Youth Ministry 101

Our friends, Rev. Jeremy Steele & Caroline Hare, over in the Alabama/West Florida Conference, have some great videos about to get you started in youth ministry.  

Check them out HERE 

If you've been in youth ministry for less than two years or are feeling a calling into ministry with our young people, you should join us for the Foundations Course in May.  

 

Stopping the Shootings – Youth Workers Can Help

BY SCOTT MEIER  FEBRUARY 23, 2018

Another school shooting.  Another tragic event.  Lives forever changed. It really doesn’t matter where you live, if you have any interaction with students, especially those in middle school and high school, the news of another tragic school shooting causes one to pause and ponder, “What is wrong?”  

ike with so many other events in our world, the news cycle will quickly move to the next hot topic. And unfortunately we often move on with it.  It’s easy to understand. It’s easy to get mentally worn out when we stay focused on all the tragic events that unfold around us.

n actuality, youth ministers are in a unique position to help combat many of the ills that face our nation.  Instead of waiting for politicians or national leaders to combat issues, we can have a much better chance of “fixing” them by focusing on them at the community level.  

I have never met a youth minister who isn’t well ingrained in a community. Even though our titles contain words like “youth” or “student”, all of us interact with people of all ages and from all backgrounds.  We do so with the authority that comes from the title “Minister.”

What do we do with this?  How do we combat the ills that lead to tragedies like school shooting.

1. Claim our voice and speak with authority.
Conversation with your students, conversations with family members, conversations with church members, and conversations with community leaders about dealing with the situations that lead up to tragic events.  

So much of the talk in our country turns away from solutions towards the polarizing and divisive.  We in the church must be the voices that bring people together.  This is not to say that we have to water down what we say, but we can have hard conversations around tough topics when we do it with honesty, integrity, and, most importantly, love!  Don’t stop talking about the issues that face your community.  Claim your voice and speak with authority.

2. Love kids and families like it is the most important thing in your job description.

Many people want to simplify the causes of tragic events like school shootings.  It is easy to say, “Gun control is the answer” or, “Social media is the culprit.” But we in youth ministry know the reasons for events like school shooting are far more complex.  

I am not suggesting that simply loving students and families will stop all school shootings, but when we focus on loving and caring for the people in our flock, we go a long way towards creating better communities, better churches, and better schools.

Over and over again through the Gospels we see Jesus loving all; and doing so with integrity and accountability.  If we model this same thing, I believe we can turn the tide in our communities.  And at the same time, help people look once again to the Church as a place of leadership in the community.

3. Report what you see: the next tragedy could be sitting in your youth group.

How many times have I been in an airport and read a sign or head an announcement over the PA that says, “If you see something, say something.”  In this day and age, even the slightest of situations can lead to the biggest of tragedies.  As youth ministers, we are all connected in to kids in unique ways.  You hear what is going on!  You know what kids are talking about.  We must not be afraid to say something when we see or hear something!

This is not easy to imagine, and it may even be a bit controversial on my part to say.  But the reality is, the kids sitting in your youth group could be involved in some way in the next tragedy.  But that doesn’t have to be scary, it can be hopeful because it also means the kids sitting in your youth group could be part of the solution to the next tragedy.  

I find myself thinking about tragic events as happening far from my home, in another community that is nothing like mine.  Yet, we all know deep down inside that our town or our schools could be next.  We must provide lessons and discussions with our students that deal head-on with preventing and dealing with tragic events.  These aren’t scare-tactics. They are living into the reality of what could be.  Focusing on Christ-like love and accountability becomes more important if we stop and imagine one of our own is capable of carrying out a tragic event, or if one of our own has the opportunity to stop a tragic event.

We always want to have your back.  We have another article specifically on shootings called Responding to a School Shooting: Three Approaches for Youth Workers

Discipleship Ministries has a video focused on engaging unchurched in the community during times of tragedy.It was developed during the Hurricane in Houston last year, but can apply to a range of tragedies.

Chris Wilterdink also has a prayer that you might be able to use as well.

Original post HERE

Responding to a School Shooting: Three Approaches for Youth Workers

BY PAULO LOPES  FEBRUARY 15, 2018

It seems like we are having to come up with responses to tragedies around us on a daily basis now. 

 

I am not about to rant on the state of young people’s emotional health these days, or how terribly exposed we are to the risk of tragedy in spite of our sometimes insane efforts to stay “safe.” Today, I want  humbly offer up a framework to help us minister effectively to young people (or anyone else for that matter) during days, times, or seasons such as these.

 

Three approaches

 

There are three basic approaches to any issue in ministry. Our choice of approach should depend on our role during any given moment or situation. While each approach is important and necessary, the outcomes of each could not be more different.

 

1. The pastoral approach (role: minister)

This approach is not an easy one, and it’s certainly not an exact science. Instead, the pastoral approach feels more like an art. When you are responding in this role, your immediate reaction to tragedy is love and compassion. You feels the pain of those directly affected. But you also understands the fear and anxiety of those who are watching, those who feel “it could have been them,” and those who can immediately relate to the suffering and loss (parents, siblings, grandparents, those who have lost loved ones… just about anyone). 

 

The pastoral approach loves people by: 

  • Listening to them well (and weeping with them) instead of being quick to offer up points of view; 
  • Learning about people and their stories in the process;
  • Leading them, in community, to the arms of a loving God.

 

Friends, our students (and communities) need more people ministering to them in love and compassion. My (very biased) advice to you is that you seek first to be a minister to those whom God has entrusted to your care. There will be plenty of opportunity for advocating, and for teaching. But great ministry happens in moments of openness and vulnerability. 

 

2. The theological approach (role: teacher)

This approach tends to be the “go-to” for those of us who fancy ourselves to be thinkers. It’s response will immediately take us back to the biblical narrative. It hears of tragedy and automatically begins making connections between the news, parallel biblical stories, and key theological concepts. The theological response reminds us that we live in a broken world, where things are not the way they ought to be. It points to the hope we have of a future where tears and pain will be a thing of the past. It reminds us of a savior who, himself, suffered and died a tragic death. 

 

The theological approach will ultimately say “but three days later…”, and quote scripture saying that we too are “raised up with Christ” to life eternal. There’s a lot more that could be said about this approach, and we could spend days thinking through theological implications and responses to tragedies. At the end of the day, I don’t think our first response should follow the theological approach, but as we live into and further process tragic events, this approach is key.

 

3. The political approach (role: advocate)

Personally, my “knee-jerk” reaction to just about every shooting is to “go political.” I immediately want to talk about gun control, about mental health, about failing public education policies, etc. The political role responds to crises from the standpoint of political action. It wants justice, now! It assumes, and rightly so, that part of the solution to so many of these tragedies is to advocate for more just and humane laws, to put pressure on those elected to represent us, and to encourage as many people as possible to join in the good fight. Furthermore, it reminds us that our God is one who is very much interested in justice. The political approach helps us interpret our world systematically. In other words, it allows us to read about an injustice such as yesterday’s, and immediately make connections all the way up to budget decisions, campaign funding policies, corporate lobbyists, and ideological fallacies. 

 

Personally, in the wake of such heartbreaking news, I don’t think OUR (youth worker) first response should follow the political approach, but like a theological approach, it is something to consider in the longer term with your church leadership. 

 

Lastly, let me tell you about a moment of ministry I was privileged to witness years ago. A friend of mine lost two friends in a tragic car accident. Both were international students in seminary, and both had left family in their home country to pursue a call to further their education. My friend, who was very close to them, was asked to speak at the funeral service. He walked up to the pulpit bearing the weight of being called to minister even as he was in need of being ministered to himself.  He said, “I don’t know why this happened. I don’t know if God is in this somehow. And I truly don’t know what to say. I only know one thing… that in all and through all Jesus Christ is STILL Lord.” His words are ringing in my soul today.

There’s a lot more help online

Discipleship Ministries has a video focused on engaging unchurched in the community during times of tragedy. It was developed during the Hurricane in Houston last year, but can apply to a range of tragedies.

Original post HERE

38 Simple Ideas For Taking Care of Yourself When You Need It Most

38 Simple Ideas For Taking Care of Yourself When You Need It Most

February 27, 2018 by HILARY WHITE

The best way to be able to care for others is to start with caring for yourself. Self-care is essential to your mental health and wellness, and taking time to listen to what you need and address it doesn't make you selfish, it makes you strong. Some days, getting out of bed is a feat. Sometimes anxiety and depression can be crippling. Sometimes something terrible happens that you have little or no control over, but it rocks you to your core. In these moments, or hours, or days, you should take measures to care for yourself — mind, body, and heart. Everyone is unique, so their version of self-care can of course differ, but here are some general tips for taking the time you need to heal.

  1. Take time to identify the activities and actions that make you feel good.
  2. Find somewhere quiet and meditate as needed.
  3. Reread one of your favorite books.
  4. Avoid triggers.
  5. Watch shows that are funny or comforting.
  6. Take time to yourself, away from others.
  7. Get a full night's sleep regularly.
  8. Check in with yourself.
  9. Put on fresh, comfortable clothing.
  10. Light a candle and fill your home with your favorite scent.
  11. Take a hot bath.
  12. Visit your favorite spot in the city you live in.
  13. Don't feel guilty turning down invitations or canceling plans.
  14. Take a day off of work if you need to.
  15. Write down a list of things you are thankful for.
  16. Remind yourself that this too shall pass.
  17. Read inspiring quotes.
  18. Spend time outside.
  19. Listen to your favorite band or song on repeat.
  20. Ask for help if you need it.
  21. Do not force yourself to do anything you don't want to do.
  22. Eat a balanced diet, but treat yourself to your favorite guilty pleasure.
  23. Write down what you're thinking and feeling.
  24. Breathe in and out.
  25. Unplug from social media.
  26. Exercise.
  27. Listen to a calming playlist.
  28. Pet an animal.
  29. Do yoga.
  30. Turn off your phone for a day.
  31. Splurge a little.
  32. Schedule an appointment with a therapist.
  33. Watch your favorite movie or TV show from childhood.
  34. Take a nap.
  35. Do something that inspires and motivates you.
  36. Make future plans for a trip or event you're excited about.
  37. Spend time with a close friend or family member.
  38. Remember that self-care is not optional, it's essential.

Original post HERE

Leave us some other ways you take care of yourself in the comments

2017 Full-Time Youth Pastor Compensation

 

Prepared by Dan Navarra

Edited by Adam McLane, Mark Oestreicher

Synopsis:

 

I once had a Senior Pastor tell me he “took an oath of ministry; not of poverty.” What he meant by that, he later explained, was that he believed that professional ministers should be compensated fairly, given their tenure, education, and other qualifications. While I found myself grateful for his guidance in my earlier years in ministry, I’ve since come to realize over my own dozen years of vocational youth ministry that he was in the minority when it came to Pastors putting their money where their mouth is. Youth ministry is a tricky career choice. Surprise! The hours are stereotypically long, the pay even more stereotypically low, and the pressure to perform and produce “results” is often unreasonably high.

Therefore, the aim and objective of this document is to present tangible data surrounding the compensation of full-time Youth Pastors in order to minimize vague speculation, while also providing concrete data and evidence, should a Youth Pastor deem themselves undercompensated. My research methodology was to simply ask full-time Youth Pastors to respond to a Google Form compensation survey spanning thirty-six questions. This survey, while certainly not perfect, was received with a great deal of goodwill among my fellow Youth Workers; many of whom felt like the data would be essential to them as they went into their annual performance reviews.

I’m grateful and fortunate to have had Adam McLane from The Youth Cartel partner with me in helping to formulate the final results of these findings. It’s also fair for you to know a little about who I am as the one who created the survey and compiled the summary of results.  I, myself, have been a full-time Youth Pastor since 2008. I’ve also earned a degree in Philosophy with a Religious Emphasis and a Masters of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary. My research began as purely self-serving; with my own ambition of illustrating data that would help warrant a raise in my own compensation. As my number of respondents grew, and feedback was given along the way, I realized two things: I was actually being compensated quite fairly when compared to those with similar qualifications to myself, but also many of my friends and colleagues were not so lucky. From these conclusions, I decided that this data needed to be published in a free and accessible way to help advocate for my fellow Youth Pastors. I hope you find it helpful.

The survey had 1,335 respondents in nearly three months of collecting data from November 2 of 2017 to January 23 of 2018. These respondents are comprised of 85% male and 15% female. Zero respondents chose to select “other” as a gender option.

On Education:

The Numbers Say: Stay in School

I’m excited to report that 28% of participants have completed a Theological Masters or Seminary, and 59% of Youth Pastors have a 4-year college degree. Less than 6% have only completed high school. There were ten of you geniuses who have a doctorate (and one of them is a Junior High Pastor!). 7% have done some sort of ministry certificate program. Obviously, this points to education playing a critical component in youth ministry compensation. Specifically, the average salary of a person holding a seminary education or higher is about $51,000 (median salary $50,000), while those who only possess a 4-year undergraduate degree have an average salary just over $43,000 (median of $42,000). Youth Pastors with a high school education only, or who have done an unaccredited certificate program yield an average salary of $39,000 (median $40,000).

More than half of Youth Pastors carry personal debt for their education, with most people who have student loans possessing less than $10,000 left until they are debt free. About 23% of Youth Pastors have more than $30,000 of debt, with 5% of all Youth Pastors having more than $75,000. I hope your spouse has a great job, or you have a killer side hustle. ☺

Regarding Ordination:

About half of all full-time Youth Pastors have been ordained. These ordained pastors have an average salary just over $48,000 (median of $48,000 also), while non-ordained pastors have average salary of $42,000 (median of $41,000). An ordained pastor with a seminary education earns an average of nearly $53,000 (median of $51,000), and 82% of ordained pastors who are seminary trained are also getting a housing allowance to give them a further financial advantage.

For Those Who Wear Multiple Hats:

Interestingly, 40% of full-time Youth Pastors are also being asked to be the ministry lead for another ministry, besides those related to youth. This also must be taken into account when considering over 82% of all full-time youth workers are scheduled to be out at regularly scheduled church programs at least two evenings per week. 30% reported being out three times per week. Friends, I plead with you: find space for a Sabbath, or else you’re heading towards being a part of the burnout statistics, instead of the gainfully employed statistics. More on this in a moment.

63% of Youth Pastors have ability to lead worship through music. One would expect this to be a skill that affects compensation by deducing that more skills and abilities would lead to higher compensation. However, that was not the case! Those who can lead worship earn an average salary of $44,000 ($43,000 median). Those who are less musically inclined earn a $45,000 average salary ($44,000 median).

There are several conclusions one could draw from the stats on music and nights out correlating. I’ll make a few general observations. I believe this data indicates there is a workforce of Youth Pastors who “do” lots, but that doesn’t correlate to getting paid more. I’d advise this as a caution, considering the number of non-veteran Youth Pastors who participated in the survey: don’t let your job description expand without your compensation also paralleling that expansion, or else you could find yourself over-worked and under-paid quickly. The compensation average for those who are only out one night per week is nearly $46,000, while those who are out multiple nights per week are decisively not being compensated for this time out. In fact, the numbers indicate they are being paid less than their single-night-out counterparts by nearly $3,000 per year on average.  This seems to indicate that churches who have their people out less evenings and assisting in other ministries are willing to give more compensation for specialization. Churches that require more time out in the evening from their Pastors, as well as a wider skill set from their people are often asking them to take less compensation to do more. Obviously, this data is not conclusive in this direction; but the numbers also don’t support the idea that “doing more gets you paid more.”

General Compensation Findings:

Only 22 respondents reported being paid by the hour. I would expect this number to rise over the next few years, especially in places like California as minimum wage (and therefore salary exempt) requirements make it increasingly difficult for churches to sustain exempt status for some of their lower paid employees. Less than 20% have opted out of social security, while nearly 60% receive a housing allowance. As previously stated over 80% of ordained pastors with a seminary degree receive a housing allowance.

Just to clarify for some who may not know: if you take a housing allowance, and do NOT opt out of Social Security, your church now classifies you as a self-employed W-2 employee. Therefore, they are NOT required to pay the typical 50% of your Social Security Tax. This is a nice way of saying, if you take a housing allowance, and you do not opt out, you probably are going to need to negotiate a higher salary from your employer, because you’re going to be paying a 15% Social Security tax on your salary. The most advantageous way for you to be compensated is to opt out (if that makes sense for you—talk to your accountant or financial planner), and to take a housing allowance to lower your taxable income. Then, make sure you save at least 5% minimum into retirement (403b or Roth IRA). If you don’t save, and you opt out, you’ll never retire.

When it comes to actual cash compensation, the numbers are fascinating. The basic average reported salary among full-time Youth Pastors for 2017 is $45,381. The median income is $44,000. However, this number is skewed by the inordinate amount of people who reported being paid LESS than the federal salaried minimum. If you’re new to the world of full-time work, federal minimum wage as of January 1, 2018 is $7.25. A full-time exempt (from overtime) employee must lawfully be compensated at no less than double their states minimum wage, calculated over a 40-hour work week. For instance, in Idaho, their state minimum wage is the same as the federal wage of $7.25 per hour. In Idaho, a full-time exempt employee must be paid no less than $30,160 annually ($7.25 x 2 (to double) x 40 hours per week x 52 weeks per year= total salary). In California, where the state minimum wage is $10.50, a full-time exempt employee may not be paid less than $43, 680, using the same formula. 11% (or almost 150 Youth Pastors who identified as full-time) indicated a compensation below $31,160 as their annual income. It should be noted that of these people, about 20% indicated receiving some sort of housing benefit from their church, which may have not been counted in their total compensation. Read: “I get twenty-five grand and a free house to live in for my family.” If you find yourself in that category, your compensation should be calculated based on what renting that home, fully furnished would be added in to your cash salary. Regardless, that still leaves well over 100 participants in this survey who reported not being paid a lawful minimum salary. If this is you, be kind, but firm when you show this to your Board or boss. We all have heard the horror stories of that conversation not going well.

Experience is King:

Only about 6% of participants reported being 20+ year veterans of youth ministry, while half of all participants reported being in youth ministry five years or less. 8% of respondents were in their first full-time year of vocational ministry—welcome to the family! The largest demographic of experience reporting was the 5-10 year spread. However, 75% of respondents reported being in their current position for less than 5 years, with most of those people (about 60%) being in the 3-5 years of continuous employment at one position range, thus indicating many Youth Pastors are beginning full-time ministry with one church family, and then within their first half decade moving on to a secondary opportunity.

Given my own experience on the job boards, there is an obvious difference between entry level compensation and those who hit the magic “3 years of full-time experience” mark. If you’re past year three, and have never gotten a pay raise, you might want to explore that with your boss or Board. To substantiate this claim that I’ve perceived for quite some time, consider the following: For people who have less than three years of full-time ministry experience, their average and median salary was $37,000. Once a pastor passes the three-year mark in full-time ministry, there is a considerable increase in average annual salary that comes with your experience. Below, you can find an illustration helping explain how years of experience affect salaries, and the percentage increases from one phase to the next.

< 3 Years = $37,000*

3-5 Years = $42,000 (+12%)

5-10 Years = $47,000 (+11%)

10-20 Years = $52,000 (+10%)

20+ Years = $60,000 (+14%)

*For those of you who elect to do college first, then seminary, and then go get your first full-time job, you can expect an average salary of $43,000 (median of $42,000) in your first three years, thus indicating that your education (paired with a lack of full-time experience) gains you about 14% pay increase when you begin ministry over your non-seminary counterparts.

Only half of those who have been in youth ministry for twenty or more years have earned a seminary degree. Therefore, if you want to be a lifer, experience seems to be valued at a higher level than education. 20-year vets with a masters earn an average of $63,000. 20-year vets without a masters earn virtually the same average annual salary. Interestingly, every single Youth Pastor who responded to this survey who has been in full-time ministry for over 20 years (6% of respondents) has at least a bachelor’s degree. What this tells me is, if you want to have a long fruitful ministry with students, experience is king, but not if it means dropping out of college. Finish your accredited degree.

A Note About Church Size & Budget Affecting Salary:

There was a quite wide variation in the data on how the size of church does or does not affect compensation, which is why you won’t see many stats on church size and how that affects how people are compensated. This seems to be mostly attributed to how many Youth Pastors are the “second pastor” at many smaller churches, and thus can sometimes generate a slightly larger income. However, the general data seems to point to small churches paying smaller dollars.  Churches with more than 500 people in worship on a Sunday (35% of the churches involved in this study) average a $50,000 salary for the Youth Pastor, while churches who average under 500 people in worship on Sunday are paying an average just under $42,000.

Churches with an annual general fund budget exceeding $1 million reveal a salary averaging $51,000, while churches under the million-dollar annual budget line only pay an average of $41,000. Churches with over a $2 million annual budget average $54,000.

What You’ve Got to Work With:

47% of Youth Pastors shepherd a group of 40 students or less. These Youth Pastors earn an average annual salary of almost $41,000, while pastors who shepherd groups from 40-90 average $46,000. Youth pastors with a group larger than 90 students (which was 20% of our sample size) generate an average salary of $54,000. 50% of churches are giving their Youth Pastor an annual program budget of $10,000 or higher. Thankfully, only 6% of Youth Pastors have no program budget. 40% of Youth Pastors have at least one intern working for them, and only 18% of Youth Pastors have at least one full-time employee working for them. 75% of Youth Pastors preach in their church’s main service less than 5 times per year, with 22% never getting any pulpit time. However, nearly 75% of Youth Pastors are expected to assist in their church’s main worship gatherings a minimum of 5 times per year (beyond preaching the sermon). 40% of Youth Pastors assist with their church’s main services more than 21 weekends per year.

So, What Does It All Mean? Some Concluding Remarks To Consider:

Ultimately, God’s provision for you, your family, and your life is more than a data set. I don’t know all the factors which contribute towards your being paid what you’re earning. But I do know that God sees you. He hears you. He knows what bill is coming in the mail next. Nothing surprises him. And He reassures us that if the birds of the air have all they need, how much more should we believe that our Father has our best interests in mind? (see Matthew 6:26)

We all agree that ministry is about being obedient to the invitation God has put in front of us. I don’t want this document to tempt you to question the calling on your life, or the invitation God has you cooperating with. I want this to encourage you and empower you. As you engage with your church and boards in this next cycle of annual reviews and progress report check-ins; my hope is that this document offers you courage to ask your church to consider putting your compensation on the higher and healthier side of these statistics. Remember, the median salary is the middle salary of all 1,300+ respondents. That means 50% of us make less than $44,000 and 50% of us make more than $44,000. As you experience fair compensation, I hope that breathes health into your rhythms of ministry, your family, and your own formation more and more into the image of Jesus. And for those of you who will pastor your own churches in the coming future and maybe even employ one of my own children as your Youth Pastor…I hope you will remember the principles uncovered by this document and aim to not pay your staff the minimum, but to always strive to honor the offering each Pastor who serves under brings by compensating them so they can thrive in your ministry and not just survive.

I want to leave you with a blessing originated by Presbyterian Pastor Richard Halverson.

“You go nowhere by accident. Wherever you go, God is sending you. Wherever you are, God has put you there. God has a purpose in your being there. Christ lives in you and has something he wants to do through you where you are. Believe this and go in the grace and love and power of Jesus Christ. Amen.”

Find the original post HERE

Contract for Life

I was reminded recently that we work with hurting teens.  Self-harm, suicidal thoughts, and depression are all parts of the calling we've entered into.  While we can't solve all of their problems, one our youth workers utilizes a "Contract for Life" with those who we can help them, once the immediate danger, has passed. Feel free to adapt this resource for your ministry. 

This is a great tool to covenant with your students and clarify the communication between yourself, their small group leader(s), and the student.  Fill in the appropriate blanks and make copies for everyone.  This covenant is a great opportunity to remind your students that they are loved children of God and they are loved and cared for in your youth ministry. 

Contract for Life

Taking Jesus' Message Seriously - Growing Young - 6 of 6

In late 2016, a team from Fuller Youth Institute published Growing Young: 6 Essential Strategies to Help Young People Discover and Love Your Church.  That book is accompanied by several free resources that can be accessed here.

Through their research, Kara Powell, Jake Mulder, and Brad Griffin identified six things that churches who engage in meaningful ministry with young people do well. This series will briefly identify each of the six strategies and share a story of a place in the United Methodist connection doing that strategy well.

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Relationship is at the center of all Christian communities; a relationship with God through Christ. Relationships with fellow Christians, searchers, and outcasts…those familiar and unfamiliar alike. Social media has allowed these relationships to easily last beyond contact in the teenage years at church. I remain connected to many youth and family members whom I served through ministry at the local church. One of the gifts of enough time in ministry is watching youth grow and mature into adults. Upon finishing Growing Young, I reached out to several of my now-grown youth, to ask two questions:

1) What do you remember as most meaningful in your youth ministry experience?

2) What would have made your youth ministry experience more meaningful or lasting for your faith?

The answers to the first question, as you can imagine, were across the board. Many stories of laughter and service. A few stories that involved tears and deep emotions. Lots of conversation about friends who felt like family. The second question however had a much more related set of responses. Each of the people I spoke with said something along the lines of “I wish we went deeper. Not just skim the surface.” I think some of those responses have come with age, people now able to process and understand things on a different level than in their teen years. Yet, there is truth in their yearning as well. Often, our topics would touch current events and building base Biblical knowledge or theological concepts. However, because of constraints of time, space, and yes – even my leadership, many of my former youth now express a wish that they had taken and known Jesus’ message better during their teens. These reports corroborate the research reported in Growing Young.

There is a holy mystery that young people investigate as a part of their faith journey. That mystery is rooted in Jesus’ question to Peter in Matthew 16:13-20; “Who do you say that I am?” Youth must discover the answer to that question as they determine their own identity, belonging, and purpose in Christ. That question also requires that youth become familiar with the life and teachings of Jesus. Only through familiarity can someone begin to take Jesus’ message seriously. Taking Jesus and his teachings seriously, does not mean approaching faith dryly, without humor or creativity. On the contrary, it means helping youth know and experience what Jesus taught, and then helping them practice what he preached. Through those experiences youth will begin to seriously consider the Great Commandment to love God and love neighbor.

Taking Jesus’ message seriously includes understanding, practice, reflection, and action. After all, Jesus would often call his Disciples and others to “Go and learn what this means.” A shout out to the youth of the Rocky Mountain Conference (Mountain Sky Episcopal Area), who have spent the 2016-17 school year seriously engaged with Matthew 25 and the concept of “Beloved Community.” They have been working diligently to understand and figure out ways to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, and welcome the stranger.

Questions for You

  • How do you create space for youth to interact and experience Jesus’ message?
  • Are there things Jesus said that are difficult to take seriously?
  • How do youth in your ministry express their love for God and their love for neighbor?

Like a Good Neighbor - Growing Young - 5 of 6

In late 2016, a team from Fuller Youth Institute published Growing Young: 6 Essential Strategies to Help Young People Discover and Love Your Church.  That book is accompanied by several free resources that can be accessed here.

Through their research, Kara Powell, Jake Mulder, and Brad Griffin identified six things that churches who engage in meaningful ministry with young people do well. This series will briefly identify each of the six strategies and share a story of a place in the United Methodist connection doing that strategy well.

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Copywriters are some of the most creative people.  They simplify a message so it sticks.  Long after we have viewed or heard the commercial, we remember it.  For example, State Farm’s mantra is “Like a Good Neighbor, State Farm is there.”

Growing Young reminds the church that its goal needs to be to “Neighbor Well.” But it is not an easy task because it requires us to raise question after question after question.  Questions are difficult for the church and its leadership at times. But to “Neighbor Well” is to ask the questions.

With a trifecta of Scripture – Leviticus 19, Matthew 22 and Luke 10 – the authors insist that churches who are growing young dig deeper to find the answer to the question, “Who is my neighbor?”  It is not a rhetorical question, but a conversation starter as individuals seek to know their communities in an authentic and transformative manner.  It requires moving beyond the surface to listening to those you encounter, observing the ritual of the community life and most importantly, moving outside the church’s walls.

When one knows his or her neighbor, it is a little easier to respond with authenticity to the question, “How can I serve?”  Most churches practice some form of acts of mercy -- doing good works, visiting the sick, visiting those in prison, feeding the hungry, seeking justice, ending oppression and discrimination, and addressing the needs of the poor, but when you know your neighbor, you can respond to specific needs rather than general needs.

For example, Church of the Resurrection discovered that many of its neighbors did not have food to sustain them throughout the weekend.  This led to their backpack ministry, which provides families with groceries for the weekend. A church in Alabama found that many residents in their neighborhood had no access to laundry facilities.  Their response was to open a laundromat in the church’s basement.  Recently, Columbia Drive United Methodist Church provided meals to the basketball teams when they made it to the playoffs and there was not money in the school budgets for meals.  These acts of mercy grew out of churches knowing their neighboring community.

But there is another question, you must ask yourself if you are going to “Neighbor Well.”  How will deal you with difficult issues?

Researchers suggest to “Neighbor Well” requires congregations to create space for diversity and “Holy Conversation.”  Churches are not afraid to tackle tough issues, but foster a spirit of healthy dialogue among its members and community.  These congregations shift the focus from the result to the process, which fosters a healthy atmosphere where growth and learning occurs.

 “Churches that grow young recognize the careful dance that values both fidelity to scripture’s commands for holiness and knowing and graciously loving their neighbor,” the authors said.  “This doesn’t imply wholehearted acceptance, or that your church should pretend real differences do not exist.  However, hospitable neighbors maintain both dialogue and relationship, especially when they disagree.”

Warm is the New Cool - Growing Young - 4 of 6

In late 2016, a team from Fuller Youth Institute published Growing Young: 6 Essential Strategies to Help Young People Discover and Love Your Church.  That book is accompanied by several free resources that can be accessed here.

Through their research, Kara Powell, Jake Mulder, and Brad Griffin identified six things that churches who engage in meaningful ministry with young people do well. This series will briefly identify each of the six strategies and share a story of a place in the United Methodist connection doing that strategy well.

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In Growing Young, one of the key strategies is to “Fuel a Warm Community." In this chapter they say that young people are not looking for the coolest program or even worship. They long for church and its community to be deep in genuine relationships and connections . . . "A place to belong."

This is further emphasized and backed up by the research done by the Search Institute that identifies 40 assets (of which involvement in weekly religious activity is one), and states the more assets young people possess, the higher their self-esteem and the lower involvement in risk taking behavior. “Places of faith have great potential to provide experiences, relationships, opportunities, skills and qualities that help young people thrive and make responsible, healthy choices.”

As I further explored the suggestions in this chapter, I thought of a young person who I recently accompanied to a meeting with their pastor. This young person described church as “home, the place where he felt grounded and cared for.”

This statement was the core of what this strategy was all about.  Some of the ideas for action strategies that they suggest (but they emphasize not trying all at once) that I felt were particularly helpful were the following:

  • Honest Relationship Builds Belonging - Showing up for young people at their activities and events, inviting them for meals and being “real” in their conversations which included honesty, listening and creating trust around their struggles and shortcomings.
  • Warm Intergenerational Relationships Grow Everyone Young - Less time for isolated programming, more time for open truly shared experiences in worship, small group and fellowship, all learning and growing together.
  • 5:1 Ratio of ADULTS and Young People – 5 adults committing to nurturing and supporting one youth through prayer, encouragement and honest connections.
  • Pray Warmly --- (I love this!) One approach to this was every Sunday all generations write down prayer requests on sticky notes and they are posted on the wall.  Later, others take a sticky note and commit to pray for the requests.  
  • Rethinking Small Groups - No long term commitment, instead brought together for an interest, a particular sermon series for example, with no expectation of regular attendance.  Intentional  “on ramp activities” such as an all church retreat that allows people to get to know each other and feel comfortable with joining, and then changing their small group attendance.
  • Long term nurturing of the relationships - This can be done with a single team of leaders staying with the same group of young people through each grade until graduation, keeping in touch and showing care to graduates when they head to college as to know they continue to be loved, and an important part of the church.
  • Finally, my own thoughts as a United Methodist to this shift in becoming “Cool” would be to recognize those young people for which church has become “family” and “home” and realizing they need help during those times of transition of youth pastors, senior pastors and sometimes programs and practices that often occur during the appointment process. This is just like someone from their family moving away and leaving them (sometimes yet again) and they don’t always have the skills, the family support to navigate the “new” that is happening in their life of faith and in their church.  Be intentional in helping young people process and move forward.

Resources:

Growing Young:  6 Essential Strategies to Help Young People Discover and Love Your Church by Kara Powell, Jake Mulder, and Brad Griffin.  CHAPTER 5:  Fueling a Warm Community

Sticky Faith:  Kara Powell & Chap Clark

Intergrating Assets into Congregations James Conway, M.Div, in cooperation with The Search Institute Practical Research Benefiting Children and Youth

Unfair Jesus Breakdancing Through the Praise Songs - Growing Young - 3 of 6

In late 2016, a team from Fuller Youth Institute published Growing Young: 6 Essential Strategies to Help Young People Discover and Love Your Church.  That book is accompanied by several free resources that can be accessed here.

Through their research, Kara Powell, Jake Mulder, and Brad Griffin identified six things that churches who engage in meaningful ministry with young people do well. This series will briefly identify each of the six strategies and share a story of a place in the United Methodist connection doing that strategy well.

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Have you ever wondered what a worship service would look like if it were designed by the folks who make Sesame Street? 

Have you ever met a Pastor or Worship Leader with that real strong Kidz Bop alumni vibe?

Have you ever imagined what would happen if we switched the children’s moment from a five minute interruption of “big church” to a Christian formation experience with young people across the entire life of the church?

In “Growing Young” (https://churchesgrowingyoung.com) Kara Powell, Jake Mulder, and Brad Griffin focus our attention on churches who transition to an overall culture of welcoming young people and their families.  They also remind us of Jesus’ own “disproportionate prioritization” of young people.

Let’s look at a couple of United Methodist communities that are taking this call to be blessedly biased toward children, youth, and young adults seriously.
 

A Toddler Mosh Pit for Jesus

On a recent family vacation my wife and I and our two-year-old visited the Anona UMC Family Experience in Largo, Florida.  Nicknamed FX, this gathering at 9:30am Sunday is described as a place where kids bring their parents to learn life lessons from Jesus.

From the clubhouse-style staging to the music and skits, this worship service feels more like a kids variety TV show than a religious ceremony.  The host (Anona’s Director of Children’s Ministry), jumps onto the stage eliciting the kind of “GOOD MORNING!” from the crowd befitting a Yo Gabba Gabba: Live! show.  Middle school dancers lead motions for the praise music.  High school actors play out the themes of the day’s scripture in a series of scenes reminiscent of any number of Disney Channel shows.

This is a church gathering designed to communicate the Gospel through media languages familiar to young people.  It also encourages adults to be present and to practice having faith like a child.

And it works!  Our son only took a couple minutes to realize this was a place for him.  Soon he was making his way to the dancing area in front of the stage and laying down some of his best breakdancing moves during the worship music!  My wife and I also experienced a fresh kind of Spirit-filled joy and biblical formation seeing our Little Man,  and all his new friends learning about the love of God in such a creative way.

Anona UMC’s FX is one way that a church is disproportionately prioritizing children as a way to create a culture of welcome for all young people and their families.
 

Kids Everywhere 

Good Shepherd UMC in Kansas City, Missouri makes young people a priority across all three of its campuses with their gsKids ministry. 

During worship times, children are invited downstairs for “hands-on faith practices” just for them.  A big-room gathering with singing and Bible teaching, plus age level classes give children the chance to learn about their Christian faith while building foundational relationships with their peers.

This isn’t a five minute children’s “moment” and it isn’t a once-a-year “youth Sunday.”  This is a weekly, core faith practice with young people, a building block of this church’s whole ministry.

With connections to next-step communities like Club 5/6 and gsYouth, every young person at Good Shepherd UMC is invited onto a lifelong pathway toward discipleship.  Plus, these age-optimized experiences combine with vibrant worship to provide everyone in a family the chance to grow in their faith in the way that works best for them.

Good Shepherd UMC organized its expansion to new campuses in a way that replicated its welcoming culture for young people and their families.  The church’s continued growth reveals the kinds of blessings that come from maintaining such a ministry priority.
 

Grumpy Adults And What To Do With Them

 

We’re pretty sure that in each of the churches above there was at least some intense discussions of how such priorities might affect other ministries of the church. 

“If we spend so much on a children’s pastor, a youth room, or a young adult mission trip, where will the money for [fill in typical grumpy adult church budget item here!] come from?” 

But the authors of Growing Young remind us that Jesus expects more from his faith communities than just to allow young people to be around.  They note in Mark 10:

            “Jesus moved from a command to welcome children to a command to become like children, receiving God’s kingdom as children do.”  (Growing Young, Chapter 6, “Prioritize Young People [and Families] Everywhere”)

What a fun reversal of the “when I was a child…I thought like a child” passage in 1 Corinthians.  It’s like Mark 10 is actually encouraging us to “put away adultish things!”

In this way we see the inherent unfairness of Jesus.  He always prefers those on the margins over those in the know; those with simple faith over those with complicated ministry strategies.  Here Jesus lays out his biased, preferential vision for a church made vibrant because of its welcoming culture and over-investment in the lives of  young people and their families.

So, maybe the best thing to do with any adults grumpy about Jesus’ bias is to invite them to come breakdance with the toddlers during worship next Sunday.

So…

We hope that the stories of Anona UMC’s FX  and Good Shepherd UMC’s gsKids encourage your church to reorganize itself around the disproportionate prioritization of young people and their families across your entire faith community.

And, if you are a children’s TV host looking for a new gig, maybe we can find some breakdancing two-year-olds for you to meet Jesus with!

Empathizing with Today’s Young People - Growing Young - 2 of 6

In late 2016, a team from Fuller Youth Institute published Growing Young: 6 Essential Strategies to Help Young People Discover and Love Your Church.  That book is accompanied by several free resources that can be accessed here.

Through their research, Kara Powell, Jake Mulder, and Brad Griffin identified six things that churches who engage in meaningful ministry with young people do well. This series will briefly identify each of the six strategies and share a story of a place in the United Methodist connection doing that strategy well.

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In Growing Young,  we read about a leader who keeps a photo of himself as a teenager displayed to remind him of “that awkward phase” (pg. 117).  I decided that I would begin this blog article by sharing me at the age of 16:

So. Amazing. 

For some reason that date is wrong because this is not 1994, but 1996.  This is a quintiessential teen-Abby photo.  I liked to try on a, “I’m very adult and angry” look.  I didn’t know my hair was curly so it was usually this weird, brushed out frizzy style you see here.  I think I’m about to audition for something, hence the sparkly dress, practice tape, and make-up.  I’m not sure if I thought this was a good look or not but I know I was fairly confident, and hadn’t failed enough to think otherwise.  Paradoxically, I also remember feeling like I was just trying so many things on because I didn’t really know who or what I wanted to be.  I often was who I thought my friends would want me to be.  How can a person be confident, assured and feel grown-up and responsible while also feeling unprepared, unsure, and nervous all at the same time? I think that is pretty much the essence of being a teenager.

In the chapter “Empathize with Today’s Young People”, the writers in Growing Young ask us as individuals and congregations to remember being a teenager or a young adult while also learning how being young is different today.  If we take the time to look at what most young people are experiencing we’d know that “growing up” is taking longer.  Young people are hitting many of the “adult” stages of life later.  Several of my friends have gone to school, worked, gone back to school, lived with their parents again, gone back to work at a job that is probably not a forever gig and by this point they are 30ish, maybe still single, with no children.  This is generally when a lot of them marry and have children… or not.  The point is, by the time people are in their late 20’s, they may still be in school and living with their parents due to numerous factors, some beyond their control.  At the same time, we know that “growing up” also happens a lot faster.  Teenagers are asked to know more information, read books we read in high school for their middle school work, or be well on their way to a professional level in sports or music by the time they enter high school.  They engage deeply in the social issues of the world because of their accessibility via smartphones, and make many “adult” decisions before the age of 17 about career paths, expensive college educations, sexual choices, and choices around drugs and alcohol.

Young people are also asking “the ultimate questions” (p. 95) we all continue to ask and that we all asked most acutely as young people:

Who am I? What is my identity?

Where do I fit? How do I belong?

What difference do I make?  What is my purpose?

We know they are often asking these questions without the help of a church or even trusted older adults in their lives.  We can probably agree that navigating these questions of meaning and purpose with the faith of an elementary aged student and only peer-to-peer advice is probably not ideal.  How can the church engage in this meaning making for the long haul, like we promised in our baptismal covenant?  Creating relationships that allow us to help young people make meaning of their lives first requires empathy.  Growing Youngoffers several ways to create empathy.  One is to remember, like I did above.  Another suggestion is to “ask why” when you see something confusing, new, or even offensive in the culture of young people.  Invite conversation to learn more, rather than shutting the possibility of relationship down. 

Union Coffee in Dallas is all about seeking to empathize with young people and people who feel far from the church.  They do this most by creating a place that is all about fostering community through questions.  This new church start was a plant that began as a coffee shop with the slogan “community with a cause”. Their community building spaces ARE their worship services.  They center open mic nights, poetry readings, service opportunities, and communion around the ultimate questions young people wrestle with.  Each time to gather is more about discussion and questions than providing answers and Union is OK with that.  

What are ways your community could ask more questions and create space for conversation with young people? 
Who can you talk to about the things in the culture of young people you don’t understand or find offensive? 
Can you pray for God to give you eyes to see people to talk with, and open doors toward good conversation?

Growing Young - Unlocking Keychain Leadership 1 of 6

In late 2016, a team from Fuller Youth Institute published Growing Young: 6 Essential Strategies to Help Young People Discover and Love Your Church.  That book is accompanied by several free resources that can be accessed here.

Through their research, Kara Powell, Jake Mulder, and Brad Griffin identified six things that churches who engage in meaningful ministry with young people do well. This series will briefly identify each of the six strategies and share a story of a place in the United Methodist connection doing that strategy well.

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The researchers identify keys as “the capabilities, power, and access of leaders that carry the potential to empower young people.” Keys provide physical access to a building, and metaphorically they have the ability to welcome people in or lock people out. Leaders in power are those who hold the keys. The more power one has, the more keys that leader possesses in a church. Key chain leaders are aware of the keys in their possession and they are “intentional about entrusting and empowering all generations…with their own set of keys.”

A keychain leader does not horde, or keep keys. They do not lend keys out expecting their prompt return. Instead, they are willing to make sets of keys and hand them over to leaders of all ages in the church, and be willing to go along for the ride. Keys are not handed over haphazardly, but they are entrusted to those empowered as fellow leaders in a community of faith.

At Christ United Methodist Church in Franklin, TN, the fall of 2015 was a time of discernment. An area church had a proposal going to General Conference 2016. That church was collecting statements from other churches in favor of their proposal, and Christ UMC had been asked if they would sign on in support. The church leadership planned a series of three “Town Hall” style listening events, that a small group of leaders would each attend to listen, discern, and pray together with church members before this small group made their decision. Included on that smaller leadership team was a seventeen-year-old boy, Jacob. He was tasked with listening to the youth ministry concerns as well as all of the feedback from the Town Halls.

Now, the important part of this story is not what the outcome of the meetings were, nor what the youth ministry thought of the final decision of the church. One important part of this story is that church leadership invited a youth to be on the deciding committee! Additionally, Jacob was fully trusted and listened to in the process. He was not a “token young person.”

However, the most important part of this story isn’t actually about Jacob at all. The most important part of this story is the culture of the church and the personality of the pastoral leadership. Jacob could not have been just inserted at seventeen years old and asked to have the spiritual maturity to listen and discern along with adult members of the congregation. Jacob needed to be encouraged, equipped, and empowered from the time that he was a child so that he understood that his role and voice would be as a full member in the life of his church. He was tabbed as the right person to fill the role of a youth on that decision-making group not just because he was in the right place at the right time. He was the right young person because the leadership of the church had shown Jacob what leadership meant and gave him chances to lead while he grew in faith.

Do you see young people like Jacob where you are in ministry?

Are you a leader who is comfortable handing over the keys?

Are you part of a community that empowers young people to lead and welcomes their input equally with adults?

50 Ways to Strengthen Ministry with Youth

 

By Lewis Center On June 14, 201350 Ways

How can your church help youth claim a vital faith? No question is more critical to the future of the church. Here are 50 Ways your congregation can strength ministry with teens and their families.

Honor the spiritually of youth

  1. Appreciate and validate youth as persons of sacred worth with legitimate spiritual needs and responses.
  2. Understand young persons as participants in ministry, not objects of ministry.
  3. Shake off stereotypes of youth as irreligious, rebellious and difficult.
  4. Don’t make young people be like you before they can be like Jesus.
  5. Don’t guess at young people’s needs. Solicit input and feedback from teens themselves, not just parents and adults leaders. Invite them to suggest ways the church can help them grow in faith.
  6. Appreciate that youth ministry is more than youth group. Encourage youth to be involved in all aspects of church life.
  7. Advocate for youth.

Equip parents to nurture their children’s faith

  1. Know that parental influence is the primary factor determining the religious commitment of youth, even for older teens.
  2. Support faith formation in the parents of youth. Getting parents involved and serious about their own faith is the best way to get youth involved and serious.
  3. Start a study group for parents of teens aimed at helping them understand how to nurture their teenagers’ spirituality.
  4. Provide resources for practicing and discussing faith at home &#8212; for praying together as a family, for observing Christian holidays, and conversing about faith issues.
  5. Consider an intergenerational format for Christian education that has youth and parents study together.
  6. Provide support groups and resources on family concerns and child-raising issues.
  7. Teach parents the importance of just hanging out with their kids.

“Get real” with Christian Education for youth

  1. Ask if your youth Sunday School curriculum is seriously addressing the questions kids are really asking.
  2. Honestly address issues related to sexuality. Offer a first-rate program on human sexuality to which parents would want to send their kids.
  3. Recognize that discussion and conversation are essential to faith formation.
  4. Use current events as discussion topics.
  5. Give teens permission to ask questions and talk about their doubts.
  6. Empower youth to rewrite hymns and prayers in ways that are meaningful to them.
  7. Get acquainted with the music kids spend their time listening to. Help youth make connections between their music and faith. Allow them to find their voice and worship God in their own musical languages and styles.
  8. Articulate the basic tenets of the faith clearly and often.
  9. Emphasize experience-centered learning. Faith must be experienced before it can be articulated. Experience is often more important than information about faith.
  10. Provide training in spiritual disciplines &#8212; prayer, Scripture reading, acts of mercy. Emphasize the practices of faith.
  11. Integrate “service learning” into Christian education to teach discipleship. Involve youth in planning and leading mission activities.

Provide excellent adult leadership for youth activities

  1. Recruit adult leaders for youth activities who are knowledgeable, committed, spiritually mature, and effective in communicating with young people. Don’t assume that a young adult is necessarily best suited for the job.
  2. Provide training for youth teachers and leaders, especially on discussion and listening skills.
  3. Perform required background checks for volunteers and staff working with youth. Implement policies and procedures to prevent child abuse.
  4. Invest in youth ministry. A meaningful commitment to reach youth must be reflected in your budget and staffing decisions and the commitment of the pastor’s time.

Make worship meaningful for young persons

  1. Give youth meaningful and visible roles as worship participants.
  2. Make youth worship experience-based. The elements of worship should all connect to a central message that causes the worshiper to make a connection with God.
  3. Use popular songs, movie clips, or poems to connect the message with the broader culture.
  4. Have youth write their own liturgies and prayers.

Create a sense of belonging for youth

  1. Youth ministry is about relationships. Relationships are more important than programs. Young persons are seeking a sense of belonging.
  2. Strive to integrate youth into the church as a whole. Youth programs should equip and empower youth as congregational participants, not isolate or “ghettoize” them.
  3. Be present for kids. Listen.
  4. Kids need and value stability, routines, and ritual, even if they don’t act like it.
  5. Combat cliquishness. Reinforce inclusiveness and acceptance of peers.
  6. Build group cohesiveness with retreats and mission trips providing opportunities for sustained interaction.

Cultivate competence in youth

  1. Build a sense of accomplishment among young persons with challenging music, drama, or service activities. The ability to develop “competence” is one of the hooks connecting kids to church.
  2. Give youth real responsibilities.
  3. Extend leadership opportunities to as many youth as possible. Give them an active role in the leadership and decision making of the church.
  4. Start a youth-led worship service.

Strive for effective Youth Fellowship

  1. Be consistent with your meeting times and place. Meeting at the church is often preferable to meeting in different homes because it is a well-known location and “neutral” territory.
  2. Divide junior high and senior high youth if possible. Older teens will tend to fall way from groups with many younger kids.
  3. Involve the youth in planning all their activities.
  4. Balance recreation, study, devotion and fellowship.
  5. Schedule a “big event” every month to make it easy for youth to invite their friends.
  6. Enlist parents as allies. Their support is critical.
  7. Have clear policies about behavioral boundaries and discipline.