Pivoting in a Pandemic: Five Shifts
in Global Youth Ministry.
In the uncertain times ahead, I believe global youth ministry is being presented with at least five pivotal opportunities to shift how we minister to and through youth. At every level – from local church ministers to denominational and social movement influencers – God is stirring significant shifts in the world of youth ministry as ministers adapt to the crisis brought on by the Coronavirus. As Colin Piper, Youth Commissioner of the World Evangelical Association, recently shared, “It’s a surreal season where on the one hand everything has come to a stop and on the other, things are developing at breakneck speed.” In my work with youth ministers around the globe, I’ve noticed five pivots amidst this pandemic.
From Recreate to Reinvent
Whether it be Albuquerque or Abu Dhabi, youth ministers are reinventing youth ministry models and methods. My good friend Dan Boal, of the Christian & Missionary Alliance (USA), believes youth ministers are now positioned to think outside the box of typical youth ministry. When speaking of recent programming adaptation due to “shelter-in-place” directives and the resulting inability to gather in traditional youth ministry settings (i.e. Wednesday night at church), Dan stated, “At first everyone was trying to recreate their current platform. Our danger is reacting & recreating rather than reinventing. Don’t recreate, reinvent.” I believe Dan is correct. We need to think and act differently.
God has given youth ministers from Nebraska to Nepal a perfect opportunity to breakout of the status quo and launch into new and amazing (or even tried and true) forms of youth ministry. In the area of technology, new frontiers for youth ministry are piercing hope-filled rays through our despair engulfed world. Geordon Rendle, Global Youth Advocate for YFC Canada, based in the United Arab Emirates, reverberated Boal’s challenge to reinvent as he shared how youth ministers across the nation are reinventing themselves in order to continue their care for youth despite being sequestered in their homes. There, youth leaders have found creative ways to leverage social media, IM, and even Netflix to aid them in discipling young people. Rendle’s charge for us, “reset, reboot, recalibrate are all great words [but] let’s keep them all pointed toward redemption. That’s the youth ministry way!”
If there’s anything this crisis is teaching the Church, it’s that function always supersedes form. “Don’t recreate, reinvent.” Indeed, these are times for “new wineskins” (Mark 2:22) and thinking “out-side-of-the-box.” I’ve served in youth ministry for decades and over the years have heard the mantra “youth ministry champions innovation.” Well, now is the time to prove it. Raise the guidon and lead the way! Hear the words of the prophet ring true of today’s calling.
“Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.
From Inner-Connected to Interconnected
Another trend that’s caught my eye is the amount of youth ministers wanting to be in community together. Day after day, I see images of Zoom video chats with meeting rooms filled to the max with leaders hungry for community and collaboration. When sharing my observation that more and more ministers are wanting to connect and learn from each other, youth ministry coach Eran Holt stated, “Yes. I’m seeing that trend…to partner and learn from one another. I’m seeing leaders coming to clarity that this is a historic moment and shift in the church world. In many ways there is a sense that we are writing the history for the future, for years to come.”
Youth ministers are not just connecting with their typical cliques but are connecting across “party lines.” The other week I hosted a video call for denominational youth directors from across America and the synergy and hope among the group was nearly palpable. They encouraged, equipped and empowered each other to adapt, improvise and overcome. Whether across denominational lines or across the ocean, youth ministers understand the importance of “interconnected youth ministry.”
Strategic kingdom advancers are keen on acquiring field intelligence and adapting best practices in order to meet the challenges of next generation ministry. In fact, this week our ministry will host a global “whiteboarding” session with youth ministers from around the globe to discuss trends and solutions they are implementing in the trenches of local youth ministry. For example, in the last week youth ministry influencers in the U.S., Netherlands, and India have all reported on the rise of domestic violence; an unintended consequence of government-sanctioned quarantines and shelter-in-place ordinances.
These and other topics warrant the unified body of Christ collectively praying, dialoguing, and creating solutions together. If we are going to get through this pandemic, the local church (regardless of location) cannot afford to be “inner” connected (or focused) but rather must be “inter” connected, choosing to lock arms with each other like never before. After all, now is the time for the universal church of Jesus Christ to gather for prayer and seek the face of God for a fresh healing of our land (2 Chronicles 7:14).
From Discourage to Encourage
In a time of panic, we still serve the Prince of Peace. While the emerging generations are facing unprecedented crisis, Jesus Christ, through the indwelling Spirit, still fills us with peace (John 14:26-27). Youth ministry influencers and ministers would do well to see themselves as “encouragers” calling others to Christ amidst this present storm. Again, my friend Dan recently stated, “We are pivoting from being equippers and trainers to encouragers.”
In the months ahead, there will no doubt be obstacles to traditional forms of youth ministry. While resources needed to equip and mobilize the Church may be limited, the Spirit of God, who comforts and empowers His Church, will never be limited. By the Spirit we are empowered to lead with courage as we challenge the saints onward.
Paul’s charge to the beloved in Thessalonica rings true for us today, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thess. 5:11). We all need encouragement but those of us in leadership, now more than ever, are positioned to speak peace into the storms, yes even those swelling within the Church. My friend Josh Wellborn, the National Youth Director of the Assemblies of God (USA) reminds us, “We were committed to be influencers of our spheres before this…, God help us see past this crisis and be faithful to you and our callings. Recalibrate our hearts to the calling.” Amen! We are called to influence “the body” with truth and courage. Let’s reach out and encourage one another to stay in the fight and keep our eyes fixed upon Jesus as we run with perseverance this course of crisis (Heb. 12:1-3).
From Bad News to Good News
Minute by minute, from Minneapolis to Mumbai, our newsfeeds are bombarded with bad news. We watch with shock and horror as the increase in infections and the loss of life are reported. While most are gripped with fear, the church is fearlessly advance the gospel. As social anxieties mount, youth are mobilizing to show and share the love of Jesus.
Just the other day, an older friend in England reported that youth from a local church dropped off a note at his flat indicating they would be happy to pick up much needed supplies on his behalf. These teenagers, remembering the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 5, were ambassadors sent to show and share the love of Christ.
In such dark times, riddled with bad news, the Church – dare I say, teenagers – are positioned to tell the greatest story of hope. A youth ministry influencer in Kathmandu recently shared with me, “We believe every problem is a good opportunity to share the gospel. We are giving COVID-19 awareness and the gospel together.” That’s what I’m talkin’ about! Now’s not the time to coddle Christian youth, it’s time to cheer them on as they reach out to their friends with the message of hope. From text messaging to snapchatting, youth have just been given an enormous opportunity to practice what we preach. And so, have we!
Shelter in Place to Celebrate in Place
A movement must champion stories! We must fight the paralysis of fear with praise. Central to the Church is worship & ecclesiastical celebration. In times of uncertainty, one thing always remains – the faithfulness of God (Ps. 119:90). Today, God has presented an invaluable opportunity to celebrate Him! I have personally encouraged church leadership the world over to use this time to capture and champion impact stories. We must start logging and leveraging testimonies of God’s grace.
As youth ministers and movement leaders we can fuel revival by celebrating what God is doing. We can remind those we influence that God is working – one story, one soul at a time. Let’s share field reports of kingdom impact and fuel excitement on the front lines – the troops need it. Let’s heed David’s words in Psalm 145:1-4:
I will exalt you, my God the King; I will praise your name for ever and ever.
Every day I will praise you and extol your name for ever and ever.
Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom.
One generation will commend your works to another; they will tell of your mighty acts.
Pivot and Play
If I could sum up, in three words, the opportunities the Lord has presented the movement of global youth ministry it’s “pivot and play.” When I hear these words the mental picture of a basketball player comes to mind. Once he or she ceases dribbling the ball and comes to a stop he or she must pivot and pursue their objective. The athlete must either pass the ball or shoot to score. If he or she freezes, it will lead to a turnover. Pivot and play!
In recent weeks it’s as though a giant pause button has been pushed on the world. Let’s not get stuck on pause. Rather, let’s use this opportunity to pivot into a new Spirit-led direction of youth ministry. Pivots are meant to reposition us to play in new and better ways. We need to be wise and seize the moment. As Paul urged, “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:15-16).
The days are indeed evil but oh my, what amazing opportunities for the Church to show and share the gospel of Jesus Christ. Reposition yourself to hear from the Lord afresh, then pursue a “pandemic of hope” like the world has never seen. Now is the time for a fresh move of God among the world’s 2 billion young people. Pivot and play!