Thursday, October 15, 2020

Youth Empowered - Teaching Empower Team


This week’s post is a continuation of our series that is exploring the digital side of student-led youth ministry, where we are releasing a new chapter of Youth Empowered for free, right here on Focusing on Jesus! Tune in each week to read a new portion of the chapter as we explore Empower Teams through a digital lens.

In Youth Empowered, we established that the opportunity to teach in the pulpit is one of the most spiritually weighty places to conduct ministry within the church. While this would not always mean that it is necessarily the most influential or most powerful place to conduct ministry within the church, it certainly is one of the most outward-facing areas (and oftentimes, one of the most scrutinized). Should we add in the element of the internet, then this reality becomes amplified. Not only can a sermon be posted and viewed by almost anyone in the world, but we also must live with the haunting reality that the internet never forgets. Should any complications arise with a sermon or if someone takes particular offense to a teaching that is shared on social media, then the church may find itself receiving unwanted attention from outside influencers.

Nevertheless, allowing students to teach is an essential element to a student-led youth ministry. The youth ministry has the unique opportunity to be a training ground for students to utilize and hone their spiritual giftings, and the spiritual gift of teaching is no exception. Even if a student says something slightly awkward or something in a tone that could have been said a little less abrasively, we must not be afraid of these scenarios. We must not sacrifice opportunity at the altar of perfection. Indeed, it benefits the church long-term to acknowledge that we all have to start somewhere (When I reflect on my own beginnings, I sincerely hope that no one remembers my first sermon…it was absolutely disastrous!). By keeping a long-term perspective on your church’s vision, the guidance of you and your Teaching Empower Team Leader could train up the church's next generation of small group leaders, pastors, youth ministers, evangelists, and Sunday school teachers simply by offering more chances for students to share the word of God in front of others.

Yet in the context of a high-tech world, what can be especially exciting is that a digitally-powered student-led youth ministry can arguably have more opportunities for students to teach than a youth ministry model that meets only in-person. While students may feel awkward or intimidated to speak in front of others at an in-person youth service, the concept of speaking in front of a camera on an electronic device doesn’t seem quite as foreign to today’s youth. Naturally, one or two students could speak in place of the youth pastor during one of the youth ministry’s normally scheduled online services. However, there is more of a chance for the youth to be able to reach their peers and impact their online community through shorter videos posted to social media. By partnering with their Empower Team Leader and the Social Media Empower Team, five-minute sermons, small devotionals, youth ministry Bible studies, and even testimonies can be delivered by the Teaching Empower Team to a captive audience that is looking for content on their social media feeds that is life-giving and relationally true.

When you meet with your student leaders and your fellow youth ministers next, ask which of the two scenarios are more likely to cause a teenager to pause and view the video that is posted on the youth ministry’s social media account: A devotion read by the youth pastor, or the same devotion that is read and discussed by one of the students within the youth ministry? While a youth pastor sharing a quick devotion or their latest sermon on social media is certainly truth-filled and life-giving, it may not have enough of a relational component to it in order to cause a student to pause and listen. Our students follow hundreds (sometimes even thousands!) of other individuals on social media. With a limited amount of time to scroll through their feed between classes or before bedtime, they will more likely view the content that possesses the level of relational truth that they are seeking within their social media consumption. Even though a youth pastor’s video can certainly be used by the Holy Spirit to pierce the heart of a student who is seeking answers, it is just as likely (if not more likely) that the combination of information, application, and a powerful testimony of a fellow peer can strike a resonant chord within the hearts of our youth as well.

Friday, October 2, 2020

Youth Empowered - Prayer Empower Team


This week’s post is a continuation of our series that is exploring the digital side of student-led youth ministry, where we are releasing a new chapter of Youth Empowered for free, right here on Focusing on Jesus! Tune in each week to read a new portion of the chapter as we explore Empower Teams through a digital lens.

Prayer Empower Team
When we encourage students to become involved in ministry, what activities do they think of? Perhaps they imagine outreach opportunities, or worship nights, or even taking advantage of the chance to share the gospel with their friends at school. But in the logic-heavy science-driven culture of the West, would prayer be considered a form of ministry by our youth? As we explored in Youth Empowered, one of our goals as youth ministers is to help our students understand that we are living in the midst of a spiritual battlefield. While we may not be able to see the spiritual realm, the fact is that Jesus spoke quite openly about spiritual warfare within Scripture. Indeed, within the four gospels, we see Jesus in numerous power encounters as He heals the sick, raises the dead, exorcises demons, and prophetically reads the hearts of those He is speaking with.

On one such occasion, we see in Mark 2 a paralyzed man that is brought to Jesus by his friends. Upon seeing the extraordinary faith of the man’s four friends, Jesus says to the paralyzed man that his sins are forgiven. When He senses the nearby religious leaders thinking that such a statement is blasphemy, He challenges them and heals the paralytic man to show that He does indeed have the power and authority to forgive sins. Today, we do not have the opportunity to go visit Jesus in person like those in Capernaum had in Mark 2, two thousand years ago. But the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross and His resurrection allows us to have a relationship with Him that is just as active and real as it would be if He were with us in the flesh. James 5:13-16 states “Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (NIV).

Teaching our students to understand this spiritual truth may help them in grasping the concept that prayer with the Lord today is just as effective as visiting Jesus in the flesh was two thousand years ago. Similarly, it is also true to help them understand that praying for one another is just as much a form of ministry as it is to conduct outreach for someone in-person. It is here where a Prayer Empower Team can shine within a digitally powered student-led youth ministry. Even though praying for one another may seem a bit foreign for some students, we are in need to help them learn to practice this spiritual discipline now, more than ever.

However, being on the Prayer Empower Team would not suggest that prayer requests are simply divvied out for the group members to occasionally revisit when the person has a free moment between Fortnite rounds. Instead, we must remember that Matthew 18:20 is just as relevant in the digital setting as it is in-person. Meeting on Zoom or other video chat programs, students and their Empower Team Leader can gather in the name of the Lord and focus on the spiritual needs that they and their youth ministry have for that week. While the group can certainly meet on a weekly basis to pray for the upcoming service, it can go further than that. Perhaps the team can take turns at being a disruptor on students’ social media feeds by posting an occasional “flash prayer” video that compels the youth ministry’s followers to stop and pray for 10-20 seconds. Or maybe the Empower Team Leader can set up and oversee a text-only phone number, where the youth ministry can text in prayer requests (Google Voice is an easy way to set something like this up without giving out anyone’s personal number). Or maybe the team can take over a small portion of a youth service once a quarter and lead their fellow students in a new method of praying by giving them a template and a few minutes to try it out.

When it comes to prayer within our youth ministry, we are encouraged to remain focused on two key items. First, we must ensure that our students won’t graduate from high school with the misguided idea that prayer is merely a shopping list of wants and desires that we take to God. Instead, we introduce them to the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit and help them understand that it can be engaged on the battlefield of spiritual warfare, even if through digital means. Second, while we are encouraged to visit the Lord privately in our prayer closet, corporate prayer is nevertheless a vital component to the communal experience of our faith. Thus, we must be bold to pray in front of others and help our students become comfortable to pray in front of (and for) their peers. As we know through Youth Empowered, students are looking for ways to work out their faith through experiences that are shared among others. Satan will do everything in his power to prevent students from praying with one another, for it is likely that our youth may experience the Holy Spirit in a powerful way during their formative years if they did. Just as how bold Jesus was in addressing the spiritual realm, let us too be bold in helping our students understand the bigger picture of the spiritual realm, where we will all soon reside for the rest of eternity.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Youth Empowered - Leadership Empower Team

This week’s post is a continuation of our series that is exploring the digital side of student-led youth ministry, where we are releasing a new chapter of Youth Empowered for free, right here on Focusing on Jesus! Tune in each week to read a new portion of the chapter as we explore Empower Teams through a digital lens.

Leadership Empower Team
As an expert on the topic of leadership, one of John Maxwell’s more recognizable quotes is on the matter of influence, where he says that “the true measure of leadership is influence – nothing more, nothing less.” Those who are familiar with some of his writings will know another one of his common principles, where he states that someone gaining position within an organization does not automatically mean that the person will gain influence along with it (in fact, he explains that “Position” is only the first of five levels of leadership). If we were to view these leadership principles through the lens of online youth ministry, it might cause us to pause for a moment and ask the question, “As a youth pastor, am I being the best leader I can be for my youth ministry?” Perhaps another way of addressing this question may be to discuss how we can gain influence within an online-oriented student-led youth ministry. To help us accomplish this, let’s explore the digital perspective of a Leadership Empower Team.

First, it can help to acknowledge who the real leader is within the world that we are operating in. As a youth pastor, you may have influence within the 4 walls of your church, however it is possible that you may have next to no influence over the youth within the digital realm. Students are spending an increasing amount of time online (especially in a post-pandemic culture). If your youth ministry does not have a digital presence, then a large portion of your students’ lives may be out of your reach. If we were to apply Maxwell’s principles on influence here, then it is true that the further away something is from our ministry, the less influence we hold over it. Once we acknowledge that our students are identifiable as leaders in this realm, it can then allow us to more effectively bridge the digital gap that may exist between us and our students. Indeed, it is when we see our students as partners in our ministry—instead of merely recipients of our ministry—that we create a proper environment for a Leadership Empower Team to thrive.

Second, to successfully launch a digitally-powered Leadership Empower Team, we are to identify the students who are “persons of peace.” Reflecting the type of personality described in Luke 10:6, these trustworthy individuals consistently show commitment, character, competency, and care toward their peers. Through their natural ability to uplift those that they interact with online, students who apply the radical love of Christ to their everyday lives will likely develop a wide network of friends and followers as they post genuine content that engages the hearts of other students within their community. These are the students who not only have the ability to be a positive influence within their world, but they also are willing to step up and fill such a role if given the opportunity to do so.

Third, we are called to invite these key influencers to be a part of the Leadership Empower Team. As the team meets on a semiregular basis, these students have an innate ability to approach youth ministry with fresh eyes, providing guidance to the leadership and making suggestions that can help drive the direction of the youth ministry for the next 3-6 months. Topics to discuss perhaps can include ideas for future sermon series that are relevant to a post-pandemic teen lifestyle, strategies that can mobilize students who are already in the youth ministry’s social media networks, or even methods on how to reach nonbelievers within each of their respective schools. Not only do they represent the collective voice of the student population within the youth ministry, but the youth pastor also shares the task of vision-casting with this team, allowing them to provide updates directly to the student body on where the youth ministry is heading and also where the Lord might be taking them in the near future.

It’s sometimes easy to forget that students have spiritual gifts too, and certain gifts like apostleship, leadership, administration, discernment, and prophecy may not feel like they have a true home in many of the other Empower Teams that are available for the students to choose from. A Leadership Empower Team that embraces the online needs of today’s youth will not only grant opportunities for students like these to utilize their spiritual gifts, but it can also provide invaluable insight to the church staff by keeping it directly connected with its students on an ongoing basis.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Youth Empowered - Creative Empower Team


This week’s post is a continuation of our series that is exploring the digital side of student-led youth ministry, where we are releasing a new chapter of Youth Empowered for free, right here on Focusing on Jesus! Tune in each week to read a new portion of the chapter as we explore Empower Teams through a digital lens.

Creative Empower Team:

At the heart of the Creative Empower Team, a safe environment is made available for a group of students to be able to express their God-given freedom to imagine and create. Yet in a digital environment, a certain level of precaution is necessary in order to present the gospel effectively and to protect your youth ministry. After all, in today’s cultural climate, saying the wrong thing or posting a video that the world finds too offensive can draw unnecessary attention to your ministry or even your church. Thus, it becomes absolutely essential to have an Empower Team Leader in place who is up to speed with current events and who is comfortable in their ability to teach students on how to responsibly use technology to express their creativity. Discernment is key to knowing what content to make public, and erring on the side of caution is naturally recommended.

The medium through which to express the youth ministry’s creativity is a vital component to the Creative Empower Team. While there are benefits to using Facebook Live, Instagram Live, or other live chat streaming apps that are popular, this method of online ministry is geared more towards a one-directional approach to streaming. Other than viewers texting in their comments for the host to read and respond to, a smaller amount of interaction takes place when one member of the meeting (the host) has a more authoritative position of communication than the other participants. Certainly, there’s a place for this type of digital interaction when teaching or presenting information, however it is less-than-ideal for its ability to encourage and foster creativity.

Instead, we are called today to boldly embrace more interactive methods to meet online, where students can take more ownership of the conversation. The reason for this is due to the rapid emergence of technology in the last ten years has brought with it a certain realization for today’s youth. Rather than being on the receiving end of information and entertainment, they are finding that they have the ability to be content creators themselves. A Creative Empower Team that forges an online student-led youth ministry will realize this key development in the identity of today’s youth and capitalize on it. Instead of thinking of ways to deliver engaging content that the youth will want to tune in to, a Creative Empower Team invites students into a community-driven experience that creates faith-based content together. Something like a Christian Meme creation competition could allow all of your students to jump in (even those who tend to say they aren’t creative). Or perhaps inviting a passionate lyricist to post their spoken word can inspire and stir the hearts of other students to embrace the art of writing. Online meeting apps can work brilliantly to host a digital “improv night” where all participants can see each other’s video feeds and participate in one of the games. Or maybe the Creative Empower Team can utilize programs like Zoom for the “webinar” functionality and put on a digital theatre production for individuals that purchase their tickets in advance.

As we explored in Youth Empowered, creativity is a gift from God. No other lifeform on earth possesses the creative capability that humans do because we are the only ones made in the image of God. A Creative Empower Team that moves to share the Gospel online is a team that discovers new ways to present the good news. Similar to how the youth of today learn and formulate their understanding of the world around them, this communal effort towards discovering their faith allows them to apply the Scriptures to their lives in real-time, giving them on-the-job training that makes their faith in God more tangible and relevant to their day-to-day lives.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Youth Empowered - Hospitality Empower Team


This week’s post is a continuation of our previous post, where we are releasing a new chapter of Youth Empowered for free, right here on Focusing on Jesus! Tune in each week to read a new portion of the chapter as we explore Empower Teams through a digital lens.

Hospitality Empower Team

In Youth Empowered, we asserted that the Hospitality Empower Team has the ability to play a large role in creating a safe and open space for students who are searching for a caring community. But how can we invite students to feel the presence of Christ within a digital community? If we were to ask such a question for our in-person side of youth ministry, we would likely find ourselves gravitating toward the practice of engagement. When we meet an individual at their needs and engage in a manner that honors them and celebrates their unique personhood, it lovingly informs them that they belong and that they have a God-given place within the community of believers. With in-person youth ministry, for example, this could look like you and your spouse grabbing some pizzas and inviting the students over to your house to watch a movie and play a few party games. But to live life with each other online, things can be done a little differently. Perhaps the Hospitality Empower Team can moderate a youth ministry Discord channel, where students can be a part of a church gaming community and play alongside their Christian peers. Or maybe the Empower Team can setup a “Homework Club” on Zoom, where students can login and help one another with homework or simply just encourage one another as they study.

Similar to in-person youth ministry, the key to building digital bridges is to engage. While the examples we just mentioned above are “in-the-moment events” that happen between two or more individuals in real time, one of the most powerful ways to build digital bridges on an ongoing basis is to genuinely interact with one another on social media. After all, if the Hospitality Empower Team’s goal is to invite guests to live their lives together with us, it only makes sense that we venture to where a large portion of our students’ time is currently being spent.

Imagine being a teenager in today’s world who is struggling to find their identity or find a community where they can feel safe and understood. By the grace of God, you find your way to a church’s website and their youth ministry’s social media page. After checking it out, you decide to connect with the youth ministry by becoming an online follower. Next, pretend that you receive five to ten follow requests from peers within that church’s youth ministry. This pleasantly surprises you, to be acknowledged by a community that reaches out and makes an effort to connect. And while this by itself is flattering, imagine then what it would be like to notice that the students begin to not only “like” your posts, but also to comment regularly on your content, to provide encouraging remarks when you share your heart on social media, and to even tag you in content that they know you would be interested in. Suddenly, social media is no longer this place where we speak into a void, but instead it becomes a vibrant community where its members genuinely connect and build relationship with each other.

Yet for some teenagers that spend countless hours online, this is easier said than done. “Following” someone on social media can be a big deal in today’s age, for two reasons. First, from the perspective of the public eye, other teens can see this and there’s a chance that they’ll think we are condoning or agreeing with all of the content of this person we are now following. In the “cancel culture” that we live in today, the implications of this reality are weighed heavily (especially by teens who are trying to jockey for position or keep up appearances with one another). Second, from the perspective of the self, this means that we agree to have this individual’s content show up in our feeds. Should we not take a liking to the things that they share, this can be frustrating for us to see such content come across our screens.

However, this conundrum isn’t new. As a matter of fact, this struggle of keeping up one’s image was experienced in Jesus’ day as well! It’s just that in the first century, the Pharisees would keep up their image within the community to show how good they practiced their religion. By associating oneself with the sinners, the lepers, or the sexually immoral, they would be at risk of being branded as one of them (i.e. Mark 2: 13-17, Luke 15:1-2, etc). To prevent any rumor of this from rising up, the Pharisees would simply solve the problem by dodging these outcasts and staying away from them. But Jesus was different. Not only did He go to the lepers and the sinners, He healed them in such a manner that the individuals were able to be welcomed and incorporated back into Jewish culture. If a person’s social media feed has disagreeable content that lacks a Christian essence, do we dodge them out of fear of public opinion, like the Pharisees did to sinners? Or do we lovingly move toward these individuals, minister to them, and introduce them to Jesus so that their hearts are healed and their social media accounts become transformed and begin to share content that is filtered through the lens of Christianity?

To strategically utilize social media for hospitality may be a new concept for our youth, for they have grown accustomed to the idea that social media is for gaining followers and interacting with their followers in such a way that it benefits the self instead of the goal of building up the other. It’s important to emphasize that this isn’t just surface level “friending” online. In a way, this is returning to the good-natured founding principles of social media, circa 2004. Here, we build genuine, ongoing relationships in an intentionally orchestrated effort that engages and interacts with one another through digital means. Looking at hospitable social media use within a student-led youth ministry requires students to think outside the box. However, if the Hospitality Empower Team remains consistent, nonbelievers' perception of the church will improve over time. Because of your students’ willingness to be genuine in their engagement, their friends will inevitably become more intrigued to know who this Jesus is and what their youth ministry movement is doing within the community.