Monday, February 18, 2008

    Talking Youth Ministry : A Profile of Youth Ministry Blogger Jeremy Zach

    This post begins a series of interviews with fellow youth ministry bloggers who are themselves rethinking the ways in which we approach ministry with youth in the Church.

    Jeremy Zach is the youth pastor at an Evangelical Church in Laguna Beach, CA and authors the blog Crazy Contemplations where he regularly posts essays on youth ministry, book and film reviews, and theological discussions on ministry and culture. Jeremy describes his blog as a "collection of crazy ideas and thoughts that are somehow related to youth ministry. It is my goal to mess with the 'standard and traditional' paradigm of how to do youth ministry. I want to confront the methodologies, theologies, and philosophies to why we are doing youth ministry the way we have been doing it." We regulary read Jeremy's blog and interviewed him via the magic of the "internets":

    Share with us about the journey that led you to youth ministry.

    To be honest, I never thought I would be doing what I am doing today. If someone would have told me, 10 years ago, and explained to me that I would be a youth pastor-- I would have said some pretty non-Christian things as my response back to that person. I thought I was “destined” to be a pilot, with my hair on fire and with a motorcycle. How ever I tried and tried to make this dream come true, I was only left feeling more clueless to what I was supposed to do. I am not big into dates, but I am big with the date where God literally spoke to me about my youth call.

    It was April 22nd, 2002 and I just perfectly landed and parked the Cessna 152 ( a small single prop engine plane). I got in my car and was driving home. I was about half way from my place and I just started bawling. I did not know why, but I felt this sense of relief. Right then and there I had this thought/vision/idea of me being a youth pastor. I was like "no………. I used to make fun of those guys and gals! I am not wired to do that. Me a pastor….look at me?" Meanwhile, I was working with the High School ministry at my church because I just love working with students so me being a “Youth Pastor” was not such a foreign idea. So that night I went home and stayed up all night and just prayed. I was like: Lord, is this me or is this you? I knew the hardest part about accepting this call was communicating with my dad. My dad was a pilot and was a mechanic at Northwest Airlines. My first word was "airplane.

    The next day my dad just randomly stopped by my place. It was weird; my dad would not typically just stop by like that. Immediately, I said: “Dad, I need to tell you something. I am not going to be a pilot, but a pastor.” My dad intensively looked at me with no reaction at all. Then he smiled while saying: “When you were first born, I prayed that God could do whatever He wanted with you and I would be fine with whatever He wanted. So I guess this means He wants you to be a youth pastor.” Right then and there, I was convinced. I was done. I was signed, sealed, and delivered—I was getting called to the pastorate. I had no idea what that meant or what that was going to look like, but I turned in my pilot wings and basically started living at the church. I wanted to learn, volunteer, teach, lead small groups, clean bathrooms, and learn the ropes of church.

    Well five years later here I am. I am at a great church in Laguna Beach. My life call is to students. My call is to be an influencing agent to the youth culture in Southern California. I want mid-to-late adolescents to know, trust, love, and experience Jesus and His Kingdom values. Sometimes I leave youth group banging my head against my steering wheel yelling: why am I doing this? But, I always need to remember this is what God has called me to do and this is why I am wired the way I am---crazy, wild, random, weird, passionate, determined, even more weird and random, and all over the place.

    What are the greatest challenges you personally see today in relation to the Church and youth?

    I see two challenges that are interconnected: 1) Student abandonment and 2) students not feeling part of the “Big” church service. Chap Clark alludes to this in his book Hurt:

    By the time adolescents enter high school, nearly everyone has been subjected to a decade or more of adult-driven and adult-controlled programs, systems, and institutions that are primarily concerned with adults' agendas, needs, and dreams(46).

    Even the church tries to bring young people from a wide variety of schools and clusters into what they call fellowship. These and countless other programmatic assumptions may have a noble intent, and in some cases may even appear to the adults in charge to be somewhat workable, but they do not take the changing youth culture and relational shift seriously. As a result, young people are once again offered up on the altar of an adult agenda at the cost of their personal sense of safety (86).

    Youth ministers needs to do everything in their power to join forces with the Holy Spirit to intentionally respond to the issue of student abandonment. Youth ministry does that by surrounding students with adults--preferably 5 adults to 1 student. Historically youth groups have been another extension of church. Youth ministry has separated [itself] from the entire church body functioning as their own mini-cool-student church . . . . [Y]outh ministry's goal should be to intentionally assimilate students into the church body and to surround these mid to late adolescents with as many adults as possible. The goal of the church is to make their adolescents disciples who are authentically walking with Jesus Christ within the context of the church community. This is why it is imperative that the youth ministry department exists to encourage, equip, and invite the entire body of Christ to come along side to assimilate students into the church community.

    What change(s) would you like to see in youth ministry in the next decade?

    I would love to see a youth ministry that is both missionally and family-driven. A missional youth ministry is outward and others-focused, with the goal of expressing and sharing the love of Jesus. Students realize that they are missionaries’ everyday of their life. God is working in all of their life, and because of that they seek to work in all of life with Him. Youth group is so much more than games, Bible studies, pizza, and twister. A youth ministry that is missionally driven takes Church outside of the walls of church. The missional focus reduces programs and elevates deep relationships with people of all generations.

    A youth ministry that is "family friendly" means that the youth ministry department is parenting with the parents. A family-based youth ministry recognizes the great reality of the parental influence. Kids need to be close to their family and are in need of familial relationships. Parents must see the youth ministry as [in] partnership with themselves, not replacements or superheros!

    What advice would you offer to those who are just starting their careers in youth ministry?

    Expect failure—problems and conflict are going to happen. You will fail. But when you fail, fall forward. Youth ministry is a road of success and failures. Do not get discouraged by failure, but be encouraged. Every youth talk or every youth group [gathering] is not going to be smooth and perfect. Simply prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

    Trust the Holy Spirit—Doing youth ministry essentially means you will be in the fast lane—24/7. Take some intentional time for you to be with God in prayer. Take silent retreats. Pray for and with your leaders. Let the Holy Spirit lead your ministry. Such a easy thing to do, but a hard thing to remember—let the Holy Spirit be your guide.

    Listen—Listen to everyone and anyone-especially the parents who you do not like and the parents who do not like you. Listen to your students. And when you are listening do not state your opinion until you have earned their trust. It is amazing how far listening will take you. Simply shut your mouth and listen!

    Learn—be a student. Read anything and everything. Read things that will stretch you, but yet comfort you. Take some seminary classes. Watch and observe your senior pastor. Create a youth pastor’s network in your area so you can learn from other youth pastors in the same geographical region. Learning is exciting. Consider learning a new adventure. A leader is a learner.

    Think Big—Dream and envision big for your student ministry. The sky is not the limit, heaven is. If there is a will, there is a win. Think positively. Have courage. Construct and develop a step-by-step action [plan] on how your vision can be achieved. When dreaming, think of the needs (both real and felt) of the students and the resources your church offers. Ministering for the Kingdom is a privilege, so maximize and capitalize on every opportunity.