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Nate Stratman

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integration/assimilation

Owning It: Helping Kids Experience Love for God and Neighbors

By Nate Stratman | Youthworker Journal December 2011

Several years ago, I had a life-changing experience with a ninth grade boys’ small group I was leading. We were studying Jesus’ teaching on the greatest commandment in Matthew 22:37-40.

I had hoped the boys would grasp that loving our neighbor was a natural overflow from loving God with our hearts, souls and minds. Boy, was I wrong, as I realized when I heard some of the boys’ comments.

“Poor people are poor because they are lazy and didn’t go to school.” “God helps those who help themselves!” “Honestly, I don’t care about helping them.”
At this point, I was about to blow a gasket. Then I looked at my mostly affluent group, and it dawned on me that in their 14 years of life they had little reason to need God or need help from others. How could I expect them to care about others in need?

We had talked about loving God to death, but I didn’t offer enough tangible opportunities to experience loving God and loving people. So I changed course.

“That’s it!” I said. “Let’s go get in my truck. We’re heading downtown to see what it’s like to be in need.”

I wasn’t sure if this would turn out to be one of my brightest ideas, but it became an ah-ha moment for me and my kids.

Creating Opportunities to Love

Moments later, as one fired-up youth pastor and a pack of wild 14-year-olds headed downtown, I could tell I had their attention.

We stopped to purchase servings of coffee and hot chocolate, and we ended up on a sidewalk where another youth volunteer usually fed some of the homeless people in our city.

We set up shop out of the back of my truck, and my only instruction to the boys was to try and talk to these men and women as they would talk to any of their friends. Before they got to work, I asked them to consider these questions: “Do you think God considers these people our neighbors? If so, what should we do about it?”

From that point on, I sat back and watched as my boys began striking up conversations and drinking hot chocolate with some of God’s most interesting and beloved people.

I heard them talking about the weather, sports, politics, music and faith. The anxiety they had been feeling earlier was nearly gone; my formerly apathetic small group was loving God and His people, but I don’t think they realized it.

As we drove back to the church that night, I brought up Matthew 22:37-40 again. Suddenly, these boys were fired up as the words of Jesus came to life in a fresh, new way. As a youth minister, I got to live out Scripture in front of my group, which was the lesson they obviously needed to experience.

From Borrowing to Owning Faith

No one reaches Christian maturity on his or her own. All of us grow into our faith by borrowing faith from someone else and then eventually transitioning to a faith that is owned, alive and growing.

Any time I’ve heard a teenager share about his or her faith at camp or in front of a congregation, they always mention the loaner. The loaner is grandma, youth workers, teachers or neighbors who live out their faith in such an accessible way that any teenager could grab it.

So how exactly do we help our students along this continuum?

Youth workers not only function as key loaners in the lives of students, but we have a great role in what Mark DeVries calls “Stacking the Stands.” Our first role is to realize that we physically cannot sit in the stands for each student, but we can show countless adults where the stands are.

I want my students to borrow faith, but there has to be a caring someone and something of substance to borrow. This idea of connecting faithful adults to the students in our ministries will demand a shift in our leadership, vision and philosophy.

If seeing students develop a lifelong love for God causes us to get up in the morning, then why not share this excitement with a bigger and broader cross-section of the body of Christ?

Catalytic Events

Sharing hot beverages and conversation with our downtown neighbors was a catalytic event for my teenage boys. For others, it is the camp experience, the mission trip, the big rally event or some other unique moment that catapulted them from unbelief to belief.

The gospels are full of catalytic moments when Jesus took His friends away from the routine of life to a life-altering experience with the Savior.

These catalytic experiences often occur in what the ancient Celts called “thin places.” These are places and experiences where the distance between heaven and earth feels miniscule.

The presence of God is often palpable for students when there is just enough silence to hear Him, mixed with leaders who speak and live out the gospel in a way that is attractive and real.

Here are two examples of my favorite spiritual catalysts for students:

1. Backpacking Trips

When students are confronted with the beauty and risk of the outdoors mixed with the power of silence and campfire conversations, the ground becomes fertile for an encounter with God. For a good reason, many students connect with the Word of God as I’ve never seen before when we are out on the trail.

2. Mission Trips

I’m not talking about a week of laboring on a construction site. Mission trips should demonstrate the same rhythm of life that we want our students to continue when they return home.

Breaking each day of the mission trip up into thirds allows for being with Him in the morning, doing the work that needs to be done during the day and celebrating through worship services and culturally immersive experiences in the evening. While this rhythm feels a bit monastic, it is this spiritual structure that many adolescents are longing for in their mission to know and love God.

Think about your own journey with Christ. Picture those faces you borrowed your faith from and remember the spaces and places where a catalytic encounter with Jesus happened. Now, identify those faces and places that students in your ministry will experience as they venture from a borrowed to an owned faith in loving a living God.

As for my group of boys, the following week after going downtown they had shared their experience with every person in our church who would listen. They demanded that we hang out with our new friends downtown every other week as we attempted to apply what we were learning.

This new effort became a program we call The Curbside Café. The piece that I was completely unaware of was the number of parents who wanted to volunteer to make this ministry happen because they couldn’t deny the change they had witnessed in the lives of their kids.

God’s love compelled me to take the boys downtown, allowing them to witness faith in action; and their own excitement for ministry became contagious. The greatest part of this story is that other Christian adults, families and other small groups began to serve alongside this small band of boys; and the Curbside Café continues to this day.

Nate Stratman has been in youth ministry for over 12 years and is currently the director of student ministries at First Presbyterian Church of Colorado Springs. He also serves as a staff consultant with Youth Ministry Architects and frequently writes at NateStratman.com.

Why Student Leadership Teams Make me Gag, sometimes.

So what do you think we should do?” I said to my student leadership team during my first year of ministry. This was like throwing a dog a bone. For the next hour I heard what sucked, what I needed to do and when I needed to have it finished. I sheepishly concluded with “great leadership meeting guys, I am excited about what God has in store!” What a load!! I wasn’t excited about jack squat. I just got told by a bunch of teenagers what to do and I was about to do it. This wasn’t leadership. I was training baby dictators.

To be honest, I still twitch a little bit when I hear the term student leadership. I absolutely believe in equipping all the saints for ministry, I just question some of the practices we use to go about empowering young people. Here are my two current thoughts as I wrestle with student leadership;

1. If They Aren’t Serving, They Aren’t Leading- This is classic Jesus leadership 101 found in Mark 10:43-45. As youth ministers, we have opportunities to not only get great theological input and cultural observances from our students, but we can help deploy them as little Christs to a hurting and thirsty world. Looking back I was absolutely setting a low bar by only asking kids about their opinions on pizza, lock-ins and t-shirt designs. In God’s economy, it is the kid who picks up trash after a meeting or who welcomes a newbie who is being the kind of leader our world is dying for.

2. Why a team?-
For me, I have struggled with the select few students serving as a leadership team. You could fire back at me and say “hey, Jesus had His select few!” Well I’m not Jesus and these aren’t my disciples. Here is what I am most excited about as far as student leadership is concerned; a. find those who are already leading and continue to encourage the mess out of them. I know it is hard to believe, but even before we get to our lesson about being a servant, students are already serving. b. investigate the passions and gifts of your students and match them with a need in the ministry, community or world. I would honestly make this one of your highest priorities as a youth worker. It is textbook discipleship and I believe it can spread like wildfire throughout a ministry. While I have known this in my head, I can honestly say that I haven’t been as vigilant about it as I should have. Instead of an insider-outsider leadership team, why don’t we aim to equip each student as a leader in one way or another. I think it would make brother Paul happy based on his body part talk in 1 Corinthians 12.

So how are we attempting to do this? Well you might think I’m a Presbyterian goober who loves polity and meetings and you are wrong! But I have started to think that our students are showing elder like traits in decision making and our little deacons are becoming caretakers. Both of these are servants, they just approach service in different ways.  For instance, we have collected a good sum of money over the years and a small group of students who are responsible stewards are actually deciding how we will best invest this money into the Kingdom. They are writing up some guidelines and the other students will soon submit missions requests. I think our group has been pretty crumby at hospitality in the past, but we have a small band of students who want to change that. One crowd of girls has taken it upon themselves to be the first to welcome and invite any student with a disability who visits our group. This are just a few that get me excited.

What are some ideas you have about student leadership?

God’s B-Team?

I preached yesterday on some of these thoughts and today I still struggle with them. The challenge for me in preaching is that I want to hash out some of the questions I ask from the pulpit and maybe that is why I really love speaking to teenagers because they talk back!

Quick Synopsis- If you take a survey of the entire bible you will see that God has used young people as agents for his mission over and over again. The call of Jeremiah in chapter 1, the call of Samuel, David, Timothy, Moses, the boy who shared is lunch in John 6 and on and on. The fact that God calls young people consistently throughout scripture tells us about his heart. Age is no barrier to Him and neither are titles.
Here are a few of the points that I made yesterday that I wished we could have hashed out, but maybe we can do that here.
1. Our churches are structured to have “B-Teams”- While no good-hearted follower of Christ would admit to putting teenagers and children on the Junior Varsity, yet we are still guilty by the way we structure. I hear more and more people talking about the need for intergenerational opportunities especially in larger churches and I would say that our structure makes assimilation very, very, difficult. What do you think?

2. Mature believers make room for maturing believers Sadly, mature believers often make room for their own spiritual health, worship styles and opinions. ( I am not exempt from this statement) I know this sound cynical, but I really thought hard before I wrote it. For the most part, we aren’t malicious about turning our heads to new and maturing believers, we just have our own routine that captures our hearts and minds. I referenced a question yesterday that was asked of every Presbyterian Elder until 1825, What are you doing to recruit young people to the Gospel ministry? This question has some teeth and I wonder why we no longer ask it? So, what does and could it look like for a church to really make room for maturing believers?

3. Wild Hair Idea- What if we got rid of youth ministry? Yes I know, this means I would looking for new job. But really, what if we canned the youth ministry, would the body rise up to take care of the teenagers without having to pay someone? Is this a better model of ministry? Do I (youth ministers) actually inhibit the people of God from reaching out to serve young people?

I really want some input here!! Pick 1 and go!

Forcing Kids to go to Church

Currently I have families who a) drag their teenagers to church b) leave them home each Sunday c) worship with their teenagers or d) send them to our High School ministry while the parents go to worship. For those parents with kids who don’t want to go to church, I frequently am asked for advice on “getting them there”.

I really do think that each family is unique and must choose what response is the best fit, but here are a few observations;
1. Teenagers follow people before they will follow a plan.
It is so easy for the family of a teenager who doesn’t want to go to church to withdraw as well. I have seen some great parents be very proactive about finding mission trips and fellowship opportunities that fit their kid. This is the best way to connect with the leaders and other students. Sunday morning or weekly programs don’t have the time to be as relational as trips and retreats are. Always call the youth minister and let them know the situation so that can help make the trip a great experience for your reluctant child. It is too easy to give up on church after church when something goes wrong. I am encouraged by parents who turn over every rock to find the right people and experiences to encourage their teenagers in the faith.

2. Teenagers Choosing Church:
I know several families who have let their teenage children choose the church the family will attend. The parents say “it is so important that our kids have a good church experience that we can adapt anywhere”. When I was 16 I actually told my father (pastor of the big Presbyterian church in town) that I was switching churches so I could be a Methodist. My father’s response was “that is fine Nate, I hope you become more involved there!” What??? That is NOT the response I was looking for. My dad called my bluff. My dad “learned me” a good lesson about ecclesiology that day.

3. A Balanced Response
 I have heard statements like, “while you are in our house we will go to church, but we will not force you to be involved in everything”. I know of a family with a teenager who doesn’t believe in Christ, but he is willing to go to worship with his family and even have good discussions about the sermon. These parents get an A+ in my book when it comes to response. They basically said, we aren’t going to force you to “believe” but we would love for you to join us as a family and discuss what we experience.

4. The Para church ministries like Young Life do a great job of presenting Christ to students who don’t want anything to do with church. Once kids “get” Jesus, they will often “get” the need for Christian community, Worship and the Scriptures.

Quick Responses to Common Complaints:
A. Church is Boring:
Sure. With some kids I don’t fight this battle right away because Church is boring when it is all about us. Our shallow understanding of worship has caused the entertainment craze in our churches. My other response is that God is not boring, only certain people who teach about God can be boring. I am not for entertainment, but I am all about spirited and passionate teaching.
B.  It is too early: This one doesn’t work for me anymore! There are church services at every hour of the day in most communities!!!

C. What other tips or thoughts would you add to this post?

Rethinking the Goal of Youth Ministry (Chap Clark)

Last weekend I posted one of my favorite articles about age separation in the church by Kara Powell and for this weekend I am posting another helpful article by Chap Clark.

The link to the full article is at the bottom, but below is a helpful section to give you a taste of what Chap is saying about assimilating youth into the full body of the church.

As Jim Burns of Youthbuilders and Mark DeVries of Family-Based Youth Ministry have said, “The degree to which students will stay in the church, get involved, and make significant life decisions for Christ is directly dependent on their sense of belonging to the community.” From here on out, the goal of any youth ministry must be that students see and experience themselves as participants in God’s family of faith.

A new definition, then, of the youth ministry task is “to assimilate authentic disciples into full participation in the life of the community of faith and the church.” This implies an individual faith as a necessary starting point, but by the time a student graduates, the measure of a program’s effectiveness must become how deeply and honestly the students have been connected to the larger body.

Chap lists several steps in the article for a ministry/church/family to take in order to lower the fences that separate the different generations in our churches. I believe that our current structure of church, especially in larger churches makes assimilation nearly impossible. This discussion involves discussion about new structures and that makes comfortable Christians nervous.

 

Here is the full article by Chap Clark from Youth Specialties

Moving Away from the Kid Table by Dr. Kara Powell

Kara Powell leads the Fuller Youth Institute and she will soon publish her research on “Sticky Faith”. I’ll try to post some of my favorite articles on the weekends and this is one of them.

On my dad’s side of the family, I’m the oldest of 15 cousins. There were too many of us to fit around one table at my family gatherings, so my grandparents came up with a clever solution: two tables. The first table was the adult table.

The second table? You guessed it. It was the kid table.

The contrast between the two tables was stark. The adults ate in the dining room. We ate in the TV room. The adults had real china; we had paper plates, or if we were lucky, plastic. The adult table had sparkling and interesting conversation. The kid table inevitably degenerated into rolls flying through the air and Jell-O–snorting contests.

Two separate tables, two very different experiences.

Does this sound like your family? How about your church?

In churches today, there’s an adult worship service and a youth worship service. We have an adult worship team and a teen worship band. The larger the church, the greater the separation.

Is it good for teenagers to be on their own some of the time? Absolutely. As one youth worker told me, “Kids don’t want to talk about masturbation with Grandma in the room.”

But one of my life mantras says that balance is something we swing through on our way to the other extreme. In our effort to offer meaningful and relevant ministry to kids, we’ve segregated them—and I don’t use the verb segregated lightly—from the broader church.

Helpful Images with Harmful Consequences

The way we think about the church profoundly shapes the way we think about teens’ place within the church. Some of the common—even biblical—images we use to describe the church, while admittedly inspired and powerful, can have potentially harmful consequences for kids because of our unintentional miscommunication.

Our Use of the Word Church

The New Testament Greek word for church is ekklesia from ek and kaleo, meaning called out from or the called-out ones. To think of a church as merely a building runs counter to the New Testament description of church (1 Corinthians 11-14). 1 The well-known nursery rhyme, “This is the church, this is the steeple, open the doors and see all the people,” is actually heresy. It is more theologically accurate to say, “Here is the building, this is the steeple, open the doors and see the church, which is people.” Not as catchy, to be sure.

My church, Lake Avenue Church, is not the building located at 393 N. Lake Avenue. It is the people who gather at 393 N. Lake Avenue and then live as kingdom people during the rest of the week.

What does this mean for youth ministry? If we think of or refer to the church as a building (e.g., “Let’s go to church”), what does that make our students? They are the guests, the visitors at that building. And they better not make too much of a mess while they are visiting.

The Bride of Christ

Moving on from this most fundamental understanding of church as ekklesia, let’s look at another mystical image of the church periodically used by youth workers: the church as “Christ’s bride” (2 Corinthians 11:2-3; Ephesians 5:32; Revelation 21). We as the bride of Christ are being prepared for the coming day of marriage to the Groom, who both awaits us and is purifying us for himself. Looking ahead, we wait in anticipation for the wedding feast of the Lamb described in Revelation.

We want and need an eschatological view of our future. The imagery of the bride of Christ is an important and biblically rooted picture. But let’s think about how this imagery is misunderstood in youth ministry. All too often, teenagers are seen as part of the church’s future instead of also the church’s present. As youth workers, we know that teenagers are not just the church of tomorrow. It’s trite but true: teenagers are the church of today.

The Body of Christ

Some of us—and our congregations—speak of the church primarily along the lines of Paul’s description as the “body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:1-31, Ephesians 1:15-22). As the body, all of us function as parts of Christ’s body in our communities and across the world. In this metaphor, everyone has a place, and that place is marked by our service to the rest of the body.

This is a wonderful and often used picture of the church. As a youth leader, I want teenagers searching for a sense of identity and significance to know that they have gifts and that those gifts can impact others. However, the potential danger with this imagery is that it can be misinterpreted to lack a sense of relationship and instead focus on the instrumental value of the parts. It’s high on mission and purpose and low on a core need of adolescents: love.

The Family of God

If love is what we want, then this fourth and final image of church helps us move toward that goal. The metaphor of the family of God, which appears in Scripture only once, in 1 Peter 4:17, carries the image of family, of a tribe or cohesive community, that is inherently appealing to us.

This is an important image, but what is often lost in this image is the role of biological or adopted families. In this family-of-God imagery, what place do teenagers’ parents, stepparents and foster parents play in the spiritual formation of teens? Recent research continues to confirm the enormous influence parents have on their kids—for the good, the bad and the ugly. As Christian Smith from Notre Dame explained, both in Soul Searching and at a panel at Fuller Seminary, parents are the most dominant influence on their kids’ faith. As he summarized at the panel at Fuller, “When it comes to faith, parents get what they are.”

An Intentionally Inclusive and Intergenerational Image

An image we’ve been re-exploring at Fuller Seminary recently is the church as a “family of families.” We think this image has merit because it captures the spiritual reality that all followers of Jesus are family to one another—spiritual siblings, actually. And yet this image also acknowledges that we exist in biological (or legally adopted) parent-child relationships that God wove into the design of creation. So in the midst of our spiritual family, we keep our biological family too.

Dr. Dennis Guernsey, a former Fuller faculty member who was an early proponent for this ecclesiology, wrote:

I am suggesting that the church redefine itself in system terms as the whole but with the parts being its families rather than the individuals in those families. Even where there are no families… I am suggesting that the parts which make up the whole be construed as those clusters of primary relationships which function as family. The church according to this redefinition becomes a family of families. 2

You might be concerned by any phrasing that includes the word family, since kids today are often adrift from their families. I myself am a daughter of divorce and am fairly sensitive to phrases that may alienate kids who come from “atypical” families.  That’s why the middle sentence in the quote is so important: “The parts which make up the whole be construed as those clusters of primary relationships which function as family.”

This extension of family to include those who fill the role of family members (even if they are not biologically related) parallels the thinking of sociologist Diana Garland. In her well-known bookFamily Ministry, Garland acknowledges the structural definition of biological or legally adopted family but then stretches us to also think about a functional definition of family. This functional definition acknowledges those who are not biologically related but nonetheless meet kids’ needs for belonging and attachment.

While the term family of families is nowhere mentioned in Scripture, we at Fuller Seminary think it well captures the family-of-God imagery while also acknowledging the enormous influence and importance of smaller community groups that function as families. In fact, viewing the church as a family of families aligns with the most central aspects of the images previously mentioned: it focuses on people as the church; it reminds us that the ultimate goal of all of our familial relationships is unity with Christ as his bride; it points to the importance of each person’s contributions as the body of Christ; and it obviously highlights our relationships as spiritual siblings.

A New 5:1 Ratio

My colleague, Chap Clark, says a lot of brilliant things. But one of the most brilliant things he has said in the last few years is that it’s time to reverse the normal adult:student ratio in youth ministry. In youth ministry, we talk a lot about a preferred ratio of one adult for every five kids on the retreat, or one adult for every seven kids for our Sunday morning small groups.

What if we flipped that ratio upside down? What if we said we need five adults pouring into one kid?

When I say this to youth workers, I see their bodies get tense. I can tell they are thinking, I’m having a hard enough time recruiting one small group leader for five kids, and now you want me to round up five leaders for every single kid?

I’m not talking about five Bible study leaders. I’m talking about an adult in your church who meets a kid named Claire and remembers Claire’s name. Or an adult who talks to Nathan and asks how they can be praying for him. And then the next week, they ask Nathan how it’s going with soccer this week.

Some churches are taking baby steps toward this 5:1 goal. I’m a volunteer at my church, leading a group of high school juniors on Sunday mornings. My own church recently had a special six-week Sunday school class that combined specially invited high school upperclassmen with senior adults. The theme of the class was Christ and Culture. Some of the most meaningful moments in the class were when the teenagers showed how they were trying to shape culture. One kid brought in his guitar and played a song he had written. Another girl wanted to be a fashion designer and brought in sketches of her clothes. The kids had the chance to share their best talents, and then the senior adults oohed and aahed over the kids’ gifts and asked them how their faith shaped their work.

I met a youth worker a few weeks ago whose church encourages juniors and seniors to step away from small groups that are comprised only of their peers and instead join adult small groups in the church. The kids do this in groups of twos or threes so they still have some friends their own age in the small group.

More and more youth ministries are taking even larger leaps toward intentional intergenerational relationships that lead to this new 5:1 ratio. One youth ministry that was meeting both on Sundays and Wednesdays started asked the question, “Why are we meeting twice per week? What’s the purpose of each meeting?” They realized that they were more or less offering the same sort of worship, teaching and fellowship twice and that hardly any of their students were involved in the larger church.

So they cancelled Sunday youth group. No more Sunday meetings. Now kids are fully integrated into the church on Sundays. They are greeters; they serve alongside adults on the music team; they are involved in giving testimonies; they even take chunks of the sermon from time to time. As the youth pastor was describing this shift, he said that not only has it changed the kids; it’s changed the church.

Do 13- and 16-year-olds need to be together on their own at times? Absolutely. But I’m inspired by churches that are realizing that the kingdom is more than separate adult and kids’ tables; it’s followers of all ages who feast together on the goodness of God’s kingdom and invite others to join the celebration.

Action Steps

  1. In what ways does your church have separate “kid tables” and “adult tables”?  What do you think Jesus would say about that?
  2. What are the advantages of trying to surround each kid with 5 adults who care about them?  What are the costs?
  3. In your role in your church, how can you help change your church’s culture?
  4. What current events, rituals or worship services does your ministry or church offer that could be infused with a 5:1 flavor?

A version of this article also appears in the July/August print issue of  Immerse Journal

 

The missional church and our Youth.

Yes, I know. This reminds many of you of a Pink Floyd album, but that’s not what I’m going for here. Look at this and now come up with an analogy of the church. For those of us who have wrestled with the Christian buzz word “missional”, could this serve as a pictorial definition of the missional church?

This diagram draws my eye to the dispersion on the right side. Dispersion is a great word that we need to use with students more often and it’s fun to say. When we meet on Sunday mornings we are the “gathered church” and the benediction is like the “breaking” of a huddle in football where we become the “dispersed church”. I love the idea of gathering with a bunch of sinful saints as we focus on the power of Christ and then the worship service continues as we go out the doors of the church to work, school, the bar, Target and even the Department of Motor Vehicles.

The Rub: “Neither the structures nor the theology of our established Western churches is missional. They are shaped by the legacy of Christendom.” (Guder)So if the rub is the challenge, then the goal is this definition: ” A missional church is a reproducing community of authentic disciples being equipped as missionaries sent by God, to live and proclaim His Kingdom in their world.”

What are the systemic and theological barriers that tend to shut down the dispersion?
Furthermore, we have story after story in the scriptures of teenagers leading the dispersion, what would it take for this to happen in your youth ministry and mine?

How have you rethought youth ministry in these ways?

NO PURPLING!?

Purpling: when girls (pink) and boys (blue) are together, we call that purpling.


Most likely you’ve heard this term at camp or on some overnight when leaders are trying to keep their curious and flirtatious students from sneaking into each other’s cabins. Depending on the flavor of your church, keeping the girls with the girls and the boys with the boys could be a top priority. I’ve heard many of my students talk about “dark blue” and “hot pink” as additional labels that we leaders must look out for, but that is another post!
I’m not promoting that youth workers throw gas on the fire when it comes to teenage hormones, but has the No Purpling carried over into all aspects of our ministries?
Many small groups, bible studies, sports teams and classrooms have made little room for healthy dialogue and interaction between the genders.  Where is there space for the 17-year-old boy to learn from other godly women? What is a 15-year-old girl missing when most of her spiritual dialogue comes from only women?
In my experience, I have talked to countless church-going teenagers who have been sexually active with their boyfriend or girlfriend, yet they would not consider having conversation of any depth to be of value. Do our educational models hinder or help healthy dialogue between the genders?

Research: While I have not seen any research based on single-sexed Christian education, there are plenty of studies and commentaries in public education. In an NBC Nightly News, Professor Kathy Piechura-Couture of Stetson University , reported that over the four years of the pilot study, 55% of boys in the coed classrooms scored proficient on the FCAT (Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test), compared with 85% of boys in the all-boys classes. Same class size. Same curriculum. Same demographics.

Does this research translate to spiritual formation or are we talking apples and oranges?

I believe absorbing information for a test and learning to dialogue in healthy community with the opposite gender are two different animals. Do you?

A thought or three.
1. Coed Discussions on Sexuality: When we teach or have programs on sexuality and relationships, don’t just send the boys to one room and the girls to another. I have really enjoyed seeing the guys and girls respond to each other when I have read anonymous questions they have written concerning sexuality. I have a hunch that most girls don’t discuss sex with their dads, so I see value in the church offering this type of dialogue.
2. Ladies AND Gents: For the churches who don’t allow women in leadership, how can our young men learn from other Christian women? What does that look like? Do you see it as necessary? In our programs and at camps, I see great value in making sure that both women and men are in front of the students. Currently we have our small groups segregated by gender and as I write this post I am convinced that we could use more coed environments for discipleship. I don’t believe mission trips and camps are enough exposure to growing spiritually with both genders, although they are a good start.
3. Single Parents: I continue to meet more and more students who come from single parent homes. How many times have you heard the single mom plead for other adults to take a spiritual interest in her child? The church is wired and set up to play this important role in the lives of kids who don’t have a mom or dad present in their lives and we offer a richer expression of the gospel when both genders participate.

I’ll continue to hunt down those boys at camp who are slipping over to the girls cabins and I will now begin to invite them to sit at the girls tables more and more in our youth ministry.

Young Life and the Church: Church kids or Furthest out?

Guest Post:  Young Life and the Church by Lars Rood

A few weeks back my friend Nate wrote a series of blog articles about the relationship between Young Life and the church. At some point I started conceiving of a blog post that I felt needed to be written.

First some background. I didn’t grow up with Young Life.  It didn’t exist in my town.  A few friends in college were involved as leaders and a lot of people I knew were pretty impacted by the camp called Malibu in Canada.  Although I’d never been,   I applied and was offered a position on the “Beyond Malibu” team one summer.  I turned it down and went to work at Forest Home in Southern California.

Over the years in ministry I’ve had the chance to be around some pretty great young life staff that love kids.  I’ve also met a ton of people who had their lives changed through the ministry of young life.

With all of that said I still have one issue with young life.  That issue is when church kids are reached out to by young life staffers.

This statement will probably get me in trouble but I will say it anyways.  If your ministry is aimed at seeking the lost then when you find someone who is connected to a church you don’t need to reach out to him or her.

I guess where I’m at with this is I’ve seen several Para church ministries (to be clear my statements here are aimed at everyone not just young life) begin to reach out to kids who are already connected to other places and encourage them to come to their ministry.  Many of these kids don’t need outreach they need encouragement to stay connected to their churches.

Before you kill me in the comments I will say that I have a solution and it’s really simple.  Last year a Young Life club was trying to get restarted in our town.  We offered them to use our Youth Facility so that they would have a space to meet.  We invited the Young Life staff to Network events and made sure they knew that we really liked them and wanted to work with them.   The solution is to partner.  I want the Young Life staff person to know that I think they have an incredible role.  I want them to know that the church desperately needs ministries who are reaching out and caring for lost teenagers.  I want them to feel supported and empowered that we pray and care for them.  In return I want them to support the long term discipleship that we are doing with students. I want them to know when a student was baptized and confirmed at a church. I want them to do everything they can to encourage students to stay connected to their churches.  We need to partner to love teenagers and to encourage them to not just jump around to the new great thing.  Will it be easy to partner?  No.  But ministering to teenagers isn’t supposed to be easy.  Commissions never are.

You can follow Lars at www.larsrood.com for more youth ministry conversations.

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