Thursday, June 25, 2020

Revisiting Your Church's Vision for 2020

It’s surprising to think that we have arrived at the halfway mark of 2020; it feels like Covid-19 arrived on the scene just a short while ago. The entire world was impacted tremendously, and this year’s pandemic brought sudden changes to everyone’s lives. Not only were our daily routines quickly shaken up, but the plans and goals we all had on our minds during the month of January were suddenly overturned and left behind. With half of the year still to go, let us pause for a moment and reflect upon the 2020 vision that we had developed for our small group ministries such a short time ago.

Earlier this month, I found myself perusing Small Group Network’s pre-Covid resources, only to rediscover a Group Talk Podcast interview that discussed vision-casting with Steve Gladen (Click here for the link to this episode). Although I had listened to the interview when it was first published at the start of this year, the conversation now possessed a rather striking relevancy as I heard Steve’s words a second time through a Covid-19 lens. Here, let us explore a few key takeaways from the recorded conversation.

Vision and Goals are not the Same
Although the coronavirus may have derailed some of the plans that we had drafted at the start of the year, it is important to remember that a vision will operate more at the macro-level, while the church’s mission will operate more at the micro-level. Gladen explains within the interview that our goals are not the same as vision. Instead, goals act as “faith steps towards our vision” (emphasis mine). Should we miss our goals, it may be tempting to feel that we have failed our vision, but we must proceed with caution and not confuse the two. Gladen continues, explaining that in ministry, we will always encounter trauma, trouble and challenges along the way. To assist throughout the journey, our vision is like the North Star that helps in keeping us aligned with the plan that God had initially placed upon our hearts. Indeed, our vision is a calling or a movement that we are compelled to fulfill, where every decision made within the church contributes toward its success. A vision is an exciting, God-sized victory that we collectively aspire to achieve. In order for the members of our church to keep sight of it, we leaders are tasked to revisit the vision frequently. By doing this, we not only inspire our congregants to become more involved, but we also help to answer a question that each of them asks: “What is my role?”

Establish a Brain Trust
Have you invited godly people of differing opinions, strengths, and viewpoints into your leadership meetings? This Covid-19 season, we are all experiencing life in a way that is new to us. Even if we have been doing ministry for a decade or more, this year has likely caught us all off guard. As we continue to venture into unknown territory, it becomes important for us to be able to open our hearts and hear the needs and perspectives of various leaders within our communities. To get buy-in on implementing a vision, Gladen reminds us that we must do it relationally. He elaborates, explaining that “the stronger you are aligned in your vision, the stronger the people will take it on for you.” It is when we bounce ideas off of one another and have healthy dialogue that we are able to establish solidarity among the ranks and forge ahead.

A Season of Healing for Small Group Ministry
In the interview, Gladen notes that when a church has gone through a season of trauma, its vision moves toward the need for healing. With Covid-related deaths, mental health trials, loss of jobs, and also the events and protests surrounding the death of George Floyd, it can be easily argued that this year has in fact brought elements of trauma to the church community. With an entire world affected, church leaders can only do so much. In other words, the leadership team that is positioned at the helm of a church only possesses a finite amount of personal time, energy, resources, and giftings. In order for the church to be able to fulfill its God-sized ministry of healing, we are called to include as many church members as possible within the execution of its vision. It is here where a church’s small group ministry is essential and able to flourish. Whether you are launching online or in-person small groups this Fall, take special care to incorporate the elements of healing and fellowship into your church’s small group ministry vision. After such a tumultuous year, such an effort will certainly be welcomed and it can greatly assist in the re-entry strategy that your church will be implementing in the months that lie ahead.

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Thursday, June 18, 2020

How to Launch Teens into Adulthood

Last month, Brett McKay’s “Art of Manliness” podcast published a fascinating interview that is an absolute must-listen for all youth ministry workers. While youth ministry wasn’t the focus of the interview, the conversation was exceptionally relevant and highly applicable to the struggles that our Millennials and Gen Z’ers are experiencing, including the difficulty for our youth to walk through the transition from adolescence into adulthood. Author of a book titled “Failure to Launch,” clinical psychologist Dr. Mark McConville PhD explains in his interview that there exists 3 tasks that an emerging adult has to master in order to successfully transition into adulthood. Let us unpack each of these and how they impact your youth ministry.

Most curious from Dr. McConville’s research is a prevalence for our youth to possess a “phobic avoidance of doing very simple administrative tasks.” Whether it be cleaning one’s room, keeping a job, or doing something as simple as scheduling a doctor’s appointment, our youth tend to display a militant resistance against the types of tasks that are common—and in some cases, even critical—for one’s ability to function within the coming years of adulthood. Dr. McConville shares insight from the field, explaining that his clients commonly express the fear they won’t be taken seriously within the areas of their lives that adults have historically managed on behalf of them. Perhaps this may hint at a point of view where Millennials and Gen Z’ers may feel that they were not comprehensively taught sufficient life skills by the previous generations. Another way to look at it may be likened to one’s ability to swim. Instead of taking instructor-led swimming classes that eases the person into the watersport, our students may feel like they are being metaphorically tossed into the deep end of life (whether they were ready or not). For the young adults who find themselves drowning in the real world and in need to be rescued, if becomes baffling and/or frustrating to be scolded by the older generations who accuse them for not trying hard enough.

Dr. McConville notes that once an individual turns 18, a sudden bombardment of available options and opportunities can cause an increase in anxiety within the emerging young adult. A reason for this may be that they think they have to do it on their own or that they feel they need to have a perfect plan in place before making a move on bigger life decisions. Should both of these concerns be present, it becomes a concoction that causes paralysis towards the pursuit of societal relevance. To help battle against this, Dr. McConville recommends that we share portions of our journey and the stumbling blocks we encountered along the way. By being vulnerable, we humanize the process of entering adulthood and help towards making the concept of “adulting” more accessible. Dr. McConville continues, explaining that launching into adulthood is not like traveling on a highway into their future, but instead like ascending a climbing-wall that has different ledges to grasp along the way. In other words, we as youth ministers can help our teens understand that much of life is working through the challenges and obstacles as we encounter them. Rather than precisely mapping our entire journey ahead of time, we simply just begin the journey and then proceed to shift our feet and hands from the vantage point of each moment that the climbing-wall of life provides to us.

Dr. McConville defines the process of becoming more relational as “developing relationships that in some way are instrumental to [their] own process of growing up.” He explains that by walking alongside the individual and working together to achieve a goal, mentorship helps our youth to not only find their way around the world, but also to help them build confidence in themselves. By walking alongside our students, we deshame the process of learning while also effectively dismantling any insecurities that our youth may have. Host Brett McKay notes in the interview that as the teen grows older, the relationship between them and their parents needs to become less vertical and more horizontal. Similarly, through sincerity and authenticity, a youth minister is one of the best individuals to help convey to a teen that they are needed by the community. Instead of just telling a teen what to do or how to live, a youth minister can become consultative in two movements: first, by offering students opportunities to conduct ministry; and second, by walking alongside their students and helping them to achieve the goal at hand. During the interview, Dr. McConville asks, “In a nutshell, how do we create a necessity that the youth will respond to, by adjusting [and] by creatively solving a problem? That’s the mystery of motivation…to create a system of necessity.” Youth ministry is one of the very best areas in a teen’s life where this is possible. To help your church in building such a system of necessity, order your copy of Youth Empowered today and learn more about how you can establish a student-led youth ministry that challenges and empowers your students to own their faith and confidently pursue a relationship with Jesus Christ.

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Monday, June 8, 2020

George Floyd Protests and Youth Ministry

The recent death of George Floyd has ignited a wave of protests surrounding law enforcement’s treatment of African Americans. The passionate outcry and quantity of protests we are witnessing is proof that our whole country is demanding that changes take place. Not only do racially motivated crimes go against the very fabric of what our nation’s laws have been built upon, they are an evil stain in our world that runs in complete opposition to the advancement of the kingdom of God. But how do we as a Church navigate this minefield of social discourse, and, more specifically, how do we engage our students within the context of our current affairs?

The Call for Christ-like Love
While our Christian principles compel us to raise awareness of social injustice and to protest for change, we nonetheless remain called to do these things through the lens of Christ’s unconditional love for one another. Yes, Black Lives (absolutely!) Matter. Yes, we must have equal treatment under the law. Yes, there are racial tensions that must be addressed and we must work together to stamp out the evil of racism that is still found within areas of our country. Yet it pains us all to watch a resolution to our societal anguish slipping further away as black entrepreneurs’ businesses continue to be destroyed, as grocery stores in black neighborhoods continue to be looted, and as black officers continue to have bricks thrown at them. In our passionate conquest to instill change as quickly as possible, we have saturated the campfire logs of somber discourse with numerous cans of lighter fluid before striking the match. Let us help the next generation keep sight of the biblical ideal of Christ-like love. As youth ministers, we can help our students understand that while we must protest to escape the shackles of evil, we must not protest with a degree of recklessness that inevitably leads our society back into the devil’s fiendishly deceptive grasp. Indeed, only the real and tangible love of Christ can successfully dissuade our youth from the allure of extremist tribalism.

Beginning with the Bible
The Bible clearly portrays the righteous indignation of the Lord when His people are either treated unjustly or when His people unjustly treat others. Although the first chapter of Isaiah was not written with Western civilization in mind, it is nevertheless striking to read this excerpt of Scripture through the lens of today. However, we must proceed with caution. While it is tempting to see only our adversaries within the events outlined in this text, the reality is that God did not call just one subset of Israelites to repent; He called an entire nation to repentance. When we all fall at the foot of God’s throne alongside one another as fellow sinners, we relinquish our urge to preside as judge over any other person. As a result, we submit and return the role of judge to the only individual who does have a perfect sense of judgment: Jesus Christ. By reminding ourselves that we too are sinners who do not deserve the grace of God, Paul’s exhortation becomes exceedingly relevant as we interact with one another: “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing” (1 Cor 13:1-3). Our youth are watching how we address others on social media and in the streets. Do our words of exhortation ooze with humility and Christ-like love? Or do our diatribes sound more like words of reproach that clang like an ear-piercing cymbal?

Our Youth Have a Voice
Amid the Covid-19 social distancing mandates, our youth are trying to make sense of a global-minded culture that is heavily burdened by political discord. Yet even in such an environment, our younger generations refuse to be defeatist or to idly stand by. One thing that these protests have shown us is that our youth have recognized that they have a voice and that they want to use it to help bring positive change to our world. As youth ministers, our role is not to suppress them, but instead to guide them and mentor them. It is for this reason that youth ministry is beginning to experience transformation within the church. Instead of merely being another classroom, it is evolving into a training ground for students to learn how they can use their faith to transform the world around them. Rather than merely telling them how to be a light that represents Jesus in their lives, we are now being called to minister alongside our students and empower them to positively impact their world. Embracing the race relations conversation with your students is a good start, but it is merely the beginning. Have you asked your students how the church can help them to effectively minister to their schools and communities in the area of race relations? You may be surprised at what they have in mind. The truth is that our students today are more in control than ever when it comes to determining what they receive and what they can contribute. A church that refuses to acknowledge the reality of this is a church that underestimates the spiritual horsepower that a youth ministry can possess.

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Wednesday, June 3, 2020

The Power of a Student’s Testimony

Earlier last month we started a series of articles focused on youth ministry through the lens of the recently published “Influencer Report,” a study from company Morning Consult that analyzes how Millennials and Gen Z use social media to gather information from well-known "influencer" personalities. Last week we discussed the ability of today’s youth to become micro-influencers within their digital world. This week, let us dive deeper into this topic, unpacking one of the ways that a youth ministry can build off of the students’ ability to be micro-influencers: their testimony.

The Power of Reviews
Buying a product online can be a serious commitment. Whether its clothes, tech gadgets, make-up, games, or even health and wellness items, we conduct hours of research to see if the product is for us. Yet, regardless of how good the seller promotes the specifications of the item, we’ve got to check out the product reviews. The product looks good, but does it work? Is it enjoyable? Has it made a difference in their life? If there are any challenges they have had with it, we would like to know about them. True, the number of 5 star reviews is certainly important to consider, but this metric alone isn’t always enough to make us pull out the wallet. Before taking the plunge, we do a quick scroll through the comment section to see how many of the “You need to buy this!” or “this truly changed my life” reviews have been posted. At some point along the comment feed, the reviews help us get off the fence and commit one way or the other (As an aside, if you’re looking for a good laugh, check out the product reviews for this banana slicer. You won’t be disappointed).

The Power of Testimony
Just like product reviews, a person’s testimony of their encounter with Christ can be extremely powerful. In fact, it always has been and always will be the most powerful style of evangelism the Church can put into practice. The reason for this is because a testimony is someone’s personal experience that is told from their perspective. The story is theirs and no one can take it away from them, regardless of how much the opposition may argue. It is here where secularism fails to refute the power of Jesus Christ, for there are too many testimonies of individuals shackled by sin who were suddenly transformed and born anew. Since today’s youth is engaging their world through the experiences of their peers, a testimony from a fellow student can be one of the most effective forms of ministry that your church can possibly utilize.

Youth Ministry and Testimonies
It is here where you as a youth minister can hand a microphone (or the church’s social media account) over to a student and allow them to be a micro-influencer through the power of their testimony. Naturally, such a suggestion brings with it the need to practice care and caution. Even though students can share some of the most powerful testimonies surrounding their spiritual struggles, we would not want to set students up for failure or create a scenario where information is shared that should not have been. The youth ministry leadership team and the parents should guide and mentor the student through the process of speaking on any topics that may be deemed as sensitive. Ideally, the student should be far enough away from the experience to objectively speak on the matter, but close enough to it to be able to be powerfully relevant to the other students within the youth ministry. Discernment is a must, and communicating this with the student and their parents can help ease concerns (while also allowing the Spirit to move at His own pace).

Let's Connect! Follow on Twitter: @SeanBuono