Otter Creek Youth Group exists to partner with parents
in the process of developing mature disciples of Christ
through worship, community and service.
Here's what we mean by "Partner with Parents"
- We believe we have been called by God to Youth Ministry…and parents, so have you! Experts agree that no other factor influences the spiritual development of a teenager more than parents. So, you may never hear us say anything more often than this - "The most important youth minister in your teen's life is YOU." The OCYG Leadership subscribes to the 'Crazy, but insane' philosophy of ministry: We're crazy about your teenager…but if you disappear, you're gonna drive us insane! - We won't know…if you don't tell us! Our youth group is big. And while we care about every student, we can't know your teen like you do. If something important or unique is happening with your teen at home, at school, or even here at church, we want to know! Please help us stay informed so that we can achieve our potential as your partner in ministry.
- We LOVE feedback…even the kind that stings! We care about what you think. And we care so much that we will periodically request feedback from you (e.g. survey). But, the truth is - we don't want you to wait for that. If there is some aspect of our program or ministry that you have suggestions or concerns about, just pick up the phone or send us an e-mail. We love you and we are committed to processing thoughtful feedback.
- We are committed to putting you to work! This does NOT mean that we want you watching over your teen like a hawk. On the contrary…teens need space to grow & become the mature, adult disciples God created them to be. But, it DOES mean that we expect every parent to pitch in & help make the OCYG work. We utilize parents in many traditional roles (trip chaperones, small group leaders, class teachers, etc.), but we also depend on parents to help fuel ministry in a not so traditional role called "OCYG Champions".
- We promise to communicate clearly…and often! Hopefully, you will find our website helpful and informative. As you navigate, you will discover the OCYG Calendar, as well as information & registration options for many of the events and all the trips we take. (For detailed instructions about how to create an "InFellowship" account - required for online registration/payment - click HERE.) And you can also keep track of what the OCYG is doing on this main page through our Twitter link & Vimeo videos. In addition, the Middle School & High School ministers will send a weekly e-mail to parents with words of encouragement and informational updates.
A little more about the "Process"
- The driving force: Our 3 Core Values. You will hear more about each of these in a minute, but for now, it is worth saying that everything we do is intentionally rooted in one of these values: Worship, Community & Service. These are at the heart of what God was doing throughout the pages of scripture and what He is still doing in the world…so we want them at the heart of our ministry.
- We don't want ANYONE to try to do it all! Because we have a very large youth group, we will schedule more activities than will be healthy for any student or family to attend/plug into. So, when your daughter tries the "guilt trip" technique to talk you into bringing her to a Bible Study or Service Project, PLEASE remember: the OCYG is here for you…not the other way around. Pick & choose. Be intentional. Find ways to plug in. But, do NOT get fooled into thinking that we expect you to plug into every opportunity.
- Big Stuff. When something comes along that we believe is critical to the faith formation of your student…or to your development as a parent, we will tell you. One big "for instance" is Covenant Groups (see the tab at the top of the page). Because CG's form the heartbeat of our school year ministry and help provide much needed healthy connections in a youth group that can feel overwhelmingly large…this is a ministry we believe every student should plug into. When things like this come along…we will get your attention!
- Intergenerational Ministry. The days of herding students off to be by themselves in a silo of Youth Ministry are gone. During this time of exciting (and scary) changes & challenges, growing teenagers need the stability & perspective that committed adult mentors can bring. But, they also benefit from being called to lead younger students too. SO. The OCYG is committed to connecting your teenager to more than just loving friends from their peer group or cool, young college leaders. Your student will be offered numerous opportunities to serve those younger in the congregation as well as connect in meaningful ways to mature disciples from every generation. This could look like a 50-something Covenant Group Leader or it could look like a Sunday class that is designed to get Middle Schoolers & Grandparents learning from one another.
- Keeping your teen safe. Several years ago, a "Child Protection" initiative was begun here at Otter Creek. The resulting policy (Otter Creek Child Protection Policy) represents our commitment to the whole-person safety of your teen in every area of his or her involvement with the Otter Creek Church. We will never knowingly place your student's physical, emotional, or spiritual life at risk. I encourage all parents to familiarize themselves with this policy.
- Preparing your teen for the path that lies ahead. Your growing teen is going to be on his own in just a few short years. And that's exactly the way it's supposed to be! While we will never put any student in danger…we WILL offer students the opportunity to take responsibility for their own lives. As students grow up in our ministry, they will recognize that we believe in their ability to achieve and that we expect them to make strides toward adulthood. And we will encourage you to do the same in your home. - This process is going to look different for every teen. Oh…and by the way, there is not one certain way we expect all this to go. Every family is unique. And each child within a family is unique. This "process" isn't a formula. It just isn't that simple. As we work together & communicate (that's what partners do, after all), we will find the youth group “sweet spot” for your family.
When we say "Mature Disciple" here's what we mean
- There's nothing more mature than love. In case you haven't figured it out yet, we value LOVE above all other things. The OCYG Core Values are all basic expressions of love. And we hope your student grows into a diligent and proficient student of the Scriptures…develops a deep understand the mysteries of God…and eventually finds a Holy-Spirit-gift-directed place of leadership in God's Kingdom on earth. BUT, what we want even more than all of that is for your student to fall in love with love. Love of God…of each other…and of the "other person", wherever he may be found. Our prayer is that God will use our teaching, mentoring, leading & serving to show your teenager "the most excellent way"…the way of love.
- "Mature" and "Old" are different things! Some of your teens will mature quickly while others will take quite a while to mature…and that's ok. Our goal is to meet every teen right where they are & help them grow. There are, of course, certain privileges that come with age in the OCYG (e.g. we don't take 6th graders out of the country on mission trips). But, we are always watching for signs that a student is ahead of the curve in terms of spiritual maturity. We are eager to provide appropriate spiritual challenges that can lead every student to greater maturity in Christ.
- Our focus is on the direction…not the destination. From time to time a parent will sit in my office & express concern that her 17yr-old son isn't baptized yet. This worry is real and it can cause a real sense of panic. It is true that most people who choose to follow Jesus do so by the time they leave for college. If you are a parent, you can probably understand this type of worry. We all want our teens to "grow up" in the faith and it is easy to want that growth to look a certain way (e.g. baptism, making wise choices) or to happen in a certain time frame. But, here at Otter Creek, we are more concerned about the spiritual DIRECTION in which your teen is moving than we are about where she may currently be on the continuum of spiritual maturity. Jesus tended to avoid folks with a "we've arrived" mentality preferring instead to spend his time with those who - though they were spiritually immature - were interested in going somewhere new & exciting.
In other words: "ME & God stuff".
This is the vertical element of youth ministry. Remember when Jesus went off by himself to pray? THAT is what this is all about. This core value is all about growing in the knowledge - relational knowledge - of our creator. As a dad, I LOVE it when my kids hug my neck & tell me I'm the greatest. Making God feel THAT way is what we mean by "Worship". Sometimes it'll be quiet…sometimes it'll be loud. Sometimes this will happen in a crowded room…sometimes your teen will be the only one around. But, EVERYTIME this OCYG Core Value is in full bloom, our group’s capacity to Love God will be stretched.
"The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength." - Mark 12:29-31
- Study. Whether on Sunday mornings or Wednesday nights, we take our teaching & learning seriously here in the OCYG. With each and every opportunity we are given to help your student study, we give it our all. Relevant, fun, meaningful, creative and alive: the OCYG will challenge every preconceived notion of what it means to go to "Bible Class".
- Praise. It won't always look the same and it won't always be led by the same people, but make no mistake, the OCYG is interested in giving teens opportunities to worship God in song. Acappella…full band…acoustic praise…God will be glorified by it all!
- Silence. We remind our teens and families all the time: God invented fun. NOBODY has more fun than God's people. (Especially God's teenagers!) And the truth is: nothing has surprised me more over the years than the degree to which teens enjoy silence. The world that teens live and move around in is so busy…so loud. Turning the noise of this world down and creating space in which to connect to the whispers of God is legitimately thrilling. Every OCYG'er will not just get opportunities to do this (e.g. in class, on retreats) but will also be encouraged/challenged to do the same with their own lives.
- Adventure. One of the most powerful vehicles for this core value is God's creation. The OCYG routinely schedules trips that are designed to connect our teenagers to the majesty of God's created world. Every other year, our High School group makes adventure in God's wide world a major priority…and the reason is Worship. We believe that when a teen experiences the wonder of God in nature, it fuels that teen's desire to show this God to those all around.
In other words: "US stuff"
This is one piece of the horizontal element of youth ministry. Remember when the new Christians began studying together, eating together, remembering together, singing together, and praying together (Acts 2:42ff)? In other words…remember when those first Christians taught us all how to powerfully and perfectly apply the love of God to one another? Well, that's what we mean by "Community". As a father, I love it when my kids hug me…but when they hug one another it brings a totally different kind of satisfaction to my heart and smile to my face. It fills me with joy to know my kids are crazy about each other. THIS core value is how we plan to fill God with that kind of joy. Teens have a great capacity to love. But, often, that love is short-circuited by a culture that encourages name calling and cliquish behavior. This emphasis on Community is our attempt to love each other well.
"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." - John 13:34-35
- Covenant Groups The heartbeat of our school year ministries, CG's are gender & grade specific groups that call students to mutual encouragement and love. Each group is led by a group of mature adult disciples who have been called by God to this ministry to teens and who have been equipped and trained as small group leaders. In addition to food, fun and fellowship, each meeting is designed to draw the group closer together…by drawing everyone closer to God. These groups really do share life together. Click HERE for Covenant Group Process.
- Fall Retreat Of course, we will worship on the retreat…but our main goal for this time together is to create shared memories & tear down walls. In a large youth group - with students from dozens of different schools & where one grade might have as many as 50 students - this special weekend at the Cedar Lake Camp in Livingston, TN is a precious unifying gift from the God who created us all.
- Camp Tap a random OCYG teen on the shoulder and ask them: "What's your favorite week of the year?" The answer will almost invariably come back, "Camp, of course!" Otter Creek Christian Camp may not be the best camp on the planet…but you'll never get any of us to believe that! God has been using camp to bless the young AND old of Otter Creek since 1989. Worship plays an increasingly powerful role at Camp and the teaching that occurs almost always seeks to strengthen our resolve to Serve the world around us…but the core value at the center of it all is Community. Since OCCC is the most thoroughly inter-generational thing we do, you can ask just about anybody and they will tell you: Camp is as close as you're gonna get to heaven on earth. The main reason for that is the love that one literally feels walking among the fields, visiting the cabins or dining in the mess hall. It is almost impossible not to learn something powerful about God's heart for community at Otter Creek Christian Camp. (To register for Camp or to see the website, click HERE.)
In other words: "THEM stuff"
This is the other piece of the horizontal element of youth ministry. Remember the time that Jesus allowed his own agenda to be tweaked by the needs of others? Oh…wait…that was pretty much every single story that is recorded in the Gospels, wasn't it?!?! Well…remember the time Jesus told the "Here's who's going to heaven and here's who's going to hell" story in Matthew 25? You're probably starting to catch onto why "Service" would be one of our core values. As a dad, I am always watching to see if the love I share with my kids…and the love they share with one another will translate to the world around them - especially with the "last & the least". The most exciting thing I have ever heard in a parent/teacher conference wasn't that my kid was really smart or really well behaved…it was that my daughter went out of her way to care for the special needs student that sat beside her in class. Extending to those around us - whatever they look like - the love we have learned from our God and shared with each other is more than just the logical next step. According to God, we are literally making history as we love the world around us.
"In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." - Matthew 5:16
OCYG Service Examples
- Mission Trips Sometimes this is out of the country and sometimes this is in our own backyard in downtown Nashville. Wherever we go, the goal is the same: impact the world for Christ. We have established a youth group rhythm of doing a "Big" mission trip every other summer. In the past, we have gone to Guatemala, Honduras, The Dominican Republic, & Haiti to share the love of God. While the work we do in the mission field varies, we have found that the OCYG is especially good at loving children.
- Nashville Workcamp This is one of the oldest ministries of the OCYG. We join with youth groups from around Nashville & the southeastern USA to paint houses in name of Jesus. Pushed from our comfort zones, our teens gather together in work groups with total strangers. These work groups then serve families in need by painting the houses. Before the week is over, God's name is truly glorified as homeowners testify to the goodness of God and teens are hit in the face with the power of God (through service) to change lives.
- Service Projects More than just random events…these "projects" are connected to something larger: a relationship. As we serve at the Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee, we get to see up close what God does through our annual Souper-Bowl Challenge can drive. As we visit Youth Encouragement Services during our Middle School Mission Trip, we are going back to the same place…serving the same kids that we served during the year at Y.E.S. Monday Night Raw. And each time we return to the Gernert Homes to serve the elderly residents, you can see it in their eyes: "They came BACK…they DO love us!" These activities and more will provide priceless opportunities for each member of the OCYG to love God by serving people.
- Service Learning OCYG'ers will also get the chance to participate in a special kind of class where THEY do the teaching! For Middle Schoolers, this would mean helping out the OC Kids at all levels (e.g. Nursery, Worship Models in Preschool Praise, etc.). The High Schoolers get a chance to serve the Children's Ministry OR lead a small group discussion for the OCYG Middle School ministry. They get the chance to learn…while at the same time, God uses their gifts to teach others. While this type of leadership/sacrifice is not for everyone, it is a key component of the Service core value.