11 Things: Church Health > Youth Ministry

Would it surprise you that there are churches out there that are unhealthy? That there are churches full of sinners, led by sinners, where the health of the church is compromised?

I’d hate to burst your bubble but it’s true.

There are churches that aren’t as healthy as they should be or could be. This is a shame, of course, because a healthy church can do wonders for the glory of Christ and the people who go to it. Unfortunately, not all churches are perfect. But, as the saying goes, if you find the perfect church make sure you go somewhere else as you’ll be the one to stuff it up. 😉

I open referring to unhealthy churches because the reality is that the state of the youth ministry you lead or are part of (as a student, volunteer, or parent) is only as healthy as the overall church.

It is important to reflect a little on this idea of health. There are a number of ways to think about it. Is the church healthy theologically? Is the church healthy in its structures and processes? Is the church healthy in its interpersonal relationships? Is the church healthy in its leadership? There are different angles to explore this issue of a healthy church. Nevertheless, if there is some part of the church that is unhealthy then it will, consciously or not, affect the whole church. When I get a cold my main issues are the throat and sinuses but it affects the way my whole body operates. It’s the same with the church.

For you as a Youth Pastor, or someone involved in youth ministry, this could look different. This unhealthiness could show up in different ways.

For some churches there is a clear disparity between the youth ministry and the rest of the church. The youth and young adults have their own things going on and the adults have other programs happening and never the twain shall meet. This is sad. It means there isn’t any inter-generational interaction and growth occurring, resulting in the ‘silo effect’. When people of generations aren’t able to get to know each other it is easy to forget “we’re all one in Christ Jesus” and that our church is a local expression of the body of Christ, from child through to octogenarian.

Other churches may have a great Youth Pastor, have a terrific leadership group, run an awesome program, build solid relationships with parents and students, and see people coming to Christ. However, if things at the top of the church leadership structure aren’t great then things will go awry. The health of the leadership of the church is vital in providing a sustainable base for the youth ministry to grow and thrive. In Baptistland, where I find myself residing, there is always the temptation of church leaders to seek power and control and the status of being on the ‘diaconate’ or ‘council’. If the point of being on such a group isn’t service, and a looking out for the whole of the church and its ministries, then it will soon collapse.

So, what are some ways those in youth ministry do despite un-health?

  • Pray for the church. Pray for the whole church, for its pastors, for its leaders, for its volunteers, and for its health.
  • Encourage membership. In the Baptist tradition the base of power is held with its members. Therefore, encourage those who meet the membership requirements of your church to become members. This enables those within the youth and young adult ministry to have a more formal voice in the church’s decision-making process.
  • Be aware of what is going on in the wider life of the church. The worst thing is to become a person or ministry that is disconnected to the whole church. Be someone, or a ministry, that seeks strong relationships with others in the church. In doing so you may find yourself recognising that you’re part of a bigger picture.

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

Being Pastor To A Pastor’s Kid

I’m a Pastor’s kid.

I’ve also been the Youth Pastor to the Senior Pastor’s kids.

It’s a weird situation.

I recently wrote about the Senior Pastor-Youth Pastor relationship. Off the back of this a mate of mine suggested I write more specifically about dealing with a dynamic many Youth Pastors face – You’re the Youth Pastor of the Senior Pastor’s kids.

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On one hand you want to to lead the youth ministry in a way that you believe is appropriate. A way that is contextual to young people while also coming under the vision, mission and values of your church. Under normal circumstances this wouldn’t be a problem.

But on the other hand, the Senior Pastor, the one you as Youth Pastor report to, has children in the youth ministry. And while they trust you and your leadership; they have an added desire to see their children come to faith under your ministry. This is not to say their children are any more important than another parent’s child, not at all. It just happens to be that your ‘direct manager’ is also a parent.

It becomes an interesting dance.

And so, it’s worth thinking through this particular topic from four perspectives.

First, the Senior Pastor perspective.

Their desire is for their children to come to know and follow Jesus. The Pastor, with their spouse, has sensed a call to the ministry. They have invested time, money, and energy into the local church. They continue to teach and counsel the members of the congregation. But, their children are special to them. They are their children! They love them, want the best for them, and over the years have been teaching them the ways of the Lord in the family context.

Like any other parent you deal with as a Youth Pastor the Senior Pastor and their spouse is no different. They have a strong desire in seeing their child come to faith in Jesus, raised well in the context of their local church, included in the church family in a way that is meaningful, and have them grow in faith.

Second, the local church perspective.

To the congregation, the children of the Senior Pastor reflect their Pastor. Depending on the context this could be a small thing or it could be quite a big thing. Either way, there is some form of reflection.

For some reason most churches believe they own the children of the Pastor and consider them one of their own. They have unsaid and unintentional expectations on how the Senior Pastor’s kids are to behave, what they should be doing, what they believe, and how much biblical knowledge they should have. Whether it is during a church service or while they’re at youth group, the church is watching them.

The church loves these children though. They give them extra servings at church lunches, a gift at Christmas, or something special for their birthday. This doesn’t come to every child in the congregation, some things are specifically for the Pastor’s kid.

In one’s most skeptical moments there is the thought that this special attention given to the Pastor’s children is solely because their parent is the key leader of the church. Most of the time this is out of love and care and concern. But, at other times this could be a way for certain members to get back at their Pastor, an attempt to bring some form of turmoil to the Pastor’s family or ministry. This is not to say that the small minority causing these issues are prevalent in every church. It’s something to be aware of.

There are expectations coming from the congregation regarding the Pastor and his family. They are often unsaid. But at the end of the day it will cause grief, not just as a parent, if the Pastor’s kid goes off the rails. It will cause the Pastor to wonder whether they are worthy of the position they are in, and this may even be voiced by some in the congregation.

Depending on what season of life the child is in will depend on how the church reacts to certain actions, beliefs and behaviours of said child. Considering we’re talking about those youth ministry years you can imagine the things going on here.

Third, the Youth Pastor perspective.

The Youth Pastor is in an interesting position. They are seeking to disciple the Senior Pastor’s children. They don’t believe they should be doing anything different for this child despite the parent being their boss. But, this is a fine balance, as they want the best for this kid, like all the others in the youth ministry.

The Youth Pastor is employed by the church and sits under the Senior Pastor. At times, whether in a Pastoral Team meeting or at a church event, the Senior Pastor will have two hats – that of parent and that of Pastor. To know which is on at which time could lead to confusion and misunderstanding if not careful.

It is also worth pointing out that the Youth Pastor may be lulled into unhealthy thinking; believing that if the Senior Pastor’s child is doing alright then they might have an ease of pressure from their superior.

At the end of the day it is worth having some clear guidelines about how to approach this. Some of the following suggestions might be helpful:

  1. Have a conversation with the Senior Pastor about dealing with their children. Just open up the conversation and see what comes of it. Often it is in having the conversation that a greater understanding of the issue can be seen. There needs to be awareness from both the Youth Pastor and Senior Pastor that this topic can be a minefield and lead to conflict.
  2. Suggest that the Senior Pastor isn’t the parent that brings parenting questions to the Youth Pastor. Have a clear guideline that means the spouse of the Senior Pastor raises issues or concerns to the Youth Pastor.
  3. Work out boundaries on how much or how little to share about the Pastor’s kid. Often Youth Pastors will know stuff about the child that the Senior Pastor won’t even know.
  4. Have an advocate from outside the church come and speak to the Senior Pastor on your behalf or with you. This could be a denominational leader or simply another Pastor who you trust will mediate fairly.

Fourth, the Pastor’s kid perspective.

It’s not often we end up thinking how things might look from the Pastor’s kid perspective. As a Youth Pastor we obviously want to be aware of their needs, and the challenges they are facing in any particular season. But, who really thinks about the perspective of the Pastor’s kid? Here’s a little of what they’re thinking while they traverse church life as they go through their teen years.

  • They are aware that everyone in the church is looking at them; their beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours.
  • They are aware that their parent is the key leader of the church and that his leadership is something God has ordained.
  • They are aware that they didn’t ask for this role of Pastor’s kid. They had no say in it, it just is.
  • They are aware that their coming to faith or turning from the faith has an impact on their family. Anything from parental disappointment to job loss.
  • They are aware that the Youth Pastor doesn’t want to show them any more special treatment than they do to others. This means it might actually be harder for them to integrate or feel comfortable in the community.
  • They are aware that the Youth Pastor is under the leadership of their parent and so can play this off if they were inclined to do so.
  • They are aware that what they say about the Youth Pastor at home might have an impact on the Youth Pastor’s relationship with their parents.
  • They are aware that they are expected to be at youth events and enjoy the youth ministry that their church has.

This can be a thorny issue for Youth Pastor’s. It is worth thinking about, at least at some level.

A terrific resource about Pastor’s kids is Barnabas Piper’s book ‘The Pastor’s Kid’. It would be useful for all Pastors and church members to read. If you’re a Youth Pastor and you haven’t thought too much about the Pastor’s kid then I’d encourage you to read this. I have written a review of the book here.

11 Things: The Senior Pastor-Youth Pastor Relationship

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


As a Youth Pastor I’ve spent time under three Senior Pastors. I’ve always felt I’ve had a good relationship with them. I know I had the support of them throughout my time with them, and I also feel I supported them well, no matter the circumstances. It may well be the loyalty instinct I have within me, but I have resolved from very early on to back my Senior Pastor to the hilt.

The Senior Pastor-Youth Pastor dynamic is an interesting one. It is not often talked about in public. I’ve never been to a workshop about how to relate to my Senior Pastor or been provided with much training in how to navigate this relationship. If such a workshop was ever offered at a youth ministry conference I suspect it would be highly attended.

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I say this because I believe the main reason Youth Pastors leave churches is because they don’t have a good working relationship with their superior. I don’t have any empirical evidence for this statement, but anecdotally I’ve observed the main reason for Youth Pastors moving on is breakdown in relationship with the Senior Pastor.

I spent six months in a denominational role a couple of years ago caring for Youth Pastors who were having a tough time. The topic of conversation, whenever I met with them, was their relationship with the Senior. Sometimes it was simply wanting to get things off their chest and once that was done there was a sense of freedom. Other times the relationship had broken down to the extent that the Youth Pastor decided to leave.

This is not to say the Senior Pastor is at fault. Not at all. This is not to say that all Youth Pastors leave because of this. Not at all.

But.

If the relationship between the Senior Pastor and Youth Pastor is not great then it is hard to provide a healthy ministry for the church.

With this being said, what are some questions worth asking surrounding this topic? How can this working relationship improve for the betterment of the church?

First, the expectations about the Senior Pastor-Youth Pastor relationship need to be set at the time of advertising the position.

A clear understanding between Senior and Youth Pastor about how they will work together is worth talking through as early as possible. It is one thing for the Youth Pastor to tick the boxes in terms of competency and character, another thing in regard to chemistry.

Being able to talk through the way the church see the position operating gives helpful insight into the working relationship. One role might be for the Youth Pastor to fulfil a set of tasks and “look after the young people”. Another role might include more oversight and leadership and therefore wider conversations with the Senior Pastor would be required.

Questions worth asking at an interview might include:

  1. How often do you expect to meet up with me as the Youth Pastor?
  2. What kind of information about the ministries I lead as Youth Pastor do you require?
  3. Do you see this Youth Pastor role as one that is mainly about fulfilling tasks or is there an element of growth to it?
  4. What kind of availability do you have (as Senior Pastor) if I would like to talk to you (as Youth Pastor)?

Second, is there a growing relationship that includes the Youth Pastor being seen as an actual ‘Pastor’?

For many years it has been common for Youth Pastors to be seen as lowly staff workers for the church. They are really just paid ministry leaders who are ‘looking after the young people’ and not really a significant voice in the life of the church. If this is the first ministry role for the Youth Pastor and they haven’t got many runs on the board then this might be a fair way of operating, as long as the training and development is also happening alongside. But for a Youth Pastor who has been in ministry for a while it might be time to explore areas where they can continue to help grow the church. This could be in pastoral care to parents and families, developing small groups, or having more teaching responsibilities. The point is, when the position is advertised and the relationship with the Senior is defined, does the Youth Pastor actually become a Pastor in the church or are they more a Youth Director or Worker?

Third, regular check-ins and one-on-ones between Senior Pastor and Youth Pastor are vital.

If I didn’t meet with my Senior Pastors I wouldn’t have developed as quickly nor would I have felt respected. Surely, a working relationship means meeting regularly with fellow pastoral team members, no matter what size the church is. In the majority case, where it is a Senior Pastor and Youth Pastor on staff, then this seems even more vital. Putting the principles of leadership and management aside, I don’t actually know how a working relationship can work when the Senior Pastor and Youth Pastor don’t meet up, talk about the church and its members, check-in with how each other are going, and learn, develop and grow together. I don’t have a category for this, it seems so basic. Yet, I hear numerous times a year of Senior and Youth Pastors never meeting except on a Sunday morning or at a whole church event. Such a shame.

If there was one thing a Senior Pastor could schedule in to help the relationship it would be a regular one-on-one meet up with their Youth Pastor. If there was one thing a Youth Pastor could seek to encourage their Senior Pastor to do, it would be to meet up with them. This isn’t to add an extra to-do item, this is an opportunity for growth, development, and passing on the faith and ministry. This is an opportunity for discipleship.

I know we now live in a different era. I know that Senior Pastors of the past would operate as the sole pastor of a church. They would have a church of 200-300 people and the pastoral team would consist only of them. But times have changed, there’s more emphasis on team ministry, and the current generation of Youth Pastors coming through are crying out for mentoring, coaching, discipleship (whatever you call it) in ministry. They want to be led, and they want to follow. They want to talk about, observe and experience a variety of opportunities that will help them grow as people and as pastors.

The greatest opportunity for a Senior Pastor to have influence is through their Youth Pastor.

Fourth, is there mutual respect between the Senior and Youth Pastor?

Respect and trust within the pastoral team would seem obvious. This does develop over time, but can also be damaged along the way. This relationship doesn’t mean everyone needs to be best buddies but it should have trust and respect within it.

Ways to foster this mutual respect and trust would be to:

  • Meet regularly.
  • Take an interest in each others lives, not just about the ministry.
  • Speak positively of the other, in public meetings and private conversations with church members.
  • Share openly about the struggles and challenges of life, faith and ministry to one-another.
  • Speak clearly and directly when any disagreements arise (in private).

Fifth, understand the line of authority in the Senior Pastor-Youth Pastor relationship.

At the end of the day the Senior Pastor is the main leader of the local church. They have more responsibility placed on their shoulders than anyone else in the church. They not only have pastoral oversight but at the end of the day they are the boss or manager, whichever sounds nicer for you.

As a Youth Pastor I don’t know half of what is coming across the desk of my Senior Pastor. I don’t know the issues he is dealing with most weeks. I know the main things he has responsibility for and what he is up to but whatever it is it’s a lot more than what I have to deal with. This doesn’t minimise any of the issues, problems, or challenges I have as a Youth Pastor. But, one of those particular tasks as a Senior Pastor is pastoral team management, which includes me as Youth Pastor. But as a Youth Pastor I need to recognise that I don’t have overall responsibility for the church. I have responsibility for part of the church and am committed to the ministry, but even that is under the supervision and leadership of the Senior Pastor.

I hope this has been helpful for you. What kind of relationship do you have with your Senior Pastor? 

Growing Young – Final Reflections

This is post nine 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, three , fourfivesixseven, and eight.


Over three months ago I started a series of reflections on the book ‘Growing Young: Six Essential Strategies To Help Young People Discover And Love Your Church’. The sentences have been underlined, the pages have been marked, and the book has now been read. Each reflection worked through each chapter, giving thought to the main research and learnings from the Fuller Youth Institute team. Much has been learnt and there continues to be much to learn from this work.

This final post about Growing Young seeks to evaluate the book and the research as a whole. While each chapter has its own learnings it is valuable to end this series with a broader scope, looking at what to take away and what to leave behind.

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From the outset it is important to say that this book needs to be read for what it is. It is a book summarising research on what keeps ‘young people’ at churches. Despite the title’s byline it isn’t seeking to push a particular youth ministry philosophy. Furthermore, the research cuts across denominational and theological lines because it is summarising the results of said research.

At the same time, because of the way this research has been put together it can come across pragmatic in nature. The main point of each chapter implies what churches should focus on, implication being that overtime a church may well ‘grow young’. For example, in the chapter ‘Unlocking Keychain Leadership’ the main idea is to equip and grow young people to be leaders in key areas of responsibility. In ‘Fuel a Warm Community’ the emphasis is to be a church that is genuinely caring of students in every principle and program. In the chapter ‘Prioritising Young People (and Families) Everywhere’ the key idea is is to look at the structures and systems within the church to help facilitate integrated ministry and partnering with parents. The inference being that by doing these things your church is more likely to ‘grow young’.

However, the research findings doesn’t mean that a church should begin implementing a certain structure, program, or idea for a select period of time. No, this book is really talking about cultural change. This cultural change is focussed on growing young as a church and the principles behind it are based on the solid research from the FYI. To implement this kind of cultural change will take many years to implement and be a painful process for many congregations.

Another way this book is pragmatic is at the end of each chapter. Helpfully, the authors have included some reflection questions and ideas at the end of each section for reflection and application. By doing his the book becomes a help in encouraging churches to grow young.

In one sense Growing Young doesn’t promote a particular ministry philosophy but the way it is written means that there is a ‘system’ that can be formulated through it.

I have written extensively about the strengths of the book and each chapter in my earlier reflections. So it is worth asking how this book could have been more helpful, particularly for those of us in youth and young adult ministry.

First, I’d say, and say this very gently, that when reading a book like this those of us in youth ministry can be prone to affirming everything without sifting it through the lens of the Bible. Of course, there is the assumption that everyone who reads this is a professing believer. Yet, as I’ve pondered this research further I’ve come away thinking ‘so what?’

Of course, we want more young people in churches. We want young people to be involved in the things we do at church. We want young people to meet Jesus and know that they can have a relationship with him. We want young people to grasp the Gospel and realise that God is God and we are not. We want young people to understand that God is a personal God whom we worship, enjoy, and follow.

The danger with a book like this is that we can take the ideas, insights, and inspirations and attempt to make the church younger without making it more faithful.

I can walk away from this book thinking that my youth and young adult ministry can get bigger and more influential within the church by implementing these things. Instead I want my youth and young adult ministries to know Jesus more and grow in faith and godliness. Why can’t we use the Bible as the ‘strategy’ rather than seeking a temporary solution that seems to fit with the cultural milieu?

This is not to say culture is unimportant. I’m not saying that. We are living in a culture which requires a certain cultural response. But, if we believe that it is the Word of God that speaks, and that through that speaking God creates, and that through that creation young people’s hearts are opened to the Good News of what Jesus has done, then this becomes a central cog in the youth ministry wheel. Off this cog are the systems and processes and ideas that this book talks about.

So how does this research affect me as a Youth and Young Adults Pastor going forward?

  • This book has provided excellent food for thought.
  • It has given a framework to assess the youth and young adult ministry I currently lead.
  • The emphasis continues to be on the long-term, not on short-term fixes.
  • The research provides data regarding youth ministries and churches.
  • It continues to affirm the much needed work of youth ministry within churches.

Finally, before this post gets far too long, this is an excellent resource for any youth leader, parent, church leader or Pastor in any church. For those who’ve been in the youth ministry world with a discipleship and mission mindset there won’t be too many surprises, but the framing of these things is excellent. I’d encourage you to read the book and talk with someone on the leadership team at your church about it.

Further Resources:

The NYMC Podcast = Episode 15 + 16 – This two-part podcast delves into each chapter of Growing Young and discusses the research at length.

Book review of Growing Young by Seth Stewart

Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast (106): Kara Powell On How Many Average Churches Are Actually Reaching Millennials

Book reflection by Trevin Wax


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

Para-Church Triage In Youth Ministry

It could be the regular emails sent by various para-church organisations. It could be actual snail mail arriving through the church office. It could be the phone calls from representatives seeking your ear.

In church ministry there is the constant demand from people in Christian organisations around the country who would love to ‘partner’ with you. They email, post, call or seek coffee with you regularly enough that a whole day of your week could be filled with meeting people para-church organisations.

So, what do you do?

On one hand, it seems rude to palm people off and not hear what they have to say about their organisation and what they’re doing. On the other, there is only a certain amount of time, money, and space you can give to various organisations.

How do you prioritise which organisations you will closely ‘partner’ with?

I’ve come to see the answer to this question as para-church triage.

If there is some form of health crisis and you need to go to hospital for help you usually head straight to the emergency department. If you’ve ever been to the emergency department you’ll know that the first person you see is the ‘triage nurse’. The triage nurse is someone who takes your details, assesses your condition, and then places you in the appropriate spot in the queue to see the doctor. This assessment and placement is known as triage. The nurse is evaluating where you should be placed on the priority list, whether you’ll be seen quickly or whether you’ll need to sit a while. If the triage nurse is making the right assessments someone with a drug overdose should be seen quickly while you wait with your basketball-induced sprained ankle.

It’s the same with para-church triage.

As a youth pastor, or any type of pastor I suspect, you need to do a little triage. That is, you need to decide where in the priority queue the various para-church organisations are placed. Some organisations might be at the front of that metaphorical queue and have a strong relationship with you, others might find themselves having to wait a while or work on the relationship, and then there are others who probably need to move queues.

What kind of system is useful in order to perform this triage?

I’ve come up with a framework that helps me think through what to prioritise. I understand that it will have flaws, but it might be helpful for some.

Para-Church Triage Framework

Priority 1: A relationship of openness, trust, and engagement

  • The organisation already has an ongoing relationship with the church.
  • The organisation is given financial support through the annual church budget.
  • The organisation employs members of the church.
  • The organisation is aligned theologically with the church.
  • The organisation can helpfully contribute to the vision and mission of the church.

Priority 2: A relationship that is cautiously open

  • The organisation is known to you and you affirm their work.
  • The organisation has connection with people who attend the church.
  • The organisation has been recommended to you by people you respect.
  • The organisation helps train and develop disciples through people, events, and resources.
  • The organisation reaches out, wanting to improve its partnership with the church.

Priority 3: A relationship of little or no connection

  • The organisation is not known to you and there is no relationship with them.
  • The organisation doesn’t fit with the vision and mission of the church.
  • The organisation doesn’t align theologically or philosophically.
  • The organisation pushes for financial support over relationship.

That’s the framework, and one that I hope helps you think through this issue. It’s not an issue that’s overly appealing so I’ve created a graphic to go with this to make it that little bit more sexy.

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Baptism and The Baggy Green

The Australian baggy green is a significant symbol in our nation’s sporting landscape, and some would argue our Australian culture-at-large. The baggy green is held up as a symbol of sporting greatness and success, and is the embodiment of Australian cricket values and expectations.

When a player is selected for the Australian test team they become part of a select number of people to ever do so. Upon being selected they are presented with a baggy green cap.

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Photograph: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

In years past this cap was picked up when the player received their kit bag for the upcoming tour. Some players were given a number of caps throughout their career and many of the ‘greats’ have long ago lost or given theirs away. But in recent time, from the mid-90s, each debutant is physically presented with their baggy green by a former Australian test great. On the morning of their first test, just after the warm-up, this player is told of the significance of the cap and what it represents. He is surrounded by the others in the team, who congratulate him on becoming an Australian test cricketer. They watch him put it on and welcome him into the fold. As cricket journalist and historian Gideon Haigh comments ‘the baggy green means a lot to the current generation of players – they are constantly being told how important it is and how great they are’.

This baggy green is a symbol of what it means to play cricket for Australia. It is a symbol of elite performance and cricket excellence. But more than that, it is a symbol of joining the other 450 players who have played test match cricket for Australia.

In a similar way baptism is a significant symbol of the Christian church.

Baptism has played an important part in the history of the Christian church. Prior to the birth of Jesus baptism was practised by the various Jewish sects as an act of cleansing, for ritual purity. Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist, led people in the practice of baptism ‘for repentance of sins’. And, Jesus was baptised himself, in order to fulfil all righteousness and share in this act with those who were to follow him in faith.

Throughout the New Testament the followers of Jesus have continued in this tradition and symbol of baptism. After Jesus was resurrected, and before he ascended to the Father, Jesus said to his disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

And from this time on baptism has been a symbol and rite of passage that takes place as one puts their faith in Jesus, follows him, and seeks to obey his commands.

But what’s this got to do with the baggy green?

First, like the baggy green baptism is a significant symbol and rite in the Christian church.

Since the resurrection of our Lord Jesus baptism has been performed as a symbol of entrance into the Christian community. It is through baptism that Christians were recognised as believers of the Way. When we are baptised today we not only join a local body of believers, but also join with the millions who’ve gone before us in recognising Jesus as Lord and Saviour.

Just as the baggy green is a symbol of an Australian test cricketer, a marker of their entrance into the team. So too, baptism is a symbol of a follower of Jesus, a marker in their life and faith.

Second, like the baggy green baptism has meaning and significance.

Through the act of baptism itself we acknowledge what Christ has done for us. When we are baptised, like many before us, we acknowledge the work of God in our lives and the reality of what Christ has done.

Those who have been baptised do so because through his death on a cross Jesus has paid the punishment for their sin. Through his resurrection Jesus has enabled true life, and a relationship with God. And by faith, those baptised acknowledge Jesus as Lord and seek to trust and obey his commands.

Going down into the water and coming up again is an imitation of this truth. It is a symbol of leaving behind the ways of the past and committing to a life of following Jesus.

Just as the baggy green derives its meaning from the players of the past, the values and expectations of what it is to be an Australian test player. Baptism derives its meaning from the person and work of Jesus, who died and rose again in order for us to know God.

Third, like the baggy green baptism is a natural part of being a Christian.

It would be odd for a player to be presented with his baggy green and then to put it in his pocket or stick it in his kit bag for safe keeping. The baggy green is handed over and is expected to be worn. To not do so would be odd.

In committing our lives to Christ and putting our trust in what he has done it is only natural to be baptised. To not do so would be odd. The New Testament doesn’t have a category for one who is a disciple of Jesus and not baptised.

Those who do go public with their faith are following a rite of passage into the Christian community from ages past until now. In front of a local church congregation they acknowledge Jesus as Lord and simply follow him in obedience.

Just as the baggy green is to be worn and acknowledges the cricketer as a test player. Followers of Jesus are to be baptised, publicly declaring that they are following in the way of Jesus and his commands.

Beginning As A Youth Pastor: 11 Things I Wished I Knew

I was asked to speak at a gathering with other Youth and Young Adult Pastors a few months ago. This was in a session on ‘Winning In The First 3 Years of Ministry’. I shared 10 points from the perspective of what I wish I had known going in to youth and young adult ministry. Here are those 10 points, plus an extra.

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1. I wish I knew that an active and exciting relationship with Jesus would be so hard to foster.
It’s easy to look at the Youth Pastor when we’re in youth group, or volunteering as a leader, and think they’re really spiritual and full-on for Jesus. If they are then that’s great, but in my experience it is really hard to find a rhythm in order to foster an active and growing relationship with Jesus. Sure, I’ve grown and have made Jesus the centre of my being since I was in high school, but being surrounded by teaching materials, going through Bible College, leading Bible studies, and preaching regularly, aren’t a substitute for personal spiritual disciplines. Make sure you carve out time for Scripture, prayer, reading, music, reflection and solitude.

2. I wish I knew that my relationship with my Senior Pastor was the most important in the church.
I feel like I’ve had great relationships with my Senior Pastors but I’m surprised at how crucial they’ve been for the week-by-week, month-by-month, year-by-year ministry. They are the closest relationship I have in the church because of my proximity to them and the regularity in which I see them. It is the relationship that keeps me energised and willing to stick around for the long haul. When Youth Pastors leave it is most likely because their relationship with the Senior Pastor has broken down. I’ve seen it, over and over again. I don’t want it to be me.

3. I wish I knew that the health of the youth ministry is only as healthy as the church.
Youth and young adult ministry is not happening within a vacuum, it is set in the context of the wider church. When you are sick the whole body is sick, not simply one particular part. So it is with youth and young adult ministry. In my first year as a paid Youth Pastor there was significant disharmony in my church that saw a number of significant and influential people leave. This had a trickle down effect. The evening service went from averaging 60-70 people each week to 20-30. The loss of young adults, the loss of youth leaders, the loss of high school students. It just went bang. This highlights the importance of making sure we are aware of what is going on in the wider church. Getting to know people across all ages and stages is important. An understanding of the history of the church is also critical when thinking through the church’s health.

4. I wish I knew that there would be friends for the road and friends for the journey.
Some friends stick around. They stick with you through thick and thin, when you move church, and are generally lifelong friends. These are friends for the road of life. Other people will simply be friends for the journey. They’ll be with you for the time you’re at their church or in their life. But, when you move they won’t continue to catch up with you or check in with you. It’s taken time for me to realise this, more so in the last 12 months. Friends and colleagues that I thought would continue to have an interest in my life, as I do theirs, don’t. It’s important to gather around you 3-4 friends who’ll be with you for the road, ministry or not.

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

6. I wish I knew that what I have done in the past doesn’t really mean much to others.
I’m proud of what I’ve done in my life. There are of course some stupid things I’ve done, but generally, I’m pretty proud of some of the things I’ve achieved in life – relationships, study, work, ministry. Guess what? No one cares. Except perhaps for that job interview or the search committee coming up. Other than that, no one cares. I mean, most people have a decent sized ego and so we’d like to think that our achievements matter. X number of years at this church, volunteer years put in at that other church, the secular work we’ve done in the past, the degrees we’ve studied for, the service opportunities we’ve been involved in, et cetera. et cetera. You know, it all builds us up to think that we’ve got some awesome job experience to be an awesome pastor, even before we walk into the role. Nup. That parent of the 14-year-old kid who is annoying each Friday night doesn’t care, they just want to know if you can look after their kid for a couple of hours while they go on a date with their spouse. That deacon doesn’t really care either, they just want to let you know that you can’t park your car at the front of the church because that’s reserved for more significant members of your church.

O how humbling ministry is.

7. I wish I knew that the sin that so easily entangles will entangle you with more force in ministry.
Yep, those things we fear, those habits we slipped into years ago, those things we listen to and watch, those temptations to click. These things will continue. The devil will attempt to strike, and strike with more and more force. I figured it would be easier to let go of those things because of the important and significant work I would be doing in the life of the church. How little did I know! You’ve had a porn habit, watch the devil seek to strike you there. You’re overly insecure, watch the devil play with you. You’re too conscious of your appearance or what people think of you, bang. You’re seeking intimacy and relationships, boom. Sin doesn’t stop. It carries on. And it’s usually coming at you with a force you’ve never seen before.

8. I wish I knew the extent of which church politics would take up headspace and suck my emotional energy. 
There is a lot to be said about getting to know your wider church and being involved in the high level discussions and conversations at your church. Yet, it is also the place where church politics is most clearly seen and can just suck you dry if you let it. This is closely connected to point 3 about church health, but it is surprising at how deeply it can affect us. Some, and perhaps all of it, may not be about the ministries we are involved in. It might be to do with the budget, or with the way the flowers are arranged on Sunday mornings, or how the coffee and tea is served at morning tea. It might have nothing to do with your ministry at all, yet something small and insignificant can get us down and consume the rest of the day if we let it.

9. I wish I knew that people don’t need me to tell them what to do, they need the grace of God applied.
I remember the first few months of going to church after I’d finished up on staff at a previous church. I took the opportunity to visit various churches and also went back to our home church. What I distinctly remember was that every time I walked out I felt like I had more burdens than when I arrived. I felt like I’d been given a good sermon and good teaching, but when it came to application I’d be lumped with more and more things to do. My week was already busy. I’m house-hunting, I’m waiting for a newborn to arrive, I’m feeling overwhelmed with my own sense of sinfulness, I’m trying to study hard, I’m looking for a new job. I don’t need application that leaves me feeling like I’ve got to do more in order to get my life back on track. No. What I need is grace. I need the grace of God shown to me. I need the grace of God to make me realise that he is the one my burdens are to go to. All those significant things in life will be before him, given to him, and dealt with by him. I would encourage you to give people grace – kid, parent, young adult, oldie, pastor, ministry volunteer, anyone. When you’re teaching, give them grace. Apply grace.

10. I wish I knew how to work better.
I had been in the health and fitness industry for a couple of years before I moved into ministry. A few more years and I took up my first position in a church. I am an organised and systematic person naturally, but it still took me a number of years to work out a decent workflow system. Things like getting your emails down to zero, planning your calendar, working out how long things would take, making to-do-lists, dealing with budgets, how to think through a project like a camp or one-off event. The non-people work side of stuff. What is that? Administration. For this I’d recommend Tim Challies’ “Do More Better“, which only came out a little while ago. It covers what you’d need. And I’m sure you’ll be surprised at how much administration you find yourself doing.

***While I shared the above there was a glaring omission from the list, one which every Youth Pastor needs to know.***

11. I wish I knew it was such a privilege
Not until I left my first church did I realise how much of a privilege it is to be such an influence in the lives of young people and students. The trust, affection, openness, and vulnerability people have toward you is simply amazing at times. The position you have and the places you find yourself in as you disciple young people is phenomenal. While it can be long, frustrating, and messy work there is the privilege of guiding people in life decisions, applying the Gospel to people’s lives, and celebrating their growth as people and disciples.

What a wonderful work it is. 

What Building Sandcastles Teaches You About Youth Ministry

On holidays our family has been hitting up the beach. With the beach comes sand. And while I know a number of people who aren’t big fans of such creation there are awesome sandcastles to be made with it. Yesterday was our opportunity to achieve such heights of awesomeness. 

Our daughter was sick of the beach after only 30 minutes. Considering the effort it took to get there we weren’t leaving anytime soon. So to help entertain her we began making sandcastles together. The conditions were perfect with the right balance of dry and wet sand. And after picking our spot we created a fairly sizeable sandcastle city with roads, tunnels, bridges, hills, castles and village houses.


Post-sandcastle fun I’ve thought about how this activity can teach those of us in youth ministry a thing or two. So, here are five ways building sandcastles can teach you (and me) about youth ministry. 

(1) You need a team

This was a great activity for my daughter and I to do together. The wife also joined in at times, while our young son looked on. But the experience of building this sandcastle city was made better by doing it together. I could’ve made the thing on my own but this wouldn’t have been as fun, nor would there have been as many ideas about what to build, and the shared experience of doing this together would be non-existent. 

Youth ministry is the same. 

Doing it by yourself can work but it won’t be nearly as good. Youth ministry is great fun together as a team, the ideas coming from each unique person involved is essential in growing faith and community. Furthermore, the shared experience of being on a youth ministry team, serving one another and the church, is something you hold dear for years and years. 

(2) You get dirty 

It’s sand. Sand gets in places you’d never think it could get to. It isn’t the most pleasant flooring to kneel on. It gets in your eyes with every gust of wind. And in my case, it cakes on to my thick matte of leg hair. Building sandcastles means you need to be all in and be ready to get dirty. 

Youth ministry is the same. 

The obvious link here is to refer to the classic youth group night of “messy games”. Of course, you’re going to get messy when playing games involving eggs, tomato sauce, and cooked spaghetti. Messy games are part of any good youth ministry repertoire. 

At a deeper level, getting dirty refers to being involved in the lives of young people and their families. It is physically and emotionally taxing to be helping people with their mental health, sexuality, drugs, alcohol, relationships, family crisis, death, school stress, and other growing pains. It’s a dirty work in this sense. 

(3) You need patience

Building something from scratch, even something as small as a two square metre sandcastle, can take time. 

Youth ministry is the same. 

People take time to grow in life and faith. Being in a ministry that deals with young people who are 11-18 years-old means patience is required. You’re not going to see results in six months. It takes years for the seeds of youth ministry to sprout fruit. 

It’s been said to me by a number of long-term Youth Pastors that they felt most effective after six years. Six years! It is quite rare in the Australian context to find a Youth Pastor who sticks around for more than three years in one church, let alone six. More Youth Pastors need to stay, and recognise that patience in the ministry is required. 

This isn’t all about young Youth Pastors though. Long-term youth ministry volunteers are needed too. It’s the volunteers who more often than not have greater influence long-term than any fly-by-the-night Youth Pastor. 

(4) You make mistakes

At one point in our sandcastle building my daughter and I were digging tunnels under roads and castles. In a couple of areas we hadn’t evaluated the wetness of the sand and soon found the tunnels collapsing, the whole thing folding in on itself. When we tried to make a river flow, in order to create a moat, a group of village houses were taken away in a flood. We made a few mistakes as we build this little sand city. 

Youth ministry is the same. 

Mistakes are bound to be made when you serve in youth ministry. In fact, if you don’t make mistakes you’re probably not trying hard enough.

But mistakes can happen at a variety of levels. Not having enough balls for a game of dodgeball is one thing, writing an angry late night email to a parent is another. Hiring an expensive bus and not having enough kids to cover the costs is one thing, undermining your senior pastor in front of others is another. Not turning up on time to meet one of the young adults is one thing, choosing a person who hasn’t got the character to join the leadership team is another. 

The level and variety of mistakes vary in youth ministry. Some will be of little impact. Others, however, could derail an event, program or the whole ministry.

(5) You will find delight

There was little more satisfying than spending time with my daughter building sandcastles yesterday. It was a delight to play with her and talk with her about what we were doing. We searched for pieces of driftwood to build bridges, and joined hands in tunnels we made. It was a delightful experience. 

Youth ministry is the same. 

While youth ministry may have a number of challenges there is a certain delight that comes with it.

First, seeing young people grow in faith, connecting in with a community of people who accept them, and serving others together as a group, all these bring personal delight. Looking back after a number of years and seeing how young men and women have grown always blows my mind. Being able to help them and their families as they struggle with whatever life might bring is a privilege. There is a personal satisfaction and delight in being involved in such a work. 

Second, ultimately it is not youth ministry that needs delighting in. 

It is Jesus. 

It isn’t the ministry that’s important for young people, it’s the person who they follow. This person isn’t the Youth Pastor, or is it the Youth Leader, or the mentor, or the parent, or the friend. 

The person is Jesus. 

If young people find their delight in Christ then the inward delight will come to anyone involved in youth ministry. But may it be that they delight in their Creator as He delights in them. 

My Blogging Year – A Retrospective

How do you summarise a year?

I suppose you could use a one-word expletive, which I notice a number of my Facebook friends have used to describe 2016. But, there are a number of factors that make up a year with its various highs and lows. The variables of family, friends, work, hobbies, recreation, health and fitness, and more, make up much of what we call life. Each of these areas we may be able to summarise, but to tie them all together is difficult.

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Over at The Daily Post there is the challenge to summarise my blogging year. And upon reflection there are a few insights we can glean.

First, I had six good months and six poor months of posting content. I obviously don’t like winter very much nor am I inspired during these months. I posted often in the January to March period but soon dropped off before taking up publishing again from October through December.*

Second, the main topic I posted about was ‘youth ministry’. Of the top five most read posts three of them were on the topic of youth ministry. This isn’t too much of a surprise considering I was intentional in what I was to post about this year. Youth ministry was one area I wanted to write more about and this is clear through the posts I’ve written in 2016. The other factor would be the change of ministry role, becoming Associate Pastor for Youth and Young Adults at the start of the year. These things seem to point toward a youth ministry passion and this is being seen in what I write about.

Here are my top five posts:

  1. The Ageing Youth Pastor
  2. Starting Fresh As A Youth Pastor
  3. Why Every Youth Pastor Should Watch ‘Spotlight’
  4. ‘N’ As A Social Media Movement
  5. I’ve Never Been To Aleppo

Third, there was a 30% increase in traffic to the blog in the past 12 months. This has been encouraging and positive. You do expect an increase when you’re coming off such a low base though. 🙂

Fourth, the top five countries where readers come from are: Australia, USA, Brazil, New Zealand and the UK. Four of them are not surprising. One of them is. You can probably guess which one.

Fifth, each New Year that passes brings with it a good opportunity to reflect on the worthiness of writing and blogging. I’m one of those people who enjoy reflecting on events, conversations, experiences and time-periods. Blogging is no different. And while some people are against New Year resolutions, believing that January 1st is only another day, I do find it helpful to reflect and set goals for the next 12 months. These goals don’t need to be anything complicated, but they do need to be specific. My choice to write more about youth ministry seems to have been achieved as I’ve seen a few things here gain some traction with readers. It’s also helped me think through the topics in more depth.

For 2017, consistency will be the key and the main goal for this blog. I seek to me more intentional about writing topics and will also aim at writing at least one decent piece per week. 

If you’re a blogger (or perhaps there’s something in your life you need to be more intentional about) then what would be your main goal for your blog in 2017?

*Another factor here may well be the birth of our second child. Probably can’t discount that variable either! 

Growing Young – Growing Young In Your Context

This is post eight 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, three , fourfivesix and seven.


The final chapter!

To conclude Growing Young the authors provide a chapter designed to help churches, pastors, parents, families, and anyone interested apply the research to their own context.

Having made my way through the chapters it’s become clear that different churches will apply this in different ways. Every church I know of would agree that they seek to grow young people in faith and number. The decline in young adults continuing on in the faith has been dramatic over the past 20 years and many churches are grasping at straws, willing to try anything to hold on to the young people they have. Yet, if anyone reading this work comes to the conclusion that it’s an easy task then they haven’t understood the research or church culture. The process to reverse this trend and begin growing faithful young adults will require years of constancy and faithfulness.

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In this final chapter Growing Young gives a broad process to help you or your church work improve its engagement of young people. There are five steps, outlined below:

First, listen.

Start conversations with everyone in the church. Listen. Listen to the kids, the young people, the leaders, the families, the parents, the young adults, the older people, the community, the whole congregation. Everyone. Go ask questions about how the church should or could engage with young people. You might see the problem clearly, others might not. You might understand the need and urgency, others might not. You might believe there is a massive problem, others might not. Begin with conversation.

Second, tell stories of future hope.

There will be no movement without a vision for the future. After listening and conversing with others the problem and challenge of growing young will appear. With this in the forefront of people’s mind it will be time to form a way forward. Begin by telling stories of what could be. Begin dreaming. Begin by white-boarding ideas. Let these dreams, ideas, and possibilities form into stories for the future. All good stories have a moment where there is a problem to overcome. Pitch the problem, pitch the solution. Tell stories of the future hope that could be.

Third, list the challenges.

There are going to be heaps of challenges. There is the problem that the church you’re in may not be growing young but the bigger challenges will come when you begin to move forward in seeking cultural change. The challenges that will occur will be to do with worship style, lack of interest, lack of volunteers and leaders, a large generation gap, and a lack of resources. These and more will make the task a tough one. But it is patience and persistence, all part of the journey itself, which will help to bring about change.

Fourth, experiment at the margins.

Someone once said, “To love is to risk not being loved in return. To hope is to risk pain. To try is to risk failure, but risk must be taken because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.” Churches are often risk adverse. In order to grow young as a congregation risk will need to be taken. The place and way to start this is with those on the margins of the church. Those ministries and programs not seen as the backbone of the church is where the possibilities begin. Is there a ministry that could use a little bit of risk-taking? Is there something that young people could takeover or drive themselves? In the listening phase was there something found that the young people could be directing?

Fifth, be patient.

I was at an event last week with some experienced pastors and church leaders from around the state. During my conversation with one elder statesman of the Victorian church I asked how long he thought a certain cultural change might take to implement in a local church. He responded with the sides of his mouth upturned and a glint in his eye, “Oh, you’ll probably see fruit at around the 20-year mark”. And that’s what it seems to take in the church of God. It is long-haul ministry and long-term thinking that will bring about faithful expressions of discipleship and maturity of faith. Pray hard, preach hard, and be patient, realising it is God doing the growth.


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