Tuesday, February 21, 2006

A Letter to the Parents of my Students

Dear Parents,

I should probably write letters like this more often. But as unorganized as I am it is probably better that I do it only sporadically…so that no one gets hurt.
So with the timing of your local DMV I am (in February, no less) sending you a letter about what I have planned so far for this year. Let me say up front, I write this letter to elicit pity about how absolutely hard my job can be. You see, I have to hang out with students, read, study and teach the Bible, talk about the world around us, listen to music, watch movies and eat junk food. I have to suffer through a trip to St. Louis with High Schoolers, two trips to the beach and a Missions Trip. I have to grit my teeth and bear it when I travel to Jackson and eat Sushi and chaperone Students who must go to Best Buy. It is a difficult job but someone must do it! Pray for me.
In all honesty I love my job. There are some exciting things happening in Westminster Youth Ministries. We have kids growing in faith right before my eyes. It is as if Romans 12:2 is being lived out right in front of me…

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

So with great joy I look forward to assisting you in discipling your children in the gospel through the enclosed weekly schedule and coming events. My goal is to instill in your children a Biblical Worldview so they will be able to live their lives with God at the center.

Your partner because of the Gospel,
Matt Redmond
Pastor of Student Discipleship

P.S. For more info on Westminster Youth Ministries and “how to break the 10 commandments of youth ministry” see www.1bloggingyouthpastor.blogspot.com

Monday, February 20, 2006

Last Night's "Learn to Discern" Discussion
What We Are Doing Springbreak
Spring Worldview Tour 2006

Where? St. Louis

When? March 9-12

How much? $75

What does that include? Transportation, Gas, the Arch, Titanic Imax, breakfast, snacks and two Dinners

What will be doing? Touristy things like going up in the Arch, going to the St. Louis Zoo, Art Museum, Malls, Titanic Imax and eating great food!

Where will we stay? A huge house owned by Covenant Presbyterian Church in St. Louis

Who can go? High School Students
Our Midweek Bible Study

It is my opinion that the midweek Bible Study is the benchmark for determining how healthy a youth ministry is going. You see, it is the most voluntary meeting that many churches have. Sunday mornings are almost entirely compulsary and Sunday evenings, while less so are still on Sunday and in most family's minds that is a good enough reason for a kid to be walking through the Church doors. But a midweek Bible Study is almost entirely voluntary even in the Bible Belt. So if things are going well on Wed. night for our youth ministry I am encouraged. Now, this is not merely because of numbers...though numbers play a part. I will explain later after I discuss what it is we actually do and how we do it.

How we organize it

On Wed. nights we have basically two meetings...
Jr. High Bible Study At 6 pm (actually they start showing up earlier) the Jr. High Bible Study starts...officially. However, as I said they can show up as early as 5:15 and we actually do not start Bible Study till 5:20 or so. Untill then we play pool, shoot hoops, throw frisbees, eat snacks and just plain hangout. This time is very valauble. For one, they love to be together and hangout. There is almost always palpable energy in the room with this group...and it is not always just ADHD. They genuinely love being there. And they are a exciting group to lead. Their eagerness is infectious. I keep it real simple in format. I read the passage or have them read it and then I ask them questions about the passage and the implications of the passage for them as a 6th - 8th grader. The format is simple but the discussions are heavy.

Dinner Break At 7 pm we break for dinner which is provided by moms and other ladies throughout the church. We never have a problem getting women in our church to bring food for the youth ministry. Sometimes they cook and sometimes they bring Dominoes or Taco Bell or KFC, regardless it is an integral part of our fellowship together. For the most part the kids realize they are getting a free meal and are very appreciative of it. This is when the Senior High start showing up...the older they are the more fashionably late they are.

Sr. High Bible Study I try to start as close to 7:30 as I can but it can be hard after dinner to gather everyone together. I usually do some announcements and then we begin Bible Study. I do Bible Study two different ways with the Sr. High. Regardless of how I organize the study I always give them a handout with the passage we are discussing printed on it along with 4 or 5 questions that they will be answering. Depending on the size of the group I will, if the group is large enough, break then into groups of four or five students to answer the questions as a group. After about fifteen minutes of them going through the questions as a group, they gather as a large group and we go though each group's answers. I have never found a better way to do Bible Study (thanks due to Cliff knight, my college minister at Lakeview Baptist in Auburn for this setup). If the group is small then I will usually not break into small groups and we will only discuss the passage as a large group. Sometimes I let them make this discussion...sometimes they want to do small groups, sometimes not.

What we are studying

Both groups are going through Romans. We have working our way through Romans since January 2005. We just started Romans 10 last week. So at this point we have have had 48 lessons in Romans and amazingly no complaints yet! this could be because I encourage them to see this as an opportunity to really drive a deep shaft into what many consider the most important book in the Bible. Romans is pure meat. No word should be wasted. No paragraph skipped and no truth skimmed. Because of our patience in this study, almost every student that comes knows what Justification is and waht Sanctification is. They have thought long and hard on Propitiation, Predestination and Suffering and the Sovereignty of God. Never once is our discussion "light-hearted". It is always heavy with the weight of the glory of God. They understand the need to look for how God is glorifying himself in his deeds. And they are asking and answering how it is that we are to glorify God in what we study. Do they get it all? Of course not. But they are learning a great deal.

One thing I have added in the past few months is a story about what Bible Study is like for Christians in countries unlike our own. I use persecution.org and persecution.com to tell them stories of the suffering saints who risk more than missing American Idol to go study the Bible. I do not talk to them about it all. I let them draw their own conclusions. All I do is tell them or read them the story and then we pray for them and start Bible Study. It is impossible to have light and breezy discussions after hearing about Christians being tortured for meeting in unoffical churches.

The Health of WYM
When I got here in November 2004 there was virtually no youth ministry according to the students. Volunteers were working hard at it but were having a difficult time with it. There was no question that nearly none of them had any grasp of anything beyond, "Jesus died for my sins." Doctrine was a foreign word itself. So the numbers were bad and the growth in grace was worse. Now in the beginning of 2006 we dramatic increases in both areas. No one thought we would have over 20 students every Wed. night for deep doctrinal Bible Study. We do no music (I can't find a person to do it every week) and we play no games. I have never swallowed a goldfish and we will never play chubby bunny. Every kid shows up expecting meaty Bible Study. It is just a given. And we met every Wed. night unless I am on vacation or on a church retreat. We cancel for next to nothing. And if I had a fulltime assistant we might never cancel. So all in all we are experiencing by the grace of God alone, a season of health.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

What we do on Sunday PM and Why

Well, again this born out of an emotionally violent mix of dreams and my frustrations with what I was already doing. I knew I wanted to do studies and discussions that would help develop a Biblical Worldview among the youth ministry as a whole and for them as individual teenagers. Everyday they are colliding with unbiblical worldviews either through school (teachers/material/friends), family and media. The best way to combat this reality is with a comprehensive Biblical Worldview study. The problem was that everyone I found that was prefabricated was way over their heads. And everyone that was not was...well, terrible to say the least. So I made one up.

Soooo, I got busy making up a plan to cover all the things I wanted to cover and I felt needed to be covered. We have already talked about Missions this year(every January from now on is Missions Month) and we will talk in the future about creation/evolution, how we got the Bible, denominational differences, etc. These are big issues that they need to know before they finish High School.

One of the things I learned while in Seminary was not actually in the Seminary. I was volunteering with the youth group at the church my wife and I attended. It was there I learrned about LTDs. This is not a diease or your memaw's car. An LTD is a worldview exercise also known as Learn to discern. With the ise of music, art, articles, film, etc you can expose kids to unbiblical and biblical worldviews in a highly discussable format. For example, this month is an LTD month so last week we discussed the song, My Own Prison by Creed. I start by laying out the rationale for the kids. Then I play the song with each student holding a copy of the lyrics. Then I ask them questions about the song so they will see what is biblically kosher in the song and what is not. This can be done with film clips and articles as well. It is amazing what they see. The idea is to train their minds to think biblically when the radio, TV or movie is playing. Therefore at least four monsths out of the year will be dedicated to LTD exercises.

The Need
There is a real need for young people to be trained in developing a biblically informed worldview. Most are inept in the discipline. And it usually is not for lack of trying. It is usually because their leaders do not rise to the occasion and fight for it. I do not want to leave anytime soon but my hope is that this will be the beggining of a history of Westminster Youth Ministries' commitment to developing a Biblical Worldview in the lives of their young people.
What We Do On Sunday AM and Why

There are two reasons we do what we do on Sunday AM during the Sunday School hour. First it is not an hour in the technical sense. We have our corporate worship service at 10 AM previous to SS @11 AM. Now sometimes the worship service runs over into the 11 o'clock hour. And since we have planned fellowship for about 10-15 minutes previous to SS...you can see why there is no chance for more than a 40 minute lesson. Also, because of the fact that we have SS after the worship service, I resist, for the High-Schoolers the temptation to do a typical Bible Study...I will explain in just a moment.

Jr. High SS
Since I am not the Jr. High SS teacher, we use the denominational material. I say "we" but really the work is done by a couple that are good friends and do a good job with the class. The good thing about Jr. High classes is that they are not in the position yet to be critical of what is going to be taught in any given context. For the most part they submit fairly easily to schedules and subject matter as long as it is done well. And that I have no worries about. They also go to bed before 4 AM which is more than I can say for the High-Schoolers.

Sr. High SS
Well, I gave up on SS for my Sr. High. Why, you ask? Well, for starters, they never go to bed so I cannot keep them awake at 11 AM. The Providence of God is wasted on sleepy headed teens after just hearing a sermon they are supposed to be digesting. So, I got to thinking and scrapped it all...o.k. not all of it but we do not do traditional SS. For the most pary we just sit around and talk about some issue. Sometimes I bring it and sometimes they bring something up. Regardless, it works. They stay awake. They learn something. And I get to know them and talk with them informally in an environemnt where they expect formal teaching. It works. Traditional SS was accomplishing nothing. This gets a lot accomplished in a half-hour.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Weekly Plan for WYM 2006

I am not myself
I am rarely this organized. As a matter of fact my default mode for schedules is to resist all future planning. I do this mainly because when it comes schedules and keeping them I am more often than not, a failure. So why a schedule for this year?
  1. I wanted something to tell the Pastor and the Session of the Church. I felt obligated to some degree. I wanted to be able to say, "this is what we are doing for the year...what do you think?"
  2. There are a lot of things that I often want to cover but rarely if ever remember to cover them. The schedule was born of me making a list as I thought of things that I felt needed to be covered. So now they are going to be covered.
  3. Simply put, it keeps me accountable to the kids. They are always asking me what we are talking about on Sunday PM. I wanted to be able to tell them, "hey, if you want questions answered about the Bible, in the fall we will hit that hard for two months."
  4. Parents need to know whats coming also. I am their partner in discipleship.

Teaching Schedule for Westminster Youth Ministries for 2006

Sunday School
Junior High – Denominational Material
Senior High – “You’ve Got Issues”

Sunday Evening
January – Missions
February – Learn to Discern
March – Evolution v. Creation
April – Evolution v. Creation
May – Learn to Discern
June – Denominational Differences
July – Denominational Differences
August – Learn to Discern
September – The Bible
October – The Bible
November – Learn to Discern
December – Miscellaneous

Wednesday Evening

I will be explaining the rationale for each of the time periods in the following three posts.

More clone-age


Some more great downloadable and out of print Steve Taylor albums.

Maybe the best album you have never heard


I just found this a few days ago. Here you will find what I think is one of the best albums I have ever heard by the all too short-lived Chagall Guevara fronted by Steve Taylor. It is a freedownload because the album is out of print. Have at it, you will not regret this sonically and lyrically festival for the ears. It was genius back in the early 90's on my Sony Walkman and remains so in 2006 on ipod.
Home Again

After all tests coming back negative we have, after five days in the hospital, returned home. We are more than thankful for the high-quality of care and concern over Knox at Children's Hospital in Jackson but it is good to be home again. Knox has now gone over 4 days without an Apneic episode. This is of course a good sign. If he has not already grown out of this apnea, he most likely will in the next few months. For precaution's sake (and our sanity) he wears a heart monitor at night. But aside from having what is most likely Apnea he is very healthy. Believe it or not the only time he did not sleep last night was when he was being fed. So all of us slept well last night. Neither Bethany nor myself feels we are completely recovered from lack of sleep but we are on the way to functionality. By yesterday we were both feeling the effects emotionally and physically. Regardless, we are thankful to a Sovereign God who gives and takes away. He is our sole hope for our family. Regardless of our reasons for suffering and the extent to which we suffer we are thankful for all God gives, whether it is tragedy or health. Our prayer is that the glory of the Giver would not be obstructed by the beauty of the gift.
when nightmares come true

One day after bringing Knox home from the hospital we had to head back to the ER because he had two brief episodes of his lips turning blue. So after having some tests run in the ER we were admitted to the Hospital in Greenwood. We stayed up all night on Sunday and napped a little on Monday. There were a couple more episodes on Monday. On Monday evening the Doc came in and began talking about things such as seizures and heart issues and what-not. This scared us to death as we assumed it was reflux. Thankfully the Doctor suggested we head to Jackson so we can see some specialists. So at around 11 pm on Monday evening we headed to Children's Hospital in Jackson. We arrived at 1 am Tuesday morning and have slept only for a couple of hours at a time since then.

The Good News

So far all tests (cultures, cranial ultrasound, EKG and CT scan) have come back negative...which is positive...go figure. The only thing they have seen that could have contributed to these episodes are a Grade 1 hemorrhage in his brain. This is common for infants who during birth, travel through the birth canal. We are told this will most likely have no long-term effects. Tomorrow he will have an EEG but that should be it. Having found no infection and nothing wrong with brain developement or heart performance they are calling this Apnea. They expect he will grow out of it in the next six months if that is the case. Also he has not had another episode of apnea since yesterday at 10 am so we are going on 36 hours of good breathing. It has been a nightmare. But the truth of the gospel of grace, sovereign grace sustains us. We hurt and are tired and feel fairly bent but we are not broken. We fully beleive that God is faithful and worthy of all praise and glory even when his hands gives us suffering. We have greatly enjoyed the love and support of ourhome church and friends throughout the country. We have had people travel for two hours back and forth from Greenwood. Grandparents have done yeomans work as far as watching Emaa Caroline while her Mama and Dada and Baby Knox are in the hospital. It is good to be a part of the family of God. How others survive without knowing that friends who share a love for Jesus are lifting prayers to a Sovereign God...I just do not see how they can survive. They are a soft place to fall and for that we are thankful and give God all the glory.

Big sis gets first look!

Knox was born on Jan. 26 at 6:49 pm Length: 20 inches Weight: 7 lbs. 12 oz.
the 9th commandment of youth ministry

thou shalt discouarge honest questions

Now do not get me wrong. I would be real surprsed if someone ever actually vocally said, "Do not ask honest questions!" Or if they made it clear by saying, "NO honest questions asked in this place!" No, that is not the issue at all. The discouragement I am talking about is that discouragement which is unsaid but employed through a variety of means which makes it impossible for a student to ask the questions that are burning on the inside to get asked.

How is this done?

Shut don't go up but prices do. Let's face it, time is valuable when you are dealing with kids. The mistake I make the most happens when kids ask me questions while I am trying to teach. Maybe I am alone in this but I generally react as if the question is a distraction to an otherwise perfect specimen of biblical exposition. Hell comes up in the lesson somehow and then I get a slough of questions on hell. "What is hell like?" "Who is in hell?" "Do bad people go to hell immediately when they die?" And what do I do? I usually try to get on with the lesson while never really answering the question.

No safe places. One of the things I learned while I was in seminary I learned from another youth pastor who I was volunteering under. He wanted the youth ministry he led to be a "safe place" for kids to come an spend time. The idea was they would never ask honest questions if they did not feel safe - socially safe in that environment. And if they cannot ask honest questions they will never really listen to honest answers. This of course was modeled on L'Abri...which was genius of his to do. It was not a place where sin would be judged, where dress would be ridiculed or laughed at. It would be a place of encouragement and social comfort. Sin would be dealt with and idols would be smashed but only by the teaching of the scriptures. If Jesus is for losers then losers need to feel comfortable at Bible Study. The problem is that this is not usually the case. How many Goth kids feel comfortable in the typical Bible Study? Not many. of course there is only so much you and the kids can od to create a safe place. But it is necessary for students to feel safe enough to aska question that might open the window so that others might catch a peek of their breaking heart.

How do I break this commandment?

Get real. I hate when people talking about being real. Something is far too cliche about the expression. But I will say that it rings true. People hate anything that smells of fakery. Honesty is compelling and winsome. I try to be as honest about my sin as is responsible. If kids know you are struggling with sin they will be more likely to admit their own weaknesses. Vulnerability is at a premium in ministry. Without it we are only scrathing the surface of what can be accomplished. Now I am not talking about lots of group hugs and what-not. By calling ourselves Christians we have said to the world we are sinners in need of grace. No brainer? Well, yeah, but this is really hard to actually talk about for some people. Sin in the aggragate is very easy to discuss. But in the main, most people get real squemish when talking about real problems and real struggles. And honest answers will only be given if the asker sees the answerer as honest.

Who me? One of things we want our kids to be is themselves. We want them to stop trying to be like everyone else. God created them with gifts and personalities and looks that are unique. We want them to be glad they are who they are. However, what if we are always trying to be what we are not. It is intextricbly linked to the job of a youth pastor that we will be intimdated by some kids. And this intimdation will manifest itself sometimes by not us not being ourselves.

We try to make ourselves more palatable to the tastes of some kids for awhile and then others at another time. They may never notice when we do this. But what they will notice is if we can shrug off all the criticism about how we dress and talk. They will notice if we do not calculate our behavior so as to be seen as cool. That kind of honesty will result in an envvironment where kids feel safe to be in their own skin no matter what questions they need to ask.
the 8th commandment of youth ministry

thou shalt measure success by numbers

This is one of those commandments that every youth worker has to face. They have two choices, capitulate or contend. Most capitulate. But first a caveat. Numbers can be a determinate of the success of a ministry. For many people hearing the gospel of grace by faith alone is a good thing. However, what if the message is not biblical or if there is hardly any message at all? And many people still show up? We have to come to grips with the fact that we cannot only judge the success or lack thereof by how many kids show up for Bible Study.

This is what seperates us from retail establishments. It is good business to do all you can to get people in your store. Because the more people you get in your store the more chance you have to sell them the product you are hocking. Makes sense if you are Wal-Mart. We are not Wal-Mart. We are the church of the living God. We give away the most valuable thing in the world...the gospel. And this is but one of the ways we are different from retail establisments. We must worry about things like "means" and truth and love. We cannot dress up the gospel with anything save our love for another. We teach radical, offensive stuff that will be sweet soul music for some and the death-knell for others. So numbers might be an indication of a ministry being blessed by God and maybe not. But we must not assume that the blessing will only be large numbers. Perhaps it will be belssed with a particularly small number for his purposes known only to him. Perhaps he will withdraw his favor in concert with false doctrine and the numbers will grow by the hundreds. Spurgeon who was hugely successful in gathering large crowds once said, "truth is often in the minority." This needs to be recognized. For there is such pressure for youth ministers to point to their numbers so as to boost their persoanl capital in the church. No one looks at a non-growing youth group and sees success. This is because we have got to the point where success is only measured on a linear scale. And I just wanna know, "Are they growing in faith"? Do they know what it means to be justified? Sanctified? How well do they deal with suffering? Do they know what it means to be adopted? Are they growing in faith? This is the question hardly anyone ever asks.

If anyone asks me how things are going in the youh ministry, all I have to do is tell them how many we are having show up in comparison to last year. And they will be statisfied and will not ask any further questions. Let me say though that I am in an unusual situation. I am in a new youth ministry to some degree. I can do whatever I want most of the time and I have the support of oh, just about everyone. I also have a unique job title, Pastor of Student Discipleship. This was by design as they wanted something more than a "program director." They wanted a discipler. That is what I do, I disciple kids in the gospel. Most youth workers are program directors in the minds of parents and elder-boards and diaconates. They may not want to be a program director but they are seen as one and that is why their success will be judged by numbers.

How do I break this commandment?

Counting sheep. I made a terrible mistake at one Wednesday night Bible Study. I only had 4 show up. I do not remember why but I had only been here about 6 months and I was getting real frustrated with my kids. They were sporadic and could not get it into their thick skulls that we meet every Wed. night unless I am out of town or I am bleeding out of my eyeballs. Well, I only had 4 kids and I was pretty frustrated after preparing a killer lesson. So I told them since we only had 4 we would just hang out and not do this lesson till next week. That was assinine...emphasis on the first syllable. There I had 4 eager students expecting to hear the gospel through an intense passage in Romans and I pretty much told them I needed more kids to dignify my efforts. Well, I apologized the next week publicly in front of a much, much larger group. It was humbling. But I told them I would no longer not teach beacuse of numbers. It betrayed not only a lack of belief in the Providence of God but it betrayed my lack of love for those 4 kids. Don't count sheep it makes you look like a donkey everytime.

Talk it up. I tell everyone I can all the time how little I care about our growth and our numbers. The kids and parents and the Session at my church all know that I will not measure the success of Westminster Youth Ministries by numbers. I will teach the same things in the same way. This way I am never pyschologically balckmailed by someone not showing up beacuse they do not like the subject matter. Crazy? Not really, there are youth ministers out there who do not teach certain things beacuse they are worried there will not be enough butts in the seats next week.

I propose that we use only numbers to gauge how many actually heard the gospel. Thats it. It should not be a diagnostic. Paul justified his ministry by how much he suffered. Our fame may not be as much an indicator of success as our infamy.
the 7th commandment of youth ministry

thou shalt worry about behavior more than belief

Uh, this is going to sound like I am contradicting what I just said in the post regarding the 6th commandment. But, I'm not. So hang on. We should worry about behavior. The Bible is clear on that. However, modern-day Christians who do worry about behavior seem to only worry about behavior. They see little or no relationship between belief and behavior. An easy believe-ism gets you in but once you are in now we worry about how you act. Answer this question. Are you more worried about a person's sinful behavior or are you more worried about the reason for their sinful behavior? Or have you even thought about? The reason why people sin is because they prefer everything else to God. Why? Well, because they believe that God is not all that great. They believe that Jesus is not all that important. They believe the cross is small and not that big a deal. They believe they know what is best and God can just go to hell for all they care. In other owrds people behave badly because they are living out their view of reality. They believe something about reality and then live accordingly. To deal with bad behavior in a way that ignores the fact that behavior is the result of a belief about reality will be tragic.

Worrying about behavior more than belief manifests itself in the following ways...

Just Do It. Some call it "Nike Christianity" or the Galatian error. Regardless it is perilous for teens and everyone else. The idea is that we just grit our teeth and bear it. Even if we do not feel like it we do not sin. It does not matter why we do it we just do it. The problem with this is Romans 14:23, "Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin." So if we fight sin or bad behavior without faith, we are sinning. We are, again, trying to put out fires with gasoline. It just does not work.

Be Like Mike. Or we just fall into moralism. "The Bible says be like Jesus and Jesus did not sin. So do not sin!" Yeah, that works. Moralism never, ever works. It always makes them want to stick their hands in the cookie jar after being told not to. WWJD is not a bad question to ask but it is only good if it follows a more important question, WDJD..."what did Jesus do"?

How do I break this commandment?

Beat them over the heads. One of my favorite stories from the life of Martin Luther is when he was asked why he preached the Gospel every week. He replied that he had to because they forget it every week. Bad behavior is the fruit of unbelief in the gospel. So beat them ove the heads with the gospel and its implications every time you meet. Maybe they will one day get it.
Chunk it. I refuse to use most curriculum that comes across my desk. Check it out. When was the last ime you got material for youth that was rooted in the cross. Maybe you have never seen any. The fact is most youth curriculum that I see advertisements for is glitzy legalism. It's sexed up moralism. These packages come with slick images reminiscent of MTV. And everyone of them is about sex, friendships, drinking, anger, etc. None of them is rooted in the cross. And I chunk everyone in my handy little trashcan.

Get down. This is a given for breaking all these commandments but here it needs to really be emphasized. If we want our kids to believe the gospel then we need to acknowledge that only God can make that happen. Faith is a gift. Anyone can stop bad behavior. There are lots of Mormon and muslim virgins who do not drink. We want belief in a Sovereign God who can create a world and change a heart. So get on your knees and pray for it. He wants us to depend on him for it all. Thus the need for faith.

If I had a dime for every time a parent wanted me to talk about a certain subject (sex, drugs, drinking) I would not need a raise. However, this often betrays the thinking that places too much emphasis on behavior and not enough emphasis or concern about whether or not the goepl is believed. If we got honest we could say that most just want their kids to behave. As a youth minister and a parent I hope I never get to that point.
the 6th commandment of youth ministry

thou shalt never expect much

As much as this commandment overlaps with others it demands to stand on its own. For it is one of the least discussed commandments in youth ministry even though common sense makes people want to break it. The idea is persuasive and can be fairly convincing. Youth leaders should not expect too much from the youth they minister to. They are, after all just teenagers. They are by nature interested in the trivial and shallow and cannot be expected to long for depth and challenge.

These low expectations manifest themselves in a variety of ways. The following are but a couple off the top of my head...

Old dogma for new dogs. Youth cannot be expected to not only be interested in doctrine fought over hundreds of years ago but they cannot "get it." It is either too complicated or too archaic. And of course it is not "relevant."

Ohhh...be-have. I do not know how old such an idea is but the idea that kids do things just because they are, well...kids, is a dangerous one. It goes like this, "teenagers are just going to behave badly so you might as well just not worry about it." There are so many things wrong with that statement from a biblical perspective that I do not even know where to start. Let me say before I go any further that the answer is never to deal with behavior alone. That would be putting out fires with gasoline. There are heart issues that must be dealt with. And those hearts are shot-through with sin...in other words they are just like everyone else.

And so we dumb down lessons and studies and curriculum and we laugh about sin and we fall in line with a mentality that says, "well, at least they are here!" Who cares that they ridicule the leader and the 6th grade girl with stringy hair and thick glasses? They are there! Give them something simple and give them something short. All this just ticks me off. It reminds me of affirmative action, blacks cannot get a job on merit so lower the standards and discriminate on the basis of race.

How do I break this commandment?

Sex and violence. The reason why people think that we cannot keep the attention of teenagers with doctrinal Bible lessons is that they are boring. No, we make doctrine boring. We have made the Bible into a G-rated Disney movie or Leave it to Beaver episode. I would be bored too. But the Bible is full of sex and violence...all the things that we are worried about of course. But let's face it if we rated the Bible it would probably get an "R" rating. Good. Paul talks about justification in the midst of terrible suffering (Romans 5 and 8). Get gory about it. All you have to do is tell real stories from Church History. Start with Nero. Then ask them about why it might be hard to believe the Gospel when you are about to be impaled upon a stake so the emporer can see his gardens at night. This not only works. It is more like the world the bible writers lived in. They were not nearly as squeamish as we are. And I talk about sex, sex and more sex all the time. And I get salty when I do. Believe me, they listen.

Jerk Chicken. Do not be a chicken when it comes to dealing with kids who are jerks or simply display bad behavior. Deal with it. I do not ever get hung up on bad language. But I do get hung up on jerks. I have at least one guy that rarely comes because I have had to get onto him for being a bully to the younger kids. That, I will not tolerate. I root it all in the gospel in public and in private. But I do not ignore it when they talk about cheating in school or say, underage drinking. Their parents might think it is no big deal but I am of a very different opinion. Their actions now as "teenagers" will affect their own future and the future of their children and others in the community and beyond. It is possible no one has ever told them they are being a jerk. You might be doing them a huge favor.

Let 'em have it. I just tell the kids I am working with that they can handle it. They might not get it all but they will will get more than most expect. I tell them that if they can learn things that I never had to learn in school like, physics I have confidence in them. It works best when you tell them that you believe they can learn this stuff even if there are others who would dumb it all down. It will get their rebellious butts to the edge of their seats.

Students always surprise me when it comes to learning. Perhaps I should stop being surprised. But they seem to be able to rise to the occasion. It is one of the things I love about my job. When their minds are doing what they were created to do and then they make decisions about their lives that buck the trends of their peers I get excited about what the gospel can do.
the 5th commandment of youth ministry

thou shalt teach self-esteem

Some of the statements I make about these commandments will require that I give a caveat or two. Sometimes I may have to explain my reasoning in detail so that I am not misunderstood. At other times I may have to clarify some statements so that what sounds extreme or insane is really reasonable and perfectly sane. This will not be one of those instances.

21st century youth ministry has been Oprah-ed and Dr. Phil-ed to the point of being almost indistinguishable from talk shows. And when it is, the only differences are the diction and paradigm for which a common ethos is sought. In other words the chief end of youth ministry is the glorification of students and the enjoyment of each other till they move off to college. I would love to be able to say that it is never really communicated that way. But the sad fact is it is communicated that way. A self-esteem gospel taylor-made for youth ministry will motivate with a statement like "Look at the cross...see how much he loved you!" and never even think to say, "Look at the cross and how utterly sinful your sin is and how holy the God who created all things is!" One message points to the value of man only. The other points to the value of God. For one, the cross is an echo of the value of the sinner. For the other, it is an echo of the value of the sin-bearer (thanks to Piper). The rubber really meets the road on this issue in answering why Jesus came and died on the cross. The common amswer is, "to save us from our sins." But that is a deficient answer for youth. It is high time we give them a good deal more. Why did we need saving from our sins? Why did it take the Son of God turned into a bloody mess? Answering these questions would help to reverse the trend but I am getting ahead of myself here.

Why is self-esteem such a prevalent message in youth ministry?

Buy low, sell high, trade away. Let's face it. Feeling good about yourself sells. And self esteem is always feeling good about yourself. There is a reason why books on sin and mortification of the flesh, etc are not flying off the bookshelves at the local Christian bookstore. Which book will get more push from a publisher; the one on recovering lost God-given dignity or the one on seeing the excellence of the Sovereign God of the Universe? No contest.

How do rumors get started? For some reason there is this rumor going around that young people have low self-esteem. Yeah, right. Proving that this is not the case would require the same time as proving the grass is green. The fact is, we are chasing a right-field fly in left. One only needs to spend a little time with teenagers and see that self-esteem is not their problem. And church-going kids are little different than those who are not. Of course their leaders follow the 5th commandment of youth ministry with Talmud-like precision.

How do I break this commandment?

A pair of dimes? Change the paradigm now. Throw out the old playbook. If it is true that, "from Him and through Him and to Him are all things" then perhaps that should be your paradigm for youth mnistry. Most youth ministries begin and terminate on if kids feel good about themselves. Instead, set your face like flint on the peculiar idea that they should be way more concerned on how they feel about God. Proper feelings about themselves will follow.

"The Emporer has no clothes!" One thing I have done is every chance I get I tell kids I do not give a rip about them having self-esteem. I tell them they must go elsewhere to get such a message. I let them know in no uncertain terms that we will be about God-esteem and that only. I usually start this discussion by asking them, "who does God love and value perfectly at all times and has done so for all eternity." They might have to think for a minute but they typically will say, "Jesus." Then I prod them into seeing that If Jesus is God then God esteems himself more than anything. From here it is no problem in getting them to answer, "Who, then should we esteem above everything else"? Quickly, the need for God-esteem becomes obvious. Then it is great fun pointing out the ridiculous assumptions of all other ways of thinking.

What happens when you assume? Do not assume that kids have low self-esteem. It is not true? Someone might give you some stats on teen suicide to push a self-esteem program or lesson. Do not buy it. Teen suicide is a reality but only the most self-absorbed will kill themselves. Only those who care nothing for the reprecussions of such an action will do it. The answer to such a problem is the gospel which esteems God at the expense of a depraved and rebellious person.

Take the Roman Road. Teaching through Romans or even Ephesians will force you to teach God-esteeming lessons. Of course since the Bible is about God you could probably take any road you want and have the same effect. Starting with the Scripture has a way of doing that.

I probably could write for days on this problem. But I will move on. The great thing about breaking this commandment is how unique it will make your youth ministry (any ministry for that matter). It will stand in stark contrast to all other ministries. However, there is a risk. You will be called "negative" and maybe even "mean". That is ok you are in good company
the 4th commandment of youth ministry

thou shalt never offend with the truth

Now I know a good many folks would disagree with me on this being a commandment most do not want to break but bear with me. My point is not that youth minsiters struggle with outright lying to their kids. Thats not the kind of truth I am talking about. I am talking about truth that offends students. I am talking about truth which makes kids not want to come back.

Even in my own denomination there can be a reluctance to teaching kids the deep things of God. I am in the PCA, a Reformed, Calvinist and theologically conservative denomination. And there is no question that youth guys like myself still have to worry about whether or not we will teach the 5 points of Calvinism or not. Now regardless of whether you believe in the 5 points or not it should strike us as odd that we have to check ourselves on whether or not we should teach a doctrine that can be so offensive but is a peculiar one to our denomination. I mean, we believe it as a denomination. You cannot be ordained and not believe it. But the fact of the matter is that because it is very offensive to members and visitors alike we are to question the wisdom of teaching it as truth. Thankfully, no one here in my church thinks this way. We have a whole hell of lot of problems here but this is thankfully not one of them...emphasis on hell. We are theologically kosher for the time being. But others are not so safe. Some want to be confessinally secure but be very a-theological in public. In other words they are Evangelical with a capital E but reformed with a lower-case r.

But regardless of your denomination, we preach a very offensive gospel. We preach a gospel that says apart from Christ, you will preish in your sins. In your sin you have stuck a fist in God's face said, "I do not need you, you son-of-a-..." It is a gospel that places all hope for eternity in the cross. It is a gospel that steals all glory from man and gives %100 to God. It is a gospel that sometimes says, '...who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, "Why have you made me like this?" Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honored use and another for dishonorable use?' (Romans 9:20,21 ESV) To not be offensive is to erase the gospel message. You might as well start teaching from Chicken Soup for the Soul.

How do I break this commandment?

The best defense is to be offensive. If you tell the whole offensive truth of the message of the Bible in all its ugly and challenging details it will inevitably take care of a whole host of problems. First it, will keep you interesting. Kids never choose generic anything unless they have to. Give 'em the whole truth and watch the hands go up. Truth is stranger and more interesting than fiction. Second, I am convinced that orthodoxy is the fuel for a life of holiness. If all you give them is teaching that is mile wide and an inch deep in truth then expect the same in holiness. Third, it will keep them in the Scriptures even when you are not around. Until I got to the subject of predestination in Romans, I was not convinced that many of my kids ever cracked their Bibles while at home. But, when we started on such an explosive doctrine, they began coming to me saying things like, "I was reading my Bible and..." And that my friends is better then wine.

"You can't handle the Truth." And it's not because of a "faggoty white uniform." There are some kids that will be like dead wood that falls away when brushed up against the sharp edge of the rocks in life's stormy waters. They can't handle the sight of reality. It smells like death to them so they will stay away. And if they want a be part of a youth ministry it will probably be one that will help them feel nice and warm inside...again chicken soup for a lost soul. But there are kids that thrist for a bit of relaity. They look forward to the truth becuase it is way more rebellious than any lie they have ever told.

I tell the students I work with that "Truth is more fierce than any enemy you will face...just do not make it your enemy. Be on the side of truth." If you can get them to seek truth. The Bible will be like a diamond-mind of verities. And that's no lie.
the 3rd commandment of youth ministry

thou shalt never be serious

This is a job-loser if ever there was one. One only needs to peruse publications and websites dedicated to youth ministry to see how seriousness is avoided like the bird flu. However, it is not contagious. There can be no doubt that almost all resources and theories in youth ministry move away from serious thinking, serious discussion and serious instruction. Creating an environement for serious reflection on the gospel and its implications is the death knell for youth ministers everywhere. Instead, they are encouraged to create a fun, light and generally sappy atmosphere. Bible Studies are done this way. Retreats are done this way. And it seems that this is the only way that youth ministers want to go. Students do not gravitate to seriousness therefore we must be silly, not serious!!! A case in point: Today I went to my box in the church office and I had a bunch of advertisements for youth resources, camps, etc. The first one I looked at was for a group that does mission trips. One side of the postcard gave all the details. The other side? A goofy looking guy with his thumbs in the air. Maybe I'm overreacting but I get this kind of advertising every day...on my TV. Why here? Anway, the second one I looked at was typical. It was from Group and it is avertising Friendzee, "The Zany Game That Transforms Bible Study" (www.group.com/friendzee). It comes complete with the "Throw and Tell" Ball included in each game! "Hooray! Phew, I thought I was gonna have to teach on propitiation again. But NOW I do not have to! We can learn about the Bible through games!!! And whoever wins gets to shaving cream the other team!!! Pass the goldfish...I think I will swallow one just to be funny!!! Look...Look...I am swallowing a goldfish!!!"

How do I break this commandment?

Let the pin drop. Do not worry about those uncomfortable moments when you can hear a pin drop. These will be moments when they learn the most. No one in their life is doing this. Challenge them. I do this all the time with my kids and they keep coming back. Sometimes I let them have it. And it gets very uncomfortable in the room. Eyes are diverted. Feet shuffle. And minds race. Sometimes I can feel them longing for the door. Well...Good. This is serious stuff with eternity for themselves and the world over at stake. The fact that they read a passed note in class with more affection and more longing than the Scriptures ought to be said and dealt with. Even if they don't laugh.

Throw 'em a T-Bone. Who else is going to do it? Parents maybe...hopefully. But they (the parents) are probably reading Left Behind and The Prupose Driven Life for Boomer Parents, Gold Plate editon, Revised with Calligrophy and Limited Edition Study Guide with Answers. Everyone else is serving fruit rollups. Why not not give them steak? Serve up the real thing that requires some chewing? Fatten them up. Students are lean on serious Biblical Study and have grown pudgy on sappy sentimentality. They have generally been sold what will not sharpen iron. It's all plastic.

Up the ante. Most kids never get told how important all this is. The chief end of most youth ministers is not the glorificiation of God. And that is why most kids never get a feel for the weight of glory. If a youth ministry does not start and end on the note of seeing the glory of God in all things seriousness will ring hollow. However, if there is a cacophony of lessons, studies, retreats and discussions where God'd glory is at the forefront and not the periphery it will make complete sense for there to be a need for seriousness in youth ministry.

There is a myth that seriousness = stoicism or joylessness. The opposite is true. Seriousness gives rise to joy and excitement in the Christian. Only if you can appreciate what is at stake in believeing the gospel (and others believing it) then joy/happiness/pleasure/comfort will be really accessible. Breaking this commandment puts people on the path to joy.
the 2nd commandment of youth ministry

thou shalt be event oriented

It was either a testament to God's sense of humor or simply a test of fortitude that I got a phone call yesterday from a youth pastor in my town inviting me to participate in an event being held at his church. Before I go any further, let me say up front that it is of course very kind for him to invite me and my kids to this event. That is a foregone conclusion. However, it was hard for me to not laugh during the call as I was thinking deeply about this commandment when he called. Mind you, I was not laughing at him as much as I was laughing at the relevance of the call. Let me jump into why I think this is a commandment that is rarely ever broken in youth ministry.

The following are a list of reasons why most youth ministries tend to be event oriented.

Bait and switch. Most youth ministry philosophies start with the assumption that to get kids involved you must disguise the hook with a worm...or pizza. In other words, the only way to get kids to sit and listen or participate in a youth ministry is to promise them lots of fun and games. In other words what they need is propped up with "fun stuff." This is why so many youth pastors have had goldfish swim through their large intestine and they disproportionately have shaved heads. This is not to say that Bible Studies and youth group meetings should not be enjoyable. They should be. They should be full of enjoyment. There should just be an undeniable tenor in all gatherings that we are here because we believe the Bible, as God's word which has something to say to all of us. The enjoyment should be the spontaneous overflow of a gathering of people who have been transformed by the gospel of grace. Fun that is used as bait never glorifies God. And it is intolerably deceptive.

Imitation as flattery. Youth ministries tend to get their philosophies from parachurch organizations. And most parachurch organizations are energized by numbers; numbers of participants and numbers making professions of faith. It is great to have lots of students participating and it is great to see kids transformed by the gospel of grace. However, youth ministries in a church context should have different goals. Church-based youth ministry ought to deal with the whole spectrum of the Christian life. It is not just a matter of making sure they get saved. It should deal with every thing after that and how does their being saved relate to everything else. In other words youth ministry should not be just about justification but also sanctification. We ought to be concerned about developing a comprehensive Biblical Worldview that touches on every moment of everyday for the rest of their lives. This is decidedly not the mission of the majority of parachurch ministries. This is not to bash such ministries. They are a-theological and so they cannot do what a church based youth ministry ought to be doing. I just do not think it can be denied that youth pastors feel as if they are competing with parachurch organizations which are generally doctrinally handcuffed so they imitate them. And inevitably they slide into a-theological waters.

Judging a book. If lots of events are taking place then it will appear as if a ministry is going well. A full schedule of things for youth to do looks good to parents and church leaders and of course, to youth also. However, I would argue that lots of events can take place at the YMCA and no one grow in their faith. Lots of events can take place at school and no one see the "glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" in any of it. But events always get good press as long as they are good clean fun. They keep kids out of trouble and give them something to do. And there is some truth to those assertions. I am just weird enough to think that youth ministry should be centered on the study of the Bible. It should be discipleship by grace through faith. Youth ministries which are defined by their events will struggle in transforming kids. I want a youth ministry that is famous for being cross-centered,and God-exalting.

How do I break this commandment?

Here are a few ideas...proceed at your own risk!

Cut the fat. Cut back on large-scale events. Do it slowly though. Be bold and explain why you are proceeding like you are. Do not assume the logic of what you are doing will readily make sense to others who are used to a certain paradigm. But never do this without doing the following...

Get real. Get serious about your teaching. The gospel does not need to be made offensive. You will offend people on a regular basis if you are faithful in your communication of the reality of what God did through Christ on the cross. This will grow kids that will care very little if you do not go on a ski trip next year. What about the ones that do not want to come back? Well, like I said the gospel has been offending people for 2 millennia, we should get used to people not liking our message.

Economize. If you cut out a lot of the big stuff what is left will not only be easily to do as far as costs are concerned but will be more meaningful. Scarcity will drive up demand.
Pull up a chair. I simply told the youth why we do the things we do. I told them that I had no desire to have lots of events. I told them I wanted our youth ministry to be defined primarily by the Wed. Night Bible Study. I want kids to think about Westminster Youth Ministries (WYM) and think of how we have labored over the book of Romans for over a year and have just now hit 1/2 way. They were more than receptive and were glad to be a part of a unique experience. Kids are like that.

Again, I do not dislike events. At the moment I am planning a purely recreational trip to St. Louis for my High Schoolers. We will do some daily devotionals but we will not have a classic youth retreat. The point is to spend time together in a big city with lots of free exciting activities. I am not trying to buy their attention though. This is simply an opportunity to spend time together in a different space. This is the natural result of believers who want to spend time together. Go figure.
the 1st commandment of youth ministry

"Thou shalt not teach doctrine"

This may be the one commandment that most youth pastors will never break. Of course it is nothing like adultery. Everyone is tempted to flirt at some point but youth pastors and their ilk are not even tempted by this transgression. Anyway, this "staying away from doctrine" is so serious that if doctrinal ignorance for young people were a sacred cow it would be holding an "eat more chikin" sign. Get that? There are a number of reasons for people who work with students to stay from doctrine. Not all are true in every place and at all times for all people but they ring true regardless.

Doctrine is not fun. Or so the argument goes. Not being labeled as fun in youth ministry is almost as bad as not being cool. The logic goes like this...youth ministry is supposed to be fun. Doctrine is not fun. Therefore youth ministry should steer clear of doctrine. If this was math we would call it the Transitive Property (a=b, b=c, so a=c) of fun youth ministry as it relates to doctrine! Of course it isn't true. Youth ministry can be fun. But for fun to be the litmus test of whether a thing is done or not is idolatry pure and simple. Success cannot be a measurement of fun for youth ministry since much fun is had...well, everywhere else. There is nothing unique about fun. Fun is there for the taking 24/7 by kids throughout this land. I am not sure I want to sell them something they already have.

Doctrine is divisive. This is wrong on so many levels but let me hit 2 of 'em. First, to say doctrine is divisive is a divisive statement itself. It divides the one who believes it from those who do not. Second, it assumes an alternate reality. It assumes a world where kids do not like divisive ideas. Kids love divisive ideas. Sure, they are usually sheep when it comes to fashion but get them talking about the sovereignty of God over all things and you will see some passionate discussion about what the Bible says...done by teenagers.
They can't handle it. This may be the coup de grace of staying away from doctrine. Even if it is never said out loud it lies hidden deep in the hearts of youth pastors everywhere. "Youth cannot handle doctrine. It is too complex. It requires a mental toughness that young people should not be required to display." Is it harder than chemistry? Physics? US Government? Geometry? I rest my case.

how do you break this commandment?

here are a few ideas on how to successfully break this commandment of youth ministry...

Cold turkey. Quit giving little moralistic "I just love Jesus" studies. Cold turkey is the only way to slay the beast of non-doctrinal teaching. Even if they do not get it all they will get something...and you will get better at it through prayer and study and patience.
Add mustard. Get creative. Add some spice to your lessons. Use provocative language. If someone gets onto you for it tell them you will stop and then tell them you will instead move onto the Song of Solomon. "What looks like twin gazelles!?!?"

Slow burn. Be patient, it may take time. Work them through it. Doctrine is worth the mental power and energy required. Giving up and rushing through it all teaches young people that it is not all that important. Slow, deliberate discussion and instruction and meditation teaches them how very important it is that we deal carefully with the things of God.

If you break this commandment, be prepared to lose some kids and some parents and maybe your job. I just talked to a guy recently who lost his job as a youth pastor for doing this. He now will not even look at youth ministry jobs. I however am in a position to break this commandment each and every day and do so with great enthusiasm. Most are not so providentially situated...my recommendation is for them to break it anyway.

breaking the ten commandments of youth ministry

There are probably more than ten but no one would raise eyebrows at a posting called "breaking the 14 commandments of youth ministry." Since I consider these commandments of youth ministry unbreakable for most people in youth ministry, etc. I wanted to communicate their sacredness by using the metaphor of the Decalogue. I would have called them "sacred cows of youth ministry" but hardly anyone understands that metaphor. Anyway, to the list. What are the 10 commandments of youth ministry that I want to break? I will list them first and then I will over the next few days comment on each one. By the way, the "thou shalts are a nice touch...don't you think?"

  1. Thou shalt never teach doctrine.
  2. Thou shalt be event oriented.
  3. Thou shalt never be serious.
  4. Thou shalt never offend with truth.
  5. Thou shalt teach self-esteem.
  6. Thou shalt never expect much.
  7. Thou shalt worry about behavior more than belief.
  8. Thou shalt measure success by numbers.
  9. Thou shalt discourage honest questions.
  10. Thou shalt be cool.

There is no need to try and read into the order they are in. Each one is equally able to damn those who do not follow with Pharisaical zeal.