Models Of Church Youth Work

I teach youth work for my Diocese and last time around we were looking at models of church youth work. I thought it might be helpful to share. Below are 7 different models on a scale of parental involvement. I’ve sorted them into 3 categories. The first model is total parent led work to the exclusion of everyone else, the last is totally led by peers and adults to the exclusion of parents. As with most things, most of these models can be implemented really well or really badly. So if you want to criticise one, criticise it as if it was done in the best possible way.

Family Focused Ministry

“the process of intentionally and persistently realigning a congregation’s proclamation and practices so the parents are acknowledged trained, and held accountable as the persons primarily responsible of the discipleship of their children” – Perspective on Family Ministry, Timothy Paul Jones (Ed.) 2009.

The following 2 or 3 models are taken from that book.

Family integrated ministry

“The church eliminates age-segregated programs and events. All or nearly all programs and events are multigenerational, with a strong focus on parents’ responsibility to evangelise and to disciple their own children.” (Ibid)

No youth worker or youth work. Pastor has responsibility for entire flock, children are discipled by being in church and by parents being told to disciple them. Parents, parents, parents.

Children sit in the same service next to their parents.

Family equipping / family based ministry

“Age-organised programs and events still exist, the church is intentional about drawing generations together, equipping parents, championing their role as primary disciple makers, and holding them accountable to fulfil this role.” (My own definition). I’ve merged two slightly separate models together here, but they’re close enough in practice.

Certainly youth activities, and perhaps a youth worker, though unlikely. Sometimes a families worker whose job is to strengthen families to disciple their children.

Children sit in the same service maybe near their parents, maybe near their friends.

Programmatic Ministry

Young people are part of the life of the church, but with their own stream of programmes and activities. Youth workers are at least equally responsible with parents for the teaching of a young person, if not primarily responsible. Parents are (hopefully) informed about what’s going on.

Sunday School ministry

More of a historic model, not frequently practiced now in the UK. 

Young people and children are fully part of Sunday services, however they meet before hand or afterwards for specific age appropriate teaching.  Eg an hour of Sunday school before the church service. Often taught by the vicar or some licensed lay minister.

Children meet their parents in the same service.

Youth Work Ministry

Young people and children are involved in the Sunday services, but will leave at some point of the service and have the bulk of the ‘teaching’ portion elsewhere. The vicar will teach the adults while volunteers and potentially paid staff will teach the children. They all join back together at the end of it. Mid-week activities are inevitably aimed at either young people or adults. Age segregation is the default for any group.

Children sit in some of the same service as their parents then leave.

Youth congregation ministry

Young people and children have a separate worship service (normally at the same time on a Sunday). They enter through a different door, have a separate pastor, separate notices, separate worship time. Legally church is probably same as adult church and staff are shared, but in practice churches operate as separate organisations.

Children don’t sit in the same service as their parents, though will probably share a lift to church with them.

Youth Focused Ministry

Young people are intentionally not drawn into an existing adult congregation. Instead a new “fresh expression” of church is established for them. There is no intention to integrate them back into the wider church.

Youth Missional Communities (sometimes called cell groups)

“A missional community is a group of people who are united, through Christian community, around a common service and witness to a particular neighbourhood or network of relationships. The group has a strong value on life together and has the expressed intention of seeing those they impact choose to start following Jesus, through this more  flexible and locally incarnated expression of the church. The result will often be that the group will grow and ultimately multiply into further missional communities. Missional communities are most often networked within a larger church community. ” Citied in Rich Atkinson, – Target

In this model the primary gathering of the church is these missional groups which are 10-20 people big and the core fellowship. They aim to plant other groups. They are all part of a network of missional groups which will probably meet together, as often as weekly, to have something more like a recognisable worship service.  In this model the young people and children are part of their own group.

Children have separate church fellowship, but join together with their parents for occasional big services. The big services aren’t church, the fellowship groups are.

Youth Church

A church is created specifically to reach out to young people as a separate cultural group. Parents are not involved at all. It’s probably the hope that the church one day becomes all ages as the young people grow up, get married, have kids, and evangelise wider than their peer group. But it starts out with a core of young people.

Children go to a separate church to their parents and most other adults.

See Bishop Graham Cray’s work on this.

The Grove Is On Fire 2.0

Yesterday The Grove Is On Fire ran an increasingly fragile engine, slowly tearing itself apart under the weight of the Internet. It sufficed to get text from my computer to the internet, but even that simple action was fraught with peril. How many blog posts went unpublished as they were swallowed by rogue lines of code?

Today I razed it to the ground and built this instead, running on new software -software I don’t fully understand but  work. Imagine ripping out your cars increasingly janky tape deck and installing a touch screen display with all the options. You know how the tape deck works even as it gouges your copy of “Now That’s What I Call Music 38”, you have no clue how this touchscreen works and what it can do, but it’s definitely better.

In consequence this site has lost its older layout and some links may no longer work as well. Bear with us and let me know if you find anything terribly broken.

I aim to keep posting the same kind of stuff I’ve always posted. Youth ministry, Jesus, the gospel, that kind of thing. More on that tomorrow though.

Happy Bullies

It’s one study so take it with a pinch of salt, but this research says that bullies are generally happy with themselves

“Researchers at Simon Fraser University surveyed a group of Vancouver high school students and found bullies were the least likely to be depressed, had the highest self-esteem and the greatest social status.”

This is worth noting for two reasons. First, this again shows the emptiness of the self-esteem movement. “If only these bullies thought more highly of themselves then they wouldn’t bully” is not the direction this research is pointing to.

Second, this reminds us that there are many unhelpful ways of talking to your young people who are being bullied. Here are gospel-less ways to counsel your young people: “you’re better than the bully”. Maybe, maybe not. But the bully is still feeling happier than the bullied. As well as being a dangerous place to make a stand, a moral high-ground doesn’t offer any really comfort. “The bully is really unhappy deep down”. Maybe, but according to this they’re not as unhappy as the person they’re bullying.

What do you say instead? To start, recognise this is a biblical concern; see for example Habbakuk 1:1-3 (“For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted. v.3”) or a large number of Psalms (3, 4, 5, 10, 37). Why do those acting sinfully seem to not only get away from it, but profit from it? This is a good and proper question to ask.

Some of the answer to this can be found in Psalm 37.

Fret not yourself because of evildoers;
be not envious of wrongdoers!
For they will soon fade like the grass
and wither like the green herb.
Trust in the Lord, and do good;
dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. (v. 1-3)

Why shouldn’t you fret even though evildoers are succeeding? Why shouldn’t you be envious of those doing wrong? Because soon, they’ll fade like the grass. Their brief success is just a temporary thing. The Lord does not forget their deeds, but is waiting patiently before he judges them. But those who trust in the Lord and obey him instead, they’ll be blessed. “For the evildoers shall be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.” (v. 9) Wait patiently for the Lord to take care of you, and the bully will be no more soon enough. Hopefully the Lord’s patience and mercy —and the person’s they are bullying’s witness— will bring them to repentance (Romans 2:4). And if Jesus isn’t judged in their place, then they will have to bear that judgement themselves. Regardless, the Lord will care for his people and bring them safely home.

Help, I Failed My Exams

If you’ve just failed your exams, or you didn’t get the results you were after, that’s rubbish. Sorry. People fail their exams for different reasons. Maybe you didn’t put any effort into studying. Or maybe circumstances out of your control –an illness, bad news– meant you couldn’t do your best on the day. Or maybe you revised hard and you could concentrate but in the end didn’t do as well as you’d hoped.

And so maybe right now you’re feeling disappointed and guilty. If only you’d tried a little bit more you’d have got the grades you wanted. And maybe other people –your teachers, parents, friends– are also feeling disappointed in you. You feel like you’ve let them down. You might even be thinking you’ve disappointed God by not doing as well as you could have.

If this is you, this is what you need to hear; How well you do at exams is a terrible terrible place to go looking for happiness and fulfilment. There is no lasting joy in fixing your identity on being good at studying and being smart. The Bible says the place to find your identity is in Christ Jesus, and says that if you come to Him, He’ll give you a new and better identity as a beloved child of God the Father. So trust that in Jesus God loves you eternally and sees you as perfect. When everyone else is disappointed with you know that God isn’t. When you can’t bear to share your results with your friends or your parents or even look at the results slip yourself, know God knows and delights in you. Whether you did badly in your exams because you were lazy in your revision, or because you weren’t smart enough, or because you just had a really bad day, God sent his Son to die for you and secured his delight over you forever. He’s always overjoyed for you to come to him in prayer and worship. If neither angels nor demons, death nor life, height or depth, can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38), how can bad results? His love is carved into granite by Jesus’ death on the cross, not your grade in an exam.

What next? Well, the good news is that for those who love God –those people He’s saved and rescued– He’s promised to work out all situations for your good (Romans 8:28). So in failed exams results and missed university places and re-sits and cancelled 6th form plans, God is going to work this out for your good somehow. That means He’s going to use even these poor results to make your more like His Son Jesus. How He uses them might remain a mystery till heaven, but He’s promised He will, and He keeps His promises. So you can relax, knowing you haven’t screwed up your future forever, but that God is working things out even now for your best.

Practically, your school or college is probably the best place to find out about other options, they can help you with alternative courses or point you in the direction of other people who can help. You might want to consider taking a year out to work or volunteer with maybe some part-time courses if it’s possible, giving you space to look again at university or further education with a bit more perspective.

I originally wrote this for Youthwork Magazine a couple of years back

Some Things On A Theology Of Children

There’s been discussion on the internet around a theology of children. If you want to reduce it to a specific question, the debate is “if a child asks you ‘am I a Christian?’ what do you say”. Andrew Wilson has a good summary of the various responses going back and forward and it’s worth reading all the articles. There’s also a further post responding to more of the questions. The whole subject of covenant membership of children, baptism, and entry to communion, is a huge issue that youth workers have to wrestle with and get their heads around.

A couple of thoughts of the debate above. One of the responses seems to be that if you baptise babies but then don’t let them take communion till some older date when they can affirm their own faith then you’re making exactly the same judgement about a child’s faith that credobaptists are making; you’re in effect saying you’re not a proper member of God’s people until confession of faith. This is a good and fair point. This is why having baptised babies you should allow them to receive communion. Here’s a short explanation of how this can happen in the Church of England with some of the common objections.

Another thought is that laying the blame of children leaving the church at the feet of paedobaptism seems slightly suspect. Both paedobaptist and credobaptist churches see children drop out of them when they hit their teenage years. Both paedobaptist and credobaptist parents seem guilty of not teaching their children to trust and obey God from their heart. Sure, parents giving their children false assurance that they’re saved is one of the reasons for children dropping away from church, but it’s one of many, and found equally (in my experience) in paedo and credo churches. It’s also worth noting that Paul tells (presumably) baptised church members to examine themselves to make sure they are in the faith. One would hope any paedobaptist is encouraging their child to do this.

Finally, if your theology of baptism is so strong that you can be accused of saying baptism saves you well, you’re in good company.

How To Make An Even More Perfect Rice Pudding

The recipe I use for rice pudding is this one from the Guardian’s ‘how to make perfect’ series. It’s a pretty wonderful recipe (and a pretty great series) but it’s not perfect. It’s got one minor problem. The problem is that you want to fry your rice in the butter and sugar before you add your liquid to give it a more nutty taste, but if you fry your rice in butter and sugar before you add the liquid you cause the starch to breakdown and it’ll loose some of it’s creaminess. So you’re left with a vicious choice; bring out the creaminess and loose the nuttiness, or enhance the nuttiness and lose some of the creaminess.

Of course, I’m not actually a food scientist. I just copy other people’s work. So I only know this because someone else has done lots of work on risotto and what is rice pudding but dessert risotto? So stealing that method of fixing risotto, we can fix rice pudding. Pour the uncooked rice pudding into the milk you’re going to use and stir it for a few minutes. Then drain the rice and let it dry out, keeping the milk. You’ll now have starchy-milk and dry-ish rice. Then just melt the butter and sugar in a pan and tip the rice into it and follow the Guardian recipe the rest of the way. Now you should have extra nutty and extra creamy rice pudding. Even more perfect rice pudding.

This still though, isn’t the best rice pudding to make. The best rice pudding has different flavours to this one. Cardamon and orange instead of bay-leaf and lemon. So here’s the recipe I use for special occasions. Warning; it’s a slightly ridiculous amount of effort for making what should be a simple dish, but like I said, special occasions.

Orange and Cardamon Rice Pudding with Candied Orange Peel

Serves 8 because why make it in smaller quantities?

  • 100g unsalted-butter
  • 100g soft light brown sugar
  • 200g pudding rice
  • 2 litre full-fat milk
  • 10 whole green cardamons, bashed so they’re slightly open and the seeds can fall out
  • ½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • 300ml double cream
  • An orange, with two strips removed with a sharp potato peeler, the rest of the skin zested
  • 2 tablespoons castor sugar

Note; You should use the widest pan you have that can hold around 3 litres of liquid, the more surface area your pan has the easier it is to fry the rice. If you have a big Le Crueset style cast-iron casserole dish you can do the entire process in one pan.

Rice Pudding

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 140°c /120°c fan
  2. Pour the milk and rice into a bowl or measuring jug. Stir with your hands or a spoon to make sure the rice is thoroughly coated. Pour the milk through a sieve into the widest pan you have (that can comfortably hold 3 litres of liquid) and let the rice dry in the sieve. (at least 5 minutes, giving it a good shake every now and again)
  3. Place the pan full of milk on the stove and add the 10 green cardamons. Turn on the heat to medium-low and stir. Don’t let the pan simmer. Leave for at least 5 minutes no more than 151. Taste the pan and see if it’s absorbed enough cardamon flavour.
  4. Dump the milk back into the bowl or measuring jug through a sieve to remove the cardamon.
  5. Wipe out the pan and place the butter and sugar in it. Turn up the heat to medium. Keep stirring till the butter has melted and is a smooth mixture.
  6. Pour in the rice and fry for around 5 minutes till the rice swells a bit.
  7. Pour in the milk, the cinnamon, nutmeg, the orange zest, and the cream. Stir to make sure it all mixes properly.
  8. Empty the mixture into an roasting tin or casserole dish and place in the oven for 1 ½ hours. If you’re using a cast-iron casserole dish, just place that straight in the oven. The mixture should look ridiculously milky, like it’s a handful of rice floating in milk. That’s fine. The rice will expand.
  9. Check on it fairly regularly. It’s easy to dry out or over-cook the rice and as it keeps well warm and reheats fine, it’s better to take it out sooner rather than later.
  1. If you don’t want skin, cover the tin with foil after 30 minutes or so.

Candied Orange Peel

  1. Take the two strips of orange peel and with a very sharp knife cut them into long thin strips like match sticks. You want them to be about 2 or 3 mm thick at most. Their length is less important.
  2. Place them in a non-stick sauce-pan and cover with a very small amount of boiling water and leave them to sit for a few minutes (straight from the kettle, you don’t need to boil the water in the pan)
  3. Drain the peel and repeat the process.
  4. Drain the peel again, this time add the same amount of boiling water and the 50g of castor sugar. Turn on the heat to medium-hot and let the water start to bubble and boil. Stir them every now and again and allow the water to start to boil off.
  5. When the water’s nearly boiled off remove then pan from the heat and taste one to see if they’re sweet and edible. If they’re still a bit hard, put some more water in and continue the simmering down process
  1. Remove the peel and place it on some kitchen roll to dry.

Serving

Serve a lump of rice pudding (it won’t look pretty) with some of the candied orange peel on top.

If you do decide to reheat it in the oven, you might want to stir in some more milk or cream before you put it back into the oven.

If you don’t like the skin and have the energy, you can make the entire rice pudding on the hob. When you add the milk and other ingredients, turn up the heat till the pan starts to simmer then stir it regularly. It’ll cook through like a risotto this way in 20-30 minutes. It needs careful attention to stop it sticking to the bottom of the pan or drying out though.

1 I don’t know enough about extracting flavour from cardamons to make a good judgment here on how long you should leave it for. The longer you leave it the more flavour you’ll get out of, but if they’re anything like other spices and seeds you run the risk of pulling out bitter flavours if you leave it too long. If you want it more cardamon-ny I recommend added more caradmon but not increasing the length of time too much. If someone wants to send me a massive bag of cardamons, 6 litres of milk, and 12 hours, I’ll do the science on it and come back to you.

Very Little Was Ever Fixed By Making It Smarter

Do you like stupid technological ideas that don’t fix anything pretending to be the next iPhone? Then We Put A Chip In It is a hilarious joy. You can make any stupid device smart by putting a chip in it and wirelessly connecting it to the internet. Smart mugs! Smart Socks! Smart chopping boards! I literally have no idea which of these are real products and which (if any) are parodies.

These stupid smart products are a natural outworking of today’s hyper-rational culture. The intellect is the supreme authority, and so any problem can be fixed by making the process smarter. Washing not being done? Put a chip in your laundry basket! Can’t be bothered to cook dinner? Write an API for your chopping board! Not spending enough time with your wife? Connect her wedding ring to the internet!

The real problem with you failing to go for a run is not going to be solved by bluetooth enabled sweatbands, because the problem isn’t not knowing you need to go for a run, but knowing you need to go for a run and not wanting to. The reason you don’t cook healthy when you get home and instead want to order pizza is not due to a lack of knowledge and ability, it’s because you can’t be bothered. You want pizza. Buying a chopping board that talks back is just going to make you feel guilty when it tells you the calories of the pizza grease you just spilt on it. Where we used to build shrines to the god of the sea and wonder why the boats still didn’t come home, so now we put bluetooth chips in our shoes and wonder why we still aren’t losing weight.

The problem with people isn’t that they’re not smart enough, the problem is we don’t want the right thing. It’s not that we don’t know too much chocolate is bad for us, it’s that we want to eat it anyway. Or for a more serious example, it’s not that we don’t know loosing our temper and yelling at someone’s a bad idea, it’s that right now we really really want to yell at someone. We don’t need smarter thinking, we need different desires. Or in more biblical language, we need a new heart.

Thanks, then, be to Christ, who turns up and says he will wipe away our sins and give us a new heart. One that slowly will start to desire what is right and good and that one day in heaven will only desire what is good all the time. One freed from dumb decisions you made because at the time you wanted something. The Lord says “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you.” (Ezekiel 36:26)

David and Jonathan

David and Jonathan is the biblical go-to story for closet homosexuality. This has reportedly come up again at Oasis’ Open Church event, but I’ve heard the passages on their relationship preached in a conservative evangelical church where it was made very clear that it wasn’t a text about closet homosexuality. So abundantly repeatedly clear that you felt the preacher did protest too much. (It didn’t help that he claimed the application of this non-sexual text was about marriage. ) Of course, that’s not what is happening in 1 Samuel 18, 1 Samuel 20, or 2 Samuel 1:26, the three texts people argue this from. David and Jonathan’s sexual desire for each other is less a case of careful biblical exegesis and more a case of seeing what you want to see in the text. This is instead what’s going on.

As soon as [David] had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. And Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father’s house. Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, and his armour, and even his sword and his bow and his belt. (1 Samuel 18:1-4, all quotes ESV)

That first line of chapter 18 is key to understanding David and Jonathan relationship. Jonathan’s just seen David do what no-one else was brave enough to do. He’s just seen him slay Goliath and liberate all of Israel from under the hand of the Philistines. But that’s not what causes Jonathan’s soul to be knitted to David. Jonathan’s soul is knitted to David when he hears what David has to say to Saul. And what did David say to Saul? “ ‘I am the son of your servant Jesse the Bethlehemite.’ “ (1 Samuel 17:58). That’s hardly the thing to say to make a grown man go weak at the knees is it? In the history of great speeches that have caused people to fall in love with them this one doesn’t even make the shortlist. So what is it about what David says that makes Jonathan love him? To understand that you need to understand some of the history of the monarchy of Israel.

For a while upon entering the land God had promised the Israelites, God’s people had no king. Or rather, God was their king ruling directly through the priesthood and the law and after a bit various judges. The judges were sent by God when Israel sinned and consequentially fell into the hands of other nations. The judges rescued Israel from the other nations, at least for a while until Israel fell back into sin. After some time of this the Israelites decided the problem wasn’t with their sinfulness, but rather with their lack of a human king on earth ruling over them like all the other nations. With grave warnings about the consequences of having a king like all the other nations, God gave them a king. Saul, Jonathan’s dad, was anointed king of Israel with great fanfare. He was a king like all the other nations. He was the biggest, the strongest, the tallest of all the Israelites. He was a man who looked like he should be king. And he was a failure as king. He doesn’t faithfully obey God’s commands. He swings between mad arrogance when he thinks he can do something and self-centred false humility when he realises he can’t. In one particularly memorable incident he is angry with his son because of his son’s righteous acts and wants to put him to death, but the people come along and appease his anger. When the people have to ransom the righteous son from the father’s displeasure (1 Samuel 14:45), you know Saul hasn’t grasped the whole Christ-like leadership thing.

So Saul’s rejected as king by God. The prophet Samuel tells Saul “For you have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel” (1 Samuel 15:26). He’s not alone when he’s rejected either, so if Jonathan’s not there he’s going to hear about it.

The burden of the future crown must weight heavy on him. His dad is the guy he’s meant to follow? But his dad is a terrible person! Does he want to be a king like that? And his country has been at war his entire life, with no end in sight. Does he want to be a king of a kingdom like that? And now the kingdom’s been taken from his father? Does that mean he’s not going to be king anyway? Maybe that’s sweet relief. But if that means he’s going to die or that Israel will collapse that’s no better.

With Saul rejected, what does God do with the monarchy? Eliminate it as a failed idea? No, he shows the people something better. What you need is a not an end to the monarchy but a king after God’s own heart. Someone who trusts and obeys God to death. Ultimately that is Christ, but for now David’s going to be that clear picture of him. And so David, a man without the appearance of majesty that we should look at him, is anointed as king in secret. And David as the Lord’s anointed one heads out and walks down into the valley of death where he fights against the devilish figure of Goliath who holds God’s people in fear and captivity. He takes out Goliath and turns his own weapon against him, killing him and leads God’s people in a triumphal procession of victory. He’s grasped the whole Christ-like leadership thing.

But that’s not why Jonathan falls in love with David remember? It’s “as soon as [David] had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.” So let’s finally work out why those words do his job. Jonathan must know his bible, because he’s a righteous upright Israelite who grew up with the priesthood around him. And because he knows his bible and because he grew up heir to the throne, he’s going to have paid attention to those few verses about ruling authority. And so as he’s read the blessings to Israel’s sons in Genesis 49, he’ll have wondered -isn’t the king meant to come from the tribe of Judah? After all, to the tribe of Judah is promised “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet” (Genesis 49:10). So why, Jonathan must wonder, is my dad from the tribe of Benjamin? (1 Chronicles 8).

So when David is brought before Saul and Jonathan is standing there and Saul says “where are you from?” and David replies “I’m from Bethlehem” that’s massive. Jonathan knows Bethlehem is in the tribe of Judah (the same way you know San Francisco is in California or Edinburgh is in Scotland). And Jonathan hears this and of course he falls in love and his soul is knit to David! Here is someone who not only acts like a king should, but comes from the family where the king should come from. Here’s the person who’s going to be king instead of Jonathan! Praise the Lord. Here’s someone who can take the heavy crown off Jonathan’s head and carry it for him. Here’s the guy who Jonathan can fall behind. No more will he have to carry the burden of the people. Instead this king will stand up and defend the people. What sweet relief! Of course Jonathan is delighted to give him his robe, his sword, his armour, and his bow. All his signs of his authority and power he hands over to David. Let this man the man who God has chosen be king and let me follow after him.

So too for us. We think we must rule and master our own life, we must lead the way in the world. But we soon realise deep down we’re a terrible king of our own soul. We make poor decisions, we ruin relationships, we lie, we worry and panic about how we will cope in life and self-medicate with wine and internet. How much better to throw down our pitiful attempts at running things at the feet of Jesus and allow him to carry the burden. How good is it to have a king who’ll fight for us. What relief to be a citizen of the kingdom of the King who has already conquered everything.

It’s not sexual love between Jonathan and David that’s praised in the Bible, it’s the same love as the Christian towards Jesus. That’s what’s going on with David and Jonathan in 1 Samuel 18 and what’s going on later in 1 Samuel 20 and 2 Samuel 1:26. Not star-crossed lovers, but the deep profound love as we should have for Christ. This is a picture of how we should love Christ. We should cling to Jesus and kiss him like Jonathan does to David (1 Samuel 20:41). For us guys, that might not be manly in our Western world, but it’s the response we’re taught in the bible. We say with David about Christ “your love to me was extraordinary, surpassing the love of women.” (2 Samuel 1:27).

Here’s my horse in this race, why this annoys me and why it’s relevant to my ministry. If I ask a large number of the young people I work with “do you love your friend?” the response will be “no, I’m not gay.” (maybe not quite as politely stated.) That’s because they’ve grown up being taught and so believe that love is sexual. You feel affection towards your friend and like spending time with them? Well that means you probably fancy them. You can maybe love your mum or your sister in a non-sexual way, but even that is seen as a weird abnormality. This is of course, massively damaging to a person. These young guys don’t develop deep intimacy with their male peers because they’re worried this is somehow gay and they only develop deep intimacy with their female peers because they fancy them. Part of the solution is to work against homophobia, but more than it’s to show that deep, fulfilling non-sexual relationships between the same gender are possible. People need to hear that non-sexual relationships are good and proper. You can have mates and enjoy their company. When you go to the cinema to watch a film with someone of the same sex, you don’t have to say “no homo” afterwards.

This sexualised interpretation of David and Jonathan is exactly what some of my young people are taught by their culture week on week. Of course they’re closet gay. Of course that level of intimacy means they want to jump into bed with each other but are fighting it back. Enough! Can we fight for non-sexual relationships? Can we teach that intimacy is possible between people without rolling round under the covers?

I guess I have another horse in the race. As a guy, I need to have David and Jonathan’s example of an intimate, close, relationship with other guys. I need them to show me what my relationships could be like with my friends but also to show me what my love and intimacy for Jesus should be like. David and Jonathan’s love for each other can show me how I can love Jesus with all my heart and affection, and enjoy sweet intimacy with him. I need that.

How To Run A Residential On The Cheap

So you want to take your young people away but don’t have much money to spend on it. Great! Because this article was written for you. Here is how you can slash your budget on your residential (or in the language of today’s government; make efficiency savings on your residential).

Accommodation

A classy residential centre can easily be £100 for a weekend per person. Sure you get nice beds and decent food for that price but that’s a lot of money. You know where else you can stay for a weekend? A church hall, a friend’s house (it’s amazing how many young people can fit in a house) or a field (tents required). This very evening there is a youth group staying over in our building and it’s not costing them anything.

If you do stay somewhere like this, you need to check there’s enough room to cook and eat with your young people and you need to make sure there’s space to hang out, either inside or outside. You’ll need to also make sure there’s enough sleeping bags and roll mats, and sort out risk assessments and fire regulations.

Food

If you’re not going to a big centre, you’re probably going to have to self-cater and that can be costly (especially if you have to take away extra leaders to cook) and a hassle. I work off £2.50 a meal a person for a reasonably generous figure. You can drive it down quite a bit if you’re willing to take time and be clever. You can save money and a lot of effort on the weekend by bringing pre-cooked food with you on the Friday night, like a lasagne or pasta bake, and just shoving it in the oven when you arrive. That’s no effort cooking (at least not on the weekend) and can be made cheaply. It maybe that someone at your church can do that for you before you go off.

Also, see if someone will invite you round to lunch on Sunday. On the last weekend away we did we went to a local church on Sunday and friends had us all round for sausage rolls.

Finally, if you’re feeling lazy and can stretch to it, consider going to the chip ship on Saturday night. Sausage and chips from a chip shop is one of the cheapest take-away meals around and fills you up. And the washing up involves shoving everything in a bin and hoping the church hall won’t still smell of chips by the time of the Sunday service.

Transport

Travelling places costs money. And unless you decide to do a stay at home residential you’ve got to go somewhere. If you can get hold of a minibus and have someone who can legally drive the bus then these are really efficient once you get over eight or nine people. Back of the paper maths from the last few weekends away we’ve done and you’re talking £50 to take a 17 seater bus 300 odd miles. Just make sure if you borrow a bus from another organisation they’re allowed to lend it to other people (on our standard insurance, we’ve had to pay slightly more so we can lend our bus to other charities).

If you can’t get hold of a bus or can’t find a driver (or coaches cost too much) consider a train. This won’t work on a Friday night, but if you can travel in the day time in half-terms or school holidays you can often get quite good deals. Of course, managing all your stuff and young people on a train’s not so easy.

Finally, consider asking the young people to get themselves to the residential centre. If parents can drop off young people at your residential site, that’s something you’re not paying for.

Activities

Don’t do any that cost anything is the obvious answer. Running round in the woods and playing capture the flag is free. Going on a scavenger hunt is free. Playing ridiculous long games of Mafia is free. Getting the young people to bring their nerf guns and playing Nerf Gun capture the flag is free (if they have Nerf guns). Watching films (if you have a way of making that happen) is free. Uno, board games, card games, Lego, all things that don’t cost money if you have the equipment already. Making sandcastles at the beach, taking long walks, playing sports are also free.

You could also considering challenging a local youth group to a sport or activity if you need to boost numbers for some games. We’ve challenged other young people to football matches, to capture the flag, to dinner (alright, that wasn’t a competition). Makes for more excitement, with out any extra cost.

There are also cheap activities that you can do if you want something more elaborate. Local leisure centres are often quite cheap if you’re near one and want to go swimming or hire a sports hall. We took our boys to watch a football match between two clubs in the East Midlands Counties League (level ten in the English football system, only a decade of back-to-back promotions and they’re in the Premier League!). It was one the of the most enjoyable games of football I’ve ever seen and cost £25 for 8 of us to watch it.

Staffing, Administration, and Overheads

You might well not think of this as a cost, after all, you’re probably not getting paid more money to do a weekend away. Neither is your administrator getting a bonus for sorting out all the reciepts for the weekend away. Likewise, you’ve got to pay for the M.O.T. for your minibus whether you go away on a weekend or not. But these are costs of doing a weekend away, and the money’s got to come from somewhere. If you are applying to a charitable fund for money to cover the costs of a residential, consider including these costs as well. This is called full cost recovery and something most charitable funders will and should expect.

Three Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Do Youth Ministry

Earlier this week I linked to Andrew Wilson quoting Michael Horton, asking if this was the best reason not to do youth work.

Michael Horton—tentatively, cautiously, graciously—asks is it a shame that youth ministers have taken the work of discipling young people away from the senior pastor and the rest of the church? And is it not a bit sad that the youth group has “tended to distance believers from the church at precisely the moment that they were supposed to take that next step of maturity”?

This is a big objection to youth ministry, but it’s not the only one. There are two other common objections to running dedicated youth ministry in your church. Before I offer some sort of a response I’ll briefly outline all three.

1) It’s parents, not youth workers, who should be discipling their children.

The argument goes; parents have spiritual responsibility for their children’s growth in faith. Therefore parents should be taking the primary role in their children’s spiritual development. Therefore delegating most of that away to anyone (be that the overall church leader or the youth worker) is not just a bad idea, but actually sinful. When we think about evangelising young people in this model, it’s not really an option. Get the young people’s parents saved and the young people will follow.

2) It’s the church, not youth workers, who should be discipling the children.

This argument is the one Michael Horton is making. The bible doesn’t seem to offer age-segregated ministry, and when we divide the church up we are separating the young people out of the regular life of the church and harming their discipleship. We’re also harming the rest of the believers as they don’t get to experience what the young people have to offer, nor do they get to serve and sacrifice for the young people in the congregation.

(The book to read on these two arguments is Perspectives on Family Ministry, edited by Paul Jones)

3) It’s the Christian young people who should be doing the evangelism of their friends, not adults.

This argument against youth work is generally made about youth evangelism not discipleship. The argument goes, young people are best placed to reach their peers and reach them as equals —there’s no awkward potentially manipulative power dynamic like their could be with an adult evangelising a young person. We should enable our Christian young people to reach their peers, whether to evangelise the unbelievers or disciple the less mature ones. We shouldn’t do it ourselves.

Those are the arguments, and you know what? none of them are wrong. In fact, I agree with them all. If your young people are segregated from the church life and don’t get to serve the younger children and learn from the older members they’ll suffer greatly in their faith1. And if your young people don’t see in their parents an active and living faith, which leads them to discipling their children, there’s a good chance they’ll never have it in their own lives2. And your young people are best placed to to reach their peers, that’s obvious3.

So let’s ditch youth work right? No. The job of any full-time minister is to equip the people of the church for their ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12). Youth ministry is the same. Equip the young people, and parents, and church for the works of ministry God’s prepared for them. The arguments against youth ministry are the same as the arguments against paid ministry. It’s the families who should be doing the work, it’s the church as a whole not some paid individuals job, it’s everyone’s responsibility to evangelise. These are true points, but we’d still agree that some full-time church leadership roles should exist to support the church in doing this. The question is, is youth ministry something your particular church needs to be paying someone to equip the church to do?

Here’s an obvious point of application from all this for youth workers; If your youth ministry is working against one of these three things, even incidentally, then you’re doing something wrong. Is your youth group supporting and submitting to the parents of the young person? Is your youth group just another part of the church family, which supports the church as a whole, or is it a separate enclave? Are your outreach events supporting the young people as they try to see their friends saved, or are they holding them back?

And here’s an obvious application for those not youth workers; if you’re worried about the young people in your church or your local area, don’t think getting a youth worker’s going to be the magic fix. In fact, there’s a good chance it won’t fix anything.

Footnotes

1 See for example the research in A Youth Ministry That Transforms or the Sticky Faith research

2 As well as the previously linked Sticky Faith stuff, see Kenda Creasy Dean’s Almost Christian based on the (US) National Study of Youth and Religion. One of the strongest determining factor that a young person will “retain faith” is whether or not their parents have an active and visible faith.

3 I have no research to support this statement. From experience and from reason it seems obvious, but if you know of some, then let me know.