Thursday, January 31, 2008

    On Fred Phelps & Gay Teens

    WARNING: Controversial Waters Ahead!! Enter at Own Risk!!
    I've wondered lately at all the protest against Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church members for their picketing of the funerals of military persons killed in war. The outcry spread even further when Phelps recently announced plans to picket the funeral of Heath Ledger because he had played a gay man in the excellent film "Brokeback Mountain." Curiously, I do not recall so many people speaking out so loudly when all Phelps was doing was protesting at the funerals of gay men and women. Case in point: It wasn't until Phelps began picketing at military funerals that some states started passing laws to prohibit such behavior. When he was only picketing the funerals of gay people, it was apparently a nuisance but not something to legislate against.

    I reflect on this as I think back to the sexuality retreat with my youth last weekend. When the topic of homosexuality came up with the boys in the group, it was clear that times have changed. They talked about students being "out" at school and being completely accepted. How different things were even a few years ago.

    I was reminded of this when I recently made contact on Facebook with a young man who had been a peripheral participant years ago in my first youth group. In his message to me he recalled how, years ago, he'd asked to meet me one afternoon at the school where I was teaching. We'd never had much interaction so I wondered what he might need to talk about. We were only a few minutes into the conversation when he shared concerns about his sexual orientation, his parents' insistence that it was only a phase, and asked what he was to make of the condemning messages he'd received from the church. He was looking for me to explain what possible future there was for him as a person of faith if he was gay. And all I could share with him was what for me is the deepest truth of the gospel message: "God loves you. God has created you, just as you are, in God's image. You are one of God's blessed children. People will judge you throughout your life no matter what you do or who you are. But God's love is unconditional." And now, these many years later, he shared with me how important that simple talk had been in his young life in helping him accept himself and respect himself. He's since gone on to get an education and devotes much of his time to working on justice issues in his community.

    I share this knowing that those who read this blog have many different opinions, and we will not all agree on what the Church's stance should be on issues of sexual orientation. But surely there is always room to treat our young people with respect, to share with them the message of God's abundant love. We can never know how much of an impact we are having on the young lives entrusted to us. It is our responsiblity to treat each young person we serve with the utmost care and grace. So often the Church sounds more like Fred Phelps and the message "you are a sinner and must change." I wish we spent at least as much time spreading the equally valid bibical message "You who others have placed in bondage, you who are oppressed, you who are the outsiders: know that God desires for you release and freedom. God desires you to be all that you were created to be. God cherishes you as God's beloved."


    POLL RESULTS: Sexuality Education with Teens

    We recently asked you to share your opinions on what topics would be appropriate as part of sexuality education in youth ministry. The results of what you thought was most important to teach, and what you might not want to teach at all, are below:

    Relationships/dating 21%
    Body image and culture 19% Homo/Bisexuality 16%
    Abstinence only 15%
    Masturbation 13%
    Abstinence & safe sex 8%
    Male/Female anatomy 5%
    Demonstration of condoms 3% 

    Last weekend, my youth group held a sexuality retreat and all indications from the youth suggest it was a useful and important event. We covered, to greater or lesser degree, every issue above except the condom demonstration (I leave that to the schools to teach!). Most of our retreat actually focused on the same issues that came out on top in our poll: developing healthy relationships that reflect God's love, issues around body image and the way culture shapes our values about self-worth, and the implications of being made in the image of God. We also spent a good deal of time doing activities designed to help the youth become more comfortable with talking about sexuality issues in a church setting.

    Perhaps the most interesting parts of the event came each time we opened the box in which youth had been encouraged to place anonymous questions. We would read some aloud and invite the adults to share their thoughts. I think the youth were, at first, amazed at the frankness and honesty with which we answered some of their questions (many of which were either on anatomical issues or attempts to learn the truth behind commonly held misconceptions). As adult leaders, we realized that honesty and directness were paramount to developing trust with our group on this issue. It is our hope that we have only begun a discussion that will continue and that the youth will begin to see that there is indeed a connection between their identity as persons of faith and the gift of their sexuality.

    For those interested, one of the primary sources we utilized for the event was the excellent curriculum Our Whole Lives, published jointly by the United Church of Christ and the Unitarian Univeralists (and also recommended by our fellow blogger Marie.) If anyone is interested in seeing the outline of our retreat activities, I'd be happy to share it with you.
    -- Brian


    Here's a community-builder game for youth ministry that can be a lot of fun but also encourages communication and teamwork. Place a note card on each participant's back with one taco ingredient listed on each card (shell, meat, cheese, lettuce, tomato, sauce, shell). Give everyone a few minutes to mingle around the room and attempt to figure out which ingredient they represent by asking each other "yes" or "no" questions. Next, share with the group the correct order of ingredients and then shout "I want a taco!" This is their signal to work as fast as they can to line up in groups that represent the taco ingredients in the correct order. For best results, be certain you have enough people and labels so that everyone is able to be part of a complete taco. And if your group has a strong vegan element, forget about the meat! (Give yourself bonus points if you can adapt this game to a different set of ingredients that fit your particular group best).

    Ideas for Lent #2: Mutanga Challenge

    Lent, for many, means a few weeks of "giving up" something -- coffee, chocolate, soda, watching episodes of "American Idol!" What we often miss is that the reason for "giving up" something as a Lenten practice is not to show the strength of our will. Rather it is to make space for something thing else. If we give up TV, then we should use that extra time to do something positive with our family, friends, church, or community. If we give up coffee, we should take all that money we would've spent at Starbucks and give it to a worthwhile cause. To that end, you might want to consider inviting your youth to be part of the Mutanga Challenge which works to provide microloans to those living in poverty in Africa. In a nutshell:

    One billion people live on a dollar a day or less! The Mutunga Partnership is trying to turn this tragic statistic into a tool for raising awareness, for building a sense of community with the poor, and for raising funds for micro-credit development. The idea is that a household lives on a food budget of $2.00 a day, per person for a week. The money saved is then donated to The Mutunga Partnership. This idea doesn’t require finding extra cash – just a temporary change in lifestyle. It’s a challenge!

    If one thousand families, households or groups did the ‘challenge’ once a year, $100,000 could be raised. This is enough to fund loans for 1,000 micro-entrepreneurs, lifting their families permanently out of poverty, and providing employment for many more. If the challenge was taken up more than once a year, with an ever-widening circle of participating units, many more thousands of our sisters and brothers among the poor could be given a helping hand.
    You will find more information here and ideas on doing the $2 challenge here.

    UPDATE: Check out this great feature at displaying a series of images from the book Hungry Planet showing 16 different families around the globe and exactly how much they eat in one week. The disparity is sobering.

    Tuesday, January 29, 2008

    Reel Geezers review "Juno"

    It's about time that this blog, so focused on the young, hears a few words from the "young at heart."

    Creating Identity

    Last Sunday night, I had a great lesson planned for poverty. But Saturday night, as I was praying and reflecting about the plans for Sunday, I felt a nudge from God to teach something else (I have no other way to explain it). I felt a calling to have a discussion about Facebook, and the recent suicide, with my youth.

    Here’s how the evening looked:

    • After a few introductory games and activities, we listed out the ways we form our identities
    • Next we looked at identities from a Biblical perspective
    • Then we discussed the different ways in which someone may portray one identity at school and something totally opposite at home
    • This led us to how identities are formed on Facebook
    • Lots of good discussions on why people form a different identity on Facebook than in real life
    • We had honest conversation about our need to feel affirmed and liked
    • We also had conversation about how hard it is to share with someone how you really feel
    • A number of youth felt Facebook allows you to say something to someone, both good and bad, that you would never say face to face
    • The end of our discussion focused on ways we can allow people to present the identity they want to present at church.

    Overall, the discussion went well. One of our youth was friends with Megan—the young girl who committed suicide. I came away from the conversation convinced that: 1) our youth have a strong desire to try on a variety of different identities; 2) our youth really want to be liked; and 3) when things go bad, and people start posting negative comments, if there is no one to turn to events can quickly become disastrous. I think it’s the job of the church to remind youth that the teachings of Jesus accept anyone, particularly the outsiders, and we are always hear to listen.

    Monday, January 28, 2008


    As Lent approaches, it's time to start thinking about ways to make this season of the church year meaningful for our youth, many of whom likely have no idea that Lent isn't something they find in their pockets. Over the course of the next few weeks we'll be sharing a variety of resources and ideas that we hope you will be able to adapt for use with your group. If you have any favorite Lenten ideas, projects, worship experiences, or online resources you'd like to share with colleagues in youth ministry, please feel free to pass them on and we'll credit you/your blog.

    First up, a cool resource I spotted last year on Jonny Baker's emergent worship blog. "40" is a series of cartoon-like illustrations depicting Jesus' journey through the desert. These images would be perfect for use in a PowerPoint worship presentation, part of worship centers, or used with a creative Bible study. They have no captions so the images lend themselves to imaginative storytelling and interpretation. You can purchase theminexpensively either in video or pdf format.
    (Lent graphic above adapted from anajemstaht at Flickr)


    I'd like to send my whole youth group out right now to see the new film "Juno," but I wonder if it's one of those "slice of teenage life" movies that requires some distance from your adolescence years in order to really appreciate it. This hilarious and moving film follows the story of Juno MacGuff, a precocious 16-year-old high school girl who finds herself pregnant after a single sexual encounter with her best friend, Paulie Bleeker. Should she have an abortion? Should she keep the baby? What about giving it up for adoption? Now, this whole thing could play out like a bad "after-school special" with caricatures galore. It could have played like a sermon full of moral outrage complete with a quick wrap up at the end to make everything better.

    Fortunately, "Juno" is none of these. The characters are almost all pitch-perfect real. I've met some Juno's in my years in youth ministry: acerbically smart and caring teenage girls who try their best to resist the sexual stereotypes that our culture forces on all adolescent females. I've met Paulie Bleeker's: sweet, shy, and mostly clueless teenage boys who think the most important things in life are running with their track buddies on cold autumn mornings and keeping a ready supply of orange tic-tacs on hand. I've met Juno's parents: working class folks trying to do what's best for the children, and loving them unconditionally despite the stupid things their kids do.

    "Juno" allows these characters to inhabit a story that deals honestly with the realities of teen sex, pregnancy, the trivialities of high school, the desire for family, and the need to be needed. As Juno's father puts it when she asks if it's possible for two people to stay together forever:
    In my opinion, the best thing you can do is find a person who loves you for exactly what you are. Good mood, bad mood, ugly, pretty, handsome, what have you, the right person will still think the sun shines out your ass. That's the kind of person that's worth sticking with.

    Thursday, January 24, 2008

    Frontline Documentary: Growing Up Online

    Watch full program online here.

    In Growing Up Online, FRONTLINE takes viewers inside the very public private worlds that kids are creating online, raising important questions about how the Internet is transforming childhood. "The Internet and the digital world was something that belonged to adults, and now it's something that really is the province of teenagers, " says CJ Pascoe, a postdoctoral scholar with the University of California, Berkeley's Digital Youth Research project."They're able to have a private space, even while they're still at home. They're able to communicate with their friends and have an entire social life outside of the purview of their parents, without actually having to leave the house."

    Wednesday, January 23, 2008

    Self-Serve Youth Ministry Link Dispenser

    Is "You Tube" the Enemy? This review of new Frontline doc about teens and the big bad computer world suggests we might be jumping too quickly to sound the alarms about the dangers of the internets. You can watch the whole documentary here.

    Jesus at 16: What was Jesus like as a teen and what might a biblical exploration of his adolescence teach us about today's teens and their parents? Check out this creative essay at TheoCenTric.

    A Different Kind of Youth Sunday: A Mennonite church creates a cool rite of passage service to celebrate the coming-of-age of their youth. See a description of the service here and the thoughtful sermon addressed to the youth here.

    To "Famine or not to Famine?": Calvin contemplates whether or not his group is up for the challenge of the 30 Hour Famine while raising some important issues about what youth ministry should really be about.

    Who is the thumb? Grahame offers up an entire program's worth of material for a youth study of the Body of Christ.

    Animoto - Video Creator

    This promo for our blog was created at the website where you just upload photos, select a song from their music library (or your computer) and their program does the rest. 30-minute videos are free and longer ones come with a minimal charge but are also downloadable.

    Monday, January 21, 2008


    Thanks to all who entered our recent "lectio divina" contest. Our randomly selected winner is Tim Lynch. Tim, contact me by email ( with your address and we'll get those free youth ministry resources out to you right away. And stay tuned for another contest very soon!

    -Brian & Jacob


    One of my youth sent this to me via Facebook. It reminds me of my distaste for much of the stuff I see when I go into Christian bookstores. We have commodified and commercialized our faith, perhaps into irrelevance for some in our culture.

    Thursday, January 17, 2008

    God's Gift of Sexuality Retreat

    Earlier this fall, I attended a conference for Youth Ministers, hosted by Youth Specialties, in St. Louis. One of the sessions I attended, led by Chap Clark, focused on identity and sexuality in teenagers and adolescents. Chap had a great clip from the HBO video "Middle School Confessions." I tried to get a copy of this video. Unfortunately, HBO will not release it for sale. A summary of the video, taken from the HBO website, is pasted below:

    Running Time: 73 minutes

    Genre: Family

    Drinking, sex, violence, depression, school failure, and harassment. These are just some of the daily realities of life for many of today's adolescents. This documentary takes an eye-opening look at the lives of young people--as well as the efforts of parents, teachers and school officials to help kids navigate through these often-difficult transitional years. The show will feature candid interviews with 11- to 14-year-old students including a 12-year-old girl whose mother discovers her startling sexual behavior, a 13-year-old boy who instigates fights at school and a 12-year-old boy who suffers from clinical depression.


    If anyone knows how I could get a copy of this, I would really appreciate it. When we hold our information meetings this spring with parents, I would like to show the video. My guess is that after seeing these interviews, parents would be more inclined to have their children attend. The HBO schedule looks like it shows the film twice a month.

    Also, if anyone else has good resources that they use for sexuality retreats, please share. I think it's important, as we've mentioned before, for the church to address sexuality and provide a safe, and welcoming, environment for youth to share their thoughts, questions, and fears.


    Wednesday, January 16, 2008

    Do you hear what I hear?

    Teenagers can be so funny. Sometimes, I feel like whatever I say goes in one ear and out of the other. The humor can fade quickly. Luckily, I’m not the only one who feels this way. Yesterday, I came across an article in Reader’s Digest entitled “Words to Inspire: 7 things you should say to your kids and seven things you shouldn’t.” The authors claim, big surprise, that your child may not hear the words you’re sure you said. Here are their suggestions:

    1. What you say: You’re the best!
    a. What they hear: Your job in life is to make me happy.
    b. A better way to say it: You should be proud of how hard your worked.

    2. What you say: Watch your language
    a. What they hear: I’ve tuned out what you’re really trying to say.
    b. A better way to say it: I’m so glad you came to talk to me, but I have one request for the future. I find that word offensive, so please don’t use it.

    3. What you say: We can’t afford that
    a. What they hear: Money is the answer to everything
    b. A better way to say it: The store is filled with great things today, but we’ve got lots at home already and we’re not going to bring home anything more.

    4. What you say: Don’t worry—it’ll be okay
    a. What they hear: You’re such a drama queen
    b. A better way to say it: I totally understand what you must have gone through. Tell me about it.

    5. What you say: Don’t talk to strangers.
    a. What they hear: Anyone you don’t know is trying to hurt you
    b. A better way to say it: Don’t talk to people who make you feel uncomfortable. Here’s how to tell.

    6. What you say: Make sure you share
    a. What they hear: Give away your stuff
    b. A better way to say it: Jesse would like to play with your race car for a while, but it’s still yours and he will give it back.

    7. What you say: Why did you…(miss your curfew, hit your sister, etc…)
    a. What they hear: You messed up again
    b. A better way to say it: My guess is that you missed your curfew because you were having fun and didn’t want to come home, but that’s still not okay.

    Some of these statements I agree with, some seem totally off the chart. What do you think?


    Tuesday, January 15, 2008

    If You Don't Enter...You Can't Win!

    You are invited to enter our very first Rethinking Youth Ministry Contest! And entering is simple -- all you have to do is post a comment.

    This first contest will be a sort of on-line group Lectio Divina. Take a few minutes to sit in silence and read through the scripture text below, just to get the sense of the passage, focusing on what it might be saying to you and your situation in life/youth ministry right now. Then just post a quick comment about your reactions and thoughts about the passage. Everyone who posts their thoughts will be entered in a drawing to win two youth ministry texts:

    When Kumbaya is Not Enough: A Practical Theology for Youth Ministry by Dean Borgman (The title alone makes it a book worthy of sitting on your shelf!)

    Tough Topics: 600 Questions That Will Take Your Students Beneath the Surface by Jim Aitkins (great little book for lock-ins, road trips, or weeks when you need a quick last-minute discussion starter).

    Contest ends midnight this Sunday, JAN. 20.

    Here's your text:

    Matthew 5:1-12
    When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
    “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

    Monday, January 14, 2008

    Hard As Nails?

    Anyone else catch the HBO documentary about the Hard as Nails youth ministry and its founder Justin Fatica? In the doc he is referred to as a "non-ordained catholic minister" (not certain what that means) though his schooling is in the area of education. His ministry takes a decidedly "in your face" approach to attract teens, particularly those from troubled backgrounds. It's sort of a "scared straight" for youth ministry. I have to say that this fellow seems sincere in his desire to help youth. But screaming his sermons, tying 12-year-olds to crosses, blindfolding them, pretending to beat and kick them, and having others scream insults at them like drill instructors (so that they can know what Jesus endured for them) borders on or perhaps teeters right over into abuse. Fatica seems to be taking Catholic guilt related to the crucifixion of Jesus to a new level not seen since the flagellants of the 13th century (who were declared heretics by the Church). And yet he has a growing following of teens who are responding to his version of Christianity that pairs the benefits of Jesus' love with the threat of damnation.

    All this sounds like yet another example of a youth ministry movement that, whether intentional or not, is manipulating the teenage brain. Fatica's techniques take advantage of that fact that the frontal lobes of a teenager's brain (the center of logic and reasoning) are much less developed than the amygdala, a brain structure that governs the fear response and other emotions. The Hard as Nails program is designed to elicit an extreme emotional response from teens. Many of Fatica's public appearances reportedly bring teens to tears. But (and I mean this seriously) NSYNC used to send lots of teens into fits of emotional overload, but they grew up and got over it. Just how long lasting will the Hard as Nails approach be with the young people who get caught in its cathartic wave? I have to wonder if, in the long-run, these teens would benefit much more from counseling with a trained therapist.

    Many reviewers of the documentary comment that it does seem that Fatica is "reaching teens." But to what end?


    Friday, January 11, 2008

    Emergency Room Youth Ministry?

    The other day I came across an article in the New Yorker entitled: The Checklist. In a nutshell, the article claims that a basic “Checklist” can drastically improve your chances of survival in the ER. Some of the great difficulties of emergency room medicine are that doctors and nurses get in a hurry, become over-confident, and fail to do some very basic, yet significantly important procedures, such as properly sterilizing a catheter, when in a rush. By following basic, elementary procedures, your chance of survival, and likelihood of avoiding infection in the ER, greatly increases.

    So, you may be asking: How does this relate to youth ministry? The answer is that youth ministry, while not often dealing with life or death situations, does have extremely similar parallels. In youth ministry, we attempt, through a variety of different “procedures” to change the lives of our youth. Sometimes, we get over confident. Sometimes, we get in a hurry. Sometimes, we overlook the very basic gifts of youth ministry that called us into this particular ministry to begin with. If you had to develop a basic checklist for your youth ministry, what would it look like? In no particular order, this is what I came up with. I hope you will each add your own responses:

    • Learn the names of your youth
    • Develop relationships
    • Visit youth in their own settings
    • Utilize parents and volunteers
    • Focus on spirituality, not entertainment
    • Pray often
    • Pray with your youth
    • Create youth leaders
    • Take mission trips
    • Involve youth in planning, preparation, and fundraising of mission trips
    • Have Bible studies
    • Seek the truth, even when it is uncomfortable
    • Foster good communication with youth, parents, and everyone involved with the youth program
    • Do not overlook the importance of your own family
    • Take time for self-care
    • Go to conferences, particularly conferences that might make you uncomfortable
    • Read good books
    • Be yourself
    • Realize you will not connect with all of your youth, but it is important to find individuals who can help you connect with all of the youth
    • Evangelize—I use to be uncomfortable with this word, but now understand it as a key component of youth ministry
    • Worship
    • Be creative
    • Recognize that not everything will work


    Image of the Day: Epiphany Blessing

    This Sunday's lectionary text from Matthew is the baptism of Jesus. In the Eastern Church, the liturgical season of Epiphany begins with a celebration of the story of Jesus' baptism. All over Greece, January 6 is the day of the Blessing of the Waters. The faithful gather as a priest blesses the waters of a lake or river by tossing a cross into it. Where swimming is possible, divers attempt to retrieve the cross and the one who is successful receives a special blessing for themselves and their family. (Not something I think I'll try here in the midst of a Missouri winter!)

    Wednesday, January 09, 2008

    Using the Ignatian Examen with Youth

    Here is a nice overview at the Youth Ministry Exchange on how to introduce the spiritual practice of the Ignatian Examen to youth. This practice is one youth might be willing to take up regularly, as a way to look back over their day. I've had modest success inviting youth to try the Examen, but I think it would work best if practiced regularly with your group, perhaps as a way to end your meetings each week.

    Crazy Talk?

    Ever read one of those blogs where you disagree theologically with much of what you find...until you come across one blog entry that you could have written yourself? I had just such an experience when I came across this post at the blog True Discernment. The post is provocatively entitled "Don't Give Spiritual Custody of Your Kids to the Church." What do you think?


    Having been in youth ministry for almost two decades, I sometimes assume that all the stuff in my "bag of tricks" is widely-known and S.O.P. for all youth ministers. But in the event that there might be some young/new/amnesiac youth pastors out there seeking ideas, I wanted to pass on these suggestions for engaging youth in prayer. I suppose most of us would love it if we had a group full of young people who loved to pray and were fully comfortable with sharing their deepest concerns out loud with a group. But since we are working with adolescents, this is never likely to be the case. Young people are often shy about sharing verbally with others for fear of being laughed at or not being able to really articulate what they feel. Additionally, not all youth (or adults, for that matter) are verbal learners. So here are a few prayer ideas that tap into other intelligences and learning styles:

    Tinfoil prayers
    - Pass out a sheet of aluminum foil to each person. Invite them to take time in silence to craft the foil into the shape of something they want to offer up in prayer. They could create an object, an initial of a person's name, or even something abstract. When finished, students can choose whether or not to share about their prayer request represented by their foil creations and then all foil prayers are placed in the midst of the group for a closing prayer.

    Play-Doh Prayers
    - Much like the one above, youth are given a lump of Play-Doh and asked to create a shape representing a prayer need. When everyone is ready, join in a circle and have persons, one at a time, place their creation in the center of the group and in some way attach it to the other Play-Doh creations to represent the way our shared prayers become one.

    Pipe-Cleaner Prayers
    - Pass out several multi-colored pipe cleaners to each person and invite them to create a shape that represents a prayer need in their lives. When all are ready, present each prayer creation verbally or in silence and then have the group work as one to attach all the pipe cleaner shapes together.

    Photo Prayers
    - Sometimes youth just can't think what to pray about so this idea uses photos to spur young people to consider the prayer needs in their lives or world. Cut out photos and images from magazines and place them in the center of the group. Invite youth to retrieve an image that connects with them and some need for prayer in their lives. Ask each person to share why the image grabbed their attention and how it speaks to them about a prayer concern.

    Candle Prayers
    - Place a ton of votive candles in your worship space with a larger central candle in their midst. Light the central candle and invite youth in silence to come forward and light a votive from the central candle to represent a prayer for another person in need. Allow this to be an unstructured time so that youth come forward as they feel ready and allow individuals to light as many candles as they like.

    Bulletin Board Prayers
    - Establish a bulletin board or other wall space in your youth room where youth can regularly post photos, news articles, and messages lifting up joys and concerns they want to share with the group.

    Magnetic Poetry Prayers -
    This one is a little more ambitious. Create wall space in your room painted with magnetic paint (yes it exists) and provide an ample supply of magnetic poetry words for youth to create a wall of creative prayers to share with others. Similarly, paint a section of wall with chalk paint and allow students to graffitti their joys and concerns right on the wall.

    Sand Prayers -
    Set our a plastic container filled with sand. One at a time, invite each person to go to the container and trace in the sand a world or symbol of something for which they seek forgiveness. When they are finished, invite them to pass their hand over what they have drawn, obliterating it as a way of accepting God's forgiveness.

    The Miniature Earth

    Tuesday, January 08, 2008

    Abolish Youth Ministry? No!

    I've been reading some blog chatter lately questioning the very existence of youth ministry. "Why have it at all?" they ask. "Where in the Bible does it say we should have youth ministries in our churches?"
    A legitimate question, I suppose, which of course leads to other questions such as "Why have choirs/sermons/PowerPoint/greeters/pews/stained glass/etc.? Where in the Bible does it say we should have any of those things or, for that matter, most of the other trappings of the modern-day church?"

    My denomination, The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), chose to split with their more conservative brethren long ago partially over just these sorts of questions. One side felt that if the Bible doesn't say you can do it, you don't do it (hence, they wouldn't use musical instruments in worship). The other side felt if the Bible doesn't say anything against it, it's okay to consider. My tradition grew out of this latter point of view. As such, I don't necessarily need to look for a justification for youth ministry within scripture. I don't need a scripture that says "Thou shalt separate your youngest into tabernacles full of old couches and fussball tables for Bible study and pizza" in order to justify unique ministry programs for adolescents. To put it bluntly: the Bible isn't the last word on every subject facing the Church. It is just possible that there might be some things about today's culture that those folks two thousand years ago (and more) didn't think of or even consider. So we balance the wisdom of scripture with tradition, experience, and reason. Each of these tell me that life for a 21st century teenager living in the western world might be just a wee bit different than the life of an adolescent living in first century Palestine. All of which convinces me that, within our definition of "The Church," there is room and need for what we might call the "Youth Church."

    What is the youth church? A tough question to answer, as we all come from very different ministry settings. But, at its essence, I would describe the youth church as existing whenever and wherever youth come together in an awareness of themselves as part of the body of Christ while participating in God’s mission in the world. Two implications naturally grow out of this definition. Firstly, that the youth church can exist outside the organized Church. Secondly, everything the organized church does involving youth is not necessarily the youth church. Or in other words, a pizza party might be “church” or it might just be a pizza party, depending on how youth and adult mentors approach the experience.

    Now, you might ask “Why even make the distinction? Why separate the youth from the rest of the church?” On the surface, I would tend to agree with this attitude. I am a strong proponent for integrating youth as much as possible into the whole life of the Church. We’ve done a pretty poor job of this in the past few decades as we’ve developed youth programming that isolates young people from adult activity within local congregations. But we cannot forgot that adolescents are fundamentally different from adults. We cannot forget that they are developmentally different, physically different, socially and emotionally different. We cannot forget that, at least in North American culture, adolescence is a time for identity formation. Teenagers are seeking to gain independence from parents and other adults and answer the question “Who am I as an individual?” Interestingly enough, youth often attempt to struggle with this question by partitioning themselves off with groups of peers who are asking the same question. So we should not be surprised when youth, seeking to develop their identity as persons of faith, choose to do so by separating themselves from some of the traditional structures, practices, and even adult leaders who have been part of their church upbringing from childhood.

    Youth do need their own space in the church. They do need developmentally appropriate worship and learning experiences. But all of this must happen within the context of the whole church. As much as possible, youth should interact with a wide variety of adults in the church. They should have the opportunity to learn how the church functions and what it takes to keep all the ministries humming. They should offer worship leadership (and not just once a year!). They should help teach younger children and take part in cross-generational mission activities. They should be included in stewardship efforts and consulted on worship style. In this way, the “youth church” becomes an inner circle within the wider church and its mission.

    Does the Bible mandate such an approach to youth in the Church? Read Deuteronomy 6:1-9. We are tasked, as older brothers and sisters, to teach our younger brothers and sisters the stories, the great truths, the revelation of God's presence in this world. We are tasked to help them make those ancients stories their own. But "how" we teach them is open to discussion and is driven by our ability to be led by God into new ways of seeing and understanding the Church and what it means to be a child in today's world.

    Coming Next: Abolish Youth Ministry? YES!

    Friday, January 04, 2008

    VOICETHREAD: New Online Tool

    Paul over at Youthhacks is highlighting a great free online tool called Voicethread that I'm certain could have many creative uses in youth ministry. It is, in essence, a social networking tool that allows friends, family, or a community of users to interact via images, text messages, and voice recordings. One person has described it as "Flickr on steroids." I can imagine it being useful for small group online discussions, virtual meetings with your ministry team or youth, interactive bible studies, and more. You could also create a visual/audio presentation in Voicethread and then post it as a live feature on your blog. It easier to understand if you just go see how it works so hop over to Youthhacks and check it out.

    If anyone beats me to using this tool for youth ministry, please let us know so we can check out your efforts.

    SCAVENGER HUNT: Hide and Seek

    Here's a scavenger hunt that would work particularly well for those of us in the colder parts of the world whose groups are stuck inside right now. Collect a pile of your typical scavenger hunt items (e.g. hat, funny statue, photograph, stuffed animal, etc.). Each team is given a list of all of the items and each team is also given an even number of the items themselves. Before the hunt begins, give each team 3 minutes to go out into the building and hide their items. Teams mark their own items off the list and their challenge then is to find as many of the other teams' items as possible in the allotted time. Consider suggesting the option to allow teams to negotiate with one another to exchange the hiding places of certain items. Perhaps the goal could be altered to see which teams are most willing to cooperate with one another and which teams are more competitive. My youth are so used to be discouraging competition and encouraging cooperation that they'd probably catch on quick to idea of swapping info on the hidden items. Another way to extend this idea beyond just a scavenger hunt is to make all the items relate in some way to the theme of your evening's discussion or worship focus.

    Wednesday, January 02, 2008

    Youth Ministry Predictions for 2008

    I couldn't let the start of the new year come and go without offering up some predictions for what I expect or hope to see in the field of youth ministry in the coming year. I'll let each of you judge which of these are sincere and which are tongue-in-cheek.

    In the year 2008, I predict the following will happen:

    1) The venerable youth ministry game "Chubby Bunny," discontinued in recent years when it was discovered to be a choking hazard, will enjoy a new resurgence when the folks at Youth Specialities and Simply Youth Ministry simultaneously release Wii video game versions of this old favorite, called "Chub-BUN Turbo 08" and "Chubby Chubby Bunny Revolution." The popularity of these new versions of "Chubby Bunny" at youth group events will renew the blogosphere debate on the appropriateness of video games at youth group gatherings.

    2) Youth ministers, discovering that students are growing bored with online social networks like FaceBook and MySpace will try a radical new approach to stay in personal contact with their youth: composing weekly handwritten letters and postcards and sending them via snail mail.

    3) Youth ministry will experience a new-found interest in moving beyond denominational boundaries as more and more youth groups develop cooperative relationships with ecumenical partners. This move will be particularly enticing to youth who no longer define themselves by denominational labels.

    4) The introduction of ancient Christian spiritual practices within youth group activities will continue to grow as ministers break loose of the old paradigm that equates youth ministry with programs, activities, and entertainment and seek more opportunities for contemplation, meditation, introspection, and silence.

    5) The ubiquitous phrase "on fire for Jesus," oft-used at big tent evangelism events in youth ministry circles, will be replaced by the phrases "Jesus is my home skillet," and "Off the Chain with JC."

    6) The visual arts will make a resurgence in youth ministry as more leaders provide opportunities for youth to explore spirituality by tapping into their creativity abilities. Group painting, doodled prayers, murals, play dough, crayons, and fingerpaints will replace basketballs and duct tape as the top items in any good youth minister's bag of tricks.

    7) Youth ministries, responding to recent surveys that show young Christian adults leaving the church in increasing numbers, will let loose of the teen-centric model of youth ministry and begin to seek more and more creative ways to integrate youth into the total life of the local church. Adult church-goers will initially react against this move but will come to see it as a way to invigorate the post-modern Church.

    8) Candlelight will replace PowerPoint presentations and quiet repetitive chants with guitar music will replace loud alternative Christian bands at youth ministry events.

    9) Lock-ins will become a thing of the past as it is discovered that they shorten a youth minister's life expectancy by 3 months for every lock-in s/he attends.

    10) Taking a cue from their more evangelical brethren, moderate and progressive mainline churches will begin seeking leaders for their youth ministry programs who actually have training in youth ministry and see it as a calling. As a result, more seminary students who used to take these positions will find themselves spending increased time at church board meetings and picking up bulletins after Sunday services.

    What predictions would you add?