5 Questions for The Grove: Generations

At our annual meeting on April 27th, I presented 5 questions that I believe The Grove’s response to will determine the level of influence we have for Jesus in our city and in our world.  Part 1!

Question 2: Will we successfully pass the faith to the next generation?

Organizations that have systems to reward mediocrity drive me crazy. Absolutely nutso. When an organization rewards itself for repeating its past success even while the environment in which it is operating changes, it’s a sure sign that I want to avoid that organization – and the people involved with it. Rewarding mediocrity is the best way to enact a slow, albeit relatively painless, demise to any organization.

Here’s what I think that looks like in the western church…

You are a young person who grows up in a church, say in the mid-1900’s, when Christian kids were equally being recruited to like Jesus, attend patriotic demonstrations and to battle the huns. They did this by holding large rallies which you would attend with your youth group at a local hall, or at a stadium in the nearby city. The rally would include singing of the most contemporary hymns and songs, a special message from a celebrity, some kind of special musical act, and a message from a dynamic preacher. You would leave the rally amped up, ready to take the world for Jesus, for your church and for your country.

You grow older and you stick with your church because it helped you have meaning in your life – it introduced you to Jesus after all, which is awesome – and you become an adult leader in your church. Turns out, there is a whole new generation of teenagers out there and it would be great to introduce them to Jesus as well. So, you get involved with running (and if you are older and have means, you also can be funding) rallies to introduce Jesus to kids. You get celebrities to say something, some kind of musical act (if we’ve reached the late 70’s, we can start getting ‘professional’ Christian bands who go from rally to rally), and a preacher who is really dynamic and relates well to the kids. And it works. Maybe not as much as before, but it works. If you are lucky enough to be a hard core, pre-destinational, God ordained election Calvinist you can ignore the lessening of the ministry effectiveness, but it’s still there. It’s not like the rallies don’t work, but it’s working for less and less people.

Now, let’s say you are one of the few who the second generation of youth ministry actually reached. And not just reached in getting you to go to a rally, or got you to sign some kind of a response card, or say a prayer – but you are one of the few who stuck with Jesus for life. Maybe it was so meaningful you became a youth pastor, or you volunteered in your local youth group. You are a part of a time in youth ministry when some studies show that as much as 85% of teens who profess Jesus at the end of high school will quit the faith during their 4 year college experience and turn away from Jesus completely. In order to fix this you grow bigger rallies, bigger groups and bigger weekly youth events. Your organization figures that if we want to help 15 kids follow Jesus for their whole lives, we need to attract 100 kids to the group. Maybe you even start holding rally-style events weekly, or even twice weekly. You get fun experiences (like vaseline mohawks!! #guilty), loud, front-edge music, minor celebrities (hence younglife’s strategy of reaching the popular kids at a local school and hoping the unpopular follow along), and a dynamic preacher. Kids leave ready to take their school for Jesus every week! But the long term effectiveness is questionable. So, the youth pastors’ turnover rate gets more and more rapid – he’s got to get out of town before anyone realizes how ineffective this 1940’s style of ministry is in 2014…

It’s not that the local church doesn’t want this. Traditional local churches with low conversion rates (that grow by transfers from churches with less attractive life-stage appropriate ministries) are full of people who had an amazing youth pastor (for a couple years anyways) and want to see that experience repeated for their children. It’s a noble and loving and normal Christian thing for a parent to want their teenage child to know Jesus and have the same meaningful experience that they did! I love and agree with this desire all the way! However, the traditional local church runs into a problem when the rally method they have been using for decades starts to fray and they enjoy less and less of a meaningful place in contemporary youth culture. It’s not that it stops working…it just works less and less. The tragic response from older generations is to blame the implementation of the strategy. We fire the youth pastor, spend more money, partner with the local “youth missionary” from young life, youth for christ or youth alive and build skateboarding ramps because kids like skateboarding, right?


We are the futile Glass Tiger fans trying to convince Beliebers, Barbz, and Little Monsters of the value of synthesizer produced music.



The classic argument lately has been that even thought those kids are leaving the church in their late-teens or early twenties, they are coming back when they get married and have kids. That was true…for a while. It’s not anymore. People in a traditional church live in denial of this because they can find anecdotal evidence and point to the young couple with the two adorable kids that came to youth group here 6 years ago and have come back because they want to raise their kids in the church, raise good kids in their good family and contribute to a better world (please do notice the complete lack of Jesus in any of the reasoning). In general, researchers are seeing less and less of these boomerang Christians return to the church in their mid-twenties. There are multiple reasons suggested, but it’s so widespread that churches need to take notice.

So, the traditional western church has become an organization that rewards a youth ministry philosophy that is horribly infective and is getting worse. We reward mediocrity. We even celebrate that mediocrity in our practices, spending and strategies.

We are contributing to the long slow, but relatively painless, demise of our churches by inefectively passing on the faith to future generations.

This is the dirty little secret among youth pastors today. Over and over again I talk to them about current youth ministry philosophies and they are at a loss because they know that past methods are becoming less and less effective, yet they are the very programs desired by the parents and leaders in their churches. They see the need for change, but they first have to reach the church before they can reach lost teenagers.

So, this is the question confronting The Grove…will we effectively pass on our faith to the next generation? Will we help them walk their journey, in their world, and maybe not follow the paths we have created? Will we help them plant churches that are radically different than the current? Do we have a baton that is worth passing on to them?

Is The Grove daring enough to lead the next generation to create radical churches – and not expect them to ever use the word ‘radical’? Or will we reward those mediocre few who fall in line, never ask challenging questions and keep their heads down so that we can keep moving along ignoring the impending collapse?

It sounds like the easiest thing in the world – until you hear how horrible their music is compared to our beautiful Canadian Rock Anthem Makers, Glass Tiger. Or you see how their theology doesn’t even fit into the systematic categories we have built for them. Or we see how little they care about issues that we have declared vital and how much they care about others we have never even considered.

It doesn’t mean that we stop going to rallies, investing in teens, or seeking help from outside the church organization. I am not against traditional youth ministry, but there is no way that it is the panacea of the Holy Spirit.

We need to become a people who help new generations know and follow Jesus – on Jesus’ terms, not on ours. It’s thinking in the same way as a missionary to a foreign field – what does following Jesus look like over there? How is it different? How is it the same? How does their cultural expression of Christianity actually challenge and improve us?

Before you write this off as an out of control rant (which may be true), I want to end with these extraordinary words of change from Billy Graham, from The Next Christians by Gabe Lyons (p.8),

Back when we did these big crusades in football stadiums and arenas, the Holy Spirit was really moving – and people were coming to Christ as we preached the word of God…But today, I sense something different is happening. I see evidence that the Holy Spirit is working in a new way. He’s moving through people where they work and through one-on-one relationships to accomplish great things.






Fields, Your First Two Years in Youth MInistry

Doug Fields is a former youth pastor from Saddleback Church and got super famous in the youth ministry world with his publication of Purpose Driven Youth Ministry, which applies Rick Warren’s strategies to a youth ministry setting. His less famous but just as significant second book is, Your First Two Years in Youth Ministry: a Personal and Practical Guide to Starting Right. It’s the absolute best book out on starting well in ministry, setting a foundation for a long and effective ministry life and avoiding some really common traps that rookies can fall into.

This book was super helpful for me when I was young in ministry, and it has been my go-to text form helping those who are brand new to youth ministry. This fall, I read it with another guy who was brand new, but not youth ministry. It was almost fully applicable, but it made me wish I knew of a book like this for rookies in other ministry areas.

The book is also great because it doesn’t assume that all youth ministers are paid vocational pastors. It has a lot of material for volunteers to grow from and learn in. It could also be helpful for those who supervise youth workers, to help them succeed early and have great influence for the gospel.

Here’s some highlights:

  • p.82, “Too often, youth workers are seduced by the lure of designing an attractive program. They admire the creativity it offers, the potential it produces, the challenge it brings, the wows expressed from observing youth workers – and then they forget the reason for the program.”
  • p.176, “Sit down with your pastor and agree on goals for your first month, first quarter, and first year. Ask him to write an endorsement letter on your behalf and send it to the existing volunteer team. Your pastor’s credibility and stamp of approval enhances your authority.”
  • p.186, “If you’ve got some time-conscious potential volunteers, offer options to serve within varied amounts of time. Draft a list of ways volunteers might meaningfully contribute if they served 30 minutes a week, two hours a week, or five hours a week.”
  • p.240 (contributed by Tony Campolo), “It’s important to note that the early church often prayed itself into harmony (Acts 5:12, 15:25) before making decisions.”


Marko, Youth Ministry 3.0

I’m reading 4 books with Aaron Swank this fall as we are looking at a complete re-tooling of The Grove’s ministry to middle and high school students.  The first one is Youth Ministry 3.0, by Mark Oestreicher.  The book puts itself out there as a manifesto of where we’ve been, where we are and where we need to go.  The fun part of this book is that I am quoted in it!  MarkO put ideas into blog posts and invited interaction that he would sift through to use as sidebars in the book – a  few of which come from me!

The book takes a look at the modern origins of youth ministry, the invention of the teenager, the growth and development of church based youth ministry and, later, the professionalization of youth ministry.  It then asks the question – what is happening culturally in western teenagers today and how must youth ministry respond?

Here’s some helpful material:

  • p.11, from Kenda Creasy-Dean’s foreword, Marko “names the elephant in the room of youth ministry: ‘The way we’re doing things is already not working.  We are failing at our calling.  And deep down, most of us know it.'”\
  • This Wendy’s commercial is referred to, as a visual metaphor of what seems to be happening in youth ministry in the western world:
  • p.29, “adolescence has been, and still is, a cultural phenomenon.”
  • p.58, “Youth workers clamored to develop youth-y churches-within-churches that were loosely attached to, but functionally separate (and autonomous) from, the church that housed and funded them.”
  • P.63, Another useful youtube is referred to, to describe how we need to learn to look at problems in new ways in order to find fresh descriptions and, eventually, fresh solutions:
  • p.72, “Once again, like good missionaries youth workers need to become contextual specialists.  Party planners, programming experts, youth preaching obsessors, growth and measurement gurus, and lowest common denominator systemizers are no longer needed.  What’s needed are cultural anthropologists with relational passion.”
  • p.107, on church youth ministries that are fully separate from the church ministry: “Isolated youth groups have done just as much hard as good.  Isolation might make things easier in some ways, but striving for the best is rarely easy.”

Sacramento NYWC 12 – MarkO

So, this is finally my last post about the Sacramento NYWC.  I always come home with such a full notebook and its great to be able to process it here and get feedback and clairfy my learning.

This final post is about the final session at NYWC, where MarkO takes the stage and just inspires the hockeysticks out of us youthworkers  and sends us out to storm the world in faith.  I had never before been able to stay for the last session because of early flights, so I went in pretty amped.

MarkO’s talk was on the trends of emphasis for the three major tasks of adolescence (identity, autonomy and affinity).  He then explored how affinity seems to be the current emphasis and that there must be a shift from what the current reality is, to a new reality in youth ministry.  Much of this is available in his book Youth Ministry 3.0, which I have skimmed, but has to wait for a full reading until I’m done with school reading (I am particularly interested in it because I am quoted in it a couple times, but that’s a story for another day).

In the middle of this Mark talked about the inter-related nature of community and mission.  It was remarkable to me because it was a sermon I gave at Kainos last year, so it was like, no duh… except I took it a little further than Mark.  It made me feel VERY good though, because sometimes I wonder how far out I am and hearing it on the mainstage at YS kind of justified my thinking paths.  It blessed me, not because of how novel the ideas were, but because I recognized something that I feel in me that I haven’t seen in too many other major church leaders.

Sacramento NYWC 11 – Tony Campolo

Early on Monday morning I got in late to a Tony Campolo seminar called, Christianity: Modern and Postmodern.  I was excited about it because I knew it would have nothing to do with the title.  They could have called it Tony Campolo washes dishes while wearing a black turtleneck and just as many people would have been there.  Here’s what I wrote:

  • Freud: individualism vs. Bible: community
  • Skinner: past orientation vs. Bible: faith, hope, future
  • new names: because the future determines who we are more than the past
  • the clock as a death denial system
  • book: “The Denial of Death” read the Wiki too
  • Freud shifted from the suppression of libido to the suppression of the fear of death as he aged
  • Autonomy: Being and Nothingness by Sarte
  • Who you are is determined by your choice of who/what you are committed to.  You become what you serve.
  • knowing who you are will make you a leader.  You know this by knowing what you are committed to.
  • Relativity: values become relative, but this falls apart in practice because of a universal agreement towards justice; anthropology reveals the erro of relativity.
  • quoting Kant, “Transcendental categories of our perception.”
  • Postmodernism: environmentalism can be motivated by Ps. 148 because creation is worshipping
  • Self-Acalization: Campolo suggested that gospel oriented youth pastors will end up fighting parents who believe they have a “lasting” right to define their kids’ identity (rather than the kids’ future defining it).
  • Clement of Alexandria: Jesus made yokes that were outstanding and light and easy.
  • How do we hold a sacredness to the environment without becoming New Age?  Heresy comes from neglected truth
  • Genesis 1: Harvey Cox, it establishes God as the creator of all the things people worship falsely
  • It wasn’t until Noah that God gave permission to kill animals and eat.  I haven’t looked this up though.
  • Edison: 4,000 failed experiments to develop the light bulb. How does this apply to the emerging church?
  • What does this rock teach you about Jesus?

Sacramento NYWC 9 – Mike King and Chap Clark

I’ve never been around Chap Clark and WOW – he has the exact kind of personality that you would expect a youthworker to have.  It was so funny to watch sitting in the back with tired eyes; he came accross as one of those people who have a goal of winning you over as a friend – like that was his primary motivation in life.  Anyways, this was an interesting talk.  It wasn’t really information rich, as it was an experience in watching two experienced guys show how they process research.  I kinda wish they would have given the people tools and tips on how they find their research and the papers they read.

Also, a young woman shushed me and Erin.  I believe God used me to show her how to extend grace and she obviously struggles in this area (yes, I’m mostly kidding).  Really, I thought in a seminar designed for experienced youth leaders that we’d have a little more opportunity for synthesis.  Since the leaders didn’t provide it – we took it for ourselves.

Here’s what I wrote down:

While Mike King spoke:

  • Brain development in late adolescence: pruning connections according to lack of use
  • no brakes in their brains: creates the need/opportunity for training and development.  King suggests here that the best methods for this opportunity is spiritual disciplines and prayer practices.
  • brains in teens work better int he evening and during exercises
  • Key Questions: What do students have the neurological capabilities to do?
  • The American middle school system is designed to destroy boys.

While Chap Clark spoke:

  • multiple identities
  • “thriving” and “assets”
  • STD’s, cutting and pressure: all kids are hurting
  • The documentary Soul Searching was almost a documentary on suicide, because so many kids live there or their close friend does.

This seminar also reinforced the idea to me that having 2 youth groups (MS and HS) is wildly ineffective.  Rather, from a neurological and developmental perspective youth ministry should be divided: Early, grades 6,7 & Middle, grades 8-10 & Late, grades 11,12 and college-ish.

However, NO ONE is running with this model.

Sacramento NYWC 8 – Dale Fincher

Dale Fincher is a self-professed author and speaker (I always wonder about people who refer to themselves as authors and speakers.  I wonder what they author and speak?), as you can see on his website.  He runs a ministry about apologetics for students living in the emerging postmodern age.  He is smart and speaks really well, too.  I appreciated his presentation.  His seminar was about a new kind of apologetics.  I stayed all the way through, but skipped out on the audience questions to do dinner with the whole group of PacNW ECNA YP’s at Spaghetti Factory.  Here’s the cool notes (some of his thoughts, some of my thoughts) I got from this seminar:

  • Who do we pay taxes to?  His image is on the coin.  IF you see God’s image on anything, give that to God
  • quoting a young student: The virgin birth is true because it is so beautiful, irregardless of whether or not it happened.
  • I believe in life before death.  Our message has subtly become, “suffer long enough and you’ll get rewarded after death.
  • conversational, imaginative, personal
  • What makes us human?
  • truth is a means: freedom is the end
  • in mormonism, women are less human, which is very suspicious (check his website for more info)
  • Tools for thinking are needed for students, not just moralistic, theistic and deist innoculations
  • the human way: ask what is universally human?  connect people at these points and relay that fully human is Jesus’ way.