Thinking Out Loud

November 5, 2015

Answers to Tuesday’s Challenge

If you haven’t already, you need to read what was posted here 2 days ago: Here’s the link.

So let’s begin.

The Bible says Jesus is coming back.

There are a couple of problematic things here. First, Jesus said he’s coming back. Maybe I’ve been listening to too much Andy Stanley, but I have to agree with him that it’s much better to say, “The author of Proverbs says…” or “The gospel writers believed…” or “The Apostle Paul taught…” so that we’re focusing on real flesh-and-blood people and not a generic “This is what the Bible says.”

But what does it mean that Jesus is coming back. Has he been down in the polls and he’s making a comeback? The language so familiar to those of us inside the church may be meaningless to those outside. Perhaps this is a good news return like the time Uncle Raymond returned from his year in India. He’ll toss the kids on his knees and tell stories and everything will be like it was before.

Is that what it means? We believe that the second coming of Christ means that this time He is returning in judgment. If your life is yield to Him, then I suppose you approach this with joy, and it really isn’t unlike Uncle Ray’s return after all. But if you’re not sure, or definitely not ready, then I suppose you approach this with apprehension or even dread.

I believe he’s coming very soon.

I think we can present the imperative of responding to Christ without quantifying it in terms of the calendar. Personally, I think there are number of prophetic markers in place that have to happen first before the return of Christ. However, I believe some of these are stacked like dominoes, and that many of these markers could fall in quick succession.

Of greater concern however is that our days are numbered. We don’t know what tomorrow might bring, hence the reminder to “choose this day who you will serve,” and that “now is the appropriate time to respond, today is the day for salvation.”

However, by reminding us of our mortality, we can introduce fear into the equation, and the experts say that guilt and fear are great motivators for making short-term decisions, but not long-term disciples.

I think that simply saying, “We need to be ready,” places the onus of responsibility back into the hands of the person listening. It’s a call to action, “If Christ is returning, what do you need to do about it?”

I don’t think I will ever die.

It was the memory of this part of the presentation that got the ball rolling for what was posted on Tuesday. It occurred to me that years later, this person is now aware of the possibility that the second coming of Christ may not happen in his lifetime, especially as the clock keeps ticking and more years pass.

Of course, the overtones of pre-tribulation rapture theology are also implicit in this, and that viewpoint is, in my perception, losing supporters even among Evangelicals. I’m not saying there will not come a day when “some will never die,” but I’m not sure that a presentation of this nature is the right place to introduce that.

I think what is more important to signal is that the return of Christ will signal a dramatic paradigm shift. In the incarnation, Christ came as one of us, and while the world changed — recognized every time you write the date — I think it was nothing compared to what it means when he returns as king.

In the first coming, Jesus rode a donkey, and while his followers went on to found a kingdom without end, in many respects the world went on as it did. In the second coming, Jesus rides a white horse, and whether supernaturally, or through already present technology, “every eye will see him.”

That said, I believe a closing statement — if one were limited by this three-point format — is to say something instead about responding to God’s love, God’s grace or some basic statement of the implications of the atonement. I suppose how deep a person wants to get at this stage depends largely on the type of people who constitute their audience, but whether or not the speaker will ever die is at best immaterial to the responsibility of the hearer to respond to the offer God is putting forward in sending Christ.

So what’s the point?

Keep in mind, the speaker in this case — again click back to Tuesday for the backstory — was in his early 20s when he made the original presentation. But often our words are tossed out without preparation, and perhaps this type of music group or youth group approach needs to be written out, and even crafted with the help of someone with greater spiritual wisdom.

I know that I had similar days I wish I could live over. I wasn’t the speaker in this example, but I probably used similar words and phrases when I did itinerant youth ministry.

If nothing else, I hope this gives you something to think about.

November 3, 2015

You Be the Editor: How Would You Refine This Presentation?

Filed under: apologetics, Christianity, evangelism — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:07 am

I grew up megachurch. Our youth group didn’t bring in a band for music nights, we had our own. (This is long before youth worship teams, so this was a bit rare.) At least once every few months, when they weren’t on the road playing for other churches, we would have them play for us.

One night I remember with great clarity. The band members would take turns and “do a verbal” between songs, and one very quiet moment included something I am sure I remember word-for-word. One of the singers, a guy who was just a year or two older than me, turned to the audience and said three things. (He didn’t number these, but I wanted to be able to isolate the various parts. In the original form, this was one continuous spoken paragraph.)

  1. The Bible says Jesus is coming back.
  2. I believe he’s coming very soon.
  3. I don’t think I will ever die [because of Christ’s return; meaning was implied but clear]

So here’s the question. How would you refine this? I recognize these were kids in a youth outreach band, not trained theologians or paid evangelists. I also realize it’s easy to sit back and critique things when you’re not the person on the platform. I understand the compulsion some people have to nitpick over a particular choice of words.

But still…

I only ask because now, with the benefit of a decade or two, I see this very differently. I see some definite areas for improvement. Take two days to think it over, leave comments, and we’ll come back to this on Thursday.

September 29, 2015

When Methodologies Were Different, Motivation Was The Same

So let’s pretend that you go to a megachurch in a large urban area. Oh wait, that’s not a ‘pretend’ for many of you. Now let’s pretend that your church is one of the really “hot” churches in town; you’ve got a great children’s, youth and college and career program, and nobody would consider missing a Sunday service if at all possible.

But let’s pretend that if you were to take a drive and head about an hour — at least an hour — out of town, where there were people in a small town or village who simply didn’t have the same exposure to an urban church like yours. And let’s pretend that you took some other people with you, and also took some of the passion and excitement you had about your faith.

Maybe your end product would look different than the kind of “road show” that the man pictured at left was part of. Russell Wilkinson lived in a different era to be sure, but his weekly trips to the little town of Mount Albert were no small adventure. It was a long, long drive northeast from the city of Toronto; especially on the rare occasions where they picked up children and teens there, drove them to a special service in Toronto, drove them home to Mount Albert and then drove back again. In a post-war time before freeways or even good roads.

I like that they (a) identified a group of people who were unable to connect with the church ministry programs going on in the city, and (b) did something about it. The term “missional” may not have existed back then, but this was classic “missional” thinking. I am sure that their willingness to do this also had some measurable impact on the parents of the youth they got to know.

They didn’t just absorb all the great music and teaching that went on at their big-city church, but they shared the gospel of Jesus Christ out of the overflow of all they had received.

I still have the trumpet in the picture. Until today, I’ve always thought of it as a musical instrument, but it was an instrument of ministry, too.

What are you doing this fall to connect people with Jesus?

August 22, 2015

Maybe He Should Have Done a Bible Study Instead

Rick Page was too inexperienced in student ministry to realize he was being had.

Short Stories 2After four weeks as their youth pastor, he thought that having a high school group ‘testimony time’ would give the kids more opportunity to participate and help him to get to each one better. They were sitting in a circle and the idea was to go around and share their story.

Twenty-eight kids had showed up that night, and by the seventh one, Rick was already concerned that their testimonies had turned into something more like confessionals, and for a bunch of church kids, they seemed to be more sexually active than he would have expected.

Two thirds of the way around the circle, they got to the youngest kid in the group, Danny, who everyone called D.P.; and somebody said, “Don’t let him go yet, he’ll wreck it.”

Still Rick didn’t catch on.

At that point a couple of kids in the group who had already shared said, “I forgot some things;” and then added to their story. Each seemed to be more sensational than the last, with tales of sex, recreational drug use and petty crime.

Miraculously, they got all the way around the circle, though Rick thought it a bit disrespectful when some of them giggled during a few of the final stories, and told them they shouldn’t laugh at other people’s mistakes.

And then someone said, “Okay, now it’s D.P.’s turn.”

Danny was somewhat new to the group, but had long figured out what was going on, certainly longer than Rick, who still didn’t seem to have a clue. Everyone looked at D.P. to see what he might confess.

He took a deep breath and said, “I robbed a bank once.”

At that, the entire youth group exploded into laughter, and it was a laughter that just kept going and going.

Finally, things crystallized for Rick and he started laughing, too.

When things settled down it was his turn to speak. “Well, if you guys don’t mind;” he said, “I think we’d better do something different next week.”


Subscribers: There’s more to this in the comments today, be sure to visit the blog.

August 16, 2015

The Divorce Effect – Part Three

Jeff-SnowThis is the third and final of three parts, click to read part one which dealt with the effects of divorce. Part two was a focus on the theology of the topic, and today we look at practical suggestions for the church to minister to teens of divorce.

divorce effect3Jeff Snow has spent the last two decades working in youth and young adult ministry in Canada, both in the context of a local church and a parachurch organization. The three articles are taken from his masters thesis on the impact of divorce on middle-school, high-school and college youth.

by Jeff Snow

In the first of our articles on the effects of divorce on teens, we explored the findings of many studies that pointed to the fact that divorce is not a benign event in the lives of teenagers. It should not be seen as a “cold” that knocks a young person for a loop for a time but which they eventually get over. Rather, it should be seen as a chronic illness, with many effects that will be flare up at various stages in life. These effects do not have to define the young person or doom them to a difficult life, but they must be understood and managed, like any chronic condition.

In our second article, we focused on some less tangible effects that are characterized by a sense of loss. Teens of divorce deal with a sense of loss of community, loss of identity, loss of a positive view of God as Father, loss of a family structure within which to safely develop morals and values. These multiplied losses lead to an anxiety which negatively impacts a young person’s life. We ended by suggesting that God has provided the church as a reflection of divine community that can come alongside teens and help them deal with loss and anxiety.

The effects of divorce are far-reaching, and with almost half of the students in an average student ministry dealing with those effects, it is important for youth pastors and leaders to be aware of the particular needs of these students and develop characteristics within their youth ministry that will minister to these needs.


Every youth pastor works to build strong bonds of unity within their youth group, unity that goes beyond simple friendship. A strong youth ministry will have a sense of being united in the Spirit (Eph. 4:3), of being a safe community where students are drawn together by God’s love and presence as well as by their natural kinship. While this atmosphere is important for every teen, it is that much more important for teens of divorce.

youthminstryDouglas Adams, in his book Children, Divorce, and the Church, for teens of divorce, “what they lack in life is a caring community around them. They need help in dealing with past and present pain in their lives. Most need restoration of their self-esteem. The local church is one place where young people from divorced families should be able to find a supportive, loving community.”

What I am advocating as part of ministry to teens of divorce in this area is not so much a distinct program of ministry to them. In fact, very little of what we will discuss points to a specific program that would single out teens of divorce from the group. Rather what is needed is a heightened focus on the importance of nurturing a supportive community within one’s youth ministry, with the equally heightened awareness of the importance of that supportive community in the life of a teen of parental divorce.

The good news is that there already exists in many churches at least the beginnings of this community in the youth groups and youth Sunday school classes that are in place. The goal of the youth pastor is to work to intentionally foster community within these already existing structures so that teens of divorce can know they are not alone and begin to find a community that will help replace what has been lost in the dissolution of their family community.

Andrew Root, in his book The Children of Divorce: The Loss of Family as The Loss of Being, proposes five practices that should be part of any church community that ministers to teens of divorce. The first is accompaniment. This simply means that peers and adult leaders in the church are willing to walk alongside teens through their journey through divorce, regardless of how long it takes, or how painful and messy it can become.

The second practice is the provision of sanctuary. A youth ministry needs to be a place where a teen suffocating in the throes of familial upheaval can simply come and breathe. It needs to be a place where they know they belong, and where they know they are safe.

The third practice of community is convening. The youth ministry will provide contexts for people, youth and adult leaders, to get together, form community and build relationship. Practically speaking, this means the youth pastor must avoid the temptation to over-program and leave youth as mere spectators. Give the teens and adult leaders the opportunity to hang out together and see what kind of community the Holy Spirit develops.

middle school youth ministryFourth is connecting. It is important for teens of divorce who have lost so much adult influence in their lives to make meaningful connections with the adult leaders of the youth ministry. This is where the youth pastor must train and surround herself with adults who love Jesus and love teens, and who are willing to make connections with teens when the community gathers.

Root contends that a big part of the youth pastor’s job is to “convene spaces for intergenerational conversations to occur.” This is why, though I firmly believe that youth need a weekly gathering to call their own, I am not a believer in a parallel youth church that meets on Sunday mornings, or that in any other way takes the youth away from opportunities to convene and connect with Christians from other generations. Teens of divorce, in particular, need the influence of and connection with older, more mature believers.

A final practice in building a community that will minister to teens of divorce if that of blessing. A teen of divorce needs to know that they are wanted and accepted by the church and youth group. They need to feel that they belong, and that the community is glad that they are there.

Ministry people

Besides clergy, there are four types of people in a youth ministry that can be of benefit to teens of divorce. The first is their peers. Teens, especially teens of divorce themselves, need to be encouraged to reach out to each other to provide support.

A second group can be termed an “adult friend”. This is someone who is willing to welcome a teen of divorce into their life and spend time with them, both in the context of the church and youth group, and beyond. The home life of a teen of divorce can be difficult. It may not feel like home anymore. Families within the church can develop a relationship with a teen where their home can become a refuge where the teen can be invited to help them to get away from it all for a while.

The third group is the adult role model. This includes spiritual modelling, giving the teen of divorce someone to guide them through their development of godly morals and values. Though teaching in a youth ministry is essential and important, teens will often learn more from observing how Christianity works in the real life of a real person.

Modelling for teens of divorce is also very important in the area of marriage and relationships. In my ministry, I have two young couples who have dated, become engaged, and are now married with small children, all while serving as leaders in the youth ministry. Their example is invaluable in terms of modelling God’s plan for relationships, dating and marriage. Teens of divorce need to know that what they have seen in their families is not the only way to live. Providing them with role models who demonstrate healthy relationships is very important.

discipleshipA final category of adult-teen ministry would be a mentor. This is a more intentional and intensive coming alongside of a teen by one adult who is willing to walk with them through the divorce years. Douglas Adams describes a mentor as someone who “took the time and, in some cases, made the sacrifice to help these children of divorce see a better tomorrow.” Teens of divorce need to see hope that things can be different.

These relationships are very important in ministry to teens of divorce, yet in today’s world, it must be acknowledged that this type of relational ministry is becoming increasingly difficult. Some churches and youth ministries simply don’t do this kind of ministry anymore because of the potential risks. Others have put good policies in place to make it work. I believe churches must do all they can to do formulate structures that will allow for safe ministry between adults and teens, especially teens of divorce, who need an adult influence in their lives. Teens will be looking for that support and influence regardless of what we do, and if we don’t provide safe people to be part of their lives, they will find that support and influence in the very people that our policies are trying to protect them from.

These relationships between adult leaders and teens of divorce must not be forced or assigned. They must happen naturally. This is where the youth pastor can use discernment and the context of “convening” events to observe the connections between particular youth and adult leaders, and gently nudge them together.


Teaching is an essential part of any youth ministry. For teens of divorce, it would be important to focus some teaching on issues of identity. Divorce strikes at the heart of a teen’s identity, exacerbating low self-worth and complicating the already difficult search for who they are. In community and through teaching, youth ministries can help teens re-discover their real selves, help them see the image of God in themselves, and come to know that they are worthy of love, both from their fellow humans and from God. A series such as “Who I am in Christ?” can help teens of divorce begin to define themselves less and less by the divorce, and more by their relationship with Christ.

ymin mentoringAnother important area of teaching is in basic morals and values, helping teens distinguish between right and wrong. We have said that teens of divorce are left to forge their own values independent of their parents. This provides a great opportunity for ministry. I have found that teens of divorce are much more spiritually inquisitive than many teens who have grown up in the church in intact families. We have the opportunity to answer their questions and teach them God’s direction for their lives.

A third area of teaching is in dating and preparation for marriage. This is a standard topic in the youth pastor’s tool kit, but it is all the more important for teens of divorce, who are more sexually active as teens and get divorced more as adults than teens from intact families. The “sleeper effect” of divorce shows itself when teens and young adults begin to develop their own romantic relationships. Youth ministries can provide teaching as early as mid-adolescence that will help teens of divorce prepare for healthy relationships.

A final area of teaching is focusing on the nature of God, helping to correct the misconceptions of God teens of divorce develop because of their experiences. We need to teach them that God is a confidant they can talk to about their pain; that He is a source of stability and a comforter; that He is a true Father who is sovereign and has all things under control, even when it seems like all is falling apart. The teen of divorce needs to hear that they are safely in the palm of God’s hand, that He loves them and protects them.


How can youth ministries speak specifically to the spiritual lives of teens of divorce? We said last time that many teens of divorce, while losing interest in organized religion, still have deep spiritual interest. They define themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” This has two positive implications for youth ministry. First, the less formal, less “churchy” nature of most youth ministry can be attractive to teens of divorce in particular. Secondly, we recognize that teens of divorce have not given up on their spiritual journey. They are full of questions. They want to connect with God. They may not like the church, but they are willing to pursue knowledge of God and Jesus. Youth pastors need to not be turned off by their disinterest in the organized church, but rather encourage and nurture the deep spiritual hunger that they have.

Divorce Effect Part threeWe pointed out one study last time that found that divorce often drives committed teens away from the church in anger and disillusionment, while drawing fringe youth closer to God and the church as a means of coping. The youth pastor needs to be aware of these possible reactions. Youth leaders must be OK with the questions and anger and even rejection these committed students may display towards God and their parents, and gently walk beside them on their journey away from a faith that relied on their parents, and towards a faith that will hopefully be stronger and their own. Youth pastors also need to pay attention to the students on the fringes of the youth group whose experience of divorce will heighten their desire to find a coping mechanism in faith in God, and come alongside them in their walk towards God.

In both cases, youth leaders need to realize that the window of opportunity for ministry may be small as deepening family conflict and parental moves may take the teen out of the group.

Support groups

We haven’t discussed support groups much yet. They can be an important part of ministry to teens of divorce as they find healing through shared experience. But one must be careful that such a group does not label or isolate the teen from the rest of the group. The church must also caution against any mindset that a 12 week course will solve all the teens’ problems and that the presence of the group does not discourage others from getting involved. A support group must be seen as part of an overall ministry to teens of divorce, not as an end in itself.

One support group curriculum for teens that seems effective is “Spectrum”, produced by an organization called Rainbows. The curriculum has a faith-based component for use in churches, and one for use in schools if a youth ministry finds itself with an open door to reach into the school system.


In my research, I have noticed one common theme that arises again and again as an important element in ministry to teens of divorce: The importance of listening to them. This may seem rather simplistic, but it is something that is essential and astonishingly neglected and overlooked.

The most disturbing statistic I found in my research pertaining to ministry to teens of divorce was found in Elizabeth Marquardt’s book, Between Two Worlds. She writes, “of those young adults who were regularly attending a church or synagogue at the time of their parents’ divorce, two-thirds say that no one – neither from the clergy nor from the congregation – reached out to them during that critical time in their lives, while only one-quarter remember either a member of the clergy or a person from the congregation doing so.”

Let that sink in. This is not a survey of people outside the church, nor is it referring to teens of divorce where the divorce happened to them as a child. For teens who are regularly in the church and who are in the midst of experiencing a divorce, 66% of them said no one paid any attention to them. This is a sobering statistic for youth pastors and the church as a whole. The church needs to be aware of the teens involved in a divorce and needs to find ways to reach out to them. And the simplest way to begin to do that is to listen to them, because having someone who will listen is at the core what these teens are missing. No one asked them if they wanted to live through a divorce. Most of the decisions made in the divorce are made without consulting them, yet they severely impact their lives.

Those involved in youth ministry have the opportunity to create a safe place for teens to talk about their experiences, and assure them that they will be listened to. When that is done, they are valued and deemed important. They are shown their worth in God’s eyes.

The key to awareness of the needs of teens of divorce, and as a result the key to ministry to them, is quite simply to listen to them, not just for a short time, but over the long haul, for divorce is a long and difficult journey for a teen. As youth ministers listen and gain knowledge of the pain and needs of teens of divorce, they will be more equipped to meet those needs in their ministries, and to share with the broader church community what can be done, and what needs to be done, in order to help these adolescents grow into the person God created them to be.


If you’ve found this series helpful, and would like to send Jeff a message off the blog, use the contact form on this page and we will pass it on for you.

August 15, 2015

The Divorce Effect – Part Two

Jeff-Snow First, if you haven’t already, click to read part one of this series. This is the second of three parts; part one dealt with the effects of divorce. Today we will focus on the theology of the topic, and part three will look at practical suggestions for the church to minister to teens of divorce.

divorce effect2Jeff Snow has spent the last two decades working in youth and young adult ministry in southern Ontario, Canada, both in a local church and parachurch context. For his Masters thesis, he wrote on the impact of divorce on middle-school, high-school and college youth.

by Jeff Snow

In our last article, we looked at the effects of divorce on teens as spelled out by researchers who have studied the subject. An overarching theme is the sense of loss that teenagers feel in various ways as the result of parental divorce. There are a few ways that those wanting to help teens affected by divorce can help them deal with these losses. We can work to replace the social capital they have lost, giving them the physical resources and support they need to heal and thrive. We can give them psychological support by way of helping them think properly about the divorce and their place in the situation.

Both of these are good and necessary. But divorce brings about more than an economic, intellectual, or psychological loss. Divorce brings with it a sense of loss that strikes much deeper into the soul of a teenager and impacts his life in different ways for years to come. These spiritual and existential losses are important to understand, for they lie at the root of the painful effects of divorce experienced by teens. As those involved in Christian ministry to youth, we are uniquely positioned to speak to these issues and minister to this less tangible sense of loss.

Divorce brings to a teen a loss of their sense of community. The most basic form of community is the family. Divorce pulls children out of that most basic form of community and by doing so, it strikes at the very nature of how God created us to live.

Marriage ripped apartGod Himself, by His very nature, lives in community, a community of mutual love among the three persons of the Trinity. Humans, created in the image of God, are created to live in community. Living in relationship is essential to our humanity.

Genesis 1:27 and 2:23 tell us that both man and woman and their one flesh union reflect the image of God. The early church father John Chrysostom expanded this idea to include children. In his view, “The child is a bridge connecting mother to father, so the three become one flesh.”

Divorce destroys this “one flesh” community of parents and children. Divorce does damage to the image of God as reflected in marriage. Though a teenager may yet find community within which to live, and still within his own being reflect the image of God, he is nonetheless impacted greatly by this loss of community, the loss of love, and the loss of the active model of the image of God in his life represented by his parents.

This loss of community strikes at the very core of the teen’s sense of self, his sense of being. Andrew Root, in his deep yet excellent book The Children of Divorce: The Loss of family as the Loss of Being, writes, “When that community (of mother and father) is destroyed, it is a threat to the child’s being. Divorce, therefore, should be seen as not just the split of a social unit, but the break of the community in which the child’s identity rests.” Root maintains that the effects of divorce cannot be limited to social and psychological factors. The root of the loss inherent in divorce is the loss of being and the subsequent anxiety resulting from that loss.

Sad TeenRoot asks the question, “Can a person be at all, now that those who are responsible in their union for creating that person are no longer together?” He goes on to say that “there is no community more primary than that of mother and father, than those responsible for my being. When their community is not, my being is shaken.”

Divorce brings into question in the mind of the teen his very identity. If existence is found in relationship, then the removal of the key relational community in the life of a teen will impact their identity. The refuge and protection that family is meant to provide is pulled out from under the teen, and the safe harbour in which they can discover who they are no longer exists. They are left to figure out their identity on their own, caught between the two worlds which their parents are creating for themselves rather than for their children.

Ministry to teens of divorce will focus not only on social and psychological needs, but will zero in on issues surrounding identity, who they are in Christ, and their relationship with God as a Father.

A healthy view of God as Father is another area of loss among many teens of divorce. The idea of God being a father to the fatherless (Ps. 68:5) is not a comforting thought if God is going to be like their father. The idea of God as “Abba” and of the teen seeing herself as Abba’s child (Romans 8:14-16) is somewhat of a foreign concept. Yet coming to grips with these concepts and this understanding of God is important in order for the teen to be able to rediscover their identity and realize who they are as children of God. Our job as ministers to youth is to come alongside teens on this journey of rediscovering who they are in Christ and as beloved children of God. For as we noted last time, divorce leaves teens embarking on these journeys of self-discovery primarily alone.

One of the key roles of the parents within the family is the transmission of values and beliefs to the next generation. This was clearly spelled out in Hebrew law:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

In an intact family, a community exists where the image of God, where the admonition to love God, where the instruction to follow His commandments, can be taught and modeled through the everyday routine of life. In divorce, that community is fractured. That place of refuge where children can have inculcated upon them the values and beliefs that will point them to a relational experience with God has disappeared. Their view of the image of God, their impression of God as Father, becomes deeply marred.

Instead of embarking on this journey under the watchful tutelage of their parents, children of divorce must create their value systems on their own, while living within the dichotomy of the often conflicting value systems being created by divorcing parents, putting teens in a position they were never meant to fulfill.

In divorce, the line of ancestral obligation is broken, and the teen is left to be what Elizabeth Marquardt calls a “moral forger” who has “to grow up quickly … trying to make sense of adult concepts and choices with the tools of a child.” The teen is left to figure out his belief system and to figure out exactly who God is, what He desires of him, and why that matters, entirely on his own.

search for identityIt is the cumulative effect of these losses which often fly under the radar that creates the anxiety in teens of divorce that breeds many of the issues and behaviours we discussed in our last article. All young people wrestle with the existential questions of “Who am I?” “Where do I belong?” “Is there a God and can He be trusted as a Father?” But in the lives of teens of divorce, this search for identity and security is heightened as they pursue these questions alone, without the community of support that God created for them to have.

These losses breed anxiety in the lives of teens. Anxiety is different from fear. Perhaps that’s why we buy into the “kids are resilient” idea and assume teens will survive divorce relatively unscathed. Most teens of divorce are relatively free from fear. They are, for the most part, physically and economically safe. But that doesn’t mean they are free from an anxiety rooted in a loss of a sense of being and security that permeates their lives and exhibits itself in a myriad of issues.

It is this sense of anxiety that God the Father desires to alleviate as the teen of divorce grows in relationship with and understanding of Abba Father, and with the community He provides for the teen, namely the church. As the reflection of divine community, the church can come alongside the teen of divorce, providing him with a community in which to belong, with people who can remind him who he is in Christ and how the image of God is still evident in him. The church can provide a sanctuary where he can safely formulate a value system that corresponds to what God has created him to be. The church can provide a place where the anxiety caused by dealing with the many losses inherent in divorce can be borne by others in the community, and can be alleviated by bringing the teen in to a clear and healthy relationship with God the Father.

In our third and final installment, we will look at practical ways the church can be a divine community for teens affected by divorce.

to be continued…

August 14, 2015

The Divorce Effect – Part One

This weekend we’re repeating an original, powerful series by Jeff Snow that first ran in August of last year. In 2014, the three parts ran as completed; this time we are running them on consecutive days.

Jeff-SnowJeff Snow has spent the last two decades working in youth and young adult ministry in southern Ontario, Canada, and he has become a friend of our family for much of that time. For his Masters thesis, he wrote on the impact of divorce on middle-school, high-school and college youth. Ever since I heard about this, I have been asking if he could summarize some of his findings for us here.

This is longer than we usually roll here, but it’s important to read every paragraph. This is actually the first of three parts, on the effects of divorce. The second will focus on the theology of the topic, and the third on practical suggestions for the church to minister to teens of divorce. We’ll interlink the parts as they appear here.

divorce effectBe sure to forward the link for today’s post to anyone involved in children’s or student ministry at your church or in your community. Feel free to leave questions in the comments section.

by Jeff Snow

A defining moment in my 16 years of youth ministry came a few years into my stint running a drop-in for unchurched teens. I was driving a number of youth home after drop-in one evening when two of them began a discussion in the back seat. They were listing off a number of their friends, maybe 15 in all, most of whom teachers at the high school would identify as “at-risk” youth. At one point, one of them exclaimed to the other, “Hey! We’re the only two who still live with both our parents!”

From that point onward I began to take more careful notice of the connection between youth who find themselves in trouble in various forms and the fact that a great majority of them do not live with both their biological parents. Those observations eventually led me to a Seminary paper on the effects of divorce on teens and an examination of what we as the Body of Christ can do to minister to these young people.

As in any other area of study, the research sometimes presents contradictory results. While almost all researchers agree that divorce is a traumatic event that has negative effects on children, particularly in the first year after the divorce, there are some researchers that maintain while some youth face ongoing lifelong effects, most youth will emerge relatively well-adjusted after going through a 2-3 year adjustment period.

Divorce LawyerThe problem I see with this assessment is two-fold. For an adult, three years is just a blip on the radar. But for a teenager, three years is half their adolescent life. A teen experiencing a divorce in junior high school will spend half of their formative teen years trying to adjust to having their world turned upside down. It is hard to believe that this will not have a long-lasting impact, at the very least in terms of missing out on the formative development they would have experienced in an intact family.

Secondly, many of these studies focus on a single factor, such as school grades or adult earning potential, as a means of measuring overall health. They also depend widely on statistical analysis and questionnaires. But surveys that rely on interviews with teens of divorce, that rely on actually listening to their stories, paint a much different, somewhat bleaker picture.

Divorce is not a benign event. Many people like to view its impact like that of a cold, which may knock you down for a short time but which you eventually get over. But the effects of divorce on teens is more like a chronic illness. It may lie dormant for a while, but it flares up at the most unexpected times. It never totally goes away. It can only be managed in order to live life to the full.

The effects of divorce on teens can often be very visible in their behaviors, yet often it is unseen. Elizabeth Marquardt wrote an eye-opening book entitled Between Two World: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce. In another article she writes, “I’ve interviewed dozens of young adults from divorced families … If you gave them a questionnaire and asked, for instance, if they had ever been arrested, dropped out of school or been diagnosed with a mental illness, practically every one of them could respond ‘no’. But that does not mean they were unaffected by their parents’ divorce.”

Divorce is a time of loss for a a death

Divorce is a time of loss for a child…like a death

So, how does divorce impact teens? Most researchers describe divorce as a time of loss for young people. This goes beyond the loss of a parent. They have lost the security of their home. They have lost connection with grandparents and other extended family members. The divorce is often only the first in a long string of losses, as numerous new boyfriends and girlfriends come in and out of their parents’, and their, lives.

Teens lose something as basic as their own room. They end up having to divide their lives in two, splitting their possessions between their parents’ two houses. In the case of step families, teens will end up having to share personal space with step siblings. I still remember a grade eight girl telling me of the difficulty she was experiencing as her mom’s new boyfriend’s family moved in, and she was forced to share her room with someone who was supposed to be a sibling, but who was to her a complete stranger.

Teens experience the effects of what is called “diminished parenting.” As parents deal with their own trauma and grief resulting from the divorce, they have less time and emotional energy to help their children through their grief. As time passes, parents become engrossed in moving on with their lives, and the needs of teens are unconsciously put aside as the parent looks for a new partner. This neglect is almost always unintentional, but the results are the same. The teen does not receive what she needs from the parent, and in fact, at times care-giving goes in the opposite direction as the teen, particularly the teen girl, takes on the role of a support to the parent whose life is falling apart.

Caught in the Middle - DivorceAs the two parents’ worlds begin to move apart, the teen is stuck in the middle, trying to navigate the chasm on their own. They are often faced with divided loyalties, as pressure is put on them by parents to take sides or to report back after custodial visits. They are faced with inconsistent parenting, as each household develops different rules for living. This even impacts teens as they work to develop their own morals and values. In an intact family, the two parents work together to present a united front of morals and values that they present to their children as the way their family is to live. But in families of divorce, the parent’s value systems will invariably start to differ with each passing year, and the adolescent is left to forge their own morals and value systems on their own, at an age where they are not yet able to successfully accomplish this task.

Diminished parenting shows itself in the lack of protection afforded, particularly to teen girls by the non-custodial father. Without a father figure, with less accountability and with decreased monitoring of activities, studies show that girls from families of divorce engage in sexual activity earlier, more often, and often with men older than they are.

Though teens of divorce will achieve grades in school that are close to those from intact families, the issue is in getting them to school and getting them to stay there. Teens of divorce are late for school more often, will skip class more, and get suspended or expelled more than teens from intact families. Teen of divorce are 30% less likely to complete college, as non-custodial parents generally feel that their financial responsibility is over once the child reaches 18, and will rarely provide the funds for college.

Family ConflictSome statistics from the website Rainbows, which is a curriculum for divorce support groups, state that 50-80% of patients treated in Canadian mental health clinics are from separated families, and that teenagers of divorce are three times more likely to be in psychological counseling than those in intact families.

For those of us in the church, it is interesting to see how divorce affects a teen’s spiritual life. Generally, interest in the church and religion will diminish, but interest in spiritual things, even in prayer, will not. One author posits the theory that the increase in divorce may be behind the contention of many under the age of 35 that they are “spiritual but not religious.”

Teens who are heavily involved in church activities will experience a retreat from spiritual things. They will wonder why their prayers were not answered, and why parents who said they loved God and believed in Him would then give up on a marriage which was supposed to be sacred. Teens who are nominally involved in church, however, will go the other way and will turn more towards the church as a coping mechanism.

Broken HomeTeens from families of divorce are more likely to be kicked out of the house, more likely to report not feeling emotionally or physically safe at home, more likely to be abused. Anywhere from one third to one half of girls from families of divorce report being sexually abused as children or teens, most often by stepfathers or stepbrothers. Two leading researchers conclude that living with a stepparent remains the most powerful predictor of severe child abuse.

Though there are many effects of divorce, the one most people will refer to first is economic, and while this must not overshadow the devastating effects that are more hidden, economic factors still cannot be ignored. Families of divorce will experience a decline in income of as much as 50% as compared to their pre-divorce lives.

Though as we said, some researchers see divorce as a temporary setback for young people, Judith Wallerstein, from her 25 years of study, has put forth the idea of “the sleeper effect” of divorce. She maintains that many teens of divorce will emerge from adolescence relatively unscathed, only to have the trauma of the divorce hit them when they reach young adulthood when they begin to seek out their own romantic attachments and consider marriage. Without role models, many teens of divorce find it harder to maintain long-term relationships, and are 2-3 times more likely to get divorced themselves.

Elizabeth Marquardt uses the phrase “happy talk” to describe how most of society talks about divorce and its effects on children and teens. We convince ourselves that teens are resilient and that we don’t really have to worry about them. Marquardt suggests that we do that in order to defend our own adult decisions. In view of the pain that I have seen both in youth ministry practice and in my research, this has to stop. There was a time when adults sacrificed for the sake of the children, not the other way around.

We as adults in the church need to have the courage to dismiss the temptation toward “happy talk.” We in fact need to stop talking and start really listening to the pain and hurt that teens of divorce would be willing to share with us if we only gave them the chance, and to find ways to support them as they attempt to navigate their way through life “between two worlds.”

to be continued…

July 31, 2015

Helping Teens Spiritually Crash Land

It’s the end of July already.

image 073115Over the next several days, teens in your church will return having spent some time this summer

  • going to a Christian music festival
  • attending a Christian camp
  • working at a Christian camp
  • serving on a missions trip.

They return spiritually energized only to discover that their church experience now seems rather flat by comparison. Suddenly, business-as-usual or status-quo church holds no interest. I say that from personal experience. One summer, after the spiritual high of 13 weeks on staff at large Christian resort, by whatever logic it seemed to make sense, I simply dropped out of weekend services for an entire month, until a friend said something that gently nudged me back.

On the other hand, there are other teens in your church whose summer experience has not been so positive. They’ve been negatively influenced through contact with people

  • hanging out at home
  • vacationing at the campground, cabin or RV park
  • met on a road trip
  • interacting in the virtual world online

For them, returning to church has lost its appeal because they’ve either backslidden a little,  or taken a nose dive into the deep waters of sin. Perhaps they’ve made new friends outside their Sunday or youth group circle.

Either way, summer is always a transitional time for preteens and adolescents, and while that’s true of mental, physical, emotional and social development, it’s also true in terms of spiritual development; and while some have soared spiritually, others have taken one step forward and ten steps backward.

The first challenge is knowing the difference between the two types of summer experiences. Identifying the source of the first type of disillusionment is easy because you probably already know the youth went to camp, the music festival or the mission field. It’s then a simple matter of probing what is they are now feeling after having had such an inspiring and uplifting summer experience. That might consist of finding ways to get them soaring again, although here one is tempted to caution against having teens live a manic life of going from spiritual high to spiritual high.

The group in the other category might not be so willing to open up. There may have been factors that drove them away from the centeredness of their past spiritual life. Perhaps their summer has been characterized by

  • a divorce in the family
  • an experiment with drugs or alcohol
  • delving into alternative spiritualities and faith systems
  • a loss of someone they loved or a pet
  • depression following a regretful first sexual experience. 

They are dealing with pain, or doubt, or guilt, or uncertainty. Restoring them gently, as taught in Galatians 6:1, is likely your strategy at this point.

The second challenge is that many of these youth were, just a few weeks ago, on a parallel spiritual track. In post summer ministry, you’re reaching out to two very different types of kids: Those who prospered in their faith and those who faltered. Either way, they now find themselves back into the fall routine and the spiritual spark is gone.

A temptation here might be to let the first group help and nurture the second, but I would caution against that. The first group needs to sort out their own spiritual status first. They need to process how to return from what they did and saw and felt and learned and apply it to life in the real world. (One only goes on a retreat if one expects to go back to the battle and advance.) They shouldn’t live off the experience, but rather try to keep the closeness they felt to Christ during their time away.

The group which experienced everything from a lessening of their faith to a spiritual train wreck need a lot of love. They need to be reminded that their church or youth group is a spiritual home to which they can return, no matter how they feel, what they’ve done, or where their summer experience has left them.

Youth ministry is not easy. I only worked in it as an itinerant presenter, not as someone facing the same group of kids over a period of several years. If you were to graph their spiritual life, some would present an even line rising to the right, while others would show erratic ups and downs.

Either way, I think the greatest challenge would be those critical roundup weeks in the early fall when you’re trying to assess where everyone is at, and then try to move on.


February 1, 2015

Weekend Link List

Lloyd the Llink Llist Llama Crashes the Party Exactly One Year After His First Visit Here

Lloyd the Llink Llist Llama makes his annual appearance

Once a year the List Lynx gets bumped. If the llama sees his shadow…

  • From Worship Leader to Lead Pastor – Of course they don’t use that terminology in the Church of England, but Tim Hughes is moving from the church that gave the world The Alpha Course to be “Priest in Charge” of a church in downtown London. “While a significant change for the worship leader, he’s keen to point out he won’t be putting his guitar down anytime soon. Inspired by a book called Chasing Francis he says he wants to become an ‘artist pastor’ who leads in creative ways. He said: ‘You lead out of who you are. I don’t want to think the leader who works in a church is someone who does x,y,z. It’s what are my gifts? What are my strengths? The big thing is leading with a team, and a community. I’m not gifted in everything so I need people who can help supplement that.'”
  • David and Goliath is Next in a line of Religious Epics – The film’s director: “‘Well first off, I’m not only a director, but also an evangelist,’ says [Tim] Chey who has spoken at some of the largest churches in the U.S. and abroad. ‘So obviously I’m not going to make a film that’s Biblically not correct or does not give honor to the Lord.’ David and Goliath is considered one of the big three Bible movies hitting theaters after Noah and Exodus: Gods and Kings. The film wrapped principal photography in North Africa and in studios in London and opens as a platform release nationwide on April 3. Chey refers to the backlash of the film ‘Noah’ which many Christian pastors and leaders shunned. The film still was a box office hit at $120 million, but Christians stayed away in droves.”
  • An Open Letter to High-Profile Pastors – “Famous pastor, your actions and words (written and preached) have ripple effects which reach into the churches whose pastors do not carry your clout. It’s not because they are less gifted or less faithful. It’s because the famous man’s words carry more weight, even in our churches. So when you mess up and preach things that fail to square with God’s Word or you appear alongside false teachers it leaves the rest of us to deal with it in our own churches. These are people we love and pray for and visit in the hospital. You don’t know them. You’ll never meet them. But they listen to your teaching and read your books. Because they never see your own faults they tend to place you on a pedestal.”
  • The Theology of Afterlife – Even within Evangelicalism, there are differences as to what happens when we die, or more particularly, what happens to the unbelieving, unregenerate upon death. Views range from annihilation of the soul to eternal conscious torment. Scot McKnight has assembled a number of texts from the period of Second Temple Judaism that show an equal diversity of teaching. He presents them raw and without comment, except to note that, “Into this kind of diversity Jesus and the apostles stepped and spoke of judgment.”
  • Ultimately, the Kids Don’t Want the Y-Min to be Cool – “I think there is a reason youth ministers on average only last 18 months before they move on to a new church. Teenagers are stress machines with enough emotional baggage to sink a ship. You can be great at playing games, planning outings, and writing jokes into lesson plans, but if at the end of the day if you don’t love your kids I don’t know how you are going to make it…In spite of what people might tell you, teenagers don’t really want a youth minister who is “cool.” …What youth really want is the freedom to be who they are, and to be loved for who they are.”
  • Church Staffing: Smaller is Better – You’d expect a pastor on the frontlines of multi-site to be all about growth and numbers, but when it comes to staff size, Craig Groeschel leans toward the idea that a few too few is better than a few too many. Sample: “In ministries, a bigger staff often means a smaller volunteer base. When you start to hire people to do what volunteers once did (or could do), you rob your church members of the blessing of using their gifts in ministry. When you stop empowering volunteer leaders, you lose a great source of future staff members and ultimately weaken the strength of your church or non-profit.”
  • NYC Too Pricey for this Non-Profit – The American Bible Society is moving to Philadelphia:  “‘New York has become so extraordinarily expensive that nonprofit staff cannot afford to live in proximity to headquarters,’ said Roy Peterson, the society’s president and CEO. ‘We don’t have a cohesive, synergistic global headquarters staff right now. And that’s why we wanted to find a city that was diverse, rich with culture and churches and language, but yet affordable.'” The new home is just a block from the Liberty Bell.
  • Preaching to the Crowd You Wish Was Present – Some fairly standard advice is that if you’re a church of 50 and you’d like to grow to 250, start preaching like there are 250 people in the room. But an expert on small(er) church ministry rejects that: “That’s some of the worst advice I’ve ever received in ministry. And I’m not the only one who’s received it. Many of you have heard it too. Some of you may have repeated it. If so, stop. It’s not a good idea. In fact, it’s a very bad idea. The only time we should preach like the room is full is when the room is actually full.”
  • Not Enough Links for Ya? – You can always check out our weekend competition at Internet Monk. If you prefer story leads more related to pastors and church leaders, check out Dash House.

We end with Mark Gungor’s 9-minute rant on the movie Exodus: Gods and Kings.

January 5, 2015

Your Church Winter Retreat

My parents sent me to camp in the summers I was 13, 14 and 15; and then there was a seven-year gap before I started serving on senior staff of another camp for another four summers. At the end of the last year, I was invited to speak at yet one more camp and it was there I met my wife who was on paid staff there. We volunteered in subsequent years and our kids spent at least a week there for most of their pre-teen and teen years.

All that to say, I am a great believer in the power of camp ministry; getting people out of the city and away from comfortable, familiar surroundings and experiencing Christian community in a nature setting surrounded by aspects of creation that we miss in an urban environment. I like to feel that I write what I’m about to say with some authority or expertise, and while it applied here to a youth retreat, it also applies to similar winter camps experiences for men or women.

Basically, I was rather upset on the weekend to see a group of people who were doing it all wrong. It wasn’t that they didn’t choose a good facility, or have a good speaker booked, or (hopefully) offered the thing at a reasonable price (with assistance for those who might need it.)

No, my issue is that they went “away to camp” but basically took the church building with them. By that I mean, they brought all this:

Winter Retreat setup 1

Now then, having a great sound and lighting system is part of how this youth group rolls. I’ve actually been able to slip into a couple of their meetings a few years back — they were meeting at an abandoned night club at that point — and they create an environment that high school students and college/career love to attend, long-term hearing damage notwithstanding.

I would also suspect a handful of the kids invited school friends, and it was important to have a decent band creating lots of worship energy, so that those friends might want to attend something back at the church in subsequent weeks.

But this was a retreat, a time away in the outdoors. And most of the worship bands I know are quite capable of doing a very powerful acoustic set.

I think it’s important in a situation like this to play to the surroundings. With the pine trees, the snow, the rustic cabins, etc., you’ve got a hot element to offer so why compete with that with another element?

My suggestion would be that once you’ve contracted for the accommodation (food and lodging) and which outdoor sports facilities you plan to utilize, the next step is to absorb the expertise and wisdom of the camp’s or retreat center’s staff, and ask them questions like, “What have other groups done here?”

Furthermore, I would suggest that you not only leave the building behind, but in terms of the actual spiritual emphasis time leave the format behind. Exploit the natural environment of the place where your group finds itself.


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