Thursday, March 29, 2007

    LIfe without My Space/Facebook!

    CNN online has an interesting story on high school and college students who are doing what some might have thought impossible: giving up internet social networking sites for Lent!

    "Some of my friends think it's silly, since people usually give up food," said 16-year-old Emily Montgomery, who says she's given up her access to MySpace. "I wanted to give up something that's really hard for me."

    Of course, what would make this more meaningful is if students gave up these internet obsessions for reasons other than simply showing willpower or religious devotion. The real point of "giving up something for Lent" is so that it makes room for something else.

    It's a form of spiritual awareness that allows you to reconnect with God," said Jocelyn Chiu, an Emory University sophomore and active member of her Presbyterian church. "By giving up something that used up so much of my time, I realized that I had been leaving my spiritual life behind." Chiu gave up Facebook for Lent in 2006 and went one step further this year -- vowing to avoid the Internet altogether. She has only allowed herself to check Emory's internal e-mail for school-related

    What a great idea it would be to invite students to set aside time spent on these sites (which can be considerable -- ask any teenager) and instead use the time for prayer, biblical study, service to others, or simply spending time with real flesh-and-blood humans.

    Wednesday, March 28, 2007

    Sanctus Real: Bible Study

    I posted below a video for the song "Face of Love" by the Christian group Sanctus Real. A study on this song would be perfect for Lent. There is a free lesson outline ready for you to use here.

    Sanctus Real: The Face Of Love

    I've posted a video for this song before but this a new one to me. I love the lyrics to this tune because they encapsulate my theology and faith almost perfectly. What I love about this particular video, which was produced for a church, is that the editor has purposely include images of church members' faces. What better way to get across the point that we are to be Christ's "face of love" to others? Imagine making your own edit of this song, but including images of your youth throughout. It would not only be a nice surprise, but a challenge to them to be Christ's face of love in the world!

    Tuesday, March 27, 2007


    An effective way to help ease youth into a challenging discussion is to give them something to look at and respond to first.

    For example, If I wanted to ask my youth "How do you see your faith life?" or "How is your relationship with God?", I would not start by asking these questions outright. If I did, it's likely I would be confronted with blank stares and mouths clamped shut. Nobody wants to be the first to speak up when tough questions are asked.
    Instead, I might prepare a page of photos or images for them to look at and meditate on first. Perhaps this page might show an image of a path winding through a forest, a cross, a maze, a shadow of a person, an image in the rear view mirror of a car, a circle of people, or a set of stairs. Then, in small groups, I would ask the youth to share which one of these images most closely connects with the way they see their faith right now. Or, I might ask which one is the furthest from their thoughts, or what image is missing that they would like me to have included. Using a conversation starter like this provides the more visually-minded students a way to focus and gives the less verbal students something on which to center their conversation. Such images also provide a common base for discussion and comparison of thoughts and ideas.

    There are many ways to extend this approach. Invite students to go through magazines and find an image that evokes their thinking, or ask them to bring an image from home. Have them trade images and see if someone else's image speaks to them, also.

    Give it a try.

    Sunday, March 25, 2007

    Image of the Day: The savior in a suit

    the savior in a suit, originally uploaded by bbmarie.

    And the Children Shall Lead Them

    I just stumbled upon this eye-opening post by a Methodist high school student entitled "Why I've Given Up on Youth Group." Here's a highlight:
    I've always been frustrated with my youth group and youth groups in general. Am I completely knocking the youth group model of ministry? No. But, I do believe that it too often and too easily becomes a place to entertain. Youth group morphs into a social club disguised verbally as "fellowship time", exclusive cliques form, and God ceases to be the obvious focus. Once this happens, it's terribly difficult for the people deeply invested in the group to acknowledge.

    Saturday, March 24, 2007

    Bible 101

    Should the Bible be taught in high school? Time magazine features an article this week on that very subject, taking a close look at curriculum programs going on in a small number of schools across the country which strive to increase biblical literacy:

    According to Religious Literacy, polls show that nearly two-thirds of Americans believe the Bible holds the answers to "all or most of life's basic questions," but pollster George Gallup has dubbed us "a nation of biblical illiterates." Only half of U.S. adults know the title of even one Gospel. Most can't name the Bible's first book. The trend extends
    even to Evangelicals, only 44% of whose teens could identify a particular quote as coming from the Sermon on the Mount.

    I'm of two minds on this sort of public school curriculum. As a former school teacher, I'm very wary of bringing religion into the school setting. I wasn't even a big fan of having Christmas trees in my school. This always surprised the staff members who knew I was also a youth pastor. "What's wrong with a Christmas tree?" they would ask. "It's not really a religious symbol." Of course, a CHRISTmas tree is certainly a religious symbol. The fact that my colleagues maintained that it was not reinforced my very concern about mixing religious symbols and practices with secular education to the point where these traditions hold no significant meaning other than as trappings of the popular culture.

    Relatedly, it concerns me that those teaching these Bible courses may be teaching a brand of Christianity that is misleading or even uninformed. Do we really want to outsource religious education to the public schools and hope for the best? On the other side of the argument, all students, Christian or otherwise, could benefit from learning about the literature contained within the Bible, as it is referenced time and again throughout our culture. From the Time article:

    If literature doesn't interest you, you also need the Bible to make sense of the ideas and rhetoric that have helped drive U.S. history. "The shining city on the hill"? That's Puritan leader John Winthrop quoting Matthew to describe his settlement's convenantal standing with God. In his Second Inaugural Address, Abraham Lincoln noted sadly that both sides in the Civil War "read the same Bible" to bolster their opposing claims. When Martin Luther King Jr. talked of "Justice rolling down like waters" in his "I Have a Dream" speech, he was consciously enlisting the Old Testament prophet Amos, who first spoke those words. The Bible provided the argot--and theological underpinnings--of women's suffrage and prison-reform movements.

    There is no doubt that the Bible has had a great influence on our culture, but is it really a good idea to teach the texts as literature and cultural artifact, bereft of theological interpretation? Do we leave the Bible teaching to the Church or do we call upon public school teachers to step in and give us a hand?

    From the "I'm not Kidding!" File...

    Worried your youth are being corrupted by You Tube? Then you might want to push their little noses into a new pile of videos on a site called (no kidding!) God Tube. Here's a little taste of some of the tags for the most recent videos uploaded to the site:

    Friday, March 23, 2007

    King of the Hill - Church Shopping!

    Thursday, March 22, 2007

    Sabbath Rest

    I am currently leading an adult Lenten study on the Christian spiritual practice of Sabbath, utilizing the text Receiving the Day: Christian Spiritual Practices for Opening the Gift of Time by Dorothy Bass. The text focuses on the often distorted way we perceive time in our culture and the way God's time is described in scripture. In particular, we've explored the understanding of Sabbath found in Exodus 20: 8-11 and Deuteronomy 5: 12-15. One passage looks at sabbath as a way to remember God's deliverance of the Israelites. The other evokes celebration of God's pattern of creation. Both speak of justice for the oppressed, the slave, the creature.

    What a great study the discipline of Sabbath would be for young people. Few would argue with the fact that our teenagers today are over-scheduled and over-planned. Our youth have bought into the cultural value that success and worth is determined by our productivity, achievement and level of activity. Many of my youth show up to Sunday night activities and just plop down on a couch, exhausted. More than once I've been asked, "Can we just do nothing tonight? I'm tired." Is it any wonder then that sometimes church and youth group become just one more source of stress in their busy schedules?

    I suspect many of our teens would really benefit from some guidance in developing Sabbath as a spiritual practice. In her text, Dorothy Bass suggests several concrete ways to practice Sabbath, each of which would make a great study with youth. They are:
    • A rest from commerce. What might be the benefit or encouraging our youth to take time off from buying, consuming, or even window-shopping?
    • A rest from worry. Imagine inviting our youth to take a 24-hour period in which they give themselves permission to set aside their worries about grades, dating, work, and the future. Such a sabbath rest might allow space for youth to focus outwardly on the needs of the world around them.
    • A rest for creation. Instead of always expecting creation to produce things for our use, youth could take time out to allow the earth to rest. Further, they could be encouraged to participate in activities that foster appreciation of God's creation: a walk in the park, planting flowers or a tree, picking up trash.
    • A rest from work. How I would love to encourage this sort of sabbath with my teens that skip worship in order to get in an extra shift at work or who leave youth group early to go do homework!
    • Worship. Dorothy Bass writes "Joyful worship that restores us to communion with the risen Christ and our fellow members of the body, the church, is an essential part of a Christian sabbath." (p.70).

    One more practice I would add: A rest from the Internet. Blogger Rachel talks about her experience with taking a sabbath from the internet here. She offers some great insights into the benefits of this practice for anyone - youth or adults.

    If you're hungry for other good resources on integrating spiritual practices into youth ministry, I highly recommend these texts:

    Way to Live: Christian Practices for Teens (written by teens and adults.)
    Soul-Tending: Life-forming Practices for Older Youth and Young Adults
    Contemplative Youth Ministry: Practicing the Presence of Jesus (by Marc Yaconelli)

    And these websites:

    Parental Guidance Suggested

    Fellow youth ministry blogger Stuart is suggesting that we need more R-rated Christian movies. I think he's on to something. Seriously. Check it out here.

    Wednesday, March 21, 2007

    I Thirst

    During the season of Lent, the church I serve has short thirty minute services on Wednesday evenings. This year, using William Willimon’s Thank God It’s Friday as a guide, we’ve focused on the seven last words from the cross.

    Tonight, I’m giving the message on the words “I thirst.” I think the words “I thirst” are particularly appropriate for youth ministry. One of the reasons I really enjoy youth ministry, and at times find it difficult, is the fact that teenagers, once they become passionate about something, are resolute in their determination to reach their goal, letting nothing get in the way. In a sense, it’s almost as if they forget any rationality and if you’re in the way, you better get on board or move. For many of us, myself included, and as Willimon notes, "It is a sign of immaturity for a person to be too eager, too single-mindedly in pursuit in something. Mature individuals learn to step back, to live with balance and cool deception. In fact, most of us probably long for balance and contentment."

    So, when my youth come to me with new ideas, I often ask them to slow down and join me in thinking through the process of whatever task is at hand. Unsurprisingly, slowing down is the furthest thing from their minds. Whether it’s a new small group, topics to discuss, or even international mission trips the youth never want to slow down.

    In the same manner, slowing down was not the way of Jesus. Jesus blessed those who thirsted after God like a teenager who has a goal in mind and is convinced that no one may say otherwise. Maybe this is why Jesus first invited the youth, celebrating their thirst for God’s righteousness and presence.

    Tuesday, March 20, 2007

    Saint Patrick and Saint...You!

    Last weekend, we hosted a Chi-Rho retreat (grades 6th-8th). We had around 100 in attendance and had a blast. The theme of the retreat, in conjunction with St. Patrick’s weekend, was that we are all saints. In the first keynote (after decorating several kids from head to toe in green—including green hair spray), we focused on the life of St. Patrick and seven characteristics of saints in today’s world: 1) all saints are filled with the love of God; 2) all saints love other human beings; 3) all saints are risk takers; 4) all saints posses humility and humbleness; 5) all saints are people of prayer; 6) all saints are not perfect; and 7) all saints are people of their times. After discussing each of these characteristics (especially number seven), I invited anyone who was comfortable to come forward and name a saint in their life and explain why those chose this person.

    I was incredibly impressed with the individuals our youth chose as saints and their reasons for doing so. Answers ranged from youth ministers and parents, to siblings and friends. Everyone seemed to really grasp the concept that we are all indeed saints and that being a saint doesn’t mean you are perfect in every way.

    Throughout the weekend, we kept returning to the seven characteristics. As part of the closing worship, each small group was assigned one of the characteristics and asked to work together to create an expression of that characteristic. The results were great and included special prayers, art, songs, and a variety of skits.

    In addition to small groups and keynotes, we also had special interest groups: games, cooking, planning the closing worship, Christian themes of Harry Potter, crafts, and meditation.

    I agreed to lead the meditation, guessing it would be everyone’s last choice. I was really surprised when I saw the sign-up list and realized that a number of 6th and 7th grade boys had willingly signed up. After the meditation, the youth discussed how their lives are so busy and they never have time to relax. I’m a bit troubled that youth in grades 6th-8th already feel the pressures of life. Maybe meditation should be a weekly part of our youth group?


    New and Improved...

    More than the look of this blog has changed in the last few days. I'm happy to welcome aboard a new youth minister who will be co-authoring this site along with me. Jacob is a youth pastor in Columbia, Missouri and a colleague of mine from seminary. The benefits of adding Jacob's voice to this conversation will be many. Jacob pastors a fairly large youth ministry while mine is fairly small. Jacob is in his late twenties -- I'm 40. Jacob serves in a small but cosmopolitan college town. I serve in a rather heterogeneous suburb of St. Louis. We both share a passion for the future of youth ministry within the Church and both feel the sort of churches we pastor should be making a greater effort to think intentionally and theologically about the role of youth ministry. Do we agree on everything? No, but that's what keeps the conversation interesting and we hope you will chose to be a part of it, too.



    Saturday, March 17, 2007

    It's Sunday Morning: Where are the Youth?

    Lately, it's been a real struggle at one of the churches I serve to motivate some of our youth to attend worship services on Sunday morning, despite the fact that we offer a "contemporary" service that tries to reach the post-modern experiential learner. Some of our youth work on Sunday mornings, some choose to sleep in, some travel on the weekends to visit friends, and some simply aren't there because their parents are not in worship either. The result of all this is the dreaded youth "ghetto" where the youth all attend Sunday evening youth group but have very little connection to the wider church.

    In speaking to some of my youth ministry colleagues, I see my church is not unique in this. And I'm increasingly convinced that the problem has more to do with us adults than it does with the youth. The biggest hurdles to overcome in motivating youth to want to be in worship isn't the music, the sermon, or the seating arrangement. The biggest hurdles are:

    • Parents: If parents do not have communal worship as a value, it is unlikely that their children will. If parents do not make worship a spiritual discipline, neither will their teens.

    • Other Adults: Part of the "ghetto-ization" of youth in the church is the disconnect between teens and all other adults other than those who help with the youth group. If the other adults of the church do not notice that the teens are not in worship or fail to engage them when they are there, or neglect the needs of teens when planning worship, the outcome is inevitable.
    I'm not suggesting that our young people have no responsibility in developing participation in worship as a personal spiritual discipline. But I do think we have to recognize that they are still growing and learning and it is up to us to create a worshipping community that is welcome, inclusive, and embracing of all age groups in the church.

    To hear a really fine lecture on this very topic, I recommend Darwin Glassford's talk "Connecting Disconnected Young People through Worship" at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, which you can listen to here as well as download a pdf of the outline. The part of his talk that struck a chord with me is the observation that many youth tend to be inarticulate when it comes to their faith. And where you find a teen who is inarticulate about her/his faith, you will likely find parents who are similarly inarticulate on the subject. The challenge of drawing youth to worship is a FAMILY thing -- the family at home and the family at church.

    Happy Lent...

    My dachshund Emmy, hanging out with her new toy (appropriately a Lenten purple!).

    Friday, March 16, 2007

    Low Expectations

    There is an interesting discussion going on over at the Life in Student Ministry blog on the low expectations we set for youth in our programs and how this often translates into church being at the bottom of their list of priorities. One poster's response seems to sum up the problem:

    What I am saying [is] that other things -school, sports, other religions often articulate better than we as Christian youth workers do as to WHY they [our youth] should make their relationship with Christ or our youth ministry a priority. If there is no WHY, then Christianity is just another one of the many things to compete with the time that’s left over. Part of our job is conveying the WHY to their parents as well.

    Photo of the Day: Things that make me Smile!

    peeps batallion, originally uploaded by strph.

    No More Retreats?

    Here is an interesting essay at Youth Ministry Exchange on ending one of the sacred cows of youth ministry: retreats. As I prepare to take my youth on a retreat in a few weeks, I find the writer's observations very interesting:

    Obviously, kissing retreats goodbye meant more than just burying a tradition. It also challenged us to adjust our philosophy of ministry.We had banked on those concentrated times of group dynamic and biblical content development. Without them, we had to find new ways to integrate those components into our everyday ministry. Instead of reading this as “something we couldn’t live without” we decided this was an opportunity to adjust our ministry philosophy to the culture we lived in.

    Thursday, March 08, 2007

    Revisiting "10 ?'s Every Intelligent Xian Must Answer"

    Benjer, a youth minister and seminary student, has posted a response to the "Ten Questions Every Intelligent Christian Must Answer" video with a thoughtful dissection of some of the logical fallacies in the video's arguments. It's definitely worth checking out. He takes on some of the questions posed by the video and challenges readers to tackle the others. Anyone up for the challenge?

    Jesus, the Mother Hen

    This past weekend I had one of those thankfully rare experiences where I had my sermon ready on Friday and then Saturday night at 9:00 PM I decided to scrap the whole thing and start over! It's not that I hadn't written a perfectly thoughtful sermon in the first place but, to put it theologically, it was more "me" than "the Spirit." I could just tell that what I had crafted was too forced and ultimately didn't speak to the real depth of the passage. So, I started over, focusing in on what was just one tiny portion of the original sermon in order to craft an entirely new message. And it turned out to be the right choice as the words and the flow of the new sermon came to me quickly -- often a sign (to me at least) that I'm working through the Spirit rather than against. And so the message, centered on Luke 13: 31-35, ultimately focused on the metaphors of fox and hen, and how one represents worldly power (the sharp-clawed, teeth bearing fox) and the other the power of God (nurturing, protecting mother hen).

    Later that evening, we had our monthly Creative Worship Nite at youth group. The students split into groups and were given a copy of the same Lukan passage I had preached on that morning. In addition, each group was assigned a single phrase, sentence, or word from the passage and asked to create a liturgical portion of the worship based around their word or phrase and it's significance to the overall passage. Groups went off to their separate parts of the building to work with an adult for about 30 minutes and then we came back together to share in worship.

    The group assigned the phrase “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you” opened the service with a rhythmic drum beat as they chanted the phrase, with different voices speaking out at different times. Next the group with the phrase "I am casting out demons and performing cures" offered a pantomime of Jesus healing the sick and casting out an evil spirit (in this case, one of the middle school boys who had attached improvised foam horns onto his head!). The group who had been assigned the single word "prophet" ( from the phrase "Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets") each stood up and spoke various seemingly prophetic phrases (e.g. "The world is coming to end! You are all doomed!" or "It's important to know that a goldfish has a 3 second memory" or " It doesn't take a weatherman to sense a change in the wind. You must be the change you want to see in the world!"). Students were then asked to pick which were the false prophets and which one was true, followed by a short discussion of why Jesus would be considered a prophet. Finally, the last group led us on an interactive experience to feel how it is different to walk alone as opposed to being guided by the protective wings of the mother hen. The evening closed with a circle of prayer.

    Thursday, March 01, 2007

    10 questions that every intelligent Christian must answer

    This video might anger some Christians but I think it poses some important questions (including those I offered in the previous entry entitled "Certainty"). They are the sort of questions that some young people I've worked with start asking after they go off to college. Questions that seem to point to a contradiction between faith and reason. All the more reason we should challenge our youth with these sorts of questions long before they leave our care and decide there are no good answers. I actually think the questions posed in this video are completely valid. Many deal with theodicy and the problem of suffering in the world. There are no easy answers to the concerns he poses - and I agree that the typical answers given to his questions are inadequate. My problem with the questioner is that he presents only one particular view of God/Christianity. I would argue that this fellow is a fundamentalist atheist, which is to say that his view of the Bible is every bit as narrow and literalistic as Christian fundamentalists (much like Bart Erhman, the fundamentalist-turned-atheist who wrote "Misquoting Jesus.") I do not beleive in the sort of God he describes in the video any more than he does. I wonder: Is there room in his thinking to consider the role of metaphor and myth within the biblical texts? Is there room in his non-theology to consider a God who is not "out there" acting over-and-above creation but rather God as that which works within and through the created order (including you and me)?

    Alternative Worship

    This site has a host of creative ideas for alternative approaches to worship to draw in the post-modern youth, the artist, the writer, the musician, the feeler, the talker, the looker, the hands-on person, the _________ (fill in the blank). Plus lots of great photos to spark your own imagination. Many of these ideas would be easily adapted to youth worship.