Published: Fyre Festival and Our Perpetual Facade of Perfection

Having watched the documentary film about Fyre Festival a couple of weeks back on Netflix I spent some time working on a cultural reflection piece. I don’t often do that, in fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever done it. Anyway, it seems to have turned out OK, and has been published on the Rooted Ministry blog.

“This power and influence of social media upon our world is highlighted in the recent Netflix documentary film, Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened. It’s a fascinating story. A story of deception and criminal activity on one hand, but also one that reflects more about humanity than we’d like to think.”

You can read the piece here.

You can read other posts published elsewhere through my ‘writing’ page.

Australian Baptist Generational Ministry Research: A Recent Publication on Participation and Priorities

In the last month or so an important and interesting piece of research regarding generational ministry in Australian Baptist churches has been published. In the journal known as ‘Exchange’ Darren Cronshaw has written an article entitled ““Sticky Faith” in Australian Baptist Churches: Surveying Generational Participation and Ministry Priorities”.

It is not often that research is conducted in regard to Baptist children’s, youth, family, and young adult ministries and so I was intrigued to read this. I suppose I should mention that I do know Darren and have worked with him before. However, I hadn’t spoken to him in a while and so seeing this I was enthusiastic to see the results and what he had to say.

This article brings together the data from the National Church Life Survey (NCLS), which is a huge church census conducted every five years in Australia, and interviews with denominational and generational ministry heavies. As Cronshaw writes,

“This article is part of a denomination-wider theological action research project on building capacity for mission in Baptist church, a foundational part of which focuses here on how to better engage with a younger demographic…the article reflects on opportunities and challenges for fostering better practice, in generational ministries”.

And really, the guts of the article, after introducing the topic and outlining the methodology, is all about (1) what the situation is regarding Baptist churches and those in the younger demographic (read: Millennials and Generation Z), and (2) what practices churches can take to retain and grow their churches in those demographics.

Australian Baptist Generational Ministry Research

Considering I’m Baptist and I work with this demographic you can imagine why I’d be interested in such research. Below I will simply outline some of the findings I found interesting or worth commenting on. If you’re interested in knowing further then I’d encourage you to get a copy.

1. Growth in Baptist churches mainly comes from those switching denominations.

I do actually find this a little surprising. I know denominational affiliation has long-ago disappeared, particularly in the Gen Y and Gen Z age group, but for this to be the case in all age groups is interesting. These ‘switchers’, as the research defines them, are more common than newcomers (with no church background) and transfers (those that transfer from another Baptist church – which I expected to be the highest here).

This certainly highlights the challenge for churches and believers to think more specifically and intentionally in terms of evangelism. Growth by transfer and switch isn’t really Kingdom growth at all.

In reference to Gen Y and Gen Z, for us Baptist churches it looks like we would benefit in teaching and communicating Baptist distinctives and values to not only the switchers but also the newcomers.

The research also highlights that one in ten Baptist youth and young adults are newcomers without a church background. This means that nine out of ten of those who come along to church already have some form of church background.

2. Mission and discipleship in the age of unchurched newcomers.

Within the interviews conducted about this section of research there is mention of how generational ministries need to overcome the “internal-focussed inertia in order to meaningfully connect with youth without a church background.” I think this is very true and has become more prevalent over the last 20 years.

With the rise of youth groups in using their main gatherings as worship services the impact can be inaccessibility to those with no church background. I know there will be plenty of stories where unchurched young people have been to these worship-style youth groups and stuck around, but I’m still not convinced this is the way to go for youth ministries to reach those with no church background.

One aspect to overcome this, which is used as an example in this paper, is the rise of programs devoid of any Christian faith content. While I appreciate the need to build bridges and make connections it seems programs like this are a case of bait and switch. Slowly and surely the aim is to gain trust and relationship so that leaders can share Jesus with those who come along. I have found this makes it harder to do so because the group is focussed more on the program, and talk of faith or spirituality becomes extremely awkward and forced. If we are more honest about what we’re trying to achieve from the beginning, and understand that the foundation of our programs are build of Christ and his words, then soon enough conversations and topics about what the Bible says can be more open.

More conversation about how Baptist churches might structure their youth ministries to reach unchurched youth seems to be one takeaway from this research.

3. Retention of children of attendees in Baptist churches.

It would be of no surprise that there are children of church going parents who no longer attend church. This is simply confirmed in the research. As Cronshaw writes,

“In 2016 44% of the children of current Baptist church attenders no longer attended any church”.

That is a phenomenal fact. And what it means is that for every family of four, two parents and two kids, it is most likely that one of those kids won’t be attending church in the near or distant future.

When it comes to those children who are still in the home and under the roof of their parents “results show that younger children and early teens are largely included in the faith practices of their parents”. However, it is still the case that 30% of children aged 15 and over, who live at home, no longer attend any church. And in fact, this isn’t even a new issue. It is similar to figures in 2011 and 2006.

So, what does this mean. As one of the interviewees said,

“It maybe hard to get them (the children) there, it may take a wrestle, it may feel like a battle – but I say, die trying! Do what you can to give your young person every chance of thriving.”

The most important and most influential people in the lives of children are their parents, and this is the same when it comes to faith and church engagement. At the end of the day much of the onus is on parents, but this doesn’t start when they are teenagers, this has to start when they begin primary school.

This doesn’t negate the responsibility the church also needs to take upon itself. The increase in partnering with parents as a ministry strategy now becomes even more important. Operating out of a structure of seeking to engage the whole family rather than the individual kids has to become a priority. The resourcing of parents in order to be able to have faith conversations with their kids is also something that needs to be given intentionality and thought.

This is the kind of research that can make us feel guilty and fill us with despair, particularly as parents. But, we also know that it is God who gives the growth, and as we seek to obedient in bringing up our kids in the ways of faith, within the family unit, we continue to pray for our kids and for God to work his sovereign hand upon their hearts.

Of course, more could be said about all of this, and there is more in the research here. What it does highlight is both parents and churches need to continue to work at engaging their kids in faith, praying over them, and leading them. One of the big issues having read this now is trying to cave out time so that the church can help resources and equip parents in their role as faith-builders and influencers in the home. The resourcing of parents is now vital and a new shift we generational ministries need to be intentional about.

4. Intergenerational ministry, not siloed-ministry.

I know I speak about this quite often at the moment. You can read a few of my thoughts here. But intergenerational ministry, seeing the ministry to children and young people as something the whole church needs to be engaged in, not just the children’s or youth ministries, is important to help foster faith formation.

One of the ways churches are seeking to do this is to place more resources in ‘generational ministries’. Rather than hire staff for children’s or youth or young adults there is a focus on making roles larger so that they encompass those from birth to 30 years of age.

These roles then become more oversight and leadership development – an equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry approach. It is viewing these whole 30 years in one, rather than individuals coming up with their own things in each of the age segments. However, it also means there can be a more clearly unified approach and culture formed throughout the age groups.

I’ve got to be honest, if we’re not thinking about ministry in these terms then I don’t quite know what we’re trying to achieve. There needs to be intentionality across the whole spectrum, not just within the individual youth ministry or the individual children’s ministry. The effort is otherwise pretty futile. If you’re a youth leader in any capacity I’d begin by seeking a coffee with people in the children’s ministry. It’s time to start working more closely. This is a cultural shift, and one that needs to happen ASAP.

Interestingly enough though, the research seems to suggest that,

“Baptist attenders are more likely to value age-related ministry compared to all attenders. Youth, young adults, and mid-life adults were more likely than older adults to value these ministries. Baptist attenders were more likely to be satisfied with what was offered for children than for youth or for their own age.”

When I read this it highlights how much work we’ve got to do to change the culture of churches from a silo-generational into an inter-generational culture.

5. Other comments.

A few others comments worth more reflection than I can be bothered right now:

  • There is an undercurrent of fear in much of this research. And I don’t mean specifically this paper but in all the research that speaks of keeping people in church. With cultural Christianity gone, if it was ever there, why would we be surprised that people are opting out of something they didn’t believe in the first place? This isn’t new. Surely.
  • Furthermore, when we begin to despair about all this we begin to question God’s sovereignty and faithfulness. We know God is building his church, and while there are concerns and things we need to improve on, worrying about many things that are out of our hands doesn’t seem to help.
  • The final aspect of this paper is in terms of investing in generational ministry. There are stories of what churches and denominations are doing about this. Each state Baptist union allocates staff and resources in these areas. I have seen over the last 20 years how this has grown and adapted in various ways. However, it has been going on for 20 years and I’m not sure whether that says something or not. I’m probably going to shoot myself in the foot if I say anything further so I’ll leave it there. Although, I have been involved at the denominational level regarding this for a period of time too so I include myself.

In conclusion it seems Baptist churches need to look at how they can share their distinctives with those of non-Baptist background, and begin looking at how an intergenerational approach to ministry can occur. One of the most important takeaways from this paper that I can see is that of resourcing parents.

There is much to pray for and much work to do.

This is far too long, I apologise.

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.

7 Ways To Use The Bible In Youth Ministry

I believe every Youth Pastor I know would tick the ‘Yes’ box when asked the question “Do you use the Bible in your youth ministry?”

Surely.

I can’t think of a Youth Pastor who would do otherwise. I can’t think of a Youth Pastor who would think of ticking ‘No’.

It would be expected, wouldn’t it?

After all, youth ministry is a ministry of the church, led by believers, who themselves recognise and prioritise the scriptures. Christians the world over, parents and young people alike, affirm the Bible as the ultimate rule for life and faith.

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Yet, when we begin to scratch the surface and ask questions about how we use the Bible in our youth ministries I wonder what answers we might get…?

When we say we use the Bible are we saying…

  • …we affirm scriptures as the ultimate guide for life and faith for our young people?
  • …we use a verse or two in the youth talk each week?
  • …we open and read from the bible in our small groups or bible studies each week?
  • …we try to give creative ideas about how students can engage with the Bible?
  • …we believe it is a worthwhile text that can be given some consideration in the way we think?
  • …we affirm it but never really use it?
  • …we want to use it more but are afraid of turning people away?

When I ask myself these questions I challenge myself. I’m challenged to think about how I uphold the Word of God and the God of the Bible in every aspect of youth ministry.
Previously I’ve written about what a Bible-shaped Youth Ministry might look like. In a similar way to this post, the question is asked about how the Bible is useful for our youth ministries. What might helpful from here, however, is thinking about how the Bible might intersect with the way we operate as a youth ministry.

With this in mind here are seven ways we can use the Bible in youth ministry.

1. Use the Bible as a ministry training and leadership tool.

The bible speaks clearly about how the scriptures speak into every part of life and church life. In terms of training our volunteers and leadership teams the Bible is useful for this too. It helps show that the vision we have for our ministry is not something we came up with but something that is biblically grounded (2 Timothy 3:15-17).

2. Use the Bible as the primary way for understanding pastoral ministry.

Scripture teaches ecclesiology, the forming and structure of the church. Youth ministry is part of the church. It has the same intentions as ministry to adults, ministry to children, ministry to seniors, ministry to men, ministry to women etc., just with a different targeted audience. Teaching about ministry and the shape of ministry from the pastoral epistles, for example, is a great way this can be done.

3. Use the Bible as though God is speaking to people.

We understand that the scriptures are God’s words to us. God speaks his truth through the scriptures and it is through these God-inspired books that we are able to know the truth and the heart behind the truth. In shaping a youth ministry around the scriptures is to affirm that God speaks through his Word and will continue to do so today.

4. Use the Bible as a practical tool of defining ministry, not just for giving answers to questions.

Questions arise and answers can be found in scripture. The Bible depicts ourselves, helps in our understanding of God and the world, provides comfort for the hurting, displays God’s character, and outlines God’s plans and purposes for his world. It makes much of the redemption and restoration of God’s creatures (us), the coming together of His Church, and how all things lead to the person and work of Jesus Christ.

5. Use the Bible in youth ministry is to pray through the Bible.

The Bible is great for prayer. Take a portion of Scripture and pray through it. Use the ideas and structure of the passage to inform the way you pray and what you pray.

6. Use the Bible to shape the equipping, teaching, mission and building of community.

Teach and equip others, explore mission and community, through the Bible itself. Whether it is teaching about topics that are current in our culture or whether it is about understanding how biblical community is to be formed, the Bible can help shape these things.

7. Use the Bible in each program and event and meeting.

It’s not hard to use a passage of scripture at a youth group every or in a conversation. This is about confidence in the Bible and its ability to speak to people through its use, whether narrative or epistle or gospel. This isn’t about shoving the Bible down someone’s throat either, but it’s about taking the kernel of truth that exists in any particular passage and letting it be planted into the hearts of those who hear. It is having confidence in the Word of God that understands its sufficiently, clarity, accuracy, and necessity for our ministry.

Published: Gospel of Mercy: Remembering Our Identity In Christ

A huge influence on the way we think of ourselves, particularly as youth ministry practitioners, is related to our identity. This is relevant to anyone who isn’t a youth pastor or involved in youth ministry work too, obviously. But recently I’ve reflected on this in relation to the youth pastor position, and had a piece published about it at Rooted Ministry a few days ago.

Part of what I write is that…

“Because of this new identity there are changes to get used to. Things which we used to hold as important and central to our identity become secondary. Our identity as a father or mother, as an accountant or barista, as a top student or college dropout, well, these become secondary to being part of the people of God. These identifying factors, while not redundant, become lesser as our identity in Christ becomes greater.

This even goes for our position in the youth ministry! Whether on a pastoral staff or a volunteer youth leader, our identity is first and foremost with Christ.”

You can read the whole thing here.

Published: Youth Ministry Is Not Just A Stepping Stone

Yeah, so I’m pretty excited and encouraged to have had a piece about why youth ministry isn’t just a stepping stone to becoming a lead pastor published on The Gospel Coalition. I have known for a little while it was going to happen, it has just been a matter of waiting patiently. It was published a few days ago and can now be found here.

“A common misunderstanding about youth pastors is that they’re training for the higher ranking position of lead pastor. While it’s true many pastors once worked with youth, the two roles are distinct. Senior pastors who’ve previously served as youth pastors can provide encouragement and understanding. They can also channel their experience into unrealistic expectations, perhaps beginning with the refrain, “Back when I was a youth pastor . . .””

As an aside I was encouraged even further to find my piece, Redeeming Love For Run-Down Parents, was also being promoted at TGC. Unbelievable.

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You can read other articles I’ve had published elsewhere here.

Published: Redeeming Love For Run-Down Parents

I have tried my hand at writing a post for parents. Thankfully it was published on the Rooted Ministry Parents blog this week.

In the post itself I focus on how the Book of Ruth helps remind us parents that we are not the saviours of our children. It is not us parents who redeem them, it is the Lord. We can rest in the knowledge that God is working in our lives, in our parenting, and in our children. We can rest in his faithfulness, his sovereignty, and his redemption.

“Thankfully, the story of Ruth reminds us that in among all the tasks, night terrors, and tiredness, it is God who faithfully rescues our minds and hearts. Behind the daily grind of parenting there sits a God who seeks our hearts and the hearts of our children. He has his providential hand upon us, calling us into his care and comfort, and rescuing us from our own ineptitudes, sinfulness, and character flaws.”

You can read the whole thing here.

If you would like to read other articles I’ve had published elsewhere you can find them here.

Reflections On The Rooted Ministry Leadership Summit

In May just gone I had the privilege of attending a leadership summit organised by the US-based youth ministry organisation Rooted Ministry. I’ve written for their blog over the past couple of years and enjoyed many of the articles they produce. Unbelievably, I was invited to attend this small summit in Birmingham, Alabama with other 40 like-minded youth ministry practitioners.

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This summit was three days of being fed in my faith, my love for God, my love for youth ministry, my love for writing, and for ministry in general. I made some great connections and friends, and was edified by everyone I met. I saw and heard more about American Christianity and life, and I also experienced some amazing Southern hospitality and food. Incredible.

In the months since this summit I have often reflected back on what I learned and the different conversations I had. Below is an outline of some of those reflections under four distinct questions.

Where Was God?

This is always a hard question to answer, because of course, God is everywhere! But, it is always worth asking because it helps us observe and be intentional about where we believe God is impacting us. It’s the kind of question I constantly ask on short-term mission teams, and we as a youth ministry ask it at the end of each youth night. The question is worthwhile in this context too.

I believe I saw God at work in:

  • The conversations I had with the people and those I connected with. I stayed with some friends before I arrived at the summit. It was great to reconnect with them and hear about how God has been shaping them and their lives in recent years. The conversations I had with my hosts and at the social gatherings of the summit were often powerful. And also, God was at work in the small group conversations we had as our writing and speaking was critiqued by others.
  • The terrific teaching we had from pastor and preacher Robbie Holt. Robbie was from a church in South Carolina (I think!). He spoke from Genesis 27-33, the story of Isaac, Esau and Jacob. It was certainly encouraging; and in some ways was preaching I hadn’t heard in a while. The applications to church, youth, and family ministry was particularly beneficial.
  • Having a greater understanding of the vision and passion of Rooted Ministry. To hear more about the beginnings and then the hopes for the ministry, the impact it is having, was really encouraging and felt like ‘home’ in some sense. An organisation that upholds the grace of God, theological depth, and relational youth ministry.

How Was I Encouraged?

I was encouraged in ministry through:

  • Understanding more about the breadth of contexts there are in the US, but also seeing how similar some of them are to Melbourne and to me.
  • Hearing the stories, the challenges, and encouraging growth of God at work with people, youth pastors, and the ministry itself. Often it is hard to find the encouraging stories in amongst the trees, but they are always there.
  • Realising that many of the issues to church-based youth ministry and youth pastors are issues everyone has to deal with in their own contexts. Issues like human sexuality and gender, social media, biblical illiteracy, evangelism and mission, loneliness and isolation, and mental health.

What Was The Impact Of This Summit?

I think this summit will impact my future ministry in the following ways:

  • I am encouraged to be even more conscious of shaping the ministry through the Bible.
  • Thinking deeply and theologically regarding ministry shape and philosophy, including pastoral responses and issues.
  • I’ll continue to mentor younger youth pastors and emphasise the use and effectiveness of the Bible in their youth ministries.
  • This summit has put a greater urgency in the mission and evangelism aspects to youth ministry. The summit highlighted for me the importance and urgent need to think and speak in evangelistic ways in youth ministry.
  • I was also reminded of the need to gain clarity on strategy for our youth ministry and family ministries. This includes communication of that strategy, particularly to new students and families. In a world where most parents believe youth group is going to be either, (1) a saviour for their child or (2) a place where they find wholesome values that are similar to their own experience, it’s important to outline why we do what we do.

Why Was It Worthwhile?

It was worth going to this leadership summit because:

  • It helped build relationships and hear encouraging stories of other people involved in youth ministry.
  • It provided exposure to different contexts. There were youth pastors from all over the States and provided a microcosm of experiences and issues people were dealing with in their own cities and towns. The US is the largest youth ministry market in the world and as ideas on youth ministry filters down through resources coming out of the States; no doubt Australian youth ministries will be impacted by them in the future. Having a first hand experience with a number of people from different parts of the US has helped me in understanding this more.
  • It strengthened my alignment to Rooted Ministry as a youth ministry organisation. I was grateful for the grassroots type approach to the ministry that they are seeking to undertake and encourage.
  • It has made me reflect on the state of youth ministry here in Melbourne and Australia. There are very few, if any, youth ministry organisations that are solely church-based, with the similar approach to that of Rooted Ministry.

All in all this was a terrific time and a worthwhile week. It was a privilege to be invited and have the opportunity to go. I look forward to writing for them more and perhaps reflecting further in coming months. I’m very thankful for the opportunity given to me because of the generosity of Rooted Ministry, my church, and individuals too.

Published: The Public Progress of a (Youth) Pastor

While listening to a podcast of one of Alistair Begg’s conference messages I was struck by his exposition of 1 Timothy 4:12-16. In it he refers to the public nature of the ministry, and the progress seen of that ministry by the congregation. This sparked an idea about what that might look like for those of us in youth ministry. In reality it took far longer to write than I’d hoped but I think it has come out with what I wanted to say!

It was recently published at Rooted Ministry, and you can read the whole thing here.

“Through our own maturity as a believer – our persistence in relying on Jesus – and the sharpening of our ministry skills and abilities, we will find ourselves making progress. As we use these God-given gifts, skills, abilities, and aptitudes we will grow in these things, develop these things, and our progress will bear fruit in those to whom we minister to (no matter the size of the group).”

The Benefits of Short-Term Teams

Questions are raised about short-term teams all the time. As I defined in my previous post, short-term teams are:

“A group of up to a dozen Christians, spending up to three weeks, specifically exploring the idea of mission in a context that is culturally and linguistically different to their home culture.”

And even a definition like this will raise questions.

Many of these questions consistently revolve around finances, impact, development, need, politics, and church relevance. Questions like:

  • Are they worth the cost? Couldn’t the money be used elsewhere?
  • Do Westerners arriving on the shores of a developing country for a couple of weeks actually help anyone? Are these teams a modern form of colonialisation?
  • Is anything really achieved for the participants and the people in the host country by a 2-3 week stay?
  • What is the image given to people who see wealthy Western Christians coming and going from their country while they are never helped themselves?

These are good and valid questions.

I know a number of people who have seen damage done spiritually, personally, financially, culturally, and socially because of these teams. And so rightfully, questions do need to be asked of this $2 billion industry. Depending on where you come from will mean different questions.

The Benefits of The Short-Term Mission Team

In recent years there have been helpful books written, like “When Helping Hurts“, that have promoted better practices for short-term mission teams. These practices have elevated the need to think through short-term teams, not only from a participant point-of-view but for those in the country where the team is going. They have also provided helpful frameworks, and questions to ask of teams, in the areas of finance, community development, spiritualisation, evangelism, discipleship, and more.

This goes a long way in helping those of us who lead teams and involved in short-term missions to think through the issues. Sometimes there is the need for change because of this thinking and questioning. And sometimes, we may only need to shift our goals a little and see the benefits of these teams can occur from a better and more solid foundation.

Benefits Of Short-Term Teams

And while there are plenty of criticisms and plenty of questions to be asked, I believe there are also plenty of benefits. Many of these I have seen myself, for me personally and for others who have been on teams before. And I’m sure there are also plenty of others that come from short-term teams too. But in the mean time, here are 15 benefits of short-term teams.

  1. They increase mission awareness within your church.
  2. They give the church a tangible opportunity to be involved in global mission.
  3. They broaden the worldview of those who participate, and those in the congregation.
  4. They increase the participation of of church members in local mission.
  5. They help grow followers of Jesus.
  6. They open participants eyes to the needs and realities of other people in other cultures.
  7. They develop a sense of connection between church members, participants, and the missionaries visited.
  8. They encourage the ministry of the the missionaries who are visited.
  9. The provide opportunity for participants to receive training in cross-culture ministry and settings.
  10. They help people understand the nature of support-raising.
  11. They enable participants to see what the reality of missions is like on the ground.
  12. They give another person in the world the opportunity to interact with someone from another culture.
  13. They increase the passion for helping people and being a good neighbour.
  14. They provide action-reflection experiences for participants in emotional, physical, and spiritual ways.
  15. They change lives and career paths.

Each of these points could be expanded. There are no doubt others to add too. But, as I’ve said here, and previously, these benefits give good impetus for short-term teams and their value to the church.