Disclaimer: this post is specifically targeting college students who believe their life calling is to serve the local church.
Jesus is why I do what I do. He saved me, then called me into this thing called ‘ministry.’ I’ve been out of college for more than 6 years now. In my training to be an effective minister I was taught how to study the Bible, preach the Bible, parse the greek language, etc. I also learned theology, history, and all about the apostle Paul. Early on in ministry I realized I would struggle in areas of ministry that no class directly addressed. From day one, I was the computer guy at our church because I was under 40 years of age. I was also the new sound guy, the website designer, video editor, camera man, the chief graphic designer for our brochures, tracts, bulletins, etc. Within one year I found myself leading worship on stage with a guitar I’d only been playing for 9 months. I had no experience with any of those things before ministry. I could tell you Paul’s life story, tell you about seraphim and cherubim, but I had little practical training for ministry. I knew how to preach and teach, but I wasn’t the head pastor, so I needed more skills to serve our church plant. Let me make clear that I do appreciate the knowledge and doctrine I learned in college. I understand that theology and right doctrine trump practicality all day. I’m not saying we should toss theology classes. However in most private and public universities more practical, hands on training is becoming the norm. I believe the same should be true in training for ministry. I did two summer internships in California that changed my life. However, even an internship has its limitations. I understand that colleges are limited in how much they can prepare an individual for life and ministry. That being said, here are a five things I’d recommend every student consider before graduating.
- If at all possible, play a musical instrument that can lead worship (not a Bass Clarinet).
- Learn how to run and properly mix sound. It’s an invaluable skill today.
- Get a copy of Photoshop, Illustrator, or some kind of design software. Learn how to use it for ministry (printing, web design, etc.)
- Leverage technology. Today email, social media, and the internet offer the church new avenues to reach people. You will have to take the lead in all these areas.
- Be flexible. Understand that out of the gate, you may not be doing what you thought. You may have to learn some skills you thought weren’t part of ministry. I’m only 6 years out and I’ve learned so much about ministry, but a lot of ministry is behind the scenes. Be willing to take care of whatever needs to be done.
Let me finish by encouraging you to stick with it. Ministry is awesome and rewarding, but it can have it’s moments too. I’ve had a pretty easy lot in ministry over all. The same may or may not be true for you. This post is meant to encourage you to add to your arsenal of tools and abilities with which to serve Jesus.
Last week I had the opportunity to speak at an FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) event. The event is called ‘Fields of Faith.’ Across the country FCA groups fill empty football fields and bleachers with Christian athletes and students from local high schools to pray for their community. I was invited to speak because the president of the FCA club at Sycamore High was a teenage girl I met at youth camp last summer. It was an incredible evening with hundreds of people present. I challenged the crowd to do more than know about god, but to make Him their God through a personal relationship. I used the life of Jacob as an illustration, emphasizing Genesis 28:20-21: 20And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, 21So that I come again to my father’s house in peace; then shall the LORD be my God.
After the message we all made our way onto the field to pray. It was a special night I’ll never forget. Here are some pictures of the event.
Recently we started asking our teens to text, IM, and email us questions about the Bible, faith, and life. On the first Sunday of the month we address the questions we received the month before. I wanted to share with you what teenagers are asking, because I’m sure these questions are being asked by teenagers everywhere. Here are some questions and a short excerpt of how I answered them.
1. I know hate is wrong, but how do I stop hating someone who is always looking to hurt me?
This one is hard to answer, because the answer is simple, but doing it is hard. We all know Jesus said forgive 70 times 7, but doing it is tough. I encouraged our kids to realize that this individual is probably hurting on the inside. If we can take compassion on those hurting us it helps us realize what they are doing (though it seems personal) is really their way of reacting to the hurt they have from someone else. Also we know Jesus said hate is a sin just like murder. We can’t allow someone else to lure us into willful hatred and sin by their (albeit immature) behavior.
2. What do you do when you feel like giving up?
First I explained that as teenagers, often their emotions haven’t found balance yet. They will have super high highs and super low lows. I explain that as you age your emotions mature and you can handle more emotionally challenging situations. However, the problem is todays teenagers are facing harder situations more often than generations past. Many of todays teens have been through divorce of their parents, addiction (to drugs, alcohol, porn, etc) and abuse (physical, mental, sexual, by peers, etc.)
I took them to 1 Kings 19:4-16. We talked about Elijah and how depressed he was. He was so depressed he wanted to die. When I was 15 I was placed on some medication for severe acne (I would show you a pic, but i burned them all). This medication is now known to cause depression and suicidal thoughts in teens. I remember at 15 wanting a clear face so bad I’d die for it. The mix of medication and hatred for my physical appearance was depressing, I never attempted suicide, but it was the longest year of my life. Now it seems comical getting upset over pimples, but to a teenager it was life and death. Elijah had to realize he wasn’t done yet. God had big plans for him. The same is true for all of us. We can’t give up, we aren’t finished, and He’s not finished with us yet.
3. Are more people headed to heaven or hell?
This question is on the minds of many young teenagers who realize how big the world is, and how little the church world they were raised in is. We looked at Matthew 7:13 and, sadly, we realize the way is broad which leads to destruction and many people go the wrong way, but we can make a difference and shine the light. If we shine like a city on a hill we can lead many to the truth and salvation. Still, the answer seems discouraging, but Jesus himself said it.
I hope these questions help us understand a few simple truths. 1. Teens ahve questions we don’t address often enough. 2. Teens don’t always know what we assume everyone knows about the Bible. 3. Teens want to know how to live for God…don’t just tell them, SHOW them.
When I was in high school I attended youth group activities quite often. I was warned that at age 18 many teenagers leave church. I watched at age 16 though as many of my friends became disinterested in church. The exodus used to occur at 18-20 years of age, but now I am seeing signs that kids are leaving church at age 15 and 16. The church has lost its ability to connect with teenagers and even kids today. What has changed? Is the church doomed? I believe there are many answers to these questions. I also believe that we don’t want to hear some of the real reasons kids are leaving the church. I have three questions I believe we need to answer honestly.
Why is the church trying to compete with sports and activities?
Over and over I see programs at churches aimed at kids who want to play sports. The thought is “if you’re gonna play sports, why not do it at our church?” Many kids programs at churches rely heavily on using games and sports to keep kids involved. Churches are investing lots of man hours, money, and space in being the hip new place to play sports. When did the role of the church transform from teaching kids about God, to training kids to be athletes with a hint of spirituality. When did we stop going into the sports world as coaches making a difference, and start sectioning off our own little christian leagues with few if any lost people? When did Sunday morning become this big game we play with kids? We have themed rooms, professional stages, bright fancy areas for games, etc. When God sees us turning kids ministry into a carnival, do we really think He is pleased? Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for top notch, first rate kids programs at church- if discipleship is the goal. With all the effort we have put into making kids and youth ministry in general more fun and exciting, why haven’t we seen a decrease in the numbers of young people exiting our churches. We aren’t just another fun place. We aren’t just another youth sports league. We are the church. Our job is to connect people with Christ, and teach them about His Word. Sadly not everyone will stick it out, but does this give us the right to fun it up to keep the numbers up? We are sacrificing the minds of real dedicated Christian kids to entertain the kids who just want to play soccer, dodge ball, or duck, duck goose. We’ve added so much stuff and fluff; the message is getting lost in the mix. We have to remember who and what we are, and what we are called to do.
Why is it that the role of a youth pastor is usually entrusted to someone who either has no children or is currently raising their children?
Wouldn’t it make more sense to entrust this position to someone with a little bit of experience with raising kids. Imagine a youth pastor helping parents raise teenagers, and explaining how to deal with a difficult 13 year old girl using the illustration of how he dealt with his daughter when she was 13. Instead I am 25 with no kids, trying to help people with decades more experience than me. Sadly by the time most guys have the experience, they’ve moved on into Associate or Head Pastor Positions. I admire guys who are 40, 50, and older who still work with teenagers. Because ultimately it’s the parents we are trying to help. Many churches have this idea that the youth or children’s pastor should be a kind of second parent to the kids at the church. The truth is my job as a youth pastor is to equip the parents to train their kids to be Godly young Christians. I can’t raise a child or teenager in 4-5 hours a week. If a child is going to make it, there has to be a solid home life backing up what is being taught at church. The same principle is true in schooling. A teacher can’t raise good kids, even with the 45 hours a week they have with the children. Kids are capable of being taught any and everything. So the question is what are Mom and Dad teaching them at home? Next what are they being taught at school? And finally what are they being taught at church? I decide what they are taught at church. I can only recommend Mom and Dad what to teach them at home. I have no say in what they learn at school. How do we as youth Pastors overcome this challenge? I believe we need to involve Mom and Dad as much as possible. Tell them what you see hear by and about their kids. Have regular meetings with parents and kids to explain the goals of raising good Christian kids. Ultimately we have to reach Mom and Dad and help them be the best parents they can be with God’s help. It won’t be easy. It’s not the 50’s anymore. Most homes have two parents working at least two full time jobs. Kids have more activities than to fill their schedule than ever before. Parents are busier than they have ever been. We need to lift these parents up in prayer and let them know we are rooting for them.
Are we willing to deal with the silent sins in our churches?
There are some sins you hear people talk about all the time. However, there is one sin I rarely, probably never hear mentioned. Pornography is one of those silent sins. We preach against lying, stealing, adultery, murder, drugs, drunkenness, etc. However, over 50% of Christian men struggle with pornography. Close to 51% of Pastors say internet Porn is a real temptation, while 37% say it is a current struggle. Right at 28% of those admitting to sexual addiction are women. Two-thirds of divorces cite the internet as a cause. Let those numbers set in for a minute. We preach and teach on things some are dealing with while the high majority of sin goes unquestioned. Now consider that people don’t just wake up addicted to porn. There is a first time for everything. The adult film industry says that 20-30% of its audience is children. The average age for exposure to porn for the first time is 11. Over 70% of teen girls and 66% of teen boys admit to posting sexually suggestive content. Over 70% of kids get a cell phone within 18 months of their 9th birthday. In a poll of 300 girls, 30% of them aged 9-15 admit to sexting.
The internet is available not just at home anymore, but on your cell phone. A child can view porn on their ipod with an internet connection. I know of a boy whose mom had no internet, and no cell phone. However, he used his ipod’s wi-fi to pick up his neighbors router, and would view porn for hours every night. We have to realize the stakes are higher than ever. We can’t be there 24/7 to watch over them. Therefore, we have to teach them the dangers of porn. The talk used to be sitting your kid down and explaining sex. I’m afraid today we need to start talking earlier about something else-porn. Your child will have plenty of opportunities to view it. Let them know early how dangerous it is.
The real reason we don’t deal with it is simple- because many of us are involved with it. We get nervous talking about it, because we are guilty of it. We have to get ourselves clean, and prepare our kids for the most abundant source of defeat they will ever face. We talk to our kids at church regularly about the dangers of phones, internet, texting etc. It’s real, we need to be real about it too.
So back to the original question, “Why are kids leaving the church?” If teens struggle with a sin (like porn) they feel they can’t overcome, and no one will talk about it, why would they stay. They see the hypocrisy in a church that claims to help people, but won’t help them with the sin that is crippling them. Porn is eating our kids for lunch, and we sit idly by ignoring it. It’s not going away. In fact it gets more and more powerful as technology advances. We are experiencing the shift to 3D, so is porn! HD is crystal clear but the next wave is 2k and 3k, cameras with 3x the resolution of an HDTV and 10X the resolution of old TVs. Porn will be there, enhancing the experience they have to offer through social media, internet, phones, TV, Ipads, etc. The enemy has found a silver bullet for ruining kids, adults, marriages, homes etc. He’s winnig because we aren’t even fighting. We have to stand up for our people. Church, deal with the sin in your pews! Your people will thank you.
Today was an amazing day at CrossPointe. We had communion and baptism for the first time since moving into our building. Our portable baptistery came in this week, and we had two guys jump right in and volunteer to stain and seal it. Mark Goddard and Elwood Spivey (one of the people baptized today) stained and sealed the baptistery getting it ready just in time for this weekend. Elwood, Leighann, Ezekiel, Kathleen, Lisa, and Ricky stepped out and let everyone know they were followers of Jesus this morning. It was great to have friends and family there to witness their profession of faith. Please pray for our revival next week, and pray we have to fill the baptistery often!
According to the American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry, suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15-to-24-year-olds, and the sixth leading cause of death for 5-to-14-year-olds. That blows my mind. On top of that the National Institute of Mental Health believes that as many as 25 suicides are attempted for each one that is completed. The leading cause is obviously believed to be depression. This breaks my heart, but I remember being a teenager and having huge mood swings. So what are some signs that we as youth pastors, parents, and church leaders should be looking for?
Often, kids with teen depression will have a noticeable change in their thinking and behavior. They may have no motivation and even become withdrawn, closing their bedroom door after school and staying in their room for hours. Kids with teen depression may sleep excessively, have a change in eating habits, and may even exhibit criminal behaviors such as DUI or shoplifting.
Here are some signs that a Teen may be dealing with depression.
- complaints of pains, including headaches, stomachaches, low back pain, or fatigue
- difficulty concentrating
- difficulty making decisions
- excessive or inappropriate guilt
- irresponsible behavior — for example, forgetting obligations, being late for classes, skipping school
- loss of interest in food or compulsive overeating that results in rapid weight loss or gain
- memory loss
- preoccupation with death and dying
- rebellious behavior
- sadness, anxiety, or a feeling of hopelessness
- staying awake at night and sleeping during the day
- sudden drop in grades
- use of alcohol or drugs and promiscuous sexual activity
- withdrawal from friends
Here are some signs that a Teen may be contemplating suicide.
- Talking, joking, or asking about suicide or death, including statements like “Things would be better without me”
- Giving away possessions, especially valued ones
- Engaging in dangerous behaviors, especially those that lead to injuries or “near-misses”
- Obsessing over death, violence, and weapons, such as in speech, television, music, games, drawings, etc.
Here are some helpful tips for dealing with a teen contemplating suicide
- Do not leave a suicidal teen alone, or allow him or her access to firearms, medications, or other potentially harmful objects
- Talk to the teen – be direct and ask him or her if he or she is thinking about suicide
- Show concern for the teen – don’t judge or try to convince him or her that “it’s not that bad”; reassure the teen that he or she can get help
- Take suicide talk and attempts seriously
- Get help for the teen from a professional doctor or counselor right away; if he or she does not have insurance, contact a local mental health center or hospital to find out what kind of aid or free services are available
- Educate yourself about suicide and depression
- Help the teen feel support from family and friends and/or join a support group
- If someone you know has committed suicide, seek counseling for yourself and anyone else in your family who may be affected
In my short 5 years of ministry I have seen teens that would definately be categorized as depressed. More and more, teens are hurting and we are the ones they are looking to for help. I hope this reminds us to keep an eye out for signs kids at our church, in our school, in our neighborhood might be hurting. After all, we are the ones who should be helping the hurting.