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 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.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Youth Empowered - Bonus Chapter!

 


Since March of this year, many churches have been embracing more efforts that foster online community with their students. While we presented a few ideas for online youth ministry events earlier this year, the fall semester is beginning this week and many churches are still meeting online. Rather than operating with the mindset that we are planning for single-day virtual events, we have been shifting more toward an internet-based community that continues to meet online every week (or at least under a hybrid model that has some level of virtual interaction).

But should the youth pastor organize and manage all aspects of their online youth ministry? Readers of this blog and Youth Empowered are familiar with the argument that students are in fact some of the best candidates who can help manage the youth ministry’s online presence. And while Youth Empowered offers a breakdown of ten potential Empower Teams and how each team can contribute to the establishment of a student-led youth ministry, there is still room for us to explore what some of the digital components might look like for each of these ten teams. Because of this, I’m thrilled to announce that an entire new chapter of Youth Empowered will be released right here through the Focusing on Jesus blog, for free! Spanning over the course of the next few weeks, the chapter will be published in sections through a series of posts on this blog, so be sure to tune in and let your fellow youth workers know!  

To help get us started, we’ll first cover the Empower Team that plays a key role in establishing a youth ministry's online presence. For the remainder of our chapter, we will find that this team will integrate itself with each of the other Empower Teams and their respective digital components. Without this team, your youth ministry’s ability to effectively share the gospel with today’s youth online would be severely hampered.

Social Media Empower Team
Perhaps one of the most versatile teams within a digital student-led youth ministry, the Social Media Empower Team has the potential to reach the unchurched and lost in some of the most creative and engaging ways. Last year, we explored how a youth ministry can set up a team like this, and the post can be found here. Since the content in this earlier article is relevant to our digital approach to Empower Teams, it felt fitting to bring this article back into the spotlight.

In the context of a post-Covid world, a Social Media Empower Team can be exceptionally powerful. Within a digital youth ministry, it can function as the central hub of communication for an audience that is spending more time than ever on social media. Especially during an era of heightened confrontation and warring political viewpoints, the social media account of your youth ministry can operate as a beacon of hope and positivity on your students’ social media feeds.

While it’s expected for the youth pastor to hop online and say something faith-based, there is something arresting about a fellow student who posts something that uplifts and encourages their peers. It is an inescapable reality that our students will always have an advantage over us in reaching their friends on social media. By handing over the keys to your youth ministry’s social media accounts and then providing guidance on how students can post content that is in alignment with the youth ministry’s vision, your church could begin to effectively minister to a group of young individuals that you may have never been able to reach before.

Stay tuned as we begin to outline more digital characteristics and ideas for nine other Empower Teams in the coming weeks!

Thursday, August 27, 2020

The Shift to Essential Small Groups

 

As our churches cautiously navigate their way back to “business-as-usual,” one particular area of ministry within the church has become especially crucial for the upcoming season: the church’s small group ministry. In fact, this Fall may be one of the most important seasons ever in the history of your church’s small group ministry. Let’s explore why this might be the case and what we can do to help promote the small group ministry through the next few months.

The Way Church Was Made to Be
Acts Chapter 2 is one of the best sources we have to observe how the early church began and how the first Christians practiced their newfound faith in Christ. One verse in particular that highlights this time period is 2:46, which says “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts” (NIV). It is important to pause and note the two activities that the church of Acts 2 pursued here. Not only did they come together for larger gatherings in the temple courts, but they also gave equal importance to house-to-house meetings (in other words, small groups!). From what we see here in Scripture, the foundations of the Lord's church incorporated both of these activities, and neither of the two were given any more weight than the other. Indeed, when one activity is given more preference than the other, imbalance occurs and the church can lose its ability to spread the gospel effectively. Too much of an emphasis towards the temple court would not value relationship, while too much of an emphasis toward small groups would not value teaching and instruction. Both are necessary, and both make the faith of Christianity tangible and actionable.

Starving for Relationship
Similar to how a garden is prepared, we must first till the land. By doing so, it breaks up the roots and weeds, it aerates the soil, and it helps in digging up the larger rocks that would have prevented our crops from flourishing. In other words, by doing this, the soil becomes ready to receive the seeds that we sow. Between the lockdowns and working from home, some individuals have not been meeting with friends and associates on a regular basis for almost 6 months. For those who are energized by being around others, this can take a toll on the spirit. On the other end of the social spectrum, even introverts may find themselves retreating from relationships more and not realizing why. The spiritual impact of Covid-19 has tilled our hearts in a way that allows us to be more aware of the importance of relationships, and the church’s small group ministry is now primed to positively impact our communities in a tremendous way. Because of how relationally starved the church community has become, it is likely that the transformation experienced within small group relationships this year may be even greater than ever before.

What Can Pastors Do?
If ever we become dizzy or disoriented, we cling to an object that is stable or something that is rooted in the ground. The post-Covid world has shaken us up. While we may be disoriented at this time, we can rest assured that Christ is our solid rock and our fortress who is unwavering. As things in our lives become more disorienting, the stability of Jesus will become more appealing. With recent events reminding us how the early church grew so effectively, pastors today can take this opportunity to stir up change within their own congregation (good change!). Since Satan won’t allow people to naturally gravitate towards God, now is the perfect opportunity to convey to our congregations that intentional change is no longer optional and that a church that emphasizes “temple courts” too heavily is no longer relevant. By helping our communities understand that the “new normal” is indeed a life that is drastically different than 2019, we are collectively challenged to see life through a new lens: one that strives for the healthy balance of church that Acts 2:46 promotes…one that makes a concerted effort to grow and transform spiritually by pursuing meaningful and genuine relationships through small groups.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Preparing for God's Judgment

 

While all of us will experience the Lord’s judgment after this life passes at either the white throne judgment (Revelation 20:12-13) or the judgment seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10), there are also moments during our lives where we experience smaller moments of judgment. Last week we asked the question of if God’s judgment was fair, highlighting that we see examples of three kinds of judgment throughout the Bible: micro, macro, and grand (for the individual, nation/group, and world, respectively). This week, we will revisit the three and unpack what we can personally do in order to better prepare ourselves, should we experience one of the three scenarios.

Preparing for Micro-Judgment
More than likely, each of us are going to experience some degree of micro-judgment during our lives. But should we think that the slightest mistake will condemn us to eternal damnation? Or should we be so fearful, that we live in a constant state of worry? Of course not. As a quick refresher from last week,

Regardless of the scale of His response, the pattern of how the Lord acts is consistent. First, we see throughout the Scriptures that God chooses grace and decides to bless humanity out of love; second, we find ourselves abusing His grace because of sin; next, God warns his people and calls us to repentance through the prophets that He appoints; finally, judgment is dispersed in an effort to bring His children back to Him and restore the relationship between God and His people.

Whether this is for a nation or for an individual, His pattern is consistent. If we find ourselves adopting a lifestyle of sin where things like violence, sexual immorality, substance/digital addictions, or other sins become prevalent within our lives, there’s a good chance that the Lord will send a prophet our way who will implore us to stop. The person may be a pastor, a friend, or even our spouse, but the message will nevertheless be clear: repent before it is too late. For as we see in Ephesians 5:8-20, it is inevitable that secret sins will be discovered and revealed. Perhaps our actions may have been so severe that we are unable to escape some degree of correction, however our humility in seeking the Lord first will play a large role in our ability to find peace and avoid additional cycles of micro-judgment in the future. Thus, the very best way to prepare for micro-judgment is to repent and seek first the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33).

Preparing for Macro-Judgment
We don’t need to navigate too deep into the word of God before we find examples of entire nations being judged for their pervasive sinfulness. While critics of the Bible focus on examples like the destruction of the Canaanites or Sodom and Gomorrah, we must not forget that God was just as consistent in the judging of His own chosen people whenever the Israelites would live in a state of sin (See books of Judges, Isaiah, and Jeremiah). Yet just as we see in Isaiah 6:12-13, the Lord will indeed identify and raise up a remnant during an instance of macro-judgment. Such a remnant is a “holy seed,” composed of those who truly rely on the Lord (Isaiah 10:20-21). Thus, under macro-judgment, the call to repent and seek first the kingdom of God becomes just as applicable and vital for the remnant as it was for the individual experiencing micro-judgment.

Preparing for Grand Judgment
According to Jesus, it is futile to try and predict the coming of the end times (Matthew 24:42-44). Instead of us worrying about the exact timing of such an event, Jesus offers parables to help us understand the more important takeaways on the topic. One such parable is offered in Matthew 24:45-51, where He tells of two different kinds of servants: one type who continues to work while his master is away, and the other type who decides to be wicked and abuse the master’s trust and resources. Naturally, the former is blessed, while the latter is judged accordingly. Only two grand judgment events are described in the Bible: The flood in Genesis 7 and the passing of the earth in Revelation 21. In both scenarios, humanity is on a course that will inevitably destroy itself and the Lord is stirred to directly intervene. While no one is able to evade an instance of judgment on such a grand scale, we look to Noah from the flood and God’s sheep from the end times to understand that the righteous servants who continue to serve the Lord will indeed receive favor and/or blessing surrounding the time of trial (Matthew 24:40-41, 25:34). Thus, the pattern officially solidifies itself for a third time as we note that repenting and seeking first the kingdom of God will indeed be the very best way to prepare for grand judgment.