Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Is “Inter-Generational Youth Ministry” an Oxy-Moron? How to Involve Godly Adults in the Lives of Young People

We’ve all heard about “oxymoron’s”, right? It’s a figure of speech where contradictory terms appear together. Here are some illustrations from http://www.oxymoronlist.com/:
  • Accurate estimate
  • Act naturally
  • Adult children
  • All alone
  • Big baby
  • Calm winds
  • Casual dress
  • Sanitary landfill
  • Airline food
Someone asked me the other day if the title of my book, Inter-Generational Youth Ministry: Why a
Balanced View of Connecting the Generations is Essential for The Church, is an oxymoron? While I get what they are saying, I really don’t believe that there should be a conflict there. I believe in youth ministry and I have been actively involved in it in some form or another for more than 40 years. But, I have a growing conviction that if churches totally separate their teenagers from the overall life of the church, they are making a big mistake.

Older adults need the life and energy of youth – and young people need the wisdom and maturity of older adults. The church was designed by God to be inter-generational and the generations need each other.

However, there are concrete and definite strengths for having a strong and effective church youth ministry. (I present some of those strengths in my book. See Chapter 7. Here is my list of youth ministry strengths that I posted in an earlier blog. http://www.melwalker.org/2014/01/13-things-big-church-must-learn-from.html.) It’s not time to overreact and eliminate the many positive aspects of youth ministry in favor of all ages meeting together for one more lecture in the church auditorium. The key is balance. I am convinced that today’s churches can and should balance their programming and methods so that peer ministry can exist and thrive alongside of inter-generational ministry.

Dr. Chap Clark, well-known youth ministry professor, writer, and researcher, has made the assertion that today’s teenagers need strong relationships with 5 significant adults (other than their parents) if they are going to continue involvement in church following their youth ministry years. (Note for more information about Chap’s 5 to 1 ratio see http://billygraham.org/decision-magazine/september-2004/in-spite-of-how-they-act/, http://www.cpyu.org/2013/08/13/5-adults-to-1-kid-but-who-are-the-5/, http://fulleryouthinstitute.org/articles/moving-away-from-the-kid-table, and http://theparentcue.org/why-your-kids-need-five-other-adults-in-their-lives/.)  

Our young people need Godly adults to be actively involved in their lives. I believe that it is essential for the spiritual development of youth that older, Godly adults take the initiative to build growing relationships with them.

How to involve adults into the life of your church’s teenagers & young adults?

How can churches be proactive and intentionally build 5 significant, Godly adults into the lives of the next generation? Here are some suggestions:

1. Hire a qualified, trained, and experienced pastor to shepherd your church’s youth.

I admit it, I am a fan of youth pastors. I’ve spent the majority of my life involved in local church youth ministry, so I believe in the role of youth pastors. Plus, as a dad, I can’t tell you how thankful I am for the ministry the youth pastors in the churches we attended had in the lives of my kids. According to my friend Wayne Morgan with the National Network of Youth Ministry, the majority of young adults who stay in church after they graduate from high school had a youth pastor who invested in their life.

Let me take a moment to explain the adjectives I used in this sub-point:
  • Qualified: Pastors, even young youth pastors, must meet the Biblical qualifications that are found in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.
  • Trained: Youth pastors should be trained before they begin. They need to know what they are talking about and they to know what they are doing. And, are they called of God to do this?
  • Experience: As a parent I don’t want someone who we pay to minister to kids that has never done this before. If someone is really called to be a youth pastor they will have already had experience in working with teenagers. It’s in their blood. 

2. Recruit a team of Godly, caring adults to serve as lay youth workers in your church.

With or without a paid youth pastor, your church needs a team of Godly and caring adults to work with teenagers. Please notice the plurality of my terms. I believe in team ministry - different models who can reach and minister different teens. The main responsibility of any lay youth worker must be to build relationships with teens. That really is the key. Opportunities to teach and disciple will grow out of positive relationships.

3. Recruit and train competent adults to minister as small group leaders in your youth group.

Your small group leaders are another level of adult interaction with students. Be sure to find adults who have the ability to guide discussions around the Scriptures and who can think on their feet in case the teens ask difficult questions. I think it’s also wise to look for small group leaders who are able and willing to interact with the students in occasions outside of small group. (Some churches are organizing their entire small group ministry around inter-generational connections; and of course, this would add an interesting dynamic to this type of ministry structure.)

4. Utilize church leaders, parents of teenagers, and other significant adults to serve your youth group.

Another way to build adults into the lives of the young people in your church is to use significant adults in various ways within the fabric of your existing youth ministry. Here are some practical ideas to consider:
  • Ask some parents of teenagers or other adults to accompany your group on youth events or trips.
  • Ask church leaders to speak, teach, or otherwise participate in youth group meetings.
  • Ask the lead pastor or other pastoral staff members to teach on a specific topic in youth group.
  • Ask select, Godly adults who have unique life experiences to minister to students who are facing some of the same experiences.
  • Give older, Godly adults the opportunity to share their story (or their testimony) with teenagers.
(Of course, you’ll need to be cognizant of your church’s policy on child protection or use of potential background checks before making these decisions.)


5. Ask key parents of teenagers to build healthy, growing relationships with their kids’ friends.

Parents of kids in your church can be the ideal people to minister to their kids’ friends – especially if you have young people involved in your ministry who are from dysfunctional home situations. When our own children were teenagers we often encouraged them to invite their friends over to our house. This provided a safe atmosphere for our kids and gave us the opportunity to get to know their friends. It might be a good idea to be intentional about making this kind of thing happen with Godly parents of teens in your church. 

6. Motivate your church’s senior citizens to pray specifically and intentionally for young people – by name!

I am excited about a growing trend around the country to intentionally involve senior citizens in specific ways with teenagers and young adults. This absolutely must start with prayer. Do whatever you can to motivate your church’s oldest adults to pray specifically, by name for the young people. This simple practice will put a growing burden on their hearts for the students - and honestly, it has the potential to revolutionize your church and shatter its’ generation gap!  

Friends, I am convinced that by implementing some of the ideas listed above your church can create that 5 adults to 1 student ratio that is so essential to help our young people grow up and go on for God. Blessings.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

What Does It Take to Be an Encourager? 8 Characteristics of Effective Mentors – Acts 11:19-30

I love encouragers. You know the type – those people who can’t help but be positive, friendly… and encouraging to others. These are the people who couldn’t say a negative word about anyone. Ever. My experience tells me that there are very few people like that (which is a shame, by the way); but as I get older, I want to be one of those encouragers. I pray daily about it. But, wow – I have a long ways to go!

There are a couple of people identified that way in the Scriptures. One of them was a man by the name of Onesiphorus. He is introduced to us in 2 Timothy 2:16-18. The Apostle Paul writes this about him, “He often refreshed me.” The word “refreshed” there implies being “revived, renewed, or reinvigorated”. That’s an amazing testimony. I want people in my life who are like that – and I want to be that kind of person for others. I need to build encouragers into my life. I honestly think everyone needs people like him – and maybe the best way to change a culture of discouragement into a culture of encouragement is for each of us to be intentional about trying to refresh others like Onesiphorus did.

Certainly the most familiar encourager in the New Testament was Barnabas. That’s how we know him, but his real name was actually Joseph (see Acts 4:36). God’s people called him by the nickname Barnabas, because he was characterized as someone who encouraged others. His life demonstrated it.

There’s one specific account in Scripture which especially exemplifies his ministry of encouragement. The story take place when the church was new. Facing heavy persecution, the early Christ-followers scattered spreading the Gospel, which resulted in a great number of new believers in places like Antioch. You can read the narrative in Acts 11:19-30. It really is an amazing story!

What happens in Antioch is one of my favorite mentoring illustrations in all of Scripture. These new believers had come to Christ and were growing in Him, but they needed help. They needed direction, counsel, and they needed to be taught and discipled by someone older and more mature in their faith. So the mother-church in Jerusalem sent Barnabas, the ideal encourager, to the newly-established Antioch church so that he could mentor them in their faith.

I am absolutely convinced that what Barnabas did in Antioch is exactly what the church needs today – especially young people. The next generation needs encouragers – older, more mature, Godly people who will take the initiative to build growing relationships into the lives of younger people. That’s exactly why I am a big fan of intentional, church-based mentoring.

There are some amazingly practical principles in this story of Barnabas in Acts 11:19-30 that can be implemented into the fabric of our churches today. Let me highlight some of them for you:

Biblical Characteristics of Effective Mentors -
  1. Barnabas was accountable. Notice that “the church in Jerusalem” (v. 22) sent Barnabas to Antioch. He was under their accountably and their authority. This was not a random act. The word “sent” implies purposeful activity.
  2. Barnabas was a mature Christian. By this time in the Biblical account his life, Barnabas was already a seasoned and experienced leader in the early church. Among other experiences, he was greatly used by God to mentor Saul (Acts 9:27) by helping this young convert get assimilated into the church community. He was the ideal person to help these new believers in Antioch grow in Christ. This is an imperative in a truly effective mentoring relationship. Mentors must be spiritually mature and must be Godly examples to the younger, less mature believers.   
  3. Mentoring is about having things in common. A little background information is in order here to fully appreciate this story. This passage points out that some of the new believers in the Antioch church were men from Cyprus (vs. 19 & 20). It is quite interesting to realize that Barnabas was actually from Cyprus (Acts 4:26) too. Barnabas could connect with them because he certainly had things in common with them. That is a key ingredient of any mentoring relationship. Ministry is much more effective when the mentor’s life background is similar to the people they are mentoring.
  4. Barnabas was an encourager. This point perhaps seems obvious in the flow of this article, but it needs to be emphasized.  Barnabas “encouraged them all” (v. 23). It’s a rare quality to be able to have that kind of positive influence on everyone; but that’s how God used him. And note, what he did specifically. He “encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord.” This isn’t a description of a “power-of-positive-thinking”, eternal optimist, or Joel Osteen / Robert Schuller type of person. Quite the contrary. This verse depicts the ministry of someone who was used of God to exhort others to go on for God. Today’s young people need people like this in their lives - older, Godly, more mature encouragers to motivate them toward their own walk with Christ.
  5. Barnabas was intentional about mentoring.  The intentionality in the passage is obvious - and should be motivating as well. The Jerusalem church sent Barnabas to Antioch, and he had an incredible ministry there (v. 24) so that “a great many people were added to the Lord.” But, then, right in the middle of all the great things God was doing there, the text tells us (v. 25) that Barnabas “departed for Tarsus to seek for Saul”. Barnabas was wise enough, mature enough, and serious enough about these new converts in Antioch that he knew they needed someone else with a different set of gifts and abilities to get involved in their lives. Barnabas immediately thought of Saul – the new convert he had personally mentored earlier. So, Barnabas left the activity there in Antioch to make this trip back to Saul’s hometown to recruit him to join the team in the work at Antioch. That is exactly what good mentors do – they get other people involved in the process.
  6. The ministry was Bible-centered. There was a certain focus to the ministry of Barnabas, who was now partnered with Saul in this strategic mentoring ministry in Antioch, and that was their emphasis upon teaching the Scriptures. Verse 26 puts it this way “they assembled with the church and taught a great many people.” This phrase also implies an intentionality to their ministry. It wasn’t a hap-hazard, informal relationship. These young converts needed to be grounded in the Scriptures and the Lord gave Barnabas and Saul the opportunity to do just that.
  7. Mentoring takes time. Spending time together is another practical aspect of any mentoring relationship. Notice this phrase in verse 26, “for a whole year they assembled with the church…” Obviously, this is also very important. Real ministry cannot happen without spending time together – and this will probably be a huge issue in today’s culture. People are so busy. That’s why I often remind people that true mentoring is not necessarily a commitment of extra time. Instead, it should be something like this – do what you do, just do it with someone younger. Your ministry must flow out of a genuine lifestyle of living consistently for Him.
  8. Their ministry was Christ-focused. It is significant to note that Barnabas and Saul did not make their work in Antioch about them as individuals.  Notice this in verse 26, “And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.” Their ministry there was so Christ-focused that they produced disciples (followers of Christ) who were so Christ-like that they were actually called “little Christ’s” (or Christians) by the people there in Antioch. 




Yes, the next generation needs encouragers – older, mature, Godly people who will take the initiative to build growing relationships into the lives of younger people, younger in age or younger in the faith. These principles from this story in Scripture may be able to help. Blessings. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

WHERE HAS THE FUN GONE?


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.