The 3 Most Misused Verses in Youth Ministry

1. Matthew 18:20 – When two or more are gathered…

This is often used in defense of youth church, or youth groups being a church alternative.

‘Well all you need for church is two or three believers and a cheeky Nandos… boom!’
‘Me and my mate do church in the car listening to Hillsong!’

There’s two whopping problems with this:

  1. God is in lots of places that aren’t church; that’s kinda the deal with omnipresence. God’s presence alone doesn’t make something church.
  2. Church is lots of other things than just gathering (or in the actual context of the verse, correction and discipline). Church should probably include things like worship, teaching, scripture reading, a wider variety of people, sacraments etc. too.

Making a specific group is fine – but using this verse to call your group group ‘church’ is a little bit naughty! Being Christian does not equal being church. #wristslap

2. Jeremiah 29:11 – I have an epic plan for you…

‘God has an amazing (kinda) plan for your life (true if you add an ’s’) which, if you find it (how?), you will never get bored, hurt, needy, depressed, or confused (just no).’

We use this to help us push through hardship in the hope of getting to something better by tapping into God’s secret blueprint for our lives.

The problem though is, in context, this is not what God was offering to the Israelites. He was not promising to sort out their struggles and send them home from exile. In v.7 he says they can prosper right where they are.

This verse is not about some individual future blessing or plan, its about the whole people of God communicating with and depending on Him right slap bang in the middle of suffering and trial. And isn’t that so much better? Teach that instead!

3. 1 Timothy 4:12 – Don’t let anyone look down on you because of your youth…

This is one of those weird greek words that could basically mean anyone under the age of forty. Timothy was about 15-16 when Paul met him on his missionary journey (Acts 16:1), but the letter was written about 14 years later. This makes Tim around 30!

Even though the sentiment is true, there are better examples of actually young people who did amazing things in the Bible – like the disciples.

Essential Theology Reading List For Youth Workers

Ok – so this is not a specific youth worker reading list -sorry! It is, however, a broad but relatively deep theology list on issues that all ministers and pastors should have a grip on. Youth workers – this is you too!

A friend has just finished a short correspondence course on theology that was quite specific in it’s approach. He asked me to put a basic list together of broad evangelical scholarship and laity books that would be useful to spend a year reading to widen his approach. This is that list!

If you have done an undergrad seminary course, many of these really should be familiar to you anyway.

A * next to a title means, ‘if I could only read one book a month I would read these’.

There are many, many other great books, websites and journals that I’d love to add, and I’m not necessarily endorsing all of the theology or ideas contained in this list. This is enough, however, to help you think though issues conversationally and realistically in a year… or so.

If anyone is interested, I might add an ‘essential commentary list’ too at some point.



*Know The Truth – Bruce Milne
Systematic Theology – Wayne Grudem
Books 1&2 of Calvin’s Institutes (Vol. 1)

Christian Living

*Desiring God – John Piper
Knowing God – Jim Packer
The Religious Affections – Jonathan Edwards
Love Does – Bob Goff
Velvet Elvis – Rob Bell

Specific Issues

*The Cross Of Christ – John Stott
Engaging With God – David Peterson
The Difficult Doctrine Of The Love Of God – Don Carson
Doctrine Of The Knowledge Of God – John Frame
On The Incarnation – Athanaisius
The Holy Trinity – Robert Letham
The Atonement – Leon Morris
The Bondage Of The Will – Martin Luther
Historical Theology – Alister McGrath
The Doctrine Of God – Gerald Bray
*The Passion Of Jesus Christ – John Piper

Bible & Exegesis

Listening To The Spirit In The Text – Gordon Fee
God’s Empowering Presence – Gordon Fee
*How To Read The Bible For All It’s Worth – Gordon Fee
To What End Exegesis – Gordon Fee
*Exegetical Fallacies – Don Carson
*Gospel & Kingdom – Graham Goldsworthy
The Prophetic Imagination – Walter Brueggemann
Reading The Bible With Heart And Mind – Tremper Longman II
Introduction To The New Testament – Carson, Moo & Morris
From Paradise To The Promised Land – T.D. Alexander
Perspectives On The Word Of God – John Frame
*Dig Deeper – Andrew Sach & Nigel Baynon
Grasping God’s Word – Duvall Hays
The New Testament Background – C.K. Barrett
An Introduction To The Old Testament – Dillard, Brown, Longman II

Discipleship & Spirituality

The Cost Of Discipleship – Dietrich Bonhoffer
*The Divine Conspiracy – Dallas Willard
The God Who Is There – Francis Schaeffer
Confessions – Augustine
Holiness – J.C. Ryle
The Wounded Healer – Henri Nouman
The Imitation Of Christ – Thomas A Kempis


*The Gagging Of God – Don Carson
*Apologetics To The Glory Of God – John Frame
Convergence – Sam Storms
The Reformed Pastor – Richard Baxter
*The Contemplative Pastor – Eugene Peterson
Mere Christianity – C.S. Lewis
*The Universe Next Door – James Sire
The Supremacy Of God In Preaching – John Piper
Preaching With Purpose – Jay Adams
No Perfect People Allowed – John Burke
Emerging Worship – Dan Kimball
*Death By Love – Mark Driscoll
Christian Youth Work – Ashton & Moon


When Youth Work Is Supposed To Be Difficult

This morning I had a great chat with a leader of a national youth project that develops events and camps where young people are expected to work hard, study and learn more about God. It runs totally counter to much of our popular youth work models, but is also exponentially growing and spreading nationally every year, developing incredibly enthusiastic and mature young people.

In contrast, one of the most popular youth work models of the last few decades has been the ‘Funnel Method.’ Made popular by Dough Fields’ ‘Purpose Driven Youth Ministry,’ the idea is to run several projects aimed at different crowds with different content and funnel young people down from easy-to-attend, accessible events, into deeper more clearly Christian groups.

In the funnel method, you effectively start with a large crowd event that makes connections and does very basic (if any) Gospel teaching. From that first connection, you invite attendees to a slightly smaller, but still accessible group (like an Alpha Course) that goes into a little more detail about the Christian Faith. The next step is to look for conversions, and move those into a smaller and more specific group aimed at new believers. You then develop this further into yet again smaller and deeper groups, ending with a core community of young people who are leading and maturing.

Fields goes into great detail about how this is done, and why it can be successful; and he’s right, it can be very successful if it’s done properly, is well resourced, and if it matches the needs of the context that you’re in.

So What’s The Problem?

The funnel method can be a little ‘bait n’ switch’ calling young people to a fun event without being honest about what you’re doing. Jesus always immediately called people to Himself without needing to warm them up. It can also create a fragmented youth ministry complete with worn-out and under-resourced leaders.

The bigger problem though, is when the vibe of the first accessible project trickles down into all the others. This is when the funnel method is done badly, or is being pushed into a context that doesn’t fit it.

What I mean is this: If you’re finding it hard to get attendees at the smaller projects it’s easy to water down the content, and add more comfortable activities taken from the larger events. This is especially true when young people are introduced to you as the ‘fun group’ but now you’re asking them to do ‘boring stuff.’ So every project becomes a games night with a God slot, or a disco with a couple of Christian songs thrown in. Your real discipleship never gets off the ground.

The Candy Culture

If you haven’t yet seen ‘That Sugar Film’ by Damon Gameau, or Jamie Oliver’s American ‘Food Revolution’ then you should! Not only will these freak the sugar right out of you, they go into detail about the biological changes that happen in your body in a sugar heavy diet.

Tim Hawkins, in ‘Fruit That Will Last’ makes this same link to sugar-styled youth ministry projects. These are projects that dial up the fun and stimulus constantly, without demanding any real work at following Jesus. He says,

“‘Hype’ is like sugar in your diet. A splash of it every now and again livens things up amazingly. Life gets a little dull without it. But if your total diet is sugar, then it won’t build ‘fruit that will last’. Feeding kids on sugar will always have 3 results
i. an initial rush of energy
ii. then they will be flat
iii. then they will be fat.”

If you never move into a real space where young people have to work at their relationship with Jesus, coached by leaders who genuinely walk with and educate them, then you’re creating a youth ministry without lasting believers.

These young people will not be able to grow and develop into fully functioning members of a church, or be able to rely on God in a substantive way when life gets real. If they are able to do these things, then they’re probably being mentored by something or someone outside your youth work – which makes your ministry pretty redundant right?

The Bible’s Pattern

Young People throughout the Bible were educated by their religious leaders. In fact, it was only relatively recently that education was separated from religion. Robert Raikes founded the Sunday School Movement to teach young people in church that weren’t being educated by the state.

In the Old Testament, the whole nation of Israel was involved in teaching about God’s promises. This was a constant thing which was woven into the fabric of their lives.

‘These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, 2 so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long as you live… 7 Impress them on your children’ [Deuteronomy 6:1-7 ].

In Proverbs, we are given a complete educational theory that revolves around young people learning God’s own wisdom.

In the New Testament we are introduced to the method of Jewish Education, the latter stages of which was used by Jesus with his young disciples. Young people who go to school for a couple of hours every morning, 5 or 6 days a week to simply memorise huge portions of the Old Testament. Then they were taught how to study and apply these teachings wisely to their lives.

Education Vs. Youth Club

What we have done, I fear, is spent a huge portion of the last half century doing is driving a wedge between school and youth ministry. We don’t ever want to hear ‘this feels like school’ from a young person. Our mission has been to make everything fun, unique and distinct. There is definitely a lot of good that has come from this approach too! It’s also hard to blame us, considering the among of expectations and undue pressure our school systems place on young people’s shoulders.

There’s also a ‘baby and bathwater’ metaphor that comes to mind, however. We all too easily straight-jacket ourselves into just doing cute things to the point where we lose any cultural expectation to study, learn and develop.

Bringing It Together

We really need to harmonise some learning environment culture with our youth projects and ministry. There needs to be an expectation of hard work and education that happens in our youth work projects. Times do need to be set apart for real Bible Study, meditation and reflection. Space needs to be given over to substantive ethical and philosophical discussion. This can still work in a funnel method, but you need to make clear boundaries and set genuine expectations which you stick to right from day one.

Let’s not be afraid to be educators, and lets not freak out at the idea of doing real Bible study and deep reflections. We are youth workers, so have the right stuff to make this engaging, relevant and authentic. Let’s get stuck in!

Writing, Research & Study – What’s Going On?

Summer is always a quiet time for the blog – too much going on with everybody! This year has been even more inordinately so, which leaves me – once again – grovelling with apologies and explanations of where I’ve been!

First off, I’ve had a booklet agreed with a publisher on a Biblical Model for Youth Work. This is exciting, but the first draft is due early October, and I’ve only just really started serious work on it in the last fortnight. Watch this space though, because if they like what I’ve produced, we could be moving along for a publication date next year.

Secondly, I’ve been accepted as a member of the International Association for the Study of Youth Ministry (IASYM), which is cool – but opens up a whole new wing to my portfolio and time-constraints.

Finally – I finished a part-time philosophy course at Oxford, and decided I wanted to keep studying. I’ve enrolled on a distance learning MA at Cliff College on Mission, Pioneering Ministries and Fresh Expressions.

Mix this with the September launch of my own projects, and a lot of movement in my team, it has left YouthWorkHacks sadly wanting!

More will come though! Please don’t loose touch 🙂


The Christology of Soul Survivor

Another year, another quality trip to Soul Survivor! We always go and we always love it, and this year was no exception. Brilliant people, great messages, passionate responses and more cheeseburgers than you could fling a ketchup sachet at.

All this said, the ol’ theology student in me still twinges a little bit during these trips. I used to be quite critical and unnecessarily found issues with lots of superfluous areas, but even after maturing deeper and understanding better, a niggle still remains.

It’s like there’s something missing, a foundational ‘something’ that should be holding the pieces together more coherently. This elusive piece shows up in the messages, the seminar choices, and really the whole structure. And I think I may, perhaps have finally put my finger on it.

Its Christology. Or rather lack thereof. See if you can see a pattern from the keynote messages:

  • The first main message of the week was all about responding to Jesus like Levi did.
  • The second was about being brave and expectant with the supernatural and not being afraid to have a go.
  • The third was focused around worry and anxiety, and how to live intimately in the moment with God.
  • The fourth message was about how Jesus loves the broken and wants to fulfill their lives.
  • Message number five was an exposition of tongues and how to pray with tongues.
  • Message six (my favourite) talked about the need to be wowed by God, experience woe at our brokenness, and then go into the world as an evangelist.
  • The final message was about going ‘all in’ for Jesus – giving him your whole life.

Did you notice it? They are all about us. Focused on us as followers and our lives and responses in light of Jesus. There was very little in the messages actually about the specifics of who Jesus is.

Unpacking The Problem

These were all good messages by and large, but they all came across individually and collectively like there was something missing. A perspective off, or a direction reversed. It’s almost like listening to a car enthusiast speaking about high performance sports cars, racing around a track without quite understanding the nature of gravity. You recognise the cars – and the passion for them, but you realise something is a little off in the explanation.

I carefully and gently suggest that what is ‘a little off’ is Christology; the understanding and expounding the person of Jesus Christ directly – and not just in relationship to our responses.

Soul Survivor constantly reminds us that Jesus loves us – and that we should love Him too. Twice during the week, Mike Pilavachi carefully and expertly explained the Gospel, clearly saying what Jesus has done for us. One of these times he did so – I think – because the speaker was calling people to follow Jesus without an explanation of what that actually means. Christology, however, is much more than understanding these Gospel formulas and the essential basics of Jesus’ character.

If Jesus doesn’t work in real life then Jesus doesn’t work. This means we need a real life, relatable Jesus with a full character arc, clear personal traits, and high definition colour individuality: A Jesus that draws the whole Bible together and is tangible and active in the present.

Christology needs us to have arrived at some measure of organic agreement on the who, what, when, where, why and how of Jesus – beyond the formulas and basics. Who is Jesus really, why did He do what He did, what does it look like today specifically, what does this following of Jesus actually look like beyond ‘tell people about Him, worship and adore’. Who is He, who is He, who is He?

When you walk with Him – how do you describe Him? Is it easier to talk about the specific tangible qualities of your wife, husband, mother, father, children or friend? Can you talk about Jesus that clearly and coherently?

A Subtle But Essential Distinction

You can probably tell if an organisation hasn’t got a clear and coherent understanding of Christology when most of the message focuses are placed on people responding to Him, rather than to Him directly.

Did you see the last solar eclipse, or did you watch people watching the solar eclipse? Which one of those two – if you were there – would you describe? Would you focus on the people standing still in the street, gazing up at it, and taking photos? Or would you talk about the eclipse, specifically and in detail?

There is a theological imperative to know the subtle differences between talking about the Jesus we relate to, and talking about the relationship with Jesus. Soul Survivor talked about and engaged with us as the participants – rather than a clearly presented Jesus.

Do We Recognise Your Jesus?

We looked at what it means for us to follow Jesus and to be loved by Him, but without really saying much about Him specifically. This meant that I didn’t always recognise the Jesus they spoke about, because they said very little actually about Him.

I challenge Soul Survivor – and seriously challenge myself – to put more than a bare-bones skeleton of who Jesus is to the young people who will listen.

I want to leave Soul Survivor knowing more of Jesus, not through just a ‘touch of the Holy Spirit’ or a constant reminder of His love (as valuable as these are). I want the messages, and the coherent shape of the entire festival to celebrate the specific qualities of who Jesus really is.

If we’re going to get something right, and have something to celebrate on the last night – then lets pour our energies, passions and efforts into this deeper understanding of the Jesus we relate to, not just the relationship mechanisms themselves.

‘Sola’ Powered Youth Work

Screen-Shot-2015-12-16-at-17.47.08Guest post by Todd Warden-Owen; musician, comic-book lover, volunteer youth worker and administrator for Llandudno Youth For Christ. Check out more at


Originally published here.

Now by the title, despite the picture above, I don’t really mean ‘solar powered’ like the pictured superhero; but rather ‘sola powered’, referring to the five solas of the Protestant Reformation.

‘What are the five solas?’ – I hear you say.

The 5 solas, or solae of the Protestant Reformation are a foundational set of Biblical principles held by theologians and churchmen to be central to the doctrine of salvation as taught by the Western Protestant church. “Sola” is Latin meaning “alone” or “only” and the corresponding 5 ‘solas’ are:

  • Sola Fide, by faith alone.
  • Sola Scriptura, by Scripture alone.
  • Solus Christus, through Christ alone.
  • Sola Gratia, by grace alone.
  • Soli Deo Gloria, glory to God alone.

Although they were often used by Reformers in the 16th century in their writings and speech, such as when Philip Melanchthon wrote in 1554 “sola gratia justificamus et sola fide justificamur“(“only by grace do we justify and only by faith are we justified”), they were never formally compiled or grouped together until the 20th century. A great example of this compiling of the ‘solas’ is in The Cambridge Declaration of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals (1996).

Recently at ‘Redefine’, our Sunday evening youth Bible Study, we had a look at the 5 ‘Solas’ as part of an evening themed around the idea of survival and what do we need as essential for survival; a question often posed and answered in demonstration by people such as Bear Grylls.

It was a fun night, and we really wanted to see the young people grapple with what the essentials of the Christian faith are, hence a look at the ‘solas’.

They are a great way of summing up essentials in the Christian faith.

Faith alone (Sola Fide): Justification: being put right with God is received by faith alone, without any need for good works. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

Scripture alone (Sola Scriptura): The Bible alone teaches all that is necessary for our salvation from sin and is the standard by which all Christian behaviour must be measured. The Bible can and is to be interpreted through itself, with one area of Scripture being useful for interpreting others. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

Christ alone (Solus Christus): Jesus Christ is the only mediator between God and man, and there is salvation through no other. His sinless life and substitutionary atonement alone are sufficient for our justification and reconciliation to the Father. (Hebrew 10:12-14)

Grace alone (Sola Gratia): Salvation comes to us by divine grace alone, not as the results of anything we have earned or merit.  It is given by “unmerited favour”. This means that salvation is an unearned gift from God for Jesus’ sake.

Glory to God alone (Soli Deo Gloria):  All glory is to be due to God alone, since salvation is God’s gift and work. Our lives as a response of God’s great gift of making us right with himself through the death of His Son Jesus, is to live lives that bring glory to Him (1 Cor 10:31).

That is the 5 solas very briefly summed up, I must say.

The reason I tilted this post ‘sola powered’ and put the picture of ‘Superman’ at the top was because it was catchy, but also to get us thinking of the parallels the metaphor presents.

‘Superman’ gets his great strength and abilities from how his Kryptonian physiology metabolises solar energy – he is quite literally ‘solar powered’.  As Christians, we get our strength, encouragement, gifts, in fact, all we need for life and godliness from or because of Jesus (Phil 4:13, 2 Thess 2:16, Eph 4:7, 2 Pet 1:3). Jesus is God’s great gift to all mankind. Jesus is our source. He is our sole provider; to quote the Parachute Band’s song ‘Amazing‘. We are ‘sola powered’, referring to the 5 ‘solas’ as explained briefly above. Our strength and provision comes from God, and God alone.

We are not like Superman empowered by the sun, but are rather empowered by the Son.

“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” Heb 1:3.

“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” 2 Cor 3:18.

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” Col 1:15-20

Let us thank God for sending His Son Jesus.

Let us thank God for giving us His precious Word.

Let us trust in and rely on Christ’s strength in and through our lives.

Let us live lives that bring glory to God alone, responding in faith to His great grace towards and for us.

How NOT To Teach The Cross To Young People

P1040050By our newly minted In House Comic, Chloe Perrin. Volunteer Youth Worker, Musical Theater Tutor and Youth Charity Trustee. Check out her work at

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How To Get Young People To Read The Bible For Themselves

Great to have another post on Premier Youthwork blog this week. This time on how to get young people to read the Bib;e for themselves.

Check it out here.

Don’t forget to let the Baby Jesus out of His Cage at New Year

“Ooh! I better go take down the manger scene. If baby Jesus got loose, he could really do some damage.” [Ned Flanders].

The Beginnings Of Jesus

Have you ever stopped to consider the amount of damage that Jesus can do? At Christmas we talk about his humble beginnings; coming in a feeding trough rather than a Ferrari Enzo, or – perhaps more traditionally – a chariot.

Even that beginning, however, was dangerous and reckless. Only a small proportion of babies survived childbirth in those days, and those were under the best of conditions. Met with the harsh realities of a back alley birth and an ill-equipped teenage mother however, hygiene was hardly on Jesus’ side.

Jesus then grew up under the scrutiny of a strictly observant Jewish community who were all too aware of his scandalous beginnings. He probably spent much of his childhood looking over His shoulder.

Danger, scandal, fear and struggle were inevitably never far from Jesus’ experience.

The Authority Of Jesus

The son of a carpenter with rough hands and a keen eye for detail were married into the sinless and acutely spiritually aware character that Jesus developed. Jesus is God, make no mistake, but He is also a man with strength, the heart of a warrior and just the right kind of fierce pride.

Jesus stood and spoke with the authority and command of a leader. Although I’d like to think of Him as the arch-socialist; reaching out first to the unwanted, the weak and the destitute – my conservative friends would probably beat me up. And rightly so.

However, it wasn’t some bullish masculinity that empowered Jesus’ leadership abilities. It was the obvious spiritual connection to His Father, spoken through a seamless command of the scriptures. In the first few chapters of Mark when Jesus is performing miracles and casting out Demons we are told time and again that it wasn’t the miraculous that drew people to Him, but the authority that was carried through the words of His mouth.

The Controversy Of Jesus

With Jesus came the division among families (‘I did not come to bring peace but the sword’), growing displacement (‘foxes have homes but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head’) and urgency for life (‘let the dead bury their own’). There was always a forward momentum and active motion to the Ministry of Jesus. Even care for the poor (who ‘you will always have with you’) was subtly sidelined in the wake of recognising exactly who He was.

In one breath he encouraged beating swords into ploughshares, but with the next he fashioned the makeshift whip of cords. Such was the paradoxical zeal that He had: both absolute peace for humanity, and right worship of His Father. These, of course, are only a paradox before you are saved.

The Violence Of Jesus

There is violence to the life of Jesus. Not one that he sows, but one that follows Him around like an ambitious plague. Every way walks he finds ready a gang of insurgents rallying to him as a military leader. Even at his birth, thousands of firstborn sons are culled, in the vain hope that he would be stopped.

His journey to the cross is marred with illness, lack of sleep and beatings. He is abandoned by his family, forsaken by his friends devoured by his enemies. Nailed to the cross for all to see – the true warrior of David, dying a traitor’s death. ‘Why do you strike me’ was the only confused protest that we hear leave his lips.

The Victory Of Jesus

Jesus’s victory over death and resurrection has a wake behind it. A journey of violence, of political upheaval, of terrorist threats and personal slander.

Only a warrior comes into this world in the reckless way that He did, sinlessly. Only a warrior grows up under the shadow of violence and remains sinless – even under the constant onslaught of the Devil. Only a warrior dies an obscenely unjust and brutal death sinlessly.

The baby Jesus could really do some damage if we let Him out. Living in the wake of the authority of Jesus is the right thing to do today.

Let’s let Him out of His cage this year, yeah?

How To Help Your Young People Eat The Bible!

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“Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O LORD, God of hosts.” [Jeremiah 15:16]

We gotta get our young people eating the Word – lapping it up like a McD Big Tasty with extra special sauce!

Here are six important posts that tackle this head on:

  1. – Video cast on an easy interpretation & exegesis tool
  2. – Nailing the first question every time
  3. – 6 killer ways to help them read it themselves
  4. – Easy study techniques that make awesome studies that are out of the box
  5. – Getting their hearts to burn for The Word
  6. – Great quote to end!