Podcast: #005 of The Sean & Jon Show

This week we chat about pets and the things we do for them; hedging our bets in this day of day heavy fines, and casting our nets wide in talking church online over Easter. Enjoy.

Topics discussed:

  • Pets
  • Fine or No Fine
  • Awkward texts
  • Televangelists
  • Church shopping online
  • The Letter of James and joy while in this life trial

You can listen here, and also subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

5 Ways To ‘Recover’ From A Short-term Mission Team

When leaving the gym I often observe people immediately drinking their protein shakes. I’m not entirely convinced of their usefulness for an average fitness plodder like myself. However, I can understand the need for these recovery shakes to be consumed by those involved in elite sport. You see, recovery is viewed as an important part of any athletes training regime. It’s not just about preparation and training. Nor is it simply about what happens on the day of competition. Included in a holistic approach to the athlete’s growth and health is recovery.

This is the same when it comes to short-term mission teams (an in reality most ministry programs and events).

5 Ways To Recover From a Short-term Mission Team

It can often be the case that recovery from these short-term experiences is severely lacking. Much time is spent in preparation and on the trip itself. However, when it comes to debrief and recovery many find themselves left alone to work out how to process such an experience.

But recovery is so essential in these situations. Whether it is a cross-cultural short-term team, or whether it is in a place where we feel more comfortable, recovery and debrief are vital in helping us process what we’ve experienced and learnt during the adventure.

These type of trips and teams are particularly intense for a short period of time, often with people we don’t know so well, and doing tasks and activities out of our comfort zone. With it comes culture, relational, and emotional shock because of what we see, hear, smell, and taste. Therefore, it is important to ‘recover’ and reflect from these things.

Using the word ‘recover’ in this way is not to suggest negativity, but it is about reflecting on the experience. It is about making decisions and gaining clarity and perspective on what we learnt during our time away.

What recovering is not is making sure we are the same person upon our return. No, we hope to be changed, we hope we provided some change to others ourselves. And this is good. The point of recovery is not to regress back to the way things were, but point forward and apply the impact of our experience into our lives.

I’m a big believer in these short-term teams and also reflecting on these experiences. I believe anyone should go on one of these types of teams in their lifetime. They will widen our view of the world and provide tangible experiences of people and cultures that are different from us. But coming back into our own culture, with all its regular activities and people and responsibilities brings with it some difficulty. It can be a shock, it can be lonely, it can be disappointing, compared to the excitement and conversations going on in the trip. And so once it’s all over here are five things we can do to help us recover from such an experience.

First, we can pray. 

This seems obvious. But how often do we actually do it?

Praying gives us the opportunity to raise up our praises and gratitude for what God has given us, particularly the experiences we have had on a short-term mission trip. We can lift up those who we have met, the activities we were involved in, and the conversations that struck us. Our prayer lives are often enhanced because of these trips because they give us greater perspective. We can thank God for that.

But in prayer we can also lift up our questions, our struggles, and our joys. Prayer is an excellent start when seeking to recover from such a trip.

Second, we can spend time by ourselves reflecting on significant questions. 

Every time I have led a team I have always provided questions for each individual participant to complete once they are back home. Questions can make us think more deeply, and are helpful in making us think through our experience. There will have been joys and challenges, and we need the ability to name them. While conversations are helpful, time set apart for ourselves to think and process what we’ve done upon our return can helpful. I’d recommend doing this after 6-weeks, the 3-months, 6-months, and 12 months from your return.

Some questions you might like to consider are:

  • What did I learn about myself during my time away?
  • What did I learn about God and what it means to follow him as a disciple of Christ?
  • What did I learn about the people, the church, and the Christian community in the places I visited?
  • What did I learn about how culture impacts the way people live and understand the world?
  • How has my faith been impacted because of this experience? Have I learnt more about my own Christian calling through this trip?

What other questions might you add? 

Third, we can spend time with the people we went with. 

A meeting 4-6 weeks after the end of the trip is helpful to rekindle thought and relationship with those who went on the trip. If your group is from different geographical areas, then a video chat session would be another way to do this.

The reason for a team gathering soon after returning is because it helps us share stories. It provides an opportunity to share what has made a lasting impact. And it helps to know you’re not the only one going through the same challenges and struggles in coming home.

You generally form a strong bond with the people you go away with. Sometimes it doesn’t go well, and that means there might be other ways debrief and recovery needs to occur. But, most of the time, meeting up and telling the stories of the trip; what it’s like to be home and the hopes for the future, will be an encouraging way to wrap up the team experience.

Fourth, we can make sure we tell the stories with others. 

It is in the ability to tell the story of what has gone on during your time away that helps you become clearer in what you learnt, what God seems to be saying to you, and what the impact of the trip had upon you.

If you have gone with a team through your church then the opportunity to talk about your experience in a service, in a small group, or with a circle of friends is perfect. This helps you share what you’ve been up to, but also encourages others around you. Sometimes the reactions we receive from others is somewhat of a surprise, but it is important to remember that they can’t visualise or understand many of the things you went through. This is why sharing the stories is important, for you and for others.

I remember coming back from one short-term team, having spent a few weeks overseas with people I didn’t know too well. I had to talk it out with my colleagues and my wife, just to recover from what I’d experienced while away. Funnily enough, it wasn’t the cultural aspects, nor the project we were involved in, that caused the most anxiety. It was the team members I was with, and how they responded to various situations they were put in!

Sharing the stories and talking it out with safe friends and people is important in re-adjusting to ‘normal’ life.

Fifth, we can set some goals for the future.

As you have worked through these things it is also worth writing down things you’d like to accomplish off the back of this trip.

If we don’t set goals from the trip then it will just become another exciting experience that we’ve been on, perhaps a bit of travel to remember sometime in the future. Yet, if we believe God is working in us and through us, to grow us to be more like him and in his Christlike character, then it is worth pondering what life might look like having had this experience.

These goals don’t have to be world dominating. They could be three simple changes you’d like to make in your own life or faith. It could be one particular resolution you’d like to make because of what you’ve seen and heard. These goals could be anything from giving money to the projects you were involved in, praying for the place you visited, or become more involved in your church’s mission team. The goals and resolutions can be endless. However, sometimes it is better to set goals which are achievable. A goal that is personal, a goal that is faith-orientated, and a goal that is for the service of others.

With these in mind we can have confidence that this experience will last a lifetime.

Published: Youth Minister, ‘But Now’ You Have Been Included

Over at Rooted Ministry the fifth and final article of a 5-part series I’ve written has been published.

The essence of the series is identity for the youth pastor, centred on the phrase ‘but now’.

You can read the first post here, which looks at being made right with God. The second post focusses on the freedom we have because of the cross. The third post seeks to show how God has broken down barriers in order for us to be part of his family and community. The fourth post highlights our identity in relation to being reconciled to God. And the fifth post is a reminder that we are now included in God’s family.

You can read the whole thing here.

“I am reminded often, when working with teenagers, that there is a tendency in our younger years to withhold mercy toward one another. This, of course, isn’t solely a student problem. This is a humanity problem. But the withholding of mercy toward others, especially school friends and those who we deem “different,” seems particularly evident in teenagers.

In our ministry to students, one aspect of the gospel to emphasise is the fact that the mercy we have received from God through Christ changes our identity to mercy-givers. Following in the example of God, we too are called to offer mercy to others. History’s greatest act of mercy is the mercy offered by Jesus on the cross. And in our lives and the lives of our students, it is he whom we seek to imitate.”

You can read other published pieces here.

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Published: Youth Minister, ‘But Now’ You Have Been Reconciled

Over at Rooted Ministry the fourth article of a 5-part series I’ve written has been published.

The essence of the series is identity for the youth pastor, centred on the phrase ‘but now’.

You can read the first post here, which looks at being made right with God. The second post focusses on the freedom we have because of the cross. The third post seeks to show how God has broken down barriers in order for us to be part of his family and community. Today’s post highlights our identity in relation to being reconciled to God.

You can read the whole thing here.

“In youth ministry we call upon our students and their families to recognize this gift of grace God has given us through Jesus. It is great that we can have a fun time, enjoy each other’s company, learn more about God, and find a place to belong as a community. But we also need to put front and center the truth that there is a need to reconcile with God. When we call our students to God, we call them to come and receive all these benefits. The gospel is a gospel of hope that delivers us from separation and alienation and reconciles us with the God of the universe, the lover of our souls. What was broken has now been finally and forever repaired.”

You can read other published pieces here.

 

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Published: Youth Minister, ‘But Now’ You Have Been Brought Near

Over at Rooted Ministry the third article of a 5-part series I’ve written has been published.

The essence of the series is identity for the youth pastor, centred on the phrase ‘but now’.

You can read the first post here, which looks at being made right with God. The second post focusses on the freedom we have because of the cross. And today’s post seeks to show how God has broken down barriers in order for us to be part of his family and community.

You can read the whole thing here.

“But here’s the rub: Because God is with us, and because we are with God, there is no competition. There is no separation. There is no division. There is no apart-ness. No, we are with God and he is with us. We have been drawn near.

While we, and the students we lead, live in this lonely separated world we know there is something greater. Real relationship with others, being loved for who we are, and being accepted on the basis of grace is a call to community. In our churches we want to be known by people who are similarly known by God. And when we have students who are lonely, yearning for someone to simply listen, then we become an integral part in helping them be known. This is why our work is so important; it’s connecting people to God and to one-another. The greatest gift for our students is Jesus, the greatest community we can provide them with is one that shows love, respect, and acceptance in his name.”

You can read other published pieces here.

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Published: Youth Minister, ‘But Now’ You Have Been Set Free

Over at Rooted Ministry the second article of a 5-part series I’m having published this week has gone live.

The essence of the series is identity for the youth pastor, centred on the phrase ‘but now’.

You can read the first post here, which looks at being made right with God. Today’s post focuses on the freedom we have because of the cross. You can read it here.

“As we minister to teenagers, as we parent our children, we often find ourselves drawn back to living pre-Calvary. We are more comfortable operating out of a place of rules, law, and instruction. And while we teach our students and children this freedom message, we often place upon them the same law we find ourselves so drawn to.

Living gospel lives means we speak this teaching and instruction from a new foundation, a foundation of grace and freedom that seeks to highlight this gift God has given through his Son. With gospel living comes rest; performance to achieve for God is turned into being with God. With gospel living comes security; we are held fast by a loving Father, free in the assurance of his promises. With gospel living comes comfort; in times of pain and trial we lean into his sovereign hand in all things, knowing that God is truly in control. With the freedom that comes from the gospel we are able to live lives from a place of joy, gratitude, and thankfulness.”

For today’s full article, go here.

You can read other published pieces here.

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Published: Youth Minister, ‘But Now’ You Are Made Right

Over at Rooted Ministry I have a 5-part series coming out this week, all focussed on the theme of identity for the youth pastor and centred on the phrase ‘but now’. The first of these five have been published today.

“Our identity, as well as our worship and obedience, is found at the cross. Nothing else matters, nothing else suffices. Yet in the chaos of our jobs and calling, how often do we forget this? Like clouds above, slow and silent, we find ourselves drifting from this truth among the busyness, the self-importance, and the variety of youth ministry. We lose ourselves in the thrust and hustle. We seek to serve God and those in our congregations, yet we find ourselves wondering who we are amongst it all.

‘But now’ reveals our true identity to us in a way that feels like we’ve just walked into a glass door. Once we were a people who performed in order to be worthy, now we are a people who achieve through the free grace we receive. These two words set us back on the path to rest and rightness.”

The full post can be found here.

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Blogging In Youth Ministry

The other week I came across a youth ministry site highlighting their top five youth ministry blogs. As I read through the list I noticed 80% of those mentioned were actually youth ministry sites who provide a blog with a range of contributors. This is slightly different to a personal blog, whereby the individual youth pastor might write their own content on their own site. Unfortunately, I can’t link you to the list because it seems the post was taken down.

Nevertheless, with four of the five blogs coming from large youth ministry sites I was reminded of this article by Tim Challies earlier in the year. While writing about the current state of Christian blogging he highlighted the demise of personal blogs in favour of edited articles through large ministry organisation websites. It seems the same goes for youth ministry as it does for the wider church.

Blogging In Youth Ministry

Over the past few years I’ve noticed more and more personal youth ministry blogs drop in content. Instead, authors become part of a larger ministry platform and provide content for them at the expense of their own blog. Evidently, the youth ministry blogging sector isn’t as large as the general church. However, it is telling that there are few who continue to regularly produce blog posts in youth ministry through their own blog.

I’ll also be the first to admit that I enjoy writing for the larger ministry sites too. I have had some writing goals in recent years which have included being published on these ministry sites (You can even read what I’ve had published on those sites here). At the same time, I’ve been conscious to continue to write regularly for my own audience; seeking to work at the craft of writing and reflect on ministry to youth and young adults. There is something about putting my own thoughts down in my own space. As I curate my own content I improve my writing and communication, and gain clarity on my own thoughts and thinking.

There are some great organisations creating some terrific content in written, verbal, and visual form for those of us in youth ministry. The production of high quality curriculum, podcasts, articles, and other resources is worth using and adapting. These are worth contributing to as well. However, there is currently a significant lack of youth pastors and youth ministry practitioners giving their own thoughts and reflections in their own space. As I look through my youth ministry blog feed I see 25 different blogs on the list, five of them are personal blogs actively writing about youth ministry. That’s not many; and it has decreased in the last few years.

As I’ve thought more about this recently it is worth naming some other observations I believe have made an impact in this area. At the end of the day I’d love to see more youth pastors and practitioners writing about their reflections on youth ministry. This would help all of us as we seek to be better in our roles, and encourage us to keep going. But for what it’s worth, here are a few more thoughts about why there may be a distinct lack of bloggers in the youth ministry space.

First, it is a niche area of ministry.

Youth and young adult ministry is niche. There aren’t too many who stay in a role long-term in this area of ministry. If they do they may not feel like they need to share their expertise through a blog.

Second, youth ministry brings with it young pastors with little experience to share.

I don’t think this is a reason not to blog. But, I realise that many youth pastors are young themselves and young in terms of experience. This raises the question of what they should share in a blog. However, I often feel the same, even with nearly 20 years experience. There are observations and reflections I find helpful from people of all ages and experiences. Some may be things I’ve heard before, but they are given a new perspective or voice. There are other things I may simply need reminding of. Whatever the case, if you’ve got a writing bone in your body and in youth ministry then come and join the small band of bloggers doing the same.

Third, there is a higher rate of consumption through visual media than through written media.

As the years have gone by so has the increase in the use of YouTube and Insta as some of the main ways content is delivered. The written word, and spending time to think and clarify thought through the written word, has been overtaken by other means of distribution. In the age group of our ministry, and even in the age group of fresh youth pastors, videos and podcasts are more and more important. I do wonder whether this has had an impact on youth ministry bloggers.

Fourth, in the age of platform people seek platform.

There is the very real temptation to always search out a larger audience. We are in the age of likes, comments, and shares. Those who seek to produce content hope their work will be distributed far and wide. But it seems the search for platform has become normal. So, if we want our message to be read by the most amount of people possible then it makes sense to write for large ministry sites rather than a personal blog viewed a few times per week. It would be of no surprise if the decrease in personal blogging, in youth ministry or throughout the church, is because there is a sinful search for platform.

I want to encourage those involved in youth ministry to start writing. It may not be a particular desire you have right now but I’d ask to you pick up a pen (or keyboard) and write your reflections about youth ministry as you work in it.

I started my blogging adventure four years into paid ministry. That was 2009. It’s coming up 10 years since I posted my first blog. Since then I’ve written some terrible stuff. But in recent time I’ve been encouraged to continue to write, and hopefully become more thoughtful, articulate, and clear on my reflections in youth ministry.

You can do that too. 

Writing, not only the published pieces on a blog but also those words in a journal and notebook, have all contributed to thoughtful engagement in youth ministry. Some believe youth ministry is a pretty thoughtless exercise – dodgeball and abstinence training as some have said – but they don’t know what they’re talking about. As you continue to do the work, pray, stay, and love others I’m sure you will find plenty to reflect on, much of it worth sharing with the rest of us. I’d encourage you to do just that.

Is It Wrong To Share Your Faith?

I was recently listening to the “Youth Culture Matters” podcast where the hosts were interviewing David Kinnaman, the President of the Barna Group. Barna is a research organisation and has written extensively about the intersection of faith and the generations, particularly Millennials/Gen Y (born ~1980-2000).

In this latest interview, and off the back of Barna’s most recent research, the conversation centred around the view of Millennials and evangelism.

To the question, “Is it wrong to share one’s personal beliefs with someone of a different faith in hopes that they will one day share the same faith?” 

  • 47% of Millennials (born ~1980-2000) agree.
  • 27% of Gen Xers (born ~1965-1980) agree.
  • 19% of Boomers (born ~1945-1965) agree.
  • 20% of Elders (born ~1925-1945) agree.

Australian Baptist Generational Ministry Research (1)

While this isn’t particularly earth-shattering it is interesting to have this information in data form. We can see that nearly half of Millennial believers are not comfortable with thinking about sharing their faith in order to have someone from another belief system converted. Interestingly, at least 1 out of 5 believers of the other generations also have the same view.

Anecdotally, I think I would affirm what this data seems to be saying. I know plenty of people my age and younger who are not particularly willing to share their faith for evangelistic purposes. And there are no doubt a few reasons for this.

First, the purposes of sharing faith these days seems to be more about expressing our beliefs and portraying our values to others, it doesn’t seem to be for the conversion of others. Holding to our own values and holding to our own beliefs is now something taught at a young age. Culture seems to say we can pick and choose from a variety of belief systems and therefore whatever we have in front of us is our own truth. This has certainly seeped into the church and so faith becomes more about what we value of faith rather than keeping to a particularly orthodoxy.

Second, whenever there is talk of evangelism I know a lot of people cringe. They begin to think of Billy Graham rallies, which were great for a certain group of people but not the way we think of healthy evangelism in this era. There is also the thought of missionaries overseas who through Christianity has influenced plenty of cultures, some in poor ways. The cultural adaptation of the gospel hasn’t been applied and soon enough it has become a Western faith, rather than a global faith for all. The thought of evangelism and telling people there is one way and that way is through Jesus is looked on poorly.

Third, the training of people in evangelism hasn’t been high on the agenda. While the church and mission organisations may well have been speaking about the need for evangelism the training of the people is lacking. I’m not talking about sneaky techniques to try to persuade people and twist their arm into becoming Christians. I’m talking more about how we can foster faith conversations, and encourage people to invite friends into faith conversations and groups. It is one thing to hold a particular evangelistic talk, program, or group, it is another to have people who are confident enough to strike up conversations about religion and faith.

They were some initial thoughts off the back of listening to the conversation. You can listen to the podcast here, and read the more detailed article explaining the data here.

There seems to be plenty of work for those of us in the church and in mission organisations as we seek to see the gospel go forth through the generations.

Published: 5 Benefits of Considering Youth Ministry as Intergenerational Ministry

Youth ministry is at its best when it seen as part of the whole church. Rather than seeing youth ministry as its own thing–simply useful for a certain generation–it is important to see it as significant and influential on everyone in the local church. This is why I agree with much of what has been written in recent years about the importance of intergenerational ministry.

I wrote a little something about this recently, and it was published on The Gospel Coalition Australia site.

“I’m sure we’ve all got our own stories about people of different ages impacting our lives and faith. It should be a natural part of discipleship. As the gospel is accepted, so it is to be passed on: from generation to generation. God is to be made known through our families—both biological and ecclesial.”

You can read the whole piece here.

You can read other pieces published elsewhere here.