Maybe cliques aren’t bad: Stop trying to make your youth group like each other

“What are you doing about the cliques in youth group?”

If you are in youth ministry, you’ve probably heard that question. It may have come from a tattle-telling teenager, a concerned parent or a critical church member. In each case, the assumption is this: Making teenagers get along is part of your job. I disagree.

C.S. Lewis writes in his book, The Four Loves, about the difference between lovers and friends. Lovers stand face to face but friends stand shoulder to shoulder, looking at the same thing. Friendship is built around a shared interest for something else and their shared gaze keeps the friends side by side.

D.A. Carson writes that the church is “a band of natural enemies who love one another for Jesus’ sake” (Love In Hard Places). What this means (I think) is that outside of Jesus, we Christians wouldn’t necessarily be pals. What makes us a part of God’s family is not how enamored we are with each other but how in love we are with Jesus!

We exert a lot of wasted energy in getting teenagers to like each other. The problem is that outside of Christ, you can only appeal to self-serving or self-preserving reasons to get teens to get along. The cruel twist is that the more a group grows to like each other for reasons other than a shared love for Jesus and His mission, the more likely they are to stop caring about both Jesus and His mission!

If you take Carson’s thought and combine it with Lewis’ thought then you begin to realize that what you really need to do is help teenagers see and appreciate the person and the work of Jesus. That alone will lead to true biblical community. No community is more powerful than a community made up of Christian friendships built around a shared love for the Savior.

The next time someone asks you what you’re doing about cliques maybe you should reply: “Nothing. But I’m doing everything I can to help those teenagers grow to love Jesus.”

Guest Post: David Hertweck served as senior associate pastor of Trinity A/G in Clay, NY for over eleven years. He served as the lead pastor of inside-out student ministries and element young adults ministries and as a worship leader. He is an ordained Assembly of God minister. He presently serves as the District Youth Ministries and Chi Alpha Director. He’s also the author of The Word: a 31 day devotional… buy one and make as many copies as you want.

Are you teaching teenagers the Gospel or Moralism/Motivationalism?

But we refused to give in to them for a single moment. We wanted to preserve the truth of the gospel message for you.  Galatians 2:5 (NLT)

From the church’s beginning until today, there has waged a battle to preserve the truth of the gospel message. Every generation, every culture and every heart finds ways to pervert the Gospel. The Gospel is the proclamation that Jesus became man, lived perfect in our place and died shamed in our place. His life and work makes repentant sinners entirely accepted and approved (righteous) before a holy God. It’s a complete work of grace. Tim Keller says it this way: “we are sinful beyond belief but loved beyond hope.”

One of the constant threats to the Gospel message is the moralistic message and motivational message.

Moralistic messages begin and end with:You SHOULD!”
Motivational messages begin and end with: You CAN!”
But the Gospel message begins with You MUST but you CAN’T!”

Thankfully, it doesn’t end there.

In youth ministry there is undeniable pressure to get teenagers to behave. The problem is there is nothing more exhausting AND dangerous than convincing unconverted teenagers to behave like Christians. This problem is exacerbated by the truth that it is possible to leverage lesser motivations (fear, pride, guilt) to manufacture behavior change–even spiritual activity. You can build and grow a youth ministry on moralism and motivationalism!

There are so many reasons our hearts default to moralism.  It offers us control.  We can measure ourselves.  We can measure others.  We aren’t truly indebted to the grace of God – there’s a limit to what He can ask of us.

There are four primary responses in the mind and hearts of students when they hear moralistic/motivational preaching:

DEFIANT: “I never get this right and I don’t care.”

DESPAIR:“I never get this right and I never will.”

DETERMINED:“I never get this right but I will now.”

DESENSITIZED:“I never get this wrong/I always get this right.”

In each response, the teenager is focused on self. The radical call of Christianity is away from self-reliance and self-salvation of any kind. We must die to every last ounce of hope in ourselves that we have! The beauty of Jesus is seen when we recognize the full Gospel message:

“We MUST! We CAN’T! He DID! In Him, we CAN!”

Youth workers, let’s be careful in our teaching and preaching that we’re not simply giving GOOD ADVICE instead of sharing GOOD NEWS. Let’s remember the words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 1:16 – the gospel is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes!

Question: Why do you think it’s so normal to give GOOD ADVICE rather than the GOOD NEWS? Share thoughts here and David will respond.

Guest Post: David Hertweck served as senior associate pastor of Trinity A/G in Clay, NY for over eleven years. He served as the lead pastor of inside-out student ministries and element young adults ministries and as a worship leader. He is an ordained Assembly of God minister. He presently serves as the District Youth Ministries and Chi Alpha Director.

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The Fantasy Youth Ministry Team

The last Sunday afternoon of every August I sit in my living room with 11 other guys. We’re intensely focused as we type away on our laptops while looking through stacks of papers covered in handwritten notes. A planning retreat? No. A curriculum development meeting? Nope. An anointed brainstorming session? No way. It’s my annual fantasy football draft.

It sure would be nice if we could pick our youth ministry teams like we pick our fantasy football teams: looking at statistics and match-ups and choosing based on need. Obviously, it doesn’t work that way but if there were such a thing as a “fantasy youth ministry team draft”… here are five categories I would consider:

Love the Gospel – I don’t care how hip or influential a person seems to be. If it isn’t obvious they love the story of redemption and are centering their lives on the goodness of Jesus, then I don’t want them on my team. I’m not talking about perfect people. I’m talking about people who are entirely aware of their imperfections and modeling a lifestyle of faith and repentance.

Love the Family – Youth ministry is not just about teenagers. Youth ministry is about partnering with and supporting the work of discipleship happening in the home. Youth workers that try to take the place of parents or try to make parents out to be the enemy would go undrafted by me. If parents are unsaved this may look different but it’s still a non-negotiable.

Love the Team – We’re better together. Sometimes talented individuals and natural leaders have a hard time believing that. I want people on my team who love that they’re a part of a team and are glad to have a role to play. I don’t need someone with a messiah complex or a lone ranger.

Love the Journey – We’re all in process and there’s never been a teenager who emerged from youth ministry a finished product. 15+ years after high school and I still have so much growing in grace to do. I would select youth workers who patiently trust in God’s progressive work of sanctification as opposed to trying to be the Holy Spirit in teenagers’ lives while forcing behavior change that is disconnected from heart transformation.

Love the Vision – This one starts with me as the leader. What’s the vision, why does it matter and how can you be involved? The vision should me memorable, engaging and regularly repeated. I would be using my draft picks on people who feel the tension of the problem that the vision exists to solve, buy into that vision and can share it with others in a compelling fashion.

We can’t draft our youth ministry team but we can intentionally recruit them and we must strategically develop them. Consider using these five categories as areas of development in your team and you just might be on your way to leading your very own fantasy youth ministry team.

Question: What would you add to this list? Share it here and let’s learn from one another.

Guest Post: David Hertweck serves the Assemblies of God in New York as the District Youth and Chi Alpha Director. Prior to that he served as a youth pastor for 11+ years at Trinity AG in Clay, NY. He’s married to Erin and has two daughters, Lilia and Caraline. He loves his girls, his extended family, good music, good food, his Weber grill, his Taylor guitar, Liverpool Football Club, the Yankees and the Gospel. You can follow him on Twitter at @DavidHertweck.

[Are you getting Doug’s daily blog in your email inbox?] If not, it’s real easy–go here.