Gwen Brown, organizer with BUILD (Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development) and Tim Hughes, associate pastor at Brown Memorial Park Ave Presbyterian Church, share their collaboration in the Baltimore Youth Organizing Project.
Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, we’ve asked some of our 2016 National Gathering workshop presenters to share their thoughts on their importance of their workshops in today’s context. Amanda Pine and Teer Hardy are two of our presenters. Learn more about their workshop at the end of this post. We invite you to join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!
by Amanda Pine and Teer Hardy
One of the greatest gifts for youth leaders is social media; Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest (who doesn’t love the awesome games you can find there), and Tumblr. All of these social media sites are full of resources that will aid in connecting leaders for idea sharing and tips about what works and what does not. Recently, on a Facebook youth ministry group board, there has been an influx of youth leaders asking for advice on how to handle being laid off (forced resignation), having their hours cut or increased without an increase in pay, or needing to leave congregations because they just are not able to make ends meet. This represents a troubling tone which is reflected among all of Christian education. Securing volunteer leadership is increasingly hard and financial resources to support paid program staff are also becoming increasingly scarce.
Where is the silver lining in this? What can we possibly take away from job insecurity and financial and volunteer scarcity? “Youth Ministry Beyond the Bubble,” the workshop that we will be presenting at the NEXT Church National Gathering, will address how we can escape from our fears about ministry, and take (responsible) risks to make a youth ministry program great. Part of this involves inspiring change in our church communities in general, but part is about branching out to your mission field and partnering with community organizations and business to advance the goals of the ENTIRE community.
Using missional theology, we believe that youth ministry does not have to be the first program cut in a time of budget crisis. We do not offer any quick-fix or attractional advice for youth workers, but rather a change in mindset that we hope will inspire youth leaders to embrace challenges in their congregations with positivity, and treat their youth with top priority. We are passionate about youth ministry and church growth, specifically when the church grows to more effectively nurture the community it finds itself in.
Teer Hardy is husband, father, and brewery theologian. He serves as the Director of Youth Ministry at Great Bridge UMC in Chesapeake, VA.
Amanda Pine is a cradle Presbyterian who currently serves the congregation of Great Bridge UMC as Director of Christian Education.
Amanda and Teer’s workshop is called “Youth Ministry Beyond the Bubble” –
Are you constantly plagued by the “numbers” question? How many people are attending your programs? How many are new this week? This workshop will provide participants with practical, tried and true, ways to incorporate an intentionally outreaching focus into your youth ministry setting. Together, we will move beyond the traditional models of ministry and begin the practice of risk taking as a faith community. This workshop is offered on Tuesday during workshop block 3.
Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This fall we’ve asked a number of leaders to respond to the question, “What is saving your ministry right now?” Amanda Pine is one of our workshop presenters for the 2016 National Gathering. Learn more about the workshop at the end of this post. We invite you to join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!
By Amanda Pine
November and December always pass by in a blur of gift wrap, family gatherings, and huge church events. While I keep my Sunrise calendar on my phone (best app ever, seriously try it!) updated with the various work and social engagements that stack up in the holiday season, the stress that comes along with getting the perfect presents and planning the perfect Advent event cannot be managed by an app. My outlet for releasing stress this holiday season is running.
I have signed up for a ten mile race in February, and while that is by far the longest distance I have ever run, the training process has proved to be the greatest stress relief this winter. As part of the process, I have started running three days a week. My time running allows me to collect my thoughts, take time for myself, and nurture my body in a time that is overridden with stress. Exercise has become a part of my spiritual practice and the saving grace of my ministry this holiday season!
Amanda Pine lives at the oceanfront in Virginia Beach, Virginia with her husband and cat. She is a seminary student at Union Presbyterian Seminary, and is currently serving as Director of Christian Education at Great Bridge United Methodist Church. She is co-leading a workshop entitled “Youth Ministry Beyond the Bubble” at the 2016 NEXT Church National Gathering.
Erin Thomas and Paul Knopf share their Ignite presentation on the Tapestry Youth Collective at the 2015 National Gathering in Chicago.
Here is just one of the many excellent Ignite presentations at NEXT… video of all ten presentations will be online soon, but here is the text of Jen James’s presentation. Originally published at her blog.
Christian Education has changed a lot over the years. You come to a conference like Next and I hope it leaves you wondering, “What will Christian Education look like in the years to come?” When the mainline churches began to experience decline several decades ago, Christian Education seemed to be the life vest of the sinking boat. The church thought, “If we could beef up these educational programs, it would attract a lot of new families to our churches.” Today the attractional model runs rampant in our churches and in our denomination.
Children’s Ministries rely on the latest Vacation Bible School curriculum filled with action-packed activities, catchy songs, and palatable themes. We spend hours of time, heaps of money, and endless energy of volunteers because we claim the thin assumption this is real outreach to the community. Youth Ministries hire young, cool leaders hoping they will attract teenagers like the star football player attracts a crowd at his lunch table. We think free pizza, fun games, and mission trips to cool places are the building blocks for deep disciple making. Adult Education insists on experts to teach their classes and the latest curriculum based on the most current events in order to draw new people. But in reality the only ones at the table have been there for years and diverse ideas and people aren’t really welcome. It seems the attractional church’s only success is poaching members from smaller churches whose modest budgets can’t support big church programming.
But the missional church, the next church, is a return to the original calling of the church – to go into the world to share the Good News of Christ, love our neighbors, and seek the welfare for our community. The missional church turns its focus from internal to external. It seeks relationships with others not to increase attendance, but instead because as God’s people, we are only complete when we are in community with God and all of God’s creation. It recognizes that the local church is only as healthy as the community surrounding it. One size educational programming does not fit all neighborhoods, communities or cities. The kind of ministry in which the church engages must be responsive to the community it serves. Churches must be open to recognize what once was a vital and beloved Christian Education ministry might no longer fit.
Consider Christian Education in the missional church to be like a greenhouse. It’s a place for new beginnings where plants are intentionally fed and nourished to become strong enough for transplanting. Plants will never thrive in the greenhouse the same way they will thrive in their natural environment. Plants that never leave the greenhouse have their growth stunted by their limited context. The natural environment for disciples is being in the world. A plant in its environment depends on its environment for life, but also gives back to that same environment. It’s a symbiotic relationship.
The missional shift in Christian Education means our Children’s Ministry Committee will spend more time volunteering at a local elementary school than it will planning Vacation Bible School. It means you are more likely to find members of a Youth Ministry Team at the high school football game, or school play, or chaperoning a dance than in the state of the art youth lounge. It means adults will take a break from their study on Matthew to actually cloth the naked, feed the hungry, and visit the prisons. It means bringing bagels and coffee to the families at the Sunday morning soccer game, and instead of rushing back for worship, staying to cheer for a child’s first goal.
The missional shift in Christian Education does not do away with learning the stories of our ancestors or the teachings of Jesus. But it does change our definition of success. It is less concerned with filled pews and more concerned with what happens when we leave those pews. It is less concerned with a popular youth lock-in and more concerned with youth who don’t have a permanent place to sleep each night. It is less concerned with honoring youth on graduation Sunday and more concerned with advocating for educational changes for students who are racing to nowhere. It is less concerned with providing a theme dinner at the mid-week children’s ministry and more concerned with children who go hungry at night and on weekends.
This shift is about making our communities whole for community’s sake because the love of Christ compels us to do so. Because Christian nurture and spiritual formation are bigger than what a publishing company sells us and bigger than a full education building on a Sunday morning.
The missional shift in Christian Education means we will stop building up church programming to make ourselves look and feel good. But instead, it shifts to become servants of the community and recognizes that spiritual formation and wholeness happens in the midst of seeking that wholeness for others.
Thanks be to God.
Image by Shawna Bowman, conference artist for 2014 NEXT National Gathering, who granted permission for use of this image as part of Jen’s presentation.
By Carol Steele
True confession of a Presbyterian camp and conference center professional: I hated my first experience at a Presbyterian summer camp. I was an only child, a picky eater, and a completed fourth-grader who could not swim.
I lived the first few days in fear that the counselors would leave me behind (I doubted it was possible for anyone to keep track of more than one kid); I may have eaten one part of one hot dog in the course of three days; and I had to do an alternative activity while the rest of my group canoed, because my parents wouldn’t let their non-swimmer near a boat.
Since I was a preacher’s kid and this was the presbytery camp, I knew all the camp staff. So I couldn’t understand why, when I asked to go home, they didn’t just pick up the phone and make that happen. (What a joy I must have been!)
I was homesick, the most desperate emotion I had ever experienced. I remember that feeling, and the tears that accompanied it, more clearly than I remember what happened next. But I am one hundred percent certain that somewhere around the middle of that week, I started to have fun. The plaintive letter that I wrote my parents, promising to repay them the $50 registration fee if they would just come pick me up, went un-mailed.
I am pretty sure this turn-around began when a counselor took the time to acknowledge what I was feeling, tell me she wasn’t going to lose me in the woods, and pray with me.
Years later, I came back to that camp as a summer counselor, and today my work at Montreat Conference Center is driven by the knowledge that camps and conferences still provide moments of illumination for young people at a critical moment in their development as people and as Christians. Many of them recognize this moment immediately, as when they say things about their youth group’s experience such as, “We are not the same people we were just one week ago.” Others, like me, notice the importance of such a moment only in retrospect.
Here’s how Montgomery Smith from Faith Presbyterian Church in Tallahassee, Florida, described her “moment” in a sermon she preached in her home church: “Montreat is also a home for so many because it allows us to be ourselves, surrounded by love and comfort. I don’t know how it is possible to take 1,000 teens, put them together and look past all the stereotypes, and I don’t know how it is possible to take 1,000 different theologies and worship you, but it all comes down to faith, which Montreat brings out in us.”
If we can recall these moments in our own journeys, and if we value them for future generations, it is our duty to create the literal and figurative spaces for them to happen. Obviously, camps and conference centers are not the only places where young people become grounded, but they are uniquely equipped for such transformations.
Glimpses of the person God created you to be are hard to catch at any age. They can be especially hard to see at an age when you are graded by a steady stream of likes, re-tweets and test scores. Moments of illumination, when a young person feels free to be his or her divinely-created self, are as scarce as they are vital. These moments catapult youth into deeper faith, clearer voices, adulthood, and an awareness of call and vocation. These experiences are the fertile ground that cultivates a durable faith, one that is confident in God’s love and unafraid to raise important questions.
When I compare the crucible of today’s adolescence to the youth I experienced, it’s hard not to feel humbled. When I got home from school each day, if I wanted to talk to a classmate, I had to use the corded phone in our kitchen. Communication was one-to-one and private (except for the fact that your parents could hear your conversation). Today’s young people are constantly connected to hundreds if not thousands of peers, in conversations that are – paradoxically — dangerously public and shrouded from a parent’s view.
It stands to reason that youth of today need all the help we can give them to find a place of reflection, a place to be the people God created them to be, a place to use their own voices and hear the voices of others. We know how. Let’s do it!
Each month we ask a different person from the NEXT Church community to assemble a series of posts around a particular theme. This month, Carol Steele is curating a conversation around camp and conference ministry for the NEXT Church. Have ideas or reflections to share? Offer your thoughts in comments, on our Facebook page, or contact us here.
By Bob Tuttle
It was Germany, 1931, and confirmation classes were nothing at all like what we think of today. In the state church in Germany every child went through confirmation, no matter what they cared about. And most did not… care, that is.
Even though he had been warned by the elderly minister as they trudged up three flights of stairs, the growing racket being made by the 50 waiting boys grew quite alarming to Dietrich. Opening the door, the old man tried to introduce them to the new minister who was going to teach them in the future, Pastor Bonhoeffer, but the boys simply increased their volume so that nothing could be heard. The elderly minister fled the scene in despair, leaving Bonhoeffer standing silently against the wall with his hands in his pockets. Minutes passed. His failure to react gradually drew the boys’ attention, and he began speaking quietly so that only the boys in the front row could catch a few words of what he said. Suddenly all were silent. Bonhoeffer merely commented that they had put on a remarkable performance, and then went on to tell them a story. If they listened, he told them, he would share more stories with them next time. And he let them go.
I find it so interesting that one of the greatest theologians in the 20th century, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, repeatedly found himself involved in ministry with youth and young adults. It wasn’t the main focus of his ministry, but he was a teacher at heart, and it was among them that he found students ready to learn. And those students changed him as well: at the end of the school year Bonhoeffer reminisced about those rowdy boys that “the experience of teaching them has been such that I can hardly tear myself away from it.”
Those of us who love camps and conference centers know that feeling. One reason we love working in these settings because it is here that the often messy and chaotic ministry that we have with youth and young adults becomes real.
We, too, are teachers at heart, perhaps because we have the opportunity to tell so many wonderful, challenging stories. We lift up old, old stories from Scripture and youth realize their relevance to life today. We allow young adults to engage and dialogue with folks who they might never meet otherwise. We deliberately place them in situations where they are challenged to strengthen their faith and put it into action.
Camps and conference centers have often been described as “thin places.” Countless youth and young adults have heard God’s call in powerful sermons from the stage, in whispered songs around a campfire, in intense discussions in small groups. For the first time they realize that theology means something, that what one says they believe about God is so important that it should make a different in one’s life. They have returned to their homes and congregations empowered and encouraged to become even more faithful followers of Jesus Christ.
This is the legacy of camps and conference centers and the multitude of volunteers who minister at these sites to God’s people each year.
Camps and conference centers need the support of the NEXT Church. Will its leaders look for camps and conference centers as first choices for their meetings? Will they make certain that their children, youth, and young adults benefit from the life-giving and faith-shaping experiences offered in these thin places? Will they say yes when we ask them to come share with us what they are learning? Will the budgets of their congregations demonstrate as much of an interest in sowing seeds for the future as in surviving and thriving in the present?
Camps and conference centers have demonstrated the strength of our legacy. It is the NEXT Church’s responsibility to pass that legacy along.
(the story contained in this blog post can be found in Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas)
Bob Tuttle is Vice President of the Center for Youth & Young Adult Ministry at Montreat Conference Center. Having served much of his career as a certified Director of Christian Education, he is now ordained as a teaching elder by the Presbytery of Western North Carolina to validated ministry at Montreat.
By Michelle Thomas-Bush
I like to plan ahead, so this week I ordered the class t-shirts for the fall. Every year, our 6th graders receive a visit from an older middle school mentor who delivers their class t-shirt, welcoming them to the next step in their faith journey. That next step is Youth Ministry. What will youth ministry look like for these 6th graders? That is the question we all are boldly asking with each other for the church of Jesus Christ.
Youth ministry is at a crossroads. Those t-shirts look exactly the same every year, with the exception of their graduation year. The Class of 2021. This 6th grade class marks the last class of the millennial generation. We are at a generational crossroads.
Millennials are beginning to graduate, and we are preparing to walk alongside a brand new generation of youth who are ready to embark on a spiritual journey of their own. Leaders will need to shift their concern away from why millennials are leaving the church and towards trying to understand the generation born after 2004. Our excited, energetic, and eager 6th graders belong to a new generation that has been officially named the “Plurals”—a peer group that has experienced their entire life in a truly pluralistic society.
Diversity shapes this generation’s worldview, and they will compete to have their voice heard. Our young people are already asking for help articulating their faith. They crave a spiritual language that they might not have heard from their families and for ways of understanding the mystery of God that are not in their vocabulary as they are experiencing that mystery themselves. Youth ministry may begin to be more about faith conversations than ever before.
Does this mean lock-ins, mission trips, and Sunday School are of the past? I think it will depend upon each individual congregation. As youth professionals, we may need to shift from sharing the perfect program to sharing big ideas instead. (Follow #BigIdeas on Twitter for a conference on big ideas in youth ministry currently happening at Columbia Theological Seminary.)
Our ministry as youth professionals will need to shift from just being chaperones to also being spiritual directors. Whether in a formal spiritual direction relationship or simply as a guide that aids a young person’s life with God, it will be critical for this generation to have someone who knows him or her in a real way and can help them pay attention to God’s activity in their life.
The good news is that it does not matter what size church you are. Spiritual direction can happen with one or one hundred. Whether your church has hundreds of youth on the roles or a core group of six, our youth leaders and adult volunteers will need to be trained to help young people, along with their families, and join them as they move beyond the “stuck” areas in their soul and challenge them to articulate faith as they maneuver through their faith journey.
Imagine if each young person had a few adults in their life who help them identify God’s movement in their life, to laugh, and create sacred space, reminding them that the Kingdom of God is all around them. This next generation will need adults who are willing to meet them where they are with compassion, encouragement, blessing and intentionality in all areas of their life—not just at church.
Let’s not wait to move to what is “next.” Let’s begin engaging this new generation where they are now and inviting them to join us in the mystery of faith.
Michelle Thomas-Bush is the Associate Pastor for Youth and Their Families at Myers Park Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. Michelle and her husband Dave have a son in his first year of middle school ministry and a daughter who would love to join them. She cannot wait to see what comes next and is grateful for the community of youth leaders who support one another through these changing days of ministry.
Each month we ask a different person from the NEXT Church community to assemble a series of posts around a particular theme. This month, John Vest has been curating a conversation around youth ministry. Have ideas or reflections to share? Offer your thoughts in comments, on our Facebook page, or contact us here.
In this post, Rocky Supinger wonders if the future of youth ministry will have less to do with church-based programming—the hallmark of youth ministry in its heyday from the 1970s through the end of the 20th century—and more to do with engaging youth within their own cultural contexts and peer groups. This is an important paradigm shift from an “attractional” approach to a more missional and contextual approach. If post-Christendom youth are less likely to come to us on our terms, we need to meet them in their worlds. Yet Rocky also points out that there is something unique about church space in the lives of youth. Rocky makes good use of Mark Oestreicher’s Youth Ministry 3.0, an essential book to read when it comes to thinking about what’s next in youth ministry.
I’m not all that acquainted with what was “before” in youth ministry in the Presbyterian Church. I grew up an arm’s length from church, and I’ve been an Associate Pastor with responsibilities for youth for a mere six years. Yet allow me to wonder out loud about something that might feature prominently in the “next” iteration of our ministry with junior high and high school students across the PC(USA).
Simply put, I wonder if what’s next is fewer events and groups organized for church youth and more gatherings among established groups of students with no connection to the church.
A little background (and some caveats)…
Each Wednesday afternoon I’ve got two groups of students who gather at the church I serve: one group of junior high girls and another group of high school boys. I’m a bit baffled as to how this came about, as I certainly didn’t plan for it.
Four years ago I invited a couple of 7th grade church kids to drop into the church youth room after school once a week, since they walked right past it on their way home. Within weeks, those students were bringing nearly a dozen of their friends.
For two years that group of junior high boys came to the church once a week. Then they graduated to high school. Their walk home no longer took them past the church, so I didn’t see them anymore. Meanwhile, I extended the invitation to another 7th grader to drop by with her friends after school. Now what started as a “guys” group is all girls, and only two of them are related to the church.
Then something funny happened. I ran into some of those boys who are now in high school and that I don’t see any more. They asked if they could start coming to the church again. Dazed, I said of course, and now there are a dozen or so 10th grade boys at the church every Wednesday afternoon. It’s turned into a kind of drop in center.
I’m not sure what’s happening with these groups. I’m thrilled that students from the neighborhood identify our church building as a place that welcomes them. I mean, I take swipes at “attractional” models of ministry like most of my colleagues, but the fact is that these students are attracted to something they don’t have anywhere else: a building with adults who mostly want to know them and play with them. That’s worth something.
But I’m not teaching them the Bible. We’re not having discussions of life issues. I suppose the most rigorous assessment of what these gatherings are providing is an experience of hospitality that is focused predominantly on recreation.
I wonder if this isn’t a pattern that we should embrace going forward, inviting groups of young people from our community into relationship with us and the church. (note: “into relationship with us” need not equal “into our church buildings,” but church spaces can be uniquely welcoming of teens.)
Of course, hosting gatherings, retreats, and work trips for students in our congregations—where catechesis and life transformation happens—must continue to get all the energy we can give it. But I think we should start supplementing those foci with some exploration of the peer relationships our students have outside the church, looking for ways to walk alongside those relationships.
My thinking in this direction has been influenced heavily by Mark Oestreicher’s Youth Ministry 3.0. Oestreicher suggests that adolescents in today’s heavily networked culture don’t need as much from the church in the area of belonging. That is, most of our students belong to their own peer groups that give shape to their life, whether that’s the marching band, the debate team, or the kids they play video games with. That the church would be a place for youth who are “outsiders”—who have no community in which to belong—is not as evident as it once was.
Of course this is not entirely true, and churches must always be places where young people experience a depth of welcome absent elsewhere. Yet the pattern is playing out in my context that groups of young people from the community with no existing relationship to our church are eager to make use of its staff and facilities for the sake of experiencing one another. I wonder if more of that isn’t what’s next.
Rocky Supinger is the Associate Pastor at Claremont Presbyterian Church in Claremont, CA. He blogs at YoRocko.com and has been actively involved in the NEXT Church conversation.
By John Vest
Over the past few years one of the most talked about religious news stories has been the so-called “rise of the nones.” According to surveys and studies, one fifth of the United States now claims no religious affiliation. It’s not necessarily the case that they aren’t spiritual or don’t believe in God, but our society is increasingly uninterested in participating in organized religious institutions. This is especially true among young Americans—a third of adults under 30 fit this category.
This trend is not exactly news for mainline Protestants who have been declining in membership for decades. But now that the decline narrative has reached evangelicals, the most vocal representatives of American Christianity are starting to take notice and talk about it. While much of the evangelical handwringing has to do with a perceived image problem—if we’d only seem less judgmental, homophobic, power hungry, and hypocritical young people would stop leaving—the mainline response still seems muted, apathetic, and resigned. We need more voices—like those in the NEXT Church conversation—interested in moving beyond denominational politics and institutional maintenance and committed instead to paying attention to what God is doing in the world and envisioning how we can be a part of it.
If there is anything worth preserving in the Christian witness of mainline Protestantism—and I believe that there is—then we need to be more proactive in our response to the rise of the nones. It seems to me that there are two basic strategies: 1) reform existing expressions of church in ways that captivate the imaginations and passions of young people and others who are leaving our churches for, well, nothing in particular; 2) work with the youth and young people we still have with the clear intention of long-term sustainability. While I have the opportunity to dabble in the first of these strategies (BBQ Church is my pet project in this regard), most of my time and energy is devoted to the second.
Long gone are the days of thinking about youth ministry as “passing on the faith” to emerging generations. The last thing we want to do is simply replicate among young people forms of church that are on the decline and are clearly not compelling for growing numbers of their peers. Instead, youth ministry in the church that is becoming is more about empowering young people to do the work of ecclesial reformation for themselves. It’s about helping them catch God’s vision of a missional church making a difference in the world and deploying their own passions and creativity to figure out what that looks like in the rapidly changing world they live in and are actively shaping. This is going to look different in each context and there are no one-size-fits-all ideas or models for 21st century post-Christendom youth ministry. But there is an important conversation to be had and perhaps some common themes and approaches to better understand and engage.
I’m excited to be a guest editor on the NEXT Church blog during the month of January, curating a conversation about what is next in youth ministry. I’ll share some of what I’m doing in Chicago and a new conversation about progressive youth ministry that I’m hosting this spring. But I’m most looking forward to assembling a diverse collection of voices from around the PC(USA) that will bear witness to our hopes and dreams for youth ministry that matters and makes a difference in the world we live in.
John Vest is the Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry at Fourth Presbyterian Church and blogs at johnvest.com. He is completing a DMin thesis on post-Christendom confirmation at McCormick Theological Seminary. He lives with his wife and two young sons on the north side of Chicago and in his spare time dreams of one day achieving the mystical union of BBQ and church.