Wednesday, July 30, 2008

    Mission Trip

    This year's mission trip was a tremendous success. Thirty-one youth and eight adults journeyed to New Orleans, Louisiana, for a week of service, worship, and prayer. We had the opportunity to help rebuild a church and two homes in the lower ninth ward--all of which had been destroyed by hurricane Katrina.

    It's difficult to convey in words the experiences we shared with one another: living as a community of faith for a week, driving fifteen hours each way, saying 'I love You' to Pastor Washington (the pastor of the church we helped rebuild), having conversations on racism, seeing the complete devastation of the hurricane, working in the heat, sharing a meal with members of Westside Christian Church, eating beignets at Cafe DuMone, and closing each night with our lullaby.

    This was the first year we didn't use an organization, such as Group Workcamps, to help us with the mission trip. It was only our youth and we were responsible for everything from worship to cooking. Some of our youth missed meeting others and learning about different faith traditions. But everyone agreed that it was an amazing experience to be together 24/7 for a week. Where else do you get that type of opportunity?

    How about others? Is it common to organize your own mission trip or use someone else to help you with all of the little details?

    Friday, July 25, 2008

    What Would Jesus Buy?

    "WHAT WOULD JESUS BUY?" follows Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir as they go on a cross-county mission to save the Holidays from the Shopocalypse: the end of mankind from consumerism, over-consumption and the fires of eternal debt! The Shopocalypse is upon us...Who will be $aved? Watch this documentary right now for free by clicking below.

    The Cure for Youth Ministry Summer Boredom

    • Tim, at the excellent Life in Student Ministry site, offers up some great ideas for fun summer activities that should get your youth energized and excited to get to youth group.
    • Take your group to see Batman and then let Jeremy help you think theologically about the Dark Knight!
    • Not all games have to be video games. Have a "board game night" and check out some of Shane's suggestions for fun games for youth.
    • Grab your digital or Polaroid cameras and try this reverse photo scavenger hunt suggested by that great blog Rethinking Youth Ministry....wait a minute...that's US!

    How Do You Leave a Youth Ministry?

    As some of you know, I've recently said goodbye to one of the two churches I was serving and have taken a full-time position at the other church. This shift necessitated my saying goodbye to a youth ministry program that I've been serving for the past five years and to some youth that I've literally seen grow up right in front of me. All this came at a time of great transition for the church and the youth program: the senior minister and the other associate minister had both resigned in the past year for professional and personal reasons. Additionally, a young couple who had been working with the youth for years announced that with the immenient arrival of their first child, they would have to step out of the youth program. I knew this would be a lot for the youth to process at a time in their lives when we hope that church and youth group might offer some stability to the chaos of adolescence. With all that in mind, I offer just a few thoughts on how to leave a youth ministry program in a way that is healthy and positive for all involved:

    1) Don't rush things. Youth will go through a lot of emotions when a mentor announces it's time to move on: sadness, anger, denial, possibly even a sense of betrayal (And don't forget joy and relief. Admit it! Some of the teens never liked you to begin with!). Youth need time to figure out what this transition means for them and their group. They need time to try to talk you out of it (even though they know it won't help). They need time to imagine what happens next. So, waiting until the last possible minute to announce your leaving isn't a good idea. In fact, I would advocate making certain that, outside of the church board or personnel folk, your youth are the first to know that you're leaving. And if possible, tell them in person!

    2) Honor the past, affirm the future. Provide opportunities to remember the growing experiences you have had together. Have a party and celebrate the end of an era. But then, make space to prepare youth and leaders for what is to come. If there is to be some lag between your leaving and the next youth minister's arrival, help the group develop a calendar of activities that they will feel comfortable facilitating in the interim. As the time comes closer for you to leave, begin stepping out of leadership and encouraging the other adult leaders to step into that void. Assure youth that the church will work hard to find a new caring youth pastor to mentor them -- a pastor who will have different gifts than you and these gifts will help to take the youth program into new and exciting areas and challenges. I was fortunate enough to know who my replacement was going to be so I took every effort to share with the youth that she is smart, talented, much younger than me (so likely more willing to do lock-ins!) and she can play the guitar (a skill I've never picked up so the youth were forced to put up with my acapella song-leading!).

    3) Leave a Message in a Bottle. As you are packing up your office, your files, your photos, your can of Silly String, remember that the goal is not to erase all evidence that you were ever there. Provide your successor with some sense of what happened before he or she arrived. Perhaps prepare copies of your past months or year's activities. Leave a list of the church youth with some basic descriptive information about their level of participation, family situation, and ongoing pastoral needs. Describe some of the yearly traditions and events of the ministry so the new pastor can consider whether these are things they want to continue or not. Finally, consider leaving behind a personal letter encouraging your successor and inviting them to contact you if they have questions (such as "Who has been providing dinners for the group? What happens if I park in the senior minister's parking space? What is behind that door with the sign that says "Never, Never go in here!")

    4) When it's over, it's over. The ethical standards that I agreed to at my ordination clearly state that when I leave a ministry I cease to be a pastor to that church and its members. After years with a youth group, this can be difficult. It means cutting the umbilical cord, in a sense, so that the youth can make room in their lives for something new. In my last official gathering with our group (which occurred during our mission trip), I explained that I was going to have to put distance between us as I was not going to be their youth minister any more. This meant no more regular messages back and forth on Facebook or email, no calls seeking help with personal issues, no joining them for a movie or ice cream after youth group. I explained that this didn't mean I loved them any less -- it was just time for me to move on and for them to make space for their new pastor. After a pause to take all this in, one of the girls in the group said, "So, does this mean we are breaking up?" We all laughed and I said, "Yeah, in a way. We are breaking up. But we will always be friends!"

    Ultimately, the truest evidence of a good "goodbye" is that the ministry continues on just fine without you and even goes places you were never able to take it!

    Thursday, July 17, 2008

    Is Your Church on the Move?

    "This is a song about a church being moved hundreds of miles across the US on the back of a very big lorry. Features the 40 strong Manning Chorus in what is possibly one of the most bizzare bits of TV I've ever been involved in - a musical number at the end of a show about, basically, feats of engineering skill. Some of the footage is amost Fellini-esque. It's taken from the upcoming series MONSTER MOVES which airs on Five (UK) and National Geographic (USA) from early 2007." (HT to Chris Kidd)

    Tuesday, July 15, 2008


    I mentioned awhile back that one of the special evening events at our church camp this summer was "The Night of Silence" in which the youth spent time in complete silence experiencing a variety of camper-created prayer stations. I thought I'd share a few of the ideas they came up with, all of which would work at camp or youth group or many other ministry settings. These activities can be adapted as you see fit to your particular prayer traditions. Each offers a template and taps into various ways of engaging the senses in the experience of prayer. If we are to take seriously Paul's encouragement to "Pray without ceasing" then it's possible that everything we do is prayer, provided we do it with awareness of communion with God and openness to God's spirit.

    Prayer Path - Create a simple circular path out of tape on the floor or chairs and rope. Design the path to wind in on itself and reach an open center space that is equipped with pillows on the floor and written instructions for participants to sit and offer silent prayers for those people who have been important to their own prayer journey and to offer thanks to God for their guidance.

    Play-Do Prayers - Provide a variety of play-do colors and invite worshippers to create a mini-sculpture to represent a particular prayer need, joy, or concern. As participants finish, they can add their creation to those of others and contemplate and lift up all the other prayers that have been depicted.

    Water Prayers - Provide a large glass bowl and pitcher of water. Provide instructions for participants to offer a silent prayer and pour a small amount of water into the bowl. As each person prays, his or her water prayers are mixed with those of others as the bowl fills.

    Mural Prayers - Tape a large sheet of paper to a wall and provide markers and crayons. Worshippers can use this canvas to create a mural of prayers on a particular topic (such as "the world" or "peace" or "hurt") or it could be used graffiti-style, allowing for individual creativity to represent words, pictures, symbols, poetry, etc. to offer up prayers to God.

    Braided prayers - Set out colorful strips of cloth and a length of clothesline tied between to trees or posts. Invite worshippers to take three cloth strips to represent three people or things they want to pray about. Tie the ends of the three strips to the clothesline and then braid the three together, all the while meditating and praying on the selected pray concerns. Encourage participants to take note of the braided cloths left by others and to consider their prayers as well.

    Prayer Stones - Assemble a collection of smooth stones and ask participants to choose one and hold it firmly in their hands, focusing on and praying for a particular joy or concern. When ready, worshippers should take a sharpie and write a word on phrase on the stone to represent their prayer and then add it to the growing pile left by others.

    Candle Shape Prayers - Set out a number of votive candles and a lighter. Instruct a small group to work together, in silence, to form together a shape or symbol to represent a prayer need of the world. When the group senses the image is complete, have them work together to light each candle, hold hands, and pray in silence.

    Pipe Cleaner Prayers - Invite worshippers to take several pipe cleaners and form a shape or design that communicates a prayer concern. Ask them to add their creation to those of others and to spend time contemplating all the prayer concerns represented.

    Stick Sculpture Prayers - I must admit the exact focus of this one alludes me but I'm sure you could creatively adapt it. Found sticks were provided and the group worked together to form a sculpture. Perhaps each added stick represents an individual prayer and the sculpture represents our prayers connected to each other, or perhaps the entire sculpture represents a prayer.

    Of course, any of these prayer experiences could be enhanced by providing scriptures to read, sacred music, written questions to encourage thought and meditation, or icons such as images of Jesus or biblical stories in art. You can find other creative worship ideas, including more suggestions for interactive prayer stations, here.

    -- Brian

    Monday, July 14, 2008


    More great youth ministry links from around the blogosphere!

    What's So Bad about "Wall-E" - After the minor furor on this blog over my review of Wall-E (fueled in part by the fact that the review got linked to the national political blog of Andrew Sullivan) I thought I'd pass on youth ministry blogger Jeremy Zach's more friendly review. Should you encourage your youth to see the movie? Sure, then talk with them about it afterwards.

    Guns for Christ? Youth minister Cory highlights one of the most ridiculous attempts to attract youth to a ministry gathering. Add this one to my growing criticism of the use of violence in youth ministry.

    Do we have to go to bed? Danny has a few excellent tips on how to handle things in your cabin at summer camp, including how to address the always challenging "bedtime" routine!

    Tired of Duck Duck Goose? Here's a free mega-list of over 2000 games perfect for church camp or any youth ministry gathering.

    Keeping up with the culture? Mark offers some thoughts and suggestions on how gas prices are affecting youth ministry...and an interesting post of a recent cover of People magazine that you just might want to talk about with your youth.

    Can it fit in a bottle? Devin wonders why people pick up shells on the beach and poses a cool question that would be great to share with your youth.

    Mystical Youth Ministry? Here is a negative critique of Mark Yaconelli and the move many of us have made toward contemplative ministry with youth. I don't agree with the conclusions, but it does make for an interesting read.

    Thursday, July 10, 2008

    Youth Ministry Game: Worm Racing

    I'm guessing this one is more fun to watch than actually do!


    I just recently returned from a church mission trip to the Gulf Coast and (though I can't believe I'm saying this) I'm happy to be back in the heat and humidity of Missouri. It's nothing compared to that of Louisiana! This year we made our first attempt at an "all-church" rather than "youth-only" mission trip and we learned a few new things along the way, as well as being reminded of some things we already held to be true about what NOT to do on a mission trip:

    1) Don't allow Ipods and MP3 players - You can't imagine the difference it makes when you are driving those long highway hours if you make people put away their personal listening devices and actually spend time talking to each other, singing, playing car games, and enjoying the passing sights. This doesn't mean you have to ban the electronics altogether. Just restrict them to rest and sleep times when it makes sense for everyone to be off in their own little worlds.

    2) Don't forget that it's about the Work -- It's so tempting to pepper the workdays with evenings out at the local mall or amusement parks or movie theaters, or promises of some big fun day at the end of the week if everyone just keeps working. I have found that when you dangle a "fun day" at the end of the work week, the youth have a tendency to lose focus on the true ministry and purpose of the trip. Don't be afraid to make the work itself what it's all about. Help your youth see that work, particularly in the service of others, can be fun and should be enticement enough, without the promise of a Disneyland or Six Flags. Plus, there are plenty of small ways to make the week fun and to build fellowship. Share in meals together, go out for ice cream, take in a free local historical spot as the setting for your evening devotion, play games. And if you have time on the way home for an impromptu fun stop, Great! (My group took a quick detour to take photos in front of Graceland!) Just don't make it a big part of the draw of going on the trip.

    3) Don't forget the most important word: Flexibility! After 20 years of mission-tripping, I can tell you that these things never come off the way you plan. You can go over every last detail in advance, spend months getting organized, and then find out that the rental company doesn't have your vans ready on time, or the mission site has booked too many groups for the week, or the adult you expected to be the biggest help turns out to have a grumpy-streak a mile wide. One thing I learned on this year's trip: youth are much more able to deal with diversity and last minute changes than adults are! The best thing you can do in advance is prepare everyone to expect the unexpected, to go with the flow, and to regularly repeat this word like it was a sacred mantra: "Flexibility, Flexibility, Flexibility!"

    4) Don't neglect to meet God in those you are helping -- This goes without saying, I suppose, but it's such an important lesson. We go to serve and to bring God's love to others, and so often we find we are met by an even deeper and more profound faith in those we are helping. We had planned on our worksite for a week of PB&J lunches, only to discover that the woman whose mobile home we were rehabbing was treating us to homecooked Cajun food everyday! These lunches together gave us an opportunity to really get to know our host and for her to witness to us about her faith in the face of the trials she experienced during and after hurricane Rita. As you go out to bring God to others, don't forget that God is already out there waiting to greet you.

    5) Don't let the day end or begin without prayer -- Keeping in mind #2 above, sometimes the group can get so caught up in the work that they forget to center themselves. On our recent trip, a few in the group were so anxious to get to the worksites in the morning that they took off without joining the rest of us for prayers and devotion time. And some of the group were so heck-bent on buying material supplies for the next day's work, they opted for an evening trip to Home Depot and skipped out on the evening devotions. It's crucial to begin and end the day with a focus on God and path of Christ that calls one to mission in the first place. It's a way, during the hectic schedule of the week of work, to remind us WHO we are and WHOSE we are.

    5.5) Don't think it's all about YOU! God was at work in that mission site before your group got there and God will be at work there long after you leave. Don't burden yourself (or fool yourself) with thinking that if you don't get the work done, no one will! Bring along a good dose of humility, do what you can, and trust that God's ways of love and peace will continue in that place even after you return home.


    Monday, July 07, 2008

    Movie Review: The Problem with Wall-E

    Anyone who knows me knows that I love robots. I imagine it began when I saw "Star Wars" for the first time the summer after 4th grade and decided I needed an R2D2 and C3PO of my own. Later, I would discover Robby the Robot of "Forbidden Planet" fame, Gort, the stoic companion of the alien in "The Day the Earth Stood Still," and lovable Huey, Dewey, and Louie from the 70's flick "Silent Running." So it should come as no surprise that, when I saw the trailer for Wall-E, I would be one of the first in line to see this tale of a little robot left behind on a deserted and trash-covered planet earth. The visuals in this film, as we might expect of the Pixar folk, are amazing, particularly the opening 40 minutes or so when we see Wall-E travelling about a city emptied of its people, scooping up junk into his trash compactor body and forming it into neat, stackable skyscrapers of garbage. We quickly discover that this mostly voice-less little robot represents the best qualities of humanity: innocence, curiosity, diligence, compassion, and love. Had the movie spent its entire time hanging out with Wall-e on planet earth, I could give it a whole-hearted endorsement.

    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 insenstivity 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. Pixar tries to suggest in one throw-away moment that the people are fat because they have been in space so long and lost some bone density, but the much clearer message is that they are chunky because they are lazy and eat too much (and several times the characters' large size is used for visual jokes). A clear sign that Pixar recognized the nastiness of their message is that they chose not insult their target audience: kids. There are no children, let alone overweight children, at all on the ship -- we see only babies and chubby adults. [And good luck finding images of any of the chubby characters in Disney's advertising for the film or the film's official website.]

    More ironic still is that the film's criticism seems to be levelled at the very folks who are viewing the movie -- you and me, sitting there, doing nothing, watching a screen while consuming buttered popcorn and Junior Mints. The movie wants us to know that mass consumerism will doom this planet and its people. And you can show your support for that message by going out and buying all the Disney tie-in products and toys that will be filling your store shelves, and eventually your landfills, in the next 6-12 months.

    Don't get me wrong. I still want a Wall-E of my own and I really enjoyed 80% of the movie. I just wish the filmmakers had been more sensitive to the unfortunate bigotry in the plot and the overt irony and hypocrisy in their preachy "save the Earth" storyline.

    So, what did you think of "Wall-E?"


    Wednesday, July 02, 2008

    Mission Trip Fundraising

    Sunday morning, at 5:00 a.m. (ouch), we leave for the high school mission trip. Amidst all of the busyness, I realized that the mission trip really is a year-long project. Early in the fall, we prayerfully consider where we will go the following summer. Next, we begin recruiting youth and adults. Then, for the next six months, we focus on fund-raising. Our goal is that each participant, who participates in a majority of the fund-raising, can go at no cost at all.

    In this post, I thought I would share some of our fundraising activities that we have done over the years:

    •The fundraising is done on a point system. For each half-hour that you work, you get a point. The points, at the conclusion of the year, are divided by the total amount of money raised. In order to participate in the mission trip, you must have a certain number of points. This way, no one gets to go without first participating and you build group cohesiveness.

    •Each fall, around Thanksgiving and Christmas, we sell “Gifts in a Jar.” Basically, we buy mason jars and fill the jars with the ingredients for chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal cookies, and soup.

    •Super Bowl Sunday Subs. The day before the game, we prepare sub sandwiches. The orders have already been made. Last year, we made several hundred sandwiches and the local grocery story gave us a huge discount on the ingredients.

    •Pink Flamingos. A flamingo (or flamingos) gets placed in your yard. You have to pay $5 (per flamingo) to remove it and have it placed in someone else’s yard. For $20 you can buy anti-flamingo insurance. This is a lot of fun, and productive, but very labor intensive.

    •Stock certificates. For each stock you purchase you are entitled to: a postcard, dinner and program when we return, and a photo of the mission trip team.

    •Car wash. Make sure you can have multiple hoses and water pressure.

    •Child-care night. We’ve done this on Valentine’s day and sometime during the holiday season.

    •Rock concert/talent show. This was a huge hit last year. We called it Loftapalooza—The Loft, is our youth center. We had the participants on the mission trip develop skits, performances, and songs. The senior minister even sang a solo.

    •Bake sale. Make some homemade pies and make sure the first pie or two sells at a high bid.

    What other ideas do you have?