Leading a discipling movement among teens

A few weeks ago, Dave Rhodes did a webinar on leading a discipling movement among teens. It was a great discussion, but we know that the time didn’t work for everyone. So we’re pleased to offer the webinar as a downloadable MP3. For $4.99, you can download more than an hour of teaching and training on how to unleash a discipleship movement among your junior-high and high-school students. You can purchase the MP3 at the 3DM store.

There are many other downloads available in the store as well, including plenty of free downloads and other webinar MP3s.  So click around and see what other resources the Wayfarer and 3DM team provides.

And watch for details on more webinars coming soon!

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Why churches don’t have young people

Our good friend Will Mancini had a wonderful post this week based on questions he often gets from churches about how to reach younger generations. The post begins as Will states a core principle:

Generational relevance is always a leadership issue first. Because the gift of leadership naturally develops leaders in its wake, a lack of presence with the next generation is a lack of leadership in some way. The implications are:

  • Leaders beget younger leaders
  • Those leaders and churches who reach young people aren’t thinking about it as much as it is happening naturally
  • The more conscious you are of the problem of reaching younger people, there is a leadership issue to identify
  • Younger people are primarily reached by younger leaders
  • If you don’t have young leaders, you don’t have old leaders

Based on these implications, Will spells out five strategies that churches can choose to reach young people. They are well worth your time and consideration.

Do you agree with what Will says about generational relevance and leadership? If so, what strategies have you found to address this issue? Let’s discuss it in the comments below.

By the way, Will is a clarity evangelist who helps churches and non-profits discern what their vision is. Wayfarer went through the process, and it has been invaluable for us. We encourage you to check out Will’s ministry called Auxano or to read his book Church Unique. His resources are well worth your time.

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5 myths to avoid at your next large-group gathering

By Chris Brooks

I have been in a lot of worship services. Chances are, so have you.

I’ve spent the last 16 years of my life either planning, programing, or preaching for some sort of gathering.  These gatherings span all the way from youth to college age to twenty-somethings. And if I wasn’t doing these things, I was planning on planning.

But I when I joined a church staff as pastor to university students, I quickly realized that there were a lot things I needed to unlearn, learn, and relearn about large group gatherings.

Here are five myths I had to learn to avoid. I hope you can learn to overcome them too.

Myth #1: Every large group gathering needs to be exceedingly better than the one before it.  I naturally strive for powerful, creative, and innovative large group gatherings, but that can easily turn into worshiping worship. I want my disciples to be able to distinguish between creativity and novelty. After a year of running ourselves ragged trying to do something totally different an original each week, we came up with a policy: establish the template before you break it. For us, that meant that over time we developed a liturgy of sorts, a structure to worship that we will tweak here and there every week. Now that we have that established structure, on the nights when we do break our norm our students are freed to try new things because of the trust equity we have built up.

Myth #2: If you focus on discipleship, your large group gathering will suffer. In the last year, we have restructured our ministry in such a way that our large group gathering no longer monopolizes or gets the lion’s share of time and resources. We did this in order to focus on creating a sustainable and repeatable model of discipleship in which all of my team is personally involved. I was well aware that this might hurt our large group numbers. But the crazy thing is it has actually made our large group gatherings better. Why? For starters, we are gathering to celebrate the discipleship and mission that is happening all throughout the week, not looking for a substitute for it.

Myth #3: If its going to be good, you’re the one who has to do it.  While it may take some time to establish a culture of preparation, excellence, and innovation for your large group gathering, this does not mean only you can do it. I had to get to a place where I realized that if our large group gathering was ultimately contingent upon the leadership of one or two people (usually the preacher and the worship leader), then something was tragically wrong with my leadership — namely discipleship. I used to think “protecting the stage” or “protecting the mic” conveniently meant that only myself and a very few others could ever share or contribute. Now I try to get as many people involved as possible. I still use discernment and structure to set people up for success.  I realize this takes more time than if I just did it myself. But it’s worth it. One of our students’ favorite services (yes, I ask) is when we spend the entire night telling stories of our people, triumphant and tragic alike. Hearing this, I am thrilled and not threatened by the fact that God speaks just fine even without me preaching.

Myth #4: Being cheesy is the worst mistake you could ever make. Avoiding risk and playing it safe all the time is the worst mistake you can make. This goes for worship leaders who aren’t satisfied just singing songs but who want to lead, pastor, and teach students old and new forms and postures of worship. This goes for me as a preacher. I take risks by looking silly, by doing some pretty over-the-top object illustrations, and by making room in the sanctuary for a wide variety of tactile responses to God. I had to stop being paralyzed by fear of failure and become liberated, with the consent of my team, to risk making it memorable. We will try (almost) anything if it brings the text alive in a fresh way. Over the last couple of months, this has included: flying a kite in the room to talk about the Holy Spirit as wind, making it rain money from ceiling (only $100 in ones) for the parable of the treasure hidden in field, actually throwing pearls to a pig to talk about throwing pearls to pigs, doing the imposition of ashes on our Ash Wednesday prayer service (by the way, I serve in a Baptist church), taking communion by having everyone come forward and walk through a 40-foot wide curtain to experience the significance of Jesus ripping the veil in to the Holy of Holies, telling personal stories that include the ones where I don’t look very spiritual, and using cracked eggs to talk about brokenness.  And that’s not even the complete list. This leads me to the next myth.

Myth #5: By now this should be easy for you. It’s not! Leading the “assembled” requires an incredible amount of prayer and preparation. This is why I have to diligently protect my personal prayer and devotional life, as well as carve out creative times to stimulate thought and imagination. This is why I highly value collaboration, preparation, and evaluation. This is why half the creative things I described above were ideas I got from someone else and then adapted. Of course don’t be lazy, but please don’t be so prideful that you can’t use someone else’s inspired ideas. (After all, that’s what commentaries are, right?) I love creating and implementing original ideas that I come up with, but in my ministry setting I simply cannot focus all of my energies in that direction. The hardest thing for me is to simply determine a clear and concise direction or purpose for the evening and then center the whole night around that. If we don’t know where we are headed, then how can we expect our flock to follow us? Great spontaneity comes from great preparation.

These are some of the myths I am currently working through in my setting. How about you? Share them in the comments and we’ll talk about them.

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REC MAN presents Ninesquare in the Air

By day, David Reichley is the mild-mannered director of Wayfarer Camp. But at camp, David turns into REC MAN, whose curly blond wig has the ability to help any and every camper have fun. Each month, REC MAN will present a new game that you can use in your student ministry.

This month for RecMan we bring you Ninesquare in the Air. This is an awesome game that has potential of getting lots of people involved in competition all at once. It is also a game that allows students who aren’t extremely athletic to still compete and have fun. I played this game myself while at the 2010 Youth Specialties Conference, and it was a huge hit. It’s a simple game that follows the same pattern as the classic game foursquare, but with an aerial twist.

Via 9squareintheair.com

Preparation: Set up a ninesquare court in the air. Use some kind of pipes to create an airborne court.

Supplies: You will need a pipe structure and some kind of ball.

Participation: Begin with one player in each square. Any other players should stand outside the ninth square so that one can enter the game after each elimination.

Start: The “king” (the player in the center square) serves the ball from the center square to any other square by hitting the ball up and out of the center square. This is how each round begins.

Finish: Play for a certain amount of time or until every player has had a certain number of turns to enter the game.

Rules: Players must return the ball to any other square. If a player fails to return the ball to another player’s square, that player is out.

A double hit also results in elimination.

During game play, players are not allowed to touch the game structure. Doing so also results in elimination.

When a player is eliminated, he/she leaves the square and goes to the end of the line. The other players advance to fill the open square, with one new player joining the game. This process repeats after each elimination.

Via 9squareintheair.com

This game is even better caught than taught, and so I recommend you go to this website to see videos that show just how fun Ninesquare in the Air can be! You can also purchase supplies there if you don’t want to build your own.

Signed,

Your friendly neighborhood REC MAN

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What is the biggest threat to God’s best in your life?

By Robert Neely

In the days after 9/11, all of us living in America were especially aware of threats around us. The U.S. government even created a terrorism warning scale on which different colors described the current threat level. For years, that threat level color appeared on the tickers at the bottom of news broadcasts, alongside weather forecasts and the latest headlines.

The reason this threat scale was so prevalent is that we all want to be aware of the threats around us. But the truth is that we are far too often unaware of the threats on the inside.

This is especially true as we live out our Covenant relationship with God. The threats that come from inside us are usually more damaging to this relationship than any external threat could be. Still, too often we get it backward and focus on the external threats instead of the internal threats.

This certainly happened to Abraham and Sarah in the story we find in Genesis 20. Abraham and Sarah were afraid as they lived in a place called Gerar because they believed there was “no fear of God in this place.” (v. 11) They were especially afraid that the king of Gerar, Abimelech, was going to kill Abraham and take Sarah as his wife.

Why would Abimelech do such a thing? There are a couple of reasons. The first would be any physical attraction he had to Sarah. Also, Abimelech could stake a claim to Abraham’s household and wealth through this kind of relationship.

So Abraham and Sarah lied, as they had in Genesis 15, and said that Sarah was Abraham’s sister, not husband. Believing Sarah was available, Abimelech sent for her. But before they could sleep together, God revealed to Abimelech that Sarah was married.

The face that this happened before they slept together is important. “Abimelech had not gone near her.” (v. 4) That’s because a few chapters before, Abraham and Sarah had been promised a son within a year. Sarah was not yet pregnant, and if she had slept with Abimelech, he could have claimed that any son was his heir, not Abraham’s.

Had that happened, the child of Covenant that God had promised Abraham and Sarah would have had questionable paternity. In the days before DNA tests, this could have called the entire Covenant God had made with Abraham into question. How could anyone have known for sure that God had kept His promise?

So God stepped in immediately to prevent any paternity questions by making sure Abimelech did not sleep with Sarah. In fact, Abimelech and his entire household suffered with some form of barrenness or sexual dysfunction. (v. 18) This left no doubt about whether the king had slept with Sarah. God told Abimelech that he knew the king had done nothing wrong: “I know you did this with a clean conscience, and so I have kept you from sinning against me. This is why I did not let you touch her.” (v. 6)

Abimelech rebuking Abraham, by Wenceslas Hollar. Via Wikipedia.

When Abimelech learned that Sarah was married, he went back to Abraham to confront him about his lie. He asked Abraham to explain himself, and then he asked Abraham for help. Abimelech even gave Abraham and Sarah gifts in an attempt to get their blessing.

Abraham prayed for Abimelech, and God healed him and his whole household. The blessing of children returned to Abimelech’s household through Abraham. As God had promised back in Genesis 12, He had blessed the one who had blessed Abraham.

Abraham had thought that Abimelech was threatening the fulfillment of God’s promises, but Abimelech had done nothing wrong. The ugly truth was that Abraham himself, the bearer of the Covenant, was the biggest threat to the fulfillment of the covenant.

What Abraham did in this passage is all too familiar to us. We know that the bearer of the promise is the biggest threat to relationship with God because we too have acted faithlessly in ways that have threatened the Covenant.

Abraham threatened the Covenant through a failure to trust. He did not trust God to do what He had promised to do; instead, he was afraid Abimelech would kill him before the promise was fulfilled. So instead of walking in faith, Abraham deceived Abimelech, and because he did, God went to extreme lengths to protect the Covenant. Abraham’s harm impacted Abimelech and his entire household.

We need to admit that, like Abraham, we do not always walk in faith. We act faithlessly in ways that violate our Covenant relationship with God. We are faithless when we forget God, overlook God, disobey God, distrust God, and sin against God. This faithlessness takes different forms, and all of them violate the Covenant relationship God has made for us. Someone must pay the price for this violation. The Covenant was cut in blood, and now someone must pay in blood for the violation of that Covenant.

Thankfully, Jesus died Himself for the times when we do not die to self. Even when we are faithless, God is faithful to His Covenant promises. Grace is the engine that makes Covenant work. God is so committed to atonement that He intervenes. He intervened to protect the Covenant when Abraham lied to Abimelech, and He intervenes on our behalf as well. He does this through the sacrifice of Christ. The price that must be paid for our violations of Covenant was paid by the blood of Christ. This is why the idea of atonement is so tied in with forgiveness. Jesus sacrificed Himself to atone for the ways we have broken Covenant so that the Covenant relationship can continue.

We respond to this sacrifice, this grace, by walking in faith. Sin is a struggle of faith. We don’t trust that God will give us what we need, so we grasp onto possessions instead of being generous. We don’t trust that God will provide fulfilling relationships, so we exploit others to gain popularity or to find sexual gratification.

But it does not have to be this way. Instead of being faithless, we can walk by faith. We can have faith that God is going to do what He has promised. We can have faith that the way God fulfills His promise will be even greater and even better than we can imagine. We can have faith by obeying God and by embracing the responsibility that God calls us to take on.

And as we walk by faith, we will find ourselves living in faithfulness. We will be honoring our Covenant relationship with God not out of obligation but out of trust. We will live with grace because we live by grace.

And as we do we will find that the threats against our Covenant relationship with God will slowly disappear, because we are focused on dealing with the threats on the inside and not just the outside.

This post is adapted from the One Life series from Room 1228. Find out more at www.room1228.com.

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Upcoming webinar: How to start a discipleship movement among teens

The 3DM team is hosting several webinars this spring, and there’s one in particular we wanted to make sure you knew about. On March 8, Dave Rhodes is hosting a webinar on How to start a discipleship movement among teens.

Here’s the description:

Starting a movement among teens by discipling people like Jesus did. Most youth pastors we meet want to start a movement. The truth is you can, but you can’t do it aside from discipling people they way that Jesus did. He started the greatest movemental force in the history of the world and we’ve found that it might even work best with teens and young adults. In this webinar, Dave Rhodes — sought after speaker and co-founder of Wayfarer — will talk about how to make that a reality with the teens in your church.

 The webinar is March 8 from 3-4 pm Eastern time. There is a nominal cost, but it’s totally going to be worth it. You can sign up here.
Please plan on joining Dave on March 8!

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What’s the Dirty Little Secret of Youth and College Ministry?

By Jordanne Bonfield

For some time there has been a secret brewing underneath the surface of most churches we see around us.

Photo via timesunion.com

It’s that senior leaders virtually never invest in youth and college pastors. On average, youth ministers stay at a church only 2 years. Could this be part of the reason?

Unfortunately, I have seen this play out up close and personally.

Coming from a small Christian college, many of my friends entered youth ministry. I saw some of them using youth ministry as a holding pattern until they had enough experience to become senior leaders.

But while too many use youth ministry as a steppingstone, I also know many youth and college ministers who are really passionate about the next generation. They eat, sleep, drink, and pray it. Far too often they find themselves severely under-supported and under-developed by the senior leaders in their churches. So they leave.

I’ve seen that youth and college ministers tend to believe that they aren’t worth hearing from unless they have a position of authority. Apparently youth ministers don’t have much acknowledged authority. Instead, they are usually seen as agents of fun and games who have a few good talks. Basically, they are seen as the adolescents they lead – and therefore as those shouldn’t be given any “real” responsibility.

Most youth ministers reading this right now are probably nodding their heads in agreement, but they can’t talk about it for fear of losing their job or of being punished for asking for help.

In my eight years in youth group, I had three different youth pastors. I never could figure out why these ministers left so soon after arriving. I didn’t know about the pressure they lived under to balance their lives and ministry, all the while not having a voice that was heard in the church staff context.

It’s interesting, isn’t it? We expect these young men and women to enter into one of the toughest roles in the church, but we practically feed them to the wolves. Youth ministry isn’t all games, camp trips, and fun. There are high expectations for these young ministers to be able to handle everything that will come their way.

What comes their way? They deal with teens and their problems (suicide, massive identity issues, underage drinking, bullying, drugs, and sex, to name just a few). They deal with helicopter parents and their expectations. All the while, the leadership above them chooses to be hands off because it doesn’t understand the next generation (and rarely tries to). To top it off, we expect these ministers to balance their own lives along the way. How can we expect a 22-year-old minister to handle all of these things well?

How could they? From my experience, most youth and college ministers have never been discipled themselves. Yet we expect them to effectively make disciples of the next generation. I find this absolutely perplexing. Youth and college ministers are no different than any other disciples – they will reproduce what they have been taught and trained to do.

So instead of making disciples, youth and college ministers try to grow a program that is “successful” in the eyes of others in order to earn the right to be heard. If you are a senior leader reading that last sentence, I ask you to read it again. Your staff will follow your example, whether you want to admit it or not. If you are set on numbers and production, then your staff will inevitably follow you down that path, because nothing else they do will seem right.

Believe it or not, it’s not always the desire to be successful or famous that drives youth and college ministers. The next generation of church leadership really does care about spreading the good news of Jesus among teenagers. But they can’t figure out how to do it on their own.

From what I’ve seen, young ministers value their senior leader’s input and accountability, but they are rarely given a chance to be heard. This generation of leaders has a strong, natural desire to be led and discipled by those who have gone before them – but no one is doing that for them. This is a hallmark of the Millenial Generation. There’s a giant scrolling marquee on their foreheads that reads “DISCIPLE ME!”

I am begging senior leaders to open their eyes and truthfully evaluate the way they lead their staff.  When I look at what Jesus did, I see a great example of how to lead their followers. I honestly don’t care how many sermons you’ve preached on Jesus calling Peter and John out of the boat if you aren’t living it yourself.

In Mark 1:15-20, Jesus told Peter and John to follow him and promised that he would make them fishers of men. In the three years that followed, the disciples lived with Jesus, ate with him, stayed with him, and traveled with him. Over time, Jesus released them to do what he had done. Matthew 28:18-20 isn’t just a cool verse to memorize. It is Jesus sending his disciples out to do everything he taught them. After inviting the disciples to follow him, Jesus trained them and then released them to live out all that he gave them.

One writer described our failure in multiplying leadership this way: “The time has come to humbly acknowledge before God that we have failed to train men and women to lead in the style of Jesus. Whether through ignorance or fear, we have taken the safe option, training pastors to be theologically sound and effective managers of institutions rather than equipping them with the tools they need to disciple others.”

The life of Jesus and his ways of multiplication aren’t just a theology to be memorized and believed. It is a calling to a life of obedience that has to be actively lived. Jesus had a natural way of reproducing who he was in the lives of his disciples. Senior leaders need to follow this example, whether they run a mega-church or a church of 50. It starts at “home” with family and staff – including those hotshot youth and college ministers with whom you don’t think you can relate.

Let me be bold and say that if you want your youth minister to stick around for longer than the two-year average, it’s going to take some effort on your part. You’re going to have to make an investment that will grow and last. And we’re not talking about a bigger budget (though that would be nice!). We want to spend time with you! We want you to invest in us. We want to make different mistakes than the ones you have made. Help us do that. We want to believe that you want us on your team for more than the numbers we produce in our youth or college ministry.

Thankfully, my ministry experience has been different from the dirty little secret. I come from a team and a church culture that is constantly cognizant of the next generation of leadership. I think of Robyn, who was the high school director in the same church where she discovered Jesus as a teenager. I think of Shibu, who has run a middle school ministry for seven years. I think of Dustin who has been a high school director for more than six years in the church where he found Christ. Theirs are rare stories, and the common denominator with these ministers is the investment that the leaders who went before them made in them. These leaders made it past the two-year average because of the relationships they had with those leading them.

The senior leadership I have been around for the last 10 years would agree that it is imperative to invest in your staff if you want to have a church that carries on long after you are gone. I’ve seen probably 100 next generation leaders come through my home church to be trained and discipled and then released into the ministry of the church and beyond. I’m only now realizing how rare of a thing that is. We haven’t always done it perfectly, but my senior leaders have made an effort for many years to grow the next generation.

I’m a rarity among my friends in ministry, given that I’ve stayed in one place for 10 years. I can’t take the credit. I have had wonderful disciplers and investors who helped me and challenged me to grow.

Here are some next steps I’d challenge senior leaders to think about:

  • Look over the Scriptures and really study about what Jesus did with his disciples. I would highly suggest the book Building a Discipling Culture by Mike Breen and Steve Cockram. It has helped me put tangible actions to the method of discipleship.
  • Talk to your youth/college minister and give him or her an opportunity to be really honest with you without judgment or reprimand. Listen to what they need before you decide what to do next. Don’t make assumptions.
  • Be honest about your expectations for your youth and college staff. Do those expectations need to be adjusted based on where they are in their growth and abilities?
  • Consider how you will begin to invest intentionally in the lives of the staff you lead. If you have a large staff, ask others around you to help you think creatively about multiplying leadership. It’s not a microwaveable process. It takes time.
  • Examine your own life and ask others to be honest with you about where you could grow in your leadership with your staff.  There are avenues of coaching and support that will help you (including from the Wayfarer team). My boss asks us annually how he can improve in his leadership. That has given me with a great example to follow.

Remember that we are called to live out the things Jesus taught, not just to memorize and teach on them. Start at home. Start with your family and staff.

If we do, maybe together we can clean up the dirty little secret.

Jordanne Bonfield is on staff with The Gathering Network, a new church plant of Heartland Community Church in Kansas City, Kansas. You can connect with Jordanne on Facebook

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