Wednesday, November 26, 2008

    Happy Thanksgiving from Fred!

    Happy Thanksgiving from "Rethinking Youth Ministry" and Fred, the most annoying teen (pretending to be a six-year-old) on Youtube!


    Even with visions of turkey dancing in your heads, I know many of us in youth ministry are already planning for ways to observe the season of Advent with our students. We will offer a host of ideas over the coming days, starting with a suggestion for combining contemplative prayer with a creative art project (a project that involves painting "what we don't see!").

    Though we think of Advent as the four weeks leading up to Christmas, the original observance was something altogether different. In the 4th and 5th centuries, Advent was known as a six week preparation for the season of Epiphany, not Christmas. During this time, much like Lent today, new converts prepared themselves for baptism and faithful believers examined their hearts. Though the focus of Advent is different for us today, the idea of Advent as a time of introspection remains.

    The following activity is designed to introduce youth to the notion of Advent as a season of contemplation, preparation, and expectation. In contrast to the rush towards Christmas in the culture around us, Advent offer a real opportunity to slow down and tune into those things that we might miss in our busy lives. Begin by introducing (or re-introducing) your youth to the ancient contemplative prayer practice known as The Awareness Examen.

    Opening Up: Invite youth to close their eyes and share with group any observation about the space around them. What have they noticed? What are people wearing? What hangs on the walls of the room? Who is seated next to whom? Now, divide into pairs. Invite each pair to talk about something for a minute or two. Next, have the pairs stand back-to-back and instruct each person to change their appearance in two or three ways. They might untuck a shirt, button the top button, remove a belt, mess up their hair, or take off their glasses. Now, have pairs face one another and attempt to discern what has changed in their partner's appearance.

    Reflection: How closely were they paying attention? How aware were they of the details of the room? How easy was it to figure out what changed in their partner's appearance? Use these activities to lead into a discussion of how much we tend to miss in the world around us. The Awareness Examen, an ancient introspective Christian prayer practice designed by Ignatius of Loyola, offers an opportunity to reflect on our daily lives and to attend to the details that we often miss, particularly to those that point to the way God comes to us in the regular routine and habits of our daily lives.

    Digging In: Introduce the basic flow of the Awareness Examen. Generally, one will want to set aside at least 10-15 minutes daily or weekly to go through these steps:
    • Find a quiet place and take some time to center yourself.
    • Think back over the day or week as if you were watching a movie of all that happened. Allow the experiences of that time to flow back to you. Ask yourself: What did I notice? What feelings or thoughts do I associate with this time?
    • Think about where you saw God at work during the day/week? Give thanks for these moments.
    • Think about where it seemed you were unaware of God's presence.
      Think about where you were resisting God's presence. Ask forgiveness for this shortsightedness. Consider where God may be calling you to a new awareness. What new actions/attitudes might God be calling you to in your work/family/ministry/community?
    • Close your time of prayer by giving thanks for the time with God and commit to greater awareness of God’s presence in the days to come.

    Taking Action: Having explained the process of the Examen and its purpose, invite the youth now to participate in a creativity activity that, like the Examen, asks the participant to attend to details that we generally would miss or ignore. Provide each person with a sheet of paper (preferably watercolor paper) and black paint and brush. Next, give each person a copy of the same photographic image. In the example shown here, we used a photo of a dead tree standing in a field. For the purpose of this activity, you need a fairly simple image with lots of negative space around it, so a bare tree works nicely (particularly if you crop the image so that the branches go right up to the edge of the border).

    Next, invite the participants to spend some time reflecting on the image of the tree -- to attend to the details. Ask them to notice what is there....and what isn't there. After several minutes, ask the youth to begin painting, but rather than painting a picture of the tree in the photo, challenge them to paint a picture of the spaces around the tree! Though at first this might be challenging, eventually the brain and eyes adjusts to simply seeing the shapes around the tree, rather than the tree itself. It is these shapes that they are to paint! (Note: another approach is for the participants to first draw the spaces in pencil on paper, then fill in the spaces with paint).
    Do this experience in silence, or with quiet music playing in the background. As they paint, quietly lead the group through the process of the Examen, inviting them to think about where they have seen God in the past day/week, where they were inattentive to God, where they resisted God, and so on.

    Reflection: As the group finishes, invite them to consider each others paintings. Note how different they are, even though each was painting the same image. What might this tell us about how we perceive the world around us? Invite responses to the painting activity. How could such an activity be an act of prayer? How was painting "what wasn't there" like or unlike the process of the Awareness Examen? Consider as a group how you might be more attentive to the presence of God in the coming days of Advent. Close in prayer.

    Wednesday, November 19, 2008

    Another "rethinking youth ministry" Sighting

    We are always on the lookout for colleagues who are working to "rethink" the old paradigms of youth ministry. Today I stumbled upon a great post at the Emerging Youth blog. Dan shares about his frustration with trying to play the "numbers" game and how he realized that there is more to a successful youth ministry than how many teens come through the door:
    I mistakingly thought that we would really “arrive” as an established youth ministry if we could begin hosting large events like this maybe once a month. I would lie awake at night imagining having multiple youth groups, kids coming in from the streets, maybe even attract a football player or two! All the while, never realizing that what we have already been doing…had been incredible and powerful.
    Read the rest of the post here and let Dan know what you think. And when you are done with that one, read a companion post of Dan's here.

    Tuesday, November 18, 2008

    POLL RESULTS: Biggest Youth Ministry Challenge?

    In our most recent poll, we asked you to share your opinion on the biggest challenge you face in your youth ministry work right now. It seems many struggle with getting their youth to seek a deeper experience of faith. Perhaps we are asking to much of ourselves and the young people we serve. I believe it was Mike Yaconelli who wrote several years ago that youth are really Christians-in-training. We shouldn't expect as much of them as we do ourselves. They need time to mature in their faith. Your thoughts? Here are the full results:
    What is the biggest challenge in your youth ministry work right now?

    30% (42 votes) Getting the youth to "dig deeper" in their faith.
    17% (24 votes)
    Increasing youth attendance.
    16% (22 votes) Balancing family and ministry.
    14% (20 votes) Recruiting enough good volunteers.
    9% (12 votes) Finding enough money to pursue our dreams.
    6% (9 votes) Trying to get parents involved.
    4% (6 votes) Everything is going great!
    4% (5 votes) Getting the church to take me seriously.

    Be sure to participate in our new poll in the sidebar!

    Music Video: "How the Day Sounds" by Greg Laswell

    I love this new song by Greg Laswell entitled "How the Day Sounds." I think we focus too much sometimes on all the troubles teens face. We talk with them about sex and divorce and drugs and depression and suicide and abortion and war and...on and on. It easy to forget, perhaps, that ultimately we have a message to share with them that is good news. Good news about hope, peace, faith, and love. This song comes out of a time of pain experienced by the songwriter and expresses a renewed hope and willingness to be a positive part of life again. I know there is a great discussion here somewhere for a youth group meeting. It might even make a great focus for Advent and the promise of "light" coming into the world. Who's up to the challenge of crafting one for the youth ministry blogosphere? We'll happily be the first to link to it when you do! Here are the lyrics:

    Who would've ever known it
    could be this easy
    Oh, I was a long, long way off
    And just like that it's over
    Everything that I knew of love
    I was a long, long way off
    And I think I like how the day sounds
    Like how the day sounds through this new song
    Thank you for opening the window
    The sky is clear as my mind is now
    I was a long, long way off
    Join me in welcoming the sun in
    It's much brighter than the night I hid in
    I was a long, long way off
    And I think I like how the day sounds
    Like how the day sounds through this new song (Repeat)
    From a long way down
    Yeah, it's well worth the time that it's taken to get here now
    So go ahead and bang a gong
    Nothing can drown out the sound of the whisper of my love
    And I think I like how the day sounds through this new song
    And the lines have all been drawn
    I know where I belong, where I belong
    Oh, won't you sing along? Oh my love, won't you sing along?

    Note: Yes, that is Elijah Wood in the video.

    GIMME! : A Short Lesson on Prayer

    In keeping with our look at how to invite youth to get beyond the wave of consumerism that is about to wash over our culture in the following weeks, we offer up this short Bible study discussion on the spiritual (and sometimes not-so -spiritual) practice of prayer:

    FOCUS: To help students examine their understanding of prayer as a spiritual practice.

    OPENING UP: Invite the group to pray with you and say:

    Dear God, we come before you and give thanks for everything we have. We ask that you continue to bless us. Give us the things that we need and the things that we want. Help us get the best MP3 players, the best video game systems, the coolest clothes, the hottest sports car. Help us make good grades on all our tests and homework, and help us to win and be number one at whatever we try. Most especially, bless our country so that we continue to be more powerful and more wealthy than any other country in the world. Thanks God. Amen.”

    Ask: If you heard this prayer in a worship service, how do you think you would react/feel? How is this prayer different/same as your idea of prayer?

    REFLECTION: Go around the circle and invite each person to finish the phrase “Prayer is...” with one word. Do this three times, encouraging them to use a different word each time. Encourage them to consider action words, descriptive words, symbols, emotions, etc. Keep a written list of their responses.

    Alternative: Pass out a handout with a variety of images on it related to prayer. The images might include folded hands, a person singing, someone walking in the woods, a lit candle, worshippers holding hands in a circle. Invite youth to share which pictures say something to them about how they understand prayer.

    DIGGING INTO THE TEXT: Read Matthew 6: 5-17 together. Ask: How could the text help shape our prayer practice? How might we pray differently than we do now in church/in private?

    Luke 18: 9-14 (The Pharisee & the Tax Collector). Ask: How do you think the Pharisee would define prayer? How do you think the tax collector would define prayer?

    Read Luke 5:16. Ask: What do you think about Jesus' practice of praying alone? What do you imagine he prayed about? What does your own prayer practice look like or what would you like it to look like?

    BRINGING TOGETHER SCRIPTURE & OUR STORY: Pose "The Big Question": Do you think God answers prayer? If so, how? What does a prayer sound like if it's not about asking for stuff? What part, if any, do we play in helping God to answer prayers (or own or those of others)?

    Encourage the group to reflect on the different ideas and images of prayer that you have discussed. Invite them to create (perhaps in silence, as an act of prayer) a group mural that illustrates, without words, different ways of understanding prayer.

    TAKING ACTION: Invite youth to take up a prayer practice in the coming weeks that involves "emptying" oneself of those me-centered desires and distractions that get in the way of a more meaningful prayer practice. Encourage students, like Jesus, to find a "secluded place" to pray, whether that be in their bedroom or outside in the woods or locked in the bathroom! Invite youth to use a prayer box or bowl as a way to begin their time of person prayer. This vessel could be used in two ways. One: place into the receptacle things or symbols of things that might distract you in your time of prayer or draw you into yourself instead of into God. These might include a cell phone, watch, TV remote, homework, money, etc. Two: place into the receptacle slips of paper on which you have written the names of people or places for which you want to focus your prayer time.

    Perhaps commit as a group to pray each day for one week at a certain time and for a certain number of minutes. Then, report back to one another about your experiences.

    Wednesday, November 12, 2008

    BIBLE STUDY: Making Room for God

    Like it or not, the "Christmas Buying Season" is upon us. Apparently, the secular culture never heard of Advent and started playing Christmas carols before Halloween had even come and gone. So, now might be the best time to get a little ahead of the game and try to steer your youth away from the cultural obsession this time of year with accumulating "stuff." The following Bible study is focused on the spiritual practice we might call "simplifying your life," something Jesus, the Desert Fathers, the monastics, and others in our rich tradition understood as a way to make more room for God in our lives.

    OPENING UP: (5 minutes)

    Count off students into groups of three. Tell them they have two minutes to try to make as long a list as possible of the things that they own. After the two minutes, have them reflect on the following questions with their small group:

    How many things on your list do you need?
    How many things on your list do you rarely use?
    How many things on your list would you be better off giving away?

    Consider showing clips from the documentary "What Would Jesus Buy?"(see above).

    REFLECTION: (10 minutes)

    Invite the group to participate in a quick quiz, perhaps standing or sitting as a way to vote "yes" or "no" on each item:
    1. Going shopping is sort of like a hobby or pasttime for me.
    2. I sometimes take my old clothes to a re-sell it store.
    3. I would work a job I hate to have enough money to buy the stuff I want.
    4. I'd want to buy the newest video gaming system (or other item), even if my old one worked just fine.
    5. I sometimes buy something because it's cool -- not because I need it.
    6. I would consider buying my clothes from Goodwill or the Salvation Army or other re-sell it store.
    7. There is too much "stuff" in my bedroom!

    Share that this Bible study is going to focus some time on talking about "things" that clutter up our lives. We all have stuff in our lives. We buy lots of it. Lots of it is given to us. Even right here in the church. Look around at all the stuff in your youth room/the church. These things are a big part of our lives and it's worth it to spend some time thinking about how they affects our spiritual lives.

    DIGGING INTO THE TEXT (25 minutes)

    Separate into three groups. In this activity, each group will explore a biblical text that speaks to how much importance we should place on our material possessions. Invite participants to listen to a scripture passage and think about what it might have to say about the thingsin our lives:

    Group 1: Luke 12: 13-21 The Parable of the Rich Fool
    Group 2: Luke 21: 1-4 The Widow’s Mite
    Group 3: Matthew 19: 16-21 The Rich Young Man

    Invite the group to prepare a skit or pantomime based on the parable, with one or more persons reading the text as the others act it out.


    Bring the whole group back together. Share that, in the Gospels, Jesus talks about our fixation on money and material goods more than anything else. He is remembered as someone who clearly felt that how we view the importance of possessions in our lives has a real impact on our relationship with God.

    Have the small groups stage their parable for the whole group. Invite the participants to think about what the stories have to say about how we live in the world today.

    After each group performs, pose the questions below to the group. Invite them first to respond by sharing with someone next to them. As time permits, invite one or two persons to share their thoughts with the total group:

    What character(s) are you most like right now when it comes to the possessions in your life? How do you see the character’s posessions encouraging or getting in the way of their relationship with God?


    Jesus, a poor man living in a world where most people were so poor that they only had the food they needed to live day-to-day, is remembered as teaching people to be careful about thinking that “things” would make them happy. He invited people to see that true life was about something better than just having lots of stuff. But he also knew that in order to see that better way of life, sometimes we have to let go of some of the clutter that keeps us from seeing God’s love more clearly.

    Read Matthew 6: 19-21 and invite the group to meditate on the passage in silence or perhaps by using the ancient prayer practice of lectio divina.


    Brainstorms some ideas as a group for simplifying your lives, including giving up some unneeded possesions. Try some of these ideas for starting this practice today. Perhaps take on a challenge as a group to adopt some some of these practices during the holiday season.

    Close in prayer.

    Some of this Bible study was inspired by the resources from the Way to Live text and companion site. Check it out!

    Tuesday, November 11, 2008

    Teens & Sex: What do you think? Part II

    The New Yorker has an interesting article on teenagers and sexuality, particularly teenagers with an evangelical background. The article claims that red states have more abstinence-only programs and a higher number of teenagers who make promises to not have sex before marriage. Surprisingly, perhaps, these (socially-conservative) states have higher rates of STD’s and teenage pregnancies than more liberal blue states. The author claims that evangelical-protestant teens, due to the sexual education they receive, are less likely to use contraception. Using contraception may suggest to these teens, and others, “that they are looking for sex.” Finally, the article states that the age at which individuals marry may be the “pivotal” difference between red and blue states—data suggests that red state couples marry earlier and have greater divorce rates.
    For the past several years, the church I serve has been creating programs and ministries that specifically address teenage relationships and teenage sexuality. We recently received a grant to partner with sixteen other churches and help them develop (over the next two years) their own programs and ministry that will focus on teenage sexuality and relationships. I tend to think the article is correct in its observations. What do you think?

    Monday, November 10, 2008

    TEENS & SEX: What Do You Think?

    This Friday I will be part of a panel discussion of clergy and rabbis speaking about teen sexuality and pregnancy. We will be discussing this issue from a religious perspective and our point of view as leaders working with youth. I've posed several of the panel questions below. Let me know what you think. Share your expertise with our blog readers and I'll pass it on to the audience at the event:

    How do you make yourself approachable to youth who have questions about sexuality?

      How do you teach parents to talk to their teens about sexuality?

      What are the messages you try to convey?

      How can those in a secular setting create safe space for teens to explore their faith?


    Monday, November 03, 2008


    What do you think of Hell? Chadwick isn't too fond of it, at least not as depicted in the documentary "Hell House." Chad watched the movie after seeing it mentioned on this blog and offers up a good review and some good questions for pondering.

    Who's in charge? Have you always thought youth-led ministry was a great idea but you just couldn't figure out how to do it without ending up getting yourself fired? Check out these two excellent posts at the Global Youth Ministry Network blog for some great ideas.

    What is God Like? That's the question Grahame is posing at the Insight Blog and he's crafted a complete discussion/Bible study to help you explore the issue with your youth.

    How Can I get a free youth website? Glad you asked. Weebly is a really easy to use free service that makes designing a youth group website fast and simple. Here's the one I built in about one hour.

    What else can I put on my Ipod? How about one of these great youth ministry-based podcasts from the Fuller Youth Institute.

    How fun is duct tape? You might be surprised. In fact, Len has enough duct tape activities to keep your group busy for a whole night!

    What is the "Pig of Truth?"
    Find out in this insightful post at the pomomusings blog all about maintaining rituals in youth ministry and finding a place to let the Spirit move.