Tuesday, July 31, 2007

    Too Young?

    Is youth ministry about making kids into disciples? Is it about teaching them the basics of faith? Is it about helping them to grow within a Christian community? Mike Yaconelli once wrote:

    Young people are too…well…young to be disciples.
    Apprentices? Of course. Beginners? Sure.
    Trainees? Interns? Absolutely.

    But not disciples.
    We've convinced adults and parents that we have a program that can produce disciples. We perpetuate the illusion that we can take 13-year-olds and make disciples out of them. We actually act as though we can transform a group of inconsistent, uncommitted adolescents into mature, committed disciples by spending an extra hour or two a week with them.
    Not possible.
    Are students capable of heroic acts? Absolutely! Can a 13-year-old
    be committed to Jesus? Yes, as long as we understand what we mean by committed.
    Can young people make a difference in the world? Of course they can, but we're
    still not talking about disciples.
    See full essay here.

    Monday, July 30, 2007


    While on our mission trip, several youth admitted they were struggling with their faith. What quickly became clear was that it was not "faith" they were struggling with, but rather "religion" and the Church as institution. They firmly believed in following the way of Jesus, but they were skeptical that this is what we are asked to do in our churches. I wonder that they might relate to the words of this song:

    I dont need to be a global citizen
    Because Im blessed by nationality
    Im member of a growing populace
    We enforce our popularity
    There are things that
    Seem to pull us under
    And there are things
    That drag us down
    But theres a power
    And a vital presence
    Thats lurking all around
    Weve got the american jesus
    See him on the interstate
    Weve got the american jesus
    He helped build the
    Presidents estate
    I feel sorry
    For the earths population
    cuz so few
    Live in the u.s.a.
    At least the foreigners
    Can copy our morality
    They can visit but they cannot stay
    Only precious few
    Can garner the prosperity
    It makes us walk
    With renewed confidence
    Weve got a place to go when we die
    And the architect resides right here
    Weve got the american jesus
    Overwhelming millions every day
    (exercising his authority)
    Hes the farmers barren fields
    The force the army wields
    The expession in the faces
    Of the starving children
    The power of the man
    Hes the fuel that drives the clan
    Hes the motive and conscience
    Of the murderer
    Hes the preacher on t.v.
    The false sincerity
    The form letter thats written
    By the big computers
    Hes the nuclear bombs
    And the kids with no moms
    And Im fearful that
    Hes inside me

    Back from Mission Trip

    I'm back from our weeklong youth mission trip to Fortworth, TX as part of our denomination's gathering called the general assembly. It was a hot week, but one in which much good was accomplished and our group experienced several positive breakthroughs.

    Some important things about youth ministry that I was reminded of repeatedly on this trip:

    1) Youth will surprise you. For all the bad press teenagers get, I still wouldn't trade this ministry with them for any other. Our young people demonstrated over and over this past week that they are serious about serving others, that they can think for themselves, that they do care about their spirituality, and that they aren't afraid to express their opinions on faith issues.

    2) Empower your adult leaders.
    I'm blessed to be working with a fine group of adult volunteers who, thankfully, are gifted in many ways that I am not. This devoted team of adults spent the week leading devotions with youth, setting an example with their excellent work ethic, driving endless miles, cooking meals, staying up to ungodly hours of the night, gently disciplining when necessary, and sharing their faith journeys. I couldn't, and wouldn't, do youth ministry without them as my partners.

    3) Dig Deeper.
    Youth are ready for far deeper theological discussion and relationship-building than we usually give them credit for. They get enough "fun and games" in the other areas of their lives. What they need from us is a chance to build significant relationships within a Christian community that goes beyond the superficial.

    4) Community over technology.
    Once again, we agreed on this trip to forbid the use of personal electronic devices while travelling. Youth and adults were free to offer up CDs to be played over the van sound system which meant we got a window into the different musical tastes in the group. In addition, there was great conversation all along the way.

    5) Monitor the drinking.
    While travelling, if youth scream at you to make a pit stop to go to the bathroom, don't let them also use the stop to buy another liter bottle of Coke or you are going to have to stop again 20 minutes down the road!
    (Photo above is of some of our group at the Water Gardens outside the Fort Worth Convention Center.)

    Thursday, July 19, 2007

    On the Road...

    Brian here. I'm getting ready to shove off for our mission trip to Forth Worth. While I'm out of town for a week and you are waiting for Jacob to return, why not take time to visit a few of my favorite youth ministry blogs. If there is one on the list below you haven't visited before, give it a try:

    COOL IDEA: dumpr

    Here's an idea highlighted in the new YS Update. It's a site called dumpr where you can easily upload photos (e.g. of your youth) and instantly change them into cool stuff like easter eggs, drawings, museum exhibits, puzzles, etc. They also enable quick uploading to your Flickr account.

    Awhile back, we highlighted a similar site here.

    Muckraking 101

    I'm getting ready to head out of town tomorrow on a mission trip to Fort Worth with my youth. This summer we are attending the General Assembly of our denomination, The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The assembly is a biennial event that brings together Disciples from across the U.S. and Canada for education, worship, mission projects, fellowship and discernment on important issues.

    Several of my youth are representing our church as voting delegates and will have the opportunity to cast a vote on some important social justice resolutions coming before the General Assembly. A "yes" or "no" final vote on these issues does not obligate Disciples congregations to take any action. Rather, they are intended to encourage continued education, discussion, and discernment.

    One important issue to be voted on is whether or not our churches should make a public stand on the issue of universal health care for all children. Last night I had the opportunity to see the new documentary "Sicko." I highly recommend this film for anyone who wants a personal and shocking picture of the health care situation in this country. The film depicts the horror stories of elderly persons, children, parents and family members who are losing the fight against the insurance companies and drug industry to get quality health care for themselves and their loved ones. Perhaps most eye-opening is the evidence that universal health care programs are working in many other countries, while the whole idea here is vilified as "socialism." Yet, in those systems everyone gets health care regardless of income or preexisting conditions. The film suggests that the argument that "universal health care equals poor heath care" is perpetuated by a system in our country that is based on profits and not healing. As one ex-member of Britain's Parliament puts it in the film, the universal system is such that "You pay according to your means, and you receive care according to your need." I would certainly be happy to see my tax money going to provide health care for the needy. Anyone who has ever been without health care (myself included, during much of my early twenties) and has had to forgo dental work, medication, and important preventative medical care, can witness that this is an important justice and faith issue that needs more discussion and action within the Church.

    Another important resolution coming before the Assembly that my students will have the opportunity to vote for or against is a call for us to speak out against any form of torture, including those acts of torture committed by our own government. When discussing this issue recently at my church in preparation for the Assembly, one person mused, "Is torture really a problem? Are they saying the United States tortures people?" The fact of the matter is, this reality has been confirmed by our own military. Here is article on William Kuebler, a conservative Christian military officer who is jeopardizing his career by defending a detainee in GITMO, a Saudi named Ghassan Abdullah al Sharbi. Kuebler is speaking out against what has been happening there. His initial support of the government's decision to detain "enemy combatants" there shifted as he came to understand that the majority of detainees have been held for years with no charge, no trial, or proof of evidence against them:

    By April 2006, al Sharbi had already been locked up for almost four years at Guantánamo, where the military had declared him an “enemy combatant.” President Bush had claimed the authority to continue holding him—along with hundreds of men already in custody, as well as any other foreign national he might decide was an enemy combatant—until the end of the war on terror, a sentence that worked out to somewhere between indefinite and forever. His cell was eight feet long and not quite seven feet wide, with a bunk and a sink and, on the floor, a hole for a toilet and a painted arrow pointing toward Mecca. The lights were kept on around the clock, and he was allowed out only in shackles to shower and exercise for a half hour a few days a week. Al Sharbi had also almost certainly been subjected to “enhanced interrogation techniques,” some of which until recently were considered torture and, according to the State Department, still are when practiced by Iran, Libya, Turkey, or any of a dozen other countries.

    I know good Christians can agree to disagree on these topics, but let there be no doubt that these are not "just matters of politics." They are important issues of faith and I think they are issues our youth should be struggling with in light of their Christian walk.


    Monday, July 16, 2007

    Image of the Day: diVeRSitY

    diversity, originally uploaded by estherase.

    Christians Disrupt Hindu Senate Invocation.

    I'm not so certain there should be a prayer in the Senate at all, but this sort of display does nothing for Christianity.

    Do you really want to be "On Fire for Jesus" ?

    Calvin over at Random Bloggings recently shared some excellent thoughts on what youth ministry should really be all about. An admitted "Jesus freak" in his teen years, he shares a little about his own spiritual growth and offers an honest assessment of what youth ministry sometimes is and what it could be. The whole post is a good read but here's my favorite part:

    Parents, pastors and elders want to see teens who are “on fire” for Jesus. That’s what they want the youth ministry to produce. Yet I am far less interested in making on fire Christians than I once was. Today I would rather seen teens who have a vibrant relationship with Jesus, yes - but who have also counted the cost of discipleship, realized that it is not easy, that God doesn’t always make sense, and that sometime life is down right dreadful. I want to disciple teens and help them realize that if someone says “shit!” that doesn’t mean that they are a less spiritual person than someone who doesn’t.


    Friday, July 13, 2007

    Self-Serve Youth Ministry Blog Dispenser

    Freebie Friday: Tim over at the Life in Student Ministry blog is soliciting contributions to offer as part of his Freebie Friday posts. Send him a usable youth ministry resource and be put in a drawing for an iTUNES gift card.

    What happened to Dad? Dan suggests it might be time to rethink the way we approach ministry to families where it can no longer be assumed that dad is running things.

    Who took my notes! I'm a firm believer in preaching without notes, but it's not for everybody. Check out some great thoughts on "no notes preaching" along with other practical advice at the helpful Biblical Preaching blog.

    It's Coming! Fall will be here before we know it. Steve has some suggestions for things we ought to be doing now to get ready for the start of a new school year with youth.

    I can't believe he said that. Check out this posting of a video poking fun at Mark Driscoll for his comments on how the Church has become too "chick-ified." His is one of the more sexist and homophobic diatribes I've heard in awhile. More discussion of the video here.

    Make it Real!
    Here is an excellent post and discussion at Jesus Creed on how to bring a more "missional" approach to youth ministry that involves young people in regular and purposeful hands-on mission.

    Who Are You?

    Ever notice how many introverts go into ministry? I'm certainly one of them. Outgoing at youth group and on Sunday morning, but I really like quiet time to myself in the office most of the week or meeting with students one-on-one rather than in the big group. I happened upon this cool on-line personality test via the sidebar of the Sacred Threshholds blog. My results seemed pretty accurate, though I have no idea how reliable this tool is. But the questions were interesting and the design and interface is pretty cool. According to the test, I am a:

    (move mouse over each color to see what they represent)


    Did you hear that there was a nationwide contest to determine which real "Springfield" would be the site of the premiere of the new "Simpsons" movie? Every city named Springfield was invited to submit a video to show why they should represent the fictional home of Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa (oh, and little what's-her-name.) Springfield, Vermont was the winner:

    The winning entry took two days to film with help from the Vermont Film Commission. It begins much like the opening sequence of the TV show, with the familiar theme song playing as Vermont's Homer chases a giant doughnut (actually an inner tube designed by a local graphic artist) through the town, causing mayhem wherever he goes. The townspeople chase after him until they are beckoned into the movie theater, where they sit down for the premiere of The Simpsons Movie.

    You can see all the short videos, state-by-state, here. The least we can do is support one of the most religious shows on TV (what other sitcom family do you know that goes to church on Sunday, prays, and features God in about every fourth episode?).


    Thursday, July 12, 2007

    The Good Samaritan

    Amsterdam Notebook, originally uploaded by Ann Althouse.

    I'm preparing to preach this Sunday on the parable of "The Good Samaritan." I thought I knew this story well....perhaps too well as I was less than enthusiastic about dealing with this tired old chesnut. But in my exegetical study of the text, it has done what all of Jesus' parables do: thrown me for a loop and turned my expectations of the story upside down. I had always assumed that when Jesus tells the lawyer to "go and do likewise" he was referring to the compassionate act of the Samaritan. This is indeed a perfectly fine reading of the text. But this time, I heard something completely different altogether. What I hear Jesus telling the lawyer to do is go and be like the man in the ditch! Be willing to receive help/love/compassion from God in whatever way it may come. And be prepared for it to come in unexpected places, at unexpected times, and from the most unexpected sources! What have been those unexpected encounters with God for you?


    Wednesday, July 11, 2007

    Teaching and Youth Ministry

    I’m proud of my sister Elizabeth (to me, she’ll always be Lizzy). Earlier this spring, she graduated with her masters in Public Policy. Then (along with her husband Joe, dog Toby, and cat Bono), Lizzy moved from Georgia to Missouri in order pursue the next step in her career—working as a teacher for Teach for America. This fall, Lizzy will teach seventh grade English in an inner-city school. It should be an amazing experience.

    Currently, she is receiving training in California (what a nice place to train) and came across some teachings that I find very interesting. Her mentors state that for each grade a child is in, the teacher should lecture for that many minutes and nothing more. So, in a typical forty-five minute class, Lizzy will lecture for seven minutes and have classroom activities for the remaining time.

    Has anyone else ever heard this? As youth ministers, I think we spend a lot of time trying to teach our students. I know I’ve been guilty of talking with my junior high kids for more than seven or eight minutes. Maybe I need to redefine some of my teachings and focus more on group activities and hands-on learning. Maybe we focus too much time on teaching and not enough time on relationships.

    Tuesday, July 10, 2007

    Mike Yaconelli on Youth Ministry

    Yeah, I know you're busy. But you owe it to yourself to take 9 minutes and watch this compilation of inspirational words from the amazing Mike Yaconelli.

    Spiritual Gifts

    Helping youth discern their spiritual gifts and how they might use those gifts to create a better world (i.e. the Kingdom of God) is perhaps one of the most important callings of that rare breed of creatures known as the "youth minister." Young people are pushed all through their adolescence to recognize and hone the skills that they (and their parents) hope will some day make them rich, if not famous. But what about those gifts that aren't obviously marketable? What about the notion of using our gifts to benefit and edify others beyond ourselves? Here's a suggested approach for easing your youth into discovering their spiritual gifts:

    Have a talent night. I'm serious! The best learning always starts by connecting with something the learner's brain already knows and with which they are comfortable. Encourage your youth to come ready to share their talents, gifts, abilities, and interests. Yes, this evening could include the typical singers, actors, and musicians. But also encourage your artists to showcase their works, the poets to give a reading, the athletes to display a trophy or two, the comedians to tell a joke, the juggler to put on a show, the math whiz to solve a quadratic formula, the carpenters to display their handiwork, and so on. Youth who don't have a talent to easily put on display can describe their gifts to the group.

    Identify Personal Spiritual Gifts. Next, help youth identify some of the more applicable spiritual gifts as found in scripture. Read together Romans 12: 4-8 and 1 Cor 12: 1-11, 27-28 and ask the students what jumps out at them. Prepare a list of spiritual gifts and their descriptions to give to the youth. You might include such obvious gifts as wisdom, healing, prophecy, service, giving, teaching, and mercy. But I would not limit the list to just the obvious ones enumerated in these scriptural passages. Consider also less obvious spiritual gifts such as craftsmanship, music, and writing.

    After talking through the list, ask the students to imagine an invisible line going down the center of the room. As you read through the list of spiritual gifts, invite students to stand at one end of the line if they think they are strong in a particular gift or at the other end of they think they are weak in that gift, or somewhere in between. Invite them to explain their choices, if they choose.

    Identify Spiritual Gifts in Others. This may be the most powerful part of this study. Go through the gifts again, inviting group members to name those in the group that are particularly strong in each gift. Such an activity helps to illustrate that we often do not perceive our own gifts until they are recognized by others. Be certain that all students are lifted up in this process of discernment. Such a "naming of gifts" can be a real bonding and nurturing experience for a group.

    Using Our Gifts. Close with a time of discussion about how God might use any of these particular gifts in ministry. Students I've done this activity with were pleasantly surprised to consider how the gift of making people laugh could be used in "healing" or how the gift of "prophecy" might mean the ability to tell your friends the hard truth even when they don't want to hear it.

    A Final Word. There are ton of free spiritual gift inventories floating around out there. I'm highly dubious of their effectiveness as a tool for truly discerning spiritual gifts. Some of those reasons are clearly articulated here. I think the above approach of communal and personal discernment is more valuable than any paper-pencil test one might use.

    Thursday, July 05, 2007

    Who needs a youth ministry degree?

    Stuart has challenged all of us to a fight over whether or not youth ministry degrees are "stupid." What do you think? Writes Stuart:

    I think it’s flat stupid that that seminaries and colleges offer degrees and majors in Youth Ministry. I know you’ll probally tell me I’m crazy, but I think it’s dumb. What are your classes: Gross Games 101? How to have really edgy youth pastor hair 310? How to get stains off the sanctuary floor so the elders don’t get mad 420?

    Image of the Day: Postcards 2 God

    Here's an idea adaptable for the end of a mission trip or any youth trip. Here's what the poster at Flickr says about the photo: "This was pretty simple and straightforward. This group had spent a year together in learning, small groups, mentorship, and fellowship, not to mention the year they spent doing their youth ministry work. We equated that to a "road trip" type spiritual pilgrimage. So we asked them to write God a postcard chronicling their experience. If I had to do this one again I'd probably make some postcards with various pictures. "

    Monday, July 02, 2007

    What If...

    Last week was our annual youth mission trip. Overall, the trip was a success. We gathered with 450 youth from around the country. Lives where changed, tears were shed, God was present, and we bonded as a group. I could spend several posts talking about all of the different aspects of a youth mission trip. But, then it happened. We returned home. And I think we are all, at least I know I am, coming down from the mission trip “high.”

    I wish every day could be a day full of inspirational actions and life-changing events. I wish every day (well, maybe not every single day) I could gather around the cafeteria tables with my youth and share a meal while listening to them share what is on their hearts and minds. I wish each night we could end with devotions.

    But what happens when you and your youth are all pumped up from mission trips, or camps, and you return to the real world? How do we keep our youth continually engaged and cognizant of the fact that how we behave during one week out of the year should be, most likely, the way we should behave throughout the entire year. Perhaps we need to spend more time recognizing the ways in which we practice our faith the other fifty-one weeks out of the year. I think Brian had a good point when he suggested that we need to encourage our youth to see that less is more. What if we spent a year doing a mission trip in our hometowns? What would our youth groups look like then?