Thursday, December 21, 2006

    Why do teens do stupid things?

    Check out this article and you will know!

    [I]t's not that they don't ponder the the potential consequences. In fact, a new study finds teens spend more time weighing risk than adults and in fact often overestimate the odds of a bad outcome. But the desire for acceptance among peers wins out in the decision-making process of a young mind.

    Numbers, numbers, numbers!

    It's ridiculous how many times in recent memory I've been with folks connected to youth ministry and someone has said "You need to check out what so-and-so is doing. He's got over 100 youth in his program" or "She is doing some great stuff in youth ministry. You should see the tons of kids that are participating." Please stop it, for the love of God! Stop equating success in ministry with how many people you can attract. Stop confusing consumer culture with the mission of the Church. Whether literal or metaphorical, scripture depicts Jesus as focusing most of his time and teaching on just twelve guys! I think there's a lesson in there somewhere.

    Saturday, December 16, 2006

    Radical Carol

    After just posting about Jackson Browne's radical Christmas carol "The Rebel Jesus," I came across some cool background info at Beliefnet on the creation of the traditional tune "O Holy Night." French in origin, the lyrics of "Cantique de Noel" were written in 1847 by a man who eventually left the Church to become a socialist. The music was written by his friend, a Jew. Although initially a popular carol, once Church leaders discovered the unusual origins of the tune, "O Holy Night" was denounced and deemed unfit for use in church services. Fast forward several years, and American writer John Sullivan Dwight translates the tune into English for a new audience:

    Not only did this American writer--John Sullivan Dwight--feel that this wonderful Christmas songs needed to be introduced to America, he saw something else in the song that moved him beyond the story of the birth of Christ. An ardent abolitionist, Dwight strongly identified with the lines of the third verse: "Truly he taught us to love one another; his law is love and his gospel is peace. Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother; and in his name all oppression shall cease." The text supported Dwight's own view of slavery in the South. Published in his magazine, Dwight's English translation of "O Holy Night" quickly found found favor in America, especially in the North during the Civil War.

    See more background here. Sharing this background story would help others to see this traditional tune in a new light and to understand the radical good news it still offers to the world.

    Even More Creative Worship

    Here is another great idea for creative worship, posted at the intriguing blog A Churchless Faith. It is another example of non-linear worship that encourages deep reflection and exploration. It would work well with my youth.

    The Rebel Jesus

    Every couple of years, I take the opportunity during Advent to share with my youth a song by Jackson Browne entitled "The Rebel Jesus." The song was originally recorded for Browne's 1991 holiday album with The Chieftains entitled The Bells of Dublin. In many ways, it offers an antidote to the sickly-sweet protrait of Jesus that we often foist onto our children as they are growing up and counteracts the way commerical culture uses Jesus this time of year as a shill for holiday shopping excess. I want my students to understand that Jesus was more than just "a nice guy" and more than an excuse to justify and feed our out-of-control consumer culture.

    At a time in their lives when they are questioning everything, particularly authority, a portrait of Jesus as a rebel and radical taps into those emotion centers of the teenage brain that are working full-throttle. Jesus hung out with all the wrong people, had all the wrong politics, threatened the status quo, and wasn't afraid to love wastefully. That's the sort of Jesus I want my youth to follow. Here are the lyrics to this haunting tune (you can listen to it for free here and for some interesting background on the ad campaign that developed the image of Jesus above, go here):

    All the streets are filled with laughter and light
    And the music of the season
    And the merchants' windows are all bright
    With the faces of the children
    And the families hurrying to their homes
    As the sky darkens and freezes
    Will be gathering around the hearths and tables
    Giving thanks for God's graces
    And the birth of the rebel Jesus

    Well they call him by 'the Prince of Peace'
    And they call him by 'the Savior'
    And they pray to him upon the seas
    And in every bold endeavor
    And they fill his churches with their pride and gold
    As their faith in him increases
    But they've turned the nature that I worship in
    From a temple to a robber's den
    In the words of the rebel Jesus

    We guard our world with locks and gun
    And we guard our fine possessions
    And once a year when Christmas comes
    We give to our relations
    And perhaps we give a little to the poor
    If the generosity should seize us
    But if any one of us should interfere
    In the business of why there are poor
    They get the same as the rebel Jesus

    But pardon me if I have seemed
    To take the tone of judgement
    For I've no wish to come between
    This day and your enjoyment
    In a life of hardship and of earthly toil
    We have need for anything that frees us
    So I bid you pleasureAnd I bid you cheer
    From a heathen and a pagan
    On the side of the rebel Jesus

    The Biggest Mistakes I've Made in Youth Ministry - Pt. 2

    What are the worst mistakes you can make in youth ministry? Consider these:

    1) Competing with other ministries - It's hard to resist the temptation to want to see what the church across the street or across town (or across the country) is doing and wondering "Hmmm. Maybe I should be doing that, too." If the other church seems to be attracting more youth or more attention or more praise, I suppose it's human nature to want to emulate their program. I used to be hyper vigilant about trying to discover the latest trend, the latest gimmick, the newest "approach" to youth ministry and then implementing it, figuring that if it worked somewhere else, it would work with my students. This sort of approach assumes all youth and thus all youth ministries are alike and that what works across the street will work just as well on our side of the street. But the truth is - every ministry is particular to the setting and the individuals that we serve. It might be interesting or even helpful to know what others are doing, but ultimately our focus needs to be on the particular youth we serve. These days, I don't even copy my own youth ministry program from one year to the next because over time the group shifts and grows and their needs change.
    2) Doubting my age - When I was a younger man just starting in youth ministry, I feared that I was too young, too close to the age of the youth to make any lasting impression on them. Then, as I grew older (grey hair...less hair...reading glasses), I began to wonder if I was getting too old to be effective with the youth. Was this a job for a younger person? The truth is, if youth ministry is your calling, then age has nothing to do with your effectiveness in ministry. There were advantages to being a twenty-something youth minister: I had lots of free time to give to the youth, I understood their culture because it was similar to mine, I had lots of energy, and the youth could relate to me because I was close to their age. There are, of course, many advantages to being an "older" youth minister: I have much greater experience and a more mature faith, I've made lots of mistakes and learned from them, I've had more time to learn what youth ministry is and can be, and I've reached a much more relaxed time in life that allows me to offer the young'ns a different perspective on the world than the frenetic life they believe they are destined to lead.

    3) The "Family Guy" Error - I can sum this one up in three words: Preview! Preview! Preview! Just to assure you that I still make mistakes: At a recent youth group gathering which we call "free night" (an evening of unstructured fellowship time), one young man offered to bring episodes of "Family Guy" to show for those who wanted to watch TV. I had only seen one short clip of a "Family Guy" episode on YouTube and it seemed funny and fairly innocuous so I figured it was no problem. Wrong! Trust me on this one: "Family Guy" is hilarious and it is also completely inappropriate for a church setting. After about 3 minutes of viewing -- three minutes replete with curse words, sexual references, and an image of the father character in black lingerie, I switched in a Disney movie (and then asked the young man if he'd let me borrow his "Family Guy" DVDs to watch later in the privacy of my own home!).

    Friday, December 15, 2006

    And the Winner Is...

    Youth ministry blogger Stuart, a "youth worker lost in the Pacific northwest," is hosting an end-of-the-year Christian Whore Awards. Who will be the winner? Joel Osteen and his bajillion dollars in book sales, or maybe The Veggie Tales folks who gave up Jesus for a coveted Saturday morning timeslot? You are even invited to add your own nominees. I personally can't imagine that list without at least a mention of the Left Behind guys. With their new video game, you don't have to waste time converting the infidels -- you just blast them out of existence!

    Left Behind Games' president, Jeffrey Frichner, says the game actually is pacifist because players lose "spirit points" every time they gun down nonbelievers rather than convert them. They can earn spirit points again by having their character pray.

    Now, doesn't that make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside? And to think I've been wasting time all these years teaching youth to love thy enemy!

    Thursday, December 14, 2006


    Something our youth should see.

    Wednesday, December 13, 2006

    More Creative Worship

    It's always encouraging to see young people become engaged with the practice of worship. As part of our Advent study, we invited youth to create a worship experience based on an idea I came across in this blog by Chuckk Gerwig.
    Students were divided up into groups and each group was encouraged to create a worship center focused on a particular Advent theme and related scripture. After giving them time to brainstorm and create, the groups met in our chapel and set up their worship centers. Everyone was then invited to visit each center at their leisure, and no particular order, and experience what had been created by the various groups. One center focused on all the food we consume this time of year juxtaposed with the issue of hunger in the world. The center was made up of stacks of food packages and cans. Students were invited to read the accompanying scripture and devotional (written by one of the youth, with photos and world hunger facts) and then use a post-it note to leave behind their thoughts or reactions by sticking them on the food packages. Other centers focused on music, sculpting responses with clay, a giant interactive Advent calendar, and a graffiti-type wall for leaving thoughts and ideas. We concluded the evening with a group prayer. I'd actually love to create an experience like this for our Sunday morning worship, though it would of course require a little more advance planning.

    Facebook is my new best friend!

    So, after months of saying I was going to do it, I've finally set-up my very own FACEBOOK profile page. I suspect I'm one of the oldest persons to use this web service, as it was originally designed as a "my space" clone for high school and college students. Open to any and all interested users now, the site allows you to post pics and messages and stay in contact with other people. When I learned that my youth (and most of the college students in my campus ministry group) spend all their time on this site, and are much more interested in looking at messages posted to their Facebook page than they are to regular ol' emails, I decided it was time to take the plunge. After getting over their initial shock that their semi-elderly youth minister was now privy to everything they were posting on their Facebook pages, the young'ns concluded that it was kind of cool to be able to stay in contact with me this way.
    I have discovered that I can get a response from them about ten times as fast just by posting to their profile page rather than sending them an email they will look at 5 days too late. I can also post photos from youth events and announcements about upcoming activities so it also functions as a youth group website of sorts. I particularly like the confidentiality of the site. You are not allowed to see someone's profile and posted info unless they are willing to add you as a "friend." All in all, it's an effective way to stay in touch with the youth. Now...if I could just get them to come to Sunday school!

    Saturday, December 02, 2006

    Charlie Brown Christmas