Friday, October 30, 2009

    Youth Ministry Rules Worth Breaking

    Are there youth ministry rules that are meant to be broken?

    The great site Soul Pancake recently posed the question "Are Rules Meant to Be Broken?" The writer of the essay particularly focused on "personal rules." It made we wonder what rules in youth ministry it might be worth breaking once in awhile -- either those rules that have been imposed on us by the "Youth Ministry Community" that says "this is the way it is always done" or those rules we impose on ourselves. Which youth ministry rules do you think it would be worth breaking? Here are a few of mine:

    • Bigger is better. (How about being overjoyed some Sunday night when you walk in the room and only find two teens?)
    • Don't play favorites. (I know we're supposed to love all our teens equally, but let's be honest -- some teens we just have better chemistry with than others. Why not make them your focus and allow your other adult leaders to focus on other youth?)
    • Games are a must. (Does every youth gathering really need some crazy game as a way to kick things off or as a reward for sitting through Bible study?)
    • There has to be a program. (How about walking in to a meeting and when the youth say "What are we doing tonight?" you respond "Nothing." and see what happens?)
    • If I just do things right, we'll have tons of teens in our ministry. (Really? So it's all about you, huh?)
    • I teach. The youth learn. (Or we could try: I shut up. The youth talk. I learn more about how they see the world, their faith, the Church...)

    Any others?


    Friday, October 23, 2009

    Just in time for Halloween: "Hell House"

    If you're still looking for a Halloween-themed program to get your youth thinking, I strongly recommend the documentary "Hell House" about a church (Trinity Church -Assemblies of God in Cedar Hill, Texas) that hosts a yearly alternative to the local haunted house events. Instead of ghosts and goblins, their "hell house" includes scenes like a girl getting an abortion, a gay man dying of AIDS, or a girl at a rave being slipped a roofie and raped, and of course all with the implication that these people are going to hell for their misdeeds.

    To be clear
    : I find this portrayal of the Christian faith so far from anything I believe -- these folks might as well be practicing a completely different religion from the one I call Christianity. But -- the documentary is excellent and lets the subjects speak for themselves. Particularly powerful is the scene where a couple of local young people confront one of the organizers about the whole project. The film could certainly stimulate some great conversation about faith, fear, grace, sin, evangelism, and culture vs. Christ.

    On a side note, I just watched Ingmar Bergman's "The Seventh Seal" last night for the umpteenth time. Funny how all the scare tactics the Church was using back in the middle ages during the plague still seem to be in vogue today.

    Check out this episode of the radio program "This American Life" which features an interview with the director of "Hell House."

    Thursday, October 22, 2009

    Urban Mission Trip Opportunity for Youth

    Looking for an affordable mission opportunity for your church, youth or campus ministry? Want to go on a mission trip but don't have the time to find a place to stay or line up all the volunteer projects?

    My church, Union Avenue Christian in St. Louis, might be able to help. Last year we started a new ministry called The Urban Mission Inn. The Inn is housed on third floor of our inner-city St. Louis church and has sleeping space for about 30, plus 3 brand-new showers, meeting space, and kitchen facilities. In addition to housing groups who are coming to the city for mission work (or those passing through St. Louis on their way to/from a mission site), we will also assist you if needed in setting up volunteer projects that fit your group's gifts and interests. At present, we are only asking a $100 hold-the-date deposit, which is returned to you in full after your visit. By providing housing and logistical help, all you have to worry about is getting here and feeding your hungry group after a day of work.

    Here's what a few of our visitors had to say about the Urban Mission Inn after staying with us this past summer:

    "Way above what we would have expected for accommodations on a mission trip. Extremely friendly for ages 10-70. Would recommend to churches wishing to attend "Mission 101." Affton Christian Church

    "We were welcomed generously. Thank you for the extravagant hospitality. It is such a blessing to find a church with showers -- not to mention one intentionally opening their doors to teenagers." Lee's Summit Christian

    "I was just hoping someone could host us but you gave us great contacts for work too. It's been a blessing to bring my 'country' youth to an urban setting and have such helpful guides." First Christian, Pittsburgh

    The Inn is open year round so we're ready for your group whether you are coming for a weekend during the school year, over Spring Break, or a whole week in the summer. To find out more, go here.


    Monday, October 19, 2009

    DISCUSSION STARTER: How Will You Be Remembered?

    What will others say about you when you are gone? Invite students in your youth ministry to look into the future and consider how they want to be remembered.

    This idea, inspired by the parish nurse at my church, could provide a window not only into what values the teens in your group already carry with them, but what values you might help them explore in the coming year. Share with your teens the story of Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite. This story, perhaps apocryphal, encourages each of us to consider what, in the end, we want our life to be about. Nobel awoke one morning to find that a French paper had erroneously published his obituary, which condemned him for his destructive invention. This was a literal wake-up call for the inventor. Intent on leaving behind a more positive legacy, he determined then and there to create and fund the Nobel Peace Prize.

    After sharing the story, invite your youth to project their imaginations far, far into the future and consider what they would want people to say about them at the end of their lives. What would friends and family share about them? What will have been their accomplishments? What will have been most important to them in life? Relationships? Money? Faith? Family? Career? You could invite them to explore these questions in a variety of ways: 1) Write a "In Memory of..." newspaper article about themselves, 2) Create graffiti about themselves on paper hung on the walls, 3) Develop their own epitaph and write it on an image of a gravestone (an interesting alternative if you are doing this activity close to Halloween or All Saints Day), 4) Team with a friend and act out a mock talk-show where they banter about the many amazing things each of them did in their lifetimes. 5) Simply go around the room and invite each person to share their thoughts verbally (allowing individuals to "pass" if they don't want to speak). Follow-up by asking youth to note what sorts of personal values their ideas about the future seem to suggest about their lives now and in the days to come.

    Note: I can imagine some might find this a morbid or a touchy subject to discuss with teens. I'm reminded of a church member who told me recently that we really can't start living until we acknowledge or own finitude. Our teens do think about death and the end of life, whether we talk about it with them or not. If we choose never to deal with the issue, we still teach them something by our silence. If the church can't talk with youth about the end of life, who should?


    Friday, October 16, 2009

    Hurting and Healing

    Last Sunday, I preached on the parable of the rich man asking Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. We all know how this story goes. We've heard it before: It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone rich to enter the kingdom of God. Even before Mark tells us, we know that the rich man will turn away grieving because he has just can’t stand the thought of giving up everything he owns. And, if we’re honest, some of us will grieve with him as well—because for many of us, his choice would also be our choice.

    But if we read the story too quickly, we miss one of the most important parts. The rich man kneels. When he kneels, it is an authentic request to be healed. He wants to be healed of what is keeping him from being close to God. For us, it may not be possesions (it could be hurts, anxieties, fears) but it's still there. The kicker of the story is that the rich man rejects the healing that Jesus offers him.

    I think this story is particulary fitting with youth ministry. Lately, I have noticed that a lot of our youth are hurting. Some share openly, some don't share at it. But what if you were to spend some time focusing on the idea of the healing power of Jesus? Healing, especially within the context of religion, may not be something we're comfortable discussing. But Jesus really was a healer. And we too have the opportunity to be healed.

    The other night we watched this video and created our own cardboard signs:

    It was pretty powerful. If you try it out, let us know how it goes.


    Tuesday, October 13, 2009

    13 Things You Should Never Do in Youth Ministry

    Tired of all these youth ministry blogs (this one included) telling you all the things you should be doing? Me too!

    Who died and made us experts that we get to tell everybody else the best ways to recruit volunteers, evangelize youth, plan events, manage time, and on and on and on? So, in the spirit of knocking us all down a peg or two, let me share with you my list of things you should never do in youth ministry. Of course, I have personally done every single one of these!

    1) Never use college drinking games for icebreakers even though you use soda instead of alcohol (and no excuses just because you didn't know the game was based on a college drinking game!)

    2) Never call off a lock-in (or similar event) because only a few teens sign up/show up unless you want to send a message that those few don't really matter.

    3) Never suggest to the youth that the adult part of the church just isn't as cool as the youth ministry part (unless you want teens to run screaming from the Church when they turn 18).

    4) Never ask a parent to be a youth ministry leader or chaperone without getting permission from their teen FIRST! (or else you may get the parent to show up at the event...but not their teen.)

    5) Never allow teens unfettered access to the church building for a video/photography project unless you find out the subject matter first (which is preferable to finding it out after the images hit Facebook or YouTube and the senior pastor is giving you a call.)

    6) Never say "I promise" to youth unless you really mean "I promise."

    7) Never drive anywhere alone with one of your youth (unless you are trying to escape from the T Rex that has just flattened the church building and even then the teenager should ride in the back seat!)

    8) Never assume you know the sexual orientation of your youth, their parents or family members.

    9) Never call youth after 10:00 PM on a school night unless you want to incur the wrath of their parents (besides, this is the time when they are supposed to be in their rooms, pretending to study, while they talk to their friends on the cellphone.)

    10) Never show a movie before previewing the whole thing (a mistake I should have learned from in my teens when my youth leaders showed us "An American Werewolf in London" -- sex scenes and all!)

    11) Never assume that your youth group members are keeping their parents "in the loop" about what you are doing in your ministry.

    12) Never forget that, once you add them to your "friends list" on Facebook, your youth can see everything you are posting (unless you can figure the ins-and-outs of how to block them from reading your politically charged rants or the photos of you from the high school glee club.)

    13) Never buy into the lie that just because the other youth ministries in town have more teens that you must be doing wrong. Just keep loving your youth and modeling, as best you can, Christ's way of peace, justice, and grace.

    Anybody have any more to add? (Remember, to be fair, they should be things you've actually done yourself!)


    Thursday, October 08, 2009

    Contest Winner

    Congrats to Dana who is the winner of our most recent youth ministry resource give-away. She'll be receiving copies of Evangelism Remixed and Low Cost No Cost Ideas for Youth Ministry. Thanks to all who entered.

    Wednesday, October 07, 2009

    COMMUNITY BUILDER: Picture Scramble

    Challenge your youth ministry to work together as a community to create a shared story using only pictures.

    I just received the children's picture book Zoom, by Istvan Banyai, in the mail. It's an amazing wordless text which starts with a very simple image (a rooster's red comb) and in each subsequent page the image slowly moves backward, revealing more and more about what you are seeing. So, an overhead image of children on a farm pulls back to reveal it is really just a tabletop toy farm being played with by a young girl. The image pulls back further to show that the girl is really just an image on the front of a magazine being held by a sleeping person. And on and on until we end up out in space with the earth just a tiny dot. You can see the whole sequence of images here.

    I've been waiting for awhile to get a copy of this book to use it for a team-building activity I first saw somewhere on the web. Here's how it works: get a paperback copy and separate out all the pages. Pass one page to each group member. Explain that each of them holds an image that is part of a story and their challenge is to put all the pages in the correct order in order to tell the full story. The catch: no one is allowed to look at any other person's picture. This means they will have to talk with each other, sharing information, trying to figure out the "bigger picture." As the group begins to discern the sequence, they should begin to lay out the pages in order on the floor, but with the images face down, still keeping the images a secret except to their owner. When the group thinks they have the sequence complete, turn them over and check your work.

    There would be lots of ways to follow up this activity if you don't want to use it strictly as a icebreaker. Invite your youth to discuss how each person in the group brings something unique to share and each adds to the group's "story." Perhaps apply this activity to the way the Bible represents our faith story as a bringing together of lots of stories from different people, places, and times. How are we still adding to that story of faith today in the ways that we live in community with each other and the world?

    Monday, October 05, 2009

    COMMUNITY BUILDER: Do-Nothing Nite

    Well, here's a radical community-builder idea for your youth ministry: host a night in which you gather do nothing!

    Okay, maybe not "nothing," but pretty close. Rather than one more fellowship night organized around some crazy activity, high-energy games, road trip, or an hour or two of staring at a tv playing video games instead of interacting with each other, try this alternative. Announce to your group that your next meeting with be a "do nothing" night. You won't be organizing any activities. They are invited to come and bring their own activities, provided it's something they can do that will allow others to do their own thing without being disturbed. Youth might want to bring board or card games to play with friends, bring their journals and write, their sketchbooks and draw, read a book, or just hang out and talk. Perhaps have some quiet music ready to play, provide some snacks, and just let the group enjoy each other's company.

    Believe me, most of our youth have schedules that are so overloaded that this one evening of sabbath time will be a real gift. And if you just can't resist the urge to "program," you conclude the evening with a short time of prayerful worship, focused on the spiritual practice of sabbath rest, perhaps using Exodus 20: 8-11 or Deuteronomy 5:12-15.

    Friday, October 02, 2009

    Cool Video Project Idea for Youth Ministry

    Love this video. This could make a great project for youth groups to do together, either for a worship video or just to spread the postive message of the gospel around on the internet.

    Youth Ministry & the Numbers Game

    Fellow youth ministry blogger KaGe has just shared a great reflection on his site about what it means to get caught up in the numbers game, particularly when your group is small to begin with:

    I admit it. I am guilty, 100% guilty. I fell for it, I bought into it, I totally invested into it and was completely and utterly emotionally destroyed last week when I had a killer evening planned for youth group. I planned for 15 (which is a high number for our church) and was completely ready just in case I had a couple of extra people come. . . .OK, so my plan was great, a fun, active game, an active lesson, time for discussion and then bring it home with prayer and hangout time. Sounds good right? Now remember when I said I was prepared for 15? Well, it's hard to do a large group lesson/game when only 4 show up...and one of those was a half hour late. UGH! (((heart slowly breaking))) I dragged myself home that night
    I imagine most of us have been in this position - feeling like there was something wrong with us or our ministry because we didn't attract a huge crowd of teens to this event or that. And yet, Kage, in reflecting on the whole affair, has come to realize that perhaps there is a real advantage to leaving behind the numbers game and instead focusing on the strengths of being small in number but mighty in ministry. Check out the rest of his excellent post here. Perhaps his brainstorm could bear fruit in your ministry, too.

    Thursday, October 01, 2009

    Rethinking Youth Contest: Women in Youth Ministry

    Time again for us to pass on some free youth ministry resources to our readers. This month the give-away is a brand new text from Youth Specialties entitled Evangelism Remixed: Empowering Students for Courageous and Contagious Faith by Dave Rahn and Terry Linhart. This book would especially appeal to those whose ministries focus on equipping teens to share their faith with their peers. We'll also toss in a copy of Low Cost No Cost Ideas for Youth Ministry -- a now out-of-print but great resource for those watching the pennies in their youth budget!

    How do you enter the drawing for these freebies? I'm interested in doing some upcoming posts on women in youth ministry. In my years in ministry, the best pastors and youth workers I've ever served with have all been women. Ironic, as most of Christendom still refuses to acknowledge women as equal partners with men in ministry (particularly when it comes to "called" or ordained ministry -- though the tide is slowly turning on this issue).

    So, I figure it's about time that Rethinking Youth Ministry celebrates our female colleagues. Know of a good blog written by a woman youth minister? Have a story to tell about a great female youth worker? Are you a woman in youth ministry yourself who wants to share about your experience in the trenches of youth work? Know of resources especially aimed at women in youth ministry? If you are willing to share any of the above with our readers, email us with your story or resource. Each entry/resource/story provides you with a chance in the drawing for this month's freebie. Contest ends midnight October 7.

    -- Brian