Youth Minister ‘But Now’ Series

Each day last week I had a blog post series published at Rooted Ministry. Each post focussed on particular slabs of Scripture that used the phrase ‘but now’. The entire series was narrowing in on the theme of identity in the life and times of a youth ministry practitioner (and others). The round up of each of these posts is outlined below.

Published: 5 Advantages of Gospel Centred Youth Ministry

It’s very pleasing to have had another post about youth ministry published on The Gospel Coalition.

This time I’m written about what I see as the advantages to a gospel-centred approach in youth ministry. It seems odd this even needs to be said. And using the phrase ‘gospel-centred’ when everyone else uses it beings to lose its meaning. Nevertheless, it was a good reminder to write these five points, and I would like to believe it all holds true.

Hope you enjoy it.

You can find it here.

“I can’t help but reflect on the hundreds of teenagers I’ve been privileged to teach and shepherd through the years. Some have stuck with faith and the church. Others dropped off, never to be seen of again.

Without the gospel and an understanding of God’s guiding sovereign hand in this work, I wouldn’t have survived this long. Thankfully, the growing is God’s and the sustaining is God’s—and yet we have the privilege of being a small part of this work through a gospel-centered youth ministry.”

Screen Shot 2019-07-08 at 12.33.02 pm

You can view the whole thing here.

You can read other published articles here.

Published: You’re Not Wasting Your Degree In Youth Ministry

A little while back Tim Gough of YouthWorkHacks.com wrote a couple of posts encouraging greater training for those in youth ministry. The first, ‘Why Train For Ministry?‘, gives a number of bullet point-like sentences on how training can help in the formation and learning of a youth pastor. The second, ‘How To Pick A Youth Ministry Training Course?‘, gives a brief framework on what to think about when considering a course for further youth ministry study.

I enjoyed reading both pieces, which made me reflect on how my Master of Divinity studies have helped me in the youth and young adult ministry I’ve found myself. I was inspired so much that I ended up writing a guest post which Tim posted recently.

You can read it here.

“I have found, possibly because of my education, that I am not viewed solely as the Youth Pastor but as one of the pastoral team. This could be unique to my church of course, but I suspect that because of the wider training I have, I can be a voice and make respected theological contributions to conversations the church is having. There is a sureness in my thinking and preaching because I am able to wrestle and converse with various aspects of Scripture. I’m not just seen as the guy who can run a good game of dodgeball and deliver a sex talk when needed.”

You can access other guest posts I’ve had published here.

Screen Shot 2019-06-28 at 8.47.25 pm

Published: The Stories Behind The Stories

The surface level small talk and the triviality of much of life, thanks to social media and the busyness of life, makes it hard to take time and listen to others. Recently I’ve been pondering this, particularly after observing the way people around me use social media and their devices. My ponderings made it into an article, which was then published on TGCA.

“Often it takes something significant to disrupt our regular practices and habits. The other week I had two funerals to attend. If there is ever something that will disrupt us, get us looking up and out from ourselves, then memorial services for the dead are the way to do it. For there in front of us is the reality of life and death. There before us is the end. And reflecting on the end can jolt us back into what really is reality.

Our social media stories give us a picture of a life in front of us. And however momentary this picture is, it depicts a false reality. For behind that picture is a person, and in that person is a heart, and in that heart is the desire of things greater than can be captured by a phone.”

You can read the whole thing here.

Screen Shot 2019-05-23 at 10.05.18 am

You can read more of my recent publications here.

Published: Fighting for the Joy of Our Students

For many of us there is the daily fight for joy, to find something to be joyful about in our day-to-day and week-by-week existence. As youth ministry leaders we also have the opportunity to fight for joy for those in our church and youth group. In fact, given the pressures on teenagers, and the ever-increasing stress and anxiety rising within the generations, we can play a part in fighting for their joy too.

With this in mind, I have written a piece that’s been published on Rooted Ministry. You can read the whole thing here.

“How often and how easy it is to lose heart. A dysfunction in the family. A relationship breakdown. A disagreement with friends. An unexpected medical result. Whatever it might be for us and our students, we are called to fix our eyes upon Jesus. Through stories of believers of long ago, we are given examples of faithful people persevering to the end. But in Jesus we find something greater, an everlasting joy that is gifted to us through the work of the cross. As we seek to take hold of this joy for ourselves we also call others to do the same. For our students, the teenagers in our churches and in our homes, we call them to come and take hold of this joy.”

Other pieces published elsewhere can be found here.

Screen Shot fight for joy for students

Published: Gay Girl, Good God by Jackie Hill Perry

I recently read the book Gay Girl, Good God by Jackie Hill Perry.

It’s a book I’d highly recommend. And it is a book I found time to write a reflection on to better process some of the content.

As it happens, I’ve had that reflection published as a book review at The Gospel Coalition Australia site. You can read it here.

“I couldn’t be more different from Jackie Hill Perry.

I’m a man, she’s a woman.

I’m white, she’s black.

I’m from the wealthier side of Melbourne, Australia. Jackie is from a rougher area in Chicago, USA.

I’m hetero, she’s a former lesbian.

There’s a few differences, yet at the same time we now find ourselves brother and sister in Christ. No matter the differences of the past, or the differences now, our stories intersect as part of God’s grander story in Christ. And what a privilege that is having now read Jackie’s memoir, Gay Girl, Good God.”

I found it to be a great memoir, exploring the intersection of God’s story upon Jackie’s story as she wrestles with her sexuality and upbringing. It’s well worth reading if you have the time.

The full review can be found here.

Other books I’ve read recently, and written short summaries on, can be found here.

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.

William Jay On Writing Memoir And Keeping A Diary

For over a decade I’ve wanted to read the autobiography of William Jay, ever since I heard the sketch of his life delivered by Iain Murray. It’s been years in the making, which includes his memoir sitting on my bookshelf for about five of those years. By the looks of it, through my pencil markings in the margins, it seems I’ve tried to read it before but only made it so far. Nevertheless, this past little while has meant I’ve devoured it and come to appreciate much of the content. With slight warning, I think it is highly likely I’ll be using William Jay as a topic for writing and speaking in coming weeks and months!

The memoir portion of this work is set out as 19 letters, written from Jay to his children. They cover much of the main elements of his life and ministry. Astoundingly, he served as the preacher and minister of Argyle Chapel in Bath for 63 years. He has much wisdom and godliness to share. And I should probably mention he lived from 1769-1853.

In his first letter Jay outlines some of the reasons for his writing such a memoir. There seems to have been a slight hesitation about it, even though he was a reasonably prolific writer on spiritual things. One of these reasons is the amount of books, memoir, and autobiography written in his day. Imagine what he’d think of these days when every person in public seems to have a biography written of them, or they feel compelled to put together something themselves.

Jay writes this,

“The present rage for biography is excessive and notorious, such is the voracity of its appetite, that it frequently waits not for the licence which death is supposed to give. It falls upon its prey, and devours it alive; and many a man may be himself the reader of his own character and history, furnished by some anonymous or even know writer.”

Evidently Jay looks down upon those who forcefully push through and write of themselves for all to read.

On the question of what to add into such a memoir Jay reflects on how biographers are a good witness of a person, but that self is the best witness for such a task. He comments on how the public wish to know the salacious details of a persons life rather than being satisfied with the content of the life.

“By a competent writer, the public life of an individual is easily supplied; but people are seldom satisfied without some insight into his more private retreats and recesses. They would know, not what he did, but why he did it. They would know, not only the direction in which he moved, but whether he was led into it by design or accident, and what retarded or aided his progress.”

And Jay also highlights the difference in where the information about a life may come from by making a distinction between memoir and keeping a diary. Jay says,

“A diary regards chiefly a man’s intercourse with God; and the variations of his religious views and feelings there recorded are designed to promote self-acquaintance, and not to divulge himself to others. Such a work is devotional rather than narrator, and will abound with much that is not proper for public observation.”

It is this final quote, with its definition of what a diary is, that I find interesting.

Keeping a diary or a journal is a great way to note down the events and feelings of a particular day, circumstance, or season. Moreover, it is a terrific way to reflect and commune with God. In a diary we can write what we are feeling about what God is doing, through his Word or through others, in a private manner. It is through a diary we can find ourselves learning more of how we are to think of who God is. And we can come to find ourselves writing in a devotional frame of mind, pondering and thinking on the things of God.

In a day and age where the temptation to think and share our thinking publicly through our social media streams this is refreshing. There are private thoughts meant only for private consumption. The ability to reflect for ourselves, and keep it private, is best for all parties–ourselves and others. While we may be tempted to share the all and sundry of our life perhaps it’s best to begin with a diary and actually work out what we think, believe, and hope.

Published: Hope In Distress

At the last minute I was tasked with preaching on Sunday. After contemplating what I should speak on, and not finding peace about any of my previous sermons, I landed on Psalm 142. This Psalm certainly spoke to me in the context of the last week–Christchurch and Cardinals, disaster and religious war. In the end I prepared as I could and preached the Psalm on the Sunday morning.

In the days after I turned the message into a piece published by The Gospel Coalition Australia. You can find the article here.

“The events of last week (or a look down our street, or an examination our own hearts) prove that we need rescuing. And through his Son, Jesus Christ, and the cross on which he died, we find that rescue.

Through  Jesus, and through the cross, we find our hope: hope in distress. And we can live in this hope knowing that God has already dealt with the evil of this world, and even our own pain and hurt and distress. He deals with us generously. He rescues and restores, comforts and consoles. Despite tragedy, we can hope and trust in God, our refuge and rescuer. May we say with the Psalmist, “Put your hope in God, for I will still praise him my Saviour and my God.” (Ps 42:11)”

Hope In Distress

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.