Rabbit Starvation and Missional Youth Ministry

Here is a post I wrote for Youth Worker Journal. They have an incredibly resource-rich website as well as a magazine filled with excellent articles to grow your faith and capacity as a youth worker. If you work with youth or lead family ministry the Youth Worker Journal needs to be on your radar.

It took me ten years to discover the reality that lasting change in the lives of the youth God has called us to lead does not happen best in programs or events. I had this idea that our mission was accomplished by kids coming through the turnstiles of our church. The more kids that came the more often they came the more we were on mission and fulfilling the great commission. Looking back over 20 years of ministry in the same community to the same families I can see where God by his grace moved in the lives of kids and as I look back it was in ways I didn’t expect. 

The relevance myth – 
Keep them coming and hope something sticks. This is the biggest mistake most youth workers make in the first five years of ministry. You relate to them and with them and become friends but friendship is not discipleship. You preach to them messages that are memorable but not ultimately transformative. The path of relevance makes you feel like you are accomplishing your mission but the reality is your kids find no difference between the God you preach and the gods this world proclaims. True relevance is not what people say they want but proclaiming to them what their hearts always wanted to hear. 
 
The pragmatic myth –
If it works then do it. If I had a quarter for every time I heard someone say “Healthy things grow” I would have a lot of quarters. It’s one of those idiomatic sayings you hear when you are around church long enough. The problem with pragmatism is sometimes unhealthy things grow. Weeds grow, cancer grows, the Bible tells us sin grows (James1:15). The American church and youth ministry, in particular, is filled with pragmatic ideologies. If you can get 200 kids in the room do it. Whatever it takes to get kids to bring a friend do it. The end result of this myth is you have to outdo yourself every week. You end up preaching your message upside down in a tank full of piranhas because 250 Jr. Higher came out not to hear your message but to see if the piranhas would win. 
 
The mission that the church proclaims through pragmatism and relevance through events and programs are touted as transformative and life changing but they are actually a form of rabbit starvation. Am I saying we shouldn’t be relevant? No. Should we have programs? Yes. What I am saying is when our mission is all protein and no fat the church suffers. Rabbit starvation is a rare form of malnutrition that is caused by the abundance of protein but the absence of fat. The Arctic explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson wrote “Forest Indians who depend at times on rabbits, the leanest animal in the North…who if they have no fat from another source, will develop diarrhea in about a week, with a headache, lassitude and vague discomfort. If there are enough rabbits, the people eat till their stomachs are distended; but no matter how much they eat they feel unsatisfied.” Overconsumption of relevance and pragmatism has left many churches distended and unsatisfied. 
 
What is the church missing in its diet? 

4 Things a Decade Worth of Blogging Has Taught Me

Around ten years ago I started following a few blogs on the internet as they were a relatively new thing. I found that there were many about lots of things that were very helpful but there were very few that provided wisdom and resources for kids and youth pastors. I think I remember there being about four to five blogs for kids pastors (David Wakerly, Jonathan Cliff, Matt Mckee, The Kidologist, I think were about it.) I can’t remember now what prompted it but I decided to jump into the blogosphere and in the following years, I shared what I was thinking about what I was processing through, good books, good ideas, and a few really bad ideas that sounded good at the time. So I thought I would share a few thoughts on blogging for a decade.

  1. The more you do something the easier it becomes
  2. Writing down your thoughts reveals the gradual changes we generally find imperceptible in our day-to-day lives.  I have changed in the last ten years more than I even realize. Looking over posts that I wrote ten years ago I find myself strongly disagreeing with myself. Which feels weird but it also helps me be more gracious with others because in ten years from now I’ll disagree with some of what I am writing at this point in my life.
  3. Sustained disciplined writing is the rings of an oak tree. You can see what happened in the life of the tree by studying its rings. I find it interesting to look back through my archive and see what God was doing and what things I was wrestling with at that season of my life.
  4. In the past ten years, I have connected with people I would never have met any other way. The community I have discovered through my blog and because of my blog has been a means of God’s grace to me in more ways you will ever fully know. For that, I am profoundly thankful. The reason I started blogging and continue to blog is to be to others what I wish I had  I started and in the family community ministry community, I have found what I always wanted as an isolated kids pastor who knew no one and painfully aware of his own inadequacy. Thank you, for taking the time to read my meandering thoughts. Thank you, for your comments your help and friendship. I am grateful to God for his grace and for your grace as well. I look forward to the next ten years with you all.

Answering Questions Parents Are Asking

One of the things that we often hear in conferences and online is we need to be partnering with parents. I could not agree more. We live in a transient culture like we never seen in history. People change churches, change cities and change jobs with a frequency that is unrivaled. As you look through church history, there was a very strong emphasis on family worship the idea that our kids are spiritually educated by the church primarily is a relatively new idea. These two realities create an atmosphere that is both challenging and dangerous.

It is because of the lack of family worship and the transient nature of the family that we must be more intentional about partnering with families like never before. Most conversations I have with other kids pastor, and youth pastors about partnering with parents usually end in agreement that it should be done but at a loss for how to make that happen. We have tried things over the years that didn’t work. One of the mistakes I made over the years was to create programs or resources that didn’t meet the needs of the families I serve. They were good but not strategic. I was answering questions parents weren’t asking.

What if in partnering with parents we don’t try and create programs and resources that meet our needs but what if we answered questions our parents were asking? I think part of our problem in partnering with parents is we are giving them things that aren’t useful or are only helpful to some. Parents don’t need more info. If you have three kids in school at any given time, you will be buried under the avalanche of things to do things to be signed, and that doesn’t even include everything for every sport or activity. What if we stopped giving them information about that we think they need and start answering questions they keep asking us. What if we took that question and asked: “Does this need to be a program or a resource?”

We have a few of these in our church our Baby Dedication is a program and a resource, our baptisms are a program and a resource. This last week we put the final touches on a resource that we have worked on for a while. We call it first steps, next steps. The idea is to give three short answers to questions our parents ask us often as a “First Step.” Just enough to be helpful but not too much to overwhelm. If people want more than those three short answers provide we have “Next Steps” which is a website with a six to eight-page paper available to elaborate on the question that the three questions only begins to cover.

Here is a look at what our First Step card and Next Steps paper look like.

FIRST STEPS CARD FRONT What is the Gospel copy

 

FIRST STEP CARDS – gospel Back

10 Page PDF downloadable with more information for parents wanting more.

 

 

Self-Esteem is Ruining Your Kids

Why Self-awareness Trumps Self-esteem

As a child of the 70’s I grew up 80’s where baby boomers were loving life, loving love and loving themselves. This translated to every area of life including their parenting. The seeds of self-esteem were laid by my parent’s generation and have taken full root in my generation. It’s this idea that kids need to have a positive outlook in life, they need to love themselves. While in limited ways this can be true the pervasiveness of this idea is killing the collective conscience of our country and is ruining our kids.

How Do I Help My Kids Engage Culture

A Parents Guide to Social Action

When I was growing up our world was a very different place and the influence of evangelicalism was very different as well. I remember the primary posture of the church toward culture was condemning culture. I remember well the frequent calls for boycotts. For some reason, a late 80’s call to boycott Procter and Gamble due to a symbol on its packaging has never left me. The next change in culture was the copying of culture in the mid 90’s (anyone remember “if you like Slayer then listen to “One Bad Pig”). The posture the church seems to be in presently is one of consuming culture. We seem to believe that the other two postures have failed so this is the must be the best way forward to consume culture in an ever elusive quest for relevance. The posture that seems most lacking in the evangelical world today is the ability to critique culture.
Andy Crouch in his bestselling book Culture Making goes into depth on how we are called to be cultivators of culture and how we interact with culture should not be one dimensional but multifaceted in addressing how we react towards culture he says the following:
The problem is not with any of these gestures— condemning, critiquing, consuming, copying. All of them can be appropriate responses to particular cultural goods. Indeed, each of them may be the only appropriate response to a particular cultural good. But the problem comes when these gestures become too familiar, become the only way we know how to respond to culture, become etched into our unconscious stance toward the world and become postures.
Andy Crouch
Here is the challenge for us as individuals in general and parents in particular. We have to be sure that we respond appropriately to culture, maintaining a dynamic response to our culture based on the situation and the circumstance without letting our responses become fixed postures. We will never be cultivators of culture or teach our kids to survive and thrive in the complexity of being exiles in a culture that will destroy them if they only learn how to respond with a singular fixed posture.