Tuesday, February 17, 2015


We live in a serious world. One has only to read a newspaper or watch the news to understand how serious things are. The reports of violence, death, and world-wide problems are staggering. As youth workers, we are also eyewitnesses to the sometimes severe situations facing our students. Take a moment or two during your next youth meeting or activity to look at the faces of the kids. You will probably see the emotional (and sometimes physical) scars of abuse, trauma, violence, isolation, and other cruelty. If you take the time to get close to them, you’ll hear their stories of suffering and the seriousness of the circumstances they are facing.

Youth ministry is serious business. Not only because we deal with the hurting and needy lives of today’s students, but because our mission and the message we share are serious as well. Passages such as Ephesians 4:11–16 and 2 Timothy 3:10–17 remind us that our grand responsibility is the spiritual growth and maturity of students. Living and ministering with a constant perspective of eternity motivates us to press on, knowing that we must provide real solutions and answers for today’s real needs. Yes, what God has called us to do is quite serious.

Therefore, we should do all we can to have fun!

So much of life is serious, so why make other things too serious? Here’s a lesson that all youth workers need to learn: not everything is serious. Relax and have fun.

Sure, it’s easy to get bogged down by the serious problems we see everyday. We look into the faces of our students and see the hurt, but if we look closer we’ll see them craving fun. And the fact is - they need to have fun.

Let’s be honest, one of the main reasons that most of us are in youth ministry is because we were attracted to the fun and excitement of it. Who else but youth workers can hang out with kids, go to camp and on wilderness trips, take students to ball games and amusement parks, organize activities and events, and plan parties and socials? Yep, youth ministry is a blast!

But I want to call attention to a trend that I am seeing in many churches today. I’ve seen these scenarios in big churches and small churches alike. Please don’t get defensive. Instead, let’s take an honest, but light-hearted look at ourselves to see if this trend is true.

1. My problem with being “driven” by purpose.

While I applaud the premise of Rick Warren’s The Purpose-Driven Life, I am also somewhat concerned that this whole experience has caused a “purpose-driven” nightmare for some in ministry leadership.
            Warren’s first book (The Purpose-Driven Church) and Doug Field’s follow-up (Purpose-Driven Youth Ministry) made many of us re-think how we do ministry. They taught us to live intentionally and to minister with a sense of purpose and mission. But I have to admit that I struggle with the idea of being “driven” by purpose. I know that this confession will probably cause some readers to think less of me, but I want to do some things just for fun. I don’t want to have a clearly defined purpose for everything I do. I know, I know, your opinion of me will be shattered. But, last weekend I spent a couple of hours watching a basketball game on TV and playing games on my computer. Yep, I wasted all that time. I can justify those kinds of activities by saying that I needed a break or a diversion from my overly busy and hectic schedule. I could say that those things relieve stress and the pressure of a busy life. But the truth is, I really don’t have a clear sense of purpose for doing those things. I just enjoy doing them.

My guess is that our students are the same way. I believe in having a purpose for what we do, and I know that it is important to have a sense of mission and intentionality for what we do in ministry. But let’s not be so “driven” that we have to have a grandiose purpose for everything. Maybe the most important thing we can do is just hang out with kids and show them the love of Christ through our lives.

2. My worry about worship.

At the risk of sounding almost heretical, I also wonder if we are making too big a thing out of worship. The words of a well-known chorus may have it exactly right: “I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I’ve made it” (emphasis added). It seems to me that we have made worship into a “thing”—a movement, a trend, or a phenomenon. We no longer sing, we worship. We no longer have song leaders, we have worship leaders. I have actually sat in services where the crowd has been scolded or yelled at for not worshiping. I am afraid that we have inadvertently led our students to believe that the creation of a worship experience is the ultimate, or pinnacle, of successful youth ministry. As the Lord Himself told the woman at the well so many centuries ago (John 4), real worship is not a place or an experience. Instead, it is living so that our lives glorify Him in everything we do. We don’t need a worship service or a worship leader to do that. Authentic worship is a 24/7 lifestyle that is pleasing to the Lord.

I am also concerned that this current emphasis on worship may actually be leading to an unintended result. Do we gather our students together on Sunday mornings to "worship"? Do we gather them together again for youth group meetings to "worship"? Do we take them to concerts and youth conferences to "worship"? We may be sending them mixed and confusing messages. We may be telling our students that worship is a lifestyle of devotion to the Lord while inadvertently showing them that "worship" is an experience we share at a youth meeting. There are certainly other valid reasons to hold youth meetings. What about teaching God’s Word, building group unity, evangelism, or fun?

We may have lost something valuable in current youth ministry by abandoning fun in favor of worship. (Now you know that I am a borderline heretic.) Maybe we are making youth group way too serious all the time. The days of game nights, fellowships, and socials seem to have gone the way of wiener-roasts and gunny-sack races and have become obsolete.

Youth workers, I urge you, have fun with students. Why not plan something right away just for fun?

3. My terror of technology.

I have this recurring nightmare that I am standing in front of a large group of teenagers (no, not in my underwear), but with a presentation that won’t work. Actually, that has already happened to me several times.

Here’s another biggie in today’s youth ministry: an over-dependence on technology. Where does it end? That’s the problem: I guess it doesn’t.

I see two "ministry killers" with technology: money and time. You’ll have to take an honest evaluation of your own situation. Do you have enough money, and do you have enough time?

I love technology. My laptop, projector, iPhone, and iPad are invaluable and indispensable. But I am finding that this over-reliance on technology may be making our ministries way too serious. The same two insidious culprits that I mentioned above can cause each of us to become overly serious about our overall approach to ministry. Here’s why: if we have spent significant amounts of money and time preparing to use technology in our ministries, we naturally look at that approach as a stewardship issue. We tend to think, “If I have spent so much money paying for this equipment, and if I have put so much of my time into perfecting it, I’d better use it and it better be good.” So we haul our computers and projectors and screens and cords and sound systems to each youth group function, thinking that we have to use technology to impress and reach today’s kids and that we have to rely on technological advances to keep them coming. The over-use of technology can turn into a vicious cycle. Instead of starting our meetings by throwing out a spongy old ball for a rousing game of dodge ball, we are consumed with getting the technological equipment set up and working properly for one more personally crafted, personally filmed, personally directed, and personally edited multimedia presentation.

A few months ago, I heard the youth pastor from one of this country’s mega-churches say that his church had come to the conclusion that they were going to move away from a dependence upon multi-media in their regular youth meetings. He figured some 13-year-old kids in their group could likely make better presentations at home on their MacBook than that church’s entire technology staff could do with thousands of dollars of equipment. Plus, he wondered whether all the glitz and effort that they could possibly put into their videos really impress teenagers, who are growing up in an ever-increasing high tech multimedia world. His conclusion was that it was probably not worth all the effort.

Please hear my point. I am not advocating a departure from media and technology. I love these toys as much as anyone. But please don’t overly rely on technology. That reliance tends to get you out of balance somehow. Maybe our approach should be to grab a couple of Cokes and just sit down for a few minutes to talk to kids. Or maybe it’s time to dust off that old game of dodge ball.

4. My temptation to travel too much.

There’s at least one more factor that tends to make youth workers have a serious approach to youth ministry: the compulsion and obsession that effective youth ministry can only happen in airplanes or in church vans. Ouch.

I have seen so many youth ministries that remind me of the old 1980’s Steve Martin and John Candy movie, “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.” Where’d we get the idea that real youth ministry requires a trip somewhere?

Now, I am a big fan of youth group trips. I have led my share of missions trips, tours to Christian colleges, and long bus rides to camp. Even now, my mind is recalling the smell of a church van after several days of traveling with a dozen teenagers. The problem is that travel can get out of balance. Really, this is probably a stewardship issue. We live in a day of high gas prices and vehicle insurance rates. You’ll have to ask yourself (or maybe your church’s leadership will ask you), “Is it really wise to take that many youth group trips?” I know that effective ministry can take place on long trips. The long-term exposure to a group of students is the key. The unity that is often a result of such trips can do a world of good for your group. But trips take a ton of work, and the planning and administration take an incredible amount of time (and money).

Church van trips used to be fun. We’d all pile in and drive down to the local McDonald’s for chocolate shakes and salty french fries. We’d spend the time talking, telling jokes, and reminiscing about past trips in the same van. Now, we have to take out the back seat and make sure that the tires are inflated just right because of insurance regulations. We have to record the exact mileage for tax or reimbursement procedures. We have to make sure that the driver is qualified and properly licensed, and we have to take out a secured personal loan to pay for a tank of gas. Maybe it’s time to have the kids meet you at McDonald’s or ask them to show up at your house for a quick game of Monopoly.

Maybe the real problem is that we take ourselves too seriously. So we design mission statements and plan worship experiences. We rely too much on technology, and we go away too often. Perhaps effective youth ministry can happen by hanging out with kids, playing board games or dodge ball with them, or buying them milk shakes at McDonald’s. You’ll never be accused of being a big spender, but you may just develop wholesome and positive relationships with kids. And it just may be fun.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

What Do Generational Differences Look Like in Ministry?

We’re facing a clash of generations in America.
The Baby Boomers – the generation of “The Sixies”, Woodstock, and The Beatles singing, “You say you want a revolution…” – are kicking and screaming into retirement; while the Millennials – the first generation of “digital natives” (see http://edition.cnn.com/2012/12/04/business/digital-native-prensky/) and the most-observed generation in history – are facing their 30’s.
Boomers don’t want to give up control – and Millennials are in effect saying, who needs you? And are creating new ways of doing things. This phenomenon is true with everything from pocket-sized computers (thinly disguised as cell phones) to the Church. This trend is maybe mostly true in the Church. Millennials are walking away from traditional churches en masse – and a new generation of pastors would rather plant new churches than take on an established, traditional church.
Yes, most Millennials want and are seeking our growing relationships with older, significant adults as mentors. (See https://hbr.org/2010/05/mentoring-millennials.) But, from my perspective, the generations are looking at the basic aspects of ministry very, very differently. It is my conclusion that the different generations need each other, probably more than ever before. But, it often looks like the two generations are speaking different languages when it comes to ministry.
  • Boomers think mentoring is an “information dump” (like orientation sessions) – Millennials want relationships with significant, older people.
  • Boomers think discipleship is a series of scheduled meetings – Millennials want to do life together.
  • Boomers think evangelism is most often a systematic presentation – Millennials seek to build relationships within communities.
  • Boomers think structured church programs should fill up their weekend schedules – Millennials are more attracted to relational conversations around a cup of coffee.
  • Boomers think Millennials should “pay their dues” before assuming positions of leadership – Millennials believe they have much to offer and want a voice in influencing the direction of the organization.
  • Boomers want fellowship with others from their own generation – Millennials crave growing relationships with members of other generations. 

The generations need each other in the church. What can we do to build growing and intentional, inter-generational connections in the Church?
For some help in connecting the generations in your church take a look at my book Inter-Generational Youth Ministry: Why a Balanced View of Connecting the Generations is Essential for the Church. See www.intergenerationalyouthministry.com.