Just recently I finished reading a book with a group of my teens in our leadership committee. This book was different from other books I’ve read. It recounted the story of Jesus in a very efficient, yet riveting way. It portrays Jesus as a heroic man of action, an exorcist, a healer and miracle worker. It only took a couple weeks to finish it reading at a pace of a chapter per day, which is great for me since I’m a slow reader. I highlighted so many sections of this book and I would highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a quick read that features a unique view of Jesus’ ministry. The book is The Gospel of Mark.
There are days when I find myself putting too much stock into how many books I read with spiritual topics outside of the Bible. Then I find myself noticing the Scriptures mentioned in these books and thinking, “I don’t remember that verse”, or “Where is that verse found?”, or “What is the context surrounding that verse?” How embarrassing! I’m a minister of the Gospel, I have degrees and a job title that say so. However, I still fail to discipline myself to be in His Word on a daily basis. Some of this comes from my arrogance and pride no doubt. I might say to myself something like… “At least I know more Bible than my teens…”. But in more cases than I’d like to admit i’m proven wrong in even that.
Now don’t get me wrong, secular and spiritual books can be very beneficial. They can change lives. But to substitute my daily Bible reading with these books is foolishness. One can never be too familiar with God’s Word. It’s funny that we always marvel at those who have memorized paragraphs of Scripture. Even in the movies, quoting Scripture is used to show the discipline and focus of a character (Sniper in Saving Private Ryan, Andy and the Warden in The Shawshank Redemption, Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction, The Boondock Saints, and Denzel Washington in The Book of Eli). Memorizing Scripture is definitely Biblical and should be an esteemed practice. (Deut. 11:18, 2 Tim 3:16-17, Matthew 4:1-11) However, even in this we should not get carried away to the point of knowing what the Bible says and doing what it says.
Our youth are going through a DVD series right now put out by Francis Chan titled “BASIC” which has been a wonderful blessing. In it, he makes the point that following Jesus is very much about obedience to Him and how we often, as Jesus followers, try to find ways around that. In a sort of retelling of James 1:22, he tells the story of telling his daughter to clean her room and his daughter returning and saying, “I did really good, I memorized word for word what you told me to do! Aren’t you proud of me?” or saying “I got a group of my friends together and we’ve been analyzing your words and finding different interpretations and meanings hidden underneath those words on a weekly basis! Isn’t that great?” He says that as a father, of course he would be so disappointed that she failed to do the one thing those words were meant to do, put his daughter into obedient action.
Book knowledge is good, Bible knowledge is better, Bible obedience is paramount.
I’m obviously droning on now, not real sure there’s a coherent theme in this post… or blog. But it does me good to think these things through by typing them out. Hope it does some good for you too.
So one of my favorite past times is playing disc golf. Now I know what you’re thinking. Chances are you know some really nice people that play disc golf that might be categorized as “hippies” or “too poor for real golf”. Let me first say that during my college days, I too had a disdain for disc golfers. I was into Ultimate Frisbee big time, but when it came to throwing these smaller “discs” that threw differently than a standard ultimate frisbee I quickly dismissed the wanna be sport. I didn’t wear tie dye or smoke anything so why would I play disc golf? This was short sighted on my part.
The Great Outdoors
Disc Golf (frisbee golf or “frolf”) is actually quite fun. I am definitely on the amateur side of disc golf, having just acquired my first disc golf bag, but even as an amateur there is so much to love about this hobby. Firstly, growing up with asthma and being a bit of a nerd, I’ve spent a large percentage of my free time indoors. However, as I’ve grown out of my asthma and started enjoying more and more outdoor activities, I love any and all excuses that force me to stay outside for hours at a time. Whether it’s hiking, biking, swimming, or just reading a book, it’s fun to be outside. Disc golf is an awesome way to just be outside, take your time, get in your steps, and enjoy your surroundings.
The Disc Golf Culture
Disc Golf is unapologetically the embarrassing cousin of actual golf. There are no posh or pretentious disc golf courses (that I’ve been to). You usually find yourself walking into a public park or past a baseball diamond to find your first tee box. Sometimes it’s tough finding a decent course that’s well kept and nearby but I’d suggest checking out DGCourseReview.com if you’re looking to locate a good disc golf course. Those who throw are pretty aware of the stereotypes attached to those who play this sport and don’t do much to fight it. It’s pretty common that in contrast to a polo and slacks, one just might play shirtless in shorts. Some might say that’s trashy but it’s that aspect of freedom and lack of expectations that I think is so appealing about this game. Even so, there is usually no shortage of etiquette on the disc golf course. Letting faster parties play through, waiting until the entire party in front of you has hit chain before proceeding to throw, helping search for lost discs are just some of the common ways courtesy is shown to others whilst playing.
A Ministry Tool
Outside of just enjoying the great outdoors, disc golf is a great way to waste time with friends. I’m a youth minister and any amount of time spent with my students that is not in front of any kind of screen is a win. That goes for friends and my wonderful wife too! Words get exchanged, back and forth in this kind of verbal dance called “conversation”. It is slow-paced, almost free (minus the cost of discs), and relaxing. When I’m stressing about something or a friend is, disc golf is a great way to play a game with ample amount of time to talk about whatever. When one of my best friends broke up with his girlfriend… we played disc golf. When one of my students wanted to talk about an argument they had with their parents… we played disc golf. You get the idea. Relationships are paramount to any ministry and this has been a great way to develop and enrich my relationships.
All in all, I realize disc golf isn’t for everyone. Some people are into spending hundreds of dollars on golf clubs and golf apparel. My current investment in my 6 years of playing disc golf is up to about $60. There aren’t any disc golf carts so there is a bit of walking involved, but if you’re needing an excuse to get a couple more steps into your day, that is perfect. Areas where the game isn’t as popular can make obtaining discs and finding a decent course difficult. Rules and score-keeping follows the same principles as real golf which makes it very easy to catch on.But if you’ve never tried it and there is a course near you, I highly encourage you to give it a throw.
The Pros and Cons of a Youth Section
I confess, I was raised in the church. Even from a very young age I’ve always remembered our church having a “youth section”. That is to say I remember having a certain locality of pews that were reserved for teenagers in the youth group. This is were I sat with my friends during church and we did our best to behave. I sat there Sunday nights (A long time ago we had church twice on Sundays, crazy right?!) and Wednesday nights (Our church would meet together for 15 minutes then split into classes on Wednesday nights).
However, on Sunday morning my parents required that all their children would sit together as a family. There were 8 of us (yes, I have 7 siblings and no we weren’t Catholic) so it felt like another smaller youth section, especially when friends would sit with us. But there were times, I can remember feeling left out on those Sunday mornings. I longed to sit with my friends, my youth group.
Now that I’m older and experiencing church as a youth minister, my perspective has changed significantly from the times I felt like a left out teenager on Sunday. By that I don’t mean I’ve come to see the evils of a designated youth section. I mean that I’ve really come to appreciate the teens who sit with their family. Whether it is a family rule or it’s by choice, there’s something right about church being a family experience.
I think having a youth section is a very good thing. I do not think it is a good thing to make every gathering of the church to be sectioned off into specific demographics. If the only church our teens have experienced is with their peers in their immediate age range, then we’ve taught them to ignore their Christian family who don’t fit their age bracket, we’ve dismantled a major part of the discipleship process and negated the importance of the intergenerational church, we’ve taught them to think inwardly and selfishly about how church should fit their own needs and have blinded them to the needs of other demographics in the church. Does having a youth section once a week accomplish all this? Of course it doesn’t. I’m merely advocating we put some thought into our traditions.
To help us think this through, let’s go over some pros and cons of having a youth section in our churches.
- Guests get to see that this church has an active youth group that like each other enough to sit together.
- Members get to see our youth sitting together in unity.
- Teens get to experience church together and bond as a group.
- Seeing one’s peers engaged in worship also encourages others to do the same.
- Perhaps most importantly, it gives our teens who attend without parents (or perhaps any family) in attendance a place to sit and belong without feeling awkward.
- Guests get to see that this church has an active youth group that would prefer to talk to each other than participate in worship and hear a sermon.
- Members get to see our youth being irreverent and/or apathetic.
- Teens sitting together means at times, they’ll distract each other, probably even to the point of distracting anyone who can see or hear them. (Talking, snap-chatting, texting, group messaging, playing games, etc.)
- Seeing one’s peers disengaged from worship encourages others to do the same.
- It can emphasize an identity that is separate from the rest of the church.
So… what? Am I trying to say that we shouldn’t have youth sections? Not at all. I love getting to see my youth group sit together, worship together, take communion together, cheer together for the newly baptized brother/sister in Christ, and be the only section that claps during certain songs. That is awesome! It honestly feeds my soul, sometimes more than the service itself. And I’m sure I’m not alone in that!
However, as a youth minister I confess it also worries me that the perception could be that a teen being a distraction sitting in the youth section becomes a problem for the youth minister and not the responsibility of the parent. I’ve had members come to me to complain about a distracting incident involving a couple teens carrying on a conversation during the sermon that might indicate my leniency. While it is certainly my intent to train and shape the behavior of these young Christians, my immediate reaction tends to be, “Why tell me? Go tell their parents!” Sometimes I can’t focus on the sermon or during communion because I’m keeping an eye on those who are set on being disengaged and distracting because I don’t want to look like an inattentive youth minister.
Conversely, there was a time when I really started to crack down on my youth group about overusing their phones during the Sunday morning sermon. The result? There was a very small youth section the next couple Sundays. It broke my heart to have some of our empty-nesters to come up and ask me “What happened to our youth section? Have they fallen out of love with the church?” But they were still in church. The standards I tried to implement led to our youth sitting with their family or their friend’s family where the standards were less stringent. It’s tough trying to uphold a standard with the youth group when adults in the church don’t honor that same standard and chose to check in on the game, check Facebook, or catch up on some emails. (*Technology usage during church can be beneficial and even uplifting, from using Bible Apps to checking in at your local church on Facebook. That is a topic for a future blog.*)
Familial expectations are key to teaching our teens how to act in church. That’s not to say teens can’t be taught expectations on how to act appropriately or reverently in church while sitting with their youth group. It’s just that it isn’t usually communicated consistently enough. I’ve always respected parents who would witness their child misbehaving or being distracting during church in the youth section and would get up and sit behind them… or even better, walk over to them, grab their arm, and make them come sit by them. How embarrassing! I guarantee your teen would make efforts to never let that happen again.
In summary, youth section are good in my opinion. I will never discourage our teens from sitting together, as long as they aren’t distracting. We should be intentional about encouraging our youth to worship together, listen together, learn together. But we should also be intentional about making them feel apart of the whole church. In the songs we sing Sunday morning, the lessons taught from the pulpit, the selection of communion servers, prayer leaders, and Scripture readers, all of these should be used to show our students that they are not just the future of the church, they are the church right now! More and more studies are coming out indicating that students leave the church between going to college and coming into young adulthood. It’s tough for me not to point a finger at the way we sometimes encourage an “us” vs “them” mentality with our youth groups, we babysit them and feed them milk, we neglect to advocate for intergenerational, discipling relationship and flat out don’t treat them like the church of today so they don’t know how to relate to the church when they leave the comfort of their youth group.
We shouldn’t just see our students sitting together in church, we should see them being the church with the church!
I’m rambling now and getting into other topics, but hopefully this has been a useful exercise for you to think through how we do youth ministry and make you think of ways it can be improved. If you have a though or think I missed some pros or cons of the youth section please comment below!
I have to end with this verse… don’t just read over it because you know it.
1 Timothy 4:12(NIV)
12 Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.