Today we're going to talk with Major Terence Hale, territorial youth secretary, and Major Carson Decker, Maritime division youth secretary, who will offer a perspective on youth ministries in the pandemic.
Brandon Laird 0:00
Hi, my name is Brandon Laird, and you're listening to the Salvationist podcast. Welcome to another episode of Mission in a Pandemic, a six-episode podcast that will feature insights into how the Salvation Army is adapting as we reopen during the pandemic. Today we're going to talk with Major Terence Hale, territorial youth secretary, and Major Carson Decker, maritime division youth secretary, who will offer a perspective on youth ministries. Welcome, Terence and Carson.
Terence Hale 0:40
Thank you, Brandon, it's good to be here.
Carson Decker 0:42
Thanks, nice to join the conversation.
Brandon Laird 0:46
During the pandemic, the DYs have been hard working with the ministry units to ensure they have the resources to continue operating safely. How have you guys been doing that?
Carson Decker 0:56
I think from our perspective it’s just maintaining that connection with the front line just checking in see how they're doing, is there any way we can come alongside to support and resource? So that's kind of where we've been in the Maritimes.
Brandon Laird 1:14
Thanks, Carson. What have you been seeing across the territory, Terrence?
Terence Hale 1:17
I think it’s much of the same as Carson said, I think there's been a lot of looking and assessing the situation. And trying to figure out how do we engage in these circumstances. As we look at our reality across the territory, things continue to shift and change province to province, even country to country with Bermuda, the dynamics change and so it's hard to have what you would might call a five-point plan or a three-point plan on how we move forward. The key first step I think has been to assess the situation and kind of be engaged with the young people and coming alongside and trying to figure out where people are and kind of respond to that need. So really our number one point, I think in saying how do we minister to children and youth in these days has been are we able to be flexible enough to adjust to the circumstances that are around us. And to kind of ground ourselves in some really foundational pieces, that no matter what our circumstances are these other pieces we build our reality upon we build our ministry upon and these are the things we need to bring in to young people's lives as well as our own as we move into the you know, the new normal that everybody talks about. So that at least given the changing circumstances, we're working from the same foundation kind of moving forward. And that's been one of our challenges, I think to kind of ground ourselves and really connect to the young people in those areas that aren't shifting and changing so that we can then get down to the very more nuts and bolts of things in local context and respond in different ways in youth ministry.
Brandon Laird 2:55
Thanks for that Terence and Carson. Another question I have for you guys is what have we been learning during the pandemic? And how has it changed the way we serve?
Terence Hale 3:03
I think one of the things we've definitely been learning, and I think we've heard lots of people say this I'm sure, so it's across the board, whether it's youth ministry or not, is that there was a lot of things that we perhaps worried about, that we didn't need to worry about. We've found that as we've cut things back and trimmed things back to the bare bones, that there are these foundational things that we're talking about, these items where we know these are the things that are most important. And some of the other things that we thought were very, very important in the past and we maybe put a lot of time and energy into, those things aren't the necessities and not necessarily needed to do effective ministry. I think the other thing that I think we've learned is that in that same vane that discipleship and evangelism or reaching out to young people, is really finds itself its home in simplicity. And I think we've discovered that we've made it much more complicated ourselves than was needed. And I think we can really get to an organic sense of ministry, because we've learned what it means to operate without, some of the extra bells and whistles that in the past we thought was necessary.
Brandon Laird 4:10
Thanks for that Terrence. Carson, what have you seen in the maritime division around what we've learned through the pandemic?
Carson Decker 4:16
Remember, many years ago at the Training College, one of the officers on staff used to use this phrase with us. And it's kind of just come back to memory during this season. But it’s that we need to learn to roll with the punches. And there are lots of punches and COVID certainly brought some punches with us, but we need to learn to roll with it, to be resilient, to remain flexible and teachable. I think throughout the Maritimes just listening to some people from the field it’s just keeping the main thing, and some things we thought were really important aren't. I think another thing is just to maintain connection, like we need people. And let's just try to stay connected and support one another. This sense of community is crucial for people. So that's yeah, that's some of the stuff we've been hearing from the field.
Terence Hale 5:17
I think to like to Carson's point, the community piece is huge. I agree one hundred percent, even in our home corps, we're just looking at where we can possibly do some forms of ministry off of screens, while we have that opportunity and the pandemic is in such a place where we can gather to a certain extent, let's grab a hold of those because there's sort of a social capital, you know, a relational capital that we have been pulling down on for a long time during this pandemic, where we, you know, we have not been in relationship with other people. And so we've been all that we get from being in these personal relationships, we've been kind of draining the bank account of that. And so we're looking at saying, okay, when are the times we can safely and properly be in each other's presence, and to do life and ministry together, off of screens and off of virtual environments, let's take a hold of that, because we don't know how long we will have that opportunity before, we may, for a season have no choice, but to be virtual in our relationships again. We need to rebuild those, refill those bank accounts, you know, because we're going to draw on it in the future. And I think it's particularly important for our young people, as they're going back to school and those pieces that man, this is so challenging for them, who are used to be in a very social environment, even more so than some of us as adults, and had that removed from them. So what does that mean for our families? And what does that mean for our ministries? And the idea of having to be flexible, as Carson's said in the first part of his answer, because youth culture in itself is flexible, it changes, it's always different, it never stays in stasis. And I think one of the benefits that the pandemic has brought to us is that we've been forced to kind of approach our ministry in that that same way that we can have that flexibility to change, and to adjust as needed. We're no longer thinking 12 month plans, we're thinking, what are we going to do for the next eight to 12 weeks, let's do 8 to 12 weeks, and let's face reality for the next 8 to 12 weeks, and then we reset and that's not a bad thing. That's flexibility, and maybe we'll get much more closer to hitting the mark, because we have been forced to keep ourselves nimble than we might have been in the past.
Brandon Laird 7:23
There's some great thoughts you guys shared. It's interesting, I've noticed in the pandemic, my son and I, we've sort of rediscovered some old films, and he had never watched Rocky, so he would have liked your roll with the punches comment there, Carson. On how to deal with this because he's become a bit of a Rocky fan in this season. And speaking about young people, how are they coping through the pandemic? And what can we do to help them?
Carson Decker 7:49
I think, again, here in the Maritimes, there's been a sense of, we've got a group of young people who are resilient. And they're able to rise above some of these unique challenges and come out strong. That's not to say there's not moments when perhaps they've kind of had a moment where they're just kind of discouraged, or just lonely, or just feeling disconnected. I do see a resilience in young people in that they're taking this all in stride. I think it's reinforced as well, though this, as I mentioned earlier, we need each other, we have to be in community. And I know in COVID, that looks different in our context, depending on where we find our self in the province, and governed by restrictions. But we need each other, we're not an island unto ourselves. We desperately need the influence and encouragement and support of one another. And so as I engaged with the field, it's been encouraging to see that happening or to hear it taking place. One of the youth leaders in our division has made it a priority all throughout COVID to stay connected. And so as much as she's been able, following restrictions, she's maintained visitations with families, just to be checking in to see how they're doing. And for some, that's meant bringing meals, she talked about it wasn't uncommon for her throughout these past six months to show up at youth door with McDonald's in hand and just to maintain that connection. And yeah, so resilient, and just wanting to be in community. I think those are two key things we've seen here in the maritime.
Terence Hale 9:50
I think the time for superficial relationships are long gone. And again, it just goes back to what we said from the beginning, this has been driving us into intentionality in what we're doing. You know the lessons that we know, no other lesson across the board youth ministry otherwise, other than let us get beyond the superficial to intentional relationship. And I think that's the greatest thing we can offer to our young people in these days. Because we can think of a lot of technological pieces, we can think of a lot of different ways to do program, we can think of a lot of different ways to connect those, and we have brilliant people across the territory who will do that and are doing that. But I think if we want to make that as effective as possible in these days, we need to realize that what is needed most is relationships that forego the superficial aspect and are deep and meaningful. And so my challenge to myself and anybody who's listening, who wants to engage in youth ministry in this way is that how do we make these relationships meaningful, whatever medium is coming to us through whether it's through, you know, through virtual meetings or whether it's face to face, or telephone calls, or text or whatever it is, how do we ensure that this is no longer superficial, and it drives deep into the core of who we are? Because I think that's what our young people have always been looking for. I don't think that anything is changed. It's always needing for that something that's real and authentic, particularly in those teen years, when people are growing up and trying to discover themselves and, and wearing masks and trying to please this group and trying to kind of fit in in those different places. I think they yearn for something that goes belong the superficial. And I think that's the greatest need. And I think it's been heightened in the pandemic, because there are some of our young people that have been severely disconnected, some of them have been forced to lose a lot of their relationships. And now as we've moved into a new type of school season, and mostly across the country of Canada, in particular, we have a lot of people who are doing these augmented type of learning situations where you're learning from home a lot, but parents have gone back to work. And so kids are left in a lot of, you know, empty situations, in some circumstances, no comment on the parents or anything like that, or the school system, it's just a reality that we're in. And boy, do they need that real relationship. And so yeah, I just agree with Carson, that our greatest need for our young people that we can offer them, that anybody can offer this, whether you're technical or not, or whether you know all about social media or not, or doesn't matter, we all can offer that that deep, intentional relationship that transfers the love of Christ that's evident in each of our lives, and we feed off each other and grow together. So I definitely think that's a strong, strong need, in these days,
Brandon Laird 12:32
As we think about reopening, there's churches who've been doing stuff all along, as well as people who are now considering, “Hey, it's the fall, maybe we'll try something.” When it comes to Sunday School, YP band and other ministries. What's next?
Carson Decker 12:47
I think there's, and this depends on the context, obviously. But I know here in the Maritimes, there's this conversation piece that's happening in that it's not, it can't be about program. And program is fun, and there's a purpose, absolutely, at the end of the day, it's not about program. It's about investing in a child or a young person's life, reminding them of the truth that they are fully known, fully accepted, and deeply loved. Like that's critical. And so as we start to think about reopening, and our programs, I'm not saying they're not important, but I think, that there's a time to take stock, like why are we doing what we're doing? And is it really helping us form young people into Christ-centered, others-focused disciples, like that's key. So as I'm talking with the field here in the maritime division, that's conversations we're having. But let's take stock of our current reality. And let's shift, right, we want to be engaged and committed to this conversation with our young people about being all that Christ wants us to be. And so, I think these programs are helpful, and they serve a purpose, but they're not the purpose. And so yeah, taking stock, I don't want to go back just to doing things the way it was done. Not that that was bad. But I just think it's time for us to have some real heart-to-heart conversation to ensure that what we're doing is the most effective in developing Christ-centered, others-focused disciples, like that is the goal. And I don't want to lose sight of that.
Terence Hale 14:59
I think you're right Carson, and I'm with Carson one hundred percent on that, but it's almost like God knew what was going to happen, who knows, who imagined that you know God can see it all happening. And so you know, to offer a bit of nuts-and-bolts for those of you who maybe are like, I need something a little tangible. I do feel that God was placing the territory, when it comes to children youth ministry, in the right place in the years leading up to this pandemic situation as we talk about Christ-centered, other-focused disciples. If we look at the “at the ready” framework that is in place that does have programs and does have resources in it. But like Carson said, it's built upon the principle of creating Christ-centered others-focused disciples and shifting our culture away from being program centric to outcome and journey centric, right, away from if we check all the boxes we're accomplishing discipleship to instead, how are we changing lives. And so it's great now as we face these circumstances, develop the point, the territory to a list, a framework and a list, an outline of resources and ideas, and pieces that are tools that are available to them, that are meant to be flexible, and meant to be able to address that very goal that Carson just talked about. If you want to the bear down on the on the person, on the people, then the “at the ready” framework, which is in place that has these resources and tools, including Orange resources that have been made to be able to be used in very different types of circumstances, are all available to us to employ in our circumstances and a lot no matter what they are. The point I'm saying is that if we want to be flexible in our situation, that we want to say, we don't want to go back to how it used to be, instead we want to look at and say how do we accomplish this goal in these days. I believe “at the ready” framework is right, they're ready for us with the tools and the assets, we need to modify and adjust ministry for our local circumstance and our local situation. And so I do want to tell those people out there listening, who are like I do need those tools, I need those things to help me accomplish that hearts cry that Carson is talking about, then reach out to your DYs, or reach out to us at THQ, and we want to be happy to show you how the “at the ready” framework can resource you to change the focus of your ministry and really get to the heart of reaching the person and creating that Christ-centered, others-focused disciple and we do have the tools to come alongside with your heart's desire. And we're excited to journey with you in whatever way we can.
Brandon Laird 17:32
So good there, Terence. Just reminder to our listeners, if they want to find out more about your “at the ready” framework and the curriculum and all the other material that you're talking about they can visit canbdayouth.com, and that leads us into our next question around innovation. What kind of innovations have come out during the pandemic for the youth department across the country as well as what's happening in the divisions?
Carson Decker 17:58
We realized early in COVID, that there's really two options. One you can check out, or two you can stay connected. And we chose to stay connected, because children and young people are precious, and they're worth the investment. And so, we kind of just had lots of conversation what could that look like, from a divisional perspective. Like, how could we engage with children and youth across our division. Camping was a hard hit for the territory this year. And I don't think this would be unrealistic of me to say that there was a real sense of grief, across the territory this summer. Camp is that one place where people feel connected and safe and belonging, and purposeful. And so, there's a wave of grief I think across the territory this year, because we missed that, we missed the connection and the investment. But from a camping perspective here in the Maritimes, we thought well we can try to do that virtually and that would look different, absolutely. But I think we did okay. We had fun, we maintained connections with with campers across our division, and like we did various things. We did a virtual campfire, that was cool. We did our own rendition of Jeopardy, but it was like J-party, that was a lot of fun. And then we did a couple of weeks of kids church. We did camp in a box. So we provided a resource, so ministry units could purchase that box and distribute it to kids in their community or connected to their CFS ministry. Yeah, we did. One of the Corps, in our division did a mobile camp, so they took the EDS vehicle and went to some specific neighborhoods in their city and maintained connection with campers, that was really cool. And just at the local level, people just did an assortment of ways to stay connected. So yeah, I think it was different, absolutely, but it was fun. Yeah, we had lots of fun, and just being able to connect with people just check in with them. And just have some silly moments through the screen. Different, absolutely, but certainly fun. I think it was a welcomed reality from the field that people had a sense of, yeah, it is different. But I'm still able to maintain this connection and to be poured into, so, yeah, that was, that was cool.
Brandon Laird 20:59
Thanks for sharing your perspective from the Maritime division, Carson. What about the territory, Terence, what did you hear and what did you see happening across the territory?
Terence Hale 21:07
Well, actually, it's funny, we see, the things Carson talks about repeated across the territory in different ways. Everyone has slightly different iterations, you know, especially a lot, obviously, just coming out of the summer months, is, you know, it was a focus on how we were going to do camping, how was that going to look like in those pieces. So you had, you know, virtual Timothy or leadership and training programs, we had virtual campfire ministries, we had, you know, camps, you know, virtual day camps at home, and we had family camp resources, where you could do your own little family camp at home that didn't need a screen, right? You could, we looked at some things that help you get off screens and just have a bit more connection time with your family. And so you see these sort of ideas, these family parties, camp parties, socially distant sort of events happen as well, where people just trying to find ways to get together and to enjoy those connections. And if you look at it, you're thinking, if we had this conversation, and, you know, six months ago, or five months ago, innovation seemed to happen to happen so quickly, that something seemed like oh, yeah, there's something new but we've been, it seems like it's not because we've been doing so quickly, people changed and adapted to things. And you're trying to think, OK, what are the innovations? And you're thinking, we've been doing that for a while, but no, you haven't, we've only been doing it for a few months, but people have been so, so innovative with this, and what I don't have an answer for but what I'm excited for, is what it looks like now moving forward, as we move out of this camp piece, and people take the learning out of what the summer look like, into, as you mentioned earlier, Sunday school and, and your YP music programs and all the other pieces that they have. I'm honestly excited about innovations they're going to see come forward because there are ideas here that we don't even know about yet, that are God's ideas that are coming. And I'm looking forward to see what those are, and trying to come alongside and resource people as they move forward. You know, across the board, all the virtual resources you need are available, all the tools to do things in a hybrid fashion of virtual and physical, they're all present. So what I'm excited to see is how people like Carson and others and youth workers and corps officers across the territory, are dreaming the dreams of God and saying let's innovate together with the Spirit of God. And the tools are there. And the right spirit is there. And I'll be I would be excited to have this conversation three months from now, after we've had our first fall season, just to talk about what the Spirit has inspired in people's hearts and minds. But I know that the tools and resources are available. And people spirits are hungry for the ministry. So I'm looking forward to what lies ahead of us.
Brandon Laird 23:59
Thanks for sharing that, Terence. And actually, that leads me to my last question I wanted to talk to you guys about today is, what is God saying to us these days, as we have been in the pandemic for six months plus in some areas, and you were talking just there about, Terence about, you know, what we can do for God, with these, with this learning from the summer, and how will it translate into our Sunday schools and YP band programs and other ministries? What do we hear God saying these days?
Terrence Hale 24:28
I think for me, what have really been on my spirit, are a couple of things. And I won't take too long, I won't let the preacher come out of me, but, you know, one thing I feel the weight of, and I just hope we all feel the weight, I honestly mean this, I hope we all feel the weight of our leadership. No matter where we are, in my opinion, leadership is defined as those who have spiritual influence over others. So, I think to a certain degree, everybody listening has some form of leadership, whether it's in your family or in your church or in your workplace, or whatever. And I hope we feel the weight of our leadership and we are hungry for the presence of Jesus so that we can lead well, because these are monumental days. Whether we like it or not, we are writing history and people will look back on these days and they will write books, and they will tell stories about how the church rose, and adapted, and change to these circumstances. And you and I have this opportunity to be a part of that, and that is heavy, but yet we know in the economy of God, if we are called for what God asks for us, God enables in us. And so in these days, God is telling me, lean in close, lean in close, because we can't waste our leadership. And that's a heavy thing, but I'm leaning on the spirit to say, God, lead me clearly and closely to your way, in your holiness. Because I want to make the most of the opportunity of leadership I have. As we look and move into what we as we said earlier, the new normal everybody talks about, the Spirit, the second thing he's been laying on my heart, saying to me these days, that I believe that there are three things that formulate the new normal. When we started, I talked about the foundational items that fit out everything else we do. I believe there are three things and they're not new, and they're not, you know, amazing in that way. They're not new knowledge. But it's something that for me is speaking to my heart. I believe there are three things that should make up the new normal of our ministries. Our leadership and ministry are three things that make up the new normal. And number one is that worship, worship should be the new normal. You know, that's our first go to is to worship. To seek first His kingdom, may worship be the new normal, this is what God's saying to me. And then God is saying to me that evangelism is to be the new normal. What drives our ministries and our youth ministries and children's ministries is evangelism, to get young people introduced to Jesus Christ and have those young people introducing other people to Jesus Christ. Make that the foundation of what you're doing, however you do it. And finally, I think holiness, it needs to be the new normal. That needs to be what moves us forward, because it enables the other to expose ourselves to the glory and holiness of God. And then we will know the path to walk in it. In Isaiah, it tells us that you will hear a voice and a whisper to tell you, the Spirit will say, this is the way, walk in it when we acknowledge the holiness of God. So in these days, God is saying to me, take your leadership seriously. And make the foundation of your new normal, worship, evangelism, and holiness. And that you can build everything else you need, no matter our circumstance, pandemic or not pandemic, we can build what we need off those realities. And so that's what God's saying to me in these days. It's both challenging and comforting, all at once.
Brandon Laird 27:40
I can see why you have the position Terence of territorial youth secretary, as you're cheering on, and, you know, have this prophetic voice for the future of the leadership within the country. Now, I'm curious Carson, what is God saying to you guys in the Maritime division, as you guys are continuing to rely on God's strength in these days?
Carson Decker 28:01
Yeah, I think for both personally, as a follower of Christ, and as an officer, but then just from a divisional perspective, as we engage with children and youth, I've been doing some reading, and there's a quote that's really been resonated, that's resonated with me and continues to resonate. And I've just been reflecting on this, and the quote is this: when the church is in mission, it is the true church. And so, yeah, I'm just listening, leaning in to how God wants to unpack that for me and how I can be just engaged. But when the church is in mission, it's the true church. And as a follower of Jesus, like, I want to be engaged in mission. And so for me, there's been a recommitment to ensuring that in all that I do from the office of the divisional youth secretary, but even as an officer, as a believer, is that I'm committed to developing and investing in Christ-centered, others-focused disciples, like that's key. I think it's a daunting task, absolutely, but it's not impossible because the Spirit of God is with us, before us, behind us, journeying with us. And nothing is too difficult for him. And so, I think we're in a place where God wants to do something incredible. And I'm just saying to him in however you want to use me, I want to be involved in Kingdom business. I want to be involved in a church that's committed to mission. So yeah, that's the conversation God and I are having these days.
Terence Hale 30:12
It's good stuff, good stuff.
Brandon Laird 30:14
Yeah, we're going to finish up here soon, this has been great sharing. Terence, you had unmuted yourself, did you have like a thought that you wanted to put in there? Was it just, good stuff?
Terence Hale 30:24
I just wanted to encourage brother Carson on there, you know? You know, give a few Amens in there for him, you know, just see if I can get them riled up some more. But, you know, it's good, it’s good, yeah.
Brandon Laird 30:37
Well, I want to thank Terence and Carson today for taking the time to connect with us and give us a lens on what's happening across the territory with children and young people. Thanks for listening to the Salvationist Mission in a Pandemic podcast. For new episodes, be sure to visit salvationst.ca/podcast. For more army news visit salvationist.ca. And if you would like to get news delivered directly to your email inbox, sign up for our weekly newsletter at salvationist.ca/newsletter.