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“Facebook = Fellowship” ?

Facebook and youth ministry go hand in hand these days. There is no doubt that youth and the leaders (as well as their parents) are most probably using Facebook. So as those highly invested in the lives of youth it is critical that we think about this Facebook phenomenon (we are focusing on Facebook here, but the principles apply to any social media tool).

Questions about Facebook

Let us begin with some key questions. Is Facebook a tool for ministry or is it a distraction from ministry? From the standpoint of the youth, what is the attraction of Facebook? Is Facebook meeting the craving that leads young people (and us as leaders) to it to begin with? Is there a connection between Facebook and Biblical fellowship (one-another community)?

Beginning with Scripture

The Bible is always the best place to start in a discussion like this. Throughout history, God wanted to be with people. Beginning in the garden then progressing forward to the New Testament as well where Christ came to earth in the flesh, to dwell (to literally “tabernacle”) with us. These personal connections carried forward in the New Testament in Acts 2 where we see a model of the early church that has been carried out through as the connecting principles of believers for 2000 years.

As we consider the fellowship, abiding together aspect of the Christian life, it is important for us to relate this to Facebook as the  “connectivity” we see today.

Let me say that Facebook is a great tool. Personally, I have stayed more connected to more people than I ever have been able to my entire life. When I say connected, I cannot not say that I share deeply typically in Facebook. How about you? Is Facebook a place of true connection in the biblical sense (“having all things in common”)? If you are like me, probably not. Let us look closer first at the benefits of the Facebook platform for ministry. Continue reading “Facebook = Fellowship” ?

Beyond the “You” in Youth Ministry

In 2006, Time magazine highlighted the person of the year as “you”.  The caption read “Yes you. You control the Information Age. Welcome to your world.” Today, much of the global culture encourages us to be even more introspective and more egocentric. The idea of looking out for number one, namely me, is almost a default. What is true of the culture also seeps into the church. I find the mindset of the individual to oftentimes be true of myself and people in the ministry as well.

For example: What is your picture of the phrase: “discipling a small group”? How about “leading people in worship”? I suspect like me you automatically thought of an individual doing this rather than a team.

But when we look at the examples of Jesus and his followers there is a great emphasis of “the other”. Ministry was done in teams.  Jesus was with the disciples, Paul was always bringing people along with him. This article is an attempt to be more like them and to go beyond the just “you” in ministry. For one, this article wasn’t written by just one individual. Secondly, we’ll take a look at one area assumed in ministry to be for the individual and that is in this verse:

“Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Jesus said in Matthew 4:19. Continue reading Beyond the “You” in Youth Ministry

Vision for Youth

When Micah was 12 years old I could not figure him out. He was brilliant and energetic. I liked him but he was disruptive at our meetings. He did not seem to take anything seriously. After some discipline problems, he quit coming for a number of months.

For me, trying to understand Micah was like looking at an out of focus picture. I could see some big shapes but had a hard time seeing how it all fit together. Over time things started coming into focus. I started to get a vision for him. God gave me an appreciation for who he is and an excitement about what he could become. God helped me to see a glimpse of how Micah is God’s masterpiece (Ephesians 2:10). As God gave me vision for Micah, I saw how God could use his personality. Instead of feeling annoyed by him, I felt excited about his potential.

Vision means seeing a positive possible future for a person or group. It is based on an understanding of God’s character. It should fit with scripture and could include direct spiritual insight from God. Vision comes from God. He is the source of all wisdom and knowledge.

You need vision for your kids. Many of your youth come from hard situations. Few in their families have a spiritual vision for them. Providing positive spiritual vision is an important part of being a spiritual leader. Start by asking God to give you an increasing vision of his power and goodness.

Leaders need vision. Vision will increase your effectiveness as a leader. Leaders without vision just go through the motions of serving. They have no purpose or destination. They are driving at night without lights. They are in danger of burnout. They tend to emphasize rules over progress and tend to write off problem youth. They tend to be annoyed at kids instead of seeing their potential. Leaders with vision are motivated and motivate others. They persevere. They are encouraging because they believe in the kids they lead. Think of the impact your leaders had on you, especially the ones who believed in you.

Kids without vision do not meet their potential. They waste time and energy. They are unmotivated because they do not understand God’s great vision for their life. Some feel worthless. You can make an incredible spiritual impact on kids if you learn to get vision for them.

Daniel 2 gives us a four-step pattern for getting vision. The world’s most powerful king, Nebuchadnezzar, demanded his wise men tell him his dream and interpret it. When they could not, he ordered that they all be killed. When Daniel heard about this he asked for more time. He and his friends were in trouble. Without a vision from God they would be killed with the other wise men. Daniel followed these steps. Continue reading Vision for Youth

What The Start of a Training Looks Like

If you haven’t been to one, allow our trainer to show you a glimpse.

From the outside:

…through the halls:

…and in the lecture area:

Poster Preview for 2013

Here we go! Last year was great but this year we look forward to equipping even more youth leaders in cities and countries around the planet.

Burning On Without Burning Up

And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed.” Exodus 3:2

Whenever I hear this, my mind paints a picture of a bush on fire. That though, is not the extraordinary thing in the passage. A bush being on fire may in fact have been a most common event for Moses who, at this point in his life, had a lifetime’s experience in the desert. What drew Moses near that bush and what I’d like to put emphasis on is that last phrase of Exodus 3:2. The bush was not consumed by the fire. The account goes on to state “And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” Exodus 3:3

I’ve recently been reading through Kenda Dean and Ron Foster’s book “The Godbearing Life” where they bring up this point. And the more I think on it the more I see how significant this account has for our ministry to young people. In the book they state: “This verse implies that if Yahweh is going to use us to get youth’s attention, if the Lord is going to ignite our lives and our ministries in such a way that youth “turn aside” to look, then God is not calling us to identify with Moses. God is calling us to identify with the bush.

How do we do this as youth ministers? How can we be on fire for God without being consumed?

Feed Your Own Fire

The almost too ordinary yet neglected way to do this is to feed our own fire. Just as a bonfire blazing doesn’t go out if it is constantly fed with logs and fuel so we too will not go out if we keep our souls fed. We all know this but that doesn’t mean it is simple to do. As workers it can get easy to neglect our own spiritual sustenance as we feed others spiritually. Don’t get caught in the deception that giving to others and causing them to grow can substitute for our own spiritual growth. Instead set aside times for: personal communication with God; listening to His word; growing deeper in knowledge and wisdom; and placing ourselves into situations where we can experience His love. Indeed as the work ahead grows in demand let it not be a call to lessen our times with God but rather a call to increase them. Consider Martin Luther’s statement: “Work, work, from morning until late at night. In fact, I have so much to do that I shall have to spend the first three hours in prayer.

Let Work Become Worship

As I write this the Christmas season is in full swing. Where I live, the Christmas holiday is a great season of celebrating throughout the land and a wonderful pointer to all that Jesus has done. For those who work with youth here, this time is one of the busiest. Due to the workload, the many programs ongoing and events ahead still needing to be planned, the season could become less about celebration and more about fulfilling obligations and doing the work. Work stops being a God-ordained task and starts becoming a requirement of the job or something that just has to be done even if it is hated.

Christmas is just an example; there are many other times where the ministry becomes less about worship and more about work. If you can relate, if contemplating the days ahead fills you with dread or worse, apathy, consider these questions:

What if the work becomes transformed into worship? What if we offer what we do as an offering pleasing to God? Wouldn’t considering it as such make our fires burn brighter and keep the work from consuming us?

Back to the burning bush, and this time think of Moses. His day began ordinarily and probably with the same routine as he has had almost every day. And he spots what might have been the most ordinary sight, a common bush just like any of the hundreds he has seen before. But before this day ends, he will be taking off his sandals in worship.

I’m not sure how common you find your ministry becoming, but if it does allow that historic moment to inspire you. Look to the common things happening in your ministry and allow God to surprise you in them. Youth ministry can do this in many ways. A young person’s vibrant personality could refresh you, teenager will share to you a surprising spiritual insight, the success of the event could be God encouraging you, and a parent’s kind words could be a personal message from the Lord.

So, in all you do for the Lord, take time to pause. Look. Feel. Celebrate. Worship. And a beautiful thing happens when our work becomes worship: it becomes more meaningful to God and man as well. Especially in youth ministry, young people are keen to spot folk who are just doing their job and those who are genuinely enjoying what they do. And they are drawn and grow interested when we are the latter.

Listen for the Lord

Just as God can use our work to speak to us He can also speak to us even when the work breaks down. God could be calling to us not just when an event is successful but even when an event fails. Not only our superiors’ praises but their criticisms could be a personal message from the Lord. Mark Batterson says:

New chapters in our lives often begin with an orientation. You go through an orientation when you start at a new school or get a new job. But God begins new chapters in our lives via disorientation. Jesus didn’t do orientations. Jesus did disorientations. Doesn’t it seem like His disciples were in a constant state of disorientation? We think it’s because of spiritual immaturity, but maybe it models the way God makes disciples. Sometimes God needs to disorient us so He can reorient us.

What happened to Moses as he turned aside to observe the bush was certainly far from his expectations. It was a disorientation. And yet from that event his life took an incredible turn in the plan of God. May the same be true of your disorientations. My point is that if we understand it, if we see God’s hand not just in the good but in every situation we will live lives confidently aflame for God. What seems like cold water being drenched on our fires we will understand to be God’s way to help us burn longer or burn all the brighter for Him.

Whatever situation you find yourself in as you read this, may you be encouraged to feed your fires, worship God with your work, and listen for the Lord. This season may you burn bright and be a light for other people. May you “live so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16

A Theology of Games

Leading games are a big part of what is youth ministry. By games, I include here icebreakers, learning tasks, and various activities of skill, chance, or endurance involving the young people in your ministry. Programs geared toward youth almost always include one or more of these types of activity and I have yet to encounter the youth leader who has not been expected to lead one. What could be so difficult about leading games, isn’t it just as easiest thing to do in youth group? Perhaps. There are those who take to games naturally, but I’ve also met many a youth leader who could do with some help. No matter what category you fall under though I hope you get a thing or two from this article.

Let me start with the perception of handling games. One mentality that could ruin games is that it isn’t important enough. A game could be placed into the program and considered only at the last minute or it is there as a transition to more important activities. The other perception would be that it is all-important to the exclusion of most everything else. The youth camp program or your youth ministry expense for example might reflect this. Just as with most other aspects balance must be achieved. The games and activities have their role but are also part of a bigger goal. For me, leading games is just as important as say, leading the worship songs. Leading games is after all also about demonstrating and participating in the Kingdom of Heaven. And a properly done game can do that in ways that other aspects of youth ministry can’t.

But how a youth group perceives the role of games falls upon the people who handle them. That would be you, youth leader.

So what’s your mentality with regard to games? As you plan, prepare and lead games, a good mentality is one that is less about self and more about others and most about God.

By self I mean that we tend toward the activities that we get the most fun out of or those that we like to do. But what makes the person handling the game laugh might make the participants of the game cry. And not everyone is a fan of your favorite dance game.  One way to combat our tendency to be about the self is to consider not just “What activity would I get the most fun out of?” but also “Would this bring gladness to those I intend it for?”

That it be more about others, try to put yourself in their shoes, would you love this activity if you were the one playing it and not running it? Good games bring laughter and joy. Even games that don’t end up so well because of disagreements, emotions or misunderstandings also show us areas that the individual or the group need to improve on in fellowship. And great games show how good it is when brothers and sisters interact and live together in harmony.

Finally, as you consider your game mentality, don’t leave God out of the equation. Again, the best games reflect or point to the Kingdom of God. How do your games do that? Continue reading A Theology of Games

Awake To Protect

This is a post from Arfaith Miranda from Cebu, Philippines who tries to live out the principle of meeting youth where they are.

Nganong mata paman ka Paul?” I asked.

Kay magbantay nila,” he replied gently.

(“Why are you still awake Paul?” I asked. “To protect them.” he replied…)

These were the stunning words I heard from a new friend, whose name is quite biblical: John Paul. His crib is in Looc, Mandaue, but his home is on a street together with his “homies” who have houses but chose to be “at home” with other thugs on that street. And he loves it. His eyes speak.

It is still fresh and clear to me how I met John Paul and his homies in their public ghetto–Citra  Mina. It was September 15, 2012, on a silent and calm dawn of Saturday–a moment of time when a radical perspective of mine towards street kids was turned into compassion. I and my classmates had come upon a place where we saw some street kids lying down across the street. We crossed towards the other side to see and meet them. I bore with me a sort of fear and hesitation. Upon reaching them, my eyes drew me directly to the thin, blonde, good-looking guy with his transparent eyeglasses. We had a meaningful conversation, knowing his whereabouts and understanding his “whyabouts.”

The entire chat we had can be summarized with a stunning point I cannot forget–he was wide awake at 3:00 a.m. to protect his slumbering friends from other thugs who might ambush them at that time. He is 14 years old and he loves to live out that purpose to show to them how much they mean to him. I see that as a sacrifice, a risk, a delight to accomplish the honor. It removed from my thinking that I’m better and more fortunate than a guy lying down on the street. He has a quality that I don’t have. He lives to protect; I live to be protected. O foolish filthy guy that I am!

Am I really worth helping with others’ protection? Doesn’t John Paul and his friends need more help with protection than I do? But I wonder, am I doing something for them? Is the church doing something for them to make the very words of Jesus a reality, “Let the children come to Me, do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:14). This was a loud-speaker call for me. A call to think about them once in a while. A call to talk to them for a moment. A call to intercede for them. A call to provide them opportunities to be joyful. A call to extend a helping hand towards them. And a call to reach out to them with the Gospel with the hugs and kisses of God’s love. If we will not, who else will do it?

I’d always thought that they were a threat to us, but I admit that I was wrong and judgmental. Looking at their potential and character, they can, as a whole, protect the community while we provide for them their basic needs—food, shelter, and clothing. I call it a “two-way collaboration of helping hands.”

As I was about to leave their ghetto, I said, “Adto nako, Paul, kita ta sunod panahon. (I’m going, Paul, see you next time.)

“Sige, Kuya Rex,” he answered. (Sure, Big Brother Rex)

“Kuya Ar ko oi,” I countered. (Oh, I’m Big Brother Ar)

I left carrying his real smile with me.

5 Ways To Avoid Conflict With Parents

Since it’s Buwan ng Wika in the Philippines, I thought you might enjoy this Tagalog post by Jon Singua (There’s a translation at the bottom if you’re not a Tagalog reader). Jon is one of our GYMN grads, he’s got a great heart for youth and is himself a parent of a teen. 

Ilang paraan upang maiwasan ang problema sa pagitan ng Youth Minister at ng mga magulang… ito ay mula sa aking personal na karanasan:

1. Isipin mo na isa sa mga kabataan ng inyong simbahan ay iyong anak, mula doon ay mas madali mong mauunawaan kung ano ang hinahanap ng magulang sa kanyang anak lalo na sa mga responsibilidad nito sa loob ng tahanan na minsan ay hindi nagagawa dahil sa gawain sa simbahan.
2. Huwag agawan ng responsibilidad ang mga magulang, tayo ay pangalawang takbuhan lamang ng ating kabataan lalo na sa panahon ng kanilang problema, desisyon o ano pa mang bagay na may kinalaman sa kanilang buhay. Malaki ang tendency na sa atin lagi mag depend ang mga kabataan pero mahalaga pa din na lagi natin silang tinuturuang maging malapit sa magulang, sumunod at magtiwala.

3. Palawakin ang iyong ministry, sanayin ang sarili sa tamang pamamaraan ng pakikiharap sa mga magulang, makakabuo tayo ng maayos na communication sa mga magulang, at mas madali niyong mapag-uusapan ang magandang bagay o problema tungkol sa kanilang anak.

4. Isama sa programa ang pagbisita sa mga magulang, doon ay maaari mong ibahagi ang anumang ginagawa ng mga kabataan ng simbahan at kung ano ang layunin ng inyong samahan. Mas lalalim ang relasyon dahil gusto din ng magulang na kilala nila ang mga taong sinasamahan ng kanilang anak. Mula dito ay posibleng makapag-simula na tayo ng Bible study sa loob ng tahanan.

5. Laging ikunsidera ang araw at oras ng kabataan, magkaroon lamang ng limitasyon sa oras sa bawat gawain upang hindi naman sila magkulang sa kanilang atensyon sa kanilang pamilya, pag-aaral o trabaho. Sa taunang pagpaplano, mag-adjust ng schedule kung may gawain ang ating kabataan sa simbahan na tatapat sa mga okasyong pang pamilya tulad ng father’s day, mother’s day at iba pa na ipinagdiriwang ng lahat, mas makabubuti na tumatatag ang relasyon ng bawat pamilya dulot pagsisimba ng bawat kabataan.

Here’s the editor’s attempt at a translation: Continue reading 5 Ways To Avoid Conflict With Parents

Striking The Balance With Parents

We’ve said it since that first day of our training: making parents our partners is crucial to our youth ministry strategy.

That does not mean we abandon our role as youth workers but it rather means adjusting and making sure that our ministry is working alongside and not against the role of parents. In this and the next post taken from our YC I’ve asked two youth leaders I know with much experience in dealing with parents. Here’s some insights from Ethel from her ministry as a youth leader:

In our GYMN material on family we say that “God created the family before He created the church and the youth ministry” to emphasize the role and authority of the parents over their children.

Youth leaders (myself included) have the tendency of becoming idealistic in handling sensitive matters that involve conflict between the youth and especially non-believing parents. We have to be careful how we influence the youth who is struggling with ‘obeying’ his parents. Examples of these are when parents won’t allow their child to go to youth activities, and/or get baptized. Whatever you suggest to your youth will play a great role on how they will decide on such matters.

In our exposure to different churches and places, and when teaching on family in the GYMN seminar, this question is asked regularly, “How do we respond to our parents who do not want us to continue to get involved with the church?” Some of these leaders are honest enough to tell us they ran away from home, some gave advice to their youth to continue despite the parents’ disapproval because “it is Biblical that we get persecuted, even Jesus said to deny our family to follow Him.” Situations like these could lead to broken relationships with the family, and the youth gaining loyalty and identity in us and in the youth group instead.

How do we strike the balance?

Through our own set of mistakes, we have also learned to give weight to preserving relationship within the family at a cost, even if that means reaching the point of youth not being able to join our youth activities anymore.

We should also learn to trust the parents even those outside the faith, seeing their heart in being protective, especially when the youth start to show independence.  Our role as youth minister is also to encourage the youth to live a life and make decisions that would honor their parents. At the same time, we meet and talk with the parents informing them of our objective to help and involve their kids in our youth group.  We continue to communicate with the parents in any way possible to let them know what’s going on.

We become more aware of how we schedule our meetings, and how much time we demand from the kids, making sure we do not compete with their family and/or study time.

We also teach the youth to honor their parents, and respect their belief. We help the new believing youth how to respectfully respond to his parents and how to behave in such a way that they won’t be viewed as arrogant and disrespectful. Let us guide the youth not to be assertive of their new found faith, reminding him that the most effective way of conveying faith in Jesus is by showing it. Leading the youth in a godly and family-oriented perspective will help them avoid tension and increase their desire to pursue quality relationship with their family (especially if there is none). This will help our youth ministry as well, in avoiding or at least minimizing conflict between parents and church.

How the youth pastor and youth leaders give value to their own family is also a huge example for the youth of how they will honor their parents regardless if they are believers or not.