Wednesday, April 30, 2008

    "PUORG HTUOY" Nite!

    What is "PUORG HTUOY" Nite? Glad you asked and you might find the answer if you hold your computer up to a mirror (and be sure to send us a photo of you doing that!). It's "YOUTH GROUP" spelled backwards. Celebrate the way Jesus often asked his followers to to just the opposite of what the world wants us to do by hosting a night where everything is backwards. For example, have everyone wear name tags with their names written backwards. Reverse your evening schedule. If you normally start with a meal and end with worship, do it the other way around. If you do have a meal, eat it backwards by serving dessert first. Play games that involve walking backwards, writing answers backwards, shooting baskets backwards, and so on. For a added challenge, invite the youth to wear their clothes backwards. Follow up the fun with a look at stories of Jesus challenging the status quo and invite your youth to do the same.

    HERE I STAND Pt. 1: Violence in Youth Ministry

    In a few months, I will be leaving my current youth ministry position and taking a new position that focuses on Christian Education and Outreach. Part of the transition for me will be shifting from the running of a weekly youth ministry to focusing more of my time on area-wide youth ministry for the Disciples of Christ churches in my part of Missouri and Illinois. For the first time in almost 20 years, I won't be leading a weekly program and as I contemplate that shift, I've started looking back over my tenure as a youth pastor (sort of like my life flashing before my eyes!) and considering where I've taken a stand over the years. What for me have emerged as the non-negotiables when it comes to walking side-by-side with teens in ministry?

    One of the first ones that comes to mind involves the entire issue of the use of violence and competition in youth ministry. "What?" you ask. "Who would advocate violence in youth ministry?" Well, perhaps I would have 20 years ago, and perhaps I did. Just as many of us in teen ministry today use such activities as laser tag, paintball, and whole nights focused on playing video games like Halo to attract kids to our churches. Just as many of us create programs, games, and activities focused on producing winners and losers, encouraging groups in the ministry to take sides against one another (the middle schoolers AGAINST the high schoolers, the girls AGAINST the boys, one school AGAINST another). And it's only natural, only "human" to fall into this habit. Violence and competition are the way of the world. They seem to be part of our DNA. Even in simulated violence (shooting squirt guns at each other, playing "Grand Theft Auto," watching a movie and cheering when the bad guy is killed) we feel a rush of adrenaline. Our brains can't always distinguish a real act of violence from a simulated one. And what's the harm? After all, no one is really get hurt. It's just pretend.

    But over the years, my heart starting telling me that there had to be a different way. That what we are called to do in youth ministry is offer our young ones a vision of a different world. The culture offers a world of violence and competition -- of winners and losers -- but Jesus offers us a "kindom" where peace rules, and where all are beloved of God. Violence and competition may be just part of our "human" nature. But Christ doesn't just call us to human nature. Christ calls us to embrace our "God nature."

    So in the end, do I think that those who schedule laser tag nights and outings to the paintball range are doing irreparable harm to our youth? No. I would just ask them to consider what precious little time we have with our teens. What few years we have to offer them a vision of a different way to be in the world. A vision of a world that doesn't look like what they see out there right now. What few opportunities we have to allow youth to try that vision on for size -- and to live it out in Christian community that finds it hard to believe that Jesus would have raised a weapon, real or not, against another. A community that sees Jesus lifting the loser up out of the dirt at the end of the battle and inviting himself to her home for lunch. A Jesus who would remind us that we've got this violence and competition thing down pretty good. Do we really need to keep running simulations with toy guns to get better at it? How about practicing peace, community, and love a little more. Here I stand...

    Tuesday, April 29, 2008

    Where Do You Find God?

    At church? While walking your dog? In a moment of silence. The website Other6 invites visitors to share where they find God or where they need to find God, depicted graphically as a series of clickable bubbles. In a sense, it is an interactive web version of the Ingnatian Examen. The site is the creation of a group of Jesuits, though there is not particular theological agenda other than to provide a place to share one's experience of the God.
    And what about the site's name:
    Asked, "What does the name Other6 mean?" Paul says, "I chose this name principally because it is short, not 'churchy' and - hopefully - somewhat intriguing. What did 'Google' mean or 'Yahoo' when they were chosen? It does also imply that some people 'find' God on Sundays in church, but that site is helpful the Other6 days of the week."

    Monday, April 28, 2008

    Something to Smile About on a Monday

    Pie Jesus..."Sweet Jesus, who takes away the sins of the world, grant them rest."

    HT: Patti

    Saturday, April 26, 2008

    Rethinking Sunday School

    As summer gets closer, and the school year draws to an end, it’s time once again to reflect on our ministries and begin planning for next fall. In less than two weeks, I’ll meet with our youth leaders and teachers. One of our primary discussions will focus on Sunday School. We will ask such questions as: What works? What doesn’t? Where was God’s presence experienced and felt? Where was God absent? What can we do differently?

    Sunday School is such a unique setting. At the church I serve, we still have our youth meet on Sunday morning for one hour. It’s early, 9:30, and I’m always impressed that so many youth attend (whether it’s their decision of their parents decision). I feel like we’re doing well, but I know we can continue to grow (both spiritually and numerically).

    So, the questions for discussion: How can Sunday School adapt to the changing times? What should Sunday School in 2008 look like? Do we still use ordered curriculum? Do we have a mixture of media? Should we have a combination of prayer, worship, and study? Should we change the times? How do we prepare teachers? Should teachers teach all year? Should there be rotating teachers? Should we take a break for the summer?

    Perhaps you have thought of these questions as well? I look forward to hearing other ideas and creativity.


    Thursday, April 24, 2008

    Reactions to "The Lord's Boot Camp"

    I posted recently about the NBC special "The Lord's Boot Camp," a documentary about a real boot camp for evangelical youth that prepares them to go out into the worldwide mission field to "save souls." I recommend viewing the documentary (produced by the same folks who brought us "Jesus Camp") even if, like me, this is not your particular brand of Christianity. The film follows three teenage girls from their daily lives back home to their time at the boot camp and finally their journey out into the mission field. Each teen's background and story are different and make for compelling viewing.

    I most identified with with Nicole, a girl who was sent to the camp by her mother, hoping that some exposure to Christianity might help her with her drug problem. Once she arrives at the camp, she quickly discovers that it's going to be hard work. The youth spend much of their day out in the heat, training physically, and being drilled on the basics of evangelical conservative Christianity and how to share it with others. Nicole is rebellious (like I might be if thrust into that situation) and her attitude gets her in trouble more than once with the adult leaders. But she does make it through boot camp and does accompany her team to Africa. There they find themselves working with orphans, washing their feet and helping them try on their first pair of shoes and socks. At one point, Nicole comments that she really isn't here to learn about God but she really likes being able to help the children. I can only hope that she eventually came to see that it was in the act of helping the children, and in the children themselves, that she was encountering God. As missionaries, they are fooling themselves if they think they are bringing God to these people. God is already there!

    As interesting as the documentary is the follow-up discussion that NBC did with a group of interfaith youth from a typical America high school after they viewed the doc together. The first part of their discussion is posted above. The rest can be found here.


    Wednesday, April 23, 2008

    Spiritual Reflection

    For the past several weeks in youth group, we have been focusing on spiritual development and building on Brian’s original post: Who are you becoming?

    One evening we opened conversation with the question: How would you define who Jesus is? The youth created a long list of answers. Then, I shared this list taken from Imaginative Prayer for Youth Ministry, by Jeannie Oestreicher and Larry Warner:

    I am Immanuel—God with you. (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23)
    I am the Wonderful Counselor (Isaiah 9:6)
    I am the Mighty God (Isaiah 9:6)
    I am the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6)
    I am the One who was beaten and pierced through in your place because of love (Isaiah 53:5)
    I am the King (Zechariah 9:9)
    I am your faithful friend (Matthew 11:19)
    I am God’s servant (Matthew 12:18)
    I am the Holy One of God (Mark 1:24)
    I am the Great Healer (Mark 3: 1012)
    I am the Christ—the Anointed One—the Messiah—the Savior of the world (Mark 8:29)
    I am God clothed in flesh (Luke 2: 8-20)
    I am kind and merciful (Luke 6: 35-36)
    I am compassionate (Luke 6: 35-36)
    I am the living Word of God (John 1: 1;14; Revelations 19:13)
    I am the Creator (John 1: 2-4)
    I am the Lamb of God (John 1:29)
    I am the One who would rather suffer and die for you than live without you (John 3:16)
    I am the Bread of Life (John 6:35)
    I am the Giver of life everlasting (John 6:40, 47)
    I am the Light of the World (John 8:12)
    I am God (John 8:58; 10:30; 20:28)
    I am the Door to God (John 10:9)
    I am the Good Shepherd (John 10:11)
    I am the One who lays down his life for this I love (John 10:11)
    I am the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25)
    I am the Way to God (John 14:6)
    I am the True Vine (John 15:1)
    I am he who died on the cross and rose from the dead (John 19-20)
    I am the Rock upon which you can build your life (1 Corinthians 10:4)
    I am the One before whom every knee will bow and tongue confess that I am Lord (Philippians 2: 9-11)
    I am the One who will never leave you nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5)
    I am the Beginning and the End (Revelation 22:13)

    After giving the youth a few minutes to read over the list, we gathered in a circle and took turns reading each statement. It was a powerful form of prayer. Then we discussed which statements really attracted us and which didn’t.

    The following week, we started a conversation with two questions: Who are you? How are you defined? Again, we created a list of answers. We really took our time and focused on self-identity and how we create who we want to become. A significant portion of our conversation focused on how we so easily label and group individuals into various categories. Then I passed out this list:

    You are chosen and dearly loved by God.
    You are the salt of the earth.
    You are the light of the world.
    You are God’s child, prized and treasured by God.
    You are my friend.
    You are a saint.
    You are forgiven—past, present, and future.
    You are and always will be an object of God’s love—an object of my love.
    You are a citizen of heaven.
    You are the temple of God—God dwells within you.
    You are a new creation (new person).
    You are God’s coworker.
    You are an heir of God.
    You are God’s workmanship—a masterpiece, unique in all the world.
    You are righteous and holy—in you there is no flaw.
    You are the chosen one of God.
    You are holy.
    You are dearly and uniquely loved by God.
    You are a chosen race.
    You are a royal priesthood.
    You belong to God and God belongs to you.
    You are one who will always be with me.
    You are a source of delight to God.

    We finished our conversation with discussion on how we could apply these traits and values to our daily lives. Each youth took home the list of statements and were encouraged to read them once/day either in the morning or evening. Essentially, as follower of Christ, we are trying to create an entire new way of treating and understanding others.


    Let Them Eat Cake: Revisited

    Following up on this post by our guest blogger Barry regarding the issue of the global food crisis, fellow youth ministry blogger Michael (The Over-Educated Youth Pastor blog) responds with some interesting quotes from Tony Campolo that should be like freezing cold water to the face for all us youth ministry folks. Check it out.

    Tuesday, April 22, 2008

    Rethinking Church Camp Pt. 5

    This continues our series of posts contemplating a less program/activity-driven approach to summer church camp. You can read the previous posts here, here, here and here.

    So, what if you wanted to focus your week of camp entirely around inviting youth to experience various spiritual practices? They are called "practices" for a reason. It takes time and intentional effort, for example, to learn what it means to keep sabbath, to pray, to honor one's body, and to make these practices part of one's daily life. How about focusing your week of camp around one particular spiritual practice and really inviting youth to immerse themselves in experiencing it? One good place to go for resources is the Johnsonburg Presbyterian Camp website where you will find free curriculum specifically written for church camps focused on various spiritual practices (plus see examples of the camper journals they put together to give to the youth). And here and here you will find complete camp curriculum written by some of my Disciples of Christ colleagues focused on the practice of communion and hospitality.
    If we really get creative about this, engaging youth in spiritual practices doesn't just have to happen during "family group" or worship or Bible study. At my camp, we often have a time set aside in the afternoon for "interest groups." This is time for youth to choose to play sports, do an art project, take a hike, etc. Though an attempt is often made to tie these activities into the week's theme (particularly the art projects) oftentimes they are simply fun or creative activities that we think the youth will enjoy. How about focusing these activities on spiritual disciplines: A hike focused on the practice of pilgrimage, a craft project centered on the theme of compassion, a creative writing activity focused on Lectio Divina, a sports activity focused on cooperation and nurture, a musical challenge focused on prayer, a nature activity focused on silence? How might such an approach help youth begin to see that we do not engage our spirituality and connect with God just when we are being "religious" but rather we can be aware of God all the time, in everything we do. If they can learn this at camp, maybe they will be more open to the possibility back home, experiencing God at work, while driving a car, at school when they are taking a test, even (heaven forbid!) at church!

    Sunday, April 20, 2008

    Guest Blogger: Let Them Eat Cake?

    While most of us have spent the last few months fixated on soaring gas prices, the hemorrhaging of the US housing and financial markets, and whether Barack Obama is wearing a flag lapel pin, a crisis that is absolutely one of life and death has only recently started to gain attention here in the US -- the emerging global food crisis affecting millions of people.

    The political debate over the the cause of both a massive shortage of food and rapidly increasing food prices throughout the world includes many conflicting theories, but most experts are in agreement with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon on the consequences:

    "If not handled properly, this crisis could result in a cascade of others...and become a multidimensional problem affecting economic growth, social progress and even political security around the world." (ABC News)

    In developing nations, where some 80% of earnings have to be spent on food (in contrast, Americans spend 10% on average) experts now estimate 850 million people are currently in danger of starvation. Many of the hardest hit areas have already begun to see rioting and deaths related to the crisis.

    To the youth we work with such a situation will likely seem hard to believe. Most of them have almost certainly never known anything but abundance in regard to food. When it comes to satisfying their own hunger, we have raised them in a society where they can expect food to be plentiful, fast, calorie-dense and available at all times. And they expect little condemnation for wasting what they don't want to eat (unlike when I was a kid and you couldn't leave the table unless you cleaned your plate!).

    So, how do we talk to our youth about this crisis and the Christian responsibility to respond to it? How do we help them understand suffering so alien to their own experience? I know Brian has been leading his youth groups through the 30 Hour Famine project for years, but considering the scope of the challenge is it enough now to talk to our young people about this but once a year?

    Friday, April 18, 2008

    Guest Blogger: Exploring the New Movie "EXPELLED"

    SPECIAL NOTE: Hey there, RYM readers, this is Barry, Brian's twin brother (or evil double, you take your pick). While he's away for a short bit to officiate at a friend's wedding he offered to let me try my hand at posting. By day I'm a Marketing Consultant, but for most of my adult life Brian has been plugging me into his ministry as either a youth group sponsor, Sunday school teacher or camp counselor. My involvement with this blog is usually as 1) a reader and 2) the guy who feeds Brian all his cool technology links, but I'll do my best to add some value in Brian's brief absence.

    In a country where roughly 50% of the population continues to hold a strong belief in creationism as the most compelling theory for the existence of...well, everything...its not surprising that the recently released documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed is creating both strong interest and controversy (including from some of the scientists interviewed in the film who allege they were mislead by the producers). The film -- hosted by the endearingly droll actor/economist Ben Stein (of Ferris Bueller fame) -- apparently takes a position in favor of the proposition known as Intelligent Design and against what it sees as the persecution of ID true believers in US scientific and academic circles.

    In an interview on Beliefnet Stein explains that he got involved with the film because he sees the origins of evolutionary theory as something much darker than is commonly suggested:

    I decided to work on it because I've always had questions about Darwinism. I have always been very concerned that Darwinism gave the basic okay to terrible racism and to the idea of murder based upon race. And I think most people don't realize what a sinister role Darwinism has had in the history of the 20th century, and I guess part of the history of the 19th century too.

    Unfortunately for Stein (and the film's producers) Expelled has already been panned by most major critics, many of whom make a case similar to Beliefnet's Becky Garrison that the film simply falls far short of making a compelling case:

    While Expelled set its sights on disarming their enemy - the "neo-Darwinists" who have ostracized scientists who dare give credence to intelligent design - more often than not they ended up shooting biblical blanks. Unfortunately, the nuances of the evolution versus intelligent design debate were left on the cutting floor in favor of more provocative soundbites that one might expect from say an NBC Dateline "Catch an Evolutionist!"-type special.

    I haven't yet seen the film, but plan to despite the fact that I see no inherent contradiction between a belief in evolution and a belief in a biblical perspective of the world. And while I'm definitely more on the skeptical side of the ID debate, I think this is a fascinating debate that we should be eager to expose our young people to and invite them to engage in. These are the sorts of topics that I love bringing into a youth group meeting or into my high school Sunday School class because it allows you to challenge the youth to take a stand and then explain and defend that stand. And if they get passionate about it and argue a little, so much the better! To me it matters little which side of the controversy they come down on as long as they are gaining experience in taking ownership of what they believe and in articulating a reasoning for that belief.

    I've been looking for an outing for my Sunday School class to shake the students up a little -- maybe I'll take them to see this movie. What do you think?

    Tuesday, April 15, 2008

    Something Old...Something New

    This is another entry in our weekly posts highlighting one of our favorite blogs or websites we've been following for awhile and a new blog or site we've stumbled upon and think you might want to check out.

    Something Old: Jonny Baker Blog - Johnny is an emergent church leader in Great Britain. His blog, particularly his "worship tricks" feature, offers a host of creative ideas for making worship experiences for youth and adults relevant and engaging.

    Something New: Youth Ministry Blog - This blog sits on the digitalorthodoxy network and its role is to help others think about youth ministry, mission, ministry, children's ministry, church, youth groups, theology, blogging, world events, youth spirituality, generational theory and more...

    Saturday, April 12, 2008

    The Lord's Boot Camp (CBS News)

    "A first-time look at 700 kids training to become Christian missionaries. A special 48 Hours presentation, Saturday, April 12, at 8 p.m. ET/PT. ("

    Not sure about the theology here (actually, I'm quite sure that it doesn't jive with mine) but I'm impressed with the fact that this camp prepares youth to go into places in the world and do the hard work that needs doing: building homes, digging wells, caring for the poor and needy. If they could just cool it with all the "you're either going to heaven or hell" stuff. -- Brian

    UPDATE: You can view the entire program and read additional info here.

    Thursday, April 10, 2008

    Rethinking Church Camp Pt. 4: Night of Silence

    This continues our series of posts contemplating a less program/activity-driven approach to summer church camp. You can read the previous posts here, here, and here.

    Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10)

    As we continue to rethink church camp, I begin to wonder more and more how we might incorporate spiritual practices into the daily routine of camp. I don't mean just a little lectio divina here and lighting some votive candles there. Rather, what if the week itself were designed around experiences of spiritual practices aimed at opening campers to God's presence in nature and the gathered community?

    One suggestion that some colleagues shared with me is planning a "night of silence." I know that some camps already have a time each morning when campers sit alone in silence and pray or journal about the upcoming day. Amidst all the noise of their regular lives, and even the noise of camp activity, what a unique gift this time of silence could be. At our camp, we take time each night at our closing campfire to stop all talking and to just sit and listen to the sounds around us that we can't hear in the city: frogs croaking, locusts and crickets chirping, birds calling to one another. It's my favorite part of camp.

    Using these smaller moments that happen throughout the week, build toward a "night of silence" to take place perhaps on the next to last night. To prepare, invite each cabin or family group to spend some time thinking up and creating an interactive prayer station that they can set up on the campgrounds. You'll find lots of ideas for prayer stations here, here and here. On the day of the event, have the teams set up their prayer stations at easily accessible places around camp. Consider creating a walking tour map showing where and what each station is. Then gather for an early evening vespers service, providing each camper with a lit votive. End the service by having campers extinguish their votives, symbolizing the silencing of their voices. Next, in silence, invite the campers to move in groups throughout the camp, exploring the various activities at the prayer stations. It might be a good idea to have an adult present at each station. At the end of the time, meet back in your worship space and relight each person's candle, symbolically restoring their voices. Take some time together as a community to reflect on the power of this experience together.

    A few additional thoughts. One, it's important to prepare the camp in advance for this event. Don't just spring it on them. Build anticipation from the first day so that everyone is ready when that special night comes. Secondly, consider the age of your campers. Younger campers would likely fair better under the structure I've suggested above. Some leaders have found that older youth are capable of extending the silence the entire evening and on through the next morning's breakfast, ending the silence at morning worship.

    You'll find a host of ideas and thoughts on the spiritual practice of silence here (be sure to see the list of resources in the left hand menu). If you've tried a variation of this idea, we'd love to hear your reflections or suggestions.

    Tuesday, April 08, 2008


    Here's a youth ministry idea for your next lock-in or fellowship night. It's likely that the parents of your youth documented every other minute of their young'ns' growing-up on trusty ol' video or dvd. Why not take advantage of this and plan a home movie night? Invite youth to bring a short clip (2 minutes or less) of their wackiest home videos. It could be a scene of them in their Jedi underwear at the age of 2, hitting a sibling over the head with a wiffle ball bat, or their stellar performance from a third grade play. Serve popcorn and movie theater candy and award prizes (like movie passes or fake "oscars" from a party store) for the videos voted (by your select judges) to be the funniest, cutest, strangest, most embarrassing, most boring, etc.

    Monday, April 07, 2008

    Young Women and the Church

    With a few exceptions, the real leadership and passion in most of the youth ministries I have served has been the adolescent females in the group. In fact, If all women left the Church tomorrow, I suspect our work would come almost to a standstill. In light of that, consider the following two videos. The first features a series of disappointing remarks by evangelical mega-church pastor Mark Driscoll insultingly referring to women as "chicks" and to men in the church as having been "chickified." If I didn't know otherwise, I'd think this was meant to be satire. Unfortunately, it is this sort of mindset that helps to perpetuate the sexist, heterocentric, and homophobic attitudes that are still very present throughout Christendom. And it is just theses sorts of attitudes that are convincing many of our youngest women and men to seek their spiritual center outside the church. The second video, a response to Driscoll's comments, offers a thoughtful look at the real history of women in the church. I think I will pass it on to the girls in my youth group and see what they think about this important justice issue that needs attention in the Church. (They might have a few interesting things to say about the Driscoll video, too!)
    [UPDATE: Just to be clear, the first video is a humorous re-edit of Driscoll's comments, though his words still speak clearly for themselves.]

    Wednesday, April 02, 2008

    Youth Ministry Resources

    Just looking for some ideas to help with your youth ministry planning? Then look no further than our storehouse of games, links, scavenger hunts, bible studies, book and movie reviews, and suggested youth activities from the last several years. If this is your week to lead a creative worship experience with your youth, then you have come to the right place. Just need a quick icebreaker or community building activity? We've got those, too!

    Something Old...Something New

    What's more fun that clicking on links? So we begin a new regular feature "Something Old... Something New" where we will regularly highlight one of our favorite bogs or websites we've been following for awhile and a new blog or site we've stumbled upon and think you might want to check out. First up:

    Something Old: Youth Ministry Ideas - Steve's blog is a regular source of helpful resources, ideas for games, studies, and all things about youth ministry.

    Something New: Re:Generation - Laura is sharing some insightful thoughts on the creative use of prayer, the challenges of adolescence, and culture.