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…
Is “Play” an appropriate apologetic in today’s play-filled culture? (Or, why do we say one thing yet program another?)
Ok, I’m fired up. Please forgive me in advance if I step over the line, but the sun is out and it is a beautiful day here in Saskatchewan. I’m fired up because I continue to read articles and online postings and regularly hear people speak about how “we need to get rid of entertainment and focus on discipleship”. This is good (no, it is great!). However, when I dig a bit deeper into the type of activities these writers and speakers do in their youth programs, I find their programs are built around and dependent on entertainment! Oh the horror.
As I have said many times in the past, it seems that we simply cannot shake our commitment to “play as the apologetic for youth culture”. Or, we are so focused on evangelism through entertainment that we cannot see the hypocrisy in posting one thing and then programming another.
For me, the bottom line is this; is fun (or ‘play’ as one noted youth leader said to me) a legitimate way to reach youth in today’s culture. (Was it ever??) Please think carefully on this. Most of you will say “Of course it isn’t. We must preach the powerful gospel, in season and out, with words and in our lifestyle.” Amen to that. When it comes to putting together a youth program however, we resort to the old “if they play with us, they will listen to our message” style of program that is worn out and unworkable. Really, is this style of program in any way effective or appropriate in today’s culture?
Final words, can we please work out what it means to run an uncompromising program committed to discipleship that is thoroughly enjoyable and attractive at the same time? This really shouldn’t be that difficult should it?
My guess is, we will only wake up when we find that absolutely no one is coming to our silly pizza nights and vapid Idol sing along competitions in the name of Christ.
Do you remember Brenda? She’s the girl who goes to two (or more) youth groups. This is not an issue to her, nor is it an issue most other people. Except, of course, yours truly and a few others (and hopefully those of you whom I’ve convinced through these postings).
Let’s start to wind up this road we’ve been on.
My final thoughts rest with the issue of ‘blessing’. I want to ask “Is attending two youth groups the best way to bless everyone involved?” Let’s agree on some things we agree on: we are to love God, and love our neighbor. We should also live in a way that is a light and a blessing to others. My guess is all of us agree on that.
Now, to Brenda.
Is moving around to multiple youth groups to be seen as a blessing. Or, to put it another way, is it the best thing possible for the greatest number of people? Does it help, and further Brenda’s walk with God? Is it a help to her home church (if she has one—sometimes this gets lost in the shuffle)? Is it a help to her ‘other groups’? Is it a help to the lost who may come to one of the groups she visits to check things out?
My answer is a resounding ‘No’ to all the above questions. I’d better explain…
Think for a moment about the ‘regulars’ who attend Brenda’ home church? If they, like Brenda, attend multiple youth groups then there really aren’t any regulars. Most groups do have a number of youth who are committed to their own group. These regulars suffer when Brenda isn’t there. Most youth really want to see people come each week—they love it when those who are supposed to come, come. In fact, many of us have heard those dreadful words, “There is usually more people than this here.” When Brenda doesn’t show up, especially because she is somewhere else, they suffer.
If youth groups are to have any semblance of community, they need some semblance of commitment. If commitment is lacking, so is community. These two ideas are very, very tightly bound together. If Brenda establishes a pattern of “going to one group here, another there” depending on her schedule and the programs on offer, others will suffer because who knows when or where she’ll show up. While Brenda may be having a good time, the rest suffer
Brenda may be blessed, her home group isn’t.
What about those who are new to the group or new to the Christian faith? Most, if not all, youth groups have a deep desire to attract the lost. If this is you, you really can’t support Brenda going to two groups. Think about it this way; when someone takes a risk and invites a friend, they usually do so because they want this friend to come and meet their youth group friends. The say something like, “you gotta meet my youth group friends and experience what we do together”. If a newcomer comes and the regulars don’t, it is a disaster, a complete disaster. The newcomer goes away thinking, “If the regulars don’t even show up why should I?”
Brenda may be blessed, her home group isn’t, nor are newcomers
Finally, what about Brenda—is our acceptance of her going to multiple youth groups a blessing to her? If Brenda becomes established in a pattern of “Brenda goes where Brenda wants” this will be a hard habit for her to break. In my experience, this pattern is a little plant that soon grows to produce very large, unhelpful fruit. Rarely do those like Brenda become committed youth leaders. Rarely, if ever do they have a self-sacrificial heart that strives to bless other people. Why would they, we have said it is okay for her to put her own needs/wants first.
In the end, we must strive to incorporate Hebrews 10:25 in our hearts and minds. We must also seek to build it into our programs and our expectations. When we do this, everyone is blessed.
Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:24
I want an iPad. They look shiny and I’m sure one will make my life complete. So I’ve set up a plan: I will slowly take a few dollars from Julie’s purse each week. Combine that with the coins that I keep finding on the street and I’m sure I’ll come up with the cash in no time.
Now, when I am in the store looking at this new gadget, a number of questions really ought to be floating around in my skull. Do I really need it? Is it worth the money? Will it make my life more efficient? How will I explain this to Julie? Etc. etc. These questions must be the ‘filter’ that the iPad purchase goes through to the help me make the right decision.
Let’s take this to youth ministry.
It is commonplace for us in youth ministry not to be all that critical when it comes to strategies and practices we decide to put into place in youth ministry. We have a little bit of a ‘laissez-faire’ attitude—whatever works, works. In fact, most of us feel uncomfortable asking questions about strategies. We don’t seem to ask the obvious filter questions of our youth ministry programs and strategies that we would ask when we make other decisions (like “should I buy myself an iPad?”).
Is it right to be so laid back in this issue? Are there some questions that we need to aim toward youth ministry practices that just might keep us from an unnecessary purchase? I think so.
What’s on my mind today is the practice of “two-tiered evangelism”. It is on my mind because I’m going to spend a bit of time on it in my class on evangelism. It is not unusual for a youth group to run two nights; one committed to evangelism and one committed to discipleship. This strategy is decades old and still adopted by many youth programs. You can understand the logic: one night is focused on having a fun time where friends who don’t know Jesus come to meet some Christians. The other night is designed for those interested in going further in the Christian faith.
Is this program open to critique? Is it even worth spending a few pixels on it? I think it is, and I want to suggest that all our youth programs and strategies need to be filtered through three questions:
Is it Biblical? (Do we see anything like it in God’s word? Are we exhorted/commanded to do it?)
Is it practical? (Can it be done with the resources we have? Is it the most practical option we can choose?)
Does it yield results? (Are we seeing fruit from it? Real, long-term fruit.)
I think these three questions are crucial when deciding to adopt or reject a strategy.
Now there is a ton of things I could say about each question but I’ll save your eyes and contain my thoughts at this stage. When we think about a strategy like the two-tiered evangelism, does it score well when filtered through those three questions? We don’t see it in Scripture, for most groups it is very hard to do (especially if you are a volunteer or a leader with few volunteers available) and, for the majority, we are not seeing real long-term fruit where young people are growing and staying Christian as they get older.
The two-tiered program appears to be more like a shiny gadget that we just don’t need.
(Gotta go, Julie has just gone outside and her purse is hanging in plain view!)
Here is a fictitious story I gave to one my classes to discuss:
Brenda is a vibrant girl who comes to youth group ‘most of the time’. One day you are phoned by Brad, the youth leader at a neighboring church. Brad asks you about Brenda, he says “What’s the deal with Brenda? Lately she’s been coming to our Friday night youth events. I hear from Donna at the local Baptist church that Brenda also regularly goes to their monthly worship night. I thought she went to your group! Which youth group does she actually go to?”
You meet with Brenda and soon find out that she ‘goes to three youth groups’. She tells you that she likes the fellowship at your group, the fun stuff at Brad’s and the worship at Donna’s. When you speak with Brenda’s parents about this you are told “I don’t see the problem—when we were young we went to every youth group in town. We want our daughter experiencing Christ from as many places as possible.”
Well, what do you do?
Well, what do you do? This is the second part of my thoughts on whether or not going to two youth groups is a good thing (I’m wrestling with using the term ‘two-timer’. So far I have resisted the urge).
From my vantage point, it seems that most youth leaders, parents and any others have little or no problem with Brenda going to multiple youth groups. They don’t even see what the problem is – they wonder why be so uptight about such an issue?
But let’s take just a bit of a closer look, as it is my feeling that this common practice can actually be quite harmful to all involved in the long run.
We need to begin our thinking with some fundamentals: what is youth group about… who are you running it for... and, why are you running it.
If youth group is a drop in center for youth who come for various reasons (good and bad) but there is no commitment expected, then it is not a problem for Brenda to go to multiple groups. In fact, it is not even an issue. However, if youth group is run to be a community of believers and this community has some degree of commitment to each other, suddenly there is a problem. Add to that the fact that it is your hope that this community seeks to reach out to their friends, then youth group hopping becomes a problem. It is hard to build a community out of youth who don’t see commitment as a priority.
One of the central issues here is community. Can you really have a community built around youth who are not all that committed to your community? I know this may sound a bit stark, and some will say “But Brenda is committed to community, lots of them!” I dare say this sounds reasonable in theory but I have rarely (if ever) seen it in practice.
Finally, if youth group is run for people who are really focused on their own well-being and what ‘works for them and blesses only them’… fine, they can go to multiple groups. However, if it is all about Brenda, and what she wants, then it is all about Brenda! This means that you must support whatever else she wants to do from ice skating to school musicals to whatever—even if they mean she must drop out of youth group(s) altogether. This now becomes a bit of a double-edged sword doesn’t it?
We also have to wonder what kind Christian Brenda will be in the long-term. Will she be church hopping as an adult? Committing nowhere, serving nowhere, giving nowhere and taking non-believing friends nowhere.
Next time we’ll think about how multiple youth group attendance affects us where it really hurts—evangelism.
I’m a child of the ‘60s & ‘70s. I have the ticket stub to a Led Zeppelin concert to prove it (go 1976!). Back in those days, it was all about “sex, drugs and rock and roll”. What I mean by this is, those were the great perceived threats to the Christian life.
My feeling is, we’ve never really moved on from this when it comes to guarding our youth through the maze that leads to Christian maturity. Sure, those are valid and very real threats (sex, drugs & rock ‘n roll). However, they are not at the top of the list—there are a number of other much more real and present dangers when it comes to taking our youth away from the Kingdom.
This week, I want to focus on what I feel is the main threat, and I then want to pinpoint one area that I’ll focus on a number of times in the coming months.
The main threat facing our youth today is… too many choices. That’s right, too many good choices facing all of us. You probably can’t remember back to the days before cable TV but a time actually did exist when there where only a few channels on. Now we have so many programs available that we could not possibly watch them even if we wanted to.
Think of all the options available to our youth in the areas of sports, entertainment, study, and social pursuits. It wasn’t all that long ago that an overseas trip was a once in a lifetime goal. Now, schools regularly take students abroad. (Here at Briercrest a student can do a whole term in St. Petersburg if you wish.)
These options, and I want to be clear, many of them are good options, are killing our youth. Options don’t promote health or freedom. Quite simply the opposite—they promote selfishness and self-absorption. They can even lead to paralysis (“I don’t know what to choose!!”) and, in my opinion, one of the causes of depression.
I realize that this is the world we live in and we must play the hand we’re dealt so there’s no use spilling too much ink over it. However, let’s be clear on this; good discipleship is equipping youth to choose the right options. It is leading them to maturity so they can choose what to say “yes” to and what to reject. It may even mean saying “no” to seemingly good options. An example of this is joining a club so that you can make non-Christian friends to share with them the gospel. This is a good thing to do… if you’re not too busy already. If your schedule is already packed, it is a bad option, unless you get rid of something else. Catch my drift?
Now let me take this in a certain direction. To be honest, I think I’ll only raise it here and come back to it in a few days.
In most places, it is not uncommon for our youth to go to more than one youth group. Some among us would see this as a good thing. One parent said to me a few years back “I want my child to go to as many youth groups as possible and drink from as many ‘fountains of Christ’ as he can!” This meant her son only came to our youth group irregularly, despite the fact that he would call our church his home church.
Going to multiple youth groups. Certainly an option in today’s world… but is it the right one? More on this in a bit.