Youth leaders column by Dave Fenton: The Nobel Army


credit: istock

credit: istock

This is a call to action!

I am writing this just before I make my annual pilgrimage to High Leigh to meet with fellow full- and part-time youth ministers. When I started youth ministry in 1985, there were very few full-time workers around. It is a real joy to meet with those who have committed their lives to such service in the church. There are still many pressures on people who fulfil this ministry but, without question, it has been a blessing to the church.

Support for volunteers?

However, for every one full-time youth worker, there are at least ten people who are not employed by the church who turn up faithfully week by week. I wonder if our so-called ‘volunteers’ get all the help they need or deserve. More often than not… (to read more click here)

Dave Fenton is the training director of Root 66, which runs training courses for youth ministries across the UK. If you are interested in discussing ideas further with him about this project, please contact him via Evangelicals Now. He would be delighted to hear from you.

This article was first published in the February 2015 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit us online or subscribe to en for monthly updates.

Youth leaders column from Dave Fenton: Here comes the summer


Youth Leaders Column

(view online version here)

It often feels like a flat time in youth ministry.

Young people, free from exams, go off on holiday and staff take a month off (if they can get cover). Camps and house parties take place and young people disappear to many parts. While it is important for regular staff and volunteers to get a rest, there are some things that can be usefully done.

Thanks to leaders

For those who have done a year of service, it is good to mark that achievement. It is good if leaders can get a rest and the church could send a card thanking them for their service. If you can include a book as a small token of thanks, that is often appreciated. But make sure it is not a book about the strains of youth ministry. Perhaps a small one about the person of Jesus would be a blessing.

One-to-one opportunity

I often found that, during August, less people were around, so I used it (during the time I was around) to see a few individuals. What we do in youth ministry is so often about the life and health of the group. If one of your team is around, it can be quite revealing to take them out for meal or a drink and give them a chance to talk about their experience in the life of the group. In a one-to-one you will learn more than in a leadership team meeting. It gives team members a chance to share their ideas and vision for the group. I have often found some good ideas for future plans in meetings like this.

Keeping something going

What about the young people. If you can, have something that happens during the summer months even if the main group meeting stops. It can be simple like some coffee and food after an evening service but it is something. Some young people don’t go away and need some kind of gathering if they are not going to drift away. Summer breaks have been responsible for the loss of young people from the life of the group. If, when we are so focussed on making sure our group meetings are well planned and run, we hear something from one of the group which we don’t have time to deal with at the moment it surfaces, then dealing with it later may need a one-to-one to understand the issue – the summer break gives time for such individual conversations.

I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced the short gap between the end of July and the first week of September. I always find it important to have some kind of recharge process in the summer break. Maybe a one day retreat is possible or just an evening reading the Bible – do something for your own spiritual well-being. So many people start a new year in September feeling under-prepared both practically and spiritually.

What we did on our holidays?

One more thing! When the young people come back from their ventures, find out about what happened. If they’ve attended a camp it can bring real life to your group as you hear the stories of young people experiencing blessing. Enjoy a good break.

 

Dave Fenton – associate minister at Christ Church Winchester and Training Director of Root 66 which runs training courses for youth ministers across the UK. 

 

This article was first published in the July 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit us online or subscribe to en for monthly updates

Youth leaders column from Dave Fenton: The urge of the urgent


Youth Leaders Column

(view online version here)

We live in a fast pace generation.

We want fast food and immediate contact. I’ve just read a secular book called Wait by Frank Partnoy, who suggests that many actions and decisions were made too quickly, resulting in disastrous consequences. In response, some diagnoses now take days as a ‘first guess’ answer might be fatal (I had always feared my resistance to ‘fast replies’ was an old dinosaur phenomenon). He cites examples from various aspects of life. One of the most telling was a surgeon’s use of a checklist which he would consult at various stages of his operation to check all was well. Apparently it has reduced operational errors by 40%.

Slow cooker

Perhaps we have lost what he calls ‘the gentle art of procrastination’ which he defines as being the wisdom to know when the action time comes at the end of your planned delay. The Bible encourages us to wait on the Lord and I wonder if we have fallen for the ‘microwave’ solution rather than using the ‘slow cooker’. But does this have anything to do with youth ministry? I think so.

Young people come to us with tangled relationship questions either about their family or their peers. We feel an immediate piece of wisdom is needed for them to go away happy. I can think of situations where quick answers have been wrong ones. We say we want to give ‘biblical answers’ to their questions but we rely on our memories to, perhaps, quote verses out of context. Perhaps we should say – ‘I’d like to think and pray around your question and see what the Bible has to say’. We should be training our young people in using the Bible to answer their faith and life questions.

Press the pause button

Our own decision making can be another victim of too rapid response if we are considering a change in the way we do things. Partnoy points out that very few amazing discoveries are the result of a sudden flash of genius. There may be a moment where light dawns but it comes after months or even years of work and study. We wouldn’t have ‘the moment’ without the years of work and study. Surely our commitment to pray for our work involves, in one sense, delay. We pause to pray to seek God’s will on a pastoral issue or on a major decision.

I am concerned that the received email assumes immediate response. As I book speakers for major events, I am increasingly finding that they will use both delay and councils of reference before they give me an answer. I find it frustrating when I don’t get a prompt reply but maybe our haste shuts our sovereign God out of our thinking and decision making.

By the way – some emails can be answered promptly and some of us are guilty of too full inboxes. The routine ones can go straight away. Don’t make good decision making an excuse for inexcusable delay.

Dave Fenton – associate minister at Christ Church Winchester and Training Director of Root 66 which runs training courses for youth ministers across the UK. 

 

This article was first published in the May 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit us online or subscribe to en for monthly updates

Youth leaders column from Dave Fenton: What is a youth leader?


Youth Leaders Column

A seemingly simple question. It’s the person who looks after the young people. 

But what are they supposed to do? Whether they are salaried or volunteers, youth leaders need to have some idea of the expectations of the church they serve. If they are told to simply ‘look after’ the young people, the church’s expectation is probably close to babysitting. Keep them amused while the adults have a proper service.

Teach, disciple, care

Whatever the level of the appointment, your youth leader (or even better ‘youth minister’) is one who is set apart to teach, disciple and care for the young people of the church. That may sound obvious but, increasingly, in my conversations with youth ministers, I find that they are not clear about their role. They feel they have been given a role and left to get on with it. What can be done to counter this feeling of isolation?

A church is a complex place, with many activities and pressures on the leadership of the church. But, if they have been appointed by the church, they must be aware of what the church is thinking and planning. Whatever the plan, have the needs of the young people been considered if it affects what they do? When new initiatives are discussed (e.g. a new set up for small groups) are the youth minister and her/his team included in that conversation. If a youth minister is not included in such a conversation they will increasingly feel like a sideshow.

A youth minister is one who is serving in one facet of the church’s life. Whatever is in place to support those who are serving should be in place for the youth minister. A regular meeting with church leaders to pray and consider issues of common interest can be helpful. Most churches commission youth and children’s workers, but then can easily neglect them and assume the work is progressing. Home groups can ‘adopt’ a member of the youth team, invite them occasionally to their meetings and pray for them whenever the home group meets.

Needing support

So, in general terms, youth ministers are key members of a church community who need to feel supported and cared for in their work. I spoke to one lady recently who worked in her secular employment all week, came home on Friday night and then got herself out to meet with the young people. In eight years no one in her church had asked her how she was doing. She was about to write a letter of resignation – that can be avoided and those eight years of experience put to good use.

Dave Fenton – associate minister at Christ Church Winchester and Training Director of Root 66 which runs training courses for youth ministers across the UK. 

 

This article was first published in the March 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057

Youth leaders column from Dave Fenton: Balanced encouragement


Youth Leaders ColumnAt the start of a new year, I am often drawn to a place in 1 Thessalonians where Paul is called on to defend his ministry.

He says ‘You know, brothers, that our visit to you was not a failure’ (1Thessalonians 2.1). Presumably someone had said it was a failure and Paul had to correct that view. He goes on to give us a basis for how ministry should be done and how he had gone about it in Thessalonica.

The gospel and our lives

I am struck by the intimate images he draws about the conduct of his work. Using the close intimacy of a mother for her children as an illustration, he tells his readers of the love he has for them and how this love led him to share the ‘gospel of God and our lives as well because you had become so dear to us’ (2.7). Sometimes young people can be hard to love when they test our patience to the limit, but we should notice what Paul’s love drives him to. It is not only to share the gospel, but it is to share his life with them. There is a question of balance here. Some are good at sharing the gospel but their danger is that they only do that. Others spend their time in just getting to know their young people (trying to love them) and fail to see that part of their love for their group is the sharing of the gospel. We must do both — the gospel and our lives.

When we move later in the chapter we see another intimate picture of fatherhood. It’s a challenge to all of us who are fathers. There are three elements to the ‘father’ illustration. Paul describes his own conduct as ‘encouraging, comforting and urging ….’. We’re probably quite good at urging our young people to ‘live lives worthy of God’ (2.12) and this must be done. We need to be telling our young people that their constant aim (and ours) should be to live lives which please God. But if we only do that it can become a monotonous reminder of how bad the young people have been. But there are two other aspects here which can easily be ignored — ‘encouraging and comforting’.

Encouragement to be faithful

There is a kind of encouragement which almost says ‘we are right behind you, whatever you do’. We are just here to encourage and support you. A clear gospel message can (and should) be challenging to the lifestyle of many young people. Having urged them to live righteous lives we must realise that many will find that difficult and struggle to persevere. That’s why Paul has three aspects.

Sometimes young people need to be comforted. Bereavement may be fairly rare in a youth group but it can happen. But, as young people get battered by the cultural values of their society, they need to be comforted. They can be seriously hurt in an academic or social context and need us to help them through it. And, above all, encourage them. Not unconditionally, but encourage them to be faithful to God and his Word. Some Christians have said to me that you should never applaud or clap after someone has been thanked or commended for service — the reward will be in heaven. Well so it will! But all of us will be helped if our brothers and sisters give us gentle words of encouragement as we try to do faithful service. ‘Well done, good and faithful servant’ with the specifics of what has been achieved is no bad thing.

Dave Fenton – associate minister at Christ Church Winchester and Training Director of Root 66 which runs training courses for youth ministers across the UK. 

 

This article was first published in the January 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057

Youth leaders column from Dave Fenton: A Barnabas spirit…


We’re all quite good at structure these days.

We have our aims, objectives, values and mission statements and, generally, these have improved the way we do things. There is more training around, particularly in all these fields, but I wonder if our training stretches to, or even includes, the way we deal with people.

How teams operate

I have just returned from two weeks at Wimbledon, acting as a steward (someone has to do it!). That whole operation is done by nearly 300 people all in teams with people in charge of different groups around the grounds. It is fascinating to watch teams operate. Some leaders operate by chasing people up as soon they see them do something they shouldn’t — others operate by encouraging people with helpful advice. There are over 50 mentions of the word ‘encourage’ (or its derivations) in the Scriptures and it is more used in the New Testament than in the Old when the church was in its infancy and plenty of people were making mistakes.

Encouragers

Undoubtedly there are some us who need a word of caution or rebuke but I suspect there are many more who flourish when encouraged. I wonder if you’re’ feeling encouraged in your ministry with young people at the moment. Is there a culture of encouragement in your church — and that does not mean saying ‘you’re great’ when you’re not? Many people doing youth ministry are quite inexperienced and need encouragement in the way they do things. A critical spirit is often a product of insecurity and I keep hearing about people being discouraged by criticism. It can also emerge from jealousy, as a younger leader emerges with an amazing gift which appears to overshadow ‘the boss’. One would hope that would be a matter for great rejoicing, but, sadly, it often isn’t.

It can also emerge from inflexibility. A plan had been devised and nothing can change it — it is cast in stone. But it is obvious to most that it needs changing — the result is tension and criticism. How we work together is vital. Ministry is a team exercise and it works best when each encourages the other and rejoices in the gifts seen in that team. That is the way a team will flourish. I would love Barnabas’s name (Acts 4.36) as part of my epitaph (no plans to demise just yet!). If I could be remembered as one who encouraged others to flourish I would rest easy.

It may need a conscious effort — ‘love has given me great joy and encouragement’ (Philemon 7) — and we may need to evaluate how we build our teams and get them using their gifts in the wonderful patchwork of ministry that weaves together to make an effective team. It may need a change of attitude — it may need a change of leaders’ meeting style, so that meetings encourage rather than deflate. By all means evaluate and shape team members, but do it in a way that builds them up. They should not fear their leader — they should enjoy working under their godly leadership.

 

Dave Fenton – associate minister at Christ Church Winchester and Training Director of Root 66 which runs training courses for youth ministers across the UK. 

This article was first published in the August 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057

Youth leaders column from Dave Fenton: Registering numbers


It’s often the first question we ask. How many were there?

You’ve created an event and, one of the measures of success is often how many people turned up. I have heard this idea resisted on the grounds that our youth ministry is about the quality and maturity of the young who leave our groups. But Acts 2.47 reminds us that ‘the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved’. The context of the churches receiving Paul’s epistles reveals the problems in those local fellowships. But the problems were sometimes caused by those who were being ‘added to their number’ — growth brings problems.

Causes?
I would never rely totally on a weekly head count as a measure of growing maturity or that I am a very poor youth minister. But I would ask the question about numbers if the group is growing — what is causing the growth — where are these people coming from and why have they started to come? Who’s bringing them and why — what has motivated them? If numbers are in decline you need to, at least, ask the question why? Are there things going on that are causing people not to turn up? An odd blip is not significant, but a steady decline, if left without analysis, may see the decline continue.

It may be my early mathematics training, but I kept a register of young people attending the group. Most people talk about how many people attend the group — there were 20 this week and last week we had 18. But a register reveals much more. Which 20 was it who came to the meeting? Did all the 18 who came last week turn up this week and were part of the 20. A register enables you to look at frequency. Your group of 20 included one person who hadn’t been there for six months and you didn’t spot them or welcome them because your only concern was the total number. Did you register the fact and one of your group hasn’t been around for a month and nobody has followed it up?

Pastoral contact
An accurate register helps maintain good pastoral contact with people. In larger groups it is horribly possible for people to slip through the net — you just don’t notice they’re missing. Larger groups can be split up between leaders so every leader has a responsibility for, say, six young people and to check each week if their six were there. Record-keeping will enable you to measure who are regular attenders and who are occasional. And don’t fool yourself. It’s easy to think that Jane and David were at the group — in fact they haven’t been there for two weeks and no one spotted it.

Without a register your ability to care for members of the group can be a bit haphazard. If you’re not sure if they were there, any contact will be rather vague. When we contact them we can say the wrong thing. Not exactly encouraging to say ‘missed you last two weeks’ if they were in fact there. That information never stuck in your memory and they think you didn’t even notice them. If we are going to send encouraging texts or emails to our young people, we must know about them. What we say to them must convince that we both know and care about them.

Gift of administration
However you do it, do it accurately. Make it a role of one of your team — there are some with the gift of administration and this is a great use of their spiritual gift. Precision tends to create growth because it creates a culture of love and care for the young people we serve.

Dave Fenton – associate minister at Christ Church Winchester and Training Director of Root 66 which runs training courses for youth ministers across the UK. 

 

This article was first published in the July 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057