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YOUTH MINISTRY ON YOUR KNEESMENTORING AND MOTIVATING YOUTH TO PRAY
By Mike Higgs
NAVPRESSCopyright © 2004 Mike Higgs
All right reserved.
Chapter OnePRAYER IS NOT A "FLAVOR OF THE MONTH"
The Life of Prayer! Great and sacred theme! It leads us into the Holy of Holies and the secret place of the Most High. It is the very life of the Christian, and it touches the life of God Himself. -A. B. Simpson, founder, Christian and Missionary Alliance
When I was a brand new, wet-behind-the-ears youth worker, our church began to investigate a new style of youth ministry that was proving to be extremely successful at attracting unchurched kids to hear the gospel message. The ministry style, and the philosophy behind it, was called Son City. You may not have heard of it, but you likely have heard of the little church that grew out of the original Son City in the Chicago suburbs. The last time I heard, Willow Creek Community Church was still attracting a few folks to their services. Son City was catching on in other venues, and soon our intrepid team of novice youth workers traveled about two hours north on a Wednesday night to see a Son City in action.
We were blown away. Hundreds of kids were crammed into the church youth room. The evening featured team competition that engaged almost everyone. Live, quality music and thoughtful, often humorous drama was played out on the stage.Multi-projector slide shows presented the evening's theme in a creative way. The message was tailored to provide biblical answers to typical teen issues-dating and sex, loneliness, peer pressure. It wasn't long before our fledgling ministry was divided into teams, a live band was assembled, and I learned how to run the dissolve unit that controlled multiple slide projectors. It worked! Our ministry grew by leaps and bounds. Yet eight years later, Son City no longer existed at our church, at least in that form. We had moved on to another ministry style, seeking to adjust our methodology to the continually changing youth culture.
Contemporary youth ministry has always been most effective when responding to current trends in the youth culture and adopting such trends in ministry strategy. The huge Youth for Christ rallies that drew thousands of kids in the 1950s eventually gave way to the more intimate Young Life gatherings of the 1960s and '70s that met in students' homes. These in turn gave way to other culturally relevant styles. Those of us who have been in youth ministry long enough to be just a bit cynical sometimes joke about what will be the next "flavor of the month" youth ministry style. Yet this strength of youth ministry-the ability to adjust in order to be culturally relevant-can also be a weakness when it comes to prayer. There is some danger that we will treat the current explosive growth of prayer as a "flavor of the month," rather than putting it in its rightful place as one of the preeminent acts of youth ministry.
All three Synoptic Gospels record Jesus' response to a question from the Pharisees, who were practicing the spiritual discipline of fasting and wondering why His disciples were not doing likewise. In the context of Jesus' reply that there would indeed come a time when His disciples would fast, Luke records a parable told by Jesus that for our purposes is most instructive: "And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins" (Luke 5:37-38).
Whereas contemporary wine aficionados may highly prize a vintage bottle of the fruit of the vine, wine in Jesus' time didn't ferment gracefully or preserve well. In a porous wineskin, the unchecked fermentation process would eventually produce vinegar, which is why the Old Testament considers "new wine" a blessing, and why Jesus mentions new wine in His parable, rather than Chateau Galilee Vintage 65 B.C.
Jesus does not specifically identify the "new wine." But the inference is clear: New wine is the gospel of Jesus Christ, foreshadowed and prophesied throughout the Old Testament and now revealed as "new" through the incarnation. The wineskins are the means by which this new wine is presented to the world. Howard Snyder comments,
Jesus distinguishes here between something essential and primary (the wine) and something secondary but also necessary and useful (the wineskins). Wineskins would be superfluous without the wine they were meant to hold. This is vital for the everyday life of the church. There is that which is new and potent and essential-the gospel of Jesus Christ. And there is that which is secondary, subsidiary, man-made. These are the wineskins, and include traditions, structures and patterns of doing things that have grown up around the gospel.
Obviously, spiritual "new wine" is made such by the working of a God who always will make all things new (Revelation 21:5). New wineskins are our continually evolving and adjusting methods of presenting the gospel message in word and deed. Snyder adds, "For the wineskins are the point of contact between the wine and the world.... Wineskins result when the divine gospel touches human culture."
Modern youth ministry has become adept at developing culturally relevant and appropriate wineskins for presenting the gospel to young people. Son City, with all the competition, live music, multimedia, and drama was a wildly effective wineskin, as were Youth For Christ Saturday night rallies and the myriad other strategies that have come and gone over the decades. As contemporary youth culture has become more and more splintered, the wineskins have likewise diversified. For instance, now we are seeing edgy "rave" outreaches, meditative gatherings with candles and incense where students "share their stories," and unapologetic worship experiences with an intense vertical focus. Like I said, youth work is one of the better ministries of the church at discerning cultural trends and developing effective, contextualized means of getting the gospel out and making disciples.
At this point you might be wondering how this relates to prayer as a "flavor of the month." Here it is: Prayer has become a bit "trendy" these days, and a clear and present danger for us in youth ministry is that we treat prayer as a trendy wineskin. Remember the more than 100 prayer-focused titles on my bookshelves that I referred to in the introduction to this book? When I started doing youth ministry there may not have been 100 books on prayer in print, period. Today, type "pray" in the search window of Amazon.com and you get 17,063 book titles. The Prayer of Jabez alone has sold eight million copies (plus or minus a few million).
The World Prayer Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, connects millions of praying believers worldwide. When my mom developed complications after open-heart surgery, I sent a request out to my ministry's prayer team. The next day, I received an email from the World Prayer Center telling me that my request had been forwarded to them, and approximately twenty-thousand people were praying for my mom! Prayer has exploded in popularity, not only within the church but also outside the church walls. Many of the current medical studies on the role of prayer in healing have been funded by secular sources. I'm sure the number of people praying during the initial days of Operation Iraqi Freedom far exceeded just believers.
Much of this upsurge in interest is the legitimate response of a discerning church: "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches" (Revelation 2:7, see also 2:11,17,29; 3:6,13,22). God is calling His people to pray as never before, and they are responding. There is nothing trendy about the millions of intercessors who mobilized to effectively pray the gospel into the nations within the 10/40 Window, or the prayer leaders from across the country who have met twice annually for more than twenty-five years as America's National Prayer Committee, or the million-plus believers who have committed to intercede on a regular basis as members of the Presidential Prayer Team. A sizeable book could be written that chronicles this modern-day explosion of prayer. But we would be less than honest if we didn't admit that there is a trendy dimension to this prayer movement. A visit to most Christian book and gift stores will make that clear (I'll spare you the specific examples-you know what I mean).
Now, you may be rejoicing as much as I am at this new popularity of prayer, but it is very important for us to realize that prayer is not a trendy wineskin. Prayer is not primarily culture-bound or culturally relevant, although its expressions may at times be so. And while prayer forms may adjust or shift, the essence of prayer does not. Rather, prayer is our relational connection with the Maker of new spiritual wine. Prayer also is the primary means of delivering new wine, through a new wineskin, to an unbelieving world. Also, prayer is our primary method of discovering what wineskins will best serve as the ideal point of contact for the wine and the world. And prayer is much more, as the following pages will demonstrate.
Prayer should be one of the preeminent acts of youth ministry. As wonderful and useful as the various stylistic and programmatic wineskins have been to youth workers seeking to reach kids for Christ, they will continue to evolve, mutate, and adjust with the culture. There will be new youth ministry trends in the years and decades to come. New programs will hit the marketplace. New, effective outreaches will surface. New materials will be published. There will probably even be new games. These will all come and go. But prayer will not leave us.
Prayer is decidedly not a flavor of the month. It has come in a new way, with a new urgency and a renewed passion, in these latter days. It must be fully embraced by youth ministry and by youth workers-by you and your ministry-if we are to reach the emerging generations of at-risk youth. We must act now.
Excerpted from YOUTH MINISTRY ON YOUR KNEES by Mike Higgs Copyright © 2004 by Mike Higgs. Excerpted by permission.
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