What is Youth Ministry?

11 01 2012

Yesterday I began teaching a Youth Ministry class for DCE and other students.  When beginning to teach on such a topic, my nature is to take a step back from the start and consider just what it is that we call “Youth Ministry.”

There have been various incarnations or models of ministry over the years.  Some youth ministry models have been all about Christian education, some would seem to be more about entertainment, still others emphasize mission and service.  None of this gets down to the core and explains what we believe youth ministry to be all about.

I want to briefly propose the following as at least my own working understanding of youth ministry.

Youth Ministry is about connections.  First youth ministry is foundationally about our connection to Christ.  Notice that this connection is truly bedrock for all believers.  Christ comes to all of us, youth included, in our brokenness and need and calls us to Him.  Christ calls youth out of the struggles and despair that they endure into a right relationship with the Triune God.  We cannot approach the Father without the Son, yet we are beckoned into a connected relationship nonetheless.

In order to nurture this connection to Christ, youth ministry is to be about Christian education.  Catechesis is not optional for quality youth ministry.  Youth must be taught the fundamentals of our faith.  I believe further that this teaching must be done in an atmosphere of openness and safety.  Youth must have a place in which they are able to ask critical questions.  They must be able to have a place where it is safe to question the sacred in order that the grow to understand, appreciate, and accept it.

Youth Ministry is also about connection to others.  As disciples in Christ, we have a need to connect to one another for support as well as to be challenged.  Much is said about discipleship today in the church, though I am not always certain that a clear definition of discipleship is consistently employed.  As I understand discipleship, we are talking about a process.  Through baptism we are made disciples or followers of Christ.  This declaration of our justification and right standing before God does not mean that we are now fully equipped as disciples, just that we are declared to be such.  Christ’s original disciples responded to His call to follow His and simply obediently followed.  They did not have any qualifications to be call disciple.  They were simply invited and followed.  Through baptism we are invited.  The process of discipleship moves us into action, following our Lord.

Discipleship as a process involves guidance from one person to another in order to help appropriate the content of Christ’s teachings from Scripture into ones faith life.  The teacher in this arrangement guides the youth to see connections between the content of our faith and our life as a follower of Christ.  Discipleship means walking with another person, helping them to gain a clear perspective on life and develop wisdom and character.  This is a critical feature of youth ministry as adolescents find themselves and a crossroads of maturity.

Finally youth ministry is to be about a connection to the larger world around us.  As disciples we ought to seek to proclaim Christ to the nations as well as serve those in need.  Youth ministry thus should engage in both mission and service.  In mission work the primary goal is communication of the Gospel and the making of new disciples.  Mission work can be both international and local.  Service likewise can be done both internationally and locally, but is distinct from mission work in that the stated purpose is the act of service and not spreading of the Gospel.  Naturally one would never withhold the Gospel, it is simply that the primary purpose would be different for service as opposed to missions.

Must more can be said, and this topic will likely be revisited and revised, but for now chew on these thoughts and see what you think of this attempt at a working definition of youth ministry.


An Example of Character

26 08 2011

Back to School

24 08 2011

Just yesterday Concordia University, Irvine opened its 36th academic year and I truly began my teaching career.   When people have asked me in the past day how the first day went, I seem to consistently respond with a mixed review of myself.  I know that I have enough of my mother’s perfectionist streak in my that the standards I apply to myself run the risk of being out of line with reality.  I might apply expectations to myself that are not reasonable to apply to a new professor.  But is that all that is taking place.  Sure I have a certain awareness that I might not be expressing all that I would like to as well as I might like to, but on the positive side, I believe that what this points to is a true desire to learn the craft of teaching.

I have spent many years teaching youth groups, confirmation classes, bible studies, and children’s ministry events like VBS and Kids Church, but I am new to presenting this learning to future colleagues.  If I am able to recognize this and remain humble as I learn how to teach, I may well be formed into a quality professor.

This is a lesson that I believe applies to all of us across our lives.  No matter what our profession or job, no matter our stage in life, no matter the relationships we have, God calls us to humbly remain teachable.  This has been what I have looked for (and will continue to look for) in leaders for the church.  Being teachable does not negate what you know, it merely recognizes the limit to our understanding.  As my wife has been teaching me for sometime, I am not good at everything, and that is truly ok.

So as school begins, whether you are a student, teacher, parent, or just know some, our challenge is to be a teachable learner in Christ’s Kingdom.   Let’s sit at the foot of the cross and draw in deeply of the rich wisdom handed down in the pages of Scripture along with the collected wisdom of those wise folks God has placed in our live.  This is certainly my hope for myself this fall.

Church Without Borders

12 07 2011

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3-28

I was reminded of this passage while at the National Children’s Ministry Conference this past weekend.  I had the pleasure of coordinating a collection of local youth groups who served the attendees by working snack booths, selling water, sodas, and snacks.

What I noticed was that while the groups were selling drinks and snacks they were also connecting with one another.  Now I have seen this for years, at DYG’s, NYG’s, Mission Trips, and other events.  What was interesting for me this time was that I, more that usual, got to sit back and just watch as youth and adults alike meet one another, learned more about what each other are doing and grew in a desire to be the church without borders.

Later in the day on Saturday, I had a request from a colleague from the CNH district.  He wanted to know he could encourage youth groups from his district to take part in our district’s high school youth gathering.  Of course, I was delighted to let him know that they could.  That this was not happening before was more of an issue for me than extending the welcome to them now.  Again we were the church without borders.

So often in the church we think within preset limits or borders.  Whether that be our on congregations or districts, we fail to connect with the oneness in Christ, that Paul mentions in Galatians.  When we are one in Christ we ought not import borders that inhibit our shared ministry opportunities.  Local churches should regularly pool resources to offer ministry opportunities that might not otherwise be possible.  Rather than thinking about our own church growth we need to think in terms of kingdom growth.  With that expanded vision, borders begin to seem paper thin, and rightly so.

So join together in ministry with others with whom you are one in Christ Jesus and be the church without borders!

Prayers for Children’s Ministry Conference

7 07 2011

If you would please take the time over the next few days and be in prayer for the church leaders, presenters, and staff of the National Children’s Ministry Conference.  Please pray that all who travel do so in safety and that all participants are able to learn from their time at St. John’s, Orange how better to teach the faith to children and their families and that through their work that many families are connected to the love of Christ through saving faith in Him.

Stuck At No: How Better Conflict Skills Can Improve Your Ministry

5 07 2011

Here is an interesting article on dealing with conflict in youth ministry: http://fulleryouthinstitute.org/2011/07/stuck-at-no/

What Matters Most

30 06 2011

I have been recently pondering how sometimes our inability to say no to things and to people can impact our ability to say yes to other things and people. When you minister in the church there is never a shortage of things to do or people to serve. Yet all too often those of us with a giving heart and spirit offer a bit too much of ourselves and leave far too little to offer our loved ones.

If you like me struggle with how to say no in order to say yes, let me recommend a great little book on the subject, What Matters Most by Doug Fields. In just under a 100 quick pages you will hear from one of the busiest men in youth ministry on how he has battled with understanding when to say no.