Monday, August 25, 2008


    Ever joined a group for the first time only to discover a feeling of alienation because you didn't understand the group's in-jokes, you didn't know how to participate in their long-established rituals and you had no reference for their stories of past shared experiences of which you had no part? One of the biggest mistakes a youth leader can make at this time of the year is to assume that you're just working with the same ol' youth group -- "It's just that a few youth have left and a few new ones have joined the group." Not so! Not so! It's paramount that we see each fall as a new start, a new group, a new community. With some youth graduating on to college and work, and younger youth joining the activities for the first time, the chemistry of the group shifts and it's like starting all over again. Ignoring this reality can result in the long-time members developing a sense of privilege and new members receiving the message very quickly they that will have to earn their place in the already established group.

    Given all of this then, building Christian community is one of the most important things you can do when kicking-off a new youth group year together. In fact, I don't think it is out-of-bounds to suggest that the first several months of the fall should focus almost entirely on building Christian community. So how do you do that? Here are a few suggestions, all focused on the theme of being "together":

    Transition Together- Take time to a have a mini-funeral where you literally say goodbye to last year's youth group. Perhaps place some tokens of the previous year (photos of events, names of graduated members, souvenirs from the mission trip) in a box and actually bury it in the ground or store it away in the church somewhere with reverence and care. Immediately following this, celebrate the birth of the new group with birthday cake (only one candle, of course), streamers, balloons, the works!

    Play Together - Youth groups love extroverts! We design so many activities that force teens to get up in front of others and act stupid, or force them to interact with people they hardly know. But what about the introverts? "4 Corners" is a good opening activity that allows a new group to learn about one another while also being low stress for the introverts in the group who often hate name memorization games or having to get up in front of a bunch of people and introduce themselves (or a partner). Start by creating a list of categories that can be divided into four choices. For example:
    1. Which free car would you choose: jeep, BMW, electric, pickup truck
    2. Choice of class to be stuck in all day: math, art, gym, study hall
    3. Choice of vacation destination: beach, mountains, Europe, skiing in Colorado.
    4. Character(s) you'd want to be trapped with in an elevator: Brian, the dog from "Family Guy," the robot Wall-E, The Powerpuff Girls, Homer Simpson
    As you read each category, designate a different corner of the room or playing space for each possible choice. When you say "Go!" each person moves to the corner that fits the answer they would choose. Quickly you will discover the similarities among members in the group as well as the diversity. If you want, invite some in the group to share why they made the choice to be in one corner or another. You can even shift the categories from fairly trivial questions to increasingly more thoughtful (such as: How do you feel about being in this group right now: thrilled, confused, anxious, not sure.)

    Create Together: Creating art can draw a group together, give them something to talk about, and develop a sense of shared purpose and accomplishment. This can be done in a variety of ways. If you are eating together, cover the tables with butcher paper and provide lots of markers or crayons. Write intriguing questions on the paper (What's the furthest place you ever travelled? What do you like best about church?) and invite youth to respond in writing or pictures as they eat together. Alternately, lay out a large sheet of paper or cloth and invite the group to work together on a mural around a shared theme such as community. Other projects might include making masks together or doing a tie dye project (for example, everyone tie dyes a square of cloth and then these are all attached together to form a quilt that symbolizes both the bonds and the diversity of your group.)

    Solve Challenges Together - There are many excellent resources for team-building or community-building activities and events that encourage groups to forgo competition and instead learn to support and care for one another as they solve some sort of fun, physical or mental challenge. Check here for a lots of free ideas. I also highly recommend these resources:



    From Cobus at My Contemplations:

    Maybe we should put heaven back into it’s place, as a footnote to our theology. Now, for the serious theologians who want to deliver critique, let me say up front, I’m not saying that eschatology is a footnore to our theology, just that the heaven (and specifically the heaven hell thing after you die) should be a footnote to our theology. Kind of like I’d wanna say: “OK, so life don’t stop when you kick the bucket, we clear on that? Good! Now: so you say you believe in God? You agree that then doing things God’s way is best? You do? OK, so lets go search for that, cause the Bible has a lot more to say on that than on who’s going to heaven and who not!”

    Lend Your Support...

    Our blogging friend Stuart Delony is taking part in a celebrity golf tourney today (well, he's the only celebrity we know who will actually be at the tournament) to raise funds to support his ministry to youth - Youth Dynamics:
    Youth Dynamics mission is to invite and challenge youth to a lifelong journey in relationship with Christ and His church. This mission is the heart of our ministry to local teens, many without a church home or a relationship with Christ. Youth Dynamics ministry is relational as we build into the lives of students by taking time to know them and come into their world.
    Why not head over to Stuart's blog and give him a little support in the good work he is doing with unchurched youth!

    Friday, August 22, 2008

    IMAGE OF THE DAY: Stillness of Time...

    Photo by friend and fellow pastor Ron. Check out his amazing photoblog here.

    Tuesday, August 19, 2008


    Wow! We just finished up summer camps and mission trips and it's already time for school and a new youth ministry year to begin. If you are like many folks who work with youth, you are planning or have already held some huge opening event to kick-off your youth year. Something full of activity and fun and music with the hopes of pulling the youth in and making them want to return again for another week. That is certainly one way to start your new year together....but let me suggest a different way.

    The challenge of the big opening event, particularly for moderate or small-sized youth groups, is that you have no where to go but down. You establish an expectation at that first gathering, particularly for the new members, that youth group is all about wild fun and entertainment and then you are faced with the challenge of either living up to that expectation in subsequent weeks, or admitting it was all somewhat of a "bait and switch" when the next gatherings move on to Bible study and topical discussions.

    So, rather than focusing on big and noisy, try small and quiet. Rather than focusing on "look what a big group we have," focus on "meet the individuals in our group." It all boils down to one word for me: relationship. Jesus was thoroughly relational, eschewing the big crowds for a quiet one-on-one lunch with Zachaeus, an intimate dinner with his closest friends, a conversation at the well with the Samaritan woman, a heart-to-heart with Peter. I personally beleive that Jesus understood that one of the most important ways we encounter God is in our relationship with others. We could certainly do worse than to model our ministry on his approach. So for your opening gathering, here are a few suggestions:

    Be Transparent
    - Let the youth see what you hope will be the model for your gatherings over the rest of the year. If you plan on having Bible study, prayer, worship, and a sharing of joys of concerns as part of your weekly gatherings, then do all of these things at your opening event.
    If your mission is to help youth grow in their relationship with Christ, make that clear from the start, rather than sneaking it in on week two.

    Be Relational
    - It's hard for youth to get to know one another if they are all mingling in a giant group listening to a band or playing with giant inflatable games. Instead, create opportunities for youth to talk together, to learn each other's names, to introduce themselves to others, to share their summer stories, to pray together.

    Be Interactive
    - Rather than providing entertainment that is primarily passive (everyone watching others doing something) create opportunities for the youth to interact meaningfully. Have a sit-down meal together to encourage conversation, involve the teens in an group art project, play team-building games where small groups have to work together to solve a challenge, and provide activities that invite youth to learn about one another personally.

    Be Different - Our young people live in a world of noise and activity and entertainment. Be bold enough at your first gathering to offer a different way. You might just find that youth are craving peace and quiet and real relationship. They might be craving a place to listen for the still, small voice of God. They might really need an chance to sit one-on-one and share what's going on in their lives. If you want to encourage youth to see the Kingdom of God as different from the world, what better way than to show them youth group will be different from the cultural noise they swim in everyday?

    OK. Those are the general principles. Now, how about some details. Watch this blog in the coming days as we offer up some very specific ideas and activities for being transparent, relational, interactive and different as you begin a new year with your youth.



    Would You Attend the Church of Crap? Check out this pastor's critique and explanation for why the word CRAP might be just the right name for his new church merger. HT to our blogging friend Dan Mayes. Speaking of Dan, check out part two of his thoughtful series Our Journey into a Youth Pastor-less Youth Ministry.

    "Nobody puts Baby in a corner!" Shane over at Nailscars offers up his own PowerPoint trivia quiz on the topic of Chick Flicks, part of a discussion centered on "Family, growing up, being yourself, and making a difference in your world."

    What's a Person Worth? I just discovered a fine discussion/Bible study by Grahame at the Insight blog called "Shipwreck" which uses a survival simulation to help youth think about how God values each individual person. Good stuff! Could be a nice way to start off your new youth year together.

    Do You Have to Keep Saying That? Alaina has posted an eye-opening video on a hip-hop trend, picked up by youth, that results in the constant use of the homophobic phrase "no homo."
    Where Do I Send the Flowers? Vince is doing some interesting rethinking of youth ministry (something we always applaud!) with his series "The Death of Youth Ministry." Check it out here.

    Christian vs. Christ-Follower?

    Monday, August 18, 2008

    Is #1 All That Matters?

    What is about the Olympics that the only thing that counts is getting a gold? It seems like anything less than that and you are a disappointment to your team and your country. Evidence this article about 16 year old Shawn Johnson:
    BEIJING – Shawn Johnson came here to win four gold medals, a half-pint, half-Phelps. These were going to be her Olympics, too, the West Des Moines, Iowa, powerhouse whipping her 4-foot-9 frame all over China, gymnastics’ answer to Michael’s domination across the street in the pool. Three events in and Johnson has three silvers. So close, so far.

    ... This is why Johnson was poised to become America’s sweetheart, why all the corporations had banked on her, why USA Gymnastics was so proud to put her at the forefront of its promotions. . . For a gymnast, you can’t come much closer to victory than Johnson has in Beijing. She has performed extremely well, only to watch someone else send her to silver – whether it’s a teammate making mistakes or an opponent having the performance of her life
    Does it mean so little that this young person made it to the Olympics in the first place? Does it mean so little that she is now ranked among the top three athletes in the world in her field? Is our culture too-obsessed with competition and are we passing on to our youth this idea of only valuing the persons at the top of the heap? Didn't Jesus spend most his time with people on the other end of the scale?


    Tuesday, August 12, 2008

    Praying for an Obama Rain-Out

    There is so much wrong with what the guy in this video is talking about that I don't know where to start. Produced by James Dobson's organization and under the guise of some lame humor, this message trivializes God, trivializes prayer, and (despite his protestations in the video) makes Christianity look like a competition between those who have God's ear and those who don't. I sincerely hope we are offering our youth a deeper more challenging understanding of faith than what I'm hearing in this message.

    Monday, August 11, 2008


    One of the highlights of any youth ministry year is often the summer mission trip. But why limit it to summer? How about a weekend mission trip on one of those 3-day weekend students get throughout the school year? If such an idea appeals to you and you lack the time to plan a short-term trip, I'd suggest The Center for Student Missions. CSM is a Christian ministry anchored in major inner-city areas across the United States (and in Toronto) providing week-long or weekend-long mission trips for youth, college or adult groups. Their staff will set-up volunteer opportunities for your group, provide a host (usually a college or post-college young person) to navigate you around the city (which is great if you're like me and you can't read a map!) and accompany you to all work sites. Additionally, they provide your living space for the week and all meals (dinner is most often a trip to a local ethnic restaurant so that your group can sample the diversity of the city). Your "host" is also available to help your group debrief the day's experiences. Check out a sample CSM week-long schedule here. The great thing about CSM handling all the planning and logistics is that it allows you to just relax and focus on your youth and their experience and spiritual guidance.

    My most recent trip with CSM was to their Nashville site a few weeks ago. In addition to setting up mission opportunities for us with an inner city day camp program, women's shelter, men's shelter and at a Feed the Children site, they hosted a "homeless" simulation, worship night, prayer tour of the city, and inner-city scavenger hunt for the group.

    CSM is located in Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Nashville, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Washington DC, and Toronto (I've been to mission trips at six of their sites). Cost is $61 a person per night (or $51 if it's a college group) and this includes your living space, food, and the CSM staff person that accompanies you during the mission trip. No, I don't own stock in CSM. I just think they do good work and they offer an affordable way to provide youth with an experience of inner city ministry.

    Thursday, August 07, 2008

    Must-See Movie for Youth Ministry

    "Whitwell Middle School in rural Tennessee is the setting for this documentary about an extraordinary experiment in Holocaust education. Struggling to grasp the concept of six-million Holocaust victims, the students decide to collect six-million paper clips to better understand the extent of this crime against humanity. The film details how the students met Holocaust survivors from around the world and how the experience transformed them and their community." You'll find a free discussion guide for the movie here.

    COMMUNITY BUILDER: Judging a Book by Its Title

    I came across this community builder recently and thought it was a great idea, especially for a small group (and every youth group should should either be a small group or have small groups!). Take a road trip with your teens (a group of 5-7 would probably work best) to your local big box bookseller (Borders, Barnes & Noble, etc.). Before entering the store, pose a question to the youth that will help you get to know one another better, such as:

    • How do you see your relationship with God right now?
    • Where are you on your faith journey?
    • How are you feeling about life?
    • What is the Bible to you?
    • How would you describe our youth group?
    • How would you describe your family?
    • How would you describe how you are feeling about _______? (e.g. starting school again, graduating, getting baptized, growing up, your friends, etc.)

    Next, send the youth on a search for one or more books whose title speaks to them in some way about the question you posed. For example, if you ask "How are you feeling about your life?" one of your teens might return with a copy of Something Wicked this Way Comes, The Wind in the Willows, or The Giver. If you ask "What is the Bible to you?" teens might return with The Secret (a really horrendous book, by the way) or How Good People Make Tough Choices. Youth could select books they already know, but they could certainly pick books they have never read since you are really only concerned with how they connect with the title and not the content of the text. Once everyone has made their pick, gather in the bookstore cafe for beverages and a time of sharing and talking about the titles and reasons for each person's choices.

    Wednesday, August 06, 2008

    Decisions and Discernment

    Our youth make decisions everyday. Some decisions are easy: what to do, where to go, what to eat. But at other times, youth (or all of us for that matter) are faced with difficult choices: Where is God in my life? What is my relationship with this individual supposed to be? How do I know I am doing what’s right?

    Instead of using the word “decision,” what if we spent more time focusing on discernment, particularly Christian discernment. Christian discernment is the notion that we reflect on the guiding touch of the spirit as we make our choices in life. When we plan our messages, activities, and events we try to be open to God’s will. Why should this be any different in our everyday lives?

    This fall, I hope to share with my youth some different ways to practice discernment. Here are some of the methods: prayer, community, scripture, nature, solitude, silence, and openness. I also plan to encourage my youth to listen to the gentle guidance or nudging from the Spirit. I am convinced that some events may only be seen as a “God Thing.”

    How about you? How can we encourage our youth, and ourselves, to root our choices in spiritual discernment?


    Tuesday, August 05, 2008

    Poll Results: Summer Movies

    We recently asked you which summer movies would work best for viewing with your youth group and then discussing theologically afterwards. And the results are in:

    Wall-E 56.5%
    Batman: The Dark Knight 47.8%
    Hellboy 24.3%
    Hancock 21.7%
    Indiana Jones 21.7%
    Kung Fu Panda 17.4%
    The Hulk 13.0%
    The X Files - I Want to Believe 8.7%
    The Happening 4.3%
    Step Brothers 0.0%

    Wall-E is no surprise but Hellboy? (Is it just 'cause it uses the word "hell" in the title?). Now, some of us just need to get to work creating discussion guides for these movies before they come out on DVD. Any takers?


    Today, we are holding a primary. I heard on the news that only 30% of voters are expected to turnout. I find this number to be a bit disappointing.

    This fall, I imagine that in youth group we'll have several conversations concerning the upcoming presidential election. I believe God is neither a democrat nor republican. I also believe that we, as voters and youth ministers, are called to have informed and guided public conversations that address the key issues of the day.

    One resource that may foster such dialogue, “Christian Principles in an Election Year,” comes from the National Council of Churches. Founded in 1950, the National Council of Churches represents a wide variety of faith groups including more than 45 million individuals and over 100,000 congregations throughout the nation.

    Designed to be non-partisan and ecumenical these ten principles state:

    1. War is contrary to the will of God.
    2. God calls us to live in communities shaped by peace and cooperation.
    3. God created us for each other, and thus our security depends on the well being of our global neighbors.
    4. God calls us to be advocates for those who are most vulnerable in our society.
    5. Each human being is created in the image of God and is of infinite worth.
    6. The earth belongs to God and is intrinsically good.
    7. Christians have a Biblical mandate to welcome strangers.
    8. Those who follow Christ are called to heal the sick.
    9. Because of the transforming power of God’s grace, all humans are called to be in right relationship with each other.
    10. Providing enriched learning environments for all of God’s children is a moral imperative.

    Surely these principles will help us make educated decisions as we vote.