Wednesday, October 31, 2007

    Christ and Culture

    The results from our Halloween poll are in! We asked if Christian youth should participate in Halloween. You said:
    • Why not? I do! 66% (25 votes)
    • Pobably not, because it celebrates the occult. 21% (8 votes)
    • No Way! And while we are at it, get rid of that pagan holiday of Christmas, too! 11% (4 votes)
    • Only if they go dressed as Bible characters (and Satan doesn't count!) 3% (1 votes)

    I was the single vote on that last one. Though this was meant in fun, I think there is the issue inherent here of whether or not we are going to be separate from the culture. In his famous work, Christ and Culture, H. Richard Niebuhr suggested five historical viewpoints of the interaction of faith and the surrounding culture: Christ against culture, Christ of culture, Christ above culture, Christ and Culture in paradox, and Christ the transformer of culture. It has often been argued that Niebuhr's liberal bias led him to favor the final option, seeing Christ as transformer of a broken, sinful culture (this is sometimes referred to as the social gospel). What to make of this? Do we teach our youth that if they follow the way of Christ the world will be transformed? I hope we strive for this as Christians, but do we expect it to actually happen? Do we expect in our lifetime to see the end of war, starvation, cruelty? Or perhaps that is too selfish. Do we at least project some possible distant future when these things are possible? I imagine there are plenty of Christians who would say "No." Perhaps on a personal level or community level there will be transformation through Christ, but on a global scale the world will keep on much as it always have.

    But one wonders how we can be transformative at all if we are not part of the culture itself. If God is ubiquitous, then God is to be found in all aspects of the world, the community, the culture in which we live. Thus, if we engage the culture we are engaging some part of God's presence. The question is the degree to which we are "in" the culture without being "of" the culture. Do we tell youth it's okay to go to see a concert at a bar as long as they don't drink? Do we tell youth it's okay to be in the military as long as they don't fire a shot? Do we tell youth it's okay to have friends that do drugs or have sex as long as they themselves do not? Is it possible to be immersed in a culture and not be in some way shaped and influenced by it?

    Some time back on this blog I wrote: Does the Church not have an identity distinct from secular culture? One of my favorite texts in seminary, perhaps surprisingly as it was written by conservative authors, was Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony by Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon. In it they strongly argue that when the Church ceases to have an identity separate from the secular culture, it ceases to be the Church. The authors write: "...both the conservative and liberal church...are basically accommodationist (that is, Constantinian) in their social ethic. Both assume wrongly that the American church's primary social task is to underwrite American democracy." (p. 32)

    Ultimately, I don't think this is an "either/or" proposition. Whether we like it or not, we are part of the culture. Our language, or behavior, our customs, our values are all shaped by culture from birth. The question is to what degree to do we encourage our youth to resist culture, to push against culture, to maintain a certain distance from or tension with the surrounding culture? To what degree do we encourage them to work for the transformation of culture, to work for the coming Kingdom of God? I know. I know. Lots of questions. I'm still working on the answers.
    Update: In a great mixture of faith and culture, I practiced hospitality last night by giving out candy, spider rings, and halloween pencils to all the ghosts and goblins who came to my door trick-or-treating. Then I met up with my church's young adult group at a local bar to watch a member of our group play with his band and didn't get home until after midnight!

    Image of the Day: Pumpkin Harvest

    Kim's First Harvest, originally uploaded by KimberlyD.

    My first Halloween was October 1966. That year I went as a baby. This year I'm going as a 40-something youth minister!

    Tuesday, October 30, 2007

    The Joy of Learning?

    I’ve mentioned before that every Wednesday night I have a small group (composed mostly of seniors) that meets at my house. With this particular group, we’ve met for the past three years. And each year, there seems to be increased levels of stress associated with the daily tasks of adolescence. A majority of my senior high youth sleep only several hours a night, spending tons of time on homework and AP classes (not to mention the extra-curricular activities that are needed to be accepted into the “top” schools). Their stress levels are out of this world. It’s clear that only so many activities and responsibilities can be crammed into one day.

    So, I wasn’t too surprised yesterday when the NY Times came out with
    this article. The title of the article, “Less Homework, More Yoga, From A Principal Who Hates Stress,” says it all. Paul Richards takes initiative in lowering the stress levels of his students. He mandates home-work free weekends and yoga classes for all seniors. Furthermore, Richards formed a stress reduction committee and stopped publishing the honor roll in the local newspaper as a means of reducing competition, stress, and cheating among students.

    I wonder what the reaction would be if our local school board took similar actions? And, what is the role of all of this in youth ministry? What is the relationship between education and ministry? Education and competition? Not to mention self care and spirituality?


    Saturday, October 27, 2007

    Reverse Caption Photo Scavenger Hunt

    Usually, our photo scavenger hunts involve sending groups out with a list of things to take photos of, then they return, attach all the photos to a poster board and caption them. In this Reverse Caption Photo Scavenger Hunt, you send the team out with a list of creative captions and they must take a photo of something they think best fits the captions. In "Flickr-speak" we would say "rather than tagging the photo, we are photoing the tag!" So, every team is free to use their imagination. Here's a sample of some possible captions in which the challenge is to take a photo of the "THIS" in each caption:

    1. Everyone agreed that one look at THIS and you just knew all the beauty in the world was a gift from God.
    2. No one could prove it, but THIS looked to be evidence of an overly-compassionate bunch of church youth!
    3. Amazing! THIS is an exact duplicate of (insert youth leader's name) face found in nature/public.
    4. All the townspeople agreed. THIS was truly a sign of God's love.
    5. Police office Smith wasn't sure what to make of it, but she wrote down in her report: THIS is evidence of an "attempted servanthood with intent to cause smiles."
    6. Surely THIS could only mean one thing: Harry Potter (or insert or famous name) had been here.
    7. It was pretty obvious to the onlookers how THIS was going to end.
    8. "Be Careful!" someone shouted at the group. "THIS could cause an unstoppable outbreak of peace in the world."
    9. Who would have thought a youth group could do THIS and no one got arrested! (Okay, maybe you wouldn't want to use this one, but I think it's pretty funny.)
    See our other ideas by entering "scavenger hunt" into the search box at the top of the page.

    Lectio Divina

    Last Sunday I decided to introduce the practice of lectio divina into our youth Bible study activity. Lectio Divina, or "sacred reading," is an ancient Christian practice of reading a scripture text deeply, allowing it to speak God's word to us intimately.

    As part of our observance of The Children's Sabbath, we focused the study on the story of Jesus and the children (Luke 18:15-17). I invited the youth to explore this text using the version of lectio divina provided by the Youth Ministry and Spirituality project. We read through the text three times. The first time we simply listened and attended to the overall text. The second time we tried to tune in to a word or phrase that seemed to speak directly to us in some way. The third time we sought to discern what God might be saying to each of us through the text. This process is not rushed -- silence is as important as the reading of the text.

    I share all of this because of a funny thing that happened when I tried this with our middle school youth. As soon as I sat a pile of Bibles in the middle of the circle, one of the girls, Kelly, announced, "Oh no! Not Bibles! I'm not reading the Bible." (Note: It's not that Kelly was afraid of the Bible the way a demon might fear holy water. It's just that she would rather have been playing "Duck Duck Goose" or talking with her friends).

    Despite Kelly's protestations, I went ahead with the meditation. These young teens tolerated the repetitive readings, the long pauses, the silence, but when I asked them to share their reflections on the text, they were (surprise! surprise!) uncharacteristically mute! Nobody wanted to share. I allowed more silence, knowing that someone usually speaks up to fill the dead air. Guess who spoke up first? Yep, it was Kelly, the one who wanted to run from the Bible like a vampire from garlic! Kelly shared that the phrase which vibrated most for her was the part about parents bringing their children to Jesus. She remarked that she wondered if those kids even wanted to be there, being pushed through the crowd and put up in front of everybody, having this strange guy blessing them. Wow, I thought -- that detail of the story had never occurred to me. I'd never thought of it from the children's point of view (and perhaps Kelly was thinking about how she herself, and other teens, might feel if forced into a similar situation).

    I then asked the youth to share which character in the story they most related to at this point in their life: Jesus, the children, the crowd, or the disciples. Again, dead silence. Then Kelly spoke up again: "I guess I would be most like Jesus. My mom is going into the hospital this week for surgery, and she wants me to be there with her because she said it will make her feel better. So my being at her bedside will sort of be healing to her. Like Jesus is when he touches the children." Hmmm. And Kelly was the one who didn't want to read the Bible.
    Lesson learned: 1) never underestimate your youth and 2) never underestimate the power of contemplative spiritual practices like Lectio Divina to open hearts and minds to the truths of our faith.


    Friday, October 26, 2007

    I Am the Church

    Here is a creative idea from the "Love in the Key of Longbrake" blog that has lots of possibilities. Joshua invited readers to send in a photo of themselves that included, in some way, the message "I am the church." He received many responses and the variety of people in the photos is cool. Joshua utilized the photos for a public talk and others have since used them in various presentations.

    Imagine inviting your youth to collect these kinds of photos. They could take images of themselves, family members, or friends. They could collect images of people in the church. They could solicit photos from friends around the world on Facebook or MySpace. They could even make an "I am the church" sign and go out in public, inviting people to have their photo taken with the sign (I saw a cool site where a church actually set up a makeshift booth in public where people could sit inside on a chair and be videotaped, or in this case, photographed, perhaps with a Polaroid camera). Then the images could be collected and used as part of a PowerPoint presentation with music in worship, as a piece of performance art, as a bulletin board display, a website page, an art installation for your youth room, or whatever else your creative brains might be able to come up. I think youth might enjoy the challenge of helping to depict the diversity of the church. Perhaps to be a little more provocative, you could have them do the project using the phrase "Am I the Church?" Might open up some very interesting conversation! See more photos from the project below:

    Hell House documentary: Take 2

    Here is another excerpt from the fascinating documentary "Hell House" which chronicles a church youth program's yearly efforts to create a "Christian" version of a haunted house. This is scary in more ways than one.

    Thursday, October 25, 2007

    Bible Study Resource

    Fellow youth ministry blogger Grahame Knox has produced an excellent free resource entitled, "Creative Bible Study Methods for Youth Leaders."
    Rather than a series of bite-sized Bible studies with predetermined interpretations, Grahame offers up a host of creative ways to help youth engage, wrestle with, and inhabit biblical texts. Grahame writes:
    What do you think of when you hear the words 'group Bible study?' Perhaps we should start with what it's not! A Bible study is not a lecture or a sermon. It's not a conversation between you and the most 'spiritual' member of your group, or an argument, or an interrogation. A group Bible study should involve every member of your group and our role should be that of a catalyst for discussion.
    Definitely useful for youth ministers and youth volunteers alike, the only question about it that I have is "Why is he giving it away for free?" Just a nice guy, I guess! You can download the resource here.

    Poll Results: Halo and Youth Ministry

    The results are in! We asked: Do you think video games like "Halo" should be part of regular youth ministry activities? You responded:

    • Sure, if it helps get teens in the door. 18% (11 votes)

    • Video games are fine as long as they are not violent. 51% (31 votes)

    • Video games have no place in youth ministry. We have better ways to use our time with youth. 20% (12 votes)

    • How about a game of Twister instead? 11% (7 votes)

    I have to admit I was in the 20% that said "no video games, no way, no how!" But I'm swayed by the 51% who do see ways video games can be a positive factor in youth ministry, much as a night of bowling or a hayride may be. At home I have one of those retro Atari game consoles that has a bunch of the ancient video games from the 80's. If you've got "Pong!" what else do you need?

    Halloween Fun with Jack Chick

    Why didn't I think of this before: Giving out Jack Chick Christian tracts to kids along with the candy. Chick even wrote several about Halloween. In the one excerpted below, some teens go out for a harmless night of Halloween fun at the local "haunted house" and one of them ends up getting hit by a car and going to hell (he's the one on the middle right below, wearing the cool Charlie Brown sweater!). But that's what he gets for skipping Sunday school:

    So, in summary, tell your youth this Halloween to skip the haunted house and definitely "Don't make the same mistake Timmy made."
    If you want more Halloween fun with Jack Chick, see the whole comic here. (By the way, given the Christian nature of the ad above, isn't it a little funny that the girl is dressed as a convict?)

    Wednesday, October 24, 2007

    Purpose-Driven Youth Ministry?

    I've never been a fan of the "purpose-driven" craze, partly because I think they are just stating the obvious and partly because, owing to my particular location within what some call "progressive Christianity," I do not share their focus on evangelism as a means towards salvation of the lost. In fact, we simply do not talk about salvation and the afterlife much in my Christian circles.

    I recently preached on Jesus' story of the rich man and Lazarus, which appears on the surface to be a story about the afterlife. But I remarked (and this is no observation unique to myself) that it really is not a story about the afterlife. It is a story about life in the here-and-now. It's a story about the opportunities we have before us to live in the Kingdom/Kindom/Realm/Empire of God each existential moment of life. I think Christianity has a great deal to say to us about the present life. But if pressed as a pastor to say anything about "the next life," I really would have very little to share, other than I trust that as God cares for us now, God will care for us eternally. What shape that eternity will take -- I haven't a clue. Nor do I think worrying about it should preoccupy our time. I do not believe that the primary focus of Christianity should be a concern about the afterlife. The primary focus of Christianity should be our relationship with God through Christ right now, and the possibility of that relationship to heal and transform the world.

    With all that in mind, I started wondering just what we might say the purpose of youth ministry might be. For some who read this blog, it may very well be the salvation of souls from eternal damnation. But for those of us who do not ascribe to that brand of the Christian faith, what other possibilities motivate us? Here are a few I'd suggest (of course, this list is not exhaustive and your list will be different depending on your own understanding of the faith, the sort of church in which you serve, and the particular group of youth you lead) :

    To Introduce Youth to the Christian Faith:
    Not too long ago I wrote about Mike Yaconelli's assertion that youth are too young to be disciples. Becoming a disciple of Christ is more than taking an oath (because, as Marcus Borg often says, this would be "salvation by syllables"). Becoming a disciple takes a journey. It takes a willingness to sacrifice, walk through some fire, and struggle. Many youth have yet to give themselves over to this sort of commitment to faith. But one goal of youth ministry can be to introduce them to what it means to follow Christ--to introduce them to Christ's radical, boundary-breaking way of peace and justice. To help them be, in a sense, interns for Christ. In this way, we are perhaps preparing teens to become the disciple they will be later in life.

    To Help Youth Build Community:
    The Christian faith is built upon community. It is built upon compassionate relationships that recognize all as beloved of God. One goal of youth ministry should be to help youth learn what it means to live in radically open and loving community. Youth ministry should offer opportunties for youth to experiment with what this sort of community might look like. It should provide youth a glimpse of what it means to be loved unconditionally. It should help youth struggle with loving others even when it is difficult.

    To Help Youth Uncover Their Spiritual Gifts:
    Teens are bombarded with messages that tell them that their self-worth will ultimately be tied to the size of their paycheck and their ability to consume within our capitalist economy. Youth ministry can help youth see that they have God-given gifts that cannot be measured in dollars and cents. These gifts could include, among others, mission, prayer, teaching, healing, and hospitality.

    To Be Spiritual Companions to Youth:
    Let's face it. Being a teenager is tough. Not many of us would relive those days even if we could. Teens struggle with issues of self-worth, confusion about identity, and worries about fitting in. Youth ministry programs can offer youth the mentorship of faithful adults who will love them just as they are, walk with them on their spiritual journey, and help them navigate the challenges of adolescence.

    To Awaken Youth to God's Presence:
    Many teens have lived so long with the idea that God lives "up there" or "out there" that they find it difficult to figure out where God is in their lives. Youth ministry can help attune youth to the God-saturated world we live in by introducing them to a variety of Christian spiritual practices that can help to awaken our sensitivity to God's presence.

    Monday, October 22, 2007

    Building Relationships

    Three years ago, when I started serving Broadway Christian Church, I spent a lot of time forming relationships with my youth. I felt that before I could do any significant planning, or discern the future of the youth ministry, I needed to know each youth as well as possible. For me, I found five main ways to develop relationships: 1) calling up each youth and inviting them to youth group and/or visiting them at their house; 2) taking pizza to their school and joining them, and their friends, for lunch; 3) sending each youth a personalized birthday card (cut out from the back of my cereal boxes); 4) praying for, and with, my youth; and 5) making sure youth knew that I was always available to chat, email, pray, or just hang out. Fortunately, I’ve been able to keep up with each of these practices. I spend a lot of time in schools, talking on the phone, emailing, and visiting. But, I’m always looking for new methods of relationship building.

    So, how about each of you? How are you connecting with the youth in your ministry?

    Saturday, October 20, 2007

    Dramatic Chipmunk

    I know. We've all seen this 100 times, but it's still funny, and there are about 50 variations of it now on You Tube. And Yes, this is a real chipmunk.

    Dramatic Look Bond Remix

    Friday, October 19, 2007

    Is the Church Anti-Gay?

    Yes, according to young people recently surveyed by the Barna Group. Reflecting on the study, the Religion News Service reports:

    Majorities of young people in America describe modern-day Christianity as judgmental, hypocritical and anti-gay. What's more, many Christians don't even want to call themselves "Christian" because of the baggage that accompanies the label.
    The study also reports that an increasing number of young adults have concluded that modern-day Christianity is decidedly un-Jesus-like:
    "It started to become more clear to us that what they're experiencing related to Christianity is some of the very things that Jesus warned religious people about," [the researcher reported]. "Which is, avoiding removing the log from your own eye before trying to take the speck out of someone else's."
    I heard Jim Wallis speaking on the CBS News last night as part of a report about how the Republican party is losing religious conservatives. Wallis pointed out that many evangelical Christians are no longer two issue voters (e.g. abortion and gay marriage). They have turned their focus to such issues as Darfur, poverty, global warming, the war, and other justice issues. Perhaps this is the light at the end of the tunnel for a Church that seems locked in a medieval attitude about sexual orientation. Perhaps the day is coming when we'll stop fighting over issues that divide us and instead focus on the issues that we can work on together as part of God's mission in the world.
    Frankly, I think we are seeing the last vestiges of the Church's fixation on sexual orientation, at least in this country. The young people of today have a decidedly different attitude on this issue than the older generations and the passage of time will eventually see, I believe, the Church turning its energies from quarreling over who can marry whom, and back to things that really matter. Or am I being overly optimistic?

    Wednesday, October 17, 2007

    "You like me! You Really like me!"

    Student youth minister Nathan expresses something that crosses my mind on a weekly basis: I don't want youth to come to youth group to make me feel successful or wanted as a minister. I want them there to grow in their faith. Nathan writes:
    I often get the feeling that people think I want the students to come see me, this is not the reason I do youth ministry. I do not suffer from loneliness, we do not do youth group so Nathan has some people to hangout with. I love your children and refer to them as my children also, but we want these students to connect with God and with other
    Check out Nathan's full post here, part of his honest and insightful ongoing series "5 Things I Wish Parents/People Knew About Youth Ministry.

    Tuesday, October 16, 2007

    Children's Sabbath

    The national interfaith observance of the Children's Sabbath is this weekend, Oct. 19-21. Organized by the Children's Defense Fund, this observance encourages people of faith to take time in prayer, study, worship, and mission to focus on justice issues related to the health and well-being of all children everywhere. I would suggest that a particularly timely focus for this year's observance would be the issue of health care for children. While the congress and the President continue to quarrel over this issue, too many children (and even ONE is too many) continue to live without access to quality health care. In fact, Sharon Watkins, the General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has called for congress to override any veto by the President of SCHIP, a program which helps to provide health coverage for the more than 9 million children in the U.S. who are uninsured. Her call follows on the heels of a resolution, approved at this past summer's General Assembly, that challenges DOC congregations to educate themselves on the issue of children's health care and to advocate for the coverage of all children. See here to find out how you or your youth can become involved in this effort.

    Monday, October 15, 2007

    CREATIVE WORSHIP: Postcards to God

    This past Sunday I preached on the story of Jesus and the ten lepers. The focus for the message was on giving thanks for life's blessings. I strive, whenever possible, to provide an interactive component to my sermons as a way for the listener to personally respond to the good news. For this particular sermon, I invited the congregation to respond by writing a "postcard" to God (an earlier part of the sermon included a story about a woman who wrote a letter to God). Each person came forward and selected a postcard with images that connected with them in some way or they selected a blank postcard and created their own image. They then wrote a prayer of thanks on the back of the card. Some of these prayers were poems, some litanies, lists, or even diagrams and drawings. All postcards were then hung on a clothesline of sorts over the communion table to symbolize lifting our thanks to God. Later that evening, we continued this activity at youth group, with the youth creating their own postcards to God. We were even able to provide an opportunity for the teens to share aloud their prayers with the group. This is a simple, non-threatening, reflective activity that taps into verbal-linguistic and visual-spatial intelligences as a way of exploring spirituality.

    Prophetic Actions

    Brian and I are members of the Christian Church Disciples of Christ (DOC). I have been a lifelong member of this denomination. As a child, I belonged to the DOC because it is where my family worshiped. As a teenager, I wasn’t sure where I fit in and the DOC seemed as good a choice as any. And as a seminarian, in a polity class, I was drawn to the core values of the DOC and how I believed these values resonated with my beliefs. I found comfort (and still do) in the fact that the DOC are rooted in social justice. Social justice, I believe, was one of the fundamental principles and teachings of justice…

    Three years ago, in seminary, it was so easy to say how I would promote values of peace and justice in the churches I served. I believed I would always be fighting for the oppressed—comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. Looking back, I’m not sure I understood, or even could have understood, all of the dynamics and politics that go into a church.

    So, I continually wonder, and perhaps you do as well, how to serve as a role model for my youth when it comes to social justice? I want to share my beliefs, encourage my youth to be prophetic, and really live out the teachings of Jesus. But, at the same time, I’m keenly aware of the fine line, as a minister, that we walk. I want to push, but not push too hard.

    But perhaps I’m not pushing hard enough. Last week, John Thomas, general minister and president of the United Church of Christ—a church in which my denomination is in partnership with—was arrested at the White House while attempting to deliver a petition with 60,000 signatures protesting the war. Should John Thomas, the leader of a large mainstream denomination, serve as a role model for others to follow? Should we, as ministers of the gospel and faithful servants of Jesus Christ, be more vocal and less concerned about church politics and consequences of our actions? I don’t know. I plan to discuss this with my youth. In the meantime, I would love to hear what others have to say.

    Saturday, October 13, 2007

    Hell House

    With Halloween approaching, my thoughts turn to this fascinating documentary "Hell House." This film looks at a part of Christian subculture that I just find disturbing. The documentary chronicles the efforts of a church youth group to create their own version of a haunted house -- complete with scenes of a girl having an abortion, a gay teen with AIDS going to hell, a girl being drugged at a rave and being raped (that's what you get for being bad!), unsaved folk writhing in the fires of damnation -- well, you get the idea. It really is a great film -- like a car wreck, it's hard to turn away even though it is disturbing.

    Find children's puzzles, preferably the kind with larger than normal pieces and put them into unmarked bags. Split the youth into however many teams you have puzzles and explain that their task is to complete the puzzle as fast as they can. Some will likely assume it is a race, but it is not. As an added challenge, tell them not to talk but only communicate with one another non-verbally (this wrinkle helps to draw out the less-talkative youth as leaders). The Twist: What the youth do not know is that you have actually mixed some of the pieces of each puzzle into the other bags. The only way any group can complete their puzzle is to realize that they are not in competition with the other groups but must in fact work cooperatively. See how long it takes the groups to catch on to this tiny expression of the Empire of God.

    Friday, October 12, 2007

    Finding the Sacred in the Everyday

    Last night I enjoyed facilitating a small group fellowship of parents from one of my churches. Our goal is to gather once a month for support, prayer, food, and conversation on the spirituality of children and youth. I particularly like that the group involves parents with children of all ages. We hope to add a few grandparents into the mix for good measure.

    Our conversation centered on the Western concept of the division between the sacred and the secular. We tend to see Church as sacred, and the rest of our week as secular. God is in our worship, but not in our schools or our jobs or when we are washing the car. This perspective also drives the notion that our spirit and our body are separate entities, leading to an understanding of the body as non-spiritual. But scripture proclaims that this is not how the world works. God is not confined to the Temple. God is in the fire, the wind, the water, the clouds. God is a voice, God is in the elements of bread and vine. God works in and through other people. God is embodied in our physical world as much as God might be thought of as intangible spirit.

    With this in mind, I invited the parents to brainstorm the common, everyday activities of their families lives and then to consider how these mundane actions might be seen as opportunities to embrace the sacred in life -- opportunities to experience God's spirit. The conversation that followed was rich and creative. Here are some of their ideas:
    • Bathing - When showering, as you wash your feet think about how Jesus washed the feet of the disciples and how he is sending you out as a servant, too.

    • Eating - Take time before each meal to say a prayer of thanks. Make eating together a regular habit as a family and be aware of the gift of fellowship and community it affords. Invite others to share in the meal as a way to practice God's hospitality.

    • Driving - Time in the car is a great opportunity for conversation. Ask your children to talk about where they saw God today. Invite them to focus on the needs of others by asking them how their teacher is or how the other children are doing at school.
    Other routine activities might include: watching tv, working on the computer, caring for a pet, cooking, brushing teeth, going to bed. I think this could be a great activity to do with youth. Challenge them to come up a list of their daily routine activities and then work together to think about how they could become more intentional about finding God's love, presence, and healing in those activities. This sort of practice opens one to seeing the world as saturated with the sacredness of God. It can also help us to realize that even in the toughest situations in life, God is with us.

    I take no credit for this idea, but it's tried and true and can be fun. Get into small groups and give teams five minutes to come up with 20 things that are unique to just one person in the group (for example, Cindy is the only one who has been to Paris). In round two, challenge the group to come up with 10 interesting things they have in common. Personal appearance should be excluded as options for the commonalities. Once a team has their list, challenge them to create a team name combining as many of the commonalities as possible (for example, one team might be the Cliff-Diving Chocolate-covered Ant Eating Lousy at Math Chess Masters Extraordinaire!). Invite each team to share their creative name with the group.

    Thursday, October 11, 2007

    Poll Results: Napoleon Wins!

    "Napoleon Dynamite" was the favorite answer in our recent poll asking you which movie title best sums up your experience of youth ministry. Though I am a die-hard "Planet of the Apes" fan (which came in third, right after "Stranger than Fiction"), I too had to agree that the adventures of Napoleon, Pedro and Deb ring true in more ways then one about the challenges of being a teen. But I still don't understand why he's wearing moon boots through the whole movie!

    Wednesday, October 10, 2007

    Video Games & Youth Ministry Revisited

    The youth ministry blogosphere continues to buzz with passionate opinions regarding the recent New York Times story about churches that use violent video games to attract teens. Youth minister Zach nicely articulates, I think, what the main problem is with integrating this type of gaming into youth group activities:

    "...[V]ideo games are divisive. Essentially there are winners and there are losers. The winners are the cool students, and the losers are the rejects. Video games endorse this idea of performance and competition. In many areas of the students’ life there is this ideology of performance. Some of the performance activities may include: sports, co-curricular activities, youth programs, peer relationships, and even in school. The idea of performance tells the student if you meet the standard and make it, then you are accepted and can participate. If you do not meet the expectation, then you are rejected and on your own to figure it out. .... Video games divide the participants that are playing them and fuel the competitive and performance spirit that is everywhere around them in their everyday life. Youth Ministry’s goal is not to create winners or losers, but to create and disciple authentic followers of Christ. It is about following, not winning or losing.

    In the broader perspective, I'm not totally opposed to using video games, on a rare occasion, as part of youth group activities (no more than I'm opposed to occasional game nights, movie nights, etc.). But I would draw the line at video games that are part of the culture's glorification of violence.
    Check out what others have to say on this issue: Calvin, Ingrid, Nick, & Dan. See another excellent post here followed by a robust series of comments from other readers.

    Tuesday, October 09, 2007

    Book Review: Soul-Tending

    I can't think of a more important shift in youth ministry in the last decade than the renewed focus on exploring Christian spiritual practices with teens. In the midst of a culture of media-frenzy and over-scheduled lives, these spiritual disciplines offer a lifeline to youth to experience God as the ground of being and to explore the movement of the Spirit in simplicity and silence.
    One resource that I have used repeatedly to help youth study and experience these practices is Soul Tending: Life-Forming Practices for Older Youth and Young Adults. This text, written by thirteen different authors, covers such disciplines as Honoring the Body, Fasting, Forgiveness, Lectio Divina, Testimony, Solitude, Healing Prayers, and Spiritual Friendship.
    Each discipline is outlined in a format perfect for leading group discussion and exploration. The format provides opening questions, background information on the disciplines, ideas for group practices, and ways to continue the practice in the students' daily routines.

    See a pdf sample from this resource here.

    Thinking Outside the Hoop

    Some of you out there have had great success extending your youth ministry into the local schools, joining your youth for lunch, volunteering on campus, and attending school events. Check out this interesting essay on how a youth ministry creatively reached out to their high school basketball team resulting in the unlikely teaming of two different groups of youth.

    Culture Watch: Video Games & Youth Ministry

    If pizza won't bring youth into your church, maybe violent video games will. Check out this New York Times article about youth ministry programs that are targeting teenage boys by offering the violent video game "Halo" as part of their regular activities:

    Hundreds of churches use Halo games to connect with young people, said Lane Palmer, the youth ministry specialist at the Dare 2 Share Ministry, a nonprofit organization in Arvada, Colo., that helps churches on youth issues.

    “It’s very pervasive,” Mr. Palmer said, more widespread on the coasts, less so in the South, where the Southern Baptist denomination takes a more cautious approach. The organization recently sent e-mail messages to 50,000 young people about how to share their faith using Halo 3. Among the tips: use the game’s themes as the basis for a discussion about good and evil. At Sweetwater Baptist Church in Lawrenceville, Ga., Austin Brown, 16, said, “We play Halo, take a break and have something to eat, and have a lesson,” explaining that the pastor tried to draw parallels “between God and the devil.”

    Hmmm. Wonder what happens in these churches if they take away all those game consoles. Do the teenage boys still come back each week for Bible study?


    Max: A Film About High School

    Can you relate? I wonder that those of us with such fond memories of high school tend to forget how tough it is to be a teenager.

    Saturday, October 06, 2007

    Image of the Day: Consumer Christ

    consumer_christ.jpg, originally uploaded by jonnybaker.

    Friday, October 05, 2007

    Book Review: Worship Feast

    Perhaps you are familiar with the Worship Feast series of books which offer all sorts of great ideas for doing multisensory and contemplative worship with youth (the ideas are also applicable to congregational worship). One book in the series I particularly love is Worship Feast: 100 Awesome Ideas for Postmodern Youth. The text begins with some info on postmodern worship followed by some basic suggestions such as "Make the Seating Arrangement Say 'We're a Community!'", "Celebrate Mystery", "Change Constantly", and "Be Multisensory." Next, the text offers a host of creative worship ideas in a variety of categories: Visuals (e.g. Create a Community Altar), Tastes and Smells (e.g. Bake bread in Worship), Sounds (e.g. Listen to Running, Living water), Touch (e.g. Drum Your Prayers), and Movement (e.g. Host a Scavenger Hunt Worship Experience).

    You likely will not use or like all the ideas in this little book, but there is plenty here to spur your creativity and that of your youth in developing meaningful worship that engages the whole self.

    Best Shadow Puppet Show Ever / A wonderful world

    Thursday, October 04, 2007

    Ripping on "See You at the Pole"

    One thing I admire about youth ministry blogger Stuart is his honesty -- he calls them like he sees them. Case in point: his current declaration that the See You at the Pole event is, in his words, "really stupid." This yearly program asks students to meet at the flagpole outside their school and stand together holding hands and praying -- in a display of self-righteousness for all to see. Perhaps more bothersome: it centers itself around a flag, a symbol of nationalism, further commingling faith and country in a way that I believe dilutes our faith and is downright dangerous for the health of the Church.

    Some might argue that these youth are witnessing to their faith. But I would hope we are leading them to understand that we don't witness to our faith by making public spectacles of our piety. We do so in the way that we live and love others, in the way we work for peace and justice, in the ways that we care for creation, and in the ways we practice reconciliation. But don't take my word for it. Read what Stuart has to say.

    Wednesday, October 03, 2007

    Forgiveness and Healing

    Yesterday marked a year since the school shooting at Nickel Mines—a small Amish community located in the heart of Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, it seems that school shootings are becoming more and more common. My sister, who teaches in St. Louis, often has children in her class who bring weapons to school. But, obviously, it’s not just in the inner-city. Violence happens everywhere, the evening news is full of death and destruction.

    How we respond to violence is a question that our youth, and, for that matter, everyone, should face. We live in a society where, I believe, retaliation is encouraged. The sayings of Jesus: “Turn the other cheek and Love Your Enemies” are easily forgotten. In terms of violence and retaliation you have to turn no further than yesterday’s conversations in Congress.

    Forgiveness does not mean forgetting, or even justifying, violence. But yesterday, on the drive home to work, I was touched by a story on
    NPR. Joseph Shapiro recalled how the victims of family members at Nickel Mines attended the funeral of the killer. Amish families who had buried their daughters the day before hugged the killer’s widow and family members. Wow. I am honestly at a loss for words. I don’t think I could offer, or even pretend to offer, the same grace and forgiveness.

    Jonas Beiler, a member of the Amish community (and founder of the Family Resource and Counseling Center), says, “Tragedy changes you. You can't stay the same…Where that lands you don't always know. But what I found out in my own experience if you bring what little pieces you have left to God, he somehow helps you make good out of it…” Beiler also notes that the Amish can experience healing because they express forgiveness and carry no grudges.

    I think this is a lesson we can all carry with us. We need to learn how to heal and forgive. It’s impossible to escape tragedy in life. How we respond to such tragedy will likely shape not only us, but also our ministry.


    A Great Youth Ministry Disaster!

    And you think you've made mistakes. Michael, author of the Over-Educated Youth Pastor Blog, has graciously shared a story of an amazing youth ministry blunder he made in his early years of youth ministry involving a camping trip that he was lucky to survive. Read part one here and part two here. Oh, and for more self-flagellation, check out this great post on a sermon blunder he made many years ago. Reading these is a great reminder that we all make mistakes in ministry, some of them will be doozies, and yet there is grace. Besides all that, this relatively new blog has some very thoughtful posts on ministry, youth, planning ahead, and life in general.

    Tuesday, October 02, 2007

    The Discipline of Running

    For me, running is a spiritual discipline. When I run, all I can focus on (most likely because I’m always out of shape) is my hard breathing and the goal for the day (of course, I also like to look at the great scenery). But, seriously, running calms my mind and helps alleviate some of the everyday stresses.

    I try to encourage my youth to do some sort of exercise—swimming, running, biking, walking—and also see it as a spiritual discipline. In a society where obesity is a rapidly growing problem (no pun intended) it’s important for our kids to find a way to simply get out of the house and do some physical exertion. There’s all sort of benefits to exercise. Sometime soon, I may use this article as a discussion starter for youth group. This monk is serious about running.


    Monday, October 01, 2007

    Lately, life has been so busy I haven’t had much time to write. As youth ministers, and when I say ministers I mean anyone who works with youth (not just the ordained), we are constantly pushed to the max with Bible studies, worship, planning, service projects, committee meetings, and a million other events. So, last week, I was really looking forward to my fall retreat.

    Twice a year (as part of the Bethany Fellowship), I am able to join more than thirty other young ministers, in their first five years of ministry, for a week of relaxation, community, renewal, learning, prayer, and worship. For 36 hours, there is a mandatory silence. Then, once the silence is complete, we break into small groups and do in-depth “check-ins” and prayer. Each person is able to share their story and have a laying-on-of-hands as five or six different ministers pray for the person in the center of the circle.

    On the plane ride back home, I couldn’t help but reflect on what an important role the fellowship has played in my ministry. I am not only connected with thirty other young Disciple ministers who share my interests and passion, but also I know that I am kept in their prayers as I too keep each of them in mine.

    All of this is to say: Where are you finding support for your ministry?

    Ministry, particularly youth ministry, can be draining and lonely. We need to find ways to feed our soul and feel confident that we know we are never alone. I turn to the Bethany Fellowship, my family, my colleagues, my friends, my blog, and my youth. How about you? Where do you turn for support? How can we build a community?