Youth Ministry Part1
08.02.09 | | Comments
(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.