What’s Changed In Youth Ministry In 4 Years?

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

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

1. Communication

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

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

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

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

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

2. Experience

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

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

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

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

3. Methodology

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

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

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

4. Conferences

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

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

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

5. Training

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

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

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

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

The Ageing Youth Pastor

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

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

This isn’t a bad thing. Not at all.

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

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

1. Passion

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

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

2. Perspective

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

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

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

3. Productivity

Finally, I’ve become more productive.

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

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

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

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

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

I’m Back…And It Feels Good

This week I started in a new pastoral role in a new church.

It feels good to be here.

For the last four years I’ve been in a para-church pastoral role and I have to admit I feel ‘church rusty’ right now. The ministerial WD-40 needs to be close by over the next few weeks as I get used to being a church pastor again.

landscape-nature-hills-church.jpeg

Beginning this role has been a long time coming. Never mind the 44-day holiday I had between finishing my last role and starting this one, but the first conversation I had about this position was about eight months ago. It’s been a process, a good process. I’m excited to be here.

In starting a new job, in a church or otherwise, there is always a mixture of excitement, challenge, and a sprinkle of weird. The learning curve is exponential as new processes and functions of the organisation need to be learnt. There is the attempt to get settled as quickly as possible and try and feel productive, but that’s actually not as easy as it sounds in a role all about people. And as I said to someone this week, “I’d love to be asking you questions right now, but I don’t know what I need to know so I don’t actually have any questions.” As time goes on this will become clearer, right now I’m just enjoying meeting new people and setting up my office.

So in the midst of all these things it is very exciting to be here – I’m actually back in a pastoral position! Sweet!

And there is a daunting part to it too – I’m actually back in a pastoral position! Argh! 🙂

If I was to say what is the most exciting part to it all though it would be the privilege of walking alongside people as they seek to be disciples of Christ. This isn’t an easy proposition but it is something I’ve missed for a while.

Being out of the church role for a while makes you realise how much of a privilege it is when you’re in it.

With this being the case I’m thankful for a great first week back and look forward to many great weeks ahead.

Remembering Missionaries This Christmas

cross and christmasEvery week I receive numerous newsletters and emails from cross-cultural workers (or missionaries depending on your preference) telling me what they’ve been up to and what they’d like prayer for in the coming months. As you can imagine this time of year brings with it a certain theme – Christmas.

Christmas isn’t an easy time for missionaries. The same can be said for many people back home too. But part of being a missionary means you’ve left your extended family to live and work in a place where you’re an outsider.

You don’t know the language as well as the locals, you are away from the comforts you’ve been bought up with, you’re more than likely unable to worship in the capacity you’re used to for this festive season, and the big Christmas meal probably won’t include a large succulent turkey. Christmas can be a tough little period where you begin wishing you were back home.

In among all the palaver that comes with celebrating a Western Christmas the main tinge of sadness comes from not being able to celebrate with others, particularly family. It is the relational aspect to Christmas that can be hardest, that can being with it this sense of disappointment.

In the two years we were in the Middle East we felt that strongly. We lived within a school that had a few other expat teachers to celebrate Christmas with. It was a great time together and we did of course have a lot of fun. But once the food has been eaten and the afternoon slumber has come over you there is that time of reflection and wishing you could just hang with people you know.

On the other hand there is a great opportunity for missionaries to share the good news of what God has done. Living in a different culture where Christmas isn’t thought of as anything more than a Christian holiday and a few days off work becomes a time where you can tell others about what it really means. That Christmas is actually the remembrance and celebration of God entering the world in human form, bringing hope and joy. And while this may be an assumed reason in the West, when living in a non-Western country the ability to talk about faith and religion is far greater. Striking up a conversation about why Christmas is important and what it means can come far more naturally in a foreign setting than in the Santa-obsessed, present-focused West.

This Christmas is again, like every year, a good reminder to think of those who are away from family.

I am making a conscious effort to pray for and drop a line to those who I know are serving in a missionary capacity. Perhaps you could too?

A few things you could pray for could be:

  • Joy among the sadness of being away from family.
  • Opportunities to share the real meaning of Christmas with those they live and work with.
  • Time for reflection and recuperation from the year that has been.
  • A deeper sense of the love of God and the love of those back home.

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? 

Better Together For Mission

The title of this post is the title I have for the sermon I’m preaching this coming Sunday.

It’s causing me issues.

I’ve spent most of this morning writing and deleting words from my screen. I haven’t been able to put into words the things I need to say and so currently have very little to say.

Part of this post is to enable me to write something that may actually trigger what I want to say come Sunday.

Of course, I’m hoping to say what God wants me to say. As I do every time I preach. But that’s all well and good when the words flow, the passage makes sense, and the topic is an easy one.

So far these have alluded me.

When thinking about ‘Better Together For Mission’ there comes to mind the group or communal aspect of mission.

Mission is not a solitary exercise between one individual to another, although it could be. But even when it seems to be this way there is usually prayers from church members or mission supporters that are being lifted up and heard by God, therefore having an impact upon the situation.

In a local church context there are programs run by numerous people within the church, another example of community working together for mission.

Where programs aren’t a big emphasis then the daily mission task of the average Christian is being encouraged weekly through the Sunday gathering with a reminder of what it is to be a believer during the week.

The point is that mission is not individualistic, it is communal. And so the partnership between individuals, the church, and God is evident in each and every mission activity we do.

But this still doesn’t resolve my problem.

If mission is something that is part of the whole of life as a believer then mission is life. It isn’t some part of life, it is the driving force behind a purposeful life.

The reality is this kind of focus and priority isn’t seen as regularly within the church and the Christian life as we’d like. Unfortunately it’s more like a bit part, something that comes to our minds only when we’ve been reminded that God has a mission for us here in the world.

On one hand we could say that mission is a communal exercise, even if we find ourselves in the middle of nowhere, with a language we hardly understand, and a culture we find confusing. But it must be ingrained in us to think that mission is a natural part of living. A life focused on another mission – to earn heaps of money, to climb the corporate ladder, to write a Pulitzer prize – is one that doesn’t give God the priority. These things may come our way but they aren’t the driving force in life, they are second to the mission of follow Jesus. be more like him, and see others come to know him too.

As I write these words my mind is cynical about what I’m writing. Is this the reality of the Bible? Is it simply simplistic to write this and how does this play out in life?

I’m not sure right now and I’m not sure when I’ll be sure. Perhaps this speaks more of me than of what God’s mission is for the world.

But if there is a focus on anything but Jesus then something is wrong. That I know for sure.

Perhaps that’s the answer right there.

We won’t be involved in what God is doing around the world, whether right next door to where we live or 4000km away, unless we have Jesus as the focus, priority, and central aspect to our whole life.

If Jesus isn’t the centre of our life then his mission for us won’t be the centre of our thought.

If Jesus isn’t the centre of our church then his mission won’t be the centre of our local ministry,

If Jesus isn’t the centre then something else will be and we will lose out on being part of God’s mission.

Book Review: The Pastor’s Kid

the pastors kid bookMy father is a Pastor.

My grandfather was a Pastor.

My great grandfather was a Pastor too.

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

The reason?

I didn’t want to be a Pastor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Church Marketing in 1892

I’m slowly making my way through the reading of old church meeting minutes (as you do) and I’ve come across this entry in the Deacon’s Meeting on June 15, 1892:

“Resolved that Sunday services be advertised in (The) Age newspaper every Saturday.”

It seems that this is the first evidence of church public church marketing in this congregation. At a Deacon’s Meeting in on September 9 of the same year they extended this advertising to Mondays and Tuesdays too.

Fascinating.

More Millennial Posts

The last few days have seen an influx of Millennial articles hit my social media stream. The two I link to below are quite good and show an understanding of Millennial culture. Again, I do get sick of these articles a bit because they can be so generalised. Have a read and enjoy!

Millennials need a bigger God, not a hipper pastor by Drew Dyck is a good reminder to speak of a vision of God who is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-capable in this world. One who will continue to stay faithful to us, even when we reject Him and sin against Him.

Ten reasons churches aren’t reaching Millennials by Frank Matthew Powell is written for churches and pastors who are seeking to engage this generation. Unlike other posts which outline what’s wrong with the generation this outlines what’s wrong with the churches who aren’t respecting Millennials.