Friday, February 27, 2009

    Ideas for Lent '09 #5: REST STOPS

    Why must everything in youth ministry be so programmed? How about just allowing some free unstructured time when your youth are gathered? How much of that do they ever get in their daily routine? The "Rest Stop" ideas below would be a simple way to create spaces within your youth room that would allow teens, whenever the spirit moves them, to step away and just sink into a time of meditation and introspection (something we should be encouraging during Lent). Rather than organizing a time when all the youth cycle through the "rest stops," just leave an open invitation for teens to make use of them as needed (and what a nice gift this would be for your introverted youth who might want a good excuse to bow out of a crazy, wild game but still have something meaningful to do).

    Rest Stop 1 - Rocky Road: Set-up includes some smooth rocks (found at craft stores) and permanent ink pens. Suggested text: Joshua 4: 21-24.

    In the Old Testament, journeys are often marked with altars of rocks as a way to show where something important has happened – to mark the way across a difficult path – to say: “We were here. We endured.” Consider writing a word on one of the rocks before you – a word about your spiritual journey, your struggles, your questions, your doubts, your triumphs – and add it to our altar of stones to symbolize that your story of walking this wilderness journey is part of the faith story of our whole community.

    Rest Stop 2 - Write!: Set-up for this includes several bibles, pens, and notepads or journals on which you have attached or written a question, one per journal, about a text you would like youth to reflect upon in writing.

    : Reflect on the scripture passage before you. Consider the questions below and offer your thoughts on them in one or more of the journals before you. Your response may be brief or lengthy. You may choose to write your thoughts, write a poem, maybe even just write one word. When finished, reflect for a moment on what God might be trying to say to you through the words of this text. Where might God’s Spirit be leading you by way of this scripture? Pray for openness to that call.

    Rest Stop 3 - Tree of Life: Set-up for this requires a potted tree or a tree branch placed in some sort of stand. Cut-out leaf shapes from green paper, punch a hole in the end of each leaf and thread a piece of yarn or string through the hole. Suggested text: Mark 3: 7.

    Many individuals accompany us on the journey of faith and through the wilderness. Some offer us a shoulder to lean on when we tire of the walk. Others ask for our help when they weary of the journey. Take some time to reflect on those in your life, past or present, who you want to remember in prayer. Write each name on a leaf and attach the leaves to the tree, reflecting on how these relationships provide us opportunities to grow in the ways of love, kindness, hospitality, peace, patience and grace.

    Rest Stop 4 - Postcards to God: String a clothesline somewhere in the room and provide clothespins or paperclips. Create "postcards" out of colored cardstock and glue various images from magazines on the front, or leave some blank. Suggested text: Psalm 139.

    Lent is part of the journey of faith. Think about how far you have come already. What have been the challenges of your walk with Christ so far? The ups? The downs? The blind alleys? The backtracks? The side trips? The spiritual companions along the way? Take time to write a postcard to God from this point on your spiritual journey. Select a postcard with an image that connects with your experience, or draw your own picture. You could pose a question to God, ask for guidance, describe where you are right now on the journey, or give thanks for those who have walked with you. Leave the postcard on the clothesline before you to inspire others.

    Rest Stop 5 - Reality: On a wall , set out a series of images of events and people in need from around the world (I pulled most of my images from news magazines and National Geographic.) Separate the photos to make it easier to focus on one at a time. Suggested text: Matthew 5: 5.

    Search the images before you, representing the struggles of our world until one hooks your attention. Meditate on it for a moment. Consider where you see God in the image. It may be hard to discern at first. Sometimes it seems God is hidden away and we have to focus our attention more carefully. Ask yourself: How is God calling me to pray for this situation, place, or people? Offer your thoughts as a prayer for the concerns of this world.

    See more Lent ideas: #1, #2, #3, #4.

    Monday, February 23, 2009

    40: A Video for Lent

    A video version of UK artist Simon Smith's depiction of Jesus' 40 days in the wilderness. Very cool and very accessible for young people (and the depiction of Satan is a nice surprise!) You can download the individual images here.

    Ideas for Lent '09 #4: Let's Pray

    Is prayer a regular part of your youth ministry gatherings? Lent is a season that particularly lends itself to invite youth to begin exploring the spiritual practice of prayer or to offer them new ways to experience prayer. Below are several online resources that might be helpful:

    12 Ways to Pray During Lent - From the excellent Beliefnet site, here is a set of brief descriptions of simple but thoughtful prayer practices ranging from lighting a candle to "yelling like heck." This list could easily be adapted into a prayer journal for youth. Or perhaps pass out the list and invite youth, as an experiment, to try each practice during the week and share their experiences at your next gathering.

    Pray Without Ceasing - That was Paul's suggestion. But you can't go around all day with your head bowed and your hands folded, so here is a wide variety of suggested prayer practices that can be incorporated into your youth ministry during Lent. Need more? Many of these ideas could be incorporated into prayer exercises. These would be cool too.

    Create a Space - Some teens like the idea of creating a sacred space that can either be set up in their bedroom or even taken with them "on the go" as a sort of prayer altar. This Lenten idea invites you to collect 7 items you would take with you if you tried to duplicate Jesus' 40 day spiritual journey into the wilderness. Why not challenge your youth to take up the challenge?

    Seeds for Lent
    - Check out this set of Flickr images of Lenten reflection cards created by Mark Pierson.

    A Breathing Prayer
    - So simple.

    Free Lenten Prayer Guide
    - Here's a nifty prayer guide you can download right now and adapt for your youth to carry with them throughout the 40 days, complete with scripture texts, prayer suggestions, meditations, and ideas for different ways to "fast" throughout the season.
    See more Lent ideas: #1, #2, #3.

    Friday, February 20, 2009

    Help! My Youth Group is Out of Control!

    I really feel for this youth pastor who is struggling with a middle school youth group full of kids who don't seem to be able to focus:

    We sat in a circle for a 10 minute discussion about Prayer. 30 minutes later we were finally ready to start praying. 45 minutes after sitting down we finally wrapped up a 10 minute discussion and prayer time. This unfortunately is a typical night in our junior high ministry. I’m at a loss about what to do. I want to make it interactive, but I can’t because the kids don’t focus and wind up running around if not forced to sit in a circle. Even then, it takes forever to get through a very simple lesson on prayer which arouse from my realization that half the kids in attendance don’t even think it necessary to show respect while praying. I am so tired of being the bad guy- I don’t want to keep telling kids over and over again to pay attention. It’s exhausting having to constantly be the “bad guy”.

    I imagine many of us have been in this position. I know I have. You spend hours planning a great program just to have the evening end in disaster. Sometimes it's just the chemistry of the group and they provoke each other to mischief. Sometimes it's something we are doing that we aren't aware of until a fellow leader points it out. Sometimes it's due to the activities we design or the flow of the schedule that gets the ball rolling for an evening of chaos. I bet some of you have some suggestions that could be helpful to this fellow youth pastor. Why not go share them here.

    Thursday, February 19, 2009

    Mark Yaconelli & Youth Spirituality

    Amidst all the youth group games, trips to play lazer tag, and Halo tournaments, do you ever give your teens some time of rest, peace, and quiet to just enjoy life as it is, without all the hype and distractions? I recently attended a youth ministry workshop led by Marc Yaconelli, author of such texts as Contemplative Youth Ministry and Growing Souls. More than your ability to be a "cool" youth pastor or to entertain a crowd, Mark argues that what youth really want to know is if you know how to be truly alive in this culture, to maintain your passion, and to enjoy life in God's creation.

    Many of our youth are being raised in a culture that convinces them they are not truly alive -- but they will be if they drive the right car, buy the right toothpaste, wear the right shoes. In contrast, Jesus says you don't have to wait to be alive. You can be alive right now, in God's kingdom. Jesus says there is no reason to be anxious about life --that he is enough. That the path he invites us to walk leads straight to true life. That we don't have to be afraid of the world. We just have to live the life that God has given us, resting in the trust that God loves us and cares for us unconditionally. The big question I have is: "Is this the Jesus, is this the God, we live out in our churches and youth ministries?"

    Mark's latest book, Downtime: Helping Teenagers Pray, is an excellent resource for beginning the journey of helping your youth to slow down, to pay attention to the life they are already living (not the one our culture says they should be striving for) and to listen and watch for the presence of God's spirit in the here-and-now. Much less theoretical than his last books, this one offers a whole host of contemplative prayer exercises and experiences to help you and those teens you lead to slow down, rest in God, and live life more fully.


    Tuesday, February 17, 2009

    Ideas for Lent '09 #3: Staying Connected to God

    Lent is a busy time in the church. In the next several weeks, the church I serve will have retreats, baptisms, an Ash Wednesday service, vespers, special evening services and spring break. During these hectic times, it is easy to burn out and see the gifts from God as burdens rather than blessings.

    This year, I plan to be more intentional about staying connected to God through these 40 days. If you're looking for some spiritual renewal, Youth Specialties has some great archived articles. I particularly enjoy these two. And last year, I found tremendous comfort in Thomas Merton's Dialogues With Silence.

    Blessings on your upcoming Lenten journey.


    Monday, February 16, 2009

    Ideas for LENT '09 #2: The H2O Project

    We talk a lot about giving up something for Lent and so often we forget that the whole reason for doing so is to make room in your spiritual journey for something new! If you give up your morning cup of coffee, use that time to pray. If you fast one day a week, use some of that non-eating time to serve food at a soup kitchen. If you give up cussing out all the terrible drivers on the road, focus instead on helping others make their way in traffic.

    Or how about this: give up every liquid you normally purchase (soda, sports drinks, tea, coffee, OJ, milk, etc.) and drink only water and use the money you save to help provide drinkable water for others. This is exactly the challenge offered by the H20 Project in cooperation with Living Water International. You, your youth ministry, and your church are challenged to make water your only beverage for two weeks during Lent. As part of the challenge, you set aside the money you would have spent on other drinks. At the end of the two weeks you pool your funds and use them to help Living Water International in their mission to bring clean, safe water to nearly 10 million people in desperate need through the digging of wells in over 26 countries.
    So spread the word to other youth ministry folks and help young people change the world this Lenten season.

    At the project's website, you can download a whole list of free resources and supplies, connect your teens with the project's Facebook page, as well as order free wristbands, posters, and a video (which you can preview below) to share with your group in order to promote the project.

    See also Ideas for Lent '09: #1


    Should you be scaring the Hell out of your youth? Jeremy doesn't think so and argues our main focus should be elsewhere. This blogger disagrees.

    Can you survive a disaster at sea? The Insight blog has a nifty team-building simulation that challenges your group to answer just that question. Check out Grahame's other excellent team building activities here.

    How web-savvy are you? Tim blogs from the UK and hosts this informative site focused on youth, social media, and change. These resources would be particularly helpful to youth leaders.

    Whoever said youth ministry was easy?
    Think serving a church youth ministry is aways happiness and light? Check out this sobering story of one youth pastor's struggle to stay in ministry while serving some very dysfunctional churches.

    Need a rest?
    The Livefish blog offers very thoughtful commentary and suggested resources to help you consider the question: "What would a youth ministry look like that focused on not only teaching, but practicing rest (which is an act of faith) alongside their young people?"

    Short Film: Mankind is No Island

    This award-winning short film, shot entirely on a cell phone, has been bouncing around the web awhile but is new to me. I can imagine this could really provoke some discussion at a youth gathering. Or how about challenging your teens to create their own version of this video via cell phone to share with your group? What message would they like to convey to the world? Here's an
    example of one young person who has already given it a try. --Brian

    Friday, February 13, 2009

    Youth Ministry Ideas for LENT '09: #1

    Lent is almost upon us and I know many of us are already looking for ways to help youth observe this season meaningfully. Lent is a season of introspection and so it offers lots of opportunities for looking at the spiritual life, taking up new spiritual practices, and asking ourselves "Where is God calling me in the days ahead? " Over the next several weeks we will be sharing ideas for ways to connect your teens with the themes of Lent. In the meantime, why not check out some of our past posts on the subject and see what might be useful for your program planning:

    40 - The Story of Jesus in the Desert
    - A series of images retelling the story of Jesus' temptation in comic-book fashion. A really great resource!
    Who Am I? - An introspective activity to help youth youth mirror the soul-searching that Jesus was doing in the desert.
    The Mutanga Challenge - Could you live on $2 a day? Most of the world does. Check out this project that challenges your youth to put their faith into action to help people in Africa.
    What is Lent? - Here is a ready-to-use Bible study discussion to help youth understand the history and meaning of the this season.
    Spiritual Practices - Info on a great free resource to help your youth develop spiritual practices as part of their daily lives.

    Monday, February 09, 2009

    Yes! More Creative Prayer Stations

    This past weekend I attended a workshop on Contemplative Youth Ministry led by Marc Yaconelli (more on this event to come later this week.) As part of the event, some colleagues and I set up an evening worship experience involving interactive prayer stations. Below you will find descriptions and images for each of the prayer stations. Some you have heard us describe before on this blog. Others are new or have been adapted from a variety of sources including the excellent website Creative Prayer.

    WORD: This prayer center uses old Scrabble-like game boards and game pieces:

    "How have you experienced God’s presence in your life? What words come to mind as you reflect on who/what/how God is for you? Use the letters here to create and meditate upon the words that come to mind. Feel free to connect your words to those of others (Scrabble-style!) as a symbol of how we each have experiences of God to share with one another."

    THE JOURNEY: All you need for this prayer station is a large sheet of paper and some markers:
    See our other prayer station and creative worship ideas here.

    "What words, images, or symbols express your journey of faith? Meditate on your journey so far – the ups and downs, twists and turns, the spiritual companions who have walked alongside you, the questions, doubt, and fears, the mountain top experiences, and the challenges of ministry with young people. Use this wall to express your spiritual journey in image, symbol, or word. Take time to consider what others add to the mural. Where do their journeys intersect, parallel, or diverge from your own?"

    IDOL WORSHIP: This prayer station requires Play-Do and a safe surface for sculpting:
    "The Lord said to Moses: Thus you shall say to the Israelites: ‘You have seen for yourselves that I spoke with you from heaven. 23You shall not make gods of silver alongside me, nor shall you make for yourselves gods of gold. 24You need make for me only an altar of earth and sacrifice on it your burnt-offerings and your offerings of well-being, your sheep and your oxen; in every place where I cause my name to be remembered I will come to you and bless you. (Exodus 20)

    What are some of the idols in your life – possessions, activities, attitudes and relationships that get in the way of your relationship with God? What worries or challenges in your personal life, work, or ministry seem to loom bigger than your trust in God? Use the PlayDo to create a symbol of those items, then smash this idol as a sign of your desire to move closer to God’s center."

    FORGIVENESS: For this prayer station, provide a large bowl or dish filled with sand:
    "Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Colossians 3: 12-14)

    As we look into our hearts, there are times when we need to be forgiven and God forgives us. There are times when we need to forgive. God gives us the strength to forgive. How will we respond? By a prayer of thanksgiving? By promising never to do it again? By praying for the person we have forgiven? Reflect on this. Is there something you wish to bring to God to ask forgiveness? Write or draw it in the sand. Ask forgiveness. Then pass your hand through the sand, obliterating the words or images as a symbol of receiving God’s forgiveness. Is there something which you should forgive? Write or draw it in the sand. Ask God for the strength to forgive. Smooth the sand. Now, what will be your response be to God’s forgiveness working through you? Write or draw your response in the sand and leave it for the next visitor to see."
    CONFESSION: For this station, set up an area with paper, pens, and a paper shredder. This one is noisy, but we found that the noise added to the experience:

    "Confession is not easy. We are called to confess those things that separate us from community and contribute to the brokenness of the world. As Christians, we often call those things sin. The Psalmist writes in Psalm 32: "While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up* as by the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’ and you forgave the guilt of my sin.” Let us confess by writing on paper the broken places, attitudes, and relationships in our lives and in our world. As you write, you are invited into a time reflection. Feel God’s mercy. Consider what it might feel like to let go of guilt. Consider how you will work to repair broken relationships and broken systems. As you feel comfortable, you are invited to shred these confessions as an act of release and transformation. As you shred or after you shred these pieces of paper you are invited to pray your own personal prayer or this prayer: Eternal God, we pray that you will change the grief of our guilt into the joy of forgiveness, that we may be delivered from sin and set free to serve Jesus Christ, Amen."

    REFLECTIONS: Create this prayer station by setting out a collection of mirrors. In this instance, we set small mirrors on chairs and taped various sized craft mirrors to the wall:

    "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

    Choose a mirror and gaze into it. Examine the reflection that stares back at you. Mediate on God’s abundant love for you. Are you able to give thanks to God for the amazing creation that is you? As you consider your reflection, perhaps use this centering prayer, praying it over and over, meditating upon and sinking deeply into the meaning of the words: Thank you God, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made."

    H20: For this station, set out a larger glass pitcher of water and a large ceramic or glass bowl:
    Think about how every prayer offered mixes with the prayers of all of God’s people around the world. Prayers do not know the boundaries of time or space and so all become one. In this way, each person’s joys should be the joys of others. And every person’s concerns should be our concerns. Consider a person, place, or situation you want to lift up in prayer. When you are ready, pour some of the water from the pitcher into the bowl to represent those prayers. Watch as they mix with the water added by others, representing your prayers mixing and becoming one with those of the whole group."

    THE WORLD: Items needed for this prayer station include a world map, colored glass beads or rocks, and current news magazines or newspapers:

    "In the beginning when God created
    the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day." (Genesis 1) Take some time to silently focus on the many needs of the world. Perhaps use the surrounding magazines and newspapers for inspiration. Consider how your prayers, offered in this moment, move out and meet at God’s center with the cries for release from those in need around the Globe. When you are ready, take one or more stones and place them on the locations on the map that have stirred your prayers today."
    LISTEN: For this station, we set out a bunch of cd players, each with a different cd of meditative music. Some of it was Celtic chant, nature sounds, Christian pop, classical, and so on. You could create the same idea using mp3 players:

    “The Holy Spirit led Jesus into the desert . . .” Take some time to just stop, relax and listen. Choose a cd player and let the music or sounds help to center your thoughts and prayers. Resist the temptation to rush the experience. Perhaps close your eyes, lie on the floor and just experience the moment."
    DRAW-A-PRAYER: The simplest of prayer stations. Simply set out paper, markers, and crayons and invite participants to express their prayers through the created image.

    BURDENS: Create this prayer station by taping out a cross shape on the floor with masking tape (in this case we had a wooden cross on hand so used it), and setting out Post-it notes and something to write with:
    "Matthew 11.28: ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest." Are you willing to let God help you rest in this moment? First, consider what burdens you are carrying around – those doubts, fears, obligations, worries, feelings of inadequacy that are weighing down your spirit from experiencing God’s spirit. As a gesture of prayer, asking God for release, write your burdens down on the post-it notes provided. Your prayer might be a word, a name, a symbol. Then, place those burdens inside the cross on the floor before you. As you do, focus on an image of God taking those burdens for you and carrying them for awhile, as you seek rest and peace."

    FACES OF JESUS: For this final prayer station, we set comfortable chairs in front of a screen and projected a PowerPoint loop of images of Jesus throughout history:

    "Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14.6) Take a few minutes to sit and meditate on the projected images of Jesus, drawn from art throughout the ages. Think about your own understanding of Jesus and your call as a disciple of Christ. Consider: Which images affirm your understanding of Jesus and his life? Which images challenge your understanding of Jesus? What about your understanding of Jesus still surprises you, pushes you, invites you out of your comfort zone? Offer a prayer, recommitting yourself to walking the path that Jesus has set before you. Covenant with God to help you continue to see the way, the truth, and the life of Jesus as a radical challenge to journey in faith."


    I've been pondering lately how differently some of us in the youth ministry blogosphere think about the definition of "mission." I see blogs describing mission trips as opportunities to go out and preach the gospel and convert others to Christianity. Where I come from, we don't call that mission or outreach. We call it "evangelism." And I think it's fair to say that we in the progressive Christian sphere don't put near as much emphasis on "evangelism" as our more conservative brothers and sisters-- at least not the kind of evangelism that involves asking people "Are you saved?" and then explaining to them why they need to be. We tend more towards the St. Francis model: "Preach the gospel always. If necessary, use words." In other words, I'm more likely to want to show rather than tell people what a life lived centered in Christ looks like.

    Mission then looks more like Paul's desire to become servant to all --demonstrating the truth of Christ's teachings by feeding the homeless, caring for inner-city children, spending time with the elderly, building houses for Habitat for Humanity, growing a neighborhood garden, and so on. Mission and outreach involve the hands-on work of building the kingdom. I wonder, in the long run, if these sorts of efforts are actually much more effectively evangelistic than any Christian tract, bumper sticker, or street preacher ever will be.

    Let me be clear: I know that evangelicals also put a great deal of focus on hands-on mission work. I'm just interested in the different ways we think about these terms "mission" and "evangelism." Your thoughts? --Brian

    Tuesday, February 03, 2009


    This is a fun, non-competitive activity that allows youth to work on teams but also work together as a whole group. Prepare a list of simple words ahead of time, perhaps words that connect with a planned study (e.g. peace, conflict, help, friend, etc.). Split into teams and challenge each team to figure out how to spell out their assigned word using their bodies. No hand signals or signs allowed! The goal here really is to get them using their whole bodies. Of course, this may be accomplished by laying on the floor or standing next to one another or by creating one letter at a time -- however the team can creatively meet the challenge. When everyone is ready, gather back together and have the group work to guess what word each team is spelling out. For an added challenge, have teams attempt to spell out whole phrases (perhaps using truncated text message-like spellings). Remember that one of the most important aspects of cooperative community builders is to spend some time afterward debriefing the experience. Ask groups to share what was difficult about the challenge or what insights they gained as they worked together. Why even play cooperative games like this? See our rationale here and here.