Wednesday, December 23, 2009

    VIDEO: Retooning the Nativity!

    I nice little video that reminds us that the Hallmark card version of the nativity does not always match up with the biblical account.  Ultimately though, I'm much less interested in the actual historicity of the birth narrative as I am with what the writers of Luke and Matthew were trying to say theologically about Jesus and the world into which he was born. Why sheperds?  Why a star?  Why wisemen?  Why a virgin birth?  All great questions to ask as we are about to celebrate the coming of God's light once again into the world.  


    Saturday, December 19, 2009

    COMMUNITY BUILDER: Guess the Christmas Carol

    Here's a quick and easy game to test your teens' knowledge of well-known Christmas carols.  The list below, which has been anonymously circulating the internet, describes famous Christmas carols using over-inflated language.  See how many your group can guess! Give candy canes to the winning team...and to everyone else, too! Tis the season to be jolly!

    1.From dark 'til dawn, soundless and sanctimonious. (Silent Night, Holy Night)

    2. My sole desire for the Yuletide season is a receipt of a pair of central incisors. (All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth)

    3. Celestial messengers from splendid empires. (Angels from the Realms of Glory)

    4. The event occurred at one minute after 11:59 PM with visibility unlimited. (It Came Upon a  Midnight Clear)

    5. Ornament the enclosure with large sprigs of berry-bearing evergreen. (Deck the Halls)

    6. The antlered quadruped with the cerise proboscis.  (Rudolph)

    7. Personal hallucinations of an alabaster December 25th. (I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas)

    8.Pastoral woollies nocturnally observed in vigilance by herdsmen. (While Shepherds Watch Their Flocks by Night)

    9. Testimony of witness to maternal parent's affection for Kris Kringle. (I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus)

    10. Clappered inverted cups, amalgamated. (Silver Bells)

    11. Who's the mystery kid? (What Child is This?)

    12. Proclaim it from high altitude geographical formations. (Go Tell it on the Mountains)

    13. O miniature Nazarene village. (O Little Town of Bethlehem)

    14. The approach of the holiday commemorating the birth of Christ is becoming evident. (It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas)

    15. May Jehovah grant unto you hilarious males retirement.  (God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen)

    16. Multiple reigning monarchs of the Far East. (We Three Kings)

    17. Are you detecting the same aural sensations as I am?  (Do You Hear What I Hear?)

    18. The diminutive male of less than adult age who plays a percussion instrument. (Little Drummer Boy)

    19. Primary Yuletide. (The First Noel)

    20. Heavenly cherubs announcing in song - listen! (Hark! The Herald Angels Sing)

    Friday, December 18, 2009

    Advent '09 Ideas for Youth Ministry #6: More Links!

    With the last Sunday of Advent almost upon us, we offer up one more heaping helping of Advent links.  We hope these will be helpful in your ministry with youth or just in your own personal observance of this season of waiting.

    The ReJesus features a series of online meditations focused on different  characters that appear in an Eastern Christian nativity icon image. 

    Check out this gallery of images of a collection of creative Advent prayer centers.

    Here is a great step-by-step description of an intergenerational and interactive Advent worship experience developed by a youth worker in Tennessee.

    Need a rest yourself during this season of the year? Try this online series of devotions called "Following the Star."

    The Metropolitan Museum of Art offers this really cool interactive exploration of the nativity narrative in classical art.

    Looking for some free Christmas music to get you in the spirit?  Try any of the free (and legal) downloads from Feels Like Christmas. (I particularly like the version of "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" by Jars of Clay found on this page of the site).


    VIDEO: Advent

    Wednesday, December 16, 2009

    Advent '09 Ideas for Youth Ministry #5: Bible Study

    During a season in which we are inundated with cultural versions of the nativity story, this Bible study invites youth to look critically and thoughtfully at a the story of Christmas which we find in the Gospel of Luke.

    GETTING READY: Invite youth individually or in small groups to brainstorm on sticky pad notes the names/nicknames we give to Jesus that explain how we think about him (or how we’ve been taught to think about him. Ask them to stick the notes onto a flipchart or perhaps a large image of Jesus. Read the responses out loud..

    ASK: Where do you think our ideas about Jesus come from (e.g. Bible, parents, church, culture, experiences).  Where do people outside the church get their ideas about who Jesus was?

    DIGGING IN: Set out lots of Christmas cards showing images of the nativity.  Ask youth to name characters and elements of the nativity story that they can remember. Note the differences in the ways the various artists depict the story. Share that scripture provides multiple understandings of who Jesus was and just looking at the Christmas story can demonstrate this. In small groups, challenge youth to read together Luke 2: 1-19 and Matthew 1: 18 - 2: 18. Their goal is to uncover together which elements listed below of the traditional Christmas story appear in which gospel:

    • Mary and Joseph live in Nazareth.
    • Mary and Joseph are living in Bethlehem.
    • An angel appears to Joseph.Caesar orders a census.
    • Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem.
    • An angel appears to the shepherds.
    • Jesus is placed in a manger.
    • The wisemen visit Jesus.King Herod orders the babies killed.
    • A star apears over the place where Jesus is.

    (Note: No! I'm not going to give you the answers. You have to look them up for yourself!)

    ASK: How do you feel about the fact that these two stories are so different? What guesses do you have for why the people who compiled the Bible would include both stories even though they are different?

    REFLECTING: Now let's focus in on on just one of the stories: Luke’s. Share with youth that the writer of this story likely wrote it decades after Jesus’ death. S/he likely didn’t know Jesus personally and was not reporting history (at least in the way we understand history) so much as trying to share his/her community's understanding of who Jesus was and how they had experienced God in Jesus. So, what was that understanding?

    Invite youth again to work in small teams, reading again the above passage from Luke and responding together to the questions below

    • What could it mean that Jesus is first described as a tiny baby? Why not start the story when he is an adult like Mark and John's gospels do?
    • Why include these crazy angels as a way to announce the baby’s birth? Couldn't Mary have just sent out birth announcements?
    • Why share that dirty, smelly shepherds are the first ones to get the good news of the birth? Why not some king or religious leader?
    • How do the various characters react to the birth?   How would you react?
    WRAPPING UP: Come back together as a whole group and invite youth to share the various responses they had to the questions above. You might mention that much of Luke's way of telling the story connects with Luke's particular focus on Jesus' ministry to the outcast, the poor, the neglected, and the downtrodden. His birth story contains many elements that point to Jesus' own eventual ministry to the "least of these." The mere fact that each gospel writer talks about Jesus in a unique and distinct way is a reminder to us that the story of Jesus and his ministry are not as simple as the images we see on the front of a Christmas card.

    CLOSING: As a connection with the idea that the Church and our culture see Jesus in many different ways, share the song "Rebel Jesus" by Jackson Browne (available on this album). Have they ever thought of using the term "rebel" to describe Jesus? What in the Christmas story might hint at this way of thinking about Jesus? Where is there still a need in our lives and in the world today for a rebel Jesus? Close in prayer.

    -- Brian

    Tuesday, December 15, 2009

    VIDEO: Guitar Hero vs. Christmas Lights

    Tuesday, December 08, 2009

    Advent '09 Ideas for Youth Ministry #4: Links Galore

    Still trying to figure out how to engage your youth with the themes of Advent? Never fear!  You're sure to find something helpful in the links below:

    Here are a host of discussion starters on the yuletide season from veteran youthworker Grahame Knox.

    Check out this online Advent prayer/scripture retreat that could easily be adapted for an on-site mini retreat with your youth.

    This Advent Bible study series for youth offers lots of free ideas and resources.

    Here's an Advent Bible study I created last year called "Making Room for God."

    Challenge your students with a yuletide song and image that portray a radical Jesus.

    Don't miss this awesome online Advent calendar. Each day provides you with a bounty of ideas including related scripture, artwork, music, and hands-on activities.

    Check out the creative ideas for Advent offered up by British creative worship guy Jonny Baker.

    How could we pass up sharing with you a website with a cool name like "Rethinking Christmas?"  Lots of great ideas here for alternative gift giving.

    -- Brian

    "JOY TO THE WORLD" Claymation-Style

    This version of Joy to the World is all the more amazing when you realize it is all done with clay -- no CGI trickery here.  The real music video starts at about the 1:00 mark.  Enjoy.

    RETHINKING YOUTH MINISTRY: The Adventure Continues...

    Sharp-eyed readers of this site will note that we recently shifted our address to The name shift seemed a good enough reason to take a moment to remind our visitors, old and new, just what is behind this site and its challenging title.

    We began this blog several years ago to try to provide a voice for a different way of approaching youth ministry. We wanted to see what it would look like to shift youth ministry away from the programmatic, numbers-driven, entertainment-fueled model and toward something new. Over the years, we've advocated for some important shifts we'd like to see in youth ministry: from big to small, from competition to community, from loud and high-energy to quiet and contemplative, from segregation to integration within the whole church.

    We've also tried to show what youth ministry can look like from a mainline/progressive Christian perspective while dialoguing with and learning from our evangelical and conservative Christians brothers and sisters who are also serving in the trenches of youth ministry.

    Lastly, we've worked to be a regular resource to those who are looking for practical ways to live out this rethinking of youth ministry.  Our goal is to do our best to continue to provide you with practical ideas for helping youth to explore their faith through worship, the arts, prayer, spiritual practices, community building, study, and fellowship.  We welcome your thoughts and suggestions.  Feel free to comment, email us, or join us on Facebook or Twitter.

    Brian & Jacob

    Thursday, December 03, 2009

    Advent '09 Ideas for Youth Ministry #3: Silent Retreat

    Every year, the season of Advent seems to get just a little bit crazier. And at youth group, the kids seem even more anxious and restless than normal. The idea of Christmas break, and the insanity leading up to the break, is almost overwhelming. If we’re honest, at least where I am, it’s hard to get the youth to slow down and appreciate the sacredness and holiness of the season.

    Here’s a new idea. What if you had a one day mini Advent retreat (on a Saturday) at your church? Everyone could arrive around 8:00. The day would be spent in silence, including the meal at lunch. Throughout the day you could gather for intentional periods of scripture reading and reflection. Have on hand art supplies, journals, music, rooms set aside for prayer, and maybe candles lit in a room that is otherwise completely dark. Then, at dinner time, invite people to come out of silence and participate in prayer stations and worship. This is a very different approach to the shopping, stress, and holiday parties that so many of us will experience. But in my experience with youth, I’m pretty sure it will work well. If you try it out, let us know how it goes.


    Wednesday, December 02, 2009

    ADVENT '09 IDEAS for YOUTH MINISTRY #2: Prayer Stations

    Engage your youth in prayerful meditation on the themes of Advent with these interactive prayer station ideas.

    Advent, those four weeks preceding Christmas, has its origins separate from the yuletide season. In the 4th and 5th centuries, Advent was known as a six week preparation for the season of Epiphany, not Christmas. Like our modern observance of Lent today, Advent was observed as a time for new converts to prepare themselves for baptism, to learn the faith stories,  and to examine their hearts. Though the focus of Advent is different for us today, the idea of Advent as a time of introspection remains.  The prayer centers suggested below provide a way to open some space in the Advent season to allow your youth to be introspective, to reflect on the Christian story, and to consider their place within God's mission.

    You will want to set up each center as a separate space within the room and ask the group to limit 2 or 3 people per center at a time.  To help clear away distractions, perhaps play some quiet instrumental music for background, dim the lights, and fill the room with candlelight.  Encourage your participants to experience the prayer centers in silence with no talking. One final note: resist the urge to set up all of these prayer stations at once.  Too many centers can be overwhelming and will likely just encourage the youth to keep moving about the room from station to station with little focus.  Keep it simple.

    1) The Nativity - Set out a typical Nativity set with figurines from the Christmas narrative.  Provide written instructions inviting youth to think about which character in the story they identify with most at this point in their lives: the expectant mom, the worried father, the scruffy shepherds, the travelling magi, the angels coming to bring good news, the animals wondering at the spectacle happening in their stable?  Provide paper doll cutouts and encourage youth to draw their likeness or name on one of the dolls and place it in the nativity scene as a way of symbolically entering the mystery of this story for the rest of the Advent season. 

    Naming Distractions - For this center, use a box wrapped like a gift with a slot in the top.  Provide pens and small slips of paper and invite youth to write or draw those distractions in their lives right now that are keeping them from focusing on their faith. These distractions might include worries, stress related to school or family, relationship issues, or the everyday things like TV, video games, and the like. Encourage them to place their lists of distractions in the box as a gesture of letting go of some of those distractions during Advent so that they can focus on God.

    3) Xmas Icon - Use this creative idea to create a iconic image made up of colored paper from Christmas catalog, newspaper and magazine advertisements. Sort of like paint-by-the-numbers, draw out the image you want to use (perhaps the Christ child in the manger or an angel) and divide the image into sections like a stained glass window, indicating what colors of paper to include in each section. Youth then tear or cut out paper and glue it onto the image. As youth work, invite them to consider this subversive and prayerful act of turning the commercialism of this season into a spiritual work of art.

    4) Paper Chain Prayers - Lay out strips of green and red construction paper, markers and a stapler or tape.  Invite youth to use the strips to write down the names of people, places, or causes they would like to lift up in prayer.  Encourage them to then connect their strips as loops to the paper chain as a way of connecting their prayers together with those of the rest of the community. 

    5) Shepherd - Use a shepherd figurine or perhaps a toy lamb and a Bible opened to the story in Luke of the angels appearing to the shepherds.  Remind youth of the line in the 23rd Psalm that reads "The Lord is my shepherd" and the many times Jesus is described as a shepherd to his flock.  Ask: As we prepare again for the birth of the shepherd who comes to lead us closer to God, consider who the shepherds are in your life. Who has helped you know and experience God's love and compassion?   Provide a large sheet of paper and markers where youth can write down names as a prayer of thanks for these individuals. 

    6) Hope, Peace, Joy, Love - This center is composed of votive candles and a lighter.  Remind participants that each Sunday in Advent we focus on one of these theme words as reminder of the gifts Christ will bring to the world.  Invite youth to light a candle and as they do, ponder which of those elements- Hope, Peace, Joy, Love - they most need in their lives right now.  Which do they feel they are most called by God to share with others in their lives right now?

    7) Images - Put together a Powerpoint presentation of images of the nativity story in art throughout history.  Set the images to loop and provide comfortable chairs so that youth can simply sit and  meditate on the pictures.

    8) Waiting - Using sticky pad notes and a large sheet of paper on a wall, invite youth to write and post their answers to the question: "What are you waiting for this Advent Season."  Hang another sheet of paper next to this with the related question:  "What do you think God is waiting for this Advent season?"

    9) Letters to God - Set out paper and pens and image of Santa and a cross.  Invite youth to think back to the time when they were younger and wrote letters to Santa.  What did they ask for?  Next, invite them to write a letter to God, sharing their hopes and fears, their joys and their sorrows.  They should then seal the letters in an envelope and place them at the foot of the cross.

    10) Expecting - Display this amazing image of Mary, a copy of Luke 1: 26-38, and some children's books that show more traditional images of Mary.  Invite youth to take some time to think about the words that accompany the image.  Ask: When have they experienced these feelings?  What might Mary have been feeling knowing she was to bring the light of God into the world.  What about you?  Jesus says WE are the light of the world?  How does that make you feel?  How are you called to be a light to the world right now?  

    UPDATE:  Want to see some of these prayer stations in action?  Go here to see photos of how one youth ministry used these ideas for a night of contemplative prayer.  Go here to see how another youth minister adapted a few of the prayer stations above for his teens.

    Tuesday, November 24, 2009


    A whole different way to approach Advent this year.  Why not give it a try together as a youth ministry challenge?

    Monday, November 23, 2009


    Youth worker Christina recently guest-posted at the Musings of Foreign Hearts blog and graciously agreed to let us share her post entitled "Days I Hate Being a Girl (Youth Worker)" as part of our Women in Youth Ministry Series:

    An annoyance of today turned into a little bit of a rant, but it's a glimpse into my life, so enjoy! Feel free to comment about what bugs you about being a girl today!

    -Days when you're in a business conversation with someone and they can't keep their eyes off your chest. Even though you're very modestly dressed. And your guy coworkers notice this exchange. Awkward and disgusting.

    -Days when I can't walk as fast as my (guy) coworkers because I like to wear heels and not tennis shoes

    -Days when I have to worry about why the sophomore boys want to hug me.

    -Days when I have to hear about pooping more than I'd like (aka any.)

    -Days when we are going swimming and I have to spend lots of time finding a modest-enough swimsuit to be around high school boys. AKA usually a tank top and shorts. While my co-workers run around shirtless.

    -Days when I start making lists in my head because the topic of conversation turns to MMA. Again. :)

    There are also MANY days I absolutely love being a girl (youth worker.) But today is not necessarily one of those days.


    Does your youth ministry observe the liturgical season of Advent?  If not, your youth may be missing out on the whole reason for the season.

    With Christmas music and decorations appearing in stores in the middle of October, it's a sure sign that our culture needs to slow down and cultivate the spiritual practice of waiting.  Though many churches ignore the liturgical calendar, the way our culture runs headlong into the Christmas season (before we've even tasted Thanksgiving turkey) reminds us why our youth need the Advent season of waiting and contemplation.  

    In the coming days, we'll be sharing a number of new ideas for helping your youth ministry find meaning in the season of Advent, as well as highlighting some of our favorite ideas and links from past years. 

    Idea #1:  Advent Themes

    My youth ministry is a cooperative effort with another local church and last Friday night our lock-in centered on a great creative project.  We set the youth loose to create works of art centered on the themes of advent.  After getting a quick lesson on collage from an artist, the youth proceeded to gather together scrap materials, magazines, odds and ends, glue, paint, brushes and anything else they could find to spur the creative imagination.  They then worked together on large sheets of cardboard to create art pieces, each focused on a different theme of advent: Peace, Hope, Love, and Joy

    The teens were encouraged to think abstractly, working without too much planning and just striving to express the feeling of each theme word. Some youth spent their whole time on one art piece. Others rotated around and added something to every piece.  The image above was created as a collage of faces cut out of magazines. The favorite creation was the "peace" image below.  Think about trying this with your group and then displaying each themed painting outside your sanctuary or worship space on the corresponding Sunday.  Perhaps include some scripture texts or a written devotion for reflection. 

    -- Brian

    Thursday, November 19, 2009

    Women in Youth Ministry Profile

    As part of a new series of profiles of women serving in youth ministry, we visit with Devoree Crist. Devoree is a spiritual director, M.T.S. graduate of Eden Theological Seminary, and holds a Graduate Certificate in Spiritual Direction from the Aquinas Institute of Theology. She has been involved in lay youth ministry for 21+ years.

    What do you find most enjoyable about ministry with youth in the Church?

    I enjoy being around persons who are starting to think for themselves and are just beginning to develop their own understanding of God, of religion and of faith. Up until this time of life they are open to what they learn but as they enter into adolescence they begin to question things for themselves and make their own conclusions. There is still an innocence but with the world intruding upon it. It is a real pleasure to be there to witness those moments when they catch a glimpse of the Kingdom. It is also a great joy to help them see the options open to them that may not be so obvious when "in the world".

    What do you find most challenging about ministry with youth in the Church

    The greatest challenge for me is the number of persons doing youth ministry that have no experience with youth other than their own personal experience of being a youth, and/or no real desire to do youth ministry yet are placed in that position for a number of reasons. These are the people who are writing curriculum, running the youth programs in congregations and on the larger church level. I really cringe at what passes for youth ministry sometimes. " Keep them busy and out of our way" is the theme. Working against this type of thinking is the greatest challenge.

    What shifts or changes would you like to see in youth ministry in the next decade?

    I would like to see the youth (and younger children for that matter) better integrated into the life of the church on their terms. By this I mean making it easier for youth to participate in all facets of the church experience without just being a "mini-adult on a committee." For example, serving as liturgist (trained of course) and deacon. It is good to welcome their ideas and incorporate those ideas into planning. This is true whether the youth are able to go to committee meetings or not. It would be great to see youth feeling safe to offer their gifts in worship or other aspects of church life. I would like to see classes on youth ministry taught in the seminary. When someone is called into youth ministry they should have the proper skills to do so. In other words, recognizing that youth ministry is a specialized ministry.

    What would you say to other lay women who are considering a call to ministry with youth? Are there particular challenges or advantages to being a women in this area of ministry?

    I think anyone who wishes to work with youth must truly love youth. It is challenging work and not for everyone. If noise bothers you or you can't stand short attention spans, this is not for you. On the other hand, if you are someone who can be patient and love through mood swings and lots of drama, and if you can be flexible with your plans, then you will find this the most rewarding work. I am not sure that being female has any real advantage or disadvantage unless the whole church environment is chauvinistic. Sexism is alive and well in our churches and youth ministry is not immune. "You're a woman, you know how to take care of kids." This is not helpful in selecting a person to work in youth ministry. I suppose if you are a younger woman you might have some boundary issues, but that is true of younger men. I find that being an older woman gives me a little more authority - probably as mother figure which kids respond to well.

    Additional thoughts?

    It is really important to understand that not all youth are alike. There is really no such thing as "THE YOUTH". Youth groups vary in dynamic from year to year, from congregation to congregation. Some youth are quite mature at 13 while others are terribly immature at 18. Some groups as a whole are more introspective, some more superficial, some more energetic, some more laid back. Individuals may be musical, artistic, interested primarily in mission, or some have more secular inclinations. The key is to be open to whoever is in your group and to be with them where they are so that when God is working on them you don't miss it or get in the way. In addition, when you accept each as they are, a child of God, you help them to accept each other and that is the way safe space is created.

    Tuesday, November 17, 2009

    CULTURE WATCH: What's so great about "Glee?"

    Is your youth ministry full of jocks, cheerleaders, and future valedictorians or is it a rabble of drama geeks, choir kids and the "losers" no one wants to sit with at lunch? Either way, you should be watching "Glee," a new series on the FOX network and one of the best reasons to watch TV. "Glee" focuses on a passionate young teacher who is trying to make a success of the high school's glee club. Known for being a depository of losers and geeks, the teacher's real goal for the glee club is to help these teens discover their worth and realize their potential, despite what others think. Along the way, his efforts attract more students to join the glee club (including members of the football team and cheer leading squad) and the wrath of the coach of the cheerleaders.

    Last week's episode, entitled "Wheels," firmly established "Glee," in my opinion, as great TV. This single episode dealt with issues of justice related to teens who are differently-abled and mentally challenged, the realities of teen pregnancy and casual drug use, and took an honest look at the loving relationship between a gay teen and his father while acknowledging the homophobia of high school culture. On top of that, the humor and music remind you that life can be an uplifting and exciting adventure.

    If you are a junior member of the morality police, you might have a problem with the mostly adult content of a tv show focused on teen characters, and personally I'm not certain younger teens should be watching the program. But for those of us working with teens, it's a vision of world where all young people have someone who loves and cares for them and challenges them to be the persons they were created to be. Hmmm...remind you of anything?


    Tuesday, November 10, 2009


    Tap into your teens' creativity with this project that encourages worship of God wherever they go.

    In the exile, the Israelites came to understand that God didn't dwell in just one particular place but that God's presence could be experienced anywhere. Yet, how many of our youth believe that worship of God mostly happens in the confines of a church sanctuary one hour a week? To encourage teens to develop a practice of tuning into God's presence the whole week long, invite them to create mini-altars or worship centers like the example below. These can be carried in pocket or backpack and used as visual inspiration for moments of prayer throughout the day.

    The process for making these pocket altars is simple and allows for each person's individual expression. Encourage teens to consider what focus they want for their mini-altar. They might want it to remind them of things for which they are thankful, images from nature, words of scripture, and so on. You'll need one empty Altoid tin for each person (can be purchased at a craft store) and a variety of art supplies. It helps to use sand paper or steel wool to take off some of the outside paint on the tin first. Youth can then decorate the tins with acrylic paint, or decoupaged images and words cut out of magazines. Small objects like buttons and shells can be easily attached on the inside or outside of the box using a hot glue gun or Diamond Glaze. Encourage teens to consider placing helpful items inside the tin such as a written prayer, a passage of scripture, mini icon images, a cross, photographs, a small votive candle, and so on. When finished decorating, consider spraying the inside and outside of the tins with clear spray glaze to protect the decoration.

    See below a pocket altar I made myself or check out these other examples.


    Thursday, November 05, 2009

    Rethinking Church Camp 2010

    It's that time of year again. Right? Seriously, now may be a good time to start planning for next summer's church camp. I just finished Fred Craddock's new book: Reflections on My Call to Preach: Connecting the Dots. Fred is one of the most influential preaching voices in North America and a member of the denomination in which I belong--Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

    I expected the book to be a reflection of his days spent in the pulpit and teaching in seminary. Instead, Fred reflects on his early years and how his experiences as a teenager, particularly at church camp, formed his understanding of being called by God to preach.

    At one point, while recalling his camping days, Fred says, "My most significant, and frequent conversation partners...were ministers. Older ministers." Then he says, "Apparently I am reporting on a time before the churches decided to turn their young people over to young ministers, some of them but a few years older than their charges."

    To be fair, Fred notes that perhaps such changes were necessary. But I think his points, and experiences, are genuine. All too often we look for younger adults and college youth to help be counselors. But what if next summer we intentionally focused on having older adults present at camp. You could even have several "Camp Chaplains." Maybe we need to be more intentional about briding the gap between generations?

    I tend to agree with Fred when referring to these "older" ministers who helped develop his sense of call he says, "They were present, available, nonintrusive, [and] good listeners..." Isn't this what we look for in our camp staff?

    Friday, October 30, 2009

    Youth Ministry Rules Worth Breaking

    Are there youth ministry rules that are meant to be broken?

    The great site Soul Pancake recently posed the question "Are Rules Meant to Be Broken?" The writer of the essay particularly focused on "personal rules." It made we wonder what rules in youth ministry it might be worth breaking once in awhile -- either those rules that have been imposed on us by the "Youth Ministry Community" that says "this is the way it is always done" or those rules we impose on ourselves. Which youth ministry rules do you think it would be worth breaking? Here are a few of mine:

    • Bigger is better. (How about being overjoyed some Sunday night when you walk in the room and only find two teens?)
    • Don't play favorites. (I know we're supposed to love all our teens equally, but let's be honest -- some teens we just have better chemistry with than others. Why not make them your focus and allow your other adult leaders to focus on other youth?)
    • Games are a must. (Does every youth gathering really need some crazy game as a way to kick things off or as a reward for sitting through Bible study?)
    • There has to be a program. (How about walking in to a meeting and when the youth say "What are we doing tonight?" you respond "Nothing." and see what happens?)
    • If I just do things right, we'll have tons of teens in our ministry. (Really? So it's all about you, huh?)
    • I teach. The youth learn. (Or we could try: I shut up. The youth talk. I learn more about how they see the world, their faith, the Church...)

    Any others?


    Friday, October 23, 2009

    Just in time for Halloween: "Hell House"

    If you're still looking for a Halloween-themed program to get your youth thinking, I strongly recommend the documentary "Hell House" about a church (Trinity Church -Assemblies of God in Cedar Hill, Texas) that hosts a yearly alternative to the local haunted house events. Instead of ghosts and goblins, their "hell house" includes scenes like a girl getting an abortion, a gay man dying of AIDS, or a girl at a rave being slipped a roofie and raped, and of course all with the implication that these people are going to hell for their misdeeds.

    To be clear
    : I find this portrayal of the Christian faith so far from anything I believe -- these folks might as well be practicing a completely different religion from the one I call Christianity. But -- the documentary is excellent and lets the subjects speak for themselves. Particularly powerful is the scene where a couple of local young people confront one of the organizers about the whole project. The film could certainly stimulate some great conversation about faith, fear, grace, sin, evangelism, and culture vs. Christ.

    On a side note, I just watched Ingmar Bergman's "The Seventh Seal" last night for the umpteenth time. Funny how all the scare tactics the Church was using back in the middle ages during the plague still seem to be in vogue today.

    Check out this episode of the radio program "This American Life" which features an interview with the director of "Hell House."

    Thursday, October 22, 2009

    Urban Mission Trip Opportunity for Youth

    Looking for an affordable mission opportunity for your church, youth or campus ministry? Want to go on a mission trip but don't have the time to find a place to stay or line up all the volunteer projects?

    My church, Union Avenue Christian in St. Louis, might be able to help. Last year we started a new ministry called The Urban Mission Inn. The Inn is housed on third floor of our inner-city St. Louis church and has sleeping space for about 30, plus 3 brand-new showers, meeting space, and kitchen facilities. In addition to housing groups who are coming to the city for mission work (or those passing through St. Louis on their way to/from a mission site), we will also assist you if needed in setting up volunteer projects that fit your group's gifts and interests. At present, we are only asking a $100 hold-the-date deposit, which is returned to you in full after your visit. By providing housing and logistical help, all you have to worry about is getting here and feeding your hungry group after a day of work.

    Here's what a few of our visitors had to say about the Urban Mission Inn after staying with us this past summer:

    "Way above what we would have expected for accommodations on a mission trip. Extremely friendly for ages 10-70. Would recommend to churches wishing to attend "Mission 101." Affton Christian Church

    "We were welcomed generously. Thank you for the extravagant hospitality. It is such a blessing to find a church with showers -- not to mention one intentionally opening their doors to teenagers." Lee's Summit Christian

    "I was just hoping someone could host us but you gave us great contacts for work too. It's been a blessing to bring my 'country' youth to an urban setting and have such helpful guides." First Christian, Pittsburgh

    The Inn is open year round so we're ready for your group whether you are coming for a weekend during the school year, over Spring Break, or a whole week in the summer. To find out more, go here.


    Monday, October 19, 2009

    DISCUSSION STARTER: How Will You Be Remembered?

    What will others say about you when you are gone? Invite students in your youth ministry to look into the future and consider how they want to be remembered.

    This idea, inspired by the parish nurse at my church, could provide a window not only into what values the teens in your group already carry with them, but what values you might help them explore in the coming year. Share with your teens the story of Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite. This story, perhaps apocryphal, encourages each of us to consider what, in the end, we want our life to be about. Nobel awoke one morning to find that a French paper had erroneously published his obituary, which condemned him for his destructive invention. This was a literal wake-up call for the inventor. Intent on leaving behind a more positive legacy, he determined then and there to create and fund the Nobel Peace Prize.

    After sharing the story, invite your youth to project their imaginations far, far into the future and consider what they would want people to say about them at the end of their lives. What would friends and family share about them? What will have been their accomplishments? What will have been most important to them in life? Relationships? Money? Faith? Family? Career? You could invite them to explore these questions in a variety of ways: 1) Write a "In Memory of..." newspaper article about themselves, 2) Create graffiti about themselves on paper hung on the walls, 3) Develop their own epitaph and write it on an image of a gravestone (an interesting alternative if you are doing this activity close to Halloween or All Saints Day), 4) Team with a friend and act out a mock talk-show where they banter about the many amazing things each of them did in their lifetimes. 5) Simply go around the room and invite each person to share their thoughts verbally (allowing individuals to "pass" if they don't want to speak). Follow-up by asking youth to note what sorts of personal values their ideas about the future seem to suggest about their lives now and in the days to come.

    Note: I can imagine some might find this a morbid or a touchy subject to discuss with teens. I'm reminded of a church member who told me recently that we really can't start living until we acknowledge or own finitude. Our teens do think about death and the end of life, whether we talk about it with them or not. If we choose never to deal with the issue, we still teach them something by our silence. If the church can't talk with youth about the end of life, who should?


    Friday, October 16, 2009

    Hurting and Healing

    Last Sunday, I preached on the parable of the rich man asking Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. We all know how this story goes. We've heard it before: It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone rich to enter the kingdom of God. Even before Mark tells us, we know that the rich man will turn away grieving because he has just can’t stand the thought of giving up everything he owns. And, if we’re honest, some of us will grieve with him as well—because for many of us, his choice would also be our choice.

    But if we read the story too quickly, we miss one of the most important parts. The rich man kneels. When he kneels, it is an authentic request to be healed. He wants to be healed of what is keeping him from being close to God. For us, it may not be possesions (it could be hurts, anxieties, fears) but it's still there. The kicker of the story is that the rich man rejects the healing that Jesus offers him.

    I think this story is particulary fitting with youth ministry. Lately, I have noticed that a lot of our youth are hurting. Some share openly, some don't share at it. But what if you were to spend some time focusing on the idea of the healing power of Jesus? Healing, especially within the context of religion, may not be something we're comfortable discussing. But Jesus really was a healer. And we too have the opportunity to be healed.

    The other night we watched this video and created our own cardboard signs:

    It was pretty powerful. If you try it out, let us know how it goes.


    Tuesday, October 13, 2009

    13 Things You Should Never Do in Youth Ministry

    Tired of all these youth ministry blogs (this one included) telling you all the things you should be doing? Me too!

    Who died and made us experts that we get to tell everybody else the best ways to recruit volunteers, evangelize youth, plan events, manage time, and on and on and on? So, in the spirit of knocking us all down a peg or two, let me share with you my list of things you should never do in youth ministry. Of course, I have personally done every single one of these!

    1) Never use college drinking games for icebreakers even though you use soda instead of alcohol (and no excuses just because you didn't know the game was based on a college drinking game!)

    2) Never call off a lock-in (or similar event) because only a few teens sign up/show up unless you want to send a message that those few don't really matter.

    3) Never suggest to the youth that the adult part of the church just isn't as cool as the youth ministry part (unless you want teens to run screaming from the Church when they turn 18).

    4) Never ask a parent to be a youth ministry leader or chaperone without getting permission from their teen FIRST! (or else you may get the parent to show up at the event...but not their teen.)

    5) Never allow teens unfettered access to the church building for a video/photography project unless you find out the subject matter first (which is preferable to finding it out after the images hit Facebook or YouTube and the senior pastor is giving you a call.)

    6) Never say "I promise" to youth unless you really mean "I promise."

    7) Never drive anywhere alone with one of your youth (unless you are trying to escape from the T Rex that has just flattened the church building and even then the teenager should ride in the back seat!)

    8) Never assume you know the sexual orientation of your youth, their parents or family members.

    9) Never call youth after 10:00 PM on a school night unless you want to incur the wrath of their parents (besides, this is the time when they are supposed to be in their rooms, pretending to study, while they talk to their friends on the cellphone.)

    10) Never show a movie before previewing the whole thing (a mistake I should have learned from in my teens when my youth leaders showed us "An American Werewolf in London" -- sex scenes and all!)

    11) Never assume that your youth group members are keeping their parents "in the loop" about what you are doing in your ministry.

    12) Never forget that, once you add them to your "friends list" on Facebook, your youth can see everything you are posting (unless you can figure the ins-and-outs of how to block them from reading your politically charged rants or the photos of you from the high school glee club.)

    13) Never buy into the lie that just because the other youth ministries in town have more teens that you must be doing wrong. Just keep loving your youth and modeling, as best you can, Christ's way of peace, justice, and grace.

    Anybody have any more to add? (Remember, to be fair, they should be things you've actually done yourself!)


    Thursday, October 08, 2009

    Contest Winner

    Congrats to Dana who is the winner of our most recent youth ministry resource give-away. She'll be receiving copies of Evangelism Remixed and Low Cost No Cost Ideas for Youth Ministry. Thanks to all who entered.

    Wednesday, October 07, 2009

    COMMUNITY BUILDER: Picture Scramble

    Challenge your youth ministry to work together as a community to create a shared story using only pictures.

    I just received the children's picture book Zoom, by Istvan Banyai, in the mail. It's an amazing wordless text which starts with a very simple image (a rooster's red comb) and in each subsequent page the image slowly moves backward, revealing more and more about what you are seeing. So, an overhead image of children on a farm pulls back to reveal it is really just a tabletop toy farm being played with by a young girl. The image pulls back further to show that the girl is really just an image on the front of a magazine being held by a sleeping person. And on and on until we end up out in space with the earth just a tiny dot. You can see the whole sequence of images here.

    I've been waiting for awhile to get a copy of this book to use it for a team-building activity I first saw somewhere on the web. Here's how it works: get a paperback copy and separate out all the pages. Pass one page to each group member. Explain that each of them holds an image that is part of a story and their challenge is to put all the pages in the correct order in order to tell the full story. The catch: no one is allowed to look at any other person's picture. This means they will have to talk with each other, sharing information, trying to figure out the "bigger picture." As the group begins to discern the sequence, they should begin to lay out the pages in order on the floor, but with the images face down, still keeping the images a secret except to their owner. When the group thinks they have the sequence complete, turn them over and check your work.

    There would be lots of ways to follow up this activity if you don't want to use it strictly as a icebreaker. Invite your youth to discuss how each person in the group brings something unique to share and each adds to the group's "story." Perhaps apply this activity to the way the Bible represents our faith story as a bringing together of lots of stories from different people, places, and times. How are we still adding to that story of faith today in the ways that we live in community with each other and the world?

    Monday, October 05, 2009

    COMMUNITY BUILDER: Do-Nothing Nite

    Well, here's a radical community-builder idea for your youth ministry: host a night in which you gather do nothing!

    Okay, maybe not "nothing," but pretty close. Rather than one more fellowship night organized around some crazy activity, high-energy games, road trip, or an hour or two of staring at a tv playing video games instead of interacting with each other, try this alternative. Announce to your group that your next meeting with be a "do nothing" night. You won't be organizing any activities. They are invited to come and bring their own activities, provided it's something they can do that will allow others to do their own thing without being disturbed. Youth might want to bring board or card games to play with friends, bring their journals and write, their sketchbooks and draw, read a book, or just hang out and talk. Perhaps have some quiet music ready to play, provide some snacks, and just let the group enjoy each other's company.

    Believe me, most of our youth have schedules that are so overloaded that this one evening of sabbath time will be a real gift. And if you just can't resist the urge to "program," you conclude the evening with a short time of prayerful worship, focused on the spiritual practice of sabbath rest, perhaps using Exodus 20: 8-11 or Deuteronomy 5:12-15.