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Entries in Youth Ministry (5)


How knowing the trivium can help with women's ministries

I really enjoyed Aimee Byrd's article regarding nurturing rich women's initiatives. This is something I think about quite often, as I teach a women's study.

I've taught children, teenagers, and women. I've often wondered how we can encourage women to think deeply. Does it start with young mothers? young adult women? children? As I reflected back on my years homeschooling, during which time we also worked in youth ministry, I could not help but think about the trivium. 

Yes, the trivium. When we homeschooled, we followed a classical homeschool model, and I found these stages helpful in teaching not only academic material, but spiritual material.

The first stage is the grammar stage, grades 1-4. A child learns facts; number facts, language facts, science facts; bible facts. It's a time for filling up their heads with facts.

The next stage, grades 5-8, is the dialectic or logic, stage. This is when we apply the facts to reasoning. This is when we start to teach them the sigificance of the facts they're learning. 

The final stage is the rhetoric stage, where a student learns to communicate what he knows about those facts.

This passage says it much better than I could:

In the grammar stage children learned facts; in the dialectic stage children began to understand those facts, and in the rhetoric stage children learn to express what they now understand in the most compelling manner possible. This stage roughly coincides with high school. Cognitively speaking, this stage is where abstract thought reaches its zenith. In this stage, the unknown can be explored because the known is understood; the hypothetical can be introduced and grasped with the mind. The mental jump can be made from the natural to the spiritual, from the practical to the theoretical. Self-expression finally comes into its own in the language arts; “hard” sciences and advanced mathematics are more easily mastered; history can be applied to economics and political science; and Bible study can turn to apologetics.

I can't help but wonder if during those dialetic and rhetoric stages, we are failing to capitalize on a young person's cognitive development. During those dialetic years, which co-incide with the beginning of the turbulent teen years, are we encoruaging questions? Are we answering the questions? After learning bible stories in the grammar stage, are we teaching them how those stories fit together in the biblical narrative? 

The beginning of helping women develop an appetite for rich teaching is to start when they're teens. Let us evaluate what they are learning in those teen years. Yes, it is a time for making social connections, but I think that aspect is incredibly overdone. It may be that a teen only wants to engage in social activities, but as their parents, teachers, and leaders, is it not our job to keep pressing on in our efforts to help them develop deeper thinking? 

What do our youth programs look like? Are they simply social clubs? Are they nothing more than santizied "girl talk" time? What about relationships with parents? Do we send our kids to their youth leaders for advice, thus abdicating our own responsibility with them? What kind of example are we setting as parents to pursue deeper teaching? This is an excellent time for family devotions to become something deeper. Unfortunately, our kids are all so busy with their social engagements, sporting events, and other activities that maintaining family devotions during this time is incredibly difficult. 

It is a complex issue, but we shouldn't just throw our hands up and hope for the best. And yes, it is difficult to combat the tide of popular opinion. In general, I don't think deep thinking is encouraged in most places. It may be that our children in public schools are not encouraged to think deeply at all. Being a serious teenager who thinks isn't cool, and sadly, even in some youth groups, it isn't seen as "normal" for a teen to want to think deeply. Often, they're relegated to the "nerd" category.

I think it's worth it to encourage deep teaching in those teen years. It will be difficult, because it means you have to have the answers and the time to find them if you don't. But it's worth it. As a mother of adult children, I can tell you the effort is worth it. They may forget some of what you teach them, but they won't forget all of it.


The "Neat Kid" syndrome

Years ago, when my husband and I were teaching teen Sunday school, there was a student I wasn't quite sure about. He was a bit of a trouble maker, a little disruptive, bordering on disrespectful, but with a charming smile and disposition. He seemed to be well-liked, but he reminded me a little too much of a class clown who knows how to charm the teacher. One of the other leaders did not agree with me about this young man. She thought he was a "neat kid," and thought his outgoing nature said something about his Christian character.

Today, this young man is not living for the Lord. In fact, from what I understand, since he left high school, his life bears very little resemblance to that of an individual professing to be a Christian. I am not even aware that he claims to be a Christian. Meanwhile, there are many quiet, reserved, unassuming young men and women who were never viewed as "neat," but who are today thriving in their relationship with the Lord.

We talk about how the culture of celebrity has infiltrated the Church, but I think at the root of a cult of celebrity is a cult of personality. We tend to think that an outgoing personality is evidence of a sanctified life. Someone who will get up and share without hesitation, or is willing to get up in front of people and speak must be someone who is using his gifts for the Lord. The shy, apprehensive individual must be hiding his light under a bushell, no?

Often, these outgoing people are viewed as natural leaders because they are willing to take the leadership. In my experience, however, often the best leader is the one who is cautious about taking it on. I tend to be very suspicious anyway, but I'm always a little apprehensive about the individual who talks more about his leadership than God. Our task is to live so that attention is given to God, not ourselves.

My husband would never have been considered a "neat kid" growing up. He was bookish, physically small, and avoided the spotlight. Even today, he does not like having attention drawn to him. That doesn't mean he is not a godly man. He loathes small talk, and at a gathering, he's not the one kibbitzing with everyone. More than likely, he's on the outer fringe of the room wondering when he can go home. But he's trustworthy, discreet, kind, and humble. When I was a youth leader, I loved to see quiet, serious kids, and I didn't like it when others perceived them as some kind of dead weight simply because they were afraid to get up in front of others and share a toothbrush with five other people or eat some grotesque concoction while being blindfolded. 

One thing my kids have shared with me now that they are adults is that teenagers can often learn to play the game well. If a kid grows up in a church, he quickly sees what kind of conduct garners approval from parents and leaders. A kid can fake it for a long time within the confines of the youth group. When they get out on their own, or there is a crisis, the reality of their faith is proved, regardless of whether they are a neat kid or bland as dry toast. When we're watching young people grow, looking for spiritual fruit rather than a charming disposition is far more crucial. Sometimes, a "neat kid" can be covering for a lack of spiritual fruit, while someone less gregarious is demonstrating meekness or humility.

God can use people even if they aren't "neat." Even boring, serious folks like me can be used.


Girl solidarity

Dear Teenage Girl:

I was once you a long time ago.  I was without God in my life, lonely, and wondering what the purpose of life was. I didn't feel I could talk to my parents. I wanted validation, approval, love.  I wasn't promiscuous, but I definitely knew how to get a boy's attention, and I had my share of boyfriends.

I made them the centre of my world.  I analyzed every word they said to me.  I feared every moment apart.  I wavered between feeling like I was on top of the world and in the pit of despair.  I resented the time spent away from me.  I jealously begrudged him every word spoken with another girl.  I expected him to behave like a grown man, even though he was a boy.  In short, I idolized him.

And then I wondered why he got tired of me after three months.  And the cycle would repeat itself.

Teenage girl, I see you in the venues of social media, and I recognize myself so clearly in your words that it is downright spooky.  I feel your sorrow as I remember those days, but at the same time, I cringe, because you don't see what you are doing.  You don't know that when he reads those things, he does one (or both) of two things.  First, he wishes you would stop it and grow up; second, he feels like he's letting you down.  He is a young man who is growing.  He doesn't know how to be a grown man yet.  He doesn't know how to be your father, if that is what you perhaps feel is missing in your life.  Chances are, he's looking to you for validation, too; he just isn't as obvious about it.

Teenage girl, there is a world out there beyond the boys you long to be with.  There is a holy God who loves you.  He's your creator and He made you for Himself.  He is worthy to be worshipped.  He won't let you down the way that young man will.  And don't be fooled into thinking that marriage will keep him from letting you down.  He will.  It's how men and women are, pure and simple.  But God will not.  He loves you and want you for Himself.   

Teenage girl, I'm almost 48 years old, and I still struggle to be loyal to my God.  I still struggle with putting my husband on a pedestal and putting high expectations on him.  But I have another voice inside of me, courtesy of the Saviour who bought me with His blood:  it's a voice that says, "You're mine, and I am the only one worthy of your worship."  You need that voice.

You are so familiar to me, I feel like we could be twins.  I know what I'm talking about.  Christian girl?  If you're doing this -- and I can see that you are -- repent now.  You have the truth.  You don't need to put yourself through that cycle.  And please, don't use social media for those kinds of words.  You will get to be 47 years old and full of regret.

I believe in God's sovereign will for my life.  I believe that those moments I had that I see so clearly in you right now were so that today, I could talk to you.  They were painful lessons, but I am so glad that I had them, because they drove me to Christ.  Please seek Christ, and allow those young men a little relief.

God loves you more than that young man ever can.  I will pray for you.


I'm glad it's not just me

Once upon a time, my local church took our youth group to an all-night evangelism event.  It involved going to a sports event, games and activities in the area, accompanied by all night pizza and bowling.  As a leader, I never went.  In addition to knowing that I cannot stay up all night bowling, I really didn't like this idea of evangelizing kids in the middle of the night after sports, pizza and bowling.  I was in the minority in my concern.

In D.A. Carson's book The Cross and Christian Ministry, he talks about the cross and preaching.  He specifically discusses that preaching ought not be all about performance and rhetoric.  He is referring to Paul's words to the Corinthians in 2:1-5.  One of the points he makes is that preaching is not about manipulation.  In fact, his advice is to "strenuously avoid manipulating people."  He shares something with regard to manipulation and young people:

It is the truth and power of the gospel that must change people's lives, not the glamour of our oratory or the emotional power of the stories.

Some years ago I was speaking at a large youth convention in Australia.  Never was I more impressed with the leader and organizer of these meetings than when he addressed the three or four hundred site and group leaders and quietly told them to avoid manipulation.  Ensure that the young people get enough sleep, he said. We do not want decisions just because they are so tired their stamina is worn down.  Do not put these people into emotional corners that compel decisions; such decisions are seldom worth anything. Do not shame or embarrass them in front of peers.

If I have ever dared voice my concerns for all night evanglism activities, others have been quick to defend them and point out that I am a wet blanket.  Well, judging from Carson's comments, I'm not the only one with such concerns, and if I'm going to be a wet blanket, I am in some pretty good company.


Young people see through hollow faith

I was reading the August edition of Tabletalk, and I enjoyed the interview with Ravi Zacharias.  Two years ago, my husband and daughter and I went to hear him speak.  He is such an articulate speaker.

Zacharias was asked the question, "How do we equip young people to remain committed to Christ in a secular and non-Christian world?"

Zacharias answered:

The Bible reminds us to guard our doctrine and our conduct.  Our youth know firsthand what the world has to offer.  They need to be reached at a younger age because of the world of the Internet that ravages young minds sooner than ever before.  Building their faith is not a prime strength in our churches today.  We seem to think that we need to entertain them into the church.  But what you win them with is often what you win them to.

They can see through a hollow faith in a hurry.  Their minds are hungry for coherence and meaning.  They long to think things through.  They long to know why the gospel is both true and exclusive.  None of these issues are often addressed within their own reach.  I believe this is the most serious crisis of our church-going youth today.  Their faith is more a longing than a fulfillment.  We have a special burden for the youth.  We will keep at it a we try to reach them.  It's a tough world for the young.

Our daughter has been home for a couple of days.  I shared this with her, and she agreed very much with the sentiment Zacharias expressed, that young people want to know why the gospel is important, and they want to think things through.  Her comment to me, reminiscing about her youth group days was that she often felt frustrated because she didn't know why the gospel was important other than to get someone saved.  Beyond getting that "decision" she didn't know why it was important.  When it came to living out her Christian life, she said some guidelines seemed arbitrary and more designed to promote a culture rather than a set of core beliefs.  She has only recently found a way to describe what she felt so frustrated with as a teenager.

More than ever, I believe we need to get away from a youth ministry whose primary motive is to get the numbers in and entertain on a grand scale.  They need to know why the gospel is important.  They need to understand how to connect it to everyday circumstances.  They need to be helped as they attempt to think things through.