What’s Right About Youth Ministry

As I was placing an order on the The Youth Cartel website, I saw a new book had recently been released : What’s Right About Youth Ministry.  It was on sale (I think) and I had already qualified for free shipping, so I thought, “Why not? I’ve been trying to do more reading and it looks like a good read.” It was.

The book was authored by Mark Oestreicher (Marko). He has been a part of the youth ministry world for a number of years and has served in a variety of capacities.  He has a unique perspective as both a volunteer in his church’s youth ministry, a trainer of youth workers and a recognized speaker.

Kurt Johnson, Junior High Pastor at Saddleback, wrote responses at the end of each chapter. I found what he wrote to be helpful. He sometimes underscored what was said and other times provided a different perspective on the issue.

I’ve never met either of these men personally, but have read other works they’ve written, listen to them via video or audio recording and have heard them speak live and in person.  I value their experience and passion for youth ministry and appreciate the insights they have.  While the book is fairly short (just over 100 pages), it contains some great thoughts and challenges for youth workers.

There were a few things that stood out to me.  I love this “equation” or “magic formula that Marko gives for a great youth ministry.  He shares in the book that he was speaking to a group of Spanish-speaking youth workers and felt compelled, with all the other information he was sharing, to kind of simplify things.  He said there are three things necessary for great youth ministry: 1) You Like Teenagers 2) You Are a Growing Follower of Jesus 3) You Are Willing to Live Honestly in the Presence of Those Teenagers You Like.

I thought that was so helpful and a good description of my small group leaders and volunteers.  Marko then kind of expanded it to say this:

A grace-filled caring adult who’s willing to be present with teenagers
+
A small-ish group of teenagers
+
The power of the Holy Spirit and the presence of Jesus
=
Fantastic youth ministry!

While there is no much we need to know about youth culture and helping students in crisis and relating to parents and communicating well and managing details and staying organized, I thought this “equation” was right on.

I’ve been in full-time youth ministry for nearly 30 years, yet still can fall into the comparison trap where I look at what others are doing and see how I measure up.  Whether you are brand new to youth ministry or have been doing it for decades, it’s something we all can find ourselves doing.  Marko’s encouragement is for everyone.

God isn’t calling you to be just like the youth ministry from that other church, even if that youth ministry is fantastic; God is calling your youth ministry to discern and embody the unique contextualized expression of youth ministry he has dreamed up for you.

Bigger isn’t necessarily better and smaller doesn’t trump bigger.  Being faithful to where God has placed you and knowing the context in which you serve are important elements.

In an earlier chapter Marko also talked about the importance of keeping the course and not just changing up programming to get a different result.  I think this is connected with the idea of being who God has called you to be.  He talks about the misplaced gorgeous value of patience and the mundane way of steadfastness.  I agree that we need to modify our methods as culture changes, but there is also the reality that we should be steadfast and consistent in our ministry to students. Many of my leaders have great relationships and influence with students because they have been steadfast and consistent.

As youth ministry as a profession has changed over the last few decades and, as some have said, has gained legitimacy as a career path, it has led to so many different voices and resources available for youth workers.  I love the fact that I can read a blog, subscribe to an email list, join a Facebook group or watch a video that provides training and information I couldn’t get as easily before.  It has opened the door for other voices that you would most likely not have ever heard from before.  Kurt Johnson, in one of his responses, talks about this very thing and offered a great insight: But, just because somebody has a voice doesn’t mean you need to listen to what the person says, nor does it mean that person’s insights are as valid as somebody else’s. These days almost everybody has something to say and thinks he or she is the person to say it.

I found that to be helpful and echoed what I found myself thinking when I would read something someone wrote.  Just because I have some kind of platform (like a blog perhaps?), doesn’t mean I necessarily have the wisdom or insight a particular situation or issue requires.  Sure we can all disagree on issues (just look at the comments on any Facebook group you are a part of), but I think we need to be discerning in the voices we listen to and ideas we adopt.

What’s Right About Youth Ministry was encouraging to me because it affirmed some of the things we’ve been trying to do, but also provided some challenges as we move forward. I found it to be helpful to me and think it would a good read for other youth workers.

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.

Enamored By Numbers

internet-statisticsI think for most (if not all) people involved in ministry, it is easy to get caught up in numbers. If one has a program or event and attendance is good, it leaves the planners with a sense of satisfaction. The opposite can be true if numbers are low – leaders can walk away deflated. We can become enamored by the numbers.

I remember something I read years ago (in the book Purpose Driven Youth Ministry I think): It’s easy to compare what you don’t know about someone else with what you do know about yourself. If I see what I consider success in another program and compare it to mine, it could leave me feeling unsuccessful.

I’m not sure how to get away from the numbers game. It is A way to determine success and fruit, but not THE way to determine it. There definitely is value in tracking the number of people involved in programs, groups, events, etc. I guess the challenge for the leader is not to live and die by the numbers.

I’m not the first to discuss the tension that exists and I really don’t have great, clear-cut advice for people in leadership positions. There are people smarter and more experienced than me that could speak to it. Just in the past few weeks I’ve been caught up in that tension and kind of chuckle at myself when I get either too high or too low based on the turnout for a particular program or event. I’m still working through it and manage it better some days versus others. Guess we are a work in progress.

Bible on iPads, iPhones and Other Devices at Youth Group

youversionWe have a number of our students who use their iPhones, Kindles, iPads and other devices to look up scripture. Most of the time I’m doing the same thing. This article was posted today on The Youth Cartel website. Thought it brought an interesting perspective to whether a youth worker allows these devices or not.

This is a link to the entire article. I just pasted in the reasons they offered. Thoughts?

1. Brain Based Research demonstrates kids learn best when we integrate technology into the classroom. So why wouldn’t this also apply to the youth room? “Technology is valued within our culture. It is something that costs money and that bestows the power to add value. By giving students technology tools, we are implicitly giving weight to their school activities. Students are very sensitive to this message that they, and their work, are important.” – From article “The Effects of Technology on Classrooms and Students”

2. They are on their devices anyways. You can monitor and police and take away… but that is exhausting. It’s easier to allow the devices and set some ground rules and gasp in shock… kids will usually respect the rules you set. When you show them enough trust to allow them the use of electronics, they will not want to lose the privilege.

3. I am training for real life. Our students do not live in a bubble void of Apple products. When students leave our youth ministry they will still be bombarded with technology and the distractions there of. I would rather train and equip my kids to be able to use technology effectively in and out of the church setting. I want my own kids to acknowledge and be prepared to handle the “temptation of distraction” of the devices in their possession. Isn’t it better to be able to learn how to use technology to learn God’s Word, as opposed to sneaking it under their jackets and running off to the bathroom to text? I want my kids to know that technology IS distracting, so how do we deal with it and turn it around for our benefit instead?

4. I want the challenge. If church is boring and kids are playing Star Wars Angry Birds during my youth talk, then I have not done my job of engaging them. Same holds true for big church. People vote with their attention. When something is captivating, interesting and well executed it commands attention. Like a movie or TV show that has won me over… I close my laptop when I am really engaged with what I am watching on TV. In church… I fiercely take notes on Evernote when it’s “that good.”

5. It levels the playing field. Yes, I am all for Bible literacy and for knowing how to actually use a hard copy Bible. We still play the books of the Bible song in the car on the way to school, so my kids are not ignorant of such things. But we don’t teach Latin anymore either. Is the only Bible on our shelves the Latin Vulgate? We live in a new day, with the Bible available and accessible to us in so many wonderful ways. Why not embrace that reality and use it to help kids learn? Kids with learning disabilities or ADHD can often participate much more effectively when technology isn’t banned from church. Some kids learn best with a hands on hard copy edition of the Bible. Some kids (and adults) do not. Technology can help kids who struggle. Many students will track with your lesson much more efficiently and accurately than without their devices. When a brand new kid walks into church and sits at my table, I hate seeing them feel dumb when they have no idea (because they are new to church) of how to look up a Bible verse. Everyone stares at them. They shrink in their seat and fumble through the pages. Instead, I can in 30 seconds install the Bible app for them on their phone, and they can easily navigate through that. And guess what? This un-churched kid now has an easy to use Bible in their possession that didn’t cost anything from my youth budget.

Teens and Changing Technology

Technology is in a constant state of change. The latest buzz has been about the unveiling of the iPhone 5. I saw a tweet today that said the Apple store is off-line as they update their stock. (It is off-line….I checked!) If you feel like you just can’t keep, welcome to the club.

In light of that, I thought a post on Doug Field’s blog was timely and informative.  In this entry. he talks with Jonathan McKee, a youth worker, speaker and author.  They discussed the changes in technology and social media and specifically how teens are using these various outlets.

Here’s a few of the questions and answers.  Thought their thoughts on texting and Twitter were interesting and worth watching.

DOUGI’m almost afraid to post something about technology, because it might be out of date by the time I hit POST. In your book The New Breed you talk about how much technology has shifted in the last 5 years alone. Give us a glimpse of some of these big changes.

JONATHAN: It’s even scarier talking about technology in a book, in fear that it will be out of date by the time the book goes to print. When the first edition of this book came out five years ago (which really isn’t too long ago), MySpace was still a social network contender. Now, most people chuckle when you mention the site (“It’s so three minutes ago!”). In the last 5 years…

MySpace has shriveled while Facebook has become the social networking powerhouse. As of the end of 2011, 93% of 12-17-year old social media users have Facebook pages, while only 24% have a MySpace.

Pinterest has proven to be a major player in the social networking scene, especially among women (I already have a page so I can see my daughter’s posts of her artwork).

•As texting and social networking grew, young people use email less. You know this if you’ve tried to email a kid—they don’t email back. Text them, you’ll get a response in 10 seconds.

Smartphone ownership crossed the 50% mark recently, with 55.5% of US subscribers now owning smartphones. 58% of 13-17-year olds now own a smart phone, compared to 36% last year, and 74% of 25-34 year-olds own smartphones, up from 59% last year (NielsenWire, 9/10/12). This increase has obviously boosted mobile browsing to new levels

•The time people spend on apps per day finally surpassed traditional web browsing. (TechCrunch)

DOUGSo, I hate being asked about the future, but I’ll ask you–what do you think is next?

JONATHAN: Wow, you’re asking me to go on a limb here. I usually don’t like to predict the future as much as provide a glimpse of what is current. I’ll push the envelope here a little bit and give two predictions based on recent changes:

Texting has hit its peak. I’m not saying that texting is dying… I don’t think it’s going anywhere. It’s simple, quick, easy… and fun. But Nielson’s teenage texting numbers actual dropped a notch in the third quarter of 2011 for the first time in years! Personally, I think this is because of the rise of smart-phone ownership, mentioned above. More young people can Facebook each other or Tweet. I think these alternatives will trim the edge off of texting. Texting will stay strong… but I think we’ve seen its peak.

Twitter is on the rise. In the past year I chuckled when people mentioned Twitter and Facebook in the same sentence. Over 90% of teenagers are on Facebook, and at last count, about 16% of online teenagers were on Twitter  (and 95% of American teenagers are online). But watch closely… that Twitter number is growing. Why? Young people are still TV addicts and they can only watch people like Howie Mandel on their favorite shows Tweeting their fans so many times before they think, “I’ve gotta get me that!!”

Dwight Talks About The Teen Brain

If you are a fan of “The Office,” you know Dwight as the over-achieving, position seeking employee.  Dwight, whose real name is Rainn Wilson, just launched a new YouTube channel which will “explore what it means to be human.”

In the video below, he talks about the teenage brain, why teens act the way they do and puts an emphasis on the fact that teenagers’ brains are still developing.

Over the last few years, we’ve seen a lot of research come out about this very topic and this video does a good job helping both adults and teens recognize that teen brains are still growing and developing and that impacts decisions they make.  A particularly good statement was made at the end of the video regarding teen brain development and how they respond to certain events:

“The severity of feeling is sometimes out of line with the reality of the problem.”

I think it is good information for those who work with teens and is a good reminder that students, and their brains, are a work in progress.

* * Please note there is some crass language in the video.  Just a FYI on that.

I saw this posted on Life in Student Ministry website.  You can go there to not only watch the video, but follow some links that to the resources referred to in the video.

Some good stuff here.