Growing Young – Empathise With Today’s Young People

This is post three in a series of reflections on the book Growing Young: Six Essential Strategies To Help Young People Discover And Love Your Church. For an introduction to the series please read part one and continue reading part two about Keychain Leadership. 

“Young people these days…”

It’s the classic derogatory quote used to describe the actions or opinions of a ‘young person’. It’s usually said by someone one or more generations older than said young person and highlights the generational gap. Unfortunately it is within the church where this phrase and those of its kind are repeated often.


In churches, where loving God and loving others is promoted heavily, young people often get the rough end of the stick when it comes attitudes and how people view them. Often things are said in a way that isn’t meant to be demeaning or offensive but they end up putting the ‘young people’ in their place because of what is or isn’t expected of them. Let’s look at a couple of scenarios.

Cleaning up after youth group

It’s often expected that the cleanliness of the church is going to be lowered somehow because the youth group had an event. Yet, for those of us in youth leadership know that part of being a healthy youth ministry includes cleaning up well for others and getting those who came to the event to help. It instills values, makes them part of the community, and helps the wider church.

Young people aren’t committed these days

It’s either they aren’t committed or not committed enough. And in some cases this may well be true but there is a big difference in understanding what ‘committed’ means. I don’t believe I know too many young people who aren’t committed to things. It’s what they’re committed to and why.

Currently churches need to deal with this in regard to church membership. Church membership is something that young people don’t seem to be taking up or ‘committing’ themselves too. Yet churches (1) don’t really push church membership in a big way and (2) the reasons why a young person should join the church in a formal way is never well articulated. Many are already serving in some capacity, whether it be on the music team, youth leading or running the children’s ministry. These are significant positions and not much will change if they change their membership status. But if churches outlined their vision of what it is to be a disciple of Jesus, be part of the movement of God through that local church, and play a significant role in shaping that vision themselves then perhaps church membership might be something more young people would sign up for.

All this is to say that there can be a fair bit of pressure for ‘young people’ in the church. There is the realisation that not everyone sticks around and as that number has dwindled significantly in the last 20-30 years churches are grasping on to those they have.

The question Growing Young deals with is not how to hang on to those who may be leaving but what is keeping them at the church in the first place? This is the thesis of the book and this chapter highlights how it is on the older generations to be empathetic to young people and the pressures they face.

One of the main helps is realising the three main questions young people are dealing with.

  • Who am I? (Identity)
  • Where do I fit? (Belonging)
  • What difference do I make? (Purpose)

Here we have three crucial questions all people need to answer for themselves but are of particular importance to teenagers and students as they mature in the game of life.

Due to the changes in life and culture in the past 20-40 years the actual length of being a young person has extended. No longer are the markers of adulthood achieved in the early 20s. Those markers of adulthood – being a spouse, having a family, completing school and/or university, working in a steady job, and being financially independent – are all occurring five years later than they used to. As the authors suggest, “This means there is no hurry to set down permanent roots and there is the possibility of rejecting one of these markers totally. Today’s emerging adults seem to be explorers by nature.”

It is also important to note that the opportunity to explore and discover various parts of their personality occurs much later too. Due to the increased pressure from schooling and general family life there is little time to explore a variety of hobbies, sports, instruments and other creative pursuits. More often than not young people are required to choose what they would like to specialise in much earlier than previous generations had to. As a result when this generation hits their 20s they begin travelling, changing university courses, and taking gap years in order to explore their passions, gifts, abilities, and grow in their skills. Something that was restricted while in their teenage years.

And so Growing Young suggests that “Parents don’t often realise the constant heat felt by adolescents, increasing the pressure for them to figure out who they are and what important to them.” A perfect example of the pressure emerging adults face is this article recently published on Relevant. It’s great to learn stuff but there is the underlining pressure of having to be the best in their chosen field, be the most productive person they know, and someone who has sorted their life out by the time they’re 25.

Growing Young also reminds us that this pressure is depicted this way:

“On the one hand, today’s young people are touted as justice crusaders devoted to helping those who are poor or marginalised. They are portrayed as selfless revolutionaries ready to change the world one dollar and social media post at a time. On the other hand, the very same cohort of young people is depicted as egotistical and entitled, motivated primarily by whatever best serves their pursuit of their own happiness.”

There’s a lot of challenging things here for the church and society. Thankfully Growing Young also provides some answers.

One of the main ways churches can help young people is to provide people who are more mature in their faith and life to walk alongside them.

I think this is of major importance.

Those who are older can make such a great contribution to the youth and young adult ministries of their church by simply being a person who walks with a young person. This is commonly called mentoring, coaching, discipling, and whatever other name you can think of that describes this kind of care. To have an open adult who is willing to meet, ask questions that make the young person think through their faith and life for themselves, and be a support when it’s needed, is the perfect person for youth and young adult ministry.

Of those three questions above, Growing Young also suggests:

“We think that young people’s deepest questions about identity are best answered by God’s grace. We are convinced that teenagers’ and emerging adults’ need to belong is ultimately met through the unconditional love of community. We believe their hunger for purpose is satisfied by being involved in God’s mission in the world.”

Rightfully so and very well put.

It is now on churches, with special reference to Youth Pastors and Young Adult Pastors, to enable and invite a community of people, both young and old, to show God’s grace, provide connectedness and relationship, and to lead them into the places where God is at work, helping them understand their place in God’s mission.

Growing Young – Keychain Leadership

This is post two in a series of reflections on the book Growing Young: Six Essential Strategies To Help Young People Discover And Love Your Church. For an introduction to the series please read part one

When I was 16 I was given my first chance to preach.

When I was 17 I was put in charge of a youth service held each term.

When I was 18 our Youth Pastor left and I was given the opportunity to be the ‘Youth Coordinator’ by the church leadership. I still have the letter of recommendation from the Chairman of the Diaconate at the time.

These three experiences are examples of keychain leadership in action.


Keychain leadership is the term used in Growing Young to describe the type of leadership framework churches ‘growing young’ operate with. This type of leadership attracts and keeps ‘young people’ by walking alongside them and handing over access, influence, and responsibility in the various ministries of the church.

Growing Young uses the illustration of handing over keys to youth and young adults, which gives them access and influence in certain segments of the church. For example, when growing up in a home there comes a time where you get your own house key. Then once you’ve got your license there is a time when you get your own car key. When you begin to work there may be a time when you get your own office key or swipe card. These are examples of physical keys being handed over but they are also symbolic of access, influence, and responsibility.

In the local church it is similar. There are different people in the church who hold different keys. Some of these keys might be physical. The key to the church building, to the church office, to the children’s ministry cupboard et cetera. At other times the illustration of a key may simply be symbolic and so it becomes the access, influence and responsibility you have to decision-makers, meetings, and committees.

As Growing Young says:

“Keys provide access to physical rooms and spaces as well as strategic meetings, significant decisions and central roles or places of authority. The more power you have the more keys you tend to possess…If you are willing to entrust your keys to young people they will trust you with their hearts, their energy, their creativity and even their friends.”

Generally the more keys you hold the more influence and power you have within the church. Sometimes this influence and power is kept close and can become an idol. You may have seen people in churches, as I have, use this power and influence for their own doing and the position and keys become something of an ego trip. But when used wisely and in a godly manner those who hold these keys can be of great help to the local church and the kingdom of God.

For me, the main encouragement and challenge within this chapter and research was the following comment:

“Keychain leaders model a posture of giving away access and authority. This posture not only empowers others but also meaningfully links them to the life of the congregation…The more transparent the leader is personally and the church is organisationally the better positioned the church seems to be to grow young.”

This simple idea of keychain leadership was something modelled to me so doesn’t take me long to get my head around. Perhaps it was a key factor in me sticking around at church? Yet, it also raises some questions. Here are four particular areas I thought this chapter spoke in to.

1. My Leadership

What of my leadership? How do I seek to include, encourage, and grow others in ministry? Am I able to replicate what I’ve been taught and release control of the the things the control-freak within me wants to keep to myself?

2. Leading Volunteers

Those of us in ministry always seem to be talking about how we don’t have enough people involved and active in the life of our churches. This chapter made me think this ‘issue’ is probably more of a reflection on our own leadership than the congregation we’re involved in.

3. Side-by-Side Leadership

Keychain leadership, as described in Growing Young, is not a give-the-key-and-run type mentality. It is a leadership style that is side-by-side. It requires a mentor-mentee relationship. There is freedom and guidance operating at the same time. There is opportunity for people to grow and lead and have influence while providing a place for feedback and correction. This kind of setup seems to make sense to me and has worked within my life, as I know it has with others. It is certainly a posture I’d like to foster in my own ministry.

4. Intergenerational Leadership

One of the key issues for churches to begin thinking like this, however, is whether those who hold the keys now are willing to pass the baton? Generally, those who have the keys now are older, sometimes a lot older. Are they willing to show leadership and begin giving over authority, influence, and access to ‘young people’ in their church?

Is it time to hand over a certain key to a young person and walk with them as they put their own stamp on the ministry? 

Growing Young

In #YouthMin world September 20 was a big day. The people over at Fuller Youth Institute released their latest book, Growing Young: Six Essential Strategies To Help Young People Discover And Love Your Church. This is the culmination of many years and many pages of research and data to help the church understand what makes ‘young people’ stay in church and committed to their faith.


I picked up the book a few days after release and am slowly making my way through it. But as an exercise in reflection I hope to write a few posts about the book as I read it and hopefully provide some application into the youth ministry context here in Australia.

If you’re a Youth Pastor or in youth ministry then it would’ve been hard to ignore the impressive launch of the book. There were plenty of posts leading up to the release and then on the day it was available there were numerous interviews with the authors.

Growing Young has eight chapters. The first being a summary of the book and the final chapter putting the learnings into practice. The rest of the book describe in detail the six core commitments churches that are growing young are doing. These six core commitments are:

  1. Unlock keychain leadership
  2. Empathise with today’s young people
  3. Take Jesus’ message seriously
  4. Fuel a warm community
  5. Prioritise young people (and families) everywhere
  6. Be the best neighbours

From the outset this book brings a positive look to church and engaging ‘young people’ in church and faith. It’s a shame no one can think of a better phrase than ‘young people’, because it makes me sounds tremendously old and I cringe as I write it. Yet, it is ‘the young people’ who are exiting the church in droves with 40-50% of those in youth groups today drifting away from God and a faith community when they finish up high school. This is a harrowing fact and one I suspect most Youth Pastors, parents, and churches can resonate with anecdotally – even here in Australia.

It seems, however, that there are pockets of hope and encouragement as the church seeks to engage young people in faith and church. Those churches that are growing, and ‘growing young’, are doing so through (1) engaging well with 15-29 year olds and (2) they are churches which are growing spiritually, emotionally, missionally, and sometimes numerically. This leads the FYI authors to say that in order to grow young everyone in the church needs to be involved and by doing so it actually energises the whole church.

While the six core commitments state what is needed to help a church grow young there are also a number of pointers that are not necessary for a church to grow young. These things include:

  • A precise size
  • A trendy location
  • An exact age
  • A popular denomination or no denomination at all
  • An off-the charts cool quotient
  • A big modern building
  • A big budget
  • A ‘contemporary’ worship service
  • A watered-down teaching style
  • A hyper-entertaining ministry program

This certainly gives me hope. To know that you don’t have to be big, cool, soft on teaching, and have all the bells and whistles of what is assumed to be an awesome youth ministry then I’m all in! This is not to say that I’m against these things but it allows churches and those in youth ministry to be realistic about how to engage ‘young people’ in faith and not worry about superficial things.

The research also found that churches who did grow young and were focussed on doing so energised their own congregation because ‘the young people’ added more service, more passion, more innovation, more money, and greater overall health to the church. And who doesn’t want a church with these things?

So it comes back to these six core commitments, and I’ll explore each one in later posts. But for now, with that summary of the book in mind, I wonder what strikes you?

For me, this causes me to reflect on how churches go about thinking through their youth and young adult ministries. Whether they see them as separate entities of the church looked after by a Youth Pastor or whether they genuinely think of them as part of the overall church, part of the family of God, and giving opportunity for them to serve in meaningful and significant ways and feel part of the larger local church community.

As a local congregation, is your church engaging ‘young people’? Is this a focus? Is there a willingness to make significant changes to do so?

Youth Pastor: Form A Prayer Team

When missionaries go overseas they begin forming a support team. This often takes place a few years before the missionary actually lands on the ground in their cross-cultural context.

One aspect of this team is financial. And much could be said in this regard, both positive and not so positive.

Another aspect is that of prayer. 

Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing”. A rather convicting quote. And a quote that those who’ve done mission work will resonate with.

To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing- Martin Luther King Jr.

A prayer team is essential for those who are commissioned and sent to places around the world in order to spread the Good News of Jesus.

I think this is the case for those of us in youth ministry too. 

Recently I’ve been convinced of the need to form a prayer team around me, my family, and the ministry we’re involved in. In fact, I’m not quite sure why I hadn’t initiated this previously.

So about a month ago I sent an email to a few friends who I thought would be willing to commit to being on this team.

Here’s what I wrote:


I’m attempting to form a prayer team for me, my fam, and the ministry we’re doing at Rowville BC. It’s been something I’ve been thinking of for a while and sense the necessity for. You no doubt understand the need for this in your context and I believe it applies to local church min too.

Anyway, this is simply to ask if you’re willing to be part of that team.

What will it require, you may ask?

(1) That you commit to pray for me, my fam and the ministry here at RBC once per week.

(2) Actually pray for me, my fam, and the ministry here at RBC once per week.

That’s all.

I’ll be committing to sending out an email to the group with 3 prayer points each week too.

Thanks for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

So far I’ve had nothing but positive responses, and there is no pressure to being on the team. I currently have a group of 7 willing to commit to this and there may well be others who will join over time. None of the members know who else is on the team as I simply bcc them in. None of them attend my church, and in fact many of them are overseas themselves.

If you’re a Youth Pastor I reckon you should do this.

Here’s why:

  1. You can’t do youth ministry alone. A team of people praying for you will hold you and sustain you.
  2. Prayer gets squashed out for programs and people. How much have you really prayed this week? This actually raises the temperature of your own prayer life too.
  3. It keeps you accountable. People are seeing what you need and will ask questions about it.
  4. You end up thinking about your priorities. To write 3 succinct points keeps you focussed on what’s important in life and ministry.
  5. It reminds you of the positive things God is doing through the ministry. Each week I write a little highlight at the bottom of the email. It’s encouraging to think about the positives for the week.

It’s worth doing, I’d get on to it if I was you.

Starting Fresh As A Youth Pastor

At my denominational gathering of Next Generational Leaders (a fancy name for those in ministry in the children’s, families, youth and young adult demographic) last week I was due to present a few reflections on starting fresh in ministry or a new ministry role. Unfortunately I came down with the flu (or man-flu, it’s a fine line) so I wasn’t able to actually present. However, not wanting to waste the time and thought put into it I have outlined what I was going to say below. Enjoy.

apple starting fresh

What happens when the honeymoon period that is beginning at a new church begins to fade into the distance?

Reality sets in.

Things don’t go as smoothly as they were at the start. The jobs seems bigger than expected. Some of the expectations now upon your shoulders aren’t what you enjoy doing. The role you thought you were given in the interview process doesn’t seem to be have been entirely accurate. You begin questioning your own skills and abilities for the job. Already you have people who don’t like you. You feel like you’re being watched in everything you do. The pressure seems to be rising, whether it’s real or not.

Welcome to ministry. :) 

In recent times there has been a changing of the guard within the Baptist Union of Victoria’s next generation ministries. A little survey conducted recently found that of the 74 Next Generational Leaders within the BUV surveyed, just over 20% were in their first year of a paid ministry role (they are either starting out or in a new ministry context). If you extend this time to 3 years the number rises to just over 40%. That is a lot of newbies!

So, with that information in mind I briefly want to share with you some reflections that might be helpful for you as you begin in your ministry. And, if you’ve been around the traps for a while then I hope these pointers are a good refresher for you.

First, relationships are key, particularly with your Senior Pastor.

The number one relationship you have within your church, other than with Jesus, is your Senior Pastor.

No other relationship will have a bearing on your role and the way you function as a pastor than the relationship you have with your Senior Pastor. A strong relationship will provide a place of trust, honesty, and freedom in your role and will also allow for affirmation, encouragement and critique.

So, make sure you meet regularly with them. Either weekly or fortnightly. Anything longer and you won’t be building a good enough relationship. Seek to sit under their leadership and understand their vision and mission for the church and how you, in your role and ministry, support that.

This is also the relationship where the most tension will come. Bonem and Patterson, in their book Leading from the Second Chair, speak of it in terms of the subordinate-leadership paradox. Whereby we understand our authority and effectiveness comes from a healthy, subordinate relationship to the Senior Pastor. At different times there will be disagreement and it is the health and strength of the relationship that may determine how things go.

Other relationships are of course important – leadership teams, parents, young adults, young people, kids, schools, community groups etc. But, it is the Senior Pastor relationship that often needs to take priority.

Second, when you’re fresh, just listen and observe what’s going on.

Some pastoral ministry advice I have heard is that it is common to overestimate what you will achieve in your first year and underestimate what you will do in five. I think this is true.

I could come in with my predetermined programs and ideas and begin putting them in place without listening and observing what’s going on. In my 4-5 months I haven’t changed a thing. I’ve probably done some things a little differently but I haven’t made any structural or process changes to our youth and young adult ministries. I can see that in due course there will be a need to develop areas but right now it’s the listening and observation stage.

Each individual church is its own cultural microcosm and system. It can take many years for change to come about.

With this in mind I’d encourage you to simply listen to the stories of those who attend, ask them why they’re at the church, why do they stick around in this place? Speak to those in the youth group, the young adults and also the older ones in the congregation to get a sense of the history of the place. You may find that there are reasons why the church operates the way it does and it may seem completely logical in their mind and totally stupid in yours.

But just listen, listen and observe what’s going on and where God is at work.

Third, it’s important to have perspective.

We are broken people, working with broken people. And it is only by the grace of God that we do what we do.

It is such a privilege to disciple and equip people as they seek to know Jesus more and more. The amount of time, effort, and heartache that we put into our programs and our people can make us lose perspective at times.

There is great joy and great pain in ministry and it is only survived through a strong relationship with Jesus, who gives perspective to all things.

I am glad that my personhood and identity is not wrapped up in being a pastor. Being the Associate Pastor for Youth & Young Adults at Rowville Baptist Church is the current assignment God has for me, but my call is simply to follow Jesus and be more like Him. That allows me to have perspective in what I do.

It’s not easy. Not by any means.

But it is a truth that needs to be held onto.

Therefore, I want to encourage you to get a mentor or a ministry partner. Someone who you can trust, who knows what you are going through, and who can sit there and listen to you verbally vomit all over them. Someone who can understand the tough and challenging times but also someone who can lift the mirror up and tell you you’re being selfish and an idiot. Make sure you have someone like that, or a group of people like that, who can mutually support one-another, bring perspective to the various ministry situations you find yourself in, and pray with you and for you.

To finish I would like to remind you of 1 Corinthians 3:8-9 where Paul speaks of how God makes the church grow. “The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labour. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.”

May we be reminded, whether we’re starting fresh or an old hat, that it is God making things grow as we serve Him and His church.

Top Resources For Starting Fresh:

Of Masks and Men

stingProfessional wrestling seemed to peak in the late 90s, while I was finishing up high school. I remember nicking off from school to go watch Main Event: WrestleMania at a mate’s house, hoping to get a glimpse of Sting come down from the rafters and scare the hell out of everyone in the ring. Ah, fun times.

Sting was one of those wrestlers that wore a mask. He wouldn’t wear a corny one that looks like a piece of lycra with some holes in it. No, Sting’s mask was painted on, a white paint with some black flowing stripes. It showed enough of his face to know who it was but also hid something behind it, enough to leave some mystery.

Like entertaining wrestlers we too live behind masks. Probably more than one.

A wrestler does it for entertainment, for their work, to become someone they’re not in real life. Much like an actor playing their role in a biopic. We, on the other hand, seem to hide behind masks because we’re fearful of what others might think of us.

I wonder what masks you wear?

In Matthew 23:25-26 Jesus rebukes the Pharisees for wearing masks. He says,

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.

Jesus condemns the Pharisees and scribes for their two-faced hypocritical lives. They elevate the law and commandments and self-made rules above loving God and neighbour. They wear masks as they walk around pontificating about their own righteousness, shown by their outward signs and condemnation of other ‘sinners’. Yet on the inside these Pharisees and scribes are as unrighteous, sinful and dirty as the prostitute, tax collector, and leper.

It is hard to take our masks off. Like a woman taking off her make-up, scrubbing hard to get the foundation and blush and lippy off her face so too it is hard for us to scrub our masks off and reveal our true self to the world. If we expose our blemishes to the world we fear what people will think, we fear we will be judged, we fear we will be rejected.

Thankfully we have one that knows our true self. Thankfully we are known by Him who accepts us, blemishes and all. As much as we turn away, hide and put Him aside, God sees all of us and accepts all of us. Despite our faults and imperfections God stands with open arms accepting us just the way we are.

This post is a free writing exercise in response to The Daily Post topic ‘Mask‘. 

Why Every Youth Pastor Should Watch ‘Spotlight’

Last week I saw the movie Spotlight on the big screen. I walked away thinking every Youth Pastor should see this film.


Spotlight is the story of how the Boston Globe, one of Boston’s most famous newspapers, broke the devastating news of sexual abuse by Catholic priests upon young children in its city. The movie follows the reporters investigating the story and gives an amazing account of their work to uncover such atrocities. It’s a harrowing story and one that needs to be remembered.

As a Youth Pastor I am responsible for the care of children. As I walked out of the flick I had a overwhelming sense of responsibility toward those under my care. Most of the time the role of Youth Pastor is amazing. It’s a privilege to be able to share and teach the Christian faith to those who are exploring it for themselves. Leading those who wish to see their friends come to know Jesus is exciting work. But there are also times when certain topics or areas of responsibility need to be in order to make the church environment a safe place for young people. With this in mind I found Spotlight to be a good reminder.

1. It’s a reminder of how sinful supposed good people can be.

The Catholic priests in charge of young people were seen as safe people. And rightfully so. The church is meant to be a safe place for all people. Yet, like all people the priests are fallen and sinful people. This doesn’t excuse them of their horrid behaviour of course. But it is a reminder that good people are sinful and fallen human beings. The church is a collective of sinners, not saints.

2. It’s a reminder of how people look to the church for care and protection. 

This story broke around 15 years ago. The film depicts Boston as a city that trusts its priests and ‘the church’. It may not be so today but there are plenty of people who still look to the church and its ministers for care and protection, for guidance and help. The Church, as the body of Christians worldwide, should continue to strive in setting the example of love and care for others.

3. It’s a reminder of the responsibility churches have to care for children and their families.

As I’ve mentioned, the responsibility on churches and particularly those ministries dealing with young people should make best practice in child safety a priority. It is just so important to have policies and procedures, to have proper screening, and to be in alignment with government laws regarding duty of care for minors. Most people are trusting of others but it is the responsibility of those in charge of events and programs to take the responsibility of caring for children and young people seriously.

4. It’s a reminder of how important it is to properly screen people working with children within your church.

In Victoria we have Working With Children Checks and a level higher would be an Australian Federal Police Check. These of course are the official documents, which may or may not pick up on everything. Ideally, we don’t want to have the attitude of suspicion but we do want to make sure we know the character, chemistry and competence of people who lead and have authority and care over young people. With this in mind it would be good practice to conduct interviews and checks regarding the appropriateness of a persons behaviour with and around children.

5. It’s a reminder of how devastating child abuse can be upon the individual and wider community.

The movie doesn’t go into vivid detail about what actual sexual abuse occurred but it let’s you in on enough to get the picture. It also portrays, as well as it can in a two hour movie, the after effects of such abuse and the consequences. It is a very very sad situation and is simply devastating on the individuals and families involved. The breaking of trust, the breaking of relationships, and the emotional turmoil is a stark reminder of why we must provide safe spaces for our young people to grow, learn, and thrive in our youth ministries.