Youth Ministry in a Post-Christian World

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Let me begin by saying I really, really appreciate this book and applaud Brock for writing it and the good folk at The Youth Cartel for publishing it.

This book should be on the shelf of all youth workers in the U.S and I think Europe as well…but more on that later.

I have known Brock for a number of years and actually sat down with him over coffee (at the same Starbucks he meets his students)

He was very helpful during my decision and transition to leave youth ministry in the US and experiment with it here in France.

I remember Brock sharing about his call to Trinity Church in Greenwich and my honest wondering how he would make the transition from the glitz and glamour of youth ministry in Southern California to the challenging world of postmodernism and post-Christian world in the Northeast.  I had been serving as youth pastor for 10 years in the neighboring town of Bedford, NY and so understood full well the implications of postmodernism in society, the church, and especially with student ministry.

Many are called and few make it.

Brock transitioned well.  He gets it.

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You may not agree with everything he says in the book and I would bet it is because your ministry context is vastly different from his in the metro NYC über wealthy, highly intelligent and often antagonist culture riddled with cynicism, skepticism and secularism.

Because Brock is truly a practitioner of youth ministry, he unpacks the real issues facing today’s post-Christian teenagers better than anyone else I have read.  He really understands his context including the challenges facing the message of Christianity..or at least the image of Christianity.

You may think your environment is nothing like Brock’s and you may be correct...for now

Statistics and social experts correctly predicted that the Northeast of the United States would follow the trends in Europe.  This has already happened and will eventually sweep through the rest of the United States, hitting urban areas and both Coasts first before merging in the middle and …wait for it…actually impacting the “Bible Belt” of America’s heartland.

Whether you like it or not, we will be living in an ever-increasing post-Christian society.

Here in Europe, and especially in France, Christendom has long since evaporated and I would argue that for the best 25+ years students and churches have been experiencing what Brock describes is now happening in his area.

So, if you live in the Northeast, the first few chapters of the book you will understand because it is the reality in which you are serving. These chapters will be crucial for those trying to discern where society and culture is heading in the next 5-10 years.

For me, the chapter “The Way Forward: Response to a post-christian world” is paramount.

Brock argues that youth workers must embrace Christian relativism, embrace tolerance, embrace spirituality, embrace intellectualism, embrace mystery, embrace the miraculous and embrace answers.

Of course he unpacks each one with stories and strong theological arguments while remaining unwavering in his focus on Christ and passion to see students embrace and encounter Jesus.

In the chapter “A New of Mission”, Brock shares about moving away from an agenda of conversion to full engagement in the community. “We don’t serve to get people saved. We serve because we are saved.”

This indeed is a radical paradigm shift, seeing ourselves as ambassadors of God’s grace and blessing to the world in which we live.

In the chapter “A New Measurement for Success” Brock brilliantly and carefully attacks the numbers game of youth ministry in favor of relational and spiritual development as measures of a healthy youth ministry (and youth pastor) “My relationship with Jesus is my ministry”, and we are challenged and called to truly live out our faith with our students in honesty, transparency, authenticity and grace.

Brock Morgan has a challenging task and he approaches it as a missionary. Brock stands outside of the post-christian culture and observes as a missiologist and then delves into that world with optimism and hope.

From the stories I hear, God’s Spirit is truly moving among his church and youth ministry in Greenwich.

After finishing the book, a few questions linger.

I wonder if this approach is still valid for a society already gone through this shift away from Christianity.  Though hard to disagree with the movements in England, in France and other parts in Europe the history of the Church is so sullen people have lost faith. Whereas in the U.K and U.S, the church and state have not really been separated, a nation like France nationally split from the Church and makes it almost illegal to display one’s personal faith publicly.

I also wonder what youth ministry will look like as the next generation rises up in leadership, a generation itself raised in post-Christian values and worldview.

Around 10 years younger than Brock, I find myself actually on the cusp of a generational divide.  While others approach youth ministry from the vantage point of missiology, the time is coming when words like “progressive” and “post-modern” will define not only students but leaders as well.

What will faithfulness to God’s work in youth ministry need to look like for those who honestly question traditional beliefs and practices while embracing skepticism, tolerance, pluralism, inter-faith partnerships, social equality in all forms, and Biblical “openness”?

It is still to been seen how post-christian youth workers can embody a new kind of youth ministry.

That book has yet to be written……

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Topic for the week: Calling

How do you discuss and define Calling to your students?

Share any examples, illustrations, stories, Scriptures you have used.

Is there a difference between calling and purpose?   Calling and Career?

Is Calling something I do or something (someone) that I am?

This is probably something that we as youth leaders need to constantly wrestle with ourselves, and our students need to be thinking along these lines as well.

*Your ideas once submitted and posted may be included (if desired) in the upcoming book God is Loud- spiritual formation for students learning to live in the mission of God.

Long-Term youth ministry

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Are you in it for the long haul?

National statistics indicate that the average term a youth pastor stays at a church is 18 months. I am not very good with math, but that appears to be more than one year and less than two.

I hate to do this, but I must ask you these questions?

Are you youth ministry  for a paycheck, for some good ministry experience, or as a “stepping stone” ministry?  Really meaning you can’t get another job as a “real pastor”…so why not youth ministry?

I have had to ask myself these same questions during my time as a youth pastor:

Did I really go into youth ministry for the right reasons?

Am I still in youth ministry for the right reasons?

And by the way…what are the “right” reasons?

Even after serving as a youth pastor at the same church for seven years, I can easily fall into complacency and comfort and stay in youth ministry because it has become “easy” for me.

However, I contend that we all should go into youth ministry (and stay in to) in order to develop real, authentic, and life-long relationships with students.

We should be more about the “youth” than the ministry!

Think about what it says to students for them to experience a new youth pastor every few years?

The statistics mentioned earlier really bother me. Especially now.

Especially since in my ministry, life-change and trust only really starting happening about five years into my time with these students. They too had experienced a number of transitional youth leaders before me.

Especially since we are facing the reality that what really matters and makes a difference to students now more than ever are relationships. The kind of relationships that are genuine, sincere, authentic, and long-lasting.

And to be brutally honest, that is kind of hard to do in a year and a half!

Now, I understand that sometimes change must take place. Often, youth pastors are forced out by external circumstances, pressures, financial worries, and a different calling from God. These can all be very valid reasons to leave.

But I think too many youth pastors use these as lame excuses to leave a difficult situation.

Because after a year or two, youth ministry was not as fun or easy as they thought it would be (they probably read that in some book)

So I say, stick with the students during the messy, confusing, and troubling times of life.

Relationships + Longevity= Transformational Ministry

Celebrate with them through the fun, joyous, and wonderful moments.

See them grow and mature from wacky, 2-minute attention span Middle school kids, to college students, husbands and wives, and future parents.

Remember, our goal should not only be to convert a 15-year-old teenager and get him or her to attend our meetings. Rather, it should be to encourage them to continue following Jesus as adults.

We aim for 40-year-old Christ followers, not just 14-year-old ones.

If you build a ministry around yourself and your personality, then its likely that we you leave, so will your ministry.  But if you build a ministry around a team, the ministry will continue on even if you leave.

David Chow in his book, No More Lone Rangers writes, “Success is more about what happens after students leave the youth ministry than what they do while they’re in the ministry.”  Rather than asking the question, “how many students are in my ministry?”, the question should be, “Where will these students be ten years from now?”

But..will we even be in their lives when they reach that age?

Again, I realize that sometimes you must leave for the betterment of the church or your family or a different calling. I may not be in my current position or church forever either. Although if my calling changes, part of me really hopes to be able to stay at my church so that I can maintain these relationships with my students for years and decades to come.

But, no matter what happens with your career and calling, please stay involved in the lives of your former students. I remember talking to a friend and colleague of mine a few years back as he was heading out to Chicago for a wedding. When I asked whose wedding it is, he informed me it was a former student from his first youth group that he and his wife had stayed in contact with over the years. He had not “officially” been her youth pastor for over 15 years, and he was still invited to her wedding.

Needless to say, that inspired me because that is what youth ministry is all about.

It’s about the youth and not the “ministry”.

So even if you don’t stay at your particular church forever, or leave the official title of youth “pastor”, you can and should always been a minister to youth…your former ones. That way, you can be in it for the long haul.

I once heard a youth ministry veteran say that youth ministry only ceases to exist when the relationship stops.

This simply means that as long as we are in relationships with students/young adults, we are still doing youth ministry.  Remember, being a youth pastor is not just a title, but a calling. I firmly believe that this calling can and should continue even when the title disappears or the position morphs into something else.

At my particular church, I think we have done a good job in student ministry up to the college years.  However, we are at a place now where we really have little for the continuing spiritual formation of 18-30 year olds.  These are young men and women who have come up through the youth ministry, but a lack of ongoing mentoring and ministry in their post-YG years can often take away and diminish the growth that occurred while they were under our leadership.

Now, some churches have great young adult pastors and there is a wonderful transition of trust between the youth pastor and young adult pastor.  But what happens when a church does not have that structure in place?  Often, the youth pastor steps in by default to continue that spiritual formation, but is extremely limited due to all the other expectations, demands, and needs of the current students.

Personally, I wrestle with this dilemma, because in my mind, I committed to the spiritual development of specific students (and that must continue well beyond their middle school and high school years).  I did not commit to “middle school students” in general.  To me, bouncing from church to church doing “youth ministry” has very little to do with ministering to actual teenagers.  If I am committed to my students (more aptly stated the students that God has entrusted me with), then I will be committed to them for as long as the relationship can continue. And in many cases ( and I think in ideal situations) these relationships will continue for decades.

What a priviledge it would be to watch your former middle school students graduate college, get married, and maybe one day perform their baby dedication as they now serve as committed members of your church body!

That vision often keeps me motivated and inspired. Just last week I attended a wake and as I looked into the tear filled eyes of one my high school girls, I prayed to God that one day I would be able to stand with her in great joy on her wedding day!  I don’t know if that will happen of course, but to me, that is youth ministry in its fullest sense.

Listen, more than likely, we will not be serving at our same church for the next 20 years. It may happen (and hopefully it is your heart’s desire and the desire of your church), but to be honest it would be rare if it did happen. I do encourage you to really move in and take root somewhere. Develop a passion for your area, community, church, and students.  You will be less likely to want to keep moving from place to place and your effectiveness in transforming teenagers and your influence on their spiritual formation will greatly increase.

u haul

But, if and when the time does come to move on, we must be prepared and have our ministries prepared.

If we truly believe in the importance of life-long relationships, then train those who will continue to be there at your church.

Develop your adult volunteers. More than likely, they are the ones who will be around the longest.

Andy Stanley writes, “One day someone else will be doing what you are doing.  Whether you have an exit strategy or not, ultimately, you will exit.”

Therefore, having this team approach benefits the ministry long-term.  Too often we worry about how many kids are coming to youth group tonight and rarely think about what shape the ministry would be in if we were no longer around due a move, career change, or other circumstance.

“If you build a ministry around yourself and your personality, then its likely that when you leave, so will your ministry.  But if you build a ministry around a team, the ministry will continue on even if you leave.”

Teach and train them to do what you would do if you could be there for 10 more years to come. That way, your students will have caring adults in their lives for the long haul, even if it is not you.  I started working towards replacing myself within the first three years I arrived.  Now, almost eight years in, I am still working hard to leave the ministry in a better place if and when I leave.  I sincerely hope that my leaders, interns, and any staff I would bring on would grow and expand the ministry well beyond what I was able to.  Now, I don’t plan on leaving anytime soon, but I still believe working towards this end is healthy and effective.

Remember, youth ministry is about them (youth) and not you (ministry).

I have included a short post by my friend Jeremy Zach offering some helpful and healthy tips about staying in youth ministry for the long haul.

The Longevity of Youth Pastors