Youth Ministry isn’t a one way street.

Youth show up and we have snacks ready, videos playing, music on, teaching ready to go, and rooms for small groups.  It seems so often that we can have all the pieces all together to run a great program, but this could be the very reason that students don’t encounter Jesus today.

We need to ask ourselves:

Do our students need more entertainment – they have tv’s with over 300 channels.

Do our students need more head knowledge – they are in school for 56 hours a week.

Do our students need more friends – they are connected to thousands through facebook.

So what difference can youth ministry make in the lives of today’s teens.  It is simply, it can allow them to understand that it is their turn to breathe.  They are no longer simple observers, they are now in this youtube age, reviewers, producers, critics, directors, actors, and observers.  They do it all – if they aren’t part of it all in youth ministry, then they feel useless and that it won’t be worth their time.

Let me take you back to the line “THEIR TURN TO BREATHE”.

This focuses on two things:

1)    THEIR TURN: the idea that we want to empower students own their own spiritual walk as well as be intentional to reach out and serve others.

2)    BREATHE: the idea that a healthy Christ-Follower is one that both inhales (grows spiritually) and exhales (loves and serves others).  If we only inhale then we drown.  If we only exhale then we will suffocate.  It is only through breathing that we live life to the fullest as Christ called for.

So often we make youth ministry about breathing in and where we control the student’s inhaling.  But what would it take for us to give up some of our teaching time, to expand dialogue in small groups, give them the time to get into the bible on their own and report back to the group their finds.  Have our students learned how to study scripture or have their learned how it applies to their lives?

Students don’t want to simply show up to the program because everything has been created for them or because it entertains them and not even just so they can see friends.  Students want something meaningful and impactful.  They want to be be part of creating their own spiritual development and growth.  The talking head from the front is still important, but not without the influence and learnings from the students leading the way.

As students get passionate about their own spiritual journey then we have to remind them that it isn’t about hiding in a Christian bubble, but the our purpose is to invest into the world.  We need to look around us and see where we can bring Jesus.  How can we live out love, live out non-judgement, live out peace, and offer hope.  Where are are caring for the poor, not just through tokenism, but actually choosing to live simply and give generously.  How are we caring for those in jail, those who are orphans or widows.  What are we doing to care for the marginalized communities?

Our students needs to be empowered to breath out – to live out the message of Jesus, both in word and action is to exhale.

Now if we simply teach them to exhale, then it becomes all about them and not about Jesus or changed lives.  If we teach them it is all about inhaling, then it becomes all about what they can do, instead of what God is doing in them.

Our challenge as parents and youth workers is to not direct or drag our students to where we want them to be, but we need to guide, listen, and empower our youth to experience meaningful spiritual life change and impact through their ability to create, discover, own, lead, and learn.

If youth ministry will make an impact, it will come through allowing our students to breathe.

Junior High is the new Senior High?

One of the major trends that I see occurring across Canada and the United States in terms of youth ministry is the significance of the Junior High Ministry.   It seems as though many are waking up to the reality that a shift has been occurring in the development to of today’s teens. Many key youth pastor/youth ministers have started to the make the shift from their emphasis on Senior High with Junior High as a second thought, to the emphasis on Junior High with Senior High as a place of empowerment of students.

With tons of research to show that the shift in learning and the lifestyle of teens today, we see that how youth ministry use to respond to Senior High is now most effective with Junior Highs (ie. small groups/home churches, large group teaching, music, and reflection), how we responded to Junior Highs is best for grade 3-5 (games, large teaching,events, practical learning) , and how we responded to young adults is now for Senior Highs (ie. empowerment in learning, larger group interactive learning, practical living out the message, investment into social needs, small group emphasis etc.).  This downward shift would like;y be something that we as those who work with youth should look at more intently, especially in regards to a pastors leadership emphasis.

What would it look like in our youth ministries to begin a flip where our youth pastors see their key emphasis on investing into the Junior High ministry with allowing strong small group leaders and student leadership to give greater emphasis to Senior High Ministry.

Given that junior high is now the critical years, the reality is that if students are not fully connected or engaged in Junior High, then they will not connect with the Senior High ministry – so by putting all our effort into Senior High, when their schedules are already becoming so full, we could really miss out on both groups in the long run. Just as young adults who were not fully connected in senior high dropped off, this could become the future of our Senior High ministries unless we make the shift.

If we want to have a strong youth ministry it will be rooted in a fully functioning and engaging Junior High ministry.

Where is my “status” found

We are soon to see the end of 24, LOST, and HEROES only to see at the same time the rise of GLEE.

No doubt these shows have created a “status” reality for every student.  If a student is to arrive at school the day following one of these shows and has missed an episode their social status drops.  You are able to miss a team practise and still be part of the team, you can miss hanging out at the mall with friends and still be connected, you can miss going to youth group and still know you are valued there.  But if you miss watching the show you have no voice the next day with your friends.

We are living in a community where “status” matters and “status” is made clear to everyone.  Whether it is on FACEBOOK, MSN, TWITTER or simply in our ability to communicate about today’s pop culture on the spot, we are either being branded with our status level or we are attempting to communicated it others.  Making public your status gives you the head start to control your situation and control how you want others to see you.  However, more strongly than the status that you create is the status that is bestowed upon you through your “social status”.

In times past our social status has been established through economic means, racial lines, gender, orientation, and other landmarks.  Today our social status is being measured by our “connectedness”.  This drive toward connectedness is making today’s teens more passionate about establishing an online digital image that represents themselves.  This way they are able to gather more “friends” on their FACEBOOK page, be connected to more through online video gaming, and have conversations and interactions through chatrooms or skype with people around the world. 

 This wireless generation is redefining what it is to be relational and what it is to have social status.  I could share more on this, maybe in a another post.  But we all need to realize that as we engage with this generation, that they find their status much less in the stuff they have but in the people and the amount of people they are connected to.  When we tear down their means of connections, ie. FACEBOOK, TWITTER, online gaming, instant messaging, texting, and all the means of multimedia relay, we are tearing down their very place that is giving them status. 

These  are roads we need to walk down, there are things as those who work with youth or as parents needs to address, but more so, we need to observe, listen, love, and be careful.  How we walk through this areas that connect will either give us the grounds to connect or will leave us totally disconnected with the ones whom we so desire to connect with.