I need to change how I help kids grow in Christ

Scrap programs?Today is Tuesday. Since Sunday night my mind has been going in crazy directions and I feel like I need to change a couple things in our youth ministry about how we help kids grow in Christ. Here’s an overview of recent events:

Sunday night: A student talked to me about how she and a two other friends skipped Sunday school that morning because they feel like the teaching style isn’t meeting their needs. Plus, the group has grown significantly larger, which makes significant interaction difficult sometimes. So, they went to a coffee shop together instead, read a chapter from book they bought at the local Christian bookstore earlier that week, answered some discussion questions together and read the corresponding passages with it. Some might find this extremely disrespectful to the youth ministry, but I’m actually ecstatic that they would take their spiritual growth seriously enough to do something about it rather than just putting up with stagnation or avoiding the issue altogether. Even better, rather than just complaining, they took the initiative to do something about it and assumed responsibility for their own spiritual growth, something I wish every student would do. Ultimately, we’re each responsible for our own spiritual growth anyway. That’s not something a Sunday school teacher or any pastor can do for us.

Monday afternoon: I continue the conversation with one of these students on Facebook and learn a few more details. It becomes apparent to me that our youth ministry does a lot of teaching in a way that unintentionally assumes that every student in the class is at the same place spiritually. We also do not do encourage students enough to actually investigate scripture for themselves and take personal responsibility for it. Instead, we spoon feed them. As teachers, we chew and digest God’s Word ourselves and then feed students the final product. As a result, many students are hooked on spiritual milk. I wonder if this lack of personal responsibility for spiritual growth is why many students go to college and drop out of church and maybe even abandon Christianity altogether.

Monday evening: I think back to my conversation with Greg Stier at the NYWC two weekends ago. He introduced me to a new model of youth ministry called Deep and Wide. I watch his intro video giving an overview of the ministry model taken from Jesus and then print out the 30-page thesis thinking that maybe he has some answers to the apparent shallowness and spiritual apathy I see in many kids.

Tuesday early morning: I’m at my weekly meeting with several youth pastors from various churches and denominations in the area. As we’re sharing ministry issues to pray for, I tell a little bit about how I think I need to reshape my youth ministry to:

  1. Be more sensitive to the various spiritual maturity levels.
  2. Do more to teach kids how to study the Bible for themselves.
  3. Give them opportunities to take ownership of their spiritual growth.

This is met with mixed perspectives and responses (as I’m sure will be the case in the comments here).

Tuesday late morning: In staff meeting at church my Sr. Pastor brings up Willow Creek and how their research shows that their model of ministry it not producing the spiritual growth they thought it was. Since our church follows some of Willow Creek’s ministry philosophy, this is something we need to look at seriously, as well. We talk about it for a while and it really vibes with me because of what’s happening in our youth ministry right now, but even generally speaking overall. It sounds like there might be some answers in this research to my frustrations of spiritual development in teens.

Tuesday afternoon: A quick Google search leads me to Greg Hawkins’ video, executive pastor at Willow Creek, about the issues they’re uncovering in their ministry. I intently watch the whole presentation and then watch Bill Hybel’s message where he basically explains the same thing. Their model of using classes and programs were good for helping perspective Christians and new believers begin their faith journey, but the more mature believers were not growing as a result of these classes and programs. Most were actually frustrated or stagnant in their spiritual development, which coincides exactly with my suspicions.

So now what? Here I am, sitting my office at church, processing all this and thinking, “We need to change some things about how we help teenagers grow deeper in Christ.” I know that because thankfully a student was brave enough to tell me so last Sunday.

Before you comment, take 13 minutes to watch Greg Hawkins’ video. Please and thank you.

Posted on November 13, 2007

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