Monday, June 23, 2008

    Please Stand By...

    Jacob and I are both away on youth trips this week. In the meantime, we invite you to check out some of our favorite youth ministry blogs in the "LINKS" tab above.


    Sunday, June 22, 2008

    Summer Camp Update

    I'm not quite a full week back from church camp and here and I am preparing to leave tomorrow on our mission trip to the gulf coast. I did want to share with you a few quick reactions to our week at camp and our attempts to ease the "programming" and focus more on spirituality, contemplation, and silence.

    In a change from previous years, we chose to get the youth up later in the morning, not eating breakfast until 9:00 AM which made a big difference in every one's attitude and willingness to face a new day (including the adults!). After breakfast each day, everyone participated in "Morning Watch" -- a time spent alone in prayer, journaling, and silence. This was followed by an all-camp morning worship.

    In the afternoon, we had a full 90 minutes of what we call F.O.B (Flat on Back time -- basically rest time, in the cabins, with the lights out). During our evening Vespers service each day, we spent time in silence, and in singing of contemplative Taize-style songs. Additionally, we had a prayer tent (see left) set up the whole week, complete with comfy pillows, where youth were free to go to be alone and pray. Our first two evening all-church activities included a relaxing swim night and a movie night, both low-key and restful for all involved, especially after busy days of creekwalking, arts and crafts, sports, etc.

    All of this silence and contemplation led up to the Night of Silence. This was our first year trying this evening of creative prayer and no talking, and it was great. The youth were very thoughtful in putting together prayer stations for others to experience and no one seemed to have any trouble with the "no talking" part. This year it lasted for an hour and a half. I suspect we'll extend it even longer next year.

    But what did the youth think of all this? Well, our senior high teens remarked that they noticed that camp was more restful and relaxing this summer and that they thought it was pretty cool. The adults, too, noticed a more peaceful feeling to the entire experience and I think we left camp more centered and ready for ministry than in past years. We discovered that silence, contemplation, and a focus on spirituality are indeed something that teens may not know they need, but when offered the chance they are eager to experience a deeper faith. How are your camp experiences going this summer?


    Wednesday, June 18, 2008

    Retro-Blogging: Mission Trips

    If you are anything like me, you rarely take the time and energy to dig through the old posts on a blog, even a favorite youth ministry blog. Which is too bad because we miss some of the gems hidden back in the recesses of the archives. As this is mission trip season for many of us, I thought I'd resurrect a few of our favorites posts on mission trips from the earlier days of this blog. Check them out and let us know what you think:

    Cool Idea: St Brendan Prayer - A great liturgical resource to use in worship when you commission your mission trip team.

    What If? The End of Youth Mission Trips... - Are mission trips really good for our youth?

    Back from Mission Trip - Some important things about youth ministry can be learned on a mission trip!

    Cool Idea: Mission Trips Revisited - Ever thought of hosting a mission trip for others?

    Something Old...Something New

    This is another entry in our continuing 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": If you are looking for thoughtful and thorough curriculum, program ideas, and activities to share with your youth, you can't do any better than Insight, a youth ministry web resource authored by veteran youth worker Grahame Knox. Writing from the UK, Grahame brings a wealth of experience and "insight" to the programs and resources he offers. I particularly like that, where many of us often just offer a game here or a worship trick there, Grahame specializes in giving you the whole package -- Bible studies and discussion programs that take you from the opening game to the closing thought.

    Something "New": I stumbled upon Jim's Blog by way of Stuart Delony's site. Jim's site (subtitled: "The thoughts and life of just another nobody") is a series of short essays and entries of his thoughts on the church, and humanity, and culture, and God, and on and on. Jim, a published author, has a really great writing style and point of view. Here is a sample:
    "here’s to freedom! i have some friends who thought they were people that they really weren’t. one gal thought she was a prostitute, and another was convinced he was an addict. don’t get me wrong; they did the things prostitutes and addicts do, but that’s just really living out of a false identity. the truth is they are a living, breathing expression of love, beauty, and everything good. that’s the “image” they were created in but it became lost to them, and they took on a lesser identity, and suffered. it’s not hard to lose the real you, and become something you’re not. if you’ve done it for a long time, it’s a struggle to stop."

    Tuesday, June 17, 2008

    "American Teen" - A New Documentary

    Tuesday, June 10, 2008

    Rethinking Sunday School: Part II

    Several weeks ago, we had a discussion on Sunday School. It seems like this is an area of ministry that many are “Rethinking.”

    This summer, at the church I serve, we have started a new Sunday School tradition (hopefully). We’ve asked our graduating seniors to each spend (over a period of several months) ten-fifteen minutes sharing their faith story. After they share their story we break into groups, discuss what we have heard, and then return and have a follow-up question and answer period.

    Last Sunday was our first Sunday. So far, this seems to work well. Our graduating seniors have the opportunity to both reflect on their faith and think about ways to articulate their experiences. At the same time, our other youth (particularly the younger youth) really enjoy hearing their peers talk about the ups and downs of their faith journeys. This format is easy to arrange, not too stressful, and fun.


    Sunday, June 08, 2008


    Thanks to everyone who participated in our recent Summer Camp Contest. Lots of great ideas were shared and are ripe for the picking for all of us heading out this summer to spend fun-filled weeks in the outdoors with teens. Each person who linked to the contest post was entered into the drawing and each person who shared ideas was entered once for each idea they shared. And our randomly selected winners are...(drum roll!):

    Ben Kraker (Rootsben) Winner of Prize Package 1: (Spontaneous Melodramas 2 by Doug Fields, Laurie Polich, Duffy Robbins and Branded: Adolescents converting from Consumer Faith by Katherince Turpin):

    Chad Swanzy Winner of Prize Package 2: (Hurt: Inside the World of Today's Teenagers by Chap Clark and Meeting Space ideas for Youth Ministry by Todd Outcalt)

    Ypguybrit Winner of Prize Package 3: (Presence-Centered Youth Ministry: Guiding Students into Spiritual Formation by Mike King and Enjoy the Silence: A 30 Day Experiment in Listening by Maggie & Duffy Robbins)

    Congrats to the winners! Please email me with your contact info so that we can mail you your free youth ministry resources. Finally, a thanks to our friends who helped promote the contest on their youth ministry blogs: The Youth Blog (Ian), Matt Cleaver, Stuart Delony, Jeremy Zach, Chad Swanzy!

    10 Simple Prayer Ideas for Teens

    While putting together a pocket-size journal for our youth to use at camp this coming week, I decided to include a variety of ideas for prayer that might be useful to them during their "morning watch" meditations. Sometimes teens have trouble knowing how to pray, particularly if they are alone, so these suggestions are designed to be simple yet meaningful:

    The Examen: This is a cool ancient form of prayer that asks you to think back over the last week or month. Let you mind wander through the following questions as you pray: Thinking back over the recent past, focus on the moments when you were most grateful and the moments when you were least grateful. What were they? Which moments did you give and receive God's love the most? When did you give and receive love the least?When you were paying the most attention to the love of God in the world? When were you paying the least attention? Finish by thanking God for the gift of today and ask for guidance in being more open to God’s presence in your daily life.

    Pray Scripture. Pick up a Bible and start reading. Select a verse such as "Truly, I say to you,as you did it to one of the least of these,my brethren,you did it to me" and turn it into a prayer: "God help me to to reach out to the least of these in my world and to treat them as your beloved children." Or select a psalm as an inspiration for prayer. Try taking the Lord's prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) and write your own translation in a way that reflects your life and needs.

    Be quiet.
    If prayer is a conversation, then you also need to listen in silence. Simply sit in silence, perhaps close your eyes, and see what comes to you.

    Meditate on an object. Pick up some natural object nearby (a rock, a leaf, a stick, a flower) and just focus on it for awhile. Admire all its details, its quality, its texture. Consider what a gift this piece of nature is and give thanks.

    Give Thanks: Using paper or a journal, make a word cloud or list of all the things in your life or in the world for which you are thankful. If you are feeling artistic, doodle images of all the things you are thankful for today.

    Repeat a word or phrase: Chanting or repeating a mantra over and over can focus your thoughts and free you mind to be open to new things. Pick a word to say slowly and repeatedly to yourself quietly (or in your thoughts) such as love, peace, life, or perhaps the name of someone or something important to you. You could also choose a phrase such as “Jesus, be with me” or “God so loves the world” or “Open my mind, open my heart,”

    Ask Questions. What are the big questions of life you’d like answers to today? You know--the ones like “Why is there suffering in the world?” Spend some time just asking those questions, one after another, offering them to God and see what happens.

    Imagine. Close your eyes for awhile and imagine the world as God would have it be – not as it is. What do you see? How is that world different from the one we live in today? Now imagine yourself as part of that vision, helping to make it come true. What are you doing? How is God calling you to be part of bringing that vision to reality in your own little corner of the world?

    Walk the Labyrinth. Find a copy of a finger labyrinth. Sit in a quiet place and take time to slowly trace your finger along the path of the labyrinth, all the way to the center and the slowly back out. Even better, use a finger of your non-dominant hand. As you move along the path, spend time thinking about your journey of faith, the journey of your life, all the people you have met, the things you have done, the problems you have overcome, the challenges you still face, and focus on where you have encountered God along the way.

    Feel the Earth. Take off your shoes and sit in the grass. Let you feet and hands feel the cool grass and the earth beneath you. Open your awareness to the natural world around you and see yourself as part of it. Listen for sounds of insects and animals. Sense the movement of the wind. Enjoy the warmth of the sun. Give thanks for your place in God's creation.

    Thursday, June 05, 2008

    Summer Camp Contest Nears the End...

    Our summer camp contest ends at midnight on Saturday. Don't miss the chance to share your great summer camp ideas and be entered in a drawing for some excellent youth ministry resources. Lots of creative ideas have already been shared. You can see them all and enter the contest here.
    Winners will be announced here on Sunday.

    Wednesday, June 04, 2008

    HERE I STAND PT. 2: It's About Jesus, Stupid!

    In a month, 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? Read part one of this series here: Violence in Youth Ministry. Part two follows:

    Remember the slogan which was made famous during Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign: "It's the economy, Stupid!"? I've often thought that every youth pastor should have a sign over her (or his) desk that reads "It's about Jesus, stupid!" This may seem obvious, but I know too well how tempting it can be in youth ministry to make church seem to be about anything BUT Jesus. I imagine most of us have been there, joking with the youth that if they'll sit through Bible study this week, we promise to do something "fun" next week. Perhaps we are careful about our scheduling, making sure that weeks heavy on theology are balanced out by equal number of weeks (and then some) that are filled with game nights and trips to the movies. Of course, all of this is, at it's core, about keeping our numbers up, up, up. And let's face it: the more you talk about Jesus -- the more you focus on faith instead of "fun,"-- the greater the risk you run of losing teens who aren't there for the faith formation -- they just heard that you had a great XBox set-up!

    But what is youth ministry without Jesus at it's core? It's our identity as followers of the way of Christ that gives us our distinctiveness and forms our reason for being. So I say: Don't soft pedal the Jesus stuff. Make sure that every participant, every parent, every visitor who comes in contact with your youth program knows that, whatever else you may be, at your center you are in the business of proclaiming and following the Way of Jesus. Might this cause you to lose some youth who aren't there for all the "religious" stuff? Possibly, but you could also argue that when we water-down our identity, when we lose our distinctiveness, we cease to be what we are called to be by God. Furthermore, I'd argue that if we are willing to lead radically Christ-centered ministries, we will attract young people searching for a deeper and more meaningful and impactful faith.

    I've had the good fortune in the past several months to work with a really fine new senior pastor at my church in the suburbs of St. Louis. I marvel at how he sits in committee meetings at church, listening to people discuss the need to increase stewardship or fix the boiler or update the nursery. And each time, as the conversation seems to draw to a close, he steps in and utters the magic word: Jesus. He talks about how we are Christ-followers with good news to share about God's love and grace. And that fixing the boiler or raising more money or updating the nursery only all matters if it helps us in our mission to spread that good news we have through Jesus Christ. And even as his proclamations are sometimes meant with blank stares, again and again, he reminds us, in the diplomatic way of a good pastor: "It's about Jesus, Stupid!" We youth ministers should be willing, and are called, to do no less.

    Tuesday, June 03, 2008

    Youth Group Welcome Video (Napoleon Dynamite Style)

    Go here for a hilarious "what-if" video: Napoleon Dynamite on the TV show "Britian's Got Talent."