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.
A guest post by Nelson Grimm, director of field education and associate professor of applied theology
Field education provides a unique opportunity for students to develop their skills and abilities in ministry. Because of the potential for learning through doing, students need to be careful in the placement they choose. A good placement will:
Help Clarify Vocational Goals
A good placement provides opportunities for students to explore their sense of calling. Some may feel called to a particular type of ministry e.g. youth ministry, music, pastoral care provider, administration, etc. and look for very specific opportunities to ‘test the waters’ to find confirmation that this is the direction to pursue. Sometimes students complete a semester of field education and discover that the experience was not at all like what they had expected and can look in new directions without feeling guilty or that they had somehow failed. Others may want a more generalist approach and want a placement that allows them to have a wide variety of experiences. Often this approach enables them to discover new abilities and interests.
Provide Opportunities for Observation
Depending on a person’s background and experience, one of the gifts of field education is the ability to observe. Observing provides the student with some sense of what is involved in ministry without having to shoulder all the responsibility. I still shake my head in disbelief when I remember the first official board meeting I concluded in my first pastorate. I had never before even observed an official board meeting, let alone provide leadership for one! Another anxious moment was the first time I was asked to prepare for and conduct a funeral. At that point in my life I had only been to couple of funerals and never talked with anyone about what a pastor should do. A good field education placement will provide opportunities for the student to observe a wide variety of ministerial functions and to ask questions about the details of each.
Assist in Developing Leadership
While students should have the opportunity to observe, they also need the opportunity to develop leadership skills and abilities. Students are expected to function as a leader within some area of ministry. It may be a class you teach, or a small group you facilitate, or a choir you lead, or a mission trip you plan. Regardless of the area of ministry, a good placement will challenge you to grow in your abilities to plan, recruit, train, and support others around you. The challenge needs to be big enough to capture your imagination and to bring out the best within you. A good field education placement allows you to be creative and responsible while still having the safety net of capable supervision.
A post by guest blogger, Barbara Bushart, MDIV, MSW, adjunct professor at Northeastern Seminary.
A 2007 study funded by the National Organization on Disability reported that 54 million Americans live with a significant and permanent disability. In light of that statistic, churches must be prepared to minister to individuals with disabilities and their families with sensitivity and a biblical vision of hospitality which welcomes all people. One mother of a child with autism related that she was tired of churches turning her and her son away by saying they were not “equipped” for her son’s special needs. What must we do to become better “equipped” to welcome those living with disabilities? Some suggestions follow for those wishing to begin or strengthen existing disability ministries:
1) Express an openness to address accessibility issues. Invite dialogue when individuals or families encounter barriers to their full participation in the life of the local congregation. Be sure that all print and electronic media utilized by your community of faith have statements that welcome people to share their needs in this regard.
2) Involve individuals and families in decisions about what accommodations work well for their circumstances. Many common and erroneous assumptions exist about various disabilities. For example: Not all blind individuals have learned to read Brailled materials and many people with profound hearing loss do not use sign language to communicate. Good intentions based on wrong information will not yield a positive outcome. Ask, listen, and proceed together toward a solution for the accessibility need represented.
3) Do not assume that most accommodations are cost-prohibitive. Often creativity and willingness are more necessary components to eliminate barriers than funds.
4) Do not become discouraged or impatient if the solution requires multiple attempts before it is solved. Every setting and situation is unique and the person with the disability may not have an immediate answer to what will work without some experimentation. The process itself can be an opportunity to give and receive grace if approached with open minds and hearts.
Barbara Isaman-Bushart, MDIV, MSW, Adjunct professor,
Disability Awareness for Christian Ministers and Laypersons
Learn more about Disability Awareness class offered April 9 – May 7, 2012.
 National Organization on Disability, accessed October 15, 2009, http://nod.org.
 Preliminary research indicates that the “unchurched” rate of families where a child has a disability is between 90 and 95% as cited by Jessica James Baldridge, “Church Based Disability Ministries” in Why O God? Suffering and Disability in the Bible and the Church, ed. Larry J. Waters and Roy B. Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishing, 2011), 40.
A guest post from Dr. Nelson Grimm, director of field education at Northeastern Seminary:
- Apply ministry principles to the context of life
I will never forget when a student told me “Field education changed my life!” The student used her field education assignment to explore ministry options and found a perfect fit. In many ways, field education is a chance for you to test-drive ministry and to gain the insight necessary to make good decisions. It is the rich and effective bridge between the understanding and analysis that occurs in the classroom and the thoughtful and appropriate application that transforms both you and those to whom you minister.
- Discover how God has gifted you
As you prepare for more effective service within God’s kingdom, the field education setting helps you ask (and answer) questions like: How has God shaped you for life? What are your abilities and strengths? What experiences have you had that have been most rewarding? What societal needs challenge your heart the most? As you are able to test various ministry contexts, you are better able to confirm your sense of fit with your anticipated vocation and to develop skills and confidence. And when this “testing” is done alongside seasoned mentors, those who understand the nuances of the individual and communal aspects of their unique ministry context, the discernment process is further strengthened.
- Do something new—or do something in a new way
Perhaps you will, for the first time in your life, work on a new program for the disenfranchised “30-somethings” population, or preach a sermon, or develop a community service ministry, or engage in visitation at a hospital. Or maybe for you, field education is not be about doing something new, but about doing something in a new way. I recall a student who had been a pastor for many years before coming to seminary. When he came to discuss his field education focus, he indicated that he had done it all, that his twenty-plus years of pastoral ministry provided him with all sorts of experiences. I agreed; he had experienced the wide range of pastoral responsibilities, so I challenged him to think of what he could do in a new way. He chose to work on his preaching and designed a rigorous program including soliciting feedback from parishioners and videotaping sermons that he reviewed later with his mentor. Within weeks, parishioners were commenting on how much his preaching had changed. He moved away from overused words and awkward mannerisms. He improved his eye contact with people and structured his sermons more simply. Whether you are very new to ministry or you bring multiple years of experience, field education provides the opportunity for exploration and growth all within your context for living.
- Build a network of colleagues and resources
As with many placement programs like field education, you establish professional and collegial relationships that you can draw from as a resource long after you’ve completed seminary. Not only can placements lead to permanent employment, but because there is a propensity to become isolated in midst of a demanding ministry, these connections can become central, serving to sustain efforts, provide perspective, and re-energize visions. Ministry collaborations and vocational learning provide ongoing enrichment.
Dr. Nelson Grimm firstname.lastname@example.org
Director of Field Education, Associate Professor of Applied Theology