FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Thoughts From Pastors in the Field

with Steve Wright, Various | August 19, 2008
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Today on the broadcast, youth pastor Steve Wright, author of the book reThink, teams up with a dozen local youth pastors to answer their questions about reaching youth more effectively in their churches.

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  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Today on the broadcast, youth pastor Steve Wright, author of the book reThink, teams up with a dozen local youth pastors to answer their questions about reaching youth more effectively in their churches.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Today on the broadcast, youth pastor Steve Wright, author of the book reThink, teams up with a dozen local youth pastors to answer their questions about reaching youth more effectively in their churches.

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Thoughts From Pastors in the Field

With Steve Wright, Various
August 19, 2008
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Bob: A lot of youth pastors at local churches are starting to rethink what youth ministry ought to look like, and they're asking a lot of questions.

Youth Pastor: Are you more on the line of so we don't provide anything flashy at all for the students?  We don't provide big events, we don't to seeker-type services ever, or is there a time for that and a place for that?

Youth Pastor: I am one of those young youth pastors.  I'm at a new church, and I've kind of got a blank slate.  So my question is, where do you begin to start this family ministry?

Youth Pastor: How do you begin to train your parents to think deliberately in terms of spiritually forming their children?

Youth Pastor: How do you see that working out?  Do you see that in your large congregation of students that's being affected by that?

Youth Pastor: Do churches need to looking to hire older youth pastors?  Are these young guys ..

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, August 19th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  We're going to think through today what parents and youth pastors can do together so that youth ministry can be more effective.  Stay tuned.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us.  One of the things we try to do when we come to this program each day is to ask the questions that we think are on the minds of our listeners, right?  We try to put ourself in the listeners' place and say, "Well, what question would the listener have with an expert or with a guest?"  And today we thought instead of us coming up with the questions …

Dennis: We'll just turn them loose on them.

Bob: We'll bring the listeners in, and just say, "You tell us what the questions are, right?"

Dennis: We will bring in an expert on the subject we're talking about today.  It's in working with youth and youth ministry, and we have Steve Wright back with us again on FamilyLife Today.  Steve, welcome back.

Steve: Thank you.

Dennis: Steve is the Assistant Pastor of Student Ministries at Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina.  He and his wife, Tina, have been married since 1989, and he's written a book called "Rethink – Decide for Yourself – Is Student Ministry Working?"  And I want to also welcome to our broadcast about a dozen youth ministers.  Gentlemen, lady, one lady and about 11 guys here.  Welcome to the broadcast.

All: Thank you.

Bob: I'd like to ask you all a question as we start this.  You've heard us talking with Steve about this idea of how families and youth ministries can work in partnership, ought to work in partnership.  How many of you would say, "I agree with that premise."  Is there anybody who says, "I'm not sure I agree with that premise."  Anybody?

Okay, everybody's in on that premise.  How many of you would say, "I think that's working pretty well in our church and in our youth ministry.  I think families are engaged, and we're making this partnership thing work."  If that's the case, raise your hand. 

Dennis: None – really?

Bob: Okay, so you all buy the premise, and you all say we don't think it's working as well as it should.  Is that right?

Dennis: What are you seeing in terms of parents having an impact on their children in terms of faith?  Aaron?

Aaron: I see that one of the most frustrating things that takes place in our church is that we try to hard to, as youth pastors and as youth ministry workers, in general, to feed into our youth at our churches, the faith; to instill into them everything that they need to be what God wants them to be, and then they go home back into the pit, and then it gets turned back around, and we have to do it all over again.

Bob: Now, are you working with high school students whose moms and dads aren't going to the church?  Or are these churched parents who aren't living it out at home?

Aaron: Both.

Bob: Both?

Aaron: Yes.

Bob: Let me turn to Steve, here, because if you've got a guy who is saying, "You know, we'd have to back the truck up and start with Mom and Dad before we could ever roll anything like this out, and I'm not sure the senior pastor is ready to get on board with that, and – well, it sounds to me like what you're saying is the youth pastor needs to be both the youth pastor and the parenting pastor, and I'm thinking, "How many youth pastors say 'I don't have time to be the youth pastor and now you want me to be the parenting pastor, too?'"

Steve: Well, I think what I'm trying to say is that this is not just a youth ministry problem, and we have to have buy-in from our senior pastors from all of the people that serve on our teams.

Debbie: It is happening in our church because I had a heart burden for that.  I started meeting with moms because I found that their biblical literacy was so low, I could not count on them to pass that on to the students of which I was working.  And so I had a heart for that and started a small group using some materials from Josh McDowell called "Belief Matters" and paralleled that with what I was teaching the students so the students could go home and talk with the parents about what they were learning.

And coupled with that, I find that today's ministry to students has its own entity – a youth group and the church itself are almost two different beings, and I'm trying to impact upon the parents as well as the students that the youth group is a sub-being of the church.  Our brothers and sisters are out there at 80 and 90 years old with great wisdom to share.  Let's impact and interact with them.  Let's unite the generations.

Bob: Steve, talk about that a little bit – the whole idea that the youth group shouldn't be this detached part of the church that's only connected during the worship service on Sunday morning.

Steve: Yes, I think what happened in our goodwill of saying, "Boy, we really have to run after these students."  We, a lot of times, allowed student ministry to create their own staff, we gave them their own buildings, their own budget, their own planning itinerary, and what happened was student ministry began, in a lot of churches, not all, but began running independently from the church.

And I think what Debbie is talking about is so dead-on because I think in a lot of student ministries instead of them seeing their role as supporting the work of the church, they go to church to see what is the church offering me?

The problem with that is the moment that the church stops coming to me with the product because I've got a consumer mentality, I have to go somewhere else.  And what happens for a lot of our students when they show up on college campuses, and they've been running after programs, and we've almost taught them to run after the things that please them in the flesh, there's a couple of organizations on most college campuses that do that better than the church – fraternities and sororities.

Dennis: Yeah.

Steve: In Galatians 1, Paul exhorts us to not forsake the true Gospel.  I think, for years, there was a problem that I had as a youth pastor, and my problem was this – I did not believe the bride was beautiful enough.  When I looked back to the room, and the door opened up, and the bride stood there, I didn't necessarily think that she was beautiful enough, and if you could imagine someone running back there and trying to fix the bride's hair at the doorway, how offensive that would be.  Or if you could imagine what it would be like to run to the church closet and staple 50-cent ornaments on the bride to make her more attractive and giving her a Radio Flyer full of fun and then saying, "Okay, now you're presentable."

I think a lot of times in our ministries we have approached the church, and we have approached her message with that same type of message.  Our churches, for the longest time, they started running after this whole idea of we need to build a church, we need to make it consumer-oriented, and it needs to have all the things.  But, you know, if you look at the message of the Gospel, that's what we're to proclaim, the true Gospel, and you know what?  Trying to attract kids through giving away iPods and we're going to bring in all the Christian celebrities, and then we're going to provide all of this entertainment.  I wonder sometimes if we've presented that true Gospel.  What business are we in?

Youth Pastor:  Could I ask a follow-up question there?  I know there's a fine line between using a hook and using fluff.  Are you more on the line of so we don't provide anything flashy at all for the students?  We don't provide big events?  We don't to outreaches or seeker-type services ever and just to small groups, or is there a time for that and a place for that?

Steve:  Yes, I think there's a time for it.

Bob: There's still broom hockey somewhere, right?

Steve: Sure.

Bob: Okay, I just wanted to make sure.

Steve: Sure, and what I'm speaking of specifically is the foundation.  What we want to teach our students is the whole idea that Christ is beautiful; that evangelism is not something that we just do because here is an event, but because you are so in awe of God and the work that He's done in your life and given you grace that you're going to speak of Him constantly.

And I think the whole event thing that we do have to watch is if we just condition our students to think that evangelism happens with certain type events – there's a little bit of danger to that.

Dennis: All right, let's go back to our learned panel of youth pastors and see what other questions they have.

Chad: My question, I guess I would say,  to follow-up on that is how do you begin to train your parents or basically re-culture them to think deliberately in terms of spiritually forming their children versus just being in church?

Steve: Sure.  What we're really talking about is parents have an intentional design or an intention plan to spiritually lead their families.  That's really what we're talking about.  Here is the thing that we've got to get to, Chad.  What is our badge of distinction?  What is our badge of distinction?  If we say that we are Christian families, what is it between the time that we let out of church on Sunday morning or Sunday afternoon to the time we get back, what is it that we do that is Christian that makes us distinct?  And if we're running the same schedules, and we're running the same pace that everybody else is doing, and we're doing all of the same things, and there is nothing Christ-like, for example, opening God's Word, going to His Word for instruction, or praying together – what is it that makes us think that we have Christian families?

So we want to begin to aid and resource parents so that there is something that they're doing that is distinctly Christian.

Dennis: Other questions from our youth pastors?

Youth Pastor: I guess my question comes on a practical level – two things.  One, what things have you left behind in your new focus bringing parents in – what type of events, things of that nature?  And, secondly, what are you resourcing parents with?  What are you putting in their hands?  You talked about a journal, but what type of things are you resourcing parents with?

Steve: Okay, the first question was what are we leaving behind?  One of the things that we did that was just kind of a, I guess, a pretty big commitment for us is we are probably not doing as many large group events.  One of the things, as we really try to study discipleship, and we looked at specifically the passages in John 15 to "produce fruit that lasts." 

We decided that it would probably be better for us to have a model that's more small-group centered, and so a lot of the ministry efforts that we're doing now tend to be around small groups.

Dennis: Is that for the purpose of accountability, relationships, so that it will be family-friendly?

Steve: Well, one of the things that we did because we are saying is that we really want to drive this back to the family – we've put these small groups in homes so that they are around families a little bit more, there's more exposure to moms and dads, and, for example, in our discipleship ministry, we probably had about 325 that participated with us this past year in the small group Bible studies, and pretty unique thing because in our Bible study we're studying the Bible.  That's our curriculum, and we laugh, but we all know why we're laughing, and it's because we always want to study different curriculums and very little time in God's Word.

But what we've done for our students in past years is we would bring in all of these celebrities or all of these speakers, and our students would sit there, and they would be amazed at how gifted these people are to teach, and a lot of times that would paralyze our students, because our students would hear that, and they'd go, "Boy, he has great insight, he's able to articulate, he's able to do these things," and our students, what we found through Christian Smith's research was that our students aren't – they don't know how to articulate their beliefs very well, and one of the reasons that he says that our students struggle with this is there is never a place for them to train.  There is never a place for them to practice the articulation of their faith.

And so when kids ask questions instead of Steve Wright, which I lead our 8th grade boys' group, instead of Steve saying, "Boy, I'm really glad that you asked me, you know, I've been to seminary, let me answer that."  I am now trained to look back at these kids and say, "Boy, that's a very good question.  Who would like to answer that?"  And so I attempt always, my first attempt is always try to get another 8th grader to answer this question so that there is greater articulation of the things of faith.

Bob: Follow up on the second question that he had about resources that you provide for your parents.  What are you including?

Steve: Well, really, as you look at resourcing, if you look at all of the things that you're doing in your ministry and ask "How can this be a resource to parents?" that's a very important question.  That's where you come in with the journals for the 7th grade, like for us in the 8th grade, we do a time capsule where the parents and the son, the children, write down some things that they want to do through high school.  They take that time capsule, either bury it or keep it at their house.  Then they bring it back as a 12th grader on Senior Brunch Sunday, because we want to teach the whole idea of it's not about being involved, necessarily, only as an 8th grader, it's about finishing strong as well.

And so there's some buy-in with moms and dads using a tool like that.  The other things that we've done that's probably been the greatest resource that we've put in place is a Bible reading plan.  If you go to our church website,, go to the student ministry site, we have a Bible reading plan that allows our parents and our students to be on a plan to read through the Bible in seven years while they're in ministry with us.  And it's condensed, it's not too much, and what we do with this is we've laid out five days of Bible reading.

And so, let's say, for example, on Monday, Steve and his family, they're doing their family worship.  Well, see, that's handled for my children on Mondays because now Mom and Dad are driving it.  Tuesday – Tyler, William, Sarah – they would read.  It would take them about five minutes to read.  On Wednesday, that Bible reading plan drives every single thing that we do in our student ministry.  So that once a month when we do have large group, if you were coming in to speak for me, you would preach on a passage from our Bible reading plan.  The rest of the time when we're in small group, those are the passages that we're reading.  Then on Thursday and Friday, our students and parents would be responsible to read, okay?

So out of the five days of this Bible reading plan, two of them we've already handled as a ministry – one through the parents and one as a student ministry.  So we're trying to set it up so that it's a win.

Another great resource that we're doing with our high school is called a Journey Day.  It's a day that is set aside for parents to involve the significant influences in the life of their child – that could be five, it could be four, it could be a coach, it could be a Sunday school worker – it's up to them to decide who, though – it could be a grandparent, and they allow, through a set of circumstances or an agenda for the day, those people to speak into the life of that child.  Then they come together at night and have a ceremony together.

Bob: A question in the back.

Youth Pastor: Yeah, Steve, I'm on board.  I bought in, and we've been trying to do this.  The couple of hundred students we have involved, 150 of the, I would say, my heart breaks because they don't – they're not going to have a parent show up for anything.  They've never been involved anywhere, I mean, nothing.  And we've gone into their environment, presented them with authentic relationships, and now they're plugged in, and my hope is this, because I'm buying in, and I believe that any long-lasting impact is going to be done through the family. 

How have you guys continued to draw in that kid that doesn't have a family and how are you guys, you know, to hear that you have 400 adults and mentors and parents mixed in – how are you turning people back towards those kids as well?  Because they do exist in large numbers, and that's not changing overnight no matter what program we put in place.

Steve: Well, one of the things I would encourage you with is you cannot let this be your problem exclusively.  You're going to have to somehow cast that vision before your church, with your deacons or elders and with your pastor leadership team and basically just say to them, "What is the solution that God wants us to have?  What is our church's response to this problem?" 

Because if you try to answer this only within student ministries, you're going to be back down on that treadmill that can't keep up the pace, and so what you're going to have to do is you're going to have to let go of this problem and make it the church's issue and let them help solve this.

Bob: Do you have a Missions Committee at your church?

Youth Pastor: We don't have committees, but we have a Missions Pastor.

Bob: Yeah, you might go to him and say, "I've got an unreached people group.  If we can just rally some missionaries I can have ministry happening this week with that unreached people group."

Dennis: Well, I want thank you, Steve, for being faithful.  You know, somebody's worked with youth for 20 years, I don't know how far that goes beyond your life expectancy with youth pastors, but you've got to be in your third life or something.

Steve: I tell you, I feel like it sometimes.

Dennis: But I appreciate your faithfulness in doing that because there's a Proverb that says, "He who tends the fig tree will eat its fruit," and I sense that you are kind of becoming – and I don't mean this negatively – a gnarly fig tree that's got all kinds of little shoots sitting around you, kind of like we've got a dozen or so sitting in the studio today listening to you. 

Bob: "Gnarly" was an '80s word, wasn't it?  Gnarly, dude.  I don't think we use "gnarly" much anymore.

Steve: Well, Dennis, I tell you, I have a – I know what these guys are experiencing, so I have a heart for them, and I want to see them prosper, and I know that they're giving their lives to a great message, and I want them to make their life count for Christ.

Dennis: I'm really proud of each of these in this room because, as Barbara and I attempted to raise six through the teenage years, we needed every advantage we could get, and we needed allies in the process, and I just to tell you you're heroes for slugging it out, because I remember those kids not showing up for appointments, and how flakey and how irresponsible and, just wait, someday you'll be a parent, and you'll understand all about it.

And that's the other thing I wanted to say to you, Steve.  Thanks for being not only a champion on behalf of youth pastors, but also a champion for parents and wanting to equip them to do their job well.  I think that heart has come through well here today.  Thank you, too, thanks.

Bob: And let's hope, let's all of us together hope that there might be the kind of sea change that we've talked about – that parents would get more involved; that the youth staff would welcome them in; that there would be some creative ways for churches and youth staff to work together; and that we can see things begin to turn and see the faith be firmly rooted in the hearts of young people who are going through student ministry so that when they do go off to college or go off to the military or go out in the workforce, they don't drift, but they hang on tight and hold on firm, and they live for Christ.

And we're hoping that many of our listeners, both parents and youth staff, will get a copy of the book that Steve's written, which is called "Rethink," and if you're a parent of a student, get two copies – one for you and one to pass on to the student ministries pastor at your church, and when you give him the book, just say "I want to be a part of the solution.  I want to help the youth ministry grow and deepen and connect with our kids, and I'll pitch in to help make that happen."

You can get copies of the book, "Rethink," when you come to our website, – by the way, there is a link on our website to Steve's website, as well, so if you want more information about what he's doing, and if you want to keep connected with him through his blog, come to, click on the right side of the home page where it says "Today's Broadcast."  You'll find the link to Steve's website there, and you can order a copy of the book, "Rethink" from us on our website.  Or you can call 1-800-FLTODAY, 1-800-358-6329, that's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY.

Now, with summer starting to wind down, we've had something starting to heat up here at FamilyLife.  We have a challenge campaign that has been initiated and is continuing through the end of August where listeners, regular listeners to FamilyLife Today, have been calling in not only to make a donation to the ministry, but also to challenge others like them to make a donation as well.

We've got some homeschooling families, and some of them are already getting ready to start up homeschooling again here in the middle of August, and we heard from one homeschooling couple who said, "We appreciate the ministry of FamilyLife Today, we want to support you, but we want to encourage other homeschoolers who are also benefiting from this ministry to support you as well."  In fact, there are some homeschoolers we've heard from who include FamilyLife Today as part of their curriculum from time to time.

So if you're a homeschooler, here is the challenge – would you consider making a contribution here at the end of the summer to support the ministry of FamilyLife Today?  And if you're not a homeschooler, would you consider making a donation and challenging someone like you?  Maybe they share your vocation or there is a particular hobby.  I guess I should challenge all of those who have eaten recently at the Cheesecake Factory to make a donation of any amount to the ministry of FamilyLife Today.  That would put you in my affinity group, if you did that.

You can make a donation online at, or you can call 1-800-FLTODAY and we appreciate your support, and we're looking forward to some of the challenges coming through here on FamilyLife Today.

Well, tomorrow we're going to continue to talk about young people embracing their faith and making it personal.  Karl Graustein is going to join us, and we're going to hear from him about the dangers of young people growing up Christian.  I hope you can join us for that.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas – help for today; hope for tomorrow.  


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