YOUTH MINISTRY & “Warm is the new Cool” and other innovations explained by #Princeton’s #AbigailRusert

Episode summary (with time stamps) from Reclaimed Leader interview with Abigail Rusert, Director of the Institute for Youth Ministry at Princeton Theological Seminary, and the Principal Investigator on the Log College Project grant.

Give us a 30,000-foot view of youth ministry from your perspective.  What are you seeing out there?

  • Abigail shares about the changing landscape of youth ministry and why she believes churches are mistakenly continuing to resource programmatic models of youth ministry that are no longer effective instead of investing in new and innovative approaches. 00:13:00.
  • Jason and Abigail talk about the power and importance of stories of life transformation as a key metric for youth ministry. 00:18:00.

Relationships are still the key to impacting youth.

  • Even with some of the failings of past approaches to youth ministry, the vital importance of relationships is still the heartbeat of ministry to young people. Inviting the whole congregation to be a part of offering relationship to youth is vital to the growing faith of young people today. 00:22:00.

Why it’s crucial for senior leaders to help each person in the congregation see themselves as youth ministers.

  • Abigail shares about the power and the tools senior leaders have at their disposal to share vision with the congregation. Instead of ‘giving the job’ to our youth leaders, senior leaders can help create an environment where all are considered youth ministers together. 00:25:00.

“Warm is the new Cool.” – Growing Young.

  • Abigail reflects on the freedom that warmth over cool gives to congregations of all sizes. It’s not about providing flashy experiences, it’s about creating opportunities for great relationships across the generations of the church. 00:30:00.
  • Abigail shares about the importance of creating sacred spaces for young people while protecting against that being the only strategy for faith formation in young people. 00:35:00.

Call yourself a youth minister.

  • Jason and Abigail reflect on the importance of relationships of love and authenticity and how senior leaders can lead the way by telling stories of how they are a youth minister. 00:39:00.

Why inviting young people to be a part of the design process works.

  • Jesse shares about how Marine View is working to help young people serve and connect in the church ways that are natural for them, instead of creating the feeling of being put on display. Abigail shares about ways to get kids involved by inviting them to shape ministry. 00:42:30.

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ATTRACTIONAL & Do I use the term “attractional” in a pejorative way? Yes, and here is why …

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 4/25/18.

One of the missional coach candidates I yearly train said he felt I use the word attractional in a pejorative manner. I define attractional in my book ORGANIX as a church growth strategy that is focused upon attracting people, through performance and spectacle. However, a more healthy manner of growth is to the focus is upon an “incarnational strategy,” where congregants go “in the flesh” to meet non-churchgoer needs and share Christ in person

Here’s my clairification on this distinction to the colleague:

I wanted to say that I agree with Tim when he said that it felt like I was being pejorative in the use of attractional. I hope I clarified that, for I believe there are many attractive aspects to anointed worship. But I used attractional in a pejorative sense because I’m trying to shock the church into seeing how it easily leads us astray from anointed and supernatural worship. I also want to apologize if I offended anyone by using it in a pejorative sense.  I’m only using it in that manner to draw our attention to how it can easily become the main focus. And I know you all agree with me that that is a valid point.

However I could have softened my language a bit.

But as I mentioned I want to shock the church into moving towards incarnational tactics more than attractional.

Why? Because I’ve seen many churches striving to create an excellence in presentation that is beyond their capability and finances … and which detracts from anointing in content.

So my use of the term in a negative sense is not to dissuade the use of attractive tools, but rather to not let the attractiveness of the tools become the focus when the authenticity and organic nature of the supernatural experience is more likely within the grasp of most churches.

Dr. Priscilla, one of my Missional Coaches candidate responded:

I wasn’t offended and I actually agree. There’s nothing wrong with being attractional as part of an overall strategy, but focusing on this over and above being a place that loves God and loves people toward him is a short term strategy at best.

ATTRACTIONAL vs. INCARNATIONAL & “If you have to give a carnival to get people to come to church, then you will have to keep giving carnivals to keep them coming back.” #Spurgeon? #Almost

Commentary by Professor B.: This is a quote often attributed to Charles Spurgeon, e.g. see the Twitter feed @Spurgeon on 1/2/18. However, it cannot be substantiated that he actually said this.

But Spurgeon did say similar things, about the importance of letting the Holy Spirit attract people to church and not human-made entertainments. See Spurgeon’s (substantiated) quotes on this below:

“Are you afraid that preaching the gospel will not win souls? Are you despondent as to success in God’s way? Is this why you pine for clever oratory? Is this why you must have music, and architecture, and flowers and millinery? After all, is it by might and power, and not by the Spirit of God? It is even so in the opinion of many.

“Brethren beloved, there are many things which I might allow to other worshippers which I have denied myself in conducting the worship of this congregation. I have long worked out before your very eyes the experiment of the unaided attractiveness of the gospel of Jesus. Our service is severely plain. No man ever comes hither to gratify his eye with art, or his ear with music. I have set before you, these many years, nothing but Christ crucified, and the simplicity of the gospel; yet where will you find such a crowd as this gathered together this morning? Where will you find such a multitude as this meeting Sabbath after Sabbath, for five-and-thirty years? I have shown you nothing but the cross, the cross without flowers of oratory, the cross without diamonds of ecclesiastical rank, the cross without the buttress of boastful science. It is abundantly sufficient to attract men first to itself, and afterwards to eternal life!

“In this house we have proved successfully, these many years, this great truth, that the gospel plainly preached will gain an audience, convert sinners, and build up and sustain a church. We beseech the people of God to mark that there is no need to try doubtful expedients and questionable methods. God will save by the gospel still: only let it be the gospel in its purity. This grand old sword will cleave a man’s chine [i.e., spine], and split a rock in halves.

“How is it that it does so little of its old conquering work? I will tell you. Do you see the scabbard of artistic work, so wonderfully elaborated? Full many keep the sword in this scabbard, and therefore its edge never gets to its work. Pull off that scabbard. Fling that fine sheath to Hades, and then see how, in the Lord’s hands, that glorious two-handed sword will mow down fields of men as mowers level the grass with their scythes.

“There is no need to go down to Egypt for help. To invite the devil to help Christ is shameful. Please God, we shall see prosperity yet, when the church of God is resolved never to seek it except in God’s own way.”

Charles Haddon Spurgeon
Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, 1888, vol. 34, p. 563

“The only multiplication of the Church of God that is to be desired is that which God sends: ‘Thou hast multiplied the nation.’ [Isaiah 9:3] If we add to our churches by becoming worldly, by taking in persons who have never been born again; if we add to our churches by accommodating the life of the Christian to the worldling, our increase is worth nothing at all; it is a loss rather than a gain. If we add to our churches by excitement, by making appeals to the passions, rather than by explaining truth to the understanding; if we add to our churches otherwise than by the power of the Spirit of God making men new creatures in Christ Jesus, the increase is of no worth whatsoever.”

Charles Haddon Spurgeon
Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit,
1892, vol. 38, p. 339, sermon #2265

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BLOCK PARTIES & Are we ascertaining needs or entertaining the community?

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 5/12/16.

I encourage my students to spend more time in their ministry lives ascertaining the needs of the community rather than trying to entertain the community.

Often churches offer block parties, festivals, yard sales, concerts and the like as “outreach events.” But really they seem to me more like avenues for the church to boast in its presentational power.

As I’ve pointed out in the book ORGANIX one of the “signs of leadership in a changing church” is incarnational ministry, which means going in-the-flesh to connect with people one-on-one.

Here is how one student described her block party and my response regarding how to make it an incarnational event rather than an attraction no one:

“Lastly, we are planning on hosting FX (Family Experience) events several times a year, where jump houses and carnival-like games are coupled with a short, Biblically-based play. These have been wonderful ways to do community outreach at our sending church. Once again, these can be advertised through the virtual school newsletters, in mailers, and via strategically placed signage in the local neighborhood. During the actual FX event, short surveys can be handed out to those attending.” (bold lettering student).
Remember when you’re planning something like the neighborhood festival spend equal amounts of time on gathering information about community needs as you do setting up the bouncy house and organizing the games.
Thus, it seems like the “short surveys” are tacked onto the end – as an afterthought. This must be 50% of your energy, money and time because I know you agree with me that ascertaining needs is more important than entertaining the community.

ATTRACTION or INCARNATION & An Introduction to Church Refugees #JohnHawthorne

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel; “In my book ‘ORGANIX: Signs of Leadership in a Changing Church’ (Abingdon) one of the 8 signs is that Christians are rejecting the entertainment-emphasis of churches and instead preferring churches that create community through small groups, huddles, clusters and other sub-congregations. Test how you are doing, by asking yourself, ‘How much time this week have I spent preparing for the Sunday service and how much time have I spent creating community through small groups, clusters, huddles, etc?’ If you need ideas read this article and the book ‘Church Refugees.’ And then take a look at one of my three books that address this: ‘ORGANIX,’ ‘Cure for the Common Church,’ and especially the chapter on ‘small groups’ in ‘The Healthy Church’.”

An analysis of the book “Church Refugees” by John Hawthorne, Pathos, 6/15.

Amazon.comI was excited to receive this book by Josh Packard and Ashleigh Hope. It is a sociological report on The Dones: people who have been active in church life but have removed themselves from the institutional church.

I first became aware of this phenomenon two years ago thanks to some blog posts by Michelle Van Loon reporting on church decline among those over 40. I returned to the topic the beginning of this year when I became aware of some preliminary data from Josh.

Using a combination of sampling methods, Josh and Ashley were able to collect detailed qualitative data on over 100 individuals. He told me in an e-mail that sometimes all he had to do was say “hello” and the stories would pour out.

The Dones shared a number of characteristics. They had all been heavily involved in church life, some in official staff positions. They loved the church enough to be committed to seeing it become all it had the potential of being. But the costs of keeping up that energy against institutional structures eventually become too high.

There are several shared characteristics that cut across their stories.

High on the list is a desire for community. The Dones (which they also call the Dechurched) wanted their churches to be places where people connected in meaningful ways. This was more than just small group programs with defined curriculum but was the place where people actually connected. That community was important is evidenced by the ways they tried to reconstruct community in non-church settings after they were Done…

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SMALL GROUPS & Why They Are the Requisite Follow-up to Big Attractional Events

by Bob Whitesel Ph.D., 7/17.15.

A student once fell into the typical misstep of concentrating on events as the primary avenue to grow a church.  Let me quote his query and my answer to explain the importance of “discipleship” rather than “event” turnout.

Student A said:  “I truly believe as I am writing my paper that God is revealing Himself to me in great and marvelous ways. My prayer is that we can be more innovative in reaching the lost. We are already planning on an outdoors Sunday service next month. We are going to have hamburgers, hotdogs, games, etc. and most importantly we are going to share Christ. Does anyone have an idea about how we might make it more relevant to the community? Something that we might be able to do that would draw in some of those who do not go to church on Sunday morning! Let me know!!”

Dear Student A;

The key to an outdoor service is the follow-up small groups event.  Notice I said small groups (plural). Events are often only marginally useful if they don’t lead the unchurched attendees to small group involvement (where they can share their heart with others and be discipled).

Thus for any suggestions students might tender, they will be primarily ineffective if they are not directed toward connection of unchurched people with discipleship groups.

Speaking hashtags: #StLizTX #StMarksTX


by Bob Whitesel (excerpted from ORGANIX: Signs of Leadership in a Changing Church, Abingdon Press, 2011, pp. 121-137)

I is for “Incarnation”

Latin: in (into)- + carn- (flesh) + -ation (to become, to transform)[i]

Incarnation describes how God sent his Son Jesus to earth “in the flesh” or “in person” (John 1:14, Col. 2:9) in lieu of sending a surrogate (such as an angel) or just speaking through a prophet as he had done in Old Testament times. Scholar N. T. Wright says that this incarnation “…implies that God wants to make his presence felt around the place, and he may well want to do so especially where people are trying to run things their own way and making a mess of it.”[ii]

The incarnation is an important subject for it reminds us that God is a “missionary God,”[iii] coming to humanity to restore fellowship between himself and his offspring. Though there are many attributes to God’s incarnation there are four aspects on which we shall focus:

  1. God went himself to earth. He did not send a surrogate. (John 1:14, Msg.).

The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son .

  1. God in the form of Jesus came to explain himself to us in a personal manner, with face-to-face dialogue (John 14:6-7, Msg.)

Jesus said, “I am the Road, also the Truth, also the Life. No one gets to the Father apart from me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him. You’ve even seen him!”

  1. God wishes the result of this encounter to be a reconnection of people to God (2 Cor. 5:18-19, Msg.)

All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins.

  1. God wishes his followers to participate in his mission and tell others about his offer of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:20, Msg.)

God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. We’re Christ’s representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them. We’re speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you.

The following sections compare how modern and millennial leaders differ in their approaches to telling others about God’s mission.

3 Perils of Modern Leadership Regarding: “Incarnation”

Modern Leadership Millennial Leadership
Send others. Go in person.
Teaching is one-sided and directive. Teach and be taught.
Gathering is an “attractional” event. Gathering is a supernatural encounter.

DOWNLOAD the chapter here >>> ORGANIX Chpt. 7 INCARNATION Pg121-138

[i] Carlton T. Lewis, Latin Dictionary (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1996), p. 112.

[ii] N. T. Wright, Incarnation and Establishment, sermon, (Durham, UK: Cathedral Church of Christ, Dec. 25, 2008).

[iii] David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in the Theology of Mission (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 19910, p. 390.