A parent perspective on Youth Ministry – Part 1

After 20 years in youth ministry my role in youth ministry shifted this week.  My eldest son headed off on his first junior high youth camp.  That means that I am no longer the youth minister, I became one of the parents dropping their child off at church for camp, while the child tries to get away without a hug or a kiss.

Whilst as a youth minister I know a lot about what happens on youth camp, I find my mind has shifted now that I am a parent.  The things that I am looking for in a youth ministry as a parent are different to what to what I may have wanted from a youth ministry being on the leadership side.  Whilst I have never seen parents as the enemy, I see things differently now my own son is involved.

Here are a few thought about youth camp now that I am a parent:

  1. High expectations – perhaps my expectation of youth camp are a little high but I hope that my son has an encounter with God at youth camp.  I hope that he gets a passion for reading the bible, that he meets some great friends, gets some excellent mentors as leaders, that he likes going to church and that he fights for world peace, ok perhaps not the last one.  Are my expectations a little high?  As a youth ministers I would tell a parent that those might be good expectations after five or six years in a youth ministry but not for their child’s first youth camp.  As a parent though I can’t help wanting the best for my son.  In reality I know that my son will enjoy camp but will come home talking more about the fun games than the bible talks, he will still be the same kid who won’t like doing chores around the house and whilst he may not be against going to church I am sure he won’t always be begging us to go.
  2. Being part of our family – we hope that our son maintains a sense of family and isn’t sold an idea that the youth ministry is the most important thing in his life.  As a youth minister I heard numerous stories of young people who got involved in youth ministry in spite of a lack of support from home.  In our case my wife and I are very supportive of our son being involved in the youth ministry.  Yet as a parent I hope that the youth ministry acknowledges the vital role that we as parents play in nurturing the faith of our son as well.  I don’t want my son going off to youth events every week at the expense of our family time.  Sometimes our son will miss a youth event to spend time with our family and it isn’t a sign of a lack of commitment to the youth ministry.  Too often youth ministers blame families for a lack of attendance from young people, yet as parent I now see the family time is often more important than time at youth group.
  3. Bigger picture of church – as a youth minister I focused so much on the youth ministry that youth camp or going to a youth festival was the biggest thing in the year.  As a parent I still have one son who won’t be going to youth camp for another two years.  I also am more aware of parents in my small group who have kids in the children’s ministry.  As a parent I am far more interconnected with the other things happening in the church so I now realise that whilst the youth ministry is important, so are a number of other ministries in our church.  Perhaps as a parent I am more thankful of the role of the children’s ministry which nurture the faith of my son long enough to help him want to go on youth camp.

Perhaps my expectations are a little high but maybe that is a good thing.  As a parent I should want the best for the spiritual life of my children.  One thing that I must remind myself is that the Holy Spirit has its own plan for my son and I must accept what ever the Holy Spirit does with him.  It will take a life time for my son to understand God, so I can’t expect it all to happen on his first youth camp, but I am just a little excited at what God might do with y son on youth camp.

In the next post I will share a few reflection after my son comes home from youth camp.

Perhaps you have recently become a parent in a youth ministry, what are your thoughts?  share them in the comment section below.

markoffaith, mark of faith, markoffaith.net

Advertisements

What happens when we need to take a break due to sickness?

Over the past few months I have been very sick, not only sick enough to take a break from this blog and ministry but sick enough to spend some time in hospital.  Without going into all the gross details of my illness, I had an inflammation of the large intestine that had me in hospital for treatment on two separate occasions.  The second trip to the hospital lasted nine days followed by twenty days of treatment at home by a community nurse.

In the past I had heard about ministry leaders getting sick but it had never happened to me.  I knew ministry leaders who suddenly had to take time off because of illness or a family crisis that needed their attention.  In this blog post I won’t focus on the break you need to take due to burn out, I have written on that before.  My thoughts have turned to the fact that being a ministry leader doesn’t except us from getting sick, sick enough to take a break for a few weeks even months.

Since the start of the year my ministry load hasn’t been that heavy, I help out at my local church where I can and I work a few hours a week in the ministry training centre.  At the same time I am completing my Masters of Divinity so there is lots of reading and writing to be done.  Yet when I got sick all of this had to go on hold because I couldn’t concentrate, I would often need to rest in bed or I was in doctors waiting rooms; ministry, study and blogging became the last things on my mind.

To make things more complicated the church where I serve could really have used my help over the past few months.  Whilst it can survive without me, two of the ministers were leaving so all the lay people had to step up to fill in until their replacements come in 2014.  So I could have been really useful to have around, instead I was either in hospital or at home receiving treatment.  As someone who has been in ministry for 20 years it was the first time where I knew what ministry needed to be done but was unable to help due to serious illness.

God uses everything to form and shape you, even when we don’t know why things turn out the way they do.  Even though I wasn’t able to be involved in ministry during this time I learnt a number of things throughout my illness.  I thought I would share these with because I have been off the blog for a number of months now so I wanted to update you on what I have been reflecting on.

  1. The church will cope without me – my church were great at swapping my spots on the rosters and finding replacements for the roles that I was meant to fill.  Everyone likes to feel invaluable but in reality most ministries can and should be able to survive without you.  Someone always steps up to cover the hole that our absence makes because even ministry leaders get sick.  As a ministry leaders we need to trust God and trust our church that they can cope whenever we get sick.
  2. The church should care about me as a person – my church were great at caring for me as a person, asking me how I was going not just about who was covering for me when I was away.  Many people were worried about me as a person, they didn’t just pray for me so I would get back to ministry quicker.  People offered to cook meals for my family, pick me kids up from school and all kinds of other helpful things.  If you ever get sick I hope that you are involved in a church where people care about you as a person and don’t just see your illness as a problem to handle.
  3. There is still a bit of guilt – it is hard to let go of the things that I regularly do in ministry.  I felt guilty about letting the blog writing fall.  I felt guilty about have to swap out of a sunday roster.  I felt guilty about not being able to help the church.  Yet a number of good friends in ministry reminded me that it is good to rest and recover.  Self care is more important that pushing it for a few weeks.  Being sick reminded me that the correct theological perspective about work and ministry is that I am more than my work and ministry; whilst I may feel guilt at times, when I am sick I need to move beyond the guilt to focus on rest and recovery.
  4. Illness helped me to refocus on God – sometimes I get so swept up in ministry, blogging or theological study that I forget the daily practices that draw me closer to God.  When I was sick I had the time to read and meditate on scripture.  I had time to listen to christian worship music just to listen for God’s voice.  I decided that I didn’t have to blog every week or check twitter everyday.  My time away from ministry helped me understand that God rescues me everyday from a whole range of things whether I am serving in ministry, spending time at home with the family or sitting in a hospital bed recovering from an illness.
  5. There is always hope – when I was sick I would often read psalm 107 where God rescues a variety of people from a variety of circumstances, you should read it.  Two things struck me:
    1. In this psalm God rescues those who ask for help without demanding they change their behaviour before he helps them, check the psalm yourself.
    2. In this psalm God rescues people yet there is evidence that they still take some time to get out of their circumstances.  For examples the exiles are rescued but will still take some time to get back to Jerusalem.

In my case I knew that God was healing me and would rescue me from this illness, I just had to wait a few months for full recovery.  Perhaps you will get sick and need to take a break from ministry to recover, don’t worry there is hope.

Perhaps you haven’t ever had a major break from ministry due to illness but my guess is that you know someone who has.  Perhaps you had to step up and cover for a fellow ministry leader who got sick.  In reality if you stay in ministry long enough you will at some point have to take a break due to illness.  My hope is that you can honestly and peacefully take a break without feeling guilty.

It is ok to take a break

It is ok to rest and recover

It is ok to fall behind on email, twitter and blogging

It is important to trust in God that the church/ministry will survive without you.

Please leave a comment.

mrmarkmcdonald, markoffaith, markoffaith.net

A Youth Ministry of Sinners or Saints?

Recently I was speaking at an evangelical youth camp where many of the participants were active Christians.  Some of the young people were well versed in scripture being able to quote various sections by chapter and verse if needed.  One element that struck me was that many kept articulating that we are all sinners.  Whilst I might agree with them on theological grounds, in my experience it is not common for young people to talk like this; many young people don’t understand the language of sin.

It seems that many evangelical styles of youth ministry have been focusing in on young people being sinners in need of a saviour.  I think most of us will agree theologically that we are all sinners even if we are hard or soft on the exact language we use.  The issue is not theological but cultural; is the “we are all sinners” argument an out of date cultural image for young people?  Are the young people and youth leaders in our churches using that language because they understand it or do they just adopt it because that is the language of their church?

Recently I heard two speakers mention that many young people today already have a low opinion of themselves, that they know they have many flaws they don’t need the church to remind them of that.  they suggested that young people seek connection in the peer group because it helps them blend in and cover up their flaws.  So is the church preaching a message that is that different to the rest of the world?  Perhaps we aren’t if we only give young people confirmation that they are flawed.  We need to separate our message out from the self-help industry which articulates our flaws but if you buy this new book it will rescue you from yourself.

As Christian we preach that Jesus is the saviour of our flaws and weakness.  We should be a little different to the dominate culture which teaches that with our own hard work we will be better.  Perhaps youth ministry needs to teach young people the language of being saints.  In Christ we are a new creation, no longer our old selves but saints.  

Galatians 2:20 reminds us: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” In the power of the Holy Spirit, young people are not weak sinners but powerful witnesses to the Resurrection.

When I was young, in the 1990’s, our youth group heard a talk by our church leader inspiring us to be Saints of the new Millennium.  We were reminded that we called by God to be a generation that made a difference in the world.  Back in the 1990 the young people were told by business to get a good job and earn you way to the top; top young people are told they can achieve anything they want to.  So perhaps this current generation knows they can make a difference in the world but do they realise that God called them to do this?  Perhaps this generation of young people in our youth ministries need to hear that they are called by God to be saints, set apart for the work of God.

Perhaps in youth ministry we need not just the sinner language or saint language but both.  We are a new creation in Christ, saved from our sins in order to be the saints who help build the kingdom of God.

Please leave a comment.

markoffaith, MarkofFaith, mrmarkmcdonald, markoffaith.net

Why I love Holy Week

Holy Week is a great time of the year because we get to focus on all of the events leading up to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It is an opportunity to prayerfully slow down as the Church reflects on the Cross and the empty tomb.

Every Sunday of the year the Church celebrates the Good News of Jesus Christ in church services.  Sometimes there are special feast days but normally we remember the Lord’s supper, his death and resurrection in one short service. Yet in Holy Week we have the opportunity to take an entire week to reflect deeply on each part of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  

What are the key parts of Holy Week?

  1. Holy Thursday – this is where we remember the institution of the Lord’s Supper.  In the Lords Supper we see Jesus giving his body and blood to the Church as a sacramental sign of his death and resurrection.
  2. Washing of the Feet – this symbolic act of lowering oneself to the position of a servant to wash someone’s feet shows us that Jesus humbled himself to serve humanity rather than claim the privileges that a King deserves.
  3. Good Friday – this is the chance for us focus on the Cross and the atoning sacrifice that Jesus made for our sins.  We can let the full weight of this sacrifice rest on us as we realise that the price has been paid for our sins.
  4. Holy Saturday – this day represents the time between the Cross and the Resurrection, which also reminds us that the Kingdom of God is both here and yet to come.
  5. Easter Sunday – without the Resurrection the Cross has no meaning; this is the high point of Holy Week.  We should come to Easter Sunday with great joy because our God is faithful.

I really love Holy Week, some of the most spiritual moments in my life have occurred in Holy Week.  The best sermons I have ever heard were preached on Good Friday and Easter Sunday in 2009.  Holy Week will be a deeply spiritual week if you see it as a special occasion and not just another ordinary week.

To help you get the most out of your Holy Week here are a few thoughts:

  • Focus on Jesus – it is not just about attending services, the services are meant to draw you deeper into a relationship with Jesus.
  • Try to get to everything – this is one week in the year where you should make an effort to get to more church services than just the Sunday service.  
  • Have some quiet time – normally church should be a place where we connect with people, talk to visitors and welcome new people.  However during Holy Week give yourself and others some quiet time.  Let people sit in quiet prayer to reflect on what the Gospel of Jesus Christ means to them.

There are some denominations and churches that don’t do Holy Week because they live in the Post Easter period and theologically I acknowledge that.  However I think we can always be reminded of the significance of the various events leading up the empty tomb on Easter Sunday.  My hope and prayer is that you allow God to speak to you this Holy Week as you reflect on the Good News of Jesus Christ.

markoffaith, MarkofFaith, Mark of Faith, mark of faith, mrmarkmcdonald, markoffait.net

Please ignore the add below

What does the Church stand for?

My experience is that many people are against the Catholic Church based on the version of the Church that they have in their mind.  So the arguments that many people come up with don’t really challenge the true teaching of the Catholic Church.  One issue that many protestant people have trouble with is the concept of purgatory.  Whilst I must declare that I don’t really believe in the purgatory that many Catholic’s claim to believe in, I did find a quote about the work of the then Cardinal Ratzingers very interesting:

“Building on 1 Corinthians 3, Ratzinger argued that the Lord Himself is the fire of judgement, which transforms us as he conforms us to his glorious, resurrected body. This happens not during a long drawn out process but in the moment of final judgement itself. By thus linking purgatory to Jesus Christ himself as the eschatological fire, Ratizinger detached the doctrine of purgatory from the concept of an intermediate state” Quoted from page 167 of Surprised by Hope by NT Wright.

NT Wright claims both Pope Benedict (Ratzinger) and Karl Rahner have moved Catholic Teaching on purgatory away from the understanding that many people criticise the Church for.  Which made me think about one very important rule for understanding the Catholic Church:

Just because a Catholic said something doesn’t make it Catholic Teaching.  This goes for all the liberal and conservative web pages, blogs, podcasts and books out in the market.  In fact just because something is popular doesn’t make it official church teaching.  If you really want to understand the truth about what the Catholic Church teaches don’t google it, go to the official teaching of the Church, starting at http://www.vatican.va.  If someone doesn’t agree with this then at least they disagree with the official teaching not some youtube version of church teaching.

The difference in Evangelical circles is that the opinions of current books, blogs and popular preachers has more weight in defining what the church stands for because there is no “official church teaching”.  For example the work of Tim Keller from Redeemer Church in New York is very popular amongst Evangelicals even though not all Evangelicals are Presbyterian.  The work of NT Wright, an Anglican is well regarded but not all Evangelical Anglicans agree with his arguments.  Mark Driscoll’s books and podcast are very popular yet not many people would list his views as normative for Evangelicals.   So in the cross denominational world of Evanglicals there are popular authors and preachers yet there is no official church teaching.

Whilst this may be a little off topic for this blog, I think this is very important at the moment as there is so much information spreading across the web about what Pope Francis will or won’t do.  Is he a liberal or conservative, evangelical, social justice advocate, liturgically simple or just a nice guy doing his best? As ministry leaders we have a responsibility to build unity in the Body of Christ, not to continue uninformed positions.  So as the ministry of Pope Francis unfolds please check your sources and try to build unity in the Body of Christ.

And I should declare that I know that I am not the source of official church teaching so I will apply the same advice to myself too.  Please leave a comment.

The value of positive stories

Woman on ComputerLeaders spend most of their time either casting vision or solving problems.  Casting vision involves sharing a positive vision of the future for your ministry even though you haven’t got there yet.  Solving problems means taking a weakness in your ministry and looking for a solution even though it means dealing with negatives.  So telling positive stories from your ministry reminds people of the positive elements that they have already accomplished.

People can’t spend all their time living in the future or dealing with problems.  Our volunteers in ministry need to be constantly reminded that all their hard work and effort is achieving something.  Sharing positive stories helps to remind people of the things the ministry has already achieved in a hope that more success will come in the future.  Positive stories can remind people serving in your ministry why they do what they do. 

Several times a year you should hold celebration nights where people in your ministry share their positive stories with each other.  There is nothing better than hearing people share a story in their own unique way.  Get each person to share a story from their perspective which not only gives a different perspective on the ministry but it also helps you get to know their style and personality. 

So here are five questions to ask at your celebration nights to draw out positive stories from any group:

  1. What are the highlights from our ministry?
  2. When did we have a win? ask people to articulate how they think they have achieved part of the vision.
  3. What have you learnt?  Focus on what you will do better in the future rather than the mistakes of the past.
  4. Who are we proud of?
  5. When did you see someone grow?  This is perhaps the most important question because it is others centred.

In my 20 years of ministry I have witness many times of celebration where people have shared their positive stories.  A few times have been whilst at a conference and our team have shared what we think we are doing right based on the speakers at the conference.  Often the positive stories come out over a meal when the ministry team have more time together.  The best celebration night I have ever been to involve everyone dressing up for a night of awards and storytelling; the night provided an hour of “open mic” time for people to share their stories.

The difficult in ministry is that we get so busy that we forget to share the positive stories until it is someone’s farewell party.  We forget to thank our team members until they leave.  Or we wait until the end of the year Christmas party to thank people for their hard work.  Wouldn’t it be great if we thanked people and shared the positive stories from our ministry once a month?  Imagine how much momentum it would build if we shared the positive stories a lot more than we reflected on the struggles.

So make a commitment to share the good news of your ministry within your church, after all we are meant to be people of the Good News.

Is your church ready for Visitors?

Is your church entrance sending the message that visitors are welcome?

Is your church entrance sending the message that visitors are welcome?

In the New Year people will visit new churches, try out new ministries and attend prayer meetings.  So it is likely that there will be visitors hanging around your church buildings this month and next month.  So what do you think the church buildings look like?  Now try to think how new people will see them.  We need to tidy up the church buildings in the same way that we would clean up our home if we thought visitors were dropping in.

Recently we invited neighbours to come to our place for lunch and we thought we better clean the place up.  Looking at our house from the perspective of a visitor I noticed a whole lot of mess piled up on our front porch.  For weeks I had walked past it without noticing it but with visitors coming over I paid more attention to the details.  Most of the items just needed to be put away so the place looked tidy.

The same is true for your church buildings.  Recently I visited a church foyer that was spotless and had clear signage telling me (a visitor) where to go.  However I also attended a church where the foyer was a mess, it still had Christmas items laying around in February.  Sometimes we need to imagine our church through the eyes of a visitor and here are a few things they will notice:

  1. Can I find the correct room?  It is so important to a first time visitor that they can find the room they are supposed to be in.  Try to think like a first time visitor, is it really obvious which door they should enter?  If not then you need to have a person or sign directing people where to go.  Can parents find the kids ministry room?  Can young people find the youth group in the various rooms on your site?
  2. Where are the toilets?  Often people will ask where the toilets are so it isn’t a big deal but if they are really hard to find then put up a sign.  Often visitors will go to the toilet before your service because they are nervous about how long the service will take.
  3. Is the space tidy?  A visitor should not have to see decoration failing down or mess from a previous event.  Have the musicians kept their area tidy or is it a mess?  Is the hospitality area clean?  Are the toilets clean?  Are there tidy facilities for parents to change a nappy?
  4. Stay up to date – replace any old posters or out of date event material.  Make sure that the bulletins from each week are put in the recycling bin.  One church I visited had flyers for a theological college that were five year out of date.
  5. Less is better – don’t try to fill your foyer or notice board.  If a space is too cluttered then the mix of things confuses people and everything blends in.  Instead of trying to advertise every ministry event in your district, give clear message to visitors about what you would like them to attend.  One church I visited just put up new notice boards and they filled it with at least 50 ministry events across the city to the point that their own ministry events got lost in the noise.
  6. Where is the coffee?  If you go to the effort of putting on tea and coffee make sure that visitors know where to find it.  Don’t expect them to follow the crowd; they will most likely avoid the crowd and go to their car.

Every time we have visitors to our house we hope that they love our home as much as we do.  The same is true with our church buildings except we want them to love our church not the buildings.  Richard Riesling in his book on Church Marketing says that visitors have made many decisions about your church before the service even begins, make sure that they are the right decisions.

markoffaith, Mark of Faith, mark of faith, mrmarkmcdonald, markoffaith.net

Introductions at Church events

Empty Chairs in Conference RoomOver the past few weeks I have been paying extra attention to how ministers, service leaders and worship leaders introduce themselves at church services, prayer meetings and ministry events.  Given that it is a new year, there is a high chance that visitors are testing out a church or ministry for the first time so a good introduction is important.  But I have noticed that there are some simple phrases that people say or don’t say that may sound odd to a visitor.  When standing in front of a group, think about how a first time visitor hears what you say.

Here are a few tips on introducing yourself at your next church or ministry event:

  1. Expect visitors – even if you know that nobody in the room is a visitor introduce yourself as though there are visitors present.  This will not only train you to make it a habit but also train the congregation that visitors are to be expected.
  2. You are not a celebrity – never ever say “my name is _____ if you haven’t met me yet”.  You are not the centre of attention so don’t make it about people who haven’t met you yet, it implies that everybody knows you.  It is better to warmly state your name and your place in the church/ministry/congregation such as “my name is _____ and I am a member of this church/congregation”.
  3. Don’t assume anything – sometimes we assume that people remember what we did last week or assume that people were attending last week.  We can’t assume that everybody knows the service order or how we run our prayer meetings.  If you expect visitors then expect people to be a bit confused as to when to sit, stand, kneel, sing etc.
  4. Stay positive and energetic – it is important to kick off the service or meeting with a lot of energy just like it takes a lot of energy to get an aeroplane off the ground.  If you are the first person to stand in front of the group give a positive and energetic welcome.  We know that some people have had a bad week but they don’t need to reminded of it with a boring welcome to church.
  5. Thank people and affirm people – often we take people for granted, we need to thank people for attending our ministry events, church services and prayer meetings.  You don’t need to list all the things they could be doing instead of coming to church, don’t give them any ideas for not attending, but you need to be aware of what people give up to come along.

Whilst this might seem simple enough, the welcome and introduction are often overlooked when planning a gathering of God’s people.  If you are not the service leader or minister in your church, then perhaps you can pass this post onto them.  My hope is that churches expect visitors to come every week and that when they do come, visitors feel warmly welcomed.

Why I like Vision Sunday videos

It seems to be the season for Vision Sunday videos popping up on youtube and vimeo.  They are becoming more and more common as churches use multimedia to share their vision with their members and those on the fringes of their church.  While more churches are using this format, I don’t grow tired of watching them, even though there are many similarities.  They are not so much a copy of each other as they are similar in the bold way they cast vision.

In this short post here are three reasons I love Vision Sunday videos:

  1. They give me hope – all of the videos that I have seen have made me want to join the church, even though I love my own church.  They shine forth a vision of hope and joy that God will build the Church.  In an era of sexual abuse scandals and low attendance figure I want to connect with the hope that God is and will build His Church.
  2. They take time to make – most of these vision would take weeks to put together, both from a technical point of view and a vision point of view.  These aren’t random thoughts or last minute ideas, they have prayerfully launched a God ordained vision.
  3. They encourage me to be bold – none of the videos that I have seem are promising to do more of the same.  Churches use Vision Sunday videos to launch bold new initiative.  Even if the new ministries perform only half as good as the church hopes it is far bolder than doing nothing.

There are many videos out there that you can watch, some from churches that are from a different denomination to you and I, but watch them anyway.  What bold new hope do you get from watching these?  Please don’t watch them with a cynical attitude of “that will never happen”.  Even if half of it comes off then the Kingdom of God is advance.

Here are two of my favourites:

Liberty Church NYC

Hope Unlimited Church

What was Youth Ministry like when I began in 1991?

Youth Ministry in 1991Recently I was presenting a workshop at a youth ministry training event and I began by telling the participants that I started in youth ministry in 1991.  About half of the participants in the room indicated that they were born after 1991 and most of the others were very close to the same age.  While I was running the workshop I became more aware of how different youth ministry was when I began over 20 years ago.  Young culture and Church culture have changed so much in the last 20 years that I thought I would share some of these with you.

Now before we go any further this is not a historical overview of how youth ministry has changed in the past 20 years globally or even nationally.  I will share a few observations from the youth ministry in my church back in 1991 and if you were around youth ministry in 1991 please leave a comment to share your observations as well.  If you weren’t even born in 1991 then read this as a history lesson.

  1. Led by Parent Couples – when I first started in youth ministry every youth ministry had a parent couple attached.  These were a married couple, or several married couples, who would oversee the youth ministry.  In my youth ministry they trained and support the youth leaders, helped workshop youth talks and run the finances.  As a young person we felt safe knowing that parents were looking after the “hard stuff” like finances so that we could have fun.  In 2013 it seems that parent couples have almost disappeared from the youth ministry landscape.  I know some youth groups in 1991 that had to take a break until a parent couple could be found, something that would seem unreasonable in 2013.
  2. No professionals – in 1991 I don’t remember any professional youth ministry staff.  Knowing the history of youth ministry that I know now, there were a few professionals around but they were rare.  Youth ministry was a volunteer ministry that was often peer led.  In 1991 I never ever thought that I could spend 20 years of my life getting paid to lead youth and young adult ministry.  In 2013 the “high” turnover rate that some see as a problem stems from the era of the 1980’s and 90’s when everyone volunteered for 1-2 years as a youth leader then moved onto the adult congregation of the church.
  3. After church on Sunday night – in our location and many other churches in 1991 youth group was on a Sunday night after our 6pm Church service.  Back in those days many young people were still going to church on a semi regular basis so linking youth group with the church service seemed like a natural thing.  In fact in 1991 it was easier to recruit youth group members from the church congregation if the two were linked.  In 2013 the biggest question many youth ministries face is the opposite question, how do we get our youth group members to join our Sunday congregation.  In 2013 youth group is often set in concrete on Friday nights as though that was how it has always been done.
  4. Keeping young people in church – when I started in youth ministry in 1991 many youth would stop going to church about 15-18 or Year 10.  So youth ministry was a way of keeping young people coming along to church.  In 2013 youth ministry seems more about starting young people coming to church as most young people stop going in the children’s ministry age group, if they were ever attending.
  5. No mobile phones – In 1991 a friend of mine showed me his dad’s mobile phone and it was as big as a brick.  Only business people had mobile phones.  Young people not only didn’t have smart phones they didn’t even have mobiles.  Youth Ministry was the time to catch up with people for the week and if you missed youth group you missed a week of connection with your peers.  If you missed youth you may have missed news of a party or social outing and there was no way to catch up.  In 2013 if young people miss youth group they can catch up with all the news, gossip and party news within hours via Facebook or SMS.
  6. Film Cameras – this might sound really old fashion but only a few young people had cameras at events and it would take a week or two to send the film photos off for developing.  In 1991 there was always a physical photo wall or photo album put up three weeks after youth events to show what had happened at the events; it was a real way to keep the memories alive.  In 2013 the photos go up on Facebook and Instagram as the event is happening and are forgotten about within days.
  7. Youth Culture – in 1991 in my area there were the metal heads (Heavy metal music), wax heads (surfers), skateheads  (skateboarding) and nerds (those who weren’t part of the other groups).  Whilst I admit that I was a nerd, it seemed that there were only a few youth subgroups to fit into.  In 2013 the youth culture has split the youth subgroups in to thousands.  The music industry alone has thousands of music styles that weren’t branded this way in 1991.  Youth clothing has become more targeted in 2013 and costs a lot more money.  In 1991 if a young person had slashed jeans they weren’t $250 designer jeans, they were the cheap jeans showing signs of being old.

This is just some of the ways that youth ministry was different when I first started in 1991.  My hope is that some of my colleagues who were around in the 1980’s/90’s might add a comment with their observations from that period.

Whilst the specific details might vary from location to location in 1991 they also vary from location to location in 2013.  Rather than this being a post of the golden era of youth ministry from the good old days, I just want this generation of youth ministry leaders to recognise that ministry changes and that is OK.  Many of the things that some youth ministers think we have always done in youth ministry are in fact new additions that have improved or complicated youth ministry.  It is OK for youth ministry to change, in fact I hope that youth ministry continues to change and adapt as young people change and adapt to the culture around them.

Please leave a comment.

markoffaith, MarkofFaith, mrmarkmcdonald, Mark McDonald, markoffaith.net