Thursday, August 6, 2020

Boosting Our Spiritual Immune Systems

Just as how we each have an immune system that supports our physical health, we also have an immune system that supports our spiritual health. First, it is important to recognize that an immune system does not automatically build itself up on its own. For example, if we want to build up our physical immune system, we go outside, we take vitamins, we eat healthy, we exercise, and we allow our bodies to fight off the seasonal common cold or the occasional flu. Even though antibiotics can help us to quickly defeat a bug, prolonged dependence on antibiotics can impact our bodies in two ways: first, they can sometimes destroy the good bacteria that we have in our system; and second, our immune system may have a hard time in effectively fighting off even smaller infections due to an established dependency on antibiotics. In other words, our immune systems can become lazy if we never let it run its natural course in fighting any of the bugs that find their way into our bodies.

Similar to the activities that can help in boosting our physical immune system, we can build up our spiritual immune system through spiritual disciplines such as reading Scripture, engaging in prayer, attending service, worshiping the Lord, serving in the kingdom of God, and even joining a small group. While we may be able to enjoy more nights on the couch or dodge the occasional conflict that arises when building relationships with others, refraining from doing these practices for long periods of time can impact our souls in two ways: first, we lose touch with Jesus and we begin to retreat from our relationship with Him; and second, our spiritual immune system may discover that it’s unable to effectively walk through even smaller spiritual struggles and challenges that inevitably find their way into our daily lives. Just as how a lazy physical immune can be decimated by something as small as a common cold, a lazy spiritual immune system can be absolutely wrecked by an event that disrupts the normal day-to-day.

There’s one person I know who was once laid off from her corporate job. What was remarkable was that she not only had faith that she was being led to an even better job, but she actually praised the Lord through the entire process and even witnessed to the supervisors who were letting her go! However, I also know of another person who found himself unemployed and was wrecked by the spiritual struggle that ensued, unable to function and, on some days, even felt unable to get out of bed to do everyday tasks. But this isn’t just pertaining to employment. Indeed, this could extend into other areas of our lives such as the arrival of a new baby, severe weather catastrophes, the loss of a loved one, the accumulation of stressful projects at work or at home, or other areas. Just as how our physical immune system is there to be the first line of defense against the onslaught of germs and pollutants that our bodies come into contact with, our spiritual immune system is there to be the first line of defense against spiritual struggles. By boosting our spiritual immune systems on a consistent basis, we will be able to interpret our current struggles from a heaven-centric viewpoint, to more clearly see how today’s events impact our mission for the kingdom of God, and to bless others through the power of our actions and our testimony.


Thursday, July 30, 2020

Partnering With Parents in Youth Ministry



We may be ministering to students within youth ministry, however we must not forget that we are actually ministering alongside parents, to their students. When we view youth ministry from this perspective, parents suddenly become co-ministers in the pursuit of the youth ministry’s vision and it becomes more natural to look for opportunities to work together. Let us explore three crucial areas that require our attention when partnering with parents in youth ministry.

Communications
Although it is no secret that properly planned promotion can increase attendance for events, it is helpful to remember that parents can assist in the promotion of the events as well. But how can we let them know of what’s up and coming? The five or ten minutes after service can be one of the most powerful windows of time to connect and build rapport with parents. While this can be effective, there still exists great benefit from a communication system that informs parents of youth ministry needs and upcoming events. A quarterly calendar is very helpful, and a monthly publication like an email or a newsletter can greatly assist in keeping everyone on track. Furthermore, if an event has been promoted within your prior communications, then a final friendly reminder can provide that extra little bit of help in keeping the event at the forefront of everyone’s minds.

Transportation
According to AAA, only 54% of teens are getting their license before turning 18, which means that parents are oftentimes the individuals driving the students to youth services and youth-based events. By respecting the parents’ calendars through a consistent communications system, we are able to create a partnership with the students’ parents instead of vying for their students’ availability. If the parents are unaware or under-informed regarding the events of the youth ministry, the family’s household calendar may not be able to make the youth ministry a priority (Or the parents may not be available to drive their students to the events). A way to work around this may be to ask youth leaders and students who already have their license to assist in picking up other students. Yet even with this suggestion, a proper communications system between us and our leaders would still be necessary if students need to be connected to various drivers.

Finances
When we don’t have a communications system in place that keeps parents in the loop, this can potentially affect the finances of both the families and the church. Last minute notifications sent to parents that ask for money can come off as disrespectful. After all, many households plan their budgets a month in advance. If the church forgets to promote an event ahead of time and then at the last minute realizes that too few students have submitted their deposit, an urgent “Sorry that we forgot to remind you…” email may not go over well. If a family’s budget is set and it does not have wiggle room for extra expenditures, it may place a household in an awkward situation where they have to put groceries on the credit card in order to be able to send their student to the youth ministry event. Such a scenario could potentially impact the church’s finances if parents have to unexpectedly reallocate funds from their normal tithe in order to secure the necessary funds. Finally, communicating financial needs well in advance can lessen the load of the youth ministry’s overall budget if more students are able to pay for the event without needing to ask for a scholarship.

Parents want to be prayer partners with us. They want to help intercede for their student and to help pray over the entire youth ministry. By keeping them informed, this can help the youth ministry stay in alignment with the church’s vision. When we do this, we invite and encourage the parents to be co-ministers who work alongside us rather than in competition with us.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Don't Bury Those Talents



The parables that Jesus taught are relevant, poignant, and heart piercing. One of the parables that contains multiple layers of application is known as the parable of the talents, featured in Matthew 25:14-30. In it, Jesus tells the story of a man who entrusted large sums of money to his servants while he went out of town. We find out upon the man’s return that two of the three servants who received talents had ended up actually increasing their master’s wealth. While the first two proudly reported on their successful productivity, the third man fearfully admitted that he did nothing with the funds. Instead, he buried the money and protected it for the time that his master was away. Surprisingly, we read here that the master ends up scolding the third servant and then proceeds to cast him out. Even though this parable discusses money and investing, it does not have to be interpreted this literally. Let us dive deeper through the lens of youth ministry.

According to their ability
Perhaps one of the more passed-over elements of this parable can be found in verse 15 where the master gives varying amounts of money to his servants, to “each according to his ability” (emphasis mine). In other words, the master provided differing amounts of talents because he was familiar with the abilities of each individual person. Once we acknowledge this, it’s no surprise that he gave only 1 talent to the third servant; perhaps the master sensed the third servant’s hesitation. Maybe because of this, he proceeded to give a smaller amount so that the servant could start small and build his confidence.

Isn’t this what God does for us? For those who are more-seasoned in their faith, would you have run away if God told you what you were going to be doing for Him in ten years? God knows our spiritual gifts and what He calls us to fulfill is perfectly suited to our capabilities. Yet if God does this for us, then do we extend the same prayerful consideration for our own students? Before challenging a student to evangelize in the streets, have we first made sure that they understand the basics of the Gospel? Before asking them to invite their friends to youth service, have we taught them to serve the visitor so that newcomers are lovingly welcomed and cared for? In the parable, the master knows what each of his servants are ready for. Similarly, we too are called to keep a pulse on our students and to extend responsibilities that patiently meet them in the season of their current spiritual readiness.

Different Harvests are Okay
In the parable we see that the first two servants reported different returns on their investments and we also see that the master was pleased with their efforts. From this we can understand two key points. First, we see that serving the kingdom of God is not a competition and that it is okay to bear fruit that correlates with our current abilities and current resources. Second, the master chooses to bless the both of them abundantly, regardless of the fact that the gains between the two servants reflected different amounts. While we may not explicitly know what the servants eventually received, the master’s commendation is the same for the both of them. Instead of giving favor to our top two students who appear to be on the path of pursuing full-time ministry, are we as youth pastors and youth leaders praising all students who are making efforts to serve in the church (even if their efforts impact just one small aspect of the evening’s youth service)? Instead of offering only a few opportunities in the service for students to get involved, have we opened up the youth ministry so that any student can begin to utilize their spiritual gift(s)?

Don’t Bury Those Talents!
If we believe that God is a stern disciplinarian, then we may end up looking at God like how the third servant views his master. We become so unsure and/or afraid of what is given to us that we anxiously dodge the responsibility by burying it or giving it back to God (25:25). Yet what if we understand that what the master initially gives to us is actually a door through which additional blessings may be able to flow? Perhaps the Lord is giving us responsibility for the small things in life so that He knows when we will be prepared for the larger things. Just as how God does this for us, what are the small things we are giving to our students now so that they can increase their faith and preparedness? Empowering our students now and allowing them to utilize their spiritual gifts within the church can help our students become more like the first two servants by the time that they graduate and leave for college.


Matthew 25:14-30 (NIV): 14 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’ 21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ 22 “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’ 23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ 24 “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’ 26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. 28 “‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Easing Churchgoers Back Into Small Groups


“Where do we go from here?”...”Is this the new normal?”…”What should we do for our fall groups?” With less than two months away until fall groups launch, these questions are circulating on the small group ministry forums as churches begin to prepare for their seasonal small group push in September. Yet let us not forget the more subtle needs of churchgoers as we discuss reentry for our fall small groups.

Be Kind to Your Introverts
For some who are more introverted, the desire to socialize may not come back as quickly for them as for those who are more extroverted. It’s not that they are anti-social, it’s just that those who are located more towards the introverted side of the socialization scale will more likely find themselves staying in for the night instead of going out. To some degree, introverts have to be encouraged and guided back into the fold of small groups. For the extroverted small group ministry point person who is promoting small groups this fall, be gentle with your introverts. In other words, don’t be shocked if they say that they’re not ready to join a group just yet. While being away from fellowship for 6 months may not have been a big deal for them, it’s also possible that their socialization “muscles” may have atrophied a bit. After all, a person who hasn’t exercised in 6 months doesn’t jump off of the couch and run a marathon the next day. Similarly, some of our congregants will need to be eased back into the lifestyle of personally connecting with others.

Hybrid Groups Are Okay
Even as cases of Covid-19 decline, concerns will remain for the virus (especially among those who are considered high-risk). It is because of this that our upcoming small groups will need to be flexible. To help with this, one option may be to allow hybrid attendance where some members can attend the group remotely. While it may not be ideal, it accomplishes two things: first, it helps the aforementioned introverts begin to socially recalibrate; second, it provides fellowship for those who are at high risk. Jay Kranda, pastor of online groups at Saddleback Church, explains in a training video from November 2019 that online groups are a stepping stone for individuals to transition into in-person groups. Although his teaching may have been more prophetic than he realized, it is a nugget of wisdom that we must keep at the forefront of our minds as we begin the reentry process. Rather than insisting that all groups meet only in person, we must be okay with individuals wanting to connect remotely until they feel more comfortable. To further assist with this approach, perhaps offering a few online-only groups may help cater to this strategy.

Vision Casting for Those Who Aren’t Ready
Previously we discussed that when a church experiences trauma, healing will likely become a part of the church’s vision. Because of this reality, we refrain from holding onto the dangerous presumption that all church members will heal and reenter at the same time. To assist individuals within their journey back to small groups, taking a moment during one of your upcoming Sunday sermons can be an effective way to convey the elements of healing that congregants can find when attending a small group. To entice the highest number of individuals to join a group, sermon discussion groups may in fact be one of the best options to offer, as this provides a prepackaged small group experience where any individual can host and/or contribute, whether online, hybrid, or in-person. Healing and transformation happens within the context of relationships. Let us use this key fact to help fuel our strategy in reconnecting our congregants this fall.



Thursday, July 9, 2020

Why Vision is Important for Youth Ministry


Two weeks ago we reflected on the fact that we have officially passed the halfway mark of the year and that it was a fitting time to revisit our church’s vision and mission for 2020. Such a topic is worthy of a deeper dive, especially within the context of Covid-19 and our youth and young adult ministries. Let us unpack this concept further on how you can reframe your church’s vision under your current context.

The Church’s Vision and the Weekly Sermon
James Kouzes and Barry Posner both masterfully unpack the process of vision casting in their book The Leadership Challenge, explaining that a vision “must appeal to all who have a stake in it. Only shared visions have the magnetic power to sustain commitment over time…It has to be a cause, something meaningful, and something that makes a difference in people’s lives.”  In other words, the vision must trigger an emotional response that allows churchgoers to become a part of something bigger than themselves. While there may be world or local events that require us to momentarily break away from the year’s vision, straying from the vision too often may extinguish the fire you had ignited within your congregants’ hearts, way back in January. The ebbs and flows of the culture’s tidal waves become the directional force behind the church’s preaching schedule. Instead of precise maneuvers that confidently advances the community toward a desired end goal, sermons can end up feeling like haphazard attempts to hit a moving target. Under this scenario, churchgoers find themselves relegated to the role of spectator instead of being fully immersed within the church’s vision. If your congregants aren’t feeling emotionally involved after the word of God is preached, then it may be possible that your church’s vision isn’t large enough to offer them a place where they can feel like they can contribute.

Vision Provides an Environment for Identity
For Millennials and Gen Z’ers, vision and mission are both essential. Since these two generations view their world through the collective experiences of their community, they have an innate desire to be a part of a vision that they can associate with. The mission is just as critical as well because it guides the group through the actions that are needed in order to fulfill the vision. Without mission, the group will live out their identity elsewhere. While our youth and young adults would not disagree that their identity is in Christ, their understanding of identity can be more tribal. Thus, being able to live out one’s identity in today’s world may require more opportunities for students to be a part of something larger (something that can be experienced with others).

Why Vision is Important for Youth Ministry
Older generations may be content with going to church to experience their faith among others and to help fulfill a few immediate needs in the community, but global-minded Millennials and Gen Z’ers are seeking opportunities to change their world and live out their faith through a collective experience alongside other likeminded individuals. Steve Gladen, pastor of small groups at Saddleback Church, says “People generally don’t give to needs; they give time and resources to a vision.”  For Millennials and Gen Z’ers, this is especially true. Should the church neglect this, our youth and young adults will be more likely to fade away from the body of Christ. This isn’t because they don’t believe in God, but because they naturally gravitate to opportunities or causes that help their faith become more tangible. If such opportunities are not available in the church, they may eventually find themselves expressing their faith in other locations, likely through works that are anchored elsewhere in the physical realm. In your next sermon, take extra care to mention to your churchgoers why they are all vital contributors toward the vision of your church.