Saturday, June 20, 2009

    Food, Inc.

    I suspect Food, Inc. is a film that all youth ministers need to see and discuss with their youth ministry groups this summer. We can give a lot of lip service to appreciating God's creation and protecting the environment and yet the meals on our dinner tables are the product of all sorts of practices that harm the earth, promote horrific mistreatment of animals, and encourage us to eat food that is ruining our health. No time like the summer, when everyone is out in the fresh air and the natural world, to invite our youth to reflect on how the simple act of eating at a fast food restaurant may be disrespecting all we claim in the Genesis creation stories.


    Saturday, June 13, 2009


    I'm off to church camp in a few days and, as my staff and I put the finishing touches on our planning for the week, I thought I'd pass on a few nuggets of wisdom for any of my fellow church camp leaders who are interested in doing things that will guarantee your youth have a lousy time:

    1) Play games the first day that force physical interaction. Nothing will ensure that your shy teens and introverts have a terrible start to camp like making them participate in icebreakers and community builders the first day that force them to do things like getting tied into a human knot with a bunch of strangers or build a human pyramid. (Those "repeat everyone's name in order" games are pretty intimidating, too. Interaction is important, of course, but don't force it and don't introduce too much too fast!).

    2) Do skits/pranks where someone is the butt of the joke. Don't you just love those camp skits where some unsuspecting teen gets a bucket of water dumped on his head (or down his pants) or a whipped cream pie pushed in her face? Don't you just love those pranks where the new kid gets his clothes thrown on the roof of the cabin and shampoo in her sleeping bag? (Well, many people don't. Even if the "victim" laughs and plays along, s/he may quietly resent being ridiculed for everyone else's amusement. I could write a book about the problem with camp pranks, but let's move on...)

    3) Sing songs to which only alumni campers know the words.
    How much fun is it going to camps where there are those clever gimmick songs ("Star-Trekkin!") that only the teens who have been coming to that camp for 3 years know the words! Enjoy the hilarity as everyone else has to awkwardly stand around and just listen or else prove they are "one of the group" by anxiously memorizing the words by the end of the week! (This approach only serves to alienate new members of the camp community and sends a loud message: "You don't belong...yet.") Which leads us to #4...

    4)Perpetuate inside jokes and "remember when" stories from camps past.
    Nothing is funnier than the counselors reminding everyone about "that wacky thing Phil did in the girl's cabin last year" or "the talent show skit that got Cindy into trouble with the staff," even though none of the younger campers have any idea what everyone is laughing at! (Again, this a great way to send the message "We of the inner circle have a history together. You gotta earn your way into the inner circle here by putting in your time.")

    5) Encourage talent show acts that promote stereotypes and prejudices. What's a talent show without ethnic stereotypes (the napping Mexican in a sombrero, the "swami" with his head wrapped in a towel speaking gibberish). Is there some unwritten law that there must be camp talent show acts where guys dress in drag? (Ever stop to consider that for some teens, cross-dressing may be a reality in the life of a parent, relative, or friend...or may even be part of their developing gender identity?). And that leads us to #6...

    6) Make a big deal about "purpling!" You know how it goes: boys are "blue" and girls are "pink" and if they get too close (e.g. amorous hugging, kissing, girls in the boys cabin and vice versa) they make "purple!" Talking about this a lot, particularly making a joke out of it, helps sends a silent message that we all know that everyone at camp is really fixated on hooking up and finding a date for the Friday night dance. (Not only does this sort of thing alienate the youth who are not sexually mature, it also sends confusing and often alienating signals to youth at camp who are not heterosexual or who are not certain of their sexual identity yet. Do you announce rules against "no double blues," "no double pinks," etc.?)

    7) Program every minute of the week. Youth live over-programmed lives. Why shouldn't camp be the same way? (Maybe because one of the ways to make camp unique and special is to provide space for youth to be quiet, to hang out, to just "be" for awhile without any more stimuli than the feel of the breeze and the sounds of bees buzzing.)

    Want to add any others?


    Wednesday, June 10, 2009

    CREATIVE WORSHIP: Choose-a-Song

    Devoree, a long-time youth ministry colleague of mine, recently shared a cool idea for inviting teens to explore the intersection between their music and their prayer life. Devoree write:

    We tried something new with the youth. For a time of sharing joys and concerns within the worship setting we gathered the youth in a circle and asked them to think about their week. We then asked them to reflect on their highs and lows and share a song that reflected those feelings. The response was good. Some said lyrics, some mentioned a mood, some said the style [of the song] represented how they were feeling that week. One had more than one song fitting the bill. The others responded to the sharer with nods and recognition. It was a good reflective piece allowing another way to communicate. In general music is important to youth. Even if you don't listen to the same music, it is sometimes easier to understand a feeling when expressed in terms of beat, style, poetry etc.

    Dev suggests that you could extend this idea by inviting youth to think about music in terms of their faith and how the music and lyrics resonate with their understanding of the sacred. Another extension of this activity could involve inviting just one youth a week to bring in a song to play for the group -- a song that connects with their faith, their understanding of God, their doubts and fears, their joys. Spend time listening to the song together and reflecting on its content as a group, looking for God in each person's weekly gift of music.

    Wednesday, June 03, 2009

    Blog Scavenger Hunt Winner!

    Congrats to Brandi M. for winning this month's Youth Ministry Blog Scavenger Hunt contest. She will be getting a copy of Marking Milestones And Making Memories For Youth. Thanks to all who entered and don't miss next month's scavenger hunt. For the record, here are the answer to this month's questions:

    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 T-Minus 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 Jesus himself to the next generation of youth. What goes in that blank?

    3) 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? The Monday Brief.

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

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

    Monday, June 01, 2009

    On Youth Ministry & Open-Ended Questions

    Do you already have life, faith, God and the world figured out or do you hope to learn more in years to come?

    Ever wondered if you might have some of this faith stuff wrong? That what you believe today you may not believe in the future? I recently came across a post by a young youth minister who certainly has a great deal of certitude about what he believes. I wondered if I ever had that much certitude, especially when it came to faith.

    I started working in youth ministry in my early twenties and even though I was already a "progressive" Christian way back then (though we called ourselves "liberal" in those days), I suppose that there were many issues of faith of which I was certain that I was certain. Ministering to youth afforded me the opportunity to pass on those great inviolate truths to the teens I served. Looking back, I'm not so sure that was such a good idea. If I've learned anything over the last two decades, it's that I still have a heck of a lot to learn and the things of which I'm absolutely certain, especially in the area of faith, would barely fill up a tiny communion cup. This I know: God is love, God loves all, and the Jesus of scripture lived out this ethic the best he could (and was killed for trying). Beyond that, I'm open to discussion...with conservatives, liberals, non-believers, and others alike.

    So, I'm not so comfortable anymore with passing on "the answers" to teens. I'm much more wary about giving them certitude. I've changed my mind too often and learned enough to know that I've learned so little. My eyes have been opened to too many things to think I know it all now. The scriptures have opened up thoughts to me in my middle age that I would never have been open to hearing in my youth. The Spirit has moved in ways I could never have predicted and God has shown up in places and people I would have never have expected. So I'm content to help youth live with the questions, to wrestle with their doubts and learn to value the frustration of trusting, but not necessarily knowing, what this Christian faith is really all about.