Are priests killing the church?

Crap

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A response to Kate Murphy and Episcopal Café.

The average Episcopal Church has a Sunday worship attendance of 64 people.[1] With congregations that tiny, money is certainly a challenge. How can we maximize our meager resources for mission? Well, the most expensive line item in most church budgets is clergy. Our normative form of worship since the 1979 prayer book is the Eucharist, and that necessitates a priest.  A bargain basement full-time priest, with medical, retirement, office expenses & mission share, costs a church in the neighborhood of $80,000 per year. Think about the opportunity that presents: We can solve our financial limitations today! All we have to do is fire those expensive clergy. We could generate more than half a billion dollars per year for the work of the kingdom with this one simple solution![2] And besides being expensive, paid clergy are unscriptural. And let’s be honest, many clergy follow outdated ministry models that have been statistically proven to harm future attendance. What we need is to dump all of these clergy – they are millstones sinking our church’s future. It is time to ask the hard question: “Are priests killing the church?

Ridiculous? Obviously. We would never leave adults without a dedicated leader except in dire circumstance. And when that does happen expectations are lowered in a hurry. Not that a church cannot do better without clergy than with an ineffective clergy, we all know those exceptions. We also know that unled things don’t do well. Why then would we make that case for youth ministry?

Yet, this is precisely the theory making the rounds: that “youth ministry is killing the church.” According to the argument, youth ministry is expensive, unscriptural and unhelpful. This reappeared recently on Episcopal Café (goo.gl/TN9Q1A) in the form of a three-year old Christian Century post by Kate Murphy (goo.gl/9sJP0l). In defense of pastor Murphy’s article, I agree with the substance of it: segregating youth is a bad idea. I even have made the case that there might be data that seems to indicate that Rev. Murphy is right (goo.gl/gzXI5g). What I do not agree with the title of the article and the direction that conversation inevitably leads: “If age appropriate ghettoizing is bad, then ALL age appropriate grouping is bad, therefore we do not need to budget sacrificially for staff expertise to pass on the faith to young people.”

Lets take a look at the three common objections to youth ministry:

First, “a youth minister is expensive.” Yes. A youth minister is expensive. The issue, though, isn’t how much a youth minister costs, but do they present a good return on the church’s investment? Here is a case: I have a friend who made $85,000 a year as a youth pastor. Does that seem shockingly large? It might help to know that he built a program in his new church plant that started with him knocking on several thousand doors before their first service to 425 students per week. His big salary equated to $200 per year, per student. Compare that to a clergy salary of $60,000 per annum as the staff person for 150 parishioners (I am told the common church staffing pattern is a staff person for every 150-200 people in attendance). That means the average clergy person in the upper limit/most financially efficient scenario still has annual cost of $400 per parishioner. My friend cost 1/2 as much as an effective clergy. He was a bargain! Is your youth director giving a good return for the investment? Over time is the youth director growing the number of youth and the spiritual depth of the youth involved? That may sound mercenary, but it is a question that every organization, including the church, has to ask about every staff person.

The second argument is making the rounds in conservative circles: “youth ministry is unscriptural” (goo.gl/zgQVR5). This one is a bit of a face-palm. What Jesus did with the disciples was exactly what good youth ministry is supposed to do: A group of teen-agers with a mentor doing life together…hanging out around the fire discussing God, asking dumb questions, and being stirred with the ridiculous idea that God wants to use them to change the world. The twelve got three years of life-on-life youth ministry, also known as “discipleship.” The argument that a ministry involving large groups, small groups, and leadership development is without biblical precedence is, well, goofy.

The third argument is that youth ministry is “unhelpful” because segregating students from the adults drives them outside the church as grown ups. I make that argument myself in more than one blog post (see below). Segregation does not just fail to help students build an affiliation with the church, it also fails to give them a sense of being a member of Christ’s body engaged in God’s mission. But why stop with segregation, the status quo in youth ministry has many other issues: It is often alarmingly aligned with our culture. It often appears as if students are numbers to validate the leader’s ministry. Too often we truncate the Scriptures. Too often we are weak in our modeling of prayer, service to the world and evangelism. But none of that means that we should leave our young people unled. The answer to doing the wrong thing in the church is not to do nothing. It is to do the right thing. The idea that ineffective youth ministry models and ineffective youth ministers are a reason to eliminate youth ministry is akin to suggesting that because some priests are ineffective and follow ineffective ministry models we should eliminate priests.

The answer to doing ‘bad’ ministry with a group is not to do NO ministry with that group.

It is the idea that youth ministry should be “dumped” that is “unhelpful.” What might actually be helpful would be to note that none of the 100 fastest growing churches are contemplating getting rid of paid youth ministers or age-appropriate youth ministry (goo.gl/XPkH55). I understand financial realities in small churches. I lead a church plant. But to say that our children are not a staffing priority at the time in life when 8 out of 10 who make a decision to follow Christ are doing so is to hand them an invitation to the church down the street that will prioritize evangelism and discipleship to them (goo.gl/Tmofjt). Is it time to dump youth ministry? No way. Is it time to re-envision it? Absolutely. I may be a loud critic of the youth ministry status quo. But I really, with all that is within me, want people equipping parents, evangelizing the young, discipling students, and building the next generation of Christian leaders.

Don’t you?

The Rev. Matt Marino, Canon for Youth and Young Adults, Diocese of Arizona

Posts exploring a better way to do youth ministry…

-Why are young people leaving the church?

-Young Adults and the Church: Will the Mainline benefit from Evangelical Dissatisfaction?

-David Kinnaman is wrong: How the church really lost the millennials & what we can do to keep the next generation. 

-Is the way we are doing youth ministry emptying the church?

-Tickled! (An article in The Living Church Magazine, Sept. 2013)

-Life After “Cool Church”? A New Vision for Youth Ministry, Part 1.

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

-Memo to Senior Pastors: What to do about these Youth?

-What’s so uncool about cool churches?


[2] Assuming the 6667 parishes and missions who filed 2012 parochial reports at $80,000 per church = $533,360,000

 

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Your church isn’t supposed to “feed” you

This is cute. But we aren't babies.

This is cute. But we aren’t babies.

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I have lame Christiany-sounding excuse fatigue. Here is the latest: “I am leaving this church because it just doesn’t feed me.” Pardon me but your church is not supposed to “feed” you. It probably isn’t your fault, though. You were probably sold this bill of goods by the church that talked you into coming their way the last time you were feeling spiritually bored.

Consider the “feedlot” model: We pick a church, like we pick a restaurant…one that dishes up what we like and are in the mood for on a steaming plate set before us. Then we sit in judgment. “That was good this week.” Or perhaps, “That sermon was a little mushy, and cold…like overcooked broccoli, pastor.” We tip if the service was good and expect to go home full.

Yes, I do know the term “pastor” is the Greek word for “shepherd,” but shepherds protect sheep. Sheep eat for themselves. Besides, the Lord is our shepherd, not your pastor. Your pastor is a human not the Holy Spirit.

There is a legitimate role for pastors. It is found in Ephesians 4. Pastors have been given their gifts “ to equip the saints for the work of ministry.”

Consider God’s purpose in the giving of all of these gifted “apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers”: It was EQUIPPING YOU  “for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”  Rather than being passive recipients of a meal, this is a picture of a community sharing its gifts with one another as it engages in mission.

The early Christians had a love that “compelled” them into the world in invitation and self-emptying service (2 Cor. 5:13-15).  Please don’t bail out on your church because it doesn’t passively “feed” you. The church isn’t supposed to be a restaurant with waiters that pre-chew our food and dribble it into us like the SNL soft-teeth skit. It is supposed to be culinary school. Think about what culinary school gives someone: tools, knowledge, practice, confidence and helps you find a job cooking in the real world. Both visions of the church will change you: One will make you fat and passive. The other will change both you and the world as you serve it, adding flavor and taste to those around you.

So before you put a grotesque and distorted burden on your church, ask yourself how discipleship happened historically. Hint, it wasn’t sitting in a class memorizing gospel presentations or Bible verses on overcoming temptation. It was life on life: walking with Jesus. The disciples hung out around the fire with the Master for three years as he prayed, taught, modeled, questioned, healed, demonstrated, prayed some more and finally sent them to…”go make disciples” and to “obey all I have commanded.” Every bit of this was active.

This is possibly a very different model from your church. If your church is using you as a passive recipient of the staff’s teaching, doing all of the evangelism themselves and merely using you as an “inviter” and the sanctuary as an evangelism platform, then perhaps you might want to ask them to STOP feeding you! Ask them instead to start equipping YOU and the rest of the church to “do the work of ministry.”

So stop asking your church to feed you. Ask them to equip you.

If you like this you might like: The Church is Christ’s bride. Not his baby mama.

or: The church isnt a restaurant its culinary school

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.

Looking for the ultimate win-win in youth ministry? Take kids to camp!

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In the very busy world of your youth ministry team, let me send you the most strategic possible reminder possible for the health of your youth program in both depth and width: Summer camp is just around the corner!

The fastest growing and spiritually deepest youth ministries that I have seen in 30 years of youth work all have one thing in common: They take kids to camp with their leaders. Here is a letter that was on missional church planting guru Mike Breen’s blog (he is a Church of England guy) about the importance of camp. It is from his son, who is an emerging Christian leader. I commend it to you and ask you to spend time every week personally and with your volunteers strategizing summer camp.

  • What leaders will go from your parish?
  • What students have signed up? Which ones haven’t yet and how can you get them to re-prioritize so that they can make the trip?
  • What incentives are you offering to students to bring their unchurched friends?
  • Have you talked to parents to know how much financial help each student will need?

In youth ministry, “contending for the faith,” to paraphrase Jude, is often a matter of getting students to a place where they are simply out of their daily grind. Camp is the most powerful tool youth ministers have to place students before the Savior.

blessings,

Matt

WHY CAMP MATTERS

by Sam Breen

Camps often serve as a milestone in a person’s life – one that can’t be replaced by anything else. Milestones often don’t change your direction, they help you recognize how far you have gone and how much further your have to go. Maybe more importantly, when you gets lost, milestones are a specific point you can visit in order to make sure you start going in the right direction.

I have been to so many youth camps, I lost count a long time ago. Some of my favorite were Soul Survivor UK 2008, where God impacted me personally and began to direct my life in new ways. UCYC camp 2006, where I got into one of the largest food fights I’ve ever been in. Six Flags 2005 — the first time I began to think there was a girl in my life that I wanted to date. Lake Havasu, where I took another step in leading my peers. Wayfarer Camp 2012, where I found a movement I wanted to invest in. Each one of these were important in different ways; some were important because they marked personal developments, like meeting a girl that I instantly wanted to date (and am now married to!). Other camps were places where I got to know God more intimately, and some gave me a new heart for justice in the world.

Camps are important. They have a massive impact in the development of a person, regardless of whether or not the camp has a spiritual aspect. At camp, teenagers are able to pursue independence in a safe environment. The insecure find their self-esteem, lifelong friendships are made, dreams and goals are shaped. The realization occurs that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. Students stand in a room with hundreds of other kids and realize that their life can collide with the lives of others to create life-altering moments.

On top of this, the spiritual element to camp can make a difference that might change lives forever.  Sometimes people are so close to choosing to follow Jesus that all it takes is being away from the normality of the everyday to shake up their world enough to choose Christ. Camp is a pilgrimage, an experience some youth may not find anywhere else. They arrive and discover that they are in a room with hundreds of other students there for the same reason — to experience Jesus afresh. That kind of expectancy can do incredible things in the spiritual realm. It’s not surprise to me that at camps, God seems to “show up” more. When there are that many people in a room, with people standing side by side, almost everyone’s faith grows.

If there is a opportunity for the youth that you are leading to mount another significant milestone in their life, why would you not take that chance? Giving a student an opportunity to join a group going to camp may be exactly what they need to find a new milestone and move a little further to set another.

Link to original post

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