Site navigation

Uh... we are re-imagining youth ministry.


Other sites

Vintage Church
Reimagining Camp

On theJourney

Jay Huff
Aaron Klinefelter
Stacy Sublett
Randy Bennett
Andy Byrne

Thursday, May 29, 2003

Crazy life:
I haven't blogged much the past few weeks. Thanks for your patience. Stuff is stirring in my head right now.
I'm sure it will come out soon.
Keep up the blogs!

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

WRITER'S BLOCK: I'm not sure I have it - I haven't tried to write anything article-ish in a while. Maybe I'll get it in an hour. I'm working on two articles this week, both tangentially related to YM. One is for my local newspaper where I have an infrequent Saturday column, on these six homeless kids folks in my church cared for these past eight months. The other is on failures in intentional Christian community for Re:generation Quarterly. Wish me luck.
I hate Doug Fields. Okay, maybe hate is such a strong word, maybe it's
dislike. I have nothing against Doug Fields himself; just that so many in
youth ministry want to attempt to be well like Doug Fields or the next
Doug Fields of youth ministry. Don't be like Doug. (Or even like Mike for
that matter). What God has done at Saddleback is great. But be who you
are, and God created you to be.

Imitiate Jesus, not Doug. I think that's the way Doug would of liked it.
Pointing all things to God's Glory that we may Love God and love our
students. We don't need more Doug Fields in Youth Ministry. We need more
youth workers who have a passion and desire to be who God wants them to
be in youth ministry. I've stopped trying to be Like Doug, Mike
Yaconelli, Duffy Robbins (And whoever else is Big in your Denomination)
and let God work on me. God has blessed people like Doug, and He can me.

I wonder why we look to people like Doug Fields, instead of the Rulemaker
That Doug Loves. Maybe that's the point. Don't let your life be modeled
after Doug Fields, model your life after the God who Doug loves. I really
don't dislike Doug Fields; I've just fallen more in love with the God he

What about you? Caught in the game of trying to imitiate a mega church;
instead of just learning and applying some principles from them. How can
you fall back in love with God? Maybe it isn't looking at what others
have; but thanking God that their part in the Body is doing well ..and
God Can use you too.

What do you think? Hate Doug? or Love the God He Serves?

Gman :o)

Monday, May 26, 2003

Not Just Meaningless Babble
I feel like I have writters block lately. Nothing comes out right and my mind won't stick to one thought. I haven't been with "my kids" in two weeks. I hate it! LOL Who would have thought that. I had a neat talk with a girl at a retreat I was at this weekend. Although I don't know she really understood what I was saying. She is going to seminary for YM. I kept trying to get her to tell me what she wanted to do and she just repeated what she had been taught. It was frustrating. I finally just showed her a book I'm reading....blushes...Dan Kimball's book. I'm hoping it will help her see what I was getting at. To start thinking outside of her teaching. My church still doesn't have a clue what it is doing. In some ways this has made me unmotivated. How do I work in this situation? I keep asking myself that alot. At some point I'm suppose to meet with the Temp Boy. We shall see what that brings. Hope y'all are doing well. This babble was for Jamie. ;) Not much but the silence has been broken.

Monday, May 19, 2003

YM Reimagined?

Sunday, May 18, 2003

You get a good idea and somehow it gets screwed up.
Well I shared last week how we are trying a new "community time" at our church that will span generations, be a time of prayer and study, and how the leadership of the church was all for it... see entry "Young and Old" below... well I'll be dammed if the newsletter came out and gave this new experience a name! I am not trying to take all the credit for getting this started, but I worked hard to get everyone invloved and see it come about... and now it has a name. I mean the UMC has all kinds of names for things, especially initials, but this name sucks. I am not even going to tell the name because I am embarrassed. Working inside the system is hell on earth at times. Sorry I had to let it out, but I feel better now. Don't believe me about the name... ok, here it is Soak, Seek, and Snuggle (with God). Oh crap, it looks worse when I write it!

Friday, May 16, 2003

Keep it up.
Hey gang. Keep posting. it seems like the last week has been really good for posts. You are heading in the right direction. Everyone seems to be asking great questions! Writing creative stuff and dialoguing well. Our traffic is up too. There are a whole lot of people begining to get into the conversation. If you are new to the site. welcome. throw us a comment. tell us what you think.
thanks for being so invovled in the conversation. I'm learning a lot. I hope you are too.


Thursday, May 15, 2003

The Kid In The Corner
I started a thread at the Ooze about what we are talking about here. Just wanted to see what else was out there. I wasn't expecting this. I was asked about youth with mental handicaps (Downs,autism--,ect). How do they fit in this line of thought. I have to admit I'm speachless for an answer. I admit I never thought about it. I have worked with "normal" youth and I have worked with "at-risk" youth, never gave a secound thought that one day I may have "the kid in the corner" Has anyone thought about this? Is anyone in this situation now and has some ideas. Because of this question I'm acknowledging I haven't thought about it and because of this question I want to be prepared. If I'm saying I want to have a true "church community" that means all parts of His body, I must be prepared. Shouldn't we all?
A great email:
I got a great email from Chris,who is somewhat of a critic of a lot (most) of what I say. Though we aren't on the same page. It was a good email. I added my comments in response throughout the email.

CHRIS: Hey I first found your article @ the ooze, on youth ministry,( then your blog. I was curious so I fired a couple of shots in your direction. Here is another.

CHRIS: I agree with your premise. Ministries are segmented and at some levels thechurch suffers for that. As a whole youth ministries in America stink. However, they are probably doing a much better job of at least attempting to fulfill the great commission then churches as whole. I say let all the churches in America take a look at some youth ministries that are fulfilling the great commission and follow their lead. Maybe what they are doing is the way everyone should do ministry. Maybe the fullness of Christ is a church fulfilling the great commission and the great commandment?

ME: I agree with the idea that youth ministries are more likely to be risk taking in their faithfulness to God and that many of them look like churches might consider modeling after... at least as far as flavor of worship, teaching and relationship building. But for youth ministry to do what they do apart from adults undermines the ministry to youth by all the things we are teaching them by how we function.

CHRIS: How much of the full body of Christ does a 40 year old see? The answer; whatever part they want. The difference between a 40 year old and juniorhigh year old is that the 13 year old does not get a choice. They go because they are told to go. Usually by the 40 year old. So whose fault is it that the ministries are segmented? The youth pastor? No, it is the guy who hired him and the guy who pays the salary. Both probably about 40. My point? Youth ministries have always existed to assist parents in the spiritual formation of their kids. But somewhere along the way most parents stopped doing that. Parent dereliction has creeped into the process for the last xxx years. Youth pastors are forced to bunker in, because if they don't kids won't have anyone to show them the way. That's a lot or pressure to put on a 22 bible college grad. Is it any wonder they have not thought through the long term effects of bunker mentality? They don't have the depth to do so!

ME: They system is broken. And we still buy into it as pastors when we come on staff. The church has a structure, the youth ministry is a part of it. So a youth pastor many times doesn't initially create the problem. But he can lead change. Ym has not always been about assisting parents, it started by ministering to students without parents. Most youth pastors give lip service to assisting parents… but the way the church functions generally enables parents to abdicate their responsibility.

CHRIS: I know that you were not ranting on 13 year olds. Just those that choose to shepherd them. I prefer the word shepherd to mercenary but whatever. So let's think about why junior highers aren't hanging with 60 year olds. Could it be that the institution that we call the family hardly exists in most churches? The reason many of my students don't hang with 60 year olds is because they don't know any 60 year old Christians! They certainly are not related to any. So many families move around today. Families no longer live on the same street or even the same state. Their parents aren't Christians. And 50% of the ones that claim Christ are divorced. Of the rest that are married, how many really want to disciple their own kids? Of course you mentioned the parent problem. Most don't want to teach their own kids. Without youth ministry these kids have zip. We don't live in 75 A.D. any more. Families move far away, patriarchal roles have changed. A long term attack on the family has ravaged the church. The context has changed!

ME: I'm ranting on the system and the people who refuse to recognize it might be broken. Youth pastors certainly have a heart to minister to students.. to shepherd them. And they do… but they are hired to. I feel like we are are closer in our thinking that you might recognize and then it feels like we have very different views of the world. No we don't live in 75 AD. But the last time I checked the church was a culture shaping force. I think you give up way to much ground to cultural influences outside of God here. You say that without YM kids will have zip. Wow. What a statement. Do you realize what you are saying there. IT sounds like you are saying that the church has nothing and will not ever have anything to offer kids. Your parents comments concern me. It sounds like you are giving up a lot of God's best for teens, and settling for something else. It sounds like your ministry to parents is shaped around the unhealthy situations our families and communities have now. That God redeeming those relationships is hopeless. WOW. I can't got there.

CHRIS: "Kids desire to be in community." Yes. But they could give a rip about the ages of the other people in the community. "kids desire a safe place." Yes"kids long to be known." Yes. "kids will flock to the oldest person who will love and accept them." Eh? Kids will flock to the first person that loves them regardless of age. In my 10 years working with kids I have not experienced the older=more flockage thing. I just don't buy your argument that a 13 year old has to be with a 60 year old to experience "fullness".

ME: I love your first statement. You are exactly right. Kids could give a rip about the ages of the other people in the community. Exactly! If you don't buy my argument that a 13 year old needs a 60 year old then nothing I say will make sense. Nothing. IF you think that a 13 year old can understand the fullness of who God is by just knowing other 13 year olds then we are in very different places. I personally can't know and understand the fullness of God as a 31 yr old married man with 2 kids without knowing people outside married with kids people. I need 60 year olds. I need 13 year olds. God shows himself to us in the community, his body. A 13 year old's world is warped. They have a warped view of God. My view is narrow. I need others to expand my understanding. Again. This is basic theology here. But if we are in different places… so be it.

CHRIS: "Imagine a church where small groups are made up of people of every age 14,25, 40, 60 75.". Why? How is that better than a group of people the same age? To a 13 year old I am 70, even though I am only 36. There are is a reason we hang with people the same age as us. Because we like it! Was age even a factor in picking the disciples? I don't think so. The only chance a student has in hanging with someone who is 60 is a relative. But with the break down of the family in our culture that ship has long sailed. Some are lucky enough to have good families. My pagan family at least had that. Half do not. When will a 14 year old hang with a 75 year old in a small group Bible study. Never. Now maybe a 35 year old will, someday. And then we could
talk about 13 year olds.

ME: You said a lot here man. A lot about your view of youth. A lot of your hope for kids. A lot about how you view the church. I really have nothing to add to what I've already said above.

CHRIS: It is so easy to go after youth ministry as a culprit in the dwindling churches of America. Modern youth ministry was founded to find those kids whose parents were not able to connect their kids to church, and to reach those kids who parents bailed on church all together. Imagine our country if there was zero youth ministry. The church would be in a lot worse shape than
it already is.

ME: I don't think I'm going after YM as the culprit of dwindling churches in America. Quite the contrary. People who currently serve as Youth pastor's have yet to fully understand what kind of impact they will have or can have on the church. (outside or youth group that is)

CHRIS: When I sit back I read your rant I see another adult trying to box a kid into what they think the kid should be doing. I really don't see how your model makes everything kosher.

ME: I'm not suggesting a model. I'm suggesting a need for youth pastor's to think of their roles differently. For them to think deeply about how they function and the ministries they run adversely affect students. Again. If you don't get the need for diverse ages in community, you will not get this. It's the same reason I need African-american, Latino, and other races in community. My view of God is limited if I only worship God in a white, anglo church.

CHRIS: In the meantime I will shepherd my arse off because the pastor to your children might be sitting in front of me on Sunday. I will do my best to let them see the "fullness" of Christ. What do you mean by that anyway? And to protect them from the "dysfunctional world of obscured norms trying to be like Jesus" that is just about every church in America. I pray to God they
find a church like mine when they leave for college or whatever. While it is not perfect, it kicks butt.

ME: Thanks for your heart for kids Chris. Keep seeking God! Your desire to be faithful at all costs is evident in your email to me! Thanks for taking the time to email me!

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Young and Old
I have been working hard on briding the gap between the generations in our church. A gap that has been cause by categorizing childrens' ministries, youth, young adult, seniors, etc. Why do the older group get pissed off because the youth tore a shelf off the wall at an event? Why do the youth think that the older people suck and could care less about any advice that they give? One reason... they do not have any contact with one another than to sit silently in worship service together, or pass each other at the pot luck dinner. There is a disconnect and I know that I have contributed to that disconnect.
So, taking Dan's advice and sharing what I want to do differently, I have met with strategic leadership persons in the church and we are dreaming up a time where everyone of all ages come together to have community, pray together, worship through interaction. It will start off on Wednesday nights around 7:30. It kicks off next month and we are still wondering how it is going to go or what the hell is even going to take place. But I really have a desire to see young and old sitting around, Bibles open, questioning, doubting, arguing, praying, comforting each other. Even if it is only for a short time on Wednesday nights... that to me is a ministry worth focusing all my efforts into making happen. Screw lock ins and UMYF. Building bridges and relationships will have a longer lasting effect than any "Do you Love your Neighbor?" mixer with 40 kids on Sunday nights.
Dan's Article
Reimagine youth ministry:
Warning: The following post is long. But I think it's important (of course I do... I wrote it!) There are moments in the post that are harsher than others. It is not my intent for this post to be directed at any one person.. but more of a clarification of what I hope this blog can become. I would love your comments on anything below. (except where noted... and you certainly can post comments on that too!)
Reimagine youth ministry is a completely new look at ministering to youth. It's not retailoring an old suit to meet a new need.
It means un-learning things we have been taught and taught ourselves. It means tackling our assumptions and reevaluating what we believe about God, the body of Christ, our role as youth pastors, and ministry to students.
It's not about status quo. It's not about rearranging. It's not retooling. It's not reorganizing. It's not replanning. It's not redoing. It's not rerunning.
ReIMAGINE. It means to imagine something beyond our current circumstance. Beyond our current situation. Beyond our assumptions. Beyond our organizations. Beyond our systems. Beyond our current beliefs! Reimagine has less to do with what programs we do or don't do and more to do with who we are, how we live, and the enviroment we provide.
Skateparks? Programs? I don't care. Do 'em if they fit. Don't if they don't fit. BUT damn it rethink why we do it all. REthink what we really believe about what we are doing. The reason I will not share "practical" stuff (as much as practical equates to programs) is because none of it matters that much. Those things might not change all that much. If you want to ReARRANGE then this is not a site for you, you will continuously be frustrated here. IF you want the next cool ministry idea. you will not find it here. IF you are simply wanting to involve more parents in your youth group, or have your students simply be more visible in your congregation then you are wasting your time here. IF you are willing to do the very hard damn work of Imagining a ministry beyond what you are currently experiencing, then this is a place to do that. And if you read that last sentance and you want to comment about how it's a waste of time and that it's not practical and that it's just dreaming of a place we'll never be... don't waste your time writing a full comment. Simply write. You are a dreamer in the comment box. Thanks.

Ok. I feel like I'm coming down on people and I don't want to. It just seems like there are people in two different places here.
One group really doesn't see a need for wholesale change. They see the need to tweek youth minstry a bit.
One group not only sees a need for wholesale change, but believes that the need for change is inherently necessary for all those who do traditional youth ministry. (sorry for the broad brush) These people not only see the need but feel it. I have no other way to say it except this. They feel it deeply in the joints of their bodies. They actually ache for change.

Reimagining youth ministry means I will sacrifice anything and everything to minister to youth in a way that is healthy. What is happening in the average youth ministry (broad brush) is not healthy. Is that an overstatement? I don't think so. That's why this blog exists.

This is turning into a long post. but i have a couple more things.
Look. If we brush up on our youth ministry history, Mike Yaconelli has been one of the most influential people in it's current formation. Few people (if any) have had the impact he has on forming what we now understand to be "youth ministry". He was one of the greatest voices in proposing professional youth ministry. He probably doesn't realize it, but because of that, he has made a tremendous impact on how the average church functions. How many churches out there hire a youth pastor as one of their first few staff positions these days? Yet, when Yaconelli says "Youth ministry as an experiment has failed" young (dare I say arrogant) youth pastors say things like "What has he done for youth ministry", "he always so negative about youth ministry" etc. All these comments and they're written on the Youth Specialties message boards! PLEASE! Yaconelli is not God or someone's advise we should take fullon. but when he speaks on youth ministry you'd better at least listen a little.
Alright Andy, I can see some of your points. So I will tell you something that I really want to see happen. I want to build up my church and make the young people stronger. One of my worries is that, in our church, we have created a shell for them and they can't and won't make the jump into the "larger community" church. What my husband and I are trying to start is getting the families of these kids and adults to be involved with a "youth program". Some of this has been met with success,but one problem is that at parts the adults sit and chat while the kids (me included) go play. Not what we are looking for. Its slow and we are learning along the way. Plus out of the fact the Elders don't know what they want so it is hard to get anything major started. You know to be able to put into practice what we would like to do. Our whole goal, with anything we do, is to bring back a sense of community for everyone.
One other thing that we will be doing this summer, is hosting a dinner for the adults of our congretation. We are still working on the "fine detials" but what I hope to happen is that at least 2 teens to 2 adults or something to that nature. The teens would serve as host to the adults, getting them seated, serving their food,ect and also sitting with them and having dialoge. Anyway, its just the start. Maybe you might have some suggestions? Well, I thought I would just share somethings that we are working on. Maybe not a great blog but just wanted to share.

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

part of reimagining is un-imagining.

Sunday, May 11, 2003

Helping or hurting:
I can't count the number of times I've talked to youth pastors over the past several years who say something like this:
"This church is dying. But I love these kids. I'm not going to abandon them."
"I'd leave this church. But I don't know what else I'd do for a living."
"This church is killing me spiritually and stealing my passion. But I'm going to stay for the kids"
"This church seperates students from adults in just about every way and we call ourselves a family church. But I'm just going to take care of the youth. At least they will be thinking straight."

The question of the day:
Are you really helping youth by staying in your current role or job?

Runner up question of the day:
Did you take enough time to really answer that question?

Second runner up question of the day:
Do you have the guts to be faithful if you've answered "no to either of the above"?
Here's some practicals:
Evaluate the following:
Do your leaderships students AND a majority of the students in your local congregation see their primary relationship to your church as the youth ministry or your church. If the answer is youth ministry something needs to change.
Do you live a life of humility specifically towards the rest of your congregation and the way it functions. Regardless of your reasoning or how dysfunctional you argue your church is, if the answer is no, then something needs to change.
Do relationships in your church naturally flow between all ages, specifically outside of programs. If not. something needs to change.
Do your students have opportunities to build real relationships with other students in the life of your church... not neccesary programs. If not something needs to change.
Does your church live and breathe grace? No? Change!
Does your church seek to be faithful at all costs? No? Change!
Does your church embrace the pain of people and desire not to bow at the feet of the idol of the perfect evangelical family? No? Change!
Does your church see you as a pastor, who's sole role is to seek God and to be with people? No? Change!
Do you see yourself as the one who has to make things happen? Yes? Change!
Does your church expect you to do the ministry? Yes? Change

Things you need to ask yourself:
Does my church mean the same thing that I do when they use the following words:

If your is church actually is dysfunctional, can you walk the fine line of humility towards your church be used by God to change how it functions?
What do you do when you discover you are talking about two different views on how ministry is done?
If you say stay and change youth while living with the status quo in the church... you might be wrong.

Is that better for practical stuff?
I think Riddle was on to something in his earlier post, btw...I think much of our need to "do something" in youth ministry is more about us than about students or calling. The programs, the numbers...even real works of God are pedestals of success for us to place ourselves upon.
Dan wrote "so, what do we do now?! what is next? i know others may disagree with me, but i do believe there is some next steps for youth ministry. i do believe that if we really pray and really think that we can re-imagine a new future. it isn't going to be easy, but i believe that God cares about teenagers and that something must be done....."

Okay...honestly I feel like I've said what I thought about "what is next"...but it keeps being interpreted as deconstruction only. For me the "next" was to quit doing youth ministry in the professional context. I remember setting in a church staff meeting one day where another staff member was doing the weekly devotional. In it she quoted from a Max Lucado book and asked the question, "If Jesus were living your life...If he had your family, your job, your friends, etc...what would He do differently?" For me I knew He wouldn't be working as a youth pastor (note: I'm not saying this for everyone). That was the next step for me and honestly, I think there are many in youth ministry who the best thing would be for them to just stop what they are doing completely and start pouring their lives into a few kids with whom God gives them good relationships. They would find more fulfillment of their calling to simply do that. If you want me to tell you how I hang out with students and talk about Christ, I guess we can do that...but my assumption (my hope) is that everyone here already knows how to do that.

But whenever I say this to youth pastors, all I get is frustrated looks and a sense that they see my decision to leave youth ministry as some type of failure or concession to defeat. The truth is that its very liberating and in many ways I feel like I'm doing more youth ministry now than ever before. I think maybe we do need to fail and concede to defeat. To surrender to the fact that our self-made plans have come to ruin and that Christ has had different plans all along.

Saturday, May 10, 2003


i liked what was posted earlier in the "how many times" blog, when the questions was asked "NOW WHAT?". i think we can deconstruct and recognize the ways we have gone astray in youth ministry, or perhaps never been on the right path at all. but, i do believe we need to begin healthy conversation and exploring the "NOW WHATS?" of where to go from here. i do sense that a lot of times we can go on and on about what is wrong, how we have failed, the negatives of programs and using numbers, checking our personal motivations for being in ministry...this is all good! we need to. we need to recognize these things, and do some deep self-evaluation. but.....

the title of this blog is "re-imagining youth ministry", so i personally would like to start hearing some ways we can re-imagine. what are people actually beginning to experiment with in youth ministry? what are the positives in youth ministry that we should still be doing? if we aren't going to use "programs" then what do we do? what are possible solutions to re-imagining youth ministry in a healthy way? how can we begin the discussion in our staffs and with our senior pastors? how can we support one another in all this?

i think in new testament times, they definitely had to wade through moving away from legalism, changing from the law to grace, moving from judaic ritual to freedom in Jesus- but they did move on. so, i would like to propose that we don't just ignore the mess we are all in by any means- but we begin to discuss what do we do now? yes, we have failed in many ways- but what do we do now? there are millions of teenagers who are out there who don't know Jesus and we can only go on for so long in deconstructing mode. we have teenagers who need to know the Jesus in us. teenagers who need Jesus...........

so, what do we do now?! what is next? i know others may disagree with me, but i do believe there is some next steps for youth ministry. i do believe that if we really pray and really think that we can re-imagine a new future. it isn't going to be easy, but i believe that God cares about teenagers and that something must be done.....

dan kimball
Youth Ministry and Youth Minsters:
I'd venture to say, that most youth ministers create youth ministries that birthed out of their own needs. That most youth pastors were apart of youth ministries growing up that impacted them, and that they want to create a similar environment for youth people. These two veins run in far too many youth ministries. Before you disagree, take a day to reflect on it. How much of what you do, create, and believe in that is youth ministry that is based from your own needs and desires. 100 kids more this week. Don't tell anyone. Better yet. stop counting. see how you feel about your ministry. or how about this. Lie to another youth pastor. Ok. don't lie. just mislead them. When you meet someone and they ask "how big is your group?" tell them a number that is 25% of the actual attendance. You have 100. tell him 25. You have 10 tell her 3 or 4.
see how it sits with you. See if you find yourself wanting to tell the real number. What is it in us that does this? Evaluate this week why you do youth ministry.
Evaluate this week why you minister to youth the way you do. Be real. don't lie to yourself. then make some changes.
Good post Andrew! Actually one of the main reasons I rethink youth ministry is due to my own expectations of it! Why; well what do I want it to look like (Kind of selfishly and rightfully so ...) for my children. BTW for those that don't know I just became a father again as of 1:22pm ...a baby girl Nicole Anne Fess 7'4 ....Can you tell I'm a proud father? I try to look through the lense what do I want it to be now; and for the future for my girls? Do I want programitize? Do I want a model? Which is it? Questions to which I'm seeking and finding some answers!
How many times?
How many times can we rehash how much we suck?
How many times can I show you the faults of the model?
How many times can we come up with new ways to say it?
How many times should we rant about this?
How many times will we continue to pat each other on the back for tearing down?

Ok. We have made it very obvious that we are deconstructionist, that we don't like programs, we want to keep our groups small, and that youth ministry as we know it needs to change. NOW WHAT?!?!?!?!?!?!

I haven't seen a next step yet. I get so many emails from people asking why I remain in my mainline denomination church, where the "person in the pew" (and WOW how dare you have pews in postmodernist America!) still has those corporate values. I won't sink this ship -- you can't steer it when it sinks. It just spirals downward. In my youth ministry, I have integrated spirituality ministries and heavy intergenerational opportunities for mentoring to begin to steer and turn this ministry.

What about yours? Let's share some tangibles. And if I see the words "well here's what we DON'T do..." I will roll my eyes and realize a different truth. Some of us don't like the way ministry is done, but we have nothing to replace it with. So where is Jesus Christ calling YOUR ministry today?

Friday, May 09, 2003

I want to say I'm sorry to you. I'm sorry for not seeing who you are and what you need. I'm sorry for giving you milk when your desire has been meat. I'm sorry that I have dumbed you down to where you can't even walk on your own. I shouldn't have kept those training wheels on so long. I'm sorry that I used you. I just thought I needed to do something. I mean I'm supposed to do ministry. I mean I can't help if you are a teenager and I have to reach you at all cost. So what that I marketed to you. I mean it didn't hurt you that bad. Did it? We got you alot of friends, what 300 of them? I'm sorry those 300 friends didn't minister to you. I'm sorry that you don't know what you are going to do now your in college. But hey, weren't those candles and couches cool.........oh.......I guess not. I'm sorry I just needed to do something. I'm sorry. I guess I was too busy with 299 kids to realize that you weren't happy and needed help. I just had all these great books with ideas, I just knew I needed to use them. Listen, I'm sorry. I forgot the purpose of it all. I'm sorry that I let you down. Can you forgive me.......what is your name again?

Thursday, May 08, 2003

A question that is near and dear to my heart these days, as thinking about the possibilities has consumed probably more energy than my actual area of teaching (history) has.

The $4 million question:

Can institutions and systems truly be changed from the inside? Is it even possible without going somewhere else, first, and starting from the ground up?
school... day care... Youth groups... the mall... raves... after-school activities...

I think we'd all do well to give Lord of the Flies another reading.
A story in my imagination Part 5:
Now we were sitting in the Baptist youth room decorated like a 50's diner with boothes, small round tables and chairs, pool tables and Ms. Pacman running in the corner. More group pictures of teenagers. More t-shirts. A full and chaotic bulletin board with various 4 color flyers stapled to it. I'd been in this room a dozen times for dozens of Network meetings, yet I never dreamed this is where I'd tell my peers and friends I was leaving youth ministry.
As the meeting progressed I surveyed the room. Before I knew it the meeting was ending. I was uncharacteristicly quiet this meeting. They had planned the yearly event called "after the pole" and delegated tasks to each other awhich were promptly typed into the various new PDA's around the room.
"Tim?" They were talking to me. How many times had they said my name?
"Sorry. Just thinking about some stuff."
"Tim would you take the lead on the sound and video system for the convention center? We need someone who's done big events and can run with this stuff. We need to get it all lined up soon, even though we are several months away from the event."
"Umm. guys. I can't."
Silence. They new something was up by the way I was acting.
"I think I'm going to resign tomorrow. I have the letter written. I have a meeting with the Sr. Pastor"
The fact that a youth pastor was leaving his church was not really news to them. It happens a few times every year within our group. First UMC was notorious for having a new youth pastor every couple years. But they acted surprised when I told them.
"I'm done," I continued, "I don’t believe in youth ministry anymore."
You should have seen their faces.
Some were confused. Mostly the new young guys I never really got to know because of being overly concerned and overwhelmed about ministry at Wesley. I could see them thinking. How could leave such a great church like Wesley. I could see them calculating the sin meter in their heads. Adultery? Steal money? Homosexual? Improper relationship with a youthworker or student? or That guys old and he doesn't really understand ministry like me.

Some understanding. These were mostly guys in their late 30's and the one female youth worker present. These folks knew me. They knew I had been struggling. Some understood exactly what I was going through. They had the same questions I had about the church and ministry, but had not left. Other understood on a different level. They knew ministry was hard and discouraging. They new what Wesley was like. They new it was a machine. They new there were leadership issues.

At least two were strangely excited, wondering how soon they could apply for the position I was leaving.

I continued talking.
“It feels strange to say that here with you guys. But I really believe that the way we do…or at least the way I do youth ministry is wrong. When I arrived at Wesley four years ago it was known as a great church with a history of great youth ministry. I made changes. I added dozens of programs, missions trips, and small groups. I’ve got a hundred volunteers in our three weekly programs. I can’t put my finger on why it’s wrong. Why after all these years and hundreds of students and thousands of dollars and 25% increases in attendance each year does it all seem like a failure. Like a house of cards. Like I’ve built a machine that can run itself. Like… I don’t know. I’m tired.”
“How are your kids going to take it?” Trevor asked.

“The kids. That’s what’s kept me there. The kids are amazing. They are clueless about any of my problems with the systems at Wesley or the leadership issues. They are sincere. They are passionate. They deeply desire to follow God. My youth workers are that way too. The youth ministry is their church. That is their family. They all love God. It makes it hard to leave. Every time I think of the kids I’ve invested in over the last four years, it’s like getting hit in the stomach. But I still feel called to leave.”

“What exactly is it that’s wrong?” asked Fred a “family minister” at the local AG church.
“I’m not completely sure. When my pastor ask me the other day to go and get the 4-or 5 students who had been attending Diane’s church a few months ago, I ask him why. He told me that their parents would attend there if the kids did and if the parents left Wesley they money would leave also. Then he reminded me of how we were going to begin a Capital Funds Drive soon for our church relocation. The whole thing makes me sick.”
“That stinks” said Diane.
“But it’s not always so easy to recognize. Like when I talk about community, the body of Christ, the significance of Eucharist, outreach, the gospel, being the church… when I use these words it’s like they mean something completely different to my pastors. I grew up in this church. This is MY church. But something’s changed. Maybe it’s me. But I feel like I’ve misled so many families and students. I can’t do that anymore. I won’t do it anymore.

Wednesday, May 07, 2003

Let me put my previous post another way....

In light of the consumer driven model of most churches, the students in your youth ministries are both clients and well as the intended target of disciple building efforts. In that context how does one decide which role is more important or foundational for the relationship? When you are trying to talk a student into going on your retreat, who is that is asking? The concerned friend, the youth pastor who needs more kids at the retreat, the church employee who needs to show him or herself successful, etc. How many times do you hold back in your conversations with students because your job might be on the line if you don't cowtow to the party line? And if you do hold back out of fear of professional repurcussions or sometimes appear concerned when you really are not, is that the kind of relationship you normally like to have with people?

There are risks in any relationship. And definitely in the task of discipling students there is risk involved. I deal regularly with the fact that many students' parents either are not Christian or not mature, and they sometimes take offense at things I see as essential to the good news. That's a risk. The risk of offending, of being misunderstood, of being out of line yourself....the great thing is that now that I'm out of professional ministry those risks are only relational with students and their families--its not professional. They are not holding the very welfare of my family over my head because they are my clients and bosses, and I am not using them for my own gain. We are on a level playing field and the relationships are natural. They are not part of a psuedo-environment set up to foster some kind of "fellowship" between people who would otherwise be strangers.

Here are some good questions to ask yourself:
1. Do I have honest relationships with students now?
2. Would I still be discipling students if it wasn't my profession?

If you can answer no to either of these and you're in youth ministry, something's wrong. Either with the calling or the situation.
On my earlier post, Randy asked in the comment, "what do you see as more positive alternatives to these shortcomings in youth ministry? How do we do it better?"

That's the question, isn't it? What's amazing is that it is so hard for us to see outside of our own systems...even when we know they are broken. I've struggled with this too...what is the alternative. Honestly, the answer I keep coming to is that we have to let it go and quit trying to make the old fit into the new. The best decision may be to do away with the old and not try to come up with anything new...simply because we can't escape from the system we're in. Any attempt at building something new will most likely just be a revamp of the old.

What if the answer is simply to build relationships with a few kids and a few adults who love kids too. Get out of the gig and the role and just be a normal person who God uses to love people.

When I mentioned professionalism earlier as one of the problems with youth ministry, what I had in mind is a struggle I've had in myself. Somehow, to me, there is a natural conflict of interest for anyone in paid ministry positions at most churches. Church® has become an entity which must support itself...and to do so it must have people fit into its system. So as a youth pastor for Church X and all the pressures to have a "successful" youth ministry, I found myself thinking more about the program than the kids. I used kids for my own ends. So as a youth pastor, do I care about the kids or the ministry? Then I saw Jerry Maguire...and the reality of it hit me...less money, fewer clients. It's so simple. I'm called to disciple students...not build succesful youth groups! It took me a long time to figure out that the best way for me to be effective in youth ministry was to stop doing it in that system. I don't even consider my job at school teaching Bible to be my "ministry". My ministry is hanging out at different times with about 4 students that God has helped me to have good friendships with. I'm finding that outside the context of being a "professional", I'm free to actually be really honest with the students--really honest--and actually disciple them without any threat to my position, my "ministry", etc.

So I guess my answer is...Quit viewing your call to reach students as a profession and let it all go.


NOTE: The opinions expressed by the author of the former post in no way reflect his judgement of the validity of those who passionately pursue professional ministry. He just doesn't understand it anymore.
A story in my imagination part 4:
I was a bit early for the Youth minister's network meeting at a thoroughly suburban Baptist church around the corner from the main shopping malls. It was 11:50am. I went to the one of the front smoked-glass doors and pulled. Locked.Chained actually. All of them. This wasn't the first time I'd tried to open these doors in vain. I new the routine. I called the Baptist church youth pastor, Trevor on his cell phone. He answered. He was inside somewhere. Sometimes I wondered if he had a way to get out? I met him at a door without chains that led into the office. We hugged and then I followed him to his office. Trevor had a gotee and brown hair parted nicely from right to left. He was a good guy who radiated integrity. Trevor also collected Pez containers, especially the Starwars edition. Once I inquired if he liked to eat Pez... to which he responded. Pez tasted like crap, but the containers are cool. If I had been quick on my feet I'm sure I'd of had a comment about how it was like a lot of churches.
Regardless I was now sitting on his couch.
"What do you know man?" I asked.
"Not much Tim."
"How are you doing?"
He replied, "I'm doing great. We had 250 kids at our Lock-in last weekend. God's really doing something here. Last year we had 175. So my life is good. A couple of the kids took some drinks on one of the church vans though and spilled coke all over the floor. I heard about it at staff meeting."
"Yeah, it's like the rest of the church can't recognize God when he's doing something. They are more worried about their vans than the fact that we had 250 kids at our Lock-in. The church just doen'st get it. 250 kids. We took them all into the sanctuary before we left for all the fun and 10 made decisions for Christ after an incredible worship time. The church is just messed up. If htey worshipped half as passionately as these kids our church would never be the same!"
Trevor's phone rang. Someone was at the door.
He sprang from his PEZ container lined desk and ran for the door.
I stayed seated.
He office looked a bit like mine. (with a lot more PEZ) Bookshelves from the youth ministry experts with only the best curriculum. A few John Maxwell books. Some pottery. A crown of thorns. A laptop. The walls held a variety of pictures. Two posters from pop christian band that had been sign To: Trevor.. with band member signatures and a verse or two. There were a couple posters of kids on retreats. One of a kids praying in the woods with a bible in his lap. A large group pic against the church bus from the last Fall Retreat. The walls also had a T-shirt or two with cool logo's and slogans from past events. Youth ministry flyers made to look busy with dozens of clip art images.
Something about all this made me very excited and very sad at the same time.
I love busyness. I love activities. I love events. But for some reason right now it feels like a waste.
Trevor came to get me.
Evidently not all the youth pastors who attend the network meeting have cell phones or know Trev's number because there were now 8 more people here. They had been patiently waiting outside. We all went upstairs to the Youth Room.
Jimmy... your my hero! Well said.

Conflict of Interest

Mike Yaconelli... who makes his living on youth ministries all over the world selling resources for youth ministry... writes articles called Failure of Youth Ministry, The Sin of Youth Ministry, and The Trouble with Youth Ministry. Now don't get me wrong... I am in total agreement with most of what Yac says. I think he is really challenging youth workers to consider "why and how" we do ministry.

The conflict I see is that he is not even interested or doing youth ministry in his own church. He write these articles that seems to put the "church" and the "youth ministry" at odds with one another, but he doesn't have this conflict in his own church! Yet he is founder of Youth Specialties... a publishing company that youth programs all over the world are using to build youth ministries. I also get the feeling that he is leaning towards the fact that youth ministry programs do more harm than good, yet it is his publishing company that drives a lot of youth ministries out there ( I guess I said that twice in the last paragraph, but it is a point worth noting).

So what am I saying? If I am against porn and see it as something that is dangerous to society (and I do), why would I have my own website that is peddling the stuff?

That is an extreme of course, but I feel that it is very similiar and is what Mike is doing. Stop perpetuating the "problems" and start sharing the solutions... because obviously he has solutions. I do believe that. Am I the only one who sees this? Am I way off base?

Tuesday, May 06, 2003

mark....Tim? Jill? Mike? Wesley? LOL....taking writing notes from Brian M. and Ken Blanchard?
I teach middle school Bible at a Christian School. 6 classes a day, 5 days a week...most of my students are churched and youthgrouped kids. Based upon my experience on a daily basis with these students...youth ministry has failed and continues to fail.

There are many problems with the current system. here are some:

--Most youth pastors think they know the lives of their students, the lives of the students families, and student culture in general but they don't. I was a youth pastor for ten years and had great relationships with students. I thought I knew their world. It wasn't until I started teaching and was with kids 40+ hours a week that I understood my very limited perspective as a youth pastor.

--the Christianity of Events...we have created a whole culture of students that are disciples of hype. Much like the Hummer commercials that promise youth, vitality and excitement if you buy it....but the truth is that if you're 45 years old, bland and boring you'll just be a 45 year old, bland, boring guy sitting in a Hummer with a few feelings of youth, vitality, and excitement. It's a quickly fading glory. We have a whole culture of students who feel like they are one thing, but they are not. For example, a student goes on a weeklong trip to some inner city mission where he gets to take care of the poor and destitute. It's a moving experience...and he is trully touched. He feels compassion for those people. He comes home feeling like he's someone concerned about the poor...but he doesn't. At least not until the mission trip next year. Or maybe a girl has neat worship experiences every Sunday night in her youth group....she feels like a worshipper, but on a daily basis she hardly gives time with God a thought. These students are deceived about their reality and many times youth pastors are content to have the "successful" event or trip and don't realize what's playing out in their students' lives--afterall, they only see the majority of these students in those prime moments, so in a sense the youth pastors are deceived as well.

--Support of techno-addictions. I remember hearing a pastor reference the fact that on TV today the images are changed about every 3-5 seconds in order to keep the viewers' attention, and that churches were going to have to learn those techniques to reach a techno-culture. I think that's bullshit that is only meant to justify cool, cutting edge, highpriced toys for pastors. The reality is that our society is overstimulated by and addicted to techno-media. If you don't believe me, try to go a month without it. Is it a need? Really? Our society is seeing the rapid development of an ADD and ADHD epidemic and many see direct links between the over stimulus from childhood to adulthood. I think our students (and adults) need less. To give them more media and to compete with the techo-dealers is a mistake. It's like saying, "Hey, to keep this alcoholic's attention I'm going to have to serve him shots."

--Dumb Stuff Quit doing tshirts and crap like that. You probably spend too much time on that anyway...stop and go play with some students or your own family. If some company has a cool shirt just have your kids go buy it and take it to the retreat. Don't steal it and use it for youself. You're not in the marketing and design business. (I know all youth pastors think they are designers...well...I know some designers and you're no designer. ;-) ) Which leads me to my next thought...

--DoubleSpeak Quit telling your kids how bad the "world" is and then try to copy everything the world is offering.

--Professionalism Make of it what you will. ;-)

Monday, May 05, 2003

A story in my imagination: Part 3
February 2, 2000
Tonight as I'm writing in this journal, I'm flooded with questions.
Am I still called to work with youth?
Should I plant a church?
How will feed my family if I leave youth ministry? I have no other skill set. My Religious training and degree will not go far in the business world.
Am I willing to settle like Mike said and just take the church as it is?
Am I willing to work at Best Buy so I can be faithful in my ministry?
This sucks God. I feel the weight of the world on my shoulders. I need to provide for my family. Where did I miss you in my calling? Did I miss you? Am I just being arrogant? It all just feels wrong. No not all of it. I love kids. I love their families. That feels right. But I just can't help them hurt themselves anymore.
Why is it that I feel like all my successes in the past are failures now? How did I miss this before now? How easily I got caught up in the youth ministry machine.
Have I led my wife astray?
Am I harming her relationship with God by taking her through this?
Am I going to hurt her relationship with God and his church by leaving?
What will Aden think of church if we leave?

God help me! I'm so confused. Is Mike right? Something feels wrong there.
So many questions.
A story in my imagination: part 2
Mike was my mentor. He's about 15 years older than I am,so he around 42. Mike was my youth pastor years ago. Mike works at the same church I do, Wesley UMC. For some reason we always met in his office. Mike was a average looking guy who believed deeply in Biblical Education. As the pastor for Biblical Literacy he had education roadmaps for the congregation filled with topics to be learned from infancy to 100 years old. Mike always talked about being a missionary. Leaving Wesley and going to Africa with his wife Sue was something I think he'd be really good at... maybe even called to do. But they had two boys, one in high school and one in middle school and moving just wasn't convenient at this time in their lives.

Mike knew of my frustration. I would talk to him regularly about my feelings about youth ministry and the church. HE mostly listened. Occassionaly he would show signs of agreement or sympathy, mostly he toed the party line. Which in hindsight makes him a poor choice as a mentor.
As I walked into Mike's office I passed by the ever present cartoon on the door and we greeted each other with hello's as I sat down in one of the chairs on the other side of the desk from Mike and his high back chair.
"I'm done." I said to Mike. "I'm done."
Mike didn't act surprised.
"I'm going to resign. I can't do this anymore. I feel like doing ministry in this church actually hurts kids in the long run. We are teaching kids so many things in the way we function as a church that go against the very essence of the church."
"Like what?" Mike asked a bit defensively.
"The church should be a community, the body of Christ, they should be doing life together, but we seperate students from their parents, I have 500 spiritual orphans every sunday morning, whose parents drop them off and go to church, or sunday school and can't seem to find time for God in their families lives... that is between making star athletes, scholars and head cheerleaders of their kids."
Mike tried to break in... but I continued "Other adults see ministry to youth as something they write checks to make happen. They write a check to pay for having their lawn maintained, they write a check to pay their mortgage, the write a check to pay their bills, they write a check to minister to youth."
Mike got through.."You or your youth ministry team wouldn't have a job without those older adults writing those checks, how else are we supposed to minister to all those kids in a church this size"
"Well maybe we have to many kids and maybe God doesn't want there to be youth ministers in his churches. At least not youth ministers who function this way."
"Careful Tim. Remember, you are the product of this youth ministry and those adults investing in me as a youth pastor years ago."
"Mike. I am grateful for our relationship. We have been close since middle school and I love this church. Wesley will always be apart of my family. I am grateful for Wesley's desire to be faithful and aggression in seeking to be obedient to God. But Mike. I graduated with 50 other seniors 10 years ago. How many of them are still walking with God? How many of them belong to a local community of believers? Five? Maybe 10?
Silence. Was I being arrogant? Disrespectful?
"Look Mike. I love you. I love the people at Wesley. But this church is a huge machine, it has a mind of it's own. It's a bad system that is ruining good people and I can't be apart of it any more. I've tried to change the system. I know you have too. But it won't work."
More silence. We both looked everywhere but at eachother for a few minutes. When Mike spoke up.
"I wish I could say I understand. But I don't. All churches are broken because they are run by people. I just think you are being a bit Idealistic, I just think you should settle for reality."
"Ok." was all I could say.
The meeting was over and I left.
A story in my imagination:
"I think I'm going to quit."
My wife Jill did not look surprised. She just looked to the ground, more in a feeling of defeat than disappointment with me.
"God will take care of us. (Jill nods) He always has. Remember the 8 years ago when we first married? How God provided for us? How Aden is a miracle because you weren't supposed to va albe to have kids..."
"I know about all that Tim,"Jill said as she looked up with tears in her eyes. "It's just that, it seems like things are different now. I don't know."
"Don't you think God will take care of us?" I asked.
"I know God will take care of us... This just sucks! Why do we have to do this? Why do we have to leave? Why can't the Joe leave? He's screwing up the church, there are so many unhappy staff people there, he's the senior guy, he should leave.. not you." The tears were coming now.
"You know it's not just the leadership issues honey. It's... well... I just think the whole things is broken. I lead a youth ministry most people who die for and ... it doesn't work anymore. Youth ministry is broken. The church is broken.. It just feels like Jesus.."
"..has left the building." She finished my sentence. I guess I've been saying that for a while.
We were silent. I gave her a hug that was probably too short and went to the basement to work on the computer.

I searched all the ministry and youth ministry job banks online. It was a habit. Many times I did this for fun. Looking for a youth ministry job was something I'd never really had to look for. Being at a very big church I get a phone call every month or so from people who want to persue hiring me. After a while you start to think that the reason they are calling is they are impressed with my youth ministry gifts and leadership. Most are simply impressed with my very big church and my very big programs.

On my private weblog I posted this:
What am I doing? I'm wondering the YM classifieds.... Didn't I just say the whole thing was broken? Do I really believe it? How can I do youth ministry somewhere if it's broken? But it's not just youth ministry. It the whole thing. The church.
I need to go to bed. I'm so confused. Maybe my conversation with Mike tomorrow will help.

Sunday, May 04, 2003

preaching from antwone fisher: anyone attending the Urban Youth Workers Institute in Azusa in two weeks is invited to stick around on sunday and visit my church, northwest fellowship. I'm gonna attempt to preach using the movie Antwone Fisher as a sub-text. plus we will have a big potluck afterward on the harambee basketball/soccer court.

Friday, May 02, 2003

Youthworker's site
Hey Dan posted a great article in Youthworker Magazine this month! Even mentions this blog! Food for thought. Maybe we need to check it out!