Category Archives: Youth Ministry

All topics relating to youth ministry will be in this category

4 things to know about “calling”.

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‘What is your calling?’ Ever been asked that? Ever asked yourself that questions? Do you know what you were put on this earth to do? Are you still searching for the ‘thing’? I have 5 thoughts on this that have helped me, maybe they will help you.

#1. You ARE called to follow Jesus.
When Jesus calls his disciples to ‘follow him’ the ‘calling’ is just that. It begins and ends with following Jesus. Everything else we do, every ambition, dream, thought, hope and aspiration must be submitted to this. The call to follow Jesus. It is a call with a couple of parts – Jesus says,

whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me
Matthew Chapter 16 : 24

That’s the first thing – denying ourselves. To be someone in the Kingdom of God, rather than try to gain a place or BE someone – we must lose ourselves and simply follow. The second thing is this,

if you love me, you will obey my commands
John 14 : 15

Now, I am not being funny – but this seems pretty clear. Every follower of Jesus is called to – er, you know FOLLOW, deny themselves and in our loving devotion to Jesus – obey His commands. That is our primary calling as Christians – I have to say, when I started out in ‘ministry’ at 18 I hadn’t grasped that I just WAS in ministry and I was called to something great and wonderful – simply being a disciple. So, first thing is – don’t wait for a ‘thing’ living your life after Jesus IS the thing. This is the basic vocation for every Christian, the general guidance for ALL of us – applicable right now, in whatever we are doing, wherever we are doing it – summed up nicely here,

and whatever you do, in word or deed – do it all in the name of Jesus – giving thanks to God the Father through Him
Colossians 3 : 17

#2. You will not always see it coming!
I did not know that 28 years after beginning to work with children and young people as a volunteer I would still be doing this work. I did not envisage the path things would take – I have been amazed and humbled at what I have ‘joined in with’ that has had God’s fingerprints all over it! Part of following, letting go of our stuff, pursuing this ‘calling’ is trusting that in it ALL (whatever life throws at you) God is sovereign and leading you somewhere. Those called in scripture whether it is simply ‘follow me’ or they are called for a more specific task – often had no CLUE what was about to happen. Mary had not CLUE; Moses had not an inkling; Paul never saw it coming! Only now, looking back do I see where God was at work – bringing things together, people into my life, experiences that I would draw on, times of challenge and learning and growth – all shaping me for where I am now and what I am doing now. In God, nothing is wasted!

#3. Something MUST be done – the answer might be YOU
I had a friend who was always having amazing ideas about what the church should be doing. They were great! This person often felt that God was showing them some of these things – and he spoke with such passion and intent. However, no matter who these things were shared with – nobody picked them up, they never seemed to happen. He got frustrated, angry and disillusioned. We had a chat about something in particular, his latest thing the church should be doing. He said to me, ‘why has no one caught the vision?’, I said, ‘you have!’ – it hadn’t occurred to him that GOD was telling him about this stuff because God wanted HIM to do it! Do you feel something passionately? Is there something that should be happening – but isn’t? Are you watching and waiting for someone to step up? Are you thinking, ‘why don’t they get it God? I can see what you want to happen here – why hasn’t anyone got the vision and drive to get stuck in God?’ All the while God has been telling YOU and showing YOU what he wants. Crazy! Get up and DO IT!

#4. You don’t need a blinding light or weekly prayer ministry
This took me a while to figure out.
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Values don’t Trend

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This is fairly blunt – but, we can easily get distracted from what is eternal and timeless (and priceless) by what is immediate, offers the ‘latest’ or most ‘current’ thinking, gives us a recommended formula, is something that – despite the 2000 years of a Christian history that we have yet to realise – something ‘new’!

The truth is that what MAKES for great ministry is not the latest thing but eternal things. The values that we have have as we go about our ministry with children and young people are far more important than what we actually DO.

– No programme can beat authentic relationships.
– No charismatic leader that likes the lime light can beat a dedicated volunteer who desires the best for the young people.
– No special events to keep it ‘interesting’ can match week in week out commitment to ‘being there’

My previous 4 posts were focused in what young people need from the church: acceptance / love / guidance / significance – these ‘needs’ do not change, they have not changed in the time I have been doing children’s and youth ministry – I have to confess though, I have sometimes disappeared off after the latest idea or trend or ‘transform your ministry’ model. Sometimes it can be a subtle thing that distracts us – the church up the road tries dome thing different (it might be right for them) and then I have assumed I can ‘transplant’ that thing to what I am doing . . . James Dobson once said,

comparison is the root of all inferiority
James Dobson

Equally true in ministry as for whether my six pack (ha) matches up to the guy who just ran past me . . .

The values we have and the values we instil in our young people are the things that will last. Don’t loose your values in a desire to keep up – let values drive your work with young people, let those values shape the kind of ministry you lead and invest in.

4 Things Young People Need from Church || #4. Significance

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We have looked at the need for acceptance, love and guidance – now we see the ministry and life impact of these key values. Young people taking their place as full and active members of the body of Christ – bringing their passion, gifts, drive and vision – or do they?

What space do we create in Church for young people to fully participate? IF we want to see young people remain in the church into adulthood we MUST equip them to serve and get stuck in. They need to know it matters whether they ‘show up’ or not.

I love the film Gladiator! It’s up there as one of my all time favourite films. Near the beginning Maximus (Russell Crowe) makes a glorious speech and reminds his men that what we do – echoes in eternity.

What we do matters. Do our young people believe that? Come to that – do we believe that?

I have had a few chats over the years with some well known Christian leaders. One I spoke to a while ago said that when he hit 50 he realised what really mattered in life and ministry was not whether he was ‘successful’, but whether what he did mattered. Was it significant. Had it made an impact and a difference for the common good and for the gospel? That had become his question.

Philippians is a pretty stonking book – especially (for me anyway) chapter 2. First we have the incredible attitude of Christ – and we can sometimes get caught up in HIS attitude (wow, isn’t Jesus amazing – look at his attitude) when the point of the passage is YOU (which means me too) should have the same attitude. It is one of servant hood. Living a significant life for Jesus is not pushy, it is not about endeavouring to ‘be’ significant for our own sake or glory – but to live a transformed life that makes a difference to the life of others – John 3:30 has it spot on,

He must increase; I must decrease

We don’t ‘disappear’ when we live like this, we simply become more fully who we were created to be. The attitude we have of ‘Christ increasing’ can ONLY be for our good and for the good of those around us. What’s not to like? With the right attitude so much can be done! This attitude leads us to be enablers and equippers of others – especially, if you are involved in youth work – young people. Don’t DO what you have been doing for years (and giving nobody else a look in) GIVE it away, create opportunities for others – YES, they will be significant in their own right with what they initiate and begin and kick off and take on . . . BUT, everybody begins with being given a CHANCE. Give young people a go. It can be done safely, if it goes pear shaped – YOU take the flack. If it goes AMAZING – give them the credit – build a safe place where young people can risk it, have a crack at something – and it is ok to mess up . . .

do everything with grumbling and arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “Children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.
Philippians 2:14-16

Where it says, “hold firmly” this could also be translated “hold out” hold onto and hold out the word of life – it’s not one or the other – it’s both. You cannot hold out the word of life to others without firmly keeping it and knowing it and treasuring it – and, IF you have fully grasped it – you would not be holding onto it – such amazing love and grace is bestowed on us – we cannot keep it to ourselves!

And – the stars! Shining like stars – that is the echo in eternity! If we shine like stars – then, maybe one day – the light from what we have done, been, passed on will reach others – long after we ourselves are gone (just like a star). THAT is the kind of leader of young people that I want to be.

Let’s create space where young people know NOW they are significant and have a significant contribution to ministry and church life today; let’s find ways to get “out of the way” so they might get a glimpse of what they might do to serve Jesus and let’s give opportunities – HOW might young people serve your church today?

Whatever age you are as a leader, whatever your have done so far to raise up and enable young people to take their place of significance in the church – there are always more young people! Let’s equip each other, let’s build up the whole body of Christ to be a place and a community that sees what God is doing in the lives our our children and young people and celebrates it by cheering the next generation on in all that God will call them to. They are fellow ‘runners’ of the race, they are in it NOW – not shuffling about on the sidelines waiting for us to finish!

What you do by saying yes to one young person might transform their group of friends, a relationship at home, set them on the path to full time ministry, see them so boosted in their confidence they do stuff they never imagined they would or could. Some of it – we get to see (what a joy and an immense privilege) others things – we don’t see, we will never see – but God sees it all and knows it all. As we echo in eternity and as we shine like stars – the only one we need to know is watching (and loving every minute of it) is Jesus.

4 Things Young People Need From the Church || #3. Guidance

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We started with acceptance which prepares the ground for young people to be loved into being – we now come to one of the key tensions and challenges in what the church provides for young people. Guidance.

Guidance is a big deal because there are differing understandings of what this looks like. For some churches this appears to be a discipleship approach that involves ‘telling’ – instructing young people in what they must do to behave. Telling them what is right – and then expecting them to just do it. A guidance approach that often struggles with questions, then gets exasperated if they are asked and finally responds when challenged with ‘because I said so!’

Then, there is the guidance approach that encourages young people to discover for themselves, work stuff out, learn from their mistakes and maybe clarity is missing . . .

Somehow we need to find balance – guidance is essential – but what does it look like? This isn’t about the answers, none of these ‘what young people need’ posts is about what we ‘do’ so much as who we are, the values that underpin our work with children and young people. So, what values should steer our approach to guidance.

Let’s start here,

Train a child in the way they should go – even when they are old they will not turn from it
Proverbs 22:6

‘Train’ here is the Hebrew word, ‘chanak’ – there are four ideas associated with the word:

#1. To Dedicate. Often accompanied by sacrifice, this was serious stuff – a dedication to The Lord – think of Hannah brining Samuel to the temple and dedicating him to the Lord’s service and you get the idea.

#2. To Throttle. Ok, calm down! This was about constricting or narrowing in order to discipline, like. bit in a horses mouth – think of reigns on a toddler as they are learning to walk!

#3. To Introduce. In discipleship terms we are introducing children, getting them started on the ‘way’, but more than that – we are not just introducing them to Christian practice – but introducing them to Jesus himself. He, himself IS the way.

#4. To Initiate. I LOVE what this means! It’s about creating an appetite for something – in order to get a baby to suckle, it was the habit in the Middle East to put oil or crushed dates in the roof of a babies mouth so they could begin to get a taste for food. I love that, TASTE and see that The Lord is good! (Psalm 34:8)

This is ALL from that one word ‘train’! So much in this verse of scripture, we can read it and miss the depth, the range and scope of what is meant here. Also, we can feel (I certainly do as a parent) overwhelmed with the responsibility – what if we stuff it up?

As children and young people grow, their abilities and their talents, their sheer gobsmacking range of choice; their engagement with a world that is now available at the swipe of a finger 24/7; their presence in a virtual world visiting places and interacting with people their parents have never met . . . We can feel overwhelmed and ‘out gunned’ or at least out paced with the changes that are happening that we can’t keep up with – but, also, the shift in the way our culture perceives the young – whether that is marketing products; encouraging young people to buy this, go here, watch this, download that . . . How – in the midst of a world we do not understand can we hope to ‘guide’?

I am reminded of the first Spider Man film from a few years ago – and the wise words of uncle Ben to Peter Parker,

With great lower comes great responsibility

Uncle Ben was watching Peter grow up – and he didn’t know he was Spider Man, but could see, as he was becoming a man, the struggles, challenges and temptations that lay ahead. Yet, at the same time recognising the incredible power that Peter had as a young man with his destiny laid out in front of him – just waiting for him to step into it!

There is incredible strength and vitality and energy and passion and zeal and desire amongst young people – yet, such responsibility to use what we have been given – the gift of life and the gift of our talents and abilities wisely. Our young people need our help – we must dedicate them, sometimes reign them in, introduce them to the truth found in who Jesus is and initiate them in the ‘way’.

Young people want and need boundaries and clarity. Clear guidance. I was once speaking to a group of young people in a class in school – one boy asked me, ‘how far should I go with my girlfriend?’ There are some ‘pat’ answers that are expected in a school context for this kind of question to do with being safe, being comfortable together – but, I realised he actually wanted me to tell him. Seriously, TELL ME what is OK? Nobody is telling our young people what is ok!

I think about the changes in society, the overwhelming pace of things, the world of young people – and then – MY guidance? Really? BUT – absolutely – yes, we must guide – maybe using those four ideas associated with that word in Proverbs as a steer. We need to not panic, we have a remarkable wealth of amazing stuff to train our young people in. The BIBLE is – obviously – incredible, and there is SO much in it – as exploring one word in one verse shows!

The kind of guidance we need is that which draws our young people into an incredible joinery of discovery and transformation as they come to know Christ. Our EXAMPLE in this is the greatest guide – FOLLOW me, as I follow Christ – guidance is about us, BEING a guide – showing them around the magnificence of scripture, the rich heritage of faith, the stories of incredible love and sacrifice found within the BIble and throughout the history of the Church.

The word ‘tradition’ literally means to ‘pass on’ it is what we should fundamentally be asking ourselves as we seek to train and Gide the next generation – WHAT must we pass on? What is essential for faith to take root and for life in Christ to grow and blossom.

Coming back to the ‘power’ thing and responsibility and feeling overwhelmed – this verse has always encouraged me,

I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms.
Ephesians 1:19-20

FREE Lent Devotional Booklet for young people

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Hot off the press and just in time for Lent, this is a free PDF I have put together for you to pass on as you want – to any young people you think might benefit. Six weekly devotionals, with a final seventh as we hit Easter.

Download it, send it round – it is written with 11 – 18 year olds in mind to read for themselves. With so many young people now having tablets, I just wanted to produce something that could be viewed on any device that can open a PDF.

Whatever you are doing with your youth group over lent, my prayer is for us all to have a deeper, richer relationship with Jesus Christ as a result.

Just hit the link below to open the PDF.

YES Lent Reflections – 2014

4 Things Young People Need From the Church | #2. Love

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Love. Obvious right? Well, yes – but, in my experience, this is where the rubber hits the road for the Church. It’s hard not to love jazz funk, really great coffee, marmite, repeat viewings of ‘The a Great Escape’ and my lovely wife and daughters (that is not a list in order of importance by the way) – unfortunately, in English we are stumped by having just that one word for love. Love.

In The Greek, we have ‘Agape’ this is the kind of self giving, sacrificial love that has been poured out on us by Jesus and it is this kind of love that our young people should be experiencing when they come into contact with the Church. Holding no record of wrongs, hoping and persevering kind of love – always trusting, going above and beyond kind of love. What happens when people ‘blow it’ in our churches? What happens when that is a young person?

One of the toughest verses in scripture is this,

Love your neighbour as yourself
Matthew 22:39

This comes as Jesus is summing up the law and the prophets – He has just given the greatest command and then said the second is like it and then smack – love others – the way you love yourself! Ok. Here is the question then – and we don’t ask this often enough – HOW do we love others, if we don’t love ourselves? This builds on from acceptance – the first need I mentioned – and is crucial for the well being of our young people, they must know they are loved and loved unconditionally. There is a great phrase I have come across – it is this:

loved into being

Simply this, we love people SO much – that they are loved into a good place, loved into a living, breathing, life could be good here, hopeful – life has possibilities and I am LOVED place. Our young people often need to be loved into being. So many of the young people I have encountered in years of ministry do not love themselves, struggle to believe that they are loved, that they are special, that they matter.

Dash, from the film The Incredibles puts it pretty well. He is being challenged by his mum when he is moaning in the car. Dash really wanted to do athletics at school, but being so fast would just beat everyone – he is frustrated and only wants to show how special he is and use his gifts. His mum says,

everyone’s special Dash

He replies,

that’s just another way of saying no one is

Ahh. A child’s logic. If we are all special, what makes me special? And, we have another tough scripture verse here too,

For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life
John 3:16

So well known! So well used! But, while some young people can get that God loved the world that He gave His son, they struggle with their part of the world, the bit of the world that they inhabit – the bit of the world that is different because they exist there. Everyone is special – they get that. Somehow though, for many young people, that ‘everyone’ can’t mean them.

This is where we need to step up for each and every young person and love them into being. Demonstrate the love that Jesus talks about with Nicodemus at the dead of night (did you ever notice that? This incredible passage of scripture in John 3 is a one to one conversation – a profound truth, Jesus precious time, the most famous verse about Gods love and salvation in the Bible – not shared from a platform to a crowd, but with one man). We need each young person to know – you are not just part of the youth group, or the crowd of young people – YOU matter. YOU are loved.

IF we can SEE each young person as Christ sees them we will accept them and we will also love them. Let’s see each young person we encounter discover and catch something of the love of Jesus for then through our lives, through our example, through who we tell them they are – let’s persevere, let’s not leave anyone behind, let’s love our young people into a better place . . .

Let’s encourage our young people to believe the following is true, not just for everyone – but true for THEM,

I’m convinced that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers, or height or depth, or any other thing that is created
Romans 8:39

4 Things Young People Need From the Church | #1. Acceptance

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The first of the four things young people need from the Church is acceptance. We MUST welcome and accept young people as they are; precious, made-in-the-image-of-God, creative, unique and just incredible. Every single one of them. Our welcome makes a difference. Accepting young people is not simply a nod to their existence, but a welcome that includes, draws in and values them. The greatest challenge I have found in youth work though, is convincing young people they are worth the effort. Whilst this post is about the church (meaning all of us) accepting young people – many young people find it incredibly difficult to accept themselves.

They might believe someone else might be – but not them. Words mean nothing if they are not followed through with actions. Acceptance is demonstrated when space is created for young people to worship in ways they find helpful and meaningful; acceptance is demonstrated when their opinion is asked; acceptance is demonstrated when sermon illustrations are inclusive and might be something a young person can relate to; acceptance is shown when at ‘the peace’ adults approach young people to shake their hand; acceptance is illustrated when mid week meetings or gatherings of the church are at a time young people can make; acceptance is demonstrated – not when the church delivers things TO young people, nor when the church does things FOR young people, but when there is work WITH young people.

Part of the challenge for young people is what they can ‘accept’ is possible for them. Many young people ‘accept’ their lot in life – the hand they have been dealt meaning ‘this is it’ – they ‘accept’ that they aren’t going to achieve anything, aren’t worth much; are not valued and won’t get anywhere in life. It doesn’t take many people speaking this kind of stuff into young peoples lives for them to begin to accept it. 75% of media coverage of young people is negative. 1 in 5 young people struggle with mental health related issues. Of those I have worked with over the years a significant number struggle to accept they are FORGIVEN (these are young people who are Christians and repentant – seeking to live as God wants). In our world and culture – acceptance is earned, in academic life, achieving an ‘acceptable’ grade needs effort. What is so hard for young people to grasp is that NOTHING they can do can make them acceptable to God. Scripture says,

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God
Romans 3:23

That’s pretty tough stuff. Yet, we (all of humanity, which includes all young people!) are worth saving – so much so that when we could do nothing to save ourselves – Jesus came for us,

God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us
Romans 5:8

Part of submitting ourselves to Christ and acknowledging Him as Lord and Saviour is accepting that this is true. Christ has made us acceptable!

God gave Jesus to die for our sins, and He raised Him to life – so that we would be made acceptable to God
Romans 4:25

We need to communicate this truth to our young people again and again. Then, knowing this to be true – we can talk about what that means – if we put our trust in a God, if we believe in His name – something wonderful becomes possible. It is a change that can transform any life – any possible destiny, any young persons life where they feel or believe they have no hope suddenly becomes full of potential and possibilities.

but, to all who believed Him and accepted Him he gave the right to become children of God
John 1:12

This acceptance thing is pretty HUGE. Our young people need to accept themselves, they need to accept that they are loved by God and acceptable to Him through what Jesus has done, the church needs to demonstrate this and accept young people.

Then we get to this ‘right’ that we have – to be children of God! Wow! Get in!!

Which brings me to the image at the top of this post – it’s Tom Cruise from Minority Report. Cruise plays a cop who hunts down criminals with the help of some ‘prophets’ who can ‘see’ people commit crimes in the future – Tom and his team then turn up and arrest the criminals just before they are commit their crimes – pretty cool way to police the future! Anyway, one day an image of a future crime flashes up on the screen and yes – it’s Cruise, in a room with a gun about to murder someone. Cruise goes on the run to try and figure out what is going on . . . . Ultimately the picture comes true, there he stands in the room, with the gun, about to shoot someone (as predicted) – then – from the corner of the room the voice of one of the prophets speaks before he pulls the trigger,

you can choose

That’s it. And for our young people life might seem like it is heading in an inevitable direction – but, it does not have to be that way! Our young people need to shown they can choose to have a future as part of Christ’s family.

Let’s accept them, let’s help them accept themselves and let’s show them they are accepted by God – because of Christ – and encourage them to choose life with Him!