(Idea – use this as a discussion document at your next youth leaders gathering – or better, invite me to shay the same thing ‘in person’ via zoom or skype. There are discussion questions at the bottom. dave@shininglights.co.nz)

 

I remember when I led my first network of youth leaders. I was full of enthusiasm, and we achieved some really good things together. But I’m 25 years older now, and have led a few things since. What’s  in this short ‘how  to’ guide could make a real difference for you!

You see – I’ve sat in pastors’ groups literally hundreds of times, because it’s been part of my ministry work. (I literally travel to discuss how united things could work with these kinds of groups). There are some simple ‘keys’ I’ve learnt from observing all these groups. They are rarely discussed – but a growing number are realising that unity is quite an important thing – and things ARE changing!

Here are a few of those tips – and you could imagine here that the below  is a summary of a whole book (because it is), the 5 minutes this will take you to read is a gift (which it is – because there is no charge :-)

 

Point  1: The end-goal of combined church leaders groups is not relationship. God gave us a mission. That’s the end-goal.

  • (If you feel like reacting to this point because you believe relationship is important  – don’t react!  Read it, then read point 2 – because this is all VERY IMPORTANT).

If you have the goal incorrect in your thinking from the start, it’s very unlikely you’ll ever achieve this most important goal. This affects none less than the myriads of people who don’t yet know Christ!

  • Local churches often CANNOT reach their whole communities when only working independently. Take a look around you and you’ll see. There are things that need doing together!
  • Read Philippians 1:27.  Unity had a purpose.
  • Read Jesus’ prayer in John 17 – then note that is goes  on to say “…that the world  would know…”.  So this prayer isn’t actually  a prayer just for unity!  It’s a prayer for unity in view of the increased favour and capacity that will bring for our local mission (outreach) work!

Point 2: The starting goal must be relationship.

  • A contradiction? No. It’s about understanding process.  Without relationship there will be no trust.
  • Things move at the speed of trust!
  • So start social. Have drinks and food. (Nearly always could have drinks and food).  Ask people how they are going. Get to know each other. Encourage each other  This is where you start.
  • It’s always about relationship first!
  • Result: Trust will build, and a huge benefit here is that you will likely all last longer in ministry as a result too!

Point 3: The life-cycle of a city pastors’ group, or youth leaders network

  • Stage 1: Coffee unity –  You get know each other. You encourage. You build trust.
  • Stage 2: Prayer unity – You begin to realise you are in a city, and that your own efforts are just one small part of the wider work that is needed to achieve the mission Jesus gave you together. Because you choose to be secure in yourselves, your hearts begin to unite in a passion for the city as a whole (rather than needing to push your own agenda or find affirmation from others for the amazing things you are doing) – and so you pray not only for yourselves – but for the city!
  • Stage 3: Functional unity – Your prayer together begins to birth vision. You then consider this vital question:

What can we do together that we cannot do apart?

So you pray together again, and begin to sense God might have purposed more for your gatherings than coffee and prayer. As a result, you begin to engage with the greatest and most important purpose you exist for as a group: Mission!

 

Some points and tips for youth leaders in a city of town

  • Firstly, unity isn’t something God gives you a choice on. God expects it! If you aren’t willing to connect with others, I know this sounds harsh, but – you’re out of line! It’s true that many churches function very independently. If you want more youth in your city/town to find hope through faith, bring the change. Build relationship with others! Work with others!
  • The key hindrance to your unity achieving what it should is the misnomer (incorrect idea) that the key purpose of your meeting is relationship. As in my first and second points above – this isn’t the case. Relationship definitely is ONE of the purposes, and an important purpose. Nothing will come about through your group if its not a priority. But what is even more important for ANY group is to know from the day they start, why they exist!  I can’t stress how important this point is – because the success or failure of your God-given mission together literally hangs in the balance!
  • Another challenge unity groups face:
    • Some will come with ‘agendas’ to push. For example, they’ll have their programme or ministry idea that they want everyone to unite in. But if there isn’t unity on this, and they try to dominate – this can kill the momentum and potential of the group. Maybe some participate, while others stop joining the groups meetings altogether.  This is very common.  So you have to work  to AGREE on what you do together. You can also release some from among you to do things that not everyone participates in. There is nothing wrong with that. The point is – their combined effort shouldn’t therefore take up all the talking time at your combined meeting  (because half of you aren’t involved in their thing).
    • Here’s the strange process for finding the shared agenda of the group. Everyone needs to lay their own agendas down when they arrive –  so you can pray and find  your agenda together! 
    • This means, you might have something amazing you want all the youth groups to do together, but the other groups aren’t interested. You have to let go and chill out. Remember (1) relationship (2) prayer (3) only then find your shared agenda in service to your shared mission. The group won’t work achieve healthy outcomes any other way.
  • An error to avoid: Thinking independence isn’t wrong
    • If my kids are 25 years old and all still live at home and depend on me for money and food, something is wrong right?
    • So – independence is a function of maturity. It’s a good thing.
    • But so is inter-dependence!
    • This is why the above question is so important: What can you do together that you cannot do apart?
    • Note – this means that some big youth groups will be capable of doing BIG things independently (and this isn’t wrong. We mustn’t judge). But this  doesn’t mean you don’t still need to all meet together. You do – because you still need to answer question I gave you! There will still be things you can only achieve together! What are they? Pray. Work out how to get school groups working, all Christian youth equipped for outreach, and a range of youth outreach events happening in your city – including small group efforts, youth group efforts and combined efforts.
  • The three key areas of your mission
    • ** SCHOOL GROUPS: A key thing you need to teach your youth about outreach is that we are called to reach others where we are. Youth are at school! So – do Christian students in schools know who each other is?  How do you expect them to stand for Christ in that environment – where those with Christian faith are often negatively judged, without peer support? So…
      • How could you help Christian youth from different youth groups meet each other?
      • How could you help them to start praying together at school (or before school) – because their school group process is exactly the same as yours (relationship –  prayer – action).
    • ** UNITED OUTREACH EVENTS: What could you do together  that you couldn’t do apart?
      • Bigger united events are a key to seeing friends engaging with your groups – out of which can come various meaningful conversations about life and reality and hope and purpose…
    • ** YOUTH  EQUIPPED TO ENGAGE IN CONVERSATION WITH THEIR FRIENDS 
      • There is no way to express how IMPORTANT personal outreach equipping is. If you don’t equip your youth to know how to articulate their faith – AND with skills to engage difficult  conversations, they will stay silent.
      • In most places where very few youth are choosing the Christian faith, its because youth leaders have failed to equip their youth. And consider – even if half your youth group are not Christian yet, you can still equip EVERYONE to explain the Christian faith! (E.g. I know how to explain the basis of most religions. So there’s nothing wrong with teaching a non-Christian at youth group to do this).  …and as you teach and practice these things, and as testimonies are also practiced and shared, you might be surprised how many of them come to faith along the way!!!
      • There is HUGE social pressure (prejudice) growing in our society against the Christian faith. Our free Godtalk.nz resources are created to help you with this.
      • A goal: I suggest every youth ministry should make it their goal to see ALL attending youth equipped for conversational outreach every year. This could be done through a month  long series in your study/discussion times.
      • An expectation! Many mentors of youth leaders don’t make this an expectation of those they train – but we do. I can’t see how you could believe the Christian message and NOT do this. The Bible makes our mission abundantly clear.  The mission Jesus gave you needs to be your mission! Full stop! Do this!

And if you all do this – together you can change things in your city or town that you will never change alone!

We hope this ‘How to guide’ helps :-)

 

As a short closing story: I’m part of a weekly pastors’ group currently also. So you know how it works, un this group we don’t even talk about our various churches and ministries. We have built relationship -and we give our primary time to praying for and discussing the needs and concerns of the city – and the opportunities that exist as a result are significant, and are in a wide range of areas within the city.

The dynamics for youth leaders groups are exactly the same.

God wants leaders to exist who focus on the big picture as well as the small.

Become that kind of leader. Believe that bigger things are possible together!

 

The key point:

God loves our unity.

God expects us to be in unity

God blesses unity.

But because God also loves everyone we must understand that the chief-end of our unity is for mission!

 

 

Discussion questions

  • What did the article say was the primary purpose of a united group?
  • Is independence wrong? (when, and why / why not?)?
  • What is the process suggested for a united church or youth leaders gathering – and why is each point important?
  • What things might we need to unite for as a group? What might we be able to achieve or facilitate together that we couldn’t achieve apart? (Certainly please consider the 3 points included in this article – but also the fact that your friendships and resource-sharing in other areas will strengthen all of you, and your ministries!)
  • As a first step, what could we agree on to do together? (Will we all equip our youth for conversational outreach? How about an event purposed to connect our youth – so they can begin to support each other and pray together in their schools? A combined outreach event?)