Reinventing Youth Ministry (Again) & Ministry to Parents

Reinventing Youth Ministry (Again) by Wayne Rice is one of the best Youth Ministry books I’ve read in years.  Rice has been credited as the “co-founder” of American Youth Ministry (along with Mike Yaconelli), so he certainly has the experience, wisdom, and credibility to provide such a critique of modern-day Youth Ministry.  Not only was did the book provide many behind-the-scenes looks at the history of Youth Specialties, but it raised many good and hard questions that every youth worker should be asking.  Despite being a fairly slow reader, even I read it in only three days – I just couldn’t put it down and kept picking it up whenever I had an extra 15 minutes.

It seems like one of the most “trendy” topics today in youth ministry is ministry to parents, and yet, it doesn’t really seem like anyone knows how to actually do it effectively.  I’ve read a fair number of books lately on churches (youth ministries in particular) and parents partnering together, and I think this book makes one of the best and most persuasive cases for how important it is for youth ministries to be partnering with parents.

Just yesterday on the Youth Ministry 360 Blog, Andy Blanks asks a great question (which has prompted this book review).  Here’s his question:

As youth workers, should the burden fall on us to train and equip our students’ parents to lead them in discipleship?

I think Rice’s book addresses this from a number of perspectives.  Ultimately, I’m convinced that the church ought to be equipping parents to disciple their children/teens.  Unfortunately, too often discipleship is often a litany of unstructured Bible-Studies which focus simply on the adults and rarely make the jump to help parents be equipped to teach and discuss such important truths with their children.  Therefore, many youth workers feel that if they don’t equip parents to disciple their teens, who will?

Here are a number of my favorite quotations from Reinventing Youth Ministry (Again):

“I have all the respect in the world for youth workers in the church, but I’ve become more and more convinced over the years that God never gave to youth workers the responsibility for making disciples of other people’s kids.” (p.24)

“It’s not youth ministry’s fault that we’re losing so many kids. …While youth ministry may serve as a convenient scape-goat, it is not the culprit here.” (p.11)

“That our youth are not getting the message is not necessarily because they haven’t heard it or aren’t being taught it.  But perhaps we’re sending other messages to teenagers that are just coming across a lot louder and clearer than the message we want them to hear.  The wholesale conversion of our teenager to a religion like MTD may be nothing more than the unintended result of a systematic weakness in how we pass faith on to the next generation.” (p. 67)

“The mistake we made in the past wasn’t so much the kind of programs we ran but in our reliance on them to keep kids coming to our youth groups.  Programs may keep kids coming, but they won’t keep them connected.  Truth is, they may even be counter-productive.” (p.101)

“I believe that the primary role of the youth pastor today should be focused more on equipping adults rather than teenagers.  If we truly want better long-term results and a youth ministry that won’t collapse when we leave, we must learn to work with adults – especially parents.” (p.124)

“I know that senior pastors usually have their plates full, but the vision and mission for youth ministry in a local church must come from the top.” (p.149)

“The church and the family are two of the most powerful and important institutions on the earth, both of them ordained by God to preserve and pass on the faith to each generation.  If we can get them working together in harmony, kids are not only going to be more likely to adopt the faith of their parents but hang onto it long after they leave home.” (p.170)

“Many churches, in their efforts to be relevant and responsive to the needs of young adults have marginalized and abandoned their old folks. … What bothers me is that the young people of the church are missing out on the incredible vitality and wisdom and spiritual strength of people like my aunt Mabel and other members of her generation who are no longer considered an important part of the church.” (p.181-2)

I know that’s a lot, but it provides a great snapshot to tell you why the whole book is worth the $12 and the time you’ll invest in reading it.  Rice’s reflections on the past four decades of youth ministry and the questions he asks about its future are significant for both youth workers, parents, and all church-leaders to consider.  Seriously, just read the book, you’ll be glad you did.

Don’t Short-Circuit Your Ministry

This past Sunday I had the opportunity to preach, which is something I always really enjoy doing (you can read the Sermon Summary here).  I love the process of studying the text, working through the exegesis and theology into a place where God’s Word transforms our lives.  I put a lot of work into ministry… which is why my drive home from church on Sunday morning was so painful.

I didn’t get much sleep Saturday night.  I’ll spare you the details why, but it’s not because I was being lazy or wasting time.  I got to bed a little after midnight, and had to wake up at 5:30 in order to get to church on time to be able to take care of various tasks before our 8:00 worship service began.  I’m not a morning person anyway, so the morning was rough.  First service came and went and I felt good about the content of the sermon and my delivery… then second service came and went and I didn’t feel so good.

I could feel my body shutting down on me.  I started to repeat myself more times than I wanted to.  I could hear myself speaking way more monotone than I ever like to be.  I got mispronounced a few words that I wouldn’t have otherwise messed up on.  I was frustrated with myself – because I was tired, and I knew I did it to myself.

The content was good, but the messenger was dragging because he didn’t take care of himself the night before.  Whether or not it’s a sermon or a youth group lesson or a Bible study or whatever your ministry is – don’t short-circuit yourself because you aren’t taking care of yourself.

Trust me, having something good and beneficial to say but failing because you didn’t get yourself to bed on time the night before is a killer.

What are some other ways we short-circuit ourselves in ministry?

(note: If you’re reading this and you’re from my church, please don’t take this as me looking for affirmation.  I’m fine, really, just sharing some reflections with other in order that we might all learn from something I’ve learned the hard way.)

Daddy Lesson: We’re All Selfish

My son is four years old and he’s got a ton of energy.  I love him to death, he’s just amazing and great… and exhausting.  He doesn’t really like to share his toys with his little sister and isn’t the biggest fan of having to obey his mom and dad (even though they’re amazingly brilliant and wise, of course).  We’ve been talking a lot about needing to share and be gentle when you don’t get what you want.

This leads to a conversation he had with my wife (his mom) the other day, completely out of the blue while they were doing something:

Son: It’s really hard for me.
Mom: What is, honey?
Son: I’ve been thinking about it.  It’s hard for me to when my friends at school say “no” when I ask if I can have their toys.
Mom: Oh… (dumbounded that a four-year-old was psychoanalyzing himself like that)…

Yeah… that conversation actually happened the other day.  But it got me to thinking – how much different is he really from the rest of us?  I’m just as selfish as he is – I don’t like it when I don’t get my way; I don’t like to take orders from other people when I’m in the middle of doing something I like doing; I want what I want when I want it.  I’ve just learned how to cope with the reality that I can’t actually get/do what I want all the time, and I’ve learned how to mask my selfishness so it doesn’t look as ugly as it really is.

So here’s my latest daddy lesson that I think is good for all us parents to remember (whether your kids are young like mine or teenagers, or older): You’re just as selfish as your kids are.  Maybe you’ve learned to suppress your selfishness and God has changed your heart, but by nature you’re every bit as selfish as your kids are… they get it from you!  It’s our job as parents to model SELFLESSness to our kids.

While our kids need to learn to obey their parents, we also need to show them what selflessness looks like when we don’t get our way either.


5 Ways to Gain Your Church’s Respect as a Youth Pastor

I wrote a post the other day entitled “I’m not ‘Just’ a Youth Pastor” that’s really gotten my brain cranking about the difference between youth pastors who are respected as pastors and those who are viewed as a wannabe-pastor.  There are a few things I do at my church because I view myself as a real pastor, and I want my congregation to see me that way too.

  1. Be confident in your calling as a pastor.  You wouldn’t be where you are without God’s calling. He has saved you, adopted you, and chosen you to lead and shepherd his Church – let that blow your mind on a regular basis!  Refuse to view yourself as others view you, be confident because of God’s calling on you and let that be the defining core of who you are.
  2. When you get the chance to preach on Sunday mornings (or if you have a “big church” service), teach on something other than the importance of youth ministry.  Be a part of the preaching rotation, fit into the preaching series set by the Senior Pastor.  I realize this may not be an option for everyone, but ask if you could have the opportunity.  If you’re frustrated that your Senior Pastor’s (or whoever usually preaches) sermons aren’t applicable or understandable to teenagers, then preach in such a way that  applies to both adults and teenagers.  If you spend all your time before the congregation talking about teenagers and youth ministry, they will obviously think that’s all you know how to talk about… show them that’s not true.  (For those of you in big churches, this is probably more difficult and complicated.  I’d love to hear from you how you’d put this into practice!  Please leave a comment below.)
  3. Spend time with parents, church leaders, and other adults on Sunday mornings.  If your church is like mine, there’s some “fellowship time” on Sunday mornings in between services.  Don’t always spend that time with the teenagers, you probably (hopefully!) see them other times throughout the week.  Spend time casually talking with parents, leaders in the church, congregation members who you know are fighting some kind of sickness or other hardship.  Building relationships with people in your church who are not teenagers should be a no brainer – if you really view yourself as one of the pastors in the church, then you need to know the people in your church (not just the teenagers).
  4. Be equipped through education and ordination.  I know there’s a huge group of people within the youth ministry world who look down on seminary (as if they’re the first ones to call is “cemetery”), but I am so personally thankful for the grounding that seminary has given me.  My ministry is stronger because of it… and so is my faith!  Ordination isn’t a must, obviously, but if you really consider yourself a “real pastor,” I don’t see why it wouldn’t be something you would prayerfully consider.  The credentials you gain through education and ordination really do help elevate how people perceive you and your ministry.  Credentials shouldn’t be your motivating cause behind these pursuits, but they’re great benefits!
  5. Don’t be a clown.  This one should be obvious, but this is something I honestly struggle with.  Although I’m something of a theology nerd, I often find myself using humor or sarcasm in order to deflect people from really getting to know me on a personal level.  The result is that I occasionally leave conversations thinking, “I shouldn’t have made that joke or poked fun of myself like that.  I didn’t communicate to them that I’m taking them seriously or that I’m taking myself seriously.”  I don’t want to take myself too seriously, but if I don’t know the appropriate time to be serious then parents and other adults (and students too!) won’t feel that we are approachable over serious issues they want to discuss.  No one wants to go to a clown to talk about hard life-issues with.

Obviously, I’m not perfect at doing all these.  I’ve come up with this list over the last two days as I’ve reflected on what I attempt to do at my church.  I would really love to hear from others how they live and work in order to elevate “Youth Pastor” to mean “Real Pastor.”  Let’s hear your wisdom…

I’m Not “Just” a Youth Pastor

About a year ago my job description changed, along with my title.  Since then I’ve heard a few people tell me that I’m not “just a Youth Pastor” anymore, now I’m an Associate Pastor.  While I’m confident their intentions are good and they’re trying to affirm me – those comments are actually insulting and belittling.  Sure, now I’m the “Pastor of Youth & Families”… but let’s face it, I’m the Youth Pastor.  If you ask me what my job is, that’s what I’ll say unless I’m being formal.

Whenever you add the word “just” before something else, you’re belittling whatever comes next.  “I’m just a kid,” “I was just kidding,” “I’m just a volunteer,” etc.  This is also why I hate the line “…just the sheep of his hand” in the popular worship song, “Come Let us Worship and Bow Down.”  Using the word “just” will automatically devalue whatever follows.

So when you say I’m not “Just a Youth Pastor anymore,” what I hear you saying is this – “Youth Pastors aren’t real pastors who are called by God, qualified, and worthy of respect.  But you’re not like that, now you’re a real pastor!  Congratulations, you’ve made it!”

Through changing my job title/description, I wasn’t trying to avoid being the Youth Pastor (especially since that was never my actual job title), I was trying to elevate what it means to be a Youth Pastor to the level of respect it is due.  Please, do not ask Youth Pastors when they’re going to become “real pastors” – unless you’re trying to tell them they aren’t real pastors already.

I’m proud of being a Youth Pastor, and know other Youth Pastors are too.  Sometimes people wonder why there’s so much turnover among Youth Pastors and wonder what can be done to change that disappointing trend – maybe removing the word (or thought!) of “Just a Youth Pastor” from our church language would be a good starting point.