Why Every Youth Pastor Should Watch ‘Spotlight’

Last week I saw the movie Spotlight on the big screen. I walked away thinking every Youth Pastor should see this film.

Spotlight

Spotlight is the story of how the Boston Globe, one of Boston’s most famous newspapers, broke the devastating news of sexual abuse by Catholic priests upon young children in its city. The movie follows the reporters investigating the story and gives an amazing account of their work to uncover such atrocities. It’s a harrowing story and one that needs to be remembered.

As a Youth Pastor I am responsible for the care of children. As I walked out of the flick I had a overwhelming sense of responsibility toward those under my care. Most of the time the role of Youth Pastor is amazing. It’s a privilege to be able to share and teach the Christian faith to those who are exploring it for themselves. Leading those who wish to see their friends come to know Jesus is exciting work. But, there are also times when certain topics or areas of responsibility need to be in order to make the church environment a safe place for young people. With this in mind I found Spotlight to be a good reminder.

1. It’s a reminder of how sinful supposed good people can be.

The Catholic priests in charge of young people were seen as safe people. And rightfully so. The church is meant to be a safe place for all people. Yet, like all people the priests are fallen and sinful people. This doesn’t excuse them of their horrid behaviour of course. But it is a reminder that good people are sinful and fallen human beings. The church is a collective of sinners, not saints.

2. It’s a reminder of how people look to the church for care and protection. 

This story broke around 15 years ago. The film depicts Boston as a city that trusts its priests and ‘the church’. It may not be so today but there are plenty of people who still look to the church and its ministers for care and protection, for guidance and help. The Church, as the body of Christians worldwide, should continue to strive in setting the example of love and care for others.

3. It’s a reminder of the responsibility churches have to care for children and their families.

As I’ve mentioned, the responsibility on churches and particularly those ministries dealing with young people should make best practice in child safety a priority. It is just so important to have policies and procedures, to have proper screening, and to be in alignment with government laws regarding duty of care for minors. Most people are trusting of others, but it is the responsibility of those in charge of events and programs to take the responsibility of caring for children and young people seriously.

4. It’s a reminder of how important it is to properly screen people working with children within your church.

In Victoria we have Working With Children Checks and a level higher would be an Australian Federal Police Check. These of course are the official documents, which may or may not pick up on everything. Ideally, we don’t want to have the attitude of suspicion but we do want to make sure we know the character, chemistry and competency of people who lead and have authority and care over young people. With this in mind it would be good practice to conduct interviews and checks regarding the appropriateness of a persons behaviour with and around children.

5. It’s a reminder of how devastating child abuse can be upon the individual and wider community.

The movie doesn’t go into vivid detail about what actual sexual abuse occurred but it let’s you in on enough to get the picture. It also portrays, as well as it can in a two hour movie, the after effects of such abuse and the consequences. It is a very sad situation, and is simply devastating on the individuals and families involved. The breaking of trust, the breaking of relationships, and the emotional turmoil is a stark reminder of why we must provide safe spaces for our young people to grow, learn, and thrive in our youth ministries.

Education, Millennials and Missions

millennials-graphic-600The post ‘Six Millennial Statistics Every Adult Should Know‘ was published a little over two weeks ago. I was sent a link for it through a colleague who also challenged a group of us to respond to one of the questions being posed and how it related to missions and missions engagement. As a side note, I reckon this article is worth consideration, as opposed to other Gen Y blog posts because it actually asks really good questions at the end of every point. In any case, I responded to the question through the group email in the following way. You’ll notice I’ve also included the paragraph and questions I was responding to.

Well Educated

School plays a larger role in this generation of young adults than any in American history. 23% have a Bachelor’s degree or higher, making them the most educated generation ever. Obviously, some have stayed in school due to a poor economy. (It just wasn’t a good time to launch a career). Others stayed in school because mom or dad pushed them to get that college degree and a “white collar” job instead of a “blue collar” job, and parents were all too happy to have them live at home during (and after) the process. So they’re well educated but may need to take a job they are over-qualified for at first. It also may mean they take a job where they must “pay their dues” in order to make progress. This is difficult.

Question: How can we enable young adults to capitalize on their education and leverage it to take them where they’re most gifted to serve?

My thoughts:

Most of my “ministry career” has been doing youth and young adult ministry in the rich part of Melbourne. The majority of my kids were going to private schools or top public schools in the state. The importance of education is taught at an early age and takes away time from church. The pressure from the school and parents was enormous, so much so that many of the year 11-12’s were having mental health issues like anxiety and depression.

The expectation is to continue this education into their university studies and then career. Western culture teaches them to continue studying and gain better and better results in order that they can do the exact same with their kids etc.

We all really know this don’t we…?

But, because they’re so educated it means they won’t begin to think about missions in a serious capacity until they’re almost out of their university degree. This has implications for us as the average age of someone jumping into missions and heading off long-term will continue to be pushed out to the 30s and 40s – once their education and career has been established.

Because they’re so educated it means they will want to use what they’ve learnt in the future. It’s not often to have someone come and say they’d like to just give up what they studied and worked toward for something else. Well, unless they’ve been in the workforce for 10 years and its time for a career change or something. This has implications for us as those who wish to do missions will want to use their skills and education as the backbone to their missionary effort. This might mean people won’t fit into our organisation but on the other hand it will mean we get well-educated professionals when they do fit.

Because they’re so educated they will be better able to understand the concepts and ideas that missiology and theology present to them. I don’t think any teaching is too deep for any Millennial, as long as its clear and answers the question of why. The implication for us is that there needs to be in-depth and rigorous training and development given throughout their “missionary career”.

Because they’re so educated they will have a fair bit of financial debt. While Fee-Help and HECS is brilliant and in reality may not need to be paid off because they won’t earn enough it is still a debt they will be carrying. Depending on their personality they may wish to pay it off or live with it hanging over their head – like I do. This has implications for us because they may wish to pay this off as they serve and therefore have it included in their support budget. Also, if they’re required to go to theological college then that debt will be increased at a significant rate because of the private nature of theological schools.

I think the tough question is how do we show that they will be using their education as part of their missionary efforts on the field?

To suggest that they won’t be using any of their studies will simply drive people away. We need to take each person as they are and show them how they can be of great help using their skills and what they’ve learnt. Telling stories of workers who’ve gone over and found that their skills and education help them build relationships and teach others is important. And, I think it’s important to show people that their education is more than just a visa platform too.

How would you respond? 

Millennials & Mission Organisations

Time_MillennialI’m a 1982 baby. Depending on what survey you’d like to agree with I sneak into the Millennial, or Gen Y, generation.

My wife and I headed to the Middle East when we were in our early twenties. Spurred on by a call to global missions we spent two years working as missionaries through a local school. Since then I’ve continued the ministry path as a Youth & Young Adults Pastor, and now working with the Australian Baptist mission agency – Global Interaction. My main tasks include walking alongside young adults and encouraging them to follow God into missions, connecting with churches and pastors, and facilitating short-term mission teams. For the last 12 years my world has involved working with youth and young adults in a variety of ways and mobilising them toward long-term mission service – here or overseas.

In the recent Evangelical Missions Quarterly journal Jim Raymo writes an article entitled “Mission & Millennials: Encouraging A Generation Toward Mission Service”. In this post I simply want to engage with it and affirm it. But also, after months of pondering and talking about this article with a few people I’d like to add my own reflections to what Raymo has said.

Engaging with Millennials is an important topic for mission agencies and churches to be thinking about. It will be the Millennial generation who will be the most active on the mission field in 10-20 years time. They will be the next team leaders, the next organisational leaders, the ones who will pass the faith onto the following generation and continue the enormous task of reaching the least-reached.

When I look at the Christian young adults I come across I see people who are wrestling with what God is calling them to. They want to serve Jesus in the best way possible, use their gifts, skills, and abilities in ways that will extend His kingdom, and bring love and compassion to those who don’t see much of it. They seek to serve God and serve others, willing to give up opportunities in the West to serve in other places and in other cultures.

In light of this mission agencies may like to consider the following points in how best to integrate young adults into the life of their organisation.

1. Communicate regularly and clearly
A large portion of the points Raymo makes are related to communication, spoken and unspoken. In fact, it may cover all his points. Leaders need to be willing to communicate the ‘why’ in everything. Whether it is the ‘why’ of the organisation or the ‘why’ of a particular task in a particular project. We like to know why we’re doing what we’re doing and whether it actually has any significance. There’s nothing worse than being given tasks that seem irrelevant. But if the relevance is explained and questions answered, that’s certainly helpful. Oh, and don’t skirt the issue, just tell us plainly what’s going on.

2. Give room for improvement and growth
Linked to communication is the aspect of improvement and growth. In each role I’ve had I have always wanted to grow in my experience and expertise. In any role I want to know if it is actually helping me in my ‘career’ or chosen vocation. If it’s not helping or is looking like a dead end I get nervous. I want to improve and better myself, organisations need to show how this can occur.

3. Show and tell high expectations
Everyone has expectations and we, as a Millennial generation, have high expectations. We want the best out of ourselves and the best out of everybody else. If people aren’t pulling their weight then we quickly become frustrated and annoyed with them and the system. It’s like the group assignments at uni, nothing worse than a person who doesn’t put in and gets good marks off the back of everyone else. The leaders we work for need to show they have high expectations for themselves too. Give us a task and tell us you want to achieve a high level of success, tell us your benchmark of what success looks like. We’ll try our damn hardest to get there if we reckon it’s a goer.

4. Be open to new ideas
The phrase “that’s the way we’ve always done it” is the worst possible phrase to come out of any leader’s mouth. Don’t say it. Don’t even think of saying it. If you do, you’ll lose us. Our ideas aren’t meant to be radical or cutting edge. They’re not meant to be upsetting for people who are not used to them either. Our ideas are simply that, ideas. But somewhere along the line you’ll need to give us the freedom to work with them and do them. Let us do that and you might be amazed at how things turn out.

5. Respect
If you’re not communicating, not giving us room to grow, not setting high expectations, and not open to new ideas then you’re telling us you’ve got no respect. Respect is earned, but it is also there initially when you take us on or when you have that first conversation with us. Respect us for who we are and what we can do and help us grow as people.

6. Have a big vision of God and the work
Of all organisations, mission agencies should be the ones who are leading and equipping people to serve God. God who rules the world and continues to play an active role within it. God who is spoken of with such high and lofty language in Scripture that we should be able to see that vision of God a mile off. Like generations of the past, we hunger after more of God and seek to be part of what He is doing. So tell me why your organisation is one I should be involved with and what kind of vision of God you have in the work you do.

Reflecting on Leadership Development

I was recently asked to reflect on leadership development by answering three questions. I didn’t have a long time to answer but I thought it’d be worth posting here. What would your answers have been?

Where have you drawn inspiration from in your approaches to leadership development?

My approaches to leadership development have been modelled to me from previous youth pastors and pastors that I sat under in church. Since those days it has now been thought through with talking to other mentors, books, and some of it at Bible College. There is a sense that it has been drawn from the Bible itself, with Jesus as a model of discipleship more than leadership, if that can be separated.

What is working for you or what have you observed working in churches in the area of leadership development?

I think one-on-one investment into people is the most beneficial leadership development “technique”. It seems to be about relationship and modelling good leadership practice. While group work, workshops, and different talks on leadership is helpful there is nothing like having someone walking beside you/walking with someone and helping them reflect on their leadership.

What should we be doing to best support leadership development at a movement level?

In the next few years it would be vital to give younger people leadership experiences – whether they succeed or fail doesn’t really matter. But, it is the experience in leadership which is needed to grow good leaders for the future.

What do you think?

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?

Leaders Who Will Last by Tim Hawkins

leaders who will lastTim Hawkins has been involved in youth ministry  here in Australia for many years. ‘Leaders Who Will Last‘ is his second book on the topic of youth ministry. His first, ‘Fruit That Will Last‘, was written in the late 1990s and is a foundational text for youth ministry practitioners, particularly here in Australia. Before reading Leaders Who Will Last I’d highly recommend reading his first. 

Leaders Who Will Last, published in 2002, is, as you can imagine, all about youth ministry leadership. I have just finished my first reading of it and would recommend it to anyone in the youth ministry field. However, this book is not only for those in youth ministry on a paid basis, but for anyone involved in a voluntary capacity–parent, youth leader, small group leader etc. 

Leaders Who Will Last is grounded in scripture and gives good advice for youth leaders. There are three main sections of the book; one on vision, one on character, and one on skills.

It is under vision that the main biblical foundations are set. The issues of calling, shepherding, and servanthood are rightly portrayed as important. The main characteristics of a leader are to be faithful, reliable, and a follower of those in higher authority, such as the senior pastor, youth pastor, or lead leader.

In terms of skills, the emphasis is on teaching the bible, whether at the main youth gathering or through a bible study. This I find is a bit light, I think there are more things a youth leader should also be across, not just being able to teach the bible. In fact, I think some leaders may not even be able to do that, but there are other skills that they may bring to the overall health of a youth ministry.

Hawkins also describes, in 16 points, the various aspects to youth work and the type of person a youth leader can be, i.e. a pray-er, an organiser, a counsellor etc.

Overall I thought the book was good. An area of improvement would be a deeper theological basis for youth leadership and youth ministry in general. While a biblical theology of youth ministry is not what this book is about I continue to search for such a work. They’re hard to find, even among all the youth ministry books at the theological college I attend. 

Much of what was written applies directly to me, particularly the issue of getting right with God and staying right. I must set my heart on his ways and his agenda. This book pushes me to pray more, I don’t pray nearly enough for my leaders, my peers, my kids, or my church.

And finally, it is a book that I will recommend to fellow youth leaders. There is so much information in this book that is helpful to any leadership position, but specifically to those in youth ministry.