Does Your Youth Work Need to Get R.E.A.L?

Last weekend myself and some of my other youth work team attended a training morning run by Sussex Youthworks, the youth work arm of the Sussex Gospel Partnership. It was the first of 6 training mornings running over 3 years. This first session was on “Principles of Youth and Children’s Ministry,” and the speaker was Rory Bell from TnT Ministries.

He started by drawing us to Colossians 1:28:

“Him (Christ) we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.”

This is the goal of youth ministry, in fact all ministry, that we may present people as mature believers before God on the final day. The two things we need to notice from this verse are that firstly we need to present people mature IN Christ and secondly that this means PROCLAIMING Christ. People are only going to be made perfect through Jesus and so that’s obviously going to mean telling people about him. It’s good for us to keep this verse in mind as we do ministry.

 

We then talked about how our youth work needed to be R.E.A.L. if we wanted it to be a success: Relational,Educational, Authentic & Life-Changing.

Each of these were expanded on with some verses from 1 Thessalonians 1&2. Here’s a very brief synopsis of what was said.

Relational

God as trinity is inherently relational, therefore ministry ought to be as well. Jesus was only ever alone at 3 points in his ministry; in the wilderness, whilst praying and on the cross. With that in mind we can deduce that being around people and in relationship with them must be a pretty important part of ministry. 1 Thessalonians 2:8 supports this idea:

“So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.”

Paul didn’t only share the gospel with the people he ministered to, but he shared his life with them as well and that’s something we should do too. This needs to be face to face stuff. I was challenged by the idea that using twitter and Facebook is not sharing our life with people, they’re actually a very shallow form of interaction. Real relationships take time and that means sacrifice.

Educational

Good ministry will educate people from God’s word. It’s not ad-hoc and slapdash but is planned. Schools have a syllabus and so should we. If as a parent you turned up at a school and said, “what’s the plan?,” and the school says “Well we don’t really have one, we just see what happens,” you certainly wouldn’t want to send your kid there. It’s the same for youth work. There needs to be some kind of plan and this will involve teaching the Bible. This is what Paul says to the Thessalonians in 1:5a;

“…because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.”

The gospel always comes with words so we need to teach the word. Some of us might be tempted to shy away from this and to think that a quaint idea. But Paul shows us that not only does the gospel come with words, it comes with the power of the Holy Spirit. The gospel might seem foolish and weak, but the Holy Spirit has the power to open people’s eyes and it’s pleasing to God to bring people to him through the weakness of our preaching.

Authentic

As leaders, (and as Christians generally) we need to be living authentic Christian lives. Kids can smell a fraud a mile off. Ralph Waldo Emerson says this: “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.” If we teach kids the gospel but then they hear us swearing or see us out getting trashed on a Saturday night or being inappropriate on facebook then it’s all for nothing. If we don’t look like what we’re preaching, we’re only going to be doing the gospel damage. Check out what Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 1:5b-7:

“You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. 6And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, 7so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.”

The people in Thessalonica saw what Paul was like and so they became imitators of his example (he himself imitates Christ), even though this meant suffering for them. That’s quite a testimony to his life. Do we set as good an example as Paul? We always need to be asking ourselves the question – “Am I desperately trying to become more like Jesus?”

Life-Changing

Look at the change that Paul says occurred in the life of the Thessalonians when they came to Christ:

“For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. 9For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” 1 Thessalonians 1:8-10

The people’s lives were completely changed. They turned away from lifeless, powerless idols to serve the living, powerful and true God. Christianity changes lives. Or at least it should do. Rory used the illustration of a sword lying in a field facing an advancing army. Without someone to wield it, it can do nothing. But in the hands of a skilled swordsman, it can cut with skill. It’s the same for the Bible. In the hands of a skilled teacher, it cuts to peoples hearts, just as it does in Acts 2:37. So we must invest time in learning how to handle the Bible correctly.

In my mind these four areas pair up quite nicely. If you’re being relational, then you have to be authentic. One will fall apart without the other. And I’m a firm believer that if we educate people with the Bible and we do it well, then lives will be changed, such is the power of the word of God.

Overall, it was a great morning. In terms of the principles themselves, they weren’t new to me, but it’s always good to be reminded of what we’re here for and the principles undergirding that. I was really pleased to be able to take my team along as I know it will have been really beneficial for them as leaders and therefore beneficial for our youth work. Already looking forward to the next session in March! If you’re Sussex based and you do youth work, make sure you get yourself along.

Our God Is So Big

I spent last weekend with the crew of Curtains Up! as it was our planning weekend for the upcoming camp. As usual, it was great to spend time with people who we know and love and the weekend was marked by the usual highlights of ridiculously late nights and probably illegal amounts of caffeine. No matter how much older I get, I never seem to learn the lesson of going to bed early.

We had a great time reading through the gospel of Mark as well as thinking through the book of James which we’ll be using for our study group material this year. The weekend got me all fired up and excited about getting back on camp and getting the opportunity to work alongside young people from various backgrounds.

And it’s backgrounds that really got me thinking this weekend. We have a number of people who having been on camp and now that they’re  too old to continue, are joining the crew as leaders. I got chatting to them and a few of our other leaders who are still not that far away from their days as church youth and I was asking them about what their youth groups were like whilst growing up. Running a couple of groups myself, I was interested to hear how other groups functioned and what kind of things they did, as it’s always good to keep an ear to the ground and steal any good ideas.

It's not easy being the only young person in your church

What surprised me was the number of people who said they simply didn’t have a youth group as teenagers. Either their church didn’t really have any youth, or they had a handful whose ages were too varied to really form a productive group, or there just weren’t really the people to lead a group in any consistent fashion. Some had had some smattering of involvement in vague groups, but for most there was nothing solid in place. My follow up question was to ask “Then how did you survive? How did you keep going?”

There were a few ideas but no solid answer to the question. Somehow, people just did and they had come out the other side walking with God.  And this got me thinking in a number of ways.

Firstly, I was incredibly lucky to grow up in a church that saw youth work as a priority and had the resources and the inclination to pay for a full time youth worker. Having grown up in that kind of atmosphere and then having gone into working for a church that offers the same kind of opportunities, I guess part of me just kind of assumed that most young Christians have those kind of opportunities. The truth is, they don’t. For a large majority of young Christians, their churches can’t afford to pay for someone to do youth work or they just don’t have a peer group of other young Christians around them to form any real group or community. If you have a youth worker, a youth group or quite frankly anyone willing to invest time in young people at your church, you are in the minority and you should be incredibly thankful.

Secondly, it made me realise just how much bigger God is than we give him credit for. I find it so easy to get stressed about our kids and our groups. Am I doing enough? Am I doing it well enough? What more can I be doing? This is where the real answer to the question “how did you keep going?” comes into play. Our leaders kept going as young people because God made them keep going. It was Him who got them through all the rough times and helped them to stay faithful. There is simply no other explanation. So why am I getting stressed about our kids? If God can keep people walking with him with barely any support or input appropriate to their age, then he can certainly keep safe those who are being fed, encouraged and built up on a regular basis.

It’s so easy to get caught up on programmes and how everyone’s doing and start stressing about it. But God is bigger than all our programmes and all the things the world has to throw at our kids and if he wants to keep them going, He will. That doesn’t mean we should stop working with our kids and putting in the hard grind, but it does mean that we need to keep in perspective the fact that God is ultimately behind the work and it’s him that draws people to himself, not us.

If you have an established youth work in your church, you’ve probably got kids who are encouragements and kids where you wonder whether anything is going in at all. But if God can keep people going with basically no input at all, take heart that even those who appear to be rejecting the message are getting more input than some people who’ve gone on to become strong Christians. Nothing is impossible with God and we can’t know what seeds are being sown.

Our God is a great big God.

Wham, Viagra & Leaders!

The last few days have a been a daze of busyness.

Sundays are generally a bit manic anyway but last Sunday was just crazy. My plan was to get up at 8am as I had some work to do before church. I knew I really needed to be up then to get some stuff done for later in the day and if it didn’t get done then, then it never would… So I got up at 9am. Good start.

So I spent the time before church planning the Scout Carol service I was leading later in the afternoon. Luckily, it came together quite quickly. The scouts had planned the outline of the service with some input from myself, so it was really just down to me to do the up front stuff and tie each section together seamlessly. Once that was in the bag it was just a matter of running through my talk a few more times so I could be sure I knew what I was doing.

Time for church. I got there at about 10.30am to open up and get ready for our 11-14’s arriving. I didn’t have to lead that morning which was a weight off so it was just a matter of crowd control and chipping in when needed. When others are leading I don’t like to chip in too much. I’ve generally got a competent bunch of leaders who know what they’re talking about so I’m happy to let them get on with it. There’s time for discussion in small groups at the end anyway so I can always steer things back on track if I feel an issue hasn’t really been done justice. It’s a rare occurence though.

Church finished at 12pm and we managed to scoot off pretty quickly (well comparatively). Just had time for a quick bite at home before I was back at the church for 1.30pm to make sure the Scouts had what they needed and everyone knew how to use a microphone etc. The service kicked off at 2.30pm and went surprisingly smoothly and I did my best to make light of a few small issues like song verses missing from the powerpoint and people all seeming to know very slightly different tunes to some songs. My talk went well too, despite my horrific use of a Wham related joke (it got a groan and everything) and a reference to viagra! It’s not what you think.

So that wrapped up at 3.30pm followed by drinks and nibbles before at 4pm I had band practice with the youth. We’ve just started planning an evangelistic music cafe for the end of February and this was our first rehearsal. Songs on the agenda were Run by Snow Patrol and Don’t Stop Believing by Journey. Glee has a lot to answer for! Bit of a shaky start but in fairness we’d only decided on the songs the day before so none of us were really on top of it. I’m confident it’s gonna come together though. Some of the musicians have really got behind the idea and have been manicly sending facebook messages back and forth this week. I’m glad they’ve taken some ownership of the event and I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. Just gotta hope people will be as enthusiastic about inviting friends along.

So that finishes at 6pm. Cue the arrival of the evening service music group who immediately co-opt me into the group to play drums. No problems there, it happens most weeks. But I was supposed to be doing the prayers at the 6.30pm and I still hadn’t written them. Weeell, I had made a start but I hadn’t finished, so I have admit that I actually wrote them during the service. Not great, but they came together. I just did bullet points and made them up as I went along. I don’t like writing out prayers as I just find it feels a bit unnatural and false, which is probably why I find “the prayers” part of a lot of services rather uninspiring.

Service finishes at 7.50pm just in time for our 14-18’s group at 8pm. Thankfully our Curate was our guest speaker that night so I could kind of relax. And he did a great session about Jesus’ views on adultery. He didn’t pull any punches but I think he was right not to. I also think it worked in our favour that someone from outside the regular leadership came in to do the “sex” talk. But it was a great session and I’m sure it touched upon some real issues for people.

By the time we were done, we’d run over time and it was 9.45pm.  Got home and of course, we had to watch the X Factor final. So that took us up to about 12:40am. My bed has never looked so good.

Today and yesterday have been taken up with drafting a document which lays out roles and expectations for leaders involved in our youth ministry. Lately I’ve felt that it is important to make it clear to my leaders and potential leaders exactly what youth work involves and actually what a huge commitment it is. Most of the time this isn’t a problem, but there have been one or two incidents where I’ve felt that leaders haven’t really lived up to what I would expect of them in their role, things I would have taken for granted.

www.weloveouryouthworker.org.uk has some good outlines for volunteer agreements which I was able to draw upon. The idea of having an agreement might seem quite formal, but the idea isn’t that it’s a binding contract, rather people know exactly what is expected of them and what they can expect from me in terms of supervision. I hope that by having this clearly laid out, not only will it help people to stay on the ball so to speak but it will also deter some of those who are interested in helping with the youthwork but who realistically can’t give the commitment required.

I’m aware that this could possibly be me shooting myself in the foot, as if anything, I’m desperate for new leaders. Telling people that I expect two nights out of there week (sometimes three), commitment to weekends away, the possibility of doing one2ones, as well as attending church regularly and maintaining their own walk with Jesus amongst other things, seems like a lot to ask. But isn’t that really the kind of commitment we should be looking for in our leadership? I want the right people; people who will be committed and have the time and inclination to really do a deep work in some of these kids, not just see it as a bit of a laugh. My curate has told me at least twice in the last week that he thinks the youth ministry is the most important ministry in the church, as well as being the most time consuming. No pressure then! But that’s why I need the right people. A good, solid team of people who’ll be in it for the long term. It’s just a bit worrying that in a church of over 700 people, I’m struggling to find 1 person to be involved. I’m sure God knows what he’s doing though. If he could perhaps let me in on some of the plan though that would be much appreciated.