by Gerald D. Reimer, Director of Youth and Discipleship
The concept of “youth ministry” began as a para-church ministry by Youth For Christ and Young Life in high schools across the U.S. in the 1940s. Their mission—to introduce adolescents to Jesus Christ and to help them grow in their faith—remains to this day.
By the early 70’s churches began hiring their own youth pastors to bring this ministry into their midst. Sadly, by the time the 80’s rolled around the pressure was on to provide MTV-style entertainment to attract more students. And with this came a gradual loss of the discipleship-focus that generated the ministry in the first place.
I’d like to suggest that though youth ministry fads still come and go, the focus in most evangelical churches is once again on discipleship, particularly as we’ve become aware of students falling through the cracks in life transitions both in their early teens as well as early adulthood. This was reported on in the Hemorrhaging Faith research done by the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada back in 2012 and their follow-up project in 2018 called Renegotiating Faith.
Recently, researchers at the University of Buffalo completed a study of young adults who had experienced difficult circumstances during school-aged years. Subjects consistently indicated that they had wanted adults to stick with them and not give up on them. Isn’t that what Jesus does with us as he shows us consistent mercy and grace? (cpyuparentpage.com – December 2018)
This past October, EMC youth pastors and leaders met at Camp Cedarwood in Manitoba for our biennial youth leaders’ retreat. Among the many topics formally and informally discussed throughout the weekend were the importance of discipleship, of mentoring relationships, of gospel-centred teaching, and of helping our students fall deeper in love with Jesus and integrate that faith into their lives.
I’m thankful to report that the majority of youth ministry in our EMC churches looks very much like this. Generally speaking, gone are the days of entertainment-based programming, Jesus-lite teaching, and games night every other week. Most weeks you’ll find students meeting with youth leaders in small groups as they dig deeper into God’s Word after the teaching time.
You’ll definitely hear laughter and chatter, but you’ll also hear thoughtful questions as students learn what following Jesus looks like in their daily lives. You’ll hear songs of worshipful praise and sometimes quiet sobs as burdens are shared and fellow students and leaders pray for one another. And maybe the most amazing thing you won’t hear is leaders apologizing for doing life-on-life relational ministry that focuses on Jesus above all else.
Our youth pastors and leaders give up hundreds of hours of their “free” time each year to spend with your son or daughter. They want to make a difference and they don’t want to “waste” time simply playing games or babysitting your child. They are called to something greater and so are the students. And that is why your leaders want to partner with you to provide support however they can.
In a few months youth leaders will be taking your students to another discipleship weekend, our national youth event called Abundant Springs on May 17-20, 2019 (abundantsprings.ca). Talk to your leaders and make sure your kids and grandkids are part of that weekend. And thank your leaders for their service!
by Gerald D. Reimer, Director of Youth and Discipleship
If you serve thirsty young people—or those you wish would be—then TRU2018, on Oct. 26-28, at Camp Cedarwood is for you!
“If Anyone is Thirsty…” is the theme to be unpacked by Lloyd and Carol Letkeman, who have a long history of discipling youth and young adults.
Churches, please send your youth workers to this conference. The investment in them and your youth program is worth it. Registration is still open.
Are you dealing with Gen-Z, iGen, or Centennials? They are the generation of people born between 1996 and 2014. When you take into account that the three key trends that shape generations are parenting, technology, and economics, it’s not surprising that this generation is much different then any before them.
While working with the Gen-Z generation means there’s never a dull moment and is filled with fun and adventure, it also calls for incredible creativity and patience as they highly value flexibility and fun. They’re the first generation to have a super-computer in their pockets with 24/7 access to information.
While they may not be money-hungry like Baby Boomers, they don’t like debt either, and are willing to work part-time jobs while going to high school just to have disposable income and avoid student loans in the future.
While Gen-Z’ers are socially connected in their digital world, they would like to improve their face-to-face interactions. And this is where youth workers come into the picture as they have this incredible opportunity to disciple a generation that longs to and will make a difference in this world within their lifetime.
The National Youth Committee (NYC), serving under the direction of the Board of Church Ministries, has planned another training weekend for our EMC youth workers, and we’ve invited some passionate experts to bring that training to you.
Our main session speakers are Lloyd and Carol Letkeman, who have been disciple-makers of youth and young adults for more than twenty years. As strong advocates that the Christian way is “life on mission,” the Letkemans promote experiential life-on-life disciple-making. Currently Lloyd and Carol serve with MB Mission in Winnipeg.
Here’s what they say about the topic they will unpack during the weekend: “Are you thirsty?” is a legitimate spiritual question for all of us in youth ministry. We don’t know when we’re dehydrated! We live a fast-paced balancing act of youth events, mentorship, parents’ meetings, fundraisers, and youth retreats. We’re overwhelmed and struggle to “come up for air” or to “drink from the fountain of living water.”
Our thirst for living water makes all the difference! We can begin developing a youth movement of “disciples who make disciples” when we are being continually refreshed by our disciple-maker.
The main sessions will follow a journey centred on John 7:37-38, Jesus’ dramatic invitation to the crowds to “come to me all who are thirsty.” Multiplying a youth movement requires being filled with the Holy Spirit, being intentional and purposeful, and dying to self so that Jesus is glorified. The sessions promise to be inspirational, interactive, and filled with applications for your ministry.
A few years ago, the Centre for Parent and Youth Understanding (CYPU.org) put out an article entitled “Facebook Depression.” The article was discussing the impact Facebook has had as a cause of depression among teens.
We need to acknowledge that while Facebook was the first of its kind, allowing people to share, like and comment almost instantly to other people’s “posts,” it has been replaced among teens with newer social networking sites (SNS) like Instagram, Snapchat and, Twitter, while Facebook is more popular among their parents.
During this same time, I was studying Human Development at seminary and I thought I would take this investigation to a deeper level.
A Time of Change
Between the ages of 12 to18, adolescents go through many changes in development. This change in their bodies and brains can cause uncertainty and anxiety in their well-being. During this time of self-discovery, they reach out to family and friends for stability and security, for a safe place during potential emotional turmoil.
Are Social Networking Sites the place where they can find this? Does it play a part in supporting adolescents through this time or does it have the opposite effect of creating more anxiety and confusion?
During my 25 years of working with young people, I have seen many who have travelled this road of development relatively smoothly while some have found it to be a struggle. More recently, this journey is not only played out in face-to-face interaction and through personal observation but also in the public forum of social media. Status updates, comments, “likes” and photos have been used as expressions of adolescents to try to navigate the changes they are experiencing and to solicit support along the way.
I have witnessed adolescents’ statuses that are hungry for a response to tell them that they are okay, that they are normal, liked, popular and special. Some may receive many affirming comments and “likes” acknowledging and affirming their cry for acceptance while others receive little to no attention, or worse yet, negative feedback.
If the individual’s history of relationships has been negative, there may already be some negative predisposition about their worth, which could be amplified through the vulnerability presented by posting on SNS.
Many adolescents are presenting information about themselves in the hopes that they will be liked, accepted, and that the responses will affirm how they see themselves, or want to see themselves.
Positive feedback can lead to building self-esteem and a sense of acceptance. On the other hand, negative feedback can result in lower self-esteem and perhaps trigger episodes of depression.
The constant desire for approval and the need to get “likes” or affirmations could also become addictive, resulting in more time spent chasing after these things, focusing more on only the highs and positives of life or the temptation to try risky activities either online or offline in order to report on them later.
This addiction can also result in an overall reduction of health as the youth engages in less physical activity and face-to-face interaction.
When It’s Out There, It’s Out There
The daily interactions that adolescents have at home, school, work or socially also have an impact on this struggle of finding their identity. What sets apart the act of expressing oneself on SNS in hopes of having the “right people” respond is that this expression has also been made available to everyone who is a “friend” on SNS.
When in a face-to-face situation the adolescent may have better control as to when and where others hear or see their attempts for acceptance. By posting it online, it is now available to all others whenever and wherever they may be. This may result in unwanted and negative responses, which are then also seen by others.
There is the potential for this to have a negative effect on the adolescent’s self-image and well-being. The extreme of this is what has been termed as “Cyberbullying,” where one deliberately uses digital media to communicate false, embarrassing, or hostile information about another person. We have heard of the negative outcomes from those who have been victims of cyberbullying. Some have left schools, moved to new communities, and even gone as far as to die by suicide.
The fear of what another may say to or about you in a public forum can have devastating effects on a young adolescent. Unfortunately, the online society has yet to find a reasonable solution to cyberbullying; it certainly needs more time and attention.
Is the Grass Greener?
Envy can also play a factor in reducing self-esteem and an increase in anxiety. There is a tendency when posting on SNS for most users to share only positive things about themselves. The constant exposure to other people’s social activities can lead to the comparison of the user’s social life to that of their peers which over the long haul can damage one’s sense of self-worth and lead to withdrawal or depressive tendencies.
Research has shown that adolescents who are securely attached to adults show a greater resilience towards anxiety and depression as a result of participating in SNS. Whereas, those do not have secure relationships with those outside of SNS or who are already predisposed to anxiety or depression can find these symptoms heightened by participating in SNS.
Relationships outside the digital world are more significant than the ones in the digital world, even if it does not appear so. Being intentional in connecting outside of SNS will give opportunity for families, friends, and youth leaders to use SNS to enhance an already positive relationship.
Youth who are in positive, secure relationships with trusted adults are able to explore their identity and the world around them because they have formed a secure sense of acceptance with those who are important to them. As youth explore they have a safe person to return to and process what they have discovered about themselves and their world.
Finding Identity in Christ
“But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared,he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit,whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:4-7).
We have the opportunity and obligation to help our youth discover who they are in Christ. To help them to know and understand God’s unconditional love and acceptance, that in Christ they are a new creation. That their value is not based in the opinions of others but in God who created them, loves them and gave Himself for them.
This is just the starting point of the conversation. There is much more that can be said, both positively and negatively about SNS and its impact on our youth as well as strategies to help them navigate this time of development in a digital world.
SNS are a part of our young people’s reality and we need to acknowledge that there is the potential for them to be used to build up and encourage youth. My desire is that by beginning the conversation here it will continue to spark discussion.
Peter Ascough is the senior pastor at Kleefeld EMC and a member of the MHI committee. He holds a BA in religious studies (Waterloo), a Graduate Certificate in Christian Spirituality (PTS), and is working on an MA in counselling (PTS). He is married to Irene.
EMC Mental Health Initiative Can Assist Your Church
MACGREGOR, Man.—Want to talk about mental health or how to help struggling young people? Then a workshop such as the one held on Sat., April 28, might interest your church.
On April 28 more than 40 people attended a Mental Health Workshop: Promoting Wellness and Helping Youth from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the MacGregor EMC. People came from area EMC churches and beyond EMC circles.
The morning sessions, to which everyone was welcome, focused on Mental Health For All Ages. Dan Dacombe spoke on Youth and Mental Health Issues. He said that rates of depression, self-harm, and suicide among youth motivated the EMC Mental Health Initiative (MHI) to begin.
Peter and Irene Ascough led on Soul Care and Your Mental Health. It focused on self-care toward the prevention of mental illness. The afternoon sessions, restricted to adults, focused on Mental Health and Youth. Heidi Dirks led a session on Non-Suicidal Self-Injury in Youth. In the final session, Strategies to Talk to Youth, small groups discussed various scenarios and their insights were tested against the larger body.
The MHI committee consists of Peter and Irene Ascough (Kleefeld), Irma Janzen (Fort Garry), Dan Dacombe (Heartland), and Heidi Dirks (Aberdeen). All are involved in counselling, pastoral, or nursing ministries. They bring a wealth of experience and training to the discussion.
The initiative is educating through a year-long series in The Messenger and workshops. It serves under the EMC Board of Church Ministries.
To explore holding such a workshop in your church or region, call a member of the MHI committee (check the EMC Yearbook) or contact the EMC national office. To find out Irene and Peter Ascough met, contact them. To learn about “Hilda the B U T ful,” contact MacGregor EMC.
After working with youth for 15 years in ministry and then in social services, you get used to hearing a lot of the same questions. The first questions I hear usually go like this. From parents: “Why won’t my child listen to me?” From youth: “Why won’t my parents listen to me?” Even from other youth workers: “How do I get parents and kids to listen to each other?”
One of the next questions I frequently encounter after working with someone for a time is, “What is a mental illness?” My answer is this: mental illnesses are real, complex disorders of the mind that affect an increasing number of Canadians each year. They are not the result of bad decisions, a weak mind, or personal sin. In many cases a person who is experiencing a mental illness can get help. However, there can be severe consequences if youth don’t get the help that they need. These consequences could include difficulty living a normal life, relationship problems, or even suicide.
I eventually hear interested persons ask me another important question. And it isn’t just parents or youth who ask it. It comes up at my workplace, at my church, at the grocery store, and anywhere else that my fellow believers can manage to corner me. And I love answering it! “Why do we need to talk about youth and mental illness?”
Youth and Mental Illness in Canada
Why do we need to talk about youth and mental illness? Perhaps because adolescence is the most likely time for the development of mental illness. If someone is going to get depression, anxiety disorders, panic attacks, or more severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, chances are they will begin to have symptoms in their teen years.
Between 10 to 20 per cent of teens in Canada are experiencing symptoms of a mental illness. The number of adolescents in Canada who are at risk of developing depression is over three million. About 5% of male youth and 12% of female youth will or have experienced a major depressive episode. Youth mental illness issues are the second highest hospital care expenditure in the country—and we aren’t even treating half of the people who need help.
Suicide in Canada
Why do we need to talk about youth and mental illness? We need to talk because suicide is among the leading causes of death for adolescents in Canada. Canada is a great country, and we have many freedoms and benefits of which to be proud. Despite this, our suicide rate is the third highest in the industrialized world.
When I worked in professional ministry, many teenagers told me their thoughts or plans of suicide. It was terrifying, but the fear I was experiencing at hearing their words was nothing compared to the fear they lived in every day. It was the fear that no one could understand how they felt, or could help them to get better. Chances are someone you care about in your church or family has felt this way.
Mental Illness and the Church
As a church, we have a responsibility to work toward the healing of our beautiful, but broken world. And healing is definitely needed in a timely manner when it comes to youth. Research shows only one in five youth who experience a mental illness will actually receive any help.
However, while adolescence is the “prime time” for the development of mental illnesses, it is also the time when interventions for these disorders are most likely to produce successful results and alleviate or eliminate the distressing symptoms.
Returning to a Normal Life
With proper help, about 80% of youth who are experiencing depression can return to a normal life. This help could be seeing a counsellor, a therapist, or a community mental health worker. It might mean talking to a doctor about taking special medication that can help correct some of the problems in the young person’s mind.
The church can also be a big part of this help. While the counsellors and social services in our country do a great job, statistics show most young people will not receive help for the mental illnesses they deal with. I’ve spent seven and a half years in the social services field, and I can tell you there is more than enough work to go around.
A Message to Volunteers
I have a message for youth pastors, youth workers, and volunteers: All of you have an opportunity to help contribute to the solution. You spend more time with the adolescents in our churches than I think anyone realizes. This means when symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses begin to appear, you are poised to be a significant help to the young people of your congregation.
How great would it be if youth pastors and youth workers in our churches had the necessary training to recognize symptoms of mental illness in adolescents? How useful would it be if they knew of appropriate resources to connect with these young people in order for them to get timely, qualified care? And how amazing would it be if these professionals and volunteers could walk with the youth as they received care, being a community of support to them as the Body of Christ?
We Open the Door!
Why do we need to talk about youth and mental illness? For me, the most important reason is this: Because by talking about it, we open the door to talking about mental health and the best ways in which we—youth workers, parents, members of the church—can support our young people though the challenges they are facing in an already challenging world.
I am excited to be a part of the conversation in the E M Conference. Please keep reading The Messenger for further articles this year about understanding different mental illnesses and promoting positive mental health in our churches.
Daniel Dacombe has worked with youth for nearly fifteen years, including at Youth for Christ. He has attended Providence College and Seminary for Social Sciences and Counselling education. He attends Heartland Community Church and lives with his wife, two daughters, and a very large dog.
A publication of the Evangelical Mennonite Conference