youth ministry

A rant on discipleship

A few week’s back Joel Mayward asked if I’d participate in his blog series on discipleship. He asked some great questions and really got my mind churning, plus I was in one of those pre-lunch moods. Here’s a taste of what ended up being a holy rant on the topic.

What is discipleship? 
I’d like to start off with two push backs on your question itself.

First off, discipleship is a made up word. Let’s acknowledge that for what it is. Every time I type it in Microsoft Word or on my blog it always pops up as a misspelled word. Because it isn’t a word. More to the point, it’s a made up word because we don’t really even have a word to describe what discipleship is.We are trying to smash the relationship that Jesus had with his disciples into a modern construct of a ministry model. The very problem of a lack of discipleship comes from trying to make it a quantifiable process that is replicable so that we can point to a person as church leadership and say, “This is how I know people are growing in their relationship with Jesus.” It’s a McDonald’s-style phrase that just falls flat in the face of what Jesus and the early church actually did, as documented in the New Testament. So I want to start off by pushing back on the very word, discipleship. Jesus told us to make disciples, (Matthew 28:19) not create a process whereby all people can follow 6 easy steps or run the bases or complete a wheel of discipleship. Those are modern simplifications which have proven to have horrible impact on the life of our churches.

What is the greatest barrier to this in youth ministry?
2. As I opened this with, we are living in a day where we’ve tried to create a process called discipleship as a replacement for how Jesus and the early church actually did it. So when we talk about making disciples we think of programs when Jesus never had that in mind. The disciple-making process is a lifestyle, not a program. So a major roadblock we hit as leaders is that our adult volunteers think they’ve been “discipled!” Moreover, we have a culture which is so “easy” focused that very few have the stomach to get involved. Decades of crappy “discipleship models” have created undiscipled, undisciplinable followishers of Jesus.
And these are just two excerpts! You can read the rest on Joel’s blog.
youth ministry

Why youth ministry can’t just become family ministry

There’s a growing movement within the American church that puts youth ministry under the umbrella of family ministry. There are youth ministry organizations, publishers, conferences, and lots and lots of people highly interested in this model.

To over-simplify: The idea is that youth ministry should be an extension of the over all family ministry of the church. So, youth ministry is really just another part of the organizational chart which fits nicely between kids ministry and young adult ministry.

I think we need to push back from this organizational simplification. There’s a very good reason why youth ministry is the way it is. Namely, modern youth ministry emerged in the 1940’s to reach lost students the church didn’t care about. (The church, as a whole, was late to minister to adolescents. This gave birth to parachurch movements like YoungLife and Youth for Christ.)

Youth ministry sprang up to meet the need of teenagers who wouldn’t naturally go to church. Or who didn’t fit in because their parents don’t go to church. Or those who will never fit into the stiff collars of a traditional church. Youth ministry has always been the organizational oddity that helps those students experience Christ.

Any attempt to fold youth ministry into a church that isn’t currently reaching those kinds of kids and adults… is destined to make youth ministry sterile. 

Putting youth ministry into the box of family ministry is misunderstanding that it’s historical place in the church is missiological. Historically, we are more tied to evangelism than we are discipleship.

Don’t Misunderstand the 1-eared Mickey Mouse

Chap Clark, very poignantly and famously pointed out that youth ministry too easily becomes an organizational island, what he called “the 1-eared Mickey Mouse” in the church. In other words, many youth groups have their own mini-culture, their own goals, values, and norms.

I love Chap’s observation. It’s true. But I would argue that it’s not altogether bad. Further, I would argue that maybe the church needs a few more 1-eared Mickey’s to start reaching some more types of people. (But that’s another rant for another day.) The problem is that when you let the business people run your church– having a 1-eared Mickey Mouse is a bad thing. And so some of these emerging models of family ministry have at their core a desire to kill the 1-eared Mickey, folding youth ministry in.

But don’t forget– if that 1-eared Mickey Mouse is reaching people the rest of the church organization fails to minister to, that’s a very good thing. And some of what you get when you fold it in is backfiring.

Sanitizing Youth Ministry is a Bad Idea

As I read the books, listen to the speakers, and read between a few lines… I think that the motivation for some people is to make youth ministry tidy. Some of these folks who say that youth ministry is really just a step in the family ministry food chain attend/work/consult with churches who reach a very sterile, homogeneous group of people. It looks like they are reaching a lot of people but they are really good at reaching a certain kind of person while excluding large, growing portions of the population.

Bottom line: If you make youth ministry revolve around the family you automatically exclude students who don’t have families who go to church. Sure, you don’t exclude them by name or even intentionally. But when you start having father/son trips and retreats for the whole family– if you lived in a home with your grandma who didn’t come to church, how welcome would you feel?

If you make youth ministry fit around the vibe and rhythm of your church instead of the local school system you’re automatically limiting who you reach.

On and on. Youth ministry can be very powerful as an organizational island.

Moreover, youth ministry was created to take some risks. To do things that got the Jones Memorial Carpet ruined. To reach the lost kids instead of the right ones. To connect the unconnected to the most important family they could ever have.

The answer isn’t a sanitized family ministry. The answer is a realistic integration strategy that gets people of all ages and backgrounds out of programs and into community.

This rant has exceptions: Let me point out, and cut off some of the negative feedback I get when I post things like this, that while I’m making generalities there are exceptions. The church we attend is one of them. They head this off because top to bottom they are reaching “the wrong people.”

Church Leadership hmm... thoughts

Making the Bible Accessible

“The Bible isn’t for people outside of the church to understand. So it isn’t your place to make the Gospel accessible.

That may be the dumbest quote I’ve ever heard in relation to using sound missiological principles to reach a dead and dying people group. And yet, this quote apparently came from the mouths of smart, biblically authoritative evangelicals upset with the work of a young leader.

Just so people know: This isn’t the position of middle-of-the-road evangelicals. It’s not even the position of anyone reasonably conservative in the evangelical world. It’s a radically fundamentalist position which denies the very presuppositions of evangelicalism!

History counters this statement: The evangelical missions movement of the 19th and 20th century saw hundreds of thousands give their lives in work and thousands more give their lives as martyrs making the Gospel accessible to unreached people groups. Such a statement slaps those people in the face.

Such a statement devalues the activity of nearly every evangelical in their daily workplace. It denies the action of church planting. It denies the the very notion that we, as believers, can impact the Kingdom with our actions.

In short– its not an orthodox position. We must rally behind those who are reaching the lost!

It is our job, as believers, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, to bring the Bible to the lost and see the Gospel renew the people and their land. (Ephesians 2:10)

The statement above is why the church needs a change in leadership. We need people with level heads who are smart, savvy, and reasonable. Those holding extreme positions are not bad people. They just shouldn’t be in authority.

Middle-of-the-road evangelicals are tired of culture wars. We are longing for fresh voices and fresh leadership. We simply want to right wrongs, reach the lost, and love their neighbors. (All in the name of Jesus, under the power of Jesus, and for the purpose of making Jesus known) We will continue to distance ourselves from extremist.

While extremists lament and pontificate, we will continue to reaching the lost, righting wrongs, and loving our neighbors.

People at high levels who say/think/perpetrate these thoughts devalue the entire purpose of the Gospel in order to protect their own self-interests. At the end of the day, that’s what the statement must be about. Protecting their self-interests. The statement isn’t true and doesn’t represent the tenants of our movement— so to say such a thing reveals that they are putting their own interests above all else.

The lesson is– if you take a stand for truth you must be willing to stand up against the religious establishment, and continue to speak the truth in love despite their sneers and allegations of heresy.

Today is no different than the time of John Wycliffe, who died shunned by the religious establishment.

Sadly, shunning is part of reforming.

For those who are bringing fresh wind into the sails of the movement, my encouragement is to boldly ask those people set aside what they are comfortable with for the sake of the Gospels spread.

The spread of the Gospel to unreached people groups, whether home or abroad, is never comfortable. It has never been comfortable. And we cannot win hearts until we are willing to walk in the tension of discomfort for the sake of others.