YVQ15 | Breaking Down Walls

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Writer Nathan Want

It was November in 2009 and I was sitting a café waiting to meet my new boss. At the time, I was the Youth Pastor at Careforce Church (now known as Discovery Church) and while I was on annual leave I was informed of a restructure that had happened in our kids, youth, and young adult ministry. This restructure was to generate greater alignment between all these ministries and to create a seamless discipleship pathway from zero to thirty years old. So in my first week it was arranged for me to meet with Peter Lusk, who had taken on the role of Generations Pastor and talk about how this would be outworked and expressed in the youth ministry. 

I knew Pete already—well, I knew of him. He was a member of the kids team that all worked at the other end of the building. Those familiar with Discovery know it’s quite the journey to the other side, so you might as well pack a snack and tent for the trip. Once a year I would meet up with Pete to talk about the transition of year 6 students into the youth ministry. This conversation never really went longer than an hour. In that meeting he would pass on contact information and agree when they would transition. That was the extent of our contact, and now I hear he is my boss and I’m waiting for him in a café thinking about what on Earth we are even going to talk about. 

He turned up and we had our first meeting, and on reflection I would describe it like an awkward first date. We made surface level conversation about who we were and what we liked, and started to explore how we could create this seamless discipleship pathway. At the end of the meeting we got up from our table, paid for our own bills, got back into our cars, and drove five minutes down the road back to the church. It’s interesting to note that on that day we both came from the church and didn’t travel together, and somehow we didn’t see how siloed we had become. We were both building good ministries, but with no intention of setting the other up to win. It wasn’t malice, it was just what we knew to do. 

Maybe like us, you’ve found yourself in a similar situation. Maybe you are or you have been part of a ministry team that’s been more caught up in doing their own thing that they miss the bigger picture of doing something together for the sake of the generations. 

The truth is when I look across generational ministry (kids, youth, and young adults) the stories I often hear are of ministries working separately and not in collaboration.

This happens because we’ve made our own ministry area that we lead more important than anything else in church life, or we don’t have a relationship with key ministry leaders in kids or young adults, or we have good intentions to work in collaboration with kids, youth, or young adults but we just don’t know where to start or we don’t have enough time to add another thing to the list of things we need to do. 

But what if we pushed aside what we know? Let go of our own agendas? Worked together, hand in hand, shoulder to shoulder? Pushed aside differences in ministry practice and philosophy to be part of something bigger and greater? 

I just want to take a few moments to explore how to create a generationally-focussed ministry. 

This whole idea of working in partnership with ministries should, in theory, be easy to do, but we are caught up in deadlines, faith goals, leadership expectations, or the next best thing in church life that we miss the bigger picture and the bigger story that God wants to write across all areas of church life. 

So how did we create a generational focus? 

We Appointed A Leader 

The first move made was to make a leadership change. Peter Lusk stepped up from being one the kids pastors to become the Generations Pastor to have oversight over kids, youth, and young adults. This was a game changing move because we then had a key person in place who was focussed on bringing the team together and creating and implementing a seamless discipleship process.

We Got In The Same Room

I remember Andy Stanley saying, “If you can’t get in the room, you will never get on the same page.” Which is so true. Early on, our Senior Pastor decided that we needed to work in the same area. So the kids team moved from the other side of the building specifically to be with us. At the time I didn’t think this was overly significant, but I noticed something over time. From barely seeing each other we started to cross paths everyday. We would pop into each other’s offices and say hello and see how people were going. From there conversation evolved to what we were doing in our ministry. Pete also initiated a handful of other things like getting away together, regular meetings focussed on learning about each other’s ministry area and how we could contribute to its success. As we got in the same room, we started to get on the same page. We started to champion and pray for each other’s ministry. We got in the same room while planning our years out and worked together to make sure that our ministry areas didn’t clash, but complemented each other. This was great for families and for those who were leading and serving in these areas. 

We Shifted Our Focus 

If we were going to be successful in creating a generational pathway, there were some behaviours that needed to change in us and within our teams. 

The first shift we made was to stop poaching and start building. Every ministry area will have more vision than the volunteers they need to make it happen. For us, we would go after each other’s team, especially at the end of the year, and try and recruit for what we had on our heart to do. But we began to shift from poaching to building. I would sit with people that were looking to serve in the youth ministry and instead of thinking how would I fit them in I would be thinking, ‘Where is their best place of contribution in our church?’—it may be youth but it may not. I was committed to building teams in other areas, not just my own. 

The second shift was that we got involved in each other’s activity. There were key moments where the youth ministry needed to be present within the kids ministry. For example, kids camp—making connections with Year 6 students. I also made it a priority to be part of the kids team at special events. I would have the kids camp in my calendar and come on camp to serve the Kids Pastor and team, and connect with students. We did the same with the young adults ministry, they would come on our Senior High camp to serve and build connections with students. Even in the lead up to camps we would make ourselves available to each other to do whatever was needed to carry some of the burden of the camp. We did this not because we had to, we did it because we wanted to. The truth is, you can do more together than you can apart. 

The third shift was that we aligned our curriculum. We started to look at what students need to know, and what they will experience at different stages of their development and we found the Orange resources of 252, XP3 helped put language around what we were trying to achieve. It also created a strategy of what we would teach our 0-18 year olds. 

The fourth shift was that we told everyone that would listen how great the other ministry was. It was more than just lip service, we actually lived it out in action. We were committed to building each other’s ministry, not just our own. 

The reason why this philosophy of generational ministry became important to me was all because of one night at Orange Conference in Atlanta. I was sitting in a session and Kara Powell from Fuller Youth Institute was speaking. She shared an interesting insight about what happens to year 12s once they graduate. She said 40-50% of young people when they finish their schooling will walk away from their faith. At the time I thought that was a crazy statistic that captured the condition of US students. But I was unsettled and I couldn’t get that thought out of my mind, so I decided to pull up my computer in my hotel room and look at the life group lists of year 12s for the last 3 years. I started with the most recent list and I would put a tick next to their name if they were still engaged in our church and cross if they weren’t around. As I completed the first list I could see more crosses than ticks. I added it up, and in the most recent year we had 60% of our students drop off. I was horrified that this happened on my watch. When I did the same analysis of the next two years, I once again got between 45 and 55%. 

I was pretty overwhelmed with grief. This was more than just a number, this was someone’s life. I knew that night that something had to change. Something had to change in what I was doing and what we were doing as a team across kids, youth, and young adults. This became my energy and drive to work closely with all of these ministry areas so that no young person would fall through the cracks. Even today I am equally passionate about this, and when I sit with ministry leaders I talk about the power and importance of working in alignment for the sake of this generation. 

If there was one thought I would leave with you it would be this: be less territorial and build the Kingdom. Stop trying to build your empire. Stop trying to do something out of alignment with the rhythm of your church. Be a leader committed to generational success.

Because when the kids ministry wins, I win. When the youth ministry wins, I win. When the young adults ministry wins, I win. When the church wins, I win. ●

Originally published in YVQ15:GENERATIONS.

Writer Nathan Want. Nathan ‘Dubsy’ Want is one of Australia’s emerging voices in youth culture. For the past decade he has been working with young people in primary schools, secondary schools, and local churches, speaking into their world and giving students and leaders skills and resources to navigate life well

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