Youth Ministry Part2

09.03.09 | Dan White | Comments[5]

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

Hey…welcome back to the funkiest, freshest thoughts on youth ministry.

As I cast this pod, I’m sippin’ on a piping hot coffee in a black mug…which I must say…may lend a certain amount of inspiration and inerrancy to what’s coming up.

Okay…pickin’ up from where we left off….

Now, before I jump full feet, let me just tell you about my weekend. Probably the most drama-filled weekend we’ve had in a while – including my wife, Tonya….and my little guy, Daniel. We were tested – most definitely.

Our family’s in the process of adopting a little girl. Everything’s going along fine and then…BAM…hit by a mack-truck.

Everything collided when the birth-mother got upset and a string of events unfurled that put us in a tough spot. I mean, thing felt dangerous, like we may not have been safe in our own home.

Soon after the scare, we alerted state troopers and they set up some boundaries and safety precautions. Everything has cooled since, but God and I had some rich conversations about this difficulty, and pain, and why he’s allowing it.

Here was God’s gracious answer through The Spirit: “This is a good thing for you right now.”

So I’m sitting with that answer, and Tonya and I are dialoging a lot about what Christ is massaging into us. I’ve noticed something about God: He’s usually after the core of our character.

Just thought I’d share what’s going on with me.

Now let’s turn the corner. This is Part Two, so if you missed Part One, check that first before listening on.

You know…it’s funny how youth ministry has always been about being on the “cutting edge” for the sake of the Gospel. It’s the one avenue of the church that methodologically morphs with an unchanging message to reach a dying culture.

Back in my early twenties, I was a youth leader unwilling to change or adapt. I was cool as long as things were exciting…or “hot n’ heavy” so to speak…..

(no that could get me sued)

I was happy as long as teens were buzzing….

(no that could get me sued, too).

Basically…I was set on my youth ministry formula. Content with programming that produced excitement and pseudo-belonging to Christian bullet points.

Shame on me.

Well, in my last podcast, I told you about “my spanking.” A Holy Spirit spanking, if you will. (Wow, I might have just invented a new sign gift.) (Ha! Can I receive an impartation?)

Anyway….God took me to task. I was not preparing my students for a mission of love, selflessness, or an allegiance to Jesus.

Okay…here comes a relevant tangent.

One thing that jogged my heart and mind back in 1999 was what was happening in the UK.

Not sure if you’ve heard of this thing called Soul Survivor. It started in the UK in 1993 when Mike Pilavachi, the youth pastor of an Anglican Church near London, was released to pursue his vision.

Much of the impetus behind Mike's vision came as a result of living in a time when the British Church existed in a post-Christian era. As a youth pastor, Mike was well aware of the church studies that showed a consistent exodus of young people, with thousands of teenagers leaving youth groups each month.

The book “UnChristian” by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons talks about this phenomenon in our postmodern era. Great read. Check it out. Anyway…

The first Soul Survivor event was in 1993 and attracted a modest 2,000 young people. The annual festival has since become the biggest of its kind in the UK.

It came down to simple training on two touch points: 1) stay anchored in Jesus despite a shifting culture, and 2) keep a mission-mindset that’s modern and socially conscience.

(That’s fancy language for serving people with your hands and heart.)

Get this: Today an estimated 225,000 young people have attended Soul Survivor events in the UK, South Africa, Holland, Norway, Australia, Canada and the United States of America.

In August of 2000, Soul Survivor led an estimated 11,000 young people out to the streets of Manchester for a ten day outreach. The BBC later called this "one of the most ambitious volunteer projects ever seen in this country..."

Through worship events, cafes, sports venues and social action endeavors, the aim of “The Message 2000” was to serve, love and saturate some of Britain's poorest and most disadvantaged communities with authentic love and real hope.

In this, they won the backing of the city's Police force who ran transport logistics for the event. Something about this stirred teenagers to action, causing them to really care for their surroundings. The byproduct was unbelievable unity across denominations and races.

I remember reading this and being bothered.

Bill Hybels calls this a Holy Discontent. Have you ever had a gut check for God? You sit back and think, “Something ain’t right about the way were making disciples.” Then you apologize to God for any participation you had in it and start dreaming of what could be, what should be.

Then the age-old question surfaces: Now what, God?

Then He led me to water. Water surrounding two simple, but nonnegotiable things: First, raise up students who bare burdens for their surroundings.

…Not in a popular “we-fight-back” kind of way. Or ways that demand “we-take-back-our-country”…the rights of Christians in public schools and all that overdone junk…

Not these things at all. Here’s a word for you: Grace.

Let’s assume a servant’s posture. Jesus embodied this. He didn’t come “Holier than Thou” with his fists swinging. Just the opposite, actually. He came low, winsome, meek, and sacrificial….but confident in the Father. Jesus displayed the Gospel. He was the Gospel. That was His platform.

I tell you… a teenager who is hurt or cares more for their circle of influence more than they care about how their hair looks, weather they are the star of the team or even if everyone thinks they are a solid Christian with no struggle is the real battle. (Dan – I’m not sure what you’re getting at here, so I left it alone.)

Narcissism - spiritual or worldly - kills genuine faith. But a teenager who feels The Kingdom Agenda….who wants to love, serve, and live out truth to their peers and to people with needs...Now that’s a potent force.

That’s why I love Philippians Chapter 2.

The second thing I had to instill in my teens was allegiance to Jesus. During my travels, I began to meeting kids and realizing how so many of them were disenfranchised former youth group kids.

An array of things rattled them:

Christian leaders letting them down…or they got burned by the church somehow

There were derailed by different temptations

The church seemed irrelevant

…or my personal fav… (not sure if it is, but would be funny to say…)

They got tired of hearing obnoxious Christians spout off on hot button issues

This stew of realities is understandably hard for a teen or young adult to handle maturely.

But at some point you wonder, “Where is their allegiance to Jesus?” You shouldn’t ditch your commitment to the son of God just because Christians can be lame. (Ha!)

To be authentic, we need an unwavering submission to Jesus. In talking with these kids, I noticed this had not been a major point of discipleship. Everything in youth group was about commitment to the experience, the leader, the Christian culture, or to a group of friends.

Now here’s the sad reality: the chance of those things collapsing at some point is fairly good.

What are you left with then? With your faith and affection for the church community in shambles?

I just recently read an interview with the band Kings of Leon. (They’re a guilty pleasure for me right now…I admit.)

During that interview, Caleb Followill, the lead singer, gave his disheartened and bitter outlook on the church. He shared how, as a kid, the church and Christian leaders let him down in a big way.

His reasons were legit. His immersion in the church was genuinely mixed with fakes, moral hypocrisy and bad theology. I can see why he was angry. But with this came the dumping of Jesus Christ too. I’ve seen this over and over. Dare I say this is an epidemic in teens coming through our youth groups? Is there a way to teach, disciple, and mentor a loyalty to Christ even when cruddy stuff happens to us by Christians and within the church.

I think there is? Or let me say it this way.

There has to be or we’re in the toilet.

The pulse of a thriving young faith, I believe, comes down to two things: a missionary’s heart and a loyalty to Jesus…no matter what the Bride of Christ looks like.

These are the non-negotionables of discipling teenagers. These are the culture pressure points.

Now let me ask you this: Are you teaching this stuff?


Do distractions get in the way of your ministry? Is it clouded? Are you loaded down in activities and “spiritual hobbyhorses?” Because all this can keep your kids from truly absorbing the DNA of a Jesus Follower.

Evaluate. WHO is Christ? Meaning, what are HIS QUALITIES…HIS CHARACTERISTICS?

Okay, so for next time…..I’d like to share how to teach and create environments that immerse teens in these touch points.

How to keep loyal to Jesus…

And how to be missions-minded in way that’s socially-conscience and authentic.

Let me know what you think. Peace.


Your Comments(please keep them on topic and polite)

on 12.17.09 Aaron commented

Hey Dan,
I'm looking forward to Part 3. I hope it'll be out after the holidays!

on 09.03.09 Giles Sieburg commented

Dan your A.D.D still amazes me! And ill be asking for the gift of the Spirit Spank. But it's really incredible the amount of people i talk to who are so burned by the church and christians. And i think maybe the reason is Christians are a little unapologetic(not in the bible school way) but we never apologize for our faults, and our sins are kind of hidden. So those around Christians see one mistake and can ruin their image of Christ. I think if as Christians we could be more transparent(not like confessing all our sins to the world) but just admitting more openly and more consistently that we have our problems to. Then people wont think we're Jesus and can see we're human and make mistakes. I just had a conversation with a Co-Worker who in plain words stated how i exclude certain people because i believe what they do is wrong...and i had to continually state how i don't exclude them because id have to exclude myself! because i never meet Christ's standard! And there's where grace and the true gospel lies. But its sad that Christians are seen as the unwanted superheroes(not that we are) that seem all stupendous and there's a lot of hype but once there's a failure they want to crucify us. Sorry for the tangent...i guess ive been thinking about this and you reminded me.

on 09.08.09 Michelle commented

Hi Dan. I just read your first post and loved it. This comment: "I realized I had been taught to slice and dice up the scriptures" resonated with me. I like that you included that in a post about worship and how we're looking for the high. Do you think it's cause and effect? I just realized the part 2 blog is on podcast. I'm leaving for Baltimore in 6 hours and I'm taking the podcast with me. Can't wait to hear it.

on 09.09.09 Jake commented

As a Youth Pastor I realized long ago that my ministry can very easily become about me. What I am teaching, what events I am planning, what music I am playing, and what kind of realationships I can build with my students. It is very easy for me to get in the way of what I feel God has called me to do. I recently made a transition to a new ministry and that is when you really find out how much the ministry was about you. It truly is a difficult balance to provide strong leadership and keep the focus where it belongs, on Christ. Better than any event you can organize or program you can run to help keep your students focused on Christ is how you live your life. If you can model a unwavering focus on the Saviour through the peaks and valleys that we all experience in life that will trickle down to your students in a powerful way. Like Paul said, "Follow me as I follow Christ".

on 09.16.09 David commented

Seems pretty easy to translate this into the Church as a whole, Starting with the youth seems like a great idea. I can not wait to hear how you think we can tackle these 2 goals. If you get response from SC let me know I'd like check them out.