Here’s 5 ideas that are outside of the norm for youth group. (Nothing wrong with traditional youth group, just sharing ideas.) My hope is that these ideas will spark you to create programs that your community actually needs as opposed to building your ministry purely on a combination of felt need & what you experienced as a teenager.
ht to Bob Carlton
Then how are you measuring what people are learning?
As a youth worker I’m always aware of leakage in my teaching. That is, the difference between what I am teaching and what learners are learning.
There is a naughty little educational word called “retention” we need to deal with. If there isn’t, what is the point of my teaching if my pupils aren’t learning?
Questions I ask myself as a communicator of Biblical truth:
- Why am I teaching them?
- How do I measure if they are learning?
- How do I teach all levels of learners, interest levels, and learning styles at the same time?
Those who have sat under my leadership know that I do a lot of repetition and context to my regular teaching. Why do I do that? Because I want some things to stick. It doesn’t matter to me if you write it down in your outline or talked about it in a small group, I believe the Bible has incredible value for believers, we are called to know God’s Word, and we as leaders as told that one of our qualifications for biblical leadership is an ability to teach. I repeat and quiz because I want to burn an image of God’s Word on your heart. It’s not enough to know about the Bible… the teachings of Jesus have to be in your heart to impact your daily life.
I also know, as a leader, I’ll be judged by what people actually learn and what people actually do with what I am teaching them.
As the years have gone by I’ve become less enamored with perfecting my lecture-styled teaching and more enamored with a discussion-based, conversational-style.
Why? Because I’ve found, for me, that method to be a solid way to engage with the middle 70% of my audience. Folks in the top 15% aren’t my target. And folks in the lower 15%… I hope to teach them with other methods that work for them.
Last Monday, I posed the question: Why are we, as believers, expected to listen more than we act?
Some commenters took the post as an attack on the church, going to church, and those who lead at church. Others seemed offended that I’d even bring up Sunday morning as something we could collectively improve upon.
My intention was to the contrary. It was an attack on doing something that is largely ineffective for the sake of doing what we know in opposition to what might work better. For all of the thousands of hours the average church goer has listened to we should have seen so much more fruit. Let’s not forget that the church is on decline.
That pushes questions to the forefront of my mind: Is it the hearer who is disobedient to the teaching? Or is it the teacher who is failing to teach truth in a way that influences action? Probably some fault lies on either side.
It is my hypothesis that the primary method we are using for educating our congregations on Sunday mornings needs alteration. Church leadership is full of brilliant minds. We should show off our brilliance in our ability to lead people in innovative way: Not just talk about leadership but do it. Not merely preach a message that doesn’t move people, instead allow the message we preach to move us.
At the end of the day results are all that matter. Jesus isn’t going to look at you and say, “Awesome preaching, my good and faithful servant.” He will look at your body of work and judge you by the results & intention of your heart.
What are the physical restrictions to learning on Sunday morning?
Nearly all churches are constructed the same way. Rows of seats all facing forward with a person on stage or behind a podium. That person lectures, sometime passionately, sometimes you fill out an outline, sometimes words are put on a screen.
But the Sunday morning experience is typically based on a single teaching method: Lecture.
Is that how you learn best? It isn’t for me. I learn best by hearing, discussing, and practicing. Passive-learning bores me. I need something to do!
And when I look around on Sunday morning I don’t see a lot of learning going on. (Bear in mind, my pastor is off the charts good at what he does, he is my favorite preacher. Week in and week out, he’s just as solid as people who have sold as who we have at our conferences.) Instead, I see a lot of polite nodding, the occasional taking of notes, and virtually no way to respond.
Sunday morning is highly assumptive.
- There is an assumption that people in the pews are going to live this teaching out in their lives.
- There is an assumption that people are going to talk about what they heard at lunch or with a small group, or somehow try to knead the message into their lives.
- There is an assumption that the church staff spends the majority of their work week living that message out.
- There are no checks and balances to make sure anyone is putting anything into practice. (Staff and attendee alike.)
- The proof is in the pudding. There are hundreds of thousands of churches in America. Most use the same methods, few grow. Conversely, where the church is growing around the world and even here in the United States, different methods are in play.
The “It’s not about Sunday morning argument.“
I’ll be the first to admit that the Christian life isn’t 100% about Sunday morning. But, for most people, it’s the centerpiece of their walk with God. People aren’t just whining about being busy, they are. And they are sitting in your pews, bored, and saying to themselves… “You kind of waste my time on Sunday morning, why should I trust you with more of my time? We don’t need another program. We need this program to work for us.” If it isn’t about Sunday morning than why do we even do it? Of course Sunday morning is very important! Let’s not fool ourselves with double talk.
Are the methods we use on Sunday morning “sacred?“
Sure, Paul preached until a young man fell from a window and died. (Then Paul healed him.) And Jesus preached both at the temple and in public. No doubt, he was taught by rote memory as a boy growing up attending the synagogue. At the same time, oral tradition and discourse were both forms of education and forms of entertainment. We see from the New Testament that Jesus didn’t instruct his disciples to build churches and hold meetings. Instead, he taught them while they were on the road from place to place. Or by sending them out in pairs to do ministry in His name. Or using parables. Or by asking them questions. In truth, we see a variety of teaching methods to communicate biblical truth in the Bible.
While the way we’ve always done church is held as sacred, the methods we use aren’t Biblically sacred. But what is sacred is the simple command to teach.
I want to challenge you to try something. Maybe it’ll sound crazy. But maybe it’ll just be crazy enough to change your church. (And maybe you don’t have access to try this with the whole church, so try it with your youth group!)
Conduct a six-week experiment.
Week one: Teach a normal Sunday service. On Thursday, send out a 5 question email (or Facebook) survey for Sunday morning attendees, asking them 4 basic questions about your message, and one open-ended question about how they applied the message on Sunday morning. (What was the passage? What was the main point? Which of the following was an illustration? What’s one way you are applying last week’s teaching today?)
Week two: Teach, again, in your normal fashion. This week, acknowledge after the sermon that they will again receive a survey via email on Thursday. This will tip them off that it is coming, so expect the results to be higher.
Take weeks three & four off from the experiment. You’ll be tempted to peak at the results so far. Show discipline!
Week five: Try a different teaching method on Sunday morning. Maybe teach by discussion. Or get people into work groups. Do anything that isn’t one person up front teaching. Don’t warm people that this is coming! That’ll mess up the experiment. Then send out the same 5 question survey again. (Expect some negative comments, people coming on Sunday might hate any type of change.)
Week six: Use the same method one more time. Send out the same survey. Just like in week two, tell them to expect a short survey on Thursday.
At the end of the six weeks unseal the results and meet together as a staff to look at them. Did retention scores increase or decrease? Did the change in method cause more people to apply teaching? Did the workgroups hold each other accountable? Overall, what was the net change? (Heck, maybe the old method was statistically better!)
Week seven: Send out one last email sharing the full results.
This will serve two purposes. First, it’ll communicate to your congregation that you are taking your biblical role as a teacher seriously and being professional by sharing the results of an experiment which involved them. Second, it’ll invite the congregation into the problem solving. Chances are good that you’ll get a lot of feedback simply by conducting the experiment.
Of course, I’d love it if you shared your results with me as well. Email me a Word document and I’ll share them on my blog.
A youth worker in Minnesota asked me to share my definition of worship with her as part of a lesson she’s preparing for her youth group. I thought it’d be fun to post my response to her (with her permission) for a couple of reasons.
- I hadn’t thought about it like this before.
- I like it when people call me a heretic.
What is worship?
I think the English word for worship is limiting versus what God asks of us. So I break up the act of worship into a bunch different categories. (Not limited to this list)
- We come together to worship God in community.
- We spend time in prayer, fasting, song, reading of Scripture individually.
- Our work is worship.
- Our attitude is worship.
- When I give my talents and treasure to God, that is an act of worship.
- When I journal, that is worship.
- When I am alone with my wife, that is worship.
- Everything I do… I can do as worship of God.
Now, how do I define worship? Worship is any intentional human actions which bring glory and honor to God.
What do you think? Is the intention what makes an act worship? Or have I overstated what worship can be?
If you are interested in helping fund the school in Wilnard’s church or perhaps your church (Or a group of Christian educators, or any combination) is interested in adopting this school to help pay the teachers, provide uniforms and shoes, or even feed the students, please let me know.
If you’d like, we can plan a trip together and I can introduce you to Pastor Wilnord myself.
The needs in Haiti are still real. The opportunity is still huge. Please don’t forget.
Children were not always worshipped as the gods of the American family.
School vs. Work
In fact, for most of our nations history we didn’t keep track of children very much. We didn’t have things like compulsory public education in every state, or child protection agencies, or children’s hospitals, child psychologists, or even pediatricians.
It wasn’t until the mid-20th century that school became mandatory. And it wasn’t until the unions forced child labor laws through that high school became part of compulsory eduction. Unlike the European system of mandatory compulsory education, our public education system is built on the belief that:
- Children under 18, ideally, shouldn’t work at all.
- Everyone should go to college.
- Everyone, given the proper education, would want to go to college.
- Not going to college is somehow a failure of the American dream.
- The American dream can only be achieved through education.
The “all kids are meant for college” lie is very popular among educators. (Duh, maybe they have a vested interest?) Whereas, in Europe, students are given the choice to go on a college-prep course of study or a trades-oriented track, in the United States we don’t have such a system. While it exists, de facto, in almost every high school– it’s hardly celebrated.
If children have become our gods, achievement is our offering.
Labor laws amplified youth culture
The Great Depression gave the labor unions the ammunition they needed to finally get child labor laws passed in America. Believe it or not, not everyone was in favor of removing children from the workforce. With kids out of the workforce adolescent culture, as we know it today, took root. When children of the Great Depression and post-World War II baby boom hit their teen years and didn’t head off to work they began to hang out together and a sub-culture exploded.
The need for a college educated workforce
If you think about jobs in America over the past century you can see why culture has dictated the “all kids must go to college” mantra. Technology created the office job. A move from an industrial/agricultural economy to an economy based on white collar jobs (administration) required workers who were more polished and more highly educated. (Of course, many now see this as a trap. The debt required to enter the workforce puts you, fiscally speaking, decades behind a peer who goes into the trades.)
So society created the need for a college-bound student while those same students weren’t allowed to do much in their high school years. (Traditionally, people 14-18 worked!) Those post-puberty & pre-workforce years have really become a holding pattern. Too young to work but too old to be children. These kids, with all sorts of time on their hands, got creative with all that time. (Remember sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll) There wasn’t a massive youth culture prior to this because this age group was traditionally occupied with more adult endeavors. More on that for a different day.
What does this have to do with deifying children?
By the 1980s parents had come through youth culture and were appropriately afraid of it for their own children. In their boredom they smoked enough pot and had enough sex to realize that they probably didn’t benefit themselves in the long run. And with the college-lie now in full effect, and the further lie that if you went to the “right school” you could get ahead in life, parents just started to work backwards. It was a logical pendulum swing to protect kids from the damaging effects of youth culture by sheltering them and keeping them busy.
- For Rex to go to the right college, Rex had to do well on the SATs.
- For Rex to do well on the SATs, Rex had to go to the right school.
- For Rex to fit in at the right school, Rex had to act, dress, and do activities with the right kids.
- For Rex to fit in with the right kids, Rex’s parents both have to work, plus figure out how to get him to the right activities.
- For Rex to do this, mom and dad were going to have to give every waking minute thinking about Rex and his future. (Or earning the money to afford his future)
Through the 1980s this myth developed, it metastasized in the 1990s, and became parental law in the 2000s.
All kids are not meant for college
I know this is educational heresy but we all know it. Walk on any high school campus and you will see the vast majority of kids who are done with education and are stuck in a holding cell called high school. The college-prep kids segment themselves out while the vast majority ghost walk through the process and are culturally forced to head off to another holding cell– community college or state university.
Those who are going to excel, do. Just as they always have. (Just like those who invented standardized tests intended to identify those kids, not as a tool for choosing the minimum, but to find those who could do the maximum) Those who aren’t going to excel, aren’t. But now that high school graduation is a basic requirement that we all must legally achieve– college has become the new high school. And grad school has become the new undergrad.
Effects on the American family
Deifying Rex has come at a high cost of the American family. With more than 40% of children in America now born to single mothers, single parents are under incredible pressure. Even in more traditional homes, the need to put Rex on a college-bound path leads to all sorts of sacrifices.
- If Rex is going to go to Yale, he needs to be in the right pre-school. (Um, really?)
- If Rex is going to go to Michigan, he needs to be in football by age four. (Um, really?)
- If Rex is going to go to Penn State, we need to live in the right neighborhood because they have good schools. (Um, really?)
- Part of Rex getting into Berkeley is being well-rounded, so Rex needs to go to music camp. (Um, really?)
On and on. We never stop preparing our kids for something we don’t know if our kids will even want.
Even crazier, parents have convinced themselves that this is 100% their responsibility. Particularly in Christian circles– parents don’t even trust their own parents to invest in the lives of Rex. Parents are so insanely crazed by worshipping Rex that parents won’t hire a babysitter, won’t go on vacation, and won’t allow their child to socialize or do ANYTHING that won’t further a perceived resume.
In my opinion, today’s parenting norms would be considered a psychosis just a generation ago. Parents are addicted to parenting.
Parents feel this pressure. There are men and women in my life who don’t want to get married or have children because they feel the pressure. Just the thought of a marriage which has to perform to this level is not worth it– or at the very least, hard to imagine. Marriages crumble by the thousand under the pressure. Marriages struggle through unnecessary debt under the pressure to provide the “right kind” of lifestyle for their children. Parents, raised in a feminist society that tells them they are equals with men, are now making themselves subservient to their children. These “mommy-managers” are now an entire sub-culture to themselves!
Kids feel this pressure, too.
Have you been to a six-year-olds soccer game? The pressure is ridiculous. Parents don’t want the kids to have fun. They want them to learn skills and score goals. Why? So that they can get good and make it on the travel squad. Then what? Well, if they are good on the travel squad, they will play high school soccer. Then what? If they score a lot of goals in high school, maybe they will earn an athletic scholarship. Then what?
This is the pressure/expectations you hear on the sidelines of six-year old kids soccer games.
Have you ever been in a high school cafeteria? The pressure there is ridiculous. Besides all of the social pressure. Besides the horrible food offerings. There are kids studying. There are kids cramming. And then there are the little Rex’s who have given up. OK, that’s the majority of the kids.
With all the pressure to achieve (coupled by all the freedoms we’ve removed from teenagers over the last 40 years) there is little wonder you see so much deviant behavior. And depression. And drug abuse. And self-injury. And risky sexual behavior.
Teenagers disrespect adult authority, largely, because adults disrespect teenagers right to autonomy. And something within us says that when an adult is disrespected by someone we need to clamp down even tighter– having higher expectations and putting them higher on a pedestal they don’t want to be on.
By deifying our children we have put them on an pedestal they cannot stay on. No one can. We expect too much and we don’t give them enough space to grow.
Little Rex, worshipped since conception, will not become a god because he is not God.
Deifying Rex has trapped him. He is miserable. He is fighting for independence. While he is worshipped and deified he has no power.
We have the whole thing backwards.
Postscript: This New York Times article appeared after I published this piece, but does a good job explaining the ramifications of the myth that you have to go to the right school to get ahead in life.
Another Debt Crisis is Brewing, This One in Student Loans
It’s becoming increasingly popular in large churches for pastoral staff positions to be filled with people trained in business skills and not ministry skills. (i.e. They’ve got the title “pastor” and all the perks that go with it, without going to Bible College or Seminary.)
Let me know what you think about that trend. Vote in the poll below and leave a comment with your thoughts.
I’m just going to state my opinion up front. I think its a dangerous and scary trend. Particularly with some of these church structures where “pastors” are only accountable to an elder board… made of largely of successful business people who didn’t go to seminary! I think this trend is a reason we’re seeing so much open and proud heresy preached.
This is one of those urban legends I’ve heard a lot of since moving to California. And I have to admit, this is one of those things that people in the Midwest say about California that drives me a little batty.
California is a blue state. That is true. I am not a political historian but I would guess that the last time California voted for a republican for president was Ronald Reagan. What’s interesting about politics in California is that it’s identical to a lot of states with major metropolitans. The major metros trend heavily towards being democrats while the suburban and rural areas trend towards republicans. Outside of the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas most of California leans republican… including Orange County in the LA area and San Diego County with it’s massive military community.
The land of fruits and nuts. As if Michigan, Illinois, and Indiana (states where I’ve lived most of my life) didn’t have people who were a little abnormal. It is completely true that you will see and hear some crazy stuff in public. Hang out near the beaches and you’ll hear the craziest things on the planet. But also bear in mind that twice in the last decade voters have passed a proposal to ban gay marriage. Sounds pretty conservative to me. Michigan only passed one! Those Michigan people are such liberals!
California is full of strange characters. This one cracks me up. Take me to any breakfast joint in the Midwest and I’ll show you the same cooky characters. California doesn’t have the corner on the market of weird people. In fact, while we did have people in our church in Northern California who were convinced that the government was coming to get them and the postal carriers were secret government agents… those same characters are played by different actors at coffee shops in downtown Romeo. I remember a certain guy who carried around a photo album of road kill, deer he’d shot, and stories he told about people killing deer with a hammer. Who is weird now?
California is full of hippies, gays, druggies, and women with fake boobs. OK, that’s true. Those are actually the four categories you have to fit into before you’re allowed to register to vote. An additional qualification is that you have to watch all the Cheech and Chong movies before you can get a driver’s license. When we signed the kids up for school they implanted a chip behind their ear so that government agents could decide which category they’d fall into as adults.
Remember, labels are just devices people use so they know how to best ignore you.
This is the quote of Justice H. Walter Croskey of the 2nd District of Appeals in California.
In our short tenure in California we saw some of the dark sides of homeschooling. While I know there are fantastic parents who do an excellent job homeschooling their children I have also seen first hand the other side. What we saw was borderline criminal neglect. Link