Sharing Life Together is foundational for reaching this generation

28 Oct

It is a great privilege to be welcomed into the spiritual journey of a young person. More so, I have considered it a privilege to hear the stories of many youth both those close as well as far from God.

With a deep love for the local church, allow me to share that through conversations with youth and youth workers it has become evident that as the Church, we can no longer continue to do things the way we have done to reach and engage young people.

We are living in a different age where young people are leaving the church en masse. Our historic model of programming, events, and large groups are all good –but we are missing the foundational element that will allow us to reach the next generation – a faith community rooted in mentoring.

This foundational element is something not new, but rather it is highlighted many places throughout scripture (Psalm 78, 2 Timothy 2:22 etc) and is actually one modeled by Jesus who simply welcomes his disciples to be with him and learn from him in the everyday moments of life.

I have to say that one of the most significant reasons that I am where I am in my journey with Jesus and have chosen to give my life to follow him has in large part to do with a man named Andrew.  I meet him when I was 13 years old. By trade he was a lawyer but all he was to me was someone whom I could trust, share openly, be challenged by and who was a reflection of Jesus.

Our main place of being together was Tim Hortons – it was there I knew I could chat and wrestle with questions about life, spirituality and know that I didn’t have to impress Andrew but that he always had my back. But this mentoring relationship would expand to see him watch me at my hockey games, do devotions together at McDonalds, learn how to drive standard as well any many other everyday life things.

As I look at Psalm 78 it is clear that the responsibility of training the next generation in the ways of the Lord is not simply the role of those with a title of youth pastor, or youth worker, but for everyone who chooses to walk with Jesus.

Chap Clark and Kara Powell have done extensive reach on the lives of today’s teens and what they are finding is that for students to come into the faith and walk with Jesus for their lifetime, they need to have at least five adults regularly investing into their spiritual journey during their teen years – this is not meaning just someone who runs a youth program or is a small group leader –  this is something who is regularly involved in their day to day lives.

So my friends, in looking at Psalm 78 – each of us needs to hear the calling that youth ministry isn’t for a few, but that each of us are responsible for giving our lives to invest into the lives of the next generation and raising them up in the way of the Lord.

The church is not the place where the next generation gets dropped off and hope that church leaders do a good job, rather, as parents, grandparents and spiritual parents to youth who don’t have a Christian home, we all speak into the lives of our children and lead them in the ways of the Lord, and we need see the church and the church leadership as a support to the primary work we are doing in our everyday lives.

The reality is that student’s lives are busy with work, academics, extra-curricular activities, friends, and family. To think that 20 minutes a week of Biblical teaching is going to be the ultimate discipleship means we are fooling ourselves. All elements of youth ministry like events, Bible studies, games, retreats, and worship are all wonderful, but I would argue that these need to built upon young people in mentoring relationships with Christian adults who are little further along on the journey.

I wonder what it would look like to …
1. Have each adult in the church Sharing Life Together (or mentoring) a younger person. And have every teenager investing their life into a younger child.
2. See the church give youth a chance to lead while having the support of a mentor who will coach them through those leadership opportunities.
3. Encourage and support parents in having a vibrant faith that is lived out through the entire week with their children.

Young People will become engaged with the faith when the faith is more than a building, more than a program, more than just being talked at – when it is a living and active experience of God in trusted people in their lives who demonstrate the love, compassion, grace and redemption found in the person and message of Jesus.

One thing I have learned over the years is that our purpose is not to drag youth to where we want them to be, but instead we need to guide, listen and empower the next generation to remain faithful to God’s teaching, to love others and love God, and to see that being a Christ Follower is not just about saying a prayer and going to church, but it is living a life that is God honouring and points others to the hope found in Jesus.

As mentors we live the life that helps those that we mentor makes sense of who Jesus is.
Matt Wilkinson is the Director of Youth Ministries @ CBOQ, LEAD222 Canada, & Today’s Teens Conference

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Intentional Role Models

9 Oct

The most significant spiritual responsibility of any generation is the spiritual well-being of the generation that follows. The Hemorrhaging Faith research that has captured the attention of Canadian church leaders over the past year sadly indicates that this outcome is not being realized.  Assuming that we can agree on what a well nourished, vibrant, growing young disciple looks like, it seems reasonable to approach this challenge with a high degree of intentionality.

Being intentional, means that we begin with our preferred outcome in mind and then develop the most effective strategy for achieving that outcome. Contemporary writers are giving us some wonderful insights into what spiritual well-being looks like. NT Wright, Scott McKnight, Kyle Idleman, Francis Chan and David Platt, (to name just a few) have unpacked the notion of discipleship in practical, biblical terms. The desired outcome is abundantly clear. To follow Jesus is a costly and consuming commitment! So how then do we move our young people to the place of being disciples who passionately follow Jesus for the long haul?

This generation of young people listens with their eyes. They are searching for authentic role models of mature faith in the generations that are ahead of them. Most visible, are parents who continue to have an enormous impact on the faith experience of their sons and daughters. What’s fascinating about the findings in Hemorrhaging Faith, is that what impacted young people most profoundly (for good or for evil) was the degree of authenticity or integrity of the faith they observed in their moms and dads. It wasn’t about parents jumping through a bunch of duty-driven ritualistic hoops, but it was about ensuring that in the day-to-day reality of their lives there was an authentic alignment with the life of Christ.

Of course, this quest for authenticity in spiritual role models extends to all of the adults who touch the lives of young people – whether we are conscious of the impact we are having or not. As church leaders (both vocational and lay), public Christian figures, business men and women, and denominational leaders, we must be conscious of the fact that our titles and positions mean little to young people establishing their faith journey if there is a disconnect between what is said and what is lived.

I’m part of a generation for whom external appearances has often trumped internal spiritual substance. For those of us whose age starts with a five, six, seven, or eight (after that it seems that authenticity naturally returns) we must be reminded that how we live our lives, how we treat one another and how committed we are to Kingdom purposes will be discerned by a generation who can sniff out superficiality in a heartbeat.  Intentionality requires us to live a life that sees a genuine transformation from the inside out, not just for our spiritual health, but for the spiritual well-being of young people with whom we are sharing life.

What are some of the most common misalignments between the teaching of Jesus and the lives of veteran saints you’ve seen in Christian community?

Marv Penner heads up Youth Specialties, Canada and is the director of All About Youth and the National Center for Excellence in Youth Ministry, an innovative program for training vocational youth workers.

 

What are we really teaching about the Bible?

12 Sep

I have a GPS.  My family has named her Sheila and she speaks to us with a lovely Australian accent! Of course I don’t often let her speak – a lot of the time I mute her and only glace at her to get a specific bit of information that I need to make a turn.

I have a Bible.  No cool name for it, but when I listen to it on my Iphone he speaks with a British accent.  Sadly I often don’t let the Bible speak either – a lot of the time I mute it, and only glance at it to get a specific bit of information that I need for something.

In the North American church we are so surrounded by the Bible that we definitely take it for granted and probably misuse it regularly.  Like most of you, I have a couple of Bible apps on my phone, mp3’s that I can listen to anywhere, lots of apps and websites that can take me to the specific verse that I want (without the pesky nuisance of reading anything in context), and of course I have about a dozen physical copies of the Bible in my office, more in my home, and one I keep in my car!  With access to the Bible like Christians have never had before, one would think we would be good at intelligently using and applying it to our daily lives.  Sadly, we are not.

The HF research clearly identified two things related to the Bible and the way we use it.

  1. Young adults are tired of teaching without substance.  The Bible is intended to stretch people, forcing them to think through uncomfortable issues and challenging circumstances, yet we often serve up the ‘Bible for Dummies’ in a way that fails to wrestle with the challenges of everyday life.  Or we just use it as a proof text to bolster our own personal or cultural opinions!
  2. Young adults are repelled by faith that is all about rules.  The Bible contains rules; in fact it contains lots of rules, but the Bible is not about rules.  It is ultimately about relationship.  It tells the wonderful story of God’s relationship with humanity.  It lets us know how the relationship began, how it has struggled, how it has been and can be repaired, and how it is an eternal relationship!

If we, as Christian leaders, are serious about passing along a solid, biblical faith to the youth and young adults we work with, let’s make sure we take the Bible more seriously than we do our GPS devises!  We need to spend time reading and digesting it, listening as God speaks to us through it, all the while being ready to struggle with the tough issues it presents.

Dale Stairs is the new Director of the Acadia/Crandall Bachelor of Theology.

That’s a great question

28 Aug

Have you ever really just hated life?

What do you think is completely overrated?

What were some of your struggles in high school?

These questions were posed recently by high school girls attending one of our summer camps. Invited to ask any question, the girls responded.  Some of their questions were cheeky, some ironic, some deeply serious.

Here are a few more:

  • If you could ask God any question with a guaranteed response, what would you ask?
  • Is there anything you think the Bible/God can’t explain? If so, how do we find the answer?
  • What and who can always make you laugh?

In the Hemorrhaging Faith survey, young people told us they would connect more with the church if it was a place where they could ask questions and be assured someone would take them seriously. Young adults interviewed for the study said things like:

  • “I need to ask questions in order to grasp what I really believe in.”
  • “The opportunity to ask questions in a safe environment is intriguing.”
  • “Because God is infinite, my questions are endless.”

Are we creating spaces where young people can comfortably ask anything, regardless of whether it’s shocking or distressing or complicated? Are we willing to set aside other agendas to give time to engaging questions? Do we realize that young people might not want a definitive answer; what they might be looking for instead is real conversation? Have we even asked them?

Questions.  Young people have them.  Are we listening?

Geri Rodman is President of Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship.

10 Tips for engaging tough questions

Craving Unprogrammed, Unhurried Silence

15 Aug

“Teenagers are under so much pressure that they’re losing sleep, being driven to tears and experiencing greater levels of emotional distress than many parents and teachers expected, one of the country’s largest-ever school-based surveys has found.”

This is how a Globe and Mail article on February 12th of this year began, as it reported back on a survey of over 100,000 teens through the Toronto School Board. The study was done to find out if what school staff and youth workers were sensing about heightened levels of teen stress in their individual contacts with youth was true for the wider population. No surprise – it most certainly was.

Any of us who work with young people know that the number of teens who are significantly impacted by anxiety in their everyday life has sky rocketed in the last few years.  Schedules are full; expectations are high; the future is a present reality biting at their heals as they push on to succeed.

According to a psychologist quoted in the article: “Right from grade 7 and 8 students are worried about their grades and being competitive,” she said. “I see kids that are confused, overwhelmed, not able to experience things in a natural way because they have to move faster, they have to do more.”

In an attempt to not have our children missing out or falling behind, we have filled their lives with activity – places to grow and get ahead, to keep up with the “competition” around them.  But has the desire to equip kids actually served to do the opposite.  Young people feel the pressure of expectation increase exponentially for every new activity or club we add to their plate – every “great opportunity” that we open the door for, and the stress of “having it all” is crippling them.

Recently I was speaking at a denominational gathering of almost 400 young people from across Canada and the organizers planned a late evening session at the ruins of an old Catholic church in the area.  As our time together concluded, we sat beneath the stars in silence and felt the almost palatable sweetness of the Holy Spirit’s presence … no rushing, no noise, no expectations, no performance.  We just sat in silence together.

Afterwards, the comments weren’t about the beautiful music, the incredible scenery or the inspiring message.  They were all about the silence.  The rarity of the moment was not lost on the young people, and eternal choices were made because of its impact.

The Hemorrhaging Faith study and others have told us that a major factor in young people choosing to continue engaging with the church is the experience of a tangible God.  Have will filled our young peoples’ schedules so full of every other good experience that there is no space for experiencing God – no place to simply be with him in the silence – unprogramed, unhurried silence.

Rather than creating treatment programs to deal with rising stress in teens, perhaps it is time to simply take the risk that less just might be more and missing out on something good, may actually make space for them to encounter something far better.

Iona Snair is on staff with LifeteamsYU in Abbotsford, BC.

31 Jul

Last week my friend Andy Harrington posted a blog on God’s call to live a just life, and a new generation that is calling the church to lead the way.  Check out this video that calls us to embody that reality.

 

Sid Koop is the Director of Truth Matters Ministries, awakening the lives of students through the Truth of Jesus Christ.

A Mission Worth Dying For

26 Jul

Two weeks ago I stood in a room. Not just any room. It was in a dorm, in a school, in an impoverished village in Burundi, the second poorest country in the world. A room designed for 15 young women who would live there for five years as they studied in secondary school.  Not a big room and not a big dorm. The building seemed pretty packed for the 80 young women who would stay there. That is until we found out that they would actually be cramming 50 in that one room. 320 in that building. 4 to a bunk. 100 to a classroom. 5 to a desk. It sickened me.

The night before, some friends and I from Wellspring shared a meal with Josh and Nadine, a young married couple from Edmonton building a medical clinic for the desperately poor in a town nearby. They didn’t have much, yet it was one of the richest meals I have had for a long time. They loved God with all their heart, mind and soul and were living on the edge of existence in order to serve the poor.

Why would they do that? And why should we care about 320 girls crammed into a place that could easily become hell on earth for them?

Why?

Because Jesus tells us to. And because a generation in Canada innately knows that. For too long the church has focused on righteousness and being right. We have talked of personal salvation and holiness, of purity and forgiveness. And that’s okay as far as it goes. But it’s not enough.  One of the key messages of the Haemorrhaging Faith research is that we have alienated a generation that sees us as argumentative and hypocritical, inward looking and judgemental. Instead, they want to see our words in action. It’s the me to we generation and they want to see a church that cares for those outside its doors.

To be relevant again, the church must engage with the cause of justice that the Bible talks so powerfully about. Yes, tell people about the healing Jesus provides and the way to forgiveness that we all need. But understand that’s only one dimension of who He is. It’s righteousness and justice, and we fall into the trap of self-centeredness when we forget that Jesus calls us outwards not inwards. To the homeless in our cities, to the single mums on welfare, to the girl about to be abused in a hellhole of a dorm and to the sick who have no one to heal them.

Transformation occurs as we journey alongside each other and realise our own poverty of spirit, working together to help overcome poverty in all its forms. That’s why the way forward to reaching youth and young adults in Canada is not to shout louder and judge more. They have spoken on that and are voting with their feet. Instead, it’s to listen and to engage them in Gods heart for the redemption of all creation.

It’s a mission worth dying for. And that’s not a marketing gimmick. It’s eternal truth. 

Andy Harrington is the CEO of the Wellspring Foundation for Education, working to empower a new generation in Africa.

Enjoying a Thriving Church from a Simple Gospel Message

21 Jul

 

                  The Hemorrhaging Faith study presented factual data on what we already knew…the church in Canada is declining.  Four areas that can transfuse life back into the church are authentic Christian living from parents and church leaders, teaching that empowers members to respond to current cultural issues, Christian communities that are alive and engaging and finally when people experience a personal encounter with God.  When the first 3 areas are in play then the opportunity for young people to experience God increases.

 

                  When one encounters God in a unique way their confidence in his existence is solidified but they still need to make a decision to enter into a personal relationship with God by receiving His gift of eternal life and living according to His will.  It is through the death of Jesus by his shed blood that infuses this everlasting life, giving hope and the power for life transformation.  Jesus earthly life is the model of how to live out this transformed life in obedience to God’s will.

 

                  In John 6:38-40 Jesus clarifies God’s will and His own desire to live in cooperation with God’s will.  Jesus’ life was dedicated to providing everyone with eternal life.  It is entirely possible that the reason the church is in decline is because we as Christians have stopped or seriously minimized the proclamation of this good news.  Imagine a business that stopped marketing its product.  How long would that company be in business? 

 

                  In the past I’ve asked youth network leaders to describe their plan for sharing the gospel to the thousands in their community that don’t know.  The response has been, “that would be a lot of work!” or when asked to explain the gospel I’ll hear, “it’s complicated.”  If church leaders and parents aren’t prioritizing sharing the gospel then neither are those following.  Therefore it should be no surprise that church numbers are dwindling. 

 

Receiving God’s gift of eternal life is as simple as ABC-D…

 

A – Admit you are a sinner and Ask forgiveness. (Romans 3:23; Mark 1:14,15)

 

B – Believe Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead paying the price for your sin and conquering death. (Romans 3:22; John 3:16)

 

C – Confess Jesus is Lord of your life. (Romans 10:9)

 

D – Deeds don’t earn eternal life but are proof of a transformed life. (James 2:14-18,26; Acts 26:20)

 

                  Plan today to live your life in a way that leads others to a life transforming encounter with God.  I truly believe, when parents and leaders are simply modeling their love for God, caring for the needs of others, proclaiming the gospel and discipling new believers to love God, love others, share the gospel and disciple others to do the same, we will see a thriving church in Canada.

 

 

Dale Winder is the Executive Director of Canadian Youth Network, host of the Change Conference

Church…The People

26 Jun

If what we’ve learned is true from the recent reports about the church and its relationship to youth and young adults leaving this institution that has carried the message and mission of God for centuries, then you can understand the desperate endeavour to understand why.  If what we’ve learned is true about what matters most to 12-34 year olds from a spiritual perspective, then we can understand what is necessary to re-engage this generation and it’s successors with the Bride of Christ.

As a career youth worker, I have found that we spend more time discussing, planning for and trusting God to bless Church—the place—more than we are expecting the Lord to bless Church—the people.  Defined by Webster online, the church has five options as its definition.  In order they are essentially: 1- the building, 2 – the clergy/organization, 3 – the people/believers, 4 – the worship service and 5 – the clergy (this time as a profession.)  What would it take to somehow influence Webster to place definition #3 – the people/believers, as the first option when defining the church?  Paul claims when referring to the church at Corinth in 1 Corinthians 1:2, that the church is “those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours.”  I’m not suggesting a campaign towards Webster, but imagine if that change was made because of the general public’s understanding of Church.

Honestly, and I’m assuming you grew up in or around a worshipping community, when we think of church we often refer to a place to be, a place to learn & worship, and a place to be equipped to serve.  What if we radically shifted our focus and our understanding of the church to the people?  What if our first thought was Church, a people to be, a people with whom to learn & worship, and a people with whom we’re equipped to serve?  I’ve heard it said by sailors and pilots that a slight shift in heading when leaving Los Angeles could result in whether you land in Moscow or Fiji.  A tiny shift in our focus might completely alter the course of our ministries and the Kingdom impact potential of them.  Maybe it could be a minor adjustment in our language about the church.  It could certainly be a shift in what we’re more focused on, the people rather than the event…the depth of conversation and community rather than the success or failure of an event or new program…the collective, potential impact of a diverse community of young believers rather than the “coolest place to do a mission trip.”

I’m convinced through the research and my conversations with my own children (18, 19 & 20 yrs. old) and their friends, that what matters most in their search for spiritual significance is (in this order):  the example of those people 7-10 years older than them who are following Christ and fully engaged; the discussion of relevant topics that apply to their daily lives/struggles; and a consistent opportunity to (with THOSE people who have discussed THOSE topics) serve others under the banner of The Church, Christ’s Church—THE PEOPLE.

Tim McCoy

Love The Local Church

15 Jun

Thirty years ago youth were all about relationships, they had major doubts about who they were and where they were going. Thirty years ago youth felt the pressures of school, and many didn’t like church – some things change and some things remain the same. Don Posterski once told me, “We shouldn’t always be fascinated with what is new in youth culture. We also need to ask what hasn’t changed.” As I reflect back on those youth I have worked with over the last thirty plus years, the question dogs me, “Who is still following Jesus?” Not always an easy question to spend time over.

I have noticed at least one common denominator of former-students who are still following Jesus. They have become intimately involved worshiping and serving in a local church. Somehow they have found a community that will nurture their growing family’s faith and a place that has enough vision to fuel their gifts. This reality has re-shaped my definition of success in youth ministry.  My definition has shifted from getting kids out on a Friday night to steering students towards having a dynamic relationship with Christ which includes worshiping/serving in their local church. After the youth group is gone, the school club is a mere memory or the campus coffee house folds the one follow-up engine that will be taking care of my students will be a local church.

As I write this, I have been traveling in several countries. Interestingly, each new place has vibrant local churches, each worshiping in a unique style with a particular burning mission on their hearts. I was welcomed each Sunday in my travels and I secretly wished I could have connected long-term at each location. The local church is literally everywhere around the world and will follow-up every youth for whom I wish would follow Jesus.

So what’s the big deal? Why even mention this? The point is, don’t hurt the very community that will be looking after your students you love so dearly. Speak well of your church around your students and leaders. Recognize the difficulties of living in community with various ages and agendas, but don’t discourage, give negative innuendos, or plain slander the bride of Christ. Love Jesus, and love His local church. If you can’t speak well of your church then find one that you can. Life is far too short.

Smile deeply about the frowning grandmother with difficult hearing, remind your students of her losses and pray for her. Expose your students to people of every age in your church who still have “it.” Invite these people with the real heart for Jesus to teen small groups to interview. Ask, beg or promise your church leadership to have your students on stage for normal Sunday mornings (not just youth Sundays). Take it on as your project to get them involved in “big people church.” They can give a God-story, a pre-message, a solo, a scripture reading, serve coffee or simple be the secret “welcomers.” Celebrate youth as a part of Christ’s local church now. Whenever you talk about your church have a little smile of love for her. Make it your mantra, “I love Jesus and His bride.” Because in the end after the youth group is gone, the school club is a mere memory or the campus coffee house breaks up those who have found a healthy local church in which to worship and serve will be the ones standing. – Dave Overholt