Replanting a Church: Children and Teens, Part 2

We are working through an article by Scott Thomas on replanting an existing church, that is, renewing a church so that it grows and matures as a church plant does.

In the last article, we considered how to re-set the goals of the teen ministry. That’s actually not the hard part. Not that it’s easy — because you have to persuade the ministers, the teens, and the parents. But what’s even harder is figuring out to produce that result.

I think the process is a lot like what it is for the adults. Something like —

1. Expect God to do the heavy lifting through his Holy Spirit. Go into it expecting success because it’s what God wants.

2. Prayer. Really. Pray a lot.

3. Surround the kids with adults with a passion for God and his word and his mission. If the teen minister doesn’t fit this description, you may have to replace him (or her).

There’s a raging debate in the teen ministry community regarding the use of parents vs. young adult volunteers. It’s a good debate to have, but the answer is not one or the other. It’s both. Indeed, it’s any member, from 19 to 99, who has a passion for God and his work and his mission.

Bring these people in (hopefully some are parents, but don’t limit the effort to parents) and let them do what their passion is — with the kids. It’s not about “relationships” — because the goal isn’t relationships. It’s about examples of godly men and women working with the teens in ministry.

Let me explain. Suppose you have a 60-year old woman who loves to work in the Soup Kitchen serving meals to the poor. Put her in her element — serving the poor — with kids around to see how she does it and the passion with which she does it. Have them help.

Don’t take ask her to babysit the kids at Six Flags to form relationships. Let her form relationships in the environment where she’s most like Jesus — in the Soup Kitchen.

If she has teens helping her do her thing and catching a bit of her passion, they’ll bond (form relationships), not as buddies but as co-workers in the Kingdom, which is a special, glorious kind of bond — and far superior to the relationships formed over burgers at a lake party.

Put the kids in class with teachers who love God’s word and love to teach. Find someone who can help the kids see the fire in the text.

Just so, on a short-term mission trip, the goal isn’t for the kids to become fast friends with each other or to cry at the devos. The goal is for them to be around adults on fire for Jesus doing what they love — and helping.

And maybe the devos should include having the on-fire adults talk about why they are on this trip and why they took a week of their vacation to come do ministry. (Of course, this won’t work if the adults are there as chaperones or as drivers or out of guilt. Don’t do teen missions. Go with adults on congregational missions!)

4. Don’t dumb down the curriculum.

Here’s how it works in some places. A talented teacher teaches a challenging lesson. Some kids love it. Some kids hate it — they don’t like being challenged and they don’t like class. They complain. Their parents complain. The class gets replaced with 4-square (a ball game). Lazy, spoiled kids are mollified. Kids with a passion for God are frustrated. Parents leave the ministers alone. Kids learn next to nothing, but have fun. It makes me want to scream! When do 14-year olds get to design the curriculum? Isnt’ that an adult job?

At the least, make sure the kids who care about the word have the opportunity to learn Bible at their own level — even if it means having more than one class or an extra class for the kids ready to get serious about God.

I’ve seen teen ministries where the minister offered a Monday-night class for serious Bible study, where the study was expository — and the kids showed up in droves and loved it. It can be done. The teacher must have a passion for the things of God.

It helps, I think, not to treat the teens like 5-year olds. I mean, I’ve seen rooms filled with teens who are in AP classes at school, doing college-level work, where the youth minister felt obliged to repeat every thought 5 times and teach at a 4th grade level. The kids are immature and silly, but they aren’t stupid. They just want you to think they’re stupid (it makes them feel smart to fool adults).

5. Teach the kids to read and understand the Bible — by teaching lessons built on a genuine reading and understanding of the Bible. Don’t just pick out a word and teach about it utterly out of context. They know you’re cheating — cheating the word and cheating them. Exegete!

6. But don’t cover controversies that are purely academic. I wouldn’t spend much time on the Trinity, Modalism, or even Calvinism. Rather, I’d try to help them read the Gospels just as though they were walking the roads of Galilee with Jesus.

7. The Bible is almost all story. Teach the Story. Help them see the workings of God’s hand in history. Tell stories. Jesus did. It works.

8. Go Eastern. The Bible is almost all written in Eastern motifs for Eastern minds. The rabbis (and Jesus, the apostles, the prophets) taught in story, picture, and metaphor. It doesn’t have to be abstracted to be understood. Sometimes it really needs to be seen and felt.

Jesus told the Parable of the Good Samaritan when he could have said, “Love the Samaritans.” But the parable — a story — changed the world. Why? Why do stories have such impact on us?

Well, whyever that is, it’s the same reason the teens are much more likely to be moved by a well-told story than by a class that converts a living story into a moribund abstraction.

Didn’t you hate English literature classes? I loved the readings and hated the discussions. It’s good to know how to deconstruct a story, but if you tear a story apart, it’s not a story anymore. (Tear my house into pieces, and you’ll have the same stuff, and you’ll deeply understand how the house was built, but you won’t have a house.)

Of course, our kids need some help to understand, but let the story be the centerpiece of the lesson — so that they’ll leave wanting to open the Book and find some more.

Read the series on the Blue Parakeet. Then read Blue Like Jazz. Do that and you’ll understand what I mean about the power of story from an Eastern perspective, even though neither book is precisely about that.

Finally, I really don’t know what I’m talking about. But this makes sense to me. Has anyone tried any of these ideas?

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One Response

  1. Tried any of this? Sure, experiential learning. There is a lot of bad material out there on experiential learning, but some good stuff as well.

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