Effective Youth Ministry Press Blog
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This blog is designed for anyone who wants to think seriously about youth ministry. It is for: fulltime youth leaders, part time youth leaders, volunteers in youth ministry and those who are thinking about youth ministry in the future. The goal is for us to think practically and strategically, with our Bibles wide open. Remember, it is crucial that the word of God shapes our methods and not only our message in youth ministry. Read on…
I’m in class the other day and I get hit with three questions back to back:
How do we disciple mixed up young men?
How do we minister to kids from broken families?
How do we help youth who are seeing way too much of the world at too early an age?
Wow—great questions, what a class (go YM 191!). In fact, if you can get the answers to these questions nailed shut, you’ve almost got a whole slab of effective youth ministry down tight.
These questions deserve much more than the brief on-the-spot answers restricted to one lecture and I spent the next couple of days mulling these over. Here’s what I’ve got…
Isn’t the most common thing we are dealing with breakdown of relationship? Certainly it is in the first two questions. Mixed up young men usually have some sort of ‘dad trouble’ lurking in the background. Not always, but quite often. The solid young men that I’ve met often have a solid family. Certainly those from broken homes have relational issues (obviously).
So, if we are trying to solve issues stemming from poor relationships, and, at the very heart of the issue, a broken relationship with God… then we must work for good relationships. That is the key! This may seem pretty basic and not that earth shattering but please remember what drives so much of our youth ministries—the desire to reach the lost through excitement and fun. This will never work because it is the wrong filler for the hole that exists in all of us.
What youth from a broken home needs more fun? What child who has been exposed to porn at way too early an age (there really is no acceptable age but you catch my drift) needs youth group games to straighten them out? The answer of course is … none!
The issue is that most youth today have that hole inside them that comes from some broken relationship either one that is a present reality (like at home) or one that is an existential reality (them and God). To fix this we must have a youth program that is built solidly around strong godly relationships.
I’m going to write more on small group discipleship in the coming weeks but consistent, dedicated small group Bible studies is the place to start. A godly older leader mentoring a group of younger Christians is a must. When a ‘youth with a relationship hole’ comes into youth group he/she should be thunderstruck by the holy relationships that are so evident in that group that they enter on the road to wholeness.
So is your group characterized by solid godly relationships? Are there good small groups? Are you the leader meeting regularly with your leadership team to build them up and have fellowship together? Does the group have a good relationship with the other members of the church?
Get these things right and wholeness will follow.
I’ve just had a great chat with a parent. He asked me the question, “How do I teach my boys the Bible? When I ask them their thoughts on a passage each week at family devotions they just stare blankly and don’t say anything.”
Great question, and I can’t believe it, but I quick as a flash of exploding gunpowder came up with… of all things… a hunting illustration. Now you must realize that I’m not a hunter. If there was a nuclear winter or a zombie apocalypse or it would be all over for Kenny & Julie (although I could see her grab that Navajo spear we have hanging on our wall and go stalk some game). Basically, as soon the local grocery store ran out of canned food. I’d be … err, toast.
But when I think of it, hunting and Bible study has a number of things in common.
Let me explain.
Some of us have grown up with a bizarre strategy of reading a section of Scripture with a group of youth and then leaving it up to them to figure out what the Bible is saying. Often, we have been taught a strategy built around asking a number of questions like “What do you think verse 12 means? Why do you think Jesus said this? What does the writer mean by righteousness?” etc. etc. Now think of it… this is not a wise (nor Biblical) strategy*. Most youth that I have met are simply not equipped for serious hermeneutics (Biblical interpretation) without a good bit of help beforehand.
Nor is the “ask a bunch of questions and hope for the right answer” a strategy that you would put into practice in almost any other field. Let’s go back to huntin’. Here in Saskatchewan there are tons of animals around and, you guessed it, huntin’ is quite the pastime. You would never hand your son a rifle, a handful of bullets and say “how do you think you load this thing and shoot an animal?” Crazy isn’t it. You would talk him through the parts of the rifle, how to load it, gun safety, how to aim and gently squeeze the trigger etc. The goal is, of course, that later on he can handle it himself and teach others as well.
However, think of what we often do with God’s word. We hand young people this awesome, but let’s face it, sometimes difficult to understand book and say “figure it out”. In thirty years of youth ministry experience I can assure you that the average young teen is just not equipped to deal with a series of questions based on a Bible text—especially when the feel any degree of discomfort or pressure. No wonder they simply grunt and answer, or stare into space.
The solution is quite simple; we must not be ashamed to teach young people the Bible. I mean open it up and explain it to them. Here is a simple formula:
Step 1. Read the passage
Step 2. If you wish, ask three simple questions:
1. Are there any parts of this passage that impact you straight away?
2. Is there anything that is confusing in this passage of Scripture?
3. Does this passage remind you of any other parts of the Bible?
Step 3. Go through what the text is saying and teach the youth what it says.
Step 4 You may want to discuss any applications from this passage.
Now I must say that there are some excellent ‘inductive’ methods or templates for letting youth unpack the Bible (i.e. give this passage a title, write down the three main points from this passage, write down as many practical applications as you can etc.). This, however, is a much different strategy from simply a barrage of questions. [Btw, for youth leaders out there: young people speaking in Bible study isn’t really the measure of success we are looking for. Sure, it is a good and helpful thing, but in the end, we are looking for things like “do they remember the word and put it into practice?” “Do they store God’s word in their hearts?” And even “Do they keep coming back?!”
In the end the point is simple, don’t be afraid to teach young people what the Bible says. Our success is to be seen in what happens down the road, not whether we have a good short-term discussion.
Hope that helped that dad I was chatting with.
*Remember Priscilla and Aquila in Acts 18:26—they took Apollos aside and explained the Bible to him. Reflect also on Paul’s words to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:14-16.
Get into the word, not into the theme
It seems that the phrase “Bible study group” is a common part of ministry. Many youth ministries have Bible study groups. It is, hopefully, a time to get into the word of God. However, do they really get into the word?
I know of many groups that call themselves a ‘weekly Bible study’… however, they don’t appear to study the Bible! They study a modern Christian book, followed by topical DVDs, followed by a movie with a theme they discuss etc. Sometimes these can be good things to do, but they are not a replacement for the Bible! This kind of group is not a ‘weekly Bible study’.
This seems to be a pattern for many, many churches and youth groups.
Isn’t a Bible study a group where we … study the Bible? Is it all that difficult to open up one of the great books in the Book of Books and go through it? Sure, it can be tricky. Yes, we have to do a bit of prior preparation. And, it can lead to a difference of interpretation and even get a bit heated sometimes… but Bible study is GREAT. It is living, active, shapes our thinking and what we believe. It keeps us on the narrow road and informs our actions. If we keep this away from the people in our churches and youth ministries, we do so at our peril.
Here’s a suggestion for youth leaders: run a study in the book of 1 Thessalonians. This is the earliest letter that Paul wrote, it was written to a group of recent converts, and is filled with teaching and exhortation that is not all that difficult to understand. When you are done, look at the book of Job. The first two chapters will capture the interest of most young minds. Spend a week or two on the long discussion in chapters 3-37 and then focus on God’s response at the end of the book (ending with the Epilogue in the last chapter). Great stuff and (almost) guaranteed to thrill your small group. You could then move on to a themed study that comes from the word of God: Who is Jesus? or What does the Bible say about suffering?, these would be great topical studies based in God’s word.
After opening the Bible for 6-8 weeks, if you want to ‘take a break’ for a week or two, go and grab a DVD on relationships. But this is the icing on the cake, not the cake itself.
If you are not into actually opening the Bible in Bible study maybe you should call your group something else. “Theme Study Group” perhaps? Or, “Topical Response Group”? Or, even “Modern Author’s Opinions Thinking Group Discussion”!