Archive for the ‘Youth ministry’ Category

A number of thoughts have been running through my mind since the whole Mavuno poster issue surfaced on social media. This has made me think a lot about Youth Ministry and how we tend to do it. This also came up during our Raising the Bar Conference in Kisumu last week. These are just a few things that we need to think about:

  1. What is our Aim?

Working with young people in whichever field can be and is always exciting; they are young of course, energetic, fun-loving, visionary, easy-to-get-along-with (with a few exceptions) and as long as you are pressing the right button, you will always have them by your side.

Now when it comes to the Church, what is the whole point of having a youth ministry? Why do we have it running? To keep them busy… for fellowship… because church X down the road is also doing it… because the Church leadership said so… or because they are usually bored when they come to the adult service? Each church has it’s own aim, which is a good thing but thinking again about it, ‘What is the one thing that we want to achieve in these young people?’ What is our aim- the end result?

Looking at 2 Corinthians 3:18

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding [or reflecting] the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is Spirit.

It’s clear that the aim of the apostle’s ministry is Transformation. This is our aim also as gospel workers. This gospel transformation happens when we; a) Behold and reveal/reflect the Glory of Christ and the result is that we; b) Become like Christ, we grow in Christ-likeness. This is all made possible not because of our effort but because of Christ’s working in through His Spirit.

So, the biggest thing it seems is to point people to Christ, see how glorious He is and as we prayerfully seek Him, He works by His Spirit lifting off the veils covering people’s eyes so that they can behold Him. Then in the end, there’s a transformation that happens and we become more and more like Him. This is no small thing.

I wonder whether this is still our aim in many of our youth ministries! If gospel transformation isn’t our aim, then perhaps we need to rethink!

     2. How do we Get People? Where do we get them from?

Now that we know our aim, the question then is where do we get the people we minister to? For some, you simply inherit what has been passed-on to you from your predecessor, for others, you have to start from scratch and look for people yourself. Also, are we just targeting those who are already churched or we are also targeting the un-churched?

The dynamics of dealing with different groups change. You have to know how to ‘connect’ and make the gospel relevant for them. I think this is where Mavuno Church are good at- making the gospel culturally-relevant but the danger is that in doing this we make the gospel culturally-subservient and the result is no gospel at all but conformity to culture! Yet, as Dan Strange would say ‘Jesus (and the gospel for that matter) is the subversive fulfillment of every culture’ The gospel speaks to culture affirming what is good & godly and rebuking what is bad & ungodly!

Reading from the famous Great Commission passage Matthew 28:19, it’s clear that Jesus calls His disciples to make disciples of all nations- be it churched/un-churched, Christian/non-Christian, white/black. And in making disciples, they do it by baptizing them and teaching them. What are they teaching them? All that Christ has commanded- basically, the gospel.

Notice what is happening here, as disciples, we go out (not to attract people to us) to make disciples by calling them to obedience to the gospel of Christ Jesus. The gospel is attractive and sufficient to bring in and save those whom God has called to Himself. But what we’ve done is that we have replaced the gospel with packaging.

What has happened now is that it’s not just the gospel that matters but the packaging; we’ll do everything we can to make sure that we get our packaging right- just come as you are, we’ve got an awesome band, we’ve got a great charismatic speaker, we’ve got smoke machines, we’ve got a nice welcome team, or we only sing hymns, we’ve a great ‘swallowship’ so come along, this is gonna be great!

Of course these things are good but the danger is that we’ve ended up putting our trust in them rather than in the power of the gospel to save.

This is where our confidence lies:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” Rom. 1:16

So, if we are to get people, let the gospel attract them! Don’t add, don’t subtract from it. Of course you’ve to make it relevant and not boring- this is a chapter for another day!

     3. What do we do with them once they have Come?

Now that we know our aim very well and we know where and how to get the people, what next is what do we do with them? How do we structure our programme? What do we include/don’t we include?

Tim Hawkins gives an important principle, which I’ve found very helpful; “Whatever you use to attract students (young people) to your group, you’ve got to use the same thing to keep them there.”

If you used friendship as an attraction then you have to stick to that. If you used fun/outdoor activities then you have to keep doing that. If you used sports, watching the English Premier League then you have to keep using that. If you offered therapeutic sessions then you have to continue with that. If you’ve promised me something then the next Sunday I come and you don’t offer it to me I feel short-changed, so you’ve got to give what I want just as you said.


What about making the gospel our main attraction! It’s gloriously beautiful!

In the West particularly, the tendency is to start with other things then once people are in, we can now introduce the gospel. For us here in East Africa, our thinking has been like ‘the gospel is for non-believers, once they are Christians, use something else, give them something else.’ We call this discipleship but it’s discipleship minus gospel. The result has been many people end up ‘backsliding’ then we wonder whether they were really ;born-again’ in the first place or they reacted to our gospel presentation rather than the gospel itself!

The gospel is the way in and the way on. Start with the gospel, keep on with the gospel.

     4. How do we Measure Success?

In the corporate world, there are a number of parameters to use to measure success and it’s for you to choose among the many options available which one will suit you. The other day, when doing appraisal of how my work has been for the last six months, on of the things I was asked to do was to rate myself on how I had grown spiritually. I found this so hard because I just didn’t have some real ‘Spiritual-meter’ to use. This is the dilemma we usually find ourselves in when thinking about the success of our ministry.

So, we go for these options:

  • Numbers—Our success is measured by the more people we have in our group. ‘We begun with 10 people, now we are 100, Praise the Lord’
  • Activities—The more the activities the better we are. ‘This year we must plan for a trip to climb mount Kenya’
  • Keeping them—None of the people we have I the group should drop out. Do all we can at whatever cost to ensure that we keep them
  • Joining Ministries—this people must join ministries- praise & worship, mercy ministry, ushering, prison ministry need people and therefore these guys have to be there too.
  • Empowering them to be better people- This is a big thing in our context where we focus on the ‘me’ and how to unleash the power within.

These are important things but not the most important because that is not exactly what Christ requires. the thing we should be looking at is when Christ returns, are we gonna be found faithful? Are we and the people we serve growing in their Christ-likeness? Is there passion for evangelism? Is there a realization of one’s own sinfulness and the need to depend on God’s Grace? Is there love for others? In short, is there evidence of the fruit of the Spirit in our lives? Even more to this is having an eternal perspective of things where we are looking forward to that day when the Master will tell us ‘well done, good and faithful servant.’ This is/will be the true measure of success!

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MTC Dec 13 a

Thanks to all those who were praying last week over the ministry training. Perhaps you were even following the Twitter-esque updates on Facebook. Praise God that we had a really good time together, noses in the Bible, chewing on some very meaty theology, wonderful singing (Salama Rohoni is new favourite for me), and a good atmosphere of fun and fellowship.

As promised to the apprentices, here are the notes and links:

And from the 2nd years programme:

And from the closing carol service:

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return christ

What really struck me from the last few days of the ministry training course last week was the emphasis that came out on the future, eternity, our great Hope.

I’d never noticed what Fidel brought home so powerfully from 2 Tim. 4:1-2 that the number one reason to preach the word is the return of Christ. We are preaching in the last days a gospel of eternal life in view of the coming Day (cf. 2 Tim. 1:1, 10, 18; 2:10; 3:1; 4:8).

We found that the reason to put to death our ungodly desires (Col. 3:5) is because Christ, who is our life, is about to appear and we will be glorified with him (Col. 3:4).

Sammy reminded us from Job that the end comes at the end, and in the same session one of the apprentices very movingly shared how she had been through times when she desired to depart and be with Christ more than cling to this life. This in turn resonated very strongly with the account we read from John Paton’s autobiography:

At last the child literally longed to be away, not for rest, or freedom from pain — for of that he had very little — but, as he himself always put it, “to see Jesus.”

How badly do we need this powerful injection of eternity into our Christian lives and churches?


Notes and resources:

Intro to Expository Preaching – Context

Christ-centred youth ministry

Being pro-active in mentoring

Preaching Christ from the Gospels (esp Matt)

How to manage email with filters and folders

2nd year programme:

The church as mission agency

Lessons from the life of John Paton

Doctrine of Salvation (2) – Predestination, Justification and the glory of God

Preaching from OT narratives

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Benard Kamau

Rev. Benard Kamau spoke at the iServe Ministry Training Course last year on the subject of rural youth ministry. It was brilliant. The full presentation is here and it’s well worth reading in full but, to summarise, here are some of the issues he brought up:

  • We need to understand what the Church is and what it’s supposed to be doing. This is absolutely key both for the youth and the non-youth (and church leadership). What exactly is the church – a club or a body? Is it about fulfilling my personal needs/desires/tastes or is it about service? What is the church’s central mission – buildings, structures or proclamation and discipleship? And who owns the church – the leadership, the wealthy respected families, the youth or Jesus?
  • Youth in Kenya (particularly rural Kenya) is defined not so much by age but more by status in society. A married 17 year old will move out of youth to respected adulthood while a 40 year old single or someone who has ‘failed’ in life might still be seen as in the youth category and given little respect.
  • Rural youth find their questioning and exploration suppressed.
  • The growth of peri-urban areas – which are neither wholly rural nor wholly urban but contain both cultures – lead to contradictory expectations on young people in these areas producing confusion and tension.
  • Why have a specific ‘youth service’? There are dangers in having a self-selecting, mono-cultural, mono-age church, not seeing themselves as members of the wider body. There is little opportunity for self-sacrificial love for different ages and cultures within the body. And (as Benard gave various examples in his presentation) there is often very little content to these youth-led youth services – just a random collection of testimonies, thoughts, verses, songs and kuruka – rather than solid Biblical food.
  • Churches tend to engineer programmes for youth as a block but, “the trick is to mentor a few.”

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The following are some personal reflections from iServe Africa alumnus and staff member, James Wainaina:

James Wainaina

I recently attended a meeting to elect leaders of the youth ministry of a major denomination. I must say that my heart was very sad at the lack of commitment. Some came and after a moment they left with the excuse, “we have other engagements”. Deep within myself, I was asking, what is the problem here? Why is it that fewer and fewer young people in church want to take on leadership in youth ministry? There is a lot of laxity. When I sat there in that meeting, I realized something. When the talk was going around, it was more of, “Why do less youths come to church?” “What activities have you planned for the youths in your church?” There was discussion of lots of activities – hiking, swimming, travelling to Mombasa, sport day, dinner etc. But I was just feeling, no, this is not the thing.

I came up with some thoughts on the situation which I tried to address in the meeting as follows:

  1. I think often youth groups are turning into social groupings based on the common reason that our parents come to this church so we also attend church and engage in activities.
  2. The lack of commitment in the youth leadership is just a pointer to a bigger problem of the heart. I actually thought, do the youths understand what gospel ministry is all about? Do they know what the gospel is? When is the last time they heard someone preaching about Christ crucified? The problem I observed is that many of us in the youth fellowship do not understand what this is all about and therefore engaging in the leadership does not “add any value”. After all, there is no pay, no congratulations and no person to mentor us. To take it much further, I thought that the youths who do not engage with the youths fellowship view it as a total waste of time and those who do it have nothing better to do with their time.
  3. There is a total lack of spiritual maturity because the gospel is no longer taught in fellowships anymore. At some point, one of the attendants at the meeting told the youth leaders, “We can be the next Barrack Obama’s” Where is the gospel there?? Isn’t this just worldly aspiration.

What are the solutions? I suggested the following:

  1. We must return to the Biblical gospel of Jesus and not our own creation of what we think is the gospel. To be sincere, am tired of mediocre sermons where someone just appears and starts reading from a notebook of their own thoughts or some self-help book they’ve read instead of pointing to the gospel from the Bible.
  2. We must return to the Word of God. Let it lead us back to the true worship of God. Religious practices and church traditions will not help us much.
  3. Activities are fantastic but without the greater reason as to why we meet and engage in these activities, then we are not any better than a social club. I like what John Stott says, “If the church was to be described in terms of a club, then the church is the only club the exists for the benefit of its non-members.”

This must be the reason for us going to church each Sunday. To hear the gospel, to be transformed by it and above all, to share it with others. That way, our churches will be transformed and grow in their work of discipleship, evangelism and mission. Let’s get back to the gospel.

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Why are the girls in the church youth group all getting babies out of wedlock? Is it:

  1. They don’t know it’s wrong. Solution: Tell them and tell them again.
  2. They don’t know why it’s wrong. Solution: Explain the reasons and the logic.

The first approach might occasionally be appropriate – particularly with a brand new Christian from a pagan background – but it isn’t the problem for most people. The second approach is much better.  Here we’re asking people to Think – not just drone-like obedience. Answering the ‘Why’ is much more powerful than ‘Just Do It’, particularly if we go beyond practical, pragmatic, me-centred reasons for obedience and start talking about Biblical worldview, gospel dynamics, changed identities.

But what if we know what to do, we even know why we should do it, and we still don’t do it? What’s the problem? And what’s the solution? More talks, more discipline, more accountability groups?

One of the biggest things I learnt in 2012 was that we (humans) are fundamentally driven by our passions, our heart, our affections. The talk that particularly convinced me was this one by Peter Mead (this is an edited, illustrated clip of the first half):

If this is true then there are a lot of implications. Here are a few:

  • In discipling and youth work it’s not enough to educate. People need to have their hearts captured by a greater vision, bowled over by a greater love – Christ.
  • In our personal Bible reading we are not just seeking information about God and his commands, we are seeing to know Him, to relate to Him heart-to-heart (Mead talks about how to do this in practice in another part of his talk – here).
  • In preaching we’re not just conveying information, we’re targeting the heart. Not in an emotionally manipulative pumping-up sort of way but by presenting the heart with the right object and author of love – Christ.

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