Published: Faith Formation In A Secular Age by Andrew Root

I’ve recently read Andrew Root’s, Faith Formation In A Secular Age: Responding To The Church’s Obsession With Youthfulness.

It was a dense read. As a result, it has triggered numerous thoughts about how we engage students, helping them to form faith in the current cultural era. I think this book has been very helpful in thinking through the way we approach discipleship, particularly in youth ministry. But, at the same time, I found that it raises unsatisfactory answers in its conclusions.

Having read the book, and thought through some of Root’s ideas I have written a fairly comprehensive review. It was accepted by The Gospel Coalition Australia editors and published on their site.

You can read the whole thing here.

“This has resulted with churches increasingly viewing youth ministry as a “saviour” for their church. While the church youth movement has historically been there, it is really only in the last fifty years that this area of the church has risen to the level it is today. There was actually a time when churches didn’t have a youth pastor and where the work toward the young people was driven by a group of volunteers. The striving after a pastoral staff position specifically for youth ministry is something new, relatively speaking.

A by-product of this is churches increasing their value for and commitment to keeping young people in the church. This increase in attention has also created youth ministry and youth focussed para-church organisations that seek to hold a young person in the orbit of faith. This kind of thinking hopes to see more kids, and particularly kids of church families, stay in church life instead of walking away and becoming one of the ‘Nones’ who are now self-identifying in surveys and census data. As Root remarks, “Even today, study after study in youth ministry seems to define faith primarily through institutional participation.” (p30)”

Andrew Root has also been doing the rounds on various podcast episodes. If you’d like to have a listen to what he says then head to one of these:

Youthscape are a youth work organisation in the UK and interviewed Root about his book in episode 41.

Homebrewed Christianity interviews Andrew Root about Faith Formation In A Secular Age. I haven’t listened to this but will do in coming days or weeks.

The Distillery Podcast is an initiative by Princeton Theological Seminary. They interviewed Root about this book and I found it to be a good insight into his thoughts.

When You Gonna Be A Real Pastor is a fun podcast by two youth pastors in the USA. Here they interview Andrew Root before the book was released, partly on his previous book and partly on this one.

Youth Ministry With The Headphones Off

As I drive on my commute, when I’m at the gym lifting iron, and often as I am falling asleep after a long day, I’m wearing headphones.

I listen to a variety of podcasts and audiobooks, trying to learn something new or enjoy a good story while being productive in other ways.

At the gym I’m focussed on two things. First, to do the exercises I’d like to do for the day at an intensity that will improve my health. And second, to listen to whatever is coming through my headphones.

As I look around the gym I notice everyone else doing the same. Everyone has headphones in their ears, listening to something they enjoy while working out.

As a side note, I think those who are actually working the hardest at the gym are often those who aren’t listening to anything. But I digress.

Often, I notice myself lowering the intensity of my exercise because I’m listening to something I’m interested in. Rather than being focussed, and pushing myself for the set of lifts, I’m more interested in what I’m hearing and so drop my intensity to around 80%. Instead of listening to my body, or pushing myself to achieve more, I have my focus elsewhere.

I wonder whether we do the same when we come to youth ministry?

Youth Ministry With The Headphones Off

Most of the time our connection points with people during the week happens while doing other things. It could be trying to talk to a student when youth group is about to begin. It could be a deep conversation with a young adult but small group has wrapped up and they’re about to be picked up. It could be talking to a parent after church but there are others lining up to speak with you.

In youth ministry there can be plenty of things, either in the moment or during the week, that can distract us from putting our full energies toward the task at hand. Whatever it is, there can be moments when we are distracted or lose focus.

The much overused verse from Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:31 is still true and valid, even for distracted youth leaders.

“…whatever you do, do all for the glory of God.”

This can apply to anything we put our mind to, and is relevant for us as we think about ‘focus’. To actually focus on the tasks at hand, such as, organising an event, having a conversation with a parent, introducing a student to another, creating the actual program, or driving someone home after their parents forgot them, will go a long way in glorifying God through our youth ministry.

This focus is intentionality.

It is about being present.

It is about the moment.

Perhaps it is time to take the headphones off and begin to focus on the youth ministry tasks at hand.

Published: The Book of Ruth, Critical to God’s Narrative of Redemption

I’ve recently been preaching through the book of Ruth. It’s been really exciting and energising to do so. For one thing, I’ve been fascinated by the various levels of meaning the author uses throughout the narrative. Anyway, in reading and re-reading the story of Ruth I put together a post, which has been published on Rooted Ministry.

I imagine in the work you do as a youth minister – the people you have conversations with, and the crises you get called into – there are similarly tragic moments you’re involved in.

The student who loses her best friend to suicide and didn’t know she needed help. The young man in high school whose father passes away suddenly. The family who is effected by a car accident, or by cancer, or by an illicit liaison.

As youth ministers, we often have the privilege of being part of people’s lives at the worst of times. And often we ourselves don’t know what to say or how to handle such events and experiences. But we sit there, we listen, and we show our love and care for them.

You can read the whole thing here.

Billy Graham And Gramps

With the passing of Billy Graham overnight there is much to thank God for in terms of his ministry and impact, not only within Christianity in the twentieth century but the world at large. Billy had an impact in over 180 countries and is said to have a major influence in seeing over 200 million people come to know Jesus for themselves.

He is quite possibly the greatest evangelist ever, in the same ilk as Whitefield, Wesley, and Spurgeon.

During the 1950s and 60s my grandfather, Gordon Coombs, was the pastor of Opawa Baptist Church in Christchurch, New Zealand. A few months ago, I had a brief conversation about what pastoral ministry was like in those days, trying to mine as much gold as possible. Part of that conversation, I remembered this morning, was about the 1959 Billy Graham crusade in Christchurch. In light of Billy’s passing I thought I’d give him a call and see whether he would be willing to reflect a little more about that time.

Here are some of those memories and reflections.

Billy Graham Quote

The 1959 crusade was held just down the road from Opawa Baptist Church (OBC), at Lancaster Park. Literally, they are on the same street. Being the pastor of the most local church to the stadium there was clearly going to be some involvement.

As Gordon remembers there were three main areas he was involved in.

The first was to be on the organising committee for the eight-day long crusade. This involved preparation meetings and co-ordination with other churches in the city to stage such a large event.

The second main task he had, with the help or many other volunteers from other churches, was to be the host church for the follow-up of the crusade. This involved the use of OBC’s large hall where all the response cards would be collected, sorted, and distributed to the various churches across the city. After each night meeting, and once the counselling had been completed, this follow-up process would begin in the OBC hall and involve many volunteers late into the night and early morning.

And the third task, of vital importance, was to allow the crusade to borrow the brand new OBC organ for the entire eight days. This organ was expensive, it was new, and it was seen as a highly prised possession of OBC. And it would be sitting out in the middle of Lancaster Park day and night. However, after one of the Sunday morning services had been completed Gordon proceeded to announce the situation to the congregation. He asked for their thoughts, even though he didn’t know whether they would allow it. And as he said,

“There were some of the older people who put up their hands in opposition to this idea, but I told them that if we did this I am sure the Lord would bless us for it. And in doing so we had 40 new conversions out of the crusade.”

And it was these 40 new conversions that increased the size of the congregation by a third. For the churches there were new people joining congregations all over the city. There was an increased vigour in evangelism and almost a mini-revival.

“Some of the older people thankfully got their noses out of joint because they couldn’t sit in their same seat at church anymore, but there were some marvellous people who joined OBC in those days through the influence of the crusade”.

And it wasn’t only the churches that felt the impact.  It seems that a by-product of this crusade, particularly in the community, was a freedom to speak about Christianity; “for a short period of time Billy Graham and his crusades were on everyone’s lips”. And this allowed for people to speak freely to their friends and neighbours about the Christian faith.

Being on the committee Gordon did get to meet the man himself, meeting him as he arrived at the airport in Christchurch. Apparently, his eldest son (not even five at the time) was keen to go and meet him too but had a serious fever at the time. This meant he could only go as far as the airport window and look out in envy. But what Gordon does remember of him and his ministry was that of a humble man, committed to preaching the biblical gospel to everyone he could.

It is interesting to note that his arrival and ministry through the crusade also bought with it challenges. Some of the ministers in the city were not in favour of his coming because “they wouldn’t go along with his biblical emphasis”. And this is nothing new to those of us who have read a little about his ministry and methods. But he did,

“…bring renewal in the life of many ministers and because of his emphasis on the bible there came an increase in biblical preaching and the restoration of the authority of God’s word; it’s importance and centrality.”

If nothing else, I had a great conversation with my grandfather and was again reminded of how God continues to be at work in times and places and with people we will never know.

RIP Billy Graham.

Below are a couple of photos from the time of the crusade, various people meeting Mr and Mrs Graham.

Billy Graham Crusade 1959 - Men

Billy Graham Crusade 1959 - Ladies.jpg

On Planning Your Youth Ministry

I have to admit that I often enjoy the planning process of youth ministry. There is something about the start of the year, when the calendar is fresh and empty, that inspires creativity and excitement about the ministry year ahead.

Over time I’d like to think I’ve grown in my understanding of how to plan a youth ministry year. This growth has helped in solidifying my process and systems in preparing an event, a curriculum, or even gaining a grasp on the coming 12-months. It’s not always easy taking the ideas and inspiration for youth ministry and making them fit into an already busy year. However, I’ve found it helpful to put my planning in perspective as I look ahead to the year.

On Planning Your Youth Ministry.png

 

(1) Make A Plan To Plan

There needs to be some time set out in your calendar to actually plan.

This will require planning itself.

But as the saying goes, “failing to plan is planning to fail”. With this in mind I’d encourage you to look at your calendar over the next couple of weeks and block out a whole afternoon to plan the coming months (or more). First and foremost, there needs to be time set apart for planning our youth ministries.

Go.

Do it now.

(2) Put Planning In Perspective

When I haven’t planned well I can get into an anxious and stressful state.

But when I have planned an event or a meeting to the best of my ability I am considerably less anxious. Even when my planning fails, knowing that I’ve done all I could have in the lead-up allows me to reconcile the failure. It puts me in a better position to evaluate what is happening while things are going wrong and also gives me the metrics to learn what I could’ve done better.

It’s also helpful to be reminded of the words in the book of Proverbs, that while

“…the hearts of humans plan their course, the Lord establishes their steps” (Proverbs 16:9).

With this kind of thinking my planning is put into perspective.

I can do as much as I can, as well as I can, but at the end of the day I need to recognise God’s hand in these plans too.

Keeping this in mind helps me from relying on my own skills, abilities, and self and turns my heart to praise as I know I’m part of God’s wider, global, mission in youth ministry.

(3) Move Those Plans To Action

We could spend a lot of time planning and little time actually implementing those plans.

Remember to make sure you have the time and energy to put these plans into practice. Each year that goes by I always find an adjustment is needed in my schedule to move the youth ministry forward.

At the end of the day I am hoping to implement the plans I make, having a heart for the Lord to use them in whatever capacity he chooses.

May it be so for me, just as it may be for you as you serve God and his people.

Idea: Multiple Churches, One Youth Pastor

An enjoyable part of working within the #youthmin world is connecting with other youth pastors and youth ministry practitioners from across the globe. For a number of years I’ve been following a guy called James in the UK. He regularly blogs about youth work and ministry from a British perspective. I often find his posts helpful, and it really is just him vomiting his thoughts onto the page (or screen as it may be).

As it happens, James and I are reading the same book at the same time. Andrew Root’s latest work, “Faith Formation In A Secular Age: Responding To The Church’s Obsession With Youthfulness”. Yesterday, James had a few reflections on the beginnings of the book and I found it useful to engage with. You can read it here. In this post I’d simply like to engage with what he has written and add my two cents too.

Basically, James asks the question, after reading a chapter or two of the book, “Has the church embraced youthfulness – but given up on young people?”

James then outlines a few thoughts on how the church in the UK has been focussed on young people, and a lot of the time only young people, perhaps to the neglect of other generations. But, one of the key lines in this reflection from James is, “…I imagine that in the UK the drive to attract young people has less to do with authenticity, and more to do with survival.”

This is a key comment.

It is a key issue the church battles with today, and one that youth pastors and other church leaders know, feel, write about, and talk about a lot.

The first part of Andrew Root’s book is a fascinating look into the rise of youth culture in society, particularly American culture, and the effect this has had on our thinking. His contention, better argued than I will articulate here, is that the West, since the 1960’s, has had an obsession with ‘youth’, which filters into everything we see around us. So much so that whenever we think of something to do with ‘youth’ we believe it is authentic and cool. That which is authentic is generally that which is young, yip, and youthful.

In our churches we’ve seen this occur over the last 40-50 years through the strong rise in the youth ministry movement. Prior to the 1960’s, and the beginnings of student and youth orientated para-church organisations, the sole youth pastor within a local church community was not even a thing. Now, almost every church’s second staff appointment would be a youth pastor. To look after the ‘young people’ of course.

Furthermore, there has been a sharp rise in considering ‘youthfulness’ as being the epitome of church and church life. For a church to be authentic, happening, and growing, it needs to have the vibe that it is young, cool, and hip. When you look around Christendom currently, this sort of vibe is especially evident.

James talks about how many of the youth workers and pastors in his region have been given the flick because of financial restraints and the like. He talks about the decrease in specialist youth workers in his region regularly, it seems to be a major concern.

But this got me thinking about how many churches I know who have full-time youth and young adult pastors. Generally, it is only the ones who are large, perhaps with a Sunday morning attendance of 250+, that can afford such an expense. I am also aware that there are plenty of smaller churches who seek to employ a youth pastor (or similar) but can only afford to days per week at the most.

My question is, is the church of the future willing to work together in order to pay someone a full-time wage but have their youth work cross local church boundaries?

In other words, would two or three smaller churches in a particular area be willing to pay for one person to cover youth ministry in their region? 

I think this would be an interesting experiment for local churches to grapple with.

This would provide someone with full employment, paid through two or more churches, while giving broader scope for the churches than their own little patch. Some might call it kingdom thinking I suppose.

And this links back to the key comment James was making when he said, “…I imagine that in the UK the drive to attract young people has less to do with authenticity, and more to do with survival.”

Rather than actually think about survival (which I understand is a massive issue when the finances are barely paying the overheads), wouldn’t it be better to think more strategically and out-of-the-box in regard to youth ministry? When we’re solely thinking in terms of survival, looking to ‘attract young people’, then we’ve lost the plot.

What we need is a vision that understands the realities of what it is to work in faith-based youth ministry, but have that aligned with a larger vision of God being at work through his people, the Church. And, along the way it would be worth experimenting and working together with other churches for the spread of the gospel and work of his kingdom.

The Forgotten Leader

In chapter 40 of Genesis we read of Joseph in prison.

He’s in prison because he’s been falsely accused of sleeping with the wife of Egypt’s 2IC (second in charge). But chapter 40 tells the story of Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker, who are also in prison with Joseph, having dreams that need to be interpreted.

Joseph seems to have risen to prominence, even within the prison walls, as he is tasked with looking after these two men. Having shared their dreams with him the cupbearer and baker ask Joseph to interpret them, which he does. When Joseph interprets positively for the cupbearer he asks him to remember him and speak highly of him to the Pharaoh. When these things happen the cupbearer is released and finds himself back in favour with Pharaoh.

The final verse of the chapter reads,

“Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.”

This sparked a thought about how we often forget those who play a significant role in our lives.

The Forgotten Leader Post

We all tell ourselves a certain narrative of the way things are, of what has happened in our lives. We are able to remember significant things, turning points, and people in our lives. But then, there are all those people we have forgotten, people who may have only had a small part in our lives at some point.

When we think about our own walk with Jesus we often have key people who are part of that journey. We might remember a youth pastor, or a youth leader that connected with us regularly, or maybe someone older in the church who asked how we were every now and then. Sometimes though we forget those other people who were around and part of the ministry; they don’t seem to play a role in our narrative.

This is often what it is to be a youth leader. It is often the case that we can be forgotten.

We become a forgotten leader. 

The forgotten leader isn’t any less significant. I often think it is better to be the forgotten leader than the one who goes down in a blaze of glory, remembered for all the wrong things they did.

The forgotten leader is someone who serves without expecting to be needed in years to come. They serve in the youth ministry (or any other for that matter) week in and week out. They continue to grow in their relationship with God, and students come and go through the programs with the forgotten leader faithfully serving.

This kind of leadership is certainly not what our culture expects. We want youth leaders that are flashy, that are bold, that are magnetic. But often these kinds of leaders don’t last long. Soon enough they’ve had their fill and move on to another place where a new set of people will attach themselves to them.

A forgotten leader is someone who is counter-cultural and at their heart a servant. They get on with the job of connecting with God and connecting with students, doing the task they have been given for that season. Their work often goes unseen, they help with setup and are often packing up well after the parents have picked up their children.

A forgotten leader is a servant leader; doing the one-percenters make the ministry work and being faithful to do what God has asked them to do. In this way the forgotten leader lowers themselves, not seeking first place, but highlights others before themselves.

When Joseph is forgotten by the cupbearer he was performing the task that God had asked him. The issue isn’t that he was forgotten, it’s about how he was faithful to God.

May you be a forgotten-faithful leader this year.

3 Ways The Beach Helps Youth Ministry

The beach is great.

If it was a choice between a warm beach location or say a cold snowy type location, the beach wins every time.

And so with summer holidays and hot days comes the annual visit to the beach. A few days spent relaxing, reading, and having a rollicking time with the family. Last year I spent hours making an awesome sandcastle with my daughter, this year it seems we’re more adventurous and have ventured into the cooler waters and waves.

Oddly enough, the beach had me thinking about youth ministry. Perhaps it was the salt water, the days off, or too much cricket watching (can that ever be the case?). Nevertheless, using the beach as an illustration for youth ministry it reminded me of three things we youth leaders need to have in mind coming into the 2018 youthmin year.

First, we need perspective. 

Sitting on the beach gives you a view of the large expanse of water in front of you. It gives you a view of stretches of sand, to your left and right. It reminds you that there is something bigger than your small self going on in this world. As one person sitting on a small patch of sand, millions of grains within arms reach, you are given perspective on life, faith, and ministry.

As Psalm 139:7-10 reminds us, God is huge. He is everywhere.

“Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.”

In youth ministry we often need perspective. It’s not about the next event, the next catch-up, the next Bible study, the next service, the next hard conversation. It is about God, and declaring that he has come, and is with us through his Son and his Spirit. He will lead and hold us, as the Psalmist has written.

Second, we need grit. 

Generally sand is quite gritty. On some beaches it really does give your feet a good workout.

Youth ministry is the same. It is a hard work. It is constant work. It requires grit. It is the type of work that will give you a good workout, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Paul knows this from experience and writes in 2 Corinthians 6:3-10:

“We are not giving anyone an occasion for offense, so that the ministry will not be blamed. Instead, as God’s ministers, we commend ourselves in everything: by great endurance, by afflictions, by hardships, by difficulties, by beatings, by imprisonments, by riots, by labors, by sleepless nights, by times of hunger, by purity, by knowledge, by patience, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love, by the word of truth, by the power of God; through weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left, through glory and dishonor, through slander and good report; regarded as deceivers, yet true; as unknown, yet recognized; as dying, yet see—we live; as being disciplined, yet not killed; as grieving, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet enriching many; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.”

It might be a different context but Paul’s words speak of the kind of grit needed for ministry. The physical persecution is not generally associated with Western youth ministry, but that doesn’t discount the challenges it brings.

All this requires grit. It’s goes without saying that this grit will come more easily when we are walking closely with Jesus. As we work with students and their families we seek to serve them and the church out of our enjoyment of God.

Third, we need to be fluid. 

At the beach you can sit on the sand and watch the waves come time and time again. You can also go for a swim and enjoy the cool water on a hot day. Stating the obvious, the water is fluid and can cope with what is going on in it and around it.

When working with students (and adults too) we need to be flexible, fluid. Often things won’t go to plan, people won’t turn up, or the weather might not be what we’d hoped for our program. In working with people, and in youth ministry, we need to be flexible in our plans and ideas. It’s helpful to know and be sure in what we think is the best way to operate, but sometimes others might actually provide better ways.

So whether it’s events or people, holding things losely, having planned to our best ability is something worth evaluating for ourselves coming into the new youthmin year.

At any time, not just at the start of the year, it is worth taking a few moments to gain perspective, grow in grit, and assess what we hold tightly. I can recommend the beach as a good place to do that.

Sustainable Youth Ministry, Quotes

I’m currently reading Sustainable Youth Ministry by Mark DeVries. It’s a book published in 2008 and I can’t actually believe I haven’t read it yet. Anyway, while it’s been resting on my shelf since last Christmas I thought it worth bringing it out at years end. At the 70 page mark I can certainly tell it’s a zinger, with a number of challenging quotes and comments. Here are three that have stood out to me thus far.

From page 13:

“The short-term, high-number, razzle-dazzle, success of your current youth ministry might blind you to the fact that success in youth ministry is measured in decades, not in year-to-date comparisons with last year’s mediocre youth staffer who, quite honestly, just didn’t have your gifts.”

From Thomas G. Bandy quoted on page 16:

“The declining church always assumes that the solution to youth ministry is programmatic. If only they could get a good leader! If only they could find a great curriculum! If only they could renovate a room in the building for youth meetings! They fail to recognise that the solutions to youth ministry, like the solution to decline in general, is systematic.”

Quoting Roland Martinson on page 29:

“The history of primary calling inexperienced and inadequately trained young people to do youth ministry reflects the myth that youth ministry is a beginner’s job that doesn’t require much education, experience or skill. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Youth ministry is one of the most demanding ministries–so demanding and frustrating that many pastors and congregational leaders don’t know what to do.”

Published: What are the Top 5 Books of The Bible You Want Your Students to Read?

So, I’m in a few Facebook groups full of youth pastors and youth ministry practitioners. Someone asked this question of the group and numerous responses came through. I thought about it for a few minutes and jumped in myself. I then made a blog post out of it. It was then published on Rooted Ministry.

“Keep in mind, these aren’t necessarily my five favourite books of the bible. These are what I see as the most helpful pieces of scripture for my students, when it comes to communicating the gospel. It’s an interesting question. You may love Jeremiah, and Amos, and Revelation. Great. Are they in the top five for helping your students understand more of the grace of God and seeking to love and follow Him? Maybe they are.

Of course, no answer is a right answer, but let me outline why I think these are the top five for my students.”

You can read the whole post here.