Friday, January 14, 2011

A Word of Caution

Several years ago there was a famous advertising campaign (see above) for Federal Express (that's Fed Ex for those of you who only know abbreviations; it still weirds me out to think that there are people reading this blog who have no clue what KFC, AOL or IHOP stand for) that used the catchphrase "When it absolutely, positively has to get there overnight."  In today's world, overnight is nothing.  We want things to happen much faster than that.  Things that are 7 minutes old are retro.  We seek immediate success and gratification.  And sometimes that is not a healthy attitude...

Lately I have read a number of articles and blog posts talking about how it is time for student ministry to "move beyond pizza parties and games."  The gist of these stories is that ministries need to be deeper and more significant and offer students a greater chance to change the world in the name of Jesus.  Certainly for anyone involved in youth ministry this is one of your goals- to see the teenagers you serve develop a heart for God and a passion for serving others in Jesus' name.  I have seen first-hand how a number of youth ministries, including the one at the church my family attends, have narrowed the focus of their programs to two elements- worship and service.  And they could not have chosen two more important factors to include in the spiritual lives of teenagers.  However- I believe such a choice can come at a cost.  Here is my word of caution.

Ski Trip Silliness!
Every youth ministry I ever served dealt with students with a wide range of spiritual maturity.  This was true because we were always aware that a part of our task was to draw students from outside the church walls.  These "newbies" would often arrive at our youth meetings speaking a different language (cursing or slang) and with limited expectations.  They would also often arrive without family support.  The purposes of our ministry they understood the least were worship and service.  Many times it was events like pizza parties or lock-ins that got them there; often it was things like crazy games and great trips that kept them around long enough to begin to hear about the love of God whose name is Jesus.  We tried to teach the students who were more mature in their faith to understand that these things, while seemingly superfluous, were actually acts of ministry in which they were an important part.  It was their chance to share their faith and serve as leaders who helped new youth learn the ropes of being a Christ-follower.  This spiritual diversity was a crucial element in the development of our ministries.  A group of youth who are all at the same place in their spiritual journeys run the real risk of becoming a "Holy Huddle."  Every youth ministry should be holding hands in fellowship, but facing out, seeking to make a difference in their schools and communities.  And sometimes to do that requires Yuck Night or a rousing game of SardinesFellowship, whether it be food, games or simply hanging out, is a crucial element of the Christian church- check out Acts 2:42 if you don't believe me.

Over the years I can count dozens of students who arrived at our ministries just to see what the fuss was all about.  They came because of their friends, not because of any great spiritual awakening. They stayed at first for the fellowship.  Maybe they liked the music, or heard some teaching that made them think.  They began to learn through our studies and small groups.  They began to appreciate worship and service.  They then wanted to tell others what they had found.  Sometimes this process took years; other times it happened much faster.  I remember one young man who never wanted to participate in anything remotely spiritual; he just came for the people, the food and the games.  He eventually began to open his heart to Jesus, and his life began to change.  By the end of his high school years he was growing in his faith and a true leader in our ministry.  Today he is a pastor.  Without games and pizza parties, the church would have lost him early on.  And this is not an isolated story.

I guess the point of my rambling is this:  Youth Pastors want for all of their students to know Jesus in a deep and meaningful way- as they should!  But in your passion to see them all reach that point, you should not neglect the journey.  Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that youth ministry is all about the students and all about Jesus- and not about us.  Jesus loves us all where we are in our lives, not where we should be.  And sometimes where your students are is at a pizza party.  Should we pray for youth to love worship and seek God?  Absolutely.  Should we desire them to want to serve others and change the world for JesusPositively.  But friends, please be careful that we don't try to get to those places overnight.  There is joy in the journey...

And by the way- IHOP is the abbreviation for International Hamsters On Patrol.  Right, Zach?

Because of Jesus,


  1. Anonymous1/14/2011

    Well said. I might have never found Jesus were it nor for the silliness and friends that attracted me to your youth group in High Point. Everything has its place. T.E.

  2. 'Jesus loves us all where we are in our lives, not where we should be': what a great statement, and one that I find both unbelievable, and unbelievably comforting!

  3. Spoken with deep wisdom and understanding. Too often we find parents complaining about "less than spiritually mature" participants in a youth group being a "bad influence" on their perfect kids. Bring on the cussing, smoking, goth, and body pierced kids. The well do not need a doctor - sounds familiar.

    Thanks for having the courage to say what needs to be said.

  4. Thanks for the kind words.

  5. Anonymous1/15/2011

    OMG the pictures keep getting worse. Thanks Carl! I will say I think our Sunday dinners in the attic were some of our best conversation starters. Whats wrong with Pizza and Games in a Kmart parking lot- Look at us we all turned out okay :-)

  6. Yes, we did have some great moments over pizza, and yes we did turn out ok- thank you Jesus! As far as the pictures getting worse, if you are who I think you are, this "jerk" has only just begun! :)

  7. Anonymous1/15/2011

    I agree Sunday dinners in the attic were the best!! And the best Sunday dinner was always the superbowl parties. Miss those.

  8. Cindy (and everyone else) come to Tampa for the Super Bowl this year. I will make mexican pile-up just like the old days! Consider yourselves invited!!!


Thanks for reading,and thanks for your comment!