Underage Drinking: You think you’re cool – we think you’re an idiot!

Italy,_1800_-_Boy_drinking

Have you ever been in a pub with some of your mates? You somehow managed to get in and get served now you’re sat at a table laughing loudly with bright blue drinks and empty glasses littering your table just like – you think – everybody else. Does a thought ever stray past your mind whispering, “I wonder if they’re all looking at us?”

Yes. Yes they are. And they all think you’re a moron.

In the youth work world there’s a bit of a golden rule when considering how to pitch a program stylistically: Aim 2 years higher. If you’re running a group for 11-14s, pitch it to 14-16s. If you’re running something for 14-16s, pitch it at 16-18s. This is based on the idea that teenagers always want to look a little bit older, a littler bit cooler and a little bit more street wise and if you scratch this itch they will come. When deciding who they want to be, young people look to their immediate elders. This is often the years above them at school, older sisters or brothers, tv show characters, or some weird uber-cool persona that exists only in the teenage zeitgeist; It’s little wonder that every 16 year old wants to drink until they’re off their ass!

Underage drinking is one of the most hideously exploited markets that exists today. It’s sanctioned child abuse. It’s a conscienceless adverting campaign running through culture that goes unchecked and unchallenged by anyone under 60. It hangs off the same rule that we use to pitch a youth work program, namely ‘get em young!’ The sly thing about this is it plugs into viral teenage folklore; ‘your Sixth Form friend told you a story about getting sloshed at the end-of-year after party? Isn’t she cool! Even better, it could be you!’

A few harsh realities about underage drinking culture:

The only ‘of age’ people who drink like you do do so because they started underage.
The only over-18s I know that get wasted in pubs on alcopops or in the streets on cheep cider – who publicly chain drink until they can’t feel their fingers – started doing so before they we’re 18 because ‘they thought it looked cool.’ It wasn’t cool then, and it isn’t cool now.

… Or they do it privately.
And here it’s neither fun, big nor clever! Just very sad, very painful and it quickly drives everything good out of their lives.

Your body genuinely can’t handle it.
When you’re 16-24 you’re body is still going through massive changes. Your liver and other organs are still asserting themselves and they are still learning how to communicate with your brain and nervous system. You may have had three pints and ‘not felt it’ but you can guarantee your body did, and you can guarantee your brain will catch up to… too late.

Alcopops pretend to be sweets not drink.
Every wondered why alcopops exist? It’s to get you! The high visibility colours and ridiculous sugar count are aimed at building on what you’re already addicted to. You’re meant to go, ‘wow this tastes just like fanta, booze is great!’ Which anyone who enjoys a real pint or glass of whiskey will tell you is simply childish – and when you do it in a pub they defiantly think you’re a doofus. Did you know that the average 275ml bottle of alcopop contains 171 calories? That’s around about the same amount as hot chocolate with whipped cream.* It’s the sugar that gets you – not the alcohol!

Alcopops are advertised to teenagers.
I almost wrote ‘subtly’ in the title, but it’s not really. Compare the ad campaigns between say Carling lager (aimed at 20s-30s) and Alcopops like WKD or Bacardi Breezer. The latter are more colorful, community/party driven, new experience based and are highly comparable to playstation, ipod, and x-factor adverts.

New energy drinks are designed to make you feel like you’re drinking.
Have you looked at the shape of the cans, the logos, the adverts, the design ethic?  How do they look on the shelves? Who in pop-culture are drinking them and why? What about the colour of the drink itself? Even the taste has a bitter-sweet quality and of course more and more pubs are selling them too. Mixing both the extreme sports world and drinking culture creates a very sly transitional ploy to get teenagers associated with drinking. It may be worth pointing out how incredibly bad for you these drinks are too, and how if mixed with alcohol they can be disastrous!

Alcohol is not a stimulant, its a depressant.
It’s amazing how many people think this is the other way around. Alcohol works by depressing brain function and has been shown to effect long term mental health because of this. While a small amount might temporarily improve your mood, large amounts does exactly the opposite.**

Drinking to get sloshed is neither big nor clever – and no one you respect thinks it is either.
If you hear sensible, fun, of age people talking about going to a party or pub they talk about hanging out with friends, swapping stories, dancing, watching football, meeting new people and generally having a good time. They often have memories and photos of the last time they did it and they mean something to them in their small community. Having some drinks adds to their experience. The only people who talk about getting sloshed do so because they started younger and thought drinking their mates under the table and having to be put into a taxi was what it was all about. Chain drinking and going out ‘in order to drink’ is what people do because they didn’t know better and didn’t have chance to learn properly. This leaves you with an immature approach to friendship and a very shallow small community. The former group have people who go too far to, and there’s no one in those groups who doesn’t roll their eyes when they think of them.

Some rules of thumb for moving into drinking culture:

Don’t believe the lies.
Everyone wants to have a drinking story of going ‘too far.’ Hey, I once got drunk off communion wine during a confirmation service with two bishops in attendance and it does make for a hilarious tale! What you’ll find though is as the story teller gets older they tell less stories about themselves with bravado and more stories about others with pity. They start to realize the truth: getting ratted is not fun and it’s not cool. Don’t believe all the stories people tell you, and don’t hurry into making your own.

Grow community culture, not drinking culture.
What your heart is yearning for is community: Friendship, companionship, place and people. This is why fun people go to parties and pubs, they don’t go out to drink! If you take the ‘to drink’ bit out of the ‘going out’ idea, life becomes so much more fun and fulfilling! Go out to have a good time with people, take lots of pictures, laugh lots, talk lots, remember it and build on it next time.

Give your body time.
Ok lads and lasses, ditch the drinking games and seriously, I don’t know, play cluedo or something! When you start to drink have the odd one, have it with food, intersperse alcoholic drinks with other soft drinks. Give your body and brain time to adapt and learn. Your body and your friends will thank you!

Aim for under your limit, not to your limit.
Your ‘limit’ is how much can you drink before you start to loose senses, not how much can you drink before you can lie on the floor without holding on. Your own limit takes time to work out and it changes throughout you life depending on age, diet, routine, sleep patterns etc. Stay safe and stay a unit below it to give your body and mind wiggle room. Average limits are about 3-4 units for men and 2-3 for women.*** This is obviously lower if you’re still developing. So keep it between 1-3 yeah?

Keep it legal.
The legal drinking age for buying alcohol is 18. Consuming wine, beer, or cider (only) is 16-17 on licensed premises with a meal as long as the person ordering is over 18.**** One of the best ways to learn about your body and limits is to do it safely with parents. Go out for a meal with mum & dad and have a small glass of wine (red with burger, white with pasta!).

The picture with the bottle on your facebook account… no.
It’s become something of a rite-of-passage to get a facebook profile picture with a drink in your hands, the more bottles you can squeeze into your hands and the more deranged look on your face the better. Of course what this actually does is make your friends, teachers, family and potential employers think you’re an idiot too.

A Wee Plea:

Please think harder (or just at all) before buying into the lie ‘drinking lots makes you cool.’ It simply doesn’t, and in the ‘of age’ world where people actually drink – they all think you’re obtuse and frankly a little bit stupid and embarrassing. What you’re experiencing as an underage drinker is not an early step into drinking culture, it’s an entirely different culture aimed to get you addicted early. The only reason it looks like some of drinking culture is because the bleed is going both ways and people who learned to drink early never learned to drink properly.

I’m tired of having to scrape good teenagers up off the streets!

And can someone please kick alcopop and energy drink companies in the teeth?

Thanks!

*http://www.drinkaware.co.uk/check-the-facts/what-is-alcohol/types-of-alcohol/alcopops
**http://www.drinkaware.co.uk/check-the-facts/health-effects-of-alcohol/mental-health/alcohol-and-mental-health
***http://www.patient.co.uk/health/Recommended-Safe-Limits-of-Alcohol.htm
****http://www.adviceguide.org.uk/england/relationships_e/faq_index_family/faq_family_legal_age_drinking_and_smoking.htm

Style vs Substance: a youthwork showdown.

SONY DSC

“Don’t bother with the style – just get on with the substance.”

“Stop trying to make it relevant, and just preach the Bible.”

“If you’re teaching the Gospel, the ascetics won’t matter.”

“If you’re showing authentic love, then style won’t be a factor.”

Heard phrases like this before? Me too! In fact I’ve been slammed in meetings before now for trying to make my youth groups fun and relevant to the detriment of (at least in the meeting’s view) depth and authenticity.

Since posting “youth work is 10 years out of date” I’ve had several comments that effectively said the things above. I could reduce these down to folk only reading the first half or even just the title of a post, however there still is a genuine concern behind them.

It sounds right too doesn’t it? ‘Just be authentic and Gospel-centered and you won’t need to worry about style.’ It sounds right, and wise, and Godly. It sounds like a driven passion for young people and truth. It’s a shame through, that it’s load of crap.

You see when it comes to relevancy and style you’ve only got two options: 1. Think about it and 2. Don’t think about it.

1. Think about it
Think about it properly, lay it before God and make ‘take-it-captive-for-Christ’ decisions. Talk to Godly people and decide how to carefully implement a style and how to enforce the right boundaries within it.

2. Don’t think about it
Neglect the discussion. Neglect to respect the world that young people live in. Don’t talk to God or Godly people. Crack on with content and simply see what style develops on its own – because it will!

Active vs Passive Style Development

There is no ‘style-free’ option. You always, always make style decisions, either actively with God and Godly people, or passively through negligence.

Think about it. How you present any content in your youth group is a style decision. Do you give talks, have small group studies? Who leads and how? Where do you meet and when? How do you advertise? How do you make first contact with young people? What books do you buy them? How do you choose themes and teaching material? Do you have music, food, games? What kind of chairs do they sit on? What rules do you have? What do you let them wear? What do you wear?

Everything you do in your youth group creates some kind of style rightly or wrongly. You simply cannot have a ‘don’t bother with style’ approach – that will always end up with negligence and a style developing passively.

This means either the young people themselves will dictate the style, or you will unknowingly dictate it for them. The former usually results in polarised spirituality; a group that’s Christian in situ but with no clue how to act it out in real life. The later often creates a group that you fight with and that only takes in a minuscule amount of substance and content anyway.

This high-minded approach is one of the reasons youth groups either die out or get overrun. Enforcing our style over theirs is irrelevant and letting theirs overtake the group is anarchy.

Why Is This Neglect?
You have a responsibility to give these young people the best respect, care, love, teaching and mentoring possible. This often means meeting them where they are at, rather than waiting for them to catch up.

If you don’t approach style like this actively you will:

– Neglect the young people’s world that they have to deal with and live in – so your content will prove irrelevant.
– Neglect the places and times un-churched young people connect – so you will be missionally ineffective.
– Neglect the real differences between you and them – so you will be leader-centric. 

– Neglect the desperate needs they have that are missing in their world – so will program driven rather than community driven.
– Neglect Godly decisions needed to keep them feeling safe and secure – so will be just another stress in their lives.

Style Is Important!
Style Is Important. Find me one place in the Bible where teaching happened out of context of people? We are called to create a space where young people have the absolute best chance of hearing the Gospel, experiencing God’s love, and learning how to take those things applicably into real life! We also have a responsibility to lead them in 1 Cor. 12 Body-Of-Christ style community. Creating these spaces require intentional style conversations and discussions!

Some Rules Of Thumb
When you start asking what style you should create to make your teaching and community welcoming and relevant there are a few rules of thumb to consider:

1. Gospel Should Drive Style
Rather than Gospel instead of style – Gospel should dictate style. You should not create a space that contradicts the Gospel or limits its reach. Allowing a relevant style doesn’t mean you can let just anything from the world infiltrate your group.

2. Authenticity Should Drive Style
Too much style in youth work is copied from / or set to compete with secular consumer culture. Your style should be driven by a sense of reality, human depth, community substance, participation and timeless reality.

3. Personality Should Drive Style
Many youth groups cater to one personality type or people group. Often small group driven projects cater to the introvert and middle class – often concert driven projects cater to the extrovert and working class. Who are the young people you know and does your space allow for varied personality types and backgrounds?

4. Purpose Should Drive Style

What and who is your group or project for? If you’re aiming at first contact then you simply cannot impose a totally full-on Christian-driven morality on their space. Style should create a context where your aims and content are going to be most effective.

5. Context Should Drive Style
You could meet in an Inner-City School, or a rural chapel. The young people could be primarily churched, un-churched, working or middle class. Think hard about where you are and who you pool from and bring that into the conversation.

6. Relevancy Should Drive Style

This was the heart behind my ‘youthwork is 10 years out of date’ post. We should seek to create a style which is relevant and applicable to them today so that our teaching can be more clearly received.

7. Resources Should Drive Style
If you don’t have lighting rigs, rock bands, a massive hall and dozens of able leaders then the modern music concert approach probably isn’t for you! Try to match what you want to create realistically with what God has given you to work with as good stewards.

8. Young People Should Drive Style
Have young people themselves give ideas on, feed into and participate in the creation and implementation of your style. They frankly get it better than we do anyway.

9. Applicable Content Should Drive Style
When you have thought carefully about style you are able to craft the delivery method for your content that will be most heard, understood and applied for your group. ‘We have a two hour Bible Study’ is not impressive if the young people switch off after the first five minutes. I’d rather have a five minute talk where the group took in every word and tried to apply it to their lives than a one hour completely ignored Bible study any day!

Summary
Please don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater by poo pooing style! It’s Godly, respectful and loving to consider the best ways to interact with and present truth to young people. Style will always be there, the big question is are you with God’s help going to be in control of it – or will it be in control of you.

Frankly sometimes a bit of style is just what’s needed to make the content go in!

Stars and Stripes: 12 Ways USA and UK Youth Work Differ

When I started as a full time youth worker I read every book and listened to every talk I could get my hands on! I found some powerful principles and timeless truths that have been priceless in my ministry with young people.

All the best, most current, official looking and practically driven books and talks that I found came from America. This caused some real problems and disruptions in my job.

Disclaimer… I love America!

Now I love America – so much so that I married an American! I’ve also spoken on an American Camp, helped in an American Church youth group, worked with an American schools-based evangelistic charity and nearly went to an American seminary… twice. I’ve been to a bunch of American churches and spent two years living with a whole bunch of American friends. Just to cross the line into the weird I also stayed up all night to watch the general election coverage after months routinely quizzing my American friends and family on their state polls.

However…

The UK is not America. As much as we love American television, drool over classic American muscle cars and lap up American fashion and food we are not America. We love ‘reality show exchanges’ too – we sent Gordon Ramsay to host Masterchef America and we gained David Hasselhoff for Britain’s Got Talent – although the jury is probably still out on who got the fuzzy end of that lollypop! The UK is simply not the same as America.

In Youthwork

This is really evident when we try to apply contextual American ministry models to UK based Churches. So when I picked up the ministry model in (for instance) Doug Field’s ‘Purpose Driven Youth Ministry’ and tried to slap it onto a South London Church youth club things fell apart.

First off, for each of the 5 areas of purpose he proposes you need a specific group or project to create the funnel effect he’s looking for. Then each of these need their own leadership, bureaucracy, accountability and resources. I ran a pretty big youth club for the UK, but suddenly shaking it up and segregating it this way meant 1. Christians rarely mixed with non-Christians in constructive ways, 2. the leadership group became stretched beyond their means, 3. we were more polarized from the Church itself, 4. the community fell apart and 5. everything shrank and lost its depth. This took three years to rebuild!

Today I visit lots of youth clubs as part of my job, and you can tell pretty quickly which ones, just like I did, have been listening to too much advice from over the pond. It’s not that American youth ministry models don’t work – it’s that they don’t work prepackaged, flat-packed and superimposed over here!

The Cultural, Contextual and Church Differences between the UK and the USA that Impact Youthwork

Some of you might remember that Mark Driscoll, gave a controversial (go figure!) interview last year on the shape and direction of the British Church. This was the first time I really got annoyed at him! Even though he made some fair points, he demonstrated a complete lack of understanding of the differences between American and British history and culture, and specifically the church culture which really is wildly different.

I’m going to carefully and (hopefully) open-handedly suggest some differences between the established Youth Work of America and that of the UK.

These aren’t all true across the board, but these do tend to be true of the ministries that publish books and get to speak in the UK. I’m not therefore, saying all American Youth Work looks like this – I’m saying the one’s that most easily get to influence us tend to!

I’m not going to spend time outlining every way these differences affect what we do – hopefully just encourage you to think contextually and culturally when you design youth work in the UK.

So – in no particular order:

1. America is still in ‘some form of’ Christendom whereas the UK is long past it

The UK’s Church driven state is at least 50 years gone now. We are 3 generations behind from when Church attendance was a cultural expectation. This, as a basic rule of thumb, makes our youth clubs and our interaction with family units much smaller. More on this here.

2. American Christian Media is a Much Larger Industry

There is an enormous market in the US for Christian books, films, television, music and magazines whereas in the UK it is virtually non-existent and shrinking. This sometimes contributes towards youth work projects that seek to compete with consumer culture rather than standing against it.

3. America Has a Much More Positive Leader-Worship Culture

This can make American youth ministry much more leader-centric and individual-driven than is necessarily helpful. In the UK we like to beat people down, simple as. We don’t romance about political leaders and we don’t esteem charismatic church leaders quite so high either. The US loves a hero, but in the UK we simply don’t allow people to become heroes.

4. America Has a Recent Mega-Church History

Whatever your view on the ‘mega-church’ we didn’t see a whole lot of it in the UK. In the US however, the emergence of the mega-church completely changed church and mission culture. The mega-churches dried smaller community churches up, stole all the most talented leaders and put them in a melting pot, and they started a trend towards the business model, professional looking and culture competing ministries.

5. America Has More Clearly Defined Expectations For Youth Work

In the UK, employing a full time youth worker is really quite a new thing and – once we’ve done it – we don’t know what to do with them, how to manage them, how to nurture them or how to fit them into the life of the church! In the US, youth work is well established and has a much more understood bureaucracy – for better or for worse.

6. American Youth Clubs Are Simply Bigger

This is mainly because of the Christendom thing – but its true, the average youth club in the UK is about 5 people and its more like 25 in the US. A reasonably large youth group in the UK would be 50+ but gets to several hundred in the US.

7. American Teams Look More Like Teams

With formal interview processes, application forms, regular reviews, project areas, dedicated secretaries and line management strings – American youth ministries have a much more formal team structure than the UK’s general ‘lets see who shows up’ approach. Something that we really could learn from, but in our own culturally specific way.

8. The American Church Doesn’t Have The Same Monarchical History

The UK Church has hundreds of years of political and foreign war-time history saturating it. For examples look at the French Revolution, the emergence of Catholicism, the Reformation, the Crusades and the heavily state-agenda controlled nonsense of Henry VIII, Edward and Victoria. The American church got to observe and learn from this after-the-fact; we’re lumbered with it and all of its decaying baggage.

9. The American Church is Much More Polarized

American mainstream-media presented views (recently more-so after the Bush Jr era/error) are incredibly polarized and extreme flanked… even if most of the country are actually centrists. With things like politics, morality/ethics, and theology much more clearly presented in statements and preaching, American churches can be more competitive and polarized than in the UK. This becomes more true when you factor in huge sub-culture driven churches, ethnicity-driven churches, and cult-driven churches.

10. American Youth Work is Better Funded And Resourced

Some of the youth work budgets for American churches would simply blow your mind! In the UK simply having a clearly outlined budget is a miracle! Not to mention that each US State has a bunch of well operated perennial Christian camps and retreats that would make even our best look like a second-hand tent sale.

11. American Youth Work is More System Driven Than Community Driven

To their credit, some AMAZING youth leaders in the States have been saying this for a while. It’s an issue they push against but we don’t necessarily need to as hard.

12. American Separation of Church and State Dictates Schools Work

Unless you work with a private school, talking about Jesus in any context just isn’t going to cut it. In the UK we have far more openness and opportunity to bring Jesus, God and Acts Of Worship into the Schools. The constitution of America simply will not allow the level of overt honesty and openness that we have available here.

 

So what?

Lets learn from and stand with our American brothers and sisters, but please please please, lets also think how to build a UK expression of Church in our UK Youthwork! 🙂

 

Are There People In Heaven & Hell Right Now? (Questions Teenagers Ask 4.)

9106136098_8a94dc9462_o

Part four of my series on ‘Questions Teenagers Ask.’ All posts in this series are responses to questions I’ve had from young people written in the style I answered them.

Question: Are There People In Heaven & Hell Right Now – Before Second Coming?

Answer:

Great question! And the answer is yes but no!

I grew up in Blackpool where it had a nightclub called ‘heaven & hell‘ – but it was rubbish and so there’s no-one there right now! (I think it shut down actually.)

Anyway, you’re probably not asking about the nightclub; so is there anyone in the real heaven or hell right now?

If heaven is ‘in the presence of Jesus’ and if it’s ‘paradise’ then deffo! Yup! People are there right now. Jesus turned to the thief on the cross next to Him and said “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise,” (Luke 23:43) – not later, but today.

However, that’s not the whole story; Heaven & Hell ain’t done yet! They’re still brewing.

Heaven is amazing! More amazing than we could ever think of, but it comes in two parts, before the second coming of Jesus and after the second coming.

Before Jesus comes back Heaven’s epic, and it’s paradise, and we’re there with Jesus in some form or another; however it’s just spiritual. After Jesus comes back though, He’ll be stitching a new heaven and new earth together to be the perfect mix of physical and spiritual (have a wander through Revelation 21 & 22 to see this). We even get new amazing new physical bodies (1 Corinthians 15). Heaven will be all the best bits of the physical world and spiritual world clearly mixed together – and more!

Hell too – In a parable in Luke 16, Jesus tells us about people in Hell right now (also see Revelation 21:8 for more evidence of this). However at the second coming it’s sealed once Satan & the demons are chucked into it (Revelation 20:10-15). There’s also an argument to be made for people living in Hell-on-Earth right now needing the salvation that only Jesus can bring.

So yup, people in heaven and hell right now. But nope there is more to come including physical, hot, new bodies when Jesus returns!

More In The Series, ‘Questions Teens Ask’:

Part 1. Is Self Harm A Sin?
Part 2. Can Demons Cause Sin?
Part 3. Will Jesus Always Be Called Jesus?

Will Jesus Always Be Called ‘Jesus?’ (Questions Teenagers Ask 3.)

10298074446_2106e17b7f_z

Part three of my series on Questions Teenagers Ask. All posts in this series are responses to questions I’ve had from young people written in the style I answered them.

Question: Will Jesus Always Be Called Jesus? What About At The Second Coming?

Answer: Yea, I think so.

Names in the Bible are hyper-important. They usually tell us something worth remembering about the person. Naomi changed her name to ‘Mara’ (meaning ‘bitter’) after she lost her husband and sons. Saul was called ‘Paul’ (meaning ‘small’ or ‘humble’) when he came into the freakishly big presence of the risen Jesus. Jesus’ name also means something pretty significant.

The name ‘Jesus’ is actually a wee bit weird as it’s a compound of two Hebrew words stuck together. It’s the word for Lord and the verb for save or deliver. So it means something like ‘the Lord delivers’ or ‘the Lord saves.’ Makes sense really when you think about it.

When Jesus returns He’s still going to be the Lord, the Saviour, and the Deliverer. In fact he’ll be doing those things by returning and putting an end to all the evil in the world. So it makes sense that He would keep His name as it is.

Also, in Revelation 1, the second coming dude is actually called Jesus. So that kinda clinches it I guess.

A wee bit more food-for-thought:

In the same Revelation 1 passage (verse 7) it says ‘Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him.’ What’s really important about this is it basically says no one will miss the second coming! Jesus isn’t coming back as a baby for some to see and even less to believe in. He’s coming back with noise, and trumpets, and angels, and rock n’ roll. He’ll be ripping holes in the sky and bringing a whopping great city with Him.

So yup. I think Jesus will still be called Jesus (although He will have other names too like Lord, King, God, Holy One, Legend… etc.), but even if He didn’t we wouldn’t miss Him coming!

 

More In The Series, ‘Questions Teens Ask’:

Part 1. Is Self Harm A Sin?
Part 2. Can Demons Cause Sin?
Part 4. Are There People In Heaven & Hell Right Now?

Where Would You Walk For Jesus? Advent Session 1. The Magi.

advent-wreath-80114_640

This is part of the ‘advent in the youth group series’ I’m doing looking at the first ‘in-the-flesh’ worshipers of Jesus – for the intro & explanation click here.

So this isn’t a session plan so much as a ‘well this is what we did’ run down.

10-Minute Meal
We open each week with a 10-minute meal – if you’re 11 minutes late, you miss the food! One of our leaders organizes this each week and this time is was chocolate, in all its glory in every variety!

Quirky Nativity
The 10-minute meal closes with a short youtube ‘quirky nativity’ video – to set the basic theme/ context. This time it was:

Ice Breakers
After introducing everyone (we had some new faces), we played a game called ‘6 Minute Tree’ – basically they had 6 minutes to build and decorate a Christmas tree from scratch. Great community fun!  Following this we had a ‘Christmas Toast’ – using grape juice and champagne flutes we clinked glasses and begun advent with some class!

Worship Through Music
In redefine we sit in a big circle, have bongos, guitars, ukeleles, and a cajon out and put the chords up on the screen. Some bring guitars with them – there’s no leader really, we just go for it together. This week we did:

> Come Let Us Adore Him
> Hark The Herald (bluegrass style!)
> My Lighthouse (Rend Collective)
> Never Once (Redman) – during this song a young person walked to the middle and lit the first advent candle.

Following a time of thanksgiving prayer we opened up the topic for the week: The Magi.

Reading – Matthew 2:1-12
We always do readings together in a variety of ways. This time simply with two readers from two versions.

Did you notice?
Every time we read the Bible we have an open time of ‘what did you notice.’ This gives them the chance to point to anything that bugged them, poked them, confused them, excited them – anything! Some nights this has lasted the whole study!

Mythbusting
We look at three common ‘Christmas Card Myths’ to begin with about the Magi. These were:

> Kings – no they weren’t. They we’re royal astronomers. Rich nerds.
> 3 – no, we don’t know how many there were, probably more like 12.
> At the crib-side – no, they arrived two years later

Content
Now we get to the main chunk of the night. We focused this around three main Magi-related areas and had aims and questions for each one. After each section we asked them the question; ‘what does this reveal about the Jesus we worship?’ The three sections were:

> The Faith and the Danger – Focusing on the dangers of their relationship with Herod and what it cost them and the country to find Jesus and lie to the king. Specifically we looked at Herod’s incredible response by murdering all boys under 2 years old.
Teaching point: Jesus is controversial even from His birth – but well worth the risk!

> The Gifts – We looked at the three gifts. Gold – bringing their best, a gift fit for a king! Frankincense – An incense burned to carry prayers to God; a symbol of divinity. Myrrh – An ointment given to grieving families to embalm their deceased loved one.
Teaching point: From the beginning, the Magi recognized Jesus as King, as God, and as one who would die an important death.

> The Journey – Focusing on where they went, how they got there, what they left behind, and what it cost them to go. We looked at their first interaction with Jesus and how they physically made themselves lower than Him. We looked at worship as sacrifice.
Teaching point: They were committed to worship Jesus no matter what the cost.

Application & Response
After thinking about what the Magi’s feet must have been like at the end of the epic journey we thought some more about feet. We tried to come up with ‘feet’ verses in the Bible – of which there are plenty! Particularly, there are a few linked with bringing good news and with purity and sacrifice in worship. We thought about where our feet have been, where they might take us, and where they would be willing to go or do for Jesus. We challenged ourselves to walk for him.

To help this sink in we spent ten minutes reflecting on our own. We had sharpies out so if we’d like we could write Jesus’ name on the soles and insides of our shoes. In the background I played this song & video through twice.

Final ‘Send Out’ Response
We prayed together and sang one final song:

> One Thing Remains (Stanfill)

Youth Ministry MOT

3445260618_54eed99398_o

Every car I’ve ever owned bar one has failed its MOT every time. Sometimes they failed on stupid things like ‘there’s residue on the windscreen below the mirror where a GPS was once suckered on.’ Once or twice however, they have failed on cataclysmic problems. I once owned a Peugeot 406 which needed the entire exhaust system replacing at roughly the same price I’d bought the car for 8 months earlier. MOTs can kill you!

The truth is though, a lack of MOT is much more likely to kill you than the MOT itself. Whether with the authorities for driving illegally, or worse – driving unaware of a disastrous mechanical problem waiting to pounce like a coiled snake on the road. What if you’re breaks are about to fail or your airbags are jammed? Without an MOT you just don’t know what dangers are lurking under the surface waiting to cause disaster.

The same thing is true for people and churches isn’t it? Without a decent spiritual inventory and checkup every once in a while you could be heading unknown towards burnout and disaster. You could be suffocating under the fog of temptation, struggling against the yoke of celebrity worship, or – more simply – teaching continued crap to young people!

In a previous youth ministry job a new Associate Pastor arrived who offered spiritual MOTs to congregation members. For many this was a massive refreshment, encouragement and wake up call! So how about youth workers?

I offer here some MOT questions for a Youth Leader to check up on both your spirituality and your ministry. These questions are aimed at checking your teachability, discipleship journey, celebrity status/pride,

These are all based on the last six months.
– What training in youth work have you attended?
– What book(s) on youth work have you read?
– What book(s) on spirituality or Christian life have you read?
– Who have you talked consistently to about the depths of your relationship with Jesus?
– Who have you confessed your sin too / who has challenged you on your sin? How have you responded?
– What would happen to your ministry if you we’re injured and had to take six months off work starting today?
– What ministry area(s) have you trained/released/seen potential in a volunteer to take a lead in?
– What things have you said ‘no’ to and why?
– How many full days off have you taken?
– How many extra days out have you taken to just be with God?
– How many date nights / play-dates / visits with friends have you canceled & why?
– What key personal issue / conflict / struggle / shortcoming have you identified and have been working on? Have you seen growth?
– What consuming life event(s) has been going on and how has that influenced your ministry?
– Who have you invested personal discipleship time into consistently?
– Have you called your mum?
– What non-Christians have you connected with?
– How regularly have you started / ended your day with Jesus?
– How would you rate your gratitude level?
– Are you generally enjoying worshiping God with others?
– Are you regularly enjoying worshiping God alone?
– Do you get irrationally angry with road users?
– Do you speak with God about both trivial and deep things?
– Does God get regular opportunities to speak to you?
– If you made a list of you top ten passions and your top ten gifts (with probable overlap), how many are you getting to use regularly?
– Have you made opportunities to discretely serve others without recognition?

I’m sure there’s plenty of other good questions – these all came of the cuff. I’ll probably add / change them as time goes on. If you have others you’d like to add comment or message me and I’ll put them up.

Advent in the Youth Group.

advent-wreath-80114_640

Every week I run a small group of between 10-25 young people called ‘Redefine.’ It’s aim is to disciple believers to embrace seekers and grow seekers into believers. It’s a group made up of young people from 8 or so churches in North Wales and has a strong family ethic. Each session includes food, Q&A time, Bible-Study, ice-breakers, worship through music, prayer, reflection and response.

What makes Redefine slightly different from many other Christian small groups is the broad age range, a peer-mentoring model, a mix between Christ followers and seekers, and a high focus on participation and serving. This group regularly designs and leads services and events in Churches locally.

As my background pre-YFC is Church of England youth ministry I thought this year I’d have a stab at Advent. The aim is to learn from the first people who worshiped Jesus in the flesh, and see what each set of worshipers revealed about the nature and character of the Jesus we worship today.

Broken up it’ll look like this:

Week 1. The Magi.
Week 2. The Shepherds.
Week 3. The Angels.  (Special ‘invite a mate’ worship driven night).
Week 4. The Parents.  (Hopefully some kind of ‘midnight mass.’)

What makes Advent slightly different from other weeks for Redefine will be some focus on ritual (lighting candles, communion on week 4) and some Christmas ‘class’ with a weekly Christmas toast and souped up carols. There will be a strong focus on application, particularly how we can make Christmas a time of lifestyle worship.

So I will be blogging-up each session breakdown on here to say how it went and give some idea how this can work. These will not be Bible Studies per-say, but with some ingenuity I’m sure you could adapt them if you wanted.

Also – I’d love to hear how you play Advent with your youth group – or why you don’t. Send me a message, or leave me a comment.

I’ll bob the first session up tonight. Thanks 🙂