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…
Friday is my favorite day of the week, I have no classes and nothing but time to mark papers and catch up. However, as I write this I can feel my batteries start to wind down and I’m looking forward to Saturday - my day off.
Saturday is my day. I do (almost) anything that I want to and I switch off from the previous six days of work.
This leads me to ask you a very important question when it comes to doing effective youth ministry: you do have a day off don’t you?
It’s funny… in my 25+ years of ministry I have seen countless ministry minded people who don’t take a day off. They have given me various excuses why (“The Lord’s work is too important,” “I save my days up and take a week off.” etc.) It is as if they are superhuman (which they aren’t) or seem to miss the part in the Bible where God commands us to rest.
I remember one person I used to know quite well who “never took a day off… only sections during the week” (an afternoon here, a morning there etc.). When I asked him if he regularly broke any of the other commandments he simply gave me a glassy stare and said “I’ve never thought of it that way”. Funny thing, he left his ministry a year later due to “extreme burnout”.
Let me encourage you: when people ask me (as they often do) “How can you still be in youth ministry in your 50s?” I tell them this, “I take a day off every week, and I take weeks off every year. This helps to keep be centered, grounded, on my feet and any other metaphor you that is applicable.” In fact, one day a week I shut up shop, close the blinds, turn off the phone and regale myself in all the pleasures of a vacation wrapped up in twenty-four hours!
So, come tonight here is what I am going to do… pretty much anything I want to. When I wake up on Saturday my plan is simple, “What do I want to do today?” I will then proceed to do it. I’ll eat what I want, watch the movies and TV shows I want, sleep until I want and do as little or as much as I want.”
I will also: turn off my email, not visit my office, not take any ministry phone calls, not read any youth ministry texts and switch off my ministry brain!
I know what you’re thinking— this is tough to do. You bet it is. My mind has a million projects and things I want to write and do. And it is sooo tempting to just work a few hours that afternoon just to ‘get ahead’. But you know what? When I’ve done this (or when I have a conference that I’ve attended/spoken at on a Saturday), I’m in rugged shape for the next week. My productivity goes down, my brain is foggy, and my writing and teaching skills are lessened. No matter how hard I try, I’m not as good on Monday if I’ve worked on Saturday.
So, that is what I offer you this week. If you want to be as effective as you can for the King, take his ‘advice’ (ahem, COMMAND) and kick back for a day this week.
I’m off now… (what you’re hearing is the sound of the light switch being flicked, my computer powering down, my feet merrily hitting the pavement and my day off joyfully approaching!)
So there appears to be a shortage of males in many of our youth groups. One youth leader skyped me on this issue just this week. His questions were straightforward and ones many of us can relate to: “What can we do to attract more young men to our group? How can I get more boys to show up? How do I evangelize the boys in our community?”
Good questions… difficult ones too… and especially difficult to answer in a short post like this one. So, if you allow me to speak in bullet points… here’s some things to think through...
- Males like male leadership. Aim for this – work to have males who are strong in their faith to help lead the group. This may be a long-term process so begin now—are there any males in the high school group that you can see as leaders in a couple of years? If so, build build build for the future. Female leadership is good for the young women, but boys need men to follow. If you are a female leader with no males helping you, can you bring in some volunteers to help out in some way?
- Following on from this, can you have long-term male leadership? Some boys are used to a pattern of abandonment from the significant males in their life. Strive for a 2-3 year commitment from the male leaders in your youth ministry. I know this can be a toughie- but it is the right target to aim for.
- Try and develop a core of male youth who attend regularly. Guys like to see other guys at anything they are thinking about committing to. Start to develop a core from within the church... this is where connecting and linking with children's work is a must (see 'Flow' in my book Changing the World). It has been my experience that “guys bring guys… and girls too”! For some reason I have not seen a youth group of girls attract males—even though some think this happens. However, I have seen a group of guys be attractive to both sexes. I’m not sure why (although I have a hunch)… just my experience. Teach, encourage and work to build a regular core of guys (this is where small groups are key).
- Make sure your program is not too … how do I say this… wussie. Many are. Boys tend not be as interested in ‘feelings’ as much as in action and doing. Nor do they enjoy sitting around and chatting as much as older people do. Think through active learning and profitable kinesthetic activities (rather than typical youth group games). Build this into your small groups and into your weekly program.
- Have single sex Bible studies. This is a must. Guys don't want to feel stupid or immature. This often happens with girls in the group. Nor will they share openly about struggles or pain. For some reason, many youth leaders disagree with this and continue to run coed groups. While there can be a minor argument made for this, males love to meet together in a group of males and the arguments in favor of a males only group far outweigh a coed one.
- Be clear on who you are and what you do. Steve Biddulph says in Raising Boys that males need to know three things: Who’s in charge? What are the rules? and, will they be enforced? Boys like strong leadership, clear expectations and purpose. Be a group that exists to help young men connect with the creator of the universe in a clear and real way.
- Model the great adventure of following our strong God. The Christian life is a great journey. Our God is a great God of love and strength. Model this, teach it and talk about it often. Talk about what it means to be a man of faith and to take God’s call seriously in this world. Spend time outdoors teaching on the creation. Spend time indoors talking about issues that matter to boys. Think creatively about how to teach a group of hyperactive young men. One practical outworking of this is in our teaching program. Balance your teaching to include studies on topics that will interest guys like King David or the Book of Judges.
God bless you as you seek to attract and build up mighty men for the Kingdom.
Life here in the Prairies is good. We’ve had very little snow and the temp has stayed in the low teens (50º F)—nice for early November. The geese are heading south, I guess it is their way of letting us know that the nice weather is not going to last.
One thing I’ve been noticing is that many youth groups run a ‘rotational ‘ style of youth group program. One week is one activity or event and another week is completely different. For example, on the first week of the month you may have a Bible study. On the next week you may have a games night, the week after that is evangelistic and the last week is a night committed to service and helping the community and so on.
I want to think through this program just a bit—is it a good thing to do? A helpful pattern?
I’m not sure where this style of thinking came from. Is it designed to enable youth to pick and choose those events that they want to go to? (Sort of a youth group program smorgasbord.) Or is it simply because we are all so busy these days that we can’t run a program that is a little more intensive that covers all those bases?
Do other ministries in the church do it? For example, do the adults run four services a month each with a different purpose and program? If they don’t, why do we?
My guess is the reason is fairy straightforward, we simply don’t know how to run a program that is enjoyable, evangelistic and builds at the same time. One of my friends in Australia uses a very helpful image: he reminds us of the cereal commercial that boasts “this cereal is healthy and tastes good.” Isn’t this what we want in a cereal? It is also what we want in a program. We want to run a simple, ‘doable’ program that seeks to build, to reach, to serve (‘healthy’), and to be enjoyable (‘tastes good’). This must be our aim.
The bottom line is this: when we build up a group of youth to love Jesus and take each other (and this world) seriously, they will seek to build each other, reach out to their friends, and do good works for the community. Sure, have an evangelistic event, but don’t regularly give up one of your nights to do it, make each night a night that nonbelievers can come to. Regular prayer, Bible study and Christian fellowship is simply too important for the health of a young person. Should you go out and do works of service for the poor and needy? Of course, make it a regular and additional part of your program. Ask the youth to give up gaming for a night, or social sports, or homework. This is what it means, in part, to walk the narrow road.
 A shout out to Rev. Jodie McNeil. Thanks Jodes!
So, I’m having dinner with two new friends and I find out that “she plays basketball.” I look at her, and offer a challenge: “How about you find a female friend and your boyfriend (who is sitting at the table) and I will take you guys on!” Now you must understand a few things. I am 52, her boyfriend hasn’t played much basketball and she is the starting point guard for the College team. You would never bet your coat that we could win this game.
However, there is only one possible way we can win this game. I said to the stunned boyfriend, “All we have to do is to play to our strengths.” She is five foot one. I’m six feet. My strength will be rebounding. He told me that he has “one shot that he kinda makes… sometimes.” That’s it! That is what we’ll work for.
Now this may be an odd move but I want to suggest that ministry, in some ways, is like this scenario. While there are certain things that we must do each week in youth group (prayer, Bible study are the two main ones), you the youth leader needs to ‘play to your strengths’. Let me explain…
Some of you are born listeners and counselors. Others of you love to teach the Bible. Some of you love to sing and make music, while others love to pray and pray. What this means is that you have God given talents and strengths that you must use to the Kingdom’s advantage.
A word of warning and a word of encouragement...
Now, be clear on this: this does not let you off the hook for doing those things that you don’t feel are your strengths. For instance, just because you love (and are gifted) in singing does not mean that your group doesn’t have a Bible study. There are “musts” that you need to be committed to whether you are gifted in them or not.
However, don’t feel guilty for concentrating on those things that you feel you are good at. Let me give you two examples:
Example A—yours truly
I think that I am pretty good at teaching the Bible to young people. I love doing it and I think I have a track record of some good results. I also love teaching males what it means to be a strong Christian male. This means that I will have a healthy focus on teaching in our weekly meeting. I won’t shy away from it nor will I apologize for it. I will also have a healthy time in our overall program for males to spend time together (in one to one coffees, small groups and the occasional ‘guys only’ retreat).
I spent an afternoon with a young clergyman in a small town in Australia. He sat there in his clerical collar and explained to me that he loved music. He wondered if “it was bad that he wanted to have a healthy time of praise and worship in his weekly youth program at the expense of the fun stuff”. I explained to him the philosophy of playing to your strengths. Not only should he have a good amount of singing, but he should actively encourage it, promote it, and equip the youth in his group to be skilled at it.
[It is interesting to note that some of my thinking on this issue was formed when I worked in Vancouver in an Anglican church. This church was what some Anglicans would call ‘middle’ (this means a higher emphasis placed on a liturgical style of worship). As a result of the liturgical culture, we built in some liturgy on our retreats and it went down very well. We used a set of prayers called Compline at the end of the day and it was very well received by the youth. In this case, I was playing to their strengths!]
Two final thoughts
Please be realistic about knowing what actually is your strength. We have too many people who feel they are gifted at certain things when the facts really don’t back this up. Surround yourself with wise and honest voices who will give you true counsel.
If you don’t feel that you have a particular skill that trumps the others, don’t sweat it. “Discharge all the duties of your ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:5)
While I’m a child of the 60s… I’m a product of the 70s. As I’ve said before, I’ve got the ticket stub to a Led Zeppelin concert to prove it. One of those iconic songs from that decade is “Memories” sung by Barbra Streisand. Classic song, can bring chills to the back of your neck (a common occurrence in Saskatchewan).
My question for us today is “are we in youth ministry for ‘memory production’ or maturity production?” It comes from a conversation that I’ve had on numerous occasions. It goes a bit like this, “We understand that you don’t like some of the games that youth groups play. However, when I reflect back on my time in youth group—it is the games that I remember. In fact, when I think back to all my youth group experience, the only thing that stands out is the fun we had doing all those awesome and fun activities.”
How do we respond to this? It could simply be that the only thing they ever did in youth group was to play a lot of games, hence that being the only memories available. Or, the ‘serious’ stuff that was presented in youth group was simply poorly delivered. Or, they could simply have a bad memory. I’m not sure.
The question is, what are we aiming for: memories or maturity? Sure, nice positive memories of youth group days gone by is clearly not a bad thing. The bottom line however, is we must be more concerned with the end results or our youth ministry program than positive recollections.
A few quick thoughts on ‘memories’...
When the Apostle Paul reflects on his churches, he will often call to mind what he remembers about them? A look at 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3 shows us that he remembers three key things about them:
We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 1:2-3 NIV)
He remembers their faith, their love, and their endurance that comes from hope. Please note that he doesn’t speak of all the good times they had or the time they… (fill in the blanks with some crazy activity here).
In his letter to the Philippians he writes,
I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. (Philippians 1:3-5)
Here he remembers the fact that the Philippians were so taken by Jesus that they were his ‘partners’ in the ministry of the gospel.
In his second letter to his friend Timothy he urges him to “remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal” (2 Timothy 2:8-9).
There is a clear theme of remembering in the New Testament… but note that it is what is remembered that is so important. Sure, Paul probably had some great times with his churches, however, he is more concerned with spiritual maturity than with simply programming to have a good time designed to ‘provide memories’.
Two final thoughts:
Week by week programming for youth group is a bit like preparing a meal. You are concerned with a number of important factors: presentation, taste and, most importantly, nutrition. Some meals are deeply memorable, others are not. However, even the ones that you don’t remember nourished you and kept you going. This is what we must aim for in youth group—nourishment that keeps young people going, not the production of empty memories.
Our ultimate aim is to echo Paul’s desire in his letter to the Colossians 1:28-29
We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.
Paul struggles and labors with God’s energy to produce ‘perfect’ followers of Jesus (perfect = mature). Let’s aim for this… not simply memories.