Tag Archives: Youth Ministry

Why she gave up on youth ministry

This is a post from a young lady named Natalie.  She posted it last August on her blog, Take My Hand:

I’ve had this post’s title rolling around in my head for a number of days now.  Originally, I wasn’t even going to come close to actually writing this.  I figured it was too big of an opportunity for me to not get my words out straight and thus offend people.  But, like so many times the personal truth in my title won’t leave me alone.  I have to share:

I’ve always been frustrated with my youth group and youth groups in general.  Am I completely knocking the youth group model of ministry? No.  But, I do believe that it too often and too easily becomes a place to entertain.  Youth group morphs into a social club disguised verbally as “fellowship time”,  exclusive cliques form, and God ceases to be the obvious focus.  Once this happens, it’s terribly difficult for the people deeply invested in the group to acknowledge.

Now.   I am not saying there is no place for fellowship or fun stuff or games or just chillin’ with folks.  What I am saying is that youth group should be and can be more than it is often allowed to be.

Youth are more willing to ‘dive deeper’ than one might think.  As Dr. Faith Kirkham-Hawkins (Emory professor of Youth and Religion, as well as YTI’s Director)  put it in a seminar she led at a N. GA Conference event,  “Teenagers are showing up to youth  group, and they’re coming in droves.  But, they’re still dying inside.”   How good of a job are we doing at bringing them Life?

This past Wednesday was my first time back to youth group since having been gone for the summer.  To put it simply,  it left me terribly upset, angry and sad.  At one point I had to get up and go stand out in the hallway to collect myself.

We played games for a good while, sang songs for a very good while and prayed once.  This isn’t just a description of a one time event at youth group either,  it’s pretty indicative of what goes on generally.  Youth deserve more than that.  Youth need more than that.  And, I know for a fact that it’s not just me who feels this way.  And it’s not just because I am an ‘older’ youth.   We deserve more and we need more.

I realize that my frustration with youth groups — and only a smidgen of it is mentioned here — is seen in context of my own personal experience.   Though I am not coming at this from a specific single local church’s perspective, my perspective is shaped mainly by larger membership churches.  And, honestly I think that is a huge contributing factor.

My main worry in all of this is that I don’t know if I can, or even if I should, try to play a role in bringing about change.   I do know though that the best I can do personally at the present is to keep my mouth shut until I can figure things out and responsibly act not out of negative emotion.

So, until further notice I’ve given up on going to youth group.

Most every Sunday morning you will find me in a pew — hymnal, Bible and church bulletin in hand — in my home church’s sanctuary.  Come September, every Wednesday evening you will find me, in a room full of adults, as a member of a ‘Christian Believer’ (part of the UMC’s Disciple curriculum) class.  And, I’m perfectly happy with my conclusion.  I can’t say that I’m content (dare I say that we as Christians will never be content?), but I can say that I’m at peace.

This is encouraging to me as I am swimming against a trend in youth ministry.  Many people hold on to the high numbers all fun model–at home, here, we have been working towards a different end.



No Child Left Behind

Before I began working at a local church, I was a full-time, board certified public high school drama teacher. I experienced a school system undergoing many changes, just as you will find across the nation, as it tried to address the mandates and concerns that were passed in the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). (wikipedia seems to be biased, but at least you can get an overview of the content of the law). I am serving in a congregation that is in the same town as the high school in which I was employed and I was surprised and excited to see this Letter to the Editor from one of our local teachers:

Dear Editor, ‘Tis the season to test our children in public schools across Georgia. This is a stressful time for parents, educators and, most importantly, our children. I can remember when school was fun and not so full of testing pressures. I am a teacher and a parent affected by both sides of testing in the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) era.

As a parent, my first-grader has been reviewing for the state’s CRCT test, and she comes home expressing that she no longer likes school because of CRCT reviewing. At age 7, my daughter is displeased with school due to testing pressures and I pray that I can help maintain a positive attitude toward learning. More importantly, I am worried if she is truly being taught basic skills. Apparently, the new basic skill in the NCLB era is test-taking skills instead of reading, writing, and mathematics. As a professional educator, I recently passed out graduation test results to my advisory students. Many of them did not pass certain sections of the test. What is disheartening is that I know most of those students who did not pass the test worked hard to meet standards, but the test reflects otherwise. However, the agony and pain on their young faces concerns me greatly. School is more demanding and requires more input in the 21st century than ever before, but I have a question to ask our politicians, (U.S. Rep.) Jack Kingston and (state Rep.) Cecily Hill: What are we doing to our kids?

Whether politicians realize it, testing pressures in the NCLB era are creating a new form of illiteracy among students, lack of critical thinking skills. I assure you, educators are highly aware of this phenomenon, but politicians could care less.

The need to use test data to diagnose school programs and teacher quality has its place, but schools are so obsessively data driven due to testing legislation from which has driven further inequities in public education. As a parent, my 7-year-old is so perturbed with testing I hope I can repair her frustration level. I can see how this early frustration can cause literacy issues. Thank God I am able to be aware of this for my own child, but many parents may not be able to discern this for their children.

The lack of critical thinking skills in older students is becoming more prevalent, and I truly believe it is linked to teaching students how to take a test instead of mastering the material. Georgia has implemented performance standards, but true performance curriculum cannot be formally tested with a bubble sheet.

I find it very interesting that high-powered politicians are making these crucial decisions in education, and most have never taught a day in their lives. How long will politicians be allowed to continue this malpractice against our children? Unfortunately, our country is creating a generation of public who will not be able to critically think through a real problem.

NCLB was built under a great conceptualization. However, the lack of educator input has caused problems. It still, however, is a great beginning in calling education to a higher standard. One leg of the problem comes in the almost unbearable consequences of even maintaining the same high level of passing students, let alone dropping in that perception. Another leg of the problem comes in the way states and local school systems attempt to meet the requirements.

I find that Camden County (here in South GA) has done an awesome job and is exemplary in the State of Georgia for its implementations of NCLB and its other academic reforms (just this week it was announced that Camden County standardized test scores were in the top rung in the state). However, as our contributing teacher has pointed out, even in exemplary schools there is a break down. I hope that as they reauthorize this act that they put some real good thought into it.

As a youth minister, this is important to me. A child’s time, stress level, busyness, and deportment is at stake.

re: Firing Volunteers

Jim Parsons asks an intriguing question. Basically, how do you fire a volunteer?

This can go beyond just youth volunteers to volunteers in general. Here is my response:

Is she causing problems or is she not doing well? Is there another way she can be involved in the ministry without being directly involved with students or is there a way she can spend less time in direct contact?

How has her behavior been since your discussion? Did she respond well?

I would use the end of the school year compliment the good parts of her service, recognize her large service to the church, and to offer her a year off of the youth ministry. If she accepts this gracious year off, then good. If she doesn’t, then gently tell her that she should take a defined period of time off. Consider finding an alternative life I asked about above.

Two things to consider:

1. Does your church have a system in place to maintain and care for your volunteers? If not, make this a priority. Consider an application process if you don’t have one. This is keeping with the UM Safe Sanctuaries initiative, anyway. This will allow you to “hire” for defined periods of time. This will allow you periodic review and communication of strengths and weaknesses. It will also allow you to let someone go at the end of a service period. Similarly, do you have defined descriptions of and roles for volunteers. This makes things easy to manage.

2. Consider a statement I made on my blog earlier: “I still believe that a majority of the things that we find wrong with other people really stem from things that are unsatisfying about ourselves.”

What is your wisdom?

The Place of Ministry

This week has been slightly discouraging.  I can’t put a name to why, but I’ve been forcing myself from falling into a kind of despair.  Yesterday, I finally got back to some devotional reading. As you may remember, I usually augment my Bible study with Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost For His Highest.  This is the devotion from yesterday:

The Place of Ministry

He said to them, ’This kind [of unclean spirit] can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting’ —Mark 9:29

His disciples asked Him privately, ’Why could we not cast it out?’ ” ( Mark 9:28 ). The answer lies in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. “This kind can come out by nothing but” concentrating on Him, and then doubling and redoubling that concentration on Him. We can remain powerless forever, as the disciples were in this situation, by trying to do God’s work without concentrating on His power, and by following instead the ideas that we draw from our own nature. We actually slander and dishonor God by our very eagerness to serve Him without knowing Him.When you are brought face to face with a difficult situation and nothing happens externally, you can still know that freedom and release will be given because of your continued concentration on Jesus Christ. Your duty in service and ministry is to see that there is nothing between Jesus and yourself. Is there anything between you and Jesus even now? If there is, you must get through it, not by ignoring it as an irritation, or by going up and over it, but by facing it and getting through it into the presence of Jesus Christ. Then that very problem itself, and all that you have been through in connection with it, will glorify Jesus Christ in a way that you will never know until you see Him face to face.

We must be able to “mount up with wings like eagles” ( Isaiah 40:31 ), but we must also know how to come down. The power of the saint lies in the coming down and in the living that is done in the valley. Paul said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” ( Philippians 4:13 ) and what he was referring to were mostly humiliating things. And yet it is in our power to refuse to be humiliated and to say, “No, thank you, I much prefer to be on the mountaintop with God.” Can I face things as they actually are in the light of the reality of Jesus Christ, or do things as they really are destroy my faith in Him, and put me into a panic?

Trends and Churches. My recent article.

I have been writing for the UM GBOD Young Adult Network for a few weeks now.  Each week I’ve sent a question, based out of the article, to the discussion board.  We’ve had some wonderful discussions!  I’ve also “met” some great folks.  One of which is a young student pastor in seminary, Mellisa.  Check out her blog.

The response to this particular article has been quite varied.  I expected that it may have been a bit edgy, possibly not well communicated; however, I think it’s alright.  It has gotten people talking on many levels and opinions.

Here is the link to my article.  Please check out the discussion, too.

This is what Rev. Logue had to say regarding the article.

Evaluation–Teaching to the Test

This might be the educator in me, but:

You’d better come up with a way of evaluating your work because everyone else around you already has.

Evaluation requires a purpose, vision, or some standard.  This will also require you to gear your work towards a purpose, vision, or standard.  Are you teaching to the test?  In a sense, but really you are teaching/working toward the desired result.

Education.  Ministry.  Marketing.  Church.  They can learn so much from each other…

I Learned More Than They Did…

I was teaching at youth tonight and observed a few things. I spent a good bit of time preparing for this particular lesson, but I learned through my time in the classroom that that doesn’t necessarily translate to good learning. I had many reactions. Some enrapt. Some not listening. Some bored (really, by me? :)). Some chatting. Something was reinforced within me today.

I bet 5 out of 30 kids will remember a small amount of my lesson later. I think teaching is important, but I don’t think that’s how our youth ministry will grow. It’s about environment.

1. Physical Environment

What is the space like? What is the lighting like? What colors are prominent?

Does it look cared for? What is the sound like? Etc..

2. Emotional Environment

How do we feel when we walk in for the first time? How are we recieved?

Have we created lasting relationships? What associations do I make with it?

3. Spiritual Environment

Do I encounter God when I come in here? Does this place/event stir up the Holy Spirit within me? How do I react to the worship, teaching, fellowship, etc…?

I am cultivating leaders (adult and youth) and therefore ownership. I am cultivating relationships between teens and with adults & teens. I am offering opportunities to serve, worship, be challenged, reach out, and connect with each other. I hope that God will continue to change me and build this ministry within the entire church.

Now my challenge is communicating this effectively…