Thursday, December 3, 2020

Youth Empowered - Outreach Empower Team

 

This week’s post is the final installment of our series that is exploring the digital side of student-led youth ministry, where we have released a new chapter of Youth Empowered for free, right here on Focusing on Jesus! Thank you for tuning in each week to read a new portion of the chapter as we explored Empower Teams through a digital lens.

Outreach Empower Team

Service toward others is essential in the pursuit of being a follower of Christ. A quick glance through the Scriptures can help to reinforce this spiritual truth, and Jesus makes His viewpoint on the matter quite clear: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?” (Luke 9:23-25, NIV). He doubles down on how we are called to deny the self in Luke 14:33, saying that “those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.” The Lord has appointed us to be stewards over the materials, time, monies, services, and other items that we have in our possession (1 Corinthians 4:1-2). Service toward others effectively takes these items, and, through the vehicle of spiritual gifts, unconditionally shares these blessings in an interactive manner with other individuals so that God is purposefully given glory and praise.

But how often is service discussed or practiced in our youth ministries? When we allow students to utilize their God-given gifts outside of the walls of the church, they receive a deeper and more enriching opportunity to nurture and grow their faith through tangible actions that generate immediate results. In other words, they can see the impact of their faithfulness in real-time, and such experiences can be immensely powerful for a young teenager who is exploring their faith.

Understanding the importance of serving others has a heightened sense of urgency within an environment that prevents individuals from meeting in person. The lockdowns that we have been experiencing throughout 2020 have notably decreased our ability to build relationships and interact with others. Under the circumstances, we may realize that we think about others less often (a phrase commonly referred to as “out of sight, out of mind”). More than ever, the youth ministry of today is called to explain the importance of outreach to its students, as it can help combat the inward focus that we inevitably experience when we become isolated from others for extended periods of time.

But what does this mean for a youth ministry that is predominantly meeting remotely? Just because we are not interacting with others in person, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t opportunities to serve others through the digital realm. For instance, older students in the Outreach Empower Team can work with their schools to help initiate a virtual mentorship/tutoring program (where one student offers a 1-hour free tutoring sessions to groups of 3 or 4 younger students via Zoom call). Or perhaps other members of the Outreach Empower Team can become involved with Shopping Angels to help deliver groceries to those who are unable to leave the house. Other opportunities that may be available can be found on youth focused service project sites such as DoSomething.org, or the Youth Service America organization which also has a list of suggested activities to do within the #DoGoodFromHome challenge. 

If we continue to stay isolated within the pandemic, it may become difficult to find a sense of purpose. By helping our students understand the importance of service toward others, our youth ministries can help in generating a sense of purpose for those who are struggling to navigate through the isolation, the social distancing, and the lockdowns that we are experiencing. As we collectively make an intentional effort to take our eyes off of ourselves, it can help us better understand that the Lord can work powerfully in all circumstances and that we can still be content to serve Him through any season, challenging or not.


Thursday, November 19, 2020

Youth Empowered - Worship 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.

Worship Empower Team
In recent weeks, our nation has begun to witness an increase in Covid-19 cases, prompting communities to start returning to a fully virtual format. As our churches recalibrate and adjust, youth ministries will once again be tasked to find creative ways to lead worship within the digital realm. But what does it mean to have meaningful worship within a student-led youth ministry? Author Melva Wilson Costen explains in her book African American Christian Worship that “in order for corporate worship to be authentic and empowering, it must be psychologically relevant to worshipers and commensurate with their lived experiences.” While such a perspective is of course applicable within any discussion surrounding worship, it becomes even more pertinent within the context of a youth ministry that serves Gen Z’ers (a generation that inherently expects a high level of relevancy in order to participate and engage).

Through my years in youth ministry, I would oftentimes hear a student say that they were interested in learning how to deepen their relationship with Christ. Naturally, a youth pastor can encourage their students to pray and read more Scripture (which they should) while also encouraging their students to participate in corporate worship (which of course is an excellent suggestion). However, simply ticking these actions off of a checklist doesn’t always mean that the student is doing them with a worshiping heart. What is just as important (possibly even more important) is the ability to prepare our hearts so that we willingly receive Jesus in our lives. True, the Holy Spirit is already there in the room, even if we attend service online. But God being in the room doesn’t always mean that He’s actively working in our students’ hearts. If we don’t first ensure that our students understand how to invite Him in, then we may be promoting a less-than-ideal behavior that our teens may carry with them into college: confusing God’s spiritual proximity with God’s active presence.

In his book The Purpose Driven Life, Pastor Rick Warren says that “the heart of worship is surrender” and that the “three barriers that block our total surrender to God are fear, confusion, and pride.” It is here where a Worship Empower Team can assist in the facilitation of a level of surrender that directly addresses these three barriers. At its foundation, a Worship Empower Team is a group of students that are able to not only help their peers better understand the importance of worship, but also to lead the youth ministry in reverent praise of the Lord. The songs that the Worship Empower team leads everyone in can work towards accomplishing three key strategies: to trust in God, to choose to obey God, and to understand where one’s abilities end (and where God’s abilities begin). Extremely fitting for the year of 2020, these three strategies directly address the three aforementioned barriers that may be preventing someone from wholly surrendering.

Beyond the selection of songs can lay some additional tactics that the Worship Empower Team can put into practice. If your youth ministry meets while using an app that allows students to show their video feed, encourage them to turn it off during corporate worship so that attendees don’t have to think about the others who are watching them sing. If students are shy about letting others hear their perfect pitch singing voices, then suggest the use of the mute button (After all, our praise is meant for an audience of 1!). To minimize the number of possible distractions, perhaps the team can suggest for attendees to move to a quiet room in the house or to turn down the lights. In between songs, a testimony shared from a student on the Worship Empower Team can help amplify the importance of one of the three previously noted barrier breakers. In the end, to help sustain the required level of relevancy that Costen refers to in her book, a Worship Empower Team is called to help its youth ministry redirect its attention away from the fleshly desires of the self and more towards God. By empowering students to be the forefront leaders of this initiative, other students can see themselves in a similar light for their own faith journey, wholly surrendering themselves to God so that He might receive His due glory (even in the midst of a pandemic).


Friday, November 6, 2020

Youth Empowered - Welcome 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.

Welcome Empower Team 
While it may be too soon to begin to understand what impact the Covid-19 lockdowns have had on our students’ faith through the year 2020, the events surrounding the virus have been commonly referred to as an amplifier for the underlying challenges that were already present. Whether it be political tension, social justice awareness, mental health concerns, or even the dangers of addictions, it ends up feeling like the world’s problems have collectively placed a foot upon the gas pedal of hardship and accelerated everything to full speed. And while we know that Jesus still is the solution of the world’s turmoil, do our teenagers know this in their hearts, and do they understand how important this is for their friends as well?

If encouraging students to outright preach the gospel to their friends, it can feel awkward or forced if students are trying not to offend their peers or create unnecessary tension within their relationships. For a population of teenagers that are craving relational truth, interpersonal and testimonial-based evangelism may instead be an approach that is more preferred. Yet in the case where a student wants to share the gospel with their friend but is uncertain on how to approach them, then what can they do? Naturally, any youth worker would jump in and enthusiastically encourage the student to invite their friend to check out the next youth ministry event happening at their church. Yet such a move may be easier said than done.

As mentioned in Youth Empowered, the thing that students often guard more than their own thoughts and emotions is access to their friends list. In other words, students will not invite their friends until they have confidence that their church will care for their guests as much as (or more than) they can. After all, who would want to invite their best friend to a youth ministry service where the pastor makes the guest feel ashamed or where other students ignore them? If that guest is a non-believer, there’s a chance they may end up walking away from the event wondering why they were invited to begin with.

It is here where a Welcome Empower Team can be one of the most impactful Empower Teams for 2020’s relationally starved teens. Accessible, fun, and easy to connect with, members of the Welcome Empower Team have a natural desire to get to know others because they have a genuine love for people. Such individuals have a fascinating ability to disarm those with even the roughest of personalities, and they likely will exhibit similar qualities to the type of person that we referred to as a “person of peace” from the Leadership Empower Team. Their infectious enthusiasm and ability to take things in stride can make a guest feel like the most important individual in the room, an experience they won’t soon forget.

By quickly creating community within a digital environment, members of the Welcome Empower Team are some of the best individuals to make the church’s youth ministry into the type of environment that students will want to return to. If your youth ministry has a social media event, the Welcome Empower Team can banter with attendees before the event gets started by asking other students fun trivia questions within the chat. Party games like Jackbox or Among Us can create laughs and lasting memories for students who find enjoyment in video games. Or even a quick online icebreaker can help individuals to get to know one another better. By encouraging youth to actively welcome and engage their fellow peers, it can be a critical step in helping students to transition away from being mere consumers of ministry. As we navigate more towards being active partners with students, it is moments like these that can empower them to discover what the Holy Spirit might be doing among those that He has placed in their care, as well as how they can join in and contribute to the growth of their youth ministry.


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.