I recently had a great opportunity to learn from a fellow Pastor through a teaching message that he gave a few years ago called “Systems.” Andy Stanley does an excellent job of walking leaders through a great evaluative tool that has been useful in several different ways in my own personal context. Basically, Stanley points out that we all desire behaviors in our organizations. Spanning magnitudes of behaviors are desired, anything from people following Jesus wholeheartedly to people showing up to something on time. Stanley says that whatever things that we regularly complain about in our organization are things that we need to take a hard look at and begin to evaluate whether our systems are creating the desired behavior or whether the system is actually inhibiting the behavior. If our system is inhibiting the desired behavior then we have a systems issue. We are working against ourselves to accomplish something that we desire to see in people that we lead. This thought process has been extremely helpful for me as I have thought about youth ministry here at West E. Free Church. So, I resolved with myself to take this concept and this exercise to each of the groups that I lead. I wanted to see what people might say and how they might evaluate where we are at in Youth Ministry here at West E. Free Church. This has been a hard concept to live out with these different groups because alot of the systems that are critiqued are systems that come out of my view of ministry. While it is healthy and good to be critiqued and evaluated, that fact alone doesn’t make evaluation any less difficult. I was surprised by some of the consistency of desired behavior between the three groups that went through the exercise with me.
The first group that went through the exercise with me was my immediate staff. Karyssa Evans, our middle school director along with Matt Hamer (Worship Team Director) and Trecia Tucker (My administrative assistant) all watched the video of by Andy Stanley and then began the process with me. We sat in my office for an hour and a half and talked about behaviors that we desired to see in our youth ministry. Then we moved on to systems that we currently have in place that help create those behaviors. Then we moved to looking at systems that we have in place that inhibit those behaviors.
The second group that I took through the exercise was the adult ministry volunteer staff. This group consists of small group leaders, sunday school teachers and others that are involved in youth ministry here in some way. We went through the same process as above except that this group did not view the video with me. I had to simply describe the contents of the teaching.
The third group that I took through this was our “Servant Team.” This is a group of 10 high school students that want to make a difference in their youth group by building leaders, encouraging unity, and reaching out to others. They meet weekly on Sunday nights with Dave and Sandy Riffel and myself. We went through a similar process as above without viewing the video.
Through all three groups, there was one thing that was consistent. All three groups desired a behavior of being “all in.” They wanted to see teenagers, their peers, the people they lead following Jesus without being weighed down and half in. They wanted to see our youth group being pushing forward in their faith. So I asked what systems we have in place that tend to create this behavior. All three of the groups mentioned small groups as a place that creates this behavior. a couple of the groups mentioned that the family is really where this behavior has to be created and that we can only create a subculture of this. Sharing the gospel regularly through all of our programming is a system that allows for people following Jesus wholeheartedly. Letting teenagers share their faith in their small groups and encouraging them to share their testimonies is another way of promoting and creating the behavior of following Jesus completely. So, we do some things that might encourage and promote the idea of following Jesus and being ‘all in.’
But then we went on to ‘inhibitors.’ These are things that discourage the creation of the desired behavior. This is where the evaluation comes in and allows us to see some of the issues that we are dealing with systemically. The different groups talked about some of the ways that teaching happens in our large groups and how that could be detrimental to this growth in Christ. The groups that evaluated talked about how we ( as a youth group) could be focusing too much on doing rather than simply being in Christ. We seem to reward the good choices or being moral instead of following Jesus with intense faith. There may be a lack of opportunity for our teenagers to get out and share their faith regularly with people in a teaching and learning environment. We are pretty safe within our four walls of this church. All three groups mentioned that they have to models in this area if the group is going to be passionately seeking Jesus and following him. This could be an inhibitor to this.
As I processed some of the inhibitors that were mentioned (the above are ones that stood out to me, not all of them) I realized that doing something about them is really what we are to be doing. It’s not necessarily about going down through each of them and figuring out how to incorporate something to combat the inhibitor, rather, it is finding what we do well and doing some of those things even better. Sharing the gospel is extremely important in my mind whenever we share from God’s Word. We will continue to do this and do this well so that students regularly hear the good news and get to process the wonder of this good news in their lives. Being aware of the inhibitors and trying to eliminate them or change them is also an important part of the strategy but letting the inhibitors decimate what we are doing would be completely ridiculous. We don’t want to throw out everything and start all over again. Rather, reformation is always in our repertoire. I think our students are ready to be followers of Jesus.
This generation has a propensity to follow Jesus wholeheartedly and is excited to do so. I don’t know if they have seen what this might look like. Many of the teenagers I talk to have a mold for their lives and they are not sure that they can break that mold. The mold is that they will go to college, get a degree, get a decent job and then move on to be successful, all the while going to church. While I think many of our students can have passionate faith in this mold, I wonder sometimes if the mold were different or less clear to our teenagers, would they develop faith sooner. Would they be able to synthesize faith with life a little bit easier. And so, as I write this, I realize that some of what we are dealing with in terms of systems is a cultural system of the ‘norm.’ And I’m not sure that we an combat that. Only the spirit of God can.
I will work hard in the coming months to address some of the issues that we are encountering in terms of systems all the while knowing that if God doesn’t do the work, then we are laboring in vain. I’m praying for God’s intervention and wisdom as I seek his face for the direction of student ministry at West Evangelical Free Church. I desire (along with several groups) that we are used to develop fully devoted followers of Jesus. Not nominal, in the world and of the world, sort of Christ followers, but people that are set ablaze for Jesus and cannot be stopped for the Kingdom of God. I have seen this happen before and look forward to seeing what God does in our context in this area to continue to move us forward in this area.
I am spending regular time in prayer processing these things and if you have several minutes a day wonder if you would spend this time with me as well. Again, God is at work in our church and in our lives and I’m excited about that. There is alot of work to be done but if God doesn’t show up, we are in trouble with this one. It is only he who draws people to himself and puts the undying passion inside of them!