Thursday, April 24, 2014

3 Ways to Destroy Connection

Two weeks ago I wrote about the necessity youth workers face to create environments where students find a place to belong and someone that believes in them. Last week in a video interview with Mark Oestricher, he mentioned that teens are being driven by their desire to belong to connect as their foremost filter through which they create their connections.

If we agree that creating space to belong is important, are there habits and elements that erode or destroy these connections?

1. Humiliation - No one likes to be the focal point of jokes on a regular basis. When students make mistakes do we ridicule them in some way? Do we parade them in front of their peers and ask them to apologize? Do we use them as an illustration in our next youth talk to "inspire" their peers to choose differently?

Jesus met with a Samaritan woman at a well. (Read more here). As he interacted with her, he challenged her towards a hope-filled life but he didn't humiliate her in the process. We all make mistakes. We are all sinners. When we humiliate someone we alienate him or her from community and cause they to question their sense of belonging. What would our youth ministries look like if we instead responded with love and grace while avoiding the seductive nature of humiliation?

2. Condemnation - When we focus on behaviour more than identity, we tell a student that who they are is less important than what they do. Character is reflected by our actions, that's true, but activity void of deep connectivity to a set of values that govern our decision making process is empty and really does not have any formative connection to character.

What if instead of focusing on a list of do's & don'ts, we focused on living into a rhythm of life filled with hope, joy, compassion, kindness, gentleness, patience & self-control? What if instead of hearing how bad we are we focus on how great our God is and how amazing His design for life really is? I don't know about you, but I'm tired of feeling like I'm not good enough to do something because of what I've done and need to be inspired to live life despite my past, present or future mistakes. Perhaps teens are longing for a sense of mission beyond sin management similar to what we as leaders may be craving?

3. Lack of Invitation - When we expect students and families to get involved in the experiences we create instead of taking the time to invite them into the creative process and the experience itself, the program becomes more important than the people. 

I've been learning a lot about this theme lately. What is success in invitation? Is it when the person responds to the invitation positively? Or is it simply the extension of the invitation? Jesus interacted with a young rich man and invited this man to become a disciple. The man chose not to respond positively to the invitation Jesus extended, so does that make this interaction a failure? I don't believe so. In this story we are shown that reality that not everyone will want to be a part of what we are doing and/or facilitating. If it is true that teens are desperately looking for a place to belong, if they are never invited to do so, how will it be possible for them to find it? Do our youth ministries need to reflect more of an invitational culture than one of expectancy?

Do you agree with these 3 ways we destroy connection? What would you add to this list and why is it important?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

My friend who loves Canada

This past week I had the chance to interview a good friend of mine, Mark Oestricher, about youth ministry in Canada. As an American, Marko is able to provide a unique perspective that may somewhat surprise you coming from an American. Sit, listen, enjoy and please provide feedback!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Born this way

The resurgence of conversation about discipleship within the context of family and the church is an encouraging sign for both the present and the future of Christianity.

But I wonder if sometimes we create more confusion than clarity when we attempt to communicate our vision for the future. Do families and individuals simply hear that discipleship is yet another thing they have to try and fit into their already overcrowded calendar? What if we reframed the conversation about discipleship around the theme of intentionality and consistency, would that answer the question?

One of the more famous statements Jesus made is commonly known as the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). Here are two ideas I’m discovering about these words of Jesus through a fresh lens.

1. Discipleship is more natural than we think.  Jesus frames the conversation about discipleship by simply uttering the phrase “go and make disciples.” What this tells us is a number of things. First of all, there is an expectancy that we will make disciples, meaning that our lives are meant to inspire others towards hope and a future. The way we live, how we talk, what we celebrate…all of these characteristics point to the hopefulness we are encouraged to represent. When your life is reflected in a mirror, does it point to hope or to something else?

The second element of truth in this phrase is that the idea of discipleship is what we humans were created to do. Now please understand that when I use the word discipleship I’m referring not only to making disciples, but also to living missionally and acting as an evangelist. A disciple is someone who follows Jesus. A person that follows Jesus must live missionally because Jesus is mission, and to be on mission with Jesus is to tell the story of who Jesus is through the way we act and speak. For too long these facets of Christianity may have been seen as antonyms with one another, but they are instead synonyms and function together in cohesive communion within each other. Whether we know it or not, we are in the business of discipling people. How we act, what we say, where we invest our lives…all of these elements express our discipling ways to those around us.

And finally, making disciples is an ongoing process that does not come to a static conclusion. Discipleship is an organic entanglement because people are both complex and simple. It’s true that shared basic needs shape humanity at the general level, but each person requires a unique invitation towards a hope-filled expression of life making the complexity of the discipleship process more diverse than uniform.

2. Intentionality and consistency.  If discipleship is a natural expression of human life, the intentionality and consistency behind that expression are of crucial significance.

Every human being engages in the formation of people (discipleship) consciously or unconsciously. Examining one’s intentions and desired outcomes in creating connections with others reveals the degree to which the individual is aware of his or her influence, significance and meaning.

Imagine if an entire generation of people understood that who they are matters and what they do with what the life they have been given makes a difference. How different would the world in which we live become?

We were born to create, born to connect and born to grow. Discipleship isn’t a fad; it’s a part of our original design. How are you inspiring the people around you to discover that they were born in this way?

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Two keys to working with people

I recently returned from a cross-cultural experience with teens. Trips like these always provide students (and leaders) with valuable memories, opportunities for conversations, growth and potentially life-changing experiences.

This is one of many different trips that I've been a part of in the youth ministry world over the years. Each time I've travelled to a different country, experienced a different culture, or have simply taken the time to be present with a group of people I've noticed that there are two primary values (keys) that drive connection: a place to belong and someone who believes in you.

These values aren't limited to culture, context, age or gender. They simply exist because they speak to the core needs of humankind. So if these values happen to be the root motivators for connection, what does that mean for us as leaders who work with people? I'm not an expert in this material at all, but I would suggest there are some key shifts that may need to take place in the systems and communities we leaders create.

A place of belonging. There are numerous articles written by people who are much smarter than I am on this particular subject matter. Here is one of my favourites written by a friend of mine, Mr. Mark Oestricher.

The question that belonging answers is "where do I fit?" If the communities, activities and environments we help create answer this question for the people we hope to serve, then we are on to something. But, what if the reverse is actually true? What if the sub-culture we've created is based on something other than acceptance and love and polarises people rather than embraces them?

Can you believe different and still find connection with those around you? If we foster a place to belong we value and embody love ahead of anything else.

Someone who believes in you. Every single person who is in existence, has existed or will exist in the future needs someone who believes in them in their life. Someone who comes along and speaks hope and life into you at a dark place in life. Someone who has your best interest in mind in the way the speak to you and interact with you. Someone who isn't willing to see the dark side of our human nature overshadow the hopefulness of the image of God that exists in every human being.

Without someone who believes in us, we may never find the strength to persevere through tough times or the hope to carry on when things don't seem to make any sense. What if having someone that believes in us is a literal matter of life or death? No one can walk through life alone, nor should they believe the lie that says they have to. Do our ministry efforts foster a culture of belief and hopefulness through the exchange of respect, honour, love and admiration?

Do you agree with these two ideas? What would you add or subtract from this conversation?