Growing Young – Fuel A Warm Community

This is post five 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 the reflections in part two and three and four.


I’m not sure what comes to mind when you think about church but I suspect one of the presumptions you would make is that it’s a warm place to meet other people. I don’t mean it in the sense of the ducted-heating being set at the right temperature. I mean it in the sense of people being welcoming, open, hospitable and the like.

If a church is too hot then it is hard to find your place and penetrate the cliques, groups and family members within the church. If the church is too cold then it can be jarring and uncomfortable. But a church which is open to newcomers and gives a warm welcome, well, that might be a church worth heading along to, possibily even belonging to.

In its research Growing Young found a number of words like welcoming, accepting, belonging, authentic, hospitable, and caring to be commonplace in churches that retained young people. A warm church is a church that keeps young people.

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One of the chief ways churches were warm is through something pretty obvious.

Relationships. 

Yet, Growing Young also points out that these relationships are built naturally and in a way that provides long-term support. In other words, in the messiness of life there is the need for other messy people to walk with young people and keep walking with them.

As the authors put it:

“The warmth young people seek isn’t usually clean and tidy. That’s just fine, because family isn’t neat. It’s messy. And messy is a good word to describe what young people want from a congregation. They desire not only to share their own messiness but also to walk alongside the authentic messiness of others.”

Due to this need churches are moving away from the programmatic and systematic structure of congregational life to help foster relationships. With intentionality the structure of the church changes in order to give people more time to socialise and meet together during the week rather than be locked up in church programs. This provides opportunity for people to have relationships with those outside of anything formal or structured.

As one church pictured in the book commented:

“We see our job as creating the environment where relationships can happen. We have programs, yes, but more importantly, we build the platforms where people connect. Our strategy has been to create an environment that screams, ‘Stay here!’ after worship. Every week we have food, things for kids to do (all within eyesight of parents), and a football or baseball game on a big screen nearby. We see the time after the service as just as important as the service itself.”

With this chapter focussing on helping people belong to their local church how do you incorporate it into youth and young adult ministry?

  • What does it look like for young people to be connected within a local church?
  • How do young people gain a sense of belonging within the whole congregation?
  • How do young people get to know others in an authentic way?

In many ways it comes down to getting back to the basics.

Welcome well, connect people with others, and have something, in hardcopy if possible, that explains who you are as a church or youth ministry.

At youth group I’ve always been one to make sure everyone gets a good welcome when they arrive. Be outside and give a clear ‘hello’ to everyone that walks past, meet their parents, and link them to another leader. Find others in the group to connect with the newbie and give out a welcome pack at the end to say thanks for coming. Some of these things are currently in place and in other areas there is always need for improvement.

In small groups it is ideal to have food. Have dinner, which allows for socialising and belonging, before getting underway with the Bible study and prayer time. That’s a pretty simple and straightforward idea but it will still take 18 months before the the group really starts humming along, and that’s meeting every week.

And so at church it’s again important to connect people with others, same age-group or not. Growing Young suggests a mixture of age groups is probably ideal. I theoretically agree with this and know that it is a growing area. It’s one thing to link a young adult to a group of other young adults, it’s another to link them to others out of their generational bracket.

So, is there a downside to all this intentional warmth?

Well, yes, one.

It’s a slow work. It’s a work that requires time, and quite often a very long time, in order for people to feel connected within the church and with others who are there.

In the end the Growing Young team suggest looking at it like a family. With a family there is messy stuff going on but there is also much to appreciate and enjoy.

Different and unique people bring different and unique personalities to the wider church community but through it all God continues to do His work in life and faith.

“Rather than lean into the allure of viewing the worship service like a trip to the theater, imagine it as a gathering in the family room. Whether you meet in a sanctuary filled with pews, a contemporary auditorium, a high school gymnasium, or an actual house, envision your worship experience like a family room.”


Here are the links to the series of reflections on the book:

  1. Growing Young
  2. Growing Young – Keychain Leadership
  3. Growing Young – Empathise With Today’s Young People
  4. Growing Young – Take Jesus’ Message Seriously
  5. Growing Young – Fuel A Warm Community
  6. Growing Young – Prioritise Young People (And Families) Everywhere
  7. Growing Young – Be The Best Neighbours
  8. Growing Young – Growing Young In Your Context
  9. Growing Young – Final Reflections

Growing Young – Take Jesus’ Message Seriously

This is post four 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 the reflections in part two and three.


As the title of the chapter states, another reason for seeing ‘young people’ actually stay in church is through churches taking the message of Jesus seriously.

This is pleasing to know.

It means that instead of softening the message of the Gospel and the teachings of the Bible, as many kids and youth ministries are assumed to have done over the years, it is better to increase the temperature of what it means to follow Jesus.

In providing a place for young people to discover and discuss the hard questions of faith, receive a challenging vision of what it is to follow Jesus, and see how this faith becomes counter-cultural in its application is what is keeping those in their teens and twenties at churches.

It’s not surprising that the research highlights how those under 30 are more focussed on Jesus than the Bible or Christianity. In recent years there have been plenty of YouTube vids, posts, and other articles and papers highlighting how Millennials are following Jesus and doing away with institutionalised religion. Reading this reminded me of when I signed up for Facebook and entered my religious views as “A Jesus Guy”. It was something I thought was a bit different, but evidently not. It also speaks of how those my age and below (Millennials/Gen Y) are more prone to say they follow Jesus rather than say they are “a Christian”.

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Chapter 4 of Growing Young outlines a variety of reasons why taking Jesus’ message seriously actually keeps young people in the local church. Anecdotally I can see in my own experience, and with a number of my friends, that throughout our emerging adult years we craved serious Bible teaching and looked up to people who took Jesus and the Bible seriously.

One particular section of this chapter outlines a phenomenon known as Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. This is the idea that young people in the West are generally following a philosophy of thinking that is (1) moralistic, where faith is equated to being a good moral person. It is (2) therapeutic, because it is this faith that makes them feel better about themselves. And it is (3) deistic, meaning that God does exist but this god is not involved in human affairs.

MTD a curse upon the youth and young adult conscience and has been helped to solidify itself in those who’ve had a little church background because of the super-mega-hype youth ministries of the last 20-30 years. To be a nice person, believe in a God you think is going to help you and bring favour upon you, but not be too close to you in your daily life is a distortion of the reality of the Christian faith and what it truly means to follow Jesus. Sadly, the rise of individualistic Christianity, a sprinkle of post-modern thinking and the dumbing down of Jesus through youth ministries have no doubt contributed to this.

Yet all is not lost.

As young people seek a faith that is authentic and in line with the reality of who Jesus is churches are beginning to realise that teaching the costly and sacrificial side of faith might actually be important. Growing Young puts it this way:

“Following Jesus is costly, requires sacrifice, and invites us to actively participate in God’s kingdom. In fact, the church by its very nature is participatory, which means everyone shares the work. It’s a body (Rom. 12:5–8; 1 Cor. 12:1–31; Eph. 4:1–16), and every part needs to play its role in order to build up the whole. As indicated by Jesus’ command to both “follow me” and “take up your cross daily” (Luke 9:23), pursuing Jesus requires no less than everything, every day (Rom. 12:1). There’s nothing therapeutic about that call…In short, teenagers and emerging adults in churches growing young aren’t running from a gospel that requires hard things of them. They are running toward it.”

In what ways can your church help young people run toward faith, a genuine faith, that takes the message, actions, and words of Jesus seriously?

One of the critical experiences in my time as a Youth & Young Adult Pastor is small groups. That is, groups of around 10 people who gather together to eat, read the Bible together, and then pray for one-another. In one group I’ve been involved in we had a couple who had just joined the church. Both were reasonably new to faith but one of them wasn’t a Christian. Over a period of time, by simply looking at the Bible, passage by passage, she became a Christian. It showed me how instrumental it is to simply read through books of the Bible week by week and then seek to communally apply it to peoples lives. Through doing so we take the Bible seriously, but more so, we take the person, work and message of Jesus seriously too.

How this taking-Jesus-seriously thing applies further in our churches might be to consider the application we teach in children’s and youth ministry. The classic example for people teaching Sunday School, particularly the ‘famous’ stories of the Old Testament, is to make the application moralistic. Through the story of Abraham, Moses, Joseph, David, and Jonah we somehow come to suggesting that our hearers should change behaviour and because of that change in behaviour God will be happy with us. In the end we get the reading of the passages incorrect by making them all about ourselves and then say all we need to so is be a nice person and through this we’ll be made right with God.

Sound familiar?

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism perhaps?

Rather than this let’s teach the Old and New Testaments in line with the overarching redemptive storyline. This is where we see the main person of the story is not actually us but it is about God and his work in this world, culminating in Jesus Christ. A good example of this type of teaching is The Bible Project and The Gospel Project.

Growing Young itself gives a good outline in how to teach the storyline of the Bible in this way through a Good-Guilt-Grace-God’s People-Gratitude-God’s Vision framework:

  • Good (Gen. 1:26–27): God created us good, in God’s image.
  • Guilt (Rom. 3:10–12): We then chose to disobey God, leaving us with the guilt of sin. All of us carry this mark and it impacts us every day.
  • Grace (Rom. 3:23–24; Eph. 2:6–10): Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God has extended grace to us to make things right and restore us to relationship with God and one another.
  • God’s People (Eph. 2:19–22): As we experience grace, we are adopted into the body of Christ, enacting God’s reign in the world. We join the mission of God, participating in the work of God happening in and through God’s people today.
  • Gratitude (Col. 2:6–7): Out of this gift of grace, we respond in gratitude toward God. This is the well out of which our obedience—which includes moral behaviours—flows. In other words, the gospel doesn’t begin with behaviours nor is it dependent on behaviours. The behaviours are an act of thanksgiving to God in response to grace. As we grow in trust, we naturally grow in obedience.
  • God’s Vision (Rev. 21:1–5): We are living in between Christ’s first coming and his return.

Other areas where churches can increase the temperature of their teaching regarding Jesus is in one-on-one meetings, youth leadership meetings, youth group itself, and in other gatherings where there is a discipleship purpose. But wherever that may be for you, your church or ministry may you be encouraged, as I was, knowing that teaching the hard things of Jesus and the Bible isn’t something to be scared of.


Another good article reflecting on the book, and mainly on this chapter, has been written by Trevin Wax at The Gospel Coalition.


Here are the links to the series of reflections on the book:

  1. Growing Young
  2. Growing Young – Keychain Leadership
  3. Growing Young – Empathise With Today’s Young People
  4. Growing Young – Take Jesus’ Message Seriously
  5. Growing Young – Fuel A Warm Community
  6. Growing Young – Prioritise Young People (And Families) Everywhere
  7. Growing Young – Be The Best Neighbours
  8. Growing Young – Growing Young In Your Context
  9. Growing Young – Final Reflections

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.

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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.


Here are the links to the series of reflections on the book:

  1. Growing Young
  2. Growing Young – Keychain Leadership
  3. Growing Young – Empathise With Today’s Young People
  4. Growing Young – Take Jesus’ Message Seriously
  5. Growing Young – Fuel A Warm Community
  6. Growing Young – Prioritise Young People (And Families) Everywhere
  7. Growing Young – Be The Best Neighbours
  8. Growing Young – Growing Young In Your Context
  9. Growing Young – Final Reflections

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.

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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? 


Here are the links to the series of reflections on the book:

  1. Growing Young
  2. Growing Young – Keychain Leadership
  3. Growing Young – Empathise With Today’s Young People
  4. Growing Young – Take Jesus’ Message Seriously
  5. Growing Young – Fuel A Warm Community
  6. Growing Young – Prioritise Young People (And Families) Everywhere
  7. Growing Young – Be The Best Neighbours
  8. Growing Young – Growing Young In Your Context
  9. Growing Young – Final Reflections

Growing Young

In #YouthMin world September 20, 2016, 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.

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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 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 who 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, there are pockets of hope and encouragement as the church seeks to engage young people in faith and church. Those churches growing, and ‘growing young’, are doing so through (1) engaging well with 15-29 year olds, and (2) 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 and every generation in the church needs to be involved, by doing so it will actually energise the whole church.

While the six core commitments state what is needed to help a church grow young there are a number of points 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 within the 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?


Here are the links to the series of reflections on the book:

  1. Growing Young
  2. Growing Young – Keychain Leadership
  3. Growing Young – Empathise With Today’s Young People
  4. Growing Young – Take Jesus’ Message Seriously
  5. Growing Young – Fuel A Warm Community
  6. Growing Young – Prioritise Young People (And Families) Everywhere
  7. Growing Young – Be The Best Neighbours
  8. Growing Young – Growing Young In Your Context
  9. Growing Young – Final Reflections

 

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:

Hi,

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.

What’s Changed In Youth Ministry In 4 Years?

As I mentioned in my post last week I’ve been supporting and encouraging youth ministry from behind the front lines over the last four years. Working in a young adult role in a missions organisation and as a pastoral care facilitator for my denomination has kept me aware of what’s been going on. Even though I’ve only been back in the grassroots of youth ministry for a month I’ve already noticed a few changes across those years. I thought I’d name five here.

So, what’s changed in youth ministry in four years?

1. Communication

Instagram was still a start-up and not yet bought out by Facebook. Facebook was still growing and working out pages and groups. I was at the end of my iPhone 3GS contract. Snapchat didn’t exist. Twitter was Twitter. Churches using e-newsletters wasn’t really done. Podcasts were only just emerging as a new way to hear content.

As I step into this role, and particularly working with under 25s, I see the huge change in terms of communication tools available. If I wanted to I could add Social Media co-ordinator to my title and job description as Youth Pastor.

The ability to communicate with youth, young adults, parents, and the wider church has exploded and while at times this could get confusing I think it’s terrific. We are in the relational business after all, and these communication tools just help.

Four years ago I was still sending out hardcopies of the term program by snail mail. Part of that was to make sure everyone connected to us received something of their own, but on the other hand, it was snail mail.

Communication has changed heaps in just four years and in many ways for the better, if used well.

2. Experience

I’m really only talking about the Youth Pastors here in the Baptist church in Victoria, this is my experience. Although, I do notice other states and denominations who are experiencing the same.

There have been some great Youth Pastors that I’ve looked up to, rubbed shoulders with, and leant a lot from. They have had good youth ministries and continue to do ministry. Many, however, have moved on to other things, either in the para-church world or up into the Senior Pastor gig.

In my denominational role last year I saw this firsthand. There are plenty of newbies coming into youth ministry, and this is terrific and important and a must. I just pray that they might be able to get the mentoring and development I was able to have through the system.

And as an ageing Youth Pastor myself I know I’m part of that process. The coming five years will be a challenging and critical time to continue to train those coming through the youth ministry system.

3. Methodology

15 years ago many youth ministries were simply running a weekly program with games and a short devotional talk toward the end of the night. 5 years ago games nights were moving more toward small group nights with a social focus. Now I see many youth ministries running a worship service every Friday night.

Variety in youth ministry is important. Of course. But that doesn’t mean I don’t find some approaches difficult to understand. In many ways we need to be thinking through the context of our churches more than we probably do. Like any good missionary we need to be asking the question of ‘why we do the things we do?’

Whatever the case, there has certainly been a broadening out of what youth ministries do with their main gatherings. How are you thinking through the way you do youth ministry?

4. Conferences

There were heaps of conferences four years ago, I won’t deny that. But now there are even more!

When I look at the possibility of taking my youth leaders or youth group to particular conferences I find I have far too many choices. Each conference has its own emphasis and is designed to reach different audiences or theological camps. But even before I started a month ago I could see that on almost any weekend from January to Easter I could go to something.

It’s great to get teaching and training through different conferences. I was inspired to get back into youth ministry after a conference last year, around this time. But certainly when we talk Melbourne-based conferences, there seem to be a lot.

5. Training

Speaking of training, there is now an increase of information and training ready to be absorbed by any Youth Pastor willing to learn.

In four years there have been new books written in the youth ministry field. There is an increase in articles and bloggers focussing on youth ministry. I’ve already spoken about conferences, and now that podcasts are readily available there’s even more input to be had. Speaking of podcasts there’s this really good Australian-based one called The National Youth Ministry with Brenton Killeen and Jimmy Young. 🙂 I’ve also found some of the seminary lectures on youth ministry in iTunes U helpful too.

Training can be found almost everywhere and the better trained we are as Youth Pastors the better we will be. I still don’t think anything beats a mentor or colleague for help with youth ministry and training but there are a fair few more resources out now than there were four years ago.

Well, those are some of my observations over the last few years. How do you see the landscape? Has it changed much in your neck of the woods in the last few years? I’d love to hear you thoughts. 

The Ageing Youth Pastor

For the last four years I’ve been behind the front lines supporting and encouraging Youth Pastors as they work on the ground in youth ministry. Time out has been good but for a while now I’ve missed it. Hence, I’m back and loving this new season here at Rowville Baptist.

Jan_Lievens_-_Study_of_an_Old_Man_-_WGA13006It goes without saying that in the last four years I’ve aged. Everyone has. The guys I tracked with in my previous church were finishing up in Year 12, now they’re about to finish uni. I haven’t been a Youth Pastor in my 30s until now. I didn’t have a daughter four years ago.

This isn’t a bad thing. Not at all.

In fact, I think it is to my advantage coming back from a little break.

As I’ve reflected on this in the last few weeks I’ve noticed three particular things about myself that I believe will help me be a better Youth Pastor this time around.

1. Passion

I’ve realised my passion for youth and young adult ministry in a church setting has stayed strong. It’s where my sweet spot is. It’s what I enjoy doing and where I’m confident in being fruitful for the kingdom.

In fact, it’s off the back of a conference last year where I began to think seriously about getting back into the day-to-day of youth ministry and the low embers were fanned back into flame.

2. Perspective

In four years I’ve been given a lot of perspective.

Through the all-consuming nature of church ministry it is hard to see the forest for the trees. I’ve realised what a privilege it is to be walking with people as they explore faith and seek to follow Jesus. Being part of that can feel overwhelming and monotonous if you don’t have some perspective. I’ve been able to look at what’s important and what’s a waste of time to worry about. It’s been refreshing, particularly for someone who was born into a Baptist church 33 years ago.

There are of course stresses that come in the short-term but it is the longer-term view that is so important to have. The slow growth of the gospel working its way into people’s lives and helping them to become more like Jesus. Youth ministry isn’t a fast game, as much as I’d love it to be, it’s for those who see God building His church in His time.

3. Productivity

Finally, I’ve become more productive.

I’ve learnt how I work best, when I work best, and what tools I need to work more efficiently and effectively.

Tim Challies recently wrote a book called Do More Better, in which he explains a system to help people work more productively. I was pleased that the three tools he uses were the ones I’d been using for a while (FYI – Google Calendar, Evernote and Todoist). It takes time to learn how to work and particularly in a role that is so flexible.

If you’re a Youth Pastor I’d encourage you to work on your system. What are the things in your life that help you work at your best? Are you a morning or evening person? Are you planning well, in life and ministry? Are you getting enough exercise or recreation in order to function at your best?

These are three observations about myself that I’ve noticed since being back in church-based ministry.

What about you, what observations can you make about yourself as you age as a Youth Pastor?

Book Review: The Pastor’s Kid

the pastors kid bookMy father is a Pastor.

My grandfather was a Pastor.

My great grandfather was a Pastor too.

When I was a boy I lay on top of my bed one night balling my eyes out.

The reason?

I didn’t want to be a Pastor.

Because of the heritage of my family I thought that to be a ‘Coombs’ meant you had to be a Pastor. I looked down the generations and saw that the first born son turned out to be a Pastor. Something at the age of twelve I didn’t want to be.

This was one of many unique challenges I can remember growing up as a Pastor’s kid (PK). Granted, this was more a phenomenon of our family’s rich Christian tradition. Yet, there are other challenges of living with the forever abbreviated title of ‘PK’ that others don’t face. And these challenges are the reason I find the book, ‘The Pastor’s Kid’ by Barnabas Piper an excellent book.

Piper has recently published this book about PKs for PKs, Pastors and churches. A book that “describes the unique challenges PKs have faced being the children of ministers”.

Throughout the book Piper seeks to serve individuals and churches by highlighting the challenges that come from being a child with a Pastor as parent. Through his own experience as a PK, and conversations with others, Piper gives insight into these challenges. As he puts it,

“The constant pressure to be something, do something, and believe something creates enormous confusion for PKs. And one of the main confusions is about who we are…”

After all, nobody chooses to be a PK, you’re either born into it or brought into it through the calling of your parents.

On one hand it is a privilege. The constant meeting of new people from different parts of the world. The hearing of what God is doing in different countries and places. The unconscious absorption of biblical teaching. And the community of people that you’re surrounded by. All these things provide the PK with tremendous opportunity to hear about God, what He has done, and what He continues to do.

On the other hand, it is a situation where the fishbowl of the local church can strangle the life out of you. Where there is an ambivalence to the truth because you’ve heard the stories so often. Church becomes a place where everyone knows of you, but no one actually knows you. Where expectations are laid on thick, from parents to congregation. And, of course, where you get to see the ugliness of sinners dealing with sinners from the front row.

Therefore, PKs turn out differently as they seek to find themselves within the life of the church and the world around them. Some stay within the faith, following in the steps of their parents. Others rebel, leaving the church behind for a life apart from God. And others end up finding God and their place in the world in a way that is their own.

Piper rightly highlights the need for grace for the PK, as they seek to grow from within the all-encompassing nature of church ministry. Grace that is experienced and shown, not just told. Grace that recognises that legalism and rules won’t help. Grace that recognises the PK has their own journey of faith-discovery and self-discovery. Grace that is therefore holistic, unassuming, respectful and full of hope for the PK as a person. Grace that comes from Jesus Christ, shown through the Pastor and the church.

A PK isn’t anyone special. They are as special as everyone else. But they do have unique challenges.

This book is a great conversation starter for you and your family. I’d strongly recommend you buy this book – read it and talk about it. It’ll help you as a PK. It’ll help you as a Pastor. And it’ll help you as a church member.


This book review was also posted on the Baptist Union of Victoria’s ‘Witness Blog’ on the 22/09/2014. 

Are You A Youth Influencer?

From: Salvos
From: Salvos

Everyone is influenced by others. For better or for worse there are influential people in our lives that, well, have an influence on us.

I sat around a table with other youth leaders not long ago and as each of us shared our stories it became evident to me that we’d all been influenced by an older person when we were growing up. It was interesting to hear that the main person for each of us was either a youth pastor or a youth leader in our church.

As a leader of young people and young adults it can be surprising as to how much influence you can have over others. It’s certainly been the case for me where an older person has been influential – a youth pastor, an older friend, a parent, and a member of the church has influenced my faith and life in general.

But, I find that it’s not just the official youth or young adult leaders that have influence on younger people. There are others within a church setting that can influence younger people despite not being an “official” youth leader.

For example:

  • The worship leader who interacts with the younger band members. This can occur on Sunday’s but also at practices during the week and other times. Sometimes the worship leader may have more to do with the younger person than the official leader/s.
  • Young adults who hang out with the high-schoolers before and after services. Not all young adults are going to be official youth leaders but they may still go to the same service that many of the youth groupers go to. After the service is a great time to hang out and also go out for supper. During these times other attenders of the church can be influential without even knowing it.
  • An older member in the congregation who has a heart to see young adults grow in their faith may simply strike up conversation at morning tea. Here there is the cross-generational thing happening but also the influence of an older person toward a younger person.

There are plenty of other examples to use. Perhaps you can think of some that happen in your church too. But the point is that despite not being called a youth leader or a young adult pastor or a lead generation connector, or whatever title you want to give yourself you may actually be a “youth influencer”.

Instead of marking territories in terms of who’s a youth leader and who in the church is responsible for the youth and young adult ministries, perhaps a more wholistic way to look at is that everyone does have there own part to play. Quite often it might be the people you least expect to be influencing the next generation.

Are you a youth influencer?