college travels

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Shutting down "College Travels" blog

Hi Everyone,

Just a quick post to let all those that follow our blogs know that we are shutting down our College Travels blog and instead posting all our faculty blogs on our new website!

The exciting news is that you can subscribe to the RSS feeds to the faculty blog AND (for the first time ever) to the children's, youth and family ministry articles produced by Youthworks Training staff.

You'll find all the links to do this at the bottom of our College home page (above).

You can also follow us on facebook ( and twitter (



Monday, July 26, 2010

Identity Formation Creates Gospel Opportunities

We are all involved in processes of becoming. We are being formed as we grow and develop and as we respond to the changing environment around us.

The challenge we all face is to become increasingly aware of these processes and to take whatever steps we can to ensure that there are good outcomes for us and for those around us.

During early childhood our involvement in these processes is largely passive. Our understanding of what is happening around us is very limited. We are given a particular genetic make-up and born into an environment where decisions are made on our behalf. But over the years we take a more and more active role in determining how we will respond, which parts of our character we will choose to work on and which parts will be left unchallenged.

As far as our own culture is concerned this makes the teenage years a particularly significant period. This is when the world of the child collides with the adult world. It means that these are the pivotal years during which identity formation takes place. And it means that for the youth minister that there is an unprecedented opportunity to speak into the life of an individual to ensure that those good outcomes are the best outcomes.

In the paper I will present at our upcoming Theology of Youth Ministry Conference, I will look at how Paul sets out to build a Christian identity in his audience. Since his ministry was chiefly one of taking the Gospel into new territories we will look at how he engages and overturns identities which have been grounded in a pagan past and how he challenges and shapes his audience to become "rooted and built up in [Jesus], strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness".

We will go on from there to consider what the implications are for ministry in the post-Christian world.

If you're interested in attending the Theology of Youth Ministry Conference, click here for more details. Early bird discounts end August 6.

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Friday, May 21, 2010

The Value of Stories #5

The seer’s goal is transformation, and while we can see these things throughout all of Elisha’s ministry they are especially evident in 2Kings 6.

As a prophet, Elisha’s knowledge comes from the Lord. The Arameans suspect that there is a mole, but the reader of 2Kings 6 knows that it is God who divulges their military secrets to Elisha. As advisor, Elisha is able to brief the king. As king, Jehoram is able to effectively organise his troops to safeguard Israel’s national security. But there is more than the question of national security on view in 2Kings 6.

Amid ongoing hostilities between Israel, the Northern Kingdom, and Aram, the king of Israel is inclined to see Aram as ‘the enemy’ and its soldiers as ‘hostiles’. When the Aramean army descends on Dothan, Elisha’s servant is terrified. But Elisha has access to the bigger picture. He has a perspective that allows him to keep his cool. He shares this with his servant so that they can get on with the task in hand.

If Israel and the angelic armies engage these soldiers in battle, they will win. We can call this a win-lose situation. Alternatively they will win the battle only to trigger a retaliatory strike against them at a later date when the Arameans reassert themselves, lose-win. If Israel loses the battle the outcome is clearly lose-win, and this will be worse still if it results in punitive measures inflicted against them.

Elisha executes a plan which will change the situation altogether. He reminds us of the human-ness of the Aramean soldiers and then shows them mercy. More than that, he has the king of Israel show great generosity towards them. This completely diffuses the situation and leads to a period of peace, win-win.

Whenever we find ourselves in the midst of long-running issues there are options open to us which compound the problem and prolong the tensions or there is the option of creatively looking for an approach that will build understanding, build trust, build friendship and work towards real and lasting peace.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.”

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Friday, February 12, 2010

The Value of Stories # 4

In a beautiful episode in 2 Samuel 23:13-17, we see David at his best as sovereign, but we also get a chance to see what is meant by the masochist, one of the shadow forms for the warrior.

Courage, self-discipline, self-sacrifice, protecting the weak and living honourably are central for the warrior hero. The warrior lives to serve the sovereign in the cause of justice and honour. Arthurian tales of chivalry resonate deep within us as they excite the warrior inside us all. But when the cause takes over the warrior then the ends begin to justify the means. There is dispassionate talk of “collateral damage” and the fine line between courageous and foolhardy is obscured.

The masochist is so taken up by the cause that they do not consider personal risk and danger. Boundaries are set aside as they respond to commands, or what they perceive to be commands, without regard to their own needs and personal circumstances. Their whole life is taken over by the cause, the quest or the mission. It is to the detriment of personal health, friendships and family.

On a hot day at the end of summer David found himself camped outside Bethlehem, the town where he was born and where he grew up. His mind must have wondered back to similar occasions during his childhood or his youth. He remembered how he would go to a particular well, the one near the city gate. He would draw out some of its water, drink and be satisfied. He would immediately feel refreshed and revitalised. Good times. But for now, despite his proximity to Bethlehem it would have to stay as a memory. There was a Philistine garrison in town and it meant that he would have to stay thirsty, sweaty and dusty from his manoeuvres. He wistfully spoke out his desire, “Oh that someone would get me a drink of water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem.”

Three of David’s mighty men heard him say this. As a token of their love and respect for him as their leader and friend, they broke through enemy lines, stole into Bethlehem, went to the well, drew out some water and took it back to David. They offered it to him. As a person, there is nothing that could have been more welcome. As a sovereign, to accept this generous gift would be to encourage others to take the same sort of personal risk just to attend to his personal comfort. Not every exploit would end the same way. He cannot accept it. As sovereign his first thought is not for himself but for those he serves. But he cannot refuse it. He cannot give it back. He cannot ignore this wonderful gesture of generosity and loyalty.

David pours the water on the ground. On one level it looks like a complete waste and a disregard for the risk his friends have taken. But David is not just a thirsty man, he is sovereign. Furthermore he doesn’t just pour it on the ground. David finds a way both to honour their intentions while at the same time sending a clear message that this is not to become a precedent. He poured the water out before the Lord and explained what he was doing (2 Samuel 23:16-17).

It will be a long time in this story before we see a sovereign act like this again (Mark 10:45). Meanwhile it is important for those who find themselves in the service of that king to remember that the sort of ministry which leads to exhaustion, burn-out and extinction is likely to be associated more with the masochist than the warrior.

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Youth Ministry - Ego + Equipping others = Sustainability?

I have been thinking a bit more recently about some ideas from Mark DeVries' book, Sustainable Youth Ministry.  

One of his most interesting ideas was that of the Architect-Building Manager-Construction Worker.  The architect comes up with the youth ministry strategy, the building manager makes sure the strategy is implemented, and the construction workers do the work to get it all done (with Jesus as The Holy Spirit as equipment and OH&S officer?).  DeVries particularly advocates having Building Managers who are long-term members of the congregation so that when (not if, in his experience) the youth minister moves on after three or four years, the youth ministry doesn't fall in a heap because there are people who will remain in the church long time who can keep a ministry moving forward.  Given that DeVries heads an organisation called 'Youth Ministry Architects' it's no surprise that he suggests that the architect of a local youth ministry be external consultants.

The problem in most of our churches though is that if the Building manager is to be a layperson we'll be waiting a long time to find the right one, and there's always likely to be an unhelpful power play with the youth minister.  The senior minister should be that person but they generally don't want to have to think that hard about the youth ministry.  And the youth minister would prefer to be that person so they can call the shots.

When it comes to the architect, though Youthworks has filled this role to a large extent for a number of youth ministries (via the College or regional advisors), this work tends to operate mostly with smaller ministries and start-ups (either new ministries or new ministers), and even for those who have started that way, over time our hope is that they would develop the expertise and wisdom to take on that role themselves.  At Youthworks we're in partnership with the longer-serving youth ministers around Sydney to together come up with plans that will promote the Kingdom of Christ in our city (perhaps our work is as town-planners?  Devising development guidelines?).  But in the end, it's the local church that is the centre of ministry, and the local church youth minister who best knows their local situation and (ought to be) equipped to apply fundamental principles and priorities of youth ministry in that setting.

So... what if the youth minister  is someone filling all of these roles, but filling these roles in partnership with other members of the church, both the local church and the fellowship of churches (the denomination)?

Youth ministers are all local architects (they know theory and the local situation), they have the ongoing relationship with the youth leaders to be building managers, and they still have skills in engaging with teenagers to be construction workers.

The key of course is for them to not be attempting to do all this on their own.  They already enlist others to join as fellow construction workers (youth leaders), but is it practical at all for them to be looking for fellow building managers (in the larger youth ministries these would be the assistant youth ministers, the leader of different sections of the ym), and fellow architects.

The fellow architect one is perhaps most contentious but I think the contentiousness stems from two things.  The biggest challenge is that other than youth ministers (and probably other than experienced, senior youth ministers) there aren't many people in our churches or leadership teams who have their heads screwed on properly about youth ministry.  So to enlist a congregation member or the senior minister to help 'design' the youth ministry strategy is often a recipe for conflict and debilitating compromise.  So, it's just easier to 'go it alone'.  The danger though comes from the other challenge (to getting a youth minister to share the role of 'architect'), that youth ministers have big egos.

I've written about youth ministry ego elsewhere in this blog.  My fear is that our ego diminishes our ministries as much as it diminishes ourselves.  Is it ego that in the end, prevents a youth minister from looking to share the responsibility of architecture and building management with others?  Because of our big egos we don't want another congregation member or ministry team leader to intrude on our realm, and we certainly don't want the leader of another realm (another youth minister, or youth ministry organisation) to come and colonise ours!  But isn't this just unhelpful ego?

Instead, should youth ministers be training other members of the church in youth ministry theory and strategy?  If a youth minister were to decide that they had all the skills needed to disciple the young people in the church and therefore didn't need any other youth leaders to help out, we'd say that they're dreamin'.  We'd say that their ego has got in the way of effective ministry.  And even if they said, 'but there's no one in the church who has any skills for leading teenagers', we'd tell him to start doing some leadership training.  Is it right then for youth ministers to train up fellow architects and fellow building managers as well?  

Should a youth minister take responsibility for encouraging their senior minister to grow in his understanding of youth ministry theory and strategy?  Urge the senior minister to go to the Theology of Youth Ministry Conference, the Youth Ministry Conference, the Youth Ministry Intensives?  Surely that investment of time will help smooth the way for youth ministry in the church, as well as be a benefit to the next youth minister that comes along after the current youth minister leaves, or be a benefit to the youth minister at the new church that the senior minister one day leaves for?

Should a youth minister take responsibility for encouraging established congregation members as fellow building managers?  That gives a role to older members of the congregation (a useful expansion of the age range of a youth leadership team) who might not have particularly fine gifts in relating to teenagers.  They're able to be trained and equipped to be fully on board with the youth ministry strategy and able to add the organisational management that can often be lacking.

This would help establish the youth ministry of the church but perhaps needs to be done at the expense of establishing the youth minister.  Perhaps (following the line of Robert Forsyth's latest blog on this adds a bi-polar authority structure into what is currently a mono-polar structure.

And perhaps then, in that sort of climate (another one of DeVries' helpful ideas) we'd be more open to learning from other youth ministers, and thereby more open to engaging helpfully with one another to promote The Kingdom instead of my kingdom.

It might not happen overnight, and without any effort on the part of youth ministers (and youth ministry advisors and educators?) it won't happen at all.  It seems to me a way of moving away from the isolation of the one-eared Mickey Mouse, of moving beyond the distraction of our competitiveness, and of applying the central command of Christian ministry - John 3:30, 'He must increase, I must decrease'.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Happy New Year

The start of another year.

Today is my first day back in the office for 2010. Full of optimistic enthusiasm! So in the interests of making sure we don’t enter 2010 full of ourselves but remain filled with the Spirit of God, here are some tips on how to avoid becoming pharisaical that came from Mike Raiter (Principal of the Bible College of Victoria) at last week’s Church Missionary Society Summer School in Katoomba.

1. Keep on teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ as it comes to us in the Scriptures.

2. Annually visit a ‘heart specialist’ – someone who knows and loves you and will be honest with you. Ask them two questions

a. Do you think I am willing to receive criticism?

b. What do I need to hear from you that others won’t tell me?

3. Practice humility – not by thinking less of yourself but by ‘thinking of yourself less’ (C.S. Lewis?); remember that you can’t be arrogant when you stand beside the cross of Jesus.

4. Remember that the only heart you see is your own, so don’t impute bad motives to others.

5. Regularly survey your bank statements and check how generous you’ve actually been (we tend to overestimate our generosity when we guess).

6. Pray prayers of confession regularly.

7. Be an encourager of others.

Friday, December 11, 2009

God's Reflection in Pet Affection

We started up the car to take our cat to the vet. By accident or by providence the USB-drive was still connected to the car audio system. The next track played:

How great the father’s love for us

We were on our way to have Timmy put down. He’d suffered a catastrophic kidney failure and was being poisoned by his own body.

How vast beyond all measure

My mind went back to Graham’s 2007 Theology of Children’s Ministry Conference talk “Will my dog go to heaven?” I remembered too something that C.S. Lewis once wrote. In The Four Loves he wondered if the affection we feel for our pets is a reflection of one of the dimensions of God’s love for us.

That he should send his only son

Having a pet does give you opportunity to learn what it means to be responsible, considerate and accommodating. We knew not to leave meat or corn cobs out on the kitchen bench, for this would have been a temptation more than Tim could bear (1Cor .10:13). If ever anything was knocked over or tipped out, if Tim was sick or coughed up a fur ball, we knew that we had to clear up after him, for he was not able to do it for himself (Eph. 2:5). He would trust us to feed him every morning and every evening of his life and to provide him a home to feel safe in and a place to belong (Matt. 6:33).

The Bible tells the story of God’s love for and commitment to the human race. Within the story we are made aware that this is just one part of a much bigger story in which God is reconciling the whole of the created order to himself. We see glimpses of this from time to time (Gen. 6:19; Ps. 148:7-13; Mk. 16:15; Col. 1:20). But few details are provided.

As we look back over Tim’s life we recognise and appreciate the part that he’s played in our family. He slept on James’s bed to keep him company through the night when James was anxious. He had a knack of sensing who was feeling down and sitting with them, or on them. He would sit down and listen as we read bed-time stories to the children. He would join us on walks from the house and wait for us at the boundary of his ‘territory’ to welcome us back. He was always available to play and you could tell him absolutely anything and know for certain that he wasn’t going to gossip to others.

Within that bigger story we do not know what part a goldfish called Dorothy or a dog called Lassie or a kangaroo called Skippy might have been called to play. But Tim has not only given us an opportunity to see in our care for him a pale reflection of God’s love for us. He has also reminded us again and again what friendship entails.

Even if you have no time for hermit crabs, guinea pigs or dogs, perhaps when you next talk to a child who has lost a pet, it might be worthwhile finding out how God has been at work in them, through their involvement with their friend.

To make this wretch his treasure.

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