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Youth Work Management. eBook.

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After a few weeks of compiling, editing and formatting ‘Random Thoughts On Youth Work Management‘ is finally a reality.

This is available from the iBooks / iTunes store.

Thank you to Katie Gough of Idiolalia for lots of help editing and to Joel Preston of Youth Ministry Management for writing a quality forward.

Summary

Random Thoughts On Youth Work Management is just that – a set of random blog posts that fits the bid. It is a short collection of thoughts on delivering quality youth work management in Christian settings. Specifically you will find ways to manage your team and develop good leaders; ways to manage yourself, developing personally and professionally; and ways to manage the tricky relationship between youth worker and youth work employer.

Download

On the iTunes / iBook store – click here.

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A Youthworker and a Bible Walk Into A Bar…

Culture and the Bible. These are the two indisputable pillars of effective youthwork. If you don’t get the former you can’t communicate the latter, if you can’t apply the latter you will make no difference to the former.

“There are two fundamental necessities in Christian Communication. One is that we take the world we live in seriously; and the other is that we take God’s revelation to us in the Bible seriously. If either is missing, the communication will be ineffective.” [Christian Youth Work, Mark Ashton & Phil Moon]

There is a youthwork culture in the UK that is really starting to push the envelop, dig deep and get innovative in cultural relevancy. This is absolutely fantastic! I fully embrace and stand by this.

I fear, however, that the Bible is taking more and more of a back seat.

The Famine of God’s Word in Youthwork Culture

I’ve been to almost every major, mainstream Christian youthwork gathering in the UK this year. These were amazing events with great people, and mostly solid, encouraging teaching. Most of all they were a showcase of good ideas to learn from! However they were also symptomatic of a serious famine of the Word of God.

I can count on one hand how many talks I’ve heard at Youthwork gatherings this year that genuinely opened up the Bible.

“Opening up the Bible means swimming around in its depths and drawing us into those hidden truths.”

This spills over to published materials too. Bible reading resources are driving further down the lane of ‘prooftext with reflection’ often without any discernible link between the passage and the attached thoughts.

If we don’t open up the Bible we lose perspective, focus, authority and foundations. What are we playing at?

We Don’t Know How To Open Up The Bible

Let me clarify what I mean by ‘opening up’ the Bible. Just reading a standalone verse and paraphrasing it a few different, interesting ways is not opening up the Bible. Reading a verse, picking a word from it and giving a talk on that word is also not opening up the Bible.

Opening up the Bible means swimming around in its depths and drawing us into those hidden truths. It means exegesis, context, study and clarity. It means bringing a passage to life by using the passage itself!

I’m becoming increasingly concerned that we don’t know how to do this.

My wife, an editor, is currently trying to re-write someones Bible Study that is trying to teach that David defeated Goliath because of his own prodigious experience and skill; not because he trusted in God despite his lack of experience and skill. How could we get a passage so dramatically wrong?

The Bible Makes Our Hearts Burn Within Us

Read Luke 24:13-35

How did Jesus reveal himself to the two followers walking to Emmaus? “Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” v.27.

And how did they respond? They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” v.32.

“If you want young people’s hearts to burn within them in response to meeting with Jesus Christ, then you must, must, flippin’ must open up the Bible to them!”

If you want young people’s hearts to burn within them in response to meeting with Jesus Christ, then you must, must, flippin’ must open up the Bible to them! Yes, please be culturally relevant, but if you’re not going to bring God’s Word with you, you’re better off just staying at home!

If you want to communicate God’s heart, use His own words! There’s nothing wrong with the material – we must teach it until it burns within the hearts of this generation.

“However, if we have to err on one side or the other, we must not lose our hold on Christian truth. The simple message of God’s love for sinful humanity and of his forgiveness of our sins for the sake of his son has extraordinary and immense power: our incompetence as communicators is not able to destroy its ability to reach non-Christian young people.” [Christian Youthwork, Ashton & Moon]

Also See…

6 Ways to Train Teenagers to Read Their Bibles

Great Resource to Start Doing This…

  Dindexig Deeper: Tools for Understanding God’s World by
Andrew Sach & Nigel Beynon

A Youthworker and a Bible Walk Into A Bar…

From Detached to Disciple by Andy & Laura Hancock

This was a live blog for Youthwork, The Conference originally published here.

 

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Husband and Wife double team, Youth Pastor Andy and YFC Church Resources Manager Laura will be moving us through the journey from detached to disciple – from first contact to Jesus follower. From ‘park bench to life group.’

It’s the last morning of Youthwork, the Conference 2014. The last seminar. People are gathering with a little bit less pace and a little more silent contentment than yesterday. The last day blues are setting in.

However, even through our minds are on the journey home, the luggage stored in the hotel lock up and the slowly increasing weight of our inboxes – there is still a feeling of anticipation and expectancy. This seminar is covering a vital topic.

How do we go from that very first meeting with a young person to a place where we are confident that we will know them in heaven? How do we help young people make these transitions in a healthy and organic way? How do we move young people from detached to disciple?

Andy and Laura will be telling us stories of what has worked in their local church in Halesowen and how they have helped young people be part of their church community.

  (Sorry about any dodgy spelling or awkward grammar – this is a live blog!)

A couple of caveats…

Attendance in church is not the endgame. Bums on seats is not the idea. However an increasing membership in the community is a good indicator of healthy youth work.

Andy and Laura want us to know that they’re not claiming what they’re doing is the best model of youthwork. There are many areas where they are praying for a breakthrough. Think strategically at how you can apply these stories to your own local context. Some of these stories and ideas will work, some will not.

Moving on…

Youth workers by nature tend to be incredible at relationship building. Youth leaders need this too; the ability to be there for young people and to invest in their lives. However we should as youth workers also be committed to building relationships with the friends of the young people that we know. This is a great place to start strategically thinking about how to gather more young people on this journey to follow Jesus.

Strategy in youth ministry though is not something that’s talked about very much. At a recent training course, youth leaders we’re asked if they had a clear coherent strategy for their youthwork. 1 in 50 said yes.

Trying to distill a clear strategy from youth projects can be like getting blood from a stone. Youthwork is often chaotic and messy and this is great, but it’s also missing the clear intentionality needed to bring people along on a journey to Jesus and into the church community.

What’s a win?

We know we’re doing a good job if a young person is following Jesus and making disciples of their mates when they are 25 years old. It’s about the long game. Not ‘are they a Christian today?’ but are they being equipped to follow Jesus in the long term?

When we pack for holiday we checklist off all the things we will need to pack. The same is true for youth work. We need to consider what to teach and impart that will equip our young people long term.

For Andy’s youth ministry there are 7 principles that they continually teach – and these will make their way in some form to the new Youth For Christ Resources. Two of these are teaching the young people to make wise decisions, and equipping them to fall more in love with Jesus so that they will tell their mates.

Thinking strategically about the journey

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Look at the diagram above. This is a movement of real young people on a journey from outreach, to a followup space to, to intentional discipleship and finally to church community.

It’s not always clear cut, some young people come and go at various stages and some don’t fit in into this at all. However this progression demonstrates how a strategically thought out journey can move young people through to relationship with Jesus.

The basic pattern begins with outreach where they go into young people’s own territory in schools and on the streets. Moving on from this into a large open youth group that’s looked after by committed Christians with the skills needed to mingle and talk about Jesus.

This youth group is like the ground floor of Debenhams. You can spend as long as you want down there but at some point you will want to find the elevator to the next level. That elevator is the Alpha course and the next level is the Life Groups.

Life Groups create an intentional, unapologetic discipleship space. They use accessible language to talk Bible, prayer, spiritual gifts and church. Here they provide a safe environment to prepare young people to be part of the church community.

The final stage of this journey is to belong to the church community. It’s vital that you prepare both the church itself and the young people for this.

To make each transition as easy as possible Andy and Laura use the same team and the same venue. This makes each new group feel safe and familiar. Great idea!

If a wife and husband are miles apart, say the husband in Eastbourne and the wife in London, they only need one form of transport – a car – to see each other. However if the wife moves to Brazil they will need to change vehicles mid journey to see each other.

The same is true for a quality youth work strategy. To help a young person journey through, you will need to change vehicles. You can’t necessarily hope that just schools work or just a youth group will do it. You need to help them through by adapting to their needs.

Your approach trumps your goal. Unless your approach adapts, you won’t reach your goal. You need to constantly make decisions to help reach your goal.

Finishing up

Andy summed up the session like this: Teach your church young people to love Jesus and create spaces that are comfortable enough for them to invite their non-church friends too.

It’s important to think strategically and commit that strategy totally to God.

Unless the Lord builds the house,
    the builders labour in vain. [Psalm 127:1a]

A few quotable quotes!

There were huge chunks of wisdom given in this seminar and a fair few nuggets of wise one-liners too. Here’s a few:

“The only barrier for young people becoming a Christian should be the cross. We don’t want as church to put any more barriers in the way of meeting with him.”

“Youth work success is not when a young person meets with Jesus. Success is when they make a step on their journey.”

“A win at the youth group is when a young person feels safe and comfortable enough to come back and bring a friend.”

“I want to do everything I can to get young people in front of the cross, in front of Jesus.”

6 Youth Group Tactile Discussion Activities

Starting genuine conversations in a youth group can be a nightmare! Keeping them rolling while staying on track doubly so. Small group conversations tend to oscillate between pulling teeth and taming out of control petrol fires.

One of the best ways to engage different personalities and create real dynamic conversation is to use tactile (hands-on) activities. These can also be useful or easily adapted if your group contains young people with additional learning needs.

Here are some easy activities that create conversation on spiritual topics with an element of hands-on fun.

1. Story Cubes.

A brilliant invention that encourages you to make up your own rules. You start by group members choosing a cube and creating a story based off what’s on those cubes. You can get more specific by introducing a particular theme or topic for them to keep to.

This works best when you break into the story to ask the golden questions: who, what, when, where, why and how to get the group to elaborate and clarify the story they are telling.

Buy story cubes from here and follow them on twitter.

2. Question Jenga

Find a cheap Jenga set and, using a sharpie, write simple questions on each brick. Take turns to pull out a brick and ask a question to the group.

The questions can be as simple as ‘what’s your favourite colour?’ or as controversial as ‘can gay people go to heaven?’.

3. Collage Clips

Cut out quotes, words, colours, pictures and textures from a bunch of different magazines. Make sure you have lots and lots. Display them by tacking then to the wall or laying them out on the floor or a table.

Set the group the challenge to find a picture each and to explain to the group why they picked that picture.

You could ask them just pick one they like, or one that explains how their day went, or one that best describes who God is to them.

Another option is to use art postcards that you buy from galleries, artcards on specific God and ethics ideas from Youthscape or perspective cards available to buy from Agape.

4. Values Pyramid

Create 10 values on a theme or a topic and have the group rank them from most important at the top of the pyramid to least important on the bottom row. If you have enough people have several sets of this around and brake the group up.

Once you’ve done this ask the golden questions again (who, what, when, where, why, how) to challenge their answers. Compare the different pyramids and give people the opportunity to remove a row and re-rank the remaining.

Once finished you can give them a white piece of paper each and encourage them to add or replace a value with one of their own. Two sets available for free to download below. Just cut them out and if you want, laminate them.

Relationships And Sex Values Pyramid

Worldview And Ethics Values Pyramid

5. Values Washing Line

This effectively works the same way as the values pyramid however instead of moving around a hierarchical triangle you have a washing line stretched across the room with the values pegged to it.

Get a group to rank them most to least important left-to-right and explain why. Keep moving and dropping some off.

Free Download: Relationship Stages Washing Line. Enlarge, Print, Laminate & add Peggs!

6. playing cards

The best examples of these are made by Youthscape and specifically Romance Academy on the theme of sex and relationships.

You can use them just like regular playing cards, however each card comes with its own unique discussion question.

These are also easy enough to make your own.

 

 

6 Youth Group Tactile Discussion Activities

Today’s Discipleship, Tomorrow’s Disciples by Nathan Iles and Phil Knox

This was a live blog for Youthwork, the Conference, originally published on their webpage here.

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It’s ​9:08​ in Devonshire 1, and the room is slowly filling up to experience the first seminar of Youthwork​,​ the Conference 2014; “Today’s Discipleship, Tomorrow’s Disciples”. The air conditioning is whirring, the awkward ‘chair-next-door conversations’ have started​,​ and the title, ​​Today’s Discipleship, Tomorrow’s Disciples is stirring interest.

Our speakers, Nathan Iles and Phil Knox, are here holding the torch for British Youth For Christ, so we’re expecting this to be fuelled by a drive and passion to ‘take the good news of Jesus Christ relevantly to every young person in the UK.’

(This is live, sorry about any mistakes!)

An opening question “how good was your breakfast?” with a hearty response breaks the ice and kicks us into gear. This is a fast paced, high energy presentation with masses of important information and deeply applicable challenges – so buckle up!


Ten Unique Challenges of The Millennial Generation

Sociologists have been saying ​that ​‘there​’​s something different about this generation’​, something that​ creates new categories, reaches for new terms and raises new questions for how we do youthwork today. They go by many names​:​​​ ​​the millennials,​​ the paradoxical generation, ​​the dot-coms,​​ the emerging adults,​​ the 18s-20s –​ ​and they come with unique wordviews which require us to ta​i​lor our approach to youthwork accordingly.

So what is unique about this generation and what are some of the ways that we can speak truth to them?


1. They are digital pioneers.

They don’t just go online, they are online. Over half will check their social media as soon as they wake up. They live in the moment and that moment is on the smartphone, the tablet and the laptop.

Paradoxically this hyper-connectiv​ity​​ ​with a whole net of other digital users also creates a sense of isolation, and often a polarisation between the persona in reality and the persona online.

There needs to be a definite level of incarnational involvement in that world. We need to be God incarnate online, and help our young people be responsible digital pioneers and good citizens of the online world.


2. They are anti-institutional

Once upon a time we trusted politicians, we trusted organisation and we trusted institution. Those days are rapidly wearing thin. There is a pandemic lack of desire to belong to, or be a card-carrying member of any kind of institution.

However, this does not mean that this generation is not deeply spiritual. They are! There is a rejection of organised religion but a widespread searching for a deeper sense of reality.

We need to tackle nominal church going. Phil reminded us that ‘small is beautiful’ and that we need to see a de-emphasis on the Sunday morning service and a greater emphasis on the small group. We further need to give young people a bigger image of what church can be, moving away from consumerist models. “We need a society to contribute to rather than a church to consume.”


3. They are instant consumerists

The mo​t​to of this generation is tesco ergo sum, I shop therefore I am. This is the first generation to identify as consumerists, and specifically instant consumerists. We can go from hearing a song on TV to downloading and owning it within thirty seconds. There used to be a day where we browsed video rental shops – now we feel hard don​e​ by if we can’t stream a video within seconds.

We can address this by speaking out on generosity and speaking out against consumerism and the desire craze. What kinaesthetic experiences can we give to our young people (like visiting homeless kitchens) to teach them about generosity?


4. They are influenced more by friends than romance or family

Peers have replaced parents. Friends have become the most dependable unit. Even in popular culture, TV shows have moved away from the family unit (The Simpsons) to the friendship circles (Big Bang Theory).

The church, however​,​ can uniquely give people a broader vision of family through all-age community. When young people were asked in a recent study, ‘what do you look for in a youth leader?’ 85% responded with a parent or grandparent figure.

Nathan gave us a great example of a program called ‘sponsor a young person.’ The deal is the young person has to say hello to an older person, and the older person has to commit to pray for that young person and give £1 a month to support them to go on a residential. Brilliant!


5. They have paradox between need for community and increasing isolation

There is a deep desire for individualism and a parallel longing for community. They are the ‘have it your way’ generation but​ they​ also have a deep need to be part of something bigger than themselves.

In youth ministry we need to hold these tensions and speak into these paradoxes. We need to speak into individual decision and church community  This should be easy for the church! Faith is rooted in individual decision, in light of a whole community.


6. They are a post-christendom generation

Religion is no longer at the centre of public life. Jesus is a swear word and ​N​oah is a myth. In 1985 520,000 18-30s were going to church​; ​in the 20 years since that has more than halved. This generation no longer has the context, the background or the language to engage directly with Christian culture.

Sunday school for many in this generation is a thing of the past. People don’t know the Bible stories now. We need to translate the language and use words that young people understand. We also need to look at a different paradigm for the communication of Gospel, using stories works more often now than using something like the 4 points Gospel. Not least because the lack of prior understanding also means that the stories also now have a real freshness.


7. They are spending more time in adolescence

The average age of Adolescence is extending and now sits somewhere between the ages of 10-27. They are also sometimes called the ‘Peter Pan’ generation because ‘they never grow up.’

There are ways, like being sexually active, where they are growing up faster​,​ however transitioning into full adulthood is getting harder and taking longer.

As church and youthworkers we need to intentionally celebrate the translations into adulthood by inten​t​ionally addressing transition issues and by supporting parents more. One of the things Youth For Christ has done is changed the age spectrum in its constitution from 11-18 to 7-25. We should consider running our youth groups older.


8. They have a ‘Moralistic Therapeutic Deist’ worldview

The way that emerging adults view God is like Santa Claus or like a cosmic butler. He helps us be happy by bringing us good things and encouraging people to be nice and fair. The ultimate purpose of life is hedonistic – that is to be happy. ​(​Ideal moment to kick in with Pharall Williams.​)​

Bottom line here: We need to get uncomfortable. Comfort is the enemy of growth. We should as youth workers give our young people a sense of adventure and of mission. It’s not enough to entertain young people and show them a good time. We need to dare young people to do incredible things in their world for Jesus Christ.


9. They are anti-commitment

The average ​A​merican has 7 jobs in their 20s and on​e​ of the most downloaded apps in the UK today is ‘try before you buy dating’ which allows you to hook up with no strings attached. This bleeds into our profession too: the average time a UK church leader spends at a church is 7-10 years, however the average time a youth leader spends at a church is 18 months.

What does commitment to Jesus look like to an ant​i​-commitment generation? We must help young people to chose day in day out for Jesus Christ. The challenge is enabling teenagers to dream again. Helping them think big, aim high and work hard to get there. All the while we must constantly remind ourselves that generationally, things do shift. Things can change.


10. They have a happy midi-narrative – worldview

Happiness is the central goal of life. Period. This isn’t necessarily new, however​ what​ might be is how that is achieved. You don’t pursue happiness through metanarrative (the big picture of life), but on a much more modest scale that you can control in your microcosm of your own contacted life. An interesting picture this is our Facebook profiles. A small reality that we can control and protect.

We need to tell the big story though. We need to tell the whole story of God, creation, life, Jesus Christ. We must tell the metanarrate and challenge the microcosms. One of the best ways we can do this is to invite them into it. They too are part of this great story!

 

Capturing God’s Heart For Young People

Capturing God’s Heart For Young People. A talk I gave at Antioch Church in Colwyn Bay, North Wales. This is a version of a relatively standard talk that I give regularly on young people across North Wales.

Two passages:

Luke 18:1-17

Acts 20:7-12

3 Reasons Why I’m Learning Welsh as a Youthworker

S’mae. Bore Da. Tim Dw i. Dw i dysgy Cymraeg. Dw i ofnadwy!
Y’alright? Good morning. I’m Tim. I’m learning Welsh. I’m pants!

Why am I learning Welsh? Here’s three reasons:

There are schools and areas that are first language Welsh.

Although most, if not all Welsh speakers will also speak English, this will not be the natural, native first language. It can be more difficult to find a word in English than Welsh. Some of these schools will not let you in unless you are at least reasonably bilingual. You are after all in a different country.

Welsh is the heart language of Wales.

People by nature respond better when you communicate to them in the language that is near, dear and natural to their heart. This is making a cultural effort that is always responded to well.

It gives me an immediate common learning experience with every young person in Wales.

Bar very few, every young person in Wales is learning Welsh. This means I have an immediate point of connection, of humour, of learning and of conversation. Sometimes I will start a conversation with the young person in Welsh when I meet them for the first time because you can almost guarantee you will be laughing with each other within a minute. This also means I come from an area of less knowledge and they are able to teach me. It’s humble and it’s fun.

 

If you’re interested in learning Welsh there are many great courses. I’m taking Bangor Universitie’s Cwrs Wlpan which is always very highly rated and recommended.

I’ve written two posts about ministry in Wales as distinct and different to English ministry too:

Ministry in Wales… some observations

Youthwork in Wales… some thoughts

 

 

Learning Welsh as a Youthworker

 

Tragic loss in the metal world asks how do we respond to metal loving teenagers?

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A mainstay of the nu metal movement of the 00s, Wayne Static of Static X passed away this weekend from a drugs overdose. This is another in a long line of shocking losses from the Heavy Metal world joining the ranks of Adam Goldstein (Crazy Town), Paul Gray (Slipknot), David Brokie (GWAR) and Dave Williams (Drowning Pool).

What stuck me this time were some of the responses to the news from other well known bands, here’s a couple:

“This is so sad. Too many musicians are dying from overdoses. I’m serious, addiction is real and takes fools out. no one is invincible. So glad I live a sober life today. The number of friends that I have lost to addiction is crazy. If you are struggling with addiction, get some help before it’s too late. I know deugs and partying are part of the ‘rock ’n’ roll lifestyle,’ but damn, how many more gotta die?? F*** the lifestyle, I want life!!!! See you on other side, Wayne….” [Jacoby Shaddix, PAPA ROACH].

“Rest in peace Wayne. I’m speechless right now. I’m losing too many of my friends. I’ll see you on the other side, brother.” [Jonathan Davis, KORN].

It’s the heart cry of Jacoby Shaddix that we must hear; “I want life!!!!’

Both have seen this before, both are tired of loosing friends, both are hoping for more ‘on the other side.’ But it’s the heart cry of Shaddix that we must hear, “I want life!!!!’

Overdose and early violent deaths are synonymous with the metal scene right through to its grassroots. A few years ago, one of my best friends from high school died from a heroin substitute. He was an incredible musician, a bass player for several bands and a metal lover through and through. This was, as all the papers said, a tragedy. Surely he didn’t need to die?

My experience is the Christian youthwork world has lots to say to the heavy metal subcultures, but very few effective ways of doing so. There’s lots we can teach about value, hope, lament, mourning, truth and beauty but we can’t see past the satanic, sex, drugs and rock n’ roll stereotypes associated with the genre.

When I was growing up metal music was my whole world! Everything from Metallica through to Static X themselves. I had the clothes, the hair, the posters and I played electric guitar in a metal tribute band. As a Christian through, I was given a wide berth from the youth leaders who treated my love of the genre as something dangerous to grow out of. “But, that’s so satanic!” one of them commented when they found out. It’s like they we’re tracking my course from learning guitar riffs to the demon-fuelled overdose that was obviously impending.

My experience is the Christian youthwork world has lots to say to the heavy metal subcultures, but very few effective ways of doing so.

When I started youthwork my experience in the heavy metal world was invaluable. It allowed me relationships with young people who no one else could get near. A young lad once bought me an Iron Maiden poster that he had signed by drummer, Niko McBrain and I spent two years with him and his brother reading Romans together… as well as attending their gigs. We need to engage on this issue because they too want life!

Very little youthwork that I’ve seen engages directly with young people in the heavy metal world, and even less have projects and relational objectives for young people on these specific journeys.

I will spend a few posts over the coming weeks interviewing people who, just like me, grew up with one foot in the Christian Youth Work World and the other in Heavy Metal Subcultures. I will spend several posts sharing the individual observations and journeys of these youth workers who group up with a passion for heavy metal music. Each will be unique and hopefully each will feed our insights for how to look after young people in the heavy metal world.

Watch this space for the first interview.

Teach young people to dream wild – steal the rest later!

Just_a_Dream____by_enricoagostoniWhen I was 17 I was raising money at my church to go to Bible College. I was at a fund raising dinner that a terrific couple had organised for me, and at the end I went to the front to say what I wanted to do. They asked me what it was that I wanted to achieve and in my arrogance I said,  “y’know Billy Graham? Think him but you know… bigger!”

I’ve been pretty ashamed and embarrassed at that moment ever since I actually went to Bible College and learned about this silly little thing called humility. This is especially important when you consider that Billy Graham himself started every single one of his revival meetings by drawing a circle on the ground. Billy would then step into the circle and say Lord send revival and start with everything that you find in the circle.

It’s so easy to quench dreams with mistaken reality.

I’ve been in full time youth work ever since leaving Bible College nearly 8 years ago and in that time I discovered something about my initial overzealousness in that dinner. Looking past the arrogance, hero worship and the Christian celebrity culture there was a kernel of real goodness in that proclamation. I had a dream to tell the gospel to millions of people. Almost every adult I met afterward however, told me to shoot lower, be realistic and learn humility.

It’s so easy to quench dreams with mistaken reality. It’s so easy to pour cold water on the passions and compassions of young people because of the extra baggage, mistaken theology and missing pieces from their plan. It’s so easy to say that won’t happen because it never happened for us. It’s so easy to limit the prayers, expectancy, hopes, dreams and faith in the omnipotence of God in the hearts of young people. It’s so easy to suck so bad!

Proverbs 16:1 says “To man belongs plans of the heart but from the Lord comes the reply of the tongue.” We use this passage to say that there is a fundamental disconnect between the plans in our hearts and the replies of our God. We use it as an excuse to not hold God to account for our prayers and to assume that we are not in keeping with God’s plan for our lives. We assume human nature over God’s virtue.

However if our hearts belong to God why can we not assume that many of the passions, plans and desires in our hearts originate from him?

The message of the Bible is the more you get to know God the more your heart becomes in-line with his heart.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 says God has placed eternity in man’s heart. Psalm 37:4 says delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. The message of the Bible is the more you get to know God the more your heart becomes in-line with his heart. God buries plans deep in our hearts when we come to know him and He spends years clearing away the dross from those plans so they have room to breakthrough and live.

Yes we do need to correct bad theology, we do need to set expectations that allow God to be God and us to be us. We do need to clear dross and teach sanctification by the Holy Spirit through his Word. However, we cannot do this at the expense of throwing the baby out with the bath water and drowning good plans in legalistic low expectation.

We must set the bar so high that only a passion filled, God honouring, driven young person could reach it.

We must concurrently teach good theology and stoke the fire of dreams and passion in the hearts of young people. We must set high expectations. We must teach that God can accomplish the impossible. We must set the bar so high that only a passion filled, God honouring, driven young person could reach it. We must allow young people to achieve far more than we ever did. We must teach them to submit their plans to God as worship, not bury those plans in legalistic pseudo sanctification.

I’ve not stood on the stage of a revival meeting in front of millions of people. I’ve not led tens of thousands of people to Christ. I am not a bigger Billy Graham.

However, I’ve learned that the kernel of passion that I had as a teenager was not evil or wrong. Even though I only knew how to express it in that ‘bigger Billy Graham’ language, it has since been nurtured and grown by my God. He has allowed me to have a huge impact on the lives of many young people.

Young people develop abstract from concrete thinking very young, however when a young person says something that scares or challenges an adult, that adult has a tendency to only interpret as concrete thinking. I needed adults who were able to think in the abstract, see the kernel of God given truth through the fog of my imature language and help me develop my passions before God.

Priority number one – ask God to allow you to see and hear His voice through the language of young people and see what of He has placed in their hearts.

Priority number two – encourage young people’s wild, God-driven dreams.

Priority number three – give young people every opportunity to pursue those dreams.

Priority number four – teach and model the language of humility that always points back to God rather to ourselves.

Priority number five – help clear the dross and baggage of underdeveloped theology that could choke that dream.

 

Teach young people to dream wild!

Viral Youth Ministry Part 1. Online Community IS Community.

Social-media-for-public-relations1Ask FM, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter et al – the city gates of a new century. They are what coffee shops and pubs we’re to the generation before: the hub of community, gossip, news and living interactions with real people.

“Communities have social rules, cliques, groups, hierarchies, activities and spaces. You will find all of these in the villages of social media.”

About this time last year I ran a training day on how to juggle social media and child safeguarding in youth ministry. The aim was to dovetail the two together and empower youth workers to be involved in online spaces responsibly.

The session was a success and has since been highly requested, so I will attempt to unpack some of the presentation parts of it over the next few posts.

Part 1. Online Community IS Community.

Community is defined as the condition of gathering and sharing with real people with real attitudes and experiences. Communities have social rules, cliques, groups, hierarchies, activities and spaces. You will find all of these in the villages of social media.

The inter-connectivity of social media sites within themselves, with each other and with off-community internet sites through via sharing creates a very real social digital world. Social media spaces are villages with easy public transport between them. Your avatar travels, takes photos, has experiences and leaves marks. Avatars are born and die all the time, and are not always what you think.

Digital community relates to ‘natural’ community (that which is outside the online world) in three potential ways:

1. Digital Community as Extension of Natural Community

2. Digital Community as Distinct from Natural Community

3. Digital Community as Memorabilia of Natural Community

God loves community and it is his plan to see his community ideals put into effect everywhere that community springs up. Wee need to be his fellow workers, on His team to create this in the digital world that is flourishing.

1. Digital Community as Extension of Natural Community
A foot in both worlds might be another way of putting this. One has a natural community experience then continues it on through sharing in social interactions online. Or a friendship that blossoms through meeting in reality takes on new layers and depths through online interaction.

“Ask FM, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter et al – the city gates of a new century.”

Extension of natural community is a hi-tech way of sending notes, owning walkie-talkies or sharing scrapbooks on the life and experiences that happen to you and your friends.

This in the main is a relatively safe way of belonging to the Digital Community. It all comes down to balance – does the digital extend and supplement the natural, or is it the other way around?

For a youth group, a Facebook page is a great way of sharing memories, carrying on conversations, creating deeper friendships and advertising projects. This works as an extension of the youth group meeting in reality.

2. Digital Community as Distinct from Natural Community
This is perhaps where most unhealthy interactions with natural community crop us. Distinct is when one has a totally separate identity or life online from the one that is lived in reality.

Distinct online life be as simple as telling a few fibs to test some social waters or make yourself look cooler. It can however be as full blown as multiple personality disorder leading to a segregation of the self with some disastrous results. For instance, this is from where cyber self harm often originates.

When the two communities are thrust back together (like meeting someone in reality that you met online first) the pieces often don’t fit and at best expectations are let down and at worst you have situations that you read about in the news.

For a youth group, you can inadvertently create groups online that allow different characteristics of your members to surface unknowingly which can feel like you have an online group and a natural group of the same people but with different personalities. We need to manage and moderate content well and not be afraid to talk about the differences we see as a result.

Excursus: Digital Community as Replacement for Natural Community
In the worst case scenarios, distinct turns into replacement when again the balance shifts (just like in extension) and the individual starts to see the online world and persona as the real world and persona. For all intents and purposes they live online.

This is incredibly unhealthy as it bears all the marks of escapism and denial which can fester or awaken bipolar, mania, paranoia and other serious mental / social health difficulties.

“God loves community and it is his plan to see his community ideals put into effect everywhere that community springs up.”

3. Digital Community as Memorabilia of Natural Community
Remember the ‘find your classmates’ site? This was – for many of us in our late 20s and beyond – how social media began. Digital community can simply be a place to catch up without actually relating. You view pictures, and read what people are up to – and you share the same, but you don’t comment and you don’t seek responses. It is simply a bulletin board of memories and experiences.

For a youth group this is the safest (albeit most boring) community space to set up. A site that shares photos and stories of your group’s exploits but without having any real time, or roving avatar interactions.

All a Question of Balance
When it comes to online community you need to think balance. How do you as a youth worker keep the balance on the natural and the real, without diminishing or disregarding the digital. How do you keep a check on spaces  that you manage to ensure that real interactions are happening safely and unmolested while creating boundaries that allow only appropriate interactions.

For me, this means 9 times out of 10 I use pages rather than groups. I have several adult moderators from within and outside the youth group structure within the spaces. I avoid personal spaces (like private chat) and I avoid off wall content. I keep a daily check on what is being posted and I call people out – in person, not online – for abusing the community space.

Next time – Social Media Spaces: from the playground to the bedroom, do you know where you are?

 

Viral Youth Ministry.