What to do with Paquito? Part 2 of 2

*This is part two of the article published in the previous post.

2. When ministering to adolescents we must possess a Commitment to Character and Consistency.

This has to do with expectations.

I am amazed to hear how low my friends and colleagues occasionally set the bar for our adolescents.  “The world is so much worse than it was twenty years ago.  How can we expect these kids to do anything of lasting worth?” Some have even said that holiness is not for kids and teens – it is just not possible for them with their immaturity and all that the world throws at them!

Let me suggest something radical here: That “Be holy as I am holy” thing is actually possible in our middle-schoolers!  Virtues like integrity, purity, and – yes – consistency are actually doable for 13-year old Ted and 14-year old Kami.  It is amazing what junior-highers can do when they know that others are truly depending on their character and consistency.  I have seen it in Manolo, a 14-year old from Guatemala who always arrives first to praise team practice and has started leading a Bible study in his house, even though his parents want no part of church.  I have seen it in David, a 14-year old from San José, Costa Rica, who spent his first year in youth group doodling on scrap paper and now is the first one to finish our discipleship and Articles of Faith classes.

Let’s set the bar high and be disappointed every now-and-then instead of setting the bar low and constantly griping about the mediocrity in our youth.

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3. Ministry to adolescents requires a Commitment to Christian ministry.

In Latin America, very few churches have a full-time salaried pastor, let alone a youth pastor of any kind. And more than two-thirds of the population of Mexico and Central America are under the age of 30.  Imagine what kind of local churches this creates!

In most of the churches I have been a part of during the last fifteen years, there are a good number of adolescents teaching Sunday School, serving as ushers or greeters, playing or singing on the praise team, etc.  In several congregations, I am amazed to see twelve- and thirteen-year olds that are allowed to preach! Why is this the case? If you live in a neighborhood of children and youth, your church had better be filled with children and youth and your ministry teams should be filled with children and youth!

This whole phenomenon is not constrained to the church walls.  Our current ministry in Latin America seeks to train missionaries from here in church planting and evangelism.  Part of that is providing them short-term volunteer opportunities where they can do just that as well as test out their calling.  So what happens when junior-highers – even though policy says they are not supposed to be volunteer missionaries due to insurance and other important issues – decide that they want to plant churches as part of one of these teams? Elisa (age 12) and other adolescents have taught me much about mission and passion as they knock on doors and sleep on floors in the hills of rural Mexico.*

*Incidentally, this cannot be explained just by cultural differences.  I could tell of Julie and Jeremy in suburban USA, who as junior-highers had their quirks like anyone, but served on our youth council and testified of their faith at school constantly.  When consistency is expected, lives can be changed from Peoria to Panama.

I am somewhat embarrassed to think back on my days as a youth pastor when we allowed the teens to have their “youth night” where they lead the “big service.”  In reality, it is a great idea, of course, and a fantastic way to train them in ministry.  But who says junior-highers must be relegated to a themed night? What does it say when we have entire ministries to and for them, and yet we do not really allow them to minister with us in the day-to-day life of the church?

As you saw, the title of this article is “What to do with Paquito?” If Paquito is 13-years old and constantly acts like he has just downed 10 cans of Mountain Dew, the question is a dilemma.  But perhaps the answer can be found in a deep commitment to community, character, consistency, and Christian ministry.

As I end this article, I have to clarify that my intention here has not been to criticize anyone.  In reflecting back on my ministry over the last 20 years, I have felt most critical of my own inadequacies and errors. Ministering with adolescents is a wonderful and trying adventure that requires many men and women called by God and passionate about loving and discipling this age group.  My hat goes off to all of you, and I count it a privilege to minister with you, and with them.

 

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What to do with Paquito? Part 1 of 2

By Scott Armstrong

As a youth pastor several years ago, I was talking with a buddy of mine and youth pastor at another church.  “How did your youth camp go?” I asked him.

“Great!” he exclaimed, with a wide-eyed grin.  Then his look changed to befuddlement as he said, “But I cannot seem to figure out these junior-highers!”

“Huh? What happened?” I wondered aloud, somewhat confused myself.

My fellow youth pastor grinned a bit and shook his head.  “Well, I have been praying for one of these guys for over a year. He’s 13 years old and usually bounces off the walls during our youth service.  Finally at camp I thought the Lord was working on him during one of the services, and then I knew it when he went down to the altar!  I gave him a few minutes alone and then went down and prayed with him.  ‘What’s the Lord talking to you about?’ I asked him.

“‘Nothing,’ he said dryly, pointing at another junior-higher.  ‘I just came down here because my friend did.’”

Ah, adolescents.  Sometimes we see the fruit of the Spirit in amazing ways through their lives.  But most of the time we wonder if anything of permanence is really taking place.  In all this talk of video games and movies, does he even care about church? Is she more preoccupied with being popular or being passionate for God? Are they even getting what I am saying?

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Of course, all of us know there usually is light at the end of the proverbial – and pubertal – tunnel.  And that hope is what keeps us going, even in the face of pseudo-altar call responses and A.D.D.  Personally, my love for adolescents has grown enormously, and due to a somewhat surprising source: cross-cultural ministry.

I have now been a missionary in Latin America for several years.   And youth ministry, especially with adolescents, is quite different in Guatemala City as opposed to Kansas City.  I have especially learned three important things from the local churches here regarding this age group.

1. With adolescents, we must have a Commitment to Community.

What does your community look like? A bunch of teens hanging out on youth night?  Do those same teens ever talk with each other about anything of spiritual substance during the week?

A lot of times what we mean when we use words like “community” and “relationships” has to do more with staying up late at an all-nighter with a bunch of our friends than with accountability and prayer support.  And who expects junior-highers to hold each other accountable or pray for each other anyway?!  Absurd!

Now, all-nighters are a part of community and FUN is definitely a big part of community.  But the Latin American church has taught me that even middle-schoolers can truly worship.  In fact, in many cases they are willing –often hungry – for meaningful relationships that move past likes or dislikes.  I have to be honest: a lot of times in my youth ministry I have sought to entertain junior-highers instead of feed them.  Both are important probably, but the first without the second is akin to pastorally letting them drink milk (or even Coke!) when many are more than ready for some meat (Hebrews 5:12-13).

*This article will continue in the next post. 

7 Steps to Start Becoming a Church People Want to Commit To – Part 2 of 2

This is part two of the article published in the previous post.

4. Discover Your Calling – Then Be Good at It

Every leader and church needs to discover who you are and what you’re called to do. Then, do that and be that!

Giving people something worth committing to isn’t a matter of competing with the big church down the street. It’s not about offering nicer facilities, bigger events or even better preaching. It’s about discovering what God has called you and your church to be great at, then being great at that.

Excellence isn’t limited to churches with big budgets.

There’s no excuse for second-rate. It costs no more time or money to do it right. It just takes a full commitment.

5. Don’t Just Talk – Hang Out and Listen

No one wants a relationship in which one side does all the talking. We have TV and movies for that.

But even TV and movies are giving way to social media. One of the best parts about watching a show that has some social media buzz is chatting about it on Twitter and Facebook as it airs.

People want to engage with others, not just sit passively while someone else talks.

Sadly, the church does not have a reputation of being open to dialog – or to hard questions. And definitely not to criticism.

No, you don’t have to turn your sermon into a discussion group (although, some churches do that with great success), but there needs to be an easy and obvious way for people to engage, dialog, chat, hang out and feel like their life and their opinion matters.

And leaders, especially pastors of small churches, need to be engaged in those conversations. Listening, participating and learning, not just teaching.

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6. Keep Learning and Getting Better

I communicate, minister and lead much differently today than I when I started in pastoral ministry 35 years ago. In fact I do it differently than I did just ten years ago. And I expect to change at least as much in the next five years.

I now have over 30 years of ministry experience in addition to my formal ministry training. But that experience matters less today than it ever has. If I’m not constantly learning, listening and growing, I’ll fall behind very quickly.

But that shouldn’t intimidate us. Learning and growing is Discipleship 101. It’s central to being a follower of Jesus, let alone a church leader.

Jesus never made discipleship easy. He always inspired people to a bigger commitment by calling them to a greater challenge.

Too many leaders limit the expectations they have for their members to sitting in a pew and filling gaps in existing ministries. We think we can’t ask more of them because … well … they’re not even doing that!

But a lot of uncooperative church members and recently unchurched people aren’t as disinterested as we think. Like some of the rowdy kids in school, they’re not skipping class because we’re asking too much of them. They’re acting out because they’re not being challenged.

People are deciding that leaving church is better than being bored in church. I don’t blame them.

If we don’t challenge people through a genuine experience of worship, fellowship, discipleship and ministry, they’ll do one of four things: 1) go to a church that challenges them more, 2) go to a church that entertains them better, 3) show up physically, but disengage in every other way, or 4) stopping going to church entirely.

People want to go to a church where they’re challenged by something bigger than themselves and where their gifts are being used to further that cause.

If you ask small, you’ll get a small commitment. Ask large and your joy might be full.

7 Steps to Start Becoming a Church People Want to Commit To – Part 1 of 2

By Karl Vaters

People who don’t go to church, don’t want to go to church. They’re not rolling out of bed late on Sunday morning wishing they had somewhere more churchy to be.

In fact, a growing number of people who do go to church don’t want to go, either. If we don’t give them something worth committing to, they’ll be gone soon.

It’s not that people are less capable of making commitments than they used to be. They just commit differently. But too many churches haven’t caught up to that reality.

So how do we get people to commit to the church / ministry we lead? Especially when our church is small and struggling?

I don’t have all the answers, not by a long shot. But I’ve learned a handful of principles over three decades of ministry that have helped our church become a place people are excited to be committed to.

These steps won’t cost you any extra money and very little extra time – the extra time because of the learning curve. It’s not about adding to your already limited schedule and overtaxed budget. It’s not about doing things bigger. It’s about focusing on doing church better. Working smarter, not harder.

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Where Our Focus Needs to Be

But first, despite the title of this post, the challenge before us isn’t about getting people to go to church.

It’s about inspiring people to commit to

•Worshiping Jesus

•Genuine relationships with God’s people

•Making disciples

•Doing ministry for those in need

If your focus is trying to get people to commit to your Sunday service schedule, your denominational preference, maintaining your church building or anything like that, you might as well stop reading right now. In fact, you might as well close your church right now.

The days of people going to church for anything less than a genuine relationship with Jesus are over. Yes, there’s still a residue of those people, but they’re dying out – literally. And they won’t be replaced by a new group. Nor should they be.

But if you want people in your church because you have a passion to help them connect with Jesus and God’s family, read on.

1. Clear Away Anything that Isn’t Jesus

If people continue to go to church, it won’t be because they feel a sense of loyalty to a tradition most of them have never had in their lives to begin with. And it won’t be because they want to be entertained. They have better entertainment on the phone in their pocket than we can ever compete with.

The only thing that will get them out of their house and into our churches is if we give them a cause worth living (and dying) for. Namely, an authentic presentation of the gospel of Jesus – through our words and our lives.

If your generational traditions or your hip, new staging helps people do that, great! Keep doing it. But if not, don’t let your church’s personal preferences keep people from seeing Jesus.

Whether he’s hidden behind stained glass windows or laser lights and fog machines, anything that obscures Jesus instead of revealing him needs to be ditched.

2. Emphasize Relationships Over Spectacle or Tradition

For small churches especially, being a church that people want to commit to starts and ends with relationships.

We need to help people make connections to Jesus and each other.

We need to help people make connections to Jesus and each other. Then work together to build bridges with those outside the church walls.

Long after our traditions have grown stale and the spectacle has been replaced by a bigger show somewhere else, genuine relationships with Jesus and people will last.

3. Be Genuine

People are far less naïve than they used to be. They can spot phoniness in people very quickly.

This is especially important for church leaders, because we have a culture in which respect for leadership is lower than it has been in a loooong time – and mostly for good reasons.

Respect doesn’t come with the position of pastor or leader any more. In fact, it’s more likely to be viewed with skepticism than honor. That skepticism will only be overcome by practicing what we preach.

This article will continue in the next post.

3 Steps To Develop A Culture of Service – Part 1 of 2

By Ed Stetzer

Having a missional culture established through instilling it, repeating it, and celebrating it will provoke members to love and good deeds. 

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Why is it that churches often get stuck and turn inward, and what can be done to reverse this inwardly-focused approach?

Often times, as a church grows larger (or even just older) it tends to focus on maintaining and servicing what is already there. Internal ministries overwhelm outward mission. Any church can be overwhelmed with by this temptation.

Yet, many places in Scripture point to the church as a body of servants—being used by God to minister to one another and to a hurting world. For example, 1 Peter 4:10 says, “Based on the gift each one has received, use it to serve others, as good managers of the varied grace of God” (HCSB).

The key phrase here is “each one.” Each and every church member is to serve others. Most of the time we see verses like this it is to serve one another inside the body, but there are so many verses about the poor and hurting that we know many are called to serve beyond the body. (I like to say that we can serve “in, through, or beyond” our local church.)

But unfortunately, there is a huge chasm between this passage and our practice.

According to the research from the book I co-authored with Thom Rainer, Transformational Church, the majority of people in the majority of churches are unengaged in meaningful ministry and mission. They come for the show—and that might be a contemporary church, traditional, liturgical, etc. since the numbers did not show a difference—but they don’t stay for the service.

So, how can we avoid having a church full of customers rather than a church full of co-laborers in the Gospel? We develop a culture and implement a structure.

Churches need a culture that encourages and a structure that enables people to move from passivity to activity, from being passive spectators to active participants in the mission of God.

Today, I want to focus on developing the culture. Here are three steps to develop a service mindset culture: instill it, repeat it, and celebrate it.

Instill it

A pastor I know put it in a way I thought was really helpful. He said they see four categories of people that come to their church—three categories that they want and one they do not.

  • Category one: The visitor or seeker
  • Category two: The growing disciple beginning to take steps
  • Category three: The mature disciple serving others
  • Category four: The person who thinks they’re mature but is unengaged and serving no one.

And here’s what he said to those in the last category: “We need your seat for some of the other three categories.”

With a few exceptions (someone in transition, some personal issues, etc.), I think that mentality is helpful. The sooner you place such an approach into the DNA of your church the better, because as you reach new individuals you want to bring them into a place where service is the norm. A person will become what the majority of your people already are.

You can help develop this within your church. As Mike Dodson and I found in our book Comeback Churches, the primary factor for the revitalization of a church is the leadership. The same is true of developing a serving culture. The leaders, including, but not limited to the pastor and staff, must work to intentionally engraft the right mindset in the body. How can they do that? By repeating the values of the culture you want to instill.

Preach them regularly. Explain why they matter. Call out the idea that you can be mature and not serve others. Teach service.

This article will continue in the next post.