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My vote for best youth ministry blog of the year

Youth pastors are caught between a rock and a hard place, wanting to disciple, but having to please constituencies who favor programs over discipling relationships. Mark Riddle’s blog below does the best job of any I’ve seen this past year in wrestling with this issue. Hats off to Mar…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

Youth pastors are caught between a rock and a hard place, wanting to disciple, but having to please constituencies who favor programs over discipling relationships. Mark Riddle’s blog below does the best job of any I’ve seen this past year in wrestling with this issue. Hats off to Mark for an excellent piece of writing and thinking!

Trying to Explain Systems Thinking in the Church:. Part 1

I’m
often talking about systems within the church to leadership or other ministry
professionals. Often they assume I’m talking about logistics or administration,
which to be fair are a part of systems, but only a small part. So on my flight
from Charlotte
to DFW this weekend I decided to throw something together to try to explain it
a bit more.

Case Study – You want to change Sunday School to another program in your
church. The following list represents SOME of the parts of the average system.
Do any of these sound familiar?

1. Mary is a 7th grader. Her parent’s loved Sunday School when they were
growing up.

2. Approximately 50% of the parents of kids your Sunday School want a break
from their kids in the adult Sunday School class.

3. Influential congregation members believe Sunday School works and is the
primary means by which “christian education” occurs

4. It’s written in your Job Description that you must to have Sunday School and
you must lead it.

5. Your congregation values parents and adults more than kids. They entice
adults (giving units) by having a great children’s minitry.

6. Complaints from parents are functionally considered a priority over biblical
values. (or any values for that matter)

7. Values of excellence demand that Sunday School work very well.

8. Bill has been teaching 8th grade Sunday School for 15 years.

9. Your church is pround of points 7, 8, 23,40.

10. Your church has always done S.S.

11. S.S. works when you show a Nooma video, but they don’t make Nooma videos
fast enough.

12. Not doing S.S. means your church might have to think about why it does
youth ministry.

13. Your church doesn’t like to think.

14. The kids in SS feel entitled to be catered to.

15. Youth Pastors in your church have traditionally been very inexperienced.

16. The last 3 Youth Pastors tried to change SS and failed. (No one told you
this until you had announced the big change to the congregation)

17. Joe, a committed volunteer, wants to change SS like you do.

18. Several parents secretly distrust Joe, for something you will never know
about.

19. Because you trust Joe, some parents secretly distrust you.

20. Some of these distrusting parents serve in your youth ministry because of
point 19.

21. Fear is a key motivator for parents in your youth group.

22. There’s a lot to be afraid of in your city.

23. Your Senior Pastor doesn’t think about youth ministry unless you bring it
up or if there is a problem.

24. The church thinks that youth ministry is your job.

25. People, especially parents fear loss for their kids. Loss of opportunity,
faith, relationships etc. This is strongly tangeble for them in your
programming.

26. The church down the street has big attendance in SS.

27. The Music Pastor feels like all the churches musicians belong to her.

28. The Music Pastor has been on staff for 20 years.

29. The Senior Pastor is afraid of the music pastor.

30. Teaching SS is in your job description.

31. Every adult in your church used to go do SS.

32. A lot of parents remember a cool youth pastor in their SS class when they
were kids.

33. Your church built SS rooms for your Middle School and high school students
to meet in. They have the nicest white boards.

34. “Didn’t the trustees just spend $3,500 painting and fixing up the SS
rooms?”

35. For much of you congregation, if they can’t see kids involved in ministry ,
the simply believe there is not ministry happening.

36. Kim and Brad only come to SS because they are sooo busy with school
activities.

37. Some church members think you only work on Sunday mornings. Why would you
want to cancel kid’s church?

38. SS is perceived to be church for youth.

39. The church secretary told some parents that you are lazy because you are
never in the office.

40. As the youth pastor you buy into 4, 7, 12, 17, 21, 22, 24 and 26 and you
are largely unaware of the rest of the points on the list. But you still want
to change SS because it’s only a “small change” in your Big plan.

41. Your church leadership feels it has a very high value on teens and youth
ministry.

42. Your SS budget is $20,000 a year. (that includes your FT salary)

43. You secretly feel inadequate about SS not working and your inability to
make it work.

44. You secretly feel like the expert and everyone else is an idiot.

45. SS is one of the 2 things your church counts and equates with success. The
other is the # is of people baptized.

46. You think the reason the youth ministry doesn’t work is “them”.
Them = parents and other non-descript people who are working against you and
God’s plans.

47. Some older folks think teens will be fine regardless of the youth ministry
you lead.

48. Your church loves to gossip.

Now here’s where it gets fun.

If you are a youth pastor and you are looking at this list you likely have a
few responses depending on your personality and a few other things.

1. “I give up” – It can’t be done! I’m going to work for UPS.

The Result – You have an inner battle about your calling and it tears you up.

2. “Screw-up!” We’re changing SS whether the people like it or not!

The Result – Bye Bye.

3. “I can methodically address each of these issues as tehey are revealed
to me then we can change SS.

The Result: Partial change and frustration. What you don’t realize is that the
sum of these ideas, attitudes, perceptions, behaviors and beliefs actually form
something of an eco-system for your church and how it works and how it
understands itself. These are the norms of your church. Your church isn’t
simply 50 individuals / groups with perceptions. (though they are that.) Your
church is alive like an animal that will fight tooth and nail to maintain the
status quo. you can’t change the church in a sustainable way without addressing
the system. This is why The Riddle Group exists. This is why so many seminars
you have the opportunity to attend are wasting your time.

Comments (5)

  • What a small world – Mark was my youth pastor in middle school and was extremely influential in shaping the beginning of my walk with Christ – thanks for posting this Seth! Hope you had an awesome Christmas and New Years with your family!

  • I like the idea of being in a traditional church and trying to live out discipleship. That’s my motto and I’ve seen it work in a Christian camp environment, but I’ve never seen it work in a church setting. However, for me to say it doesn’t work in church is just small-minded.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.



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