An Integrated Church – Truly Human

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Our starting point in this framework for an integrated church is that intergenerational ministry is first and foremost a human reality.

A Human Reality…

Children’s and youth ministry is a human reality, that is to say, it is a necessary consequence of our creatureliness. It’s not a result of the fall, as if kids’ craft and kids’ songs could’ve been avoided if only Adam and Eve didn’t eat the forbidden fruit. No, children’s and youth ministry is part of our humanness.

The divine command and blessing for humans to ‘be fruitful and increase in number’ in Genesis 1:28 was always going to involve having children and raising children to carry out God’s ordained purpose for humanity. In fact, Adam and Eve are the first youth and children’s ministers in the Bible and, according to the story, they had the abnormal experience of raising children without ever having been children themselves (think about that!). And yet, the Genesis story also records for us that they were not alone in the task. The long life spans recorded in the genealogies of Genesis are not to be unexpected, given that the Genesis story is one of beginnings, but the longevity of life also adds the benefit of having many generations of children, parents, grandparents, and grand children all living together at the same time.[1]

The human reality is, that as human beings, we are physical, local and transient beings. We are not static. Each of us can say that, to date, this is oldest I’ve ever been. There are some things about human beings that aren’t transient and don’t change, but what is always changing is your age.[2] A baby is only an infant for a matter of moments. A child is fast becoming a teenager. A teenager is fast becoming an adult and so on.

Therefore, in some ways it’s an odd thing to say that you ‘love children’ or ‘have a heart for young people’ or a passion for ‘young adults’ ministry’.

It’s a little bit like saying ‘I only love you for a little while’, ‘I only have a heart for you a little while’, ‘I only have a passion for you a little while’. ‘How old are you? You’re 13? Sorry I only love children, you’re too old, go see the youth minister’. ‘Sorry, what’s that? You’re 27? I only have a passion for ministering to young adults. You’re too old, go see the not-young-adult-anymore minister’.

Rather, it’s a human reality that people move through ages.

For this reason, it seems short sighted and slightly absurd to restrict ministry to a specifically defined age group. Any human community will need to think about integrating diverse generations because it is a reality of our humanness that we are different ages, and therefore, an intergenerational church is unavoidable.

All this is to say, that it’s worth thinking about how we can relate across the generations well and that integrating diverse generations in a community is not abnormal. It seems far more abnormal that we would try to draw up boundaries around certain age groups and isolate generations from each other. A short scan of the internet quickly reveals that there is an ever growing list of age categories and sub-categories that are segregating people in our societies. For example, a human being might find themselves grouped under the title of Antenatal, Newborn, Infant, Toddler, Walker, Preschooler, Primary age, Pre-Teen, Tween, Teen, Emerging Adult, Young Adult, Adult, Mature Adult, Senior, etc.[3]

Of course, it makes sense that we would do this for the simple and pragmatic reason that different age groups have different developmental needs. We don’t want to ignore the particularities that are faced at each stage of life. Specialising in a certain age group for schooling, sport, and age-care is good practice (we’ll get to this in part two). However, though specialising has its place, it becomes an issue when it also becomes isolating.

When a church congregation, for instance, ships off the children and young people to the their age specific programs as soon as the family arrives in the church carpark, specialising has become isolating. It is entirely conceivable that from ages 2 – 18 a young person might never get the opportunity to be in church (let alone serve) with their parents or with anyone in the generation below or above them.

Children and young people will then ‘…only experience church life with people precisely their own age. Adults will find no way to bless children, much less even see them. Young people will be cut off from the richness of almost all adult relationships. And, most importantly, they will not see members of their own families until it is time to meet at their cars and go home’.[4]

After eighteen years of implicitly saying to young people that ‘church is not for you unless it is customised to your age group’, is it any wonder that young people don’t want to join ‘Adult Church’ after they leave high school? In the Christian youth ministry world, this has been called ‘The programmatic, professionalized, age-segregated model’ of ministry.[5] This model of church and its effects on the faith development of young people and families has become the subject of much critique and reflection in recent years.[6]

However, the issue of isolating generations is not just a problem that has been identified in church models, but also a problem in our society. During the Winter of 2014, a range of billboards began to appear around Sydney, Australia, with the slogan ‘Let’s create a nation for all ages’. The billboards were advertising the website www.nationforallages.com.au as an initiative of National Seniors Australia.[7] It is clear throughout the website that this organisation perceives that ‘seniors’ is one specialised age group that is being isolated from wider society and is seeking to address the problem.

It is a human reality that multiple generations exist together in community, and our basic common unity is that we are people first before we are children, teens, seniors or whatever new age-based sub-category there is. This is a simple fact that was probably taken for granted before the word ‘teenager’ was coined in 1941, and has since became part of our social vocabulary  from the 1950’s onwards.[8]

People Are Persons…

This may sound like an obvious statement, but first and foremost young people are people, and people are persons. That is, we are personal relational beings.

For all our differences, what cannot be ignored is that young people share more in common as people than they have with being young.[9] In fact, our need for differentiation implies what is common between us because ‘differentiation always implies a unity of that which is differentiated’.[10] Sometimes we spend so much time talking about what is unique and different about children and young people that we neglect what it is we share in common – we are persons.

There’s a whole fascinating study in theological anthropology that we could pursue at this moment, but Psalm 8 gives us a good-enough summary for defining persons theologically. [Read Psalm 8 here]

The central question of Psalm 8 is in v.4. It’s an anthropological and theological question: ‘what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?’. Anthropological because it asks ‘What are people?’. Theological because it asks the question in relation to their creator God.

The answer in v.5 is: we are persons that are ‘made’. We are creatures and not beings that are independent of the God who created people. In fact, Psalm 8 posits the question and answer in such a way that we can only be understood properly in relation to him. The whole structure of the psalm itself revolves around the interrogative pronoun h`Dm Mah (What? How?) in verses 1, 4 & 9. The question that frames the whole psalm is the majesty of YHWH’s name, in essence, ‘what is the majesty of YHWH?’ (vv.1,9). In the centre of that question then comes, ‘what are people?’ (v.4) in comparison to his majesty.

The answer that might be expected in contrast to YHWH’s creative power and grandeur is that human beings are impotent and worthless, and yet, even though people are ‘made a little lower than the heavenly beings’ they are ‘crowned with glory and honour’. We are not the only beings God has created, nor even the highest, but we have been given the royal dignity of being ‘crowned with glory and honour’ from our maker.

Psalm 8 has often been observed as a reflection on Genesis 1:26-30 and as such, it assumes the creation account. It is therefore not a big leap to see that v.6 is an explication of the Genesis image-bearing motif, where human beings are God’s representatives who have been given the privilege of ruling ‘…over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground’ (Gen. 1:26), and even naming the other creatures that God has made (cf. Gen. 2:19).

As a good-enough summary for defining persons theologically, Psalm 8 places the question of human value squarely in relation to the God who created people and gives them dignity. Therefore, at the heart of our common unity is the basic declaration that all persons are made for relationship to the creator God. For this reason alone, all persons have value. (Further to this, we will see how Christ transforms and fulfils our humanness in part two).

Persons Have Value…

This introductory theological anthropology provides a stark contrast to being valued by what you do or by what you can contribute to society. By that measurement you might end up with the ethicist Peter Singer who has claimed that a healthy dog may have more right to life than an infant or a person with a disability.[11]

In contrast, Psalm 8:2 declares that God is pleased to see his strength proclaimed ‘from the mouths of infants and sucklings’. Just in case we might be tempted to think that only adults with power to rule and subdue are crowned with glory and honour, Psalm 8 deliberately singles out the smallest (lowest) of the human race.[12]

Persons have value because of ‘who they are’. They are made in God’s image – to be his representatives, ‘made a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned with glory and honour’. Even in the circumstance that one rejects their creator God and seeks autonomy from him, still ‘we cannot simply throw off our dignity. But the dignity of our destiny then becomes a judgment on our unworthy conduct’.[13] Here then, regardless of age and common to all persons is the need for right relationship with the creator God. All can be saved through the grace of God. All need to be challenged to stand firm against temptation and to persevere in following Christ. What is distinctive about young people is small compared with the similarities that they share with all people.

Pannenberg summarises it this way:

‘We are all persons in our necessary particularity as husbands and wives; fathers, mothers, and children; friends and foes; teachers and students; commanding and obeying; in work, renunciation, and pleasure. Yet personhood transcends all the singularities and changes of circumstances because it finally draws upon the relation to God as the source of its integrity.’[14]

Whatever we want say being made in the image of God means, it at least means that all people have a dignity and a glory and honour that transcends whatever their age or ability is.[15]

What are the implications?

The first implication of this is that we must take ministry to children and young people seriously. It is not a waste of effort or money to invest in resourcing and training people for ministry to children and young people. It means that ministry to children and young people deserves to be seriously thought through theologically and biblically. It means that it’s not satisfactory to just insert the youngest, most convenient, least trained but most enthusiastic person to lead it in the hope that they’ll be just cool enough to keep the young people in line.

However, on the flip side, we cannot glorify ministry to children and young people as if this is the most important form of ministry. Against our Western culture, we cannot make the mistake of idolising youth, ‘for youth and vigour are meaningless’ (Ecc. 11:10). Neither should youth be seen as the ‘future’ of either society or the church, for they are part of society and the church in the present.[16] Nor should the ‘rejuvenative power of youth’ mean that children and young people are nothing more than a convenient tool for implementing change.[17]

Although we might think it obvious to say that children and young people are persons with value, we don’t always treat them in practice with the dignity and value God has given them. A helpful paradigm for reflection on this issue is whether we treat children and young people as either problem, challenge or asset.

Option 1, treating young people as problem:

It’s no new revelation that, at times, adults find children and young people difficult. They often display simplistic or contradictory behaviour. They can be a distraction. They need things to be explained. They don’t always fully grasp the social conventions of what is expected and accepted behaviour.

Treating children and young people as problem is to relegate them to the ‘too hard basket’. To try and put them somewhere else until they aren’t a problem anymore and can contribute to church and society ‘properly’.

Children’s and youth ministry here looks more like ‘babysitting’. It’s managing the problem until they grow out of being a problem. This is a ‘children should be seen and not heard’ mentality.

Option 2, treating young people as challenge:

Again, children and young people can be difficult at times, but they show great potential if they can just be harnessed and utilised properly. In this way, they present a challenge to be overcome. ‘If we could just get them together and shape them into useful members of the community, if they could be more like adults then young people could be of great value’.

Children’s and youth ministry here looks more like instruction, discipline and schooling. It’s wrestling with the challenge in order to subdue and cultivate it into something else more manageable. This is a ‘children should be seen and not heard unless they sound like adults’ mentality.

Option 3, treating young people as asset:

Again, young people can have difficulties and challenges like all people, but they have a valuable contribution to the community in the stage of life that they’re currently at.

Children’s and youth ministry here looks more like ‘full participation’. It’s opening up space for children and young people to participate in the community as they are now and recognising that, as valuable human beings, they already bring something precious to the community with all their particularities.

There will still be problems that need to managed, challenges to overcome, instruction and discipline and schooling, but above all, a recognition that they can fully participate and bring a unique contribution that will add value to the community in the present. This is a ‘children should be seen and heard’ mentality.

Upon reflection, hopefully this three part series will help you to see children and young people as a fully participating asset in the church that provide unique opportunities for the church as a whole to worship and glorify Jesus.

Persons Are Particular…

In part two of this series we will explore the unity and diversity of the church and the particularities of children and young people as an asset that provides opportunities for the church. For now, use the discussion questions below for reflection.


Discussion Questions:

Reflect personally:

> Identify whether you treat children and young people as either Problem, Challenge or Asset.

Reflect with others:

> Identify where your church treats children and young people as either Problem, Challenge or Asset.
What can we do differently/better?

> What other groups of people do you possibly treat as either Problem, Challenge or Asset?
What can you do differently/better?

 ——————————————————————————————-

Footnotes:

[1] By the time Adam dies at 930 years of age, there are 8 generations living together with their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. It is not difficult to imagine that this was of great benefit for people who were working out how to raise children and exist in the world, who were able to pass on knowledge from generation to generation whilst they all lived together.

[2] Your sex (according to your chromosomes) will not change, your ethnicity will not change (though your nationality might), and your finger prints, etc.

[3] These specialised age groups are perhaps more the result of a consumer marketing culture which can create new age based markets as consumers continually transfers out of one sub-group into a new one. Cf. Martin Lindstrom, Brandwashed (Kindle ed.; Sydney: Random House Australia, 2011), Loc. 222.

[4] Timothy Paul Jones, ed., Perspectives on Family Ministry: Three Views (B&H Academic, 2009), 12.

[5] Jones, Perspectives on Family Ministry, 180.

[6] Cf. Mark DeVries, Family-Based Youth Ministry (Kindle, Revised and Expanded edition.; Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Books, 2010); Jones, Perspectives on Family Ministry; Timothy Paul Jones, Family Ministry Field Guide: How Your Church Can Equip Parents to Make Disciples (Kindle ed.; Indianapolis, Ind: Wesleyan Publishing House, 2011).

[7] In case you’re wondering, they consider over 50 as being ‘senior’.

[8] Jones, Perspectives on Family Ministry, 26.

[9] Phillip Jensen, ‘S.O.C.M Discussion Paper 10/87 ‘Youth Work’’, October 1987.

[10] Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic Theology (trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley; vol. 2, Kindle.; Grand Rapids, MI.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1994), loc. 2450.

[11] Peter Singer, ‘Sanctity of Life or Quality of Life?’, Pediatrics 72/1 (July 1, 1983): 128–129.

[12] Cf. Matthew 21:16, Jesus quotes Psalm 8:2 as the children recognise who he is.

[13] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, loc. 2245.

[14] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, loc. 2533.

[15] Cortez has great summary of the many and varied views concerning the imago dei. Marc Cortez, Theological Anthropology: A Guide for the Perplexed (Kindle ed.; New York ; London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2010), loc. 196.

[16] It is nothing more than a marketing strategy to capitalise on young people today because of their future potential. Cf. Lindstrom, Brandwashed, loc. 222ff.

[17] Cf. Erik H. Erikson, Identity: Youth and Crisis (W. W. Norton, 1968), 134; cited by Graham Stanton, ‘The Value of Adolescence’, Heads Up, Cited 26 Aug. 2014, Online: http://grahamstanton.wordpress.com/2014/07/18/the-value-of-adolescence/.

An Integrated Church – introduction

My senior minister and I haven’t ever sat down and designed a grand master plan for an integrated church with children’s and youth ministry, but what we have had is a continuing and developing conversation about how our church practice can integrate people across generations and, by extension, integrate the full diversity of people. This is what we mean by an integrated church: how our church practice can integrate people across generations.

It’s a conversation that was born out of studying youth ministry at Youthworks College and out of a wholehearted commitment to continually reflect upon the consistency between our theological principles and church practice.

Overtime, it has become apparent that there are three theological convictions that have particularly helped in reforming our church practice towards being an integrated church:

  1. People are Truly Human: All people are finite creatures and all have value as persons. (Theological anthropology)
  2. The church is Truly One and Many: God’s people have a real unity with each other in Christ and a real diversity of individual particularity. (A christological, pneumatological, soteriological, & eschatological ecclesiology)
  3. We are Truly Responsible for each other: The family of Christ truly belongs to each other and the immanent family as the locus of raising children and young people.

It’s been hard to apply what this will look like in our context at All Saints Petersham, but we’ve tried to be creative, to reflect and critique and make adjustments as we’ve gone along. For example, some concrete application of this conversation has been to:

  • Not have an alternative youth bible study during any of our church services.
  • Restructure the 10:00am service so that children get to stay in church and participate in singing, hearing the word read and taught, and to lead the church in prayer before they go off to a further age-appropriate bible teaching program.
  • Have “youth services” once a term where young people actively serve in things like Bible reading, prayers, music, welcoming and morning tea, so that adults and young people alike know church is a place for them to serve and not just observe.
  • Have kids’ services occasionally where the whole service is remodeled around the teaching of adults and children together.
  • Not restrict the new evening service to a young adult demographic.

All of these applications have their limitations and challenges and are part of the process of critique and adjustment.

This is actually a journey that the good people of All Saints Petersham have tacitly been on together in the last 10 years, and the experiment continues.

What is left for us to do is articulate the theological underpinnings for an integrated church, starting first with the issue of integrating people across generations and then extending and applying the theological framework beyond our generational diversity to include other human particularities (e.g. people affected by chronic disability, mental illness, addiction, poverty etc.)

The following three blog posts will follow the titles of the three theological convictions that have particularly helped in reforming our church practice towards being an integrated church:

  1. Truly Human
  2. Truly One and Many
  3. Truly Responsible

Hopefully these blog posts will also be informative for you as you work out and reflect upon your theological principles and church practice, not least that we might do youth and children’s ministry in a way that honours God, builds his kingdom and is biblically and theologically faithful.

There will be discussion questions at the end of each post for your own reflection or comment.

Mike.

YM thoughts

This horticultural analogy reminds me of church services which are based on a narrowly age defined Homogeneous Unit Principle… Let’s go for a youth ministry permaculture in our churches!!

“two aspects of permaculture. It opposes ‘monoculture’, where only one crop is grown in an area. Permaculturists know that monoculture temporarily increases yield. But it strips the soil of nutrients, and is a free kick to bugs that feed on the crop without competition or predation. Farmers must handle soil leaching and bug plagues with fertilizer and pesticides, which create other problems. By mixing a variety of crops, permaculturists seek to keep soil nutrients high and bug populations low. The practice reduces the yield, but people still eat and the whole system is more sustainable over time.”

Excerpt From: Andrew J.B. Cameron. “Joined-up Life.” Inter-Varsity Press, 2011-04-15. iBooks.

How to start a youth ministry from scratch! (Part 5)

If you chose the “Bible Focus” youth ministry model based on your theology, values and principles (part 1), and you’ve recruited the right leaders and have the systems in place to look after them (part 2), and have designed a program that looks after your families (part 3), and have structured your regular youth group gathering and how put it together (part 4a & part 4b), then step 5 is to start some regular mid week Bible study groups for your young people.

These groups form the back bone of  youth ministry and you should strongly encourage every teenager to attend a group for the year. It’s a great mix of bible study, social activity, accountability, and fun, but on a more personal level than the main youth group gathering. The groups are user friendly, and a great place to invite friends!

My experience has been that we get more young people attending weekly Bible study groups than we get at the main weekly youth group gathering. It’s also the place where our young people invite most of their non-Christian friends. That might seem a little counter intuitive given that it’s a small group of young people meeting together around the Bible, but I think that’s the appeal! It’s a smaller group of people and therefore somewhat less intimidating for a newcomer, it provides a more intimate and personal setting to ask questions and explore the Bible, and it’s not just for Bible study but also for sharing life together and building friendships.

You can organise a weekly Bible study group in any way you choose, but here’s a couple of tips:

  1. Arrange your Bible study group around 3 components: Social/sharing time, Bible study time, and prayer time. Use these 3 BS_pie_chartcomponents to arrange your Bible study group time  roughly into thirds, let’s say 30 minutes for each component with a total Bible study group time of 90 mins. 90 minutes is long enough to cover the essentials and shorter enough to not be a weekly burden on the family time of young people.
  2. Use your social/sharing time to run an activity that helps you get to know them and for them to know each other. An example of a simple activity is to throw/pass around an item (like a ball or a cushion) and the person who throws the item gets to ask a question of the person who catches it, simple and effective. It’s even better if you can use the social/sharing time to gain insight into their thoughts on the topic for the Bible study and a great lead in!
  3. If it’s possible, use your home to host the Bible study group you run. A home is a much more relational environment to run a Bible study and more conducive to sharing life together than a church hall or meeting room. If your home isn’t available (for space or whatever reason) than see if one of the young people in your Bible study group can host it at their house. This is an excellent option for involving parents and teaching hospitality. It’s particularly valuable for young people who don’t have Christian family or stable homes to be invited into the home of a peer and witness the love of their family. However, a church meeting room will do if that’s what you’ve got! Don’t let space prevent you from starting a weekly Bible study group, they’re way to valuable.
  4. Start with single gender groups for junior high age youth. As far as you are able, I think there is an advantage of starting with single gender groups for junior high (years 7-9/10 in high school) age youth and then moving the groups to mixed gender by the time their of senior high school age (years 10/11-12 in high school). I think this avoids much of the competitiveness and awkwardness between guys and girls in their junior high years and moves them towards a more mature relationship to the opposite sex in their senior high years.
    I like to put all the names of our young people into a table that divides the columns into gender and the rows into school year and then use this method to work out how many young people we have for each Bible study group. Because the spread of age and gender is never consistent, the organisation of weekly Bible study groups changes from year to year. Here’s an example of the table and the method.
  5. Just start with what you’ve got. It’d be great to have 6 groups start straight away with 5-12 people in each but the reality is you’re just starting out so don’t expect too much and don’t wait until you’ve got a minimum of 5 or 8 or 10, if you’ve only got 2 boys then start a bible study with them. It’s not ideal, but you need to start somewhere, so begin with just the 3 of you and grow it from there. Run the Bible study group at one of their homes with their parents around so that if only 1 boy turns up you can run the Bible study with the parents around – remember your safe ministry training: meet in an open visible place, and never alone.
  6. Resource your leaders. I think it almost goes without saying that your leaders need to be confident in running a Bible study group. They don’t have to be trained seminarians, they just need to be able to guide a group of people through a study, facilitate a safe place for relationships, and be open to dialogue about the Bible. There’s plenty of excellent Bible study resources for young people and leaders available out there (I’ve listed some below) so make the most of them, but most important however is that your Bible study leaders know the value of saying this one simple phrase “I don’t know”. Young people are in a an acute phase of  testing and questioning all their previous held beliefs (not necessarily rejecting them) and they need a safe place where they can ask questions, doubt and explore the Bible and life’s mysteries without fear of being judged or rejected. A Bible study leader can do lots of good by openly saying “I don’t know” in response to difficult probing questions, and a lot of harm in trying to answer questions they’ve not thought through. So give your leaders permission to not be the source of all Christian knowledge and either take the time explore the issue properly or defer to someone who can answer the issue with consideration.

Here’s some great resources for weekly Bible study groups:

  • For training your leaders to lead a Bible study group well (Highly Recommended!!):

9781875861354“Leading Better Bible Studies” by Rod and Karen Morris

  • For material to use in youth Bible study groups:

0000297_studies_2_go_300 “Studies 2 Go” by Julie Moser and 0000321_more_studies_2_go_300 “More Studies 2 Go” by Julie Moser

How to start a youth ministry from scratch! (Part 4b)

If you chose the “Bible Focus” youth ministry model based on your theology, values and principles (part 1), you’ve recruited the right leaders and have the systems in place to look after them (part 2), and you’ve designed a program that looks after your families (part 3), then as a continuation of structuring your regular youth group gathering (part 4a), this step 4(b) focusses in on The how of youth group gathering and activities.

It can be quite an exhausting task coming up with a new youth group program for each school term of the year and trying to be creative with how you do your youth group gathering so it remains fresh and yet faithful to your theology, values and principles at the same time. So here’s a few tools I use to make the process a little more simple, less exhausting and more sustainable.

We use this table (below) as the framework for each of our term programs. All the rows down the left represent the weeks and dates of the school term to be programmed. All the columns across the top represent the segments that make the weekly youth group gathering. The essentials are Bible Teaching and Prayer (see the previous post on this: structuring your regular youth group gathering), but we have also added: Bible Game/MixerSharing TimeMemory Verse, and Supper. We also have a youth group band and do singing at our youth group but they have a separate roster that complements the term program. The other columns, as you can see, are for things like teaching theme, special notes, and who’s doing what.

term_program_example

These regular segments at our regular youth group gathering mean there is an element of comfortable predictability for our young people as they come to youth group week after week, and yet because the segments are done with different activities each week and are arranged in a different order most weeks, there’s an exciting element of unpredictability that keeps it fresh. The advantage of this predictable structure is that young people know what they’re inviting their friends and gain confidence in the youth group gathering and what they can expect to happen when their friends are there.

The term program really starts at the beginning of the year when I put together the year’s teaching program (2005-2012 examples here) and then at the start of each school term I put the term program together by slotting in that term’s teaching program and then fill out the rest if the table by inserting the various activities which are found on this website (download the complete segment activities document here). In the Game/Mixer column I try to have a mix of Bible games and mixer games throughout the term so we’re doing activities that help us learn about God and each other throughout the whole term – these are 2 main aims of Games/Mixers in our regular youth group gathering and they provide another layering of Bible teaching that is creative and enjoyable. Ultimately I try to pick activities for all the segments that will dovetail well with the teaching or create a good spread of variety over the term.

Once the term program is complete, it is then up to the MC (one of the youth group leaders) to put together a running sheet of how those segments will be arranged for the gathering and to nominate/ask other leaders to run those activities. ALl the leaders know what is expected of them at any given youth ministry gathering because of the Leader Expectation Leader Roles” documents here.

Below is an example of a running sheet for week 1 using the above example term program (you can download the running sheet template as a Word document on the Download page). You can see how the various segments have been arranged and delegated to different leaders. Each segment has the description of how it’s run cut from the segments.doc (here) and pasted into the right hand column of the running sheet so that everyone knows what they’re doing and when.

sunday_night_running_sheet_example

You’ll notice that there are other elements in my example term program and running sheet which I haven’t described. We’ll get to these later when we talk about how to include young people in serving at your youth ministry (that’s what the Salt VII is about) and how to partner with parents and families as they raise their children in the Christian faith.

You’ll also notice that there are activities included in the program and running sheet which aren’t listed on this website or in the segments.doc, and that’s because these are things which have to do with our youth ministry context and history and aren’t universally applicable. You get the general gist though right?

These tools are not meant to be rigid expressions of what a regular youth group must be like but a helpful tool in getting yourself started off in a good direction.

The next post is “How to start a youth ministry from scratch! (Part 5): Organising weekly youth Bible study groups

How to start a youth ministry from scratch! (Part 4a)

If you chose the “Bible Focus” youth ministry model based on your theology, values and principles (part 1), and you’ve recruited the right leaders and have the systems in place to look after them (part 2), and have designed a program that looks after your families (part 3), then step 4(a) is to structure your regular youth group gathering.

The first image that usually pops into someone’s head when the term “youth group” or “youth ministry” is mentioned is that often chaotic gathering of overly energetic, socially awkward, and sexually frustrated teenagers on any given Friday night of school term… It seems inevitable that any gathering of young people will have to contain a mix of chaotic games (often messy) and activities that are thinly veiled attempts to make teenagers flirt with each other for the entertainment of the onlookers (E.g., “Honey if you love me give me a smile“, “Straws and Rubber bands“, etc). But the good news is it doesn’t have to be that way!

Because young people are people first, and they need what all people need – the transforming power of God’s Word in his son Jesus by the Spirit -then the regular youth group gathering should be centred around God’s Word. This is why the aims of a “Bible Focus” type of youth ministry are:

  • To teach & study the Bible
  • Be a Christian community
  • Live out the values of Jesus
  • Engage real life with real Jesus
  • Be a counter cultural experience (a glimpse of heaven even!)

This is really about your theology of church, what you believe Christian gathering is all about, what Christians do when they’re gathered together, and why they meet in the first place. If you don’t know what your theology of church is, here is a really helpful place to start: www.bettergatherings.com.au (and you can have a crack at this article if you want to be pushed a little further: “knoxrobinson-for-today“)

While you work out what your theology of Christian gathering is, I think a good biblical and simple working definition is “God’s people gathered around His Word“. This means that your Sunday church meetings, your Bible study groups, your kid’s club, and your youth group all count as type of Christian gathering if their primary purpose is to meet around God’s Word, that is, to know him in the way he reveals himself by his Word and ultimately in the “Word made flesh” – Jesus. A Christian gathering is a representation of the heavenly church and should contain the things that Christians do when they gather:

  • Teaching from God’s Word
  • The public reading of God’s Word
  • Singing to God and to each other about God
  • Prayer for each other and the world
  • Opportunities to share the Christian life together, to know each other better and encourage one another
  • Fellowship around food, eg. supper, morning tea, dinner, etc.

A Christian gathering doesn’t have to look like a typical Sunday church service, and given that young people are open to experimental learning, you should take the opportunity to be creative with how the Bible is taught and how you create the opportunities to share the Christian life together, to know each other better and encourage one another. This website is an attempt to share some of the creative ways that you can do these various components of Christian gathering: Resources Link.

The Christian gathering isn’t limited to these components/segments of Bible Teaching, Singing, Prayer, Sharing Life, and Fellowship over Food. Apart from Bible Teaching and Prayer, it’s not necessary to either have all of them or be limited by just these, having a regular memory verse time is quite a good addition for example.

Of course, there’s now a big question pushing it’s way into your mind isn’t there…?

If the main youth group gathering is ordered around Christian gathering then what about non-Christian young people?

Excellent question! Here you need to go back to your foundational theological principles. You chose the  Bible Focus” type of youth ministry because you want kids to know and trust Jesus & adopt his values. Because you believe this can only happen by God’s Word. And because you want kids to “do life” with Jesus and see what this looks like in practice. These are not merely discipleship reasons but missional ones too! The wise Jodie McNeill calls this “Dual Action“. What he means by this is that you can disciple people and mature them in the Christian faith while evangelising and gospelling non-Christians at the same time, it doesn’t have to be either one or the other.

The Christian church has actually been operating this way for millennia. (you can skip this next little indented bit if you don’t care for the Biblical references)

The Bible paints a picture of God’s people as a diverse community of believers (Rev. 7:9-12) united in the cross (Gal. 3:26-29; Col. 3:11; 1 Cor. 12:12-13) with each member of the body of Christ gifted to build each other up into the whole measure of the fullness of Christ (cf. Rom. 12:4-8; 1 Cor. 12:12-27). Therefore, the first priority of the church is to maintain the fellowship (Eph. 4:1-6), and edify the community of believers (1 Cor. 14:4-5, 12, 17, 26), as Jew and Gentile, Slave and Free, and Young and Old relate to each other by their common unity found in Jesus.

The function of the community of believers is to be both passive and active in evangelism. Passively, the church is a light to the world (Matt. 5:14-16), a witness to the world and heavenly principalities through their unity and gathering in Christ (John 17:20-2; 1 Cor. 14:23-25; Eph. 3:8-10). Actively, the church is to continue the apostles commission in bringing the good news of Jesus to “all nations” (Matt. 28:18-20; Luke 24;47; Acts 1:8). It is in this way that the church exercises the ministry of God’s Word to it’s members and the world.

The main youth group gathering can do the same.

Of course, the criticism is that young people won’t come along to youth group that is all about God, Jesus and the Bible.

Perhaps that’s true enough. The world is, not surprisingly, quite resistant to the message of the gospel, and as much as people like the idea of Jesus (like Ghandi) they don’t like him to tell them what to do. But the answer is not to then try and coax in non-Christians with worldly bait so you can then gently introduce a very other-worldly way of life (this is often the trick of the salesman “free hotdog and drink if you come to our store on Saturday”). The world doesn’t need the church to mimic the worldly ideas of what a fulfilling life is (but with a much poorer budget and minus the sex and alcohol).

No, the answer is to hold out a way of life that the world will not and indeed cannot offer. The world needs the church to be the church, the bride of Christ, the members of his body. The world needs the church to proclaim the gospel and teach the Word of God in all it’s fullness. The world needs to see Christians gathering together because of their common unity in Jesus and not because of their common age or race or gender.

It’s for this reason that I believe it’s important that the main youth group gathering include both junior and senior high age young people and both genders because young people, like all people, need to learn the value of loving and relating to those different to them in age, sex, taste etc., and junior high age young people need to have senior high age young people to look up to. My aim is to never split them no matter how much we grow in number and especially no matter how much the senior high might complain about the immature juniors or the juniors complain about the boring seniors, if anything that’s the perfect reason to keep them together!

Surely when a non-Christian young person (or any person) walks into this type of Christian gathering they will be like the unbeliever in Corinth who sees God at work in His people gathered around His Word and exclaims “God is really among you!” (1 Cor 14:24-25).

This post is continued in How to start a youth ministry from scratch! (Part 4b): The how of youth group gathering and activities

YM Reflection 2012

reflectionI’ve decided I should do an, at least once a year, reflection on youth ministry for the year. I’m actually in the habit of reflecting on the year’s youth ministry anyway but perhaps publishing it online will be helpful for others and a good archive of my thoughts that I can look on in years to come.

So… 2012!

Well I’d be lying if I said this year wasn’t a difficult year. Not unsurprisingly so, but difficult nonetheless. This year I returned to full-time study completing the B.Th. at Moore College whilst still working at All Saints Petersham and running the youth ministry there, which has been a delight and a joy! This year marks 8 years for me at All Saints and 9 years for Salt Youth Group, what an honour. Certainly it shown that even the most average youth minister can do extraordinary things given enough time 🙂

So it has been a good year, and the difficulty has been in my divided time between my commitment to study (which All Saints has generously released me and enabled me to do) and my commitment to nurturing the youth ministry at All Saints. I know there have been opportunities to care, train, follow-up, and start fresh initiatives that have gone wanting… Noticeably, this year our youth leadership team has not had the closeness of fellowship and bond of friendship that we have managed to cultivate effortlessly in the past years. This is partly due to a change in family circumstances for myself (our 3rd child was recently born) and some of the other leaders, and partly due to the turnover of leaders we’ve had in the last 18 months. I think I have found that the hardest of all.

God has been gracious in providing kingdom hearted and gifted leaders for our youth ministry, and I am truly thankful, but it is nevertheless a massive blow to have such longstanding well-matured youth leaders move on to new places. None of the leaders have left on bad terms, and all have left for geographical reasons (Melbourne, Bathurst, Ashfield, St. Ives, Dubbo). I have prayed and anticipated for a long time that God might take the youth leaders that we have trained up at All Saints and make them a blessing to new places, I guess I always figured that would be when I was ready to release them 🙂

In 2012 we have had a fairly young and less experienced youth leadership team than we have had in the past and with my adjustment of priorities leaning toward study I think I have let the philosophy and foundations of our youth ministry slip into the background somewhat. This combined with less team bonding I think has had the knock-on effect that or youth meetings this year have lost some of their vitality and purpose… Leader’s retreat, meals, social time together and foundations for youth ministry are firmly back on the top of the agenda for 2013. I always knew these things were vital for the health of a youth ministry (It’s step 2 of how to start a youth ministry!) but I think I took for granted the natural and effortless way these things happened for us in the past.

I know what was lacking this year and needs to be done in 2013 but I’m also conscious of the fact that 2013 might very well turn out as this year has done… I’m praying for even more of God’s grace and mercy that he will not just hold us over the next 12 months but that he will see fit to grow us in our weakness.

I feel a great excitement and burden for youth ministry in Sydney. I particularly feel excitement for the revival and growing opportunities for youth ministry in the city/Inner West area of Sydney where churches that have laid dormant for nigh on 50 years are slowing growing, waking like sleeping giants, and where the seeds of youth ministry are just beginning to sprout. These are exciting times! The hard work and cultivation of Youthworks College is showing it’s fruit in our city and I praise God for it! And in tough financial times I’m pleading the Lord to keep the college open and thriving for the sake of the gospel through well founded, biblically and theologically thought through youth ministry. Lord, there is so much to do.

In defence of the Memory Verse…

This is not so much a defence of the Memory Verse because it’s particularly under attack by people who want to be rid of it, but rather a defence for my own peace of mind as I flip-flop between thinking MVs are the best thing since sliced bread and on the other hand loathing the very archaic and patronising notion of rote learning verses of the Bible…

This really is a reflection that was prompted by the excellent papers by Michael Jensen and Graham Stanton at the 2012 Youthworks Youth Ministry conference (Thetacon) which delved into the subject of the incarnation and how the humanity of Jesus connects with our trials and temptations.

One of the points that came through strongly in both papers and really grabbed my attention is that in the face of temptation and trials, Jesus used only the same resources for faithfulness that I too have access to. This startled me because I think I’m often inclined to believe that Jesus could only resist temptation because of the divinity that he has and that I don’t… I think I’m inclined to emphasise his divinity at the sake of diminishing his humanity, and in doing so I lose the impact of realising that Jesus was made in every way like me and was tempted in every way I am and yet in his humanity did not sin (cf. Hebrews 2:10-11; 4:15). Jesus overcomes not by being superhuman, but by being truly human.

So what resources does Jesus use to resist temptation and persevere through trial? He has the resources of godly friends, Scripture, prayer, the indwelling of the Spirit, the momentum of maturing character and the visible divine help of angels. Chiefly of these though is the way Jesus relies heavily on his knowledge of God’s Word.

When Satan tempts and tests Jesus in the desert, inviting doubt and misquoting God’s Word, Jesus does not overcome Satan and bind him by means of his strength or power or his heroism or his unbowed moral courage. He defeats him by clinging to the Word of God – to the command and covenant, the precept and promise.

This is why I’m challenged to defend the Memory Verse. Memorising and recalling God’s Word accurately in our time of temptation and trial is the chief means by which we resist and persevere. At the youth ministry I’m involved with we do use the Memory Verse activities on this site, but two of them in particular we use regularly each term (‘Application Pictures‘ and ‘Memory Verse Skits‘) because we want to remind ourselves that we are not remembering God’s Word as an end in itself but in order to recall it in our time of need. We want to think ahead to the situations that we will find it useful to remember these verses and so cling to God and his faithful character.

I’m renewing my commitment to the Memory Verse times we use at our youth ministry as the chief way of equipping our young people to resist and persevere through temptations and trials as the Lord Jesus did.

How to Measure Ministry Growth

I love it when people ask me how our youth ministry is going, and although I usually give them some numbers to demonstrate that we’re growing numerically, it just doesn’t seem to capture what we’re really most concerned about. I don’t what to get caught in the numbers game (and the bragging!), I want to be able to say that there is significant spiritual growth in our ministry, that people are trusting the Lord Jesus more and more, but how do you measure spiritual growth? Or perhaps measure is not the right word (that sounds little scientific and mathematical) perhaps the question is better phrased: how do you get an indication of spiritual growth?

Well, we used this survey (below) at our youth ministry recently and the results were revealing! I almost can’t believe that it has taken me this long to ask this question, and it was so successful in revealing the spiritual state of the young people in our ministry that this survey is going to be a biannual feature from now on.

It’s a simple survey with only 2 sections (and really only 2 questions).

The first and primary question is “Why are you a Christian?” (or not a Christian as the case may be for some). Please note that is it’s NOT “How did you become…” or “What do you believe…” as fascinating as those questions are, I want to know why you are following Christ today (or not).

The second question is about Bible reading. The logic is that to grow in relationship with God (grow spiritually) then you need to be spending time in His Word, hearing Him, knowing His character and values etc. In the attached survey that we used I was also trying to gather some extra specific data on their preference for reading the Bible alone or with others, but  you may still find the info relevant and helpful for measuring the spiritual growth in your young people.

I knocked up this survey using Apple Mac Pages program (which I can send you if you like) but would only take you a minute to do it in Word and tailor it for your specific context (you’ll notice it’s not fancy!).

Salt youth survey

How to start a youth ministry from scratch! (Part 3)

If you chose the “Bible Focus” youth ministry model based on your theology, values and principles (part 1), and you’ve recruited the right leaders and have the systems in place to look after them (part 2), then here is step 3: look after your families!

If you’re wondering why this is the next step, it’s because this type of ministry (in fact all youth ministry) is based on these 3 foundations:

Firstly, young people are people. You don’t do youth ministry because you have a passion (“a heart for”) young people but because you have a passion for people. Youth is a temporary phase of life, and we must love people regardless of age, as children, adolescents, and adults. Youth ministry begins much earlier than adolescence and endures far beyond the teenage years.

Secondly, young people come attached with families. To think that youth ministry is just about teaching and engaging with young people is a focus too narrow. Ministry to young people must include ministry to their parents and the family unit as a whole in whatever form it comes (eg. As a single parent family, foster family, adopted family etc).

Thirdly, the youth minister/leader does not replace the role of the parents in raising their children in the Christian faith, as if the teaching and instruction of children is sub-contracted to the youth minister/leader. The role of the youth minister/leader is to partner with parents and aid them in their responsibility by modelling godly living, teaching the Bible, and training young people to act rightly. This even applies to young people with non-christian parents, who even though they’re obviously not raising their children in the Christian faith are still responsible for it, something that by the grace of God they will come to understand as they hear the gospel (ironically, probably through their children).

This is why looking after the families of your young people is the next step before anything else.
(for a well argued view of families and youth ministry read “Perspectives on Family Ministry” by Timothy Paul Jones)

So how do you care for the families of your young people?

  • Each term, give the parents a version of your term program that outlines the basics: what you’re teaching, what you’re doing, where you’re doing it and when. They should know what they’re sending their kids to.
    • If the group is small enough and you’ve got the time, hand deliver the programs each term and visit the parents for a chat.
    • Communication with parents is paramount!
    • A tip I learnt early on is to address anything sent by mail to the parents and not the young person. Young people sometimes forget to pass on things to their parents (ever seen  teenager leave a note from school in their bag? Ah ha). Send it to the parents and they can pass on the info to the kids.
    • If you’re doing a Facebook group for your youth ministry then add the parents into that group as well.
  • Don’t over-program events. 2 extra social activities a term is plenty on top of your regular main youth group gathering each week of term.
  • Work out a system to keep track of your young people. Make a database and implement a system like ‘If they miss 2 weeks send them a “we missed you” postcard’ etc…

Stay tuned for “How to start a youth ministry from scratch! (Part 4a): Structuring the regular Youth Group Gathering

How to start a youth ministry from scratch! (Part 2)

OK, given that this website is all about resourcing a “Bible Focus” type of youth ministry (from these 3 choices), we’re going to follow the process for starting up a model for this type of youth ministry from scratch. (Haven’t yet thought about what type of youth ministry you want to start? click here)

The aims of a “Bible Focus” type of youth ministry are:

  • To teach & study the Bible
  • Be a Christian community
  • Live out the values of Jesus
  • Engage real life with real Jesus
  • Be a counter cultural experience (a glimpse of heaven even!)

You do this type of youth ministry because you want kids to know and trust Jesus & adopt his values; you believe this can only happen by God’s Word; because you want kids to “do life” with Jesus.

Your first step then is to recruit some leaders who can commit to sharing the Bible with passion and creativity and who are not skeptical that the word of God is powerful to change lives. You really need to start with a good group of commited leaders – this is crucial! When choosing leaders remember that “Youth leader” does NOT mean “Young Leader”. In fact, the Christian people in your church who are post-kids (probably in their 40’s + ) are possibly your best leaders. They don’t need to be “young and hip” (their out-of-touch character probably makes them cooler). Your older leaders will provide stability, experience, Christian maturity and a wealth of perspective on young people – especially if they’ve already raised their own!

Make sure you give your prospective leaders clear expectations of what being a youth leader involves. Here is an example.

Priority #1: Once you have recruited your leaders and got together a team, your first priority is to make sure you look after them.

Youth leaders are the engine room of any youth ministry large or small, be it of 6 young people or 600. The value of unity and sustainability in your youth leadership team cannot be underestimated. You want a team of leaders that works together, loves each other, is committed to each other, and can sustain an enjoyment of youth ministry that will last the next 20 years. The average turnover for a youth minister or leader is something like 2 years (someone have the exact stats?) and you wonder at the damage inconsistency like that causes… A lesson worth knowing is that even the most average youth minister/leader can do extraordinary things over enough time (or extraordinary damage with the wrong foundations!), so choose the right leaders and hang on to them for the long haul. A stint of 6 years, seeing a group of new high schoolers (year 7) through to the end (year 12), should be the bare minimum.

How do you look after your youth leaders?

  • Design a “good enough” year program so your leaders know what’s happening and when. (Year program is not just about what’s on & when, but more about planning what you’ll be teaching throughout the year. Think strategically about your teaching series for the year. Here are some ones I’ve used.
  • Keep their role clear (ie. keep to the “leaders expectations” document).
  • Each term, give them a current term program that is more specific than the year program. Here are some examples. If you use the resources on this site, then putting together the term program doesn’t have to be a committee process (tedious!), because each week you do at least the same 5 things: (More on this in Part 4: Structuring the main Youth Group Gathering)
    1. Interactive Bible teaching
    2. Prayer time
    3. Sharing time
    4. An activity that helps them know God or their peers better (or both!)
    5. And Supper
      You just do these same things in different ways each week. In that way the program has the safety of familiarity and the excitement of the unknown by being predictably unpredictable for your young people. So just do the term program yourself or nominate 1 person on your team to do the term program for everyone.
  • Schedule leader’s meetings often enough that you are able to keep good communication, but not so often they become meaningless and burdensome.
  • Plan the agenda of your meetings so they don’t go overtime and they stay on track.
  • Train them and/or be trained together.
  • As far as you are able, don’t schedule things in holidays. Give your leaders 2 weeks rest each term.
  • Do some social things together. Have dinner, watch a movie, a live-in for a week (!), a retreat, whatever…

Next step: “How to start a youth ministry from scratch! (Part 3): looking after your families

How to start a youth ministry from scratch! (Part 1)

You want to start a youth ministry at your church (or perhaps you’ve been kindly asked by your minister)? That’s great! Youth ministry is an important ministry but where do you start?

There are probably a thousand different starting points for a youth ministry, many of which probably generate out of circumstance and a pressing need or demand (“ahh! what do we do with our young people?”). I don’t propose to have all the answers for your situation but I do intend to equip you with some essential questions to help you get off on the right foot.

The first thing you need to do is work out what type of youth ministry you want to run based on your theological principles. This is where so many youth ministries come unstuck. There can often be such immediate pressure to get something up and running that your youth ministry is formed mostly around practical issues rather than thinking how your model of youth ministry might cultivate and grow young people into being more like Jesus.

Below is a table of 3 common types of youth ministry, the first 2 types are not exclusive to Christian youth ministry and can be found in secular youth work organisations as well (like the Police & Community Youth Clubs etc). The last column shows a type of youth ministry that is exclusive to Christian organisations (typically the church) and the model of youth ministry that you find resourced on this site fits into the “Bible Focus” type of youth ministry in this column. I’ve formed a model of youth ministry shaped on this third column and have been using it since 2005 starting with a new youth group of 6 young people and up to (currently) 40. That’s not to say that it’s the best or only faithful model of a “Bible Focus” youth ministry, but I’m satisfied that it faithfully puts our theological principles into practice and is a consistent outworking of biblical values and evangelical beliefs.

As a side note: To be fair, there are many people who run the “let me entertain you” type youth ministry as a culturally comfortable way-in for non-Christian young people to hear the gospel. This type of youth ministry often looks like the way it’s described in column 2 but with the introduction of a short gospel talk/explanation as part of the youth gathering and the further aim of moving young people on to a more Bible focussed youth group or Bible study group after they’ve heard the gospel. For a full assessment of this type of youth ministry strategy read “Changing the World Through Effective Youth Ministry” By Ken Moser.

Suffice it to say, the real draw backs of having this youth ministry strategy is that (1) it’s incredibly resource heavy, taxing on both financial and human resources; (2) you often lose people with every transition; (3) people rarely “graduate” or “move on” from the  “let me entertain you” type youth ministry into the Bible focussed youth group/small groups; (4) the maturing of faith in your Christian young people is often stunted. It’s a model of ministry akin to that championed by Willow Creek, which after 3 decades, has now abandoned as “a mistake” (read about it here).

Have you worked out which model you want to run?

Ask: Why do I want to start a youth ministry? What’s the aim?

Just to give you an idea of how your choice of youth ministry type affects your next step, if you chose:

  1. “the drop in centre” type of YM, then your first step will be to secure a large space (eg. a hall), some community funding for equipment (eg. gym/sports equipment, pool tables etc), and link in with your local social services. Once that is set up, recruiting and training volunteers is next.
  2. “let me entertain you” type of YM, then your first step is to secure an adequate budget (from your church or elsewhere) that will support the financial burden of creating and running new and exciting activities on a weekly basis. This model of youth ministry is quite resource heavy on youth leaders and so you will need to recruit quite a few very energetic and creative leaders to spread the load and keep things fresh.
  3. “Bible Focus” type of YM, then your first step is to recruit some leaders who can commit to sharing the Bible with passion and creativity and who are not skeptical that the word of God is powerful to change lives.

This is just a taste of how the foundation of your type of youth ministry will affect the process in starting a youth ministry from scratch. Check out “How to start a youth ministry from scratch! (Part 2)” for more detail on beginning a Bible Focus youth ministry.

How to break-up well

My particular stance on teenagers and dating is that they shouldn’t until they at least finish high school (You can read more here if you want to know why exactly). This is really a matter of wisdom and prudence rather than a law, and therefore if the teens I minister to want to date in high school they are free to do so, but what I have realised is that pretty much ever significant pastoral issue that I’ve had to deal with in youth group is related to dating relationships that have formed between teens while they’re in high school, or more specifically, dating relationships that have formed and broken up…

So, seeing as I’m not going to enforce ‘no dating in high school‘ as a rule (because it’s not), and because I want to look after my young people and preserve our group unity, my plan is to sit down with any of my teens that are dating and make sure they know how to break-up well. Certainly I hope they won’t have to break up and experience that, but in the event that they do, I want them to know how to handle themselves in a godly way.

So far I have a couple of things I want to say, but what I’d really love to do is pool the experience and wisdom from other youth ministers or people who have received good advice about how to break-up well. Please note: this is not advice about how to date well but how to break-up well, though I recognise how a couple dates will affect how a couple breaks-up so there will be some cross over…

Here’s what I have so far:

  1. When you break up, do it in person. Not by text, not by Facebook, not by email, not over the phone, in PERSON.
  2. Make sure you are honest about why you are breaking up. Avoid accusations.
  3. Make sure both parties are aware that you have broken up.
  4. While you’re going out, don’t do anything that will inhibit a continuing friendship after your break up.
  5. In fact, while you’re going out, don’t do anything that will inhibit the community of friendships you have after your break up.

This is all I have so far and it needs to be fleshed out.

I would love it if you would leave your feedback and suggestions as a comment below. Their maybe helpful ideas to add or unhelpful ones above to remove.

Eventually I’ll repost all the collective wisdom as a resource article.

Thanks!

A Christian Response to Tragedy

This life is full of tragedy. In fact if Genesis 3 tells us anything, it tells us that we can expect our world to be full of tragedy and suffering because this world is not as it should be… this is a broken world and tragedy is part of life.

But what is a Christian response to tragedy and suffering?

Currently we are surrounded by stories of personal loss and suffering caused by the earthquake in Haiti. Last year it was the tragedy of bush-fire in Victoria, before that it was the Indian Ocean Tsunami… There are countless tragedies caused by cyclones, or drought, or flooding, or disease… So what does the Bible have to say on suffering?

Well the Bible has a lot to say to us in the midst of our suffering, more than we can cover here. So I just want to point out  4 key responses to personal suffering that the Bible offers. These 4 responses come from the examples of Job (pronounced “Jobe“), the psalm writers, and Jesus himself.

TRUST:

Firstly, Job’s response to suffering teaches us to respond with trust.

More specifically, our response is to trust that God knows more about our suffering than we do. After Job is hit with tragedy after tragedy within the first 2 chapters of the book, the next 36 chapters are spent trying to work out Why Job is suffering… but Job never finds out Why… Instead God speaks from a whirlwind and delivers a powerful speech that leaves Job (and us) awestruck. God’s great speech from chapters 38-41 is there to remind us that God knows more about what’s going on than we do. God can see the bigger picture that we can’t see. And in the middle of our suffering we need to trust that God is taking care of us even though we can’t see everything that’s going on or even Why we’re suffering. It’s a hard lesson. But even though Job never finds out the cause of his suffering (Satan was testing him), throughout the ordeal God was looking after Job.

BE HONEST WITH GOD:

Secondly, the psalm writers’ response to suffering teaches us to share all our troubles with God himself.

There are many different types of psalms, but it’s fair to say that most of them are psalms of lament (that means “complaint“). So often the psalm writers bring their personal anguish, and hurt, and suffering before God because this is the wonderful privilege that God gives to his creation. In fact, God invites us to come before him with our troubles and our despair. Psalm 88 and 22 are classic examples. The invitation is for us to be like the psalm writers. To share all the raw personal anguish and suffering with the God who cares and is mighty to save.

GOD FULLY IDENTIFIES WITH OUR SUFFERING:

Thirdly, Jesus’ response to suffering teaches us that God knows our suffering first-hand.

This is the most astounding thing about the incarnation: that God takes on our flesh in Jesus to totally and completely identify with our suffering. And just as the earthquake  victims have lost everything in the devastation (friends, homes, family), and the flood victims have been left stranded and alone feeling abandoned by God… Jesus too lost everything on the cross, deserted by his friends, without home, or possessions, and utterly abandoned by God he suffers alone on the cross. It’s no coincidence that Jesus quotes Psalm 22:1 “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (compare Mark 15:34). In Jesus, God can FULLY identify with our suffering because he himself suffered.

SUFFERING WILL BE BROUGHT TO AN END:

Lastly, God has dealt with suffering once and for all through Jesus.

In his suffering Jesus also has dealt with our pain because on that cross he defeated death. He really did suffer and die, but 3 days later was raised to new life never to die or suffer again.
And this is the promise that comes all who trust in him: In Jesus there is new life without suffering. You may be suffering now, but Jesus has prepared a place for you where you will never suffer again, a place where “We will be his people, and God himself will be with us and be our God. ‘He will wipe every tear from our eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4). God has dealt with suffering once and for all.

  • Are you suffering?

Trust that God can see a bigger picture than what you can. He knows the things we don’t and he has everything under control. Hold firmly to your trust in him and be faithful.

  • Are you suffering?

Bring all your feelings of anguish, and your troubles, and your sadness, and your pain before the God who cares and is mighty to save.

  • Are you suffering?

Look to Jesus. Jesus knows your suffering intimately and he has done something about it… he gives you new life with him and has prepared a place for you where suffering is a thing of the past.

The Swedish Method…

I have no idea why it’s called the Swedish Method… but this is a really simple and helpful tool for reading the bible with others (or by yourself).

There’s not much to it really.

  1. You pick a bible passage (preferably about 10 verses or so…)
  2. You draw 3 icons on a piece of paper (or download a pre-made sheet here): A light bulb, a question mark, and an arrow.
  3. You read the bible passage (out loud if you’re in a group)
  4. Spend 10 minutes reading the passage again by yourself in silence, and this time taking the time to write things next to your icons.
  • The light bulb: Write down something from the passage that stands out to you. This could be recurring words, ideas, or whatever! There can be no wrong answer here.
  • The question mark: Write down any questions you have about the passage (like what does this word mean? Who is this person? etc). Or write down a question you’d like to ask the original author.
  • The arrow: Write down a personal application of the passage, ie. what are you going to do or change now you have read this passage?

5. Lastly, go around the group and share what you’ve written next to your icons.

The genius of this method is that it’s simple. It’s easy to do with someone who has never read the bible before, and valuable enough to help even the most seasoned Christian look at the bible with fresh eyes. I’m finding it a great resource for doing my quiet times!

You can download a more full explanation of the Swedish Method bible study here. Or go to the Matthias Media website for more info.