This is a video we showed this past Sunday in church highlighting our four student ministry summer mission trips from last June! I love doing these kinds of videos because we typically only have time to hear from a few students on a Sunday morning … which drives me nuts! There are sooooo many more stories; at least with this, using short audio snippets from the different student mission trip reports that happened outside of the worship services, 25 other students were able to be heard over the course of the video!
Archive for category: Ministry
A while back I wrote a blog post explaining why we don’t allow students to bring cell phones (or any other devices) on mission trips; you can read it here. I was actually surprised at the amount of conversation it triggered on Facebook and elsewhere. One of the reasons I feel that we are able to ban devices on our mission trips is that we communicate the heart behind it over and over … and we allow them on everything else.
The last thirteen years as a full time youth worker have been fascinating when it comes to technology. When I first started, teens almost never had cell phones. The only devices they had that were remotely portable were discman’s and Gameboys. We wouldn’t allow them on trips, retreats, etc., because we were concerned somewhat about what was being listened to, and far more importantly, the purpose of the trips were building connections and relationships and the devices really got in the way of that. It was an easy ban to enforce; discman’s seemed small at the time, but they couldn’t fit in a pocket, and even a cd wallet is still somewhat bulky. The same went for Gameboys; once you factored in the charger, cartridges, and other assorted gear, it wasn’t something that was easy to hide. So all in all, the rule had a good value (protecting the purpose of the trip) and was mostly easy to enforce.
Flash forward a decade or so … and these cell phones are more powerful than the computers we had back then. One small phone can access the internet, call, text, contain movies, tv shows, stream videos, house a massive library of music (and stream whatever is missing), as well as be a video game hub. It’s also teens’ primary camera (usually the only one), and socially, a must have device more important than just about any other possession.
More significantly, parents are used to being able to contact their kids wherever, whenever. I used to complain about this all the time; that didn’t use to be the reality, why are people so dependent on it now – but I get it now. Sending my older boys to peoples’ houses, events, activities, sports, etc., is unnerving at times and I feel better when I send a phone with them. If something is wrong, I want them to text or call immediately, not be looking for someone to borrow a phone from (payphones are virtually non-existent now a days). The reality is, when phones are banned from events, overnights, retreats – you name it – many of the parents tell their children to bring the phone anyway and keep it hidden.
Which is why we allow phones to everything (other than mission trips) now. Why have a rule that is incredibly difficult to enforce, that parents don’t buy into, and basically has the bulk of the group immediately violating it? It’s just not worth it. Talk about setting up for failure!
So we’ve changed the rule to say that kids are not allowed to use devices during any group functions; this includes the van/bus ride (we are together as a group!), any scheduled activities, meetings, after lights out, etc. The consequence being a warning, and then confiscating it (a system they’re very used to in school). Basically, they’re allowed to use them during the limited free time periods, and the rest of the time they need to be in their pockets, out of sight and silenced. The benefit? They can contact, or be contacted by their parents at any point, while we are still protecting our intent of group connections and relationship building.
This is the first paper I wrote as a seminary student this past fall; it was an intro to seminary class which was primarily focused on HOW to be a seminary student, as opposed to theological content. We had to write a 10-15 page paper to demonstrate that we had learned appropriate formatting and writing style for graduate level work. We were allowed to pick any topic we wanted to, so I decided to go with one that speaks to my youth pastor’s heart. Here it is:
Effectively Communicating The Gospel To Adolescents
by Matthew McNutt, September 29, 2013
Table of Contents
American Church History
Faith in America During the Twentieth Century
Impact of World War II
Growing Up Without A Faith Influence
Adolescent Brain Development
Changes In Assumptions
Adolescent Abstract Thought Processing
Current Adolescent Faith Research
Where We Are
Religiously Committed Teens Have In Common
One of the challenges facing churches in general, and youth ministries in particular, is the alarming drop off rate of young people from church after high school. Depending on the studies referenced, the rates vary greatly, but regardless a large number of young people seem to graduate from faith when they graduate from high school. Which begs the question, was faith truly a part of their lives to begin with? Are our churches and families communicated the gospel message effectively to adolescents? Is it possible to improve in how we plant the word in young people, resulting in deep roots of faith that can weather the dramatic changes of adolescence and the college years?
This paper will draw on a variety of sources in an effort to answer these questions. It will start with a look at American church history to see how the home structure has changed over the years and the resulting loss of faith instruction in the house. From there it will transition to current research on adolescent brain development. For decades it was assumed the brain finished developing in the early teen years; recent research has revealed that it doesn’t finish maturing until age 25. How does this impact reasoning, decision making, and faith processing? Are we taking into consideration the unique developmental stage adolescents are going through in our communication styles? Finally, it will look at current student ministry research on adolescents and faith before coming to a conclusion.
Our current models for sharing the gospel with adolescents does not adequately take into account the changes over the last century in American culture, the unique challenges of developing adolescent brains, or current research on faith not only in young people, but their parents. Learning and adjusting ministry models based on that information can increase the effective transmission of the gospel to adolescents.
American Church History
Faith in America During the Twentieth Century
At the beginning of the twentieth century, the Christian faith was a strong part of our American culture. Families were connected to churches. Fathers were the primary provider while mothers made faith instruction and conversation a priority in the home. Bible reading, discussions about God around the meal table, and going to church together were a significant part of passing on a tradition of faith. While the Bible calls husbands to be the head of the home and the leader in areas of faith, the reality in American homes was that mothers handled the bulk of the day to day transmission of faith to children.
War and economics had a dramatic impact on faith in America during the twentieth century. While World War I, known at the time as the War to End War, played a role in galvanizing faith, it was primarily a strengthening of our role as a Christian nation against the “godless hordes” of the enemy.
In the thirties, the economic crisis resulting from the 1929 stock market crash was unique in regards to faith in that unlike previous major financial upheavals, the church did not see an increase in membership. A subtle shift in dependence on God to self and government was beginning to manifest. In the past, this type of crisis brought people to the church in search of hope and help. However, with no real increase in congregation size the decreased giving that goes with a financial crisis, many churches were forced to cut programs, reduce mission programs, and in some cases, even lay off pastors or close completely.
Impact of World War II
World War II, on the other hand, actually saw a significant increase in church attendance, membership and giving. By 1960, in fact, church membership rose to a high of 70% of the American population. At first glance this would seem encouraging from a faith standpoint in spite of the circumstances driving the church growth, however, there was little spiritual depth or impact to faith in the increased membership. The reality was during that season of time in the United States, much of the national identity was found in a history of Christian roots when contrasted with the Nazi’s and the Communists. Patriotism was at a high due to the war, and good Americans had Christian ties. More specifically, good Americans had a church.
Being highly connected to church did not translate to deeper faith. The seeds were planted during this time frame for what would eventually become several generations of Americans completely removed from the church. During the second world war, out of necessity due to the sheer volume of men involved in the armed forces, women entered the work force in strength. A cultural shift had begun. Even after the war, women remained in the workforce, out of financial necessity, and then eventually, to further develop the American middle class. Phyllis Tickle wrote in regards to this,
Once the female is occupied outside the home for a full working day, she suffers the same physical and mental exhaustion as does the male. What that translates to is the complete reorientation of the evening hours in the family’s life. The solidifying bond of a shared meal is often sacrificed, certainly, but more to the point for the Christianity of the Great Emergence, so too are the traditional time of family based religious instruction and formation.
When World War II broke out, the average American youngster, whether Protestant or Roman Catholic, was possessed of a reasonable familiarity with Bible stores and a formative grasp of the religious and moral points contained in them … When the mother as principal storyteller and domestic rabbi ceased, bit by bit, to function in those roles, America’s younger generations became more and more untethered from the parables and prophecies, interpretations and principles that supported both the story itself and the consensual illusion that was based on it.
The result, theologically … is stark. Each one of them [Protestant and Catholic churches], in dealing with Americans under fifty, is dealing in large measure with scriptural innocents …
Growing Up Without A Faith Influence
What does all this mean? The impact of several national crisis over the last century has resulted in a significant number of individuals in the last several generations to grow up with little to no Christian exposure in their lives. Not only have they not attended Christian churches and organizations, they have not been exposed to faith at home. This has been further emphasized by a cultural identity that has moved farther away from its Christian roots.
This is significant in that many models of faith transmission, whether in the form of curriculum or outreach tools, are designed with levels of Biblical literacy assumed that just aren’t there for families that are not already regularly involved in a church. If the intent is to reach young people for Christ, it has to be taken into consideration that in all likelihood, they have had little or no exposure to Bible stories, structure, writing methods, or church traditions and cultural expectations.
Adolescent Brain Development
Changes in Assumptions
Up until recently, the assumption by professionals had been that the brain finished the bulk of its development in the first three years of life. After that point, there may be minor growth and change, but for the most part it was finished and any adolescent issues could be explained away as bad behavior and/or hormonal. The equipment able to scan brains at a detailed level was not used on healthy brains for fear of unknown possible risks, so consequently, the only detailed information on children’s and adolescent brains from actual scans were unhealthy brains – therefore, they were not considered to be impactful on assumptions for normal development. In recent years, that has all changed.
Having proven the safety of the equipment, as well as the development of new, more powerful brain scanning machines, all of the old assumptions have been tossed out the window. Medical science and health editor of The New York Times, Barbara Strauch writes:
Neuroscientists are finding that the teenage brain, far from being an innocent bystander to hormonal hijinks, is undergoing a dramatic transformation.
The teenage brain, it’s now becoming clear, is still very much a work in progress, a giant construction project. Millions of connections are being hooked up; millions more are swept away. Neurochemicals wash over the teenage brain, giving it a new paint job, a new look, a new chance at life. The teenage brain is raw, vulnerable. It’s a brain that’s still becoming what it will be.
What we now know is that not only is the brain not finished growing and developing at three years of age, it doesn’t fully mature until the mid twenties, with the segment to finish developing being the impulse control portion of the brain. In addition, puberty has been revealed to cause massive changes in the brain, with surges of growth and solidifying of lifelong neural pathways. Neural pathways used form permanent structures while those left unused die off and are reabsorbed into the body. Ultimately, what this means is that an individual’s lifelong patterns of problem solving, thought processes, and ways of interacting with information are developed and solidified during the adolescent period primarily through experiences and opportunities.
All this to say, the adolescent brain is in a completely unique stage of development and needs to be recognized as having age specific needs and quirks. It should also shape how we teach and challenge adolescents as we can help mold how they interact and process matters of faith for the rest of their lives based on the opportunities they have during their adolescent years.
Adolescent Abstract Thought Processing
A significant part of the adolescent development process is the transition from concrete thinking to abstract thought. During the 1920’s Jean Piaget proposed a theory involving different stages of development for children regarding how brains process and understand information. Almost a century later, after much testing, his theory still continues to be accepted. They are:
- Sensorimotor period (years 0-2)
- Preoperational period (years 2-7)
- Concrete operational period (years 7-11)
- Formal operational period (years 11 and up)
For this paper, recognizing the final two stages are significant. The concrete operational period is characterized by literal thought. The child looks at the world very two dimensionally – it’s in this stage of thought that a child will wonder how Jesus can fit in their heart. They are approaching a very abstract thought through a concrete, literal lens. With regards to faith, children accept the beliefs of their parents without question. It is a concrete issue in their minds; their mother and/or father said the Bible is true, therefore it is true.
With the onset of puberty and the surge of development in their brains, adolescents find themselves transitioning from that period to the formal operational period, primarily characterized by abstract thought. However, this transition does not happen overnight. It is a years long process of learning to think abstractly, to empathize instead of merely sympathize, to wrestle with thoughts of eternity and doubt. In the early years of puberty, an individual can be witnessed going back and forth between concrete and abstract thought.
For those sharing faith with adolescents this is an important issue because they are wrestling with ability to think abstractly for the first time in their lives. This change brings a lot of instability to a young person, especially as they find themselves for the first time questioning much of what they had always blindly accepted as truth. Sharing faith with them means allowing room for the discussion of doubts, for questioning, for affirming the struggles the young person is wrestling with. All of these developmental challenges the young person is facing must be taken into consideration as they present unique challenges in the transmission of faith.
Current Adolescent Faith Research
Where We Are
There are two research projects currently happening that are playing a significant role in the discussion of adolescent faith in the student ministry professional community. The first is the National Study of Youth and Religion, led by Dr. Christian Smith and Dr. Lisa Pearce. It began in 2001 and continues to track the faith development of adolescents and their families through in-depth interviews over the years as they continue to age.
The second research project helping to inform where we are currently as a faith community in regards to adolescents is the Sticky Faith research project, conducted by the Fuller Youth Institute and led by Dr. Kara E. Powell and Dr. Chap Clarke. It was initiated in 2005, with results published in 2011. While on a smaller scale than the National Study of Youth and Religion, the results were striking in their similarity and the combined efforts of the two research studies seem to reinforce each other’s results.
Kenda Creasy Dean summarized the results this way: “American young people are, theoretically, fine with religious faith – but it does not concern them very much, and it is not durable enough to survive long after they graduate from high school. One more thing: we’re responsible.” This research, and the resulting conversations about it, have stirred strong reactions throughout the Church and in major news outlets. Ultimately, there were five major findings in the National Study of Youth and Religion, which were further reinforced by the Sticky Faith research:
- Most American teenagers have a positive view of religion but otherwise don’t give it much thought.
- Most U.S. teenagers mirror their parents’ religious faith.
- Teenagers lack a theological language with which to express their faith or interpret their experience of the world.
- A minority of American teenagers – but a significant minority – say religious faith is important, and that it makes a difference in their lives. These teenagers are doing better in life on a number of scales, compared to their less religious peers.
- Many teenagers enact and espouse a religious outlook that is distinct from traditional teachers of most world religions – an outlook called Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.
Dean defined Moralistic Therapeutic Deism as “a tacit religious outlook that is quite distinct from Christianity, Judaism, Islam, or any of the world’s major religions, helps people be nice, feel good, and leaves God in the background.” In other words, while many in our country may label themselves Christian, the religion they practice does not reflect what scripture describes. More significantly, this is not just a reflection of young people in America – it is a reflection of how Americans practice faith in general. It would not seem to be too much of a leap in logic to suggest the disappearing of faith conversations in the home during the World War II years has played a part in leading to this poorly informed version of religion.
One of the significant things to consider when considering the best way to reach adolescents for Christ is the issue of primary influence. Who has the most impact on a young person’s faith development? While youth pastors, aunts, uncles, grandparents, friends and mentors do have influence, far and away the research indicates that the primary influence on a young person’s faith is their parents. More specifically, not what their parents say, but what their parents do – their actions and priorities instill values in their children. Dr. Smith once said, “When it comes to kids’ faith, parents get what they are.”
Further elaborating, Dr. Smith said, “Most teenagers and their parents may not realize it, but a lot of research in the sociology of religion suggests that the most important social influence in shaping young people’s religious lives is the religious life modeled and taught to them by their parents.”
Religiously Committed Teens Have In Common
The National Study of Youth and Religion did reveal some fascinating things the 8% of American youth who are classified as devoted had in common. These teens were found to have a solid faith, able to articulate it, and saw it last after high school into the college years. Through extensive interviews they were found to have the following six things in common. While numbers two and three are abstract, the other four are very much measurable and should inform those who want to see more young people devoted to Christ:
- Attends religious services weekly or more.
- Faith is very or extremely important in everyday life.
- Feels very or extremely close to God.
- Currently involved in a religious youth group.
- Prays a few times a week or more.
- Reads scripture once or twice a week or more.
While the issue of instilling long lasting faith in young people may seem daunting at first, in many ways, these common denominators in devoted teens is not an overwhelming list. Obviously, of the four more measurable points, they are symptoms of a deeper faith, but they are not so intimidating to begin modeling to young people.
The focus of student ministry needs to be broad. If the transmission of faith to adolescents is truly a priority, than the culture of the local church at large needs to reflect it.
A religiously devoted teen will attend weekly religious services as well as be involved in a youth group. If the adults in a church believe that is important, than regardless of whether or not they themselves have children, the church as a whole should be known for prioritizing weekly attendance at the intergenerational worship service and involvement in age specific groups such as adult Sunday School, small group, and/or a midweek meeting.
A religiously devoted teen will pray and read scripture regularly. Parents in particular need to be regularly seen modeling the priority of prayer and scripture reading – but the church culture needs to reflect that priority as well so as to pass on that value to parents.
In choosing resources and curriculums for adolescents, as well as the primary worship hour, the lack of Biblical literacy in our culture must be taken into consideration. Those teaching cannot assume their audience is familiar with even the most well known Biblical stories or words and phrases used in the Bible that may have different meanings today, e.g., being “stoned”.
As concrete thinkers, young children are at a perfect age developmentally to be learning the core stories of the Bible and memorizing critical scriptures. The adults in the congregation have also reached a point developmentally where they are able to process abstract ideas and concepts more readily. Not only that, adults are better able to recognize those with the authority or resources to best answer their questions or help them come to a conclusion. Adolescents, on the other hand, rely more on relationships already built to turn to for information, regardless of qualifications. In addition, they are wrestling with learning how to process abstract concepts, while at the same time going through tremendous amounts of physical and social change.
Because of that, intentionally building an environment where adolescents are welcomed, viewed as part of the church body who are valued in spite of age-based quirks. Instilling in that environment a practice of treating adolescents with grace and tremendous amounts of patience as they take the necessary time to wrestle through newly discovered doubts, the pursuit of individuality, and the exploding world of abstract thought and ideas. Helping them to walk through those abstract concepts without rushing them, devaluing them or humiliating them gives them the opportunity to pursue faith. Working to ensure that the weekly intergenerational worship service is relevant not only to adults, but adolescents as well, communicates to them that it is valuable. Prioritizing giving adolescents the opportunity to make meaningful and valued contributions to church life as a whole. All of these are pieces to recognizing the unique challenges present in the adolescent stage, and more importantly, create connections throughout the church so that when they graduate from high school they do not feel as though they have graduated from church – their connection is far deeper than just a student ministry.
There is no one, clear cut answer to instilling a lasting faith in adolescents. However, allowing historical implications, knowledge of brain developmental stages, and the deep impact of parents and adults in general mold and inform the efforts made to reach young people should create an environment where lasting faith is more likely to be cultivated.
Askew, Thomas A., and Richard V. Pierard. The American Church Experience. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004.
Dean, Kenda Creasy. Almost Christian: What The Faith Of Our Teenagers Is Telling The American Church. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.
Epstein, Robert. Teen 2.0: Saving Our Children And Families From The Torment Of Adolescence. Fresno: Quill Driver Books, 2010.
Jones, Tony. Postmodern Youth Ministry. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001.
Oestricher, Mark. Understanding Your Young Teen: Practical Wisdom for Parents. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012.
Oestricher, Mark. Youth Ministry 3.0: A Manifesto Of Where We’ve Been, Where We Are, And Where We Need To Go. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008.
Powell, Kara E., Brad M. Griffin, and Cheryl A. Crawford. Sticky Faith: Youth Worker Edition. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.
Sire, James. The Universe Next Door. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009.
Strauch, Barbara. The Primal Teen: What the New Discoveries About the Teenage Brain Tell Us about Our Kids. New York: Anchor Books, 2003.
Tickle, Phyllis. The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2008.
Yaconelli, Mark. Growing Souls: Experiments In Contemplative Youth Ministry. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007.
 Askew, Thomas A., and Richard V. Pierard. The American Church Experience. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004. 172-173.
 Ibid., 181.
 Ibid, 184.
 Tickle, Phyllis. The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2008. 114-115.
 Oestricher, Mark. Understanding Your Young Teen: Practical Wisdom for Parents. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012. Location 974.
 Strauch, Barbara. The Primal Teen: What the New Discoveries About the Teenage Brain Tell Us about Our Kids. New York: Anchor Books, 2003. Location 221.
 Oestricher, Understanding, Location 953.
 Dean, Kenda Creasy. Almost Christian: What The Faith Of Our Teenagers Is Telling The American Church. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. 3.
 Ibid., 17-21.
 Ibid., 21.
 Powell, Kara E., Brad M. Griffin, and Cheryl A. Crawford. Sticky Faith: Youth Worker Edition. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011. 117.
 Ibid., 117.
 Dean, Almost Christian, 41.
My sister wrote a great post about reporting sexual abuse in Christian communities, how the problem continues to this day, and her perspective on the abuse we witnessed at the boarding school for missionary kids we attended in the early nineties. Here’s a snippet, to read the full thing click here:
When I was 9 years old, my family moved to South America as short-term missionaries (a 2-3 year commitment) with New Tribes Missions, where my parents taught at a NTM boarding school. While much of our experience was wonderful, the psychological, physical and spiritual abuse at the school was shocking. My parents were labeled trouble-makers for voicing concerns and reporting abuse, and ultimately they chose not to continue as career missionaries under the circumstances. In addition to stunningly abusive corporal punishment (i.e. “swats” with a large wooden board, with holes drilled in it, administered gleefully by a bully of a principal), there were three men, that I know of, sent home for sexually abusing children – just during that three year span of time. Sent home, but not reported to law officials or even to their own churches. Just sent away to plug into other ministries with children.
Well, I finished my first semester of seminary Sunday night. I learned a few things along the way … and I’m not talking about class content …
- I’ve been out of school for 13 years. Going back was overwhelming, scary, and challenging! It definitely took a month or so to really start to feel like I was getting back in the range of student mode.
- I learned some valuable lessons about scheduling classes. I accidentally scheduled too many at the same time which made for an insane four week period of time when all of my classes overlapped. I actually registered for more classes next semester than this one, but I balanced them better so I won’t have that kind of nightmare again!
- In a bizarre twist, I think I’m a better student than I was in the late 90′s. Back then I did what I needed to get the grade I had to have; now I’m working harder and offended when I don’t get the grade I know I could have gotten. Weird!
- Technology has REALLY made being a student easier! Text books are cheaper digitally, and easier to highlight and retrieve information from. Doing work from my laptop in my office, iPad here and there, and iPhone on the go has made getting stuff down in spare moments a GREAT use of time.
Being a student is strange. I’m working towards a Master of Divinity (finally). Going at a full time pace (fall semester, spring semester, summer semester), I will finish a few weeks before my oldest starts his freshman year in high school (also known as August, 2016). I’m really motivated by that milestone – once we have kids in high school and middle school, life is going to be a lot more chaotic and will continue to be so until our youngest graduates (June, 2027). It makes for a busy few years, but I think it will be a lot harder as our kids get older, so here goes!
On the plus side, I do have the next month or so off. Sweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet.
“Woah. Matthew. I need you to understand that this concert is on a whole different level.”
Words from the tour manager on the phone with me the day before they arrived at my church … and he wasn’t kidding! I was downplaying something as not being a big deal based on the concert events I’ve hosted in the past – I needed a wake up call to what I had booked! The United We Stand tour with Building 429, The Afters, Hawk Nelson & Finding Favour is a full fledged concert event!
The tour was amazing. They did things in our sanctuary with staging, lights, smoke and cryo effects I never would have thought could happen there! They showed up with a semi truck FULL from top to bottom, front to back, with equipment – my heart literally stopped when they popped open the doors and it was 100% full. The sound was so loud, the bass so powerful, it literally vibrated three lights out of their sockets! And under every light fixture there was a small pile of sheet rock dust that had been shaken out of the building!
I still can’t believe the crowd we had for a Tuesday night concert! I’m even more amazed with the 50+ volunteers that gave up their time throughout the day to make the thing happen! I love these kinds of events – it’s part of what makes our youth group the place to be for teens in North Wilmington!
Check out this little video highlight from the end of the night … when they started firing off the smoke jets (directly into the ceiling fire alarms!), my heart literally skipped a couple beats. I had three simultaneous thoughts: (1) I can’t believe they’re going to blow the fire alarms now after making it through the whole day, (2) this is the coolest thing I have ever seen in this room, and (3) seriously, that’s where Pastor Bo normally stands!
And no, even with the smoke machines going steadily from early afternoon until 10pm, and the cryo smoke jets shooting off every few seconds during the Building 429 performance, the fire alarms never went off!
So I made the above post to my Facebook on the way back from our mission trip to Nicaragua this past summer … and was totally caught off guard by the response to it! It created a lot of conversation, so I’ve been meaning to write out my actual thoughts on our policy of banning devices on trips. But first …
As some noted, I was Facebooking about my frustration about people Facebooking! Caught in the act! I actually lived with the rule I required of the students; during the mission trip I only updated our student Facebook page with mission team updates, and was the only team member with internet access so I could keep parents in the loop on what was happening. And then I broke; when we touched down in Houston, it looked like for a couple hours that we would miss our connecting flight. Customs was completely overwhelmed and understaffed with a room with countless travelers waiting in an eternal line to get through … just so we could get to a similar sized line for rechecking our luggage, and then another similar sized line for security. All I kept thinking was ‘how in the world am I going to rebook 23 flights and get these kids back home to their parents???’ My frustration level was HIGH. I was irritable. Tired from an amazing, but exhausting mission trip. And really, I just wanted to get home to my wife and kids and I was starting to be convinced it wasn’t going to happen as soon as I had expected. In the end, we made the flight, literally with only a few seconds to spare – they were shutting the doors as we ran up to them!
So in the midst of all that chaos, in my irritated state, I was looking around at all these other mission teams (they had matching shirts to prove it) with every member of their teams staring at their phones, iPods, iPads, game devices, etc., and honestly, I was a little shocked – I couldn’t imagine going through all the work to prep a mission trip and then allowing the devices along! They’re such a distraction! And that’s when I broke my own rule and posted my self righteous, snarky update.
Here’s why we do it, though:
We have a two fold purpose to our mission trips; the first is to accomplish a meaningful and valuable service/outreach. The second, which is equally important, is to challenge our group to deeper spiritual growth. Towards that end we intentionally schedule the trip to allow for study, reflection, and group debriefing of the scriptures we’re working through. We also intentionally get rid of any unnecessary distractions. When young people (really anyone) unplug from their normal routine and life they become much more open to growth, development, change – you name it. Something about stepping out of our normal life just creates opportunities for self reflection and life change – it’s why youth ministries across the nation love service trips, mission trips, retreats, camps, etc.
But when someone still has their device, when they’re still in constant contact with the life back home, when they’re getting texts every few minutes, Facebook notifications, Instagram alerts, Twitter updates, Snapchat photos, and more … it’s very easy to spend their whole time away thinking about what’s going on back home and interacting with their friends there instead of being fully present on this trip that we have spent half a year preparing for, raised tens of thousands of dollars to pull off, and will remember for the rest of our lives. Ultimately, those devices do significant damage to that second purpose behind our mission trips … so we don’t allow them.
Does that mean we won’t let a child call home? Absolutely not. We constantly remind kids to ask a leader if they want to call home, if a parent messages us that they need to call their child – for whatever reason – we will get them on the phone as soon as we can.
The amazing thing is, over the years I’ve heard so many teens – who were mortified at the thought of giving up their phone for ten days – come home from the trip and say they were glad it wasn’t there. That it was good for them to just ‘be’ with the group and not be distracted.
This weekend Simply Youth Ministry is doing a massive sale on their digital books … including MINE! If you act fast you can get it for less than two bucks. That’s crazy. It’s a youth ministry book, but honestly, I wrote it for everyone with some specific illustrations that relate to ministry workers. Here’s the description the marketing people came up with for my labor of love …
When it comes to your health, God wants you to be selfish.
Crazy idea, right? But it’s totally true.
Far too many of us in church ministry choose to sacrifice our personal health because we’re deeply dedicated to our family, our ministry, or other people’s needs. But if we don’t make our health a priority, no one else will.
Veteran youth pastor Matthew McNutt knows what it’s like to be “too busy” for a healthy lifestyle—but he also knows the rewards of changing course and practicing this good kind of selfishness. A former contestant on The Biggest Loser, he’s ready to help you discover some powerful lessons about spiritual and physical health—and what it all means for those of us called to student ministry.
Scripture speaks of our bodies as the holy and sacred dwelling place of God—the temple of the Holy Spirit. That’s why a healthy you honors God. Plus, a healthy you benefits your family and close friends. And a healthy you guides teenagers toward a God-honoring perspective on food and exercise.
Your ministry will survive if you give time to yourself—in fact, over time it’ll be stronger because of it. And you will have modeled something powerful to the people you’re leading.
Last year was a strange year. Actually, it was a hard year. Because of the economy, our church had to make some painful decisions and let some of our staff go. We had tried salary cuts, but it just wasn’t enough to resolve the challenges. The buildup to the layoffs was stressful to say the least, and it was doubly hard when it happened – one of those let go was probably the guy I was closest to on staff. Meanwhile, there were some really painful things going on in my extended family. And on top of that, Noah’s struggles with localized scleroderma took a turn for the worse for a while. He’s in a better place now, but for a while there it was scarier than it had been before. Thankfully, we have a lot of caring friends who really prayed hard for him.
To say the least, it all took the wind out of my sails.
Looking back, I don’t think I realized at the time just how much it was all impacting me. It should have been obvious, but apparently I’m clueless when it comes to self evaluation! But it does explain the lack of blogging … I just wasn’t in a place to write about any of it.
So that’s the year that was. But now I’m in the year that is.
It’s amazing how much can change from one year to the next. Noah’s disease is stabilized for the time being. Things are moving in a healthy direction in our church now that the budget fears have been dealt with. I’m genuinely excited about the direction our student ministry and church as a whole is headed.
On a personal note, I finally saw one of my dream goals come to be … my book was published and released just a few weeks ago (it’s actually on sale this weekend – you can get it and ton of other great books for just $1.99 each)! And I’m tackling something I’ve been wanting to do for more than a decade – and terrified to take on; I’ve gone back to school. Finally going for that Master of Divinity. If I really hit it hard, I could be finished when Micah is a freshman in highschool (three and a half years). It feels good to see goals being achieved in ministry and in life.
So all that to say … I feel like writing again. I’ve been quiet on this blog for too long!
I took the above picture the other week during our third worship hour, one typically that sees so few teens I can generally count them on one hand. The picture isn’t all the teens in the room; there were actually many more – I was struck that four of them are filming/photographing Thomas while he shared with the congregation about his experiences in Nicaragua.
Here’s the thing, youth ministry is a great investment in a teen’s present faith. But getting them into the corporate worship service is a massive investment in their spiritual future. But the challenge is in getting them there. This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means, but there are a couple things that I think are vital to bringing teens in:
One is using language throughout the worship hour that includes them. Too often the language is from up front communicates that the intended audience is adults. Referencing application to school, sports and friends, in addition to work, home, community, is one way to change the language. Finding illustrations young people can identify with is important as well.
But the biggest way to get teens into a worship service? Get them on stage. Reading scripture, sharing a testimony, doing a solo, participating in worship, doing a drama. Whatever it is, get them on stage. Because once a kid is on stage, their friends come to see them. Drawing one kid up front lands five to ten teens in the pews. Getting a group of teens up front? The other month when students led worship, I was shocked at the turnout of teens in all three services, but particularly the traditional hour – there were 30 or so in the room when normally there are only a few. On our missions report Sunday? We had two different teens each of our three hours, and a room full of teen all three hours. Some of them sat through multiple worship services to support their different friends, and I learned of at least one teen who left her family at the beach to support her friend!
It’s a big deal to be in front of large groups of people, and adolescents are excited when they or their friends are invited to do so. Getting a teen up front isn’t just connecting that young person (and their family – it’s a huge win for parents when their child is allowed to shine in front of the church), it connects their entire circle of influence. I firmly believe that a church that has a habit of involving young people in the worship service in different capacities is a church that sends a loud message to adolescents that they are very much a valued and desired part of the church.