Archive for category: Youth Ministry

Youth Ministry Longevity

04 Aug
August 4, 2017

I’m going to try this again; yesterday I wrote a blog post, used some undependable stats, and ultimately, distracted readers from the point I was actually trying to make, which is that longevity brings deeper perspective and awareness of the long term impact of student ministry programs.

There are tremendous benefits to longevity in youth ministry; both in regards to total ministry experience, as well as long tenures in one church. It brings stability, deeper roots in the church, greater depth of relationships, and a host of other benefits. For me, somewhere around my sixth year at my current church, and going forward, I have really begun to see a lot of changes in my perspective and attitudes about student ministry.

In 2016, Barna and Youth Specialties teamed up to release The State of Youth Ministry, a fascinating look into the world of American student ministries. Based on their research, they found that the average youth pastor is at his or her church for just over five years (p.55). The graph below reflects youth pastor tenures currently throughout the US (p.56):

They did note that 39% were in their first three years at a church, reflecting a “plurality [that] moves on within three years” (p.56). There are a lot of variables that can factor into that percentage, and it is only a portion of the broader youth ministry field. What I find myself wrestling with is the challenge for myself, and youth pastors in general, to plant deep roots into my/their churches and congregations long enough to really see the rewards in longevity, as well as some of the deeper perspectives that help youth ministry as a whole that come with being in a place long enough to see multiple groups of students move through the entire program, into college, adulthood and beyond. On the flip side, the challenge is also for churches to have the long term vision to keep staff in place long enough to see these benefits.

I was at my first church for two years. I saw the program double in attendance in my time there. It was exciting and validating. I was at my second church for just over five years. I started with less than five middle school students; five years later I had seen almost every teen in our region come through our doors at some point and felt my influence was rooted both in the church and the community. These are meant as boasts, rather, to contrast my changing opinions on what success looks like.

Honestly, I’ve heard the statistics over the incredibly large drop off in faith from students graduating from church, heading off to college, and essentially graduating from the faith. And for the most part, I assumed that was a problem with other churches.

I’ve been at my current church for nine years this month. That’s long enough for many teens to have not only graduated from our program, but to have also graduated from college, start careers, marriages and families. I actually do believe that we have seen a higher percentage of graduates maintain faith after graduation, but I’ve seen a lot of students disappear. Too many. And on the one hand I’ve read the articles pointing out that many do ultimately return to faith in their 30’s, I would still prefer to see them not wander to begin with.

Nine years of watching students fade away begins to add up. It is a sobering thing to see. It has made me question a lot of things I used to assume were effective. What good does it do if we can pack out an all-nighter if we’ve lost the connection a few years later?

Research by people like Christian Smith, Kenda Creasy Dean, Kara Powell, Chap Clark, and others, all point to the same thing; one of the most critical ingredients in long term faith is being plugged into the larger church. It’s why in recent years we have shifted so much of our focus at Brandywine Valley Baptist Church to make it easier for families to attend worship services together, to serve together, to grow in faith together. I’m hopeful to see the payoff to these changes in the years to come.

Which brings me back to my point; to me, one of the critical benefits of youth ministry longevity is seeing and feeling first hand the weight of this need. With each year it brings a deeper sense of priority to the big picture of ministry. A youth leader needs to be in one place long enough to see the long term results of the approach their church is taking with adolescents if there is going to be any kind of change in this trend of losing young people after graduation. I think that 9% of youth pastors who have been in the same place for twelve years or more represent volumes of experience and insight all of us could benefit from.

Caleb and Micah’s Mission Trip Report

10 Jul
July 10, 2017

On June 25th, the student ministry took over both worship services at our church, Brandywine Valley Baptist Church, to share their favorite moments and what God taught them during the mission trips to Maine, Detroit and Peru. I was particularly proud and excited to hear what Caleb, my 13 year old son, would share about his trip to Maine, and what Micah, my 15 year old son, would share about his trip to Detroit.

I actually led the mission trip to Peru, so this was the first year that McNutt’s were on all three student mission trips. It hit me a few days before the trips were to leave that I have incredible youth leaders; it never even occurred to me to worry about sending my sons with the leaders on either the Maine or Detroit trip. My trust and confidence in them is that high! Our volunteers love God and their calling to work with young people – it’s an incredible team to be a part of!

Us Versus Us review

01 Jul
July 1, 2017

us versus usAndrew Marin’s Us Versus Us: The Untold Story of Religion and the LGBT Community is a powerful examination of the relationship between the LGBT community and the church. Based on extensive research and surveys – the largest of its type – administered by his organization, The Marin Foundation, Marin presents startling and convicting results. The big result? 86% of the LGBT community were raised in faith communities, leading to the title of the book; Marin contends that for too long the debate on sexuality has been framed as an “us versus them” approach, when the reality is that most of us originated in the same place – it is actually and “us versus us” debate, which has only resulted in damage.

Each chapter is committed to examining the major findings of the research; beyond the 86% statistic, he also found that 54% of those in the LGBT community left their faith communities by the age of 18, 76% are open to returning to faith and its practices, 36% of the LGBT community continue to pursue faith beyond the age of 18, 80% regularly pray regardless of faith association (or lack thereof), and finally, he examines the impact of coming out on religiosity.

For years, Marin has powerfully advocated for building bridges instead of walls in the conversation between the church and the LGBT community. He writes that “we have allowed the people comprising the conversation to be characterized by caricature” (Kindle location 128), pointing out that we define positions and camps, focusing the conversation on opposition. Instead, he advocates for “the lost art of loving in disagreement” (Kindle location 135).

What do we do with these results? For Marin, the answer seems obvious. The pattern for many churches in America has been incredibly painful for those in and out of the congregation; somehow we have not been able to emulate Christ’s approach, which in His divine perfection somehow combined His sinless reputation with the ability to have sinners flock to Him. Throughout the gospels Christ avoided closed door conversations; when people asked him yes/no questions in an effort to nail down where He stood, He answered with parables, with stories, with questions of His own. The result? Instead of shutting down the conversation He continued the dialogue and built bridges.

Do I agree with all of Marin’s conclusions? Not necessarily; we differ on the interpretation of some of the data. But the work he and his team have done is essential. Every pastor/church leader should read this book. It is a powerful insight into a group often dehumanized and vilified by churches in America, and the longing for community and spiritual hunger present there.

Understanding Gender Dysphoria review

31 May
May 31, 2017

mark 2Dr. Mark Yarhouse, clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at Regent University, has put together a solid resource for leaders and those wanting to know more about Gender Dysphoria, or transgenderism, in his book, Understanding Gender Dysphoria: Navigating Transgender Issues in a Changing Culture. There are very few issues in my experience as a pastor as misunderstood as this topic, and in that misunderstanding, tremendous damage and hurt has been and will continue to be caused.

Yarhouse does a tremendous job of explaining the nature of gender dysphoria, as well the different theories surrounding the causes and treatment of gender dysphoria, and the pros and cons of each. He also explains his own approach as a psychologist and his rationale. Because the research is still in early stages regarding the ramifications for the different treatment approaches, he personally advocates taking the least invasive approach that can resolve the dysphoria; which in practicality means different approaches for each individual. I won’t try to summarize his content here; I would never be able to do it justice.

One of the strengths of Yarhouse’s book for those in ministry is his careful and well thought out Christian perspective and connections to scripture paired with his deep knowledge as a psychologist and his practical experience. He has done the research and it shows. By shedding light on this topic and confronting many of the wrong perceptions and faulty ideas, his book is both beneficial and a call to many in the church to rethink their assumptions. One particularly jarring quote from his book really hit home for me;

“What most people who are gender dysphoric find in the church is rejection and shame – the feeling that there is something fundamentally flawed in them, that the flaw is their fault (back to willful disobedience) and that if others knew about their gender incongruence, they too would reject them.” (Kindle location 946)

Yarhouse’s book is timely. As such a hot button topic, it is a relevant work for anyone who wants to grow in their understanding rather than allow news headlines and Facebook rants shape their opinions. As the church, this is an area where we need to grow in our love and empathy, and I think Yarhouse helps point in a direction that accomplishes that. I have personally read a number of resources and articles in my own pursuit of understanding, and his work is the first to really help address that need for me. He has clearly done his homework, supports his assertions with the research, yet writes in a way that is approachable and understandable. Definitely worth checking out.

Unintentional Arrogance

02 Jan
January 2, 2017

unintentional arrogance

I was listening to Mark Matlock’s “Transforming Conversations: Using Research from Barna’s State of Youth Ministry Report” session from the National Youth Worker’s Convention the other day and wanted to respond to part of it. Essentially, Barna and Youth Specialties did a massive survey on youth ministry in America, producing a lot of valuable data for youth workers and churches to process and discuss; you can find the research here. In his session at the convention, Matlock highlighted some of the data, including the topic of what obstacles youth workers face in youth ministry.

To reveal my own bias, before hearing the results, my immediate response to the question of my greatest obstacle in youth ministry is my own busyness.

According to the survey, the top two obstacles reported by youth workers were (1) the busyness of youth (74% said this) and (2) 34% reported lack of parent interest (respondents could put more than one obstacle). It is significant that student busyness was far and away the highest reported obstacle.

Further complicating the conversation was the survey responses from parents regarding the busyness of their children: 11% felt their teens are way too busy, 58% feel the balance is good, and 31% believe their children need more to do.

At this point Matlock opened up the conversation to the youth workers in the room to comment on the disparity between 74% of youth workers believing students are too busy, and 89% of parents feeling kids are at the right balance or actually need more to do. There were a number of different thoughts; some felt parents needed to be educated on the busyness of their kids, perhaps parents are not in healthy balance so cannot see that their kids are not either, etc. One person suggested that youth ministries are running too many programs so kids are picking and choosing, as opposed to them actually being too busy. Matlock suggested that perhaps some youth workers blame busyness because it puts the fault of lack of involvement outside their control; it’s the fault of families and other circumstances, rather than the youth worker not giving them something they value enough to participate in.

For me, it was frustrating to hear some of the responses. Sometimes I feel like we as youth workers can be unintentionally arrogant, genuinely believing we know more about what’s best for someone else’s child(ren). Yes, there are things students talk to us about that they don’t tell their parents; while it may make me uncomfortable at times to know that my fifteen year old may go to someone else about something instead of me, I remember my own discomfort with bringing up some topics with my parents as a teenager and so I try to surround him with Christian adults I respect and trust to be positive influences and role models for him. In the same way, some of their teens come to me; but it would be incredibly arrogant of me to believe that my limited interactions with their child compared to their lifetime of daily involvement would leave me knowing more than them, only that I may have a different perspective with limited insights.

Kids make time for things they value and are excited about. Parents prioritize that involvement when they know the important enough details far enough in advance to plan for it. Rather than looking to things outside of our control to blame poor response on (busyness of teens, lack of parent interest), we should be constantly evaluating and changing our approaches and programming in response to the rapidly changing youth culture. Further, this type of blame only builds invisible walls of disconnect instead of bridges with parents. One of the values I have constantly told my team is that we should never have to guilt or manipulate kids into coming to something, and we definitely should not have to be spending excessive amounts of time trying to talk them into participating – if they’re not excited about it, than we’re doing something wrong, not them. Maybe our schedule is overcrowded, maybe we’ve picked the wrong hook, the wrong date (yeah, the time I inadvertently scheduled a retreat on homecoming weekend – that’s not them loving school more than Jesus, that’s me creating an unnecessary conflict of interest), or the wrong content.

 

2016 Student Missions Slideshow

28 Jun
June 28, 2016

I’m sure I’ll post more thoughts soon … but I’m still slightly fried from the mission trips and all the buildup to them! The above is a slideshow I threw together late Saturday night (technically, early Sunday morning) giving a little bit of a taste of our three student ministry mission trips to Maine, North Carolina, and Nicaragua, which we shared during our reports Sunday. We got to take over both services Sunday morning and the congregation heard from all of the teens and leaders over the course of the two hours! It was a blast!

Colonel’s Rules [image]

12 Apr
April 12, 2016

Colonel's 50 rules for public speaking small

I was surprised at the response to yesterday’s post (find it here) listing my high school teacher’s fifty rules for public speaking, so I thought I would upload a scan of the original document. It was far and a way my favorite class in high school; if you have ever seen the movie “Dead Poet’s Society,” then you know what kind of teacher Tom Jenkins III (or as we knew him, the Colonel) was. He passed away a couple years after I graduated, but left quite a legacy.

The class was a trip. We had to do short speeches with no warning on topics of his choosing, we had to prepare speeches, do devotionals, and most importantly, memorize the fifty rules. He would coach us, challenge us, and show no mercy in challenging us to grow as speakers. My favorite part? He would sit in the back of the auditorium (to make sure we were projecting) and if we broke a rule, he would yell out the number (which meant we lost one percentage point)! It was unnerving at first to have him loudly yelling numbers from the back of the room … but probably the thing that prepared me for working with middle schoolers the most! Ha!

Colonel’s Fifty Rules for Public Speaking

11 Apr
April 11, 2016

mic small

Over the years I’ve taken a few public speaking and/or preaching classes; in Bible school, Gordon College, most recently as part of my course of study through Liberty’s seminary. But my all time favorite class? The one I took back in ’92 or ’93 while I was a junior or senior in high school, taught by Tom Jenkins III, or as we all knew him, the Colonel. I loved the class and the way he taught it. He centered it around fifty rules that he put together that we needed to memorize and were graded by; over the years I’ve thought of them often and wished I still had them … and the other week I found my copy going through an old box of papers! Here they are in all of their early nineties glory:

  1. The speaker should always be in the most dominant place in a room.
  2. Never apologize for the speaking situation.
  3. Do not interrupt a group by saying, “May I have your attention, please?”
  4. The most important aspect of public speaking is that there must be a message.
  5. Minimize distractions.
  6. Your voice is your major instrument but you should use all your instruments.
  7. Maximize your assets – first find what they are, and then use them.
  8. Don’t avoid personal illustrations.
  9. Don’t admit any weaknesses; i.e., “I didn’t have enough time,” “I didn’t have enough education.”
  10. Physical rules for delivery:
    1. The outsides of your feet should be even with the outsides of your shoulders.
    2. Back should be relaxed.
    3. Hands should be comfortably by your side.
    4. Head up with eye contact.
    5. Don’t lock your knees.
    6. Put your belt slightly below your navel.
    7. Your weight should be evenly distributed.
  11. Avoid “stupid” truisms.
  12. Don’t violate time limits.
  13. Avoid vocalized pauses at all costs.
  14. Use as few scriptural references as possible and then major on a few words or ideas.
  15. Never say, “I would like to …” Just do it!
  16. “Suit the action to the word and the word to the action.” –Hamlet, Shakespeare.
  17. “Speak the speech … trippingly on the tongue.” –Hamlet, Shakespeare. ARTICULATION!
  18. “Make your deliverance smooth. You must acquire and beget a temperance which gives it smoothness.” –Hamlet, Shakespeare.
  19. “Don’t out Herod Herod.” –Hamlet, Shakespeare. Don’t overplay anything.
  20. When you get finished, quit.
  21. Organization of a speech is the most important factor in planning a speech.
  22. “Nothing comes from nothing.” –King Lear, Shakespeare. Choose a good topic.
  23. Research until you find something interesting.
  24. Information must be valid, pertinent, reliable, and current.
  25. Don’t change topics in the middle of your research.
  26. Audiences have no toleration for bragging. Don’t be the hero of your own story.
  27. Do not say, “thank you,” except when it is expected and when you can mean it!
  28. The show must go on. Nothing should stop you from delivering and/or completing your speech.
  29. Develop a style. It must include articulation, projection, and message.
  30. Don’t be afraid of emotion.
  31. A crowd is comprised of individuals. Initiate strong eye contact with the key individuals.
  32. Eye contact opens doors.
  33. Handle problems while you’re speaking as if they were planned and you enjoy them.
  34. Try not to laugh at your own jokes.
  35. Don’t major on the minors – get organized.
  36. Reading long passages from other people is dull. Don’t use (carry with you) any books other than the Bible.
  37. Spend a lot of time preparing beginnings and endings – make them effective, then stick to what you’ve planned.
  38. Enthusiasm must show.
  39. Learn or practice using ad-lib.
  40. Organization must be apparent. It necessitates an outline and the outline forces organization.
  41. Different types of organization:
    1. Sequential or chronological.
    2. Logical.
    3. Authoritative – scriptural.
    4. Exemplary.
    5. Function.
  42. Quotes and references must be specific. Use quotes especially to goose ending.
  43. Use specific detail and exact numbers.
  44. Every audience is different.
  45. Every audience requires adaptation. Don’t try to adapt the audience to you, but adapt yourself to the audience.
  46. Performance enhances skills more than rehearsal. Practice in front of someone.
  47. Imitation is no substitute for motivation. Feel it. Never be content with imitations.
  48. Plan for overreaction of the audience.
  49. Anticipate every possible reaction from the audience.
  50. The audience is more important than the speaker – you must believe it!

Book Review: Gospel Centered Youth Ministry

21 Mar
March 21, 2016

youth ministry guideThe Gospel Coalition’s new book, “Gospel Centered Youth Ministry,” is a great resource for youth leaders and volunteers. Fourteen different authors each contributed to put together a book that sets out to address both the theological depth of the gospel and student ministry, as well as give practical ways to live that out. Where so many youth ministry resources tend to skew either only into the practical, or only into the theological, this is an exciting merging of the two.

The book is split into three sections; (1) Foundations for a Gospel Centered Youth Ministry, (2) Practical Applications for a Gospel Centered Youth Ministry, and (3) The Fruit of a Gospel Centered Youth Ministry. I appreciated the progression of the book; each of the authors were tasked with chapters that fell under those broad headings, building over the course of the book a great overview of a gospel centered youth ministry.

It is a strong work; the authors have done their research, cite their sources, and take an academic, yet very approachable methodology to their writing. They cover a wide range of topics, giving strong presentations on the underlying theology supporting their views before diving into the practicalities of living it out. Definitely a great resource for youth leaders; also a great training tool for student ministry teams and interns.

FREE Six Year Student Ministry Curriculum

03 Feb
February 3, 2016

disciple-6-curriculum-students

This is pretty incredible to me; Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary has created, through their students and staff, a complete six year discipleship curriculum for middle school and high school students that they are making available completely free to churches to download! It looks like a great resource, and definitely a gift to churches! You can learn about it and download it here. Here’s their description of it:

Southwestern Seminary desires to see teenagers who, for the glory of the Father and in the power of the Spirit, spend a lifetime embracing the full supremacy of the Son, responding to His kingly reign in all of life, inviting Christ to live His life through them, and joining Him in making disciples among all peoples.

To that end the seminary has presented a gift to the churches. That gift is a comprehensive, six-year curriculum to be used with those specific teenagers who want to be disciples of Jesus. The studies are grounded in Scripture and include the content areas of:

Apologetics Core Doctrines Servant Leadership
Biblical Interpretation Ethics Spiritual Disciplines
Biblical Relationships Evangelism and Missions Worldview

Teenagers share in the leadership of the sessions. They prepare to disciple believers now and for a lifetime, nearby and to the ends of the earth.

The Disciple6 curriculum is available as free PDF downloads and free smartphone/tablet downloads. Southwestern Seminary believes every teenager and every church deserves the best discipleship resources, regardless of economic situation.