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.