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Friday, November 23, 2018

"Adoptive Church" (Chap Clark)

TITLE: Adoptive Church (Youth, Family, and Culture)
AUTHOR: Chap Clark
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2018, (208 pages).

A lot of churches struggle with youth ministries. Even those who are relatively successful are concerned about how their work could be sustained. Many are constantly looking for youth ministers and children ministry workers. Once found, chances are the work is outsourced to the creativity and diligence of such workers. Unfortunately, the weakness of such a model is that it tends to be isolated from the rest of the church ministries. Once the youth worker's enthusiasm wanes and the interest of youths starts to shift, the entire youth program goes into a state of flux. In a youth-oriented group, for all the highs of being able to play and interact among their age group, they lack the benefits of being connected to the larger Church. We need a brand new rethink about youth ministry as a whole. We need to find ways to help them connect with the larger community. Author and professor Chap Clark proposes an adoptive strategy to knit the whole Church together as a family of Christ. The solution is not better programming. It is becoming a more inclusive Church. Doers tend to focus on activities and things to make youth ministries exciting. Disciplers look toward the Great Commission as the motivation for all their activities. Clark's model is a blend of both toward the ministry of adoption. Families that play together stay together. People who play together bond closer. This is done through the three keys of adoptive ministry: Nurturing, empowering, and including young people. Using the parable of the sower as an example, he notes that the soil condition is where our fostering efforts should aim at. Create an environment where people are encourage to want to know God. Nurture the soil so that one's faith could flourish.

Following this goal is Part Two, which looks at the structure of adoptive ministry. Rather than coming up with a ministry model, Chap helps us with the thinking formulation. Briefly, the structure is framed in:

  1. Formulate a clear end goal
  2. Analyzing and understanding our contexts of ministry
  3. Assessing and Identifying our Resources
  4. Tweaking or creating new structures
  5. Gathering partners
  6. Equipping the team.
The last two steps are given chapters of their own, which underlines the critical place they have in the effective running of an adoptive ministry. The difference between being in charge and partnering is the nature of shared leadership. The former relies heavily on the initiative, energy, and creativity of one radical leader. The latter is interdependent on the team's strengths and weaknesses. Equipping the team involves a team-based empowerment, ownership, training, and recruitment. Part Three focuses on the practical steps needed to start, implement, and sustain this ministry. We look at the less visible (subtle) forms of leadership. Skills such as interpersonal relationships; empowerment; concerned less with what we do but what we but why we do it. The care of individuals is about family, not activity. It is about sharing rather than mere doing. It is about communal leadership rather than sole role playing. Having said that, Clark raises the bar from mere participation to empowering others. It is intergenerational. It is inclusive. It is intentional. The last chapter deals with the challenges and doubts regarding the principle of adoptive ministry. Chief of all is the unwillingness to change. The idea of a single person championing all things youth ministry has grown very deep in the minds of many church leaders. Thus, to create a paradigm shift is like trying to turn a large ship by 180 degrees. Moreover, people have become stuck on the old model that they could see no other strategies other than the familiar ones they had grown so used to. Thus, the single biggest barrier is mental. Chap gives us six challenges:
  • Move from leader superiority to peer support;
  • Replace certainty with conviction; (latter is focused on goal but flexible on approach)
  • Sharing stories instead of evaluating others;
  • Learn to establish conversation instead of control;
  • Learn to care rather than remain uncommitted;
  • Choose authentic connection instead of distant strategies.

My Thoughts
Firstly, Chap Clark is one of the most authoritative authors and teachers on youth ministries. He has seen both the highs and lows of conventional youth ministries and has proposed this new strategy because the old ones are not sustainable. The biggest challenge in starting an adoptive ministry strategy is very much in the mind. We would still need a champion to share this widely with the leadership. For larger communities, perhaps, the way forward is not to immediately replace existing leader-led youth ministries, but to gradually start with a project team. Slowly wean away the old while expanding the new. This requires buy in from both church leaders and youth leadership teams. Only after the paradigm shift can one begins the process of implementation.

Secondly, adoptive ministry takes a lot of convincing. It also needs time. Just like a seed that grows into a tree, growth may be longer than what church leaders could stomach. We could flash statistics about the urgency of reaching out to the young. We could also succumb to anxiety and rush out an ill-thought out strategy of adoption. In fact, such a ministry requires education at all levels. Even young people would need time to put aside their own suspicions. Intergenerational ministries would entail humble leadership from all levels. Humble means the willingness to put aside age, gender, or other distinctivenesses, so that the entire Church could begin a process of knitting together different generations and proceed with hope.

Finally, the biggest reason to adopt this method is because there is guarantee that our present mode of youth ministry can be sustained over time. Youth leaders are increasingly difficult to find. Volunteers are hard to recruit. Even youths are becoming bored with anything the Church offers them. Before the distancing gets any worse, we must adapt to new ways. We must adopt an attitude of faith and trust. We must be bold to try and fail than not to have tried at all.

Chap Clark has over 30 years of experience working with youths. He is now pastoring St Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, California. He has previously worked as Professor of Practical Theology and Youth, Family, and Culture at Fuller Theological Seminary.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Baker Academic and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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