Many churches experience anxiety in these days as attendance declines, budgets tighten, and the younger generation heads for the exits. The church has faced anxious days before, and then, as now, responses among its people have varied, ranging from respiration and preservation to innovation and expansion. However, Jason E. Vickers, Ph.D., featured speaker at the Church Renewal Conference hosted by Northeastern Seminary in March, recommends that before we respond we must be theologically rooted in the holiness of God.
Although not a new thought to me, the following charge by Vickers has dominated my thoughts: if people can’t experience God in the church and be undone by him, then we’re missing it. The question, he says, we must ask ourselves is: “Whether visitors believe us or not, if they came to our church, would they know that we believe the power and presence (i.e., the holiness) of God is in this place?”
Typically, we respond in the affirmative. But are we truly cultivating a people who expect and experience the holiness of God? Or are we simply providing fellowship, inclusivity, good music, practical teaching, and hospitality?
Not that we shouldn’t do those other things. It’s just that apart from the holiness of God, the church doesn’t exist. We’re just another political caucus, another charity organization. People can find those things anywhere. What they cannot find anywhere else is reconciliation to God, to be made whole by him, to be reunited with him.
Therefore, our mission is twofold: 1) faithfully worship our holy God—the one altogether unlike any other—and 2) witness in word and deed to his salvific work in Jesus Christ. Fulfilling this mission will renew our churches, but its implementation depends on the leading of the Spirit within our local contexts. May we take the time necessary to prayerfully consider the answers to what, where, when and how.
-Ray Hammond (M.Div. ‘08) Family Ministries Pastor, Brockport Free Methodist Church, Brockport, N.Y.
The connection is made, often in the absence of words, through a gentle touch, a long and loving exchange of truly seeing each other, holding a frail hand, reading a Psalm, or simply sitting and meditating by the sound of the laboring breath of the dying. It is a deep connection that I highly value and am honored to experience.” This is fulfillment for Stergios Skatharoudis, (C25, MA/MSW) who is called to hospice care.
With increasing numbers of people ending their life journey in a hospice facility there is a growing need for this ministry. Yet many take other directions as the challenges are significant. Harold Scott, adjunct professor for Ministry to the Dying and Bereaved and pastor of community care at Pearce Memorial Church in North Chili, N.Y., notes, “People who are dying are often depressed and struggling with their pending death. Many encounters result in conversations about how unfair life is and questions about why God didn’t heal them. There is often an overwhelming sense of loss and loneliness. Unresolved issues and broken relationships often come to the surface.” The challenge for Skatharoudis is in the cycle of making deep connections with the dying and their loved ones, followed by the need to detach once they have died, and then to form another connection that serves a new person and their needs and desires. He reflects, “In this ministry of loss, grief, joy, and celebration—all mingled into one—the challenge is to be present in all the moments.”
So of all the contexts for ministry why would someone commit to hospice care? Rev. Brenda Sherman (M.Div. ‘09), chaplain at Hospice and Palliative Care in Cheektowaga, N.Y., recalls that sense of “giving something back” during the bedside care that was part of her field education placements. Her subsequent work with cancer patients was, she shares, “divine preparation for something I didn’t even know was in my future.” She discovered how spiritually serene death could be as she facilitated family members in their bedside reminiscing of cherished memories and how that led to a room filled with laughter, a perceived response by the patient, and resulting joy for loved ones. At those moments of transition she has seen family bonds strengthened as they become united in their support of each other.
Skatharoudis had a different starting point noting, “I was compelled to serve in a hospice setting due to my own fear of death and so I started training to become a full-time volunteer.” In the midst of this fear he dealt with his own emotional issues, learning how to love being at the bedside of a dying client, and learning to honor and respect the mourning of friends and families. “I am fulfilled by sharing my humanity and humility with the dying,” he said. “This is a ministry where God's presence is felt deeply.
After years of ministry Scott continues to find joy in helping people to discover meaning and hope even as they are dying. “It is a gift to assist people in finding grace and forgiveness and in completing some of their final life’s tasks,” he says. “The knowledge that we have assisted in bringing closure to their earthly journey and prayerfully guiding them as they face eternity is very fulfilling.”
The cornerstones for hospice ministry are clear. Each person approaches death uniquely—some with a deep sense of peace, others with anger, depression and fear, while still others are withdrawn and quiet. The focus is on meeting them at each moment in the process and letting their needs, emotions and concerns guide the conversation and the care—allowing them the freedom to connect in any way they can for their spiritual, emotional, and physical wellbeing as they transition. Sherman particularly appreciates her own setting in which the collaboration of a nurse, social worker, chaplain, and physician bring their expertise together for respect-filled care that minimizes suffering and ensures a sense of worth.
Those inclined to hospice ministry are as different as those they serve but a few common qualities exist. They exhibit a large reservoir of compassion born out of mercy, encouragement, and a servant’s heart. The reality of death is handled in ways that maintain their own perspectives and beliefs while not imposing them on others. They become skillful at extended listening without trying to “fix” things and are accepting of the raw emotion of crying and anger. They see death as a stage of growth to be explored and are not afraid to talk about it.
Beyond the Seminary class on the dying and bereaved, Sherman finds the spiritual formation disciplines she developed at Northeastern useful for analyzing both her visits and herself as a hospice chaplain. Addressing the spiritually formative events in the lives of those she serves has been meaningful for them. For Skatharoudis the seminary experience has helped him more closely examine the words of Jesus and how they apply in his ministry. The multidenominational classroom prepared them both to serve across religious traditions.
Scott’s resolve as he pastors and teaches is to see “ministers who are called and who have a deep desire to bring the comfort and peace of Christ to people who will soon end their earthly journey.”
A post by guest blogger, Glen Dornsife, M.Div. '13:
When I entered seminary a few years ago, I felt compelled to learn more about Christ, the Church, and my vocation. As my time at Northeastern Seminary draws to an end, I decided to take a few moments and reflect on what I have learned. (Unfortunately, none of the following remarks were drawn from BHT 512. I encourage you to register for the class yourself to gain the full experience.)
It is not what I have learned from my education, but how I now learn as a result of it.
When I first started at Northeastern Seminary, I have to admit, being in an ecumenical setting was somewhat distracting to me, especially when someone’s opinion conflicted with the classroom discussion. Over time, I became very grateful listening to the professors respond, facilitate, and curate the conversations filled with varying perspectives. Following in the dust of great theological teachers over the past few years has influenced the posture I now carry. When we take a posture of learning into any situation we bring with us a very open and enhanced perception. This posture has enabled me to not only add value to a given moment but to be enriched by many unexpected moments as well.
Speaking of perception…
It is not how I communicate the message, but what message I communicate.
I remember one time spending a good 30 minutes in class dialoguing over one of Eugene Peterson’s cautions directed toward future ministers in his book, Working the Angles. Peterson challenges his readers to be aware of how our culture is becoming more and more visually oriented and, as a result, our capacities to listen to others and hear the Word are diminishing. While this point will always carry some truth to it, I am not sure if anyone will be arguing whether or not it’s applicable or relevant 30 years from now. The seminary has provided an education that has deeply rooted me in the living historical message of the Church, thus preparing me to be faithfully responsive in conveying this message in whatever form of expression I choose. (Later in class, after this excited discussion ended, our professor transitioned into the lecture … and taught from PowerPoint! ; )
It is not what I accomplish; it is what I become.
Despite confidently blurting out “I want to accomplish great things for Christ” in the middle of a spiritual formation class one day, I have learned since that heroic moment that Christ does not actually expect this of me. God’s primary concern is what I become, not what I accomplish. For Dallas Willard, in reference to discipleship, he would say it is not about what we do, but how we do it. Though I still have lofty goals, my aim is not to be the founder of a great church or non-profit organization, or to be published several times over while spending most of my weekends traveling the country to speak at conferences. My aim now, as a result of my education, is to live daily in the fellowship of Christ and with others, living a life that evokes faith in those I meet. And that I, like Paul, may become more like Christ as I share in the sufferings and bear with one another’s burdens.
Unfortunately this short list of what I have learned doesn’t even being to break the surface. This has been a formative experience like no other. I am forever grateful for this opportunity and intend to faithfully steward the education I have received at Northeastern Seminary.
Glen Dornsife, M.Div. '13
After working in children’s ministries, both Troy Bassett (M.Div. ‘08), pastor of FreeChurch.net in Rochester, N.Y., and author Tami Thurber (M.A., ‘09) noted that children had an alarmingly low retention rate of the Bible stories they learned in church. And possibly even more alarming, most do not know what they actually believe. In addition, Rebecca Chaffee (C30, M.Div.), program director for children, youth, and family at Pebble Hill Presbyterian Church in DeWitt, N.Y., found it problematic that children are too often excluded from worship services. In response Bassett, Thurber, and Chaffee, among other Northeastern Seminary students and alumni, are effectively reforming ministry to children—rooted in biblical truths to give children a firm foundation to build upon.
“When our kids attended Sunday school, we’d ask them what they learned and frequently they couldn’t remember,” Bassett recalls. So when he accepted a role in children’s ministry in 2005 he decided to write his own curriculum to rectify the problem. Bassett says that Kid’s JAM, now used by over 30 churches, is “rooted in faith, wrapped in fun.” Loosely based on Martin Luther’s catechism for children, Kid’s JAM ensures children have a firm foundation in biblical truths. Throughout the program, children memorize the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostle’s Creed, the Ten Commandments, and selected scriptures such as Psalm 23 and Psalm 100. Bassett confirms this focus on memorization and application of texts helps “kids remember the key teachings for the rest of their lives.”
The Kid’s JAM curriculum acknowledges that 21st century kids have become accustomed to fast-paced, high-quality productions. Accordingly, the program creates a unique set design for each year’s theme, and incorporates drama, art, music, media productions, and engaging teaching.
Tami Thurber, much like Bassett, was alarmed to find that while most children can recite Bible stories they do not know what they believe. Her concern is, “if a child leaves home with the understanding of how to live the Christian life without understanding why, then they are much more apt to fall away from their faith.” This motivated Thurber and her husband, Tim, to identify the foundational truths they wanted their three children to understand before they left home. Together they wrote the family devotional Handing It Down: Teaching your Children the Basic Truths of Faith. In it they focus less on Christian behavior and more on Christian beliefs, discussing the foundational truths of the Bible, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, people, and the church.
The aim is to help parents realize their importance in their child’s spiritual development and to strengthen their own biblical understanding to better equip them with the
tools they need to actively teach biblical doctrine. Informed by Malachi 2:15 the devotional is divided into two sections: Digging Down to convey the biblical truths to an elementary audience; Digging Deeper to convey truths to those who already know the basics.
Reforming children’s ministry does not stop with content development. Rebecca Chaffee sees a need to reform children’s worship programs as well. With experience in industrial theatre, music, and drama, Chaffee noticed that children are often excluded from authentic worship experiences because most assume children cannot understand what the rituals symbolize.
“Children learn best by doing,” notes Chaffee, and “faith practices, routines, rituals, and experiences help children grow worship skills.” So children’s worship at her church now combines all elementary-aged children and continues the routines that began in the sanctuary. Children read prayers, share Bible stories, role play, use figures to act out stories, and practice taking communion followed by a discussion about the significance behind the sacrament. Because, as Chaffee says, “worship is caught rather than taught,” this active involvement in worship allows them to gain a deeper understanding of the Christian faith. Likewise, when children are involved in liturgy and memorizing prayer they come to understand the meaning behind the rituals.
The centrality of historical truths is reflected in all three visions for ministry. Recalling his own foundation Bassett shares, “Northeastern Seminary has helped me to think more critically about what is taught and preached in the local church. My studies helped give me an even greater appreciation for the historical past of the church.” And when he relates research findings from the Barna Group that “what you believe at age 13 is pretty much what you’re going to die believing,” the challenge of vital children’s ministry is all the more keen. As Chaffee reminds us, “children aren’t the future of the church; they are the church now.”
It happens everywhere. Drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence, and child sexual abuse exist in every social class, ethnic group, and age. The incidents are often silenced, hidden under a veil of guilt and shame. Recovery ministries seek to provide a sanctuary for victims to find safety, counsel and healing. For those called to this ministry, there are several issues Northeastern Seminary students and graduates have found essential as they are equipped to help others.
“The biggest issue recovery ministers deal with is that of paying attention to the critical need for anonymity and confidentiality,” says Greg Brotzman, M.Div. ‘06, of Celebrate Recovery, a program at Northgate Free Methodist Church in Batavia, N.Y. The ministry deals predominantly with alcohol and drug abuse and is led by a team of volunteer leaders. Brotzman has found that recovery occurs when people feel they are in a safe environment. This stems from a place where trust has been established and out of that trust people begin to release the pain that is behind their addictions. Consequently, “listening well is a critical skill necessary for ministry to those in recovery,” he states. The Seminary’s personal spiritual formation curriculum uniquely fosters these skills as a key element of the faith sharing experience.
In addition to listening, recovery takes time. One must be prepared to “be there for the long term, ready to listen and care, and [provide] a safe place where people can feel valued and respected,” counsels Brotzman. It can take years for recovery to actually take place in a life. During this time, there is often a “struggle with feelings of being used and abused after addiction gets the better of the one [you] are working with and [they] become disheartened and distant from helping,” shares Geri Metcalfe, MATL C24, who worked with Cornerstone Manor Women’s and Children’s Shelter and Men’s Center. “When walking alongside persons suffering from addiction, a readying of the heart is critical,” she advises. She also encourages, “we must remember we do not do the heart work; God does!”
Heart work occurs, to be sure. Many working in recovery ministry have themselves “been victimized as children in domestic violence and child sexual abuse,” shares D.J. Robinson, M.Div. C23, an ordained elder at Elim who founded T.A.M.A.R., Theological Awareness Ministry for Abuse Recovery. She started the ministry during her field education at the Seminary, to equip pastors and laity with preventative care training to effectively address and respond to victims and survivors of domestic violence and child sexual abuse. Among the people she has worked with, she has found it common for victims who have found healing to want to help others.
“God is God of the oppressed,” emphasizes Robinson and this work of hearing, listening, encouraging, and defending is the work of recovery ministries.
A guest post by Dr. Elizabeth Gerhardt, professor of theology and social ethics at Northeastern Seminary
The statistics are overwhelming. One in four girls is sexually abused before they reach adulthood. One of four women has been abused by a partner. In the United States domestic violence accounts for more injuries than car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined. The stories behind the statistics are even more disturbing. Women’s testimonies of being choked, thrown down staircases, punched, stalked, raped, and verbally and psychologically abused are common. Girls who are sexually abused are abused by someone familiar to them, usually a family member, ninety percent of the time. This betrayal of trust is more egregious when these incidents of abuse go unreported by other adults, including pastoral leaders.
We live in a culture of violence that objectifies women and girls. The pornography industry is a multi-billion dollar business in our country. Advertisements, popular magazines, videos, and music often reduce girls’ value to shallow descriptions of what is defined as “beautiful.” Women continue to make less than eighty cents to every dollar men earn. Women are underrepresented in government, high positions in corporate America, and in leadership roles in our churches. This culture of violence supports the ongoing misuse of power in all areas of American life including in the educational, recreational, athletic, and religious arenas. Penn State, the Boy Scouts, and the Catholic priest scandals all bring up images of victims of violence, and the silence and collusion that “covered up” the abuse of so many innocent children.
The church also participates in this culture of violence when we fail to speak out against all forms of domestic violence. We, the church, participate when we emphasize abstinence to our teen groups, and yet never address the fact that twenty-five percent of the girls listening have been sexually abused. We offer no information and support and they often report feeling alone and isolated. We, the church, participate when we do not hold perpetrators accountable. Some pastors fail to report child abuse because they are fearful it will “break apart” the family. This loyalty to the family is a false loyalty, and becomes an idol when we put children at risk for more harm. Pastors support a culture of violence when they minimize or blame the victim for the abuse she is suffering from her husband or boyfriend. I heard a pastor once tell his congregation that if there is abuse in the home then they should come to him and not call the police. “We keep these things in our house,” he declared. Other pastors may not be so bold as to articulate this “church rule” but indeed, by their failure to report child abuse and sexual abuse, they reduce the criminal behavior to a “family problem” and participate in the culture of violence.
What is the role of the church when living within a culture of violence that objectifies women and girls? What is the role of the church when faced with victims of violence within their own congregations? First, it is important to break the silence surrounding violence. We need to “bring to light” that which lives and survives in darkness and secrecy. There are opportunities in teen and adult education groups to talk about different types of violence and let everyone know that victims will always be supported. Education is essential to breaking through the myths and supports of violence. When pastoral leaders hear about child abuse they should not hesitate to call the authorities who are the local experts and by doing so they hold the perpetrators accountable. We need to create a culture of love and acceptance in our churches that promotes the strength and resilience of our girls and empowers them to grow and use all of their gifts that God has granted. Our churches need to be “safe sacred spaces” where children grow up seeing both men and women in leadership and they experience a no tolerance for any types of abuse or denigration. Cultures of non-violence, education on these issues of violence, support and referrals for victims, criminal accountability and referrals for perpetrators can create a place where violence is not tolerated, and peace and safety is promoted both in our homes and churches. We are all equal in Christ, and the church is called to live out that reality within our communities. Church leaders have a particular responsibility to protect and ensure that violence is never tolerated and that healthy, love filled relationships are always promoted.
Learn more about the church's response to child sexual abuse and domestic violence within the faith community—what it is and what it could be—on November 13 at "Shattering the Silence," part of the Conference on Ministry Series at Northeastern Seminary. Details and registration information can be found here.
A guest post by John Mark McMonagle, D.Min. '11
There is a politic of health and healthcare. It is a politic of money and regulation. It is made up of concerns over cost and liability, business and professional competence, employment and yes, illness. It’s a growth industry, too. There is no shortage of sick people and the future bodes well for business.
We, in America, are on the verge of being taxed to health instead of to death. So, it is a personal, growing concern that poor health will be the new vice, or sin, or crime. Vice, because of negligence in keeping oneself from being healthy. Sin, because health may be discussed on moral grounds, perhaps as no other time. Crime, because tax dollars may be seen to be abused by the chronically ill.
As Christians, who are in the healthcare field, I believe it is relevant to remember that illness is not sin, it is not a crime and it is not a vice. It is a manifestation of corruption natural to this world. Certainly we are called to address it and alleviate it as much as possible; but, it is needful to assert that healthcare is a ministry driven by grace and compassion. Otherwise, it is no more than a job or business.
Maybe it would be helpful to know that healthcare in the Church is founded on some worthy examples.
The first Christian physicians, after Luke, were the two sisters, Zenaida and Philonella, who flourished around 100 A.D. Their claim to novelty was their practice of accepting little to no pay … intentionally. This opened up care for the poor and indigent or any who were normally neglected. Others, like Zenaida and Philonella, were Saints Cosmas and Damian, who also challenged the prevailing practice of medicine. However, they took a strict vow that disallowed any payment for their services. Along with them were St. Panteleimon, St. Sampson the Hospitable, and many others, who are in the class of saints called anargaroi, the penniless, making them Unmercenary Physicians.
Perhaps these saints can inspire us moderns in new ways to help those in need of medical care. Grace can surely guide us here.
A guest post by Dr. Michael Traylor, M.A Theology and Social Justice '12
But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned."
"But dehumanizing the victim makes things simpler
It's like breathing with a respirator
It eases the conscience of even the most conscious
and calculating violator
Words can reduce a person to an object,
something more easy to hate
An inanimate entity, completely disposable,
no problem to obliterate"
Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy in "Language of Violence"
The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy are a 90's conscientious rap group led by Michael Franti. They are one of my favorite groups of all time because of their creative ways of challenging injustice. In their song, Language of Violence, they tell the story of how physical violence is often preceded by dehumanizing words. They spoke in the formative years of the hip hop culture but their lyrics show a prophetic view that speaks to us today.
At one point in the song, they wisely challenge their listeners to:
"The power of words, don't take it for granted
when you hear a man ranting
Don't just read the lips, be more sublime than this
Put everything in context"
I have been actively listening to the words that are used in popular and social media. Our words are used to convey messages, shape cultures, and promote agendas. This is not a criticism, as we all participate in this process. We use words, images, and metaphors to try to shape a preferred precept or concept when we communicate. Our words are loaded with meaning, not just literally, but culturally and symbolically.
Every week, I talk to young men and women who are shaped and guided by the language used in the hip-hop culture. Interestingly, these are not young adults of one ethnicity or socioeconomic background, but young adults from across the spectrum of ethnicity, nationality, and economic status.
The "cut to the chase" concept:
When you regularly use the language of violence and degradation, you soon become participants in its degradation and pain, whether as victim or perpetrator.
Using degrading words, such as b***ches, n**ga's, hoes, etc., is not only an act of violence but it paves the way for more extreme forms of violence. Here's the cycle:
1. Calling a group of people or an individual a derogatory name first creates psychological violence.
In Rwanda, before the tragic genocide of 1994, it was important for the initiators to refer to their enemies as cockroaches. This word, allowed them to see their enemies as less than human, without faces, families, names, and dignity. When men refer to women as b***ches, it is a psychological construct that takes away the dignity of women. It is never innocent or innocuous, but always indecent. It is the first step in justified violence.
2. Psychological violence leads to moral violence.
Cockroaches are not only nonhuman, but have moral quality. Cockroaches are not morally neutral, but decidedly negative in character. Therefore, violence against a cockroach is morally justifiable. Moral violence makes the victim of our violence deserving. A recent twit of a rapper said "Sometimes, I just want to smackdown a b***ch.” In his mind, it is morally justified to be violent against a woman, because she is simply "a b**ch.”
3. Moral violence leads to physical, emotional, and sexual violence.
Because cockroaches are morally disgusting, their eradication by any means necessary became culturally acceptable. Men and women in Rwanda were hacked with machetes, shot, raped, and tortured. Not by mad men with twisted and perverted psyches, but by ordinary men and women who adopted the language of violence. The violence in communities influenced by hip-hop is staggering. Many argue that the language used in hip-hop is simply a reflection of the language of violence that already exists and I will definitely acknowledge the possibility. However, my experience with youth in urban areas shows that the introduction of violent and degrading language is often from media/entertainment, and often precedes participation in violence.
It’s time to express outrage against violence. It’s time that we challenge the language of violence, hatred, and degradation. It’s time that we challenge artists and entertainers to a higher standard and a moral responsibility. Too many people are hurting, wounded, and suffering because of the language and culture of violence, particularly in the hip-hop culture.
My fear, in the words of the disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy is:
“We won't hear the screaming until it stops
Death is the silence in the language of violence”
Take a stand!
Dr. Michael Traylor is a pediatrician, child advocate and pastor of New Hope Free Methodist Church in Rochester, N.Y. He blogs at Virtual faith. Follow Dr. Traylor on Twitter @drtraylor.
This post was originally posted on Sojourners: http://sojo.net/blogs/2012/07/03/stop-language-violence#.T_O3OQHc5B8.twitter
A post by guest blogger, Glen Dornsife, M.Div. student at Northeastern Seminary:
Working in the hospitality industry as a server, the topic of “What am I doing with my life?” often comes up with those I wait on. I don’t know if it’s my age or their hope that I can get out of the restaurant business. But often, when I explain to others that I am at seminary working toward a Master of Divinity degree, their response is “What does that mean?” Generally, depending on the situation, I respond by saying that the degree prepares me to be a pastor.
There have been a few, who are on the other side of the cusp, who have shared with me how there is a big gap between education and assimilation. I have heard rumors of those who have graduated from Bible College or Seminary and entered ministry overqualified and under prepared. For those of you who are considering seminary in preparation for ministry, I apologize if that last statement makes your stomach turn. It is true though, success in knowing the material does not equate to success in living the material out.
Fortunately, the educational experience I am receiving at Northeastern Seminary has allotted me the opportunity to do four required field education experiences. When finishing my undergrad degree I was only required to do one field assignment. (At the time, I was an underachiever, so I was grateful for there being only one internship requirement.) Let’s just say that particular experience brought more confusion than clarity in my eager-to-conquer-the-world early twenties. I don’t know if this is a standard practice for other seminaries, but by Northeastern creating this requirement for me, I have the opportunity to experience a few different areas of ministry. As a result, I look at this requirement, purely as benefit in my education. Having to do four assignments affords me the latitude to learn from an “internship” experience that I don’t like, or that doesn’t go well. This intentionally brings more clarity and formation to the students here who are trying to discern God’s call on their life.
So am I prepared? Well, in my first experience as a “faculty advisor” of an undergraduate student-body project, I learned even more about the strengths and weaknesses I have as a leader, and also how to respond healthfully to conflict and the art of delegation. The other experiences planned for fulfilling the other field education assignments are to serve as a college chaplain assistant, to be a TA for a college professor, and to shadow a spiritual formation/discipleship pastor at a local church. I have been intentional with my four opportunities because I wanted to gain experience in distinct areas of “ministry” that I am equally interested in and feel led to do at this point in my life.
Glen Dornsife, M.Div. student
A guest post by Doug Milne, M.Div. ‘11, youth pastor, Grace Church of the Nazarene. Rochester, N.Y. and Mike Kuhlkin, D.Min. youth pastor, Pearce Church, Rochester, N.Y., about the value of youth ministry in a church context.
There has been some recent discussion in ministerial circles about the value of youth ministry in the church. In fact, there is a new film documenting youth ministry as a “failure” because of the results of specific, carried-out philosophies by churches and their youth pastors.
Despite this suggestion, there is tremendous value in incorporating youth ministry into the church context if done in a biblical and communal way. There are four basic values of youth ministry in the church context.
Energy and Excitement – There is no doubt that teenagers bring energy wherever they go. Churches can quickly become stagnant, but youth ministry seldom allows this to happen. Although we often hear of the stereotypical lazy and bored adolescent, it could not be further from the truth. Students are often the catalyst for mission trips, social action, and “outside the box” thinking. This generation is excited and passionate and they are looking to put that energy into something. Most of our teens are not satisfied with simply talking about today’s problems—they want to participate in opportunities for change. This excitement and energy is infectious and is needed to move a congregation from a state of observation to a state of motion.
Leadership – Youth ministry is training leaders for today and the future, but we have to keep in mind we are training them for the Kingdom not just for our congregations. Fostering leadership through youth ministry is two-fold. First, it builds young leaders. Our churches are filled with plenty of places for leadership development—worship leading, teaching, preaching, service, and so on. Second, youth ministry provides training for lay leaders. They have opportunities to serve, to work directly with a trained pastor, and it allows them to hone their ministry skills.
Builds Healthy Community – Mission and community are close kin. Without mission, community suffers and the reverse is just as true. The church is diverse, filled with all sorts of people from various backgrounds—that is the beauty of it. Multi-generational congregations with families worshipping together are part of a healthy church community. Students who learn the value of community at a young age become adults who value community. Knowing that teenagers are part of the current church and empowering them to participate as such, helps defend against the old adage that they are the church of tomorrow.
Seeds Become Trees – Churches have “Sunday School” classes and discipleship groups for younger generations because there is the strong belief that we must train children in the way they should go. It is most beneficial to start early with biblical and theological training. Children’s ministry and youth ministry supplement parental guidance and teaching. These ministries work at getting the attention of younger parishioners to help raise them in the Christian life. The process of individuation, often seen during the college years, can cause students to stray from “Christian principals.” Although seen as unfortunate or negative, this period can be navigated successfully if the seeds that have been planted in youth ministry are nurtured. The “oaks” of the faith often grow from the seeds planted in youth ministry.
Read more Northeastern Seminary ministry leaders' thoughts around serving teens and young adults in the latest issue of ResOund, the Seminary's enewsletter.