Optional page text here. The Beast's Lair: How can SBC Associations Help Youth Ministry?

Monday, October 01, 2007

How can SBC Associations Help Youth Ministry?

How effective are the local associations within the various state conventions of the SBC in addressing the needs of student ministry? The topic certainly could be broadened to include other ministries within the church, but for now lets stay with student ministry (7th-12th grades).

From my experience, the local associations have spent the majority of their student ministry efforts in the area of rally-oriented ministry. Whether it be a back to school rally, see you at the pole rally, or as I was emailed today, a BMX Gospel Truth rally, the focus has been for our associational churches to unite youth groups and get excited about rallies.

This is not all bad. Youth rallies are not inherently evil and provide an opportunity for the youth groups in a region to fellowship with other teenagers outside their own comfortable church walls. Also, the majority of these rallies are evangelism-centered and anytime the Gospel is proclaimed, something good is happening.

I schedule typically two, maybe three "rallies" or "conferences" a year. Although I will get emails, calls, and promotional posters for the next "big thing" in youth conferences, I will usually not break my schedule to squeeze in yet another rally. Here are a few reasons why:

1. Although there are several effective models for student ministry, "Rally-jumping" is not one of them. Rally-jumping is the term I have used in the past to describe a student ministry model that survives by scheduling one youth rally after another, simply seeing where the next conference, speaker, or worship band is and planning the youth calendar accordingly. Rally-jumping feeds off the "mountaintop experience" of students and frantically tries to schedule the next rally before the teenagers "crash" from their elevated spiritual status. More often than not, this sense in the teenagers of being "on fire" for God is more emotional than spiritual and the rally-jumping model just fuels emotion with no substance to the ministry.

2. Teenagers must not dictate the schedule in student ministry. I see this mistake so often in youth ministry. Leaders should not be asking the teenagers questions like, "what do you think we should study?" and "what should we do this year?" As crazy as this may sound, student leaders should prayerfully consider the teaching plan and calendar for their ministry and then based on God's direction, plan the calendar. That is of course not to say that the teenagers never have a voice, they absolutely should be heard and considered, but never as the deciding factor in the spiritual planning and development of the teaching and overall ministry. If you leave it up to your teenagers to decide, rally-jumping will be your model.

3. An overabundance of youth rallies damages the understanding of the reality that obedient Christian living happens in the boring times as well as the exciting. I have said many times that when my teenagers are thinking about and working on their relationship with God on Tuesday evening at 4:00 when absolutely nothing is happening, we are making progress. Not just when an eloquent youth speaker is making them feel invincible. Sometimes youth ministry should be "boring." Not in the sense of yawning with nothing to do, but without all the thrills, loudness, games, and attention. Amazingly, the models that work hard on the "boring" elements of youth ministry are the churches that are seeing the greatest growth. Don't get me wrong, there is plenty of craziness in my youth ministry. But my most crowded service is the Focus Bible Study when I take roll, have prayer, and teach verse by verse through a book in the Bible.

4. To much focus on youth rallies tends to weaken the local church's responsibility to effectively do evangelism. It can become very easy to "let the other guy" share the Gospel. That is why outreach is our very first key word in the GBC covenant statement. I want us to have an effective evangelism strategy right in the youth ministry itself. Part of that strategy can absolutely be to utilize youth rallies, but not to rely on them for our evangelism. There is still much work to be done here.

So, with those few things in mind, how can our associations help youth ministry? I received a call a couple of days ago from an area volunteer youth minister who was brought to tears on the phone. She was so stressed at the basic question, "how do I do youth ministry?" I spent an hour on the phone with her and will be meeting with her in the weeks ahead to help set up a strategy for her church. By the grace of God, she had heard about our program and wanted to know what the "secret" was. She was trying to plan lots of cool trips and let the teenagers at her church see that "big things" were happening. She was trying to rally-jump. Her intentions are so pure, but she needs help.

I am thankful that local state associations plan youth rallies and conferences. They do them well and they are certainly needed. But I see an immediate need for our associations to get to the churches and ask the question, "how can we help you and your teenagers right here in your youth ministry." Not to just throw Purpose Driven Youth Ministry at them, but to engage in dialogue, get an understanding of their situation, and help churches to implement an effective model for their particular congregation. Most church youth groups do not have a full time, trained youth minister who is capable of these kinds of things. They need help. To their credit, some associations offer leadership training, but again this is typically a "you come to us" and is not specific to any one church's particular needs. That kind of help can only go so far.

So yes, keep the youth rallies coming. They are important and should be done with quality. But it seems we can expand our efforts.

Now, here is where the problem lies. Most leaders in associations who handle the youth ministry do so as a volunteer. So, it is very difficult to do this kind of detailed work with any consistency and I am sensitive to that fact. There is only so much one person can do, so I am thankful for what they are able to accomplish. I just wonder if we have the cart before the horse.


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