Madlibs: Does your youth group need an action verb?

What does your youth group do?

My wife and I were reviewing some of the old T-shirts and logos that her youth group has the other day, and were debating if we wanted to keep using the current logo. (and before I get any hate mail from the current youth group or former members that helped design it, let me say the vote is “keep”. )

If you haven;t seen it, the current logo is really nice, professionally done, and captures exactly what was asked. The elements are from the top and going clockwise: “Aware, Open, Together” and the bonus “hidden” features are “moving towards christ”, “Christ centered”, and a graphic allusion to “The Trinity”, which itself has a double meaning here since the church is also named Trinity. So that sets the stage.

“I think is is missing something” 

So like many of our conversations about youth ministry, this one was on a car ride. In this case, we had a four+ hour late night ride in from San Angelo to Arlington, and we were playing the roles of pilot and “aggravator”. And the aggravator is basically there to make chit chat to help keep the driver awake during the really monotonous and dark stretches. (maybe that will be a post all by itself later)

So my wife asks if I thought we should keep the “Aware-Open-Together Logo”.

I said, “the logo is nice, but it sure seems like it is missing something..”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know, there sure isn’t an action verb in the lot of them is there? I mean, Aware.. ok.. Open.. err. ok.. together.. aren’t those all pretty passive?” 

Well as it turns out, it is worse than I was even arguing,

not only are they not “action verbs” they aren’t even verbs. In that context I think they are all technically adjectives.

(Open could be a verb, but I dont read it that way here.)

Our conversation went on from there, and we decided that the logo was good, and that we agreed we should keep it, but in my mind I kept coming back to the idea that we didn’t have enough action verbs as part of our groups self-identity.

Madlibs: Somebody say and action verb.

Have I always thought that a youth group needed to self identify with action verbs? Maybe. Thinking back it certainly has been a long time that I have thought that. I would say one of the original people that influenced that bias towards action thinking was Doug fields. His book “Purpose driven youth ministry” a influential 1998 book from the same group that brought you “A Purpose driven life” by Rick Warren, long before McCain and Obama did interviews with him. In Doug’s book he lays out the 5 core functions of a ministry, and int turn and youth ministry. And they are in no specific order the following

  • evangelism, Spreading the word to others
  • discipleship, Learning about what it really means to live as a follower fo christ
  • fellowship, Connect with other believers and help each other on your journey
  • ministry, Do good works in the community
  • and worship, Sing and praise 

All action words to be sure. Since we started full time volunteer work right around 1998, I can’t think of a time when some of this thinking hasn’t been part of our youth group charter. When my wife took here first paid youth ministry position the youth there boiled that down even further as:

Learn*bond*praise*share*do -Grace Presbyterian Youth 

So I think, and probably have for as long as I can remember thought, that a youth group needs action verbs to describe itself.

Without action verbs, are we creating “spiritual narcissists”?

I had the good fortune of getting to National Youth Workers Convention (NYWC) a little early this year and got to take Chris Folmsbee’s class “Brink: 10 forces shaping youth ministry”,and that was an excellent class. And one of the things he talked about during his time was the idea that we had to balance the temptation to “create spiritual narcissists” against the need to “create spiritual formation for the mission of God”.

Now what did he mean by that first one it sounds kind of unflattering.

Spiritual Narcissists: (noun, pl) Ones who do not work in the world/ culture, but focus on a “holier than thou” style of self improvement”

It kind of reminds me of one episode of Seinfeld when George is planning his wedding, he asks out of frustration..”Can’t I just have one thing thats for me! just one thing thats just for me! is that so selfish?!?!” to which Jerry replies “Actually George, thats the definition of selfish”

But does that mean we shouldn’t..

Seinfeld jokes aside, there is room and even specific need to tend to the Ministry needs of yourself, and those in your program. The Seinfeld definition doesn’t really work in application. Sometimes you need to take care of you.

But what doesn’t work is a culture where all you do is self-care.

Your self care has to be about creating a foundation for action. And not just action for actions sake, not programs that begat programs. How can you tell? When confronted with a dominant culture that looks unfriendly, and unreceptive to your message, do you simply withdraw, “hunker down in your bunker, and wait for eternity to kick-in”, or do you go back to the drawing board, pray for guidance and get ready to take on that which you think is unfriendly and unreceptive?

if you are likely to retreat, and create programs for people already in the four walls of your building, then there is a good chance that you would be described as “spiritual narcissists” by Chris (ok cop out by me there, I am not crazy about the phrase, I think maybe “spiritually inert” would be the way I would phrase it.)



But if you are likely to regroup and go out into the world and “do justice” you are getting the right idea. As Chris pointed out, “Jesus didn’t come to earth to have 4 books written about him”. There is no doubt that you have something more important to be doing. and you cant just go from zero to fully equipped to do that. Chris calls that process of getting ready and training for God’s mission “spiritual formation”.

And I dont think you can get ready, and engage that mission without some action verbs.

So look at your youth group.

Do they know what God’s mission for them is?

Are they actively preparing to take part in that?