fact, Jesus Christ is the Risen Lord.

My parents and church had built solid foundations, but only in the moments ordained by the Holy Spirit in the mundane circumstances of life did I convert from a cultural Christian to a committed follower of Jesus. It all occurred apart from the control or strategy of any person but God.

Like most Christian parents and youth pastors, I have a strong desire to see my kids walk with Jesus in college. Ideally, in their first week in college they will attend a Cru or Navigators or an RUF meeting. On their first Sunday, they will start searching for a church that teaches exegetically and preaches the Gospel of grace. Their first date will be with a solid Christian classmate. At their first party, they will say no to the keg-stand and will return home that night to talk about the balance of law and grace, as they sit around their dorm room with their new found Christian friends. Oh, the fantasies of Christian parents.

But here is reality. God does not adhere to our dreams. God has timelines that conform to his desire to be exalted in the maximum manner in the optimal season. Our children and students may find God after they receive their third DUI or while working on their PhD dissertation in evolutionary biology or at the Democratic National Convention. We must depend on the grace of God for the patience and faith to align with His timing.

An article, like this, which decries our impotence in ultimately determining the spiritual welfare of our children, often leads to fatalistic despair.  This absolutely should not be the case. If anything, seeing that only God can produce fruit should drive us to the foot of the Cross and to a life of fervent prayer.

For several years, I have journeyed with a family in the discipleship of their children. These parents model family discipleship as they have taught their kids the Word, prayed with them, taken them to church, etc. Their children have wandered spiritually through high school, college and young adulthood. I have watched the mother move from panic to calm largely due to a fervent prayer life. In one of their children it appears that God- in a mystical yet palpable way- is using the random circumstances of his life to draw the kid to Himself. I feel as if I am watching the fruit of faithful prayer at work before my eyes. The Lord undoubtedly pours down grace on our children and students in response to our prayers.

Going Forward
I plan to continue to pursue ministry, where we preach grace and cultivate a deep, biblical belief system in students. We will help students transition to college and will equip them for a devotional life. And, it never hurts to be reminded in the midst of our best intentions that all hope centers on the generosity and sovereignty of God.  

Cameron Cole serves the Director of Youth Ministries at the Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham, AL. He is the chairman of Rooted: Advancing Grace-Driven Youth Ministry, which holds its next conference, Hope in a Time of Suffering, in Atlanta October 10-12, 2013.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Are We Throwing Out the Baby with the Bathwater on Fun in Youth Ministry?

In our efforts to critique youth ministry and move towards reform, such that ministry to kids is more grounded in the Gospel and discipleship, can we "throw the baby out with the bathwater" when it comes to fun? Mike McGarry at Emmanual Baptist Church in Norfolk, MA, a respected friend of Rooted, had a great analysis and clarification on the tension between "fun" and being Gospel-centered on his blog, "crosswalk."

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A Letter to Friends of Rooted

Dear Friends of Rooted,
First let me thank you for your participation in our movement. I wanted to update you on some of the exciting things coming soon for Rooted.

·      Rooted is gearing up for a total makeover. We will have a new website which integrates the blog and the other content of the ministry into one place. The look and feel will be fresh, and, more importantly, we graduate from Blogger! Our new home at will go live in the next 3-4 weeks.

·      On April 8-10, Rooted will take its act to the Gospel Coalition National Conference in Orlando. Two Rooted steering committee members, Josh Cousineau of Redemption Hill in Auburn, ME and Dave Wright of the Diocese of South Carolina, will present workshops. Josh’s workshop is entitled, “Gospel-Centered Youth Ministry: Building on Jesus not the Jokes.”  Dave will speak on “Gospel-Centered Youth Ministry: Jesus' Mission to the Next Generation.”

·      Will you be attending the Gospel Coalition Conference? Come by our booth and meet us. Rooted will be a “vendor” at the event (we aren’t selling anything). We would like to know you personally.

·      Our next Rooted Conference takes place in Atlanta on October 10-12, 2013. We are very excited about our speakers, Jared Wilson, Sharon Hersh, and David Plant. The theme, Hope in a Time of Suffering, has great relevance for ministry to a generation of students, which have suffered greatly.  Right now, you can register very cheaply ($100) for this conference at Prices will go up in mid-April.

Please reach out to us if we can help and support you in anchoring your ministry more deeply in the Good News that the work of Jesus Christ on the Cross is utterly complete.

Kind Regards,

The Steering Committee of Rooted: Advancing Grace-Driven Youth Ministry

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Only Foundation for Youth Ministry

Rooted steering committee member, Josh Cousineau, authored this article on the Gospel Coalition blog. Josh will be leading a workshop at the Gospel Coalition Conference in April about Gospel-centered youth ministry. Rooted will have a booth at this show, as well. If you have an interest in grace-driven ministry, please come see us at the show to learn more about our ministry, about our next conference, and about how you can join the movement.

I remember sitting in the auditorium at the 2009 Gospel Coalition National Conference in Chicago. A session had just finished; we had been shown the glories of Jesus and how he is the only hope and foundation for our ministry. My heart was full, and I was glad that God had called me to minister to students. The two guys who came with me to the conference digested the content as they considered how to apply it not only to our own lives, but also to the students we served back home at church. . . .(Link)

Josh Cousineau serves as the pastor of Redemption Hill Community. He previously served as youth pastor at East Auburn Baptist Church. Josh leads the Gospel Alliance, a network of pastors committed to the Gospel in New England. And if you can't tell, he's also really awesome.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The World's Half-Truth's For Teens Pt.5: "I Am Generally Good"

Several years ago, I received a rap on my door at 6:00AM. A sheriff stood on the porch and yelled in my half-asleep face, “Come on out and see what you did last night.” I had taught a Bible study the night before at a local Starbucks and gone to bed at 10:00PM, so I was confused at his proclamation. He pointed out that my car was on top of the base of a mailbox, and the mailbox itself was three feet from its foundation. The Sherriff then accused me of drunk driving. (After three minutes of common sense investigation, we all saw that my bumper was dented and someone had done a “hit and run” on my car, knocking it on top of a mailbox.)

In those moments where my integrity was challenged, I immediately started to justify in my head how good of a person I considered myself. “I am a youth minister; I teach Bible studies; I’ve never been arrested; I’m nice; I tithe; I didn’t drink until I was twenty-one; I’ve never smoked a cigarette. I waited until marriage, by darn…trump that!” Even though I preach the depth of human sin and theologically include myself in that category, deep down inside in that moment of being challenged, the dirty truth, that I really think that I’m a “good person” based on my merit, came to the surface. 

“I’m a good person; it’s not like I’ve killed anyone.” We all probably have heard this one before from a teenager. Helping teenagers understand their sinfulness may constitute the biggest challenge a youth pastor faces, given the humanist sentiments in the world today. The idea of human goodness is a lie. It’s why we all lock our doors at night, and we don’t leave cash on our dashboard.

In truth, man can become good, but the biblical means, by which this occurs, differ drastically from the secular conception. And if teens embrace the secular sense and means of achieving goodness, they will be set up for a life of either misery, denial, or both.

Where is this true?
The incredible reality of the Gospel is that through saving faith in Christ, in the forensic sense, believers become righteous. This means that God imputes all of the “goodness” that Christ earned in his life to a believer. So, in a biblical sense, believers become “good.” It’s not just that our sins are forgiven; imputation means that believers become perfectly righteous in God’s eyes through imputation. However, this goodness comes through saving faith and God’s generosity. Not one ounce- an utter and complete zero percent- originates within us.

Where is this false?
The world’s conception of human goodness comes through the merits of a person’s actions or mainly through the absence of atrocities. Teens, convinced of their moral adequacy, will justify their goodness by pointing out that they don’t do hard drugs, make racist remarks, or commit acts of violence. Meanwhile, they may point to acts of charity, kindness to other, or community service as further proof of their righteous. (Let’s be honest, in our sober moments, we all think we’re pretty darn good. I know how deluded I am, deep down inside.) They fail to understand that to be good in God’s eyes requires one to be completely perfect. Imperfection equals badness. Period. Man can gain no righteousness by his or her own efforts. They look internally for goodness, rather than externally.

What’s the problem?
Buying the lie that we are good or can become good out of our merits is a miserable place to live. It’s a life of intense pressure. This belief requires that a person try very, very hard all of the time to be perfect to maintain this good. The alternative is to live in utter denial as one tries to somehow justify his or herself in comparison to others, rationalize their sins, or overlook them altogether.
Not challenging kids presupposed belief in their inherent goodness sets them up for burden or denial, neither or which is…..good. Pointing them to the goodness that comes externally from God through imputation sets them free.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Why Kids Abandon the Church (audio)

In the following audio recording, Cameron Cole offers parents explanations of why students abandon the church and how grace-driven ministry seeks to foster life-long disciples of Jesus.

Link: Why Kids Abandon the Church

Cameron Cole is the chairman of Rooted: Advancing Grace-Driven Ministry and serves as the director of youth ministries at the Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham, AL.