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?

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Case Study: PhoenixOne. Bursting at the seams with young adults.

How do we engage the post-modern 25 year old? Certainly it isn’t easy. They are very conflicted. On one hand they distrust large events. On the other, they flock to things with momentum -in Phoenix that is PhoenixOne, a gathering of 20-something “young professionals.” In existence for 18 months, it is now attended by more than 1000 young adults.

What is PhoenixOne doing to gather the crowd?

First, they use technology well. All 1000 of them facebook and tweet the meeting. It is very organic in it’s invitation.

Second, they are relational. They work very hard to connect with people and help them connect with one another.

Third, they are in a place of “otherness.” They meet in a 100 year-old church-ancient by Phoenix’ standards. It is quiet. Solid. It feels stable – like a church.

Fourth, they bring in communicators who speak to their experience. Most of them are known names who have an audience already. They go for high content/good presentation over low content/great presentation. They have thoughtful speakers rather than uber-motivational types.

Francis Chan

Fifth, they have ditched the really big band for a guitar, piano and drums. It is actually quieter than the 40 year-old’s “relevant” church.

Sixth, they use technology, and they experiment with ancient liturgical forms. Chant, candles, confession, contemplation have as big a role as slick graphics. Young adults are rediscovering mystery, symbol and narrative…artfully done.

Ancient liturgical experience explained.

Seventh, they get people to work in the world for good. While the over 35 world is busy saying young adults are selfish, PhoenixOne has them active doing things for good. Young adults actually do want to do things-just not like we do them. We want to make church like the world and work in our churches to avoid the world. They want to make church churchier and then work to take Jesus into the world.

Eighth, and this one is important, they work to work together through difference rather than ignore difference. The mega-model ignores history and denominational backgrounds, to the point of hiding denominational affiliation, they engage in thoughtful dialogue around being blessed by the fullness of Christian tradition.

Are you noticing the relationship between the cultural realities of 25 year olds and how effectively reaching them includes both connecting them to one another and the world, and artfully adapting classic Christian worship practices and disciplines to connect them with God? 

The leader of PhoenixOne is my friend, Jeff Gokee. He is a student of his culture who is not afraid to innovate. When young professionals fill out “connections” cards, he reports, they list two or three different “home” churches:  One church  for music, one for teaching, one  for small groups…and PhoenixOne. Jeff says, “that is a crazy fact that is shaping how we do church in the future.”

Jeff confirms my two over-arching points: a “go” rather than “come” starting point and relationships blended with authentic ancient-future worship when they do arrive. About relationships Jeff says, “I believe the local church is truly is the hope of the world.  I have spent most of my life as a pastor trying to get people to come into my church context instead of going into theirs…I believe in order to re-engage this generation we have to be incarnate in their culture the way Jesus did 2000 years ago.  He goes to the women at the well…He visits Zaccheaus in his home…and he comes to all of humanity on the cross…we need to have a relational revival, because this generation wants to be known.” Worship, says Jeff, “is not just about singing and doing…it’s about being with God.  Sometimes that happens with a big band, sometimes that happens in silence, sometimes it happens when your clapping and don’t know the words. We don’t have to create worship…it’s all around us, we just get to join in wherever it’s happening.”

It is a new day for the church and the culture. There is an old expression from biology: Adapt or die.

Hopefully we will learn to listen to our young adults, read the tea-leaves of our culture and relearn what the early church knew – How to live in the world as a distrusted minority that prayed the Scriptures, worshiped with life-giving narrative and sacrament. They ventured forth from that rich transformed community to serve the world and spoke of the power of God in Christ everywhere they went. We can do this. We have done it before. We can do it again.