junior high pastors summit notes, part 4

summit6.jpgin late april, a group of 23 veteran junior high pastors gathered again for a 4-day summit. between all of us, we have 270 years of experience working with middle schoolers. it’s a great group of people, who are passionate about their calling to young teens, and very interested in re-thinking their assumptions and approaches.

this year, noted sociologist christian smith (see post here about christian) join us for a half day, and talked with us primarily about the role of parents in the faith formation of teenagers. out of christian’s data and thoughts, and his responses to our many questions, we formulated a long list of discussion topics, voted on them, and formulated the agenda for the remainder of our days.

we all agreed this was the best of the 8 annual times we’ve met, primarily because we didn’t have easy answers to the issues raised.

i’ll post the notes from the gathering here.

part 4:

Need For Belonging

• Mark O – This last hour of discussion was the first time that we admitted that we don’t know how to do something!
• Eric – We know that the child’s faith and parents faith are tied, so it would be foolish to move on past it. How do we talk about this with parents?
• Mark O – Belonging has always been a problem for teens so why more now?
• Heather – there is more opportunity to belong on a surface level, aka facebook friends
• Corrie – Maybe families are broken and so youth look for belonging elsewhere.
• Heather/Johnny – being cut from sports teams and other social institutions
• Dan – It takes time, and we are increasingly just filling our time with other things.
• April – Why do students come to Youth group… community and friendship were not even in the top 5. They find more belonging in sports and other things, so they came to church to better themselves, not define themselves.
• Christina – Her girls joined small groups because they didn’t have friends at school.
• Brooklyn – there is a shift between 6th grade and 9th grade where they start to decide that they need a sense of belonging, in 6th grade they are still immersed in family, but as they go on they distance themselves.
• Mark O – They can’t understand belonging until they find some sort of autonomy
• Sean – Students identity is out of whack because they jump straight to thinking that this institution will define me, and then when it is not there neither are they.
• Dan – Cultures go through developmental stages where things are over emphasized, and because of this it leaves gaping holes. We are hitting one of those points now that social bonds are going to have higher and higher emphasis. I am intrigued by what belonging really means?
• Heather – All of us experience it in a service when they hear a great message and worship, however they miss a lot when they don’t connect afterwards. It is about creating a community in which your name and story are known, and people care about you, and will lift you up. This leads to the idea of support in identity.
• Brooklyn – solidarity, being around people that understand, share and walk with you through your struggles.
• Mark – a place you have worth and something to contribute
• Steve – a place you can be accepted for who you are
• April – Having someone to walk with in life, someone who is with you in ups and downs. It has to do with loyalty… Ive got your back.
• Sean – I don’t own those who I am friends with but if you mess with them you mess with me.
• Corrie – a place where if you are missing you are missed.
• Jeff – Being valued, and having ownership with friends, and the ownership of bettering the group.
• Johnny – People who need the things that you have.
• Alan M – How is this different from community?
• April – People understood me, and we all loved diversity, and I belonged in that, but didn’t yet have community, I was not intimate in that group yet.
• Jeff – You can be a part of a community and not feel like you belong, if they feel like they belong I think they are contributing.
• Alan M – I feel like it is symantics in how they are picked apart, because I see it opposite.
• Heather – is community big and belonging small?
• Dan – I wonder if community is the environment and belonging is the experience. Community is an environment where belonging can happen. I want a place to know I am loved, and can love. It is a place that you can grow in grace and truth, and to give a gift that matters. To sow a seed that continues, to write something on the wall of eternity that says “I was Here” finally sing a song of joy. If those are involved then you will want to come back.
• Eric – Those are all important but with middle school we lay development on top of that. Are we making some of those more important, and others less so.
• Mark O – It takes abstract thinking to understand and value giving a gift that matters, or sowing a seed that continues.
• Andy – That is what my 8th graders eat up, what am I going to leave, what is my legacy. But the 6th graders have no thoughts on that.

Where are your ministries succeeding at this and where are they falling down?

• Heather – We pull from 41 different schools, but 55% are from eden prarie, so I wear a different sweatshirt and t-shirt from a different school so that students see that i care. I email everyone and say to them to come and where their colors. It is a tangible way to recognize your youth!
• Nate – We had a student abducted and killed, and her little sister went from being anonymous to everyone knowing her, and she shrivled. We had to go over to her house to connect with her and try to be with her, finally last week she attended group for the first time.
• Mark O – We have the tendency to look for programmatic responses, and our discussion so far has been to look for tricks to show them belonging. but this is a reminder to look for individuals.
• Christina – We had a girl that was in a play, so we put her on the screen in front of everyone and she was on cloud 9.
• Nate – In the fall I coach guys soccer, and if they are bad I yell at them as a whole, but with the girls I have to coach individually and through relationships. So the thing that makes one girl excited could terrify another!
• Eric – Some Churches describe community and understand there are a lot of ways to get there, and then there are others that just want people in the building, which reflects that they don’t care why your there.
• Mark O – Based on Christian’s finding, think of the active kids, what percentage of those kids do you think are experiencing true belonging?
• Heather 40% of the regulars
• Alan R / Jeff – 50%
• Steve – more girls than guys
• Heather – one of the girls that I thought was for sure feeling belonged turned out to just be feeling left out, so I get nervous
• Jason – I think it is much lower than that percentage, I want it to be 50% but I don’t think we are measuring it with the correct variables, they don’t care for eachother like they should, One boy is a figure skater, and they all thought he was gay.
• Mark O – 30%
• Christina – Really? I feel like only those in our student leadership and a couple small groups.
• Andy – I wonder if it is developmental, in 6th grade it is all new, but our 8th graders have grown through things together.
• Alan R – I feel like my 6th grade boys feel so connected because I can give so much more time than my other volunteers.

How much can we influence this?

• Sean – This circle of Youth Pastors is not the norm, and I talk to new youth pastors that feel like they don’t belong, so can students belong if their leaders don’t?
• April – I keep going back to the time issue, we have 75 min a week, so how do we get kids to experience belonging in that little bit of time?
• Mark O – If they don’t experience belonging, then why are they going to continue to go to church.
• April – We do a great job of knowing every kids name, and touching them each week, it communicates belonging with these personal things. They don’t have to perform or produce anything.
• Jim – What are we inviting them to belong to? Is it belonging to a group, small group, Church, Body of Christ?
• Alan – Belonging seems like a deeper level of community, so shouldn’t we start by creating community and then take it from there?
• Dan – What is this community thing? We use the One Another phrases, love one another etc. I wonder if these are the engagements then belonging is when these engagements are being used. It is more than just throwing group events, it is bringing them to a place where they are experiencing these engagements.
• Alan M. – It seems almost to linear, it seems like community is so crazy, not just an a to b to c type thing.
• Eric – Because we are such a small slice of students lives, we need to recognize that the other things that they are doing aren’t all bad. Lets understand this is where we fit in this life.
• Scott – How many people can you help belong anyways? I have to bring in others to help do this.
• Corrie – There are different layers of belonging, we can’t just make them belong.
• Nate – The night after the girl was abducted we were with the family, and we literally hid from all media. Then a family came in and said that ten years ago our daughter was abducted and killed, and the weight was lightened because they connected on such a deep level. We connect with pseudo belonging, they were real.
• Jim – I keep coming back to my default line as how do we connect them to youth min, and that is wrong, obviously what I want is belonging to Christ – belonging to his Kingdom. This just looks way different from anything we have perceived.
• Dan – I think you are figuring it out, it is a constant reinvention and discovery. I would urge you to sit with how the one another engagements are finding there way into your groups. In spite of the differences I think my son has some of the same basic belongings I had. The experience of belonging will significantly go up for our kids.
• Nate – the week after this interaction with the families, the family was doing exactly what the other family did for them.
• Mark O – We are still living with models approaches and styles tuned to autonomy, we don’t really know how to do this.

Belonging to the Church

• Jason – We have a couple from Romania who feel that the mega church has killed or destroyed belonging and community, because in Romania it is 120 people who are family oriented, so is it possible to find belonging while being in the context of being with massive amounts of people? I experience real belonging in my small group of friends.
• Mark O – Why couldn’t we find belonging in big churches?
• Jason – In my old church students never experienced church as a family so how does a 12 year old experience real community in the church in such a separate place.
• Scott – I would maintain that even when kids are in the same service as adults, they are mean to them, they don’t smile, and they aren’t inviting.
• Corrie – I don’t feel like that is true, but my church is more oriented toward contemporary style. Rob is an advocate for the youth so people celebrate our students.
• Scott – I feel like culturally looking in the eyes of teens is unwanted, there may not be suspicion but is there any want of intergenerational relationships
• Steve – How many students attend the church service with their parents?… about 10%
• Heather – Parents don’t go to 2 services, they are one hour families
• Mark O – Students going to a service that means nothing doesn’t bring belonging.
• Mark J. – We canceled Youth Min for a day and encouraged students go to church with their parents. We do it often, and now we see the whole church wanting to get involved by having the pulpit promote it.
• Christina – We did the every 4th Sunday go to big church, but the pastor was preaching on irrelevant things for the youth.
• Alan R. – I didn’t necessarily understand the services, but I still loved going to Church as being a member of a church family.
• Scott – Is there an environmental difference that affects youth.
• Mark O – We all agree that attending service isn’t belonging, so then what is?
• Nate – I had 6th graders that were checking out jr. high and they were talking about how they were helping in the nursery with my own kids. I was excited that we had a place for them through serving, they were valued.
• Brooklyn – Do you think ceremonies have been segregated and are no longer brought in front of large congregations. Aka youth baptisms instead intergenerational.
• Ken – I now go to a Church that does celebrate those ceremonies that do that, and I see that more kids stay involved because people care about them.
• Christina – What about kids that go to multiple churches?
• Andy – we have that to, we have tons of kids that go to the catholic church on Sunday, but are still going to be confirmed in another church, and the families aren’t a part of that.
• Scott – We moved our services to other times so that they had to pick our church.
• Heather – there is a small problem with custodial issues so they are pulled between two places.
• Jeff – We have the senior pastor lay his hands on students who are in service, and recognize their value.
• Jim – The kids that really belong are those who have a network of parents who bond together with a leader alongside of it.
• Mark O – What are the implications of the 5 friends and a youth pastor that make belonging?
• Eric – I am still very intrigued by the Youth Pastor family and parent connection. With family connections it is easier for students to invite one another.
• Johnny – There are parents that have no contact with anyone from the church community.
• Jeff – The kids that are growing are the ones that need to invite their friends, and do those families with high value in faith does that translate into the new friend and family?
• Mark O – We need to look at the existing social networks of kids and work through them by instead of trying to attract them with our stuff we go and look at where these networks already are and connect with them there.
• Heather – I have a man that has worked with us for a long time, and he is all about our programs, but does not want to acclimate to culture.
• Jeff – How is that different from the old young life approach.
• Mark O – That was where they went after the popular kids and therefore attracted others, but now that doesn’t work, it was life on life with certain kids, and made others who aspired to be popular join.
• Alan R. – We have some business guys in our church who said they wanted to reach the skaters, So we had a skater talk with them on how they could be a presence in that community.
• Mark O – I don’t think you have to reflect the values of the skaters to be able to connect with a group of kids.
• Mark O – We need to look through 1 of 3 options. 1 is a Youth min of Youth ministries, 2, a supra – culture kingdom of God Culture ministry. 3, a hybrid of the two
• Heather – Will there be tension if we say hey we are all part of Gods kingdom, but then separating out into the separate group.
• Brooklyn – Look at Madonna and see how she has reinvented herself, but is still the same, in the same way we all need to reinvent ourselves.
• April – Our Middle School is fine now, but our highschool min is screwed up, because it is so different.
• Eric – In ten years will these problems be hitting middle school min?
• Brooklyn – Our kids are all very different even though it is predominantly white.
• Mark O – my 6 guys are not the same, so I am doing number 2 they would not naturally be an affinity group. They just happen to be locationally close
• April – I think there is so much blending between the two…
• Mark O – 6th graders have not yet split into affinity groups, where as 8th graders have.
• April – Maybe number one is what we have to work with in order to get to number 2
• Mark O – I think option two is extremely better if possible, it is so hard because we only have 75 minutes a week with them!
• Sean – If I went back and tried to explain 2 to an average person I feel like it would be a paradise like thing.
• April – What stays, and what goes with #2, we need to reinvent some and keep some.
• Brooklyn – A Kingdom Manifesto by Howard Snyder
• Alan M. – My struggle is isn’t number 2 what the church has always supposed to have been?
• Andy – Speechless…What if we did away with intergenerational boundaries, my pastor loves kids, but it still doesn’t find its way through the church.

4 Approaches of parenting and how they apply to Ministry

Disengaged Youth Min is what?
• Heather – A baby sitting mentality.
• Eric – an entertainment approach without relationship
• Steve – A few leaders standing in the back
• Mark O – I spoke for a church that existed to be a nominally moral country club for kids. After 3 or 4 nights I said to the YP that a bunch of your kids aren’t even Christ followers, can I present the gospel, and he said yeah I have been here 2 years and haven’t had a chance yet.
• Cristin- when we know there are issues in their lives yet we ignore them.
• Eric – Like a Dad coming home saying look at how I have provided for you, but not being with them, is that like our youth centers?
• Christina – Affects, I know from the place I was there was no leadership and that made it disengaged, and then staff gave up. Children ran amok, staff didn’t know what to do then youth started to fall away.
• Steve – No Hope No belonging.

Permissive
• Brooklyn – you aren’t specific, for example if you never talk about drinking you talk about doing right and wrong. Grace based approach no acountability
• April – Not telling Kids no
• Eric – Leaders that aren’t empowered.
• Mark O – This ministry lines up with MTD, we want you to feel loved at all costs.
• Heather – Talk about it, but never talk about how to fix the problem… Nothing is really wrong.
• Brooklyn – Jesus loves you so confess but don’t repent.
• Cristin – I think we allow ourselves to become people pleasers and allow other variables to impose on us, and by giving into that pressure we teach our kids that it is ok to give into peer pressure. We go after numbers and we are not focusing on creating good disciples. Pre-marital sex, should I play it safe, or offend a few people and tell a strong message.
• Steve – We back off the cost of following Jesus and support the be happy don’t fail message.
• April – having roles and guidelines put not enforcing them.
• Brooklyn – It seems to be a reflection of how the parents of your students are…
• Johnny – All 4 of these things we are reflecting our goal and style through our clues, and how our faith is played out. So then they see God in the style that they see.
• Brooklyn – Teenagers know when you don’t know what to do…

Authoritarian
• Heather – High expectations no hug
• Nate – One Way communication
• Eric – We yell at kids
• Ken – We Punish don’t discipline
• Johnny – we don’t have time for kids
• Eric – Joy in being right.

Authoritative
• Brooklyn – Adults that set boundaries, open to sharing and receiving, know kids names, Clear communication
• Heather – When we talk we want to find out the reason for the craziness not just punish
• Eric – We have things set up that have safety
• Steve – Involving Parents
• Brooklyn – It is hard to do this with authoritarians because they view themselves as such an asset.
• Scott – I LIKE IT we do an every other week gathering to keep up with what is going on and encourage our leaders.
• Phil – This is lived out without set rules, it is messy and one kid at a time, our ministry doesn’t have rules, the hope is that as kids live their lives and we teach Gods word, then we will know how to interact with students.
• Cristin – Rules that are broken have logical consequences.
• Christina – I think about going to winter camp and give all the same rules, yet my staff lets the kids break those boundaries
• Jason – It all depends on the culture of our church, we need to cast our style to all our leaders.

3 thoughts on “junior high pastors summit notes, part 4”

  1. Hi Mark and everyone who reads this!

    I’m new in the field of youth ministry and am in the process of compiling training articles in a couple areas:

    1) major differences b/w middle school and high school youth 2) general ministry ideas to jr. highers and 3) ministry ideas to sr. highers.

    Could you point me to resources you’ve found helpful in these areas? I’m not going to plug ‘n play (God might not want me to with whatever resources/ideas you pass along), but I don’t want to reinvent the wheel either! There’s wisdom in the counsel of many. my email is [email protected]. Thanks so much, and peace!

    In Christ,
    Daniel

  2. Thanks for posting the notes. Sounds like some awesome discussion. Creative approach on the parenting styles thing- never even saw the similarities before!
    Belonging is so key…I love Chap Clark’s illustration about how students walk in withe antennae/radar with the huge question “DO YOU LIKE ME????”

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