A fair and reasonable criticism, which also happens to be very cutting and funny (see also their fair and reasonable criticism of trendy youth work).
One of the things I increasingly think is important to get your head round as a youth worker is what baptism is and who God’s covenant people are. I say one thing, because they’re tightly linked. This little article seems a good place to start. What you understand on these issues will affect how you treat children of Christian families significantly.
Context – St Mark’s is a vibrant, multi-cultural local community church in the heart of North West London with a vision to ‘Live and Share the Love of Jesus’ through worshipping God wholeheartedly, growing in faith continually, loving each other sincerely, leading people to Jesus sensitively and blessing our communities generously. The church currently has a membership of more than 280 people with a Sunday morning service attendance of 150-250, of which 50-80 are children and youth. The role of the ‘Children & Younger Youth Worker’ is to build and grow the church’s ministry to young people ages 0-14 enabling them to flourish as individuals and live out the church’s vision.
The folks who organise Capital Youthworks have organised a training day and youth worker meet-up this Friday (5th June). Blurb;
Helen Thorne will be speaking on Purity and Pornography and helping us to help others in our youth groups to deal with these issues. The morning is free, £3 for lunch if you want, Coffee and biscuits from 10.30 at St Helen’s Bishopsgate, London. No need to RSVP just come along and bring a friend.
I’ll be there (hopefully) so you can say hi if you want.
I was given a copy of The Jesus Gap by Jen Bradbury to review for Youthwork Magazine. It’s a really good book, so I’m reposting a slightly longer review here (free from the benevolent dictatorship of word counts) as well as some extended quotes from the book.
There’s been a lot of research into what teenagers think about god in the last decade. But Christians don’t believe in “god”, they believe in the triune God who is revealed in Jesus Christ. So youth minister and academic Jen Bradbury’s “The Jesus Gap: What Teens Actually Believe About Jesus” is a very exciting (to this reviewer at least) proposition.
Based primarily out of Bradbury’s masters research the question she wants answered is; what do American church-going teenagers think about Jesus? Sadly, the research shows they don’t know much about him, and what they do is often confused. Bradbury shows again and again how teenagers aren’t grasping who Christ is. The book isn’t dry academic research typed up though. Each chapter has thoughts on why a particular false view of Jesus affects our young people, and what we as youth workers and church members can do to help our young people know him better.
This is a really good book. If you have an interest in teaching your young people clearly about the God we know in Jesus Christ (and as you’re reading Youthwork Magazine, you surely do) then you want to pick up a copy.
Here’s a ridiculously long quote to show you how good the book is
As youth workers, our job is not to create a thriving youth ministry that will ensure the continuation of our congregations; it’s to create followers of Jesus. If the majority of our youth don’t believe or don’t know Jesus is God, then we’re failing at our primary calling as youth workers.
The good news is we don’t have to continue failing. Instead, there are practical ways through which we can help young people understand the difficult reality that Jesus is both simultaneously God and human.
To begin, don’t just talk about God. Instead, talk specifically about Jesus. Now, before you say, “I already do!” consider this. During my visits to various congregations, I asked youth workers: How frequently do you talk about Jesus and not just God in your youth ministry?
Inevitably, youth workers would enthusiastically respond, “All the time.” Then I’d attend their youth ministry program. When I did, do you know what I heard? Generic God-talk, not Jesus-talk. Often this phenomenon wasn’t limited to just youth ministry gatherings; it was also prevalent in the larger communities of faith.
At one congregation I visited, I attended the church’s Sunday morning worship service. During the service, the senior pastor preached on John 6:25-59, the passage in which Jesus declares himself to be the Bread of Life. While I lost track of how many times this pastor referred to God in his sermon, I can tell you exactly how many times he said the name of Jesus—aside from reading the word Jesus in the passage itself: none. Instead of talking about Jesus, this pastor took a Gospel story that was unequivocally about Jesus and made it about God.
Regrettably, I can’t tell you exactly why this was. What I can tell you is that after observing this phenomenon in multiple congregations, I finally asked a youth worker about
it. Michelle, one of the youth workers I interviewed, said, “Talking frankly about Jesus can make kids uncomfortable. It’s perceived as preachy. So it becomes really easy to talk vaguely about God and faith.”
As Michelle said, talking vaguely about God is easy. I’d even argue it’s safer than talking about Jesus. God is ambiguous enough that people can interpret him as they please. One person’s God may differ from that of the person sitting next to them. Not so with Jesus. Jesus is specific. He’s an actual person who said and did certain things that not everyone likes or agrees with. When we talk about Jesus, we therefore run the risk of offending and excluding people. Knowing this, we sometimes retreat, willingly settling for God instead of Jesus. If that’s the case for church workers, then how much scarier must it be for adolescents to talk specifically about Jesus?
No wonder their responses mirrored those of their youth workers. When I asked teenagers how frequently they talked about Jesus in their youth ministries, like their youth workers, they enthusiastically said, “All the time.” However, when I observed them in their youth ministries, that’s not what I heard. Often the teenagers would start off talking about Jesus, but before long, their language would shift from Jesus-talk to generic God-talk.
The truth is God-talk simply does not impact the Christian faith formation of young people in the same way that Jesus-talk does. According to Kenda Creasy Dean in Almost Christian, “Conversational Christianity requires Jesus-talk, not just God-talk … Jesus is simply not an optional category for Christians.” (P.42-44)
And here are a couple of shorter quotes that struck me:
Interestingly, the stronger an adolescent’s Christology, the less frequently his responses fell into the self-help category. (P.113)
To this end, hold teens accountable to the commitments they make to Jesus, their faith community, and their community at large. When teens agree to be somewhere, don’t let them off the hook if and when something better comes their way. When teens agree to do something, take away their safety nets and let them know you’re counting on them to actually deliver. (And when, not if, they occasionally fail, practice grace.) Doing so combats narcissism. It takes the spotlight off teens’ wants and desires and puts it back on the person whom their faith actually revolves around: Jesus. (P.139)
Do I have quibbles with the book? Yes, there were a couple of times I thought that her applications to youth ministry weren’t the best approach. But they’re such minor quibbles that I don’t think it’s even worth articulating them. It’s a good book. Buy it.
I wrote some stuff for my diocese (London [the best diocese]) on my top five tips for starting a bible study group with young people. It’s one of my favourite short things I’ve written.
Watch as Destin Sandlin of Smarter Everyday tries to learn to how to ride a bike, with the handle bars reversed.
There are two learning points from this video.
First, doesn’t riding that bike seem easy? Just turn the wrong way! Yet clearly it isn’t remotely easy. We know how to do it but as Destin says, knowledge is not the same as understanding. We learnt how to ride a bike at a young age and spent years reinforcing that behaviour, and now to change that habit and let it sink down into our actions is really really hard. If this is true for riding a bike how much more is it true for the sinful patterns and thoughts we engage in. If we grow up thinking we’re lord of our own life and then come to know that Jesus is lord, our actions will take time to catch up. We’ll need to repeatedly be reminded again and again that Jesus is lord and train ourselves to live out that truth. It’ll take a long time.
Second, check out the guys enthusiasm about stuff. You want to watch more of his videos and learn because he’s so enthusiastic it makes you enthusiastic. Enthusiasm is contagious. So if you’re teaching stuff you’re not enthusiastic about, or listening to young people who you aren’t enthusiastic about it, it’s going to show through.
Tim Challies watched the individual testimony of a 100 Christian teens.
A good word for pastors but perhaps more so for youth workers. If you’ve ever been asked the question “but what do you do all day?” and struggle with that yourself, this is a good read. I sort of wrote something related about what we think youth ministry involves about a year ago
Wrote this for Youthwork Magazine a while ago but forgot to link to it; An old-fashioned revolution. I basically argue teaching kids that Jesus is Lord is central to youth ministry that works. Hopefully, that’s not too surprising.