Friday, December 19, 2008

    What's Wrong with Wall-E

    As the year draws quickly to a close, I thought one 2008 post that was worth revisiting was my review of the film "Wall-E" which generated more responses than any other post in the history of this blog. Needless to say, I had some real problems with this film and when my review here was linked to a national political blog, the comments starting rolling in (mostly from a lot of people who thought I was crazy). I loved the first 40 minutes of the film. It was the rest of the film that I, sadly, found offensive:
    Unfortunately, the second half of the film finds us and Wall-E on a floating ark in space, the home of the human race for the past 700 years while they wait for creation to reclaim itself on their garbage-strewn home planet. While the humans wait for the little white robot Eve (the "dove" in this version of Noah's ark) to find an olive branch and bring it back to the ship to show them the earth is inhabitable again, the people have nothing to do but wait. It is here that the Pixar folks demonstrate an amazing amount of insensitivity in portraying all the humans as shockingly obese "do-nothings" who spend their days laying on hovering lounge chairs, sucking on sugary slurpy drinks while watching TV and being waited on hand-and-foot by robots. As soon as this part of the story began playing out, I immediately wondered how any heavy-set people in the theater must be feeling. Even worse, how might any overweight children in the theater be feeling about this obviously negative portrayal.
    You can read the rest of the review (and subsequent comments) here. And just for the record: I stand by my original critique of the film and I have to imagine that Disney is also concerned about the perceived bigotry in the film. Why do I think this? Well, just as with the ad campaign for the theatrical release, there is no sign of the overweight characters in any of the ads for the DVD version.

    Now, if I could just find a home video copy with only the first half of the movie....


    Thursday, December 18, 2008


    With Christmas just a week away, this will likely be the last Advent discussion outline we offer for this season, but it's a fun one. I used this last Sunday with my youth and it generated some great conversation. This discussion invites youth to look at St. Nicholas, the origin of the Santa legend, and to understand how he is a model for following Christ's radical way of peace and care for others (as opposed to the commercialism of the mall Santa).

    OPENING UP: Play "Who is Santa?" This is simply just a holiday (and more youth ministry-friendly) version of the game "murder." Sit in a circle. Choose someone to be Rudolph and send him or her out of the room. Select someone in the circle to be Santa. When Rudolph returns, he or she is tasked with figuring out who is Santa. Meanwhile, Santa discretely winks at people in the circle. If you are winked at, you respond by saying "Ho, Ho, Ho!" The round ends when Rudolph catches Santa in the act of winking.

    REFLECTING: Next, as a larger group or in smaller groups of 2 or 3, invite the youth to each share their memories of Santa Claus from when they were kids. Where did you see him? What did he look like? What traditions did their families have about Santa Claus?

    DIGGING IN: Pass out the “Santa vs. St. Nicholas” handout. Have someone read the description of Santa and invite reflection on the role of Santa in our culture. Have someone read the description of St. Nicholas. Ask: From these descriptions, how would you say our modern-day version of Santa differs from his real-life inspiration? Perhaps create a list of descriptors for the two on a dry erase board or large pad of paper to show a comparison. Ask:
    • How do you think the story of St. Nicholas got twisted in “Santa?”
    • Who is in control of the “Santa” image today?
    • How would you change the Santa image to better make it fit the true life Nicholas and the Christian message?
    • What would you have him look like? What would have him doing?

    TAKING ACTION: Read together Luke 4:16-22. In this passage, Jesus declares his mission to the poor and the vulnerable through the words of the Hebrew scriptures. How do you see St. Nicholas taking up some of this radical call of the gospel? What is the challenge in this passage for us in the coming new year? Discuss: Jesus had a radical message about God's love for all people -- a love demonstrated not through "getting" but through "giving, not through power but through weakness: the weakness of a baby, of being a servant to others, of loving others, of turning the other cheek. If the mall Santa "preached" this message, how do you think people would react to him. If you preached this message at school, how would would your peers react to you?

    St. Nicholas followed in Jesus’ footsteps, serving others, caring for the poor, welcoming children, working for justice for all people. And he was put in prison for doing so. The world always wants to take the radical and make it tame. To make a St. Nicholas into “Santa Claus” and use him to help sell toys. To make a radical Jesus into a “goody two shoes” who just wants us to be nice people. It’s at Christmas time that we need to work harder than ever to reclaim our radical Jesus.

    Note: You can find out even more about St. Nicholas here, read an interesting comparison between Santa and Nicholas here, and see some helpful images here. Check out our other Advent/Christmas ideas here.

    Video: Someday at Christmas

    "Someday at Christmas" performed by Remy Zero.

    Wednesday, December 17, 2008

    Make-A-Christmas Tree Game: REVISITED!

    Responding to our recent idea for a wacky youth group activity called the "Make-A-Christmas Tree Game," Chad McDaniel shared that his group has been playing this game for several years now and he has provided photographic proof for your enjoyment. Thanks Chad! Anyone else try this yet? If so, send us your pics.

    It's the tinsel that really does it, don't you think!

    Monday, December 15, 2008

    Video: A Christmas Carol by Tom Lehrer

    Saturday, December 13, 2008


    Check out these useful Advent ideas and resources from around the web:

    Advent Study Guide - A nice set of Advent Bible studies complete with discussion questions, suggested activities and worship resources. Created by the Disciples of Christ Youth Commission.

    Christmas Worship Stations: Change the World - a series of creative suggestions for setting up a series of interactive worship stations with a Christmas theme, courtesy of Nailscars.

    Advent Worship Tricks - Johnny Baker provides a host of creative Advent ideas for worship and reflection. (HT to Digital Orthodoxy for pointing out these resources and others here.) 

    Encountering Advent - Some nice thoughts on leading students through a quiet evening of interactive reflection on the birth of Jesus. 

    Advent Icons - The ReJesus site, in an effort to counteract the sickly sweetness of the cultural Christmas observance, offers a series of images of the Nativity based on an an ancient Christian iconic painting.  Includes suggestions for meditation on each image. Could easily be turned into a cool set of worship stations. 

    Wednesday, December 10, 2008

    Make-a-Christmas Tree Game!

    So, last year we brought you the now infamous (and messy) "Make-a-Santa" game. Now we unveil this year's twist: "Make-a-Christmas-Tree!" Simply break into groups of 3 or 4 and have each group choose an "It" to be the tree. Provide groups with various decorations: lots of tinsel, bows (with sticky backs), garland, plastic ornaments, electric lights (Hmmm? Is that safe?), candy canes, and so on.

    Challenge each team to decorate their "it" person as a live Christmas Tree. You might even borrow the idea from the photo and have them wrap the person's feet to represent the gifts. How about flocking the "tree" with a little fake snow made of shaving cream! Just be sure to have goggles and a towel on hand. Finish with a fashion show of the decorated youth and a singing of "O Christmas Tree." (What's that you say? You've been playing this game for years? Then send us your photographic proof. We'd love to show the world!)


    I've written in the past about my fondness for the Christmas song "The Rebel Jesus" by Jackson Browne. Back in 2006 I wrote: "The song was originally recorded for Browne's 1991 holiday album with The Chieftains entitled 'The Bells of Dublin.' In many ways, it offers an antidote to the sickly-sweet portrait of Jesus that we often foist onto our children as they are growing up and counteracts the way commercial culture uses Jesus this time of year as a shill for holiday shopping excess."

    The following discussion guide uses the song "The Rebel Jesus" as a backdrop for inviting youth to consider the images of Jesus that confront us in this Advent season and the images of Jesus that have real meaning for us.

    On a large sheet of paper, write "JESUS" in large block letters. Pass out Post-it Notes to participants and invite them to write down titles or names they would give to Jesus that explain how people think about him, such as "Messiah," "Son of God," and "King" (one name per Post-it). Have each person stick their Post-its on the block letters. When all have posted, read some of the responses to the group. Another Option: Lay out a long sheet of butcher paper and have the group trace the outline of some one's body on the paper. Now, have the group work together to transform the outline into a portrait of Jesus, each teen adding his or her own personal touch. Afterward, discuss how the portrait represents many different ideas about how we see Jesus.

    REFLECTING: Invite youth to turn to someone around them and share which titles for Jesus are most meaningful to them. Ask: Where do we get our ideas about who Jesus was/is? (e.g. Bible, parents, media, experiences). Invite youth to consider that some people get their ideas about Jesus from their interactions with Christians and Christianity, and that these experiences are not always positive.

    DIGGING IN: Play the song "The Rebel Jesus" by Jackson Browne. It might be helpful to pass out copies of the lyrics to read as the song plays. In small groups discuss:
    • What words does the songwriter use to describe Jesus? Which of these images/words resonate with you?
    • What criticisms does the song writer have of Christianity? Culture?
    • How do you think he feels about Jesus as a person?
    • Where do you think the song writer has developed his thoughts about Jesus/Christianity?
    • What do you think of the song's observation that we have filled our churches with "pride and gold?"
    • Do you see any signs of the "rebel" Jesus in our typical celebration of the Advent season (in the malls, at Wal-Mart, in our decorations, or festivities)?

    REFLECTING: Just as we partially create an understanding of Jesus from our experiences, so too did the gospel writers create an understanding of Jesus from their experiences of being with other believers. Read together one witness to how they understood Jesus: Luke 2: 8-20. Considering Luke penned these words decades after Jesus’ death and possibly did not know Jesus personally, what do you think Luke might be trying to say to us about who he thought Jesus was? What could it mean that Jesus is first described as a tiny baby? Why include that as part of the story? What could it mean that Luke chooses to describe angels announcing the birth? Why use shepherds in the story (persons of low standing in that culture)? How do the characters react to the baby’s birth? What do people expect now that Jesus is born? Is this the way you would tell the "origin story" of a rebel?

    TAKING ACTION: What would it mean to say that we follow a "rebel" Jesus? Are the things he taught still radical in the world we live in today? Why not covenant as a group to do something rebellious in the name of Jesus this Advent? Something that will get the attention of others. Many years ago I worked with a youth group to hang a huge banner on the front of our church that read "How can we worship a homeless man on Sunday and ignore the homeless the rest of the week?" Cars and people passing by the church couldn't help but see it and it generated several complaints! What can your group do to challenge the status quo thinking about Jesus? What image of Jesus can your group offer your community that speaks to the truth of the Gospel? Perhaps the lyrics to the song can inspire you.
    See our other Advent ideas here.

    World Hunger...the Video Game

    The World Food Programme of the United Nations now has an online "SIMS"-like video game that helps educate players on the crisis in Darfur. The game can be downloaded or played online and "each mission represents a part of the process of delivering food aid to an area in crisis. The final mission shows you how food aid can help people rebuild their lives in the years following a disaster." Check it out here.

    Tuesday, December 09, 2008

    Claymation Christmas: Joy to the World!

    A great animated version of a traditional Christmas carol from the classic "Claymation Christmas" tv special.

    Thursday, December 04, 2008


    Here are a few more Advent-related links you might find useful:

    Online Advent Calendars- Pass this one on to your youth and use it yourself. This online advent calendar would be easy to adapt to hardcopy and given to your students. And this 2007 calendar has it all! More ideas than you can shake a stick at!

    Advent Retreats - Here is not just one but two complete outlines for Advent spiritual/scriptural retreats which can be done personally or in a group and can be explored as a one-day retreat or over several days during the season. Find related resources here.

    Start a New Tradition - Get a new Advent tradition started with your group that they can look forward to for years to come. Some good ideas here.

    Youth Minister Hotline!

    Responding to a recent post by Jacob on youth ministry and "the numbers game," one of our blogger friends, Dan, has asked for our collective wisdom on some struggles he's having. Read below and please consider sharing from your own experiences:

    Last night I had the opportunity to evaluate the success of my current ministry against what I know of the new church I am going to starting in January. I am scared. Currently I am on staff with an amazing team of 3 youth pastors and we reach a-ton of kids every-week through a variety of ministries. Now as I am getting ready to leave this ministry and move on to another I am frightened of the numbers game for three reasons.

    1. Going from team to Me

    2. A Significant decrease in budget

    3. Expectations of the hiring committee.

    Granted, I know these people are seriously growth oriented, especially within the last 2 years, but as I look at what I am leaving to where I am going, the numbers are keeping me from experiencing the joy I feel like I should have. I know in my heart numbers are silly, but trying telling that to the elder who runs a business, or lay-man who owns his own company. Sometimes i feel like all it comes down too is butts in chairs equals more money in the coffers, and more money means more programs, and more programs means more people and more people, means more success....Sigh. I need some encouragement.

    Your thoughts? Suggestions? Words of advice?


    Several weeks ago, we posted a video of the new (secular) song "How the Day Sounds" by Greg Laswell and challenged someone to come up with an outline for and Advent-themed discussion based on the song. Music teacher and seminarian Travis McKee picked up that mantle and offered up a thoughtful suggestion for engaging this hopeful song with youth. Travis describes how he leads others through the dicussion:

    It starts out simple. We comment on the weather. “I hate the cold.” It isn’t a shout, it isn’t a call to arms, it is just a statement. Then you start to see it spread. Other people start to hate the cold too. That one person in your class says, “This is stupid.” Again, it is just a statement. But, sure enough, we see many in the class start to agree. People do studies on the effects of violent TV on youth, but we are ignoring a greater influence: Complaining.

    When I was in high school and college, I noticed that what the majority of conversations got started with was a complaint about something happening. “I hate how hot it gets,” was a common complaint while practicing for marching band in July. The person standing next to you thought so too and spoke up with you. Then you got to talking about air conditioners and cool water. The next day, you spoke again about the heat. Eventually you start to talk about other things, but your relationship started over complaining. And once you ran out of things to complain about, you could stop talking or find something else to complain about.

    This was so odd to me, but maybe it was simple. If you are in Marching Band then you must love making music, but it is not a given that you hate the heat. Yet that friendship was formed not on the positive thing, but on the negative. Could it have happened if you turned and said, “I love marching band!”? That person next to you might have given you an odd look, but you could have sparked up a conversation about why you love it. Then when you ran out of things you loved about marching band, you could have found other things you loved. Notice the difference.

    How do we want to see the world? Do we want it to be a place of complaining and hate, or of loving and sharing? That window you see the world through has a lot to do with your perspective. You can look out a window with the shades closed and say, “All I see is these blinds. I wish I could see more.” Or do you look out the open window and say, “Isn’t the sun great? I love the things I can see.” And it all starts with your decision to see gloom or greatness.

    Advent is a time of waiting and anticipation. “When does Christmas get over?” “Do I have enough to buy that gift?” “Another Christmas party to go to? Gosh!” These are the things we hear from so many. But the church offers a different message: Peace, Hope, Love, Joy. It isn’t a shout, it isn’t a call to arms, it is just a statement. And what happens when this statement is spread around? We start to see why we get ready so early. We start to see these statements stick in our heads. We start to see how we can spread Peace, Hope, Love, and Joy. It all starts with a whisper. And then God’s spirit spreads it around.


    Darren Wright, of the excellent Digital Orthodoxy, has also offered up an insightful commentary linking the theme of this song to a reflection on Advent. He's posted it as part of his Alternative Hymnal.

    ADVENT VIDEO: "Joyeux Noel"

    This clip is from the award-winning French film "Joyeux Noel" which tells the true story of the remarkable (and unofficial) 1914 Christmas truce during WWI. In this scene, based on true accounts, German, Scottish, and French soliders are all barricaded in their trenches on Christmas Eve. A German soldier begins to sing a Christmas carol and eventually the enemy soliders of the other trenches join in. This eventually prompts them all to come up out of their hiding places, call a truce, and celebrate Christmas together. It's an excellent film, dramatizing both the darkness we acknowledge in Advent and the possiblity of the light to come. Show this film to your youth, or just enjoy it yourself.

    IMAGE OF THE DAY: Advent Peace

    Photo courtsey of my colleague Ron. You can find more of his inspiring images at his photoblog. --Brian

    Wednesday, December 03, 2008


    Technically, Jacob's previous entry is "Advent Ideas for Youth Ministry#3" so here comes #4. Despite what the surrounding culture might be telling us these days, it is not Christmas just yet! The word “advent” is derived from the Latin word for “coming.” It is this time of the year that we contemplate what it means that Christ comes into the world, into our lives, again and again. It is a time to focus our attention on Christ in new ways and in new places. To enrich your experience of Advent ,we offer up the following ideas to help you and/or your youth wait in expectation for the peace, hope, light, and love of Christ which is coming into the world once more.

    Give Globally– Honor a loved one by giving a monetary gift in their name to a global missionary through your church or denomination. Or, instead of lots of bought gifts (that will be forgotten a year from now) consider giving to organizations such as Heifer International.

    Organize a Canned Food Drive – Instead of focusing your entire Advent on shopping and decorating, gather together and sponsor a canned food drive for the local food depository or pantry.

    Attend/Host a Taize Service – The Taize experience is quite unlike traditional worship services. The music is simple and meditative, the sacred space is filled with candlelight, and in place of spoken liturgy there is silence and time for rest and contemplation. Scripture read aloud opens one’s thoughts. The practice of individuals lighting candles through out the service as an act of prayer keeps the focus on the needs of God’s world in this season of expectation.

    Watch a Film – Take time to just sit an enjoy a holiday-themed film and REALLY watch it. See it as an act of meditation. I would recommend "It's a Wonderful Life," any version of "A Christmas Carol," "One Magic Christmas," or "The Bishop's Wife" (the Cary Grant version!).

    Visit Goodwill – While everyone else is fixated on what they are getting for Christmas, put yourself in the giving spirit with some winter cleaning. Go through your closets and clothes and gather up all the usable items that you no longer need or want. Then deliver them to your local Goodwill or resell-it shop where they can be of use to others at a low price.

    Notice God’s Creation – Give thanks for the created world around you and get into the fun of decorating by creating special treats for the animals that live outside. Hang seed balls on the branches of your trees for the birds. Make festive garlands of cranberries, popcorn, raisins and nuts on heavy string and drape them on trees and bushes for the squirrels.

    Visit a Shut-in – Drop-in on a home bound person or invite him or her on a field trip to look at outdoor light displays or to enjoy to a yuletide concert or play. Gather together to carol at a local retirement community or nursing home.

    Celebrate St. Nicholas Day – December 6 is St. Nicholas Day. The story of Santa pales in comparison to the way this priest, later to become Bishop of Myra, lived a life of radical devotion to the gospel of Jesus. Take some time to learn more about Nicholas and consider the example he offers for living a life of Christian simplicity, compassion, and charity. A good place to start is here.

    Practice Fasting – Commit to fasting as a spiritual practice for a certain number of meals just one day each week in Advent. Allow this time to help you focus on the needs of others around the world who lack adequate nutrition. Consider using some of your fasting time for volunteering at local soup kitchen or food depository. Determine how much money you saved by skipping meals and donate the funds to a local hunger relief charity.

    Take it Slow - The stores were rushing headlong into Christmas even before Halloween, but we can adopt a practice of slowing down during Advent. Ease into the Christmas carols, the decorating, the baking. Savor the season. Have an Advent party instead of a Christmas party and create an event centered on lots of candlelight, quiet music, simple foods, storytelling, and rest. Adopt a craft and spend time making gifts for loved ones. Have a board game night. Limit the gift list and the parties you think you just "have to attend." Enjoy some silence and rest during this season.

    Celebrating Advent

    Here’s what we plan to do this Sunday night:

    1) begin with the Christmas Quiz

    2) Spend some time talking about how the birth of Christ is depicted, or not, in the gospels

    3) Spend thirty minutes in contemplative worship. This will include:

    A meditation room playing soft music. The room will have pictures of newborn babies. In addition, there will be six different signs posted on the wall saying:

    His birth…foretold in ancient writings.
    His birth…a miracle that would threaten an empire.
    His birth…would bring forth a revolution of new life and shine light into a world filled with darkness.
    His birth…would change the world forever
    His birth…would be the greatest gift God has ever given
    May the miraculous gift of Christ fill your home with faith, your heart with hope, and your life with love.

    A prayer room with a prayer banner on the wall. Youth are encouraged to write down their prayers. We’ll always have votive candles that may be lit for each prayer.

    A media room playing the Nooma video Noise.

    How about you? What are you planning?


    Tuesday, December 02, 2008


    The Edge! The Blaze! The Surge! The Core! Remember the good old days when we just called it "youth group?" Seems like every youth ministry now has to have some name that assures interested teens that "our group isn't boring!" (e.g. We're "On Fire!" We are living on "The Edge!") And often these names are clever acronyms for an even longer name (S.T.I.N.C. - Soulful Teens In Christ...or something like that). And having a cool name generally leads to having a cool logo, which leads to having cool shirts emblazoned with the logo and a cool website...and maybe even mugs, hats, boxers, and mouse pads. All in an effort to brand the youth ministry and to give it a distinctive identity. Which, in and of itself, is not a bad thing, I guess. It's certainly very in keeping with the corporate world we live in where teens can you tell you by heart the slogan for just about every product out there (Just do it! Have it your way! Think Outside the Bun!)

    But it makes me wonder....With the growing consensus amongst youth ministers that we've done a pretty good job of isolating youth from the wider church, doesn't branding of a youth ministry just add to this problem? Why create an identity for your ministry that is separate and distinct from the identity of your church? What is wrong with calling yourselves "the youth ministry of First Church" (or whatever your church's name happens to be)? Why not spend more time helping youth feel a part of the wider church community of which you are a part, rather than creating a niche identity that the teens may not even associate with the sponsoring congregation?

    Monday, December 01, 2008

    A Different Image of Mary

    Share this image of Mary with your youth. Invite them to share what thoughts and feelings it conjures up for them in light of the nativity story and the typical depictions we see of Mary in art and media. This image produced by Ben Bell.


    As we continue to share with you new ideas for observing the season of Advent with your youth ministry, don't miss these past posts related to Advent and Christmas:

    Putting the focus on something besides consumption (includes links to Advent Bible study guides).

    This Baby
    - A discussion guide centered on the Christmas song by Steven Curtis Chapman.

    Make-A-Santa Game
    - Fun with shaving cream!

    Silent Advent
    - Ideas for an Advent mini-silent retreat.

    Advent Worship Nite
    - Ideas for setting up a prayer center-based worship experience during Advent.
    See Advent Ideas #1 here.

    Wednesday, November 26, 2008

    Happy Thanksgiving from Fred!

    Happy Thanksgiving from "Rethinking Youth Ministry" and Fred, the most annoying teen (pretending to be a six-year-old) on Youtube!


    Even with visions of turkey dancing in your heads, I know many of us in youth ministry are already planning for ways to observe the season of Advent with our students. We will offer a host of ideas over the coming days, starting with a suggestion for combining contemplative prayer with a creative art project (a project that involves painting "what we don't see!").

    Though we think of Advent as the four weeks leading up to Christmas, the original observance was something altogether different. In the 4th and 5th centuries, Advent was known as a six week preparation for the season of Epiphany, not Christmas. During this time, much like Lent today, new converts prepared themselves for baptism and faithful believers examined their hearts. Though the focus of Advent is different for us today, the idea of Advent as a time of introspection remains.

    The following activity is designed to introduce youth to the notion of Advent as a season of contemplation, preparation, and expectation. In contrast to the rush towards Christmas in the culture around us, Advent offer a real opportunity to slow down and tune into those things that we might miss in our busy lives. Begin by introducing (or re-introducing) your youth to the ancient contemplative prayer practice known as The Awareness Examen.

    Opening Up: Invite youth to close their eyes and share with group any observation about the space around them. What have they noticed? What are people wearing? What hangs on the walls of the room? Who is seated next to whom? Now, divide into pairs. Invite each pair to talk about something for a minute or two. Next, have the pairs stand back-to-back and instruct each person to change their appearance in two or three ways. They might untuck a shirt, button the top button, remove a belt, mess up their hair, or take off their glasses. Now, have pairs face one another and attempt to discern what has changed in their partner's appearance.

    Reflection: How closely were they paying attention? How aware were they of the details of the room? How easy was it to figure out what changed in their partner's appearance? Use these activities to lead into a discussion of how much we tend to miss in the world around us. The Awareness Examen, an ancient introspective Christian prayer practice designed by Ignatius of Loyola, offers an opportunity to reflect on our daily lives and to attend to the details that we often miss, particularly to those that point to the way God comes to us in the regular routine and habits of our daily lives.

    Digging In: Introduce the basic flow of the Awareness Examen. Generally, one will want to set aside at least 10-15 minutes daily or weekly to go through these steps:
    • Find a quiet place and take some time to center yourself.
    • Think back over the day or week as if you were watching a movie of all that happened. Allow the experiences of that time to flow back to you. Ask yourself: What did I notice? What feelings or thoughts do I associate with this time?
    • Think about where you saw God at work during the day/week? Give thanks for these moments.
    • Think about where it seemed you were unaware of God's presence.
      Think about where you were resisting God's presence. Ask forgiveness for this shortsightedness. Consider where God may be calling you to a new awareness. What new actions/attitudes might God be calling you to in your work/family/ministry/community?
    • Close your time of prayer by giving thanks for the time with God and commit to greater awareness of God’s presence in the days to come.

    Taking Action: Having explained the process of the Examen and its purpose, invite the youth now to participate in a creativity activity that, like the Examen, asks the participant to attend to details that we generally would miss or ignore. Provide each person with a sheet of paper (preferably watercolor paper) and black paint and brush. Next, give each person a copy of the same photographic image. In the example shown here, we used a photo of a dead tree standing in a field. For the purpose of this activity, you need a fairly simple image with lots of negative space around it, so a bare tree works nicely (particularly if you crop the image so that the branches go right up to the edge of the border).

    Next, invite the participants to spend some time reflecting on the image of the tree -- to attend to the details. Ask them to notice what is there....and what isn't there. After several minutes, ask the youth to begin painting, but rather than painting a picture of the tree in the photo, challenge them to paint a picture of the spaces around the tree! Though at first this might be challenging, eventually the brain and eyes adjusts to simply seeing the shapes around the tree, rather than the tree itself. It is these shapes that they are to paint! (Note: another approach is for the participants to first draw the spaces in pencil on paper, then fill in the spaces with paint).
    Do this experience in silence, or with quiet music playing in the background. As they paint, quietly lead the group through the process of the Examen, inviting them to think about where they have seen God in the past day/week, where they were inattentive to God, where they resisted God, and so on.

    Reflection: As the group finishes, invite them to consider each others paintings. Note how different they are, even though each was painting the same image. What might this tell us about how we perceive the world around us? Invite responses to the painting activity. How could such an activity be an act of prayer? How was painting "what wasn't there" like or unlike the process of the Awareness Examen? Consider as a group how you might be more attentive to the presence of God in the coming days of Advent. Close in prayer.

    Wednesday, November 19, 2008

    Another "rethinking youth ministry" Sighting

    We are always on the lookout for colleagues who are working to "rethink" the old paradigms of youth ministry. Today I stumbled upon a great post at the Emerging Youth blog. Dan shares about his frustration with trying to play the "numbers" game and how he realized that there is more to a successful youth ministry than how many teens come through the door:
    I mistakingly thought that we would really “arrive” as an established youth ministry if we could begin hosting large events like this maybe once a month. I would lie awake at night imagining having multiple youth groups, kids coming in from the streets, maybe even attract a football player or two! All the while, never realizing that what we have already been doing…had been incredible and powerful.
    Read the rest of the post here and let Dan know what you think. And when you are done with that one, read a companion post of Dan's here.

    Tuesday, November 18, 2008

    POLL RESULTS: Biggest Youth Ministry Challenge?

    In our most recent poll, we asked you to share your opinion on the biggest challenge you face in your youth ministry work right now. It seems many struggle with getting their youth to seek a deeper experience of faith. Perhaps we are asking to much of ourselves and the young people we serve. I believe it was Mike Yaconelli who wrote several years ago that youth are really Christians-in-training. We shouldn't expect as much of them as we do ourselves. They need time to mature in their faith. Your thoughts? Here are the full results:
    What is the biggest challenge in your youth ministry work right now?

    30% (42 votes) Getting the youth to "dig deeper" in their faith.
    17% (24 votes)
    Increasing youth attendance.
    16% (22 votes) Balancing family and ministry.
    14% (20 votes) Recruiting enough good volunteers.
    9% (12 votes) Finding enough money to pursue our dreams.
    6% (9 votes) Trying to get parents involved.
    4% (6 votes) Everything is going great!
    4% (5 votes) Getting the church to take me seriously.

    Be sure to participate in our new poll in the sidebar!

    Music Video: "How the Day Sounds" by Greg Laswell

    I love this new song by Greg Laswell entitled "How the Day Sounds." I think we focus too much sometimes on all the troubles teens face. We talk with them about sex and divorce and drugs and depression and suicide and abortion and war and...on and on. It easy to forget, perhaps, that ultimately we have a message to share with them that is good news. Good news about hope, peace, faith, and love. This song comes out of a time of pain experienced by the songwriter and expresses a renewed hope and willingness to be a positive part of life again. I know there is a great discussion here somewhere for a youth group meeting. It might even make a great focus for Advent and the promise of "light" coming into the world. Who's up to the challenge of crafting one for the youth ministry blogosphere? We'll happily be the first to link to it when you do! Here are the lyrics:

    Who would've ever known it
    could be this easy
    Oh, I was a long, long way off
    And just like that it's over
    Everything that I knew of love
    I was a long, long way off
    And I think I like how the day sounds
    Like how the day sounds through this new song
    Thank you for opening the window
    The sky is clear as my mind is now
    I was a long, long way off
    Join me in welcoming the sun in
    It's much brighter than the night I hid in
    I was a long, long way off
    And I think I like how the day sounds
    Like how the day sounds through this new song (Repeat)
    From a long way down
    Yeah, it's well worth the time that it's taken to get here now
    So go ahead and bang a gong
    Nothing can drown out the sound of the whisper of my love
    And I think I like how the day sounds through this new song
    And the lines have all been drawn
    I know where I belong, where I belong
    Oh, won't you sing along? Oh my love, won't you sing along?

    Note: Yes, that is Elijah Wood in the video.

    GIMME! : A Short Lesson on Prayer

    In keeping with our look at how to invite youth to get beyond the wave of consumerism that is about to wash over our culture in the following weeks, we offer up this short Bible study discussion on the spiritual (and sometimes not-so -spiritual) practice of prayer:

    FOCUS: To help students examine their understanding of prayer as a spiritual practice.

    OPENING UP: Invite the group to pray with you and say:

    Dear God, we come before you and give thanks for everything we have. We ask that you continue to bless us. Give us the things that we need and the things that we want. Help us get the best MP3 players, the best video game systems, the coolest clothes, the hottest sports car. Help us make good grades on all our tests and homework, and help us to win and be number one at whatever we try. Most especially, bless our country so that we continue to be more powerful and more wealthy than any other country in the world. Thanks God. Amen.”

    Ask: If you heard this prayer in a worship service, how do you think you would react/feel? How is this prayer different/same as your idea of prayer?

    REFLECTION: Go around the circle and invite each person to finish the phrase “Prayer is...” with one word. Do this three times, encouraging them to use a different word each time. Encourage them to consider action words, descriptive words, symbols, emotions, etc. Keep a written list of their responses.

    Alternative: Pass out a handout with a variety of images on it related to prayer. The images might include folded hands, a person singing, someone walking in the woods, a lit candle, worshippers holding hands in a circle. Invite youth to share which pictures say something to them about how they understand prayer.

    DIGGING INTO THE TEXT: Read Matthew 6: 5-17 together. Ask: How could the text help shape our prayer practice? How might we pray differently than we do now in church/in private?

    Luke 18: 9-14 (The Pharisee & the Tax Collector). Ask: How do you think the Pharisee would define prayer? How do you think the tax collector would define prayer?

    Read Luke 5:16. Ask: What do you think about Jesus' practice of praying alone? What do you imagine he prayed about? What does your own prayer practice look like or what would you like it to look like?

    BRINGING TOGETHER SCRIPTURE & OUR STORY: Pose "The Big Question": Do you think God answers prayer? If so, how? What does a prayer sound like if it's not about asking for stuff? What part, if any, do we play in helping God to answer prayers (or own or those of others)?

    Encourage the group to reflect on the different ideas and images of prayer that you have discussed. Invite them to create (perhaps in silence, as an act of prayer) a group mural that illustrates, without words, different ways of understanding prayer.

    TAKING ACTION: Invite youth to take up a prayer practice in the coming weeks that involves "emptying" oneself of those me-centered desires and distractions that get in the way of a more meaningful prayer practice. Encourage students, like Jesus, to find a "secluded place" to pray, whether that be in their bedroom or outside in the woods or locked in the bathroom! Invite youth to use a prayer box or bowl as a way to begin their time of person prayer. This vessel could be used in two ways. One: place into the receptacle things or symbols of things that might distract you in your time of prayer or draw you into yourself instead of into God. These might include a cell phone, watch, TV remote, homework, money, etc. Two: place into the receptacle slips of paper on which you have written the names of people or places for which you want to focus your prayer time.

    Perhaps commit as a group to pray each day for one week at a certain time and for a certain number of minutes. Then, report back to one another about your experiences.

    Wednesday, November 12, 2008

    BIBLE STUDY: Making Room for God

    Like it or not, the "Christmas Buying Season" is upon us. Apparently, the secular culture never heard of Advent and started playing Christmas carols before Halloween had even come and gone. So, now might be the best time to get a little ahead of the game and try to steer your youth away from the cultural obsession this time of year with accumulating "stuff." The following Bible study is focused on the spiritual practice we might call "simplifying your life," something Jesus, the Desert Fathers, the monastics, and others in our rich tradition understood as a way to make more room for God in our lives.

    OPENING UP: (5 minutes)

    Count off students into groups of three. Tell them they have two minutes to try to make as long a list as possible of the things that they own. After the two minutes, have them reflect on the following questions with their small group:

    How many things on your list do you need?
    How many things on your list do you rarely use?
    How many things on your list would you be better off giving away?

    Consider showing clips from the documentary "What Would Jesus Buy?"(see above).

    REFLECTION: (10 minutes)

    Invite the group to participate in a quick quiz, perhaps standing or sitting as a way to vote "yes" or "no" on each item:
    1. Going shopping is sort of like a hobby or pasttime for me.
    2. I sometimes take my old clothes to a re-sell it store.
    3. I would work a job I hate to have enough money to buy the stuff I want.
    4. I'd want to buy the newest video gaming system (or other item), even if my old one worked just fine.
    5. I sometimes buy something because it's cool -- not because I need it.
    6. I would consider buying my clothes from Goodwill or the Salvation Army or other re-sell it store.
    7. There is too much "stuff" in my bedroom!

    Share that this Bible study is going to focus some time on talking about "things" that clutter up our lives. We all have stuff in our lives. We buy lots of it. Lots of it is given to us. Even right here in the church. Look around at all the stuff in your youth room/the church. These things are a big part of our lives and it's worth it to spend some time thinking about how they affects our spiritual lives.

    DIGGING INTO THE TEXT (25 minutes)

    Separate into three groups. In this activity, each group will explore a biblical text that speaks to how much importance we should place on our material possessions. Invite participants to listen to a scripture passage and think about what it might have to say about the thingsin our lives:

    Group 1: Luke 12: 13-21 The Parable of the Rich Fool
    Group 2: Luke 21: 1-4 The Widow’s Mite
    Group 3: Matthew 19: 16-21 The Rich Young Man

    Invite the group to prepare a skit or pantomime based on the parable, with one or more persons reading the text as the others act it out.


    Bring the whole group back together. Share that, in the Gospels, Jesus talks about our fixation on money and material goods more than anything else. He is remembered as someone who clearly felt that how we view the importance of possessions in our lives has a real impact on our relationship with God.

    Have the small groups stage their parable for the whole group. Invite the participants to think about what the stories have to say about how we live in the world today.

    After each group performs, pose the questions below to the group. Invite them first to respond by sharing with someone next to them. As time permits, invite one or two persons to share their thoughts with the total group:

    What character(s) are you most like right now when it comes to the possessions in your life? How do you see the character’s posessions encouraging or getting in the way of their relationship with God?


    Jesus, a poor man living in a world where most people were so poor that they only had the food they needed to live day-to-day, is remembered as teaching people to be careful about thinking that “things” would make them happy. He invited people to see that true life was about something better than just having lots of stuff. But he also knew that in order to see that better way of life, sometimes we have to let go of some of the clutter that keeps us from seeing God’s love more clearly.

    Read Matthew 6: 19-21 and invite the group to meditate on the passage in silence or perhaps by using the ancient prayer practice of lectio divina.


    Brainstorms some ideas as a group for simplifying your lives, including giving up some unneeded possesions. Try some of these ideas for starting this practice today. Perhaps take on a challenge as a group to adopt some some of these practices during the holiday season.

    Close in prayer.

    Some of this Bible study was inspired by the resources from the Way to Live text and companion site. Check it out!

    Tuesday, November 11, 2008

    Teens & Sex: What do you think? Part II

    The New Yorker has an interesting article on teenagers and sexuality, particularly teenagers with an evangelical background. The article claims that red states have more abstinence-only programs and a higher number of teenagers who make promises to not have sex before marriage. Surprisingly, perhaps, these (socially-conservative) states have higher rates of STD’s and teenage pregnancies than more liberal blue states. The author claims that evangelical-protestant teens, due to the sexual education they receive, are less likely to use contraception. Using contraception may suggest to these teens, and others, “that they are looking for sex.” Finally, the article states that the age at which individuals marry may be the “pivotal” difference between red and blue states—data suggests that red state couples marry earlier and have greater divorce rates.
    For the past several years, the church I serve has been creating programs and ministries that specifically address teenage relationships and teenage sexuality. We recently received a grant to partner with sixteen other churches and help them develop (over the next two years) their own programs and ministry that will focus on teenage sexuality and relationships. I tend to think the article is correct in its observations. What do you think?

    Monday, November 10, 2008

    TEENS & SEX: What Do You Think?

    This Friday I will be part of a panel discussion of clergy and rabbis speaking about teen sexuality and pregnancy. We will be discussing this issue from a religious perspective and our point of view as leaders working with youth. I've posed several of the panel questions below. Let me know what you think. Share your expertise with our blog readers and I'll pass it on to the audience at the event:

    How do you make yourself approachable to youth who have questions about sexuality?

      How do you teach parents to talk to their teens about sexuality?

      What are the messages you try to convey?

      How can those in a secular setting create safe space for teens to explore their faith?


    Monday, November 03, 2008


    What do you think of Hell? Chadwick isn't too fond of it, at least not as depicted in the documentary "Hell House." Chad watched the movie after seeing it mentioned on this blog and offers up a good review and some good questions for pondering.

    Who's in charge? Have you always thought youth-led ministry was a great idea but you just couldn't figure out how to do it without ending up getting yourself fired? Check out these two excellent posts at the Global Youth Ministry Network blog for some great ideas.

    What is God Like? That's the question Grahame is posing at the Insight Blog and he's crafted a complete discussion/Bible study to help you explore the issue with your youth.

    How Can I get a free youth website? Glad you asked. Weebly is a really easy to use free service that makes designing a youth group website fast and simple. Here's the one I built in about one hour.

    What else can I put on my Ipod? How about one of these great youth ministry-based podcasts from the Fuller Youth Institute.

    How fun is duct tape? You might be surprised. In fact, Len has enough duct tape activities to keep your group busy for a whole night!

    What is the "Pig of Truth?"
    Find out in this insightful post at the pomomusings blog all about maintaining rituals in youth ministry and finding a place to let the Spirit move.

    Friday, October 31, 2008

    Happy Halloween!

    "I got a rock!" Hope your Halloween works out a little better! Need some last minute Halloween ideas? Check out this list at the Youth Ministry Ideas blog.

    THE YOUTH VOTE II: Faith & Politics

    A seminary friend and fellow youth minister, Lori Tisher, shared with us a Bible study/discussion guide she developed to help youth consider the interaction of faith and politics. You'll find an adapted version of that guide below. If it's too late to use it for this election season, perhaps save it for the next time you are getting ready to vote.


    Draw an imaginary line down the middle of the room. One end represents agree, the other disagree and every gradation of opinion in between. Make a statement and tell the youth to go to the place on the imaginary line that would match their response. To help the youth think even deeper, for some questions, ask a person or two to explain why they placed themselves where they did on the line.

    Sample statements:

    I am more interested in voting on issues rather than specific candidates.
    If I could vote in the upcoming election, I would vote for the same people or issues as my parents.
  • The media and poll results highly influence my political opinions.
    My life experiences (where I’ve lived, people I have interacted with, etc.) shape how I vote.
  • I would vote for a candidate based on their appearance – what they look like, etc.
  • A candidate’s technological knowledge (internet use, etc) is very important.
  • A candidate’s sexual orientation (if they are gay or straight) would influence my vote for them.
  • I think the only way to honor the separation of church and state is to not talk about politics at all at church.
  • I think the faith of a candidate is important when deciding who to vote for.
  • My faith influences who I would vote for.


    Invite youth to read the following scripture passages aloud and then share with them the corresponding comments and questions:

    Genesis 17: 1-7
    When Abram was 99 years old, God appeared to him … and said, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall now be Abraham … I will make you exceedingly fruitful and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. I will establish my covenant between you and me and your offspring after you … to be an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.

    Notice: Faith and politics were connected in ancient Israel. The ancient people believed that God’s promise to be in relationship with them was intertwined with their political system (anointing kings). The theological claim they are making throughout scripture is that God cares about what they do and how they act, including who they give power to and how they rule.
    Question: Is this true for people of faith today? For you? How?

    Psalm 9:7-8 and Psalm 10:16a
    The Lord sits enthroned forever. God has established God’s throne for judgment. God judges the world with righteousness; God judges the peoples with equity. . . .The Lord is king forever and ever.
    Notice: The ancient people tried to understand who God was by comparing God to a king or political figure (an image they were very familiar with). What is important to God, according to this passage?

    Question: Is this still a good comparison (God – king) to help us understand who God is today? What is important to God in our world today (this question will be answered more fully in later exercises)?

    Matthew 22:21
    Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.
    Notice: Even in Jesus’ time, the question of separation of religion and state was a sticky topic.

    Question: Do you know people of faith who refuse to pay taxes today, as an act of civil disobedience? (because the taxes support war efforts, etc.)?

    Luke 17: 20-21
    The Pharisees asked Jesus when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, The kingdom of God is not coming with these things that can be observed; nor can we say “Look, here it is!” or There it is!” For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.

    Notice: Jesus talked a lot about the kingdom of God. He used language and concepts with which the people were familiar (kingdoms). The kingdom of God was completely different from any kingdom the people had known, though. The kingdom of God was a “place” in which God’s values – of righteousness and equity – dominated; completely opposite from any kingdom that the people were familiar with (in which the rich and powerful oppressors ruled). The people had a very hard time understanding the concept of this new kingdom of God.
    Question: Does the kingdom of God exist today? What does it look like? How do we strive towards it or help bring it about?

    Romans 14:17
    The kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
    Notice: Paul was explaining to the people of Rome that in order to create and live in a world that would be in line with God’s values (the kingdom of God), they shouldn’t be so worried about following all of the old laws – about what to eat, etc. – but instead they should care about being compassionate and respectful to their neighbors.

    Question: How can we create the kingdom of God and live in a world that would be in line with God’s values today?

    Consider passing out copies of your local ballot (likely available on the internet from your local board of elections.) Review with youth the ballot issues and candidates,, making special note of interesting facts (i.e. there are actually several people running for president!).

    The youth may want to spend more time discussing the specifics of the hot topic current issues in your community. If time permits, ask if any of the youth have any strong feelings – as people of faith - about any of these ballot issues or candidates. This is a question which has the potential for leading into a heated debate. You will need to be careful to allow youth to express themselves respectfully, without allowing the discussion to get out of hand and lose control of the session.

    Option One: Many organizations develop “voter guides” which include suggestions to help voters decided who or what to vote for. Invite youth to work in small groups to develop their own “voter guide” that would reflect the things they believe God cares about and the issues that they believe are closest to God’s heart (whether they are on the ballot this election or not). Based on their understanding of who God is and what God’s dreams are for the world (what does scripture say, what do we learn about God in church, what do you know about God from personal experience), how would God influence us to vote? Some suggestions to include in the “voter guide”: healthcare, war, environment, human rights.

    Option Two: Invite youth to pick one of their faith priorities and find two other youth who also share that faith priority. As a team, challenge them to brainstorm how they might get involved with this issue. What sorts of things can they do – as teens today – to affect the political process concerning this issue? Have the teams then create a poster that promotes their ideas and then show the posters to the whole group at the end of the discussion.