Growing Young – Empathise With Today’s Young People

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

“Young people these days…”

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


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

Cleaning up after youth group

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

Young people aren’t committed these days

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think this is of major importance.

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

Of those three questions above, Growing Young also suggests:

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

Rightfully so and very well put.

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

Growing Young – Keychain Leadership

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

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

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

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

These three experiences are examples of keychain leadership in action.


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

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

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

As Growing Young says:

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

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

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

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

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

1. My Leadership

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

2. Leading Volunteers

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

3. Side-by-Side Leadership

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

4. Intergenerational Leadership

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

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

Growing Young

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Top Books of 2015

At the start of each year I set out to read, on average, one book per fortnight. By the end of the year I’ve usually achieved this goal. What can I say? I enjoy reading. There’s usually a mix of fiction (40%) and non-fiction (60%), this year is no different. The list of books I read don’t include those I simply dip into here and there. These are the ones I read right through. If you’d like to see every book I’ve read this year then head here. Otherwise, below is a list of the top books I read. These all achieved 5-stars in my subjective rating system.🙂

old books

Adoniram Judson by Jason G. Duesing

Few books I read significantly shape me. The last would’ve been around a decade ago. Yet, in January one more was added to that elite list, this biographical account of the life of Adoniram Judson. Perhaps it was the timing, just before our miscarriage and a rather painful time for us as a family. It was helpful for that period but also for deeper reflection in what it means to live a life following Jesus and making him known to others.

The book was so good I had to review it. The review gives you a better outline and idea of the book than I can give here. I also quoted him a little in some previous posts. It’s a great read and was significant to me at the time and as I’ve continued to reflect on it.

In brief Judson was the first American Baptist missionary sent out, ever. He had a great impact on current day Burma/Myanmar, fruit which continues to be seen today. He endured so much personal and ministerial hardship, including the deaths of many of his children and two of three wives. He seems like an amazing man and very much worth the read.

Michael Jordan: The Life by Ronald Lazenby

Michael Jordan was the most iconic sportsman while I was growing up. Probably still is. He’d certainly be the best basketballer the world has ever seen. This biography is a comprehensive outline of his life and family. Lazenby begins generations before MJ was born and makes his way through the family tree before spending much of the 720 pages talking about his career. The Life outlines Jordan’s relationship with his father, family, coaches and team mates. It is a great read and even more so if you remember the glory days of Jordan and his Bulls.

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas

Another biography makes the list here too. Can you tell the stories of others interest me?

Bonhoeffer was a pastor during the time of Hitler-led Germany and into World War II. He was one of few who saw Hitler for what he was and went against the traditional German church at the time. This leads him to be a main player in seeking to assassinate Hitler during the war, which he is consequently imprisoned for. Metaxas is a great writer and gives a detailed account of Bonhoeffer’s life. It took longer than I would’ve liked reading this on Kindle but it was still worth the 5-stars.

When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate poverty Without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself by Steven Corbett and Brian Fikkert

As part of my role with Global Interaction I have had the privilege of facilitating and leading short-term mission or exposure teams. This involves preparing people to engage in missions in another culture and with other religions. At the same time questions are often raised as to the validity and method of these trips, quite often seen as a waste of money with little help to others. I have my own thoughts on this of course but this book helps put many of these things in perspective.

This is a good primer on poverty and dealing with people who are impoverished. It also has some good chapters on what non-profits can do to safe guard themselves in dealing with the poor, whether that be processes or programs or finances etc. I was particularly interested in how they approached short-term teams and there is a whole chapter dedicated to that. Consequently they have elaborated that chapter into and entire book now too. In any case, this one was excellent and gave me a real insight into dealing with things regarding the poor and social justice.

Leading from the Second Chair: Serving Your Church, Fulfilling Your Role, and Realizing Your Dreams by Mike Bonem and Roger Patterson

So in January I become an Associate Pastor. I thought it worthwhile to read up on what some of this may entail. This book was rightly recommended to me and very much worth the read. It is written by two guys with much experience in associate roles and delves into three particular tensions those who lead from the second chair may face. It gives a good picture of the realities of this role, whether it be in a church or other place of work.

Knowing God by J.I. Packer

Knowing God is a Christian classic and remains so today. This is a re-read for me but it had been 10 years since I last picked it up. Packer outlines the Christian faith and the central aspects of it. As the title suggests, it helps us in getting to know God, who he is and what he is like. As I read this it reminded me of how ‘lite’ the Christian Living books are today. If you’d like something of substance to read this coming year then give this one a go.

This time of year often produces ‘best of’ type lists on various websites. I mainly stick with books and you can read 2014’s list too if you like.

My Top Books of 2014

At the start of each year I set out to read, on average, a book a fortnight. By the end of the year I’ve usually done that. What can I say, I enjoy reading. It’s usually a mix of fiction (30%) and non-fiction (70%). The list of books I read don’t include the ones I dip into here and there but are the ones I read right through. If you’d like to see every book I read this year then head here, otherwise, below is a list of the top books I read, the ones I gave 5-stars to.

books old

One Day by David Nicholls

I found this a great novel and it moved me in ways I didn’t suspect. I can understand why it won the 2010 Galaxy Book of the Year Award. It’s the story of two people who circle each other their whole lives and each chapter is written as if it’s a journal note from the same day each year. Worth a holiday read.

You Lost Me. by David Kinnaman

A detailed analysis of why Millennials/Gen Yers are leaving the church. This is an excellent read for anyone concerned about the future of the church and particularly if you are a Pastor or Youth Pastor. Kinnaman bases much of the book on research done by The Barna Group. Much of the information wasn’t too much of a surprise to me as this is my world but it was a good reminder to continue to think hard about engaging and growing young people in the faith.

Calico Joe by John Grisham

Just a classic piece of work by Grisham here. Not a long book but it will keep you reading.

What’s Best Next by Matt Perman

Can you believe that there is actually a theology of productivity? No, either could I until I read through Perman’s book. I’ve been following his blog for a few years now and love much of what he says. I found this volume really well structured to ensure solid theory and practical solutions. If you’d like to be more effective in life and work then read this book. Perman has got great thoughts on productivity and leadership and this book is well worth the time to read. It will take time to implement some of the suggestions he gives but when done I imagine a much easier way of life.

The Pastor’s Kid by Barnabas Piper

Such a good book. So good I had to review it. This book is for anyone in the church because it is helpful for Pastors, Pastor’s kids, and the general church member. It names everything a PK will go through and senses while in the church with their parent being a Pastor. It helps naming those things but also helps others understand what and why the PK is going through what they’re going through.

A special mention must go to In My Place Condemned He Stood by JI Packer and Mark Dever. It’s mainly a collection of essays written by Packer and one by Dever. They are all based upon the penal substitutionary atonement of Christ, its meaning, purpose, and result. Each essay is comprehensive and will help grow your faith. Terrific read.

Inspirational Books

Inspirational books can shape and change you. They can stay with you for years and years and influence what you do and the way you live.

The other day I was asked on Facebook to list the top ten books that “have stayed with me” in some form. While that phrase is open to interpretation I listed the following ten books as having an impact and influence in my life thus far.

1. The Bible by God
2. Jim Elliot by Barbour Publishing
3. Charles Spurgeon by Arnold Dallimore
4. Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung
5. The Trellis & The a Vine by Tony Payne & Colin Marshall
6. The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis
7. On Writing Well by William Zinsser
8. Pity the Nation by Robert Fisk
9. D. Martin Lloyd-Jones (2 Vols.) by Iain Murray
10. Knowing God by JI Packer

What books would you list?

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. 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 there is evidence of someone who seeks to serve individuals and churches well 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 Piper 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 and what He has done and 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 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.

And so Piper rightly highlights the need for grace, both for the PK, for the Pastor and the church 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 and these are highlighted by Piper. 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.