Youth Ministry

This past weekend we had a church weekend away. Our guest speaker was Elaine Storkey who used to lead Tearfund. To parallel what she was speaking to the adults about, we took the young people who attended the weekend on a look through the book and story of Jonah as a way of looking at the themes of ‘calling’, ‘mission’, ‘justice’ and ‘compassion’.

The first session we asked our students what they knew about the story of Jonah. Our group had a number of 11-14 year olds…making them born circa 1995 (holy crap do I feel old). They proceeded to regale us with their understanding of Johah. It went a little like this.

‘God told Jonah to go to Nirvana…or something like that…he didn’t noahwant to go…so he got on a boat to run away from God…then God made a huge storm come up and the pirates…’Pirates? What pirates?’…Jonah was on a pirate ship…the pirates decided to throw Jonah overboard to make the storm go away…so he walked the plank and then God brought a big fish come and swallow Jonah…and after a few days God made the fish ‘throw-up’ Jonah through the blow-hole…’

You get the point. After listening to this description of the Jonah story, I was trying to figure out where the ‘pirates’, the ‘gang-plank’ and the ‘blow-hole’ came from. If it was simply a young person’s imagination bringing the story to life, that wouldn’t be bad, it would actually be kind of exciting…a young person spending enough time in the Word to bring it to life in their mind. But no…they told me that was the story of Jonah according to Veggie Tales.

The only problem is that they stated that it was from Veggie Tales as if VT carried the same authority as scripture. One student was prepared to argue that the sailors on the boat that Jonah was on were ‘actually’ pirates. Don’t get me started on the worm that lived on the vine that also sold Ninevah merchandise.

I completely by into the idea of making scripture relevant to young people in a technological culture and making the scripture come alive visually…but at what point are we sacrificing the ‘truth’, ‘sacredness’, the ‘history’ of scripture just to hold the attention of young people? Is a video of a bible story really more powerful than an adult who loves the story conveying it to a young person in a well thought out way, in the context of a loving caring relationship?

kanye-west-spinApparently someone fronting themselves as Kanye West on Twitter had over a 1,000,000 people following his every activity. Kanye apparently found out about it and had the following things to say about it:


“Why would I use Twitter? I only blog five percent of what I’m up to in the first place. I’m actually slow delivering content because I’m too busy, actually busy being creative, most of the time – and if I’m not and I’m just laying on a beach I wouldn’t tell the world.”

“Everything that Twitter offers, I need less of,”twitter-logo

First, if you blogged five percent of what you did with your life, how many entries a day would you have? On your blog? On your Twitter, if you have one? I don’t have a Twitter, but can you imagine if you posted, micro-blogged, even 5% of what you do daily on Twitter? Who has time to read that many micro-posts from a person.

Second, it does bring up the issue, with Twitter especially, but with any electronic
form of posting, Twitter, blogs, Facebook, myspace: how do you know the person posting is who they are and what they say they are? There is alot of trust given and freely taken in the electronic world in regards to who people say they are and what they represent.

Third, I for one completely agree with Kanye West about Twitter. I’m online too much, too much of my communication happens via email, gchat messages, or Facebook…the last thing I need is Twitter. I need less of what Twitter offers: communication without investment in the person I am communicating to. Yes, I’m aware of the irony of saying that while posting a note on Facebook or a blog. I need to make a greater commitment to communicating directly to people and recognizing that as an investment not just in our relationship but in them as a person.

Communication without that investment and without emotional commitment at some point will begin to feel very disengenious, inauthentic and selfish.

The question for those of us in youth ministry is not just how can we use these tools to enhance out ministries to young people, but what is the appropriate amount of usage? These tools can be very handy for connecting with very busy kids, but they are no replacement for healthy, caring, Christ centered relationships. It’s why Christ came down to earth, in human form, spoke to people, touched people, loved people instead of just yelling down from heaven, ‘Hey you guys! (think Sloth from the movie ‘Goonies’), I really really really love you. I love you so much I would die for you. Keep that in mind, alright?!’

Read the whole Kanye diatribe here if you want.

This week there are a number of big music releases on the horizon. the biggest perhaps is Green Day’s follow up to ‘American Idiot’. In the UK, close behind it is the new Manic Street Preachers. On the list is also the very long awaited ‘Relapse’ from Eminem.

I’ve never been a big Eminem fan at all, but I will admit that some of his songs have an infectious quality that drag you in and make you listen to them. There is a rawness and authenticity to his story telling that is intriguing and inviting.

At first glance though this album looks to be a trainwreck waiting to happen…especially if you have young children or work with young people. The title is ‘Relapse’ and the album artwork is full of pills and drugs. The majority of the songs appear to have significant language issues, clearly not for virgin ears.

Buried underneath alot of the ‘cringe-worthy’ stuff are some real gems.
The song ‘Beautiful’ is perhaps the best example.


Read some of the lyrics in the song below: (Chorus)
in my shoes, just to see
what its like, to be me
ill be you, lets trade shoes
just to see what itd be like
to feel your pain, you feel mine
go inside eachothers minds
just to see what we’d find
look at s**t through eachothers eyes
it dont matter saying you aint beautiful
they can all get f**ked just stay true to you
dont matter saying you aint beautiful
they can all get f**ked just stay true to you
it dont matter saying you aint beautiful
they can all get f**ked just stay true to you

The language isn’t great…but Marshall is telling his listeners that his life isn’t easy either…but to really understand and care for each other they need to deeply understand and experience each other’s lives. He exhorts his listeners to stay true to who they are, continuing the message from the verses to not sell out to their friends expectations, and to never believe anyone who says they aren’t beautiful.

The outro is even better:
to my babies
stay strong
daddy will be home soon
and to the rest of the world
god gave you shoes to fit you
so put em on and wear them
be yourself man
be proud of who you are
and even if it sounds corny
dont ever let anyone tell you you ain’t beautiful

Is Eminem getting ‘soft’ or as he says ‘corny’ with old age? God gave each of us shoes to fit…don’t put on someone else’s shoes…wear the ones we’ve been given and alway believe we are beautiful.

These are the messages that I wish would ring through more often through secular music. These are the messages that I wish that would ring through in credible, authentic, and relevant ways in ‘Christian’ music.

Kids in our youth ministries and communities will be listening to this album and this track despite how we feel about the language and the album artwork. Will you be left out in the cold when kids are talking about it? Will you be an uninformed voice of disapproval or will you be an informed voice that encourages kids to understand and constructively evaluate the music they listen to? Will the messages we bring to our young people about Jesus Christ have the same authenticity, honesty and relevance of Eminem’s ‘Beautiful’?

If we think Jesus is ‘Beautiful’ and our young people are ‘Beautiful’ we better represent him with the same authenticity, honest and relevance as Eminem or risk a ‘relapse’ back into tired, boring, and repetitive messages of hope that arything but hopeful.

Apparently, somone who works for the Church of England (who currently is my employer) thinks that Youth Ministry is valuable, but not necessarily essential to the mission of the Church of England.

Mark Russell, who serves as a member of the Archbishop’s Council, recently has received a copy of a review of ministries at the national level of the CofE as part of an evaluation of spending priorities. Ministries were put into two categories: essential and valuable. In the category of valuable: national youth work, childrens ministry, and lay discipleship.

Don’t believe me? Read Mark’s blog yourself…click here.

Want all the juicy details? Read the report yourself. Click here. Actually…read it, print it out, circulate it to everyone you know in your church, whether it’s CofE or not, who cares about youth ministry, children’s ministry or discipleship training for lay people.

The recession is hurting many in ways that are still beyond measurement. Cutting budgets for these ministries may seem ‘logical’ to some in the ‘now’ in the same way that getting behind the wheel of your car after a few pints seems ‘alright’ in the now, the same way placing a bet on Middlesborough to beat ManU tomorrow seems like a good idea ‘right now’.

Cutting these budgets, because youth ministry is ‘valuable’ but not ‘essential’ to the mission of the Church of England would be nothing short of disastrous.

The weeks leading up to Easter through Lent are always an exciting time…more so as I get older and have a more acute sense and understanding of the enormity of the power of Lent, the passion247prayer3 week and Easter. Easter week, especially working in a church, is always a bit of a crazy and exciting week and then it sometimes can feel like a let down after Easter is finished.

img_34213This year again at our church in Croydon, we turned our youth room into a 24-7 prayer room for the church for the week of Easter. It is so exciting to see artwork that people create while praying, see their comments left in the journal, to see teenagers taking the 2AM to 3AM slot because it needs to be filled. img_34222Our church has done something like this for the past year and a half, the past two easters, a week in September, and at Advent. The momentum is building, there is now talk of doing a 24-7 prayer room all through Lent next year and even a permanent 24-7 prayer room. God is doing some radical things in people through this ministry.img_34231

This past week I also went to a Prayer ministry meeting for our church to talk about how to incorporate some of our youth ministry students into that ministry as a means to having teenagers serve the church by praying for the congregation during our services. It’s exciting to hear adults articulate the belief and ideas that students can serve in meaningful ways like this.

I came away from these two times so totally reminded about the power of prayer. I often wonder if we cancelled every program we do as a church as simply prayed continuously for people, our community, our church…how much more might be acomplished for the Kingdom, how much more would the Spirit do in our lives and in our communities? I love and hate Richard Foster for saying, ‘The amountcelebration-of-discipline of prayer in our lives is commensurate to the amount of change we want in our lives.’ So convicting.

But this week, I came away being reminded that no matter what great idea I have for an outreach, what great conversations I have with kids and leaders, what great lesson I and our youth ministry leaders might teach to our students…it all means very little without loads and loads of prayer being at the heart of all we do for kids and all we do for the Kingdom.

Without prayer at the center, I fear that what I/we plan is more about me than about God. Am I willing to pray relentlessly for kids, for my community, for the world? What keeps me from making prayer the hallmark of my ministry? Too often I think the answer lies in the fact that ‘programs’ are easier because it feels like I’m in control and that feels safer. But all I need to do is read one of my favorite verses in all of scripture to be reminded it’s not about control: John 3:30 has John the Baptist in the midst of losing his disciples and influence to Jesus and assuming the role of village kook (remember he wears camels skins and is a known for being a desert hermit) saying to his remaining followers, “I must become less and he must become more.”

In prayer, I can become less so that Christ can become more.

What creative ways have you utilized to teach students the immense value of prayer in an entertainment driven culture?

I follow quite a few blogs, just like most people who have now convinced themselves it is a necessary part of their ‘professional development’ and, dare I say it, existence. (What did we do with all that time before? How did we ‘develop professionally’ before the blogosphere?) Anyways, a book popped up on my radar called ‘Inside the Mind of Youth Pastors: A Church Leaders Guide to Staffing and Leading Youth Pastors’

This is one of those books that causes you to wonder and ask, ‘How do they know what’s going on in my mind?’ (I hardly do sometimes) and ‘Is this a book a youth pastor wrote to try and ‘reprogram’ senior pastors to understand youth pastors?’ Either way, it’s not normally a book I’d get that excited about.

But then I was reading an interview about it on Marko’s blog with the author Mark Riddle. Read the interview by clicking here. The author, Mark Riddle, nailed something that I think is really common in youth ministry and is too common of an experience in my own work as a youth minister. He deliniates between two types of churches. Church A which makes the youth ministry/minister the center of all spirital formation of adolescents and Church B who believes the responsibility of the spiritual formation of adolescents belongs to the whole church community: parents, volunteers and youth ministry staff. Well yeah…DUH! is likely your response.

But then he says, “While most youth pastors complain that parents drop kids off and have given up responsibility for the spiritual formation of their kids, youth pastors gladly take that responsibility upon their shoulders and in many ways enable parents.” This is too often me on both counts and as long as I’m enabling the lack of participation (from my viewpoint) I can’t point the finger. And by the way, how arrogant, self-righteous and pompous am I as a youth minister if I actually think too many parents are abandoning their role of discipler of their children and leaving it to me as the youth minister. I don’t get to look in their homes 24-7. I don’t hear every conversation with their kids. I don’t hear every prayer they pray for their children.

As I moved from the US to England and am working in a church as a youth minister in a very post-christian culture, I’ve never been more aware that the youth minister at a church can not be the center (centre, since i’m in the UK) of every student’s discipleship process. In the States, youth ministers can sometimes convince themselves that to be at the center/centre is somehow still manageable and a feasible way of making disciples of Christ. There is an extensive infrastructure in place: churches have established systems, there are big summer camps everywhere, christian music and christian bookstores are major players in the market and always wanting to come to your church for a concert, there are endless conferences, if you need a tool to make the ‘youth minister at the center/centre’ job easier there is a tool to make it happen.

Not so in the UK or in Europe. And if there are fewer tools here to make that job easier, there are even fewer youth ministers working in churches and fewer churches who either have a vision for youth ministry or have the capacity to have a youth worker. In our diocese, there are 44 youth workers in over 370 Anglican churches. Just 11% of churches have a youth worker.

I must be a Church B youth worker. We must involve as many people as possible in the process of discipling adolescents. Doing anything else smacks dangerously of a youth worker finally being the cool kid at the center of everything in a way that seems like some wierd high school social fantasy.

I’ve been re-reading a book I’ve had for awhile and always liked, ‘God At The Mall: Youth Ministry That Meets Kids Where They’re At’.  I always liked it because it was a lot smarter than the title makes it sound.  Too many youth ministry books are fairly shallow, mostly about methodology, too anecdotal, and not nearly theological enough.  Despite it’s title, this book was deep, provactive, and very theological.  Which is why the title always struck me as a little odd…too much like the cliche overly anecdotal youth ministry books I’ve come to expect.  Especially since it’s written by a Brit and the ‘mall’ is not core to English culture like it is in America.

Imagine my surprise, moving to England, and finding out that the book had a different title once upon a time.  It used to be titled ‘Youth Work and the Mission of God’.  Apparently, the publisher required a title change before publishing and distributing the book in America, because with that title they didn’t think it would sell!!!  So they came up with ‘God At The Mall’.  How sad that that is the title they thought would sell to North American youth pastor.  Are we really that cliche?  That predictable?  That simple?  I guess so.