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Trends Youth Workers Will Face This Year

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Remember the familiar narrative in Acts 17 when the Apostle Paul used his personal observations of the city of Athens as a springboard for an opportunity to share the Gospel with the philosophers that were gathered at the Areopagus?

Youth workers – let’s apply this same action step as we make our final preparations for our youth groups this Fall. Let’s use our own observations to identify some of the cultural trends that are facing our kids, and then use those trends as opportunities to reach out to them and the households they are from.

The big difference here of course, is that Paul was a visitor in Athens – and we live in the communities in which we minister. But the same principles apply.

What’s going on in your community? Do you read the local newspaper, or watch the local news to get a glimpse of what your community leaders are saying? Why not schedule an appointment with the principal or superintendent of schools where the kids from your church attend? Have you done a demographic study of the population trends in your area?

(By the way, you can get a lot of that information free from sources like the US Census Bureau. For more information on how you can do that, you are invited to participate in my FREE Zoom webinar which will be held on Thursday, September 23 at 1 PM Eastern Time.)

What are the trends and the needs of your community? What are you seeing? What are you observing that may provide you with greater opportunities to share the Gospel or to minister to kids and the households they are from?

In preparation for my upcoming webinar, and in preparation for our church’s ministries this Fall, I have identified the following cultural trends that I want to share with you here.

(I am especially interested in knowing if you are seeing the same things. If so, I’d love to hear about it. Or if you are seeing other cultural trends that are facing today’s kids, please let me know about those things too. You can send me your thoughts at: mel@visionforyouth.com.) 

Some Cultural Trends Youth Workers Will Face This Year –

  • You will have kids in your group from a growing number of hurting households.

The demographic statistics in your community will probably prove this to be true. Members of Generation Z are from a rapidly increasing number of non-traditional, dysfunctional, and hurting households. (You can read more about the specifics in Generation Z: A Century in the Making, by Corey Seemiller and Meghan Grace, and Households of Faith: The Rituals and Relationship that Turn a Home into a Sacred Space, published by the Barna Group.) It is very likely that several kids in your group this Fall will be products of hurting households.

  • You will have to minister to kids who are from homes where church and religion are not that important.

Here’s another trend that you will most likely face this Fall: church and church programs are not a top priority in the lives and schedules of many of the families who attend your church. Some researchers have recently reported that many families that claim to be followers of Christ only attend weekend church programs approximately once per month.

I’ve met with several youth pastors recently who have shared with me that it is a struggle for them to get their teenagers to regularly attend youth group. Other things, like sports and work, are more important. It is becoming more likely that youth workers will have to find other creative means to connect with kids instead of thinking that today’s teenagers will faithfully attend church and youth group.

  • Several of the teens in your group will feel stressed, fearful, and uncertain.

You have undoubtedly read about this in recent news reports – and if you have personal relationships with many kids, you will know that this trend is true. Perhaps it is a result of the Covid crisis, or maybe it was happening anyway, but many of today’s youngest generations feel the stress of anxiety, fear, and uncertainty. Plus, the parents of your kids are facing these emotions too. This is a serious situation. The “mental health” of your young people is something very real. I’m thankful that we have the “living and powerful” Word of God that provides real answers for real-life situations!

  • Some of the kids in your group are facing difficult “identify” issues.

Here is another issue that youth workers will probably face this year. Today’s kids are being bombarded with “identity” issues in the media, in school, and from a variety of other sources. Most likely you will have kids in your group who are struggling with distorted or unrealistic perceptions of themselves. Again, it’s important to realize that our best resource to help kids with this is the truth of God’s Word, and the demonstration of the unconditional love of Christ.

  • Most of your students will need direction in finding their purpose in life.

Kids probably have always struggled with this one. I know this was something that I had to work through way back when I was a teenager – but this is even more pronounced now. Your students will be thinking about the big “purpose” questions of life. “Why am I here?” “What am I supposed to accomplish?” “What should I do with my life?” You should teach your group about knowing and doing God’s Will, but you should also have personal conversations with each teenager to help them identify what God wants them to do with their life.

Again, youth workers – I’m wondering what cultural trends you are seeing this year. Please let me know. You can send me a personal note at: mel@visionforyouth.com.

I will post an article soon that outlines some of the action steps I suggest that may help you deal with these cultural trends. Blessings!

When Parents Are Not Partners in Your Church’s Youth Ministry…

in Family Ministry/Parents/youth ministry by

The ideal scenario for any youth pastor, of course, would be to have committed Christian parents as active, supportive, and true partners in the church’s youth ministry. Christian parents are the ones most accountable for the spiritual growth and development of their kids. The Scriptures are clear that parents, especially fathers, are to bring their kids up “in the training and admonition of the Lord,” (Ephesians 6:4, ESV). It would be great if those same parents saw the need for their kids to be faithfully and actively involved in the established mission of church youth ministry.

There are definitely some parents who love what the church is doing with teenagers – and who appreciate the tangible benefits their own teenagers experience as enthusiastic participants in those functions. To be sure, there are Christian parents out there who realize that the church is also responsible for the spiritual maturity of their kids. They have studied Ephesians 4 and see the importance of the local church teaching their kids to “no longer be children,” but to “grow up in all things into Christ,” (vv14-15, NKJV).

Both God-ordained institutions, the Christian home and the local church, have the same God-given purpose to teach the life-changing Gospel of Jesus Christ and to train the next generation to grow into lasting spiritual maturity.

There certainly are some parents who are vigorous contributors to the process of true spiritual growth in the lives of their kids, and who are also absolutely committed to what the church youth ministry is trying to do. In fact, the statistics overwhelmingly show that the students who grow up in those homes are undoubtedly the ones who grow up to live consistent Christian lives as adults themselves. That situation is what God wants – and it is what works in life.

But let’s get real. The above-described scenario is getting harder and harder to find.

Today’s Changing Households

Current demographic trends reveal an ever-increasing number of non-traditional, hurting, and dysfunctional households. Youth workers and other church leaders should do their homework. Look at the census information and other cultural demographics in your community. There is no doubt that the number of kids today from those non-traditional households is growing exponentially.

In fact, a recent book from the Barna Group, Households of Faith: The Rituals and Relationships That Turn a Home Into a Sacred Space, has challenged churches to quit using the term “family ministry,” because so many households do not readily identify as true “families.”

The authors of perhaps the definitive book on today’s teenagers, Generation Z: A Century in the Making, report some alarming changes in the makeup of the average American household. This includes that a significant portion of kids today do not live with both of their natural parents, along with an increasing number of single-parent homes, an expanding number of children living in cohabiting households, and a growing number of same-sex households with children.

A Post-Christian Mindset

Another reality that today’s youth workers must face is the dominating presence of a post-Christian and post-church mindset in contemporary culture. Even in America, there is a rapidly advancing mentality that questions and even denies the importance of religion, maybe even especially that of genuine Christianity – living consistently for the Lord and making Him first place in life.

Too many of today’s parents, guardians, and adult caregivers, it seems, would rather have their kids get a high-paying job, win a scholarship to college, or progress toward a highly respected career than they would commit to having their children faithfully involved in the church’s youth ministries. Of course, this attitude is not universal, but the trends indicate that it is becoming fairly ubiquitous in today’s world.

A Lack of Loyalty to the Local Church

Akin to the post-Christian philosophy is the relatively recent departure of Millennials and Gen Zers from the Church. One author has stated, “Every indication is that the nones will be the largest religious group in the United States in the next decade.” (The Nones: Where They Came From, Who They Are, and Where They Are Going).

Church attendance and participation is not the scheduling priority it once was in American households. Work, school activities, and involvement in various sports often take precedence in the lives of today’s households. It seems as if most youth workers struggle with significant numbers of “church kids” who do not show up regularly for church and youth group functions due to their over-scheduled personal calendars and commitments.

What do we do about it?

This is not the time for youth workers to throw up their hands in despair or uncertainty. It must be the time for church leaders everywhere to call God’s people back to a true, radical commitment to Jesus Christ and His work in the world today. Of course, it would be amazing if all Christian parents saw the need and the importance of encouraging their kids to a committed faithfulness to church and youth ministry functions. Praise the Lord for those parents who do see it that way.

But, considering the current trends, what should youth workers do?

More than ever, it is imperative for the church to truly be the Church – and to concentrate exactly on what Christ designed His Church to do. Today’s local church youth ministries must clearly communicate the life-changing Gospel of Jesus Christ. Youth ministries and kids’ ministries alike should prayerfully consider a quick return to this movement’s historical roots of developing relevant, creative, and energetic initiatives to share the Gospel with kids and students. This will require training students to share their faith and providing opportunities for evangelism to thrive.

It is also time for churches to recommit to Christ’s command to make disciples. Youth workers need to consider altering their programming approach to allow for more life-on-life discipleship as described in 2 Timothy 2:2. Christ’s ministry with His disciples did not look like an hourly program on Wednesday evenings and a few other scattered events. His ministry was real life in real-time and was a commitment of both the disciples and the Teacher.

The Bible is also clear that God’s purpose for pastor-teachers is to “equip saints for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:11-16, ESV). This demands intergenerational connections with the church as a whole. Church leaders and members should understand and appreciate the imperative that believers of all ages be trained, motivated, and allowed to use their gifts and abilities in significant service for Christ.

Culture is changing right before our eyes. It might be easy to respond with criticism and discouragement. But God is still on the throne and is still using His Church to make an impact for eternity. He can and will continue to use youth workers to share the Gospel, to make disciples, and to equip God’s people to serve Him with their lives.

This article originally appeared: When Parents Are Not Partners in Youth Ministry (NNYM – National Network of Youth Ministries) (youthworkers.net).

11 Things My Parents Did Right

in Going On For God/Parents/youth ministry by

I greatly appreciate my parents and the generational legacy in my family. As far back as I know which, thanks to services and tools like “Ancestry.com”, goes all that way back to the 1600’s – my ancestors have been believers. There is no doubt, with great indebtedness to God’s grace and His will, my forefathers were mostly followers of Christ.

I cannot fully articulate how incredibly thankful I am for that kind of heritage. When I recall the generation-after-generation of faithfulness in both sides of my family, I am absolutely amazed.

What motivates me the most about this legacy in my family is that I do not want to be the generation that messes it up! Only by His grace, all three of our children are living for the Lord and are serving Him in full-time career ministry. Plus, our boys are now raising our ten grandchildren to love and serve the Lord.

As I have mentioned often, my parents were simple people, just laymen in the church, but they both loved the Lord and made their local church a top priority. They are in heaven today, but thinking back, here are 11 lessons that I learned from them:

  • Work hard.

My parents lived by a strong work ethic. Working hard was very important to them – and they taught their kids to work hard too.

  • Make church a priority.

No matter what, my parents went to church – and they made their boys go to church too. We were the consummate “if the church building is open – we go” family. Nothing came in way of church. Not snowstorms, or homework, or jobs, or basketball practice – and most often, not sickness. They made church and church functions a priority, and we learned that lesson.

  • Serve the Lord.

My parents didn’t worry about finding their spiritual gifts. They just volunteered, dug in, and got to work in the church. My dad wasn’t comfortable up front, and never wanted to speak in public; but he volunteered to take out the church garbage and to mow the church lawn. My mom helped young girls memorize Scripture and faithfully went to the church office one day a week to help count the church offerings. They believed that believers should serve the Lord, and they practiced that.

  • Write things down.

My dad made lists of almost everything. He always carried small notebooks and a pen with him, and he wrote things down to help him remember. I believe that one of the factors that encouraged me to become a writer was their practice of writing things down.

  • Read often.

When we were kids my parents made sure that we had our own library cards, and they took us every Saturday morning to the county library which was in our town. They also had a rule that we had to read the books before we took them back to the library. Now, my books are some of my most prized possessions – and I have thousands of books lining the walls of our basement. I absolutely believe in the importance of teaching kids to read well and have tried to instill that discipline in the lives of our children and grandchildren.

  • Be nice to others.

My parents treated everyone with respect – and they taught their boys to always try to be nice to other people. In fact, they modeled this practice at church. I am convinced that if older people demonstrated faithfulness at church, and just showed up and were nice they would have an incredible impact on younger generations.

  • Don’t quit.

I did some dumb things as a kid including the time I went out for the school’s cross-country team and when I attempted to play the clarinet in the school band. Both were huge mistakes. My dad believed that “there’s nothing worse than a quitter” – and so my experience in both of those extra-curricular activities was a lot longer than what I wanted because he wouldn’t let me quit.

  • Be loyal.

Our parents demonstrated loyalty in everything they did. They were loyal to their jobs, to their church, to their friends, to their family, to their community – to everything. Not once did I ever hear them complain about something they were involved in. If they participated in something, it was important, and they never criticized it.

  • Take vacations.

We didn’t have a lot of money, but my parents sacrificed to take their family on vacations. We never went far away, and we never stayed anywhere very expensive. But they wanted their boys to get out in nature and to see some of the wonders that God had created. Some of my fondest memories growing up were the times our family was on vacation.

  • Be creative and practice your hobbies.

My dad loved hunting and fishing, and he collected baseball cards with us; and my mom loved sewing and quilting. They both loved their hobbies, and encouraged their boys to take diversions from the practice of work by taking vacations and practicing hobbies.

  • Follow God’s will.

I didn’t want to quit this list at ten, because I thought of eleven things.

My parents encouraged us to follow God’s will. They understand that our lives would look much differently than their lives did – and that was okay with them as long as we did the will of God. They taught us to seek the will of God in His Word and to commit our lives to doing the will of God. I think that’s why my life’s verse is 1 John 2:17, “…the one who does the will of God lives forever.”

Why don’t you make your own list sometime of the things your parents taught you!

Youth Ministry Tenure: How to Survive in Youth Ministry Over the Long Haul?

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I remember my first year as a youth pastor. I was fresh out of Bible college, my wife and I just got married and we had moved over 500 miles away from any of our other family members. We moved into our first apartment, bought some furniture, and stood in line at the DMV to get our drivers’ licenses in this new state.

Yes, I had heard the statistics. The average youth pastor only lasts a year-and-a-half in a typical church ministry.

Looking back, I don’t believe that statistic was ever proven to be true[i]. But, that 18-month tenure number had taken on “urban legend” status even back then.

My “rookie year” as a youth pastor went great. I was almost the antithesis of my predecessor in the church where I was serving. His perceived weaknesses were my strengths. The kids seemed to relate well to us, and we worked hard to build positive relationships with the students. They loved youth group and responded with interest and even enthusiasm to my lessons and messages. Their parents seemed to appreciate us, and the senior pastor and other church leaders seemed to see me as the new “Pied Piper” of youth ministry success.

But, then year two rolled around.

It seemed then as if everything that was successful the first year was a total disaster the second year. It appeared as if the teenagers didn’t like any of the events that I planned and were quite disinterested during my talks. The parents began to complain about what I was trying to do – and then the senior pastor called me in for a meeting with the church board to confront me about the struggles in the youth ministry.

I was worried that I was about to become the poster child for that year-and-a-half statistic. Things were not going well in that second year; and it was time for a “gut check” of my commitment, resolve, and calling. I wondered if I had made a mistake when my wife and I moved so far away, and I began to doubt if a young youth pastor with only 18 months of experience would ever be able to find another ministry position.

Let me move to end of the story. That was over 40 years ago. I actually served in that church for about eight years before the Lord gave me the opportunity to begin teaching youth ministry in a Christian college. In one way or another my wife and I have been actively involved in youth ministry ever since. In fact, even though I hate to admit it, I am currently 66 years old and still serve as a vocational youth pastor.

I certainly don’t have all the answers but let me share with you some of the things God has been teaching me over the years about longevity in youth ministry.

How to Survive in Youth Ministry Over the Long Haul?

Here are a few questions every youth worker should ask themselves if they are interested in serving as a career youth pastor or as a volunteer youth worker for a long time.

  • What has God called you to do?

Friends, if the Lord has called you to serve Him as a youth worker, keep doing that as long as God provides you with the opportunity to do it. To relay more of my personal story, I sensed that the Lord called me to youth ministry the summer following my sophomore year in Bible college.

In one way or another, I have been actively working with young people in various aspects ever sense. God used His Word (I was studying 1 & 2 Timothy at the time), the life-changing experience of leading a young man to Christ, and the encouragement of influential, Godly adults as the catalysts for me to recognize His direct leading in my life. I began to recognize that He had wired and enabled me to work with teenagers – and I still believe that even now as a full-fledged senior citizen. I know that this is an adaptation of an old cliché, but if the Lord calls you to be a youth worker, don’t stoop to working with adults.

  • Do you have a clear vision of what you are trying to accomplish?

Humanly speaking, the most important contributing factor for long-term youth ministry effectiveness may be an uncompromising and unobstructed vision of your sense of mission and purpose. It is not nearly enough to just love kids – although I believe that is critically important! Youth workers, and especially youth pastors perhaps, must see their role as shepherding kids toward a lifetime of growing in Christ toward lasting spiritual maturity. And make sure to communicate what you are trying to do in every way possible. You will want to stick it out, and churches will want to keep you around, if your long-term objective is to see kids come to Christ and grow up to go on for God.

  • What significant relationships are you building?

Strong, genuine relationships may indeed be the key to long-term survival in youth ministry. Of course, this begins with building loving and caring relationships with young people. Almost everyone who has ever written anything about vocational youth ministry has mentioned the importance of relational youth ministry. But I’m talking here about developing strong relationships with the senior pastor and other church leaders, parents and family members of your students – and carving out time to network with your peers in youth ministry as well. My fellow youth workers don’t take this point lightly. Put some energy into building strong inter-personal relationships with others. Then if things start to “go south” you will have established and durable relationships to rely on for stability or comfort

  • How do you handle personal conflicts with others?

Let’s face it, conflicts with people are going to happen. Some of the teenagers might not like you. Some of their parents may not appreciate what you are trying to do – and the leadership team in your church may even want you to leave. No matter what, it is important to handle conflicts in a Biblical, loving, and respectful manner. It is probably true that if we handle conflicts in an adult-like manner with maturity, kindness, and wisdom, we are much more likely to win over the objections of others in the church. I admit that is not always the case, but people conflicts tend to be much more vocal and heated if we allow our personality traits and human insecurities to get involved in the disputes. Without a doubt, it is always best to not allow human conflicts to get heated and confrontational in nature. My years of experience in ministry have taught me that those who last over the long haul are usually the people who can avoid or manage conflicts with others in the church.

  • Are you committed to faithfulness?

In what must have been a moment of insanity, as a high schooler I decided to try out for my school’s cross country team. My one-year fiasco as a long-distance runner revealed that successful runners are those who are committed to finishing the race – no matter what. That observation undoubtedly applies to the tenure of youth pastors as well.  I have found that youth pastors who last are usually those who are committed to long term ministry. They are not continually searching for a position in a different church, nor are they looking to do something else. The ones who stick it out are they ones who are committed to sticking it out over the long haul. They realize that it takes time to build an effective youth ministry.

As someone who has spent a long time in ministry, I have also observed that most veteran youth workers who are leading profitable ministries with students, and who are reaching out into the households where their students are from, are usually also faithful in their own walk with God and in their personal relationships with their own spouse and family.

On a personal note, I’m not buying that 18-month tenure statistic. I do not believe it was true when I started in youth ministry and I’m positive that it is not the norm today. I know many youth pastors who have spent 10, 20, 30, and even 40 years in very profitable ministries.

By the way, I lived through that meeting with the senior pastor and the church board. In fact, they encouraged me in some very specific areas of my ministry, and they helped me focus on a long-term vision of what church youth ministry should accomplish. By God’s grace, our ministry turned the corner and we began to see Him do some amazing things in and through the lives of many of our students.

After all these years I still have that God-given focus on the lasting mission of youth ministry, to see young people grow up and go on for God.


[i] For example see: http://youthministryforum.blogspot.com/2005/10/18-month-myth.html.

Conversations with Young Adults Who Stayed in The Church: Why They Didn’t Walk Away

in College Age/Going On For God/Parents/youth ministry by

Over the last several years I’ve had the opportunity to interview dozens of young adults who have not abandoned their faith and who have not walked away from church.

I have been one of those authors and speakers that has talked at length about the phenomenon of high school graduates who have left the church following their active years in youth ministry. To be clear, I am certainly not one to blame youth pastors for this departure. In fact, I champion church leaders who are trying to emulate the many positive aspects of youth ministry and who are trying to build those characteristics into the fabric of their churches as a whole. (For more on this topic, see my book Inter-Generational Youth Ministry: Why a Balanced View of Connecting the Generations is Essential for The Church, Chapter 7 beginning on page 71.)

The statistics seem overwhelming. The majority of young adults who were once active participants in youth groups are leaving the church in droves once they become adults. Plus, the majority of today’s Millennial generation feel no loyalty for any particular church polity or denominational structure. Let’s face it – our kids are leaving the church and are expressing no real allegiance or commitment to church once they reach adulthood. These trends are real; but they don’t include everyone. Not every young adult has walked away from church. So, I intentionally spent some time over the past several months identifying and interviewing Christian young adults who remain active in church to try to pinpoint the common denominators of why they stayed.

I talked with scores of young adults, including my own 3 children, who are now actively involved in church ministries – and I asked them why they didn’t walk away. Here’s what I found:

  • Young adults are less likely to drop out of church if their parents demonstrated a genuine love for the Lord.

The majority of young adults I talked to described the consistent Christian testimony of their parents as the most important role model in their lives. If their parents’ faith is real, the kids know it, and they are much more likely to want a genuine faith of their own.

I did talk with some young adults that are now very active in church, but grew up in non-Christian or incredibly dysfunctional families. These individuals each spoke of a clear message of God’s grace that overcame human sinfulness and weaknesses.

The take-away here was 2-fold: Christian young adults are much more likely to remain plugged in to church themselves if their parents were genuine, Godly role models. Yes, there were exceptions to that general rule; but in those cases God’s matchless and amazing grace did something miraculous that overruled the missteps of the parents. 

  • Young adults are less likely to drop out of church if their parents were consistent about their own personal and family commitment to the local church.

Again, the majority of emerging adults I spoke to mentioned the commitment their parents had made to the church during their own formative years. Several shared anecdotes of parents that “never missed a service” or who “made us go to Sunday School and youth group”. Some spoke about not being allowed to take part-time jobs or get involved in sports if that interfered with church activities. It was clear, if the parents made church a priority – the kids most often grew up making church a priority too.

  • Young adults are less likely to drop out of church if they have experienced the church working in collaboration with their parents for the spiritual growth of the young person.

Every one of the young adults I interviewed spoke highly about a significant adult, often several adults, who took a personal interest in them during their days growing up in church. My own personal interest in youth ministry was stirred when I heard so many speak about the youth pastors or lay youth workers who played an active role in their lives. They each identified various Godly adults who cared enough to build a personal relationship with them during their maturing years. My conclusion following these conversations was obvious – the positive relationships they had with Godly adults was a key factor in their long term spiritual growth.

  • Young adults are less likely to drop out of church if they have been actively involved in specific ministry and service initiatives throughout their lives as children and teenagers.

Another conclusion was also clear – if the church entertained kids, once they became adults they would most likely walk away. The converse is also true, if the church (and youth ministry) was intentional and missional about involving young people in specific ministry and service projects, the participants were more likely to stay involved in those things into adulthood.

Again, the take-away here was clear: youth programs don’t work – youth ministry does work, and it lasts!

  • Young adults are less likely to drop out of church if they see the relevance and importance of Biblical truth and if they can vividly see how God’s Word applies to their current lives.

My final observation seemed to jump out of every single conversation. Young adults who see God’s Word as relevant and life related are the ones who also see The Church as vitally important. They realize that The Church has been designed by God to help people come to Christ and grow in Him into spiritual maturity. These young adults participate in church to worship Him and to hear God’s Word taught.

I absolutely loved talking to these young adults. They each craved the opportunity to be a part of an inter-generational community of Christ-followers who gathered together often to open the Scriptures together because they knew they needed to grow closer to Him.

Children IN Church: The Value of Keeping Our Kids in Church Worship Services

in Going On For God/inter-generational ministry/Parents/youth ministry by

My wife and I made the decision to keep our kids with us during our church’s worship services very early on in our ministry.

(For the record, Peggy and I have 3 children – all of whom were born during my first full-time ministry as a youth pastor. It’s also important to note that I am a big fan of peer ministry. I absolutely believe in “kids’ min” and youth ministry, but I also see the incredible value of balancing age-segregated ministries with inter-generational ministries. In fact, I wrote a book about that. See Inter-Generational Youth Ministry: Why a Balanced View of Connecting the Generations is Essential for the Church. I believe that churches need to intentionally balance ministries where younger generations learn at their own levels of understanding and do so in a peer environment. Simply put, kids need other kids.

By the way, now that I am “old and gray-headed” – to quote the Psalmist in Ps. 71:18 – our kids are now all grown, and all three of them serve in full-time vocational ministry. We now have 9 grandchildren – and currently I serve as a youth pastor in a church where our oldest son is the lead pastor. Plus, six of our grandchildren are a part of our church as well. And, due to COVID-19, our church does not offer children’s church at the present time.)

Now back to my point. I believe it is greatly beneficial for parents to keep their kids with them during the church’s worship service.

I understand the issues. Kids can be disruptive (yep, even my kids). My wife often carried this burden on her own because, as a pastor I was actively involved in the programming of our services. Other parents sometimes confronted us about our practice of keeping our kids in the service – and I was sometimes accused of not supporting the church’s children’s ministry because our kids didn’t go to Children’s Church – although they did regularly attend and participate in our church’s age-appropriate Sunday School classes.

The reasons for parents keeping their kids in the church worship services are different today due to our practicing of social distancing. Many churches are not offering child care right now, so parents are left with the choices of keeping their kids with them, taking them to another location in the church building and staying with them there, or not attending church services with your children.

After reading Kirsten Black’s article “Prioritize Church, Even When There’s No Childcare”, (see https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/prioritize-worship-no-childcare/), here are some of my thoughts and ideas on this subject:

  • We utilized the church nursery when they were babies. Frankly, my wife appreciated the break and our nursery workers were loving and trained caregivers. But when our kids got old enough to “shut up and sit down” we kept them with us in the church services.
  • There is a great burden on the parents (maybe especially moms) to practice discipline and to “control” their kids during the service. This is not easy; I get that. But, let’s get rid of our pride and embarrassment and realize that everyone needs to discipline their kids – and to help our children grow up learning the value of participating in church services.
  • As a pastor, but also as an itinerant speaker, I knew how important it was for our kids to learn the practice of sitting “still” during the services – especially when I was speaking. (“Smirk.”) In fact, as they got older, I would often take one of our kids with me when I traveled to camps, youth events, and conferences. I loved this one-on-one time with my kids. Now our kids are basically all in their forties – and all serve the Lord in church ministries as communicators of God’s Word. They learned the value of church worship services and the life-changing importance of the preaching of God’s Word.
  • We brought stuff for our kids to “do” during the services. Sometimes that included Cheerios or other simple snacks, but mostly this meant crayons, then pencils or pens and paper so that they could learn the practice of writing on paper. When our kids got older, it was a “rule” in our house that we all had to take notes during the services – even simple sentences or words were fine. It’s really interesting that now that our kids are all adults, they still take notes during the services. It became a habit.
  • It’s really good for our kids to worship with us – and to worship alongside of other Godly adults. This practice helped me gain an appreciation for inter-generational worship too. I know that different ages have different musical tastes, but there is something powerful about church services when people of all ages worship the Lord together.
  • I am not advocating that churches do away with Children’s Church for the long haul. More and more, our churches must realize the importance of reaching and ministering to people from broken, hurting, and dysfunctional households and offering a ministry for children, where kids can learn at their own level, and where they can learn the importance of fellowship with peers. It will also be imperative for churches to be intentional about equipping parents and other older adults to “adopt” the growing number of “spiritual orphans” (those kids your church reaches for Christ who have no Godly adults in their lives) who come to your church.
  • I absolutely agree with how Kirsten Black ended her article. “Parents, it can be done… It’s hard. It’s arduous. It’s tedious. And yes, it’s often distracting. But it can be done, and it’s worth it. Don’t let the absence of the church nursery, and the added inconvenience of meeting during a pandemic, keep you from gathering safely with your church family to worship the Lord. Church services may not look and sound the way they used to, but that’s okay. There’s so much grace. Bring the little children. Raise them up to worship Jesus.”

What is Your Plan for Youth Ministry Parent Meetings this Fall?

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It was my goal to make my book, Going On For God: Encouraging the Next Generation to Grow Up and Go On For God, both Biblically-based and as practical and life-related as possible.

My prayer is that it can be utilized in your church as a catalyst for a conversation between Christian parents and church leaders (pastors, youth pastors, volunteer youth leaders, teachers, and children’s workers), to help them discuss together the critically-important topic of encouraging the next generation to grow up and go on for God. Isn’t that what both groups want for our kids?

Instead of being frustrated with each other (busy parents seeing the church as too rigid and out of touch; and church leaders seeing parents as too busy and with the wrong priorities), why not get the two groups together to begin a conversation on how to make the premise of this book a reality?

Certainly, both groups will come with predetermined issues and concerns, and each group will probably have strong personal opinions about how to accomplish this purpose. But it is definitely worth the effort to begin an intentional conversation with the goal of getting both groups on the same page.

I am convinced that the vast majority of pastors, youth pastors, and other church leaders want emerging generations in their churches to come to Christ and to grow spiritually through childhood, into adolescence, and ultimately to go on for God as adults. But to be honest with you, my own personal observations after visiting scores of different churches confirm that many churches have not developed a comprehensive and complete plan for an entire, church-wide disciple-making process.

If your church has established a life-long equipping strategy that is helping all age groups grow toward becoming fully-devoted followers of Christ, then praise the Lord! I designed the workbook that accompanies this book can help you get the parents in your church to buy into that plan.

I also believe that many Christian parents want the exact same thing. Their goal in raising their children is for their kids to grow up to love the Lord and to live faithfully for Him. However, as I stated in my book, I’m not convinced that they know how to work alongside of the church to adequately accomplish that objective. Some Christian parents believe that they are the only ones who can truly impact their own kids. Other parents seem to entrust church youth workers with their kids’ spiritual growth.

Besides that, current trends in America are not demonstrating the development of strong, healthy families. It is my contention that more and more people today will need the church to be a family. Working through this study guide together will help both God-given institutions (the church and the family) to understand and appreciate the Biblical roles and responsibilities of each.

So please work through the conversations and principles in this book together. Seeing the next generation grow up to be mature and Godly adults is too important not to make this a top priority in our church and in our homes. Thanks!

Order your copies at: www.GoingOnForGod.com. Some group discounts are also available. Contact me for details at: Mel@visionforyouth.com.

5 Ways Parents Can Help Their Children to Go On for God

in Going On For God/inter-generational ministry/Mentoring/Ministry/youth ministry by

The books are flying off the presses in seemingly endless numbers; and frankly, I’m sick of hearing the statistics about the young adults who are dropping out of church. (I know, I know – I listed some of these stats in my own books and posts!) But, please keep reading.

I want to read about the kids who stayed in church. I want to hear the stories of Christian kids who grow up to go on for God. I want to hear about the successes of Godly, Christian parents who are proactively working with the church’s youth leaders to develop strong, stable, and mature Christ-followers who as young adults decide to stay engaged in the church.

(One excellent resource on this very topic is, Faith for Exiles: 5 Ways for a New Generation to Follow Jesus in Digital Babylon, by David Kinnaman and Mark Matlock, published by Baker Books in 2019.)

I know many of these young adults who are absolutely committed to Christ and His claims on their lives. Some of them are currently in college, others are in the military or work force, and many of them are currently living productive live as God-honoring adults.

So, what can Christian parents do to help their children to grow up and go on for God? I am convinced that we must look to the Scriptures for the answers! In the pages of the New Testament we are told the stories of some young people who grew up before our eyes (so to speak) in the Biblical narrative and who continued to live for God long into their adult lives. One of those young men was Timothy. We meet him in Acts 16 as a young man growing up in church and we read his story throughout the Epistles, including Paul’s last letter to him in 2 Timothy. There are many things in the Bible that we can learn about Timothy, but for the sake of this quick post let’s talk a look at some of the things his parents (especially his mother, Eunice – see 2 Timothy 1:5) did right.

It is important to note that parenting is never a formula or a recipe. It doesn’t work to frivolously think that a few quick ideas lead to spiritual success with our kids. However, if we look at the sweeping principles that seemed to guide this family, we can take away some very practical advice for raising our own kids for God today.

A Consistent Lifestyle – 2 Timothy 1:5

Probably the most obvious thing that this family did right was Eunice’s and Lois’ consistent or genuine walk with God. The Bible calls theirs an “unfeigned” (KJV) or un-faked faith! Timothy’s mom and grandmother demonstrated a genuine relationship with God – and it impacted Timothy. Notice in verse 5 that Timothy also demonstrated a genuine faith. He grew up and went on for God – and that’s what we want from our kids, too.

Communication of God’s Word – 2 Timothy 3:15

The second thing this family did right was that they made it a priority to communicate Biblical truth. Notice that from his earliest days, Timothy learned the Scriptures. The next two verses (2 Timothy 3:16 & 17) reveal that this strategy was much more than a rote memorization of the Text. He also learned that Biblical principles are “profitable” for life and that these principles lead to true spiritual maturity.

Collaboration with the Church

There is another key element to their strategy that is worth identifying and that is their cooperation with the church to help develop Timothy’s faith. Acts 16 identifies him as a “disciple”, who as a young man already had a good testimony with the other believers. He also was personally selected by the Apostle Paul to go along on this missionary journey. The text expounds on the purpose of their ministry, “So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers. (NIV)” Obviously, the church was a priority to young Timothy. He grew up in church and committed himself to a church-based ministry.

Concern for People and Culture

The Acts 16 passage also presents an interesting scenario of Timothy’s circumcision even though his was a Greek (see verse 1). He perhaps was willing to submit to this cultural ritual due to the cross-cultural background in his own family. This somewhat dysfunctional family environment undoubtedly produced a heart-felt concern for other people and a genuine sensitivity for others.

Commitment to Ministry

The final positive thing I’d like to identify from this family was their dedication to God’s work. They were willing to allow their son to follow Paul along on this journey. Without any visible hesitation on anyone’s part Timothy joined the missionary team and set off on what was the beginning of his call to vocational ministry.

Timothy was a young man who grew up and went on for God. The narrative of Scripture points out some identifiable things that helped in this process. Perhaps there is practical wisdom here for today’s Christian families to implement into the fabric of raising their own kids.

WHAT SHOULD YOUTH MINISTRY LOOK LIKE AFTER THE PANDEMIC?

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What should our youth ministries look like after our students can return to our church buildings for youth groups? I am wondering if there will be a “new normal”; and if so, what should change from the way we did ministry before COVID-19?

Here are a few of my thoughts about some key categories of what SHOULD change when we can meet physically again with our teenagers:

  • Safety

Youth workers and other church leaders will need to think this through right away. What must we change about our physical buildings, our meeting set-ups, the way we take attendance, and the way we play games during our youth ministry gatherings?

It probably makes sense to ask everyone to wear face masks and to arrange our seating setup to ensure the 6’ distancing guidelines. We probably need to consider if and how we should serve food and drinks for our attendees. Even the way we distribute sheets of paper or ask kids to check-in on a computer kiosk will need to be reconsidered.

Parents of some teenagers may not be too worried about these things, but other families will be! All they have heard for the last several weeks has been to follow the rules of social distancing. So it doesn’t make sense for churches to not heed those directives when our groups can meet again.

We will all need to be careful. It is important to strategize and plan now for our ministries to open again. Things will not be business as normal – especially in the minds and hearts of some of our church people. So, it is very important right now to begin the planning process of what your ministry is going to do when you can open the doors.

Some states will require attendance limits, and I know that some churches are considering offering multiple meetings times to accommodate those limited numbers. (For instance, some states are still discouraging groups of more than 25 people to gather in the same location.) Some churches are also planning to continue using Zoom as well, knowing that some kids will not attend our youth groups in person. That way they will still be able to be involved in some way in our programs.

Making sure that your people are safe will need to be a top priority. Plus, you will need to clearly communicate to all possible attendees what your church has done (like thoroughly clean and disinfect your building’s entry way and meeting rooms) and what you will keep doing from now on for people to feel safe in your building.

You will need to develop a comprehensive checklist of safety items to accomplish before kids show up in your building. Then it is very important to let your people know what you have done to protect the kids.

  • Teaching

Your kids will undoubtedly crave in-person, human connections with their friends and mentors that are a part of your church’s youth ministry. When they can return to your building, the tendency will be to “party”, to have fun, and to renew friendships and to rebuild relationships. Those things are especially important (we’ll talk more about that below), but it may be even more important to make much of God and His Word upon their return to church youth group. Your kids will need to hear you talk about God’s purpose for this crisis, that His work in the world is not thwarted, and that their role in His mission is still in effect. They may crave fellowship, but they will need Biblical answers taught by Godly leaders – and our Lord has put youth leaders in an ideal position right now to direct kids’ minds toward His Word.

  • Fellowship and Human Connections

Several weeks of isolation away from others (friends and classmates, teachers and mentors, youth groups) in a stay-in-place world will probably motivate your teens to crave time with additional people. As I mentioned above, they will certainly want time to reconnect and hang out with their friends in informal, unstructured conversations. I am not saying that doing that is NOT important. It is very important, and wise youth workers will need to plan time when their buildings are open for teenagers to do just that. But, don’t forget – they’ll want to party, but they need to hear from God – so let’s be sure to balance our programming to allow for both to happen.

There is another matter that I need to highlight. There are likely to be many kids that will need some type of emotional, social, or even physical support from the church once this pandemic is over. Being out of school and having extra time at home will not be positive for everyone. There are many dysfunctional, broken, and hurting households out there. Church leaders must be sensitive toward these hurting households and need to have a plan to provide helpful resources for troubled kids and parents.

  • A Break from “Screen Time”

More than ever, today’s kids are living in an online world. The church and many youth groups have moved online, but our kids are already there. They live in a “Fortnite”, contrived-reality world. Their lives are dominated by social media personas, where “likes” carry way too much weight.

My wife and I have 9 grandchildren, with the oldest being only 14 years old. Each of them has had access to an iPad since they were very young. It is not all that strange to them to have school online. Their schools have utilized internet-based educational systems already.

However, the current COVID-19 situation has led to an ever-greater amount of screen time for our kids. This may be difficult to pull-off, but I believe that kids will need a break from their devices. I am not saying that we need to make new youth group rules to limit their use of cell phones. I am saying that meeting in person may take on an even greater significance once the stay-at-home directives are released. Let’s prepare now for how important our youth group meetings will be once we can gather in person.

  • Help for Fear and Anxiety

Younger generations are already struggling with fear and anxiety – and the coronavirus pandemic may exacerbate these feelings even more. Everyday they are being told to stay 6 feet away from other people, that they can’t see their friends and relatives, that they have to wear facemasks, and that everyone they meet might be a potential carrier of the virus. We are running out of toilet paper, disinfectant wipes, and now meat. To make matters worse, almost every news program rehearses the number of casualties of COVID-19. Today’s young people are likely to emerge from this pandemic with even greater levels of debilitating anxiety.

Church youth groups will need to be beacons of hope and comfort to these needy young people and their families. We can offer the Truth of God’s Word to a hurting generation. Caring adult youth workers can have an incredible impact by demonstrating Christ’s unconditional love to parents and kids alike. That is another reason why church leaders, maybe especially youth workers, should plan now to actively consider what their ministries will look like once people can return to church buildings.

5 Considerations for Ministry & Outreach to Kids from Broken & Dysfunctional Households During the Coronavirus Pandemic

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I’ve seen so many posts on various social media outlets recently that the Coronavirus pandemic gives Christian parents the opportunity to truly disciple their own kids. Several posts list ways church youth workers are partnering with parents for the spiritual benefit of the kids. In some cases, those situations may indeed be true. However, since there is a growing number of broken and dysfunctional households in this country, the opposite may be happening instead.

Putting kids in overwhelmingly negative home situations for extended amounts of time during this Covid-19 time period may actually accomplish adverse and undesirable results. Almost every church youth worker I have spoken to personally in the last several months has agreed that they have an increasing number of children and teenagers in their churches from non-traditional households.

If your church is reaching out to unchurched and unsaved kids in your community, you undoubtedly have young people in this same situation. I hate to say this, but it may not be always a good thing for them to spend extra time at home.

Just this week a friend of mine who is a police officer near a large city told me that one of his biggest concerns during this pandemic is the potential increase of domestic frustrations and violence. Since most kids are out of school for prolonged time periods with no return in sight, there may indeed be young people that are a part of our ministries from negative and maybe harmful home environments.

Youth workers and other church leaders should think this through immediately. How can we reach out to the kids in our communities who may need the most help, and how can we minister to the kids in our church who are from those non-traditional, broken, and dysfunctional households? (For more information to ministering and reaching out to dysfunctional households see: https://blog.youthspecialties.com/5-big-ideas-for-ministry-to-increasingly-dysfunctional-households/.)

  • Strategize with the other ministry leaders from your church to determine what resources you can offer during this crisis.

It is obviously true that your church probably can’t do everything that other churches may be trying to do right now. Your church needs to determine what specific things you can do well, and then create a way to implement those specific ideas. It’s really important for you to get the leadership team from your church on the same page.

Your expertise may be not high-tech where you can provide high quality video productions every day, but you may be able to use Facebook Live and your iPhone to provide the live streaming of your church’s Sunday morning service. Your church probably will not have the resources or personnel to do everything well, so it’s important to select and then execute the ministry strategies that you can do well during these difficult days.

It is very important for all churches to utilize both high-tech and low-tech ways to communicate with their people and with their communities during this pandemic. The hurting and struggling households in your church’s general area need to know that your church is concerned about them and that you have a specific plan in place to reach out to them. Churches must figure out what they can do to minister and reach out – and then launch a plan to implement those specific things.

  • Develop a plan to effectively communicate what resources your church can offer.

Once you have worked with your leadership team to identify what resources you have to offer, you’ll need to develop a specific plan of how to effectively communicate what you are doing. It really doesn’t do any good for you to offer helps to hurting and dysfunctional households unless you can effectively communicate that those resources are available. Each church will need to figure out how best to communicate your contingency plans and action steps to the people you are trying to reach. If your church has decided to live stream your services, how will people know that you are doing that and where specifically can they locate that feed? For example, I just learned the other day of a church that prepared “care packages” for residents of a nursing home in their area only to find out that the facility would not allow outside groups to distribute anything to their patients.

It might be worth it to invest in new signage, or to pay for a community-wide mailing, or to insert an ad in the local paper or on a local radio station to communicate what specific endeavors your church is doing during this crisis. Current demographic trends indicate that your area probably has a large and growing number of hurting and non-traditional households. It will be crucial for your church to communicate what you are trying to do.

  • Find ways that you can be a spiritual encouragement and help to those who need it.

You have probably seen a wealth of practical ideas that have been posted on social media recently touting projects churches are undertaking during the Cororavirus situation. That’s great – and church leaders, maybe especially youth workers, are to be commended for putting their creativity to work. But, let me emphasize one other area of caution here. Don’t forget that the grand mission of the church is to fulfill the Great Commission (see Matthew 28:19-20) and to equip the saints to do “the work of ministry” (see Ephesians 4:11-16). In other words, to borrow a phrase I’d heard often in recent days, “the church must be the church.”

Churches must look for ways to continue accomplishing the purposes of the church, like fellowship, worship, giving, preaching and teaching of Scripture, serving, and outreach. Just because our churches can’t gather on Sunday mornings doesn’t mean that we should cease to fulfill our God-given mission. Churches will need to think through creative and effective ways to share Christ’s love with a needy and hurting world.

  • Recruit and utilize ways to involve other people from your church in ministry and outreach endeavors.

It’s really important to remember that none of us are superheroes with superpowers. It is imperative that we involve others in whatever our churches decide to do. Overloading our pastors, youth pastors, or our team of other volunteer youth workers right now is probably a long-lasting mistake. Don’t forget that their lives are probably in chaos now too. On the other hand, some of your church people may have extra time on their hands and they may be willing to get involved. Of course, it will be very, very important for you to do all you can to keep your volunteers safe and heathy. Our authorities have instituted “social distancing” for a reason and that is to protect people from spreading and catching this virus.

Our pastors may not be tech experts and they may not have the ability to serve as activity directors, or idea generators for parents with kids who are out of school. That’s why it is so important for your church to institute a plan to creatively involve volunteers to help with the variety of projects you want to implement.

The key here is to realize that each local church has a multitude of resources available to help non-traditional and dysfunctional households in the community in addition to the pastoral staff. This can include Godly older people to serve as mentors, and a team of other trained professional who could provide counseling or that could provide tangible physical assistance. This also might include the production of quality helps and resources to distribute to hurting community members.  

  • Remember to identify creative methods of outreach instead of just emphasizing ways to communicate with those who already attend your church.

I’m sure that you have noticed that so many of the recent social media posts have presented ways for churches and youth groups to communicate to people who are already a part of their ministries, and obviously that is important. But we cannot fail to take this opportunity to reach out to our neighbors and communities which contain a host of struggling households during these difficult days of anxiety and fear. Some churches are helping local school distribute homework and meals, others are taking small care packages to seniors, some are opening their buildings for small prayer meetings, and others are offering family and personal counseling sessions. I just heard of one church that is offering “drive in” movies and music in the church parking lot. There are many ideas out there. The key is to prayerfully consider what your church can do to reach out to the needy and hurting people in your community.

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