Monday, July 20, 2009


    Creative prayer stations are not just for the church building. Why not try them with youth in the great outdoors?

    We once again hosted a "Night of Silence" at camp this year. For this activity, small groups of youth work with counselors to create interactive prayer stations. These are then positioned throughout the campgrounds. During the "Night of Silence," groups of youth move about the camp, experiencing the prayer stations together in total silence. That's right. No talking! We hope the experience allows youth not only to see prayer in new ways, but to connect prayer with the setting of God's creation. Taken individually, these prayer stations might not seem so profound. But in the context of an hour or more of silent meditation and as a group experience, they open up many possibilities for prayer. In fact, at the end of our week of camp, when asked when during the week they most sensed the presence of God, many of the youth said it was during The Night of Silence.

    Here a few examples of the prayer stations the youth came up with:

    SMELL #1: For this prayer station, we gathered together bits of things from around camp that had a particular smell -- cedar bark, grass, mustard, honey, a flower, a paper towel saturated with hand soap, etc. Instructions: Smell is a powerful way to experience God's created world. Take each item, sniff it, and pass it among your group, experiencing them together. What are they like? Stinky? Calming? Funny? What memories do they bring back? Consider how these different smells represent the diversity of God's world. Offer a silent prayer as you feel led by the Spirit and the scents.

    LISTEN: In a quiet space, put out a set of personal-listening devices (we use a collection of portable cd players but of course Mp3 players or Ipods would work, too). Set up each listening device to play a different style of music, such as classical, Taize, contemporary Christian, nature sounds, African drumming, etc. Instructions: Music and sounds are a gift of God. They can be a way of praying without speaking. Pick a cd player and listen. Resist the temptation to skip around on the cd and just listen to the music as it comes to you and see where the Spirit leads you in prayer.

    WORD: Here's an oldie but a goodie. We set out several old game boards and an assortment of letter blocks from old board games like Scrabble. Instructions: Reflect on who/what/how God is for you. Offer up a prayer of thanks for God's presence by using the letters to create words on the game board that describe God for you. Consider connecting your words "Scrabble-style" to the words added by others, symbolizing the way in which our different experiences of God come together in community.

    WATER: For this station, simply set out a large bowl full of water. Instructions: Water is a source of life. Reflect on the importance of water in your own life? Think about how it might represent God's presence. In pairs, pour water over each other's hands, experiencing the water together and offering a silent prayer for the other person. What memories come to mind as you feel the water? Baptism? Jesus washing the feet of others? Washing your hands before a special meal?

    QUESTION: This group based their prayer station on a story we'd studied about Bartimaeus, the man who was blind and then healed by Jesus. They set out a large sheet of paper, play dough and a question that Jesus asks in the story. Instructions: And the Lord said "What do you want me to do for you?" Take play dough and sculpt YOUR answer.

    SMELL #2: This prayer station only needed an open space on the ground, a big sheet of paper and some markers. Instructions: Smells can be intimately connected to memory. A revisited smell can trigger powerful , detailed memories. Think of a smell you can remember that connects to a need in the world or something for which you are thankful. Share that memory in words or art. Prayerfully consider: What does the Kingdom of God smell like? (Responses included drawings of plants, pets, farm animals, cups of hot chocolate, a homeless person, smelly sneakers, and home cooked food. My addition, above, was a drawing of the sort of person we often ignore and pass by each day without a thought.).

    CREATE: The set-up for this station simply involved a tree and a bunch of colored pipe cleaners. I like how it incorporates the beauty of the tree trunk into a group work of art. Instructions: Add to this free-form sculpture a symbol of God's creation. We are all "artists," children of the great Creative One. (Responses included shapes of trees, flowers, animals).

    TASTE! Similar to the first smell prayer station above, for this one the youth collected items with a particular taste -- crushed mint leaves, lemon juice, sugar, salt -- and placed each into a separate small bowl. A cup of coffee stirrers was also provided. Instructions: Use a coffee stirrer, one per taste. Dip it in the dish, taste, and discard the stirrer. We don't often think about taste when pondering God, but taste and memory are strongly connected. What do these tastes bring to mind? What does God taste like?

    REFLECTION! This prayer station is simply made up of a variety of mirrors. In this example, we just used a set of mirrors you can get at a craft store, but any mirrors will do. Instructions: Stand over the mirrors and look down into them. What do you see? The sky? The tops of trees? Move your position until you see yourself reflected in the mirrors and meditate on what you see. What do you think God sees? Offer a prayer of thanks for who you are or take time to pray for a need you see in yourself as you consider your own reflection.

    See here for more prayer station ideas.

    Sunday, July 19, 2009

    Rethinking Sunday Night Youth Group

    For years now, our youth group has met on Sunday evenings. Sunday evenings seem to compete with fewer extracurricular activities. But recently, it seems that Sundays are just as busy as any other day. In fact, if a youth attends Sunday School, Church, and Sunday evening youth group they can spend almost the entire day at church.

    So this year, we’re going to try something new: Wednesday Night Live. For better or worse, we’re going to see how it works to meet on Wednesday evening. But hopefully, it won’t be just us meeting on Wednesday night. I really believe that one of the defining factors of a strong church is what happens between one Sunday morning and the next. In an effort to get people to church during mid-week we’re encouraging the small groups, music groups, younger children, and older adults to all consider meeting on Wednesday evening. From 6:00-6:30, we’ll all share a meal. Then from 6:30-8:00 everyone, representing all age groups, will go to their particular activity, event, or group.

    We’ll see how this all works. When I was growing up, it seemed that Wednesdays were church nights. But then, so were Sundays.

    Anyone else planning to meet during the week?


    Wednesday, July 15, 2009

    Rethinking Staff Driven Youth Ministry

    Five years ago, the youth ministry of the church where I am currently serving was run almost entirely by adult volunteers and lay leaders. Their leadership was, and still is, extremely impressive. But over time, we have shifted to a more staff driven ministry. I, along with a coordinator of youth ministry, oversee the day to day functions of the youth ministry.

    As we begin to plan for the upcoming school year, it occurs to me how important it is to have committed adult volunteers and leaders. Somehow there needs to be a balance between staff driven and lay driven ministry. The advantage to staff driven ministry is that you are able to control how and when events unfold. The disadvantage arises out of the same scenario—YOU are overseeing events. Whenever youth ministry begins to focus more on staff and less on volunteers I think there is a need to reflect on how ministry is taking place.

    Everyone leads such hectic and busy lives (this is another topic in itself). But what can we do to purposefully engage our adult volunteers and leaders? Here are just a few thoughts:

    1) This year, in early August, we plan to have a large planning session for parents and adult volunteers. We hope to have an almost finalized calendar of the upcoming year. For each of these activities, we will ask our parents and volunteers to help lead and coordinate a specific event.

    2) When we ask for leaders, it will be done through prayer and discernment. For example, this is what we might say to someone: “We realize that you have a particular spiritual gift in working with youth (then name that gift). Will you prayerfully consider helping us with this activity/event? Before you answer, please spend some time praying about your response.” The act of leadership and discernment should be rooted in prayer.

    3) Consider forming a parents’ small group to meet at the same time as your youth group. Parents can take turns helping with different events and activities.

    4) Identify the spiritual gifts of the members of your congregation. Don’t rely solely on parents. Look to all age groups.

    5) Invite certain individuals to begin praying for the youth and youth ministry of the church. Maybe even have a prayer group that meets prior to your youth group meeting.

    6) Invite leaders of your youth ministry to a retreat. Take time to plan events together and demonstrate how much you appreciate their support. Give leaders tips for how to interact with youth. For example, an easy suggestion is instead of saying, “Did you have a good weekend?” Ask, “What did you do this weekend?” Yes or No answers are conversation killers with teenagers.

    7) Introduce the leaders of your youth ministry to the entire church. Have a special Sunday, or even in the church newsletter, where you lift up all of the different ways lay leaders make such ministry possible.

    8) Let your adult volunteers lead youth group and utilize their ideas.

    9) Send postcards thanking them for their help.

    10) Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Ministry is a team effort.

    What else would you add to the list?


    Tuesday, July 14, 2009

    COMMUNITY BUILDER: Prayer of St. Francis

    Engage your teens' creative gifts in this prayerful activity.

    Divide your youth into small groups of perhaps 3 or 4. Give each group one line or portion of the prayer of St. Francis below. Challenge them to create a graphic representation of their line of the prayer using a sheet of poster board and a variety of art materials. Want to make it even more interesting? Give each group different materials to work with: paint for one group, magazines and glue for another, perhaps crayons and markers for another. When finished, have each group share their creation and have the group work together to somehow display the entire "illuminated" prayer somewhere in your youth space or in an area of the church where others can view and meditate on the prayer.

    Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
    Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
    where there is injury,pardon;
    where there is doubt, faith;
    where there is despair, hope;
    where there is darkness, light;
    and where there is sadness, joy.

    O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
    to be consoled as to console;
    to be understood as to understand;
    to be loved as to love.
    For it is in giving that we receive;
    it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
    and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen

    Sunday, July 05, 2009

    Youth Ministry & Bigotry

    I've tweeted several posts today that demonstrate some of the bigotry inherent within the Church which is finding its way into our youth ministry efforts. It seems to be the running theme of the day as I came across this post at the "Samwise the Brave" blog about Christian artist Derek Webb's soon-to-be-released album. Apparently the song in the video above, "What Matters More" has caused quite a bit of controversy. You can see why when you read the lyrics below (which seem to be, in part, inspired by a Tony Campolo remark. See below). If we had more Christian music like this, I might listen to it more often:

    For more on the controversy between the songwriter and his label and what is happening with the album (they are releasing a censored and an "authorized" version), check here. So, what do you think?

    You say you always treat people like you like to be

    I guess you love being hated for your sexuality

    You love when people put words in your mouth

    ‘Bout what you believe, make you sound like a freak

    ‘Cause if you really believe what you say you believe

    You wouldn’t be so damn reckless with the words you speak

    Wouldn’t silently conceal when the liars speak

    Denyin’ all the dyin’ of the remedy

    Tell me, brother, what matters more to you?

    Tell me, sister, what matters more to you?
    If I can tell what’s in your heart by what comes out of your mouth

    Then it sure looks to me like being straight is all it’s about

    It looks like being hated for all the wrong things

    Like chasin’ the wind while the pendulum swings
    ‘Cause we can talk and debate until we’re blue in the face

    About the language and tradition that he’s comin’ to save

    Meanwhile we sit just like
    we don’t give a shit

    About 50,000 people who are dyin’ today

    Tell me, brother, what matters more to you?

    Tell me, sister, what matters more to you?

    Don't miss this post about the above song with tons of responses, all debating the use of the word "shit" in the lyrics. I had to laugh, as it perfectly illustrates the point of the song: We Christians sit around debating and arguing the most pointless things while children are dying of hunger, the environment is being destroyed, and our own wars continue to kill the innocent. Where is the priority when it comes to what we teach our youth?

    Update #2:
    Some friendly atheists have joined this discussion over Tony Campolo, cussing, and Christianity.

    Saturday, July 04, 2009

    CREATIVE WORSHIP: Upside Down Jesus

    Sometimes the only way to get a different perspective on Jesus is to force ourselves to see him a new way.

    How often do we miss experiencing God or Christ in our midst because we can’t see past the routine of everyday life and our preconceived ideas? In this activity, youth are challenged to meditate on an image of Christ and attempt to recreate their own version of that image as a line drawing. The catch? They look at the image upside down and draw it upside down.

    Rather than trying simply to reproduce the entire image “as is,” turning it upside down challenges the artist to focus on the various shapes and lines that make up the picture. Perhaps surprisingly, even those who claim they have no skill at drawing can create quite vivid images when they free themselves to focus only on line, shape, and shadow rather than the entire image. (This activity is based on an exercise in the book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.)

    Gather together a collection of images of Jesus (I just did a Google search and printed out paintings and drawings as well as photos of various actors portraying Jesus). Invite youth to choose one of the pictures that speaks to them in some way. Challenge them to turn it upside down and, using it as a guide, attempt to recreate on another sheet of paper the lines and shapes of the image just as they see them. Tell them to resist the temptation to try to turn the picture “right side up” in their brains as they draw. Just focus on the lines and shapes that they see. Doing so allows our brains to see things in a new way. When finished, invite the teens to look at their images right side up and reflect on the experience.

    • What was it like to try to draw the image upside down?
    • Why might we be stuck in seeing Jesus in only certain ways?
    • What still surprises you about the life, ministry, and work of Jesus?
    • In what ways do you think Jesus' own ministry was an "upside down" way of seeing the world and others?
    • What might you do in the coming week to see Jesus in a new and challenging ways?