What the what?!

How often do you give teens or young adults the opportunity to ask the really hard questions? I mean the really hard questions about faith/the Bible. We are about to embark on a study this school year that will help you, especially those youth leaders, like myself, who have not been to seminary, dive into a Bible study that will allow the Bible stories teens learn as children to collide with the knowledge they gain in middle and high school.

We MUST give them a safe place to explore and ask questions now before they leave us. So often we see young people leaving high school and leaving their faith. I believe there are several reasons for this fleeing, but one excuse is that they never make faith their own. The church does not give them the opportunity to grapple with their faith and really question it. Teens so often are afraid they are going to hurt our feelings if they question us, so they just go along to make the adults around them happy, giving us all the canned answers to our questions.

Throughout the school year, I will be teaching a high school Sunday school class along the way, they will be my “field study group” as we develop questions. There will be podcasts for you to listen to and/or to share with your group and this blog will give you questions to ask. It doesn’t matter if you are a youth leader, Sunday school teacher, small group leader, or young adult, we hope that this study will help you navigate through the Bible in a new and exciting way, and in the end, we pray that it will help you draw nearer to God and strengthen your faith. If you chose, these studies can all be done one after another, or pick and choose the ones that fit into other studies you are doing.

Here is how I recommend you begin week one with your group:

Start with expectations during the study of the group. What are the expectations of the students/teens of one another and of the leader? What are your expectations as the leader?

How would you describe the Bible to a non-believing friend?

Establish it wasn’t meant to be a science or history book.

Look at 2 Timothy 3:16-17. Ask the following questions:

  • When Paul wrote this, what did he mean by “ALL” scripture? (OT, the gospels were not considered scripture yet.
  • What does it mean to be “inspired” by God? Has God ever inspired you? Has the Bible?
  • The Greek word “theopneustos” is being used here and translates to “inspired by God.” See if students can guess the meaning of this compound word: “theo” (God) and “pneu” (to breathe out).
    • Interesting that scholars think Paul made this word up because it is not found anywhere prior to Paul using it here. What are some words that have been made up in our language in the last 5 years? Why are new words made up?
  • When else have we read in the Bible about God breathing? (Gen 2)
    • We are going to get to this story next week, but why is God’s breath talked about in Genesis? (God breathing life into man.)
    • How is God breathing life into man similar to God breathing into the authors of scripture?
    • What about His breath actually breathing into scripture?
    • Is scripture alive? (You want them to get to a place where they see that it is alive and relevant in our lives today.)

What Biblical stories did you learn as a child that now you think, “What the what”?  -start a list-

Ask if anyone can (or maybe see if they can work in groups) write out a Biblical timeline (this only works if you students have grown up in the church).

There are plenty of resources available, but I have found Making Sense of the Bible by Adam Hamilton helpful and the basis for this lesson.

Let’s start this journey together with our young people. You don’t have to have all the answers or agree with everything we discuss in the podcast/blog. The important point is to just open up the discuss and allow teens the opportunity to ask questions and make their faith their own.

Reaching College Age Students

Summer is here and so are our college students! What are you doing to interact with them in your faith community? We always think it needs to be a blown out program, but ministry with college age students can be simple and meaningful all at the same time. We talk about this very thing today in this podcast. I am excited to have Rev. Laura White, a lead pastor at a church in Ashland, Rev. Kyle Woodrow, the chaplain at Mount Union University, Char Messenger, Regional Coordinator and Director of Discipleship at a church in Canton all with us to talk about how they have connect with college age students in their contexts. I hope this will inspire you to find some way this summer to reconnect or begin a relationship with a young adult in your community. This is the first podcast in a series we are doing about reaching this age group, be sure to check out more to come!

We are all welcoming…but not affirming

We are Christians, of course we are nice to everyone! There are few members of our congregations who would say that they are not welcoming and nice to ALL people who want to come to “our” church. The kids in our youth groups would say the exact same thing because that’s how we raised them. That is…until someone who isn’t like us walks through our doors. That “someone” could be of another ethnicity, another race, another socioeconomic background, another sexual orientation, then we may be welcoming, but only to an extent. Let’s be honest. Anyone different than us is welcome to come to “our” church, and we will even allow them to become a member(after all, it could mean more money in the plate each week to help us pay the electricity bill), but when they start wanting to join committees or lead our children,  or join our Sunday school, that is where we draw the line. You see, it is time that we realize that just being nice sometimes isn’t enough. After all, Jesus went above and beyond just being nice. He had conversations, He sat down and ate with those who others dismissed. Even some of His inner circle of disciples could be seen as “less than.” So, let’s dig deep and really evaluate the difference between being welcoming and affirming. This podcast is an honest conversation on just that and what it means in our churches/youth groups. For more information on the Trevor Project 

Info about United Methodist Church’s advocacy for justice is here.

Not Safe For Church: Fifth Commandment: Thou Shall Learn How We Roll: Create New Entry Points

If I have said this once, I have said this a MILLION time to pastors and churches.  Millennials tend to not be connected to your church because of your worship services!  Not Safe for Church explains that the model of “Worship Plus Two” from the 1990s isn’t working any more.  No longer can you expect your members to commit to worship plus two other opportunities like Sunday school, choir, small groups outreach ministries, etc.  No one takes the time for that anymore!   This model relied on the assumption that worship is the primary entry point for new people.  Keep in mind the shift that has taken place in our society today. More and more millennials did NOT grow up in the church.  For this and many other reasons, the unchurched and de-churched population are skeptical of congregations.  (pg. 60)

When worship numbers begin to decrease and less young people are engaged in corporate worship, churches begin to blame all sorts of things: style, music, preacher, time, etc.  But really we need to consider the model and its assumptions to make an adjustment.

So what is worship?  “For many communities of faith worship is defined inwardly and not outwardly.” (pg. 63)  Martin Luther’s definition of worship is “that nothing else be done in it than that our Lord Himself talk to us through His holy word and that we, in turn, talk to Him in prayer and song of praise.” (pg. 62). Many times when we define worship we describe what we DO, the actions: singing, praying, and preaching.  Even though we don’t all agree on the same definition of worship, we can find common ground in saying worship is dependent on a relationship with God and is the work of the Holy Spirit and the gathered people. (pg. 63)  What hit me most, and makes totally sense, is what the authors bring up next.  If we believe that worship first requires a relationship with God, then what are we doing asking nonbelievers to first come to worship with us?!  This is a genius question!  In fact, it answers the question of why millennials are drawn to service opportunities first, before they will ever step foot in a worship service.  Reading that was an “Aha” moment for me!

So if it’s not worship, what are the entry points for young people into your congregation?  This generation loves to engage in service/mission and social activism ministries.  These ministries offer excellent ways for young people to engage in multigenerational opportunities as well.  Small Group Ministries can be another entry point.  These groups can offer a great way to build relationships with others while doing life together.  Offering Small Groups in nontraditional times and places, provides nonthreatening entry places for young people.  Preschools, VBS and other Children’s Programs can be entry points for young families as well.  However, they need to be engaging and build relationships.

I think we definitely need to shift the way we plan and think about worship.  If we can move young people from the entry points of our congregations to worship, and they have never participated in worship before, then what changes could be made to make worship more accommodating?  Sermons MUST, MUST, MUST give examples that relate to ALL ages.  Pastors who include examples of high school, college or singles in their sermons are sending the message, “I care about young people.”   Communion Stewards, ushers, tech team, praise band, choir, all need to have young people represented.  If they see others their age engaged in worship (this can also include children and teens) then they will naturally think they matter to the congregation.  It’s an easy shift.  Why can’t we make it?

I LOVE this quote from page 69, “New disciples will not be made en masse if congregations stand by and passively expect people to walk through the front doors of the church on Sunday morning.”  Create entry points beyond Sunday morning, then we may see younger disciples being made!