They were amazed! This one theme struck me in my latest reading through the first five books of the New Testament.
In the Gospels and the book of Acts, the words “amazed” comes up 19 times and “astonished” 17 times. Similar words like “awe,” “wonder” and “fear” come up regularly as Jesus was doing His ministry and as He worked in the lives of his disciples. Which gets me thinking… How about in our ministry? Does this sense of amazement hold as well?
Is our youth ministry amazing?
Consider this question and ask it of your youth leaders. And if you don’t want to be biased, why not ask the students attending your events as well. Is “amazing” an adjective a youth would use to describe the ministry? Observing your young people could also give you some clues to the level of amazement. Coming into your youth room, do they look expectant? Is there excitement? As the program proceeds, how do they react to each part? Consider how they went home: Did they look delighted? Amazed?
I’m not suggesting an over-the-top, minute-by-minute thrill ride of a youth ministry. But perhaps young people have come to associate our ministry more with a classroom–ordinary, routine, expected–rather than something special. Maybe our events have become ordinary because we have settled for ordinary. It’s important that we don’t settle! I think of the fact that even in the ministry of our Lord there were tragically many who the Lord described with these words:
“For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.”Matthew 13:15
Here were people who had the God of the universe come down to be with them and they missed the significance of the event! I wonder how many of the lives that pass through our ministry remain unchanged as well because they expect only the ordinary? May we be leaders who pave the way for our young people to be the opposite—a people excited by what God is going to do.  Continue reading Amazement
We’re all at different levels spiritually—even for the youth in our youth group. I say this because we tend to place all our young people at the same level spiritually since they are all in the same age range. This often means we have one program for everyone. But consider Hebrews 5:12:
“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”
Here it is clear that our spiritual level has little to do with age or even the length of time one is exposed to God’s Word—maturity in this case was for those who had put what they knew into practice.
The same I will say for the youth group. More often than not, within a group, there will be teens at different levels spiritually. Some are mature and even set an example for others in speech, conduct love, faith and purity (1 Tim 4:12), some are like children who could easily be deceived by some false teaching (Ephesians 4:14) and many are somewhere in between. Let me challenge you in this article to make a good assessment on where your young people are spiritually. It will be well worth your effort.
Now, there are different ways to this can be done1 but when I do this, I have leaders break down their young people into 6 categories2:
Unconnected Youth – those youth we know who have never attended any of our events or been to our church Irregular Attendee – those who have been in our activities once or twice, Regular Attendee – those who regularly join the fellowship, Growing Youth – those ready to be discipled Youth Leader – those handling a ministry Leader Maker – one who develops youth leaders such as Paul’s charge in 2 Timothy 2:2.
I hope you would spend time after reading (or even right now) to do just this. If possible put specific names to these categories, it will make you more accurate as you do this.
Why assess? Consider some common problems when we don’t take time to assess where our youth are spiritually:
Problem 1: Right Program, Wrong People
It doesn’t matter how much of a budget you have or the time and effort you have put into place to make the activity excellent, if the people who attend are not the people you intended it for, you aren’t going to be very effective.
You could be teaching, for example, principles of growth to students who may not have gotten the gospel yet. Many of our students may as the writer of Hebrews says, “need milk, not solid food” or we need to teach them again the basic principles of God’s words. The opposite could also apply, we could be giving bread crumbs of theology to young people who are starving for the Word of God. How do we know where they are at? One point from our level 1 has been helpful to me, “We must look for the spiritually hungry young person (all may not be).”3 One way I have implemented this as a youth pastor is having one program for everybody who regularly attends but offer small groups or even a different program for those who need it. If there are only a few who fit this category, specially focused 1-on-1 sessions can also be applied. During this time, deeper concerns are dealt with. It could be focused on studying a particular book of the Bible or even showing through example how the principles are applied in your own life.
If your time is limited, it doesn’t mean you can’t make use of this concept. In the letter of 1st John for example, the apostle writes in his letter to those who he categorizes as fathers, young people and children (1 John 2:12-14)—again this had less to do with age and more to do with spiritual maturity. He does it in a single letter and we can also address people at different spiritual levels through one program. But we won’t do that if we think all of our youth are all at the same level. Knowing well the condition of our flock (Prov. 27:23) make us better ministers. Continue reading Common Problems in Youth Ministry
“Our lives are shaped as profoundly by personality as by gender or race. And the single most important aspect of personality—the “north and south of temperament,” as one scientist puts it—is where we fall on the introvert-extrovert spectrum.” says Susan Cain, who has extensively researched the personalities through psychological science, experience and even brain experiments.1 She goes on to say that were we fall on this spectrum… “influences our choice of friends and mates, and how we make conversation, resolve differences, and show love. It affects the careers we choose and whether or not we succeed at them. It governs how likely we are to exercise, commit adultery, function well without sleep, learn from our mistakes, place big bets in the stock market, delay gratification, be a good leader, and ask ‘what if.’”
Can knowing more about personality make us better ministers? Let’s see.
You most likely already have some idea of this topic but let me get some descriptions and definitions out so we are on the same page. Extroverts are often described by how they take naturally to leadership roles, being in the spotlight and their love to socialize. Introverts are the opposite—uncomfortable in those situations or in activities like meeting large groups of people or public speaking (this doesn’t mean that introverts don’t make great speakers but more often than not they have to work at it)2. But the definition I am going with in this article is that extroverts get energized in groups and get drained when they are alone, while introverts are the opposite: they get recharged while by themselves while being in a crowd of people drains them.
Using the definition above, which group would you be in?
Appearance does not necessarily reflect what a person is. One can appear aloof but inwardly is excitable and action-ready. Introversion doesn’t always equal shyness, introverts may prefer being alone but that wouldn’t mean they fear social interactions like shy people do. In fact, many introverts can act as extroverts although it costs them energy, authenticity or even physical health.3
There are many examples of these personality types in the Bible. One famous pair would be Jacob and Esau. According to the Bible: “When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents.” (Gen. 25.27)
So there was David, in the valley, ready to face a giant and meet his destiny. “Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.” 1 Samuel 17:45
I love the story of 1 Samuel 17. I’ve probably heard it a hundred times already. The story of David and Goliath is one of the most popular stories in Christendom and if there ever was a hero to imitate in the Bible aside from Jesus it would be David.
Today heroism is very much in the spotlight. Within the stories of heroes, “being the hero” has become not just a story but also a message. And it is a message broadcast worldwide. You can find it on print and in song. You see it in big screen movie theatres, and on paperbag ads that tells us that we can “save the world”. And like all messages it is good to consider how the Bible looks at heroes.
For starters, there are a lot of good things about being a hero.
There are names in the book of Hebrews known as the “hall of faith”, heroes whose example we are encouraged to follow.
Many popular heroes serve as modern examples of Christian living. Some for example follow a sacred call. Others believe someone calls them special even though the world does not acknowledge them.
And judging from the life-sized Ironman figure in one youth room, we leaders are already using heroes as illustrations.
As a youth ministry leader you are always balancing the areas of reaching (evangelism) and growing (discipleship). Honestly, I have found that it is easier to focus on the reaching side of ministry because many times it is a one-time event or a decision made by a young person. The growing aspect can be more challenging. The road of discipleship is more of a journey with turns and U-turns, as youth take 3 steps forward and two backward at times.
Though discipleship is knowledge based, you recall that it also involves experience. In the area of serving we see our faith grow when we step out and serve and see God do things that only He can do. We engage in experiences to help us learn and grow. Growth is something caught, not just taught.
I would like us to wrestle here with two hurdles in the road of spiritual growth. For the most part we are not missing knowledge of Biblical truth in our youth groups and churches. The challenge is usually putting into practice what we know and not being overly discouraged in our growth because of roadblocks. Allow me to use some agricultural terms here in explaining these roadblocks to spiritual growth. Continue reading Overcoming Hurdles to Spiritual Growth
I know it’s past February. So why is this article still about love? Well, I’m trying to address a problem.
Yes, February is the most natural time to talk too youth about love and relationships particularly with those of the opposite gender. There is no problem with that, what is problematic is that this topic usually only happens in February, if at all. What do I mean? The teenage years are when the child’s body, mind and emotions move to another stage of relating with the opposite sex. This will be the time of first love, of social and emotional awkwardness, and of experiences that could shape a person for a lifetime. Some of us may have forgotten it (that’s how traumatic it was) but try to remember that period in your past to get an idea of what the youth of today might be going through. Not only that developmental psychologists classify love and developing committed relationships as a milestone in the life of even young adults. In other words youth are the ones who need guidance and answers to questions about love and relationships the most.
Chap Clark read hundreds of studies of adolescent sexuality and then went and talked to groups of young people. He found that that for teenagers these issues were central, catastrophic and yet virtually ignored by academics and even those who work directly with youth.1 How about you? When was the last time you tackled this topic (outside of February)? And are we really engaging the hearts of our young people?
Because if we do not engage and answer satisfyingly the questions they are asking they will get their answers elsewhere. Typically, part of what a young person knows on this topic comes from observing and listening to others. This could be adults or their parents. This could come from relatives, friends and acquaintances. And in this information age, many are very much influenced by what they read and listen to: television, movies and the internet. In the process they could obtain a view of love and relationships opposed to the Biblical view.
And this problem becomes obvious one way or another as it affects not only the individual but their families and relationships as well. As I’ve ministered to young people and youth leaders I have found that of the many problems encountered in youth ministry, the majority trace their roots to this: our young people are believing the lies of love and relationship that the world is telling them.
To take on this topic here are some steps to consider:
Go deep into the Bible to discover what God says about love. The Bible speaks and addresses the deep issues of the heart beyond the popular ways the world has come to think of it. But more often than not when these matters are discussed in the church, the conversation gets redirected to our love for God. But perhaps our strategy should be not moving away from these things but by discussing them. Use this area to point to Christ even as you address the needs of young people. And the Bible has a lot of practical things to say about human relationships as well.2 Yes, the world may have grown more complicated but the Bible still speaks to every situation we could possibly encounter on this issue and I pray we get our guiding principles from what it tells us.
Understand the environment your youth are living in. We may be well versed in God’s thoughts on love and relationship but severely underestimate what the world is telling our youth. This is no longer our parent’s generation. Technological changes, globally connected cultures and information available 24/7 have created a horde of situations older generations or even older youth leaders have never dealt with. We must try to understand what life is bringing them in this area so that they will be able to effectively apply God’s Word to it.
If you do your research you will quickly see that there is a deep divide between what God is saying in his Word and what is happening in the world of young people. Our role is to bridge that divide. Here are some practical ways we can do that:
Create an environment where it is safe to talk about love, relationships and all the things that young people normally talk about.
Leaders should walk their talk. Our words should reflect the actions of our leaders.
Emphasize love and relationships throughout the year, not only in February.
Finally, understand that we ourselves have the need to love and be loved. One reason that the emotional lives of young people are not dealt with is that we have not come to terms with this part of our life. By the percentages, this is an area where many of us are weak.3 We don’t have to be perfect in this area, in fact when we are open and share with discretion (for this is an area where we need to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves) God can use our story. Paul testified: “…a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2Cor. 12:7-9) Like him we too can highlight, in our struggles, the power of Christ upon us.
The new year is upon us and Christmas has come and gone but allow me one more look into that holiday. What has been most meaningful about your Christmas? The presents? Time with family? Is Christmas a celebration? Is it a mission? A banquet of food?
If the word “mission” strikes you as odd in the paragraph above (it does to me) let’s explore that concept here. See, most of what is described above is what Christmas means to us, but a mission is one way of describing what it meant for God.
Hidden in the holiday, disguised in our depictions of a peaceful manger scene is the intent of a God come to the front line of the war. Jesus stepped into our world as God in the flesh. The Scriptures highlight Christ as one:
“who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage.
Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men.
And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death—
even to death on a cross.” ~Philippians 2:6-8
Let’s take a look at what our God did when He took on human flesh:
God simply came. We sometimes think that ministry must be something grand. Often when I think about venturing beyond what is familiar I think I need to have it all together, to come armed to the teeth with all manner of tools. Jesus entered the mission field a little baby, he entrusted all that he had to God. Certainly there was a deliberateness, a time of preparation leading to coming. Gal. 4:4 says, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son…” Not only did he come, he came humbly. This is highlighted by:
Who he was born to: He was born not to a people who ruled but rather who were ruled over: In witness of this, at the time of his birth everyone was required to appear in his city to submit (Luke 2). His parents were not rich or of great status and this would influence how people saw him. Mark 6:3, “Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us? And they were offended at Him.”
When he was born: He was born from a human perspective at a very inconvenient time. This was while his parents were travelling, and in a place so packed with people that only an animal shelter was provided for the Lord to be born in.
Where he was born: Instead of a clean hospital he had a dirty stable; for birth attendants he had only animals; no pillows or mattresses for his back but instead hay and a feeding trough for his bed. The best attendants at the time of his birth where a company of poor folks who had better places to lodge than Joseph’s. 1
Jesus went into danger and risk. When the Christmas story is told, sometimes we forget or pass over the fact that the world Christ entered was one of danger and death. In the background, Herod lurks, later killing an entire town of children to prevent challenge to his rule. Aware of the danger, Joseph retreats to another country. Not only that, consider as well the deadliness of sin. How might you react if you were informed that you had just entered a plague-ridden area? Or were ministering to someone with the HIV virus or another highly contagious killer disease. That reaction pales in comparison with what Our Sinless Lord must have felt as he came into a world infested with sin.2
He came as the answer to life’s most pressing questions. As I write this, my country is still reeling from the effects of a typhoon that hit a month ago. Many will not be able to join in the normal festivity of Christmas. But if there is any act of God that says he understands and that he responds to our pain and our suffering it is to be found especially in the Christmas message. As the Scripture above points out “And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death—even to death on a cross.” God entered into the worst evil this world can deliver and used it to do the best good.
He came for everlasting joy. One might think that Jesus path was that of an ascetic, practicing severe self-discipline for its own sake. But that is not what Scripture states. Hebrews 12:2 points out that Jesus endured even the cross “for the joy that was set before him.” Past his experiences He looked forward to the ultimate reward. Similarly the passage in Philippians above ends on a high note, Phil. 2:9-11 “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
We can get so busy we forget to pray.1 Youth leaders are a practical bunch and we love to come up with results (some of us can fill the entire day working on, thinking of and doing things for youth ministry). But in our practicality, when we have a goal to reach, or a problem to solve we react immediately and do all we can to resolve it before we even turn to God in prayer.
These past few months I have been looking at how God’s people approached him and I see a different pattern:
Consider Nehemiah. There is a lot of focus on how practical he was. Through his leadership the Israelites rebuilt the wall surrounding their land in 52 days giving them protection from their enemies. But what was his response when he first encountered the situation?
“As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.” Nehemiah 1:4
How about Daniel? He also had this type of response. And the challenge he faced was a document that strictly penalized prayer. His opponents went together and brought it before the king and convinced him to sign it. Here’s what happened next:
“When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.” Daniel 6:10
There’s this point we’ve emphasized in our training. One of possibly no use to you in the seminar but of much use now. The statement is: “Unevaluated goals are useless.”1
Consider this surprising information on doctors:
Who would you be more likely to trust for advice? The silver-haired doctor or the one fresh out of medical school? Well, it’s been found that in a few fields of medicine, doctors’ skills don’t improve the longer they’ve been practicing. Professional mammographers (doctors who assess x-rays), for example, have a tendency to get less and less accurate over the years.
Why would that be? According to a lead researcher, it’s because they usually only find out about the accuracy of their assessment weeks or months later, if at all, at which point they may already have forgotten the details of the case and can no longer learn from their successes and mistakes.
One field of medicine in which this is not so is surgery. Unlike x-ray doctors, surgeons tend to get better with time. What makes surgeons different is that the outcome of most surgeries is usually immediately apparent—the patient either gets better or doesn’t—which means that surgeons are constantly receiving feedback on their performance. They’re always learning what works and what doesn’t, always getting better.2
Apply this to youth ministry. Experience and how long we’ve been in our field is not what makes us better. Rather, it is how well we learn from feedback. How well we evaluate. In this article, let’s look at three areas where we can use this tool. Continue reading The Value of Evaluation