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Deep Ministry in a Shallow World will show you a new way to prayerfully reflect on the questions you face in your youth ministry every day so you can find the answers that will take it to deeper places. That’s because authors Chap Clark and Kara Powell have gathered significant research findings that will help shift your ministry paradigm. Did you know that: • the typical strategies we use to build relationships with kids might actually cause them to trust us less because of what this generation has endured? • ...
Deep Ministry in a Shallow World will show you a new way to prayerfully reflect on the questions you face in your youth ministry every day so you can find the answers that will take it to deeper places. That’s because authors Chap Clark and Kara Powell have gathered significant research findings that will help shift your ministry paradigm. Did you know that: • the typical strategies we use to build relationships with kids might actually cause them to trust us less because of what this generation has endured? • recent research on communication could help us move past the witty talks and funny stories we work so hard to develop and instead actually connect the Bible to kids’ lives? • studies show that offering students “just Jesus” and not helping them at home, school, and in their neighborhoods might not help them very much at all? The authors’ research also led to their development of the Deep Design problem-solving process—a revolutionary model that will give you better tools than ever before to address every last issue you’ll encounter in youth ministry.
Chap Clark and Kara Powell
WHEN KARA MET JANA
I remember the day I realized our ministry was splashing around in the shallow end. It was 10 years ago, and it was all because of a student I'll call Jana.
Jana was a party girl. From sleeping around to spending most of the weekend drunk to her daily hits of marijuana, Jana did it all. That is, until she let Jesus take over her life.
As soon as Jana got involved in our ministry, I was drawn to her. It was one of those "God-type" connections that I couldn't ignore. Since I was trying to develop a student leadership team, I asked her to meet with me every other Tuesday after school. Every time we met, sometime between 4 and 4:30, she'd ask me what time it was. (Still a bit of a free spirit, she never wore a watch.) I'd tell her, and then we'd go on with our conversation.
After her fourth Tuesday doing this, I asked her why she cared so much about the time. She answered, "Oh, it's not really about the time. It's about my old habits. I used to get high every afternoon at 4:20. Now that I'm into Jesus, I like to know when it's 4:20, so I canthink about how different my life is now."
Not exactly your typical "church kid" answer, eh?
A few months after Jana and I started meeting, our ministry launched a Sunday-morning series on sharing our faith. When our teaching team was brainstorming potential guest speakers, I thought immediately of a couple at our church whose evangelism ministry focused on sliding Jesus into conversations whenever possible. Since I wanted our students to know how to talk with their friends about Jesus, I asked this couple to teach a few Sundays.
I thought the couple did a great job of helping students see that no matter what they're talking about with friends-from homework to their latest fight with their parents-they could somehow shift any conversation toward Jesus. The goal was to ask non-Christians the right questions, slip in the importance of prayer, and ideally share a testimony whenever possible. We even role-played so students could practice steering conversations toward Jesus.
Watch out campuses, here we come.
The next Tuesday Jana burst my bubble. After we had picked up our frappuccinos, she asked me what I thought about the last few Sundays. I smiled and answered, "Actually, I think we're learning great stuff about how to talk to our friends about Jesus."
She looked down at her straw, clearly unsure if she should share her opinion. I wanted to make it easy for her, so I asked, "How about you? What do you think?"
She looked directly at me. "To be honest, I think we're missing the point. We're making it seem like our friends are projects we conquer instead of people we care about. I didn't decide to follow Jesus because of a great conversation or transition question. I decided to follow him because of how people who knew him loved me. Anything else feels manipulative and cheap."
Was Jana right? Maybe that kind of conversation-twisting evangelism had worked before, but was it too shallow now?
I invited Jana and eight other new Christian kids to my house for tacos. I wanted to find out what had drawn them to Jesus. For all but one, it was the way they saw Jesus' love in his followers.
No keen transition phrases. No subtly sneaking, "I'll be praying for you" into the conversation. Just relationships, 1 Corinthians 13-style.
As I talked further with Jana and other students, I started to question the depth of more than just our evangelism strategy. Was my teaching helping kids see the relevance of Scripture, or was I getting lost in the details of finding the right video clips and telling the right funny stories? Were our worship times enveloping kids in God's love and power, or had they become performances by our most talented musicians? Were our small groups encouraging life transformation, or had they degenerated into weekly times for sharing about science projects and sick pets?
Maybe the shallowness of our ministry at the time was one reason I was working such long hours. My (often unsuccessful) efforts to meet the endless needs of kids and families were robbing me of the downtime I craved-leaving me absolutely empty.
Maybe our lack of depth also explained why my sense of purpose was evaporating. Sure, God had called me to this ministry-but when kids I've invested in keep walking away from him, what's the point?
SHALLOW OR DEEP?
Is your ministry producing the deep change it's "supposed to"? If not, maybe you find yourself losing your sense of balance and purpose, as I did. Or perhaps you're losing other things. Like your sense of compassion. You've done your best to counsel hurting kids, but when they don't seem to get better, you start becoming numb to their pain.
Maybe your ministry's shallowness is taking away your sense of hope. Your church kids aren't all that engaged. Even when they show up, the "do something we haven't seen before" looks on their faces make you wonder if they'll ever change.
When we aren't seeing deep results, we may turn to Scripture for assurance. After all, Isaiah 55:11 reminds us that God's Word won't return void. As long as we're faithfully sprinkling its seeds around the soil of teenagers' lives, surely some of it will grow deep roots and bear fruit. An apple here, a berry there-it all adds up to something meaningful, right?
Yes, God works in ways beyond what we could ever imagine. Of course his Word is powerful and can take root in kids' lives either through or despite our best efforts. But all good farmers evaluate the state of their crops-and if they're being choked by weeds or drowned by floods, farmers don't comfort themselves by remembering previous bountiful crops. They don't find consolation by pointing to a few healthy plants scattered among acres of scraggly weeds. They roll up their sleeves, investigate new tools, and develop fresh strategies to produce better harvests. They know that if their crops aren't healthy, the end is near.
The same is true for youth ministry. Yes, God is the Ultimate Worker-but if we human workers sense our ministries are shallow, we need to admit that and make some changes. Let's be honest with ourselves and with one another: It's time for deep ministry in a shallow world.
It would be nice if we could download into our PDAs God's perfect recipe for a deeper youth ministry. But God rarely gives us such explicit directions. Although we often get some general sense of leading as we spend time with him, God usually allows us to come up with the specifics.
There are three common "solutions" many youth workers impose when they begin to realize their ministries aren't as deep as they'd like them to be. While each seems promising at first, they all end up merely scraping the surface of the problem.
Solution 1: "More of the Same"
When we want to go deeper but don't know how, we often try doing more of the same-more of whatever it is we've always done. Often that means more of the same activities. If one overnighter didn't really cut it, then two will do the trick. Small groups on Sundays aren't clicking, but that's because the students don't know one another all that well. If they also met on Tuesday nights, then we could move past pseudo-community and into real-life relationships.
But maybe it's not more activities we need. Perhaps it's more adult leaders. Right now we have one adult for every eight kids. Our adults feel stretched, and our kids don't feel cared for. If we could recruit more adult leaders, then we'd have more personalized time with kids, and that means deeper ministry.
But having more adult leaders and more activities is going to cost more money. Our budget is much smaller than the children's ministry, and don't even get us started comparing the youth budget with the church's worship service budget. If we only had more cash, then we could offer more programs and sponsor more trips-and then God could work more deeply.
Is it so terrible to offer more activities? Not always.
Is it wrong to want a bigger budget so we can offer more programs at cheaper prices? Not necessarily.
Is it so bad to recruit more adults to care for kids? Not at all.
So what's the problem?
There are several reasons we can't just keep mindlessly repeating more of the same year after year and expect our ministries to grow deeper:
1. Our culture changes. Whether you're located in center-city Philadelphia, a rural town outside Sioux City, or a suburb of Seattle, you live in an ever-changing culture. Socio-economic and racial dynamics make our cities and towns greenhouses of growth and change. The rapid expansion of the Internet and other information technologies connects communities and individuals across the globe. A rapidly changing culture demands ministries that are able to grow and adapt.
2. Our theology-our thinking about God-changes. Although some assert that God changes, we disagree. God's attributes are permanent. They cannot be gained or lost. Of course God can and does interact with us and respond to us and our prayers, but his core qualities remain unchanged.
So if God doesn't change, why would our theology change? Quite simply because our understanding of God changes. If you're able to read this page, you probably have a light nearby. Imagine that the light represents God. If you put down this book, get out of your chair, and stand on the other side of the room, you'll see different parts of the light stand, bulb, and lampshade. Now, has the light changed? Not at all. Your perspective and understanding of the light has changed. Similarly, God, the ultimate light, never changes, but as we follow God and study the Scriptures, we experience and understand more of his revelation.
As our theology matures, so do our ministry programs. For instance, when we start thinking about church more deeply, we might decide to restructure our small groups. As our beliefs about evangelism expand, we'll train students differently in how to reach out to their friends (somewhere I hear Jana saying, "You know it!").
3. Our churches change (admittedly, some change way more slowly than others). A church is a community of believers, and as the people change, so will the church. Whether it's because a new leader with different dreams joins the community or because God plants new dreams in existing leaders, as the vision of your church changes, your ministry will, too.
4. You change. God continues to teach you, stretch you, and form you. As God develops you, so your ministry should develop. Kara unpacks it further: One area in which God has most taught me is my desire to look like I have it all together. I've always wanted to give perfect talks, offer flawless advice, and steer our ministry to run seamlessly. But over the last decade, God has helped me realize there's only one Savior, and I'm not him. I've slowly realized that it's not my perfection that ministers; it's my daily sense of being messed up and needing God's grace that does the trick. And the deeper life God has breathed in me in turn breathes deeper life into our ministry.
Solution 2: "It Worked for My Friend"
When more of the same fails to take us deeper, the second solution is what's worked for a friend. We've heard from Mary Robin at the church down the street that service opportunities at the local soup kitchen are working for her kids, so we try it, too. We talk to a college buddy whose kids love the new way they're adding art into worship time, so we rush out to buy our own chalk and clay.
Maybe serving soup and drawing pictures are exactly what our students need. But maybe not. We haven't been to our friends' churches, and they haven't been to ours. We haven't talked to their kids, and they haven't talked to ours. Maybe our situations are so different that what works somewhere else will fl op in our neck of the woods.
Plus if we're honest, who among us, when talking to other youth workers, hasn't exaggerated to some degree the depth we're seeing in our ministries? At a conference, you might tell someone your small groups are going "great," but actually they're stumbling along because you don't have enough leaders. You may talk in glowing terms about your new narrative style of teaching, even though parents are telling you their kids don't always get what you're teaching. It could be that what we're hearing from others is what they'd like to believe is happening in their ministries, instead of what's really happening.
Solution 3: "That's What the Book Said"
Another attempted escape from the shallow end is following what the books say. We just have to buy the latest, hottest youth ministry book and follow its 10 practical steps in our own ministries, and we, too, will see deeper ministry results. (Almost sounds like a blurb from a back cover, doesn't it?) We end up believing we can simply cut and paste the experts' ideas into our own ministries.
Two youth ministry models that have attracted great attention in the last 15 years are the seeker-oriented model of Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago and "Purpose Driven Youth Ministry" from Saddleback Community Church in Southern California. If you read materials from Willow Creek or Saddleback carefully, you'll note that they stress that what works for them might not work for you. You need to understand the needs and resources of your own ministry before you implement their programs.
Unfortunately, youth workers hungry for immediate depth often skip these well-intentioned disclaimers. We take ideas from Willow Creek and Saddleback, drop them into our own ministries, and expect to double or triple our groups instantly. That might happen occasionally, but youth workers often end up disappointed when their groups don't change overnight.
In the last few years the theology and philosophy embodied by emerging churches has gained significant attention. Many "emergent" leaders, aware that others are looking for a cut-and-paste approach to ministry, avoid giving program ideas. They talk mostly about theology and only hint about methodology. That should avoid the cut-and-paste problem, right?
Not exactly. Many youth workers still grab for whatever programmatic scraps they can find at the emerging church table. They darken the room, light some candles, and use incense, because those are pretty easy changes to make. One trip to the hip coffeehouse in town, and they're set. But they haven't grasped the deep source of tradition that underlies and informs these practices. It's a new version of cut and paste called "grab and slap." It means you grab what you can and slap it on top of what you're already doing. Ministry as always-plus candles.
WHAT WE NEED: NEW IDEAS THAT TAKE US DEEPER
Once we realize our ministries are shallow, it's tempting to jump onto ships carrying more of what we've always done, what's worked for our friends, or what we've heard the experts say. From a distance, these three solutions seem like they might work. But when we take them out for a cruise, we find that our boats start taking on water.
This book invites us all to something deeper. Whether you're a rookie or a seasoned veteran; whether you're a staff person or a volunteer; whether you live in a suburban, rural, or urban context; whether you're feeling disgusted with the Same Old Stuff or just a little discouraged-it's time for a major change in how we think about youth ministry.
Excerpted from Deep Ministry in a Shallow World by Chap Clark Kara Powell Copyright © 2006 by Chap Clark & Kara Powell. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted April 10, 2011
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