Youth Ministry Bible Study: What is Mission?


Brian Kirk, from RETHINKING YOUTH MINISTRY, posted this excellent Bible Study last May. As our diocese begins to explore “Ministry for Mission” beyond the theory and theology this Bible study is an excellent way to engage young people in your group – it would be a great accompaniment to the 2012 Lent Course

How can we help young people think more intentionally about the radical mission of the Church?

In progressive/mainline churches, when we speak of “mission” we are most often speaking of the work of the Church, who and what we are called to be as followers of Christ. Our mission is most tangible in the ways that we live together as community and the activities to which we give our time and treasure.  In this understanding, everything from worship, to youth group gatherings, to building a Habitat for Humanity house have the potential to be mission-focused.

As our youth ministry prepared for a week of hands-on volunteer work last summer we took time to invite our teens to explore just what we mean by the word “mission” and how it connects to the life of Jesus and the life of the church.  The program we used is posted below:

  • Getting Ready: Mission Possible (5 min.) – Begin with this “Group Draw” community builder activity. In brief, teens work in teams of three to recreate a simple image. Only one teen can see the image and must communicate it to the others with sign language. Only one of the teens can watch this person and share verbally what he or she is describing.  The last teen attempts to draw the image, though is unable to watch what the others are doing.  For the image, use the photo to the right (found here). Afterwards, discuss what it was like to do this challenge.
  • Digging In:  What is mission? Read together Luke 4: 14-30, depicting Jesus’ journey back to his hometown and his reading from Isaiah in the synagogue. Ask: How might this text helps us understand what Jesus believed his mission to be?  What did he feel called to do?  Why did the people of his hometown reject his mission? (Note: the text implies that he felt the justice of God was for all people, including gentiles, and this is what angers the crowd)  What might this tell us about the challenges of participating in God’s mission of radical justice for all?  What challenges might we face if we participate in God’s mission to the oppressed, the poor, and the captive?
  • Reflecting: In small groups, take time to look again at the airplane image. Ask: As a metaphor, what might this image have to say to us about the mission of the Church and how we carry out that mission? Challenge the students to consider what the plane, the parachutes, the people, and even the act of skydiving itself might represent in our call to mission. (Note: In our discussion, some of group saw the parachutes as God, supporting us in mission. Others saw the parachute as representing us, supporting and uplifting those we are called to serve in mission.  Some saw God as the plane. Others saw the plane as the Church.  Several noted that the group jumps together, reminding us that we participate in mission as a community.  Finally, we discussed how mission, like skydiving, takes us out of our comfort zone and involves risk and challenge.) After a few minutes, share your observations as a large group. For a second metaphor, watch this video. Again, discuss how the various images and elements might be metaphors for mission (Note: this video as metaphor may be less obvious than the plane image, but it yielded some rich and unexpected responses from our youth).
  • Wrapping Up: Share that mission “is not what we do but what we are.” Mission is the self-proclamation of the Church to the world about our deepest values, the most important parts of our identity, and who we are at our core. It’s our witness — what we profess to be to the world. Ask youth: How would you sum up our mission in a word or phrase? What would you declare our witness to be? Invite each person to write their word or phrase on a speech bubble (as in photos at the top) and snap their picture. Use the images for a bulletin board display in your church or perhaps share them on your youth website or blog  as a public online witness to your understanding of the mission of the Church.

Advent Ideas for Youth Ministry: Coldplay’s “Christmas Lights”

Coldplay’s “Christmas Lights” offers a path to help teens explore the deeper questions of Advent. From Brian Kirk at RethinkingYouthMinistry.

Opening: Prepare in advance a  string (or more) of Christmas lights all tangled together in a bundle. Challenge your youth to  untangle the bunch in one minute or less (while showing care not to damage the lights!). Increase the challenge by having them work together with each person keeping one arm behind their back. Afterwards, invite the group to think about how this activity might represent how some people see their lives this time of the year. While so many people are celebrating and the radio tells us this is “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” for some (including perhaps a few of your youth) this is a season of brokenness, doubt, and hopelessness.  Help your students identify where that brokenness might be manifest in their schools, your community, the world.

Digging In: Read together Mark 1: 1-8.  Reflect on John’s call to repentance. At its most basic, the word “repent” really means to “turn around,” to head in a new direction.  John was challenging people to get ready for the coming of Jesus by reorienting their hearts toward God. Help the youth to consider what was going on in the ancient near east at the time that would have made John’s declaration of the coming Kingdom of God so attractive (e.g. Roman occupation, oppression, poverty). Ask: Are there any similar situations going on in the world today?  Where might there be people who really want to believe that God’s justice and peace is almost here?Next, watch or listen to Coldplay’s “Christmas Lights.”

This tune tells of a broken relationship at Christmastime:

Christmas night, another fight
Tears we cried a flood
Got all kinds of poison in
Poison in my blood

I took my feet
To Oxford Street
Trying to right a wrong
Just walk away
Those windows say
But I can’t believe she’s gone

When you’re still waiting for the snow to fall
Doesn’t really feel like Christmas at all.

Invite responses to the song. Ask: Why do you think Coldplay would create such a melancholy song for Christmas?   Who do you think could relate to this tune? Why does it sometimes seem, even in the middle of December, that  it doesn’t really feel like Christmas at all?
Ask: The song talks of “waiting for the snow.” What else do you think people in need are waiting for this Advent?
Post several large sheets of paper around the room.  At the top of each, write one of these words: school, family, city, country, world. Invite the youth to take time at each sheet of paper to write down what people in need in those contexts are “waiting” for this Advent season.  What might be on their Christmas lists this year? (e.g. peace, a new job, health care, less crime in the neighborhood, enough food, end of war, etc)

Why Are Youth Still Staying Away From Church?


Brian Kirk on his great website RETHINKING YOUTH MINISTRY ponders the problem of why young people are staying away from the church. His cultural context is America, however, there are some issues that resonate for those of us working in the UK!

The Barna Group and David Kinnaman continue to share findings from their five-year project surveying youth and young adults on their reasons for disconnecting from the Church.  In particular, the study looked at those youth who had been active in church but are no longer.  The respondents shared many reasons but six major themes emerged for what seems to be keeping youth away from organized Christian faith:
  • Churches seems overprotective (e.g. resist, demonize, and ignore real-world issues and problems).
  • Youth experience Christianity in the Church as shallow (e.g. not relevant or connected to an experience of God.)
  • Churches appear antagonistic to science.
  • Churches take an overly-simplistic or judgmental view of sexuality.
  • Youth struggle with exclusive claims of some Christian churches.
  • Youth sees the Church as unfriendly to those who doubt. 
Their findings suggest that churches ignore these issues at our own peril.  Twenty years ago we could rely on youth leaving the church for a few years, then marrying, starting a family and coming back.  This just isn’t the case anymore for most youth. Adolescence stretches into the mid-to-late twenties and many young people put off school, career, and family much longer. Additionally, the internet and social media are exposing young people to a vastly diverse world of ideas, religious beliefs, and culture.  In other words, its a whole new ballgame.

Occupy the church?


Brian Kirk (RethinkingYouthMinistry) wrote an interesting article on Patheos about the intersection of the Occupy Wall Street movement and the call to help youth take a place of greater responsibility within churches. This has really got me thinking!

I’m not sure just getting young people to fill posts and committees that meet the approval of the current institution is what we need – that’s all a bit sycophantic for me. However, we do need to engage young people in a real way that allows them to shape and create rather than simply keep the spiritual pensions of those who are maintaining the current situation. If my future depends on young people keeping things going the way I like it, I fear that I may be a drain on them rather than a release. That’s not real partnership at all… the lack of young people in their 20s across our many of churches would indicate that listening to young people over the last decade hasn’t produced the results we wanted – perhaps this is a true indication of spiritual protectionism rather than the releasing transformative gospel (perhaps dialogue would have been better!!). I have begun to question as to whether our current structures can really begin to see the world the way that young people do and yet I believe our spiritual, rather than our business, attitudes as a community have much to offer. The problem of how we get younger or new generations to engage will be made easier (but still hard) if we are able to welcome fellow pilgrims rather than disciples in waiting who need filling up. The mystery of being bread & wine people and making disciples won’t bring “growth” if we are not operating as peers and co-heirs of the Kingdom (even if we are separated by age and experience).

So, after all the fun and games at the Occupy London Stock Exchange camp at St Paul’s Cathedral and the considerable amount of bad press for the church generally, perhaps there’s something in Brian’s proposal that would be revolutionary!

From Brian’s blog:

Rather than relegating teens to the backseat of Church life, as we so often do, why not invite them into positions of leadership and responsibility? Instead of limiting teen participation to joining the youth group or leading on one token Sunday of the year, why not invite adolescents to serve as the chairs of church committees and ministry teams or as leaders of worship? Like the Occupy Wall Street movement, we might find that allowing teens to lead and make decisions creates some messiness and inconvenience for those of us already in positions of power, but the passion of youth might also help to propel the Church into exciting new expressions of mission, ministry, and change for the better. 


What do you think?


Missional Youth Ministry…At A Glance

mymchart 3

I found this interesting post from Brian Kirk at RETHINKING YOUTH MINISTRY about missional youth ministry. So as we are considering Ministry for Mission as a Diocese I thought it might be useful to consider how our youth and children’s ministry might take on a missional shape. Are you trying an attractional approach??? How about a missional one? Read on:

Click to enlarge

I attempted to redesign a simple visual way to compare the earlier youth ministry paradigm known as “attractional youth ministry” and the emerging paradigm many would label “missional youth ministry” (you can click on the image above to see a larger version).  Though I resist suggesting these two views of ministry are in complete opposition to one another, I find it helpful to set them side-by-side to point out the differences.  In summary:

Attractional Youth Ministry

  • The weekly meeting/worship service is the focus.
  • Marketing is used to bring participants into that meeting.
  • Evangelism is focused on making participants into members of the group/church.
  • Programming (Bible study, mission, fellowship, worship) is all designed to draw or attract participants into that weekly meeting and church membership.
  • Most of the work is done by professional or paid ministry staff.

Missional Youth Ministry

  • The mission of the Church (big “C”) is the focus.
  • Participants are sent out to embody that mission in the world.
  • Evangelism is primarily about living out and telling the good news.
  • Ministry, rather than programming, makes up the bulk of the activity. All activity (study, mission, fellowship, worship) is seen through the lens of “What is our mission?”
  • Strong emphasis on the priesthood of all believers — empowering youth to find their own call within the ministry of the Church and to live it out in their daily lives.

Certainly there is overlap between the two models, but the greatest distinction is that one is more inwardly focused toward the Church as institution and the other more outwardly focused toward our call to ministry in our own daily context.  Your thoughts?  How might you change or tweak this model?  What is missing?  Does this connect with or push back against your understand of “missional?”


Discussion Starter: How will you be remembered?



I read this on the excellent RETHINKING YOUTH MINISTRY – i reckon it’s a good way to get young people talking and reflecting

This idea could provide a window not only into what values the teens in your group already carry with them, but what values you might help them explore in the coming year. Share with your teens the story of Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite. This story, perhaps apocryphal, encourages each of us to consider what, in the end, we want our life to be about. Nobel awoke one morning to find that a French paper had erroneously published his obituary, which condemned him for his destructive invention. This was a literal wake-up call for the inventor. Intent on leaving behind a more positive legacy, he determined then and there to create and fund the Nobel Peace Prize.

After sharing the story, invite your youth to project their imaginations far, far into the future and consider what they would want people to say about them at the end of their lives. What would friends and family share about them? What will have been their accomplishments? What will have been most important to them in life? Relationships? Money? Faith? Family? Career? You could invite them to explore these questions in a variety of ways:

1) Write a “In Memory of…” newspaper article about themselves,

2) Create graffiti about themselves on paper hung on the walls,

3) Develop their own epitaph and write it on an image of a gravestone (an interesting alternative if you are doing this activity close to Halloween or All Saints Day),

4) Team with a friend and act out a mock talk-show where they banter about the many amazing things each of them did in their lifetimes.

5) Simply go around the room and invite each person to share their thoughts verbally (allowing individuals to “pass” if they don’t want to speak).

Follow-up by asking youth to note what sorts of personal values their ideas about the future seem to suggest about their lives now and in the days to come.

Note: I can imagine some might find this a morbid or a touchy subject to discuss with teens. I’m reminded of a church member who told me recently that we really can’t start living until we acknowledge or own finitude. Our teens do think about death and the end of life, whether we talk about it with them or not. If we choose never to deal with the issue, we still teach them something by our silence. If the church can’t talk with youth about the end of life, who should?

If you want more discussion starters from RETHINKING YOUTH MINISTRY click here

RETHINKING YOUTH MINISTRY: make your own prayer labyrinth

labyrinth logo


Walking a labyrinth can be a great opportunity for helping your youth focus on the journey of faith.


With most of us getting ready to kick-off a new school year in our youth ministries, why not spend some time with your youth focusing on the journey of faith — both the journey of the past and the journey you are about to make together into the future?  The labyrinth is an ancient Christian spiritual tool for aiding individuals in meditation and prayer.  In many ways, it symbolizes the walk of the journey of faith.  We enter a labyrinth with a prayer or question offered up to God. The journey into and out of the labyrinth provides time to offer thanks for those who have walked with us on the journey of faith thus far and to seek guidance from God’s Spirit for the journey ahead.


If you aren’t lucky enough to serve a church that already has a labyrinth, it’s pretty easy to make one of your own. Labyrinths can be painted onto canvas or taped out on a floor with masking tape. But one of the easiest methods is simply creating an outdoor labyrinth using a few stakes, a piece of rope, and some biodegradable spray paint.  You can see in the images below the outdoor labyrinth we created at camp a few weeks ago.  It took about 30 minutes to finish.  The full directions can be found here.  Ideas for how to use a labyrinth with your youth are here and here.

RETHINKING YOUTH MINISTRY: Worship Idea – Growing With God

Try this simple hands-on worship experience to encourage your youth to seek growth in their faith.
Once a year in the summer our church joins several others in our inner city neighborhood for an outdoor worship experience just prior to the jazz concert in a local park that we co-sponsor.  The service is open to anyone who might be in the park early for the concert and we are often joined by neighbors and strangers alike.
This year our theme was “Growing with God.” We focused on the story of creation and how we are part of God’s ever-expanding movement in the world. At one point in the service, we invited people to come forward and take a slip of paper and write a prayer for those things in their lives for which they would ask God for growth (e.g. patience, trust, compassion, understanding).  They then folded up these prayers and placed them in the bottom of a small paper pot (see photo), added a few spoonfuls of potting soil, a couple of flower seeds, and more soil.  These were topped off with a tiny bit of water for good measure.
Next, participants used sharpies to write on the outside of the paper pots a prayer for those things they would wish to see growth for in the world (e.g. peace, economic justice, access to clean water and food for all, etc), and to contemplate how God might be inviting us to be a part of that growth.  Each pot was then placed with the communion elements and formed into the shape of a cross.  We then shared in communion and a communion feast of the various foods each person brought to share.  Neighbors who just happened to be in the park were invited to join the feast as well and to share their fellowship with us.
At the end of our time together, each person was invited to take home someone else’s pot, plant it in the ground, tend it, and contemplate how we are called to serve together in community to bring about growth in each other and God’s Kingdom.