Liturgy, when artfully done, is powerful and engages young people.

Many people write and say, “I hear you talk about liturgy, but that can’t possibly work with young people.” Here is the 45 second promo video for students to use to invite their friends to camp next summer. We are advertising the three things Christian camping is all about: fun, friends, and God. I am posting it for the last 10 seconds when you can briefly see that liturgy, when artfully done and culturally contextualized, is powerful enough for the young adults who make the video to say “that has to be in.” Lots of camp experiences don’t make the cut. What does make the cut tells you what is important to the 20-22 yr olds making the video.

If you look closely, the video, shot from this summer’s footage, you can see great camp fun, our gifted and godly young leaders, some first-rate proclaimers of the Gospel and a few of the many ways for kids to experience God, from the ancient to modern. The music is just as diverse as the spiritual offerings: Hip Hop/Chant/Hillsong/Black Gospel/Spanish/Taize/Hymns.

Our goal is to raise up a faithful Christian generation that is leading the church and changing the world.

A couple of things about our camp:

1. Our program is a combination of Young Life style energy with a strong emphasis on community building and contemplative and liturgical space all built around a framework of daily immersion in the Bible.

2. About 2/3 of our counselors were teenage converts, the other 1/3 grew up in the church. More than half are non-Anglo.

3. Over the last six years, every youth pastor who has brought students has said, “This wasn’t just the most powerful experience of God my students have ever had, it’s the most powerful experience of God <strong>I</strong> have ever had!

4. We know this works, because I am a numbers geek. We gather data and chart longitudinally on all of the 15 or so different spiritual experiences students engage in during the week.

We are very excited about the way we have blended the best of ancient and modern, catholic worship and protestant theology, fun and depth, community and individual experience. After 30 years of youth ministry and more than 30,000 campers I can honestly say that this is the most unique thing I have seen in camping.

btw, If you are interested in bringing students or observing, contact me.

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What the heck are Anglican/Episcopalians? How “brand name” Christianity might bless you. (1 of 2)

In this post-brand era, why would anyone join a denominational church? 

Many are blessed by what they are experiencing in the post-denominational “generic” church that dominates the church-going landscape today. If that is you, I am glad and genuinely celebrate with you your satisfaction in God. Many others, however, are longing for something more: searching for something “missing” in their Christian walk.

Do you long for a faith that is more internal than external? More communal than individual? More rigorous on yourself and roomier toward others? More focussed on the world’s needs and less on the church’s? Do you long for a faith experience with access to the ancient wisdom of the faith and less wedded to our contemporary culture? If any of this resonates, to quote the old commercial, “this Bud’s for you!”

Yes, denominations may be dying, but Anglicanism* is growing, and rapidly. This is especially true among young adults around the world. Some of the growth of Anglicanism is in Anglican churches, but it is also occurring in the larger evangelical world. “Wait a minute?” You might say, “I went to an Episcopal Church and it was 75, 75 year-olds.” That may be true, but Anglican thought and practice is popping up everywhere these days-like at Willow Creek or among the 1000 young adults at PhoenixOne. What is Anglicanism? The simplest definition I have is Reformed-monasticism. Huh? Let me flesh that out a bit…

Anglican Christianity is not about rigidity, ritualism, or being locked into any tradition, old or new, that is not rooted in Scripture and found in the great arc of God working through history. We aim for both the message and methods of Scripture and the earliest Christians.

Now that you know what we are not, what are we? To begin with, Anglicans/Episcopalians are Christians. And Christianity is Christianity. However, Anglican Christianity is a unique and nuanced expression of the Christian faith.

To be grasped Anglicanism really has to be experienced, and more than once. Anglicanism is not about a different Sunday morning experience, but a different vision of life. As such it takes time to be captivated by it. Because it represents a different vision for life, explaining it is also complicated. Indeed, if you ask 10 Episcopalians to explain Anglicanism you may get 11 answers. Another difficulty is that, although we are such a large group worldwide, we are very small in the U. S. Because we are small, most people’s experience of the Episcopal Church is through the media. The Episcopal Church is not very much as it is portrayed in the media-any more than Pentecostals spend all of their time doing backflips down the church aisles or Bible church people spend their days shouting at folks. Anglicanism is more complex than the stereotypes and is differentiated from the other branches of Christianity in some very distinct ways. These distinctions include:

  • Protestant theology/catholic worship. This is where “Reformed Monasticism” comes in. The Episcopal Church embraces the theology of the Reformation with the worship practices and spirituality of the ancient Christians. By “ancient,” Episcopalians are not referring to the theological innovations and abuses of 1200-1500 C.E.,  but rather to the first 5 centuries of the church. That early period saw the New Testament written, confirmed which books would comprise the Scriptures, and developed the Nicene Creed which defines the Christian faith and answered the cults about the nature of the Trinity with a clarity that the faith still relies on today. That period also gives us a pattern of worship. That pattern dates from at least the early-100′s. Our worship is built around monastic rhythms of being immersed in and formed by the daily reading and praying the Scriptures together as a community (called the Daily Office), the weekly communal celebration of communion (called the Eucharist) and then living those rhythms out in the world to bring honor to God’s name and aid our fellows. You will notice that our words and actions in worship are God-directed rather than back and forth from stage to congregation.
  • We both practice and are led by common prayer: “Common” is an old word for “shared”. Churches are always trying to figure out what banner to unify under. For some it is the beliefs of a person (like the Pope or Mark Driscoll), for some a doctrinal statement (like the Westminster or Augsburg Confession). Episcopalians are unified around the idea of being willing to pray the same words together…the words of Scripture and the “safe,” vetted words of the church until God works out our stuff in our own lives. That comes from our roots in England as being Catholics, Protestants and social Christians all in church together. Some long for the idea of “purity” and uniformity of belief in the church. History and experience tells us that theological uniformity is a mirage at best. Being unified around praying the same words is a value that is both holy and extremely difficult to live out. This can be very frustrating as there are often people with us that we think are a bit crazy. They tend to think we are a bit crazy back. But we are attempting to err on the side of generosity and give people room to “work out their salvation” in honesty and sincerity, not to mention “fear and trembling.” So we agree to major on the majors and give room on the minors. What are the majors?
  • Majoring on the Majors: “The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral” defines our “Big Rocks.” They are:  1) Scripture contains all things necessary to our salvation 2) The historic Creeds of the faith (Apostle’s Creed and Nicene Creed) as the sufficient doctrinal statements (which really means that Episcopalians see ourselves as “a church in relationship with other churches” rather than “the ‘true’ church”). 3) Our worship is ordered around the two sacraments that Jesus taught: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. And 4) Churches are led by bishops who have continuity of relationship and teaching back to Jesus. (Btw, until the 1500s this was the only form of church leadership and to this day about 3/4 of the world’s Christians are part of churches led by bishops in lineal relationship with the first Apostles.)

Why is this important? Simply because it has a high probability of blessing you…and of other’s being blessed as a result of what you receive as you “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 3:18)

 

Life After “Cool Church?” Ancient-Future Youth Ministry, Part 3.

His name is Iliya. He was an atheist. At least he had been two weeks earlier when he had first come to youth group and (somewhat politely) mocked it. This night he stands up and passionately describes the love of God that has flooded his heart and passionately urges other students to give themselves more completely to Jesus. The most beautiful part: he was led to Christ, not by an adult leader, but by a student. In fact, he was the fifth generation of student to be led to faith by other students in the group. It is an example of remaking youth ministry as youth who do ministry.

Let’s continue the dialogue about a youth ministry that starts from a new center: The view of what we want our students to be and do (both as individuals and as a community) when they leave us. This stands in stark contrast to attendance and conversion numbers as our primary goals for students. I have called it ancient-future youth ministry. Feel free to call it something else. What I am proposing is not new to me…or to any of the other authors that have been saying much of this same stuff. It is really the church for 2000 years called back to it’s roots, but embracing our place in our current cultural context. Here are the core values that we program from in our context…

Our Mission: To raise up a faithful Christian generation that is leading the church and changing the world.

Our Vision: To be Christ-centered youth ministers who use our spiritual gifts to build and equip teams of volunteers who join us in going where youth are to proclaim the gospel of Jesus and to guide, serve and disciple youth in the Anglican tradition.

Our core values are that our ministries will be…

  • Incarnational: We GO! We start in student’s world. We follow the Great Commission and “go” engage students. (Matt. 28:19-20, John 1:1-14, Col. 1:21)
  • Transformational: We Proclaim the transforming message that “Christ has died, Christ is risen. Christ will come again. (Eph. 2:8-10, 1 Pet. 3:18, 1 Cor. 15:3-5, Rom. 1:16)
  • Formational: We Walk…along side and teach students by our lives. Connected to the historic body of Christ, we stand on the shoulders of giants-back through time. As part of God’s family, we utilize the ancient wisdom and experience of the church…spiritual disciplines, the Christian year, monastic practices, etc.
  • Integrational: We Work to see youth fully integrated into the life of the local parish and the world. (Eph. 3:19-22, Eph. 4:12-14)
  • Sacramental: We worship with students and artfully engage students in worship, using both ancient and modern forms, to engage with God on the basis of his great narrative that rewrites both our very view of life as being birthed from (Baptismal) and sustained (Eucharistic) by God in Christ as revealed in Scripture.

Imagine what would such a group create in student’s commitment to the faith: In their commitment to the Scriptures, the unchurched in our communities, and the broader church community.

As a result of our Christian convictions we will do the following…

  1. Evangelize - We will Share
    1. Meet unchurched students in their world.
    2. Clearly proclaim a relationship with Jesus.
    3. Give regular opportunity for students to respond.
    4. Believe and teach that knowing God is the best, most joyful, purpose-producing gift we can give students! Way better than soccer.
  2. Disciple - We will Teach
    1. Theological method: Scripture,Tradition & Reason
    2. God-filled lives…taught by God-filled worship: shaped by ancient patterns, rhythms and liturgies.
    3. Sacramental understanding
    4. Prayer (all seven types, BCP)
    5. Scripture and being shaped by the narrative

-Open it & use it. (Get the same Bible for everyone!)

-Memorize it. (Ps. 119:11)

-Understand it. (Exegesis & hermeneutics)

-The Big Picture of God’s story starting in Genesis

-Teach passages rather than cherry picking topics

-Give them tools to read daily at home.

F.  Integrity: have “one life”

G.  Growth is joy producing and enjoyable (fun)

3.  Serve - We will Act

    1. Servant hearts: family, school, church, ‘hood, world
    2. Work for justice (Luke 4:16-21)
    3. Teach students to use their spiritual gifts
    4. Appreciate & celebrate other Christian traditions

4. Develop Christian Leaders - We will replace ourselves

A. Recruit leaders (from within and without the church)

B. Develop, train, serve and equip Christian leaders

With these principles in mind We will run high grace/high expectation groups in which:

-All are Welcome. A multi-ethnic, multi-economic community (John 17:20-23, Acts 11:19-26; 13:1ff.)

-All can be Transformed- Discipleship is for all (Matt. 28:19)

-All should become Evangelists (Rom. 1:16 )

-Our attraction will be the power of God on display. (Acts 2:42-43, 2 Pet. 1:16, 2 Cor. 2:4-5)

What might this look like?  I am not exactly sure. I would guess that it will be contextual and be a bit different in every different church. It wouldn’t be easily packaged as a model. Did the Apostle’s follow a script?

Swing for the fence- your students and leaders will surprise you!

It’s up to us.  What will you do?

Life After “Cool Church?” A New Vision for Youth Ministry, Part 2.

If you have been following this conversation feel free to scroll down and begin reading at “What we could do instead?” In case you are just joining the conversation, this post begins with an introduction to the problem: The current “relevant” youth ministry model has led to the abandonment of the church by 20-somethings.  

Twenty Five years ago Stuart Cummings-Bond predicted in a Youthworker Journal article (1989) that ghettoizing youth away from the rest of the church would have disastrous results. He called it “the one-eared Mickey Mouse.”  Today we see the fruit of this model in the abandonment of the church by twenty-somethings. Will we do things differently for the next generation arriving to our programs? Or is it ok with us that young people leave the church when they leave our student ministries?

Churches continue to invest heavily in youth ministries that are parallel to and “cooler” than the adult church – The youth pastor’s vision of what the big church could become. This model gave us the youth service as a place of evangelism for the young and learning lab for the larger church. In this model, the larger church first opposes then ignores the “radical” things happening in the youth room. At least for a time. That time typically ends when we call a new pastor. Then the new pastor, invariably a former youth pastor who learned attractional ministry in the youth room, redesigns the main sanctuary and re-packages the worship model to resemble what he was doing in the youth group a decade earlier…only with a larger budget and fully-functioning coffee house. Has it occurred to you how remarkably similar your new sanctuary looks to your old youth room? Similar decor, similar music, similar technology, similar dress, identical message.

And we wonder why youth grow bored with the adult church, or perhaps worse, remain in church but as shallow and self-absorbed as they were when they arrived in youth group as 15-year-olds 15 years ago. As the Mormon bishop referenced in a previous post “We make givers. You make takers.” (http://thegospelside.wordpress.com/2012/09/30/mormon-bishop-to-the-mega-church-thank-you/)

Why did we do this? Because it built fast numbers. Segregationist youth ministry is pragmatism at its worst. We used to be able to say, “Well it is working. God is using it, so who are you to judge?” However, the data has piled up: Cummings-Bond was right. Segregationist student ministry is a short-term, non-solution that threatens the very future of the evangelical church movement.

What could we do instead?

Research tells us that by segregating students into homogenous age groupings we are emptying our churches. What if instead of giving students what we think they want, we gave them what they need: A praying, confessing, Scripturally faithful, Father trusting, Jesus following, Spirit surrendered, faith-practicing community that wants to help them get their hands dirty for God?

As Youth Ministers we are first and foremost practitioners. We usually want to start with “How-to.” However, it is important that we start with the philosophical change of directional we need to make. Here are four research-supported places we could start…

1. Change Our Questions: Move from “Is this effective?” and “What are the people at ____ Church doing?” to “Is this biblical?” and “Does this produce disciples who love God enough to make other disciples?”

2. Change Our Priorities (Steve Wright, Rethink, 2008) Do we want to build a youth ministry or youth ministers? As Detroit pastor Harvey Carey says, “Youth ministry should be youth who do ministry!” What would we have to change to have Kingdom priorities? Here are four priority shifts I think most of us need to make…

A. God: Shift from self-centered (God for you) to God-centered (“God. I. We. They”). God is our starting point. It is God who is Glorious and worthy of all praise. Salvation is at God’s initiation and at God’s Expense. We are welcomed into God’s family…the community through which God’s realm will be revealed. Our welcome of others comes from God’s welcome of us and should always result in a passion to serve a lost and hurting world. We start with God and move toward the world. Our calling from God drives us in mission rather than the world’s need.

B. Family: Shift from separation from parents -to- a partnership that equips parents. View parents as the primary spiritual influence on kids- because God does. (Deut. 6:6-9)

C. Church: Shift from…

  • Segregated ministries–to-championing the church. Youth participate in every aspect of the church. When “big church” meets, the youth are there.
  • Cultural relevance-to-Scriptural faithfulness.Why do we do what we do? If it is “because it works” rather than because it is Scripturally faithful, let it go.
  • Student ministry-to-student development. This is about relationships: A life on a life, 7 day a week program.
  • Excitement as dominant emotion-to-Wonder.

D. World: Shift from mission is something I do “for me” -to- “I am an unashamed proclaimer of God’s Kingdom in word and deed.”

3. Change the outcomes we work toward in our ministry: disciples that make disciples. “That we may present everyone complete in Christ.(Col. 1:28)

Is our first motivation to create high numbers or highly committed disciples? A group must be large enough to be a group, but what would happen if we grew by being the deepest thing rather than the widest thing?

What does discipleship look like? Kenda Creasy-Dean, in Almost Christian, describes the characteristics of committed disciples.  Highly committed students have:

  • A Creed they know and believe
  • A Testimony of God’s action in their lives
  • A Community they are supported by
  • A Mission t0 give their life to
  • A Hope for the future

Does your youth ministry program toward developing those characteristics in students?

4. Change our programs so that they build students toward our goals

  1. Equip families.
  2. Teach (parents, leaders, kids) the excitement of historic, life-changing faith in Christ.
  3. Use games & humor purposefully. *By all means, enjoy yourself in church. I am not saying faith is not enjoyable, just that it isn’t entertainment.
  4. Use the youth group experience to create environments where the energy is in the students experiencing God (vertical) and loving and challenging one-another (circularly) rather than toward the leadership on the platform (horizontally). After all, Even their teachers don’t spend the hour lecturing any more!

Next up: Principles & Core Values for the Ancient-Future Youth Ministry