Youth Group as Seminar

Forgive the title of the post. I dislike the term “youth group” but it was the most concise way to title the post. Let me give a brief explanation of what I mean by the title. When referring to “youth group” in this context I am referring specifically to the mid-week program that we run at IBC. I’m not referring to the “youth ministry” as a whole, or any other event, meeting, gathering or program which we run. Now, on to what I want to say.

I’ve been having a variety of interesting conversations recently, most of them spawned by my post on preaching. This is all to the good, although they have failed to completely sway me from my views. I have, however, begun to think about the possible implications of my thoughts on preaching as it relates to youth ministry. Someone recently posed the question to me, “How does preaching differ from lecturing in a classroom?” The answer is, of course, that any good course will not only include lectures but assignments that complement the lectures. As I thought on this more I began to wonder if there was a way to translate any of the pedagogical principles that are used when designing a college course to a youth ministry. It is fairly unlikely that students would read textbooks, write papers, take exams, prepare timelines, or other activities normally deemed “school-like.” But, I think I have at least one viable idea.

As my thoughts on the subject outlined above converged with my thoughts on how to help students take ownership of the youth ministry without overwhelming them I came up with the following idea:

Perhaps we could run the teaching time of our Wednesday night meeting as a seminar. A seminar obviously has sound pedagogical principles behind it which I need not delve into here. But it doesn’t necessarily have a school-like feel. I also think that by being a bit more informal than a normal seminar style course typically is I can remove any last vestiges of said feel (leaving aside the question of why our culture has deemed that feel so repugnant). If I were to try this, our Wednesday night teaching would look something like what follows. Students would pick topics or passages for us to discuss ahead of time. I’d then ask for volunteers/assign students to particular passages/topics after I had set a schedule. Those students would be responsible for coming up with some thoughts on that topic or passage. Some students, no doubt, will put only a minimum of thought or time into this. Others, I believe, might really grasp the concept and enjoy it. An example may help to shed some light on the idea.

Let us say the topic is justice. Let us also say that two students are responsible for this topic, the first is Steven, the second is Emily. Steven is pretty busy and so doesn’t spend too much time thinking about the topic and what he thinks about it. He manages to look up a few verses before our meeting though, and decides he’ll say something about the Lord’s Prayer, and how if God’s kingdom comes on Earth, then that must certainly mean justice would happen. Emily, on the other hand, takes things a little more seriously (or maybe she’s just less busy?) and talks to me about what might be a decent passage to look up. I give her some ideas, and even suggest a few websites. She checks these out and finds she’s quite interested in the topic. She asks if I have anything else she might read. I give here The Little Book of Biblical Justice by Chris Marshall.

When Wednesday roles around Steven gets up in front of the group. He nervously shares his thoughts on the Lord’s prayer, anxiously answers a question while managing to only look partially confused, and then sits down. Next, Emily gets up and talks about how the topic really excited her, so she went overboard in preparing. She stumbles through her presentation (due to nervousness, not any lack of preparation), talking about the poor, widows, and orphans and how we need to help them. She doesn’t make all of her points clearly, but she seems to enjoy it. After this, I get up and spend a few minutes tying things together and sharing some of my thoughts on the topic of justice.

I hope by doing this that students will be given a chance to get excited about a topic. It also involves them in taking ownership of the youth ministry and helps give them ways to learn that don’t simply involve me talking with them. I’m very interested to hear people’s thoughts on this idea. Do you think it has merit? Is there a chance it might work? Am I being too idealistic? If I wasn’t clear enough please ask and I’ll attempt to clarify.

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Preaching?

Many of you know that I absolutely repudiate the practice of preaching in churches. John Hobbins has an intriguing quote on the topic over at his blog. Now, I’m sure that the original quote is not about getting rid of preaching. I know that many people feel that preaching has been commissioned by God for the spread of the Gospel. I also know that many people who see that preaching is only a method still feel that it has certain helpful things. I know of at least one person who thinks we should keep it because it’s what people expect when they come to church.

Nevertheless, I’m forced to ask the question: why? Why do we preach? Why is it the center piece of the Sunday morning worship in many Evangelicalâ„¢ churches? No one has been able to answer these questions to my satisfaction, and so I have concluded that preaching is a waste of time. Why is it a waste? Why should the church do away with the practice?

1. If the goal is to educate people, there are far more effective ways to do so. Even if a lecture format is retained the asking of questions and “classroom discussion” is an absolutely vital portion of educating people in a lecture format. Having someone talk at people for 25-45 minutes does not educate them. It does not teach them. It puts them to sleep. If you are an exceptionally good speaker your jokes or stories will keep them awake, and they may walk out having learned something. The majority of pastors, however, are not exceptionally good.
2. If the goal is worship, then have members of the congregation read scripture as part of the worship of the church. There is no need for a 30 minute exposition.
3. If the goal is to exhort the congregation, or to tie in the Scripture reading for the week with the life of the congregation, do so in 10 or 15 minutes, not 30.
4. This is my own personal preference (of course, so are the above three), but I think that the “message” as we have it has taken the central place of worship away from the Eucharist. As such we have made our worship about learning or doctrine instead of about encountering the living Messiah.

Let me be quick to add that people have certainly learned when a pastor has preached. At times people have certainly been ministered to via preaching. I am not saying that it has not been effective in the past. I’m not even saying that God can’t use preaching to effect a change in someone’s life today. I am saying that preaching, as the center piece of Sunday worship is outdated. It fulfills no purpose, and may in fact hinder our encounter with Jesus through our worship.

I say, and of course this is my blog so I can say whatever I want (read: this is my opinion and I realize I’m in the minority here), that we do away with preaching, or at the least that we minimize the centrality of it at our weekly gatherings. Ultimately this only amount to my thoughts on the matter, and I fully realize many disagree with me.

A break from reading…

I’m taking a brief break from working my way through Kingdom Prologue by Kline. It’s required reading for Theology of the Pentateuch.

I happened across this post on Scot’s blog (by which I mean to say it was in my feed reader). I think that the author of this email has some excellent question. I’ve often asked “why do we preach?” In all honesty, I find little use for it. I think that if we feel a need to “learn” or do “discipleship” during a Sunday morning worship gathering that a format more similar to teaching (complete with questions from the congregation) would be far more effective at helping people learn what a passage is saying. Of course, I’m not sure if learning is the point.

In Southern Baptist circles, and other churches belonging to the group we call Evangelicalismâ„¢, the Sunday sermon has taken on an almost sacramental quality. Which I find extremely ironic, in a way, since most Southern Baptists that I know disavow any type of sacramental theology. Yet, the Sunday sermon is supposed to be everyone’s weekly encounter with God, or God’s word, or what God desires for them. I’m not saying that that can’t happen. But it’s still not an overly clear explanation of what it is that preaching is supposed to accomplish. I have several preaching courses that I’ll have to take at GCTS. Perhaps I should ask that question and see if Scott Gibson or Haddon Robinson (assuming he’s back to classroom teaching by that time) have an answer that makes sense.

One thing that I was incredibly disappointed to learn is that so many emerging churches still make extensive use of a basically unchanged model of preaching. At least that is the impression I’ve gotten from talking with people, reading Emerging Churches and Emerging Worship. I’m not saying that preaching is a tool of the devil or anything quite so dramatic. But I do think there are far more effective ways to teach. If our goal isn’t teaching, but an encounter with God, I think there are far better ways to accomplish that (if such words as “accomplish” are even close to what we mean in that context)–and one such way is called the Eucharist.

Regardless of my own questions on the matter, it should be interesting to watch the comments on Scot’s blog over the next day or two.