Disappearing Church by Mark Sayers

I’m not even a fanboy but it seems I have found myself reading everything Mark Sayers has written. OK, not ‘Vertical Self’, but ssshhhhh. Anyway, his books make me think and for that reason alone I find them useful.

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Over a month ago I finished reading his book, ‘Disappearing Church’. And perhaps it’s because he writes as someone living in the Eastern suburbs of Melbourne, or because I need a simplified version of various cultural and philosophical ideas, I find myself wrestling with his ideas. My understanding of what Sayers says in this book is that the church needs to be less concerned about being culturally relevant, and build greater resilience and understanding in the Gospel and who it (the church) is. This is in order for believers to be able to live as a minority in today’s secular world, being and producing resilient lifelong disciples of Jesus.

Early on Sayers states his aim for the book,

“This book will argue that we cannot solely rely on the contemporary, Western church’s favoured strategy of cultural relevance, in which Christianity and the church is made “relevant” to secular Western culture. Instead we need to rediscover gospel resilience. To walk the countercultural narrow path in which we die to self and re-throne God in our lives as the supreme authority…Living with gospel resilience in the corrosive soil of Western culture requires a posture of living as a creative minority. Throughout history God has replenished cultures, through the witness of minorities of believers who hold true to their beliefs while blessing the surrounding culture. It is to this position we must return.” (Mark Sayers, Disappearing Church, 12)

The book is broken into two parts.

The first is similar to his other books where he examines culture. In Disappearing Church Sayers focusses on dissecting what a post-Christian culture looks like. He makes the case for how Gnosticism and the self has become central to Western thinking. He also writes at length about how the church of the past few decades has been seeking to stay relevant to culture. This effort has resulted in the poor effort of liberalism, millennials leaving the church in droves, and sustained modern criticism of the Christian worldview in society.

In part two Sayers pivots to show what a resilient faith looks like. This resilience is rooted in a deep faith centred in the Word and prayer. A fair amount of time is spent on acknowledging that we live in such an individualistic society and self-centred world that what Jesus calls for is in direct opposition to this. The aspects of grace given to believers, and the call of God to deny yourself in love and sacrificing for others are two examples of a counter-culture faith. This leads to an understanding that God is not a bit player in life, but the centre of it all. To follow Jesus means He is made central to every aspect of life. He becomes the heartbeat of life and makes life relevant to us. Therefore, in acknowledging the grace of God we are to subordinate ourselves under his Lordship. Essentially the biblical call of following and obeying. As he writes,

“To be shaped by grace in a culture of self, the most countercultural act one can commit in the third culture is to break its only taboo: too commit self-disobedience. To acknowledge that authority does not lie with us, that we ultimately have no autonomy. To admit that we are broken, that we are rebellious against God and His rule. To admit that Christ is ruler. To abandon our rule and to collapse into His arms of grace. To dig deep roots into His love. We don’t just need resilience; we need gospel resilience.” (Mark Sayers, Disappearing Church, 76)

This is an excellent book and I don’t think I can do it justice in 700 words. I appreciated the ideas, of which there are plenty. Of all of Sayer’s books I have found this most helpful. I believe he helps the church navigate a post-Christian culture and live as deeply rooted, faithful, followers of Jesus. In essence, he is calling people back to the historical faith, to be diligent and disciplined in seeking after God through the Word and prayer. Jesus is to be relevant in private and in public, the centre of individual faith and their church communities.

I would highly recommend the read.

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5 Reasons To Meet With Older Saints

Often, as Youth Pastors, we can be so consumed with the tasks and programs in front of us that the only people we meet with during the week are those between 12 and 25 years of age.

In between all those set times of involvement–Sunday services, youth group, small groups, and other meetings–we often have limited time to meet up with others. Students usually end up getting priority as we seek to follow up any pastoral concerns, or continue to disciple them in a one-on-one context. Online we’re chatting to students constantly, answering questions, checking-in, and generally being accessible. Often, it can be a week or two before we’ve had a decent conversation with someone over 35.

Having grown up in the church, as a Pastor’s kid, I’ve always found it beneficial to sit with those who are older than me. Part of that might have been because there weren’t many others my age, but it was also something that happened at church dinners, Sunday lunches, and after services.

5 Reasons To Meet With Older Saints

Over the last few years I’ve found it incredibly helpful to meet up with older saints. Whether they are part of my church, retired ministers, or my grandparents, I always walk away encouraged and feeling privileged to hear the stories of those closer to ‘home’ than I. So, as a Youth Pastor I’ve come to observe five reasons why it’s a good idea to have a cup of tea with ‘the olds’:

(1) Older saints enable a greater perspective on what it means to follow Jesus through the whole of life.

When meeting with an 83-year-old who began following Jesus long before you were born you suddenly realise the commitment required. You realise the faith, wisdom, and commitment that comes from one who has walked the path for so long. And you hear what’s involved in growing and walking with Jesus year after year, decade after decade.

Through hearing the story of an older saint you learn that life is not easy, that the hardships along the way are real and painful and take years to grow through. Yet, they continue to say with the Psalmist, “The Lord is my strength and my shield, my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him” (Psalm 28:7).

(2) Older saints give historical context to your church and ministry.

Unless you’re serving in a church plant that has only recently launched it is more than likely your ministry as Youth Pastor begins at a certain season in the life of the church. The church may have been around for decades before you got there, and I suspect it will be around long after you leave.

Meeting with those who’ve been in the church for many decades provides a greater understanding of the church, its culture, and how it has got to where it is today. There are stories, significant events, ministers, and people who’ve served faithfully across the life of the church. These things aren’t known when you begin at a church, but over time you can gain a better picture of the church’s culture and history by meeting with older saints in the congregation. This can help you understand why the church operates the way it does.

(3) Older saints provide encouragement and inspiration to help you keep going.

If we constantly surround ourselves with young voices then we miss out on a wealth of encouragement and perspective. Hanging only with those who have particular ownership and understanding of the youth ministry will simply add more pressure. We will begin to focus on the short-term and forget the long-term.

Meeting with older saints helps give a long-term perspective, and in doing so they provide encouragement to keep going. There have been Youth Pastors before you, and it’s more than likely there will be others to come after you. The older saints have seen people in the church longer than you. And, more importantly, it is likely they themselves were once the youth leaders and Sunday School teachers in the church. They have a rich history of teaching the Bible and seeking to grow young people, albeit in another time. They know what it’s like to serve and serve and serve and wonder whether they are achieving anything for the Kingdom.

(4) Older saints will pray for you and the youth ministry even more because they now have a better understanding of you and what you’re doing.

I’m not sure about you but I always look up to those older saints who are constantly praying. Meeting with those that are older provides an opportunity for us to learn and get to know the saints of our church. Furthermore, they also get to know us and understand more about what we’re trying to do.

It’s an example of inter-generational ministry.

Out of these conversations these older saints can take more specific prayers to our God. They will be helping in sustaining us personally, and the wider ministry of the youth, young adults, and church.

And hey, I suspect they’ll come up and ask you after a Sunday service how this issue or that problem is going. Suddenly you have an advocate for the youth ministry!

(5) Older saints help you realise what a privileged position you find yourself in.  

Hearing anyone’s story is a privilege.

To have someone open up and tell you their life story, their walk with God, and what is joyful and painful for them is a privilege. And meeting up with an older congregational member is just that, a privilege.

It helps us realise that the role we have in discipling others is a privilege. It helps us realise that hearing the story of one person’s life is a privilege. But more than that, the week-to-week, month-to-month ministry of being involved in someone’s life, old or young, is a privilege that we often don’t realise.

And perhaps, as we walk from the cafe to the car, post-conversation we ourselves will begin to realise what a privilege it is to spend an hour or two in front of one of those older saints.

On Youth Pastor Position Descriptions

About a week ago I wrote a short Facebook post out of frustration:

“Another day, another horrible position description for a youth and young adults pastor.

Sorry churches, Superman/woman can’t even run a youth ministry, facilitate the young adult ministry and lead an evening congregation on 12 hours a week. #wecandobetter #rantover.”

I don’t like to complain too often in public, as it seems most social posts these days are that way inclined. However, this comment did receive a little traction, including some private messages from people hoping I wasn’t referring to their church’s search for a Youth Pastor!

But I did write out of frustration.

The particular position description I came across was horrible for its expectations on the Youth Pastor, its lack of time allocated to do a good job, and its focus in outlining specific tasks. And, it is not uncommon to see horrible job descriptions for Youth Pastors like this. Expectations and responsibilities stated on paper, in black and white, often far exceed the capabilities of the possible employee, particularly if the position is part-time.

But rather than just write a frustrated Facebook post, here are some further reflections and suggestions on youth ministry job descriptions.

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(1) It is positive churches want a youth ministry practitioner.

Having a church willing to give time and money and resource to help their young people and families is extremely positive. Whether it is 1-day per week or full-time, we must acknowledge that the willingness of a congregation to do this is a positive one.

(2) Budgets, more often than not, drive the time allocation. 

It’s worth naming that the church’s budget is a huge determining factor in the time allocation of Youth Pastors. It is obvious that the church has to have a certain level of income in order to pay their staff. However, this can also skew the thinking of leadership teams when they are driven to fill a role rather than use it as a vehicle to help the church’s vision in ministering to young people and families.

Just because the money is there does not mean you should automatically search for a Youth Pastor. And just because the money isn’t there doesn’t mean you can’t have a vision for youth ministry in your church.

(3) The time allocation for the role will determine the quality and experience of applicants. 

A person with over 10 years experience, a theological degree, and a young, growing family isn’t going to be looking for a Youth Pastor job that’s 2 days per week. A newbie to youth ministry in their first year of Bible College, with an internship under their belt, is unlikely to be the person for a full-time role.

The allocation of days per week will have a factor on who applies for the role. The number of days the church puts into a role will determine the quality and experience of applicants. This should determine the expectations, development, and breadth of responsibility put upon the YP.

(4) Understand how long tasks, events, and projects actually take. 

From reading a number of position descriptions over time there seems to be little understanding of how long things actually take. It may surprise some that it actually takes time to prepare a bible study, to run a youth group program, and to develop leaders. In any week a variety of things can pop up that mean the ability to complete some tasks will take longer or be pushed out.

That’s what happens when working in the people business.

It would be worth churches talking to other Youth Pastors to gain a realistic understanding of how much time certain tasks and events take so they are done well.

(4a) Include every commitment necessary into the time allocation.

If there is a mid-week bible study, a Friday night youth group, and a Sunday morning and evening service then by my reckoning there is around 10 hours of actual program time. This neglects to include the time for preparation of said programs and the time for setup, pack-up and debrief. If they’re included then it balloons to around 16-20 hours depending on the length of the programs.

That’s already 2-days per week for a Youth Pastor to do some very standard, line-and-length youth ministry.

This doesn’t include the 1:1 meet-ups, pastoral team meetings, administration, follow-up of young people and families, the development of leaders, church or committee meetings, professional development, and any space for visioning, thinking and brainstorming of what is to come.

It’s important to include everything. Churches should be just and fair workplaces, if not better.

(5) Understand that people are at the core of the Youth Pastor role.

While the tasks, events, and projects are important the Youth Pastor views the role in terms of people. As I’ve said, the church is in the people business.

When the position description simply states all the programs the applicant is responsible for then it doesn’t inspire much. But, if the PD states the vision for the ministry, the goal of helping people understand and grow in faith, help families and children grow closer to Jesus, and provide care of the youth and families in the church, then there is something more appealing.

All the programs and activities that happen in a church are simply vehicles for ministry. The ongoing check-ins, catch-ups, dinners, and the like are what help, grow and care people.

Sometimes a vehicle can get too old or the needs for a particular vehicle change. Going from a couple to having a family often means the change of car. The needs change. The same can happen in churches and their youth ministries. Understand it revolves around people.

(6) Provide time for growth and development. 

It is not easy to find a position description for a Youth Pastor that specifically states they will grow and develop the person. I haven’t found churches overly great in professional development. Sure, we all grow in the job, that’s definitely the case. However, if funds and time are allocated for conferences, further training, and study then this will help the person, and will more than likely keep them in the role longer.

(7) Be specific about what your church is hoping to achieve, be broad in how that will happen.

It’s all well and good to want a Youth Pastor, but why do you want one?

Is it because the families in your church are wanting their kids to be looked after at certain times of the week, given a bit of Jesus, and a sprinkle of fun? Or, is it because there is the recognition that young families, young people and young adults are a priority for the church going forward?

Is it because you need to fill particular tasks and so hiring a YP will mean Friday nights and bible studies will happen? Or, is it because there is a vision to develop lifelong faith in children, young people and young adults?

Be big on vision. Give a sense of what you’d like to achieve. But don’t dictate the path. Allow the congregation and potential YP to capture the vision and then let them fulfil it using the appropriate vehicles. A dictatorial position description shows a lack of trust. A vision-orientated one doesn’t.

(8) Have confidence in knowing the Youth Pastor will be putting more pressure on themselves than anyone in the church. 

It’s true. The YP will be tougher on themselves than anyone else. They will be more willing and more driven to see people come to faith and grow in that faith. Trust that. Believe in them.

I think that will do for now.

More could be said around support from superiors and the church’s leadership, which I have mentioned previously.

Hope this helps.

Published: Grace In Relationships – The Youth Minister And The Volunteer

A few days ago I had a post published at Rooted Ministry. This is part of a series about ‘Grace In Relationships’. I focussed on what it means to extend grace as a Youth Pastor to those who are committed volunteer leaders in your church.

“Often, relationships can be made complicated in unhealthy ways. However, when grace is the marker in a relationship – youth ministry volunteer or otherwise – that which seems complicated becomes easier. Truth is eventually able to be spoken, forgiveness is able to be given and received, and love and kindness shines through. If you’re sceptical, look no further than the grace given to us through Christ Jesus. I encourage you to seek to make grace the centre of your relationship with your volunteers, as I believe it will not only transform the culture of your youth ministry to another level, but also transform your own heart.”

You can read the whole post here.

Brave – A Reflection For SYG 2017

It’s arrived.

Tonight we head down to State Youth Games.

A long weekend of camping, cold weather, and cramp…for an old guy like me at least.

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With over 3000 young people descending upon the camping grounds it promises to be a fairly fun, exciting, and significant weekend. Sports morning and afternoon, dinner around the fire sharing the highs and lows of the day, and then evening sessions of worshipping God together. It’s pretty intense and worth praying for people to see more of Him.

In preparation for the event we as a youth ministry structured our talks at youth group around the SYG main theme of ‘Brave’. As leaders we figured this would help us prepare for what we may well hear through the main sessions across the weekend. While not everyone in our group is coming along to SYG it enables a glimpse into what might be. So with ‘Brave’ in mind we outlined, and have been working through, a series of talks around this theme.

Over the course of this term we’ve covered things like being brave to change, being brave to love, being brave to speak, being brave to risk, being brave to stand, being brave to share, and being brave to be.

Through various passages in the Gospel of Luke we’ve seen how the way of Jesus requires us to be brave. Whether it is what Jesus does himself, through interactions he has with others, and even in the stories he tells, we find glimmers of bravery occurring and being encouraged.

One of these passages is Luke 8:42-48.

As Jesus was on his way, the crowds almost crushed him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped.

“Who touched me?” Jesus asked.

When they all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you.”

But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.”

Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. Then he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”

Here we see the story of a woman who was brave enough to risk in order to be healed.

This woman was in a constant state of bleeding, that is, she had a continuous period for 12 years. Due to this she was considered unclean and dirty, seen as an outcast, and in all reality was a very vulnerable person in the society in which she lived.

Evidently this woman had heard about Jesus and that he could heal her. In faith she sought him out as he walked through the crowd and then attempted to touch his cloak quietly. Jesus realised power had come out of him, but his disciples think he’s crazy because with such a large crowd of course someone would’ve touched him.

Note that when the woman comes forward and admits to Jesus it was her who touched him he is not angry or disappointed. He is in fact pleased with her and it is her faith that has made her well.

The action taken by this woman is an example of being brave. She is brave to (1) have faith that Jesus could heal her and brave to (2) take action upon that faith.

We may not have the same issue as this woman. We may not even need to be physically healed. But, there may be times when we need to step out in faith, be brave, and take a risk. This could be as little as admitting we’re wrong to admitting we’re struggling with friends, school, self-esteem, or our mental health. Other ways we may need to risk and be brave includes standing up for what we believe, helping someone, stepping out in faith, or even having faith itself.

This coming weekend provides an opportunity for young people all over the state come together to play sport, strike up conversations with people they don’t know, and hear of God’s work in people and places. Please be in prayer for youth and young adults from various churches, that they will come to know more of Jesus, have faith in him, and be brave to step out in that faith.

11 Things: The Grass Isn’t Greener

We are constantly comparing ourselves to others.

From our material goods to our leadership skills to our parenting, we are always comparing ourselves to others. There is something about our fallen humanness that leads us to measure our uniqueness with the uniqueness of others.

This also happens in the church, and in youth ministry.

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We are enticed into dreaming about the bigger, and supposedly better, youth ministry down the road. Our mind drifts to consider what it would be like to be in a position at that church, or under this leader. What would it be like to have that role, live in that place, and have those facilities? For some reason we believe that the person leading that youth ministry or the role in that church will be better than the current position we find ourselves.

I think this is natural.

I hope it’s natural.

I know it’s not helpful.

Part of this thought is solidified by social media. Those glorious pictures of friends on holiday, travelling to exotic places, and experiencing amazing things compound our thought life. We tell ourselves that life is not like that, but we can’t help wonder whether our life is matching up to what we see around us. The same is true when we follow other youth group accounts, meet with other Youth Pastors, and hear of stories of what God is doing in other youth ministries. The pics portray a false reality that leads our thinking and dreaming into unhelpful areas. We begin to judge ourselves with the bigger church down the road, the one which has more money, better facilities, and the opportunity for seemingly more influence.

Instead of praising God for the work he is doing we sit there comparing ourselves, turning the work of youth ministry into an exercise in self-centredness.

But the truth is, the grass in not greener on the other side (or in another church).

The issues, challenges, hard work, conflict, and all those frustrating and negative things we are dealing with now are still there in the ‘bigger and better’ church down the road. It might not look that way from the stories or the pictures or the conversations, but despite a change in place or position those pastoral and youth ministry related challenges will still be there.

As I wrote in my original post, “It’s easy to let your mind drift to the church down the road and begin to think of how good it must be there. It’s not. It’s just not. They are having the same issues as you. They are having the same struggles. They are having the same problems. The same goes with going into a different ministry role or a role at a para-church organisation. The grass isn’t greener. It’s work. It’s hard.”

So, instead of dreaming and spending time unhelpfully thinking about the church next door why not do some of the following things to help gain some perspective. What we do now, in the place and position we are currently in, is important. We are called to be faithful to it and work hard in the youth ministry we are involved in now.

Abide In Him

In John 15 Jesus talks of abiding in him. Jesus makes the connection between fruit and abiding in him. If we are to be fruitful we need to be faithful to Jesus. Through remaining in Christ, walking closely with him, and realigning our thinking with his, we will find ourselves in a better frame of mind about our current position.

Pray

Once we realise we are not living with Jesus as well as we should be we do need to admit that to him. Through prayer we can lift our thoughts to God and ask for forgiveness. We can then ask God to help us understand what he has for us now. While our life with Jesus is a major part of our drifting into unhelpful thinking it may also be tiredness, weariness, and demotivation for a period of time. Pray for the ministry and your rhythms in all of this.

Vision Over Task

With the never-ending to-do-list we can get stuck in the task. Remember the vision for youth ministry you have. Spend some time mapping out the broader vision for the youth ministry, and do some brainstorming about future ideas and possibilities. When we are stuck on task we can get bogged down. Lift your eyes to the heavens and dream about the big-hairy-audacious goals. It’s usually pretty inspirational.

Write A List

Have the list of everyone involved in the youth ministry at your church. Make specific comments on what you appreciate about them. Write them a note or a card referencing those specific appreciations.

Look At Your Calendar

Hopefully you have a calendar. Look over the last 3 months, writing down everything you’ve been involved in – the people you’ve seen, the meetings you’ve attended, the teaching you’ve presented, the events you’ve been to. Everything. Look at how much you’ve accomplished.

Call A Friend

Either a mentor or a close ministry friend. Give them a call. Verbally vomit on them about how you’re feeling and the frustration you’re going though. Tell them about the unhelpful thinking. Let them help you process what’s happening right now. Let them slap you around (metaphorically, of course).

It’s often not admitted, but we know it’s there. Perhaps it’s time to let go of the belief that it’s better somewhere else. God has us where we are for a reason, we are to be faithful to him in that.

And remember, the grass isn’t greener.


A while ago I wrote a post about what I wished I knew when entering youth ministry. This is part five of a series dedicated to elaborating each of those eleven points. You can read part onepart twopart three, and part four here.

11 Things: Friends For The Journey And Friends For The Road

If there is one thing Pilgrim’s Progress makes clear it is that you need friends to help carry you and be there for you. Christian faces trials and challenges to faith numerous times as he seeks the Celestial City. It is Jesus who carries him through, but the means by which this carrying occurs is through the friends he has along the way.

Friends are important. We know this ourselves. Socialisation and relationships are something we learn from a young age, or hopefully learn at least. The need for relationship and friendship and companionship is vital to living. This is why we begin making friends in playgroup and kindergarten, seek to be included when we’re in high school, find community in hanging out with university friends or work colleagues on a Friday night, and why recent widows or widowers marry again soon after the passing of their spouse.

Relationship drives much of what we do. 

In youth ministry we are surrounded by people, but this doesn’t mean we have close friends. In fact, it is probably less likely for us to feel like we have solid friendships with others because we may only be at a church for a short period of time before moving on to another congregation. This is not to say that we don’t care about those people we cared for previously. Due to a new role and a new church, new relationships need to be made.

Another point to consider is that sometimes our friend card can be full. If we’ve had some really close friends from high school and that’s continued for a number of years, picked up a few more through church and other areas of life, then our social and relational needs may be met. When we get to a new church we may not need to be friends with people because of the friends we already carry. This is not always the case but worth recognising as a reality.

With this said there are two types of friendships we might come across in youth ministry. The first I call friends for the journey, and the second I call friends for the road.

Friends For The Journey

The word ‘journey’ has got to be the most overused Christianese I have heard. Ever. It’s probably lessened in recent time, overtaken but that word ‘space’. However, it is good to use the word to describe this situation.

Friends for the journey are those friends who are only around for a short period of time but they are with you through your ministry tenure at your church.

For example, this could be a member in the congregation or in the small group you connect with really well. They are genuine friends with you and you with them. The relationship grows and grows but when you leave then the relationship pretty much stops. There is the recognition that this relationship was only for a certain period of time because of the situation you find yourself in. It could well be that you rarely speak to a former colleague after leaving for another ministry placement. That’s OK. It’s going to happen. But while you were there it was a great friendship. When you meet up again it’ll be as if no time has passed at all. But, don’t be surprised if the friendship moves on and new friends are made from both sides when this occurs.

Friends For The Road

These friends are those friends who you’ll be 83 years-old with and still kicking around like you’re 23. These are the friends who stick with you, you may not see much of each other during certain seasons in life, they may not even go to church or be Christian. But, the relationship and friendship was formed years ago and over time it is just natural to continue that friendship. They know more about you than most other people will ever know, and they can speak into your life or come along and support you at anytime. You could pick up the phone, call them, and they’d take it.

This kind of friendship is needed in youth ministry as they will be there when there are challenges and tough times. They will be there in the joys and fun of the ministry. They will also see you grow and mature and become the pastor and leader you are. These are great friendships and are important to have as you lead and minister to others.

Friends and relationships are important in every sphere of life. Sadly, there are many who don’t have friends. But in ministry it is important to have people who walk with you closely for a period of time and then there are people who are needed over the long-term, those lifelong friends.

Do you have such friends? Is it time to give someone a call or shoot them a text? 


A while ago I wrote a post about what I wished I knew when entering youth ministry. This is part four of a series dedicated to elaborating each of those eleven points. You can read part onepart two, and part three here.