Thursday, May 15, 2008

We Are Moving: Be the Church

Recently, I attended Youth Specialties' The CORE training event, which this year was focused on Transformational Youth Ministry. Part of the presentation, much to my pleasure and amusement, consisted of a rather concise expression of my vision for our youth ministry. One section was titled, “Transforming Youth Ministries are Moving…,” and it presented a series of comparisons explaining what we should be moving from, and what we should be moving to. So here, I’d like to present a series of short commentaries on these comparisons. I call the series, “We Are Moving…”

We Are Moving...
From getting kids to come to church
To getting kids to be the church

This is one of my personal soapboxes. The church is not a building, it is a people. The church is not where we go, it is who we are. All of us, as followers of Jesus, are called to live out His teachings, to obey His Word. In short, to be the church. So, of course, it makes sense that we should have the same goal for our students.

But much of youth ministry over the last 50 years has been focused on attractional ministry; that is, creating “fun” programs that students want to come to, then including a short, non-offensive message at the end. This approach works in terms of getting kids to come to church, but it does very little to transform lives. Spiritual growth is a non-issue, because energies are focused on encouraging students to show up. Bigger numbers equal success, regardless of whether students begin to live more like Jesus or not.

I propose that we instead focus ourselves on coming alongside students to encourage their discipleship, their holiness, and their spiritual transformation. Our activities and programs should provide opportunities for our kids to put feet to their faith, to live it out, to be the church. At my church, we are already doing this to a degree, and doing it well. We have Small Group Leaders who are willing to get heir hands dirty in the relational world of teenagers, and service projects that are about more than simply feeling good about ourselves. These are signs of a youth ministry moving in the right direction.

This is why I’m such a huge fan of things like mission trips, youth-led worship services, and 30 Hour Famine. These are events that not only challenge students to live out what the Bible teaches, but provide an opportunity for them to do so. And our kids respond and rise to these challenges. I believe that God has put something special in the kids of Fair Oaks that resonates with service, with prayer, with being the church. We who serve in this ministry ought to thank God for it, and to ask Him to work through us to maximize the wondrous spiritual gifts He has given our students.

So, as we dream together of new ministries and new ideas, let’s commit ourselves to not simply encouraging kids to come to church. Let’s encourage them to be the church.