Published: The Performance Trap

Last week I wrote about often feeling inadequate in the ministry, and it raised a few questions and comments. However, it also dove-tailed with a post I had published on The Gospel Coalition Australia later in the week, entitled “The Performance Trap“.

In this post I write about the amazing grace God gives to us, not because of anything we’ve done, but simply as a gift. Even though we may know this intellectually, often we fall back into performance-based living.

You can read the whole thing here.

“Intellectually we get it. We understand the heart of Christianity really isn’t about us, it’s about God and what he has done. Yet functionally we keep trying to make it about us. We are drawn back to performance in our attempt to live out our faith. In the end, we fall into performance traps; distorting the gospel and making our faith about us once again. “

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Published: Theological Reflection In Training For Youth Ministry

It was only a little over a week ago I wrote about the impact my Master of Divinity studies had on my training for youth ministry. I outlined four points about how my theological education has prepared and impacted my role as a youth and young adult pastor. However, there was really a fifth point. And that fifth point became a whole post, recently published on Tim Gough’s Youth Work Hacks as a follow-up piece

In this post I flesh out how the theological education I received has helped in applying theologically reflective practice into the ministry. This means, looking out for where God seems to be moving and asking the question of what He is doing amongst the local believers. Sometimes this may sound foreign to people, particularly in youth ministry, because it’s not taught or explored very often. But, I think it is actually the most important of the five points across the two articles.

“Theological reflection, the idea of being able to reflect on our experiences in life and ministry through the lens of faith, can often go missing in youth ministry. It takes effort to stop, think, and articulate what God might be doing within our own lives, let alone through the ministry we might be involved in. We can find ourselves more focused on ‘doing the program’, or ‘getting the task done’, than taking the time to reflect on the ways God seems to be working in our midst.”

You can read the whole thing here.

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Published: 5 Advantages of Gospel Centred Youth Ministry

It’s very pleasing to have had another post about youth ministry published on The Gospel Coalition.

This time I’m written about what I see as the advantages to a gospel-centred approach in youth ministry. It seems odd this even needs to be said. And using the phrase ‘gospel-centred’ when everyone else uses it beings to lose its meaning. Nevertheless, it was a good reminder to write these five points, and I would like to believe it all holds true.

Hope you enjoy it.

You can find it here.

“I can’t help but reflect on the hundreds of teenagers I’ve been privileged to teach and shepherd through the years. Some have stuck with faith and the church. Others dropped off, never to be seen of again.

Without the gospel and an understanding of God’s guiding sovereign hand in this work, I wouldn’t have survived this long. Thankfully, the growing is God’s and the sustaining is God’s—and yet we have the privilege of being a small part of this work through a gospel-centered youth ministry.”

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You can view the whole thing here.

You can read other published articles here.

Published: You’re Not Wasting Your Degree In Youth Ministry

A little while back Tim Gough of YouthWorkHacks.com wrote a couple of posts encouraging greater training for those in youth ministry. The first, ‘Why Train For Ministry?‘, gives a number of bullet point-like sentences on how training can help in the formation and learning of a youth pastor. The second, ‘How To Pick A Youth Ministry Training Course?‘, gives a brief framework on what to think about when considering a course for further youth ministry study.

I enjoyed reading both pieces, which made me reflect on how my Master of Divinity studies have helped me in the youth and young adult ministry I’ve found myself. I was inspired so much that I ended up writing a guest post which Tim posted recently.

You can read it here.

“I have found, possibly because of my education, that I am not viewed solely as the Youth Pastor but as one of the pastoral team. This could be unique to my church of course, but I suspect that because of the wider training I have, I can be a voice and make respected theological contributions to conversations the church is having. There is a sureness in my thinking and preaching because I am able to wrestle and converse with various aspects of Scripture. I’m not just seen as the guy who can run a good game of dodgeball and deliver a sex talk when needed.”

You can access other guest posts I’ve had published here.

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Youth Ministry With The Training Wheels Off

On the outside basketball court, just down the road from where we live, we spent time as a family helping our eldest daughter with her bike riding. For a few hours we were focussed on helping her with her coordination, pedalling, steering, and balance as she learnt to ride a bike without training wheels.

Youth Ministry With The Training Wheels Off

It quickly became clear that this was the right time to do such an activity; she soon became a duck to water and was riding around too fast and confidently for her parents liking. At times she was overconfident, which resulted in a couple of crashes. But generally, she moved from training wheels to the two-wheeler without much trouble. It’s now time to keep the practice going so she continues to grow in confidence and skill.

If you’re involved in youth ministry I wonder whether it’s time for you to take the training wheels off?

What’s that mean, you ask?

Perhaps the following points might help that.

People Over Program

Starting out in youth ministry finds all leaders more concerned about the program than the people coming to said program. Every rookie leader I have seen is more worried and anxious about pulling together a good program than they are in building relationships with those in attendance.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. Learning the ropes about how to put together and run some games, write and deliver a talk, lead a discussion group, understand the flow of the night, and be involved in set up and pack up are all important parts of youth ministry. It is natural, and far easier, to learn the skills that are associated with those kind of tasks than it is to learn the art of conversation and care. It’s far easier to deal with these task-orientated responsibilities than being intentional about relationship building.

A leader who takes their training wheels off will be one who begins to focus more on people over the program. They understand the relational connections with those who come along far outweigh whatever activities are happening on a particular night. Soon enough the programmatic nature of the ministry takes care of itself and conversations with leaders, parents, and students become the priority.

Character Over Competence

This, in reality, is a must at any stage.

From a personal point of view, this is the idea of working on one’s character over working on one’s competency. Competency can include all the planning and organisation ability, relational nature, program tasks, idea generation, and even leadership skills. Yet, if the character of the person is not something you want modelled by others then it is probably best to reassess the situation.

Someone who is taking the training wheels off in this regard will be intentional about their growth in character. In Galatians 5 we read a list of character traits, known as the ‘Fruits of the Spirit’, which are more worthy to be working on than any particular skill and ability. These include love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Other character-forming virtues include, truthfulness, humility, forgiveness, compassion, empathy, and the like. It is these things that we seek to work on, be intentional about, and realise they all take a long time to grow within us.

At the end of the day, character trumps everything.

Initiative Over Instruction

So you’ve been involved in your church’s youth ministry for a while. You build relationships. You can run a good game. You can do a talk. What’s the next step?

Taking initiative.

And this isn’t just doing those things above without thinking, or seeing the need to do more of these things and going for it. While that’s great, and it is an example of taking initiative, there are other areas to begin to explore.

Taking initiative might look like:

  • beginning to think about how you can catch up with the one or two students after school.
  • sending a text or two during the week to encourage someone from the group.
  • asking a parent how you can pray for them and the family this coming week.
  • sharing a bible verse or thought to someone who God puts on your heart.
  • vacuuming the floor after the youth night is over without being asked.
  • getting to the event early and making sure you’re setting up and prepared.
  • writing an encouraging card to someone who you think needs it this week.
  • engaging with the strategy, vision, and big picture of how the youth ministry services others and the wider church.

Initiative is doing those things that you know are worthwhile and important without being asked. And while initiative includes doing all the tasks required to pull off a great youth event, it is again centred on people. It is beginning to think and act in a way that actually ministers to people, not just performing a task.

I wonder how you operate? Do you still have your training wheels on?

Is it time to take them off?

Published: Fighting for the Joy of Our Students

For many of us there is the daily fight for joy, to find something to be joyful about in our day-to-day and week-by-week existence. As youth ministry leaders we also have the opportunity to fight for joy for those in our church and youth group. In fact, given the pressures on teenagers, and the ever-increasing stress and anxiety rising within the generations, we can play a part in fighting for their joy too.

With this in mind, I have written a piece that’s been published on Rooted Ministry. You can read the whole thing here.

“How often and how easy it is to lose heart. A dysfunction in the family. A relationship breakdown. A disagreement with friends. An unexpected medical result. Whatever it might be for us and our students, we are called to fix our eyes upon Jesus. Through stories of believers of long ago, we are given examples of faithful people persevering to the end. But in Jesus we find something greater, an everlasting joy that is gifted to us through the work of the cross. As we seek to take hold of this joy for ourselves we also call others to do the same. For our students, the teenagers in our churches and in our homes, we call them to come and take hold of this joy.”

Other pieces published elsewhere can be found here.

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Does Our Understanding of Evangelism Effect Our View of Sharing Faith?

My last post, which is a little reflection on a recent survey about how Millennials view evangelism, happened to come out the same day I attended an event where the speaker highlighted the need for understanding evangelism. While listening I was reminded of how important our understanding of evangelism is, and how that understanding then impacts way we prioritise it, and even do it.

In understanding evangelism as proclamation of the gospel we are to trust in God in the following:

  1. That he will spread the gospel through us.
  2. That the gospel will have an impact as we seek to share it with others.
  3. That it is God who calls people to himself.

In understanding these things we then find we are obeying God. It is not our duty to convert people to the gospel and the Christian faith, but it is our duty to proclaim.

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We are to have a healthy realisation that the Word of God will speak to people as it is proclaimed to them. We are not relying, and nor is God relying, on our eloquence or lack thereof. What we are relying on is the Word, and trusting that it is the Word that speaks to the heart. In many ways, the pressure of evangelism is non-existent. It is the work of God in convicting and transforming hearts, it is not our work. Our work is to share the gospel.

This will then help us in our understanding of evangelism as a whole of body of Christ work, not simply the work of evangelists or the pastor at our church. The sharing of the gospel is an all-believer activity, the conversion through the gospel is an all-God activity.

Linking back to the question of why Millennials seems to believe it is wrong to share with someone their faith in order for them to begin sharing the same faith may also be because of this misunderstanding of evangelism.

When we believe we are the ones who do the converting then we feel the pressure and the awkwardness in sharing our faith. However, if we realise that God is the one who converts and we are the ones who proclaim the pressure of results disappears.

One writer puts it like this,

“…one of the most common and dangerous mistakes is to confuse the results of evangelism with evangelism itself…Evangelism must not be confused with the fruit of evangelism. If you combine this misunderstanding–thinking evangelism is the fruit of evangelism…then it is very possible to end up thinking not only that evangelism is simply seeing others converted, but thinking also that it is within your own power to convert others. This kind of thinking may lead you to be very manipulative… Misunderstanding this point can cripple individual Christians with a deep sense of personal failure and, ironically, can cause an aversion to evangelism itself.” (Mark Dever, Nine Marks of A Healthy Church, 134-136)

How often have we seen, particularly in youth ministry, the speaker seeking to manipulate the emotions of the people they are speaking to in order to see results? This comes down to an inadequate view of evangelism. And the same can be said for numerous pressurised situations where people try to force others into making a decision. This again lacks an adequate understanding of evangelism.

I’m not suggesting avoiding the challenge, nor am I suggesting avoiding calling people to follow Jesus and make a decision. Sometimes people need to be asked, and the opportunity given, to actually make a decision. But perhaps it’s not that surprising Millennials don’t want to ask people to follow Jesus and convert because it has been modelled so poorly over the last few decades and is now commonly misunderstood.

Published: 5 Benefits of Considering Youth Ministry as Intergenerational Ministry

Youth ministry is at its best when it seen as part of the whole church. Rather than seeing youth ministry as its own thing–simply useful for a certain generation–it is important to see it as significant and influential on everyone in the local church. This is why I agree with much of what has been written in recent years about the importance of intergenerational ministry.

I wrote a little something about this recently, and it was published on The Gospel Coalition Australia site.

“I’m sure we’ve all got our own stories about people of different ages impacting our lives and faith. It should be a natural part of discipleship. As the gospel is accepted, so it is to be passed on: from generation to generation. God is to be made known through our families—both biological and ecclesial.”

You can read the whole piece here.

You can read other pieces published elsewhere here.

7 Ways To Use The Bible In Youth Ministry

I believe every Youth Pastor I know would tick the ‘Yes’ box when asked the question “Do you use the Bible in your youth ministry?”

Surely.

I can’t think of a Youth Pastor who would do otherwise. I can’t think of a Youth Pastor who would think of ticking ‘No’.

It would be expected, wouldn’t it?

After all, youth ministry is a ministry of the church, led by believers, who themselves recognise and prioritise the scriptures. Christians the world over, parents and young people alike, affirm the Bible as the ultimate rule for life and faith.

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Yet, when we begin to scratch the surface and ask questions about how we use the Bible in our youth ministries I wonder what answers we might get…?

When we say we use the Bible are we saying…

  • …we affirm scriptures as the ultimate guide for life and faith for our young people?
  • …we use a verse or two in the youth talk each week?
  • …we open and read from the bible in our small groups or bible studies each week?
  • …we try to give creative ideas about how students can engage with the Bible?
  • …we believe it is a worthwhile text that can be given some consideration in the way we think?
  • …we affirm it but never really use it?
  • …we want to use it more but are afraid of turning people away?

When I ask myself these questions I challenge myself. I’m challenged to think about how I uphold the Word of God and the God of the Bible in every aspect of youth ministry.
Previously I’ve written about what a Bible-shaped Youth Ministry might look like. In a similar way to this post, the question is asked about how the Bible is useful for our youth ministries. What might helpful from here, however, is thinking about how the Bible might intersect with the way we operate as a youth ministry.

With this in mind here are seven ways we can use the Bible in youth ministry.

1. Use the Bible as a ministry training and leadership tool.

The bible speaks clearly about how the scriptures speak into every part of life and church life. In terms of training our volunteers and leadership teams the Bible is useful for this too. It helps show that the vision we have for our ministry is not something we came up with but something that is biblically grounded (2 Timothy 3:15-17).

2. Use the Bible as the primary way for understanding pastoral ministry.

Scripture teaches ecclesiology, the forming and structure of the church. Youth ministry is part of the church. It has the same intentions as ministry to adults, ministry to children, ministry to seniors, ministry to men, ministry to women etc., just with a different targeted audience. Teaching about ministry and the shape of ministry from the pastoral epistles, for example, is a great way this can be done.

3. Use the Bible as though God is speaking to people.

We understand that the scriptures are God’s words to us. God speaks his truth through the scriptures and it is through these God-inspired books that we are able to know the truth and the heart behind the truth. In shaping a youth ministry around the scriptures is to affirm that God speaks through his Word and will continue to do so today.

4. Use the Bible as a practical tool of defining ministry, not just for giving answers to questions.

Questions arise and answers can be found in scripture. The Bible depicts ourselves, helps in our understanding of God and the world, provides comfort for the hurting, displays God’s character, and outlines God’s plans and purposes for his world. It makes much of the redemption and restoration of God’s creatures (us), the coming together of His Church, and how all things lead to the person and work of Jesus Christ.

5. Use the Bible in youth ministry is to pray through the Bible.

The Bible is great for prayer. Take a portion of Scripture and pray through it. Use the ideas and structure of the passage to inform the way you pray and what you pray.

6. Use the Bible to shape the equipping, teaching, mission and building of community.

Teach and equip others, explore mission and community, through the Bible itself. Whether it is teaching about topics that are current in our culture or whether it is about understanding how biblical community is to be formed, the Bible can help shape these things.

7. Use the Bible in each program and event and meeting.

It’s not hard to use a passage of scripture at a youth group every or in a conversation. This is about confidence in the Bible and its ability to speak to people through its use, whether narrative or epistle or gospel. This isn’t about shoving the Bible down someone’s throat either, but it’s about taking the kernel of truth that exists in any particular passage and letting it be planted into the hearts of those who hear. It is having confidence in the Word of God that understands its sufficiently, clarity, accuracy, and necessity for our ministry.

Published: Gospel of Mercy: Remembering Our Identity In Christ

A huge influence on the way we think of ourselves, particularly as youth ministry practitioners, is related to our identity. This is relevant to anyone who isn’t a youth pastor or involved in youth ministry work too, obviously. But recently I’ve reflected on this in relation to the youth pastor position, and had a piece published about it at Rooted Ministry a few days ago.

Part of what I write is that…

“Because of this new identity there are changes to get used to. Things which we used to hold as important and central to our identity become secondary. Our identity as a father or mother, as an accountant or barista, as a top student or college dropout, well, these become secondary to being part of the people of God. These identifying factors, while not redundant, become lesser as our identity in Christ becomes greater.

This even goes for our position in the youth ministry! Whether on a pastoral staff or a volunteer youth leader, our identity is first and foremost with Christ.”

You can read the whole thing here.