An Examination of Teen Ministry in the Church

We  are launching our teen ministry this fall, and it has caused me to just think through some things.

Teen ministry needs to focus less on the "fun" and more on the "grow." It's the only place in our society where a teen will receive help and encouragement to grow closer to Jesus and be part of His Kingdom besides in their house (if they have a healthy Christian family), encounters with other Christians, and on Sunday mornings. We have a sacred responsibility in our teen ministries that is too often neglected.

Our teen ministries across this land have erred with good intentions. Somewhere along the road, the purpose of teen ministry was to be fun and draw kids in who don't really want to grow spiritually. The hope was that we would pull them in with the fun and then they would grow spiritually despite not having the desire to grow initially. Despite the complete ineffectiveness of this approach, it has been hard for us to shake off. Because being entertaining and drawing the largest crowd is just the wrong goal. Because the side effect of that approach is that the teen ministry then neglects to actually help the kids grow who actually want to grow. And so nobody is growing spiritually although the youth group may be growing numerically.

The result of this approach, which also creeps into church as a whole, is that the teens move on from youth ministry and expect the church as a whole to be the same way. Our churches then get filled with people who just want to be entertained while the people who want to actually serve and grow don't feel that the church is the place for them. They then leave the youth ministry and, maybe, the church as a whole because it is a shallow institution that isn't attempting to do the mission it should do.
Youth ministry shouldn't be a place of high energy and fun yet low spirituality where spiritually lackadaisical parents send their kids to be entertained and, hopefully, grow. That type of ministry won't work. That model of youth ministry has created the dead church of today. I have no desire to pursue it and continue its damaging legacy.

We have neglected our sacred role of focusing on helping people grow spiritually. 

To fix this, we really need to be spiritually intentional and up the spiritual intensiveness of our teen ministries. But it will only work in a church environment that wants that. Parents don't complain if the English class or math class at school isn't focused on fun and games. People understand and know that they send their kids to those classes to learn English and math. An English and math teacher isn't evaluated on how fun their class is. They are evaluated on how well they teach.

This doesn't mean that learning and growth can't be fun. It just means that pizza and games must take a backseat to them. We have a sacred role to play as the church in society. We are the ambassadors of the Kingdom of God. Let's not abandon that role to just appeal to more people. In the end, nobody else is going to do what we are called to do if we neglect doing it.

So if you are involved in a teen ministry, you are joining in on the sacred responsibility to help the students to grow closer to Jesus and find their place in the Kingdom of God. Don't let that goal get pushed to the side by attempting to make things fun. Fun isn't the goal. Let fun just be a tool used in making the greater goal of spiritual growth a reality. Because let's be honest, our entertainment society specializes in fun. We can't compete with that. But we are the only place that will focus on growing closer to Jesus and being the Kingdom of God. Let's keep that in focus. You can teach. You can mentor. You can pray for them. And in the end, their spiritual growth is what matters.

Our Obsession With Sports (Or Things With Little Value)

"Train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come" (1 Tim 4:7b-8 ESV).

We often forget how radical the teachings of Scripture are. We have learned to justify away the rough edges and water down the tonic of truth. We want to be able to say that we're right with God without actually caring all that much about following God. We have adopted fun sayings like "I'm spiritual but not religious" to allow ourselves to make a god in our image and follow our made up creation however we want. We, the created, have a tendency to substitute the all-powerful, loving, and sustaining Creator for a fickle, imaginary, fun-loving god who conveniently loves everything that we love and believes everything that we believe.

In his letter to his protégé Timothy, Paul noted that "bodily training is of some value." For us who live in  small towns that exalt sports, this is a tough teaching. I see sports lifted on a pedestal all of the time. It's what many brag about on Facebook. We are inundated with the athletic achievements of people and their children. Many spend hours upon hours training their children for athletic greatness. It's true that those achievements are of "some" value. The word is translated as "little" in other translations. It can also be translated "small" or "brief."

There is nothing wrong with our children having great experiences on the field or court, spending time out in the yard playing with their parents, traveling around to places with the family, and having fun. But let's not take sports out of perspective. This training that we focus on to create great athletes out of ourselves and our children is only of little value and often becomes an idol.

Now, you may think it is of more value because they may get a college scholarship. CBS did an article on this. Here are few of the paragraphs from 8 Things You Should Know About Sports Scholarships.
The odds of winning a NCAA sports scholarship are miniscule. Only about 2 percent of high school athletes win sports scholarships every year at NCAA colleges and universities. Yes, the odds are that dismal. For those who do snag one, the average scholarship is less than $11,000.
Full-ride sports scholarships are scarce. There are only six sports where all the scholarships are full ride. These so-called head-count sports are football, men and women's basketball, and women's gymnastics, volleyball, and tennis. In these Division I sports, athletes receive a full ride or no ride.
Scholarships can be dinky. Beyond the head-count sports, all other sports are considered "equivalency" sports. NCAA rules dictate how much money a program, such as lacrosse or track, can spend on scholarships. Coaches can slice and dice these awards as they choose, which can lead to awfully small scholarships.
So the sports training we put our children through is of "little", "small", "brief", and "some" value. Maybe we're banking on a sports scholarship or them just becoming locally famous when they are in high school through their athletic prowess. Whatever the case, we need to just make sure they are having fun and realize that these athletics skills are relatively insignificant to developing their spiritual life.

Training our children to be godly should be more important than training them to be athletic. Now, we can even use the insignificant things like sports to train our kids skills that are significant, but that is often forgotten during the heat of the game.

It is of more "value" or more "profitable", depending on the translation, to invest in our children's spiritual lives. Send them to VBS as well as or instead of a sports camp. Skip a sport event to attend church with your children rather than skipping church to do sports. That right there would teach them that God is more important than sport, although the message we often send is the other way around.
And it isn't just sports. That's just the one idol that Paul picked on in his letter to Timothy. It can be anything. It can be education, entertainment, art, or something else. Whatever we place above God is not as important as God. And yet we do it time and time again.

We have a well-meaning generation raising kids who were raised in church but have decided that church isn't important for their children. There is something about church that the parents just don't like. They want their children to have that same spirituality, but they are trying to do it outside of church. It is proving to be a fruitless policy, and we are raising a godless generation. A generation who is selfish and arrogant. A generation who is like we would be without God. A generation, who like us, needs to place growing in God above everything else. Yet when we fail to do that, we make it harder for them.

What's A Christian To Do With This Election?

It’s that time of year again. One in which everyone starts misbehaving, proclaiming that if you don’t share their political views then you can’t be a Christian. This is the second Presidential election where most of us are on Facebook, and it doesn't seem like we learned anything from the first. It is difficult for some to behave themselves. Oh, what a wonderful time. I’m sure God smiles down on all of his followers attacking each other when they are supposed to be identified by their love toward one another.

But what if in this political season we got it all wrong? What if our goal in life isn’t to achieve political victory but to love our neighbor? What if behaving like jerks, to put it lightly, in the political arena actually is a distraction from our true purpose in life? What if, instead of choosing Clinton or Trump, we decided to choose Jesus?

It’s tough for many to not be a jerk when they get their news from a biased source that neglects the negative stories about their own guy or gal. In this vacuum of news from the other perspective, one begins to believe the other side is purely evil while they are on the side of the angels. But I want to propose that neither side is on the side of the angels. They are both flawed human institutions that forget their true purpose in the hopes of winning the temporary and fleeting praise of the masses and/or some select wealthy donors.

As followers of Jesus, we must not align ourselves too closely with any human institution for in close alignment we risk losing our prophetic voice. What that means is that we can never become so Republican that we don’t speak out against the injustices of the Republican Party. Or likewise, we must never become so much of a Democrat that we can’t speak out against the injustices of the Democratic Party. 

The church has a purpose in our society. We are to be the salt of the earth, the light of the world, and a city on a hill. We can’t do that if we just become another cog in one of the political parties, a cog that they can depend on no matter what they do. How different both of our parties would be if the people, especially the Christians who should know better, in those parties started cleaning up their own house rather than just constantly throwing mud at the other?

If one party feels that they have a specific demographic locked in, they won’t do anything to win the vote of that demographic. Why would they? They already have them. Each of the parties, like all human institutions, are inherently flawed. They are better when they are striving toward loving others and seeking those things that are good. They are worse when they are living selfishly. We, Christians, must play hard to get when it comes to the political parties. True, we might grow old and lonely some day, but at least we won’t be a dirty whore, sleeping in bed with those who are committing atrocities of all sorts that our Savior would be ashamed of.

So the church, needs to be a place where people of all political persuasions can get along, keeping our prophetic voice alive by drawing closer to Jesus. The Democrats needs good Christians in their midst. The Republicans do too. Likewise, so does the Green Party, the Libertarians, and every other political group. Every group needs a little salt and a little light.

So let us not denigrate our brothers and sisters who might have different political views than us. That doesn’t mean that we can’t talk about the issues we disagree on, but let us not pretend that our side in the political arena is the one on God’s side. I’ve seen both sides, and they’re both pretty filthy. And that is just from visible appearances. God sees the heart. Thankfully, he has grace enough for Republicans, Democrats, and third-partiers too.