Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Another Word of Caution

Summers ruled at FUMC-Kissimmee!
A couple of months back I sounded a Word of Caution to my brothers and sisters in Christ who still work in the very demanding field of student ministry.  As an aging ex-youth pastor I am not sure I had any right to do so, but I offered up my thoughts anyway.   Today, I sound another alarm that is on my heart. This past weekend I read a blog post from someone I really respect chronicling why their youth would not meet on Mother's Day, as well as a number of other special occasions.  The reasons for these "days off" were mostly family related.  Students need to spend more time with their parents.  Youth Pastors need to spend more time with their families.  These are the same reasons I hear over and over again when I ask why so many churches are moving their weekly youth meetings away from Sunday evenings (often the only night of the week when a teenager's schedule is clear).  In a perfect world, I would have no issue with that kind of logic.  But I never served a church in that perfect world, and I doubt you have either.

In the real world, there are lots and lots of teenagers whose primary need for us as a church is to rescue them from their family and find them a new home in the family of God.  I hope that you have many of these students involved in your youth ministries; if not, that is a whole separate concern.  For these youth the special days that we think of as "family days" are often times of depression and pain.  There are no Mother's Day lunches or Sunday after Thanksgiving family gatherings.  There are no family Super Bowl parties.  There are no summer vacation family trips.  In this broken and sinful world, these families barely survive.  For many of their teenage children, youth group is the one place they can feel the love and acceptance so many of us feel at home.  So what do many of us do on these most painful of occasions?  We close our doors.

It's my belief that we have arrived at this place through some faulty thinking.  Many churches have begun to plan their ministries to avoid times when people might have conflicts.  It seems logical.  The thinking errors come when we begin to worry more about who will not be there than who will be!  When we do this, we begin to make the kids who NEED us to open the doors feel like the man at the psychiatrist's office who was told he was, "a paranoid schizophrenic who needs to be institutionalized immediately."  When he said he wanted a second opinion, the doctor replied, "OK- I think you're ugly too!"  The very students who will almost never be out of town and who almost never have family events on Sundays are the very youth we need to be reaching for Jesus

Every ministry is different, and I would never presume to tell anyone how to best minister to their own students.  But I will tell you this- some of the very best things that ever happened at youth groups in my 28 years of ministry happened at times when many choose not to meet.  We had breakthrough sessions talking about parents on Mother's and Father's Days.  We had amazing (and quite memorable) Super Bowl parties.  Our "No Turkey Thanksgiving Feast" on the Sunday after Thanksgiving was a grand tradition.  Our massive summer calendars (75 days of programs in a 80 day period at a couple of locations) worked well for two reasons.  One, we made the big events so important (and so well advertised so far in advance) that our families who did travel planned around them.  And two, we planned most of the events assuming we would have smaller crowds, thereby eliminating any "numbers disappointment" and allowing time for relationships to be built.   Summers were what set us apart from the other churches in town because all of the "fringe" kids knew we would be open for business when no one else was!  We were a place they could belong.  And isn't that what every teenager is looking for?

I hope you will take one thing away from this rant- when you sit down to plan your 2011-12 youth calendars, remember those who have no place else to "belong" when you close your doors.  Plan for them, because they are the lost and least Jesus calls us to find.  I could list 100 youth from my past who would sound a loud AMEN to that.  Come back tomorrow when I yell "GET OFF MY LAWN!" at some young youth pastors.  Hehe.....

Because of Jesus,


  1. Anonymous5/11/2011

    Message received. Student Ministry is not about the youth minister, it is about the youth and helping them know Jesus. A great reminder for when calendar time rolls around again. - Chris Cooper

  2. CJ,
    Great post, well thought out and I respect your experience. Not sure if I agree with you. I know a lot of my decisions not to have ministry on those nights is because my family and the families of my ministers need me.
    Some ministries need to keep going on Mother's day, other's don't, we need to understand our pace and the culture of our community in order to do what's right and be in this for the long haul. With that said love the push back, love the challenge, keep doing what it is you are doing. Lets not let this discussion die.

  3. I am over-run with guys named Chris today! Thanks to you both. And Chris Wesley, you are correct- every situation is different. I just don't want churches to lose sight of those who need us the most! Stay blessed, my friend!

  4. For years I have always kept things "running" all year. Really we only have about 4 times we close down...Easter Sunday, Memorial Day (sometimes), 4th of July weekend, and when Thanksgiving or Christmas fall on a weekend. But on the Sundays like Mother's Day, Father's Day, MLK....we try to do something different. This past Sunday night we had less than half our group, but it turned out to be one of the best Sunday nights we've had in a while.

    And on a side note, this is the first year I'm not taking summer off for small groups, instead we are changing things up and having them and doing some out of the box ideas!!!

  5. That is awesome, Eric. It always amazes me that Jesus shows up no matter who else can make it. Prayers are with you as you push ahead!


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