Thursday, January 29, 2009

    Jesus at Wendy's

    I really like this story from youth pastor Ethan at Blog on the Edges where he talks about bumping into Jesus:

    I saw Jesus at Wendy’s this week. There was a crowd gathered around as he was telling stories. Man, can he tell stories! Did you hear the one about the fish? A junior from Lee’s Summit North (in the National Honor Society) asked him a question: “How do I earn life forever?”
    Check out the rest here. I'm not certain, but I think I've heard a story like it somewhere before.

    And while we are on the subject of Jesus, teens, and food, check out this story about an evangelism effort called "Jesus Pizza." I think it shows both the plusses and minuses of attractional youth ministries that try a little bait-and-switch on teens.

    Marv at the blog See Through has two great posts critiquing the bait-and-switch approach discussed in the "Jesus Pizza" link above and he offers a better and more biblical alternative.
    ("Eat" image) --Brian

    Teenagers and Driving

    A number of my youth have their driver's license or permit. Jokes are often made about driving skills, or lack thereof.

    Unfortunately, the truth is that many of our youth drive while texting, talking, or surviving on only a few hours of sleep. Some quick research states that car crashes are the number one killer of individuals between the ages of 13-25. Crashes involving new drivers tend to be more severe and talking on the cell phone when driving gives the driver the same reaction time as a seventy-year old.

    The other day I came across this "driving contract." There are many similar contracts on the internet. Later this spring, I think we'll have some sort of discussion about this at youth group.

    Any creative ideas for a discussion on driving?

    Tuesday, January 27, 2009

    MUSIC VIDEO: "World" by Five for Fighting

    Stumbled upon the great song "World" by Five for Fighting recently and was really impressed by its lyrics and tone. It is hopeful and yet challenging. It asks us to consider what kind of world we'd want to live in and what we might do to make it so:

    Got a package full of Wishes - A Time machine, a Magic Wand,

    A Globe made out of Gold - No Instructions or Commandments,

    Laws of Gravity or Indecisions to uphold,

    Printed on the box I see A.C.M.E.'s Build-a-World-to-be,

    Take a chance - Grab a piece - Help me to believe it,

    What kind of world do you want? Think Anything,

    Let's start at the start - Build a masterpiece,

    Be careful what you wish for - History starts now...

    Full lyrics here. The writer and vocalist John Ondrasik says of the song: "What fed into this is that . . . many stand on their soap boxes and rant and rave without offering any solutions of their own. It's easy to complain. It's hard to do something or offer and alternative solution." How might you use this song?

    • Use it a discussion starter to invite youth to think about what they can do to make the world more just, more loving, more like the realm of God.
    • Use it as part of a Bible study on the vision of the Kingdom of God found in Jesus' parables.
    • Use it as part of a creative worship time, asking for youth to offer prayers of hope for the world.
    • Use it as part of an art project, providing youth with magazines, paint, markers, etc. and challenging them to create a collage/mural depicting the world both as it is and as God would have it be.
    • Use it to begin a brainstorm on how your ministry might be involved in social justice in your community in 2009.

    Other suggestions?


    The Pledge of Allegiance and Youth Ministry

    The other day, I had the opportunity to participate in an Eagle Scout Ceremony for one of my youth. This was a joyous celebration and an affirmation of all of the hard work and service that it takes to earn an Eagle Scout. I was honored to play a small role in the ceremony.

    At the opening of the ceremony, the United States flag, and the Boy Scout flag, were brought into the sanctuary. Then, the pledge of allegiance was said. I couldn't help but think: What does this mean, theologically, that in the church we say a pledge to the flag. The denomination I service, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), has the unofficial motto: no creeds but Christ. Is saying the pledge of allegiance a creed or a confession? Is it appropriate to have the flag in the church? What is the relationship between the government and the church? How does this form our spirituality and the spirituality of our youth?

    I'm not sure about the answers to these questions. But, I feel convinced that I will likely face such questions again. What do you think? I look forward to reading your responses.


    Monday, January 26, 2009

    COMMUNITY BUILDER: Ballooniture!

    You need lots of balloons for this fun community-building activity. Divide into groups of 5-10 and provide each group with a large number of colorful balloons and a good number of rolls of masking tape. The challenge: Use the balloons to create a piece of "furniture" that is sufficiently sturdy to completely support the weight of one team member. The group can choose which team member will be the "testee" for their creation but remind them that the "ballooniture" must support the person such that no part of his or her body is touching the floor. Groups could form the balloons into beds, chairs, ottomans -- leave that part up to their creativity. As teams finish, applaud their achievement and allow them to help other teams. This activity can be followed up with a discussion about how we are called to support one another in our walk of faith. Invite the group to think about how that can be accomplished in and out of youth group.

    COMMUNITY BUILDER: Circle Stretch!

    With several recent posts on this blog pondering the ills of competition, perhaps it's time to remember that one way to "rethink" youth ministry is to focus on cooperation rather than competition. For every game that requires winners and losers, there are even more games and activities that encourage sharing, teamwork, and fellowship in order to achieve a mutual goal.
    For this activity, Circle Stretch, you will need: 1 rubber band per team, 1 ten-inch piece of string for each participant, and paper cups. Divide the youth into teams of 5-8 people. Instruct team members to tie one end of their string to different places around the rubber band. Next, set out a collection of paper cups for each team, rim down. The challenge: each team member takes hold of their string and they must work together to stretch or relax the rubber band so that it will grip or release the cups, allowing them to be moved, stacked, lined up, or whatever challenge you devise.
    Resist the temptation to pit team against team! The challenge isn't to be the first group to finish the task. The challenge is to support each other and work together. Want to make it even harder? Blindfold the whole team save for one player and have that person stand alongside and offer directions to the team.

    Friday, January 23, 2009


    Have you seen this interesting story about the girls high school basketball game where one team shut the other out with a score of 100-0? The winning team was from the all-girls Christian Covenant School. The losers: another all girls school of 20, with only 8 girls on the basketball team, which specializes in working with students that have learning disabilities. Now the winners are having second thoughts:
    In the statement on the Covenant Web site, Queal [head of the school] said the game "does not reflect a Christ-like and honorable approach to competition. We humbly apologize for our actions and seek the forgiveness of Dallas Academy, TAPPS and our community."

    "On a personal note, I told the coach of the losing team how much I admire their girls [from the losing team] for continuing to compete against all odds," Burleson [director of the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools]said. "They showed much more character than the coach that allowed that score to get out of hand. It's up to the coach to control the outcome."

    What smacks me upside the head is that phrase "Christlike and honorable approach to competition." I've written many times here on my thoughts about competition in youth ministry. To put it succinctly: I avoid it as much as possible. And I'm not talking here about your rivalry with the youth group down the road that has more members. I'm talking about designing programming, games, and activities that pit one part of your group against another, that result in winners and losers. I know it's hard to avoid activities like this. We swim in a culture that lives and breathes competition. Teens are fed the "losers and winners" mantra day in and day out. The gold medal is the only one that matters in the Olympics. Teens know they will be judged, not so much on the content of their character, but on how good a school they get into, how much money they make, how big their house is, how pricey their car, how many credentials they can put on their resume.

    But I hope we understand part of our call to ministry with youth is to show them another way, another possibility -- to give them a glimpse of the kingdom of God where all are welcome and where we are called to serve, not defeat, each other. A Kingdom shown to us by an itinerant peasant who had none of the things we look for today to determine whether or not someone is a "winner."

    Now, lest we think that a little healthy competition never hurt anyone, remember the golden rule of education: context teaches. Teens learn not just from our Bible studies and discussion programs. They learn about God and the Kingdom in the way they see us treating others, the jokes they hear us tell, the kind of community we create in our churches and youth ministry. Everything we do (or don't do) sends signals to our youth and are part of the way they create meaning in their world. So it's worth asking: Do we include competition in youth ministry because it is edifying to our teens and reflective of Christ, or because we have been socialized to enjoy competition? We all must answer that question for ourselves. At the very least, I would hope we are as thoughtful about what we are teaching in our game nights and church basketball leagues as we are in our moments of worship and study.

    I checked out the goals of the Covenant school's athletic program on their website. They sound pretty good. And all but one could be accomplished without the need for competition but rather by promoting community, teamwork, and cooperation. And see this article about the losing team. They have withdrawn from league play for the rest of the season but (see last paragraph of story) may have learned a real lesson about compassion.


    Thursday, January 22, 2009

    CREATIVE WORSHIP: Painted Praise!

    New Creation from Pace Hartfield on Vimeo.

    Check out this cool worship video of a song called "New Creation." The singer is literally being painted into a "new creation" as he sings the song. Definitely a creative way to provide a memorable visual hook for the message of the song. I think I might let someone paint me while I deliver my next sermon! The video itself would be great for a worship or Bible study on 2 Corinthians 5:17: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” HT to Covenant UMC. --Brian

    NCAA and Youth Ministry

    As youth leaders, part of our ministry is to help our youth live their lives in response to God.  We want our youth to have a safe passage in adolescence, to grow in their spirituality, to find ways to experience and articulate their faith, and to experience their life from the perspective of what it means to be a Christian and claim that we follow Christ.  Through all of this, we have competing cultural norms and critiques.  There is one voice that says:  Be the best you can be and stop at nothing.  And there is the other voice that says:  Take time, slow down, and listen to the voice of God in your life.

    So, how do we find the balance between these two voices?

    The other day, I came across this article.  I can't believe that the NCAA is allowed to begin recruiting "perspective" start athletes at the age of seventh grade.  As leaders in the church, how are we to respond?  A number of my youth are serious athletes, who devote countless hours to sports.  This new rule puts even more pressure on youth.  A part of me wants to say, "This is ridiculous."  But I don't think such rants would lead to productive conversation.  I think a better idea is to have a conversation with our youth (and parents) that focuses on what is important in life and how, among the various activities in our daily schedules, we can take the time to slow down and focus on God?

    What do you think?


    Monday, January 19, 2009


    Most of us wouldn't relive our teen years for a million bucks. But would you be willing to watch someone else try to navigate the ups and downs of adolescence? Two documentaries now available on dvd provide two very different inside looks at the lives of American teenagers.

    American Teen (see trailer above) offers a voyeuristic tour of the senior year of a group of teens from a conservative and highly religious small town in Indiana. We are introduced to five stereotypes: the nerd, the princess, the jock, the heart throb, and the rebel. By the end of the film, some of the teens are still stereotypes (mostly because we learn so little about them) and some become fully human beings, struggling with school, family, sexuality, college, expectations of others, self-esteem, and dreams of the future.

    The film has been criticized by many as lacking in diversity (all the youth are white, most middle-class). Good point. It would be great to see a sequel to the film that follows other youth in an ethnically diverse inner-city school. Some have also suggested that the film lacks authenticity as the teens seem to be affected by the presence of the camera crew. Actually, I would argue that this is more true of the parents and teachers presented in the film -- all seem to be on their best behavior (except for the mom who actually tells her daugher "You are not special."). But the camera is always the "unseen" cast member in documentaries of this sort and if the cast is playing to the camera, that alone says something about the nature of American teens. As a particular slice of American adolescence, this film is worth checking out.

    The camera is definitely another member of the cast in the documentary
    Camp Out as we follow another group of teen stereotypes: the skeptic, the loner, the class clown, the heart throb. And this film's "cast" is almost as homegenous as the cast of "American Teen" but for a whole other reason, because this documentary follows ten teens as they attend the first week-long summer church camp for gay adolescents. Organized by several Lutheran churches and a program called The Naming Project, the camp offers these teens a chance to do what we all love to do at camp (arts and crafts, talent show, sports, worship, etc). But they also spend time wrestling with what it means to be both a spiritual person and gay. Some of the teens are very devout. Some are nominally Christian, trying to decide what path their lives will take. Some have been welcomed by the church. Most, however, have stories to tell of being rejected by the Church they had grown to love. In the end, what the documentary wants us to realize is that these are not just GAY teens, but people, struggling with adolescence and trying to figure out where God fits into their lives.

    Whatever side of the sexual orientation issue you may came down on, this film is a must-see for those who want to move beyond dealing with gays in the church as an "issue" and start dealing with it from a more human perspective.


    Wednesday, January 14, 2009

    Creative Worship for Youth Ministry: Chalkboard Globes

    All it takes is an old globe, some chalkboard paint, and a newspaper to get your youth focused on the needs of the world!

    Our culture takes it for granted that adolescence is a time of self-absorption. What teen can pass a mirror without checking his or her hair! But does it have to be this way? Oftentimes, youth simply need a cause or a justice issue to shift their attention to the real needs of the world. Anyone who has taken youth on a mission trip, participated in a 30 Hour Famine, or has journeyed with teens to poverty-stricken urban areas knows this to be true.

    But passion for the concerns of others far away needn't only happen during these special events. Invite your youth to pray for the needs of the world every time you gather. Challenge them to pay attention to the news each week, making note of places in the world that are in pain. At each of your gatherings, bring out a chalkboard globe like the one pictured. Ask youth to share the places they have learned about and then write the country or city's name on the globe as an act of prayer. Fill the globe's surface with prayer concerns for the world and keep it in a prominent place where it will be regularly noticed during your activities.

    You can make your own full sized chalkboard globe in no time at all. Why not make it an activity to do together with your group? Here is an idea for creating a mini version of this project that costs next to nothing!

    Tuesday, January 13, 2009

    The Worst Youth Ministry in the World!

    What would the worst youth ministry in the world look like? Why not ask your youth? 

    I have found it helpful to get out of a rut of routines and "that's the way we've always done it" attitudes by periodically surveying youth about how they are feeling about the way things are going in the youth group. It is their ministry, after all --not just something we impose upon them. Why not take take a reading of how they are feeling about things?

    Sometimes I do this with a formal written survey, asking them to rate recent activities, discussions, and programs and soliciting ideas for new studies, guest speakers, trips, and so on. But one approach that always yields interesting results is to invite youth to describe the opposite of what they want the youth ministry to be. What would be the worst place to meet? The worst time to meet? The worst activities? Worst food? Worst leadership? Worst traditions? Worst games? Worst music? Worst ways to treat visitors? Not only is this more fun to do than a regular survey, if you brainstorm together as a group you'll receive a lot of funny and useful information (just be prepared that some of the stuff that winds up in their "worst" categories may be things you are already doing!).

    Monday, January 12, 2009

    Youth Ministry & the Parable of the Hidden Treasure

    "The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. " Matthew 13

    There was a time when I subscribed to the notion of Christian education as being like putting a funnel into some one's head and pouring in knowledge. "What is it youth need to know?" I would ask myself. "The books of the Bible. The major biblical characters? The teachings of Jesus? The dogma of the Church? The Trinity? The church seasons?" And on and on. It eventually became exhausting trying to figure out how I would cram all that and more into teens' heads in the few short years I had them under my influence.

    But gradually a new metaphor for Christan education began to take shape in my thinking. That of "fellow travellers." In this understanding, youth pastors become less like teachers and more like spiritual companions, accompanying youth on their own journeys of faith so that we do not so much lead, as walk beside.

    That's where the Parable of the Hidden Treasure comes into play. It reminds us that mentoring youth is not about simply handing over our knowledge or the precepts of Christian faith to teens. It's not about telling them what to think (and what not to think!). Rather, it is about helping them discover the truths of the Way of Christ for themselves. Like uncovering buried treasure in a field. It's not enough to just grab the treasure and run. You must go an buy the field, so that you own it, and its contents, for yourself.