Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Youth Ministry Artifact

Today's artifact comes from 1981. It's a poster that was distributed with the book, Catching the Rainbow: The Complete Youth Ministries Handbook, Vol. 2. 

Professional student ministry was still in it's "toddler" stage when J. David Stone (see Influences) began touring the country with his team from Creative Youth Ministry Models in the late 70s with ideas from The Complete Youth Ministries Handbook- Vol. 1 (best book name EVER!) and changed my life and my ministry forever. When I first walked into a room as a "youth leader" in 1978 I had absolutely no idea what I needed to be doing. By the time Dave and his gang were finished with me, I had a plan. And that plan was called Wholistic Youth Ministry. Wholistic is not a real word, but it was a great idea, and the grandfather of the purpose driven movement of the 1990s. The concept was very simple. A youth ministry should minister to the whole teenager. You cannot separate the spiritual life of a student from her/his emotional, physical and social life and expect to have any true impact. We were challenged to implement programs and events that would seek to minister in each of these areas. That meant spending time with youth on their turf- home, school and places they hang out. It meant playing games, having fun and taking trips that allowed you to connect with the whole person. It meant celebrating the important days in the lives of your students and being there for the bad times. It meant a whole lot of work for a youth pastor and volunteers- but it was SO worth it! The problem was, far too many of us were still running around throwing random events at these different areas with no real plan. That's where the rainbow came in.

The rainbow offered up a three-track process to help us reach "the pot of gold" which was Koinonia- true Christian community as found in Acts 2:42. The first track was a Leadership Track called "The 4 Phases of Ease" that laid out a basic plan for training students and adult volunteers to help you with this mountain of ministry you were seeking to accomplish. You can read more about the 4 Phases by clicking here. Looking back now, the really cool thing about this process is that it is the way almost everyone does leadership training, but we never even know we are doing it. It was that practical.   

The second band of the rainbow was an Education Process Track. Too many churches (and this is still true today) thought that if you put young people in a room and told them about Jesus you would build a youth group and discover Koinonia. The fact was and still is that community and relationships must be intentionally built. The 4 steps of the track walk you through the process. Teenagers come to your church from so many different cliques, backgrounds and social groups that it is often difficult for them to make new friends at youth. So we allow them the opportunity to tell their stories and build a shared history. Trips, parties, casual get-togethers and even the much hated lock-ins provide such opportunities- as long as we make certain the events are structured in such a way that sharing takes place not only with established friends but with new people as well. It is only after this step that students begin to be willing to risk trust, to set goals and to count on one another- and you. It was my experience that the further along this track you saw students move, the more they became willing to risk following Jesus. And that rocks.

The final track is the Theological Track, contributed to the rainbow by Dr. John Westerhoff, at the time a professor at Duke. It assumes that most students we work with are at various points of a spiritual journey, and that our task is not to give them our faith, but rather to help them take ownership of their own faith. To get there, we must allow students to question, doubt, explore and experience. This is scary. But if we really believe that Christianity is a life we lead and not just a creed we profess, then this track is hugely important.

So why is this artifact still meaningful? I believe it can serve as a reminder to youth pastors and churches everywhere. We live in a time of specialization. Churches are no different. Worship leaders are defined by the style of music they prefer. Pastors have particular preaching styles. Worship is emergent, traditional, contemporary or primitive, with seldom any crossover. And student ministry is going down that same road.  Ministries are specializing. Some groups are all about service and worship. Others focus on bible study and theology. Some have abandoned "youth group" all-together in favor of a youth-only worship service (don't get me started- that's a whole different post). I just hope we remember our example- Jesus the Christ. He was seriously into Wholistic Ministry. He healed the sick (physical). He loved the unwanted (emotional). He ate dinner with those with whom he wished to connect (social). He taught us a new way to live and to love (theological). And he died for us (service). So- youth pastors and those who love the church, hear me well- your students, first and foremost, need Jesus. They need to study scripture and pray for one another. They also need to laugh and play together. They need to sit with you and hear your stories and see how much you love your spouse. They need to share history together through trips and events that will stay in their minds for a lifetime. They need to learn to serve "the least of these." They need to grow into a community that will love and support one another like an Acts 2:42 church should. And these things will only happen if you are intentional about seeing them happen. There is nothing- NOTHING- better to me than seeing a youth group reach Koinonia and watching them love Jesus, each other than the world. 

So check yourselves. Are you being wholistic, or are you becoming a specialist? Is your ministry taking steps towards reaching the "pot of gold" that is true Christian community? I pray you are, and that these warnings are not needed. Don't make me write The Complete Youth Ministries Handbook, Vol. 3.  I'd do a whole chapter on why churches should make lock-ins and beach trips mandatory...   :)

Because of Jesus,

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