Monday, April 30, 2012

Guiding Principles for Next Gen Ministry

This morning all our next generations staff is pulling together.  This would include all children's ministry staff, student ministry staff, young adult staff and our single parent coordinator.

A far as I an tell this will be the first time all of us have been in a room together.

Here's our plan.  We've been working on a list of guiding principles that will shape what we do and how we do it.  Our hope is that these principles will run like a common thread through all age groups as we hope to launch passionate Godly people into young adulthood.  It's also important to us that families know we're on the same page working towards the same goals.

As you know it's so easy to work separately and barely even know what's going on with other areas of ministry.  We're trying hard to work together, appreciate one another and compliment each other's ministries.

So, here's what we have so far.  These are in wet concrete and my guess is we will add something on outreach / evangelism.

Because every age group benefits from exposure to other generations,
we value thoughtful opportunities for intergenerational connections.

Because true life change happens primarily in the context of relationship,
we value life on life ministry driven by loving connection.

Because Jesus revealed moralism cannot save us,
we value teaching that centers on the transforming gospel of grace.

Because God’s Word is living and active,
we value Biblical Truth that sets us free.

Because growing in Christ results in compassion for others,
we value equipping children, youth and adults to serve our Body and the world.

Because a vibrant relationship with God is more often caught than taught,
we value leadership that models an authentic walk with Jesus.

Because parents have a major role in the discipleship of their kids,
we value partnerships with parents, including parental involvement and equipping.

So, we could use your help.  What would you add?  What would you change?  What seems to be 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Tapping the Brakes on the "Family Based Ministry" Movement

I believe in family.

There's no doubt churches including children's ministries and student ministries should invest in equipping and shepherding parents. In fact, at my home church, Irving Bible, we just started "Parenting at IBC" with the hope we can serve and equip parents of all aged kids. It's important to me.

The question I would like to ask is this, should the nuclear family be the primary focus of our next generations ministries? If so why?

Yesterday I sat in a family based ministry one day gathering. It was assumed that ministry should be family focused and family centered. It was assumed that all our time, energy and focus should be family based.  So many questions came to my mind.

Today I did some web surfing to see if I could discover how some are defining and describing family based ministry. Here are some statements I read.

"We know from reading the scriptures that families are important to God because our Creator built the first family before he constructed his own church".

Of course families are important to God but really?  Does that mean God values plants and animals before people because he made them first in creation?  Did Jesus actually prioritize the family by saying, "I will build my nuclear family, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it"?

"Although there may be a few youth outings each year where most parents are not present, most youth outings will be the family outings where all of the family is invited"

Maybe that should be flipped.  It's cool and valuable to have parents engaged in outings with their kids, but what about the kids who have parents who aren't ready to step foot in the church?  Awkward.

"Family Based Youth Ministry is grounded upon the Biblical conviction that parents are the primary disciplers of their children"

Why is this assumed? Is this true for every church ministry in America?  There's really a "Biblical conviction" about this?

Sure, family based ministry is effective and needed in some churches but with several books about family based ministry, various conferences and curriculums it simply seems many view this ministry strategy as right for all people and all places.

Why does the ministry pendulum have to be so extreme?  Why is it that children and youth ministries are totally separate from the rest of the church OR we must say that our primary focus is the nuclear family?  Is there a healthy balance in the middle?  

As I'm pulling embryonic thoughts together I would like to share some reasons I think we must tap the brakes on this "family based model" thinking. Instead of assuming family based ministry is right for all situations, here are some thoughts to consider.

1) The Bible doesn't teach that parents are the primary disciplers of their kids.

Of course Godly parents have the greatest opportunity to disciple their children, but do we really have to say the church is secondary?  Perhaps we should think of it as opportunity instead of priority.

There are a couple of passages that seem to be the "go to" in this area.

I've heard it over and over again, Deuteronomy 6 is the Biblical foundation of family based ministry. Here's the problem, Deuteronomy 6 was not written just to the parents, it's written to the covenant people of God. Of course parents were a part of that, but not the only part.  Not to mention that family in that context was very different from what we experience today.

When we read Deuteronomy 6 through our 21st century western eyes and see, "teach it to their children" somehow we forget the first part of the passage. It says "Hear O Israel" not "Hear O Mom and Dad".

And of course there is Ephesians 6:4 which specifically mentions the role of the Father to bring up his children in the training and instruction of the Lord.  It's an important verse for parents to think through and heed, but it in no way says gives the parents the primary voice.

In the early years of a kid's life parents have the strongest voice but to use these verses as proof texts to focus all of next generations ministry on parents is questionable Biblically.

In reality scripture does not give a greater responsibility to the family than the church. As families are a part of the church one could argue the church is the primary discipler of people. The church is called to disciple all that are a part of the church family not just parents.

Do parents need to understand their crucial role in spiritual formation?  Yes, but as a part of the greater covenant family.

In the scripture there's no primary or secondary discipleship, there's just discipleship.  

2) Family based does not fit all ministry contexts.

Family for most of us in upper / middle class white churches experience family as a mom, dad and 2 1/2 kids (I've always felt sorry for the 1/2 kid). That's not what many next gen ministries look like, especially student ministries.

Youth group should be a place where students should be accepted where they are. Hopefully unchurched students from unchurched families are showing up to experience authentic loving community. Hopefully that community includes students and loving ADULTS who love Jesus.

Maybe we have a chance to get to know the parents of unchurched students maybe we don't, but if our ministry is primarily family based and parent focused where do unchurched kids fit in? What about churches where a majority of the students come from unchurched homes?

In the New Testament, "family" rarely refers to the nuclear family, it almost always refers to the spiritual family or the church.  In fact it seems that when Jesus mentions moms and brothers and sisters he seems to say the spiritual connection may be stronger than the physical one.

There are a lot of ministry contexts where it's not practical to spend all our time and energy reaching out to parents.  Yes, make the effort, but if God has placed a group of kids in front of us let's be obedient to his call to disciple the ones right in front of us.

3) Family based ministry seems to neglect evangelism

Maybe I have this wrong, but this ministry strategy seems to emphasize a "circle the wagons" type strategy.  We'll minister to the parents and trust them to disciple their kids.  It feels like an "inside the walls" focus.

Where does the missional component fit into this strategy?  Children and student ministries should always have the component of reaching out to those children and youth who are unchurched and inviting them into the covenant family.

4) Intergenerational ministry NOT family based ministry seems to fit the Biblical model and most cultural contexts

The family of God is a beautiful mixture of ages, maturities and stories. It seems that God's design is for a diverse people to live life together and encourage one another while being on mission.  I love the idea of all kinds of adults speaking into the lives of youth and children, not primarily their parents.

As a father, sometimes I'm the one most equipped to speak truth into the lives of my kids.  As my kids became older other adults were better positioned to share truth.  They quickly became the primary disciplers of my children.

To this day I appreciate the natural partnership the church has had with my family.  Sometimes the best thing I can do is get out of the way and allow the body of Christ to play a major role in discipling my kids.  My relationship with the church has provided a way for my children to hear truth in stereo;  me speaking truth in one ear and other caring adults speaking truth in the other.

In closing let me say that as a father of 4 I've never felt I should totally leave it to the church to disciple my kids, I need to do that. But as a youth pastor I've never felt I should leave it to the parents to disciple kids, as the church, I'm called to do that.

You see, it's a partnership.  It's not about separating kids from adults OR doing everything with and for parents.  Do I long for parents to be equipped and do a better job? Yes.  Am I going to leave it to parents and neglect my role as a pastor in discipling kids, no way.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

3 All Time Greatest Clips for Student Talks

Back in the day (20 years ago) it seemed you had to have a video illustration for any youth talk you did.

Oh how times have changed.

Now it seems better to use almost nothing when you speak, however sometimes you find just the perfect clip that drives home an important point.

So, with that in mind I thought we would take a trip down memory lane. Here are what I believe are the 3 greatest clips of all time for youth talks. Yes, these are old school and yes, I'm old. But anyway...

When this movie came out I had young boys who played baseball. I love this movie and particularly this clip. Over the years I've used this to inspire students to pursue others who are different and help them feel welcomed.

Tomorrow morning I'm using it as an illustration of how God longs to use us and says to us, "just put your hand up, I'll do the rest". He does take the ordinary person and makes them extraordinary.

OK, beyond being unbelievably funny this is a great clip. It's a halarious illustration of how a hypocritical person says one thing but believes and feels another. It resonates with students because they all have "friends" (notice the sarcasm) who say one thing and do another.

It shows how ridiculous we as Christians look when we raise our hands and sing passionately but our lives show no reflection of that passion.

Ok, I didn't find the exact clip but this is a powerful movie. It illustrates how most of us live, as if God is not satisfying enough.

Seth, the angel gives up eternity and God so he can have Meg Ryan's character. The movie is the total opposite of "Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere".

The best scene is at the end of the movie where Seth says he would rather have one kiss of her lips than eternity without it. He trades God for a girl. In a different way, we trade God for momentary pleasure all the time don't we?

No, I don't feel the pressure to find the perfect clip for a talk anymore, but it's still fun to think it through and very effective when the clip hits the bullseye. Just because the newness of technology has worn off doesn't mean we shouldn't utilize it when it serves the message.

Anyway, that's the best I have (or can remember).

What would be your top 3?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

You might be event driven if...

Whether they realize it or not, most student ministries I encounter lean towards being relationship driven or event driven.

 In my opinion the most effective ministries are driven by relationship. A majority (if not all) of student ministry leaders would claim that relationship is their philosophy and drives their ministry.  But the question for each of us is this, does our philosophy match our practice?

By relationship driven I mean staff or ministry leadership spending significant time recruiting, equipping and shepherding other adults and unleashing them to live life to life with students.

 Relational driven ministry is most effective when adults who love Jesus are spending intentional time with students, not simply teaching them information but really involved in their life.

There is tremendous Biblical support for this ministry philosophy. From Jesus to Paul, this is the way they lead and poured into others. This has been my ministry philosophy for 24 years.

The question for myself and others is simple,

do we say we are relationally driven
but execute a different ministry philosophy practically?

Here's the problem.

Many times we don't get "graded" based on how well relationship is growing in our ministry. Often we are seen as successful when there are tons of students in one place at one time and the programming is slick and inviting. Often we are graded on how effective our "talk" is and how students, parents and peers view our ability to communicate.  How we perceive we are graded drives how we spend our time and energy.

Don't get me wrong, if we're doing large group programming it should be done with the highest level of excellence, but many times the tail wags the dog.  Before we know it our desire to have the right event steals time from where we know life change is really going to happen, knee to knee, nose to nose and face to face.

My passion for relationship driven ministry has recently been renewed.

This year I'm leading a group of 9th and 10th grade guys and to be honest time with them seems to have more impact than 5 of my talks combined. We meditate on the Word, talk about how it applies to our life and pray for each other. They ask great questions and I'm blown away by their desire to please the Lord.

For years I have been afraid that I talked about discipling students and pursuing them relationally without really putting my money and time where my mouth is.

So how do we know if we're prioritizing events and neglecting relationship? 

Sometimes it's not that easy to tell if you're event driven. In a desire to help us think through where we are in the event verses relational tension I've come up with a way to process.

You've heard "you might be a redneck if" by our friend Jeff Foxworthy, well, here's a student ministry version to help you think through your own ministry.

You might be event driven if...

you spend a majority or your time with students

I know, you're in student ministry to hang with students right? The simple truth is you don't have the ability to connect with every student in your ministry at a deep level. Believe it or not there may be someone who connects with a student in your group better than you. True relational ministry spends intentional and organic time with adults who are relating to students.

If all your time is spent with students then perhaps YOU are relational, but most likely you're not leading a relationship driven ministry. Take some time to look at your calendar. How much of your schedule is devoted to spending time with your leaders? No matter how large or small your ministry is, trained adult leaders are the key to relational ministry.

You might be event driven if...

you spend more money on pyrotechnics and moving lights than adult leaders

A couple years ago I looked at my budget and saw that a large percentage of my money was going to trips, retreats and events. Very little of it was going to nurturing and training my adults. Of course we need money for trips, they can be the most relational part of our ministry, but if your budget is dominated by special speakers, new lights and tee shirts with little to no money for adult leadership development you might have fallen victim to event driven ministry.

What about setting aside some money for them to take students for coffee? What about some money to take them out to dinner to get to know them better and show appreciation. You could perhaps bring a speaker in to train and inspire your adult leaders. If you're relationship driven put your money where your mouth is.  Spend some of your budget on adults.

You might be event driven if...

50% or more of your week is spent in event planning and implementation

Again, gatherings must be done with excellence, that means careful planning. Your teaching should be Biblical and engaging but balance is the key. If it's taking more than half your time to pull off great programming, maybe you should consider changing how often you offer events.

When pulling off great events robs you of time and energy something has to give. Does the event win or does relationship win?

You might be event driven if...

your small group ministry meets at 8:30am Sunday

When do your small groups gather? Are you giving them prime time and prime attention or are they meeting when no student will show? We need to ask the question, "if we could only do one thing in our ministry, what would that one thing be?". And then, "if we only had one time to do it, when would it be?"

I've talked to youth workers who claim their relationally driven small groups are the most important piece of their programming, yet their small groups don't meet at the best possible time. Prime time is different for different places and ministries, find out what is prime time for you and place your most important piece of programming at that time.

Your might be event driven if...

you just remembered you have a leader's meeting...tomorrow

Ok, we've all been there. Things sneak up on us but what if we spent as much time and energy planning and pulling off leader's meetings as we do student gatherings?

Your leaders need constant connection and training. They don't want another meeting but gathering together is a priority. If and when we pull them together they should never be able to legitimately say the gathering was a waste of time. Think through your gathering times and make sure they're inspiring, shepherding and effective.

So there you have it. May we be leaders who constantly walk up hill in pursuing relationship as the greatest key to ministry effectiveness. Let's do great events but not at the expense of relationship.

What would you add?  Do you feel the "event vs. relationship" tension?

Monday, April 9, 2012

Yes, I'm "Homo-Duplex"

Why do humans always seem to ask the question, "is there more"?

Why do people long to know and be known by others?

I came across this fascinating TED talk discussing why people are communal and seek transcendence.

Haidt refers to humas as "homo-duplex", we live in a physical world and are many times satisfied with fulfilling the mundane desires of life BUT people also have a longing for more, something more transcendent. Over the centuries people have reached this transcendence in a variety of ways including dancing, war, drugs and yes spirituality.

If you don't have time to watch the entire talk there is a 3 minute "video in a nutshell" at the end of the talk which does a wonderful job abbreviating.

I love this talk but see things differently. Obviously I lack the education and brilliance of Haidt, but as I look at this through the lens of my theological construct there are a couple of truths that jump out.

1. Every human is created in the image of God

Because of this simple truth people long for that which God longs, even if we don't know it. We long for a just world, love and togetherness.

God is community. We see this clearly in the cosmic dance of the trinity. Father, Son and Holy Spirit united in community from eternity past. Every person who has ever lived longs for and needs communal connection; knowing and being known.

2. Eternity is written on hearts

"He has put eternity into man's heart" - Ecclesiastes tells us that God has hot wired us to long for things greater than ourselves. Haidt speaks of a staircase that takes us to a higher consciousness or calling.

Of course we're "homo-duplex". God has made us with a longing for things that are transcendent.

I struggle through this every day in my own walk. Will I live to place my roots on this earth or will I believe that I'm living for something far more grand, the Glory of God? "Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love".

Haidt is so right about a couple points, humans long to climb the "staircase" and people long for togetherness. He states fact but is missing the answer to the question "what's the point"?

As I watched this I was reminded that people are seeking. They're looking for answers to the deep questions they're asking.

May we, the church, be a people who live out the gospel in authenticity, wisdom and boldness. Yes, the gospel is still the answer to life's most basic questions.

Friday, April 6, 2012

My Friend Julie

Julie Pierce is one of the sharpest leaders I know.

When I first came to IBC she was my boss and led me through a difficult time of transition. As you know, transition is never easy and it can be incredibly difficult. Her leadership made it as smooth as possible and launched me into effective service.

She is passionate, wise and courageous. I have the privilege of working with her daily and am amazed by her heart for the Lord, her family and her church.

If you have a moment, check out her website and blog. She has a particular heart to equip women to lead and serve AND she's great at what she does.