Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Using Words Correctly

I've got a fairly recent pet peeve. I think it's justified.

I hate it when people who should know better use biblical words in the wrong way. Take, for example, a flyer I recently received in the mail. It reads:

"Living generously extends to the way we worship. When we use our gifts of preaching, teaching, music, drama, and hospitality, we provide an atmosphere that is attractive to others and conducive to true worship. Studies show that most second-time guests return because of the quality of the worship service on their first visit. This places a lot of responsibility on those who use their gifts in support of the worship service."

Where to start?
  • The assumption that worship is a service, not a way of life.
  • That "quality" of a worship service is based on excellence in performance instead of humbly seeking God.
  • The assumption that worship for visitors (at least partially), not Jesus.
  • The extreme pressure this puts on pastors.
  • The commercialization of the Christian faith (the rest of the piece says, "buy our DVD").
  • The idea that a move of God is dependent on our efforts.

I could go on regarding that flyer, but I won't.

Am I being overly sensitive, or does saying things like, "We have such awesome worship at our church" (using TWO words wrong) contribute to some of the problems we've discussed in this blog regarding the faith of our teens?

Monday, March 17, 2008


*(The names in this post have been changed…because I don’t like their real names.)

Mark’s a kid who beat the odds. His parents don’t attend church. He should have been one of the 90% of non-church kids who leave their faith immediately after high school. Mark’s now 20 and still has a vital, growing faith in Jesus.

Not long ago I asked him point blank: “Mark, you beat the odds. Why are you still following Jesus?”

After 10 seconds of deep thought, staring at the floor with a furrowed brow the answer came: “Jim Barker.”

“Jim Barker? How in the world do you know Jim Barker?”

Jim Barker was a fifty-something man who has attended worship services for 10 years or so. I didn’t really know Jim. He was a likeable man but didn’t seem like the type to pursue a spiritual mentoring relationship with a teen.

The relationship between Mark and Jim started naturally. No mentor programs. No shared “Sunday church jobs.” Mark and Jim happened to be assigned to the same work team in our effort to restore elderly people’s homes in the inner city. Jim simply took Mark under his wing and showed him the “fixin’-an-old-house” ropes. He later asked Mark to breakfast. They began to make it a point to seek each other out on Sundays. Now the relationship has grown to the point to where Mark now attributed his spiritual longevity to Jim.

The first time I told Jim of his spiritual influence on Mark, he was stunned. “I had no idea. I would've guessed you (the youth pastor) were a bigger reason Mark is committed to Jesus. I'm speechless. I just like Mark. He’s a great kid!”

Unfortunately, this kind of relationship is more of the exception than the rule. Rarely do adults (other than youth workers) forge such faith-shaping relationships with teens. We've tried formal mentoring programs, but no programmed relationship has held a candle to relationships like Mark's and Jim's. Theirs formed naturally.

Why are natural intergenerational relationships so rare in our churches?

Are "unnatural" intergenerational relationships worth the effort? In other words, should we try programmed relationships (i.e. mentoring programs) or just be satisfied with the natural ones (like Mark and Jim) that occasionally pop up?

What can we do to facilitate natural connections between generations?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Anonymous Comments Welcome

A kind blog reader informed me that this blog didn't allow for anonymous comments. Sorry about that. It's fixed now. You don't need a blogger account to join the conversation.


Earlier this week jshay posted the following comment:
“I don’t think we can have real intergenerational connections in our current form of church.”

I tend to agree.

In my final two years as youth pastor we did everything we could to become a more intergenerational church because we recognized the spiritual longevity that it produces. We began educating the parents of teens, church board members, adults in the church, and the teenagers themselves (in that order) of the importance of intergenerational connections to faith formation. There were very few people who disagreed with the premise. Most not only agreed but said, “Yeah, we want this to happen!”

A ton of people (actually several tons) got involved in connecting with our teens. But nearly every attempt seemed unnatural, contrived, awkward and forced.

Our current forms of church seemed to get in the way of a natural connection. We're on a hamster wheel.

I believe that the church is capable of real intergenerational connections. BUT (and this is a big ol’ but) not in the current form. That’s why the solution is so hard.

So, let’s do this together. What are the factors (structures, practices, mindsets, systems, culture, beliefs, etc.) in the “current form of church” that prevent real intergenerational connections?

They Don’t Plan to Leave

Diana left the following comment just a few minutes ago:
“Tonight I'm meeting with a group of HS girls, and have been praying about talking to them about intimacy with God, and about the statistics of High Schoolers graduating from church.”

Made me think back... It was about 3 years ago when I realized that our “successful” youth ministry wasn’t producing the fruit it should be. I desperately looked for the reason(s). I began talking to and surveying our teens (current and former) about these issues. Overwhelmingly, teens involved in youth ministry don’t plan to (or want to) leave the church. Yet within a year, most do.

Maybe they’re just telling us what we want to hear (despite the fact that they could remain anonymous if they wished).

Related… I asked the parents with teens currently in the youth group what it would take for their kids to continue in their faith. Their standard answer was “a great college program”.

Then I talked with the parents of former teens who graduated yet stuck with their faith. Without exception they gave me the name of at least one adult who connected with their son or daughter.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Try, Try, Try...

Youth workers who have been around for any amount of time realize that most church-attending teens ditch Jesus shortly after high school. It took 3-4 years for those close to the youth ministry in our church to notice we weren’t producing long term disciples.

Our conclusion?

“We need more spiritual intensity and fervor. The programs we have are good…but they could be more engaging if we really worked at it. I need to spend more time on those youth talks so they’ll hit the mark with more power. It wouldn’t hurt if we emphasized scripture memorization more. And we need to pray more – and harder. And while we’re at it, let’s increase our expectations for those working with teens. We need to develop stronger student leaders. We’re following up, but it’s not good enough. Let's make follow-up assignments for every youth worker every week. We’re hanging out with teens – building relationships – but they’re not developing quite deeply enough. Let’s work on that. And let’s send our youth workers to more trainings. It’s about time for a youth group survey. Oh, and let’s ratchet up our college ministry. They'll stick around if there's somwhere to go...We need increase the quality of…of…of everything we do.”




Didn’t work.

It simply added to the sense of failure when the next class graduated high school.

Have you been there? Running with more intensity doesn’t get you anywhere if you’re on a hamster wheel. We’ve got to get off the wheel and change our assumptions about youth ministry. Maybe a lot of what we do in youth ministry isn’t essential after all. Maybe what we view as essential is just “fluff”.

And if you fluff harder…?!?!

Monday, March 10, 2008


From great blog readers come great questions. Before I pose his question, I want to remind people that the purpose of this blog is to ask questions that will IMPROVE our effectiveness in ministering to young people, not to destroy youth ministry.

So here’s the question.

“Would Jesus eliminate youth ministry? If so, what would we do?”

Quitting Youth Ministry?

One reader posed a question to me in a comment to a recent post: “Do you still think you have the youth ministry bug?”

If youth ministry means investing in the lives of young people for the good of God’s Kingdom - Yes! I’ve got the bug.

If youth ministry means a program-centered approach officially sanctioned by a local church - No! I don’t have that bug anymore. (and it has nothing to do with all-night lock-ins and being in my late-30s)

Love the Disagreement!

Somehow, “Once a Youth Pastor…” has been discovered. I figured this day would come.

I was a bit reluctant to even start this blog for fear of…well…lots of things.

I feared a place where passions would run so high that point-proving and proof-texting of scripture would take precedence over real discussion of important issues. I feared that heightened emotions would keep people from hearing each other. I feared that “the way we’ve always done it” would rule the discussion. I feared that legitimate questions about youth ministry wouldn’t be heard. I feared that practices with no scriptural roots – though not evil – would continue to characterize youth ministry without even a slight examination of their effectiveness.

On the flip side, I feared attracting a group of youth ministry/church/Christian bashers who had nothing to offer to the discussion other than a list of complaints and negativity.

I knew there’d be disagreement, but I hoped (and prayed) for a tone that would be beneficial to God’s Kingdom, not mine (my kingdom tends to be wrong most of the time).

So far so good.

We’ve had disagreement. Keep it coming. But you also seem to be unwilling to simply point out youth ministry weaknesses (that’s my job!), without striving toward solutions.

Which brings me to one last point. I have come across some practices in the last two years of being an “official” youth pastor that address some of the questions I’ve raised. In other words, there are solutions. But I’m reluctant to just throw them out there. We’re addicted to quick fixes.

For example, we tend to quickly jump to “How do we start a mentoring program in our church?” when we probably should be asking, “Why don’t our teens and adults connect?” The mentoring program may or may not be part of the answer.

Quick fixes morph into programs that don’t address the root problems. It's better to wrestle with these problems (pray, search scripture, discuss, take them back to your youth team, etc.) and come to a true Spirit-directed solution that fits the context and culture of your own youth ministry, church, and community.

It's not for the faint of heart. Many of the answers will stretch you to places you never thought you'd go before. (but it's worth it!)

You heard me right. No easy answers on this blogsite.