Youth Ministry Part1

08.02.09 | Dan White | Comments[8]

(Listen here or read below the Thrive Podcast / Blog)

This is my first official podcast for the Family Life Ministries. I am hoping that every 2 or 3 weeks I can give you something fresh to chew on. I really want it to be packed full of insight into the youth ministry front, grounded feedback on ministry literature, commentary of cultural shifts, applicable tools for the youth challenges you face, authenticity about the difficulties I faced as a youth pastor

This first entry into the cyber world as well as the second one I wanted to be about me… all about me because I’m an ego maniac and think the world revolves around me. Well that’s not really the reason it’s more I just wanted to share my ministry journey a little so you can judge whether I’m youth pastor poser. I’m not a fanatic about podcasts. Sometimes they can be bloated with exaggerations and spin. But in the last 2 years or so I realized I had to stop fighting the way we receive information and context. I now follow a few podcast myself. I’ve had to exercise wise judgment with who I read because there so much shmoo out there. Maybe you’ll give the flow of stuff coming out of this podcast a chance and not judge it as shmoo. Let me know.

I’ve been in youth groups settings for over 13 years as a youth pastor. I’ve watched the changes in approach and have tried to get my hands on every youth ministry book I could eat up. I remember my first few years as a youth pastor. I was fully convinced the routine of youth ministry was about hopping from one event to the next. If I was having fun and they were having fun then that seemed to be enough. It’s funny how I used that youth ministry term “Fellowship” to legitimize in mind endless events. Back then I was influenced by some national youth organizations that seemed to summarize a healthy youth group down to 2 things; keep teens attention with crazy games and get teens on to be on Fire for God. It seemed simple enough. Who can argue with that? To be honest I didn’t really know how to quantify “on Fire for God’ except seeing them talk kind of Christian, pledge to not have sex until marriage, listen to Christian music and display a hyper activity about doing evangelism. Those were my measuring sticks. I kept my teens coming back with fired up messages, pep rally type events and Christian versions of everything that the secular world offered. Teens loved it, parents loved and even my overseers felt good about the fullness of the program.

But something inside me was trip’n. I’m not sure what it was, I’d like to say it was the Holy Spirit trying to get my attention but I knew something wasn’t quite right about my approach. So I decided to experiment with the worship movement approach but I felt like something was out of balance with this phenomenon as well. Now I know the worship craze on the surface was about worshipping God. Give attention to only one audience “God”. But I noticed how top heavy this ministry philosophy was. I’ve heard it said “If a man is good with a hammer, to him everything looks like a nail.” Proponents of the P&W movement see praise and worship in just about every scripture in the Bible. In my opinion they place a higher emphasis on the subject than the Bible does. This obsession with worship, worship, was creating worship junkies. They were not necessary feeding on God they were gorging on just the experience, the band, the volume the emotional return they received. It was teaching my teens that God only comes down and showers us with blessings, gives us spiritual victories and changes our hearts when we engage in worship service type environments. I would hear things like “I only feel God in worship” “that worship changed me” or “God is so real when I worship”. Something did not settle well with me biblically nor emotionally about the fruit I was seeing this approach produce.

I remember I had enough and knew I had to getting away to a cabin or something. So I packed some peanut butter and jelly and white bread, a gallon of water, and my journal that I just bought at the dollar store for this occasion. I went to this cabin to wrestle to the ground the unsettled feeling I had about my youth ministry. The quiet of that cabin for those 3 days was glorious but a little frightening. The first day I pressed in. I had decided that first day I was just going to clank around in my heart and search for everything I could find. God went to town addressing and cleaning out the crustiness of sin unconfessed, motives unchecked and clutter acquired in my heart. I remember being exhausted and feeling like I couldn’t do another day if it was going to be like this. The Second day something began to settle on me, in started with reflection on God’s story, his word on what he was really up to. I tried an exercise (not a physical one although I probably should have back then, I could eat anything I wanted without gaining weight, little did I know that would change soon) it was more of an exercise in charting out the overarching themes and movements (no not those movements) more like the storyline and ebb and flow of the plot lines through out the scriptures. I started seeing an overarching epic that I’d never seen before. I remember thinking “how did I miss this in all my studying and Bible college training.” It’s kind of comical but embarrassing how being in Bible College makes you think you’re the greatest theologian since J.I. packer. But during that exercise in plotting out scriptures motif. God was teaching me and humbling me. I realized I had been taught to slice and dice up the scriptures over the years to fit my ministry needs and message points all the while missing God and what we was up to, where he was going and what I passionate about. A key theologian that mentored me through his writings in that season in my life was N.T. Wright. A great read is “Evil and the Justice of God”

I started to see that the divine story was about gathering a people who continually remembered how lavished with grace they were which compelled the purpose of blessing and affecting their surroundings. God’s mission was that his people would move out, in humility, hands open, loyal to Him alone while influencing their current culture. He wanted his people to be generous, divinely hospitable, submitting to Him and sacrificial in the name of Jehovah in the Old Testament and in the name of Jesus in the New Testament. This gave glory to God. Most of the time God’s people got in trouble it was because they horded their blessings, became obsessed with their own needs physically, naval gazed spiritually and slowly meandered away from the original mission. I began to realize on the third day (by the way I think their best record was Conspiracy no.5) I began to realize that I was potentially teaching and modeling this lopsided message of; just look out for yourself spiritually, feed on the experience, stay out of sin and make sure other people stay out of sin. My ministry philosophy was one filled with consuming which was leading to certain narcissism. My teens were addicted to consuming worship music with out worshipping with a missional life. My teens were waiting for the next event that scratched their itch. They were loyal to the Christian youth subculture and me but not necessarily to God. I have to say this was a real temptation in the early days. To have teens love what I’m doing and how I do it. I also noticed I was emphasizing a concern with looking Christian more than being connected to Jesus. No wonder the stats were showing that a generation of teens did not own their faith once they left the youth group world (check out some of the Barna groups research on their website) For many teens that eventually turn into young adults; the worship fad fades, the events leave them wanting more, their loyalty crumbles under pressure because it was in a culture of people not in their Master Jesus and looking Christian and avoiding worldliness falls off because it was only skin deep. So here I was facing this reality in the face of what my ministry was contributing too.

If I’m honest there was a point were I wanted to just stay the course and keep the energy high around my programs. But I broke or better said I was broken by God’s careful hand. So now what? Well that was 9 years ago and things changed, they had to change. Come back in a couple of weeks and check out part B to find out what changed and is changing.



Your Comments(please keep them on topic and polite)

on 08.24.09 Julie commented

Dan- I'm interested to read/hear part 2, I can relate to a lot of what you were saying. My husband and I work with Jr. Highers and we sometimes feel like we are hopping from one fun event to another to try to keep the kids attention. I'm also curious to hear what God has been doing in your life since I was in youth group under your direction at FBC of Maine. It is interesting to hear about ministry from your perspective after seeing it as a teen.

on 08.25.09 Dan commented

Julie, Great to hear that you and your husband are in the middle of the wonderful world of youth ministry. The gravitational pull definitely is towards an event driven ministry. I still think there is a role foe events that impact, but I know in the last 7 or 8 years I've used the power of events to capture a Biblical truth and have students interact with it on a deeper level, instead of using an event to create an exciting or fun experience. Part of my change in approach in ministry was taking place in me while I was at FBC in Maine 12 years ago but I was able to practice the change in my next ministry. I am going to be talking about a teaching model (in a later blog) that I adopted that was a major shift is what teens came to expect when attending my youth groups. Its interesting how I thought fun events would grow my youth group back then. I actually watched unbelievable numerical and spiritual growth take place when my youth group became intentional and obsessed with building disciples through strong and weighty teaching and raising up student leaders that would care about serving the needs around them and getting dirty in social justice. This generation wants a challenge, they want a mission to be part of. Not so much a country club or just a fun place to hang out.
Thanks for reading the blog.

on 08.31.09 Jack Hager commented

Heartily recommend ""Raising the Bar - Ministry to Youth in the New Millennium" (Kregel Academic, 2004) by Dr Alvin Reid. Heard him speak this weekend, bought the book, very insightful and straightforward concerning the weaknesses of "youth ministry" in general; topped, of course, with low expectations.

on 09.03.09 Giles Sieburg commented

Dan, really interested to hear more of your story. Kind of the behind the scene look. And it's very encouraging to me, whose pursuing a career in youth ministry. It's kinda reminiscent to Driscoll's Confessions( minus the swearing, and all out crazy people he was faced with). It's really sweet to see that your time of greatest revelation was paired with seclusion and solitude. Our culture is so opposite that so it's hard to carve that time out. And finally, i see the fadness you were talking about over the worship after a couple years in that ministry. Youth just want to be cool (I'm including myself in this) and cling to whatever people seem to except. The hard thing is no one sees walking the life Christ desires for us to be "cool" its friggen hard, and doesn't resemble the narcissistic generation we are in now. Keep it up man!

on 09.03.09 John Carter commented

Giles, Dan just released part two of this series, have a listen. Its located on the youth page as the main featured blog. Enjoy.

on 09.03.09 Aaron commented

I am living with a similar tension in my ministry. As a young youth pastor who has seen several different models and philosophies of youth ministry, I have this unsettled feeling about the state of youth ministry. Can teens break this attitude and culture of low expectations that have been placed on them? Can they be interested in more than the latest and more amped up versions of chubby bunny and the lawsuit-laden mystery shake or whatever insanity you might throw at them on any given week? If it is true that God seeks us out and pursues us, and places in each one of us a longing for meaning and purpose in life, and to belong to community, why feed teenagers with a Christian version of what’s trendy and cool, whether it’s an event, activity, game, and even worship (though each has its place in ministry)? Why don’t we take more initiative to help students get excited about what God gets excited about? After all, if God is relevant today, we as youth workers are on the front lines in helping this generation see that God is relevant and active in today’s postmodern, post-Christian world.

I am still working this unsettled feeling out in my own life, and trying to hammer out just how this translates in my ministry with the student dynamic I have.

Dan – I am looking forward to your next blog to see where your unsettled feeling and paradigm shift took you.

on 09.21.09 Wes commented

I too found myself in a similar position, staying the broken course, unsure of what to do but knowing in my heart I wasn't hitting the mark. My journey took on a different look as I stepped down as Youth Pastor, overwhelmed, feeling like a complete failure. In God's mercy he tore me down, sent some Godly men to invest in me, and slowly he rebuilt me and put me back in the game.

If it wasn't for the investment of seasoned, culturally sharp, theologically sound, God loving men, this busted up Youth Pastor would have given up on his calling.

Thank you for this investment in us, FLN. And thank you Dan for your investment in us. I too look forward to your insights and the guardrails you will help put up in this wandering trail called youth ministry.

on 11.14.12 thomas commented

Nice tutorial