Kelly is a Kingdom Worker

Most summers we attend the Christ In Youth MOVE Conference with our high school students. It’s a great environment for our students to be challenged to live as Kingdom Workers. A few months ago I shared about a project our students took on because of the challenge.

Last year one of our former students, Kelly, was able to be a part of the Kingdom Worker Crash and share her story. While in high school, she accepted her Kingdom Worker Challenge and took part in a ministry in our church for ladies with special needs. It was encouraging to see how she was able to serve and then able to share about that experience through the Kingdom Worker Crash. MOVE chooses ten students from across the country to video their stories and then show those at the various MOVE Conferences they host each summer.

We showed Kelly’s video a few weeks ago in our church services and plan to show it in our small groups this Sunday as springboard to our discussion. Kelly does a great job sharing not only her experience, but how God shaped her through it.

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The Jesus Gap – What Teens Believe About Jesus

jesus-gapOne of the books I wanted to read as 2017 started was The Jesus Gap. I started reading it months ago, but somewhere along the way got off track. So, I decided to get back on track and set aside some time to really dig into it.

After reading it, I went back through the things I highlighted and marked.  Once I typed it up, it filled almost four pages in a Word doc.  Needless to say, there is a lot of useful information in the book.

Bradbury shares the motivation behind writing the book.  She was taking a class on Christological foundations.  The final project was to conduct a small research study on your own ministry to determine what teens believed about Jesus.  She was surprised by the results from her group.

As she continued to study this topic, she decided to find out if what was true of the teens in her youth ministry was true of others teens.  That brought about her survey and this book, The Jesus Gap.

For those who work with students, the question that will linger in your mind as you read this book is this:  “Is this true of the teens in my church?”  I asked that question a number of times as I read the results of her research.

While there is too much information in the book to boil down to one post, a couple of things kind of rose to the top in my thinking.

One is how students look at Jesus as both God and as being sinless.

According to Bradbury’s research, when students were asked the question, “Is Jesus God?”  44 percent of students answered Yes,” 44 percent said No,” and 12 percent confessed, I don’t know.”

There are a number of conclusions a person could draw, but the numbers are a little startling.  Consider that the teens from the survey had a church background, were active in their congregations, and yet under 50% of them agreed that Jesus is God.

When asked if Jesus was perfect (or sinless), 34 percent of teens affirmed Jesus was perfect. 57 percent said Jesus was not perfect9 percent said, “I don’t know if Jesus was perfect.”

So even a smaller percentage agreed that Jesus was perfect.

Along with sharing the statistics and results of interviews, Bradbury also shared some practical steps youth workers can take to strengthen the Christology of the teens in their churches.

One area where I think The Jesus Gap is helpful is that it removes the blinders from our eyes.  We have to assume that what is true of Bradbury’s original research study in her group and then the following larger study she did, is also true on some level for the students in our sphere of influence.  One of the take-a-ways I have from this book is to find out where our students are and what particular truths about Jesus we might need to address in the future.

Another interesting thing Bradbury brought out is why students question that Jesus was perfect.  Early in the book she referenced some research done by Scott McKnight in Christianity Today where he concluded this:  “We all think Jesus is like us.  Introverts think Jesus is introverted, for example, and extroverts think Jesus is extroverted.  To one degree or another, we all conform Jesus to our own image.”

Students seemed to carry this idea when they viewed Jesus.  Here are a couple of quotes from students in Bradbury’s book talking about why Jesus wasn’t sinless:

“Jesus was God’s Son, after all He was human.  It’s really hard to know.  You’d think he would be perfect.  But humans – it’s impossible to be perfect.”

“Jesus sinned because he was a human being like the rest of us.
Even the best people in the world sin.”

One challenge to students seeing Jesus as perfect is wrestling with His divine nature.  If He was human like us, the conclusion many of them draw is that He sinned, because all people sin.

Bradbury also revealed a distrust for Scripture.  She shared responses from students that shared the opinion that the Biblical writers left our Jesus’ sin intentionally, in an effort to make Him appear more godly.

After sharing results of her research, she offered this conclusion:  Don’t assume teenagers view Scripture the same way you do.  Perhaps we operate under the assumption that because we have talked about the Bible and have a certain set of beliefs, our students hold those as well.  The Jesus Gap reveals that for a large number of teens, it’s not true.

The challenge is to not only read the results of Bradbury’s research, but then apply it to your particular context.  This is a good read for those who work with students and could create some good discussion.

Youth Ministry Black Friday Deal

ministry-downloadsIt’s no surprise that Black Friday is almost here. There’s always a sense of anticipation as people look for the great deal. This Black Friday, youth pastors can score a great deal of youth ministry resources.

On Black Friday an End of the Year Resource Bundle will be available at Ministry Downloads for youth pastors.  There will be over $500 worth of ministry resources for only $49!  Plus, there bonuses & prizes for the FIRST 10 to purchase!  You can head to the site, sign up to be notified when it goes live and get your hands on some resources for your ministry including teaching series, Bible studies, games and more.

Check out Ministry Downloads for a Black Friday youth ministry deal…and you don’t have to fight the crowds!

 

Parent/Student Progressive Dinner

When our IMPACT Leadership Team met in the summer to look at our school year calendar and plan various events, activities and service projects, we also talked about how we could do specific events for the family. We wanted to have something on our calendar that brought the family together. One event happened this past weekend – our Parent/Student Progressive Dinner.

We have done progressive food events in the past and thought it would be a fun event for families. Who doesn’t like to eat? We decided to host it in the church building and incorporate some interactive elements. We made it a football theme, gathered food you might eat while tailgating and included some football trivia activities. We also had a photo booth. It’s always fun to capture pictures of each event and the photo booth was a way to do that and let the personalities of our families come out.

A brief video containing some of the photo booth pictures is below. We look forward to doing more events that bring students and parents together!

Conforming Jesus to our Own Image, Part 2

facesofjesusEarlier today I posted some thoughts on how some recent surveys indicate that students (and adults, too) conform Jesus to our own image. The prompting came from a book I started reading called The Jesus Gap. The book takes a look at what teens believe about Jesus.

A few hours after writing it, a Facebook friend shared a link to an article that was written somewhat in response to a video posted by BuzzFeed called “I’m a Christian, but I’m not.” I had not yet seen the video (I have watched it since) and there was a link in that article to another blog post talking directly about the video. One particular point in the article echos what was shared in The Jesus Gap.

Mollie Hemingway shared five observations regarding the BuzzFeed video, but her first one was dead on. While the BuzzFeed video may have had some good intentions and helped communicate a message to a particular group of people, it left out one thing – Jesus.

Here’s what Mollie Hemingway wrote:

When you build your faith around what type of Christian you’re not, your faith is not built around Christ. Below is the text and transcription of the viral video. Note the absence of any mention of Jesus.

Text: “BuzzFeed presents, I’m Christian but I’m not…”

I’m Christian but I’m not homophobic;
I’m Christian and I’m definitely not perfect;
I’m Christian but I’m not close-minded;
but I’m not unaccepting;
but I’m not uneducated;
but I am not judgmental;
but I’m not conservative;
I’m not ignorant;
but I don’t place myself on a pedestal;
I’m Christian but I don’t have all the answers.

Text: “What are you?”

but I am accepting;
but I am queer;
I am gay;
but I am a feminist;
I’m a feminist;
definitely am a feminist;
but I do believe in science, in fact I think science makes God look really cool;
I’m not afraid to talk about sex;
I love me some Beyonce;
but I love wine;
I do believe in monogamy before sex but I will give you sex advice if you need it;
but I do go to church on Sundays;
I was a YoungLife camp counselor;
I do listen to Christian music, Christian rock, Christian rap, T-Mac, all the cool kids;
I have friends from all walks of life and different religions, and I love them all.

Text: What do you want people to know about Christianity?

I guess what I’d like people to know about Christianity today is that we’re all kind of not crazy;
We shouldn’t be judged on just the people that you see in the media, or just the people that you’ve met in everyday life. every Christian is different, and we deserve a chance to explain ourselves;
A lot of people think Christianity ruins people, but to me I think it’s people that are ruining Christianity, you never really see the good that happens, you only see the hypocrites, and the people who put themselves on a higher pedestal;
But at its core it’s really about love and acceptance and being a good neighbor;
Just because we prescribe [sic] to a faith that has some really terrible people in it doesn’t make all of us terrible;
I don’t think that Christians should judge people for who they are or what they do, I think everybody is in different part of life on their own path to wherever they’re trying to go. we’re all people and love is the most important thing.
Not a single mention of Jesus, the author and finisher of the Christian faith. In fact, you could easily switch out all references to “Christian” with any other religion or belief system and it would have the same amount of meaning.

I don’t question the intent of the people making the video or their desire to communicate what Christianity is to people, but it is somewhat disturbing that within all of what was said, there was no reference to Jesus. I think this is one example of many that seems to indicate that we can be guilty of conforming Jesus to our own image. Jesus is this or isn’t that based on the fact that I am (or am not) certain things.

In the opening pages of The Jesus Gap, Jen Bradbury shares a story told by Donald Miller in his book, Searching for God Knows What. Miller is teaching a class at a Bible College. He shares the Gospel with his class, but leaves out one element. The class has to determine what he leaves out. He talks for quite a while about sin, repentance, the promise of forgiveness and heaven. After a rather lengthy explanation, he asks the class what was missing. They have no response. The missing element: Jesus.

Miller doesn’t berate the class, but makes the observation that sometimes we get caught up in our own approach to Christianity, that we miss Jesus.

I found it interesting that this the video and subsequent articles came across my news feed on the same day I started to digest the information in The Jesus Gap. Perhaps God is gently nudging me (and obviously others) to make sure Jesus is the center of my faith, life and teaching.

Conforming Jesus to our Own Image

facesofjesusDuring the summer months, as I was ordering some small group curriculum from The Youth Cartel, I picked up a copy of Jen Bradbury’s book The Jesus Gap. I just started digging into it this week and am intrigued to move farther through the chapters.

The book takes a look at what teens believe about Jesus and it is based on both research and the author’s experience in working with students. In the opening chapters, Bradbury references a 2010 article from Christianity Today written by Scot McKnight. He writes about how people view Jesus and His conclusion is that we as people conform Jesus to our own image.

“Instead, if given to enough people, the test will reveal that we all think Jesus is like us. Introverts think Jesus is introverted, for example, and, on the basis of the same questions, extroverts think Jesus is extroverted. Spiritual formation experts would love to hear that students in my Jesus class are becoming like Jesus, but the test actually reveals the reverse: Students are fashioning Jesus to be more like themselves. If the test were given to a random sample of adults, the results would be measurably similar. To one degree or another, we all conform Jesus to our own image.”

In the first chapter Bradbury shares some of the views that students have of Jesus – from Jesus as a Superhero to an Average Joe Jesus – and whether they see Jesus as being either obedient or rebellious or quiet or talkative.  The responses are so varied that she feels her investigation supports what McKnight wrote about in 2010.

For church workers, it does raise the question of how students (and adults) in our congregations view Jesus.  I have to assume that the views we would discover are as varied as the research Bradbury shares.

For followers of Jesus – and for me – I have to wonder whether I have conformed Jesus to my own image.  Is my view of Jesus based on what is revealed in Scripture or do I view Jesus more in line what I think He is?

I’m curious to not only read the rest of the research in the book, but also to learn how to apply that in our specific context. The point (I think) is not just to learn about how people – how our students – view Jesus, but how that impacts our relationship with Him. Bradbury quotes Carl Braaten in her introduction pointing to why our view of Jesus is important: “…faith stands or falls with what it knows about Jesus of Nazareth.”

 

Two Helpful Youth Ministry Blog Posts

reblogThe internet is full of blogs about a number of different topics. You can read a blog about just about any subject imaginable. Look, you are reading a blog post right now about blog posts!

One of the benefits of youth ministry in 2015 is that there are a lot of free resources, articles and training tools online. Some of them come in the way of blog posts. I had two links come into my email today that pointed to two helpful articles. One is for youth ministers/volunteers in general and the second is for those who work specifically with junior high/middle school students.

Whether you are a paid youth worker or an unpaid volunteer, we all benefit from hearing from other voices and gleaning information from those who serve students and families.

The first is titled “What I Wish I Knew” written by Josh Griffin. He reflects on what he has learned in the past 20 years of serving in youth ministry. While all the thoughts he shares are good, I thought the point he made about youth ministry being about students and adults was on point. You can read the article below or by clicking the link above.

The second post was called “Top 10: 5th-8th Grade Years Transitions” and was written by Dan Istvanik. I think this is the first time I’ve visited his blog, but I thought what he shared about students transitioning into junior high/middle school was helpful. Sometimes we forget what it is like to be a student who has to navigate the junior high years. His article was kind of a quick bullet point list of the transitions students face. Check it out below or by hitting the link.

Thanks to all who share your wisdom on blogs, websites and social media!

WHAT I WISH I KNEW – JOSH GRIFFIN

I’ve been in youth ministry for 20 years. That’s still a crazy thing for me to write – I still feel sometimes like I’m just getting started and know very little. But the truth is, I’ve been living this out for a couple of decades. I still love it and still love being in the trenches of youth ministry (and serving youth workers through DOWNLOAD YOUTH MINISTRY) if I could go back and talk to my 21-year old self a few things about youth ministry, here’s what I would say to that eager, exciting just-graduating college young man:

IT ISN’T ALL GOING TO BE FUN AND GAMES.
Youth ministry over the next 20 years of your life is going to be SO fun. You’re going to laugh and play so much. You’re going to smile a ton, and just love doing what God has called you to do. You’re going to make memories all over the world and impact teenagers at a crucial point in their life. BUT, it is also going to be really difficult. It is going to test you. You’re going to see things that discourage you. You will be frustrated. You’re going to be pushed to the edge of your patience and the edge of your faith. It is going to be SO fun, but it is real work and you’ll battle real spiritual warfare, too.

YOU ARE GOING TO BE IMPACTED.
You think this thing is all about students – but YOU are going to grow a ton. As you lean into the Scriptures for guidance as you teach, counsel and help others, you will grow so deep in your faith. Of course, the temptation is to do this in your own strength, but that doesn’t end well. Your life will be changed because of youth ministry when you walk with Jesus.

IT IS ABOUT STUDENTS AND ADULTS.
When you think about youth ministry, you think about youth. But it is so much more than that. Yes, it is about teenagers making decisions for Jesus. You do get to help serve them in this crucial life stage. But it is also about parents and adult leaders. It is about the team you get to create and do life with. It is about the moms and dads you get to equip and encourage. And you’ll grow from single youth worker to married parent in the process of this whole thing and realize more than ever when you’re in the thick of it just how important youth ministry is to your family, too.

IT IS THE MOST REWARDING CALLING EVER.
Through the ups and downs, through everything, there’s no better calling on the planet. There’s nothing more rewarding to give your life to. Stay the course, stay close to Jesus and after a while you’ll realize just how incredible it is. You’ll think about your teenagers … now adults and watch them flourish (and some flounder still trying to find) their faith as followers of Jesus. You’ll look at your own children and smile as you reflect on them growing up loving the church.

What would you go back and tell yourself when you started youth ministry?

TOP 10: 5th-8th GRADE YEARS TRANSITIONS – DAN ISTVANIK

10. One Classroom to Multiple Classrooms.
Going from the elementary school, one maybe two main classroom setting to the middle school/Jr. high setting of a homeroom and changing classrooms for every subject.

9. Stable to Emotional.
With changes all around them and internal, hormonal changes. Middle year students may go from being stable, consistent emotionally to having ranging emotions from highs to lows often inside a short period of time without much real cause or warning.

8. Dependent on Parents to Independent of Parents.
Middle year students with the various changes in schedule and personality will also move from childhood dependence to a maturing need for more freedom.

7. Arranged Friendships to Chosen Friendships
Friendships go from parent arranged “play dates” to students choosing their own peer groups based on mutual preferences and interests.

6. Innocent to Knowledgable.
With social education, media access, and parent’s having “the talk” the middle year are marked by a stage from a more innocent view of the world to a more knowledgable, realistic view of life.

5. Fearful to Risk Taking
Along with the move from innocence to knowledge and the transition from dependence to independence to knowledge the middle year are time of being fearful to taking risks socially, emotionally, and even physically.

4. Sexually Unaware to Sexually Aware
More specific in the innocence to knowledge transition, these are the years of becoming aware of sexuality, others and their own. Often leading to some questioning and identity awareness.

3. Concrete to Abstract Thinking
A black and white, right and wrong simplicity of thinking moves to a processing of grey areas and synthesis of understanding and thought.

2. Child Body to Teen Body
Growth spurts, puberty, and sexual discovery are the physical transitions in the middle years that move a child into being a teen/young adult.

1. Family Faith to Personal Faith
Where the role of middle years ministry and importance of a church providing a solid middle year specific ministry becomes so paramount. Belief moves from what parents believe and teach to what a student personally discover, question and claim as their own. The reason we do what, we do as 5th-8th pastors/director/leaders/volunteers!!!