I once served in a church that had a strong business model. All of the staff were encouraged to read books like Good to Great or Unleashing the Ideavirus. In that church, we talked a LOT about outcomes. It was a church model based on productivity. Most of the focus was on programs and how they produced the outcomes we were looking for.
Something happened to me while thinking through these ideas.
I don’t believe in outcomes based ministry.
That might be a little strong to some. I realized it in a conversation I had recently when someone was reading some of my thoughts. The asked me what was the purpose of what I was doing. Why do things differently? What were my outcomes?
I just blinked… several times… There it was staring me in the face. I don’t believe in outcomes.
To clarify, let me say that I don’t think you can measure a ministry or the efforts of any minister by numbers, conversions, Bible verses memorized, attendance, percentages, fiery hoops jumped through, prayers prayed, or anything other silly measurable that I can think of.
It hit me somewhere in my past. All of the measurable outcomes I could think of were either not good measures of spiritual growth or out of my hands. If I could turn someone’s heart, make them aware of the Spirit’s prompting, even call the Lord to their attention apart from God, that would be amazing. But I can’t do those things on my own. In fact, those are things only God can do.
So I’m left with two choices. Either I measure things that I can do, but don’t really matter, or I try to recognize what God does and try to participate in it.
Last week, I had the momentous occasion of turning forty. Personally, I was underwhelmed. What was really cool though was celebrating with the youth group.
One of my leaders had each youth write me a letter about our relationship. It encouraged me in a somewhat bittersweet way. I felt loved and cared for more than any other church I have served. All of that couldn’t compare to what happened when we began though.
As usual, I started the meeting by asking the group what they wanted to talk about. They said unanimously that they wanted me to talk about my faith and what it is like turning forty. I was completely unprepared, but jumped in anyway.
I talked about my life as a teenager and how my faith began to form out of the bitterness and abuse of my childhood. Then I moved into how I began serving churches. The path of ministry in my life is paved with incredible hurt. I have been on the receiving end of some horrific situations in the church.
To a person, they all wondered that I was still a youth pastor. They couldn’t understand why I would continually be challenged in much of what I do. As the talk progressed, I could only reaffirm that the older I get, the more sure I am of what I do and why I do it.
I concluded sharing with them the idea of calling. Calling is something we do in spite of adversity. It is something we can’t stop because it is in our nature. I couldn’t feel right about myself leaving youth ministry. I would be able to flip the switch that made me stop caring about young adults.
So turning forty is awesome simply because I know more about the person I am created to be.
People who know their calling, can I get an amen?
- Journey to Becoming More in Youth Ministry is the latest from Barefoot Training Articles and Immerse. At the risk of offending, the article could also be titled “How Imago Dei Forms us as Little Trinties.”
- Youth Ministry’s Mental Game – a great article from Jeremy Zach via ReYouth Pastor.
- Methods, Message and Attractional Youth Ministry – from Benjer McVeigh. Another great post in his series about content and context. Via Jesus and Teenagers.
- If You’re Not Making Disciples, What are You Making – A very thoughtful and challenging article from Andy Blanks of the YM360Blog.
- Poke the Box – if you are a Kindle user, go pre-order the latest book from Seth Godin for $1. ht Jeff Goins.
- Untamed - Alan Hirsch – anyone who teaches or leads small groups should read it.
Being able to make a decision underrated. Looking at how many pople live life – how they let others make decisions for them about what car to drive, what clothes to wear, where to live – it is amazing that we struggle for personal freedom to be able to make a decision at all. It seems so many people reject this basic freedom.
I used to work a group called Young American Showcase. They trained their representatives in many things that were helpful on the road. Mainly they taught us to know what we were doing. That is, they taught us to know our appeal to the audience and commit to it.
In entertainment, doing a performance without committing to it is death. Half-hearted performances just don’t appeal to audiences, and if they see that you aren’t sure of your performance, they begin to think that you are messing up.
In the Christian life, the same is true. In many ways, Christians don’t seem sure of what it is they are doing. Poling churches, one stresses a moderate lifestyle while another encourages freedom. There are just as many perspectives on how to live a Christian life as there are churches (and probably a whole lot more). There seems to be little uniformity though and very little commitment, and that points to how unsure they are about what the Christian life is about.
This is maybe the biggest indictment on the state of discipleship. Discipleship is the process of how people learn they are about and is the way they are shown the way to commit to it and be decisive.
Last week, there was a great comment on my post about Youth Ministry’s Illegitimate Children. Aaron Decker asks two great questions:
1) Are we doing evangelism because we want to add members to our church-organization, or because we truly rejoice in the new life we have in Christ, and want to share that joy with others? It has to be the latter. Any other motivation–to win converts, to add members, whatever–won’t work.
2) Are we doing youth ministry all on its lonesome, or do we have as our goal the real incorporation of our youth as full members of the whole body of Christ?
These questions should be asked by every church. I wish more ministers would ask these questions. While the questions are more important than the answers, I will try to give some answers as well.
Evangelism from a Biblical perspective brings good news. The change of focus from good news, to hell, to a church’s good news that they get more givers (money) becomes a problematic error in theology. I say theology only because the error comes from faulty beliefs.
If I could provide good news that was life changing, then I wouldn’t need God. Since I can’t, then the outcomes of the gospel have to be placed in God’s hands, not mine. When the church makes its goal to receive new converts, it drifts away from the gospel.
The imperative of the church has always been the work of Jesus in his Kingdom. The gospel isn’t a message of fire insurance. Jesus came to free people from sin and give life to those who are perishing. More then that, the life he gives is better than we can imagine. That’s good news. Anything else becomes suspect.
I teach 1 Peter 3:15 in all of my evangelism efforts.
Youth Ministry Ghetto
Every church I have served has had this problem. Maybe they all do. I personally have gotten comfortable with it, and that bothers me. The seclusion of teens in churches points to several issues of spiritual unhealth.
- Young adults aren’t real believers.
- Young adults can’t do anything of kingdom value.
- Parents should be the focus of youth ministry (a growing trend just as disturbing as any).
- Parents need surrogates to care for their children’s spiritual health.
- The church needs a mobile group that can do things for them to feel good about.
- The church needs a place to fence in all that craziness.
I could go on and on, but what really matters is that all of these are again misplaced or non-existent faith. If the Bible is true, then a lot of our heroes in the faith were young adults. From Timothy, to David, to Mary, you have to acknowledge that God uses young people to do his work. Any church that doesn’t realize that wastes valuable resources and misses part of God’s plan for his Kingdom.
The only solution I think will work is to give young adults the space to serve like any other member. Sure they may be less mature than some older members (or they may not), but they have the same call as any other believer. Any youth who has proven themselves able ought to be able to serve in leadership. They ought to be in any ministry in the church where their gifting is a good fit.
So here are two problems facing the future of youth ministry. They aren’t new. Hopefully with all of the attention being focused on the future of youth ministry, we will start to see new practices evolve that better the situation.
- Benjer shares thoughts on content over methods which prompted my own post here.
- An amazing quote on art from Andrew Peterson via Kyle Reed at Standing on Giants.
- Some great thought on what discipleship is not from the book Next Christians by Gabe Lyons at Discipleship for the Next Christians.
- Sam Halverson posts a great thought about Hell and Evangelism.
- Benjamin Kerns – Having read Average Youth Ministry for a while now, I find new treasures there each post. Benjamin is a deep thinker and has lots to add to the conversation. He is also an incredibly humble guy.
- Michael Hyatt writes about his lessons from a speech coach. This is a great article about presenting in many media. The thing I love about Michael is that he’s this big time publisher and is still humble enough to be specific in how he is still learning. I have it on good authority that he really is a great guy.
Anyone who has been around Christianity very long knows about these, right? Every head bowed, every eye closed. Now if you have felt the Spirit’s leading, I’d like to lead you in a prayer for salvation. Just repeat after me. Jesus, I know I’m a sinner who can’t save myself. I need your grace to cover my transgressions. Please come into my heart and make it your home.
Something like that.
I’m not arguing the truth of any of those statements. What I take issue with is the results of that kind of introduction into faith. Here are my concerns
1. People in the Bible begin the life in faith and never have anything close to this. As far as I can see, God’s presence in a person’s life signifies the beginning of their faith, not a specific prayer.
2. These kinds of prayers usually point to Jesus as Savior, but not as Lord. This kind of mentality poisons faith early on by leaving out an essential point. Jesus wants to have a continuing relationship with us, not just a one time meeting.
3. Does God need an invitation if we have decided to have faith in Him? I’m not super stressed about Ordo Salutis, but I think if we decide to have faith in God, he is already in our lives (and hearts).
4. Surely there has to be a better way to have a public profession of faith. The whole “every head bowed, every eye closed” thing calls into question how much risk we are willing to have in our faith. If you can’t acknowledge your beliefs in front of a bunch of other believers, it can’t be much of a conviction.
How about you? Do you lead others in a prayer of salvation?
Jeff Goins (my new friend and rising creative) wrote a while back on what to to with unfair criticism. It’s a great post. I thought about it for about two seconds before thinking, “What do should I do with fair criticism?” Here’s my list:
- Listen very carefully. As much as possible, hear what is really being said.
- If it’s fair but inaccurate, correct perceptions. Sometimes, criticism comes from simple misperception. That’s easy to fix.
- If it’s fair, but you disagree (careful not to come out swinging), then explain your reasoning.
- If you find the criticism fair and accurate, repent. Sometimes people just want to hear an apology.
- Ask for help. The person giving you criticism wants to help. Take them up on it.
- Correct as much as is practical. Let’s face it, we could all spend most of our day thinking about how we could do everything better. As much fun as that would be, it just isn’t helpful.
- Sleep well. I have always found that, when I engage someone and work through disagreements, I have more peace than when I let it fester.
Any other tips?
Depending upon which statistics you consult, between 60 and 95% of teenagers in youth ministries in America leave the church after graduation. According to Barna about 7-8% of the nation hold the basics beliefs that would distinguish them as Christians. I haven’t seen these two statistics used together, but I think they represent similar or same issues.
Attractional ministry sucks. From Willow Creek’s Reveal to Sally Morgenthaler‘s confession, it is becoming more apparent to the mainstream church that wrangling people into the church with promises of entertainment doesn’t work. In fact, it has proven to be utterly self-destructive.
I didn’t have a clear way of thinking of this until I heard an urban philosophy. It goes something like, “young men go around making babies as if they are trying to prove they can.” Youth ministry (and adult ministries as well) is very similar.
Youth ministries create illegitimate children. When they are more concerned about creating new life than nurturing it, they make orphans in the faith.
To be fair, churches have put pressure on youth workers to post numbers of salvation prayers and re-dedications. When we reduce evangelism to the newest gimmick, we must realize the sad state we are in. Evangelism isn’t the only problem though. Discipleship that focuses on curriculum instead of people is like rearing a child focused solely on the food (or media) they consume.
How do we recover? Here are my solutions, though I acknowledge their are hopelessly incomplete.
- Stop tracking numbers. Just stop. I’m not saying numbers aren’t important, but I am saying we should take the emphasis off of it.
- Start tracking transformation. It’s much harder to measure changes in teens than it is to track how many prayers they pray. It’s not impossible though. The fruits of the Spirit are a good place to start.
- Stop hiding behind books. I’ve done it myself. It’s so much easier to just teach from a book than engage someone personally in their life. Transformation doesn’t happen in books, though. It occurs most in close relationships with others. Live there instead.
Other ideas? Anyone?
Another great article on attractional ministry is over at Benjer’s site.
Update: And just saw another post by Joel Mayward about Orphan Care.