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.

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 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.