The following are my reflections on a specific attempt in 2008-9 at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Vancouver BC to generate true Christian community through a one month experience of seeking God together called ‘Awakening‘.
Youth Ministry Before
I started at Ebenezer in June 2005. The youth ministry was a Wednesday night meeting, Sunday morning bible studies with virtually no attendance, and a once a year vacation bible school for teenagers in the summer. Anyone who wanted to could come to these events. In this sense they were exactly like our Sunday morning church services. Whoever walked in was the meeting for that night. A particular group of teenagers would come for a while. Then new people would show up, and old people leave and the group would change. Over the course of three years this happened several times.
This ministry as I did it was also based on my performance. Because there were always new people and those who were attending would only be there for a short time there were discipline problems and virtually no interest in the real purpose of the group, the mission of Jesus. My response was to consistently present ‘powerful’ messages that shocked and held the attention of the group. Sometimes this had a positive effect. Several youth became more serious about their faith and a few ‘decided’ to follow Christ for the first time. I also spent a considerable amount of time one-on-one with several young men in the group.
Man this is Terrible!
In the fall of 2008 my frustration with this kind of ministry peaked. It was hard to face discipline problems and lack of interest every week. What kept me going was the hope that the message would get through to some. However, I began to realize that even those who wanted to go deeper with God had no opportunity to do so. One-on-one ministry seemed to me the only really fruitful thing I was doing. I did not, however, see any way to change the Wednesday night meetings.
Our Children’s Pastor Chris Hensel began to push me about the way Wednesday nights were and to consider changes. He asked me what youth ministry would look like if I could make it any way I wanted. Conversations I had with him and our Senior Pastor Ryan Cochran resulted in the following idea.
The youth group should be a committed community seeking God. It should not be open to just anyone at any time. The youth group was disbanded and reformed. Membership required completing a one month experience called Awakening. During this month participants would be required to call each other every day, complete set scripture readings every day, pray at set times twice per day, meet together twice per week to prepare, eat meals, read scripture and pray, complete a two week media fast, go on a one day spiritual retreat together, follow a common menu for all meals for one week and be baptized.
These practices were designed to mimic living together under common spiritual discipline without being physically present with each other more than twice per week. We tried this idea first with church staff families in preparation for use with the youth group.
To Be Continued…