Julie Moser
Saturday, February 10, 2018 at 08:17PM

(Photo: Christine Kotsaris)

Julie Moser is Youth Missioner for the Diocese of Qu’Appelle (in southern Saskatchewan). Originally from the Diocese of Sydney, Australia, Julie is a long-time youth minister and consultant who has, with her husband, Ken, run training seminars in many countries. Sharon Dewey Hetke catches up with her. 

TAP: Can you describe your sense of call to youth ministry?

JM: I grew up an unbeliever and came to Christ at age 18 at a small but vibrant rural Anglican church that recognized gifts in me and encouraged and assisted me to attend Bible College. My first volunteer role after I became a Christian, and my first full-time ministry job after Bible College, were both in youth ministry. It was in these roles, as I taught the Bible to young people and discipled them in the faith, that I recognized the great advantage of receiving faith at a young age. If someone had come alongside me and discipled me at a young age, my teenage years would have been much easier to navigate. The fact that most people become Christians before the age of 21 makes youth ministry an obviously crucial time for evangelism. It became clear to me that youth ministry was what I wanted to dedicate my life to. My call is to serve Christ and the expression of that call is youth ministry.

TAP: You are from the Diocese of Sydney, Australia.  Can you talk about some of the similarities and differences between church JM: The great strength of the Sydney Diocese is the high value on Scripture. Where this really makes a difference is in the local church where the average Anglican is equipped to know their Bible very well. It is generally accepted that if you go to church on Sunday that you also belong to a small group Bible study mid-week. When the youth ministry also has this mind-set you have Anglicans growing up with a confident and informed faith.

One of my hopes is to see a culture of discipleship take hold in Anglican churches in Canada. When I ask an adult to disciple a teenager in their church, or their own children or grandchildren, there is a hesitancy. This is not because people don’t want to see this happen but because they are not confident. The fact is that no one had discipled them so it is unfamiliar territory for them.

TAP: Sometimes people think that as long as someone is “good with kids” and has a Christian background, they are suitable for youth ministry. But you seem to be a person who thinks theologically and is theologically grounded. How important is that?

JM: The Scriptures are pretty clear that our role as adult believers is to pass the faith on to the next generation (eg. Psalm 78.). However, the history of youth ministry in North America – not just Anglican – has had a focus on entertainment. While that may have worked in the past for getting youth through the front door of the church, it failed to close the back door where we watched a generation fall away because there was no foundation of faith or knowledge of the Scriptures. Traditions such as teaching Scripture and prayer were deemed “boring” to youth (and let me be clear – the Church, to our shame, has sometimes  been guilty of making these essentials unappealing and boring!).

We are still reaping the fruit of these attitudes in youth ministry today where an older, godly Christian is overlooked in ministry for a young leader who might have a cool haircut.  An interesting fact is that I am more appealing to teenagers as a woman in my 50s than when I started in youth ministry in my 20s. I do not have enough hours in a day for all the young women who want an older woman to come alongside them and teach them how to follow Christ.

Bringing the gospel to young people is too important to entrust into the hands of someone who doesn’t take their own faith and the high value of God’s word seriously. If someone is endorsed by the local church as a leader to young people they need to be trained, equipped, discipled and encouraged.

TAP: Many clergy and youth leaders feel frustrated that they must compete with ski clubs and hockey leagues and often lose youth and confirmation candidates to such organized sports activities – that parents are keen on as well.  Do you find this is a big challenge?

JM: Actually, I see this as the number one challenge to ministry to young people. I am sorry, there is an answer but not an easy one! We need to do two things to combat this issue: First, we need to offer a ministry to young people that is regular (weekly), meaningful and important that they can belong to. This might be a mid-week Bible study, a weekly meeting in a coffee shop with a leader or something along these lines. We need to run it at a time that is separate from Sunday morning (mid-week) and at a time that they are able to commit to. Not a social club or a games night or something else that is superfluous to their Christian development. For many young people from Christian homes, sport has filled a void where the church has been negligent – so to expect a young person to skip their sporting event to come to a social night once a month is an unreasonable request.

Having done that, we then need to be willing to make the difficult call of discipleship – choose to prioritize Christian fellowship over other pursuits. We need to say to young people “Christian fellowship is critical to your faith. I want you to commit to this group and be willing to work your extra-curricular activities around it.” This has been a constant message in the youth ministries my husband and I have been involved in and the young people that get switched on, and say “no” to activities that clash with their Christian fellowship, go on to be strong Christian adults who know how to navigate a world that puts demands on their schedule. The fact is that the students are unlikely to become elite athletes or professional ballerinas at the end of high school, but we do want them to be strong Christians not just in the high school years but for the rest of their lives.

This needs to be addressed in the pulpit and parents need to be equipped to lead their children in making the hard choices. I could go on and on about this topic! Be prepared that when you address it, it can be a bloody battle.

TAP: What are the particularly Anglican challenges or gifts when it comes to youth ministry?

JM: An interesting phenomenon in the youth ministry world has been recognition of the appeal of tradition in the younger generations. In an ever-changing world where it is hard to know what information can be trusted, people are looking to traditions of creeds, prayers and practices that we as Anglicans have been familiar with forever! For example, the Anglican service of Compline to conclude a day at camp or an evening at youth group is often very well received. I am not saying that we just impose a prayer book service as the Wednesday youth program but that there are elements to our tradition that have been overlooked and undervalued.

If I can recommend two websites that provide some resources for this:

www.getliturgized.com is run by a youth minister in our Diocese and he has spent a great deal of time reflecting on how to use Anglican practices in his youth group. www.effectiveyouthministry.com is my website and provides resources for Biblically orthodox youth ministry. It is not exclusively Anglican but does cater to Anglicans and has some resources such as a free download called “Youth Programs for Anglican Youth.” All of the resources are designed to help youth ministers and volunteers create youth programs that are creative and interactive but focused on Scripture and discipleship. I’ve recently heard about the Prayer Book Society’s 622 series for youth and will be checking that out too! [www.prayerbook.ca/622/].

TAP: Recent studies of young people in rich countries show youth are actually better behaved in some ways than two decades ago – less into tobacco, drugs (except marijuana) and alcohol and are initiating sex at a later age. Juvenile crime is down. Boys report they find it easier to talk with their fathers. Yet today’s teens, with all their social media savvy, are lonelier than ever. How can youth ministry address this increased isolation?  

JM: When we provide ministry to youth that is personal, where they are known and have the kind of relationships with a leader/leaders where they can be themselves and talk deeply about the issues in their lives, we provide a stability for young people through the teenage years. What they need is the kind of community taught in the New Testament where there is a place to belong. Sadly, many youth ministries see the role of the church as keeping kids off the streets or giving them a fun time or simply gathering with no agenda. As I have said earlier, the long-term result of this kind of youth ministry speaks for itself.

TAP: As you know, many Anglican congregations have more grandparents attending than young parents. Can we equip those grandparents?

JM: One thing I am doing in our diocese is getting ministry to grandparents set up – equipping them to pass on the faith to their grandchildren.  And so I connected with a group called “Grandparents Network” in Colorado Springs and I sent two of my leaders down to be trained to do grandparent ministry. I’m wanting to pioneer some things.  One couple said they’d like to do a “Grand Day Out,” which is a day for grandparents and their grandchildren to have a day out together, but also to have some Christian content and have some time with the grandparents, to equip them…many Anglicans don’t know what they believe, and they talk about their faith being private. So of course their kids and grandkids don’t know anything about it.

We’ve got these small churches that are aging out. So I’ll go to a church and there’s ten elderly people, that’s the church. And they’ll say “Well it’s nice that the Youth Missioner visited our church and preached, but you know, it’s not relevant here.”  And I say to them “Let’s count up all of the grandchildren represented here!” It’s amazing the number of this generation of grandparents that no one is saying anything to.  They don’t know what to do or how to start. And we’re going to try to run a grandparent camp – it’ll just be a weekend or a long weekend.

TAP: In addition to the ministry to Grandparents, can you describe another ministry or event that you think has been “cutting edge” and really speaks to youth and / or youth leaders or parents? 

JM: As you can tell, discipleship has been a big focus on the kind of youth ministry I do. A group of fellow Anglicans in North America (actually I am the only one on this side of the border) created a simple program called “Engage” where we teach average Anglicans how to disciple someone. It involves three simple things: talk, study the Bible and prayer (I have a simple guide on my website). The ideal is for a diocese to do it by having each church send some members to a day of training. They are able to return to their churches and start the discipleship process.

On a completely different note, a ministry event in our diocese was a day conference called “Spiritual Friendship” with Dr. Wes Hill (author of Washed and Waiting and Spiritual Friendship). Wes is a gay, celibate Christian who is also Anglican and deals with the important question of how the church can embrace, encourage and support Christians who are gay as they walk the narrow (and sometimes lonely) path of celibacy. He sees the church family as a key part of meeting needs in the cost of discipleship for anyone who is single for whatever reason. As we know this is a big issue in the church and one that young people are struggling to come to terms with. Wes Hill is a new voice in the conversation that brings hope and blessing through his teaching and writing.

TAP: We know that faith formation in the home is essential.  How can youth leaders encourage this and discourage the notion that teaching the faith is the job of the “church professionals”?

JM: When the parents/family equips the young person from an early age they provide a firm foundation that others (youth leaders, church leaders) can build on. Churches need to provide training, encouragement, resources and support for families to make this happen. Many parents in Christian homes will tell you that they are not finding this an easy, obvious, natural thing to do. They don’t know where to start or  how to get started. Furthermore, the role of the church is to help their congregation members be strong disciples of Christ. We need to be equipping them on how to know their Bible, pray and talk about their faith.

TAP: Is it possible to have a large youth group and fail at discipleship? How about a group that starts out with 2 or 3 kids – what encouragement could you give that leader?

JM: Sadly and ironically it is common to have a large youth group and fail at discipleship! When we measure our success by numbers entering the door and not by numbers of youth being discipled one-to-one or in a small group Bible study, we are setting our ministry up to produce short-term results. A simple test is to track where your youth are at 3 to 5 years after leaving your group – are they strong, faithful and committed young adult believers?

If you have two or three young people you are already doing better than the average Anglican church! Don’t focus on how to get more – start with what God has given you and get a weekly discipleship group happening. I currently meet with four girls for one hour in a coffee shop after school where we talk, study the Bible and pray. It is not hard to run. Here is where being Anglican can help you…with Lent approaching, think about setting up a weekly Lenten group and meet for six weeks to study the death and resurrection of Jesus and introduce the small group Bible study experience to the group. When Lent is over talk to them about continuing.

Churches have told me that they can’t do anything because they only have one or two or three kids. Look at the example of the Apostle Paul and Timothy - discipleship only needs one!   TAP

Article originally appeared on The Anglican Planet (http://anglicanplanet.net/).
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