Thursday, October 22, 2020

Youth Empowered - Tech 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.

Tech Empower Team
It’s no secret that our younger generations today have deemed images and video as their preferred method of online communication. Looking back, we can identify the inflection point of where this began as the combination of Instagram’s release in 2010 and the United States crossing the 50% saturation level of smartphones in 2012. Even though Facebook and Myspace had already been around for almost a decade by this point, it is in 2012 where our youth began to utilize image-driven social media more often as a part of their daily interaction with one another. With the later emergence of “Live” features for Facebook and Instagram, and apps like TikTok, we’ve only accelerated even further down the path of technology as being the primary vehicle that we use to communicate with one another.

Considering the preferred usage of image and video apps among our students today, it is here that a Tech Empower Team within a student-led youth ministry can truly find its home and thrive. Even though the evil one may try to use technology to advance his agenda, the good news is that the church is just as equipped to utilize the same technology and minister to our youth in a way that effectively shares the gospel. But in the context of a digitally-powered student-led youth ministry, how does a Tech Empower Team differ from other teams like a Social Media Empower Team or Creative Empower Team that may already be using technology?

To help us differentiate between the teams, the Tech Empower Team’s role can be understood as one that collaborates and helps to enhance the packaging of the gospel. While a student on the Social Media Empower Team can do an impromptu live feed while holding their phone in their hand, a Tech Empower Team could instead record a student’s video in a studio setting with proper acoustics and lighting. While a student on the Teaching Empower Team can preach a sermon and share a recording of it on the social media accounts, a Tech Empower Team could make it more appealing and engaging by taking a highlight from that same sermon and adding closed captioning, graphics, sounds, and music to it (See this Instagram video from Transformation Church as an example). Or rather than burdening your church staff with additional sermon slides, banners, graphics, and other visual needs that the youth ministry may have, what if a student team is equipped to use the same technology and then given the resources and training to complete the task at hand? To help increase the likelihood of social media content being shared among the youth, it is worthy to consider the pride that the youth ministry will take in its own work when it is given the freedom to create videos for students, by students, and also edited with student expertise.

But the importance of technology in today’s world doesn’t stop at podcasting, streaming, and video or image editing. After all, a teen emerging into adulthood needs to know a sizable amount of “digital smarts” if they are to stay safe in the real world. To help in communicating this knowledge, the tech experts on a Tech Empower Team are the very best candidates to address these matters. With digital dangers such as phishing, ransomware, social media use, pornography, spyware, identity theft, IP address tracking, working from home, time theft, privacy concerns, and more, we cannot guarantee that our students are receiving an education on these vital topics from their parents. For a topic that is lighter than the hazards of the internet, perhaps some students may even be able to share tips and strategies on how they can focus and perform better with their digital school and online classes (Such as covering up one’s own image with a post-it note on their screen so that they are not getting “Zoom-fatigue” by constantly looking at themselves).

Some youth ministries may decide to wait in launching a Tech Empower Team if they do not have the technological resources or a sufficient amount of tech-savvy students identified to assist. Just as we noted in Youth Empowered, it becomes important to appoint a confident Empower Team Leader at the helm and to have a well-trained list of students who are available to fill in and respond in a timely manner.  Nevertheless, whether it is learning how to be a good digital citizen in the modern world or polishing the content of the youth ministry to make it look better and sound better, the Tech Empower Team can quickly take your youth ministry to the next level in its ability to evangelize and engage the extremely visually attentive youth population of our digital world.

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.

Teaching Empower Team
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.