It’s All About YOU!…………………………………..Nancy Going

While it may sound like the Exemplary Youth Ministry study was just about these 131 congregations who have it all together, that’s far from a complete picture.  The EYM study is really all about your church.  In the years since the study was completed we’ve discovered that all-important transferability factor.  Churches, who take on these Faith Assets and focus their ministry on maturing Christian young people instead of a myriad of other goals, really can and do develop a Spirit-filled culture of ministry at their church.  We’ve seen it happen.

The Children, Youth and Family Ministry team at Luther Seminary is very committed to seeing the EYM results get pulled into the ministries of all kinds of churches all over the country.  To that end, we have been engaged in coaching processes for four years, walking alongside churches and helping them to take their current faith assets seriously, while they also identify and work to develop new ones.

We also just completed a weekend that we call EYM on the Road with a group of Lutheran Churches in South Dakota.  We are always amazed at the several things that happen when we put this study in front of people.

  1. Just getting your brain around the notion that Youth Ministry is about maturing Christian young people is huge.  It means all kinds of changes in the way and the why you are doing what you are doing.  It takes a while to absorb and figure out what that looks like at your church.
  2. This really changes the job of people working with youth.  The job is now to broker relationships between youth and other people in the congregation.
  3. The EYM results and Faith Assets are actually remarkably freeing.  Youth Ministry is no longer about YOUR ability to attract kids.
  4. The change that is necessary to put more faith assets into play at your church is a different kind of change than we gets packaged for us to buy.   That’s frustrating, but it makes all churches capable of making those changes.

Yep,  you and your church.  You can do it.

Dr. Nancy Going is a 20 some year veteran of congregational youth ministry.  She coordinates the Distributed (distance) youth ministry students at Luther Seminary.  She did her PhD research by interviewing adolescents from the Exemplar congregations.


The Sweet Spot……………………………Tom Schwolert

The term “sweet spot” is often used in sports.  It is that place on the face of a golf club that creates the best possible shot or on the baseball bat that sends the ball over the center field fence.  Have you ever thought of having a “sweet spot” in ministry?  I can think of a few times when a Bible study just seemed to have all the right ingredients for a unique ministry moment.  I can think of those times when a leadership team of youth just suddenly “clicks” and they truly see their God given purpose.  These are “sweet spot” moments that we treasure in our ministries.  The Exemplary Youth Ministry study encourages us to develop ministry so that we can experience the “sweet spot” in a more holistic way.  The study showed that congregations who focused on the three major spheres of home, congregation and age-specific ministry often hit the “sweet spot.”  When congregations focused on these three spheres simultaneously, the spheres would intersect and create a “sweet spot” where young people were more likely to develop a mature Christian faith.  I love the idea of hitting a “sweet spot” in ministry.  How’s your church doing?   Are you only doing “youth ministry” separate from the congregation?  Are you only helping develop faith in the home?  Are you only working to help the congregation own youth ministry? Take a moment to step back and assess how your church is doing in these three spheres.   In the “sweet spot” of ministry we are using our God given gifts fully and young people are developing a faith that will stand the test of time.  Down the middle of the fairway is always the best place to be.

Tom Schwolert is Director of Youth & Family Ministry at Faith Lutheran Church in Flower Mound, TX and has over 22 years of youth ministry experience.

About your Pastor……………………….Kristen Baltrum

One of the key ingredients to effective youth ministry is that the ministry is supported by the senior pastor. I have found this to be so true. I will never forget the time I was sitting in worship listening to my pastor’s sermon. I don’t remember the text he was preaching on, but I do remember that he was preaching about how the home is the primary place of faith nurturing, and how we need to be thinking differently about the role of the congregation in this process. Essentially he said, “No longer does the institution ‘faith’ young people. Our job is to walk alongside parents, grandparents, neighbors, aunts, uncles, God-parents, and mentors as they walk alongside young people.” I remember feeling as if I was getting taller the longer the sermon went. I remember thinking to myself, “Well, listen to that. This man is preaching my job!” I was elated – because I felt my REAL job was valued, understood, and supported. Not only did I feel confident that what I was up to in this congregation was worthy, but I personally felt as if this job, this passion, this profession, was real.

A congregation often takes on the interests, style and passion of its leadership – namely the senior pastor as they are indeed the shepherd of that particular flock. Therefore it is critcially important that the pastor understand this changing culture of youth and household ministry so that they can articulate, support, and “preach” this shift. It makes an enormous difference in how effective a youth ministry leader can be.   In fact,  ten percent of the assets address the pastor:

Pastoral Leadership
  1. Spiritual Influence: knows and models the transforming presence of God in life and ministry
  2. Interpersonal Competence: builds a sense of community and relates well with adults and youth
  3. Supports Youth Ministry: understands, guides, and advocates for youth ministry
  4. Supports Leaders: affirms and mentors youth and adults leading youth ministry

The single investment of the pastor clearly multiplies in the life of the congregation.

Kristen Baltrum is a lives and serves in Longmont CO.

Programs? Perichoresis? How about Paychecks?………….Jerry Watts

Okay let’s get real.  For all the talk about moving away from program with a renewed focus on markers of mature Christian faith in the lives of youth, it doesn’t mean youth ministers are no longer going to plan events.  Let’s face it, people want stuff they can look at, put on a website, and invite their friends to.  And that’s not bad.  When I first read Kenda Creasy Dean’s book Practicing Passion back in 2005 she said she’s no longer planning the retreat, she’s just driving the bus and pouring into the life of kids for Jesus sake.   In the real world most youth ministers don’t enjoy that luxury, I remember thinking, yeah right – congregations pay them to plan the retreats, this doesn’t help most of us in the trenches. So how do we do discipleship rooted in the Word of God, in the context of deep relationships modeled by the Trinity, not lose sight of markers for mature Christian faith, and keep our jobs.

The truth is there are no easy answers and nothing really new under the sun.  In my context while we do less dodge ball then we used to, the red ball still flies.  The shift for us has been the investment in time into the lives of our volunteers.  We need to disciple Christian adults into mature Christian faith.  Share what that looks like (as the exemplary study describes for example) and then invite our leaders and families to first practice this path of following Jesus in their own lives.  Volunteer meetings are more about time in the Word, and sharing what’s going on in their lives instead of just covering the needs for the next event. ( and their liturgy of discernment is helpful here)

Second, with our life teams (adults and families who commit to shepparding one youth to follow Jesus) our program formally prioritizes discipleship and incorporates that as part of our youth ministry DNA, we are only two years in – and only now seeing sprouts popping out of the ground from those seeds that were planted, it takes time and long term investment.  The point is to find a way to make it public (the priority of discipleship that is).

Third, we continue programming with excellence – rooted in God’s word, understand the language of culture, doing things that matter (like mission trips), and challenging youth to invest as leaders in that process. This step helps you keep your job and still work towards the larger goal from Jesus in Matthew 28 to evangelize and make disciples.

Finally, your ministry goes nowhere without the Holy Spirit.  Pray without ceasing.  In the office, with youth, with your volunteers, in your quiet time in the Word, in the shower, in your programs, driving to Starbucks, and in your Tuesday night meeting…PRAY.  Make prayer, fasting, and time in the Word part of your own daily routine as a leader and let that seep into the life of your ministry.  The prophet Zechariah 4:6 reminds us “it’s not by might nor by power but by the Spirit says the LORD”.  Nothing new under the sun, but a renewed call to be faithful to be sure – in the real world of youth ministry.

Jerry Watts lives to play dodgeball…er.. disciple youth and adults in Plano Tx.

Past and Future…………………….Amanda Burke

So, I’ve been in this new ministry for about 2 and a half months now.  It has been a whirlwind ride . .. . meeting people, remembering names, preparing for special services I’ve never attended before, figuring out where I fit in and beyond.  In all of this I’m being educated on the history of this 130-year-old congregation.  Every congregation has its highs and lows.  However, I find that some people get stuck with what should have been, what was missing, or where things were lacking.  All of the history and tradition is extremely valuable as long as we remember that it is important to look forward.

One low is that this congregation has not had a high rate of young people attending worship services.  It is part of the past and present, but from my vantage point as a new leader, I want to ask how does this affect our vision for the future.  It could used as an obstacle, a negative presence, affecting the attitudes we have toward the involvement of young people in the congregation.

This reality could be also seen as a great mission field in our small community.  If we continue to give youth the message that we know they will not be involved because youth never have been in the past and expect the same results, they will respond according to those subtle messages.  In turn, if there is a message that we hope and will work to a future where youth are an integral part of this community, then there is a vision.  God can do great things with people who are open to God’s vision of ministry in the world.

One of the faith assets states – Strives for Excellence: sets high standards, evaluates, and engages in continuous improvement.  What is the driving force behind seeking excellence?  Is it only to escape seemingly negative realities of the past, or is it to seek out a vision for the future rooted in God’s mission.  I’m hoping to help them go there.

Amanda Burke had been doing youth ministry for 10½ years at one church and now for two and a half months at new/old church.

The P Word………….Michael Best

Youth workers are known for being fun and spontaneous.  The reason most of us started in youth ministry was because of our love and passion for teenagers.  Nearly all of us would rather hang out at Starbucks with students than sit in an office. But in the midst of all the busy day to day activity in ministry, when is the last time you really thought ahead?

Planning is not cutting edge.  Planning is often not fun.  Planning is not cool.  But planning is an important part of an effective youth ministry.  Assets 38 and 39 of the EYM study show that youth ministries need to use many approaches and be organized well.  These two assets demand planning.

What if instead of thinking about what to teach this weekend or this summer, you planned a four to six year strategy of teaching?  What if instead of going to the beach with some students you planned several strategic service opportunities for them?  What if your planning was based on the characteristics of maturing Chrisitan faith?

We need more than a passion for students to grow in Christ, we need a plan that will give them opportunities to grow.
So what about you?  Where are you in your planning of teaching topics, of missions opportunities, of creative events?

Michael Best is a first time EYM Blogger.   Welcome Michael!   He has been serving in youth ministry for over three years. He lives and ministers in Chicago, IL.

Name it……………………………………..Kristen Baltrum

When I first started in professional youth ministry, I simply wanted to create an environment of relationship and “church fun” that mirrored my own experience as a teen. While that worked on some levels, I was pretty sure something else was happening that I could not name – I had no language for it. After a number of years in the field, I decided I needed “Language Lessons.”

After a few years studying youth and family ministry, continued reflection on the assets of the Exemplary Youth Ministry study, and consultation with many other resources, I realize that my leadership is less about what I am creating in a ministry program, and more about naming what is already happening in the life of the Church and the young people I am called to serve. The “language lessons” were my learning to read and follow the spirit of God, and to help young people and the rest of the church see and follow what God is already doing.

Recently, a shy young adult in our congregation asked if he could round up some folks for a softball team. The congregation responded extremely enthusiastically, and quickly the roster was filled with men and women between the ages of 16 and 70, of all different athletic abilities. A business sponsor for the team even emerged. The games are off and running, with much laughter, encouragement and spirits flying high. Naming this team as a “cross-generational, relational activity in which the resources needed are already woven into the fabric of the community” has been a huge eye opener for all. The team happened naturally, but naming what is happening as the work of the Spirit allows each person to intentionally participate in the life of the Church in new and profound ways.

Kristen Baltrum has been working in Youth Ministry for seventeen years.  She serves and lives and names it in Longmont, CO.