Tuesday, May 26, 2009


    Our monthly Youth Ministry Blog Scavenger Hunt invites you to visit some of our favorite youth blogs listed below in search of answers to our scavenger hunt questions.

    After finding the answers (and, we hope, spending a little time checking out the various blogs), email us your answers. Everyone submitting 5 correct answers will then be entered into a random drawing for the following resource:

    Marking Milestones And Making Memories For Youth: Looking Back…looking Forward (Hardcover)by Jason Schultz. This book uses a slick yearbook-style format to share tons of great ideas for creating rituals, traditions and memories in your youth ministry. It includes ideas in such categories as retreats, intergenerational activities, tearjerkers, service and outreach, fundraisers, and milestones.

    OK. Here is your scavenger hunt list for May. When you have your answers ready, email us. Deadline is midnight Monday, June 1. Happy Hunting!

    1) Chad Swanzy recently detailed some of his youth ministry's plans for the summer. In it he mentions a creative summer program idea: "The premise with this event is that 48 hours before a scheduled _______a map, items to bring, and challenge to meet will be posted on the site and facebook. Students will have less than 48 hours to be ready, prepared, and present at the event." What is the name of this special summer program which goes in the blank above?

    2) Dan, author of the Emerging Youth's blog, describes in his personal description that his goal is to rethink the way youth ministry has been done and attempt to bring not just the message of Jesus but _________ to the next generation of youth. What goes in that blank?

    Each Monday Iowa youth minister Jake Bouma writes a not-to-be-missed post about interesting links he's found, what he's reading, what music he's listening to, updates on his ministry, and other cool stuff. What does he title these Monday posts?

    At Marv Nelson's See Through blog, he recently has been writing about one particular individual's view of the Church. Who is it? (Update: You can see more of Marv's reflections on youth ministry at his new blog Emerging Youth Pastor.)

    In one of Matt Cleaver's favorite posts, he argues that in the next 50 years youth minsters will need to become what?

    Video: Small Town Youth Pastor

    One of our favorite youth minstry blogger colleagues, Jeremy Zach, is featured in the lastest Youth Specialities video podcast. Congrats Jeremy! Scan ahead to the second part of the video where Jeremy talks about the ups and downs, struggles and blessings of ministering to a small youth ministry. He challenges the assumption that "bigger is better" and offers encouragement to pastors who might be able to count the number of youth in their church on two hands (or even one!).

    Monday, May 25, 2009


    Here is a community building activity that can be used both to promote teamwork and to introduce your meeting's discussion or study topic.

    In this challenge, your teens will be asked to work together to draw one picture. Depending on the size of your ministry, you might do this activity as one big group or as several small groups. Come up with a simple or complex image or design on paper. If this activity is a lead-in to a discussion or Bible study, consider connecting the image to your topic. Divide your group into three teams, each with a specific task:

    • Visionaries: This is the only team that actually gets to see copies of the design or drawing you have created. The catch is that they are not allowed to speak. Their task is to help the other teams figure out what the design is. They may nonverbally answer questions put to them but they are not allowed to draw the image in the air or use gestures that show the design directly.

    • Prophets: This is the only team that is allowed to talk. They are not allowed to see the picture, but may ask as many questions as they like from the "visionaries" to help discover what is drawn on the paper.

    • Artists: This group works together to recreate the design on a flipchart or chalkboard that everyone else can see. They may not speak or in any way communicate with the other two teams, other than through listening. They stand with their backs to the other two teams.

    The activity ends when the visionaries determine that the artists have accurately recreated the design. Debrief by asking the group to share their thoughts on the activity. Encourage them to reflect upon both the challenges and successes of their effort to work together as one community.

    CREATIVE WORSHIP: Carrying Burdens

    Place an assortment of rocks in a sturdy bag (the heavier the rocks the better). Invite your group to sit in a circle. Pass the bag around the circle, inviting each person to hold it, feel its weight, and think about what it would be like to carry this bag around with you all the time. Truth is, lugging around a heavy bag of rocks is much like the way we all carry around burdens and worries every day, often not sharing them with others who might help us bear the load.

    Pass the bag around the circle a second time. For this go around, invite each person to take one rock out of the bag and share one personal burden, worry, or prayer concern with the group. After each person shares, have them place their rock in the center of the group, creating a makeshift altar. Before going on to next person say "God in your love..." and have the whole group respond "Hear our prayer." Conclude by sharing that, in the Hebrew scriptures, an altar of rocks is often created to mark a place where God has been experienced (see Gen: 28:1-17). When we take time to listen to one another and be part of each other's joys and concerns, we are experiencing God's presence in community. Invite the group to keep the altar intact somewhere in your youth space as a reminder to share and help carry each other's burdens.

    You may even want to extend this activity by using the rocks to create a permanent prayer station in your youth room.
    Place small craft rocks and permanent markers around the altar and invite youth to approach the altar at any time, write a prayer concern on a rock, and add it to the pile. Groups members can then visit the prayer station regularly to see the concerns of their youth group friends.

    Monday, May 18, 2009

    DISCUSSION STARTER: Who Would Jesus Torture?

    In 2004, many Christians poured into movie theaters to watch a film that focused almost entirely on a interpretive retelling of the torture of Jesus at the hands of the Roman government. Flash forward to 2009 and surveys seem to suggest that a majority of American Christians think the use of torture by their own government is acceptable practice. How are we called as followers of Jesus to respond to the issue of state-sponsored torture, particularly when done at the hands of our own government? How do we engage our youth in discussion around this important moral issue?

    Set the tone for this discussion by gathering some images (via the internet or news magazines) related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the 9-11 attacks, and the Abu Ghraib prison. Display the images around the room, on the floor, or pass them out among the youth. Invite youth to share what words come to mind as they look at the various images.

    Many youth will be familiar with the popular TV show “24.” In the last several years, “24” has become part of the torture debate. Its lead character, Jack Bauer, employs the use of torture in almost every episode in order to coerce a confession or needed information from terrorists. Show a clip like the one above from “24” and invite responses: How would you describe Jack Bauer’s character? What do you think of his actions in this scene? Would you view his actions differently if you had more of the context for his motivations? Why do you think that torture is often included as part of the plot in current TV shows and films (e.g. the “Hostel” and “Saw” movie franchises)?

    REFLECTING: Share with the group the recent
    findings of a Pew Research survey which asked people of faith: “Do you think the use of torture against suspected terrorists in order to gain important information can often be justified, sometimes be justified, rarely be justified, or never be justified?” Results show that the more often Americans attend worship, the more likely they are to support the torture of suspected terrorists. According to the survey, over half (54%) of those who attend worship services weekly reported that the torture of suspected terrorists was “often” or “sometimes” justified. Interestingly, the findings were different for those who seldom or never go to worship with only 42% of those individuals feeling torture was often or sometimes justified. Which group in the survey was most likely to believe torture is justified? White evangelical protestants. See here for a graphical depiction of the survey results to share with your group.

    Invite youth to respond to the findings of this survey.
    Ask them to stand and position themselves on an imaginary line across the room, designating different points along the line as “often” “sometimes” “rarely” or “never.” Pose the question from the survey and invite each person to place themselves somewhere on the continuum. Follow up by seeing if they might change their position on the continuum by asking: “Would your answer differ depending on the identity of the person being tortured? Where would you be standing if the person to be tortured was a terrorist/ woman/ child/ a personal friend/ family member?” Other possible questions for reflection: What, if anything, surprises you about the findings of the survey? What might be the reason for the results the researchers gathered? Do you think there is a correct response on this issue for Christians? What might it be, in your opinion?

    DIGGING IN: Explore some biblical texts related to this topic:

    depicts all peoples as made in the image of God. What does this mean to you? If we abuse, torture, or denigrate another person, what effect, if any, do you think this has on God? Do you believe all people are made in the image of God? If not, who are the exceptions? If so, what does that say about how we are to treat others?

    Luke 6:27-36
    and Matthew 5: 44-45 speak of loving one’s enemies and doing good even to those who hurt us. Some argue that this only applies to personal relationships, not to countries. What do you think? What might these passages have to say to us about how we treat enemies during times of war? How do you see these passages providing any guidance to Christians on the possible use of torture?

    John 11: 49-50
    depicts the Jewish high priest Caiaphas declaring that it is better for one man to die than to destroy a whole nation. One argument for the justification of torture is that it may stop a "ticking time bomb" in which one piece of information might be able to stop the imminent death of thousands. What do you think? Can you justify the torture of one if it saves the lives of many? What conditions would you place on such a justification? Would it be okay to be 50% certain the person was guilty or would you want 100% certainty before allowing torture or would none of this matter to you?

    Mark 15:15-37
    describes the abuse, torture, and execution of Jesus at the hands of the Romans. Jesus was seen as an insurgent by the Roman empire, a political enemy of the state. He was legally tortured and executed by a recognized government. For Christians who follow a man who was tortured by a lawful government for presumed crimes against the state, what should be our response when our own government uses what they term "enhanced interrogation techniques" against suspected enemies? How do you imagine Jesus himself responding to the torturing of another person? How do you understand the idea of peace that Jesus speaks of in the gospels? How do you react to the argument that sometimes that peace is only possible through violence? As a Christian, what is your response to the issue of torture?

    For more useful resources, see here.

    Additional information:
    How do we define torture: This is the definition from the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in December 1984:
    For the purposes of this Convention, torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions. The U.N. Convention said that “no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”

    Thursday, May 14, 2009

    Rethinking Church Camp 2009

    It's that time of year again when many a youth ministry turns its creative energy toward church camp.
    I'll have to admit to doing a lot of rethinking, along with my co-blogger Jacob, over the past couple of years about just what church camp is all about. Why do we send teens to camp? What do we want to them to get from the experience? How is it different or the same from our regular youth ministry activities? Some of that out loud thinking can be seen in the helpful posts below:

    And don't missing this post from last year with a host of great camp ideas that were entered into our summer camp contest.


    Thursday, May 07, 2009


    Try this challenging but fun community builder to help your group learn to work together, listen to others, and celebrate what can be accomplished when they support one another.

    Begin with two teens sitting on the floor, facing one another, knees bent, feet flat on the floor, and toes touching. Instruct them to reach out their arms and grasp each other's wrists. Now holding on tightly, they are to stand up together. This really only works if they keep their feet touching and firmly planted and both lean back as they slowly stand. If done correctly, they stand together at the exact same time in one smooth move.

    Now, add a third person to the mix, challenging them to use a similar approach to get all three to stand up together. The only real requirement is that they must all three stay connected together by their hands or wrists. Continue to repeat, adding more and more participants to the circle. As the group grows bigger, the teens will have to rethink who grabs who's wrists in order to have enough momentum to stand. I have had a group of about 20-25 who were able to do this all at once, but it takes teamwork and communication. One suggestion: The bigger the group, the more necessary it is for the teens to figure out that it won't work for two people next to each other to hold hands/wrists. To have enough tinsel strength, they will have to reach across the circle to hold hands/wrists with two different people. Those who are waiting to be added to the circle can take part in offering suggestions for solving the problem. Observe how well (or not!) the group communicates and allows different ideas to be shared. Debrief afterward about the need in community to listen to and support one another.

    Sunday, May 03, 2009

    Senior Recognition Sunday

    Each spring, as we prepare for graduation, we host Senior Recognition Sunday. For the church I serve, this is a rite of passage. The morning begins with each senior invited to come before the congregation and share their future plans. Next, following worship, we have a lunch for the seniors, their families, and a special guest for each senior. The highlight of the lunch is when we go around the room and the parent, or guest, of each senior tells a special story about the graduate that connects them, in some way, with the church or an important event in their life. Some of the stories are serious, some sad, and some humorous. But, overall, it is a reminder that our stories are designed to intersect with the stories of the Bible.

    One of the goals of Senior Recognition Sunday is to help our seniors recognize that as they graduate, they are not graduating from their faith. They are now preparing to enter a new transition in their lives where they carry their faith with them.

    How about you? How do you affirm upcoming graduates in your ministry?


    Friday, May 01, 2009

    Quote of the Day: Tony Campolo

    Several bloggers I follow have been or will be doing the 30 Hour Famine (an excellent experiential opportunity for youth). Any time the issue of responding to world hunger comes up, I'm reminded of my favorite evangelical, Tony Campolo, and this priceless quote:

    “I have three things I’d like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a shit. What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact that I said shit than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night.”

    And for a further understanding of why I, a progessive Christian, would love to sit down and chat with Tony, see the video below.


    Great Youth Ministry Ideas: Surprise Your Volunteers

    Joel at The Mayward Blog has posted a simple but creative way to show appreciation for your youth ministry volunteers: give them the night off...by having them show up for youth group:

    Last night, I surprised our volunteer junior high staff by giving them the night off. At the beginning of the evening, I called all the staff up on stage and the students gave them a hearty round of applause. They were sent off with Gus the Intern to the Cheesecake Factory for some dessert and fellowship, all expenses paid.
    Read more here.