Helping Teenagers Write Their Own Stories

Apr 24, 2014 Fuller Youth Institute

Photo by 1shoe1.

This guest post is from Scott Schimmel, a former InterVarsity staff member and now the President and Chief Guide of the YouSchool, a small group curriculum program to help high school and college students explore their vocational paths through self-discovery in the context of community.

“Kids usually live up to the expectations of those around them, don’t they?” —Dr. Tim Elmore, Growing Leaders

Stated or perceived, expectations can inspire you or crush you. Sadly, for many of today’s young people, expectations often destroy any chance they have to live their unique, best lives. 

Sometimes kids have expectations placed on them that are really lofty and aspirational. Parents might say, “You should become a doctor, because you’re good at science.” Or, “You know, engineering is where all the jobs are, and you’re good at math.” Parents generally mean well and want the best for their kids. At their worst, though, parents can attempt to work their own issues out through their kids, hoping to live vicariously and get their own needs met through their kids’ successes. Parents might even say shaming things like, “Don’t disappoint us.”

Other times, the expectations are way too low. Recently a sophomore in high school showed me her report card. It had five ‘F’s’ and one ‘C-’. I asked her what she thought about when she saw her report card, assuming she might feel embarrassed, sad, or angry. Instead, with a glimmer in her eye, she said, “I’m really excited about the ‘C-’, actually. Everyone in my family has always called me stupid and a failure, and the ‘C-’ proves them otherwise.” Far too many young people know that there is very little expected of them, except perhaps for barely graduating high school. If you ask them, they’ll tell you that they aren’t going anywhere in life, they’re going to be just like their dad, or their older sister, or their cousins. They expect failure, disappointment, and poverty. 

At a new adventure we’ve started called YouSchool, we’re diving into these conversations headfirst. In the high-achieving, Ivy-Leage-bound world, it’s powerful to tell young people not to let anybody else write their story for them. Discover who YOU are, what makes YOU tick, what ticks YOU off, and what YOUR future looks like at its best. We encourage teenagers to dream soberly, with an honest and clear look at who they really are—their strengths, weaknesses, hopes, values, challenges, and all.

In the inner city, often the world of under-performing and under-resourced communities and schools, it’s the same message: DON’T LET ANYBODY ELSE WRITE YOUR STORY. It’s not true that you have to repeat your parents’ story. It’s not true that you’re stuck. There are tremendous challenges in front of you, but you have a chance. There’s something powerful when a person gains self-awareness. That usually turns into confidence, which breeds direction. At that point you see a fully self-motivated person engaged with life. 

It’s not about giving kids false hope, or about teaching them to disobey their parents. Young people deserve the opportunity to explore themselves in a safe environment of trust, where anything goes because everything is already impacting them. Since we launched last year, we’ve seen hundreds of students be changed by going through a self-discovery process with their peers, equipped with common-sense questions and a chance to have real conversations with the people who matter the most to them. As they honestly dive into their lives, something sacred happens. They shed other people’s expectations and start seeing what their lives could be at their best.

They pick up the pen to start authoring their own story. 

How have you helped teenagers begin to write their own stories?

What ideas do you have for preparing high school seniors to write a new story beyond graduation?

How do you help parents who want to write their kids’ futures for them?

Download a free lesson on IDENTITY from the Sticky Faith Teen Curriculum

Here’s another idea about teenagers writing their own “stories of future hope.”

Learn more about YouSchool

Inter-Department Calendar Planning: Turning A Radical Idea Into Reality

Apr 17, 2014 Fuller Youth Institute

Photo by Philip.

This Sticky Faith Story is from Matthew Deprez, Intergenerational Pastor at Frontline Community Church in Grand Rapids, MI, a Sticky Faith Cohort veteran, and one of our Coaches and Sticky Faith Trainers. (You can hire Matthew to coach your church!) To read the first post in this series, click here.

As I think back on the strategic decisions Frontline made in the past year, one of the most important things we implemented was an “Intergenerational Department Calendar.” Of course we had all done calendars before, but they were done within our individual departments, at different times in the year. The likelihood of one department seeing another department’s calendar was slim-to-none. It led to each department not feeling like we were connected with other departments, and our “teamwork” mentality was becoming harder and harder to maintain. Because we didn’t know what each of us were doing week-to-week, we weren’t working together to maximize opportunities for people at Frontline. 

One particular time, I remember the children’s ministry and adult discipleship departments doing almost the exact same event for parents, but two weeks apart. If we had done it on the same day, it would have cost less, been easier to promote, fostered teamwork within departments, and a variety of other wins.

We desperately needed to re-think our annual calendar. During a 3-day retreat with the Intergenerational Department, we worked an entire day on a yearlong calendar that has dramatically reshaped the way our church functions. 

Here are a few things that happened in that planning process:

  1. Every department came to the retreat ready to “pitch” what they planned to do over the next year.
  2. We made sure major events didn’t fall on the same day, or even around a close time frame. We left a “gap” for Frontline-attendees to “recover” and “process” before gearing up for another event.
  3. The process forced each department to simplify and trim down the amount of events we were doing. We had too much going on, and it was exhausting our staff, volunteers, and Frontline itself. Slowing down gave everybody an opportunity to breathe, which allowed us to better resource and equip the church.
  4. We talked a lot about promotional timelines for events, not just the events themselves. It occurred to us that part of the problem wasn’t just having a lot of events, but that the promotional timelines were getting in the way of each other. If an event’s promotional timeline conflicted with another department’s event, we shifted it to a different time in the year. As it turned out, departments willingly moved their events and agendas so other department’s events could thrive.
  5. We challenged each other. If a department felt like another department’s event wasn’t going to be a “win” for the church, it was openly discussed. We ended some events we’d been doing for a long time because we all had the freedom to be honest. And honestly, our church is better off because we killed these things, too.
  6. We fought for each other. It took a while, but toward the end of the planning process, departments were sticking up for other departments. We all wanted each other to win.
  7. We realized it’s way harder to plan a unified calendar up front, but way easier the rest of the year. Getting along, working together, having fun, casting vision, and implementing programs and events was much smoother than in past years. I would gladly experience the difficulty for a few days of up-front calendar planning than be frustrated the remaining 51 weeks of the year.
  8. We actually stuck to the calendar. Obviously we’ve made some changes here and there, but for the most part we’re still on track for what we planned that day.

As I mentioned before, this process has been very significant for us. We’ve still got room to improve, but we’re already more strategic and laser-focused than we’ve ever been. 

Have you ever done an inter-department calendar? What’s worked? What hasn’t worked?

What resonated from Frontline’s process?

Would you do anything differently? 

What Stopped The Competition In Our Church

Apr 10, 2014 Fuller Youth Institute

This Sticky Faith Story is from Matthew Deprez, Intergenerational Pastor at Frontline Community Church in Grand Rapids, MI, a Sticky Faith Cohort veteran, and one of our Coaches and Sticky Faith Trainers. (You can hire Matthew to coach your church!)

Like most churches, separate ministry departments pervade every part of our DNA at Frontline. Even though we’re “intentionally intergenerational,” we still have separate departments and staff: Children’s ministry, student ministry, adult discipleship, worship arts, and on and on.

About a year ago, we started noticing an interesting trend: We were unintentionally competing with each other. We weren’t fighting, or even complaining about each other, but it was becoming noticeable in a variety of ways. We realized things like main-stage announcements, event advertising, using space inside the church building, time-commitments, volunteer recruitment, and ministry calendars were competing for attention.

One time in particular, I remember our children’s ministry feeling like they weren’t getting the same amount of main-stage “announcement time” as the student ministry. Everybody’s intentions were good—we were promoting for important student ministry stuff and children’s ministry had an upcoming event they felt was equally important—but it became clear that we were competing for airplay from the front. As simple as this sounds, we began to realize that each of our departments became more effective when we fought for each other, not against each other.

As the person who oversees each of these departments, I tried to find a solution. I couldn’t find one place where somebody had actually written inter-department core values, so at a 3-day retreat we started by creating 8 core values for the intergenerational department (children, students, and adults) to live by. Here are the values we articulated:

1. Tell Stories: We will focus on telling stories of changed lives, never allowing a program to be more important than the individual lives of the children, students and adults we partner with. As a result, while we will still measure numbers from programs and volunteering, we recognize our best measure of success is through stories of life change.

2. Balance “Together vs. Separate”: We will balance working together to minimize silos and working separately within our own ministry departments. We will do this by helping other departments when needed. We’ll support things not in our job descriptions, but respect that we are still individual departments.

3. Call Fouls: We will give each other the freedom to “call fouls” if unhealthy silos are created between different departments, understanding that we will make mistakes and must be willing to show grace and move forward.

4. Hills and Valleys: We will be aware of the “hills” and “valleys” within each ministry department’s “seasons”, recognizing and showing support when a department or staff member may need help during a busy calendar season or upcoming event. It’s okay to ask for help.

5. Transitioning: We will work with other ministry staff to effectively transition children or students into new ministry departments as needed, even after that child or student has “graduated” from our ministry. This may include inter-department evaluations on how successfully each department transitions people.

6. Effective Advocacy: In an effort to effectively advocate for all departments (children, students, and adults), we will recognize “hills and valleys” and seek to emphasize and promote ministries as equally as possible, while understanding each department’s “seasons” make take precedence sometimes. If applicable, when promoting departments or events, we will work together.

7. Resourcing Parents: Because we all work with parents, and believing that equipping parents to raise their children in a godly, biblical way is of utmost importance, we will focus our energies toward providing the most effective resources, events, and support to make this a reality. 

8. Freedom to Risk: We will encourage and embrace risk by suggesting and implementing intentional, well-planned ideas that build stronger intergenerational and Sticky Faith values. And we will celebrate failures, not just successes. 

Which core values resonate with you and your context?

Which ones would be a challenge?

Is there a core value you would add that isn’t listed here?

How would you implement these core values in your context?

Faith Milestones: Teaching Kids to Risk

Apr 01, 2014 Fuller Youth Institute

Photo by Toni Matés Urtós.

This Sticky Faith Story is from Bobby Harding, Fuller grad and Associate Pastor for Youth & Families at First Presbyterian Church in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Bobby and his team are part of the 2014 Sticky Faith Cohort.

Over the course of my first year or so at First Presbyterian Murfreesboro, we understood that it would take much more than a few great volunteer leaders and me in order for our community to succeed in our vision as the church, specifically in our spiritual growth goals for kids and their families. A few years ago, our church started our own versions of the “faith milestones” idea mentioned in Sticky Faith as a way to live this out.

Together we created twelve milestones, one for each year of school. Once we had the milestones created, we divided them up between two ministry teams who could oversee their organization and execution (Children’s Ministry for grades 1-5 and Youth Ministry for grades 6-12). We took this delegation a step further and saw to it that each particular milestone, with the exception of a few, had its own organizer. While I did a lot of structural work for the milestones on the front end, by not being “in charge” of every milestone I would not be stuck with more administrative hoopla than I already have on my plate. This also meant that we suddenly had a fresh and unexpected energy coming from almost 12 different folks who had taken ownership of each of the milestones. These leaders see them through from start to finish.

For example, our 4th grade milestone is Risk (not to be confused with the epic board game).

For this Faith Milestone, 4th grade students and adults gather to go rock climbing. Ideally we create a 1 to 1 ratio between kids and adults. Since we’ve been talking for a few years about intergenerational relationships and the idea of whole-church youth ministry, we have some ground to stand on when asking for volunteers. Our hope is always that elders and adults would clamber at a chance to be part of this event.

The group meets at a local climbing gym and begins with introductions. They share their names, something they love to do, and whether or not they’ve ever been rock climbing before. Then one of the adults says something like, “Today we’re going to have a ton of fun climbing together. Climbing involves risk, trust, strength, perseverance, pushing yourself, being brave, encouraging others, and patience. We're going to climb for a while and then have lunch and talk about the connections between being a Christian and climbing rocks. Sound like fun?”

After climbing, the group shares lunch and a guided conversation about the connections between a relationship with God and taking risks. After a few warm up questions, the conversation goes a little deeper with questions like:

         How does rock climbing involve trust?

         Does anyone have a trust-story from climbing today?

         How does being a Christian involve trust?

Adults share stories about times that they have taken risks in their own faith, and are honest about what those experiences were like. The group explores similar questions for other concepts: strength, perseverance, pushing yourself, courage, bravery, encouraging others, patience. Students will be asked if they can think of any other things that are true for rock climbing and following Jesus. They might say, fun, adventure, pain, hope, or love. Adults laying on hands and praying for young risk-takers close lunchtime at the picnic table.

With about 15-20 minutes left, we ask parents to come back so they can see their kids in action on the rocks. Not only does this give kids a chance to showcase their newfound passion, but it also gives parents a chance to say, “I love to watch you climb!” (Thanks, Brad!) and it gives them an opportunity to connect with the adults who have been there talking with and getting to know their kids.

In the spirit of fostering intergenerational relationships within our community and creating unforgettable moments in their faith journeys, these grade-based rituals have been opportunities for the Spirit of God to move in the lives of not only our kids, but our adults too.

Share your story!

An Intergenerational Trip: Two Years in the Making

Mar 18, 2014 Fuller Youth Institute

This guest post is from Keegan Lenker, Pastor of Intergenerational Discipleship, and Drew Vinson, Senior High Youth Pastor, at Pasadena First Church of the Nazarene. “Paz Naz” was part of our 2010 (first ever) Sticky Faith Cohort and Keegan is now one of our cohort coaches.

As forty-five of us gathered together on the chartered bus, I (Keegan) became a bit emotional at the reality of what we were about to experience together. The conversation for this trip had begun two years before.

I have come to accept the reality that implementation of a new paradigm is slow. Just because it’s slow doesn’t mean it isn’t important or can’t be life-giving in the process.

We have been working for four years at trying to become an intergenerational community in our church. We don’t have all the answers, we’re just a community looking at something we see as important and trying to discover what that means for us.

In December we unexpectedly lost one of our greatest advocates in this process. Our 55+ Pastor, Ridge Ireland, understood and valued deeply the importance of how the generations connected together. He came up with the idea of taking a trip with our high school students and his crew of older adults. One of our older adults was sent to Manzanar (a Chinese internment camp) during World War II for three and a half years as a little girl. Ridge felt like this could be valuable for both generations, and in his memory the team felt like this trip had to happen.

I (Drew) was honestly surprised at how the students responded when we first mentioned the trip. We advertised and advocated for the trip just like any other retreat or event, but this one had a bit of mystery to it. “Wait…we’re going on a trip with the old people?” Their curiosity was raised as to what this kind of trip would look like, and I think that inspired several of them to come.

It probably helped that our destination had some significant historical value. The Japanese internment camps are a dark part of American history. The students were able to step back in time and not only see that through the exhibits of the historic site, but also through the stories of a generation that had witnessed it firsthand. History was no longer in a textbook but embodied—sitting next to them on the bus, learning how to take selfies, and sharing meals with them.

Yes, we said selfies. As we got on the bus, we watched them all sit separately just like what you’d see in Jr. High Youth Group. When we stopped for dinner, though, we turned the corner to an intergenerational experience as tables mixed up a bit more. Conversations began to unfold about how couples met, and one student was heard explaining “selfies” and then teaching a 78 year old how to take one. Who knew selfies could be a good thing?

The rest of the bus ride, we watched them mingle more, with students bouncing from seat to seat to ask questions and engage. We could only wish Pastor Ridge could be there to experience the beauty of it.

At Manzanar we got to listen firsthand to Annie’s experience there as a child, how she came to Christ after the war and after being adopted, and how she holds no resentment from the experience today. The perceived fears and obstacles that separated generations began to dissolve, and each age realized there was much to learn from one another.

Was the trip perfect? Nope. Will we do some things differently next time? More than likely. But to see this trip come to fruition is a huge affirmation of the community we work to be here at PazNaz. We have a long way to go, but the momentum continues to build.

I (Drew) have noticed that one of the best ways you can gauge how students feel about a certain event is by watching how they respond via social media. Several of our students took to Facebook and Instagram with pictures and comments about the trip and its significance for them. One student wrote, “Had a great time on our intergenerational trip!” to which another responded, “YUS it was wonderful!” Another student added some details: “Got to meet some cool Primetimers and heard some awesome stories while discovering history with them!”

The real affirmation came the next Sunday at church. Our church has some unwritten laws about who sits in what section of the sanctuary (I’m sure many churches can relate!). The students have their section and the senior citizens have theirs, and seldom are those boundaries crossed.

During the greeting time, I watched as some students left their comfortable space to find some of their new elderly friends who sat on the other side of the sanctuary (did I mention that this doesn’t happen often?). They wrapped their arms around each other like they were old friends. One of our students told me that one of the seniors, a dear widow in our congregation, was taking her out to lunch after service. She barely knew her two days ago, and now they were breaking bread together by choice! We are already witnessing fruit from the seeds planted on this intergenerational trip.

Students, parents, and senior adults alike are all asking us when the next trip will be. Now we are beginning to have conversations about how to turn this unique structured experience into long-lasting relationships. How can we harness the energy from this trip into meaningful relationships across the generations? These are the important Sticky Faith questions we are asking in the wake of an incredible first experiment with an intergenerational retreat.

How Do I Share My Mistakes With My Kids? Five Tips to Help Parents and Leaders

Feb 25, 2014 Fuller Youth Institute

Photo by Conor Keller.

This guest post is from Matt Overton, Associate Pastor for Youth and Families at Columbia Presbyterian Church in Vancouver, WA. Matt’s church was part of our 2013 Sticky Faith Cohort.

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of parenting blogs, family ministry books, and research on raising kids. One of the threads of thinking and research that I have seen is the recommendation that parents need to share their mistakes with their kids.

Sharing our mistakes is good as a general principle. Too often, our students don't get to glean from the life stories of their parents or other adults. Many times when teens look at their older siblings or other adults, they see (what appears to them to be) a finished project. They don't know that those adults are still in process, and they don't know that there were loads of mishaps along the way. Sharing both our mistakes and victories can provide some stepping stones to help young people see that they can make the leap to adulthood successfully.

However, every bit of advice needs caveats! So here are five tips to keep in mind as you share your mistakes:

1. Ask, "Why Am I Sharing This?” As a pastor, I constantly have to ask myself as I preach and teach, "Why am I teaching about this?" Do I have an inappropriate agenda? Is there some internal issue that I might be working out instead of just focusing on the passage? As parents, we also need to make sure that what we are sharing is not being shared to meet our own needs. When sharing with our kids becomes a kind of confessional moment, we might want to pause. We might need to process the event with someone other than our children first. Our kids shouldn’t become our primary network of support. Parents can get caught in the trap of sharing everything with their children and teenagers, often because they don't have another place to share. It can become unclear who is the parent and who is the child.

2. Consider the Timing. Often we want to share a story as soon a situation makes us anxious about our kids. That might not be a good time. We need time to calm down and process what is appropriate to share, at what age it is appropriate to share, and why we want to share a particular life mistake. For instance, you might have heard someone share a story of a mistake and it wasn't clear that they really thought it was a mistake. It sounded more like reminiscing or boasting. If those feelings come up, we might want to reconsider telling about that "life lesson” right now.

3. Consider How Often You Share. Pick your shots. Too many mistake stories might sound like you are dredging your past in a campaign to put up as many walls as possible. Your teen will start to feel like you are constructing a plastic bubble around them instead of sharing something authentic as you walk along the road of life with them. Are we teaching our kids by sharing, or are we operating from a desire to control outcomes?

4. Be Careful About Sharing Secrets! Especially for those of us doing paid or volunteer ministry in other venues, we have to be careful that we don't share a story publicly that we keep secret at home. That can really burn some bridges with our children. If you share it at church, it might be hard for them to fully understand why you didn't share it at home first.

5. Don't Expect Your Story to Change Anything. I know this sounds weird. If it won't change anything, then why share? The point is that if we are sharing stories expecting them to change our kids or fix our kids, then we will be likely to embellish, leave parts out, or over-share. Your kids can smell this stuff out a mile away, and will probably tune you out as inauthentic in pretty short order. If it is right to share the story, then share it. Let your kids wrestle with it for a while, or put it in their pocket for future use. Sharing our mistakes when we have a desired outcome starts to look and feel like manipulation and coercion pretty quickly. Just share, and trust God do the rest!

Our Surprising Collaboration

Feb 06, 2014 Fuller Youth Institute
This guest post is from Lisa Evans, Student Ministries Director at the Highway Community Church in Mountain View, CA.

When we signed up for the 2012 Sticky Faith Cohort, we knew it would change our youth ministry. None of us anticipated how much it would also impact our entire church staff dynamic, breaking silos and fostering more collaboration than ever.

I went to the February 2012 Cohort Summit in Pasadena with just one pastor (who is no longer at our church) and our two Kids’ Ministry Directors who could only come for 24 of the 48 hours. I was nervous that Sticky Faith was mostly going to be “my” thing as the Student Ministries Director, and while quite frankly I liked the control of heading the charge, I also knew that if it stayed that way, it would fail. Sticky Faith could not take root in our community if it did not become a collaborative effort, beginning with our church staff. Thankfully, our two head pastors became avid supporters, even dedicating a large part of our semi-annual staff retreat that spring to a staff-wide discussion on Sticky Faith.

At that point, I had to go through the painful process of releasing control over where this process would go. Frankly, as the driven achieving type, this was more difficult than I would like to admit. I wanted my name attached to the potential success of this shift in our community, and I wanted credit for leading the charge.

But I also knew that as long as that was true, it would not succeed. Not to mention that Jesus calls us to servant leadership and selflessness. So with a healthy dose of being humbled and convicted, I let go of being the point person for this process and entrusted leading Sticky Faith to my senior leaders. I quickly realized that this was not a takeover, but a wonderful partnership. I continue to be grateful to have senior leadership that so clearly saw the importance of this cultural and philosophical shift, and wanted hands-on participation in making it happen. With their support, over time Sticky Faith has grown to be a staff-wide priority.

More staff came to the second Summit in October 2012. More time at staff meetings was allocated to sharing what we were learning and doing. More staff understood that they, too had a role to play, and that this was not just a “youth group issue” Our worship leaders and preachers began asking how to involve students more in Sunday mornings. We began going to our lay leadership across all ministry areas and getting them involved in making changes. I was given the pulpit to preach to both of our campuses to cast the vision of Sticky Faith to the wider community.

Now, two years later, one of the more surprising outcomes of our engagement with Sticky Faith has been the increased collaboration on our church staff. The most tangible example of this is we now have a “Family Ministry Development” team that meets weekly, and consists of nearly half of our entire staff. Over the past year, our meetings have also been joined by most of the other staff, from the senior pastor to our graphic artist. In fact, so many have been involved, it is easier to say who doesn’t come to these meetings, because that list is quite short.

This team meets to collaborate both programmatically and philosophically. Because Sticky Faith covers a range of topics, we have a range of staff. Every person is a vital part of the process, and increasingly we are aware of the fact that while Sticky Faith began as research to understand why youth leave the church and what makes faith “stick”, the implications extend beyond youth to all ages and stages. To truly live into that reality, one vital step for us has been to shift not just how I do youth ministry, but how each of us in the community plays a role in fostering Sticky Faith.

What changes has your church staff or leadership made to collaborate more around Sticky Faith goals? Share your ideas in the comments below!

Taking the Pastor to Camp

Nov 18, 2013 Fuller Youth Institute
Photo by JoePhilipson.

This guest post was submitted by Cody Favor. Cody is the Pastor for Students at First Baptist Church of Abilene, Texas, and is part of our 2013 Sticky Faith Cohort.

I love going to camp every summer. It is the most important week of the year in our ministry. Our youth look forward to how they will experience God’s movement through the wealth of shared experiences we have as a group. The fourteen-hour bus ride from the Texas heat to the mountains of Colorado is no problem because it just means more time to be on the camp adventure.

Despite all that was already great about camp, something different happened this summer.

Our senior pastor came with us.

As we were returning from our first Sticky Faith Summit last February, he told me he wanted to go to camp with our students this year. I’m sure I looked surprised, because he emphasized that he was serious, and that he even wanted to ride on the bus! His motivation was to get to know more of our youth and to show that he was interested in them and what they experienced as a part of our church.

He not only followed through on his word, but also was a full participant during the week as he led a small group, played all the rec games, and shared stories each night as our group gathered to close the evening. I couldn’t have been happier that he was part of the week, and our students became his biggest fans. There was a moment during the week where our pastor put virtually his whole body inside a giant trash can filled with water so his small group could win their game. If I hadn’t captured it on video, I might not have believed it actually happened. In the evenings he shared his joys and fears and struggles along with the rest of the group, and allowed himself to be vulnerable to a group of teenagers. Our students noticed and it mattered to them. He definitely made an impression, because by the end of the week the kids had even given him a nickname!

Why is our pastor coming to camp a big deal for our youth ministry? It is a big deal because in the rec games, bus rides, and Bible studies, our youth were sharing meaningful moments with the person who preaches and leads our congregation each week. Not only did our students get to know our pastor better, they got to be known by our pastor. This is a big deal, as it is easy for them to feel like their gifts and energies for the church are somehow secondary to those of adults. Our week at camp with our senior pastor made our youth feel valued in a way that I could not have expected.

I’m sure there’s still some texting going on during the sermon most Sundays, but after conversations I’ve had with our youth I know they listen and participate in worship differently now that they share those special memories from camp with our pastor.  And our pastor communicates to them differently now that he knows more names, faces, and stories.

As it turns out, the most important week of our year was made even better because our senior pastor told our kids they matter, and he reminds them of that every week.

Meet the Parents Sunday

Oct 22, 2013 Fuller Youth Institute

Last winter, one of our volunteers suggested a new kind of parent meeting she had experienced at her home church. The idea sounded like a winner. Two weekends ago we finally took the chance to try it out. The result? Our most fruitful, best-attended high school parent meeting in my past ten years of ministry.

We called it “Meet the Parents Sunday.” The idea was to link parents and small group leaders right at the launch of our small group ministry year. Every week for a month prior, I emailed parents about a mandatory 30-minute meeting in between Sunday morning services. I promised it would be fun and worthwhile, and we would get out on time. The day arrived, and parents shuffled in – sitting in the back rows first, just like their kids do, then eventually filling the room.

I spoke for about five minutes on our ministry philosophy, our small group plan, and highlighted a couple of key upcoming programs. Then I invited parents to grab their chairs and head to the tables flanking either side of the main seating area. This mirrors the routine for our students on Sundays after singing and teaching, and we wanted parents to experience the same thing.

Our volunteer small group leaders waited at the tables and welcomed the parents. These are the same small group leaders who will be sharing life with their kids over the next year. Once everyone sat down, they made introductions, exchanged contact information, coordinated calendars to find the best day for Life Group meetings, and prayed. It took about twenty minutes, so I could keep my promise of ending on time. As people left, their feedback confirmed what I had hoped: when the family and the church partner, everybody wins.

Here are a few things we learned:

+ Advertise early to parents and volunteers, and keep your promises big and succinct. “It will be fun, worthwhile, and short.” Then keep your promises and get them out on time.

+ Make it mandatory for one parent/guardian per household. If you make it mandatory, people come, because “mandatory” means “important.” None of our parents bristled at the use of the word “mandatory.”

+ Keep your speech brief so the meet-and-greet time can go longer. Assure parents they can make an appointment with you for some other time if they want greater detail.

+ Make calendars and other important handouts abundantly available. This is a golden chance to put resources directly into their hands.

Lastly, we did this in the early fall, but there’s also nothing wrong with doing it in January as a mid-year meeting, especially if you have new information about spring and summer to pass along. The biggest win is relationally connecting parents and leaders.

What have you tried that’s worked when connecting parents and ministry leaders?

Pedestal Parenting and Faith

Sep 30, 2013 Fuller Youth Institute

Today’s guest post is by Keegan Lenker, Pastor of Intergenerational Discipleship at Pasadena Nazarene Church. Keegan has been through a Sticky Faith Cohort and is now one of our expert coaches. He also contributed ideas to the Sticky Faith Launch Kit.

Recently I did something new that helped me better understand common family rhythms in my context. Each year at school parents are asked to attend Parent/Teacher Conferences. Hearing from some other friends who had tried this model in ministry, I decided to host Pastor/Parent Conferences with families in our ministry.

It turns out that those 45-minute windows with parents really helped to affirm some of the things I have learned through implementing Sticky Faith in our ministry over the past few years. They also challenged me in the way I relate to other parents and even to my own kids. Here’s what I mean:

1. Parents are often anxious about faith conversations

One question I asked parents was about the ways the family either talks about faith or prays. Outside of praying at mealtime, I often heard how intimidating praying or talking about faith actually is for some of these parents, even when they have grown up in the church.

I often hear parents say they desire for their children to have a faith that is deeper and more authentic than theirs has been. This is a really GOOD desire. The Sticky Faith research indicates that parents still have the greatest influence on the faith formation of their children. The heart-wrenching truth is that as parents we tend to get what we are when it comes to faith. Kids mirror what is modeled, including the ways we talk about our faith.

2. Parents struggle with sharing their testimonies

Most of the families I met with had never sat down and shared their stories of faith with their kids. Their kids don’t know when in their lives they started to take Jesus seriously. Helping parents share these stories can be a powerful faith catalyst for teenage children. But parents often hesitate to share their past because of the “Green Light” effect…

3. Busting the myth of the Green Light

I like to invite parents to places of authentic conversation and honesty about their brokenness with their children in age-appropriate ways. Without a doubt when I invite them to be honest about the ways in which they have lived destructively, the most common response I get is, “If I am honest about what I have done in the past, I am giving a green light to my children to do what I did.”

Yet, when parents can be honest about who they are and what they have done, they are stepping off the pedestal that many of their kids have placed them on.

4. Deconstructing the Pedestal Parent

Pedestal parenting is what happens when the only things we talk about in our lives are the decisions and actions that feature our good sides. We showcase our successes and sweep the failures under the rug. It’s good for our kids to see the positive things, but when those are the only parts of our lives they see, they easily put us on pedestals. We create an unrealistic sense that they can never be like their parents because we have never made any mistakes. This can have a major effect on faith development.

On the flip side, when we are honest about our brokenness and show our real humanity to our children, we become more relatable to them. There is no guarantee they still won’t use this information against us in some way. My hope is that my kids will remember my brokenness and the ways I have grown from it.

5. De-pedestaling biblical heroes

I was talking with a friend not too long ago about this very thing. He began to share about how we also have done this with Biblical characters. We’ve placed them on pedestals for our kids. We never really tell the parts of the stories that reveal how broken most of them were. This might be one of the ways we’re stifling authentic faith formation in kids in our homes and our congregations.

I’m embarrassed to admit the ways in which I’ve conveyed an impossible faith-led life that my kids can never live up to. I also confess the ways I have contributed to this model in the church.

Yet all hope is not lost. This has always been God’s church, and he desires to use broken people for the sake of the Kingdom. That puts all of us in play. You and I are invited as parents, pastors, friends, and strangers to embrace our stories of brokenness and to allow the transforming work of the Spirit to use us.

We’ve just got to step off our pedestals.