Friday, October 31, 2008

    Happy Halloween!

    "I got a rock!" Hope your Halloween works out a little better! Need some last minute Halloween ideas? Check out this list at the Youth Ministry Ideas blog.

    THE YOUTH VOTE II: Faith & Politics

    A seminary friend and fellow youth minister, Lori Tisher, shared with us a Bible study/discussion guide she developed to help youth consider the interaction of faith and politics. You'll find an adapted version of that guide below. If it's too late to use it for this election season, perhaps save it for the next time you are getting ready to vote.

    PART 1: CONTINUUM QUESTIONS

    Draw an imaginary line down the middle of the room. One end represents agree, the other disagree and every gradation of opinion in between. Make a statement and tell the youth to go to the place on the imaginary line that would match their response. To help the youth think even deeper, for some questions, ask a person or two to explain why they placed themselves where they did on the line.

    Sample statements:


    I am more interested in voting on issues rather than specific candidates.
    If I could vote in the upcoming election, I would vote for the same people or issues as my parents.
  • The media and poll results highly influence my political opinions.
    My life experiences (where I’ve lived, people I have interacted with, etc.) shape how I vote.
  • I would vote for a candidate based on their appearance – what they look like, etc.
  • A candidate’s technological knowledge (internet use, etc) is very important.
  • A candidate’s sexual orientation (if they are gay or straight) would influence my vote for them.
  • I think the only way to honor the separation of church and state is to not talk about politics at all at church.
  • I think the faith of a candidate is important when deciding who to vote for.
  • My faith influences who I would vote for.


  • PART 2: SCRIPTURE & POLITICS

    Invite youth to read the following scripture passages aloud and then share with them the corresponding comments and questions:

    Genesis 17: 1-7
    When Abram was 99 years old, God appeared to him … and said, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall now be Abraham … I will make you exceedingly fruitful and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. I will establish my covenant between you and me and your offspring after you … to be an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.

    Notice: Faith and politics were connected in ancient Israel. The ancient people believed that God’s promise to be in relationship with them was intertwined with their political system (anointing kings). The theological claim they are making throughout scripture is that God cares about what they do and how they act, including who they give power to and how they rule.
    Question: Is this true for people of faith today? For you? How?


    Psalm 9:7-8 and Psalm 10:16a
    The Lord sits enthroned forever. God has established God’s throne for judgment. God judges the world with righteousness; God judges the peoples with equity. . . .The Lord is king forever and ever.
    Notice: The ancient people tried to understand who God was by comparing God to a king or political figure (an image they were very familiar with). What is important to God, according to this passage?

    Question: Is this still a good comparison (God – king) to help us understand who God is today? What is important to God in our world today (this question will be answered more fully in later exercises)?

    Matthew 22:21
    Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.
    Notice: Even in Jesus’ time, the question of separation of religion and state was a sticky topic.

    Question: Do you know people of faith who refuse to pay taxes today, as an act of civil disobedience? (because the taxes support war efforts, etc.)?

    Luke 17: 20-21
    The Pharisees asked Jesus when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, The kingdom of God is not coming with these things that can be observed; nor can we say “Look, here it is!” or There it is!” For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.

    Notice: Jesus talked a lot about the kingdom of God. He used language and concepts with which the people were familiar (kingdoms). The kingdom of God was completely different from any kingdom the people had known, though. The kingdom of God was a “place” in which God’s values – of righteousness and equity – dominated; completely opposite from any kingdom that the people were familiar with (in which the rich and powerful oppressors ruled). The people had a very hard time understanding the concept of this new kingdom of God.
    Question: Does the kingdom of God exist today? What does it look like? How do we strive towards it or help bring it about?


    Romans 14:17
    The kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
    Notice: Paul was explaining to the people of Rome that in order to create and live in a world that would be in line with God’s values (the kingdom of God), they shouldn’t be so worried about following all of the old laws – about what to eat, etc. – but instead they should care about being compassionate and respectful to their neighbors.

    Question: How can we create the kingdom of God and live in a world that would be in line with God’s values today?


    PART 3: HOT TOPICS THIS ELECTION SEASON
    Consider passing out copies of your local ballot (likely available on the internet from your local board of elections.) Review with youth the ballot issues and candidates,, making special note of interesting facts (i.e. there are actually several people running for president!).

    The youth may want to spend more time discussing the specifics of the hot topic current issues in your community. If time permits, ask if any of the youth have any strong feelings – as people of faith - about any of these ballot issues or candidates. This is a question which has the potential for leading into a heated debate. You will need to be careful to allow youth to express themselves respectfully, without allowing the discussion to get out of hand and lose control of the session.


    PART 4: FAITH PRIORITIES
    Option One: Many organizations develop “voter guides” which include suggestions to help voters decided who or what to vote for. Invite youth to work in small groups to develop their own “voter guide” that would reflect the things they believe God cares about and the issues that they believe are closest to God’s heart (whether they are on the ballot this election or not). Based on their understanding of who God is and what God’s dreams are for the world (what does scripture say, what do we learn about God in church, what do you know about God from personal experience), how would God influence us to vote? Some suggestions to include in the “voter guide”: healthcare, war, environment, human rights.

    Option Two: Invite youth to pick one of their faith priorities and find two other youth who also share that faith priority. As a team, challenge them to brainstorm how they might get involved with this issue. What sorts of things can they do – as teens today – to affect the political process concerning this issue? Have the teams then create a poster that promotes their ideas and then show the posters to the whole group at the end of the discussion.

    Thursday, October 30, 2008

    THE YOUTH VOTE: Prop 8 and Marriage Equality



    Next week Californians will be asked to vote on Prop 8, a measure aimed at taking away the right of many individuals to marry the person of their choice. The video above illustrates the profound justice issue inherent in this effort by taking a "Yes on Prop 8" commercial and replacing the words "gay marriage" with "interracial marriage." Yes. There was a time not too long ago in this country when interracial marriage was illegal. And many Christians quoted the Bible in their arguments to keep things that way. Are we making a similar mistake today? Is history repeating itself? It should make some stop and think.

    What an important topic to speak with our youth about -- one that has, unfortunately, almost entirely defined what the Church stands for in the eyes of much of the secular public. You might want to share this video with your youth, as well as check out some of the Prop 8-related discussion questions for teens that fellow blogger Jeremy Zach proposes at his Small Town Youth Pastor blog. These young people are future voters. Let's listen to what they have to say.
    --Brian

    Tuesday, October 28, 2008

    Video: Generation We



    Youth Leaders -- take note of Generation We, the "Millennials," those born between 1978 and 2000:

    The Millennials are a special generation, potentially the greatest generation ever. They are not pessimistic or vengeful. Rather, they are sober in their view of the world. They believe in technology and know they can innovate themselves out of the mess they are inheriting. They believe in entrepreneurship and collective action, and that each person can make a difference. They are about plenitude, and they reject cruelty. They are spiritual, responsible, tolerant, and in many ways more mature than their predecessor generations. They reject punditry and bickering, because they are post-partisan, post-ideological, and post-political. Most important, they believe in the greater good and are ready to dedicate themselves to achieving it.

    From the book "Generation We: How Millennial Youth are Taking Over America and Changing Our World Forever" by Erich Greenberg. You can download a free copy the book here. It's definitely worth a read. Let us know what you think.

    HALLOWEEN FUN WITH JACK CHICK

    Who's Jack Chick? Perhaps you don't recognize the name of the most prolific evangelical tract cartoonist of all time but you've likely come across one of his little comic books sitting on a window ledge, on top of a mailbox, or left behind at a table in restaurant. My favorite depicts a guy who dies and goes to heaven and is shown highlights of his life on big movie screen. Most of the tracts focus on who's going to heaven and who is going to hell and why you don't want to be the latter. What Jack lacks in biblical knowledge and solid exegesis he more than makes up for with his kitchy drawings and over-the-top scare tactics. I always get a chuckle out of the fact that every year they market his tracts as a great give-away to kids on Halloween night. Here is a sample one of one of his comic books, a story about three teenagers who go running from terror out of a haunted house and one of them is hit by a car:


    Imagine getting that in your trick-or-treat-bag! "I got a candy bar!" "I got some gum." "I got a rock." "I got a Jack Chick tract!" See! What did I tell you? Halloween fun. And listen to what other folks are saying about giving these tracts to trick-or-treaters:
    • "Some kids say 'I got this one last year, can I have a different one?' So we know they read and remember them." Maryland
    • "The first kids said 'Books! Cool!' One little guy said 'The candy goes in here but this stays in my hand!' He walked away reading." Wisconsin
    • "The Chick tracts went like hot cakes. Many of the children were more interested in the tracts than the candy! I was astonished!" Email
    • "We have used your candy and tract idea for the last six years. Kids love Chick tracts. Some kids yelled to other kids" 'Hey, they're giving out the good stuff!" California

    See more here.

    UPDATE: Just for the record, and since it is not clear in what I wrote above, I'm no fan of Jack Chick and wrote this post with tongue firmly in cheek. Please don't give Christian tracts to kids for Halloween. Give them good stuff: Twizzlers and Snickers!

    --Brian

    Thursday, October 23, 2008

    10 Ways to Get Teens Talking

    A friend from my seminary days recently contacted me to ask if I had any suggestions on ways to engage youth in discussion so that they don't get bored. A tall order, as the last thing most teens want out of youth group is to feel like they are at school. And nothing is worse for the discussion leader than to be met with a long unending silence each time you ask a question. Below I've listed the top ten ways I've used in the past to help teens get beyond the awkwardness of sharing their thoughts in front of a group of people and start talking.

    1) The Continuum - A non-threatening way to get teens thinking without the fear of saying something "stupid" is to indicate an imaginary line down the middle of the room. One end represents "agree," the other "disagree" and every gradation of opinion in between. Start off by making a statement related to your discussion topic such as "It's okay to be dishonest to avoid hurting some one's feelings." Teens then place themselves anywhere along the line that indicates how they feel about the statement. You can even ask some people to explain why they placed themselves where they did on the line. This is a low-stress way to get kids thinking, for them and you to see where other group members stand on the topic, and gets them moving around.

    2) Hypotheticals - Write up some very brief (paragraph long) hypothetical situations that relate to your discussion and invite small groups to discuss their reactions.

    3) Graffiti wall - Put up blank sheets of paper around the room, perhaps with different questions on them. Invite the youth to stand in small groups at each sheet, write or draw their responses, and then when you say "Next!" they move to the next sheet and respond there, also taking time to see what other groups have written.

    4) Fishbowl - Put kids in a circle and take turns pulling questions related to your topic out of a hat. Then you pass the question around the circle and each person either passes or responds. I usually don't allow any feedback on any one's responses until everyone has had a chance to share.

    5) Vote - Have a mock election with a ballot covering the issues you want to discuss and have everyone fill out the ballot at the beginning. During the discussion, have someone tabulate the votes. You could divide groups up into those who are pro/con on the issues and have them develop their arguments and give stump speeches. At the end, either reveal the results of the vote, give them a chance to vote again and see if you get different results now that they are (hopefully) more informed, or simply ask for a show of hands of those who have altered their opinion since the beginning of the discussion.

    6)Posters - Before discussing a particular issue, invite small groups to brainstorm how they might illustrate the topic graphically. Invite the small groups to create a poster that promotes their ideas and questions and then show the posters to the whole group.

    7) Images - provide images that relate to the issues you want teens to discuss and ask them to select one or more that corresponds to their feelings or thoughts and explain why they connected with those images. (e.g. on a discussion about gay marriage you might get photos from magazines of different types of couples, a wedding cake, a single person, a church, etc).

    8) Talk Partners - Many people, particularly introverts, are uncomfortable just sharing their thoughts to a question off the tops of their heads but given time to think through their answer, they are more likely to respond. When posing a question to the group, invite teens to turn to a person next to them and share their thoughts. This gives each person some time to "rehearse" their possible answer without the stress of sharing it in front of the whole group. After a minute of two, call the group back together and invite those who are willing to share their answer or share something thoughtful that their partner offered.

    9) Role Play - If your youth are uncomfortable or shy about sharing their own thoughts, ask them to share the thoughts of someone else through role playing. Create a "persona" for each participant and provide them with a written description (e.g. "Cory is 18 years old and works for his dad. He has no plan to go to college when he graduates so he doesn't see anything wrong with cheating on tests in order to pass his senior year.") As you discuss the topic, invite youth to respond as their character might.

    10) Talk Tokens - Sometimes the challenge to getting teens talking is that some talk too much and some talk too little. To try to break that pattern, provide everyone with the same number of tokens. I like to use poker chips but you could use anything: pennies, buttons, playing cards, etc. During your discussion, each time a person speaks he or she must toss a token in the middle of the circle. Once their tokens are gone, they become a "listener" while they wait for everyone else to use up their tokens. The tokens are only redistributed after everyone has used up their turns to speak.
    Other suggestions?
    UPDATE: Ian at Youthblog has added 9 more excellent ideas to the list. Check them out here.
    --Brian

    Tuesday, October 21, 2008

    Finding God in Nature



    Last weekend, we had our annual Boys’ Retreat. In the past, we have always traveled to our local camp and conference center. This year, we went on a two-night float trip in southern Missouri. While the nights were a little cold, the daytime temperatures were perfect. On the drive home, I reflected on our weekend retreat. I am confident that outdoor retreats are a perfect opportunity, that may not be possible anywhere else, to focus on God, creation, and community. The theme of the retreat was “Finding God in Nature.” We spent time around the campfire talking about God’s creation and how we are called to be stewards of the earth.

    For almost 72 hours I had a chance to live in community with my youth and adult sponsors. We had no cell phone reception, no televisions, and no video games. Where else can you get this kind of opportunity for ministry? Sitting around the campfire, roasting marshmallows, chatting, and throwing buckeyes in the fire (yes, they do have impressive explosions) create memories for these youth and adult sponsors that will last a lifetime. I really encourage each of us to continually think of ways in which we can take our youth away for the busyness of their lives and provide them with the opportunity to slow down, relax, live in community, and celebrate the presence of God in their lives.

    --Jacob

    Monday, October 20, 2008

    Team Building Game: Video Demonstration

    Adult-Teen Boundaries and Youth Ministry

    A student asks to speak with you about a personal problem. You agree to meet with him/her in your office at the church after school. The student comes in, you close the door to have a private conversation and 15 minutes later the church secretary goes home, leaving you alone in the building with a teenager. You may have just made the biggest mistake of your youth ministry career.


    I know that in my earliest years in youth ministry, when I was 20-something, I didn't give a great deal of thought to personal boundaries when it came to the young people I was serving. I thought I was really doing my job when I had opportunities to meet with them one-on-one, to visit them in their homes, to talk with them on the phone. I was a "youth director" -- a lay leader in a paid church position -- with none of the expectations of having to do periodic boundary training like a licensed or ordained pastor. But in the ensuing years, I became more educated on just how easy it is for youth and adult leaders alike to cross boundaries --social boundaries, personal boundaries, sexual boundaries, ethical boundaries. There are situations with youth I wouldn't even consider putting myself into today that were commonplace in my early days of ministry.


    Now I am responsible for providing regular training for youth leaders who work with youth in our summer camping program. Of course, the practices that apply to a situation like camp are just as important for those staffing a weekly youth ministry program. Much of what we teach is adapted from a program by the Methodists called "Safe Sanctuaries." I'd be happy to share this information in more detail with anyone who is interested, but let's focus on just a few of the biggest issues:

    TWO PERSON RULE
    - Just what it sounds like, the two person rule maintains that at least two adults must be present and within sight of each other at all times when youth are present. This is a "non-negotiable" in my opinion. In a time of heightened awareness of abuse by clergy, it is paramount that youth (no matter what age) not be alone in the presence of an adult. Of course, such a rule also protects the adult from being accused of something improper or having their actions misjudged by a young person.

    Does this mean you can't meet one-on-one with a teen? No, but it does mean you can't be alone. I often arrange to meet young people at a local coffeehouse or restaurant so that there will be other people present when we are talking. If you meet with students in your office, you should insist at the very least that the door have a window so that you can be viewed at anytime by others. If you have to drive a student somewhere or take them home after youth group, make sure another adult goes with you.
    Oh, and one more thing. So often I hear youth workers suggesting that this is a gender issue: male leaders shouldn't be alone with girls, and women leaders shouldn't be alone with boys. True, but they only get it half right. No adult should be alone with a young person, regardless of the genders involved.

    SAFE TOUCH
    - This one is tough for many youth leaders, particularly if you are a "hugger." In this part of our training, we emphasize that there is nothing wrong with touch -- Jesus often demonstrated the healing power of touch. But when it comes to teens and adults, there must be boundaries. We encourage adults to focus on "safe touch" which can include: a pat on the back, a sideways hug (hip to hip with arm around the shoulder), high-fives, handshakes, and A-frame hugs (where the two persons lean in and hug but torsos are not in contact). The most important question to ask when engaging in physical touch with teens is: "Do you want to offer touch to share God's love to the teen or do you yourself need physical contact? What is your real motivation?"

    TRANSPARENCY
    - Many of us utilize social networking sites such as Facebook as a way to stay connected with our youth. But the real danger here is transparency. I've read recently about youth leaders who use the chat features on sites like Facebook to counsel teens. If you are a trained pastor, you might think there is no issue with this. But what about the other adults who work with you? Are they too having long private conversations with individual teens via chat rooms and Facebook? Do you have any way of accounting for these conversations (such as printing out the IM conversations or saving or printing email correspondence with youth)?


    What about beyond the virtual world? Do your volunteers meet and/or socialize with youth outside of youth group times? (And are they socializing with teens for the benefit of the youth or because of their own need for friendships and social contacts?) Do you have any way of tracking or accounting for these interactions? Do you ask that volunteers at least share with you when they have met with youth, what they did, and any pastoral concerns that might have been raised? Do you run yearly background checks on all adults working in your youth groups? Each of these questions are important as they relate to the transparency of your ministry.



    Ultimately, our primary concern should be that students in our care feel safe and come to know the church or whatever setting you are in as a place where they are cared for and they are protected. It's so important to remember that everything we do, for good or bad, may form how that young person feels about God and the Church for the rest of their lives. Ministries that provide safe space for teens to explore their faith are also giving young people a window into another possible vision of the world, the "Kindom" of God, where all people are loved and respected.


    --Brian

    Wednesday, October 15, 2008

    Bono and the Bailout



    For the past several weeks, I have been following the stock market more closely than normal. In fact, I can’t recall ever following the stock market. There is no doubt that we are in a serious financial crisis. But, this quote from U2’s Bono helps put matters in perspective:

    It’s extraordinary to me that the United States can find $700 billion to save Wall Street and the entire G8 can’t find $25 billion dollars to save 25,000 children who die every day from preventable diseases…Bankruptcy is a serious business and we all know people who have lost their jobs…but this is moral bankruptcy.
    The rest of the article can be found here.

    I think conversations on the bailouts with our students would lead to some pretty interesting dialogue. I only had one economics class in college and I found it to be difficult and miserable. So, I can’t claim any great insights. But, I do believe that our budgets, bailouts, and other financial priorities are a reflection of our moral agenda and what we value most.

    Have you had any conversations with your youth regarding the bailout?

    --Jacob

    Tuesday, October 14, 2008

    HELL HOUSE: Revisited


    Since posting recently about the excellent (if disturbing) documentary "Hell House, " I've discovered that the church featured in the film has a website up for this year's event. Now I realize this project must cost them some bucks, but it does seem a little odd to me that it costs a person $10 to gain acess to an event that the church claims is entirely focused on evangelism. Is $10 the going rate for getting your soul saved? At least it's nice to know that they will have a concession stand. The website reports that you can buy nachos, hot dogs, Frito pie, pickles and chips to enjoy as you watch a girl taunted by Satan as she has an abortion and teen who is writhing in hell because "my uncle did things to me when I was a boy and then he told me that I was born 'that way'." Plus, if you want a souvenir as a memento of your trip through hell, you can purchase tatoos ($1), tshirts ($10), hoodies ($25) and more! Commodifying salvation?

    --Brian

    Rethinking Relationships

    Nine months out of the year, I spend every Tuesday and Wednesday in the local school cafeterias. I rotate though the schools, trying to eat lunch with all of my youth at least once a semester. As I enter my fourth year of ministry at the church I currently serve, I’m finally beginning to develop relationships with a number of the school teachers, administrators, and lunch room supervisors. But what does it mean to be in a relationship with the public schools? What is the role of the church in the public school system?

    The
    2020 Vision for schools has some intriguing goals—they are trying to transform the New York City public school system. Their vision encouraged me to reflect on what we are doing for our public schools. How can we, as youth ministers, be more intentional about the ways in which we help our schools and our students succeed? In the church I serve, and probably in your church as well, we have numerous individuals involved with the school at some level or another. How can we connect and strengthen our relationships with these individuals? What should we be doing?

    What do you think? How can we form a partnership with our local schools?

    --Jacob

    Monday, October 13, 2008

    Too Early to be Thinking about Camp?

    Looking for a great curriculum to use with your church camp this coming summer?

    Well, about a year ago I had an opportunity to be part of the team of writers crafting the Summer 2009 New Earth Outdoors church camp curriculum, put out by New Earth Publishers in cooperation with the Committee on Outdoor Ministry of the National Council of Churches. Our ecumenical team met for several days in St. Louis to talk through the selected scriptural texts, wrestle theologically with the biblical themes, and attempt to begin the process of crafting a summer camp curriculum that would be accessible to churches up and down the theological spectrum. We then went our separate ways to write our portion of the curriculum in time to ship it off to the editors last November. My sections included the biblical/theological reflections on all the scripture texts and a list of ideas for the creative arts.

    The curriculum has now been published and is available here and I think it's excellent. Each "day" includes ideas for exploring the biblical texts through a variety of approaches including the arts, nature, writing, music, and community building. The theme this time around is "Breakthrough" and it focuses on all sorts of stories of characters encountering Christ and experiencing a personal breakthrough to God. You can check out a free PDF sample of the curriculum here.
    --Brian

    Coming Soon: Free Ebook

    The "Rethinking Youth Ministry" elves are busy at working putting together a free Ebook entitled "Creative Prayer Ideas for Youth Ministry." This book will be a compilation of our best creative prayer activites and prayer stations, plus new ideas and approaches to engage youth in prayer that taps into different learning styles, intelligences, and ways of experiencing God's presence. Check back soon to download this publication for free!

    Youth Ministry and Numbers



    Last night, our attendance was lower than normal. I tell myself not to worry. After all, it was a big football weekend with a late Saturday night game (the MU Tigers lost) and church attendance as a whole was down. Plus, I know that it’s not all about numbers. But, I can’t help but ask the question: Why am I concerned about the number of people attending youth group on Sunday night?

    I know this a rather cliché question. Almost any book on youth ministry tells you not to focus on and worry about the numbers. But it’s difficult, at least for me, not to be concerned with a lower attendance. In fact, I think numbers can give us certain indications.

    Taking note of attendance, without obsessing over attendance, can help us answer several questions: Is this a good meeting time for my youth? Are we adequately planning for our events and ministry? Do we need more adult volunteers? Do we need to do a MIA (missing in action) and call those we haven’t seen lately? Are we using the most effective teaching techniques for the size of ministry we have? Are we spending enough time preparing?

    Perhaps all of this is to say, it’s good once in awhile to sit back and reevaluate our ministries.

    How about you? Should youth ministry pay attention to numbers?

    --Jacob

    Friday, October 10, 2008

    "That's So Gay!"

    A video worth passing on to your youth. Whatever your position on the sexual orientation debate, I would hope as Christians we would agree that words have power and that all people need to be treated with care and respect.

    --Brian

    Thursday, October 09, 2008

    A "RETHINKING YOUTH MINISTRY" Sighting


    I just stumbled upon a thoughtful post at Tom Mulhern's blog Emergent Journey. Tom begins by suggesting what an "odd thing" youth ministry is and then shares his thoughts on how he intends to shift his ministry with youth this year to be more outreach focused:
    This year to overcome the oddness and uncomfortable trappings of traditional youth ministry I have tried to steer the focus of our youth ministry towards more of an outreach and social justice focused group. We are still doing the conventional components of youth ministry (teaching about Jesus and stupid silly games) but we are also trying to become a community of youth and young adults that reaches out past our church doors. This is a shift for both our church and my own thinking.
    This is the sort of "rethinking" of youth ministry that is encouraging -- moving away from a focus on entertainment to creating opportunities for youth to live their faith in meaningful ways that echo Jesus' own actions of compassion and justice. Read more here.

    Wednesday, October 08, 2008

    More "See You at The Pole" Reaction

    After posting here about the new wave of criticism of the "SYATP" events, I thought some might be interested in this classic post on the subject at the "Stupid Church People" blog. Lots of good comments, pro and con, follow the post.

    Why do Young People Like Obama?


    It seems that record numbers of young people are registering to vote for the upcoming election. Polls indicate that the majority will likely cast a ballot for Obama. Why? Marv, at the See Through blog, is by no means "in the tank" for Obama but he offers a compelling argument for Obama's connection with the youth of our country. It has to do with authenticity:


    Why has Obama been able to pull this crowd of people in? Is it because they are politically dumb and see him as a "celebrity candidate"? NO! The reason why Obama has won this age group (my age group) over is
    because he's a genuine, transparently authentic guy. My age group is tired of secret lives, hidden agendas, false pretenses, lies, dishonest honesty (Such as "I didn't inhale" or "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Monica Lewinsky" and several others). My generation is dropping out of church for these same reasons.

    Read more. Your thoughts?

    Tuesday, October 07, 2008

    Christian Teens Stage "Hell House"

    If you are looking for some way to engage your students around the cultural observance of Halloween in a few weeks, I strongly recommend the documentary "Hell House." This film follows one church's efforts to create a Christian version of a haunted house. What makes it Christian? Well, instead of ghosts and ghouls, we get a girl suffering through an abortion while taunted by demons, a gay man who dies of AIDS and goes to hell, a girl at a rave who takes drugs and is raped (her fault for being morally weak!) and on and on.

    These "hell houses" are cropping up all over the country, most often sponsored by church youth groups who spend months preparing, building sets, making costumes and rehearsing their lines. All in the name of evangelism. The documentary lets the church folk tell their own story with no outside judgment or commentary by the filmmakers (though there is one really interesting scene where some local teens confront the youth minister on what they consider to be the intolerance inherent in the whole project).


    I wonder that these hell houses are just an excuse for some Christians to have fun at Halloween while claiming they are not endorsing paganism and the occult. On the other hand, the participants seem genuinely convinced that this is an effective tool for bringing people to Christ. What a great conversation you could have with youth after watching this film, looking at issues of evangelism, thoughts on the afterlife, understandings of God in scripture (lover vs. judger), and the ways different churches understand the central focus of the Christian faith. Check out a useful review of the film here.

    For more fun, check out this clip of every one's favorite cranky atheist, Richard Dawkins, interrogating a Colorado evangelical pastor about whether or not these hell houses are trying to scare people into "being good."

    --Brian

    What's Wrong with "See You at the Pole?"


    The "See You at the Pole" controversy rears it's head in the blogsphere once again. Stuart Delony got many of us thinking critically about this issue right here about a year ago. My response at the time was to write:

    This yearly program asks students to meet at the flagpole outside their school and stand together holding hands and praying -- in a display of self-righteousness for all to see. Perhaps more bothersome: it centers itself around a flag, a symbol of nationalism, further commingling faith and country in a way that I believe dilutes our faith and is downright dangerous for the health of the Church. Some might argue that these youth are witnessing to their faith. But I would hope we are leading them to understand that we don't witness to our faith by making public spectacles of our piety. We do so in the way that we live and love others, in the way we work for peace and justice, in the ways that we care for creation, and in the ways we practice reconciliation.
    Now Johnathan at THESOURCE4YM takes up the argument saying :
    The question I have is simple. Where is the Biblical basis for this event? Because if we look at what the Bible says about prayer, I only find passages talking about how we should NOT pray to be seen by others. Jesus himself said that we should go and close the door to pray.

    Read the
    rest. What do you think?

    Update:
    There's quite a growing consensus of similar responses to "See You at the Pole" over at Pomomusings. Maybe it's time for some enterprising youth minister to come up with a better alternative. HT to Joel at the Mayward blog.

    --Brian

    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. Our theme this time around seems to be "geekdom!"

    Something Old: Youth Ministry Geek is a site that looks at the intersection of technology, youth ministry, and the world. Check it out to find out how to integrate your ministry with YouTube videos, Twitter, Podcasts, Google, IStock and lots more you need to know to be a tech savvy youth minister.


    Something New: "Why I'm a Youth Ministry Geek" is a refreshing blog from a guy in the youth ministry trenches sharing his thoughts on ministry, politics, culture, and even weight loss! I especially appreciate this post on how to save money in your youth ministry budget and this post on reaching gamers in your youth ministry.

    Monday, October 06, 2008

    More Creative Prayer Ideas for Teens

    As Christian educators, it’s helpful for those in youth ministry to be aware that not everyone learns in the same way. The growing body of literature around the theory of multiple intelligences reminds us that different brains respond to different learning environments and experiences. Some of us are drawn toward the use our hands, some our voices, some of us our ears, some of us love silence, some of us would rather be outdoors, with a group, or even alone. This same understanding of learning could be applied to our individual experience of prayer and connectivity with God. When it comes to the efficacy of worship and prayer, one size does not fit all.

    Below you will find a collection of creative prayer ideas, each tied to one (or more) of the multiple intelligences. Each idea is fairly open-ended and can easily be adapted to your particular theme or scriptural focus. Why not consider setting up a "night of prayer" for your youth and invite them to explore the prayer experiences that speak most to their own ways of exploring the world and their spiritual life.



    Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence: This intelligence involves a tendency to want to experience the world through touch and movement. Offer participants a chance to walk a labyrinth, a meditative practice that allows you to use the whole body while in prayer, perhaps focusing on their personal journey of faith. You can create simple labyrinths using just masking tape on a floor. See here or here for complete instructions. And see here for an example of how a labyrinth could become the setting for multiple prayer stations like those posted below.


    Verbal-Linguistic Intelligence: This intelligence involves a comfort with expressing oneself through language, either written or spoken. Option one: Provide participants with individual chalk boards and erasers and invite them to spend time writing down the things in their life for which they are seeking forgiveness. This could be just a list of items, or could be in the form of a letter or poem. After praying to be open to God's forgiveness, participants should be invited to erase what they have written on the chalkboard as a symbol of reconciliation with God. Option two: Gather several sets of Scrabble letters and invite participants to use the tiles to create a prayer on a table top, perhaps even connecting their words with those of others.


    Logical-Mathematical Intelligence: This intelligence relates to our ability to learn through logic, patterns, sequences, and numbers. To engage this intelligence, set up a prayer station that includes a cross-shaped tangram puzzle using templates that can be found here and here. Instruct participants to take time to piece together the puzzle and then meditate on what the challenge of the cross means to them.


    Visual-Spatial Intelligence: This intelligence is often demonstrated through the creation or appreciation of visuals and art. To engage this intelligence, try this cool idea: Hang a piece of muslin and use an LCD projector to project an image onto the muslin from behind. This could be any image that ties with your worship/prayer theme: a portrait of Christ, hands, a tree, etc. Invite worshippers to use paint to recreate the lines of the image being projected on the muslin. At the end of your time together, turn off the projected image and see what you have created together.


    Musical-Rhythmic Intelligence: This intelligence is often demonstrated through the appreciation or performance of music. Option one: To create a prayer station focused on this intelligence, round up several Ipods or MP3 players and download meditative chants or other spiritual music for participants to listen to as they focus on a particular text or written meditation. A great source for combined word-and-music meditations is the website Pray-as-you-Go which offers free daily downloads perfect for a prayer station. Option two: Load each Ipod/MP3/CD player with a different type of music: classical, jazz, pop, techno, etc. Invite participants to take time to listen to each, allowing the different styles of music to focus their prayers differently. Option three: Have a video Ipod? Provide (Christian?) music videos for meditation.


    Interpersonal Intelligence: This intelligence is expressed in an ability to work with and relate to other people and in groups. For this prayer station, encourage three or four people to work together to create a
    group mandala. This prayer practice invites the group to work together to create a “sacred circle” in which each draws, paints, writes their particular prayer concerns and joys inside the circle. The challenge of the task is to see how they might each add or respond to the contributions of others to the mandala’s design or content. See template to the right for one possible way to approach this group mandala project.


    Intrapersonal Intelligence: This intelligence involves private introspection. Option one: Provide participants with a collection of photos or sacred art images and invite them to spend some time in private thought, focusing on the images that speak most to them or that help them to lift up particular prayers of need, thanks, praise, etc. Option Two: Invite participants to try the Ignatian Examen, an ancient meditative prayer form that invites one to discern the presence of God in the everydayness of life.

    Naturalist Intelligence: This intelligence involves a sensitivity to nature. Invite youth to leave the building and take a stroll outside, noting the gifts of creation all around them and offering a prayer of thanks for each. As they walk, they should look for a natural object (e.g. a leaf, a rock, a flower) that in some way symbolizes God for them. Ask each person to bring the object, if appropriate, back to the prayer room and place on an "altar" area for others to see.
    You can check out more of our ideas for prayer stations and creative worship here.
    --Brian